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Shows Worth Seeing:



By Melissa James Gibson
Playwrights Horizons
416 W. 42nd St.
Box office: (212) 279-4200

This is the strongest and most moving Gibson play to date. A smart, sharply observed look at the response of four close-knit 30-somethings (a married couple and two friends) to a crisis involving adultery, it is coolly perceptive, deliciously realistic, drily witty, and anything but trivial in the end despite its rather mundane central complication. The married couple is bi-racial yet Gibson treats that as unremarkable and relatively unimportant as a potential trouble source—the birth of their baby, for instance, is far more of a threat because it exhausts them both to the point where they can’t make distinctions about what’s important. The friends are: a young widow named Jane, wonderfully played with a brooding, steely insouciance by Julianne Nicholson, and a depressed alcoholic gay man named Alan cursed with perfect recall of conversation, played with droll alacrity by Glenn Fitzgerald. The scene in which Alan acts as a ruthlessly accurate referee during the married couple’s climactic argument is the cleverest dramatic use of such a device I can remember. Another splendid moment is a subtly gorgeous final scene in which Jane quietly apologizes to her daughter for emotionally neglecting her since her father’s death. The set designer Louisa Thompson turns this into a brilliantly understated coup de theater using nothing but a fragment of pink wall rising out of the floor. This provides a less sketchy, more fully conceived world than any of Gibson’s previous dramas, and this newly realistic territory in some ways recalls that of Donald Margulies's couple plays, such as Dinner with Friends. The brittle grace of the dialogue, however, as well as the observations about isolation and connection, are entirely Gibson’s own. She strikes me as one of our brightest playwriting talents.




Romeo and Juliet
By Nature Theater of Oklahoma
The Kitchen
512 W. 19th St.
Box office: (212) 255-5793

The Nature Theater of Oklahoma specializes in transforming the utterly banal into the wackily theatrical. Last year they presented the delightfully understated Rambo Solo, a work based on a single actor’s astonishingly detailed, evening-length recollection of an entire pulp novel. Their latest work is based on recorded phone conversations with eight people asked to remember the plot of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet off the top of their heads. These recollections are full of hilarious inaccuracies, wild surmises and off-topic digressions. They are also replete with the self-deprecatory qualifications, hesitations and chatty colloquialisms one expects in casual chit-chat, and that casualness notwithstanding, every word from them, including filler items like “um,” is recited lovingly by two self-consciously hammy actors as if it was precious, lofty poetry from the profoundest classical drama. The point—and the humor—of this absurdity evidently lies in the yawning gulf between subject matter and packaging: in the incongruity between the speakers’ and actors’ putative reverence for Romeo and Juliet and their decidedly unelevated comments about it. No doubt, somewhere beneath the silliness is a wry critique of our illusions and conceits concerning classicism and high art in the age of distraction and amnesia. Yet the piece isn’t quite as satisfying as Rambo Solo, despite the warmth and endearing aplomb of the performers Anne Gridley and Robert M. Johanson. Its fragmented structure—the eight conversations are strung together with only an occasional desultory dancing-chicken gag between them—makes the ham acting feel redundant after a while, and all the various chit-chat never really adds up to the cumulative impression of dime-store brilliance one hopes for. Still, I laughed about a dozen times over the 90 minutes deeper and heartier than I have in a year of theater, and that’s saying something. I have no idea what, but . . . something.


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