Wednesday, April 26, 2017

179. Review: ANGEL & ECHOES (seen April 25, 2017)

“Brides, Bullets, and Beheadings”

Finding a solution to the situation in Syria and to the horrors being committed by ISIS, ISIL, Daesh, or whatever you wish to call it, continues to baffle the world’s leaders, in spite of the bloated rhetoric of Donald J. Trump who famously said he “knows more about ISIS than the generals.” Given the uncertain future of the war, any playwright wishing to put his dramatic boots on the ground and take up arms against the Syrian civil war already starts with one hand tied behind his back.

Rachel Smyth, Serena Manteghi. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
British playwright Henry Naylor, better known for his work in comedy, is one of the few to try his hand at confronting the problem, as represented by two long one-acts, “Angels” and “Echoes,” neither of which dares to suggest any sort of solution—an impossible task—but both of which find a common ground in dramatizing the effect of the jihadist patriarchy (not to mention the British imperialist one) on women. 

“Echoes,” seen last season in the tiny Theater C at 59E59 Theaters, when it was the sole play on the bill, kicks off this two-play program in the larger Theater B. The play, now directed by Emma Butler, who co-directed it with Naylor last year, was first produced at the Edinburgh Fringe before transferring to London’s West End. The script appears to have added a few new topical references and its scenic environment, which originally had the title splashed across the back wall, has been reduced to nothing but a black box, a stool, and a bench. Two excellent new actresses, Rachel Smyth and Serena Manteghi, take on the roles, respectively, of Tillie and Samira.

While I continue to have reservations about the play, I found it more compelling this time around, possibly because of Manteghi’s unusually expressive performance. What follows is a slightly revised version of my original review from April 2016, which can be read here.

Naylor’s interestingly topical, if overly schematic, one-hour play presents two women’s thematically similar stories, side by side. Each is a monologue delivered straight to the audience, interrupted only when the other woman speaks. The monologues incorporate whatever dialogue the stories require. Bleak as the stories are, Naylor has a way with words, and provides enough laughs to keep the piece afloat. Only for a fleeting second at the end do the characters connect.

When we meet these bright, educated, young women, they’re 17 and living in Ipswich, England. However, the fair-skinned Tillie lives in the mid-19th century, while the olive-skinned Samira is our contemporary. Tillie is Christian; Samira is Muslim. Tillie wears a lovely, white, Victorian-era dress, with a scoop neckline, while Samira is garbed head to toe in traditional, black, Muslim garb, only her face visible under her hijab.

Tillie, wishing to produce children for Britain’s Christian empire but disappointed by her local prospects, decides to journey to India with the Fishing Fleet, the name given to the considerable exodus British women made to hunt for husbands in India, where thousands of men had migrated to serve under the Raj. She meets a military officer en route and, despite signs of his obtuseness, marries him. He’s soon stationed in Kabul, Afghanistan, where Tillie’s belief in Christian values collides with the maggoty rot (a frequently used metaphor) of British imperialism, whose worst elements are embodied in her brutish husband.

Simultaneously, we discover that Samira, daughter of Syrian refugees, has been radicalized because the tabloid press ignores Muslims in favor of sensationalistic news, and politicians like the xenophobic Nigel Farage hold power. Her accent, language, and behavior could be those of any English teenager, but she decides to abandon her middle-class life and sneak off with a friend to the ruins of Raqqa, Syria, to marry a jihadist soldier she’s been introduced to on Skype. There she thinks she’ll help to build a caliphate. Like Tillie, her marriage is a rude awakening to the cruelty of the man she married and the fanatical religious ideals he stands for, and she decides to make a bolt for freedom.
Rachel Smyth, Serena Manteghi. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Playwright Naylor’s heart is in the right place, from a historical, political, and feminist standpoint; his wish to show two women separated by 175 years both trying to butt heads with the political, sexual, marital, and religious injustices of their particular times is a good one, as is his point that Western barbarity toward colonized subjects is not far removed from the excesses of ISIS. But, while Tillie’s story could certainly have happened to a specific individual, it’s hard to accept it as representative of what Victorian women underwent when joining the Fishing Fleet. 
Serena Manteghi, Rachel Smyth. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Samira’s story, also replete with melodramatic elements, rings slightly truer because we read of girls like her who have abandoned their middle-class lives in the name of jihad only to be disillusioned, risking their lives in an attempt to return home. Whatever one may think of Tillie's fate, given the limited access she would have had in Victorian Ipswich to information about the worst aspects of British imperialism, it’s hard to fault her for the adventurous spirit inspired by her quest for a spouse, even if she should have known better than to choose the lout she weds.

Samira, though, isn’t given strong enough reasons for her too-rapid radicalization; while it’s true that many naïve girls do seek the paradise of jihad over the comforts of Western life, Samira seems too smart not to have known that soldiers like her Syrian spouse-to-be enjoy cutting off people’s heads and blowing them to bits, in addition to their erratic sexual proclivities. Tillie didn’t have the Internet; Samira does. Whatever idiocy other Western-bred Muslims may display in going off to Syria, it simply doesn't compute for this particular girl. The result seems to be a convenient but false equivalency between the two women’s stories. A scarier approach might have been for Samira to overcome her initial hesitancy and, like the friend with whom she went to Syria, follow through on the radical path she'd begun.  
Serena Manteghi, Rachel Smyth. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Both actresses do lovely work but Manteghi is especially vivid in her desperation, anger, and defiance. This is only natural given the nature of Samira’s character as a present-day Muslim girl whose proclivities allow for a wider emotional range than we associate with refined Victorian young ladies like Tillie. 
Avital Lvova. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
“Angel,” directed by Michael Cabot, is an hour-long monologue exceptionally well played by the athletically lithe Avital Lvova, a lightly accented, London-based actress born in Russia and raised in Berlin. Dressed like a man in an olive-colored wife-beater, fatigues, and combat boots, she convincingly embodies Rehana, a mysterious Kurdish woman and law student, whose valiance as an anti-ISIS fighter earned her a semi-legendary status as the Angel of Kobane, a town in North Syria.
Avital Lvova. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Naylor’s play, written in bursts of machine-gun-like dialogue, tells Rehana’s story in breathlessly dramatic terms, combining her actual experiences with those of other women, thus admittedly being an embellishment of her legend. She tells of her life before the civil war growing up as a farmer’s daughter, her unwillingness to continue her father’s work, her father’s showing her how to shoot, her bookish interest in studying the law, her flight with her mother from ISIS, her return in an attempt to find her father, her capture and sale in a sex market to an ISIS leader, her shift from a reluctance to kill to a sniper renowned for shooting 100 enemies, and how she bravely faced the fate that she became famous for (although still not certain).
Avital Lvova. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
This action-packed story, while it doesn’t tell us anything we don’t know about the evils of the Islamic State, makes for gripping theatre. Lvova, rapidly shifting voice and manner to represent an array of other characters, is the embodiment of female empowerment. Lvova makes her as badass as any female superhero, a Lara Croft of the Middle East, and all on a mostly bare set with nothing but a barrel and lighting shifts for dramatic support.
Avital Lvova. Photo: Carol Rosegg.
Angel & Echoes may not know as much about ISIS as President Trump (who does?) but it knows how to make vital theatre out of nothing more than a space, a well-written story about a provocative subject, and persuasive acting.  

OTHER VIEWPOINTS:



59E59 Theaters

59 East 59th  St., NYC

Through May 7

178. Review: SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION (seen April 20, 2017)

"The Great Imposter"



For my review of Six Degrees of Separation please click on THE BROADWAY BLOG.





Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Monday, April 24, 2017

176. Review: PRESSING MATTERS (seen April 23, 2017)

"Depressing Matters"

When I first saw the title of this flimsy program of one-acters by Jennifer Jasper I thought it would be a great one for a play about the dry cleaning business. One of the five plays on the program, “Thanksgiving in July,” does indeed show clothes being pressed on an ironing board, but whether that’s where the title comes from or not is anybody’s guess. Otherwise, the pressing matters dramatized here are the ordinary ones most of us experience in the course of our lives. And many of them are depressing.  
Oliver Genesis, Ito Aghayere. Photo: Russ Rowland.
Every season has a tiny number of programs devoted to one-acts, or, to use what now seems to be their more usual name, short plays, perhaps because of the plethora of one-acts running from an hour or so to nearly two without a break. The long one-act, in fact, is as ubiquitous as the two-act; if you’re seeing a three-act or longer play it’s surely a revival. 

Few writers, David Ives being one of the exceptions, have succeeded in the short play category. Neil LaBute is a frequent contributor to the genre but I’ve never seen a satisfactory example from his pen. Like almost all the other programs I’ve viewed over the past five years, Jasper’s has moments of interest but, on the whole, is seriously flawed.

Each play is introduced by having an actor put plastic stick-on letters onto a small blackboard hung at one or the other side of the stage, but never both sides simultaneously. If you're not sitting in the right seat you'll have trouble seeing what's on the board. It would have been better to use large cards, the way old-time vaudeville used to do. 
Oliver Genesis, Ito Aghayere. Photo: Russ Rowland.

“et-y-mol-o-gy,” running only 10 minutes, begins the evening with the kind of stunt concept you might expect from a class project: take seven words and write a play around them. The lives of Calvin (Genesis Oliver) and Susan Anne (Ito Aghayere) are encapsulated in the context of a spelling bee. A series of words is announced, spelled out, and their connection to the characters’ relationship from grade school to old age enacted, all with only two chairs, to mark the passing years. Two lives are thus sketchily encompassed within words ranging from “flatulence” to “Alzheimer’s.”

Ito Aghayere, Oliver Genesis. Photo: Russ Rowla
In “Inheritance,” reminiscent of Schnitzler’s La Ronde, Bernard (Saum Eskandani) is upset at his wife Betty (Jenn Harris) for having gotten pregnant again, since money is so tight. Their scene morphs into one in the 1970s where Betty has died and Bernard, older, argues with Joan (Aghayere), the grown daughter with whom Betty was pregnant. This links to a scene right after between Joan, a feminist, and Ian (Oliver), whom she meets at an equal rights rally, followed by one, years later, between Ian and his daughter by Joan. It’s a viable structure but the characters and situations are so flatly banal the result is more an idea than its fulfillment. 

The one play that might have a longer shelf-life, perhaps as an acting-class piece, is “Free Range,” in which Judy (Harris) is seated in a courtroom while questioned by an offstage attorney (Oliver) about an incident involving her two young kids. It has a smartly satiric touch regarding the overprotectiveness of modern child-raising methods. Harris gives it the only performance of the program that rises above mediocrity. 
Saum Eskandani, Molly Carden. Photo: Russ Rowland.
“Oscar Clyde Denman” is an odd piece that follows a girl named Miss (Molly Carden) from age 11, when her father (Genesis) sexually molested her, to young womanhood, years in which she was unable to live a normal life because of her obsessive compulsive disorder. Representing her OCD is the eponymous Oscar Clyde Denham (Eskandani), an ever-present, British-accented butler dressed in tails. He stands against her bedroom wall until needed to advise and restrain Miss from doing something, like leaving for college or having a romance, she might regret. Again, a potentially viable idea is too innocuously dramatized and weakly acted, particularly by Eskandani, to make an impression.
Molly Carden, Jenn Harris. Photo: Russ Rowland.
Two plays follow the intermission on the nearly two-hour program. First is “Thanksgiving in July,” another work that plays with time, not always clearly. It pictures the relationship between two women, Essie (Carden) and Chloe (Harris), married to each other, as they prepare for a family Thanksgiving dinner in July because Chloe is dying and may not make it to November. It’s a poignant, if soapy, premise with characters and dialogue merely skimming the surface. 
Oliver Genesis, Ito Agahayere, Saum Eskandani, Jenn Harris. Photo: Russ Rowland.
Finally, in “Destination Unknown,” Jasper goes for comedy in a scene set in an airport boarding area controlled by a difficult ticket agent (Harris) whose treatment of the frustrated passengers waiting to board a delayed flight is meant to be funny. The idea of mocking airport personnel and protocol is especially ripe for comical treatment at this moment, but “Destination Unknown” wouldn’t pass muster as an SNL sketch on an off night.
Jenn Harris, Oliver Genesis, Ito Aghayere, Saum Eskandani. Photo: Russ Rowland.
Whatever hidden virtues might be dormant in Jasper’s plays, director Adrienne Campbell-Holt hasn’t revealed them in her plodding, low-energy, borderline amateurish staging. The performances only rarely rise above the mundane, and, with not much to praise about the production values, it’s best not to say anything about them at all.

OTHER VIEWPOINTS:

Clurman Theatre/Theatre Row
410 W. 42nd St., NYC
Through May 20







Wednesday, April 19, 2017

173. Review: THE LITTLE FOXES (seen April 13, 2017)

“These Foxes Can Still Bite”

The faces of two beautiful actresses, their lush, dark hair worn in the same swept-back fashion, grace the Playbill cover for the Manhattan Theatre Club’s riveting revival of The Little Foxes, Lillian Hellman’s powerful psychological melodrama about a rapacious turn-of-the-century Southern family. At the upper left is Cynthia Nixon, her large, intelligent eyes piercingly searching, the hint of a smirk lifting the outer corners of her lips. At the lower right is Laura Linney, her sly smile suggesting pert impishness, like the cat that ate the mouse.
Laura Linney as Regina, Cynthia Nixon as Birdie. Photo: Joan Marcus.


Cynthia Nixon as Regina, Laura Linney as Birdie. Photo: Joan Marcus.

The cover, of course, is inspired by the unusual casting of both Nixon and Linney to alternate as Regina Giddens and her sister-in-law, Birdie Hubbard. Regina is the stop-at-nothing-to-get-what-she-wants wife of banker Horace Giddens (Richard Thomas). Birdie, the daughter of Southern aristocrats, is the vulnerable, abused, alcoholic wife of Regina’s overbearing brother, Oscar Hubbard (Darren Goldstein).
Cynthia Nixon, Francesca Carpanini. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Although most theatregoers will be able to see only one performance, those who view both will have the opportunity to compare performances, much as if this was the theatrical equivalent of a boxing match, perhaps suggested by having the stars’ portraits in opposite corners on the program cover. The night I went, Linney was Regina and Nixon was Birdie; both were magnificent.

It’s not uncommon in Japan’s kabuki for a classic drama to be produced with its two most famous roles produced with top stars alternating in them; it’s rare, though, on Broadway or the West End. Perhaps the most famous example is when Edwin Booth and Henry Irving alternated as Iago and Othello at London’s Lyceum Theatre in 1881. A more recent instance, also in London, was the 2014 production of Frankenstein, in which Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller alternated as Dr. Frankenstein and the Creature; perhaps the idea is beginning to spread.

Ever since its 1939 premiere, starring Tallulah Bankhead as Regina and Patricia Collinge as Birdie, The Little Foxes has established a distinguished Broadway record (Lincoln Center included) with a series of star-studded revivals: 1967, Anne Bancroft as Regina and Margaret Leighton as Birdie, Mike Nichols directing; 1981, Elizabeth Taylor as Regina and Maureen Stapleton as Birdie, Austin Pendleton directing; and 1997, Stockard Channing as Regina and Frances Conroy as Birdie, Jack O’Brien directing. Bette Davis and Patricia Collinge starred in the 1941 film version, and Greer Garson and Eileen Heckart in TV’s 1956 “Hallmark Hall of Fame” production. Much of this can be accessed via YouTube, God bless it, so it’s possible to compare Linney and Nixon not only with each other but, to a degree, with major actresses of the past.

The Little Foxes takes its title from an Old Testament verse suggested to Hellman by Dorothy Parker: “Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines; for our vines have tender grapes.” Hellman’s story was loosely based on her own familial history; in 1946, she wrote a less-successful prequel, Another Part of the Forest, which it would be interesting to see revived.
Richard Thomas, Michael McKean, Darren Goldstein, Michael Benz. Photo: Joan Marcus.
All the action in the three-act play, which runs nearly two and a half hours, is at the gracious Alabama home (beautifully designed by Scott Pask and elegantly lit by Justin Townsend) of Regina and Horace, the latter suffering from a serious heart ailment. The play charts the efforts of Regina’s grasping brothers, Benjamin (Michael McKean) and Oscar, to finance a cotton mill that will make them millionaires while coldly exploiting the local workers, black and white. When she learns that Oscar and Birdie’s callow son, Leo (Michael Benz), with the connivance of his uncle and father, stole $88,000 from Horace’s safe deposit box, the even greedier Regina gains control of the investment.
Richard Thomas, Caroline Stephanie Clay. Photo: Joan Marcus.
This is one woman who isn’t going to let the patriarchal system hold her down, regardless of what steps she must take to achieve her will. She even manages to overcome the righteous Horace’s objections by sitting by cold-bloodedly, not giving him his medicine, when he has a fatal heart attack. Despite her monetary victory, Regina is crushed when the one person she loves, her 17-year-old daughter, Alexandra (Francesca Carpanini), rejects her.
Charles Turner, Darren Goldstein. Photo: Joan Marcus.
The only other sympathetic characters in this unpleasant parade of family venality are Birdie, representing the once-proud class trampled on by the ruthless Hubbards and their like, and the caring black servants, Addie (Caroline Stefanie Clay) and Cal (Charles Turner).

The Little Foxes is an example of old-fashioned but still magnetic playwriting: a tightly constructed play with crystal-clear exposition (even when subjects like investments and percentages are discussed), sharply defined characters, a theatrically colorful time and place (Alabama in 1900), and a powerful, anticapitalistic theme, as resonant today as during the Depression, concerning unmitigated avarice and the mistreatment of the working classes.

The moral is made clear in Addie’s words: “There are people who eat the earth and eat all the people on it. . . . And other people who stand around and watch them eat it. . . . Some-times I think it ain’t right to stand and watch them do it.”

One can sometimes hear the creaking of the dramatic wheels as Hellman slowly sets up her situations and their outcome; however, when given the kind of solidly believable performances such as it mostly gets here under Daniel Sullivan’s shrewd direction, The Little Foxes demonstrates why it remains such a theatrical humdinger, even with so distasteful a cast of characters.

Linney’s Regina, as good as it gets, captures all this vixen’s charm, craftiness, daring, viciousness, unscrupulousness, and razor-sharp ambition. Nixon makes Birdie a completely convincing counterpoint character; loquacious, sensitive, silly, and affectingly sincere, as when she expresses her sympathy for the animals her husband takes such pleasure in shooting every day. I suspect the same could be said of these actresses when their roles are flip-flopped. 

Both stars wear brilliant costume designer Jane Greenwood’s period clothes with aplomb, the most breathtaking one being Regina’s black number, adorned by a yellow corsage, seen in the first act. Regina looks precisely like a Gibson girl come to life.
Francesca Carpanini, Laura Linney. Photo: Joan Marcus.
While no one in the company can be faulted, the performances of Richard Thomas as Horace and Michael McKean as Ben are particularly resonant. The former, who retains his boyish appeal beneath his beard and graying hair, is perfectly cast as the morally upright--when it suits him--banker; his explosive confrontations with Regina will blow you away, and his physical struggles during his seizures are powerfully realistic. McKean, usually so good at smarmy comic roles, is every inch the devious, scheming businessman, using his favorite aphorisms to add a layer of presumed good nature as a veneer to cover up the rot beneath.

Regardless of who you get to see as Regina and Birdie, you’ll be in the presence of two great American actresses performing a play that once again reveals not only its pertinence but its quality as a work of theatre. This is one skulk of foxes that still has its bite.

OTHER VIEWPOINTS:

Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 W. 47th St., NYC
Through June 18







Monday, April 17, 2017

173. Review: SAMARA (seen April 14, 2017)

“Richard Maxwell Decaffeinated"
Last year, downtown theatregoers who regularly flocked to Tribeca to see the Soho Rep do one of its avant-garde plays were devasted when the company had to leave its louche storefront venue on Walker Street. But they can thank the theatre gods that this Off-Broadway mainstay has found a brand new home, albeit way over on the Far West Side in the spiffily renovated building housing A.R.T. /New York Theatres.
The venue's bright red and white halls may, at first, seem jarring for those familiar with the company's former funkiness but, as demonstrated by Richard Maxwell’s Samara, the downtown artistic vibe has made the trip to Hell’s Kitchen. The neighborhood's innovative theatre creds have been growing rapidly; just consider the proximity of Ars Nova, Intar, EST, and the Alvin Ailey Dance Theater. Moreover, both the Irish Arts Center and MCC are building expensive new theatres nearby.

In a rare gesture, Maxwell, the well-known, iconoclastic playwright-director, has handed Samara's directorial reins over to Sarah Benson, Soho Rep’s gifted artistic director. She's given it a Maxwell-style staging, making little attempt to suggest that the play is anything but a play, or the space anything but a theatre.

As is typical in a Maxwell production, some of the acting has a flat, uninflected quality, but there's also a sharp infusion of naturalistic behavior mediated by dramatic pauses that come not single spies but in battalions. Sorry to say, though, despite Benson's many intelligent choices, this visitor didn't find Maxwell's decaffeinated play good to the last drop.
Roy Faudree. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
As part of designer Louisa Thompson’s scheme, three of the four walls of the large, rectangular Mezzanine Theatre, as the new venue is called, have been lined with black, hard-plastic, intersecting units to form two audience rows, one at floor level and one a few feet higher. The rigid, uncomfortable seating is only slightly relieved by a foam cushion you bring with you when you enter. Sensitive derrieres will be even more so after 90 minutes of Samara.
Paul Lazar, Jasper Newell. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
The set proper fills the floor with similar units, with two isolated platforms at either end of the rectangle; scenic props are indicated by black milk cartons resembling the larger units. In fact, the entire thing resembles a giant, Lego-like milk carton. There’s no indication of time and place, but lighting designer Matt Frey does a good job at creating atmosphere.
Jasper Newell, Paul Lazar. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
PR for Samara has made much of the presence of Steve Earle, the guitarist, singer, songwriter, writer, and actor (TV’s “The Wire” and “Treme”), whose roots music has earned him three Grammys. Earle wrote the background music, performed at one corner by percussionist Anna Wray, playing on the exposed guts of a piano with various tools, including timpani mallets, with Ivan Goff at another playing uilleann pipes and an Irish concert flute.
Jasper Newell. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
Only one actual song is performed, a lullaby, for which Earle also wrote the lyrics. Mostly, the music is eerie and dreamlike, unlike (to my ill-informed ears) the country or folk sounds associated with Earle’s work. At the end, in a moment incongruously at odds with what’s preceded it, we hear what sounds like Irish folk music as the cast performs a jig choreographed by Annie-B. Parsons.
Steve Earle. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
Earle does even more. Dressed in black jeans and polo, bespectacled and with a long, gray beard, he stands at one side and reads the stage directions in his gravelly, Tom Waits-like voice. After the main action concludes, he has several pages of vaguely poetic narrative, none of which seems immediately relevant to what’s come before; when it’s over, his amplified voice is heard as if from behind or beneath you, with yet another discrete narrative.
Paul Lazar. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
Like other Maxwell plays, Samara—not any of the mostly Russian places listed by that name in Wikipedia but a fictional American town—has a fairly straightforward story, albeit with unconventional characters (only one actually named) and situations. Its dialogue combines realistic speech with heightened prose using unexpected words and images. If you're into searching for symbols and ideas, you'll probably come up with some if you dig hard enough.

The action itself usually makes superficial sense but mood is just as important as narrative here; with no characters or plot to care about, and a pace that makes paint drying seem fast, you may begin to feel like a container of curdling milk in that huge carton surrounding you.
Becca Blackwell. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
The play, set in what feels like a Sam Shepard-like landscape conflating frontier times with today (Junghyun Georgia Lee’s costumes are contemporary) begins when a shabby young Messenger (14-year-old Jasper Newell) demands money owed him by an older man called the Supervisor (Roy Faudree). The boy, as is his custom with older men, addresses him as “sirrah.” Rejecting the seven dollars offered, he agrees instead to track down someone who owes money to the Supervisor and thereby wipe out the Supervisor's own IOU. Meanwhile, as we’ll often be told, the rains are coming.
Vinie Burrows, Becca Blackwell. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
After killing the Supervisor in a gratuitous act of violence, the Messenger ends up, after an arduous journey, somewhere “off the map” at an inn run by the Drunk (Paul Lazar) and his transgender partner, the Manan (Becca Blackwell); the pair is hiding from some transgressive past. The Messenger demands his payment from the Manan, offspring of the missing debtor, and refuses to leave until paid, seriously disturbing his hosts.
Matthew Korahais, Modesto Flako Jimenez, Vinie Burrows. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
What follows involves another death, and the encounter of the Manan and the Drunk with a gritty, Mother Courage-like old hag, Agnes (veteran Vinie Burrows, remarkably vibrant at 92), and her two sons, Cowboy (Modesto Flako Jiménez), a lariat at his waist, and Beast (Matthew Korahais), a filthy, bare-torsoed, blob of blubber. Things grow weirder, and your interest either waxes or, like mine, wanes, as we learn that Agnes is on her own quest, searching for a missing son.
Vinie Burrows, Becca Blackwell. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
Eventually, the actors leave, Earle steps into the light for his big recital, his poetic chatter grows more ambiguous, darkness descends, and fog rolls in. When the fog vanishes all rejoice in that Irish jig. As for the fog in your brain, you’re on your own.

OTHER VIEWPOINTS:

A.R.T./New York Theatres; Mezzanine Theatre
502 W. 53rd St., NYC
Through May 7