Season's Treatings

New York Theater Folks Gaze Back at the Off-Broadway Year

Tom Murrin, performer and theater writer for Paper magazine

"Wurst (Take It and Eat It!) (I Mean . . . Take It and Keep It) by Radiohole had all these wonderful, theatrical things in it. At the beginning, someone descended out of the flies, and at the end someone went up to heaven on a platform—it was magical. The show was based on the Siegfried story and had tremendous energy. I learned more about that story in this comical presentation than I'd ever learned before.

Wurst (Take It and Eat It!) (I Mean . . . Take It and Keep It): Siegfried goes to heaven.
photo: Hiroyuki Ito
Wurst (Take It and Eat It!) (I Mean . . . Take It and Keep It): Siegfried goes to heaven.

"The young director of Tumor Brainiowicz at La MaMa, Brooke O'Harra, was great. She had the cast taking down and putting up the set in between scenes—once they did it three or four times in a row, which perfectly fit the craziness of the play. It was a 1920s piece by Stanislaw Witkiewicz, but it seems like it could have come right out of the 1960s. There were six or seven people onstage playing violins—it was lovely."

Catherine Sheehy, dramaturge at Yale Repertory Theater

"Kia Corthron's Breath, Boom was the only piece of theater I haven't worked on that I went to see twice. Kia's always been interested in the juxtaposition of humanity and science, often social science, and this time it took her to this more poetic realm. Marion McClinton, directing, gave it a lyrical, inspirational lightness in contrast with the very dark subject matter. Enormously strong performances by Donna Duplantier, Yvette Ganier, and Caroline Clay.

"I really enjoyed the Cymbeline at BAM. Mark Rylance was wonderful, and I liked how the lights were up, how the audience had to work at creating the story with the actors. The women's performances were weak, and I wasn't so impressed with the white pajamas, but the imaginative life of the piece was very strong."

Brian Murray, actor

"Bartlett Sher's Cymbeline at Theatre for a New Audience was done in a timeless, universal fashion—there were Chinese bits and bits that were Wild West. It was irreverent. That's what the play really needs, because it's a fairy story—a shambles of different periods and ideas. And the fifth act is awfully silly—and Bartlett underlined that. It was charming and disarming and took away a lot of the boredom of the play.

"I didn't know what to expect from Helen, but I went because I admire Ellen McLaughlin, and my darling Marian Seldes was in it, and Donna Murphy is a huge favorite of mine. I found it so intelligent and so unexpectedly timely—being located in the Middle East and people going to war for the most pointless of reasons, for an illusion.

"The Carpetbagger's Children, by Horton Foote, was such a surprise. That form—the series of monologues—made me totally absorbed in the lives of the speakers. You walk into this beautiful little room with a glorious drop. A wonderful design—that room was like a blue dream. Roberta Maxwell starred and she was that woman. She had an elegance—you could just feel her as an aged Southern belle. She wasn't dressed as it, but the way she smiled and flirted. She was so subtle. They were all so subtle. I didn't expect to be so spellbound."

Daniel Mendelsohn, critic for The New York Review of Books

"The Harold Pinter Festival was interesting for two reasons, one negative, one positive. By being able to see tons and tons of Pinter all at once you got a sense of his limitations as a playwright. What had begun as a revolutionary way of writing for the stage had over the years ossified into almost a self-parody of what we think of as Pinter-esque. I'd gone to the festival quite excited and came out a bit disaffected—a lot of his overtly political plays were very strident and self-indulgent. But his most recent play, Celebration, was wonderful—it had a sort of humanity and historical breadth of vision about the 20th century and what it meant and how it failed that I thought was really quite moving.

"I was very taken with Charles Mee's Big Love at BAM. It was a model of how classical drama can be taken apart and put back together in a meaningful way. He's taken a lost trilogy of Aeschylus—we only have one play—and exploded it in this fun, vivid, and highly theatrical way. I teach classics and have a lot of classicist friends who were outraged at the bouncing, the irreverence of it, but Aeschylus was a master of special effects—women miscarried at his performances—so I think the more bouncing the better."

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