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A CurtainUp Review
Our Original Los Angeles Review by David Lohrey
Richard Greenberg has emerged as one of America's leading writers for the stage. His last South Coast Rep premiere, Hurrah at Last was an attempt to work on a larger, less constrained canvas following his more tightly wrought Three Days of Rain. Both plays for entirely different reasons were artistically successful; the latter only more so because of author's sustained focus which welded theme and style into a coherent whole. Everett Beekin, Greenberg's latest, while clearly tied thematically to his earlier work, unfortunately lacks the intellectual depth of Three Days of Rain and the style and sophistication of Hurrah at Last. For Greenberg, whose reputation is based on his flair for witty dialogue and intellectual challenge, this is an uncharacteristically graceless, shallow work.
The first act, set in Manhattan's lower East Side in the 1940's in a tenement apartment, plays like a parody of a Clifford Odets play. Here, it is all broad shtick based on kvetching yentas speaking a cartoonish, off-putting stage-Jewish dialect, which appeared to induce smirks from the actors themselves, but most especially from Nike Doukas who plays Anna. Her sister Sophie was more persuasively brought to life by SCR regular Kandis Chappell, while the least interesting of the women, the grandmother, was played as a Picasso cave woman by Carole Goldman. The third sister, Miri (Tessa Auberjonois), Sophie's husband (Jeff Allin), and the suitor (Adam Scott) were asked to do little, and succeeded. Overall, however, the cast does well, and more than meets the challenge of doubling in the parts that make up the first and second acts.
The faults of the play, however, cannot be blamed on the more than adequate production. Neither can one say that the play was especially helped by the very talented director Evan Yionoulis who contributed towards making Three Days of Rain a thrilling theatrical experience. It is remarkable, in fact, how little overall improvement there has been to text and production since this reviewer attended SCS book-in-hand reading eighteen months ago.
The problems begin with the jokes, which not only lack wit, but undercut whatever dramatic purpose they are meant to serve. Played as an episode from The Honeymooners, the first act of Everett Beekin suggests that Greenberg has written a play about the surface, on the surface, and of the surface. The humor lacks edge, and reveals an author showing an increasing willingness to write for laughs.
In contrast to the kitchen sink comedy of the first act, Greenberg's second act takes place in Orange County, California in the 1990s. Grandma and her three daughters are now dead. We find not so much a generational conflict, as a Woody Allen-like bi-coastal clash between the granddaughter who stayed in New York (played with an air of neurotic rancor by Kandis Chappell) and the one who settled in Orange County (performed well by Nike Doukas, who can be disarmingly charming). While the characters in the first act were suffering - along with the audience - from claustrophobia, in the second act people seem to be reacting to the lack of physical constraint. The representative activity here is Frisbee throwing, while in the first act it was dish washing. If the generation depicted in the first half of the play found itself ground down by useful activity, the present generation according to Greenberg is suffering from uselessness.
If the first act was vintage Odets, the second suggested bad Beckett. Even the set in act two failed to perform its function, if indeed it had one. A large plastic drop made up of rectangular shapes hinged together served multiple purposes, except to identify where the action was taking place. One scene was vaguely an interior, another somewhere at the beach, while a third looked like a parking lot, but while the first act clearly took place in a specific locale, the second being everywhere and nowhere did not communicate with clarity what the author intended to say. One wants to know the meaning of a design that calls for a red roadster, but allows actors to walk through walls. The audience is called upon to use its imagination arbitrarily.
Surely, one protests, a playwright of Greenberg's considerable gifts must have something significant he is trying to say. Of this one can be sure. The juxtaposition of the two worlds depicted in the two acts suggests many possibilities, as do their representative theatrical styles. The problem is that every idea that presents itself is undermined by the playwright's failed dramatic vision. Consider, for example, that the central dramatic action of the first act, namely, the courtship between the Jewish daughter and her non-Jewish suitor, literally goes nowhere. Not only do these characters never reappear, but also any meaning that can be derived from their relationship is erased when we learn that the girl died shortly thereafter and the guy disappeared. The entire first act is written off. Much of the exposition has this quality of pointlessness. What made it painful was Greenberg's use of rambling monologues, which were recited like narrative poems, but not made dramatically moving. The second act comes to a grinding halt three times when characters deliver boring stories that promise much while delivering little. In the end, the clumsy dramaturgy delivers useless information, while unrealistic, cartoonish characters undercut the air of solemnity that pervades the play.
Even the title, Everett Beekin, strikes this Greenberg admirer as a misstep. It derives from a minor character who embodies a small idea while this play, when one digs beneath the surface, is really about a group of women trying to reach each other across time. A more appropriate title for the play Greenberg intended to write might be Roots or, to be more exact, Branches.
Links to Richard Greenberg Reviews at CurtainUp
Three Days of Rain
Three Days of Rain
Hurrah At Last
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