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A CurtainUp Review
No. 11 (Blue and White)
David Lohrey
If I'm a person and I'm getting hurt, doesn't that make it personal?
It's not often that one sees an irredeemably bad play in a production about which nothing good can be said. This remarkably unrewarding piece comes close to the mark, but is saved by the promise of the playwright's material, which remains largely unspoiled. No.11 premiered at the 2000 Humana Festival, and like much of what is done at that prestigious venue, it consists largely of voiced sentiments rather than of characters in conflict. It is a kind of vulgar Spoon River Anthology. Vulgar, I say, not because of the crude language, but because of the crude sentiments shown raw, undistilled by an artist's hand.
The New York Times reports that film director Sydney Pollack is working with the author on a series for HBO based largely on the same material that is now on view. This should come as no surprise. Reworked, it might work very well on television. As a matter of fact, it might make a marvelous soap opera, consisting largely if not entirely of teenagers. I can even recommend a title: The Young and the Privileged.

The material as shown fails to hold one's attention. Instead of a play, what we get is a kind of static recitation. It is less a piece of art than a sketchbook of fragments read out loud as in a playwrighting workshop. No doubt, some of it can and will be salvaged. Much will and should be discarded, as is true of all writers' notebooks. It is neither a play nor an experimental work. It is rather a display of writings, read by ill prepared actors.

The pretentious title ill equips one for the brutal force of the familiar and conventional subject. This is Teenage Life 101, also known as The Done-To-Death Pro-Seminar on American youth. The kids are as bratty, disrespectful, and crude as any you are likely to meet at the neighborhood mall. They talk offensively about all their usual obsessions, including drinking, masturbating, and dating.

Part of the problem has to do with the lack of contrast and therefore of conflict among this remarkably similar set of snotty teenagers. It is as if Shakespeare had written a play consisting of three Iagos and five Lady Macbeths. The writing is out of that school of ghoulish studies begun by photographer Diane Arbus, only here the character studies are of the psychologically maimed. They are freaks, because they lack heart. Brutish depravity shown so relentlessly is as boring as two hours of Tiny Tim singing about tulips. As presented, we wallow in misery without insight.

Problems with the staging begin with the weird barrier running across the stage. As constructed, it separates the upstage and downstage playing areas in such away that the actors remaining behind the barrier are understood to be out of play, while those who have survived the effort to climb over it are understood to be in play. A cruder method of dividing stage space cannot be imagined. Watching the actors climb over this obstacle presents the highlight of the evening's drama. Mr. Aukin, the gifted Artistic Director of Soho Rep, no doubt has something in mind with all this, but fails to make his intentions known. The frequent but unexplained use of microphones impedes the actors as well and, like the barrier, slows the action.

All of America is trying to figure out the young. Ms Cunningham has an ear for the thuggish murmurings of the teenage heart. I have every confidence much of what is now on display can be shaped into a coherent whole. A story must be drafted to explain how we let our kids get so far away from us.
Written by Alexandra Cunningham.
Director: Daniel Aukin.

Cast: Katie Walder, Joey Shea, Robin Taylor, Adam Groves, Hilary Edson, Nell Mooney, Shauna Miles, Liza Lapira, Amber McDonald..
Set & Costume Designer: Louisa Thompson.
Lighting Design: Jane Cox.
Sound Design: Robert Kaplowitz.
Running Time: 1 hour and 50 minutes, with one 15-minute intermission
The Play Company at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway at 76th Street, (212) 206-1515.
1/11/2001 - 2/03/2002, call for schedule.
Reviewed by David Lohrey based on performance of 1/17/02.
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