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A CurtainUp Review
A Spanish Play
By Elyse Sommer
I might not make a fuss about this back of the bus treatment of the technicians responsible for the production's striking filmic aspects if Reza's new play lived up to the high expectations that have preceded it, as they have the American production of all her plays since the Tony-winning Art. Besides Reza's box office cache, A Spanish Play has a Wow cast, the chief magnet in the latter being Zoe Caldwell who's been absent from the stage since her magnificent portrayal of Maria Callas in Master Class a dozen years ago. Reza and Caldwell made this a hot enough Off-Broadway ticket to prompt a pre-opening extension.
Actually Caldwell as Pilar, an older actress, has a less flashy role than her colleagues, Linda Emond Katherine Borowitz, Denis O'Hare and Larry Pine and. Emond and Borowitz play Pillar's actress daughters —Borowit'z Nuria successful but still hankering to be cast as a Chekhov heroine; Emond's Aurelia coping with motherhood and rehearsals for another play within (a Bulgarian play about a piano teacher who can't communicate with his student). These are all Group A+ actors and they sink their acting chops into these roles, with the wonderful Denis O'Hare (like Reza and Caldwell a Tony winner) making a feast of the chewy bone that the playwright has given him.
The fact that the fairly popular literary conceit of one story told during the action of another story is said to have first been used in1587 by Thomas Kyd in The Spanish Tragedy adds a possible piquant double meaning to Reza's using a Spanish play for her dramatic puzzle about what's real and what's part of the play being rehearsed. Given the committed acting, clever filmic touches and playwright David Ives' fluid and meticulous translation everything seems to be aligned for a fun to watch, challenging evening of theater. Regrettably, this is not the case.
The opening monologue by Larry Pine as the actor playing a building manager who has become romantically involved with Pilar (Caldwell), gets things off to an amusing and attention holding start. The monologues by the other actors are also good and at first the segues between their real lives and what's happening in the play are intriguing enough for you to buy into the conceit of the actors real life relationships blending into the plot of the play within. However, there's not enough to all this to sustain almost two intermissionless hours and after a while all this cleverness seems more pretentious than provocative. If there were a break, a few of the people dozing off would undoubtedly rouse themselves for a quick escape. Director John Turturro, who performed in the Broadway production of Reza's Life (X) 3 (as did Linda Emond) doesn't help matters by letting things reach what seems like a fitting end, only to have each actor return for yet another (and by now tedious) monologue.
While Turturro would have been wise to blue pencil this down to 90 minutes, it could have been worse. In Germany A Spanish Play ran three hours, and in Poland it went on an additional half an hour. I hope for the Germans' and Poles' sake, there was an intermission.
Links to Other Plays by Yasmina Reza reviewed at CurtainUp: Art-Broadway
Life (X) 3-London
Life (X) 3-Broadway
Unexpected Man-Los Angeles
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide