A trio of new plays recently opened at all three theaters housed at the 59E59 complex, where Primary Stages is the resident company on the main stage. The playwrights on display are a diverse sampling of distinctly different talents all possessed with tantalizing ideas, provocative themes, and a good ear for contemporary dialogue.
They feature an established playwright Willy Holtzman returning to the Main Stage with his latest drama “Something You Did” along with two up and coming young writers. From San Francisco Garret Jon Grovenveld is making his New York debut in Theater C with his poetic tale “Missives.” And one of Scotland’s freshest voices, Simon Farquhar, is having the American Premiere of his acclaimed play, “Rainbow Kiss,” in Theater B. Each play has a particular appeal, so take your pick or experience them all.
“Something You Did,” examines a radical up for parole after serving 30 years for accidentally killing an African- American cop during a 1960’s anti war protest. The story asks some interesting questions about America’s response to the unpopular Viet Nam war that has many parallels to the war in Iraq, but makes no clear cut conclusions. Holtzman’s story set in today’s post 9/11 world is smart, clever and insightful, but the evening is flawed as drama turning quite predictable in Carolyn Cantor’s straight forward staging.
Tony Award winner, Joanna Gleason, as the central character Alison, doesn’t dig deep enough and as a result her conflicts with the other characters lack needed tension. Her general naturalistic style, devoid of a burning inner life, does little to serve the text. She is at her best with the spunky prison guard Uneeq (Portia), but that relationship requires less. Her conflict with Gene (Victor Slezak), which forms the play’s core, feels much too relaxed. Thirty years have passed since these two last met, but it feels like last week. Gleason does manage to score in her emotional statement to the board of appeals at the end of the play, but the journey getting there is not specific. The evening ultimately feels like much talk and not enough action.
“Missives,” an intriguing tale of friendship crisply directed by Elysabeth Kleinhans is told in the form of letters slipped under neighboring doors. The clever devise is a marvelous tool for the playwright’s lyrical language, but proves to be its undoing as well when the light story turns dark and we discover just why Ben has “gone missing.”
The friends, a white gay male Ben (Richard Gallagher) and black straight woman Lia (Shamika Cotton), challenged by the men in their lives, escape into their shared obsession with a daytime soap, “Through the Hourglass.” Their overlapping letters are interspersed with scenes between Ben and his lover Steven (Ryan Tresser) and scenes with Ben and the ominous Freddie (Jay Randall).The performances are sincere and heartfelt, but Groenveld never has the two missive writers, Ben and Lia, meet face to face giving the evening a feeling reminiscent of Tennessee Williams’ early memory plays. Dramatically, however, it doesn’t work lulling the actors into a comfort zone and proving to be tricky to direct. Gallagher relies on his charm becoming somewhat mannered, while Cotton gets caught playing a quality. Tresser and Randall fare better under Kleinhans’s clearly focused direction of their scenes. The evening’s dramatic failings aside, however, Groenveld proves himself an entertaining playwright of considerable merit.
“Rainbow Kiss,” Farquhar’s impressive debut play (previously he wrote for radio), is a dark tale, which “caused a sensation” when it premiered at the Royal Court in London. Now presented by The Play Company the New York premiere directed by Will Frears and starring Peter Scanavino is a dazzling production that is both gripping and provocative. Scanavino plays Keith, a single father with an 8 month old son is working at a dead end job as a telephone operator, when a one night stand with Shazza (
Charlotte Parry) turns his world upside down. Fueled by their gritty performances and the intensity of Keith’s growing obsession the evening is a disturbing ride that makes many points about the nature of survival in our materialistic culture. Scanavino is absolutely dynamic! He totally embodies Keith giving him an all consuming inner life that culminates in a horrifying bloody conclusion. The less said about his beautifully smudged performance the better, but his organic work is a hair raiser. His chemistry with Parry is electric and he receives outstanding support form Robert Hogan and Michael Cates as well. The evening is not for the faint of heart.
For a performance schedule at 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street just off Park Avenue or to purchase tickets call 212-279-4200