Review of Sunday at Atlantic Theater Company

  • Our critic's rating:
    Date:
    September 24, 2019
    Review by:

    Unfortunately, Jack Thorne’s Sunday, which has been commissioned by the Atlantic Theater Company and is currently playing the Linda Gross Theater, is high-jacked by its most obnoxious character, Milo (Zane Pais), and never recovers. A group of just college graduates gather for a monthly book group that narrator Alice (Ruby Frankel) describes as having started as a post-ironic joke and continued as a post-ironic joke that we were post-ironic about being post-ironic.” It devolves into an alcohol and drug fuelled hyper intellectual, self-congratulatory attack on each other using the books of author Anne Tyler as ammunition.

    Ostensibly, Sunday revolves around the character of Marie (Sadie Scott), a newcomer to the book group through her roommate Jill (Juliana Canfield), and in whose apartment the group is being held this month. The play opens with Alice as the narrator giving us a glimpse into Marie’s unusual background. The first scene is a wonderful phone call with Marie and her mother. It’s not easy to pull off a one-sided phone call and make it realistic, but Sadie Scott pulls it off beautifully. It’s a gem of a moment and between the writing and the acting we immediately know who Marie is and who her mother is and what their relationship is. Can you say self-involved helicopter mom?

    After the phone call comes a knock on the door and it’s their downstairs neighbor Bill (Maurice Jones), a terminally shy and awkward 37-year-old who has come to request that they keep it down tonight because it’s Sunday. Another beautifully written and acted scene with a lot of promise. Two shy and sensitive characters meeting and trying to assure each other of good intentions.

    If only two-thirds of the play was not taken up with the pointless, endless book club scenes that relate to nothing and go nowhere in the scheme of the play, and concentrated on the relationship between Bill and Marie, Mr. Thorne might have himself a play. Instead, we are treated to endless ruminations on toxic masculinity in the Anne Tyler novel “Dinner at the Homesick Restaurant” and others, along with endless vitriol spewed by Milo. Especially towards Marie.

    When at last the book club breaks up and Marie is left alone, the best scene in the play takes place between Bill and Marie. It’s a beautifully constructed getting-to-know-you moment between two damaged people who desperately need a friend. Frustratingly, it ends abruptly, and seemingly out of character. Huge kudos to Mr. Jones who gives one of the most organic and nuanced performances I’ve seen as the flawed and yearning Bill.

    I think that part of the problems with this production of Sunday are to be laid at the feet of the director and choreographer Lee Sunday Evans. (I think the middle name is a coincidence.) You know the old saw that goes “if you have a hammer, every problem is a nail.” In this case, since Ms. Evans is not just a director, but also a choreographer, many stage directions have been turned into little dances that include lighting changes that seem to stop the action of the play. In a couple of cases, the stage directions indicate that a couple of characters simply run around the stage. In one case, they indicate that the characters freeze and then swap places. And in several places, there doesn’t seem to be any indication that something extraordinary is to happen at all.

    As well, while I liked Brett J. Banakis’ set very much – especially the solid wall made up of books that several characters climbed up, I was surprised to read in the script that that was not what was specified at all. In fact, the bookshelves were meant to be mobile, not one solid unit, and at the end of the night, they are meant to be pulled down. That’s a very different set of symbols and might have clarified the ending for me. Which, when I saw it, felt forced and somewhat too pat.

    (Photo by Monique Carboni)

    "Since — as befits a play about a book club — literary references abound here, I found myself thinking of a similarly titled work, Jean Stafford’s short story “Children Are Bored on Sunday.” Unfortunately, for the big kids of Mr. Thorne’s latest offering, being bored often translates into being boring."
    Ben Brantley for New York Times

    "Director Lee Sunday Evans tries to inject some energy via choreography in the breaks in between scenes; the actors fling themselves into the dances, jerking like puppets. The more they do, the more tired they appear. It’s a play that’s pretending to be young but does not seem young at all. In other words, it’s a Monday."
    Helen Shaw for Time Out New York

    "Sunday is as small as King Kong was big but just as awful. The word awful is used here for both its current definition, meaning “bad,” and its original definition, meaning “filled with awe.” Indeed, Sunday is the kind of play that’s so bad it fills you with awe."
    Robert Hofler for The Wrap

    "The good news about the new play by Jack Thorne is that it features an absolutely terrific 20-minute scene that could easily stand alone. The bad news is that you have to sit through 70 minutes of utter tedium to get to it."
    Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter