Review by Tulis McCall
(31 Jan 2011)
A few years ago the Atlantic Theatre Company had a brainy idea to adapt a play from the turn of the century. The Voysey Inheritance was a Madoff-type scandal set in 1905. It was a successful re-rite ad a swell production.
The New York Idea, set in the same time period, does not fare so well. More’s the pity because there are some fine actors doing their best to bring this play to life.
At the center of this woeful production is the script of course. And it is a brave topic. Two d-i-v-o-r-c-e-d people are planning on marrying one another. One, Philip Philimore (Michael Countryman) is a man of social standing and the other, Cynthia Karslake (Jamie Ray Newman), is a woman who, by any stretch of the imagination, doesn’t fit into that stratosphere. For one thing she is an independent thinker. She is also a gambler – horses being her weakness of choice – and an avid horsewoman who would rather wrap her legs around a powerful beast than listen to gossip in a women’s only gathering. Her ex-husband, John (Jeremy Shamos) is a sweet scallywag who is not quite done with her, nor she with him. Likewise Mrs. Philimore (Patricia O’Connell), who has a reputation nearly as wild as her soon to be replacement, is not done Mr. Philimore either. It is all very Fred and Ginger a few decades earlier.
Or so we are told. Unfortunately there is nothing here that remotely connects to the early 1900’s except a few pieces of text. Instead we are whisked into a sort of 1930’s style romp that does not serve the story one little bit. The characters seem to have no awareness of the time period they are playing, but that is understandable as the text has been contemporized to a fare-thee-well. Ms. Newman in particular appears ignorant social boundaries her character is crossing and behaves more like a college co-ed from a 1940’s movie. Ms.O’Connell tries valiantly to give her character some shape but the text nearly topples her. The always steady Countryman is left to utter platitudes that fall flat and Jeremy Shamos nearly vamps to fill in the gaps he must navigate. We are also witness to a series of costumes – most notably those of Ms. O’Connell – that are ill fitting and inappropriate for the time period. If you couple that with both O’Connell’s and Newman’s contemporary hair styles and the visual is dizzying. And finally these actors are forced to perform on a set that has the appearance of a funeral home both in lighting and ambiance.
It is an astonishing collection of mismatched intentions combined with ill-conceived artistic choices. The result is a piece of theatre at low ebb indeed. It is a terrific idea for a play and makes me want to read the original just to see if it might live up to its own premise. This production does not.
"By no means unpleasant, but it seems to be going through farcical motions without the heat of purpose."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"Not fizzy enough for a romp, not biting enough for satire and not frantic enough for titillating farce, the play is just a trifle."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"But in screwball, pace is everything -- and director Mark Brokaw should have sped things up."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Those with a taste for period comedy should thoroughly enjoy themselves."
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"The characters ... leave us cold, their antics less amusing than tiresome."
Roma Torre for NY1
"Mostly atrocious production"
Michael Summers for Newsroom Jersey
"Stylistically correct but terribly sober production."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety