Review by Tulis McCall
(27 Sep 2011)
Well, if I had been wearing socks, they would have been blown off because this is one sweet cast. They know who they are and understand their craft. What a pleasure to watch.
Jeff Talbott knows his theatre, and he peppers his script with details that many of us recognize so well. His skill in writing is that this does not put off the rest of the audience because everyone is included on this ride.
Danny (Jonathan Groff) has written a play, Call a Spade, about a black family in the projects. It was one of those things that just flowed. He has no life credentials to back up this story, which in some ways doesn’t matter because the play is that good.
What DOES matter is that if anyone were to see this script with Danny Larson listed as the author, the reader would get no further than that, and the script would be passed over. So Danny invents a nom de plume with a whopper of a name: Shaleeha G’ntamobi and invites Emilie (Rutina Wesley) to play the part on the stage of life. Danny and Emilie are testy with each other from the get go, at once bringing out the best and the worst in one another.
Danny’s partner Pete (Eddie Kaye Thomas) and their friend Trevor (Will Rogers) all agree with Emilie – this is some weird shit and the Human Festival, where the play has been accepted, is going to have to find out. Danny concurs but thinks it is worth the risk.
So off these four go, mimicking the play Danny has written: four characters and one set, therefore producible. Emilie goes to Humana, and Danny feeds her script changes as required. She attends rehearsals and he is left on the outside looking in. All pretty much as planned, but when Emilie makes her acceptance speech at Humana then Danny spirals out of control. They had agreed that this would be the moment she revealed the truth, except she doesn’t. She takes the baton and runs clear out of the park with it, leaving Danny alone and unacknowledged.
The ensuing argument has been waiting in the wings since these two met. Every petty emotion, every frustrating fact, every epithet that can be thrown gets worked into the marathon. The odd bit in the writing is that Danny’s inappropriate choice of phrases – “you people” and “Jungle bunny” etc seem to come out of nowhere. Danny’s racism affects the pacing like a skip in a CD and is almost unnecessary because it never has a path that it travels. It simply appears here and there. Something like that needs more of a foothold I think. In addition, Emilie’s change of mind is never given serious time to be considered. The two come off as angry people aching for a fight, which they are, but we need to see something more layered that lives up to the previous scenes’ portent.
And while this writing is fine, the pace of the entire show and the long blast of this argument are so relentless that there is no time to reflect. The argument nearly sucks the air out of the theatre and leaves us all stunned, even with its predictable conclusion. Jeff Talbott takes on enormous ideas – bravo to that. I prefer to chew on ideas like this a few bites at a time.
What the popular press said...
"Too theatrical for its own good. An artificial sheen gleams from its craftsmanship and its sometimes strained cleverness."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"The play falters from heavy-handed expressions like "you people."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"The kind of play usually described as Mamet-like: Unsympathetic characters argue over hot-button issues... But Talbott (Playwright) is Mamet at his most manipulative"
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"Under Walter Bobbie's swift direction, the 105-minute intermissionless show is spectacularly entertaining.
Erik Haagensen for Back Stage
"An awkwardly contrived piece that hits a succession of false notes."
Robert Feldberg for The Record
"The playwright is clearly talented and has a fine facility for crackling dialogue and raising hot-button issues, but I think he submitted this one too soon."
Roma Toree for NY1
"Has plenty of darkly comic bite, even if its central conceit doesn’t hold water."
David Rooney for The Hollywood Reporter
"Caught between sitcom and emo-drama."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
External links to full reviews from popular press...