Review by Tulis McCall
May 22, 2017
Hamish Linklater knows from relationships. In The New Group's The Whirligig now at Pershing Square Signature Center, he lays them out like a card shark fanning a deck. You can take your pick.
Father/Daughter. Mother/Daughter. Father/Mother. Daughter/Friend. Friend/Husband. Husband/Bar Customer. That is enough to get you started. The writing, combined with fine, fine performances and a sensitive touch by director Scott Elliott, makes for a mighty fine evening of theatre. So fine that a person could almost forget that this play needs a trim - short on the sides and a little off the top, thank you.
The story takes place in present time in the Berkshires. Not the Berkshires of summer visitors but the Berkshires of the townies, the year-round folks. Julie (Grace Van Patten) is all of 23 and on her way out of life. The reasons for this are given a quick nod and never flushed out, but Linklater's focus is more on the people and less the circumstances. Suffice to say everyone is drawn into Julie's shrinking orbit, and to tell the tale we must go back 15 years when everything began.
There we meet Julie's best friend Trish (Zosia Mamet). These two have girl crushes on each other because they are BFF's. Recreation includes almost going all the way with boys - or in Trish's case doing the deed with her actual boyfriend Greg (Alex Hurt). There are the occasional drug scores - smoking marijuana and was that cocaine? Other than the fact that Julie's parents Michael (Norbert Leo Butz) and Kristina (Dolly Wells) appear to be driving their marriage off a cliff, everything is normal. Except of course it is not. Michael is a frustrated thespian who is considering jobs that he doesn't really want and drinking his way into AA. Kristina is a published author about to swan off to Harvard. And Julie is left on her own to figure things out. Julie has no business being on her own.
The play moves easily back and forth between then and now. Linklater is in no hurry to move the plot along, which, especially in the first 20 or so minutes, causes the story to get bogged down. What saves everything is his masterful work creating these characters. Each person is a fully formed hunk of damaged goods. Some are very, very funny - as in hilarious - (Mamet and John DeVries as Mr. Cormeny especially) and the dialogue is written with astonishing precision. The actors are so consistent in meeting the high bar that Linklater sets that my theatre companion remarked he could not remember enjoying watching an ensemble's work so much in years. True this. Watching this production is like watching a choreographed tennis match. There are lobs, volleys, aces, net balls and wild faults. Noah Bean, Alex Hurt and Johnny Orsini each play men who are entwined with Julie's life like time-released molotov cocktails. Each of the actors relies on one another to knit the story together while we watch. All these messed up people overlap into everyone else's territory until what seemed like individual paths converge as one.
So exquisite is some of the writing that many of the scenes (and that is how it plays out, as a series of scenes between different pairings) reveal themselves to be tiny one-act plays. Complete and able to stand alone if one were to ask. Captivating on all levels. And nearly each one is overwritten by a few tads.
In addition, the last third of the play, wanders out of the barn and out of the corral. Linklater's attempt to connect all the dots drags on, and on, and on, with the final scene being almost comical in its staging. I doubt this was the intention. The actors rally to keep the boat afloat up until the last moments. All ends well. But too long is too long, no matter how you slice it. Extra words do not a better story make. On the plus side, this is such a fine production that Linklater should be able to see how strong his writing is and take the appropriate steps to trim this puppy down to the essentials. It is a jewel in the making. So close.
"Hamish Linklater, the author of the new play “The Whirligig,” is best known as an actor. And for the overstuffed drama that opened on Sunday night at the Pershing Square Signature Center, he has whipped up a multicourse meal for fellow actors to feast upon.
The cast of this New Group production numbers eight. And there are juicy scenes for each performer, brimming with showy but spontaneous reversals of feeling along with dialogue that dances off the tongue. Everybody gets a chance to reign, and to reign in pain, since this is a story of forms of addiction and of death at an early age."
Ben Brantley for New York Times
"When all is said and done in this production at Signature Center, there’s blame, responsibility and, possibly, forgiveness to go around — along with a slightly uplifting ending that emerges unearned."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Scott Elliott’s production for the New Group keeps a steady sense of balance amid the play’s swirling parts, creating strong bonds of unspoken history within his cast of eight."
Adam Feldman for Time Out New York
"Despite excellent performances, this overly convoluted play spins its own wheels."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter
"Writer-actor Hamish Linklater’s new play “The Whirligig,” expressionistic in form and melancholy in tone, examines the whirling emotions of the friends and family who are keeping the deathwatch on a young woman wasted by drugs. Despite the downbeat subject, it’s a touching play and exceptionally stageworthy in this polished production staged for The New Group."
Marilyn Stasio for Variety
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