Review by Tulis McCall
2 March 2015
Well isn’t this a pickle? How to take an intriguing idea and beat it into submission with a pen? Nick Jones’ play Verité At Lincoln Center’s beautiful Claire Tow Theater does just that.
Jo Darum (Anna Camp) lives in with her husband Josh (Danny Wolohan) and son Lincoln (Oliver Holllman) in an apartment in her sister-in-law’s house. The sister-in-law, Liz (Jeanine Serrales) is the manager at Bracelet Palace. Josh drives a bus at Newark Airport. Jo has been a stay at home mother and has also spent several years working on a book about dragons and dwarves, Dragonscape. The book is going nowhere until Jo is called in to a publishers office where she meets two squirrely dudes, Andreas (Matt McGrath) and Sven (Robert Sella) who one supposes are Norwegian (but whose accents wander). These gents love Jo’s style and voice, but don’t want her book. Instead they want her to write a memoir that has verité.
Jo takes one look at her life and comes up with zilch. They counter offer: …what if we made your life interesting? They don’t say how and they don’t say when, but they do offer a 50k advance. The duo creep Jo out, but Josh is excited at the thought of finally having money enough to get out of Dodge, and the frayed edges of his eagerness show the stress in their marriage. They decide to take a vacation in Myrtle Beach (using what money…?) but at the last minute Jo runs into an old high school chum (well he SAYS he is) Winston (Ebon Moss-Bachrach). He invites her to a local bar later that night. Jo looks through her yearbook and does not find him so she assumes the publishers sent him. This is her chance to live an authentic adventure and write about it.
Jo sends Josh and Lincoln off and takes herself to the bar. What you think will happen does. When confronted by her sister-in-law she explains that she loves Josh, but THIS is about her “job”. Eventually Winston tells her he has always loved her since high school – where she still does not remember seeing him. Jo records the conversation and responds …it’s overwrought, but that’s fine, I’ll rework the dialogue. She and Winston fly off to Bogota where Jo eagerly awaits his next move. He, however, comes up empty. Jo pleads with him to spice up the story any way he wants – he is after all a character sent to develop a plot line.
When Winston steps off the shelf to become more than a plot line, things go south, swiftly.
The play ends abruptly on the premiere night of Jo’s first project, the movie Dragonscape. The ugly incidents in Bogota are dismissed, and Jo and Josh are ready to leave the attic apartment for good. All is swell until Sven and Andreas call to resurrect the memoir with just a teensie re-write that may threaten Jo’s family. Whomp.
I loved the idea of a character whose life is turned upside down. Who do you trust when you can’t trust anyone? But this story doubles back on itself so many times it makes your head spin. As well, it is seriously overwritten. Jones seems to write by the “more is more” philosophy, which is surprising as he is a writer and co-producer of Orange Is The New Black. Where one word would do, he writes pages. And the pages don’t add to the plot, they simply stretch on and on. The characters of Sven and Andreas remain one-dimensional caricatures who may or may not be pulling strings. Jo herself has little substance, and the choices she makes fall into the reaction category, not action. Finally, there is no answer to the question of who Winston really was – and this is a serious omission because most of the story leans on his presence. This is compounded by Moss-Bachrach’s performance, which was sluggish enough to suggest he was not certain of his lines. Von Stuelpnagel’s direction does little to pull the many stray threads together.
On the plus side, Wolohan and Serralles give excellent performances, as does the young Hollmann who is having a heckuva grand time.
But in the end, this play runs a very long 100 minutes and lacks the exact element on which it is focused – verité.
"Unlike memoirs, plays don’t necessarily have to be true, or even true-ish, but they should be credible enough to keep us engaged with the fates of their characters."
Charles Isherwood for New York Times
"The play at Lincoln Center reminds that comedy - with exception to screwball farce - needs to be grounded in truth. Otherwise laughs give way to eye rolls."
Joe Dziemianowicz for New York Daily News
"Nick Jones’ play, at LCT3, is hampered by an uneven tone, not to mention a premise that’s both clever and completely improbable. An audience can buy the craziest plot as long as there’s internal logic, but there isn’t much of that here."
Elisabeth Vincentelli for New York Post
"'Verité' is the sort of art-imitating life confection that makes critics name-check Pirandello and Borges, even if such comparisons are not really flattering."
David Cote for Time Out New York/NY1
"The production directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel at the Claire Tow Theater is not up to LCT3’s usual high standard. Andrew Boyce’s awkwardly longitudinal setting provides several locations but always looks homely. The acting, with two exceptions, is mediocre but the problem most likely stems from the deficient material and not the artists."
Michael Sommers for New Jersey Newsroom
"The play, briskly and efficiently staged by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, doesn't fully succeed in realizing its satirical ambitions. But it offers plenty of fun food for thought along the way."
Frank Scheck for Hollywood Reporter
External links to full reviews from popular press...