You’re invited to a soiree at The Talk House – think Players Club – a ten year reunion of those originally involved with the play Midnight in the Clearing With Moon and Stars. Though critically unsuccessful, the production was a good experience for all involved. What appears to be colored water and penny candy are offered on trays. (When the play formally begins, party-goers avail themselves of a veritable cornucopia of tantalizing appetizers. You’ll salivate.) The company mingles with entering audience. Feel free to talk to the actors.
Catch-up conversation sounds like anything one might hear at theater hang-outs like Bar Centrale – the decline of real craft, its ersatz replacement, memories of what brought this group together, and allusions to what each is doing now. Much of this is banal. You might find yourself drifting off. Intermittent references to such as a play called The Elephant Does Forget with a “memorable dialysis scene” attempt to keep this part of the scenario from flatlining.
Matthew Broderick, Annapurna Sriram, Michael Tucker, John Epperson
Robert (Matthew Broderick), the playwright, has moved on to a television series called Tony and Company he could author with one hand behind his back. His star, Tom (Larry Pine), also the lead in Midnight, disparages the show. (Television is primary entertainment.) Bill (Michael Tucker) has morphed into a discouraged agent. Ted (John Epperson – Lypsinka in other incarnation) now writes advertising – jingles, we presume – as he intermittently tickles the corner ivories. Costumer, Annette (playwright/actress Claudia Shear), struggles as a bespoke seamstress.
Running Talk House is the palpably maternal Nellie (Jill Eikenberry), who one infers was once an actress, and young Jane (Annapurna Sriram) who left to try her luck on the boards, but returned tail between her legs. Our last character is Dick (Wallace Shawn) now an alcoholic, a “pitiful hanger-on” who’s been charitably taken in by the club, but seems beyond repair.
Michael Tucker, Claudia Shear, Larry Pine, Jill Eikenberry
Time passes slowly, though in amiable enough company. When dystopia enters on cat feet one barely notices at first. Desperate for incomes, several attendees are unquestioningly committing government sanctioned murder = “targeting” on the side. Shrug. Only Bill seems to find anything immoral or unusual in this ordinarily undiscussed, status quo, and his objections pass.
We’re reminded, as if everyday news were insufficient, that a fascist government works from lists, that it’s vigilant of those who might do “harm”, i.e. anyone who might object to singular rule, anyone different; that horrific “methods” are often ignored or rationalized as people acclimate. It’s them or us. Who is who?
Unfortunately, Shawn has a tendency to overwrite. The pith is both buried by endless uninteresting chat and dissipated by the number of sketched characters involved. Though Robert briefly shows unexpectedly conservative colors (Broderick might’ve credibly made a feast of this were he given more to reveal) and Jane is more angry at her lack of professional success than that to which she’s been reduced, most of those present are not very engaging. Annette, partly due to the wonderful Shear and Nellie to Eikenberry’s authenticity, are sympathetic.
Matthew Broderick, Annapurna Sriram
Undoubtedly meant to show the insidious nature of grim historical past and conceivably hovering future, the end result evokes nothing more than a shudder of recognition. While one applauds the playwright’s alert, it’s difficult not to be disappointed with its minimal effect.
There’s not a weak link in this excellent, iconoclastic cast which includes writers and performers one might otherwise never see on the same stage.
Scott Elliott directs with naturalness and imagination. People drift from Derek McLane’s well defined parlor set to an unseen kitchen area and back, helping us focus on those who remain. Everyone seems credible and comfortable. Stage business is fine. Use of music is appealing.
Photos by Monique Carboni
Opening: John Epperson, Matthew Broderick, Jill Eikenberry, Annapurna Sriram, Larry Pine, Claudia Shear
The New Group presents
Evening At The Talk House by Wallace Shawn
Directed by Scott Elliott
The Pershing Square Signature Center
480 West 42nd Street
Through March 12, 2017