Feb 2, 2005

From Ruhl to Behn

A few early-week updates to the Review of Reviews are in order, anticipating the full end-of-week deluge.

Two reviews on Sarah Ruhl's THE CLEAN HOUSE, at South Coast Rep through Feb. 27, were divided, with the Times' Daryl H. Miller lauding the "lovely turns of phrase" in Ruhl's "funny-sad script," admiring Kate Whoriskey's direction and the actor's nuanced performances, but finally musing that something "unknowable" is missing. (Miller's closing prescription, though intended to riff on the play's house-cleaning theme, was almost chiling: When a show "simply doesn't work," he advised, "the best thing to do is to sweep the experience under the rug and open the door to the next adventure." But not until after you file your review, Daryl!) Meanwhile, the OC Register's Paul Hodgins was much more impressed with this emerging writer, conceding that some of the play's tonal shifts don't work but raving that Ruhl "has the makings of a sharp social observer with a keen, Almodovar-like eye for people in the throes of personal crises." He also noted the cast's obvious love for the material, lamenting only that a key role played by "one of American theater's national treasures, Mary Lou Rosato," isn't larger.

The Daily News' Evan Henerson weighed in, like his peers generally favorably, on the Furious Theatre Company's THE SHAPE OF THINGS, at the Balcony Theatre in Pasadena through Feb. 20, calling it a "smart if not overly daring staging" that is nevertheless "blistering entertainment." It's clear above all that critics are just glad to see the Furious, homeless for a long, bleak year, back and kicking butt.

Adding more admiring but mixed reviews to the chorus about THE NINA VARIATIONS at Company Rep through Feb. 19 were the Daily News' Katherine Karlin and Travis Michael Holder (on the site reviewplays.com.). Karlin called Dietz's riff on The Seagull "intriguing," noted director Hope Alexander's "astonishing set," and generally liked the performances, though she found the play's concluding moments "treacly." Holder, who's acted under Alexander at the same theatre, was a little warmer, hailing the director's "starkly visionary staging" and Alan Altshuld's "tour de force" lead performance. He didn't buy the triple-Nina conceit any more than I did, but he concludes on an ecstatic note," calling the show "the first great theatrical triumph of the new year." Wow! I guess Holder doesn't want to burn his bridges. (His inside experience does allow him an image unavailable to most critics: "One can almost hear Alexander breaking into a rehearsal from her perch on the stairs in the audience to jump up and say, 'Oh! no, wait! I know what it is! I know what it is!' ")

The Chance Theatre takes a chance in adapting Apra Behn's 1678 classic THE ROVER, at the theatre in Anaheim through Feb. 20, as a romp enacted by contemporary girls at a teen slumber party. For the Orange County Register's Eric Marchese, the result of director John Costello's adaptation was initially "fanciful and endearing" but also confusing, and Marchese lamented that "seeing it only increases our curiosity about, and hunger for, a full period staging." Back Stage West's Melinda Schupmann was, unsurprisingly, much kinder, writing that the four-member troupe "manages to be both worldly and unsophisticated, and it comes off very well." Schupmann, in vintage say-something-nice mode, gently finessed her one quibble: "Costello might be faulted for overtly excessive posturing, but, in the context of teenagers, it comes off as an endearing enthusiasm."

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