PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 15-21: Relatively Speaking, Tea With Zoe Caldwell, Steve Jobs Lives On

News   PLAYBILL.COM'S THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, Oct. 15-21: Relatively Speaking, Tea With Zoe Caldwell, Steve Jobs Lives On
 
Monologuist Mike Daisey, who has put in a several dog years toiling at his craft (if you don't know the extensive Daisey oeuvre, you won't get that reference), finally has the biggest hit of his career.

Mike Daisey
Mike Daisey Photo by Aubrey Reuben

The Public Theater has extended his latest work, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which weighs the human cost of must-have technology, through Dec. 4. This move came after the show was greeted by a wave of strong reviews on Oct. 17. Reviewers called the work powerful, unsettling and — given Jobs' recent death and the growing political issue of our country's dependence on Chinese labor — about as contemporary as can be. "It might not be the eulogy the former Apple CEO would have chosen, but Mike Daisey's The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs is an eye-opener," wrote the Hollywood Reporter. "This provocative monologue pulls no punches in confronting us with the dark side of Jobs' legacy and of our own mass addiction to gadgets."

A few critics admitted to leaving the theatre feeling newly guilty about owning their various Apple-made gizmos, now irrevocably tainted. That's a hard thing to do, make critics feel guilty. Good job, Daisey.

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Marlo Thomas in Relatively Speaking.
photo by Joan Marcus

Uptown, there was no joy at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, where the one-act triptych Relatively Speaking opened on Oct. 20. That is, unless you relish the art of the scathing review. When critics hate a show as much as they do this collection of plays by Woody Allen, Elaine May and Ethan Coen, they can get off some stingingly pointed lines.

"One can kindly describe Relatively Speaking, the umbrella title for these three minor playlets by major comedy writers, as a theatrical throwback," wrote one. "Unfortunately, throwbacks, if they are to get somewhere, need to have aim, momentum and a sense of direction." The Post instructed that "'comedies' implies humor, wit and gags," and then proceeded to detail where the production at hand had failed in these respects. Variety pointed out that "If the three one-act plays performed under the omnibus title Relatively Speaking had been written by playwrights named Joe Smith, Jane Doe and Sid Jones, they'd probably still be making their way through the workshop pipeline at some not-for-profit (and not-too-daring) theatre in the West Village." The Wall Street Journal, meanwhile, understood why producers backed the evening — look at the names involved, after all! — but noted, nonetheless, that "The theory is impeccable, the results disastrous." The kindest assessment came from the Times, which call the evening "a reasonably savory tasting platter of comedies." ***

It's very hard to catch actress Zoe Caldwell on stage. Her many awards (including four Tonys) bely the fact that she almost never acts.

So, the good news is that Caldwell is returned to theatre work. The bad news is that the very nature of the production will make this hard-to-see performer even harder to see.

Caldwell will play a society lady hosting afternoon tea in Elective Affinities, a site-specific play by David Adjmi, which will begin performances Nov. 17 on the Upper East Side.

Soho Rep artistic director Sarah Benson will stage the New York premiere of the play that will officially open Dec. 1, after previews from Nov. 17, for a brief run through Dec. 18. Only 30 audience members will be accommodated at each of the couple dozen performance — a big crowd for tea, but a small theatre audience. The drama will take place in a townhouse on Manhattan's Upper East Side. I have not mentioned the location of the townhouse because the producers will not tell me. Ticket holders will be notified of the address within 48 hours of the performance. Presumedly, that will give them enough time to get there, depending on traffic and subway schedules.

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The inaugural Ellen Stewart Award — named for the founder of La MaMa E.T.C., the groundbreaking Off-Off-Broadway house, who died earlier this year — was presented to playwright Sam Shepard, whose early works were nurtured by at La MaMa. As part of Shepard's honor, he was asked to select a young theatre artist to create a new work to be presented and produced at La MaMa.

Shepard has selected Matthew Paul Olmos to create a new work that will debut at La MaMa etc as part of the company's 51st season.

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