Saturday, January 3, 2015

Intense Theatre

The last wonderful drama I saw that ran 90 minutes straight without an intermission was David Mamet's superb Glengarry Glen Ross, which starred Joe Mantegna and the late Robert Prosky on Broadway. Mamet's conniving salesmen were incredibly alive and emblematic of a society but it was the intensity of the play that drew you in and held you for the hour and a half that seemed even shorter. 

Last week we saw another 90-minute fest of fast talkers--Bad Jews, a play by a new playwright, Joshua Harmon, at the Studio in DC after it's debut last year at New York's Roundabout.  Washington's City Paper informs me that it "has already become one of the top three most-produced plays in America this year."

The play raised all the long-argued issues of assimilation and meaning of religion in the context of a family elder's passing. In one dimension it even conjured up memories of Arthur Miller's amazing late work, The Price, in which two brothers debate the value of their lives in the context of disposing of their late father's worldly possessions. But here, you have the classic dramatic design of four characters--think of Streetcar Named Desire, for example--with two leads: one cousin who overwhelms almost everyone with her seeming passion for tradition and incredibly overbearing air that hides a hungering for respect and affection, and another who is almost too cool in his comfort with becoming completely ensconced in a world shorn of ethnicity.

There's even a MacGuffin they struggle over--even physically--and two quieter characters who surprise everyone when they play major roles in the outcome. The play, however, raised more penetrating questions that go well beyond the charge of phoniness so beloved by Holden Caulfield: here, both leading characters have degrees of insincerity so you find yourself caught in this maelstrom of always-heated argument.

So the dialogue is quick, piercing, screamingly funny, and penetrating, but beneath the absolutely roaring sound and fury, there's a gradually discernible reality of the essence of these mostly unlikeable but most definitely realistically-drawn characters. The playwright apparently is fresh out of Juilliard and the actors look just right for their ages and lend support to the desirability of casting Equity members by the professional performances they deliver.

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