Tuesday, June 21, 2016

"Two Shows We Saw In New York And A Third One I Shall Talk About Tomorrow (So What Is It Doing In This Title?)"

You go to New York, you see some shows. 

That’s what you do in New York.  Otherwise, you’ll be walking around outside where the airborne debris irritates my eyes so much I am required to wear sunglasses, even at night.  (Braving the inevitable “Hollywood” remarks.)  I believe they do that on purpose, so you’ll appreciate the shows more.

“At least we’re inside.”

Before leaving L.A., we scanned the list of shows in the Sunday New York Times, and we selected these ones.  We excluded the season’s smash Hamilton because the available tickets were going for nine hundred dollars apiece.  The only show I’d pay nine hundred dollars to see is


And even then, I’d complain about it.

“Nine hundred dollars for “Row ‘W’?”

The Humans had gotten excellent reviews – one reviewer called it “The finest new play of the Broadway season.” – so we decided to see that.

The first thing I noticed stepping into The Helen Hayes Theatre was it was excruciatingly freezing.

“Is there a hockey game?” I facetiously inquired.  To no response from the usherette.  She’s from New York.  Obvious comedy is unceremoniously dismissed.  (More on that later.  I’m afraid.)

As we sat down, I detected the cacophonous chatter that inevitably accompanies hit shows.  This pre-programmed enthusiasm is the kind that has audiences laughing at the scenery.  The show they were attending had been effusively reviewed and they were reacting accordingly… although the performance itself had not yet begun.

In a way, the audience was applauding itself for being there.

I am not a reviewer.  It takes specialized knowledge to review plays.  I am simply a reactor to what is placed in front of me.  Do not expect an astute evaluation on the appropriateness on the set design.  If it doesn’t fall down, it’s okay with me. 

The Humans (written by Stephen Karam) brings us a three-generational middle class Irish-American family and their personal travails.  For me, there were entirely too many of them.

Losing their job.  Facing cancer surgery and a colostomy bag.  Unceremoniously dumped by their same-sex girlfriend.

And that’s just one character!

The grandmother suffers dementia.  The Dad lost his job due to a “morals” infraction.  His wife has to weather the humiliation.  Their daughter – not the one with the multiple afflictions – struggles with career disappointment resulting from being a not very talented musician.  The other sister… See the “’Oy!’ List” above.

The only seemingly well-balanced character in the show is the mediocre composer’s live-in boyfriend, recently recovered from a nervous breakdown. 

Most plays have one precipitating difficulty.  This play has seven of them.

The ensemble cast, however, was excellent.  (Most noteworthily because nobody in the cast ever “broke character”, looked directly into the audience and asked, “Does anybody find this ‘over the top’”?)

The highly approving reviewer writes that The Humans could “qualify as deep-delving reportage, so clearly does it illuminate the current tremor-ridden landscape of contemporary America.”

No it doesn’t.

Nobody was fired due to corporate consolidation.  Nobody’s job has been outsourced.  Nobody’s been supplanted by a robot.  Nobody’s gone “Chapter 11”, lacking appropriate health care.  Nobody was blown up by a terrorist. 

“Tremor ridden landscape of contemporary America”?  Bushwah!  The family’s problems are either self-inflicted, or they’ve been terribly unlucky.

Feathered throughout this Jobian onslaught are numerous pointedly funny lines, like when the daughter complains to her intrusively compassionate mother, “You don’t have to text her {her gay sister} every time a lesbian kills herself.” – my primary source of hilarity was the egregious “piling on” of family afflictions.  I was actually counting them.   (See:  “Seven.”)

What came to mind was a college playwriting assignment:

“Give one family as many problems as you can imagine – give them a few more – and then tell us about it.”

The reviewer describes The Humans as “a blisteringly funny burstingly sad comedy-drama.”

I laughed at the comedy.

And I laughed at the drama.

Speaking of disappointing reactions, as we left the theater, Dr. M had to go back inside for something.  After being gone for a worrisome length of time, I decided to reenter the theater to look for her, passing the final vestiges of the exiting audience.  

Because I am me and I cannot help myself, I inquired of a departing theatergoer,

“Am I late?”

Her withering reaction was a typical New Yorker’s to a misguided out-of-towner:

“That may be hilarious in Podunk, but you’re in ‘The Big Apple’, Mister.  Don’t waste my time. ”

I had had a “flop” in the theater. 

Not even on stage. 

It was in the lobby.

As usual, I have talked too much and I am now out of time.  Revised Title:

“One Show We Saw In New York, And Another I Shall Talk About Tomorrow, And A Third One I Shall Discuss The Day After.”

I should probably hold off on the titles until I’m finished.

Postscript:  The Humans won this years's Tony Award for Best Play, so it's possible I missed something. 

No comments: