March 16, 2007

Sympathy for a "Dying City"

There is usually no more enthusiastic member of an audience than my friend Ellie. A one-time actor, she knows what applause, or the lack of it, can do to a performer’s spirit and I’ve seen her give standing ovations, her arms stretching out towards the stage, when she was literally the only one standing. So when Ellie made a few tepid clapping motions at the conclusion of Dying City, I knew something was wrong. Playwright Christopher Shinn packs an Oprah season’s worth of big subjects—homosexuality and infidelity, how insecure we feel after the Sept. 11 attacks and how confused we feel about the war in Iraq, the lingering pain of childhood secrets and the ephemeral comfort of late night TV—into his 90 minute drama. And, at 31, he also has the young writer’s habit of explaining too much in his dialogue. But it was the acting that turned Ellie off. Or rather, one of the play’s two actors, Pablo Schreiber. The two of us had seen and enjoyed his Tony-nominated performance in Lincoln Center’s revival of Awake and Sing! last season but this time he didn’t work for Ellie. She said she didn’t like the way he kept rubbing his nose or how he sprayed his co-star newcomer Rebecca Brooksher with spittle nearly each time he spoke. “Disgusting,” Ellie said. “Absolutely disgusting. I feel so sorry for her.”

I didn’t mind any of that so much. In fact, I thought Schreiber did an impressive job of playing very different twins; I could tell the brothers apart, even without his costume changes. Neither was really a nice guy. And I began to wonder if Ellie had been turned off more by the characters than the actor. After the performance, she and I made our way across Broadway and settled in for a drink at O’Neals’. She continued complaining about Schreiber until he came into the place and joined his girlfriend at a cozy corner table set for four that Ellie and I had coveted but hadn’t had the nerve to asked for. It seemed O.K. to me when he sat there. He is the star of a show that is playing across the street and probably has become a regular. But as the other Lincoln Center shows let out, the restaurant filled and foursomes began eyeing that table. Without being asked, Schreiber got up and moved to a table for two. It was a small gesture, but one that I doubt either of his characters would have made and a reminder of the dark places that actors often have to go to entertain, or appall, us.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

I love your voice! I want to go with you and Ellie. I want to snuggle up into the excitement and disappointment of NYC theater experiences, and then go for dinner afterward! Reading your blog I felt like I was doing just that. More please.

Deborah said...

as wonderful as the great stars can be, with broadway prices at their current level, it has to be the whole package. If a discount isn't on playbill.com and theatermania I'm only in for once or twice a year, so grateful for this vicarious sifting...