The Cave Dwellers, A CurtainUp Off-Off Broadway Review CurtainUp

The Internet Theater Magazine of Reviews, Features, Annotated Listings






Etcetera and
Short Term Listings


NYC Restaurants


New Jersey







Free Updates
Writing for Us

A CurtainUp Review
The Cave Dwellers

Any kind of look is better than none at all.— King
Robert Hock as The King and Mahira Kakkar as The Girl in The Cave Dwellers
Robert Hock as The King and Mahira Kakkar as The Girl in The Cave Dwellers
(Photo: Gregory Costanzo)
Sitting through a bad play is one thing; sitting through a well-done but pointless play is quite another. The Cave Dwellers by William Saroyan, currently revived by the Pearl Theatre Company, is one of those plays that should have been left to fade into gentle obscurity long ago.

Saroyan hasn't aged well. His plays are so obviously of another era that they can find no purchase in modern theaters (except among audiences of a certain age). That's not to say they aren't still popular. His most famous, The Time of Your Life (first drama to win both the Pulitzer and the New York Drama Critics Circle Award in 1939) is still trotted out occasionally, though the 1948 film version and subsequent Broadway revivals were unsuccessful.

One reason Saroyan's plays seem stagnant, especially to young audiences is that he disregarded the conventional idea of conflict as essential to drama. Very little happens and the plays work best, not as dramas but as as paeans to sentimentality. The Cave Dwellers is no exception. It focuses on a group of down-on-their-luck people and their interpersonal relationships. The King and Queen are homeless actors who hole up in a decrepit old theatre on the Lower East Side that's scheduled for demolition. Joining them are the Duke, an ex-prize fighter, and a young girl. These characters form a tentative family of sorts—, until they are joined by a real family, a young man and his wife and newborn son who are traveling with a circus bear. When the wrecking crew boss shows up, the "cave dwellers" are forced to leave their erstwhile home and face the cruel world outside.

Most of the action (though the word is a misnomer) occurs during a long, protracted conversations between the Queen and the girl about love. The girl fancies herself in love with the Duke, though she's really in love with a young mute milkman. Most of the second act is spent watching her deny her feelings, only to find her flying into the arms of the milkman when he appears. No surprise there—why Saroyan found it necessary to devote an act to it is beyond me.

Saroyaan used the rag tag bunch to illustrate his theme that love is a necessity of survival. But while they cope with their brutal living conditions bevcause they have each other, they do nothing to really convey their love. Instead, we get a lot of tali and the only real action involves a daring midnight milk raid by the Duke, to procure the newborn baby a little nourishment.

While the play may be trite and dated, the Pearl's production of it is quite good. The actors give high caliber performances and the costumes and set are well-designed. The breathy, declamatory school of vocalization that permeates the performances actually fits the play. Robert Hock, a Pearl favorite, stands out as the King. Marcus Naylor's Duke was the most active character and his realistic and gritty portrayal of the boxer single-handedly saves the play from being completely maudlin.

It's admirable that the Pearl wants to bring back lost classics, but there are so many others more worthy of revival. This is borne out by their many fine production, the most recent, Lillian Hellman's Toys in the Attic, being a case in point. But dfon't take my word for it. The Queen in The Cave Dwellers says it herself: "It was a bad play. And yet it is considered a good play. Unbelievable!"

Editor's Note: Jenny's sense that audiences, especially younger ones, tend not to respond to Saroyan nowadays. A couple of season's ago, Barrington Stage mounted a rarely produced musical adaptation of The Human Comedy . It was a spunky production (musically, that is) but audiences were less than enthusiastic about the story . ( review). A revival of The Time of Our Lives, reviewed during CurtainUp's early years, also didn't work all that well (review).

The Cave Dwellers
Written by William Saroyan
Directed by Shepard Sobel
Cast: Carol Schultz (Queen), Marcus Naylor (Duke), Mahira Kakkar (Girl), Robert Hock (King), Barthelemy Atsin (Young Opponent and Gorky), Collin Batten (Young Man and Silent Boy), Francile Albright (Woman With a Dog), Sarah Lemp (Young Queen and Mother), Sean McNall (Father), Dominic Cuskern (Wrecking Crew Boss), R.J. Foster (Jamie)
Set Design: Harry Feiner
Costume Design: Devon Painter
Sound Design and Original Music: Jane Shaw
Lighting Design: Stephen Petrilli
Running Time: Two hours and fifteen minutes, with one ten-minute intermission
The Pearl Theatre, 80 St. Marks Place, 212-598-9802
02/23/07 to 04/08/07; opening 3/04/07
Tickets $40-50; Tuesday at 7 pm, Wednesday through Saturday at 8 pm, Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2 pm
Reviewed by Jenny Sandman based on March 1st performance
broadway musicals: the 101 greatest shows of all time
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide

At This Theater Cover
At This Theater

Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide

The Broadway Theatre Archive>


©Copyright 2007, Elyse Sommer.
Information from this site may not be reproduced in print or online without specific permission from