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A CurtainUp Review
By Jenny Sandman
Richard Maxwell, along with Adam Rapp and Charles Mee, is one of the most exciting new voices in downtown theatre. Previous offerings such as Caveman, Joe and Boxing 2000 were among the highlights of their respective seasons. The latest offering, Good Samaritans, continues Maxwell's winning streak.
While not as polished or compelling as Caveman and Boxing 2000, nor as funny as Joe, Good Samaritans does have all the trademark Maxwell touches: a stark, relatively cavernous space; atonal, almost anti-melodic songs; and a flat, declamatory style of acting. The near-inflectionless dialogue is a strange sort of postmodern shorthand for a world with no emotional connections, where dialogue conveys very little. Pauses, glances, and slight movements reveal much more than the language.
The title character, Rosemary, is a brusque, no-nonsense coordinator for a rehab center. An older woman, she harbors no nonsense from the inmates, all recovering drug addicts and alcoholics who have been assigned to this workhouse instead of jail. It's a faith-based rehab center that expects the men to dry out, attend religious services and go to work each day.
The set is eerily accurate, from the soul-killing rows of fluorescent lighting to the painted concrete-block walls. It screams out church basement. When Kevin, an alcoholic and probable bum, shows up, Rosemary grimly goes about her job, trying to guide his uneven journey through the rehab process. But somewhere along the way, they fall for each other.
It's disconcerting to hear their love-talk in the same flat inflectionless monotone as the other dialogue. We're never sure if we can take Kevin seriously. Does he love Rosemary? Is he a professional con artist? Does Rosemary believe him? Does she believe herself?
What starts off as a story about love in unlikely places becomes a more unsettling examination of their inherent lack of connection. One of Rosemary's songs rhymes "bones won't knit" with "uou won't fit," which pretty much sums it all up.
Maxwel fans of Maxwell will not be disappointed in this new play. His new venue, St. Ann's Warehouse in DUMBO is nearly as cool as his other regular hangout, SoHo Rep and it augments the playwright's underground-hip reputation. The space is enormous, so much so that it soaks up a lot of the sound. But that also means you're almost guaranteed to get a great seat. The music is White Stripes-ish. Rosemary Allen and Kevin Hurley do a fantastic job with their parts, maintining the characteristic monotone and crash-bang through the songs with no self-consciousness or temptation toward harmony. They're also very funny at times, and despite their characters' stiff facades, you can tell they're comfortable working with each other.
Theatergoers unfamiliar with Maxwell's style may feel slightly adrift, since Maxwell's style can be off-putting. But it's worth the effort and Good Samaritans adds up to a compelling and subversive study of the banality of all our lives, and of the inevitability of disappointment.
LINKS TO OTHER MAXWELL PLAY REVIEWS
Cowboys and Indians
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
Click image to buy.
Mendes at the Donmar
At This Theater
Leonard Maltin's 2003 Movie and Video Guide
Ridiculous!The Theatrical Life & Times of Charles Ludlam
6, 500 Comparative Phrases including 800 Shakespearean Metaphors by CurtainUp's editor.
Click image to buy.
Go here for details and larger image.