Off Off-Broadway Review: AdA: Author Directing Author at La Mama Ellen Stewart

Off Off-Broadway Review: AdA: Author Directing Author at La Mama Ellen Stewart

David Roberts

OnStage Chief New York Theatre Critic

Neil LaBute has teamed up with Marco Calvani and Marta Buchaca to present three plays that are “surprising takes on the idea of ‘power dynamics.’” He believes the plays “make for a fun and thought-provoking evening of theater.” Certainly power – its use and misuse – is a relevant topic for this third installment of Author Directing Author given the current political climate in America and across the globe. How relevant and thought-provoking these plays are in that climate is somewhat problematic. In all three short plays – two in translation – the conflicts and motivations of the characters are clear. What is not clear is why these believable conflicts drive such muddled plots and often less-than-fun plots. 

Marco Calvani’s “After the Dark” deftly deals with the delicious shifting of power between what appears to be an alpha female and her subordinate assistant. Veteran actor Margaret Colin plays Susie a designer whose work seems to be less than enthusiastically received at the trade show she attends with her assistant Jessie played by Gabby Beans. Susie started designing lamps because of her childhood fear of the dark – hence the title. And the power play between Susie and Jessie occurs after dark in the budget hotel Susie books for the trade show. Mr. Calvani sets up a plausible conflict between the two women that involves dynamics of race, age, and money – the three dynamos of power. However, the plot is thin and predictable and fails to wring the pathos out of this conflict. Under Marta Buchaca’s listless direction, Ms. Colin and Ms. Beans struggle mightily to make Mr. Calvani’s script work for the stage. Unfortunately, even their combined formidable craft cannot convince the audience of the importance of this lackluster play.

Marta Buchaca and Neil LaBute do not fare much better in (respectively) “Summit” and “I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From.” Ms. Buchaca’s play suffers from being less impressive than the current headlines its attempts to address. The new Mayor of a major city (Dalia Davi) scraps with the ex-Mayor (Victor Slezak) about qualifications and effectiveness and the seemingly innocent imbroglio explodes into the new Mayor’s involvement in a racist Tweet that threatens to unravel her election. Under Neil LaBute’s prosaic direction, the actors seem ill at ease with their roles. Shades of the presidential campaign are apparent in the script including allusions to the improper use of technology and egomaniacal conceits.

Mr. LaBute’s play, the darkest of the three, explores the broken relationship between Simon (Richard Kind) an overbearing father who cheated on his former wife and his daughter Janie (Gia Crovatin) who arranges a meeting at an upscale restaurant to attempt to reconcile with her father so he can see his grandchild. From the start, the meeting unravels when Janie presents to her father a document that will assure he begins a new relationship without foul language or tardiness. However, in this play full of unbelievable action, not showing up for family events is the least of Simon’s problems. The multi-layered script slowly reveals the depth of dysfunction and abuse in this fractured family system. Unfortunately, under Marco Calvani’s erratic direction, both Mr. Kind and Ms. Crovatin are visibly uncomfortable with the script and appear somewhat wooden and spiritless. Perhaps Mr. LaBute should decide whether realism or absurdism serve his theme better.

Neil Patel’s set design and Alex Jainchill’s light design are functional throughout all three plays. Jeff Mahshie’s costume design struggles too hard to do what rich characterization ought to accomplish.

ADA: AUTHOR DIRECTING AUTHOR

The cast of “AdA” includes Gabby Beans, Margaret Colin, Gia Crovatin, Dalia Davi, Richard Kind, and Victor Slezak.

The creative team for “Ada” includes set design by Neil Patel; lighting design by Alex Jainchill; costume design by Jeff Mahsie; stage management by Miriam Hyfler.  US Management and promotion by Unamism LLC NY. Production photos by Theo Cote.

“AdA: Author Directing Author” performs January 19 through February 5. Performance schedule is Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. and Sundays at 4:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 and $13.00 and can be purchased online at www.lamama.org or by phone at 212 352 3101. Running time is 1 hour and thirty-five minutes without intermission.

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