It’s getting harder to find Monday night performances in New York, these days. And since a lot of people look for the opportunity, when most shows are dark, it’s also hard to find a good seat in whatever’s open. But early in my New York planning, I came across Phoenix, a new play by Virginia/Brooklyn playwright, Scott Organ.
Among others, it’s a Rattlestick Playwrights Theater production, where a friend is Production Manager, and it’s staged at the Cherry Lane Theatre, an old favorite venue. It had apparently managed to catch the eye of the right people, including Julia Stiles and James Wirt, who are appearing in it. And I heard the film of the play is already in preproduction. So putting it all together, it sounded promising.
[BUZZER!] … NOT! Turns out the movie project is an entirely separate enterprise with completely different personnel and actors. I don’t know whether Mr. Organ is doing the screenplay, but hopefully he’ll have more to say, or rather, more happening, by that time, than he did in his stage play: Once again: a two-character play (relatively cheap to produce in today’s economy). The woman is pregnant after a one-night stand, but wants nothing to do with the man or a baby. She confronts the man, who inexplicably wants to accompany her from New York to Phoenix, where she plans on an abortion. He does show up there despite her discouragement. There’s lots of clippy chatter, or should I say endless banter, between them, until finally, everything ends up back where it started. I do have to admit that some of the banter was very clever and funny. It just didn’t seem to lead us anywhere.
Naturally, AFTER I had bought my discount ticket, the play officially opened, and the reviews came out, pretty much warning me to stay away. Since I don’t always listen to the critics, I didn’t stay away. And I pretty much agree that I could just as well have missed it. The two actors were agreeable enough, and Julia Stiles has a nice competent, good-looking persona that makes you listen, admire and respect. But the production seemed oh so slow and self-important. This was not one of my crap-shoots that paid off.
What really captured my interest, though, that I had never seen before in a professional New York context, was the response of the director, Jennifer DeLia, on whom the critics seemed to heap most of their scorn. This was her first off-Broadway directing gig, and she did not take kindly to the criticism. Hitting back at them point by point under the show description on www.broadwaybox.com, she explained her views on art and presumed to help readers understand the true depths of a play that remains misunderstood by ignorant New York critics. She sums it all up with the following statement:
“We have thought through every decision made in this not-so-conventional piece and those of us involved couldn’t be more proud of our embracing the existential quest these two characters are on—as Bruce learns some of the biggest news of his life on this journey—and as Sue opens up to a man for her first time after seeing how honest and humble he is. I love that art is subjective and “cheers” to those who are uncomfortable while watching our play. And an even bigger “cheers” to the majority of our audiences who are quite sophisticated, have imagination, and appreciate the exploration of the many layers to Sue’s and Bruce’s psyches and, as well, to the production.”