Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Nikolai and the Others - more reviews

You can find three more longer reviews of Kathryn's current play here at

nowing Nelson's work I didn't walk in expecting a tight narrative and tidy construction, but the pleasures of his best plays, including the recent Apple family cycle at the Public, which I loved, were absent for me here. This play just rambles, and the ensemble hasn't come together yet. It's previews, I understand; hopefully they'll get there. But there were no standout performances either, in part due to the flatness of the roles as written. None of the actors really gets a chance to shine. The author's note that Whizzer quotes above makes explicit at least one of Nelson's main objectives here � to depict a kind of harmony between what he clearly sees as the exalted act of creating art and the more mundane pursuits of everyday life. But the play didn't capture this for me and there was too much on-the-nose talk about art and artists that cast the whole bunch � Stravinsky, Balanchine, et al. � as stereotypically pretentious and self-absorbed. Nelson fails to really humanize and make three-dimensional these legendary figures. Cromer's staging seems to be a work-in-progress. Sightlines are funky and he's got a lot of characters to maneuver around and through that tiny space. Right now some of the action is unfocused and details are missed or don't register depending on where you're sitting. Hopefully that gets tightened up too. Michael Cerveris gave a little curtain speech acknowledging the death of Maria Tallchief and the dancer playing Tallchief took a solo bow in tribute. A lovely moment.

After Eight:
I've not been a great fan of Richard Nelson's work. In fact, most of his plays have bored me to tears, though I did like his book for The Dead. But I most certainly did like this play, which could be subtitled something like Beyond the Cherry Orchard. It's both elegiac and moving.

Though not a play of great moment, it proceeds as a succession of affecting moments. On a sprawling canvas, Nelson has written an intimist piece, full of finely-etched characters and beautifully-wrought details. It's like unrolling a bolt of brocaded silk, and it flows just as smoothly.

The opening dining scene plays out like an orchestrated pageant, from the setting of the table, the talking up of the arrival of the awaited guest, his grand entrance like that of Neptune emerging from the sea, to the meal itself, with its multiple tales being told both in both word and silence. The acting ensemble is wonderful, as is the direction, with each actor fully able to convey his character's nature and feelings through the merest of gestures or facial expressions. Everything is conveyed subtly, glancingly, with the total effect being profoundly meaningful without once being heavy-handed or labored.

The camaraderie and insular nature of emigres in a new land; their sense of loss of what they left behind; their own callousness to "outsiders;" the egomania, insensitivity and petty cruelties of great artists; the satellites who surround and worship them; the betrayals, jealousies and disappointments integral to the human condition: all these themes are evoked here with an accomplished and compassionate hand.

A special commendation must go to the wonderful costumes, which evoke a time, milieu and state of mind all on their own.

All in all, a very satisfying evening in the theatre, and easily the best new play I've seen this season.

I was there yesterday afternoon and agree with After Eight. Lovely work on the page and the stage.

Don't miss the online version of Lincoln Center Theater review - Issues 60 (Spring 2013). You will find 23 pages full of´ Nikolai and the Others information.

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