theater (reviews)

review: reading under the influence

Reading Under the Influence

By Tony Glazer
Directed by Wendy C. Goldberg
Featuring Barbara Walsh, Joanna Bayless, Summer Crockett Moore

DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th Street
production web site: http://readingundertheinfluencetheplay.com/

April 16, 2011 (opening) — May 15, 2011

Reviewed by Martha Wade Steketee
April 16, 2011

So many things attracted me about the possibilities in the production of Reading Under the Influence by Tony Glazer, a new play beginning a month-long run at the DR2 Theatre on East 15th Street.  I’m always game to add another performance venue to my personal “map of the world”, and this is my first trip to DR2.  I have appreciated the work of director Wendy C. Goldberg in the past — especially her Proof at Arena Stage.  Any play that features five female characters to a single male character has my attention.  And while leafing through the program I realize that among those women is Barbara Walsh, who created something intriguing and new with the character Joanne in the 2006 revival cast of Company, and who created a fascinating Edie (the Ebersole role) in Studio Theatre’s production of Grey Gardens, and I was eager to see what she’d do here.  Simply stated: my hopes are not realized. These are a long two acts of quips, monologues that sometimes shine because a few of these actors are quite fine, a story that makes little sense, relationships that are neither explained nor explored, and character moments that are often more than vaguely insulting.

A book group of four Westchester women has been meeting for two years at the home of Jocelyn (Joanne Bayless), the elder stateswoman of the wine-drinking assemblage.  Her character is at least 10 years older that two of the characters — Sara (Summer Crockett Moore) and Megan (Barbara Walsh), and as much as 30 years older than the youngest Kerry (Ashley Austin Morris).  Jocelyn, we soon learn, is attempting to “sell the rights” to their group to Lifetime cable for a reality show.  The book group members are surprised by this, take offense at this, debate whether she has any right to do this — what we can’t figure out is why this thought constitutes any “stake” at all.  Have your attorneys talk and the issue is over.  And mixed up with this non-issue issue is the constitution of this group and how it functions: the vast age differences among the women. All they share, we are to assume, is that they have resources.  None of the women apparently work, so we assume they have inherited it or married into it.  How would these woman have come together in the first place?  This is never explained.  And none of the women overcome often insulting stereotyped characterizations — Kerry is a ditzy yoga-loving non-reading idiot, whose husband thinks the book group is a ruse for saphhic adventures.  Sara is a stay at home mom whose children have learning disabilities (or don’t).  Megan gives us witty snappy comebacks but no back story.  And when the production team appears from the cable channel at the end of the first act — Margrit (Maria-Christina Oliveras) and Carson (Jeremy Webb), we have new energy that sticks around in the second act.  In the end, these characters offer no new layers other than a predictable conclusion that producers can be cads and, golly, if you sign away your rights to a story you might not end up with any rights at all.

All this could be simply discussed as a television sit com plot on stage.  What begins to infuriate the viewer is the static action, the imbalanced dialogue, the lack of any back story, and the cheap shots at the cost of the women on the stage.  A particular low point comes toward the end of the second act — a long take, a pause on a sofa, the suggestion that one of our characters has had a Depends moment.  Not funny.

© Martha Wade Steketee (April 17, 2011)

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