The Brown / Trinity Playwrights Repertory Theater, 2011


Last weekend Partner and I attended the third and final production of this year’s Brown / Trinity Playwrights’ Rep. Every summer for the past six years, this mini-festival has produced three brand new plays and presented them serially and – as a grand finale on the last day – as a three-play marathon. (And God bless Lowry Marshall for bringing this to fruition.)



We have seen some real winners. We were in one of the first audiences to see “Boom,” which was last year the most-produced play in America. Some years ago we saw a screamingly funny play called “Chicken Grease Is Nasty Business!,” about love and marriage and friends and a Southern chicken restaurant, and I laughed harder than at pretty much anything else I’ve ever seen in the theater. We have seen plays about police dogs, and video games, and a musical based on Turgenev’s “Fathers and Sons.” Another favorite was a musical called “Torah! Torah! Torah!,” about a bar mitzvah gone wrong, with some really good songs, and featuring Mr. Peanut.



A few duds, too. One of the worst was last year: I won’t name it, it should rest in peace. I will only say that, unless you’re Chazz Palmintieri or Patrick Stewart or Hal Holbrook or Lily Tomlin, you shouldn’t attempt a one-person show. Enough said.



This year:



She’s Not There.” The description was unpromising: a couple whose lives are “upended by a new person in their lives.” Sound like a lot of movies you’ve seen? It started out in familiar territory: a couple in their 30s, comfortable but not ecstatically happy; the man meets a younger woman who lives in their apartment building, and –



But it built from there. The dialogue was fresh and witty. The three characters try making friends, ignoring one another, eviscerating one another. At the end of the day, things aren’t quite the way you thought they would be.



But it was too long. Also, there was a gimmick (whether specified by the playwright I don’t know), in which the scene-changes were done by “hipster movers,” who made minimal changes to the set and did little hipster dance moves. Funny the first couple of times; tedious for the rest of the evening.




The Killing of Michael X: A New Film By Celia Weston.” This was loads of fun: it integrated a lot of film into the stage action. It was dreamlike and surreal at times, and almost everyone played at least two parts, but (and this is always a good sign) we never felt lost. We kept learning more and more about the characters, and it got funner and funner as we got higher and higher in the stratosphere. I have never laughed so hard while watching someone about to have her leg amputated with a buzzsaw.



On the downside: it was too hip. Too much in-joke chatter about movies, especially Godard’s “Breathless” – and if you haven’t seen “Breathless,” you really have no idea what they’re talking about. But this is a minor cavil. The play was generally excellent.



Finally: “My New Best Friend.” Technically, it was the best play of the three. Absolutely brilliant staging: when characters are talking on the phone to one another, they stand, they face one another across the stage, they pace and circle one another. The minimal set décor is torn apart and assembled several times. The dialogue is very witty and sharp.



But – and here’s the thing – the play is, among other things, about the dichotomy between New York and California. The New York-based characters are all smart and practical and a little rueful; the California-based characters are self-absorbed, silly, vain. “It reminded me of Woody Allen,” Partner said later, and he was absolutely right.



But you know what? We saw it first.



You might see it in local theater, or on Broadway, or maybe as a movie.



But we saw it first!





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