Talkin' Broadway HomePast ColumnsAbout





Off Broadway


The Dome

Theatre Review by Matthew Murray

The Dome
The Dome
Photo by Gerry Goodstein.

In The Dome, the new Prospect Theater Company show set in and based on the West End Theatre, the evening’s directors are so obsessed with the heavens that they’re constantly urging your eyes skyward. Since it’s there that you’ll find the titular architectural construction, it does make sense to draw as much attention to it as possible with projections, helium-filled balloons, and any number of spoken references. But as anyone who’s traversed Times Square during tourist season knows, people who spend all their time looking up frequently miss what’s going on right in front of them.

That problem never abates during the course of this listless almost-musical which, despite counting contributions from a dozen or so dramatists from the spoken- and musical-theatre realms, displays few distinguishing features other than the theater’s moderately impressive ceiling. This show may have been inspired by concepts of eternity as they relate to religion, humanity, and the very art of the theatre, but its languid attempts to convey their perennial urgency are not especially inspiring in turn.

Conceived and “curated” by Prospect’s Producing Artistic Director Cara Reichel, The Dome combines, collides, and confuses three large stories and several smaller ones without making much sense of any of them. In “Hypothesis,” written by Laura Marks and directed by Stefanie Sertich, Voltaire and his lover Emilie du Châtelet (Dino Antoniou and Dorothy Abrahams) bicker between romantic romps about the complex interplay and competition between God and science. “Hey Baby” (music and lyrics by Marisa Michelson, book and lyrics by Rinne Groff, direction by May Adrales) finds a young couple (John Gardner and Kathryn Holtkamp) preparing and overpreparing for the birth of their first child. Two custodians, Martin and Missy (Andrew Zimmerman and Sarah Bowles), romp through writer-director David A. Miller’s “Break Time,” musing on the nature of the West End Theatre and their burgeoning non-relationship relationship. Several “Monologues” by Norman Lasca examine from a cosmic perspective everyday topics such as acoustic theory, shoes, and Giants Stadium.

In between, there’s no shortage of clowning both literal and figurative: Kyle Williams and Jesse Kearney traipse through a wordless comic reenvisioning of Martin and Missy’s story; other cast members are given to tossing about paper airplanes or beach balls. A couple of lovely standalone songs, one about the dome itself (written by Michael L. Cooper and Hyeyoung Kim) and another a serious-minded “Saga of Jenny”-style rumination on a girl named “Liliana” (penned by Deborah Abramson), also enhance the unpredictable playfulness, reminding you this is a venue and a show in which anything can happen.

Except, really, nothing does. Though Reichel is a director of considerable invention, as she’s demonstrated in shows with her husband Peter Mills (The Pursuit of Persephone, The Rockae) or others (The Book of the Dun Cow, in this same theater three years ago), here she just seems to be overreaching. In trying to unite so many diverse and dangerously disparate works in celebration of Prospect’s 10th anniversary, she’s made them even more isolated, and any connections between the individual compositions, the writings and the space, or even the theater and the supposed overarching theme are tenuous at best.

This makes nearly everything more arid than universally significant. Abrahams is handsome and confident as the ahead-of-her time Emilie, and Bowles is thoroughly charming as the vaguely tomboyish Missy. Most of the other performances strain in feigning innocence or simplicity, or bloat in pretending to be unadorned; even Williams and Kearney are more wearying than wry, their characters’ presence more stylistically jarring than comedically necessary. The design scheme is similarly troubled: While Emily Deangelis’s costumes are elaborately adequate, Meredith Ries’s astrolabe-meets-Da-Vinci-spec-drawing set is intensely lifeless, Evan Purcell’s lighting pointlessly portentous, and Richard Dibella’s video too often obligatory.

It’s Dibella’s work, by the way, that’s most frequently employed to guide your gaze upward, usually with films of scientific sketches, starscapes, or other notable phenomena. At one point, he even depicts the moment of conception - as seen from inside the womb, of course. This is intended, no doubt, as a reminder that the grandest of concepts ultimately all derive from the same tiny place. The ideas Reichel and her collaborators are tackling might be appropriately galaxy-spanning, but as realized here they’re not large enough to fill either the dome nor The Dome.


The Dome
Through March 1
West End Theatre, 263 West 86th Street between Broadway and West End Avenue in the Church of St. Paul & St. Andrew, second floor
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: www.prospecttheater.org