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Consider the Lilies

Theatre Review by Howard Miller - January 14, 2017


Austin Pendleton and Eric Joshua Davis
Photo by Talya Chalef

Despite strong central performances by its two lead actors, Austin Pendleton and Eric Joshua Davis, Consider the Lilies, written and directed by Stuart Fail and having its New York premiere at TBG Theatre, is a sprawling shambles of a play. It is sorely in need of serious pruning, shaping, and revision as it strives to tell the story of the relationship between an aging artist and his much younger agent, both of them near the end of their rope.

Pendleton plays Paul, the anxious, needy, and self-absorbed artist who can no longer find that spark of creativity to keep him going. Davis is the agent, David, who could best be described as a walking "kick me" sign who allows himself to be an enabler to everyone he comes into contact with. Their partnership is, as Paul puts it, "horribly dysfunctional, but it's all we have."

It's difficult to say exactly what their relationship entails. There is the business aspect as David attempts to set up gallery shows for Paul, and then has to drag him out to interact with potential buyers. There is the friendship, which mostly consists of their not listening to each other as they air their complaints about their unhappy lives. There are Paul's perfunctory efforts at engaging David in a sexual encounter, which David just as perfunctorily rejects. And while David would probably like Paul to take on the role of a surrogate parent, especially in the face of what we learn about his own family, that really is beyond the artist's skill set.

It isn't until late in the play that Paul manages to pull out of his funk long enough to consider the possibility that his artistic career may have something left after all. David introduces him to his new client, an exuberant up-and-coming mixed media artist named Zack (Peter Collier). The curmudgeonly Paul and the annoyingly chipper Zack lock horns at first, but when Zack talks admiringly of Paul's earlier days as the famous painter of emotionally raw images of lilies, he convinces the flattered older man to let go of some of his fear of failure and to put more of his feelings into his art. Meanwhile, David attempts unsuccessfully to patch things up with his former girlfriend Angela (Liarra Michelle), leading him even further down the path of self-destructive despair.

In terms of the production, the play unfolds in short scenes that take the characters between Paris and New York, though neither locale matters much to the proceedings and the set itself barely changes. Recorded snippets of jazz can be heard between scenes, and perhaps the intention is to get us to think of the play itself as being composed of a series of short jazz-like riffs, a potentially interesting concept that could be further explored.

So it's kudos to Austin Pendleton and to Eric Joshua Davis for their efforts at breathing life into their respective, if poorly developed, characters. But there is way too much repetition, tangential conversations (a lot of them making misogynistic references to the women in Paul and David's lives), pointless meandering episodes, and odd bits of business, so that the time drags on considerably until the play finally comes to its end more than two-and-a-half hours after it began.


Consider the Lilies
Through January 28
TBG Theatre, 312 West 36th Street, 3rd Floor
Tickets online and current Performance Schedule: brownpapertickets.com


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