The Siegel Column

4 stars: Satellites

Without telling you how it ends, you should know that the final scene of Satellites offers a stunning payoff that makes the wait breathtakingly worthwhile. In just a few moments as the play ends, dialogue, set design, direction, lighting, and dramaturgy all align like so many stars in the sky to bring this complex work of theater to a satisfying close.

Before she gets to the finale, playwright Diana Son establishes an unsettling series of conflicts that seems impossible to navigate largely because they seem so much like real life. An interracial marriage between Nina (Sandra Oh) and Miles (Kevin Carroll) suffers under the increasing strains of a newborn baby and moving into new house in a changing neighborhood that they can ill afford. Add to the mix an invasive brother (Clarke Thorell), a bitter neighbor (Ron Cephas Jones), a racist nanny (Satya Lee), and a demanding business partner (Johanna Day) and you've got an urban story that resembles a time bomb with a ninety-five minute (intermissionless) fuse.

Michael Greif directs this talented cast with great empathy for the characters they play. He also provides us with a vivid sense of the space in which all of these characters circle each other like satellites; each is a sun, and each is a satellite, depending upon where you are in the story. The universe in which the play takes place is made plausible and palpable by Mark Wendland who provides remarkable set design that almost miraculously offers differing and varying views of the rooms in a house that is struggling to become a home.

Satellites is a rich and rewarding play that seems written with its ending in mind. If that sounds like criticism, it isn't. It's actually a tip of the hat to a craftsperson who knows how to construct a work of art out of the mess of life.

2 Stars: The Water's Edge

Whoa! What was that! The Water's Edge begins like a fairly traditional family drama and then suddenly whipsaws into something like a Greek revenge opus. Or is it a very, very dark comedy? Whatever it is, it isn't convincing. Blame it on whoever or whatever you want you might try Theresa Rebeck who wrote the play - but don't blame the cast.

This atrocity is actually worth seeing, despite its mind-boggling script, because it nonetheless features Kate Burton giving a winning performance as a wronged woman who is struggling to hide volcanic emotions. In addition, the play features two young actresses who invest their characters with so much texture that you fervently wish these characters (let alone these performers) were in a better play. Katharine Powell actually makes something out of what is usually a thankless role, the pretty young girlfriend of a rich and powerful older man (Tony Goldwyn). Mamie Gummer is stunning as Goldwyn's estranged daughter, playing the part with fierce, wounded pride.

You might well find the end of this play breathtaking but not in a good way.

1 ½ stars: Burleigh Grime$ Burleigh Grime$ begins with the promise of bright originality. It's the start of the business day in a Wall Street firm and employees race to their jobs in a mercurial rush of imaginative choreography. In that opening scene, character is revealed, style is exercised, and interest is aroused. And that's as good as it ever gets. The suggestion that Burleigh Grime$ is going to be a capitalist Contact is soon extinguished despite the bright appearance of Jason Antoon who was prominently featured in the Tony Award winning Lincoln Center Dance musical. All too soon the dance becomes an afterthought - and thought, itself, flees the script.

Once the plot gets underway, this relentlessly mediocre piece tries to stretch itself into the mold of a modern day Threepenny Opera, with Grimes as the rogue Macheath. But we hasten to add that insisting on the comparison only makes Burleigh Grime$ look worse by comparison. This is a flashy but empty play about backstabbing young robber barons.

A good cast mostly drawn from television stardom does an admirable job of keeping their heads above the trash-strewn water. The show does a good job of selling the sizzle, but there is nothing actually cooking here. Oh, audiences are no doubt lured by the fact that David Yazbek wrote the show's music though this is, at best, little more than a tease, much like the colorful choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler that starts the show and then largely disappears.

Not a musical. Not a dance piece. It's intended to be a satire. But given that satires are supposed to be funny, we'd have to conclude that it isn't quite a satire, either. What is it? Simply put: Burleigh Grime$ is a failure.

Barbara and Scott Siegel