The Siegel Column

4 Stars - Indian Blood

A charming memory piece by A.R. Gurney that reflects back on the people and the era that shaped his world, Indian Blood is by turns nostalgic, inventive and just a little coy. It is a wry and playful portrait of the playwright as a very young man. It is also the portrait of a city as a living (and dying) metaphor; Buffalo, Gurney’s beloved hometown, serves as a touchstone for our changing times. The one thing that hasn’t changed, however, is the reliability of Gurney, himself. This is a well-crafted, sure-handed piece of playwriting. From beginning to end, you know you are in the hands of an author who knows how to tell a story.

Eddie (Charles Socarides) is the rebellious young fellow who stands in for Gurney and narrates the play. Without giving you the plot, let it suffice to say that Indian Blood is finally less a coming of age story for Eddie than it is a very late coming of age story for Eddie’s father. The centerpiece of the play involves the pivotal moment when his dad (played with touching restraint by Jack Gilpin) makes a simple but profound choice between protecting his son and kowtowing to his own mother. Looking back at the play after it’s over, you can see how Gurney planted and nurtured the seeds that would blossom into this confrontation; it is so carefully and skillfully designed that it occurs with a sudden and surprising inevitability.

The play is self-consciously theatrical, but Gurney and director Mark Lamos wisely choose to not only embrace its inordinate amount of make-believe, they flaunt it. This creates perhaps a certain amount of winking coyness, but there is also something honest about owning up to what you’re doing that, to these critics, made the wink forgivable.

As you would expect, a Gurney play at Primary Stages has attracted a stellar cast. In addition to Gilpin, John McMartin shines as Eddie’s earthy grandfather, while Pamela Payton-Wright is properly brittle as his grandmother. Rebecca Luker is warm and down-to-earth as Eddie’s mother (and she gets to sing one song as a bonus). Somewhat undercutting the impact of the play, however, was the casting of Socarides as Eddie. He’s a fine actor but looking twentyish, he comes across as too old for the young and immature teen he’s supposed to be playing. The play needed a young Matthew Broderick, but alas they don’t come around that often. For that matter, neither do playwrights like A.R. Gurney, nor plays like Indian Blood.

4 ½ Stars: The Dispute

Who is more likely to betray the other in a relationship: a man or a woman? That’s The Dispute, exquisitely played out by The National Asian American Theatre Company (NAATCO) in their adaptation of Pierre Marivaux’s play of that same name. The all-Asian cast is superb in this tight and clever piece that runs only slightly longer than an hour. Neil Bartlett’s translation flows easily and Jean Randich’s direction is fast and fluid. The stark black and white set by Sue Rees (adapted from a production design by Mike Rancourt and Jean Randich) works both thematically and visually to enhance the play.

And what a psychologically superior piece this is. As an experiment, two young women and two young men have been raised individually and separately from the rest of the world since birth. The four specimens have but two older humans who have taught them language and little else. Set free, these innocent four souls will find love with one another. But once in love, will they stay loyal?

A sly satire on the self-absorption of pretty girls, the pliability of men, and the base – and downright cruel – nature of humankind, The Dispute is a delicious piece of theater that has been lovingly and immaculately produced. Among the actors, Jennifer Chang is especially funny as a young beauty who is so unashamedly enamored of herself.

Who is more likely to cheat? See the play. Find out, because there is no "dispute" about the quality of this impressive production.

2 Stars: Anais Nin: One of Her Lives

The more you are a literary snob (or would like to be one), the more you will like (or pretend to like) Anais Nin: One of Her Lives. Pretentious in altogether flamboyant fashion that only suggests style, it’s a play of images rather than emotions. Not to take anything away from the two lead performances of Anais Nin (Angela Christian) and Henry Miller (David Bishins), both of whom are mesmerizing in their own very different ways, but the play is plod, plodding, ploddest. The scene changes, alone, will tell you that the writer/director Wendy Beckett doesn’t know what she’s doing; those scene changes are interminable! Worse, the scenes themselves are Stagy with a capital "S." You want to be a real literary snob? Read Nin’s diaries. Read Miller’s books. Skip the play.

Barbara and Scott Siegel