The only reason to call The Keen Company's production of Theophilus North a diamond in the rough would be that the play has received a bit of rough handling by some members of the press. Don't listen to everything you read ... except this. The play by Matthew Burnett, adapted from the novel by Thornton Wilder, purely sparkles with intelligence, wit and humanity. The physical production of this wonderful play is, itself, virtually flawless. Bearing a thematic resonance with It's a Wonderful Life (but without the use of angelic interference), this is a play both for the head and the heart.
The story, loosely based on Wilder's autobiographical novel, is deceptively simple. A young man named Theophilus North (Giorgio Litt) decides he needs to see the world. He takes off from his New Jersey home in a car bought for $25, which promptly breaks down in the tony resort area of Newport, Rhode Island. Taking on a series of odd jobs to serve the rich (tennis instructor, reader to the elderly, French language tutor, etc.); he hopes to make enough money to continue his travels. But like George Bailey (Jimmy Stewart) in It's a Wonderful Life, in his desire to do and see great things, he is blind to the touching and very real human triumphs he creates all around him.
Just as Theophilus overlooks the simple grandeur of his accomplishments, it's easy to miss the elegant simplicity of Carl Forsman's exceptional direction, the less is more effectiveness of Beowulf Boritt's set design. Also particularly noteworthy is Daniel Baker's beautifully integrated sound design; it is the linchpin of Forsman's evocative staging.
Further kudos go to every member of this extraordinary ensemble. Giorgio Litt, who is splendid playing the title character with a unique form of educated innocence, is the only actor playing one role; everyone else essays multiple roles. And they do so with distinction. They deserve at least this much recognition: Virginia Kull, Geddeth Smith, Margaret Daly, Joe Delafield, Regan Thompson, and Brian Hutchison.
Theophilus North can (and should) be found at the Clurman Theatre on West 42nd Street. It runs there through October 14th. Tickets through TicketCentral.com, 212-279-4200.
2 Stars: The Treatment
Won't anyone say that Eve Ensler is not a playwright? For someone who has become so prominent in the theater, it's rather remarkable to note that she cannot write a good play. The Vagina Monologues was (and is) an important piece of performance art. Let's not even mention the name of her Broadway debacle. And now there is The Treatment down at the Culture Project at 45 Bleecker, a two-hander that purports to be a drama. You may like its politics; you may like its humanistic point of view about those who commit torture. You may even think that its themes are timely and important. And we might very well agree with you. But despite two talented actors, Dylan McDermott and Portia, and energetic direction by Leigh Silverman, it's still lousy theater!
The story concerns a troubled soldier (McDermott) who has committed atrocities in the name of his government (okay, our government). He is home seeing a psychiatrist (Portia) on the base but resisting her efforts to help him. Their struggle for his soul becomes more and more unrealistic as the play develops. One begins to wonder if the Doctor is real or imagined. Clearly, there was no dramaturge working on this play. Things are said and done in the script that only the playwright would pen; these characters are just her mouthpieces. It's polemic in the guise of theater. We like politics in theater; it has a grand and noble place, but put it in a good play. Otherwise, write a speech.
The Treatment at 45 Bleeker through October 22. Tickets at Ticketmaster.com, 212-307-4100.
3 ½ Stars: Esoterica
The odd thing about the one person magic show called Esoterica at the DR-2 Theatre is that it feels, despite its unique title, oddly like a revival. Same show; different cast. If you've seen your share of Off-Broadway magic and mentalist shows, most prominently starring such exemplary talents as Ricky Jay and Marc Salem, you'd swear you had seen this show, or at least most of these rather amazing tricks, before. Not that the new star isn't up to them; Eric Walton, the writer/performer of this one-person show that plays every Monday night, is a very skillful hand at card tricks and the like. He is also a sly and slick performer with a charming line of patter. He may raise his eyebrow to make an arch joke about fifty times too many, but he otherwise possesses a winning stage personality.
On its own terms, Esoterica is a mesmerizing and amusing show. Compared to the others, however, it is a pale imitation, with the emphasis on imitation.
Esoterica at DR2 Theatre through November 28. Tickets at Telecharge.com.