Unflattering Portraits Of Modern Man
This article is from the archive of The New York Sun before the launch of its new website in 2022. The Sun has neither altered nor updated such articles but will seek to correct any errors, mis-categorizations or other problems introduced during transfer.
We should devoutly pray for the women in playwright Rajiv Joseph’s life that he has not followed that hoary old injunction, “Write what you know.” For if he possesses more than a hint of the rampaging, brontosaurus-size ego of his main character in “All This Intimacy,” then he should probably be locked up in a tiny room with only a mail slot for meals.
But, though the actual Mr. Joseph may be a humble pussycat, his work does betray one symptom of something, somewhere truly run amok: This play desperately needed a cool-headed editor. Plays that follow one man’s self-propelled slide downhill shouldn’t take an act break, and it’s not a good sign when the audience cringes at the comic relief. Mr. Joseph has a very brave touch with both characters and themes (ratty, oblivious, bite-’em-if-you-see-’em men) that can sustain a short play. But he accidentally wrote a long play, and therein lies the rub.
He certainly wastes no time introducing his plot. As the lights come up on David Newell’s sperm-covered set (long tails wriggle across every paintable surface),it’s obvious that someone has been shaking his bacon where it doesn’t belong. But only after we hear the explosive disbelief of Seth (Adam Green), best friend to Ty (Thomas Sadoski), do we learn that our anti-hero has been even rasher (ha!) than we feared. Ty has, in a week (“More like a nine-day period!”) impregnated his ex-girlfriend (Gretchen Egolf), his hot older neighbor (Amy Landecker), and his barely legal student (Krysten Ritter) in one fell swoop.
With ample representation of Ty’s oversize, slithering bearers of genetic material, the stage feels as threatening as the snake scene in “Indiana Jones.” He’s claustrophobic and repulsive, this weak-minded boy-man, surrounded by images of his ability to procreate. Mr. Joseph, aided by Mr. Sadoski’s clever mix of whine and cheese),makes this little monster into something extremely recognizable. Modern man outsources even guilt, and Ty never stops mewling about all that has unfairly befallen him.
Neither Mr. Joseph nor director Giovanna Sardelli quite sort out whether “All This Intimacy” is a modern fable, a realistic relationship drama, or a New York comedy. The actors, it seems, have made up their own minds. Ms. Ritter, who gets to call her idiot lover “emo,” nails a hard-sheen plastic delivery and look. She (both character and actress) wields her nymphette archetype like an acupuncture needle. Ms. Landecker plays her part with an incredible, earthy reality — she makes a real woman out of next to nothing. And the best friends, Mr. Green and his Bridezilla fiancée (Kate Nowlin), desperately try to goose their unfunny material by speaking loudly and falling down a lot.
After piecing his play together out of bits of ill-fitting genres, Mr. Joseph tries to paper over the cracks with occasional, awkward metaphors. It’s a bad sign when a character has to go back to school three times, just so her dissertations can somehow bear out the play’s themes. And while it is fun to see the women reject Ty for the same thing that attracted them in the first place (the younger woman has her fill of his patronizing ways, the older one gets frustrated with his immaturity), we, like they, have long since run out of patience.
Plays like “All This Intimacy” can put you off caring about relationships for life, or, at least, drive you deep into the arms of plays that have a little bit more on their plate.In “Flight of Icarus,”now in a handsome workshop at the Ohio’s Ice Factory festival, the playwright isn’t navel- (or, um, lower-down) gazing. Instead, Aaron Mack Schloff stares into the bewitching eyes of disappointed Surrealist and cheerful formalist Raymond Queneau.
Queneau’s book of the same name features a character, Icarus (David Michael Holmes), who escapes the pages of his novelist, Lubert (Tom Butler), and does what any self-respecting Frenchman with a doomed name and no history would do. He gets a mistress and a bicycle and sets off on an absinthe-fueled flight from literary imprisonment.Unfortunately, Schloff doesn’t quite make that same feathery leap. Restrained by his love for the book, he cuts his scenes too short to build momentum, and director Samuel Buggeln mistakes fast costume changes for pace.Much as in “All This Intimacy,” the silliest character (detective manqué Michael Nathanson) does his darnedest to save the humor by overdoing it. But a couple of adorable eyebrow waggles do not a comedy make — not even if the production is an Eiffel.
“All This Intimacy” until August 12 (307 W. 43rd St. at Eighth Avenue, 212-246-4422). “Flight of Icarus” until July 29 (66 Wooster St., between Spring and Broome Streets, 212-966-4844).