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Off-Broadway Review: “Devil of Choice” Falters at LAByrinth Theater Company at Cherry Lane’s Studio Theatre (Through Saturday June 9, 2018)

Photo: David Zayas and Elizabeth Canavan in LAByrinth Theater Company's "Devil of Choice" by Maggie Bofill. Credit: David Zayas Jr.
Off-Broadway Review: “Devil of Choice” Falters at LAByrinth Theater Company at Cherry Lane’s Studio Theatre (Through Saturday June 9, 2018)
By Maggie Diaz Bofill
Directed by Shira-Lee Shalit
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Faustian bargain: (idiomatic) A deal in which one focuses on present gain without considering the long-term consequences.”

Although one of the characters in the new play “Devil of Choice,” produced by Labyrinth Theater Company at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre, is a popular professor whose highly sought-after class focuses on “Faust,” he certainly disregards the implications associated with violating morality. Playwright Maggie Diaz Bofill chooses to create several devils her characters may broker with, but the resulting short-term gain always seems to be carnal. This conception is the driving force behind the tumultuous love triangle which monopolizes the plot but offers no resolution or consequences for the proceedings in this world premiere.

The first scene exposes the strained relationship between Sal, a narcissistic male chauvinist and his indignant, verbally abused, codependent wife Pepper as they are on their way to the University where Sal will begin his new professorship. In the second scene Sal meets Delia a single, lonely college administrator who will soon disclose she is looking for love and an everlasting relationship. The foreshadowing is quite heavy handed and before long the love triangle is initiated, and the sexual encounters begin. Why either woman would vie for the attention of such a despicable human being remains a mystery.

The structure of the work relies on very short scenes or monologues punctuated by music composed and played by violinist Melissa McGregor, which attempts to reflect the present or upcoming emotional state of being. The only connection this has to the plot is that Pepper once played the violin, gave up on that career, and is now a paltry music librarian. This formulation lends nothing to the dramatic flow and only sabotages the ability of the actors to establish a deep emotional commitment to their characters. The brief episodes vary from vulgar to, contrived, to comedic outbursts but the writing rarely provides enough substance to sustain the storyline.

David Zayas, as the alpha male, provides enough confidence and bravura to produce a believable Sal, but stands alone without much emotional investment in his on-stage relationships, as deceiving and contradictory as that may be. Elizabeth Canavan zeros in on the downtrodden Pepper and finds opportunities in the script to use her talent to shine. Florencia Lozano extracts strength and bears the weakness of Delia. It is difficult to find vulnerability in the material that is supplied or to create any likable characters the audience may care about.

There are no new insights into the common themes addressed, and the production feels more like an exercise for the actors, given the many fits and starts. Director Shira-Lee Shalit does little to prompt the emotional depth of the characters and relies mostly on comedy to move the action along. The problem that arises, is that in the current socio-political landscape, the topics addressed are neither a comedy nor an exercise, but rather life altering events that will proliferate a change in the structure of society.

DEVIL OF CHOICE

The cast of “Devil of Choice” features Elizabeth Canavan, Florencia Lozano, and David Zayas.

“Devil of Choice” features scenic design by Raul Abrego, costume design by Lara De Bruijn, lighting design by Kia Rogers, sound design by Daniel Melnick, and original music by Melisa McGregor. Megan Tomei serves as production stage manager. Production photos by David Zayas Jr.

“Devil of Choice” runs through Saturday, June 9, 2018, at The Cherry Lane’s Studio Theatre (38 Commerce Street, New York, NY 10014). LAByrinth reports that the run is entirely sold out and that wait-lists for tickets will start up to one-hour prior to the performance time (NO EARLIER), in person only, at the Box Office. Running time is 85 minutes without intermission.

Photo: David Zayas and Elizabeth Canavan in LAByrinth Theater Company's "Devil of Choice" by Maggie Bofill. Credit: David Zayas Jr.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Light Shining in Buckinghamshire” Muses Successfully on Revolutions at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday June 3, 2018)

Photo: Matthew Jeffers, Evelyn Spahr, Mikéah Ernest Jennings, Vinie Burrows, and Rob Campbell in “Light Shining in Buckinghamshire.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Light Shining in Buckinghamshire” Muses Successfully on Revolutions at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday June 3, 2018)
By Caryl Churchill
Directed by Rachel Chavkin
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In an October 17, 2015 “New York Post” article, Michael Goodwin raises the rich, albeit uncomfortable, proposition of James Piereson in his July 2015 book “Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America’s Postwar Political Order;” namely, “America is due for a revolution.” In the “Post” article, Mr. Goodwin summarizes Mr. Pierson’s argument thusly: “there is an inevitable “revolution” coming because our politics, culture, education, economics and even philanthropy are so polarized that the country can no longer resolve its differences.”

This polarization was certainly the dilemma in mid-seventeenth century England and the polarization there resulted in the English Revolution of 1642-1651 and the Putney Debates of 1647 that focused on the “outcomes” of that revolution. Based on these debates, Caryl Churchill’s “Light Shining in Buckinghamshire,” currently running at New York Theatre Workshop, is an important and engaging dramatic “rehearsal” of the upheaval caused by revolution and the “value” of the consequences of what might seem to be an act of anarchy.

Vinie Burrows, Rob Campbell, Matthew Jeffers, Mikéah Ernest Jennings, Gregg Mozgala, and Evelyn Spahr play various roles without regard to the age or gender or political persuasion of their assigned characters. Under Rachel Chavkin’s commending and assiduous direction that maintains an appropriate pace throughout, the actors grapple successfully with their characters and deliver exceptionally authentic and believable performances. Caryl Churchill gives the cast a stunning script that captures the aftermath of, in Ms. Chavkin’s words, “a revolution that did not quite happen.” An outcome where there was “such profound hope” that individuals believed passionately that the injustice and disenfranchisement they were experiencing could be transformed.

Portraying the hopeful and idealist Diggers, Levellers, and Ranters and the more pragmatic of the period – including Cromwell (the enchanting Vinie Burrows), Henry Ireton (the alluring Matthew Jeffers), and Colonel Nathaniel Rich (the passionate Rob Campbell) – the members of the diverse cast capture the idealism, the anarchism, even the amoralism burgeoning without the King and the Royalists. Farming on common land, economic equality, equality before the law, Protestant radicalism, and claiming one’s own divine spirit (“I am God!”) are the revolutionary themes echoed in Ms. Churchill’s dramatic brew distilled to perfection by the spirited cast. In their solo performances, each actor commands the stage with consummate professionalism and honors each word of the script with perfection.

Riccardo Hernández’s expansive set is saturated with pools of introspective light created by Isabella Byrd. Toni-Leslie James’ period costumes are appropriate and with Mikaal Sulaiman’s sound design and Orion Stephanie Johnstone’s original music, richly complement the themes and conflicts of the play.

The New York Theatre Workshop has revived this critically important 1976 drama at an opportune time. Like Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” Caryl Churchill’s “Light Shining in Buckinghamshire” muses on a time in America when God seems to have “gone away” and the center is not holding, where stasis seems to proliferate, and the importance of truth seems to erode. Ms. Churchill and Ms. Chavkin include subtle reminders that their work relates intimately to the present American “inevitable” revolution: actors sport cell phones and drink Coke, and the pragmatists read from the play’s script. The possibility of forward movement informs a welcomed catharsis. This early play by Caryl Churchill is a must-see experience in this time when evolution vies with revolution for the surcease of stagnation.

LIGHT SHINING IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE

The cast for “Light Shining in Buckinghamshire” includes Vinie Burrows, Rob Campbell, Matthew Jeffers, Mikéah Ernest Jennings, Gregg Mozgala, and Evelyn Spahr.

The creative team includes scenic design by Riccardo Hernández, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Isabella Byrd, sound design by Mikaal Sulaiman, properties by Noah Mease, original music and music direction by Orion Stephanie Johnstone, and stage management by Jhanaë K-C Bonnick.

“Light Shining in Buckinghamshire” runs at New York Theatre Workshop (79 East 4th Street New York, NY 10003) for a limited run through Sunday, June 3, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Single tickets are $65.00. To purchase tickets and to learn about NYTW’s CHEAPTIX, please visit http://www.nytw.org. Running times is 2 hours and 40 minutes including an intermission.

Photo: Matthew Jeffers, Evelyn Spahr, Mikéah Ernest Jennings, Vinie Burrows, and Rob Campbell in “Light Shining in Buckinghamshire.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, May 29, 2018