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Off-Broadway Review: “The Michaels” at The Public’s LuEsther Hall (Through Sunday December 1, 2019)

Off-Broadway Review: “The Michaels” at The Public’s LuEsther Hall (Through Sunday December 1, 2019)
Written and Directed by Richard Nelson
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Once again playwright Richard Nelson has gathered another family around the colloquial table to observe their trials and tribulations as they conquer another day of survival in Rhinebeck, New York. This time around it is “The Michaels” who are the subjects of this intimate study of human behavior. The revelations evolve almost in real time as friends and family convene for an evening meal in the kitchen of Rose Michael, a semi-retired choreographer, who is suffering from ovarian cancer. A friend, Kate Harris is a retired high school history teacher, who has become somewhat of an adopted caretaker or possibly more. Ex-husband, David Michael, an arts manager and producer is also present, along with his new wife Sally Michael who was a member of Rose’s dance company. Lucy Michael, daughter of Rose and David, is a dancer and choreographer, joined by another dancer, her cousin May Smith, who have come to recreate some of Rose’s early pieces for a retrospective performance. Also visiting and joining the somewhat pensive proceedings is another dancer from Rose’s company and good friend, Irenie Walker.

This is a quiet evening that involves discussions and decisions that might change the lives of some of the participants and establishes the characters identities and motives. It explores the avenues of rejection, acceptance, creativity, mortality, vulnerability and commitment with precise scrutiny perhaps at times discovering hidden truths. Although Rose Michaels may be dying of cancer, this is not a play about death but more so, resurrection. Bygone relationships are rekindled. Creative works are revived. Opportunities arise and hope emerges from the shadows of despair. It is an honest dialogue that dissects the density of life.

The cast is remarkable and even in all respects. Ordinary tasks from baking quiche to making salads almost exist as part of the dialogue, along with the rehearsal of modern dance routines that circle the observers for inspection. This is how the Michaels live. This production seems to be a great example of the “art of experiencing” as opposed to the “art of representing” which is the basis for method acting developed by Russian theater practitioner Stanislavski. Even the slightest movement is driven by purpose, exposing the actor’s inner thoughts.

Brenda Wehle settles into the character of Rose filling her with strength, honesty and determination as she battles the irremediable disease. David Rose is captured by Jay O. Sanders as a man saturated with compassion, all the while being practical and buoyant. Rita Wolf evokes the pragmatic nature of Sally with an ostensible charm. Katie is revealed as a sincere, giving friend, haunted by a past relationship that could possibly be resurrected which would mean abandoning Rose. Haviland Morris brings a solid Irenie to the table executing careful judgment to avoid disruption. Accomplished dancers Charlotte Bydwell as Lucy and Matilda Sakamoto as May, add a spark of life and youth to the festivities as they flood the kitchen with emotional movement.

As director, Mr. Nelson delivers a slice of life episode that is deftly unleashed on a stage of the Public Theater with courage and conviction. It is not packed with explosive emotional conflict but is a compelling study of human behavior that is subtle in its exposition. One can only look forward to the next chapter to unfold in the life of this artistic clan, as they navigate troubled times and celebrate friends and family.


The cast of “The Michaels” features Charlotte Bydwell (Lucy Michael), Haviland Morris (Irenie Walker), Maryann Plunkett (Kate Harris), Matilda Sakamoto (May Smith), Jay O. Sanders (David Michael), Brenda Wehle (Rose Michael), and Rita Wolf (Sally Michael).

“The Michaels” features scenic design by Jason Ardizzone-West, co-costume design by Susan Hilferty and Mark Koss, lighting design by Jennifer Tipton, sound design by Scott Lehrer, dance coaching by Sara Rudner based on original choreography by Dan Wagoner, and choreography consulting by Gwyneth Jones.

“The Michaels” runs at the Public’s LuEsther Hall (425 Lafayette Street) through Sunday December 1, 2019 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets can be accessed by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater. Running time is 2 hours without intermission.

Photo: Haviland Morris, Brenda Wehle, Maryann Plunkett, and Jay O. Sanders in The Michaels. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, November 26, 2019