The Pershing Square Signature Center is among the busiest and most prolific theatre centers anywhere, offering a combination of new and revived material, primarily by contemporary American playwrights. The complex is home to the Signature Theatre company itself, which caters to general audiences of eclectic tastes; and the more renegade New Group, which tends to tread a darker path. Here’s what’s on offer there currently.
I often find the New Group’s—really artistic director Scott Elliott’s—dark vision to have little humanist compensation (obviously discounting lighter fare like Sweet Charity). But this one hits the sweet spot. Bleakly funny and given an environmental staging by Elliot, who has a knack for realism, Evening at the Talk House is unusual and, perhaps not altogether intentionally, a very worthy piece of dystopian speculative fiction, on par with such as Robert Sheckley’s The 10th Victim, Walter Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz and Stephen King’s (as “Richard Bachman) The Running Man. It may even be chillingly relevant.
I wish I could say I felt similarly enthusiastic writer-director Erica Schmidt’s All the Fine Boys, an, I think intentionally, claustrophobic play about two teenage girls, horror movie buddies (portent, portent) on the cusp of the sexual experience they crave. Emily (Isabelle Fuhrman) will pursue a dalliance with high school crush Adam (Alex Wolff)—they’re the naïve couple, theoretically the sweet ones—while Jenny (Abigail Breslin) will get entangled with Joseph (Joe Tippett) an older man (early 30s) she knows from church—they’re the hopelessly self-deluding couple, to put it mildly, who act only on impulse with zero sense of consequence until way too late. The play is bumpily acted, probably because it’s bumpily directed—everyone has their moments, though only Ms. Fuhrman seemed to me on solid ground throughout—but that goes along with its being bumpily written; in some ways, the sweet couple are as unsettling as the one headed toward…inevitability. I don’t necessarily need to know the exact reason why I’m taking the ride a playwright wants to take me on, but I want to at least have a sense that the playwright does. I can grudgingly admit it may work for some as a point-of-identification experience—my companion of the evening, a theatre professional from London, said she was “able to relate” to her teenage experience…but I didn’t see the here’s-why-you-care window for anyone lacking the connection.