It’s the annual late season logjam! So in order to catch up, I’m going to blast through a few things in brief yet try to be comprehensive. The trick of capsule reviewing. Here goes.
At the Mitzi Newhouse in Lincoln Center, there’s Sarah Ruhl’s latest, How to Transcend a Happy Marriage. No stranger to sex-themed plays, she seems here to be squarely in the arena of sex comedy, though what’s notable is how dead that arena has been since the ‘70s, when three-camera sitcoms pretty much superannuated the genre in theatre. And where once-traditional sex comedy was pretty much a nudgy-winky affair, with innuendo and implication bait-and-switched in for actual, ahem, action, Ms. Ruhl, by accident of the era or conscious design, is changing those rules. This is not to say that there’s all that much to see (visually this is mild by the standards of soft porn), but there’s no ambiguity about the ride we’re on: Two happily married, best-friend couples, fascinated by a polyamorous trio, invite them to dinner at one of their homes to discuss and, ahem, see what transpires, which also leaves them to reckon with the consequences. Happily, Ms. Ruhl doesn’t fall on the sword of traditional formulae, introducing elements of tribal ritual (anthropologically speaking) and magic realism, even eschewing style niceties to move fluidly into and out of different styles (i.e. it isn’t until midway through the first act that a character who will thereafter periodically narrate breaks the fourth wall for the first time). Under the direction of Rebecca Taichman, a very good cast, featuring Marisa Tomei and Robin Weigert, delivers nicely. Not profound, but pleasant enough and maaaaaayyyybe a genre changer. But let’s not overstate the case too soon.
And while I feel a good deal more benign about Beneath the Gavel, the interactive art-auction…what…play? experience?…at 59E59, it’s a mild affair at best, its comedy too weak and its inside look at the business too ironically artlessly a classroom-type lesson. And as a production, kind of on the above-average community theatre level. Meh.