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Brits Off-Broadway’s Square Go Runs Circles Around the Competition

Brits Off-Broadway’s Square Go Runs Circles Around the Competition

What did we get ourselves into“, I ask my fellow Theatrejunkie. I was concerned (well, really, just over-tired after Awards season) as the cover of the latest entry at 59E59 Theaters’ Brits Off-Broadway series, Square Go, gives hints of colorfully masked wrestlers battling for supremacy. And the plain white square that the audience surrounds gets one to nervously start thinking and wondering what this show was really all about (I rarely read too much about a show before hand). But Kieran Hurley (Mouthpiece) and Gary McNair (A Gambler’s Guide) have written a play that is so utterly astounding and fun that I should never have given it a moment’s worry.  Presented by Francesca Moody Productions in association with Seared Productions, the hilarious but deeply moving exploration of teenage male posturing and ego shattering confrontation has far more wiseness hidden underneath that creative mask than anything we could have imagined. It pulses with inventiveness and an intimate connection worthy of the space and your time (just over 60 minutes).

Daniel Portman and Gavin Jon Wright. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

As directed with a sharp sense of teenage angst and comic clarity by the clever Finn Den Hertog (Grid Iron’s Light Boxes), Square Go demands audience interaction. The characters basically beg us with enthusiastic desperation to cheer on the young men in the center of the square. From the Square Go with microphone in hand, Max, magnificently played by the engaging Daniel Portman (Podrick Payne in HBO’s Game of Thrones, S2-8) pleads with the enthusiasm of an ring master MC. Little do we know at the beginning of this tale just how much support this young man really needs in order to survive the afternoon. Only once his buddy Stevie, dynamically portrayed by the very talented Gavin Jon Wright (Citizen Theatre’s Trainspotting), makes his way in to, what we soon learn to be, the high school men’s room, the tense and scary predicament of Max starts to take shape. With strong and pulsating lighting by Peter Small (SoHo’s Angry Alan) and spot-on props and costuming by Martha Mamo (RSC’s The Alchemist), it becomes quite clear that through an unfortunate blurting-out in class by Max, a complex and sad coming of age story conflict of a well liked athlete, and the historical and problematic structure of a young man’s need to prove his conventional masculinity to his class mates, Max is basically a ‘Dead Man’ waiting to walk the walk into almost certain annihilation at the hostile hands of another. His time has come, so says the brilliant candy chewing Stevie, to stand forward as strong as he can and face his own Square Go right down to the finishing.

Gavin Jon Wright and Daniel Portman. Photo by Carol Rosegg.

Now I didn’t know what a Square Go was when I walked into the smallest and most intimate of theaters at 59E59, but it’s basically an old dueling rite of passage for a young Scottish man; a schoolyard slugfest of sorts, that will most likely cause Max to be “eaten alive” by the toughest young man in the school yard, the ape-man himself, Danny Guthrie. It’s an old trap, these ‘Seven Attributes’ of being a man, beautifully and energetically laid out with fire and fury by the fantastic Wright, with solid help from the dynamic movement work of Vicki Manderson (Royal Court’s The Children). They run circles around the ridiculous formulations of manhood, and with the ever looming prospect of Max being beaten to a pulp in a battle demanded by the angry Guthrie, the two wait, hiding in the bathroom, trying to locate the courage and the understanding needed to hold their head high. All this to the sounds of the brilliantly invigorating original music by indie rock band, Frightened Rabbit (Andy Monaghan, Simon Liddell, Billy Kennedy, Grant Hutchison) with associate sound designer Kieran Lucas (Vault’s Orlando) leading a hand. Square Go triumphantly locates a young man’s adolescent fear and fires it up with geek humor, wise ass structuring, and the weight of a solid young man’s friendship, that creates an energy and dilemma that feels so real and perfectly authentic. The recycled imagery of masculinity and manliness are paraded and pummeled forward with perfection by all, demanding the duel to be seen as the most important challenge to a young man’s ego and existence. We gladly gather behind young Max chanting his name in support and pride, and wishing him and his buddy a strong ride into their adulthood. 

Gavin Jon Wright and Daniel Portman in SQUARE GO part of #BritsOffBroadway at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg

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Off Broadway

My love for theater started when I first got involved in high school plays and children's theatre in London, Ontario, which led me—much to my mother’s chagrin—to study set design, directing, and arts administration at York University in Toronto. But rather than pursuing theater as a career (I did produce and design a wee bit), I became a self-proclaimed theater junkie and life-long supporter. I am not a writer by trade, but I hope to share my views and feelings about this amazing experience we are so lucky to be able to see here in NYC, and in my many trips to London, Enlgand, Chicago, Toronto, Washington, and beyond. Living in London, England from 1985 to 1986, NYC since 1994, and on my numerous theatrical obsessive trips to England, I've seen as much theater as I can possibly afford. I love seeing plays. I love seeing musicals. If I had to choose between a song or a dance, I'd always pick the song. Dance—especially ballet—is pretty and all, but it doesn’t excite me as, say, Sondheim lyrics. But that being said, the dancing in West Side Story is incredible! As it seems you all love a good list, here's two. FAVORITE MUSICALS (in no particular order): Sweeney Todd with Patti Lupone and Michael Cerveris in 2005. By far, my most favorite theatrical experience to date. Sunday in the Park with George with Jenna Russell (who made me sob hysterically each and every one of the three times I saw that production in England and here in NYC) in 2008 Spring Awakening with Jonathan Groff and Lea Michele in 2007 Hedwig and the Angry Inch (both off-Boadway in 1998 and on Broadway in 2014, with Neal Patrick Harris, but also with Michael C. Hall and John Cameron Mitchell, my first Hedwig and my far), Next To Normal with Alice Ripley (who I wish I had seen in Side Show) in 2009 FAVORITE PLAYS (that’s more difficult—there have been so many and they are all so different): Angels in American, both on Broadway and off Lettice and Lovage with Dame Maggie Smith and Margaret Tyzack in 1987 Who's Afraid of Virginai Woolf with Tracy Letts and Amy Morton in 2012 Almost everything by Alan Ayckbourn, but especially Woman in Mind with Julia McKenzie in 1986 And to round out the five, maybe Proof with Mary Louise Parker in 2000. But ask me on a different day, and I might give you a different list. These are only ten theatre moments that I will remember for years to come, until I don’t have a memory anymore. There are many more that I didn't or couldn't remember, and I hope a tremendous number more to come. Thanks for reading. And remember: read, like, share, retweet, enjoy. For more go to

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