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He Says: The Whirligig Am I Pointing My Finger at Myself?

He Says: The Whirligig Am I Pointing My Finger at Myself?
Zosia Mamet, Dolly Wells

Zosia Mamet, Dolly Wells Photos by Monique Carboni

There is no getting away from it.  The Whirligig is going to be a play about sickness, and maybe even death.  That we know from the moment we walk into the theatre and see a young woman in a hospital bed sleeping silently and ever so still.  The stage revolves round and around as she sleeps, giving the air a big dose of heaviness that we can’t escape.  And then, all of a sudden, as meticulously directed by The New Group’s artistic director, Scott Elliott (Evening at the Talk House, Avenue Q), a flurry of activity.  An energetic creation of spaces, slid together by the entire cast as the play is about to begin.  Wisely, the play starts with the scenario we are most curious about: the sick girl in a hospital room surrounded by worried parents.

Dolly Wells, Norbert Leo Butz

Dolly Wells, Norbert Leo Butz Photos by Monique Carboni

The young woman is Julie, magnificently played with depth, slyness, and sarcasm by Grace Van Patten (Netflix’s “Tramps”) and it is really her story that is at the center, with all of the others stories revolving around. The set, designed with a simplistic style by Derek McLane (TNG’s Sweet Charity) makes perfect sense as all the stories and connections spin out their scenes for us to examine. The main question seems to reside somewhere in the blame world of: “Who is responsible for Julie’s condition?” Everyone is trying to point the finger in this touching new play by the well known actor and lesser known writer Hamish Linklater (The Steep Theatre’s The Cheats), asking the question that is on everyone’s lips. But it’s who they truly want to point that finger at that feels the most dangerous and upsetting for this crew.
 The Whirligig, Zosia Mamet, Johnny Orsini
Each and everyone in this spectacularly talented cast is playing their parts with solid authenticity and exactitude, finding the humor and the pathos at every turn.  The dialogue is so smart but sometimes so hard to watch, especially the scenes of the father, wondrously portrayed by Tony winner, Norbert Leo Butz (Broadway’s Catch Me If You Can).  With so much of this play revolving around alcohol and drug addiction, it’s particularly difficult watching the father, Michael, fall off the wagon into a pit of anger and despair over his daughter’s sickness. Being witness to the fall of Michael is just so terribly sad, especially because his daughter’s fall from grace and health is a result of her own addictive behaviors. And watching on the sidelines is Michael’s AA buddy, the edgy Alex Hurt (Roundabout’s Love, Love, Love, LCT’s Dada Woof Papa Hot) as the slightly dim witted bartender Greg.   Greg has been part of the 12 step program for years, and watching him struggle with how to handle what’s spiraling out of control around him is as difficult to watch as it is to understand the ramblings of the drunkard in the bar. Those slurred words belong to a Mr. Cormeny, portrayed by the wonderful Jon Devries (TNG’s Accomplices), a character who’s presence isn’t really explained. He is wasted in a strange unneeded role, sidelined to funny drunk one liners, but never adding much to the mix.
Alex Hurt, Jon DeVries

Alex Hurt, Jon DeVries, Photos by Monique Carboni

The standout for me is Zosia Mamet (HBO’s “Girls”, MCC’s Really Really) as the former best friend of Julie’s (and wife to bartender Greg), Trish. Her stage presence in both the present tree bound scenes and the miraculously juvenile creations are electric and layered. The older Trish, up in a tree with Derrick, the wonderfully kooky and fascinating Jonny Orsini (The Nance), feels completely authentic and detailed, as the two tell their stories cautiously to one another, not quite sure if they can trust the other. They share in a voyeuristic moment gazing at the sleeping Julie, but aren’t quite sure about the stories they are attempting to tell. Both seem eager to forgo blame or responsibility, while also, somewhere deep inside, there is a self-incriminating pain with an edge of regret.
In a spectacularly touching flashback scene, years earlier, Trish and Julie hangout on a couch having the kind of conversation only two high school girls could have.  Teenage Trish is stoned and hungry, and goes looking for some writing paper in Julie’s bedroom only to discover Julie’s mother, Kristina, played with such skill by Dolly Wells (STARZ’s “Blunt Talk“) sitting perplexed on Julie’s bed.  The scene that transpires between these two is just plain magnificent, especially after such a clearly real scene beforehand. It is etched in wit and unadulterated engagement, with a huge dose of stoned honesty. It’s a shame that as a whole, the play doesn’t rise to the same level of solid authenticity as these few moments of connection have given us. That would be powerful, and epic. Because if it did, we’d have something devastating to chew on.
Act I floats along with clever exchanges mixed in with uncomfortable ones, sagging a bit in the middle, but out of the blue, there are moments, like the last scene before the intermission, when it all comes roaring back into focus.  The Whirligig is a lot like that drunk guy at the bar, who fades in and out, slurring and muttering in the corner, but every so often, he comes alive with energy and excitement. Saying something profound that it is almost alarming. And when that moment hits, Linklater shows what an expert he is when it comes to writing wry and smart dialogue. The difficulty is with the big picture; that overarching idea that has a hard time coming into focus.  The coincidences and the interwoven stories of ‘who knows who’ and what start to feel just a bit too neat and tidy.  It’s almost comical how everyone, literally and figuratively, finds themselves gathered together for the final moment of understanding and finger pointing. It is especially silly when the handsome Dr. Patrick, sweetly and gamely played by Noah Bean (PH’s Marjorie Prime) enters at just the right cued moment. It’s good for a laugh, but not so good for cohesion. At these moments, The Whirligig just doesn’t feel as real as so many of the individual scenes scattered around throughout the play. As a whole, it’s convoluted and blurs the deep pain that hovers over these people like the tree branches hanging above.  The heart-break comes into focus every so often, but then retreats to the background as the stage and story spin round to the inevitable end. Everyone wants to throw the blame around, mostly at themselves or at one another, but the desire to understand feels as hopeless as finding the preverbal ‘needle in the haystack’.  Trish gets it so right, when she dissects this idea. There is no needle, only hay, and lots of it. If only it added up to something more than just its parts and not just a pile of dried grass.
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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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