Tim Blake Nelson’s Socrates, is long. Written by an actor Tim Blake Nelson and starring the brilliant Michael Stuhlbarg, doesn’t help this intellectual sleeper from plodding along.
We start with Plato (Teagle F. Bougere) who has just been brought a boy, (Niall Cunningham), I would assume is Aristotle, who questions this “murderous” society for having killed its “greatest thinker. We flash back to Socrates and his friend and lover Alcibiades (Austin Smith), the playwright Aristophanes (Tom Nelis), who mocks Plato for his extreme fondness for supple young boys. Back then homosexuality in Greece was widespread and socially significant between adult men and pubescent or adolescent boys, known as pederasty. We get their intense philosophical debate, leading to why Socrates is estranged from the Athenian leadership and what led up to his trial and execution.
In the second act we get Socrates’ trial, and a slow bath before his death.
Michael Stuhlbarg is wonderful and tries to bring humor, but you keep wishing he was given a better play. Though he gives a mesmerizingly fierce layered performance, that only goes so far. This cast is large and includes some really fabulous actors, with nothing to do.
Director Doug Hughes (Doubt) does not help this piece as everything is so drawn out. He also stages this from all over including the rear and sides of the theater, which seriously hurts to watch.
Nelson, best known for his starring roles in the Coen brothers’ films, writing lacks humor and editing skills. There was nothing here that could have been told in under an hour and a half. Also this new format of trying to make everything seem like today’s political climate is boring and doesn’t exactly work.
Scott Pask’s set is subtle and minimalistic panels featuring Greek lettering for both the walls and stage. Catherine Zuber’s costumes are authentic.
I loved seeing the great Michael Stuhlbarg work, but would rather have seen him do something with meat.
Socrates: The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street, until June 2nd.
Socratesis part of the Onassis Festival 2019: Democracy Is Coming, co-presented by The Public Theater and Onassis USA.