February 6, 2007

Runaway Riddle (Village Voice Review)

Despite name-checking CBGB and Delancey Street, this adaptation of the Russian playwright Edvard Radzinski’s She, in the Absence of Love and Death takes place in a geographical limbo—call it Manhattan on the Moskva. Its turgid vision of corrupt judges, sex-starved moms, and freewheeling bands of jazz-rappers survives the transition into English only superficially, leaving behind an entire submerged mass of cultural context. It’s the kind of play an early Jim Jarmusch character might have dreamed up. Director Yuri Joffe addresses the flatness of most of the main characters by turning up the decibels. The result, especially in the first act, is a strident, interminable riddle of a production. The play picks up in the second act, as the genuinely affecting relationship between snotty runaway Clare (Cara Francis) and sad-sack lawyer Daniel (Mark Light-Orr) takes center stage; Light-Orr’s sensitive performance is a welcome diversion from its garish surroundings. But soon enough, out pops the multicultural crew of jazz-rappers once again: cocky African-American Duke (Alexander Elisa), fiery Latina Tita (Brianne Berkson), and Jewish-pride-espousing Moses (Jason Yachanin), all under the direction of white guy Joey De Jazz (Patrick Knighton). As ambassadors of diversity, they’re about as convincing as Joe Biden. 


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