The Playgoer: REVIEW: Spain (Village Voice)

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Wednesday, November 07, 2007

REVIEW: Spain (Village Voice)

In today's Voice, my review of the negligible new play, Spain, picked up--inexplicably--by MCC after last year's Summer Play Festival.

I must say I'm struck by how unanimous the reception has been so far. My web-friend Rob Kendt puts it best: "Spainful."


Anonymous said...

"Inexplicably?" No. I'm a friend of Jim's, and I saw the SPF production, and it was good--tight, energetic, and funny. A masterpiece? Again, no, but well worth the price of admission. I also saw the MCC version, and it was an utterly different experience. The unfortunate thing is that the lion's share of problems it's having are being laid at Jim's feet, which is not fair. The Lortel was a bad theater to house that show, and that affected everything else--the directing was flabby, the performances, with the exception of Veanne Cox, who was strong, were either strident (including Sciorra and, sadly, Michael Aaranov, who was genius at SPF but overplayed his hand at MCC) or half-hearted (Lisa Kron phoning it in). It's frustrating to see Jim getting slammed so much because he's a very talented playwright who's getting his first serious press after 10 years and this is what happens. I don't dispute the critics' right to honestly criticize a show that went wrong, but I think the reviews should assign some more responsibility to the director & producers for how they made the play into a production.

Aaron Riccio said...

It is hard to figure out what goes wrong at the heart of a production; sometimes the directing and acting really do take away from the play, sometimes they don't. In this case, when I was reviewing it, I commented on Kron's phoned performance and the awkward action (and even weirder staging), but even without those things, it was at heart the play that I had difficulty with. Remember all the negative flak that the Sopranos took for its dream episode? At least in that, I felt that inner lives were being explored and made more visible. In Spain, I felt only cheated; NOTHING actually happens, and while she does achieve the key dramatic goal of "change," her dreamlike epiphanies don't connect with the audience. In my opinion.

Playgoer said...

I welcome Anon's comments, since I must admit I didn't see the SPF version. And perhaps it's unfair for me to question MCC's decision without having done so. I suppose even such seemingly "inexplicable" decisions have to have some "explanation" and that they haven't totally(!) lost their minds.

Still, I hope I made clear in my review that a) I did hold directing and casting decisions responsible as well, and b) that in spite of all the production flaws I also had problems with the script itself. I was given a copy of the script, and I did read much of it afterwards--partially to confirm whether or not this could ALL be the fault of such an obviously misguided production.

Hey, it's all opinion, so good for you for standing up for Knable. But I still found the script lacking. I can imagine it being more enjoyable in a smaller space and in a more modest staging with a more appropriate female lead. (Is Annabella Sciorra even that much a "celebrity" to justify such casting?) And I agree with the thrust of your complaint that the MCC version is essentially *overproduced*. (A word I should have used in my review, perhaps.)

But hey, if you're putting on a show in a 200-300 seat Off-B'way proscenium house and charging upwards of $60 a ticket, you bet MCC is going to "produce" the hell out of it. And cast inappropriate celebs. The Lortel, by the way isn't THAT big a house, and if a play can't go over there, and is strictly a black-box event, then the decision does indeed seem "inexplicable."

Anonymous said...

Thanks to both for responding.

While the words "inexplicably" and "negligible" stuck in my craw (although I do recognize that you used them in a blog post, and not the review), what really prompted my comment was what you wrote about the unanimous reception the play received, and how despite each of the negative reviews bringing up direction and casting, the proportion of blame seemed wrong--and also no one attributed what worked (and to each his own on how much of it did) to Jim.

As to it being overproduced, fair point, but that's not exactly what I meant--more like badly produced. It's not really the size of the Lortel, but how they used it. the set managed center stage well, but the entrances SL and SR didn't even exist. It's a comedy, you need people to get in and out quickly, but instead actors got stranded upstage--too far from the audience, and from what else was going on, and that choked the momentum which the play needed--so whoever you blame for that-director, designer, producers-it had a quite substantial negative effect on the play. As did a lot of other elements. So Jim was not only badly served by them, but he suffered in the press for it, too, undeservedly I think.

I want to make it clear that I don't mean to point out your review in particular, or any one of them, really. And I know critics have no responsibility to go out of their way to leaven the bad with the good. You only have so many words, etc. etc. But starting with the Times review, I would have liked to see some more generosity with a basically unknown writer. Not pulling punches, but better distributing the criticism.

(Aaron, couldn't find your review, so can't speak to it directly--though my point is not to dispute what you thought about the play.)

Anonymous said...

I haven't seen this play, but I think a really important point is being raised by these posts. In general, when a new play opens and critics don't like it, they tend to blame the text. One almost never reads reviews that say "This seems like a very interesting and good play that is poorly served by directorial, acting and production choices", because it's terribly hard to separate a play with which you're unfamiliar from the production you're seeing (even if you look at the text afterwards, the production is what lingers).

I don't know that there's a solution to this. But I do think that writers often shoulder blame for bad productions when the fault lies elsewhere.