Review Roundup: Second Stage's AMERICAN HERO
Directed by Tony nominee Leigh Silverman, American Hero features Ari Graynor (2st Trust), Daoud Heidami (Bengal Tiger at The Baghdad Zoo), Jerry O'Connell (Seminar) andErin Wilhelmi (The Great God Pan). AMERICAN HERO opens tonight, May 22.
American Hero is a supersized dark comedy about life, liberty and the pursuit of sandwiches. Let's see what the critics had to say...
Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: Ms. Wohl's improbable but often darkly funny comedy, directed with flair by Leigh Silverman (a Tony nominee for "Violet"), takes a wry, compassionate attitude toward American workers barely clinging to the bottom rungs of the economic ladder...Ms. Wohl is guilty of distorting her characters' natural behavior to rope in a big laugh. "American Hero" often feels like an Annie Baker play that has been put through the development process for a Hollywood sitcom: The characters are life-bruised, sympathetically observed small fry, but the plot often evolves in synthetic-feeling directions...But in depicting the blooming friendships that take root even in this dreary job environment, "American Hero" underscores that even when the work may get you down, the people you work with can give you a lift.
Marilyn Stasio, Variety: For a play that needs to go through at least one more draft, "American Hero" is more provocative and entertaining than you'd expect. Set in a generic sandwich shop in an anonymous strip mall, Bess Wohl's quirky comedy observes a few specimens of the embattled American working class whose aspirational hopes and dreams have been reduced to the low-wage service jobs they're fighting to hang onto. Under Leigh Silverman's sure directorial hand, a smart cast fills in some of the blanks of their unfinished characters, lending them some dignity in their darkest moments of comic desperation.
David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: American Hero never quite lives up to its tasty premise, although it delivers some mild chuckles along the way...Director Leigh Silverman (a current Tony Award nominee for Broadway's Violet) infuses the production with a precise attention to detail, from the depiction of the workers' daily mundane activities to Dane Laffrey's ultra-realistic set design to the musical underscoring that includes Muzak versions of such songs as "Up Where We Belong" and "Escape (The Pina Colada Song)." But neither the characterizations nor the situations are provocative enough to give this slight work the satirical heft it needs. Despite the fine comedic performances -- Wilhelmi is a particular delight as the innocent, eager beaver Sheri -- American Hero just doesn't have enough meat.
Robert Kahn, NBC New York: "American Hero" calls to mind a range of anxiety-generating post-recession narratives, among them Laura Marks' "Bethany," which saw America Ferrera employed at a doomed Saturn dealership. Wohl's dialogue can be as bland as iceberg lettuce or as peppery as arugula, but the ideas she's toying with do, indeed, leave you plenty to chew on.
Jesse Green, Vulture: It's a comedy, it's a critique, it's political, it's interpersonal: It's one of the indigestible combo torpedoes advertised on the backlit menu boards dominating Dane Laffrey's set. The comedy element is the most successful...Instead the actors are forced to defer to the marionette dramaturgy of what you soon realize, with a sigh, is a parable. Each of the three sandwich artists has a Larger Function: Ted represents the delusional American religion of self-improvement; Jamie, the dead-end anarchy of the cynic; and Sheri, the surprising resourcefulness of the downtrodden. When their boss mysteriously disappears, and the tuna ominously runs out, the drama of how these abstract and now untethered forces interact -- opposing, recombining, betraying -- gives the play its backbone. Unfortunately, it also falsifies the characters, since real people don't actually represent anything. Or not just one thing. They are each the blur of their many possible significances.
Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: The fitfully amusing but distractingly diffuse comedy "American Hero" follows three diverse people trying to earn their daily bread at a sandwich shop...Playwright Bess Wohl begins with a good idea -- and a fun first scene involving a job interview. But her script is all over the place. The tone and focus keep shifting as we follow a trio with big troubles and no solutions in sight...The cast is good and the show makes for a fast-moving 90 minutes. There are lots of ideas raised, including ones about economic reality, desperation, dehumanization and corporate craziness. But writer Wohl can't wrap it all up.
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Photo Credit: Joan Marcus