'Sight Unseen' (Broadway) and 'A Midsummer Night's Dream' (Storm Theatre)
This is a salve for the drama fan's soul after enduring a pitiable season of new plays on Broadway. Unlike so many recent dramas, Donald Margulies' Sight Unseen—revived by the Manhattan Theatre Club, which produced the original off-Broadway in 1992—deals meaningfully with personal and societal issues in a story that is believable and moving, has suspense and surprise in it, and an unconventional aspect (flashbacks and nonchronological sequencing of scenes in the present) that doesn't feel gimmicky.
And we get to see two prime stage actors in their prime: Laura Linney, who's become everyone's favorite anti-star actress with some high-profile screen projects that have not abated her loyalty to the theater, and Ben Shenkman, fresh off his Angels in America TV triumph (which followed his Tony-nominated Broadway debut in Proof).
They portray former lovers seeing each other for the first time since their college romance fizzled: He's become a wealthy, famous artist; she's fled to rural England, married to a fellow archeologist (Byron Jennings, also excellent) but still aching for her ex.
As he would later do in his Pulitzer-winning Dinner With Friends, Margulies unfurls the complexities of relationships, considering how such factors as time, materialism and other people can nourish or inhibit love; in so doing he gets to truths about love and heartbreak that many can relate to regardless of the specifics of the play's relationships.
The debate about contemporary art doesn't seem as refreshingly insightful.
Still, to all who brought us last season's wretches: Take note, this is what a well-written play looks like.
Through July 25 at the Biltmore Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.; 212-239-6200, www.mtc-nyc.org for tickets & information.
A former Miss America and an NFL Hall of Famer doing Shakespeare only sounds like stunt casting has infiltrated off-off-Broadway. In truth, Storm Theatre director Peter Dobbins astutely cast his population of young lovers, fairies, laborers and royalty in A Midsummer Night's Dream. Many of the actors boast Shakespeare-heavy resumes, and neither Kate Shindle, Miss America 1998 (who plays Helena), nor John Riggins (Bottom), a Washington Redskins running back in the 1980s, is a stage neophyte. GRADE: B+ Through June 6 at 145 W. 46th St.; 212-868-4444, www.stormtheatre.com for tickets & information.
There are impressive physical antics by Bernardo de Paula (Demetrius) and Jo Benincasa (Lysander) as they subdue their squabbling partners and fall under the fairies' spell, and the multicultural "mechanicals" deploy their individual quirks and sight gags to riotous effect. The actors speak without affectation, which Anglophiles may consider too "accessible" but which works fine for this youthful, lighthearted comedy. Barely legal Joshua Vasquez pretty much steals the show as Puck, prancing, squealing, climbing on Oberon's shoulders, practically taking off in flight (wings are painted tattoo-like on his back)—and he's so darn cute doing it!
The woods are conveyed as much by the lighting as the scenery, with Michael Abrams' sublime designs projecting the shadows of leafy branches, as well as time's passage from daylight through dawn. Outstanding production design also includes Pamela Snyder-Gallagher's costumes: lovely and character-appropriate gowns for Helena, Hermia and Hippolyta, tunics (of varying lengths) for the men, and leotards festooned with crepe scarves, jangly pendants and flowers for the fairies. Under Dobbins' direction, performers and designers create the requisite sense of enchantment.
Through June 6 at 145 W. 46th St.; 212-868-4444, www.stormtheatre.com for tickets & information.