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Review Roundup: CARDINAL Starring Anna Chlumsky and Adam Pally Opens Off-Broadway


Second Stage Theatre just celebrated opening night of the world premiere production of Greg Pierce's play, Cardinal, directed by Kate Whoriskey. Cardinal features Becky Ann Baker ("Girls") as Nancy Prenchel, Anna Chlumsky ("Veep") as Lydia Lensky, Alex Hurt (Cat on a Hot Tin Roof) as Nat Prenchel, Adam Pally ("Happy Endings") as Jeff Torm, Stephen Park(Aubergine) as Li-Wei Chen, and Eugene Young (Geek!) as Jason Chen.

Paint it red. So begins Lydia's wild idea to invigorate her Rust Belt town. But when a whip-smart entrepreneur co-opts her scheme, a precarious rivalry is born. A battle for the town's soul ensues, causing its obsessive mayor, its defiant matriarch, and the rest of its residents to question who they are and where they're headed.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Jesse Green, The New York Times: Unfortunately, the production, directed by Kate Whoriskey (who also directed "Sweat") on a vague, dour set by Derek McLane, does nothing to advance that reading, nor can it smooth the shift in tone that occurs in the last third of the 90-minute play. And though the story wraps up with a pair of lovely scenes that allow the leading actors, especially Ms. Baker, to do their best work, "Cardinal" never achieves the gravity of its worthy aims. Great ideas are not always good ones.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Playwright Greg Pierce (the fine"Slowgirl," the less-fine "Kid Victory," ) writes witty dialogue, but he forsakes a Cardinal rule of storytelling. There needs to be a shred of truth to characters and situations. Too much rings false as "Cardinal" speeds ahead in sitcom-style fast-mo - from Lydia's motivations to timelines to logic to the ways city governments work. The play's point turns ever murkier as subplots about racial stereotyping, love and sex and generational expectations are briefly touched on.

Sara Holdren, Vulture: Greg Pierce's new play Cardinal, now at Second Stage Theater under the direction of Kate Whoriskey, is a bit like its own central character, Lydia Lensky: Both are cute at the outset and probably mean well, despite cynical tendencies - but when you get down to it, both are pretty awful. Cardinal is part of a widespread, depressing trend in contemporary playwriting and, crucially, play-producing that might be called the Law and Order: SVU gambit: Stick to a tested formula - be it solving New York's latest especially heinous sex crime, or crafting a basic, sitcomesque family drama or quirky romance or coming-of-age tale - then insert a hot-button issue.

Jeremy Gerard, Deadline: Whoriskey, who coincidentally guided Sweat across the regional theaters to Broadway, isn't as fully in control of the work as I expected. As likable as the two stars are, they swallow some of the best lines and haven't quite got the rhythm of the repartee. Jennifer Moeller's clothes also seem just a bit off, especially for Pally, who is merely rumpled preppie rather than the taste-free fashion disaster Lydia makes him out to be. Derek McLane's minimal set has to do a lot of work, and it does so gracefully. Above all, however, Cardinal is a lot of fun until it wears out its welcome.

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: While its absurd plotline would seem to hold the promise for satirical humor about dying Rust Belt communities, Cardinal instead goes in so many different and unfulfilling directions that it flounders aimlessly. The subplots include Lydia and Jeff becoming lovers (complete with the actors romping in the sheets in their underwear); their relationship eventually falling apart; Lydia suffering from a bad back; a plan to turn the town's abandoned axle factory into a hospital; a violent incident resulting in one of the characters getting shot; and the town becoming a sort of mini-Chinatown, complete with competing dumpling shops. And why, oh why, does Lydia keep calling attention to her Jewishness for no apparent reason?

Photo Credit: Jennifer Broski

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