Review Roundup: SCENE PARTNERS, Starring Dianne Wiest

Scene Partners runs through December 17, 2023 at Vineyard Theatre.

By: Nov. 20, 2023
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Review Roundup: SCENE PARTNERS, Starring Dianne Wiest
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Vineyard Theatre just celebrated opening night of the world premiere of Scene Partners by John J. Caswell, Jr., directed by Tony Award winner Rachel Chavkin.
Scene Partners stars two-time Academy Award winner Dianne Wiest (Bullets Over Broadway, Happy Days) as Meryl, Eric Berryman (Primary Trust) as Dr. Noah Drake, Johanna Day (Sweat) as Charlize, Josh Hamilton (Reality) as Hugo, Carmen M. Herlihy (Mrs. Murray’s Menagerie) as Cassie and Kristen Sieh (The Band’s Visit) as Pauline.
Winter, 1985. 75-year-old Meryl ditches ice-cold Milwaukee for sunny Los Angeles, hell-bent on becoming a movie star. She’s got big dreams, a little money, and a whole lot of nerve. But will the world ever know her for who she really is?  Starring two-time Academy Award winner Dianne Wiest as Meryl, and directed by Tony Award-winning director Rachel Chavkin (Hadestown; Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812), John J. Caswell, Jr.’s (Wet Brain; Vineyard's Paula Vogel Playwriting Award), Scene Partners is a wildly theatrical, hilarious and genre-twisting gallop through the experience of a woman reborn. 

Review Roundup: SCENE PARTNERS, Starring Dianne Wiest Jesse Green, New York Times: “Scene Partners,” which opened on Wednesday at the Vineyard Theater in a top-drawer production directed by Rachel Chavkin, is part of a genre you might call the absurd picaresque. Meryl is a hardheaded Candide, a sharp-eyed Don Quixote. When we meet her just after the long longed-for death of her abusive husband, she is leaving Wisconsin for California so fast she doesn’t bother burying him. “Within the year I will rise to fame and fortune as an international film star,” she says in farewell to her drug addict daughter. Sure enough, she soon acquires not just her agent and acting coach, but also a contract to write the movie of her life.

Review Roundup: SCENE PARTNERS, Starring Dianne Wiest Sara Holdren, Vulture: If you tried to adapt an M. C. Escher painting for the stage, you might end up with something like John J. Caswell Jr.’s Scene Partners. Its reality is fragmented, tessellated, constantly re-creating itself — it’s a house of interlocking, perspective-defying staircases, a dream hallway where it’s impossible to tell which way is up. If you happen to be someone who takes notes during plays for a living, you might find yourself writing down helpful observations such as: Okay so none of it’s real. Then, ten minutes later: JK it IS all real. Five minutes after that: … wait is it? (Like I said: helpful.)

Review Roundup: SCENE PARTNERS, Starring Dianne Wiest Robert Hofler, The Wrap: This playwright is big on concept. Earlier this year, John J. Caswell Jr. gave us a play, “Wet Brain,” that took us inside the fevered mind of an alcoholic. In his new play, “Scene Partners,” a 75-year-old widow from the Midwest takes off for Hollywood to become a movie star even before her dead (and very hateful) husband has been buried. The big concept is her name, Meryl Kowalski.

Review Roundup: SCENE PARTNERS, Starring Dianne Wiest Jonathan Mandell, New York Theater: The stagecraft features the work of video producer Anne Troup and projection designer David Bengali dominating more scenes than is usual for a show in a relatively small Off-Broadway house. But the solid production can’t completely compensate for the elusiveness of the script. The playwright of “Scene Partners” is withholding, making his scene partners – which is to say, the actors and the audience — do too much of the work.

Review Roundup: SCENE PARTNERS, Starring Dianne Wiest Elysa Gardner, New York Sun: There are certain actors worth catching in any project they take on, even if, to borrow a now quite dated cliché, it’s reading the phone book. Then there are times when such actors find roles that fit like perfectly tailored suits, and it’s nothing short of cause for celebration. Well, break out the champagne and the party favors, because a new match has been made in heaven, between a two-time Oscar-winning stage and screen veteran, Dianne Wiest, and a rising playwright, John J. Caswell, Jr.

Review Roundup: SCENE PARTNERS, Starring Dianne Wiest Brian Scott Lipton, Cititour: But the usually wonderful director Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”) hasn’t totally found her way into this material, robbing the show of some of its humor -- and injecting TV screens a la Ivo Van Hove isn’t really the answer. (The video and projection design by David Bengali isn’t to blame and set designer Riccardo Hernandez does what he can with a play that is inherently cinematic.)

Review Roundup: SCENE PARTNERS, Starring Dianne Wiest Juan A. Ramirez, Theatrely: Caswell and all involved parties have created work of which they should be proud; it’s not often an audience is held in such puzzlement without resulting in exhaustion, animosity or, worse, derision. Scene Partners is far from perfect—if judged totally by its many aims, perhaps a failure—but creates in us what its title promises: a messy, vibrant thing against which we can toss back our own idiosyncrasies.

Review Roundup: SCENE PARTNERS, Starring Dianne Wiest Kyle Turner, New York Theatre Guide: Perhaps making sense of it all would be easier if the lead’s performance felt more grounded. Wiest is a legend, and there are glimmers of what makes her such, moments where the desperation to find a stable self amid the chaos feels real. But too often, she exhibits no strong persona for Scene Partners to destabilize. Tony Award-winning director Rachel Chavkin similarly cannot find an aesthetic throughline for the show, even with an overly generous helping of David Bengali’s projections.

Average Rating: 63.8%

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