Review Roundup: SMOKEFALL with Zachary Quinto Opens at MCC Theater

MCC Theater welcomes film and television star Robin Tunney, making her stage debut opposite Zachary Quinto in the New York premiere of Smokefall by Noah Haidle, directed by Anne Kauffman, who directed The Nether for MCC last season to great acclaim. Smokefall plays the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street), opening tonight, February 22, for an extended run through March 20, 2016.

Tunney and Quinto are joined by Tom Bloom, Brian Hutchison, and Taylor Richardson.

In Smokefall, magical realism collides with manic vaudeville in a family drama unlike any you've ever seen. The Twins swap philosophy while awaiting their birth, Beauty eats dirt and doesn't speak, Father is about to drive away and never return, and a man named Footnote acts as our guide. Whipping from astonishing tenderness to profound humor and back again, this wholly original play uncovers the extraordinary family connections we all stretch and warp across the years but can never quite break.

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

Michael Dale, BroadwayWorld: The least entertaining dysfunctional family to grace a New York stage in recent memory is headed by the nurturing Violet (Robin Tunney)...Violet's out-of-it husband, Daniel (Brian Hutchison), is about to run out on her. We know this because Zachary Quintoplays a character named Footnote, who stands at the side and fills us in on all the details that might otherwise be communicated through dialogue. The attempted whimsy actually hits its bullseye in the second scene, which has Quinto and Hutchison playing the unborn pair in Violet's womb going over last-minute details before making their exits. The cleverness of their banter coupled with a poignant finish makes for an optimistic intermission. No luck...Despite the sloggy script, director Anne Kauffman puts up a solid production delivered by a fine ensemble. Sadly, their efforts go into a piece that is seemingly unfathomable.

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: ...Mr. Haidle's flights of imagination mostly left me less than enraptured, with one notable exception...The play...has been handled with care by MCC Theater, under whose auspices it opened at the Lucille Lortel Theater on Monday. The director, Anne Kauffman, has made a specialty of adventurous new writing -- I'll certainly give Mr. Haidle props for his freewheeling ambition -- and the cast is first-rate. Mr. Quinto brings a grave simplicity to his role as the narrator of sorts, and plays two other parts with equal finesse. The indie film and television actor Robin Tunney makes an assured stage debut as Beauty's dreamy but loving mother, Violet...But the play's characters are defined exclusively by their eccentricities and flights of odd lyricism; they have no believable emotional pulse.

Jennifer Farrar, Associated Press: If you conjure up memories of scenes from your life and narrate them with hindsight, you would begin to have the structure of Noah Haidle's bittersweet, idealistic new play "Smokefall." Notes of magical realism keep the plot revolving through time, in MCC Theater's intelligent, slightly uneven production...Haidle presents time as flowing back and forth between decades to illuminate the history of one Midwestern family, and Anne Kauffman has staged the production with fluidity and grace...thanks to witty, mostly credible plotting and excellent acting, this particular family will still, in the words of Eliot's poetry, "Be remembered; involved with past and future."

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Chicago swooned over an earlier production of "Smokefall," a work written by playwright-screenwriter Noah Haidle ("Stand Up Guys") and pristinely directed at Off Broadway's MCC Theater by Anne Kauffman. But it turns out the show is yet another domestic drama about the all-American nuclear family in extremis, this one trying hard to distinguish itself from other domestic dramas about the all-American nuclear family in extremis by stylistically swerving from realism to surrealism...No one says anything the least bit interesting, and whatever we know about these people we learn from Quinto...The play gets even more whimsical after intermission, as time passes and future descendants born to this undistinguished family continue to blame original sin or moral determinism -- or bad genes -- for their feckless lives.

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: Haidle is clearly influenced by Thornton Wilder's Our Town in this effort infused with heavy doses of magical realism...Haidle has many things he wants to express in this play, and he does so, repeatedly, mostly through the mouth of his narrator, Footnote...Telling instead of showing, the playwright spoon-feeds his themes as if he's afraid the audience will be too obtuse to catch on...The performances are mostly exemplary: subtly compelling; Bloom is moving as the mentally addled Colonel; Hutchinson effectively conveys the angst of the unhappy Daniel and the reluctant-to-be-born fetus; the fiery-haired Richardson speaks volumes with her silence; and Tunney has a beautifully touching moment when Violet brings her newborn baby into her home. But for all their considerable efforts, the performers are hobbled by characters who feel less like flesh-and-blood figures than creative conceits.

Robert Kahn, NBC New York: Here, in a haunting drama from MCC that combines magical realism with vaudevillian hucksterism, Quinto plays three characters, beginning with narrator "Footnote," who, just like Tom, is here to guide us through the disintegration of his family...Smokefall" is full of surprises...Time passes ... for some of the characters...MCC has pulled off a visually interesting feat...There are some sweet moments showcasing the small ways in which these family members love one another...A recurring theme is that there is no escape from your origins ... but you're likely to discover that what you "need" can be found there, anyway...I'm not sure, but it's quite obvious that Haidle believes some things can keep growing, maturing, evolving and improving, even if they're diseased.

Joe Dziemianowicz, New York Daily News: Noah Haidle's new Off-Broadway play, presented by MCC Theater, is also a nonrealistic multigenerational family portrait. And he relies on a ubiquitous narrator, called Footnote and played by Zachary Quinto, to be the audience's guide to Grand Rapids, Mich. All that is obvious. What's less easy to see is how this play was such a hit in Chicago that it got two runs in rapid succession. Anne Kauffman, a solid pro, repeats directing chores and guides this capable enough new cast, but even so the play delivers a few flashes of whimsy and not much else...In the end, the show's takeaways are pretty obvious. We lose people. Life comes full circle. To love is "the greatest act of courage," so someone says. That may well be. But it's hard to love this "Smokefall."

Jesse Green, Vulture: It's as dark as you please -- the title is taken from T.S. Eliot's unimpeachably dour Four Quartets -- but so cute in its approach and so heavy-handed in its symbolism that it ends up belittling the very ideas it wants to advance. Part of the problem is that those ideas are much too big for the fey vessels Haidle has built to contain them; Smokefall is awash in its own importance...But, at least in this production, which Anne Kauffman has directed without her customary verve and precision, the theatrical energy almost never rises to the level necessary to support such a complicated agenda...Thus burdened, the cast, led by Zachary Quinto as Footnote and two other characters, is left to push and push at what turns out to be a stalled car of emotion. Even when someone occasionally succeeds...the play can't build on it. A much lighter touch -- not more whimsy, please, but better whimsy -- was needed.

Tim Teeman, The Daily Beast: Just as the audience member at Smokefall is greeted by the sight of a cross section of a house in Grand Rapids, Michigan, so the passage of Noah Haidle's absorbing play takes us through a cross section of time -- around 80 years -- and, within that, a deep and feeling cross section of a family's life. Those who book tickets to this MCC production...may be attracted by the boldface name of Hollywood star Zachary Quinto, but every performance in Smokefall is as rich and nuanced as Haidle's writing, Anne Kauffman's direction, and Mimi Lien's inventive scenic design...Somehow, the members of this family, defying time, make it home -- and with deep feeling rather than easy sentimentalism.

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