Review Roundup: What Did Critics Think of I WAS MOST ALIVE WITH YOU?
Playwrights Horizons is currently hosting the premiere production of Craig Lucas' I Was Most Alive with You. Directed by Tyne Rafaeli with Director of Artistic Sign Language Sabrina Dennison, the production began performances September 1, and runs through October 14.
I Was Most Alive with You-the first production of the theater company's 2018-2019 season-features two casts simultaneously speaking and signing, with subtitles and intermittent spoken interpretation, making ita rare example of a work that is equally accessible to Deaf and hearing audiences. In Craig Lucas' play, a TV writer, Ash (Michael Gaston), and his Deaf sign language teacher son, Knox (Russell Harvard), see their lives as blessed. Both in recovery, they have learned to consider parts of themselves that might present hardship or social struggle as gifts. At Thanksgiving dinner, Knox signs, "I'm grateful for my family, and for three things I used to think weren't gifts at all: Deafness, being gay, addiction. They are gifts. Each brought to me great clarity."
But amidst this personal clarity, there is also interpersonal miscommunication, as those around the dinner table coordinate and isolate with each passing statement across lines of deaf (physically), Deaf (physically and culturally), hearing, Muslim, Jewish, Jehovah's Witness, atheist, gay, straight, addict, sober, class, gender, racial, ethnic, and generational identities. The evening's miscommunications and deep-seated familial tensions lead indirectly to an event that threatens to throw the ways they have all come to know and shape their lives and selves into chaos. As misfortunes multiply, the idea of controlling fate, in writing or in life, begins to seem impossible, and the ability to see both the lightness and darkness of life as gifts-to proceed with grace-is tested.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Jesse Green, The New York Times: It has always been Mr. Lucas's gift to reveal the awfulness behind things that look charming and to make that awfulness compelling. In "I Was Most Alive With You," he takes those gifts about as far as they can go, at the risk of a certain degree of confusion. And though his plays have been growing progressively less ruly over the years - from "Blue Window," which also takes place at a dinner party freighted with disaster, to "Prelude to a Kiss" to "Small Tragedy" - he has never seemed as passionate as he does here about making a point.
Sara Holdren, Vulture: I'd call it "ambitious," but that word often feels like code to me - critic-speak for "had a lot of ideas and didn't succeed." It should be no snub to say that I Was Most Alive With You does indeed juggle many ideas and aspirations, and that as with many an expansive project, some moments shine while others are less finely polished.
Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Lucas makes sure that every other disaster in the Good Book shows up to test them. What should be wickedly absurd (or, at least, a very good soap opera if directed by Cecil B. DeMille) is merely mechanical as the playwright moves the characters about like stick figures in a miniature madhouse. During the intermission, Knox's boyfriend undergoes a major conversion in attitude toward his substance abuse; more preposterous is the mother, who appears to be a radically different woman in every scene where she appears.
Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: Playwrights might want to start thinking twice about using the Book of Job as inspiration. Not even a commercial powerhouse like Neil Simon managed to do this successfully, as evidenced by his short-lived, critically maligned 1974 play God's Favorite, one of his biggest flops. Craig Lucas' attempt to dramatize the biblical story proves similarly troublesome. In much the same way God threw every calamity he could muster at his hapless follower, the playwright deluges the audience with so much relentless misery that we come to feel as victimized as old Job. Although the drama receiving its New York premiere at Playwrights Horizons has admirable qualities, I Was Most Alive With You is a trial to endure.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus