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Review Roundup: What Did the Critics Think of Second Stage's DAYS OF RAGE?

Days of Rage

Continuing its 40th Anniversary Season, Second Stage Theater presents the world premiere of Steven Levenson's play, Days of Rage, directed by Trip Cullman. The company features Mike Faist (Dear Evan Hansen), Tavi Gevinson (This Is Our Youth), J. Alphonse Nicholson (Paradise Blue), Lauren Patten, and Odessa Young (Assassination Nation).

Against the backdrop of an endless, unwinnable war raging halfway across the world, and a polarizing president recklessly stoking the flames of racist backlash at home - a generation of young people rises up to demand change from a corrupt political establishment. It is October, 1969 and unbeknownst to the rest of the world, three 20-something radicals are busy planning the impending revolution from a quiet college town in Upstate New York. But when two strangers appear, disrupting the group's delicate balance, new dangers and old wounds threaten to tear the collective apart. By the Tony Award-winning writer of Dear Evan Hansen, Days of Rage is a timely new play about means and ends, ideals and extremes, and the perils of changing the world.

The show officially opened last night, October 30, at the Tony Kiser Theater. Let's see what the critics are saying...

Jesse Green, The New York Times: Mr. Levenson excels at overall dramatic architecture; as in "If I Forget" and his book for "Dear Evan Hansen," the timing and payoff of plot points here is unimpeachable. But the clash between heavy-handed satire and naturalistic conflict leaves "Days of Rage" in a tonal muddle he can't resolve. The sexual turn that provides closure to many of the scenes quickly begins to seem like a tic, and when that pales, the only option left is a generalized hysteria.

Sara Holdren, Vulture: Though it's doing its best not to be upfront about it, Days of Rage is in fact a politically moderate play, a proponent of the slow and steady road towards change. I don't disagree that, due to human nature alone, that road may well be the only one we're capable of treading; nevertheless, Levenson's play left me feeling the same way I felt on November 9, 2016, when I found myself in a kitchen with a white guy of about my age, who was comfortably assuring everyone present that the arc of history bends towards justice. It just felt so easy for him to say. So impersonal. So free of risk. That same complacency is hiding inside Days of Rage, under the guise of complexity. There's an undertone of superiority to the story, the kind that comes not from real, empathetic maturity but from a slightly older kid who's trying to set himself apart from the slightly younger kids. While I respect the play's implication that there will never be one revolution to end all revolutions-especially not one that embraces violence-I question the neatness of its structure and the ease with which we're able to write off the immaturity of its central characters. I wish it had spent less time balancing on the fence, looking down at complicated issues, and more time showing me truly complicated people.

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: It all feels like counterculture-lite, hardly anything to rage about. Trip Cullman's assured direction makes the piece, flaws and all, occasionally enjoyable, and under his guidance the young performers deliver amusing turns. Days of Rage is reasonably entertaining for much of its 90-minute running time, but it could have been so much more.

Tim Teeman, Daily Beast: A stronger play might have woven that time-traveling fabric into its main structure, to emphasize the gap between ideals and outcomes, both personal and political. Instead, this piercing epilogue shows-in line with what activists of that time often invoke-what might have been.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Louisa Thompson's scenic design for the collective's two-story house is massive, and awkwardly moves back and forth on wheels during blackouts to create slightly more space downstage for scenes played on the street. In the end, all that rocking only draws attention to Levenson's overly episodic drama.

Most disappointing is Levenson's decision to end "Days of Rage" with Quinn telling Spence what happens to the characters in the decades to come. The writing here is not treacly like Conor McPherson's tacked-on update for the life of every character in "Girl From the North Country." Regardless, it's time for a moratorium on any more final scenes of future nostalgia in new plays.

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