Review Roundup: What Do The Critics Think About New York Theatre Workshop's THE HOUSE THAT WILL NOT STAND?

By: Jul. 31, 2018
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The House That Will Not Stand

New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) presents the New York Premiere of The House That Will Not Stand by Marcus Gardley (X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation), directed by NYTW Usual Suspect and Obie Award winner Lileana Blain-Cruz (Red Speedo; Pipeline). The play opened just last night, July 30 at New York Theatre Workshop (79 E. 4th Street New York, NY 10003), for a limited run through Sunday, August 12, 2018.

The cast for The House That Will Not Stand includes Helen Hayes Award nominee Joniece Abbott-Pratt (NBC's "Blindspot," Netflix's "Luke Cage"), Juliana Canfield (He Brought Her Heart Back in a Box), Helen Hayes Award nominee Harriett D. Foy (Amélie), Helen Hayes Award winner Lynda Gravátt (This Flat Earth), Nedra McClyde (Marvin's Room), Marie Thomas (Having Our Say) and Tony Award nominee Michelle Wilson (Sweat).

Let's see what the critics are saying...

Ben Brantley, The New York Times: Adam Rigg has created a handsome, atmospheric prison of a set (beautifully lighted by Yi Zhao), and Montana Levi Blanco's mourning costumes are deliciously opulent. But the most crucial technical element here may be Justin Ellington's sound design, which hints at the abiding presence of ghosts from a long and troubled history.

Frank Scheck, The Hollywood Reporter: The drama possesses many arresting lyrical elements, but Gardley (whose acclaimed plays include X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. the Nation along with television credits such as Showtime's The Chi) never makes them cohere. Further, the Creole-stuffed dialogue features many jarring anachronisms, like one character complaining that the corpse "needed to cop one last feel." The diffuse storyline is frequently confusing and thematically overstuffed, with strained attempts at magic realism. And the evening's tone shifts uneasily from floridly melodramatic to a near sitcom-style level of broad humor.

Sara Holdren, Vulture: It's an elegant narrative formation, and one that lends itself to heightened theatricality. The New Yorker has described Gardley as "the heir to Garcia Lorca, Pirandello, and Tennessee Williams," and like the last of those writers, the playwright has a penchant for knitting together poetic flights with sharp, sassy social observation, not to mention a liking for intricate, novel-like marginalia: The opening stage direction of The House That Will Not Stand describes a dead body, laid out in state, as "stiff as bird shit" in a "pearly white suit ... so pretty one could ... float him in a parade" - though the corpse's suit is "no match for [the room's] walls, which are as white as God's teeth." Characters in The House That Will Not Stand break into long bouts of song or trancelike verse or exalted invocation. When they're riled they say things like, "Your house is going to fall ... You may be the wealthiest colored woman in New Orleans but you built this house on sand, lies, and dead bodies. Soon, it will loose its foundations and come crumbling down on you like a boot crushing a fat head cockroach. And then God willing, I will have the sweet pleasure of scraping you from the bottom of my sole."

Helen Shaw, TimeOut: Though it's luscious and structurally artful, the play seems somewhat divided against itself. In the first half, Gardley changes Lorca's mood from Spanish lyric tragedy to ribald French comedy, and Lileana Blain-Cruz steers the deft cast through tart and sharply funny exchanges, backhanded insults and dirty jokes. We're carried away by the production's beautifully realized atmospherics, exquisitely rendered by set designer Adam Rigg and lighting designer Yi Zhao. As things grow more intense in the second half, Gardley tries to change the plot's hardwired doom and gloom to notes of uplift and liberation, putting the full power of his poetry into that task. But the characters seem to fight him, and their stated motivations begin swinging wildly: Is Beartrice sex-positive or not? Does she value freedom or not? Having started on firm foundations, this excellent play seems to shudder at the last.

Robert Hofler, The Wrap: Bracketing "The House That Will Not Stand" is the ditzy-like-a-fox performance of Marie Thomas, a busybody who has an eye on adding to her real estate portfolio in the new New Orleans.

In between Thomas' appearances, there are the bold performances of Gravatt and Foy. Gravatt embodies the commanding matriarch from hell, but like the worst of mothers she never fails to make perfect sense.

And as the slave who has served her well, Foy manages to be alternately noble, venal, supersmart and demented, and occasionally she's all those things at once. It's a performance not to be missed.

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