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Review Roundup: THE COMMONS OF PENSACOLA Opens Off-Broadway

Manhattan Theatre Club's world premiere of The Commons of Pensacola by Amanda Peet, directed by MTC's award-winning artistic director Lynne Meadow opens tonight at MTC at New York City Center - Stage I (131 West 55th Street).

THE COMMONS OF PENSACOLA stars Emmy and Tony award winner Blythe Danner, Zoe Levin, Ali Marsh, Emmy and Golden Globe Award winner Sarah Jessica Parker, Michael Stahl-David, and Nilaja Sun.

?Judith (Blythe Danner) has been divested of her assets and forced to leave her luxurious New York life after her husband's Wall Street scam became headline news. When her daughter Becca (Sarah Jessica Parker) and Becca's filmmaker boyfriend (Michael Stahl-David) pay Judith a visit to the one bedroom condo Judith now occupies in Pensacola, Florida, everyone's motives are called into question.

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

Charles Isherwood, The New York Times: A gaping emotional sinkhole opens under the stylish boots of Becca, a struggling actress portrayed by a well-known one, Sarah Jessica Parker, in the new play "The Commons of Pensacola" by Amanda Peet - another actress, of course, here making a creditable debut as a playwright with this Manhattan Theater Club production..."The Commons of Pensacola," sensitively directed by Lynne Meadow, provides a welcome opportunity to watch two theater veterans of different generations share the stage, both in excellent form...Ms. Peet writes easily flowing dialogue, laced with biting humor and a brash streak of vulgarity..."The Commons of Pensacola" is engrossing and watchable, even when some of the groundwork isn't carefully laid for the more dramatic developments...

David Rooney, The Hollywood Reporter: Amanda Peet makes a promising left turn into playwriting with this small-scale drama veined with caustic comedy, a work both topical and personal that succeeds on its own refreshingly modest terms...The Commons of Pensacola reflects with insight and compassion on women at turning points where age and diminishing prospects can be confronting foes, whether you're the wife of a financial fraudster or an actress. In Manhattan Theatre Club's world-premiere Off Broadway production, the play is staged with crisp economy by artistic director Lynne Meadow (The Assembled Parties) on SantoLoquasto's single set...It also has ideal leads that capture the complicated chemistry of a difficult mother-daughter relationship.

Marilyn Stasio, Variety: Western civilization may not be pining for a play about the wretched (and lightly disguised) family of imprisoned con man Bernie Madoff, but need it or not, actress-turned-scribe Amanda Peet has written just such a play in "The Commons of Pensacola." While it doesn't realize its ambitions, it's not half bad in the hands of the super cast in MTC a.d. Lynne Meadow's tightly helmed production. Blythe Danner lends WASP dignity to the bloodied and bowed stand-in for Ruth Madoff, and Sarah Jessica Parker tears into the role of her neurotic older daughter, who's about to go off an emotional cliff.

Linda Winer, Newsday: There are several interesting plays lurking in the folds and crannies of "The Commons of Pensacola," the first script by actress Amanda Peet. And wouldn't it be a pleasure to watch Sarah Jessica Parker and Blythe Danner interact in one of those? Instead, the gifted women are doing their admirable best to make something fresh out of another imagining of family fallout after a Madoff-like crime and disgrace...Instead of digging into the complexities of such women, Peet's 80-minute tragicomedy concentrates on push-button plot mechanics more convenient than convincing...On the positive side, Peet (who endearingly claims she wrote the play to give herself a challenging role but decided instead to cast a bigger star) delivers tight, natural dialogue and characters whose unpleasant streaks are far more intriguing than the story they're in.

Elysa Gardner, USA Today: The Commons of Pensacola is set in a small condo in its titular Florida Panhandle city. The main attraction is apparently an ocean view, which keeps drawing characters to sliding doors that no one can pry open. The symbolism, like much in this new play by actress Amanda Peet, is obvious: The family members in Commons - particularly Judith, the matriarch, and her middle-aged daughter, Becca - appear to be trapped, though whether by circumstance or bad choices remains in question...Danner makes the most of the role, lending punch to the sarcasm that is Judith's coping mechanism while also finding pathos in this defeated but not entirely daunted septuagenarian, who gets many of the first-time playwright's most sharply cutting lines. But the most notable and bravest performance in Commons, which opened off-Broadway Thursday at City Center, is that of Sarah Jessica Parker's Becca.

Matt Windman, AM New York: After a slow and unpromising start, the 80-minute family drama eventually develops in terms of plot...A handful of attempts to add comedy fail to land and the play's resolution is weak. Parker offers a superficial performance that closely mirrors her vocal and physical mannerisms from "Sex and the City." On the other hand, Danner displays a richer, more complex characterization as Judith. Nilaja Sun, who is best known as a solo performer, makes the most of her role as Judith's caretaker.

Jessica Shaw, Entertainment Weekly: In actress-turned-scribe Amanda Peet's uneven playwriting debut, The Commons of Pensacola, a family copes after the patriarch pulls a Bernie Madoff. It's nice to see Sarah Jessica Parker back on stage (though she over-embraces the act-by-hair-twirling method). But the show belongs to Blythe Danner as her mom, a dame in denial forced to move to Florida's Redneck Riviera. She brings class and wit...even when asked to pass gas, then say ''I have no muscle control.'' B-

Robert Hofler, TheWrap: Amanda Peete's new play, "The Commons of Pensacola" a case study in how two famous actresses cope with being stranded in a really weak vehicle..."Pensacola," truth be told, belongs to that class of TV pilots that never get picked up and instead take up residence in Hollywood's tiny store-front theaters, where hopefully those scribes learn to do better work and also give thanks to God for that restaurant job...The "Sex and the City" actress recycles her chirpy Carrie Bradshaw mannerisms here, even though this drab "Pensacola" daughter of a disgraced Bernie Madoff-type businessman has nothing in common with that chronically materialistic fashion icon from the island of Manhattan...Unlike Parker, Danner doesn't recycle. She's definitely not the benign wife of Robert De Niro's fascist father from the "Focker" series. Her "Pensacola" Mom could even be an accomplice, and her head-on clash with that scheming boyfriend reveals sharp fangs that Danner has rarely revealed before.

Joe Dziemianowicz, NY Daily News: Too bad, since rookie writer Amanda Peet ("Syriana") has a solid starting point: What's it like to be Bernie and Ruth Madoff's kid? Meet Becca (Parker), a 43-year-old, broke D-list actress, who's home with Mom (a deft Blythe Danner). As Becca's sister, niece and boyfriend come and go, so do themes - sibling rivalry, opportunism, the pall of scandal and forgiveness. That's a lot. This Manhattan Theatre Club production, directed by Lynne Meadow, feels like a little.

David Cote, NY1: While "Commons" fizzles in its final showdown and the ending feels unresolved, this production smooths over the bumps. To use the lingo of finance, the Manhattan Theatre Club is making an investment in Peet.

Tom Teodorczuk, Independent: The Commons of Pensacola supports the thesis that in order to write a decent play, you need to have acted first. Peet is something of a creative magpie lifting the best traits from the writer-directors she herself has previously worked with in theatre and film; she gives her characters acerbic one-liners reminiscent of a Nicole Holofcener movie and an emotional pugnacity you usually find in Neil LaBute's work.

Elisabeth Vincentelli, NY Post: Does Amanda Peet have something on Manhattan Theatre Club? It's hard to imagine why else this powerful nonprofit put up the actress' feeble first play, "The Commons of Pensacola" - starring Sarah Jessica Parker and Blythe Danner, no less. A smarter move would have been a lower-profile place, like the Flea or the Rattlestick, which would have provided a nurturing environment away from the media glare.

Adam Feldman, TimeOut NY: A scheme is apparently afoot to bilk elderly, trusting New Yorkers out of their money. The victims, I fear, are audience members at The Commons of Pensacola, actor-cum-playwright Amanda Peet's drama about the disgraced wife (Danner) of a Bernie Madoff-like scam artist and her disconcerted daughter (Parker), a failed actress. Vacuous, amateurish and groaningly contrived from snout to tail, the play lasts 80 minutes, costs $95 and delivers no value in return. It is nice of Lynne Meadow to give a fledgling writer a chance, but it hardly seems fair to make MTC audiences endure it for Peet's sake.

Jesse Green, Vulture: A cheaply constructed, boxlike apartment with one great feature - a beautiful view from the balcony - is the setting for Amanda Peet's first play, The Commons of Pensacola. It's also a pretty good description of the play itself. The storytelling is as clunky and baldly functional as the set's Home Depot fan and bifold closet doors, but the outlook - what Peet has in sight - is actually quite smart and worthy of attention.

Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

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