Review Roundup: Sam Shepard's CURSE OF THE STARVING CLASS at Signature Theatre
The Signature Theatre production of Curse of the Starving Class, by Sam Shepard and directed by Tony Award nominee Terry Kinney, runs to June, 2 2019 in The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing SquareSignature Center (480 West 42nd Street between 9th and 10th Avenues).
The cast of Curse of the Starving Class includes Lizzy DeClement ("New Amsterdam") as Emma, Flora Diaz ("Gotham") as Sergeant Malcolm, Gilles Geary ("The I-Land") as Wesley, Esau Pritchett ("The Night Of") as Ellis, Andrew Rothenberg ("The Walking Dead") as Taylor, Maggie Siff ("Billions") as Ella, David Warshofsky (Taken) as Weston.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Ben Brantley, New York Times: But aside from Mr. Warshofsky, who does beautifully by Weston's haunting speech about watching an eagle while castrating lambs, they are less persuasive when they wander into the charged poetic arias to which Shepard's characters are prone. Nor do they consistently summon the grand madness that lurks in a family said to have nitroglycerin in its veins. As a consequence, we aren't as rattled as we should be by the play's more violent and congested second half, which introduces themes about mutating family identities that Shepard would later probe more fully. At some point in Shepard's family dramas, the cast has to make the leap into something like opera, in which the most outlandish extremes of feeling, action and self-expression feel inevitable.
Frank Scheck, Hollywood Reporter: Although Siff's naturally elegant beauty would seem to make her a bad fit for the bedraggled Ella, the actress throws herself into the role, displaying a gift for physical comedy when Ella climbs on top of her sleeping husband and fruitlessly attempts to wake him. Warshofsky is outstanding as the husband who undergoes an unlikely spiritual transformation; Geary delivers a mesmerizingly intense turn as the emotionally damaged son; and Pritchett oozes charismatic physicality as the unscrupulous Ellis. By the time Curse of the Starving Class reaches its wrenching conclusion, you'll feel thoroughly wrung out. Shepard no doubt would have been very pleased.
David Cote, Observer: It's the final 40 minutes after intermission where things go truly bonkers and, sadly, dull. Ella had planned to sell the house with the help of a lawyer-boyfriend (Andrew Rothenberg) and fly to Europe; Weston sold the house to pay off debts, but a club owner (Esau Pritchett) robs him. But what the plot culminates in an orgy of identity breakdown, car bombing, and yet more interminable monologues laden with heavy-handed nature imagery (an eagle and tomcat locked in deadly aerial combat). The only thing that could save Shepard from himself (by the way, read interviews with him about playwriting; he didn't want to be saved) would be deep, surgical cuts to his shaggy, digressive scripts. Or bring in an audience of teens with an appetite for transgression; they might think it total badass.
Joe Dziemianowicz, Theatre News Online: Running two and a half hours with one intermission, the play flip-flips from comedy to tragedy and plainspoken realism to absurdism in the blink of an eye, if not the bleat of a sheep. Hugging tight to the contours of Shepard's script is no mean feat, but Kinney's ensemble handles that capably enough. Geary and DeClement are especially effective. His freaky food binge is bound to make you lose your appetite, and if it doesn't, what he does with a maggot-plagued lamb will. Her high-octane performance jolts each scene to life - and that's anything but a curse for this production.
Sara Holdren, Vulture: No one in the Tate family is headed for a happy ending, but as the hammers start to fall in the second act, it's jarring to realize that the production has so closed us off that the horrible things that happen to its characters hardly register on the emotional Richter scale. We're somehow able to look upon the sick, symbolic depravity that infects Wesley - or the awful fate that eventually subsumes Emma - with the same level gaze with which we watched Ella cook bacon. Our guts haven't been invited to the party, and so, like the Tates, we stay hungry.
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus