At the Theater: Millerism, Angst and Ephronland

ephron At the Theater: Millerism, Angst and EphronlandLincoln Center Theater, with its subscription audience of geriatric Jews, is not where you’d expect to find a small, well-crafted domestic drama about a working-class black family. And yet Broke-ology, about two brothers in Kansas City—one poised for big things back East and the other stuck with a dead-end job and a baby on the way—and their dying widower father (played as a lovable lug by The Wire’s Wendell Pierce), is at LCT’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. But of course it plays to this audience: Set it 60 years earlier and in Brooklyn, and it’s Arthur Miller territory. This is Millerism for the Obama era—playwright Nathan Louis Jackson’s striver dreams of community organizing—and it prompts a nicely Obaman realization: that our problems are all the same.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore, Ilene Beckerman’s book adapted by Nora and Delia Ephron, places us squarely in Ephronland, a magical place of East Side shopping, West Side bra fittings, cab rides, and divorce. A rotating cast of biggish-name actresses—on the night I saw it, Tyne Daly, Samantha Bee, Katie Finneran, Natasha Lyonne, and a powerhouse Rosie O’Donnell—move into this land, and they tell women’s stories, always funny and occasionally moving, in overlapping monologues. It’s Eve Ensler devoid of any politics, and it’s pleasantly amusing, if less deep than a defoliating facial scrub. Women of a certain age and class—and the audience is overwhelmingly female, including the two ladies who wandered into the men’s room just pre-curtain and gave me a look that suggested I was the one in the wrong place—will love it. It’s already been extended.

Still Life, the new MCC Theater offering at the Lucille Lortel, is about a generation paralyzed by all its choices, a cohort “standing in front of an endless buffet, starving to death because we don’t know what we should eat.” I know this because a “Playwright’s Note” in the Playbill tells me, because the protagonist says the same thing onstage, and because the point is relentlessly driven home in this overwrought, overwritten, didactic play by Alexander Dinelaris. Sarah Paulson and Frederick Weller play the couple at the center of this drama—she’s a photographer unable to photograph since the death of her beloved father, and he’s a marketing guru and would-be prophet facing his own death, victim of a particularly heavy-handed metaphorical manifestion of this generational paralysis—and these stars’ performances, able as always, are what make the evening bearable and even occasional pleasant. You root for their characters, even as you root for the final curtain.

The two one-acts in Two Unrelated Plays By David Mamet, the double bill at the Atlantic Theater Company, are unrelated not only thematically but in every other way. The first piece, “School,” is short, funny, enigmatic and intelligent—a classically Mametian dialogue that raises questions about environmentalism, history, politics, unionism, child molestation and the control of information. “Keep Your Pantheon,” on the other hand, is drawn-out, boring and irrelevant. It’s the shticky story of a down-on-its-heels ancient Roman acting troupe, aided but in no way saved by the magisterial Brian Murray’s delightful turn as the lead player, aged and horny and relishing each syllable. You’ll be better off Netflixing A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum, the light ancient-Rome musical that offers not just Sondheim songs but also far more insight.