Review: ‘Evening at the Talk House’ at Pershing Square Signature Center

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With the spate of openings in March, I wasn’t able to get to Wallace Shawn’s new play, the New Group’s production which played  a strictly limited engagement through March 12, 2017, only until the day before it closed. But on viewing this London import of Mr. Shawn’s newest work, I found it special enough to tell you about it so if the play appears in a local production, as I’m certain it will, you give it a gander. It’s a stunning piece of theatre, one that resonates long after you leave it behind.

On entering the Pershing Square Signature Center on West 42nd Street,  as I did for the matinee on March 11th, I climbed to a second floor hall filled with a coffee bar, a dozen tables and chairs, a pre-showtime crowd meeting and greeting before entering one of three theatres. Just beyond the usher taking tickets, I found myself in the Talk House itself, beautifully captured in all its old world comfort by designer Derek McLane. Meandering about were fellow audience members chatting with members of the cast, who were in costume and playing out their roles as a waiter, a wardrobe mistress,  a playwright, a producer, an actor, and others who had gathered to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the opening of a play called Midnight In a Clearing With Moon and Stars, written by Robert, one of those here tonight. It’s a play that flopped, with which they had all been connected.

The evening we are about to share is meant to include us, and we will watch it play itself out by sitting at either end of the room which is a gathering place at the Talk House.

Matthew Broderick and Wallace Shawn in ‘Evening at the Talk House.’ Photo by Monique Carboni.

Director Scott Elliott then proceeds to move his cast comfortably as they reminisce about this past happy experience that they all once shared. Nellie, as played by Jill Eikenberry will host this event;  indeed, she is  there to offer us brightly colored drinks as we enter her space. Larry Pine, the leading man in the ten year old modest success, will be present, as will Matthew Broderick who wrote it. Michael Tucker, who produced the play is now a talent agent, and Claudia Shear, Annapurna Sriram, and John Epperson are here too, and so is an old actor, now in decline, played beautifully by Wallace Shawn much in the manner of his performance in an earlier play of his, The Designated Mourner. It’s Mr. Broderick who leads us into the night ten years ago when his Moon and Stars was part of the grand finale of theatre in general. In the years since its close, theatre has become less a significant part of this new world, set some time in the very near future. As a  matter of fact, live theatre has virtually disappeared and this group of participants in its final acts are sadly aware of that. The frightening thing about what we are being fed by the spoonful is that a world that deems it right to kill anything and anyone who disagrees with us is easier and easier to accept as we move more deeply into the 21st Century. Utopia is no more; dystopia has replaced it, and even the artists, usually lumped together as Liberals, have  accepted that.  There are valid arguments  here and there but the over all conclusion is that it is too late, and it is meant as a  warning of what’s ahead, unless some equally positive force takes center stage to fight back.

We are witness to the unraveling of a number of relationships in the 100 minute course of this one act Talk House play. It ends tragically, but I found the journey through it absorbing and  provocative; words that suggest a beautifully written and performed very dark comedy that informs us, entertains us, and succeeds in making us more keenly aware of how united we must be in order to resuscitate what we once thought of as the best of all possible worlds.

Evening at the Talk House played at the the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center through March 12, 2017.

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