|Paul Gross (centre), with Hope Springer and Matthew Kuenne, in Are You There, McPhee? (Photo: Michal Daniel)|
What in the world has happened to John Guare? The great American playwright who authored Six Degrees of Separation, The House of Blue Leaves, Bosoms and Neglect, Marco Polo Sings a Solo, the Lydie Breeze plays and the screenplay for Louis Malle’s Atlantic City has returned to the breathtaking rate of production he enjoyed in the seventies and eighties. He opened a new play, A Free Man of Color, at Lincoln Center a year and a half ago; another, Are You There, McPhee?, just closed the McCarter Theatre season in Princeton, New Jersey; and the Signature Theater in New York has scheduled a third for next year. But A Free Man of Color and Are You There, McPhee?, are hardly recognizable as works by Guare, whose plays are distinctive for hooking wild, complicated plot lines to perhaps the most acute instinct for dramatic structure since Eugene O’Neill. These new projects are rambling and aimless. A Free Man of Color, an early-nineteenth-century picaresque inspired by the life of Joseph Cornet, the richest black man in New Orleans, had magnificent production values, but as a race play it was both pedantic and incoherent, like Suzan-Lori Parks’s much lauded Topdog Underdog. And poor Jeffrey Wright, as Cornet, asked to carry the whole enterprise on his back, wandered through the scenes with a slightly puzzled resoluteness, as if neither Guare nor the director, George C. Wolfe (who also staged Topdog Underdog), had bothered to hand him a map. But at least A Free Man of Color was about something. Are You There, McPhee? has miles of narrative but no theme. It’s a lost play.
|Playwright John Guare (Photo: Paul Chinn)|
I loved Paul Gross on the three-season Canadian TV miniseries Slings and Arrows, but he’s not especially good here, and most of the rest of the cast is terrible. The burden of all the bad acting has to fall on the director, Sam Buntrock: compounding the problems with the script, Are You There, McPhee? is one of the worst pieces of direction I’ve ever seen in a professional theatre. The scenes aren’t shaped at all; the staging is a mess; and instead of directing the two children, Buntrock obviously just told them to scream and heave themselves at the adult actors and throw things. I wanted to throw a few things, too, but not at the actors.