Day: December 7th, 2007

Things We Want

Friday, December 7th, 2007 | All Things, Arts

December 7, 2007. Yes, long overdue post, but this ties in with The New Group’s second show of the season (Mike Leigh’s Two Thousand Years) which I saw this week:

We were at The Acorn, front row center, for The New Group’s season kick-off production of Things We Want, Jonathan Marc Sherman’s bitterly funny new comedy. The play revolves around the plight of three very different adult brothers living together in their family’s 10th floor apartment, out of whose living room window both parents jumped to their deaths, in two separate incidents. (Granted, the real estate market can be notoriously tough, but you’d think they’d move. To a lower floor, at least.)

Ethan Hawke, about whom I have a lot of ambivalent feelings — loving him, in say, Richard Linklater’s Sunrise/Sunset movies, loathing his pretentious boorish tendencies in just about every other context — directs.

The cast is stellar: frequent Hawke and Sherman collaborator Josh Hamilton is eldest brother Teddy, who begins the play as a hyper-responsible devotee of self-help guru “Dr. Miracle” and his theories about the power of primes to impart life meaning. (Seven chakras, five senses, three words, one goal. Am I the only geek who wanted to point out that, technically, “1” is not a prime number? All right then.) In the year that elapses between acts one and two, during which (surprise, surprise) Dr. Miracle is exposed as a con artist, Teddy’s sanctimoniousness degenerates into a pool of selfish amorality and debauchery. Middle brother Sty, played by the consistently terrific Peter Dinklage (The Station Agent), takes the reverse trajectory: beginning the play as an awesome raging drunk, and maturing into a paragon of responsibility and compassion by way of Alcoholics Anonymous. Paul Dano (best known as the mostly mute brother in Little Miss Sunshine) plays the sensitive, youngest brother Charlie, in the process of recovering from the “heartbreakdown” brought on by being dumped by his culinary school girlfriend. And in the middle of everything — in almost every conceivable sense — is their coquettish downstairs neighbor/fellow-AAer Stella played by rising star Zoe Kazan, granddaughter of renowned On the Waterfront director, Elia Kazan. (Zoe made her Broadway debut in the current revival of William Inge’s 1950 melodrama, Come Back, Little Sheba, reviewed rhapsodically by The Wall Street Journal.)

Things We Want

Things We Want is former wunderkind Sherman’s first new play in nearly a decade, and since he has made no secret of his own troubled history with alcoholism and parental suicide, it is safe to assume that elements of this play are heavily autobiographical. The playwright has a definite knack for sharp comic dialogue, but here the occasional witty turn of phrase (and there are several) do not necessarily add up to fully developed characters, or plausible situations. The Times observed that “[f]or a certain breed of male New Yorker — a type often found at the Tribeca Film Festival or smoking between drinks on sidewalks near Lower East Side hot spots — Things We Want has to have the highest cool quotient of any show in town” and compared it “[i]n plot and sensibility…[to] a high-testosterone equivalent of Crimes of the Heart.”

The Voice critic was less charitable, calling the sight of Hamilton and Kazan in their underwear “the undoubted highlight of Sherman’s play.” (Well… it ain’t bad. Did I mention we had great seats?)

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