Hani Furstenberg and Vladimir Versailles in Adam Rapp’s “Through the Yellow Hour.” | SANDRA COUDERT
In “Through the Yellow Hour,” playwright Adam Rapp returns to familiar territory for him, a dystopian future in which the ideology of a few has won out over reason and compassion and where suffering and battle are the daily lot of those choosing to resist. Rapp’s angry lyricism, noirish imagery — he also directed — and willingness to shock his audience are all powerfully employed. On the surface at least, this is a compelling piece.
Ellen is holed up in her bombed-out tenement apartment after the Eggheads, representatives of the new order named for the ovoid helmets they wear, have taken over New York. Her husband has gone missing, and her apartment is barely safe from intruders. Ellen is visited by a drug addict, Maude, who brings a newborn as a kind of bargaining chip. After she threatens Ellen’s safety, however, Maude is forced to leave without the baby.
After Hakim shows up to report that he and Ellen’s husband were tortured, but only he escaped, the Eggheads arrive and take the baby, whom they intend to use to engineer a new race on an upstate farm. In the baby’s place, they leave Ellen with a black teenager, Darius (Vladimir Versailles), who is among the males who have not been castrated. Ellen hopes to become pregnant by him in order to take a stand against the brave new world the Eggheads are creating.
Unfortunately, as written, the characters are largely devices that don’t connect as people. Rapp deals in sci-fi tropes that require the audience to provide their own connections and assumptions, which is never a good idea in a polemical piece. In the end, the play feels like a sketch version of “Nursing,” the final piece in Rapp’s brilliant “Hallway Trilogy,” which exists in the same world but with believable people at its center.
The cast is game, notably Hani Furstenberg as Ellen in a “Hunger Games” kind of performance. Danielle Slavik plays Maude with a suitable edge, and Alok Tewari is believable, if a bit over-the-top, as Hakim.
“Through the Yellow Hour” seems like a grab bag of Rapp’s trademark theatrical tricks, including nudity and violence, that often feel gratuitous. He creates a future one is not eager to go back to.
Alexander Dinelaris’ amateurish new play “Red Dog Howls”at the New York Theatre Workshop is a penny dreadful about the atrocities of war and the bonds of family. Shocking it is, but if one looks too closely at the shoddy and manipulative plotting or the bromidic use of dark, hidden secrets, the play quickly falls apart.
Kathleen Chalfant and Alfred Narciso in Alexander Dinelaris’ “Red Dog Howls.” | JOAN MARCUS
Michael, a 34-year old Greek, finds a box of letters from his dead father. They lead him to the Armenian grandmother he never knew. Grandma Rose has a soul-wrenching secret from the war that has haunted her throughout her life. Michael reconnects with her, learns her secret, and is forced to make a choice as ghastly as Grandma’s.
Even Kathleen Chalfant’s powerful — though often scenery-chewing — performance as Rose can only obscure for a few moments the weaknesses of the play. Alfred Narciso is suitably angst-ridden as Michael, though we never understand precisely what drives his agita. Florencia Lozano is Michael’s wife, pregnant with their child. Lozano is an appealing actress in a shallow role that’s all stereotypes conventionally demeaning to women.
Dinelaris clearly doesn’t intend his audience to ask too many questions, such as “What drives Michael to make the choice he makes?” Or, “Why did Rose become a hermit?” Or even a question as basic to playwriting as “Why now?” The notion that “some sins are too great to be absolved,” a statement that opens and ends the play, is showy but facile.
Sadly, in unfolding a tale of the Armenian genocide, Dinelaris merely aims to induce gasps and squirming among his audience. In the end, he uses historic tragedy largely to titillate, and as with all Grand Guignol, once the superficial horror subsides, it becomes clear there’s not much there.
Though it’s a new play, the Peccadillo Theater Company’s “Ten Chimneys” creaks as tediously as any old chestnut dusted off for summer stock. Does a contemporary audience recall Alfred Lunt or Lynn Fontanne as stars of the American theater in the 1930s, or Uta Hagen as a dewy ingénue? Of course not. Jeffrey Hatcher’s premise that their private lives are endlessly fascinating falls well short in a world of reality television, particularly when the Lunts appear as mannered caricatures of theatrical types who would be lampooned by the Marx Brothers, George S. Kaufman, Moss Hart, and Edna Ferber — if anyone remembers them.
Hatcher’s play about these stars in their rural country retreat, as they begin rehearsals for a production of Chekhov’s “The Seagull,” is all convention and cliché — and precious little comedy. There are petty jealousies, the hint — delivered with all the subtlety of a falling anvil — of Alfred’s homosexual past, the beleaguered sister not in show business, the delusional mother-in-law, the ne’er-do-well brother, and so forth.
Dan Wackerman’s workmanlike direction is long on the handling of props and pointless stage business and short on anything approximating character development or pacing, and the play plods throughout. Directed to speak in the plumy accents of a comedy of manners from the ‘30s, Carolyn McCormick as Lynn Fontanne is merely affected. Byron Jennings as Alfred Lunt fares a little better, but the weak script leaves his character a mere sketch. The rest of the cast performs adequately, but the characters appear to exist only to support the plotting.
If this were funny, it might be a screwball comedy. If it were human, it might be an affecting portrait of a fraught relationship between two people challenged by life and most alive in the artificial world of the theater. Since it is neither, “Ten Chimneys” is simply dull.
THROUGH THE YELLOW HOUR | Rattlestick Playwrights’ Theater | 224 Waverly Pl., btwn. Seventh Ave. S. & W. 11th St. | Through Oct. 28 | Thu.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun.-Mon., Wed. at 7:30 p.m. | $15-$55 | rattlestick.org or 212-352-3101 |
RED DOG HOWLS | New York Theatre Workshop | 79 E. Fourth St., btwn. Second Ave. & Bowery | Through Oct. 14 | Tue., Wed., Sun. at 7 p.m.; Thu.-Sat at 8 p.m.; Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun at 3 p.m. | $65 | nytw.org or 212-279-4200
TEN CHIMNEYS | Theatre at St. Clement’s | 423 W. 46th St. | Through Oct. 27 | Wed. at 7 p.m.; Thu.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $65 | theatermania.com or 212-352-3101