New York and Connecticut theater reviews and news

New York City Theater

"Look Back in Anger"
Laura Pels Theatre, Manhattan

In reviving John Osborne’s “Look Back in Anger,” Roundabout Theatre indeed provides a worthy service. One cannot delve into the history of British theater history without contemplating this particular piece. This 1956 drama marked a turning point on English stages, moving from the charming mannered comedies of Noel Coward, Terrence Rattigan and the like (so prevalent at the time) to a new gritty realism. It was the birth of a whole new genre and the emergence of the “angry young man.”

And now director Sam Gold offers his own take on the landmark piece at the Laura Pels Theatre. He introduces innovations, some of which enhance the piece. For starters Gold’s designer Andrew Lieberman has created a set that stretches across the broad stage, but is only a few feet in width. (It is certainly the shallowest stage this reviewer has ever seen!) One keeps expecting the back wall to open—but, no. It is permanent, there to stay, but serving a useful purpose, as characters bang each others’ heads or slouch against the wall. Most importantly, it suggests a stifling atmosphere, in which occupants collide as they play out their lives. Gold has also taken liberties with the script itself, completely eliminating one character and cutting pages of dialogue. But the changes work well, making for a tighter, more dynamic story.

What is this story about? Jimmy Porter is the focal point—in fact, the “angry young man.” Porter, educated but working-class, is married to Alison, a girl from the upper middle classes, and is acutely aware of their class differences. With his leftist views and his longing for change, he despises the world around him. But he is paralyzed, unable to effect change. He takes his frustrations out on those living with him—his wife and his pal Cliff—reducing them to pulp with his cruel insults.

As Alison stands ironing through early scenes, she is a contradiction in terms. Why does this housewife not sweep up the debris that director Gold has chosen to strew across the stage? Clearly Gold wants to emphasize the couple’s miserable life, but this director’s choice does not make sense.

The cast of four---Matthew Rhys, Adam Driver, Sarah Goldberg, and Charlotte Parry---make the most of this strong piece, interacting beautifully. Unfortunately, their English midlands accents frequently cause the lines to be unintelligible. Many of Osborne’s hilarious, stinging lines are lost, and important information goes missing--this, despite the fact most of the cast have strong English credentials.

Yet this “Look Back in Anger” is worth seeing, if only to remind us that it has its place in the long, honorable history of British theater.

--Irene Backalenick
Feb. 10, 2012

Sign up for our mailing list