New York City Theater
"The New Century"
Mitzi Newhouse Theater (Lincoln Center)
In general the two Lincoln Center theaters can be relied upon to offer bang-up shows—beautifully staged, directed, designed and performed. Certainly the current revival of “South Pacific” is all of that. But its other offering on the smaller stage, “The New Century,” falls far short of the mark.
“The New Century,” as the show is called, is an amalgam of four playlets by Paul Rudnick. Essentially monologues, they focus on homosexuality—as it affects parents, siblings, lovers, the world-at-large. So far, so good. But Rudnick’s treatment of the theme never reaches the comic level for which he strives. The plays range in quality from boring to embarrassingly amateurish. The clever quip which surfaces occasionally cannot keep it afloat.
But there are two exceptions which rescue the show from the oblivion to which it belongs—Linda Lavin and Jane Houdyshell! Lavin, portraying a Long Island Jewish mother whose mettle is constantly challenged (“I’m a tolerant, loving mother!”), milks the role’s potential every moment. Perfectly turned out in an elegant beige silk suit with matching shoes and bag (and a sculptured coiffeur), she will not be defeated by life’s unexpected twists. As it turns out, she is well tested by her three children—a lesbian daughter, a transgender son, and another son who is into leather and bondage.
Other moments involving Peter Bartlett and Mike Doyle are best forgotten (although Bartlett handles the good lines when they come his way). But Jane Houdyshell, as mother of a son who has died of AIDS, proves to be most touching. She buries her grief by turning to craftwork—creating kitschy, tasteless objects, as it happens. But she is delighted with her sock monkeys, crocheted toaster covers, and toilet paper caddies, all of which sell at a brisk pace.
Granted that there are award-winning practitioners involved in this enterprise, not only Lavin and Houdyshell, but costume designer William Ivey Long and composer Mark Bennett. And playwright Rudnick himself has an enviable record, having garnered numerous awards. Nevertheless, it is amazing that “The New Century” managed to get past the judging committee, those in power, to be mounted on the stage of the prestigious Mitzi Newhouse Theater. How do such things happen?
For all we know, “The New Century” may well have its admirers, though this reviewer cannot be counted among them.
April 18, 2008