Seven years ago I attended a play at the Julia Miles theater called Carson McCullers (Historically Inaccurate) by Sarah Schulman. It was embarrassing for everyone involved, especially Jenny Bacon who had to get down on her knees and say strongly "but I'm a boy!" Years later author Sarah Schulman would write a letter to those involved in another one of her horrible plays that shouldn't have been produced (which received horrible reviews, of course) saying basically "the male critical establishment is trying to get me down" and I would think two things 1) how can i get involved in the lynching? and 2) i think Linda Winer is a woman. But, regardless, I share this with you because i have often thought back to how uncomfortably bad that play was. And it was co-produced by Playwrights Horizons, who has produced some good stuff over the years but also some really, really horrible stuff, as I suppose can be said of any company, though they've seemed to have more than their fare share of the horrible. As much as I have disliked some of the stuff Playwrights has put on since then, I believe they've finally outdone themselves in the embarrassment department with THE RETRIBUTIONISTS.
Yes, I know, I had heard it was horrible before I saw it. Why then did I see it? Well, because my mother likes supporting jews. She had read about it and wanted to see it and I, ever the good daughter, told her we would go. And during it, as to make me feel better that I was missing a party to sit through this thing, she said multiple times: "I still say the idea what good."
But, let's talk about how we get from what was an interesting idea for a play (I agree), to what is onstage now at Playwrights. No one is ever going to convince me that was a good script from the start--the underlying script was hackneyed and contrived and had so many things thrown in that I began to think Daniel Goldfarb was at one point inspired by Dr. Evil and Threesome. BUT I don't blame a reader thinking that the script had some potential and, with more development, could have been good(ish). I do blame someone for thinking it was ready to be produced on a major off-Broadway stage. That said, with a better production, more things could have been worked through in rehearsals. The play could have at least been somewhat refined. But, instead, all four leads were bad. I have heard Cristin Milioti is talented and maybe the others are somehow too (though I have more doubts about the rest of them), but then they were all miscast. Something. I can't tell you. The acting of the leads was just atrocious--the lead girl, Margarita Levieva, was particular bad, she even had a fake evil "ha" laugh at one point. Seriously. She did it in earnest. Adam Driver, playing a supposedly charismatic leader, had no charisma and grabbed around a train window. You can't do that--there is supposed to be a wall there! Come on! I fear Leigh Silverman may have just not worked with any of them. Like, maybe she showed up once, gave some minor notes and then said "do what you want. make a show." I can't think of any other reasoning behind the embarrassing thing I sat through. A good 20 people left at intermission. Four more came back but then couldn't actually get through the second act. Someone behind my loudly groaned twice--not because of a lesbian kiss or anything but because of the horrible performances and dialogue we were being bombarded with.
This performance I attended was being taped for the archives. Maybe it will show up in a "what not to do" class--I'm not sure what other function it would have. But I will say: shame on everyone involved. I think part (and just part) of the reason this play was done without requiring further pre-production development is that it is about jews and many jews go see things about jews and so those things tend to sell more tickets ahead of time. It's one thing to greenlight a comedy for those reasons, but to do it with a Holocaust story is tasteless.