Adult

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  • Drama
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Photograph: Oren R. Cohen
Adult

Adult. Abrons Arts Center (see Off-Off Broadway). By Christina Masciotti. Directed by Ian Morgan. With Jimmie James, Betsy Hogg. Running time: 1hr 15mins. No intermission.

Adult: In brief

A gun-shop owner struggles to reconnect with his estranged college-age daughter in a new drama by Christina Masciotti (who wrote 2010's excellent Vision Disturbance). Ian Morgan directs.

Adult: Theater review by Helen Shaw

Chekhov, with his oft-quoted concern over guns showing up in a play's first act, will have a full-blown conniption if he ever buys a ticket to Christina Masciotti's Adult. Racks of shotguns adorn the walls of Stephen Dobay's marvelously detailed gun-shop set, along with target posters, orange caps, Glock ammunition and a case full of pistols. Will one go off? Will it be in the hand of shop owner Stanley (Jimmie James) or his estranged teen daughter, Tara (Betsy Hogg)? These are niceties, angels on pins; there's a gravitational theatrical pull toward one of those guns, and dramaturgical law will not be denied.

Also undeniable is Masciotti's skill at imagining the denizens of her hometown of Reading, Pennsylvania. It's a blessing and a relief to see people onstage like Stanley and Tara: beautifully drawn, almost transcribed from life, and treated with a rough, cuffing affection by their portraitist. Lovers of Masciotti's earlier work Vision Disturbance, though, may experience a little wisp of disappointment curling across this piece. Her dialogue still shows a deep interest in idiom and malapropism; her characters speak almost entirely in spoonerisms that stem from nonliterary lives. Here, though, there's more self-consciousness in these linguistic inversions (“live in squander; “when you walk like a duck, you look like a duck”) because of the not-quite-seamless realism chosen by director Ian Morgan.

For the first time, college freshman Tara has come to stay with her dad, who is thrilled to finally get a chance to be the cool parent. Grumbling through his scruffy beard, jabbing ineffectually at his “e-mail machine,” Stanley pretends he thinks Tara's time in Reading (“Nothing to do—but twice the crime”) will be wasted. Secretly, of course, he believes a bit of real work is just what she needs. For her part, Tara is caught between dependence and adulthood. She's responsible for getting herself into college, but she can't pay for it; she's furious that no one approves of her boyfriend, but she's making rookie mistakes such as leaving school to be near him.

What Masciotti has made well, she's made brilliantly—two rich characters in transition, surprising each other and themselves as they change. Tara's innocence tempers her aggressive whining; Stanley's adorable old-coot technophobia sugars his casual (and often hilariously absurd) racism. The predictability of that gunshot, though, isn't the only thing that moves formulaically under the bright, shifting skin of her language. Her character work can't be surpassed, but Masciotti telegraphs her few plot elements from football fields away.

It's understandable that Morgan would choose to direct the piece as a slice-of-life, and certainly the production, beautifully designed and realized, shows an almost palpable excitement at establishing a photorealistic environment. This high-gloss verisimilitude, though, tries to exist alongside a grittier, less polished element in the performances. Hogg is good but lacks detail; James has a number of plays in his biography, but presents as a nonactor. Some of his work, therefore, is stunningly naturalistic; other parts are mechanical and, frankly, difficult to hear.

In Vision Disturbance, director Richard Maxwell's minimalism isolated—and thus framed—the text. He treated it like a Pollock by putting it on the theatrical equivalent of a big, white wall. Morgan sticks to illustrating the play, and the result, while faithful, is rather small. Adult is lovely work, well aimed, accurately sighted. It's just that this time the gunshot doesn't echo.—Theater review by Helen Shaw

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