And Away We Go

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Photograph: Al Foote III
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Photograph: Al Foote III
And Away We Go

And Away We Go. Pearl Theatre Company (see Off Broadway). By Terrence McNally. Directed by Jack Cummings III. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 50mins. No intermission.

And Away We Go: in brief

Terrence McNally's play, written specially for the Pearl, hopscotches through history to look backstage at theater troupes from ancient Greece to modern Coral Gables. Jack Cummings III directs.

And Away We Go: theater review by Diane Snyder

Actors actually bend down to kiss the stage at the start of Terrence McNally’s thespians-through-the-ages tribute And Away We Go. But forgive them their indulgences. A funding crisis postponed the premiere of this play, which McNally wrote for the Pearl’s resident acting company, so the metatheatrical gesture isn’t as precious as it could seem. One might not be quite so understanding of the author, however. The Tony-winning playwright loosely knits together a series of sketches for a play that’s lovingly made, but not an exemplar of craftsmanship.

It’s set at theaters around the world and at various points in history, from ancient Athens to present-day America, as they face challenges ranging from censorship to revolution. It’s also a prime opportunity for the six-person ensemble, who’ve spent their Pearl careers feasting on the classics, to show their range in under two hours, with nary a costume change. Although company veterans Rachel Botchan, Dominic Cuskern, Sean McNall and Carol Schultz all shine, it’s nonmembers Donna Lynne Champlin and Micah Stock who deliver the finest performances.

Accents veer from British, in an Elizabethan segment featuring original Shakespearean actor Richard Burbage and his family, to French, for a slice of 18th-century commedia dell’arte. The excitement of the first reading of The Seagull in 1896 Moscow segues into the misery of those involved in the 1956 American premiere of Waiting for Godot—at the Coconut Grove Playhouse in Florida, starring Bert Lahr. Members of a contemporary troupe (not unlike the Pearl) facing dire financial circumstances step in and out of scenes, before time periods intersect and cross-pollinate in a crescendo of theatrical history.

There are some hearty laughs (remember the time Medea went onstage wearing a comedy mask?!?), and McNally gets in a dig at former romantic partner Edward Albee's vanity, but it’s easy to drown in the details without absorbing the resonance. Director Jack Cummings III, always adept at creating playful landscapes for productions, teams again with scenic designer Sandra Goldmark, who fills a vast, seemingly set-free space with assorted props, costumes and lamps, many dangling from the ceiling. It’s a beautiful cathedral to the endurance of theater, and a fitting tribute to the survival skills of the 30-year-old Pearl.—Theater review by Diane Snyder

Follow Diane Snyder on Twitter: @DianeLSnyder

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Event phone: 212-563-9261
Event website: http://pearltheatre.org
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