New Group , Hell's Kitchen Wednesday March 6 2013 19:00
  • 2 out of 5 stars
Photograph: Monique Carboni
Photograph: Monique Carboni
Photograph: Monique Carboni
Photograph: Monique Carboni

New Group @ Theatre Row (see Off Broadway). By Jonathan Marc Sherman. Dir. Ethan Hawke. With Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Zoe Kazan. 1hr 40mins. No intermission.

In a program note to Clive, Jonathan Marc Sherman’s Brecht-on-the-Bowery version of Baal (1918), he slyly notes that he “worked from a literal translation courtesy of Google Translate.” How I’d rather see that text onstage, untouched. It probably would have been tangier and more surprising than the self-indulgent, quite boring experiment that leading man and director Ethan Hawke has thrown together for the New Group with a bunch of his pals. While you have to give Sherman and Hawke some credit for tackling an obscure and unlovable play, the result is so stultifying and smug, you wish they had strangled it in the studio.

The original Baal, penned when Brecht was still a leather-jacketed Weimar punk swooning over Wedekind and unsullied by Marx, is hard enough to appreciate on its own sneering merits. The title character is a self-adoring, hedonistic troubadour who fornicates his way through several women without a care for their well-being, eventually degenerating into a rapist and killer and dying an abject wastrel. Also, there are songs. By appropriating its plot elements and moving the action to the East Village in the ’90s, Sherman doesn’t shed light on the source, he just underscores the narcissism underlying the project. Hawke’s platinum-blond Clive strums his guitar wanly at gigs, beds Zoe Kazan’s grating woman-child and generally makes a pretentious ass of himself.

For all its sloppy direction and incoherence, the production has one intriguing spot: Vincent D’Onofrio’s what-the-fuck turn as Doc, a dissolute but idealistic hanger-on who follows Clive partway on his fatal journey. Bald, handlebar-mustachioed and drawling in a chicken-fried accent, D’Onofrio rages bravely in a universe where it all makes sense. He’s in a completely different play—the lucky bastard.—David Cote

Follow David Cote on Twitter: @davidcote

Venue name: New Group
Address: Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W 42nd St
New York
Cross street: at Tenth Ave
Transport: Subway: A, C, E to 42nd St–Port Authority
Price: $60
Event phone: 212-239-6200
Event website: