Theater review by Helen Shaw. Abrons Arts Center (see the Off-Off List). By Peretz Hirschbein. Dir. David Herskovits. With ensemble cast. 1hr 35mins. No intermission.
The (*) Inn can be a challenge, and not just because the title is literally unreadable. (The asterisk stands for “empty, vacant, abandoned; usually translated as ‘haunted.’ ” In a tidy trick, the translation gives the title its own ghosts.) As often happens in director David Herskovits’s work, the manifest intelligence onstage makes you admire the production’s experimental tactics even as you watch them fail. Here he uses a dozen deliberately alienating ploys—one scene plays in near-total darkness, another one in voiceover. And yet each strategy does fail. Herskovits deals in astringent pleasures, but The (*) Inn turns too completely away from its audience. The director’s customary tartness, always dangerous, grows surprisingly bitter.
Hirschbein’s text begins as a provincial Juliet tale: Bendet (Amir Darvish) wants to marry off daughter Meta (Rachel Claire) to a neighbor’s son, thus simultaneously settling the fortunes of the empty inn across the road. Meta’s forbidden love for her cousin provides a typical melodramatic stumbling block, but Hirschbein has strangeness up his sleeve: The inn’s unsettled ghosts invade the story, deranging the characters and dramaturgy both. Herskovits directs in his familiar faux-naïf style—deliberately amateurish, all strings in view. Actors shift between turn-of-the-20th-century shtick and a deliberately abstracted, nonperformative style, an enormous challenge that only David Greenspan’s Grandpa can manage. Herskovits works best when theater monsters stampede through his chilly landscapes, giving them life. Greenspan, his longtime collaborator, can do it; but Grandpa always seems to be off in the barn, and we’re left alone without him, bored and freezing for want of any connection.—Helen Shaw