Cynicism and misogyny overpower idealism in Alena Smith's Occupy-inspired tale.
Whether you “feel the Bern” or “stump for Trump,” suspicion surrounds establishment politics at the moment. Skeptical folks recognize that both elitist liberals and staunch conservatives will gladly manipulate the weakest among them to grow and maintain their power. Alena Smith puts this cynical view to work in her play The New Sincerity.
Within the upscale offices of elitist literary journal Asymptote, Ivy League graduates worry about what should follow their previous issue’s smashingly successful article on the centenary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Fire. It’s a real dilemma; thankfully, trust funds and wealthy friends keep these intellectuals fed and drunk while they ponder it. But when rising literary star Rose notices a local park’s occupation by people livid over the manipulation of 99 percent of Americans by the wealthy one percent, her interest in this movement invites the unwashed into the journal’s ivory tower.
The New Sincerity becomes a play of contrasts viewed through Rose’s interactions with Benjamin, founding editor of Asymptote and the epitome of Northeastern elitism, and Django, founding member of the park’s occupation and poster boy for pacifist radicalism. Caught in the middle, Rose (a somewhat stagey but smart performance by Maura Kidwell) experiences how boys will be boys no matter what their background. Wolves-in-progressive clothing, like Drew Shirley’s predictably douchey Benjamin, appropriate social movements to line their pockets and promote themselves, while idealists, like Alex Stein’s disarmingly charming Django, abandon civility to satisfy their own desires. It makes a mess for Rose, tangling romance with professionalism and leaving her to her own devices about what to do.
The New Sincerity percolates with rhetorical philosophizing—even the play’s title borrows from contemporary trends in literary theory. Its arguments discuss the truth and chicanery surrounding political action and cast light on the misogyny that pervades American life, but not much else. Smith capably weaves Rose’s situations into a well-told story of disillusionment; however, she resolves that disillusionment with comfortable ambiguity. The politics of the play spares its audience from hard lessons or calls to action.
Director Jeremy Wechsler compounds this politeness with a straightforward and handsomely staged production. His actors turn in respectable performances, but they lack the complexity needed to make their situations moving. With today’s backdrop of presidential candidates calling for political revolution and pleas to make America great again, The New Sincerity could bellow for truth and change. Instead, it unleashes an inoffensive complaint.
Theater Wit. By Alena Smith. Directed by Jeremy Wechsler. With Maura Kidwell, Erin Long, Drew Shirley, Alex Stein. Running time: 1 hr 30mins; no intermission.