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Theater review: Deadpan auteur Richard Maxwell remounts his Good Samaritans

Good Samaritans
Photograph: New York City Players

★★★★☆

Richard Maxwell aficionados will greet the remount of Good Samaritans (2004) as an unexpected gift. It’s the kind of present that takes effort to open, though. Newcomers to the auteur (whose recent work includes Isolde and The Evening) must acclimate to his ascetic aesthetic, which can be slow and uses a deadpan nonaffect. But for some of us, Samaritans will prove (and indeed has proved) a gateway drug.

Maxwell’s avant-gardism conceals a bittersweet, beautiful romance; the show’s deliberate awkwardness emphasizes the swoon at its center. In a shelter’s canteen, a rehab supervisor (Rosemary Allen) and her homeless swain (Kevin Hurley) come crashing together despite the obstacles: age, power, his alcoholism and mendacity. (It’s strangely operatic, and Stephanie Nelson’s white-cinder-block set would fit in nicely at the Met.)

Maxwell functions to the left of our brain’s typical enjoyment center: The acting is amateurish, and the singing registers on the McGill Pain Scale. But when the play is hardest to watch, it’s most worth seeing—particularly the unforgettable Allen, shaking her head at love, as heavy on her feet as a bull in the ring.

Abrons Arts Center (Off-Off Broadway). Written and directed by Richard Maxwell. With Rosemary Allen and Kevin Hurley. Running time: 1hr 30mins. No intermission. Through Feb 25. Click here for full venue and ticket information.

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