Theater review by Helen Shaw
Sean Donovan has long been an important presence in the downtown scene. He’s the dancer with the Nijinsky eyes and molten spine in pieces by Miguel Gutierrez, Faye Driscoll and Jane Comfort; he’s the actor with the wicked glint and Cary Grant chin in plays by the Builder’s Association and Witness Relocation. Now that he’s turned his hand to writing and directing his own work, his experience in the limelight has seeped into his dramaturgy. Cabin includes several storytelling methods: a textless scene, a direct-address reminiscence, a video, a song. (Heather Christian contributed the music.) But consistent throughout the disparate sections is commentary on the jittery, erotic, fearful thrill of being seen.
Designer Carolyn Mraz has reimagined the typical proscenium as a series of three huge windows, often covered by quasitransparent white linen blinds, beyond which two men, Stewart (Tyler Ashley) and Paul (Brandon Washington), dally and dance at a fireside. They’re lovers in a modernist mountain getaway, and we’re their voyeurs. Whenever Stewart takes a break to look out into the rain, a chord vibrates menacingly. Is there someone else—someone bad—watching along with us? Donovan himself then appears, and he talks directly to the audience, spinning a yarn about the cabin, his two boyfriends and the way their threesome attracted an unwanted spectator. He seems honest as he speaks to us, but there’s a slipperiness, too. His mustache looks a little evil. He met Stewart at a murder-mystery dinner party, he says, and we wonder if he isn’t still playing some game.
There are exquisite moments in Cabin, usually when the men dance together. These three are some of the most exciting movers we have, and Cabin shows us their casual grace, the way they turn anything—from getting a bottle out of a cabinet to writhing in a murderous three-way jellyfish knot—into dance. (All three contributed to the electric choreography.) For about 45 minutes, the structure is clever: Donovan’s long monologue hints at terrible consequences, which makes us reconsider the desultory first scene as a series of clues about what’s to come. But the piece turns out to be better at tension than release; it comes to a stop rather than an end. Donovan’s too-abrupt conclusion disappoints its thriller structure and ruptures the luscious time dilation of the rest of the play. Why is it only an hour long? Donovan establishes Cabin as a place of weird and humid languor, which is why it’s a shame when he slams its door.
The Bushwick Starr (Off-Off Broadway). Written and directed by Sean Donovan. With Donovan, Tyler Ashley, Brandon Washington. Running time: 1hr. No intermission.