On the Shore of the Wide World
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Theater review by Adam Feldman
One could be forgiven, during the many longueurs in Simon Stephens’s On the Shore of the Wide World, for imagining the play to be a parody of a British working-class drama: “wanker” this and “bugger” that and “A-levels” here and “bit of footy on the telly” there, delivered by an American cast of 10 whose accents sometimes arrive at Stockport by way of Louisiana. But it’s very much in earnest. Written in 2005, before Stephens’s success with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and other works, the play is a long and busy family soap opera, chopped into 42 short parts, that toggles between banality and implausible melodrama.
Fuzzily directed by Atlantic Theater Company’s Neil Pepe, the production suggests an acting class performing an anthology: Scenes for British Actors, Volume 8. (Scene 28: Dad mopes angrily at Grandad’s hospital bed. Scene 35: Pregnant lady quotes Keats. Scene 15: Mum drops her teacup!) Longitudinal points about evolving standards of British masculinity are lost in dramaturgy as hazy as the play’s constant cigarette smoke. Its original London incarnation, perhaps, had some redeeming authenticity. At the Atlantic, it just seems beached.
Atlantic Theater Company (Off Broadway). By Simon Stephens. Directed by Neil Pepe. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 40mins. One intermission. Through Oct 8.