[Note: This is a review of the production of Shadows that played at Collapsable Hole in 2011. The play is now playing at Jack, with a different cast.]
Theater review by Helen Shaw. Collapsable Hole (Off-Off Broadway). By John Cassavetes. Dir. Alec Duffy. With ensemble cast. 1hr 30mins. No intermission.
Alec Duffy's sensually effective adaptation of Shadows, the groundbreaking 1959 film by John Cassavetes, starts with a gorgeous riot. Mirroring the source's credit sequence, actors boogie-woogie and shout. A man slides in, a spotlight finds him, he slinks away. We're close to the inspiration, yet far—we're unbalanced and ready to swing.
The source material was visual jazz. Three central characters—siblings Lelia, Bennie and Hugh—operate as musical motifs; scenes noodle around them, alternately staying close and riffing off into beautiful shots of New York. The movie is arpeggio-swift, but the improvisatory quality conceals a tight, worrying allegory about race and art: Light-skinned, romantic Lelia seems lost and artistically uncertain, while dark Hugh—humiliated and struggling—can still trust in the jazz.
Duffy, a director with rich musical sympathy, pushes us into the filmic plane. We lounge around the space on Andreea Mincic's couches; actors move among us like guests at a party. If scenes get too big, the action spills onto Metropolitan Avenue: When Bennie (Duane Boutt) disappears into the night, it's like seeing a cinematic panning shot. Composer Rick Burkhardt's jazz combo plays just feet away, and when it does, baby, Shadows really grooves. Too often, though, the music stops and we're left with a re-performance of the script. Sometimes this works—Duffy, Boutt and Jason Craig are a wonderful buddy trio—but much rests on Paola Di Tolla's Lelia, whose beauty can't mitigate her inexperience. It's a common problem in adaptation: Obsessively adhering to a surface resemblance (the film's Lelia Goldoni) can end in obscuring the spiritual likeness.—Helen Shaw