The Listeners: Theater review by Helen Shaw
On the page, Matthew Freeman’s The Listeners boasts a swinging, Aleister Crowley naughtiness. It’s a Lynchian fable set in a bed-and-breakfast where time has a habit of looping back on itself. Imagine The Wicker Man sprinkled with Pinter: dark and silly, silly and dark. Yet some innovative staging becomes, rapidly, its most serious weakness.
Director Michael Gardner co-runs the tiny Brick, so he and Freeman have a house band’s latitude: The playing area has been enclosed so the audience sits behind the walls, peering through voyeur slits into a black-wallpapered room. Coproprietors Elliot (Robert Honeywell) and sister Sistine (Moira Stone) give off a fun Fall of the Hotel of Usher vibe, and their guests, Colm (Jay Leibowitz) and Careen (Stephanie Willing), wax weird as well. But sealed into their echo chamber, the ensemble loses its sense of size, moving from melodrama to shouting and full-on hammy nonsense. Our anonymity makes it hard to laugh at the excess, so it leaves us wincing instead. Supposedly, we spectators are the titular “listeners”: Perhaps they should make us work a little harder to hear.—Helen Shaw
The Brick (see Off-Off Broadway). By Matthew Freeman. Directed by Michael Gardner. With ensemble cast. Running time: 1hr 25mins. No intermission.