Theater review by Helen Shaw
You can tell Torrey Townsend has studied his craft. It’s not just that his neonaturalist play The Workshop reflects the influence of his mentor Annie Baker or that it bubbles with insider humor (such as gags about the Obies). You can tell because the very idea of studying art fills him with both affection and revulsion: Only someone who has faked enthusiasm for a classmate’s musical could be so angry. Only someone who hoped for an MFA epiphany would be this wry.
Washed-up playwright Ward (Austin Pendleton) “teaches” four grad students how to write, augmenting his syllabus of self-serving anecdotes by flirting with one student (Claire Siebers), fighting with the class fool (Tim Platt) and delivering blistering vitriol to the tryhard (Laura Lassy Townsend), while treating the hilariously mellow cool dude (Cesar J. Rosado) with blithe unconcern. The Workshop's desultory portrait of their semester lasts two and a half hours, yet somehow rarely feels long. Townsend’s well-performed play is bracingly cynical: Ward swears theater is sacred, but every scrap of student writing we hear is dreadful. Knud Adams’s intimate production tucks us close enough that we can smell the spilled coffee. The scorched odor of dying dreams, though, is the thing that keep us awake.
HB Playwrights Theatre (Off-Off Broadway). By Torrey Townsend. Directed by Knud Adams. With ensemble cast. Running time: 2hrs 35mins. One intermission. Through August 13.