Friday, March 30, 2007

Exits and Entrances

The main problem with Athol Fugard's Exits and Entrances, receiving its New York premiere at 59E59 in a Primary Stages production after a myriad of stagings around the country, is that it wants to be too much in too little time. In the spare 85 minutes that the play runs, Fugard has tried to encompass at least a dozen different ideologies: the work is a love letter to and a cautionary tale about a life in the theatre, a buddy comedy, a Chekhovian melodrama, a drawing room farce and a redemption tale. If he had chosen one conceit and stuck to it, he could have written a salvageable chamber piece; however, as it currently stands, the play is a heavy-handed amalgamation with no dramatic center. The play is anchored by superb performances from William Dennis Hurley and Morlan Higgins, as, respectively, a struggling South African playwright (based on Fugard) and a rapidly deteriorating Afrikaans actor. Higgins is particularly arresting--his early monologue about how his life changed after seeing Anna Pavlova dance The Dying Swan as a boy is especially moving--but it's not enough. By the half-hour mark, my mind had exited the drama onstage and entered a state of lulled boredom.

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