Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Habit | Essex Street Market | Plays & Shows | Time Out New York:

If the play had been presented straight at Rattlestick, 59E59 or Atlantic Stage 2, it would be merely derivative and pointless, maybe irritating to jaded critics. But trapped inside director David Levine’s rigorously playful panopticon, it becomes the subject of aesthetic inquiry, a sort of Schrödinger’s box for representational theatrics. (Only in this case, we can see inside the box and note that the cat is both dead and alive.) The fourth wall is religiously observed by the three actors, but is rendered moot by spectators scuttling around from window to window, giggling or whispering, or just getting bored and leaving. You can marvel at Marsha Ginsberg’s scrupulous design, the actors’ stamina, or Jason Grote’s parodic flair. Levine pulls it off, creating a spectacle that works variously as sculpture, (second-rate) drama and a metatheatrical conversation piece.

Although this conceptual stunt is prime directors’ theater, it also belongs in large part to the actors. They must hew to the script and the general story arc of the piece, but they are free to change blocking, emotional temperature, intensity and the violent ending of the piece. Part of the pleasure of watching Habit is seeing the actors make big and little changes in their line readings and physical placement. There’s a great deal of improvisation that happens within a rigid structure.