Russ Hunt's Reviews

Nobody Dies on Friday
by Robert Brustein

American Repertory Theatre
Cambridge, Massachusetts, April 1998

Nobody Dies On Friday. Except the long-suffering cast. Here's what I wrote to the family about it when we got back from the theatre . . .

And then the play. Well, you can't win 'em all. It was a snooze. Wonderful set, super actors, amazing little theatre (the Hasty Pudding, just off Harvard Square -- probably seats 400, and lots of technical resources). And not a bad premise: Robert Brustein writes a play about Lee Strasburg, the acting coach, and his family during the time when they're being visited by a psychotic Marilyn Monroe. Problem: no plot, no story, nothing happens: just exposition about the family's problems, and after the first ten minutes we had them down pretty pat, and really didn't care any more, even though all four actors (and the offstage voice of Marilyn) were, well, as good as I can imagine anybody being with this turkey. At the intermission we sat there and said, well, what happened in the first act? Nothing. What do we expect will happen in the second act? Well, beyond the fact that Susan and John will probably bring back the pickles and sauerkraut her mother asked them to bring back, nothing . . . and we were right. Peopl e shouted at each other about the difference between acting and emoting, and some of it was actually pretty interesting: the kind of stuff I wouldn't mind reading an essay about. But we absolutely could not believe that anybody would ever have thought this script was a play. Brustein must be an incredible salesman. "No, really, it'll work once it gets on the stage and actors get their teeth into it. Trust me. They'll tear up the stage. Searing family drama." Not.

What I thought was most weird was that I'd expected something, well, more than missing-wall realism from Brustein, and I'd expected something other than Method acting from the cast. Well, I guess it wasn't quite Method -- they didn't mumble (one of the continuing subjects of "discussion" between Lee Strasburg and his son is whether actors should take elocution lessons, with Strasburg pere mocking the fake-British oratorical style and his son parodying Brando and Dean). But it was 100% reali stic drama; it even followed the classical unities (all in one room, all between morning and night of the same day; the only thing it was missing was an action). It was sort of as though Brustein had decided to use Strasburg's own methods against him, and wound up demonstrating just how badly they don't work. And demonstrating it by boring us all beyond tears. Nobody in the play even had any interesting problems: Strasburg's wife and children don't get any attention from their father, who's conflicted and c an't show affection . . . yawn . . . and they all keep coming back to this apartment on Central Park East, where Daddy takes phone calls telling him he's not been hired to direct Tennessee Williams' new play . . . snooze . . .

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