Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Talls,com_plays/task,viewPlay/id,151

(Gerard Canonico and Shannon Esper. Photo by Joan Marcus.)

I laughed so hard when I saw The Talls in its first weekend at Second Stage Uptown that I had to go back after it opened--and I dragged Lisa with me. She didn't love it as much as I did, and I didn't laugh nearly as much the second time around. That's not to say that the play got worse, though.

In some ways, the show was much better. The first time, I found the play hilarious but a bit lacking in feeling (even though it deals with a tragedy), and now it seems to have found a better emotional balance. I found Christa Scott-Reed's ice queen with a heart of woe much more affecting this time around. And though quite too old for the part, Michael Oberholtzer has really settled into his role as the obnoxious but secretly sweet brother. Sadly, Lauren Holmes has not improved. In addition to looking too old, she doesn't make a convincing teenager with her acting either. And her main method of emoting seems to be to whine, pout, and squint her eyes. Peter Rini is really quite excellent in a nothing role; the playwright seems to have forgotten about his character, much as the grieving wife has.

As the central character, I wanted a bit more from Shannon Esper. She certainly looks believable as a high school senior. And she was great with the humor. But--and this may very well be mostly a problem with the script--I didn't find her arc quite believable. Her annoyance and rebellious streak certainly rang true, but something felt missing in her tender moments with her mother. Again, that might just be some clunky writing she couldn't quite overcome.

Timothee Chalamet continues to steal the show, bringing endless adorkable charm to what is a strangely written character. (I've never been a preteen boy, but I find it hard to believe that one would ever WANT to see his sister kiss someone, much less go farther.) This time I couldn't tell if he was creepily focused on his sister, the guest, or just the idea of sex. Gerard Canonico's performance as a young, ambitious (and, ok, short) campaign manager is wonderful. I found his transition from uptight chaperone to seduced to seducer much more believable than in previews. While I am completely in love with his singing voice, his performance here and as Moritz in Spring Awakening have been achingly real. While I'd love for him to sing to me every day forever, I definitely look forward to seeing him do more straight plays too.

This play, by Anna Kerrigan, is pretty good off-Broadway fare. I suspect that she owes much to Carolyn Cantor's direction to cover up some script flaws. A little fluffy, perhaps, but the show delivers on the laughs and has some depth. I'd check out her other work. The costume design and set are fantastic. I really have loved all the Second Stage Uptown shows I've seen, though their mainstage shows have been improving too.

Sorry for the inelegant review lacking in humor. The Talls closes this Saturday (Aug. 27), and I want to finish this before then. Go see this play. It's worth seeing for Canonico and Chalamet's performances alone.

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