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September 28, 2007


Gary Kline

Adam Rapp gets another free pass. This is a PROFOUNDLY flawed play, and how anyone in their right mind can forgive the acknowledged flaws in favor of a few funny lines is beyond me. What a charitable take on a mess. Were you visited by three ghosts last night, Cote? Come ON.

Rapp is a talented writer, which, as far as I'm concerned, means he has a greater responsibility to FIX what is FIXABLE, and make the play more dramatically sound and tight. He certainly has the ability to do it. The fact that he doesn't do it is pure arrogance and/or laziness, which is far more offensive to me than a bad play by someone who can't write. American Sligo felt like a whipped off sophomoric whim. It's unfocused, glib, (occasionally funny) and ultimately hollow, hollow, hollow. "Hey, another play about violence within families, only this time he uses wrestling as a metaphor!" Uhhh, okay, but what ELSE? What ABOUT violence within families? It exists? It gets passed down? Someone alert the media! A promising high-school brainiac/sports star turns into a manipulative, violent, petty thief and coke-head because he had to take care of his dying mother! Wait, what? Why would THAT happen? Because of violence in the family? Because his father's a wrestler? Wait, I can't...quite...connect the dotszzzzzzzzzzzzz...

I would forgive all - maybe even enjoy myself a little - if the play was by some recent NYU grad in a 30-seat black box. But this is Adam fucking Rapp. He's got a Pulitzer nomination and a new play every couple months. He complains about being the oldest living emerging playwright, and yet refuses to stop writing emerging plays. It's time for him to take a deep breath, stop allowing theaters to produce his first drafts, and actually put some thought into CRAFTING something more mature and artful. I bet it'd be fantastic if he gave it a try.

As for your comment, "Rapp proves again what a good director he is," this alone makes me wants to cancel my Time Out subscription. Say what you will about Rapp as a writer, if you happen to like aimless scatalogical heartless smart-ass too-cool-for-the-room drama, that's fine. Taste is taste. But to look at American Sligo and think the boy can also direct, that's just insanity. Even if we put aside the fact that a good director generally HELPS focus a script (didn't happen here) or knows how to stage scenes articulately (strike 2!), he should at least be able to get his actors in the same play. Paul Sparks seemed to be channeling a young Christopher Walken by way of a late 80's Shanley play. Which would be fine if Mary Louise Burke wasn't doing Arsenic and Old Lace while that Stadleman boy bugged his eyes and flailed his arms as if he were in a Latin American sitcom. Not only were none of the actors on the same page, they weren't even in the same library. Yeah, Rapp's a fantastic director. Well spotted, Cote. Maybe if someone was smart enough to take that director's hat away from him, he'd have a little more time to focus on his scripts, where his attentions could be put to much greater use.

David Cote

I wasn't aware of handing out a free pass, Gary. In the print review and here I admit the play is flawed and wish that Rapp would use his gifts for more substantial drama. That I don't whip myself into a hysterical froth isn't the same as a free pass. And I still enjoyed what's quick, cheap and dirty in this fairly minor work. I thought my caveats were clear. As for what you perceive to be his poor direction, well, I can see how a more ambitious director could smooth over the material's flaws, but Rapp has rhythm and verve and his performers deliver. Is this ultimately a bloated midnight show? Perhaps. I'm sick of writing these aspirational reviews about the great dramatist Rapp could one day be. I hope he's sick of reading them.

Gary Kline

Points taken. After rereading the print review, you were in fact more critical than I gave you credit for. Perhaps I was projecting my own frustrations onto your review. Apologies.

Still, you did ultimately come down on the side of the play it seems. You gave it four out of six stars, which means you liked it more than you disliked it. And despite its many flaws (which I acknowledged you acknowledged) you still sort of shrugged and said, well, it's a fun time and the actors are great, so what the hell? That's where I get confused. Is that really enough? That's certainly your right to express that, and it's actually refreshing to have a critic refrain from hyperbole, but it's also a little confusing because you do on occasion tear into other plays that, however flawed they may be, are still (arguably) head and shoulders above American Sligo. That's what I meant by Rapp's free pass. But I suspect that may be an issue of mood. You saw the play at the right time and in the right place, and though it wasn't great, it also didn't rile you up. I understand that. I wish I had had the same experience.



RE: Brantley comparing "100 Saints..." to a LIfetime Television for Women movie - I've been noticing for a while that Brantley and his colleagues at the Times seem quite enamored of that Lifetime comparison. Here's some quotes from various NY Times reviews:

"'s like a platonic ideal of a Lifetime Television Movie"

" to the movie-of-the-week formula perfected by Lifetime TV."

"...fallen into the sort of soapy mother-daughter confrontation often found on the Lifetime Television channel."

"...dysfunction of the week movie..."

"...often found on women's cable channels."

I could go on...

I get sort of bummed out by theater critics always comparing plays to TV or movies - even when the plays are bad because the playwright would rather it was a series or a feature!
Several years ago I remember Brantley comparing a Foreman play I interned on to...get this...the movie musical FOOTLOOSE. But something about the "Lifetime TV" dismissals strikes me as even more sinister; perhaps it speaks to a kind of encoded disdain for women

David Cote

I have to admit: I've used that dismissive comparison myself in at least a couple of reviews in the past 7 years. Sometimes it's warranted, but to lob it against the carefully crafted, delicately ambiguous 100 Saints is unjustifiable, in my book. Plus: have you actually sat through a Lifetime TV movie? They can be really, really bad. But is there a subtext of misogyny there? That's entirely possible. It's another way of sneering: "weak, sentimental, womanish pabulum."

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