Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Balm in Gilead

Photo Credit: Torso XXI by Colm McCarthy

The people at the T. Schreiber Theatre are doing something amazing over on 26th Street. In their production of Lanford Wilson's Balm in Gilead, on the seventh floor of a nondescript office building, they are vividly recreating a dive diner from the 1960s, with its sad and striving denizens. The production is so intimate and accurate that being in the audience feels like sitting in a booth in the corner, watching the world go by. The direction by Peter Jenson is smart, and the ensemble acting is excellent. Among the standouts, Belle Caplis, full of sad astonishment at how her life has turned out, nails her long (15 minutes?) monologue. And Jill Bianchini, as the smart hooker with more of a heart than she wants to have, gives a master class in brilliant listening.

But the play is a bit of a problem. In providing this slice of life, Wilson opts for conversations that trail off, people wandering in and out, overlapping dialogue, and a minimal plot. There are times that the show works brilliantly, but it also has many frustrating and boring moments (kind of like life, huh?). Overall, however, it's an impressive, sometimes heartbreaking piece of work, and seeing it in a small theatre, with its cast of 30 or so performers, is a real treat.

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