nytheatre.com review by David Gordon
March 17, 2011
With their numerous environmental, site-specific and/or non-traditionally staged productions, The Transport Group regularly explores the question of “How close is too close?” to varying degrees of success. With Jack Cummings III’s entrancing staging of Michael John LaChiusa’s musical Hello Again, the answer only depends on how squeamish you are.
Suggested by Arthur Schnitzler’s play La Ronde, Hello Again, which had its premiere in the 1990s at Lincoln Center Theater, is all about sex and love, and having a lot of one and none of the other. Currently being produced in a warehouse/loft space on the fourth floor of 52 Mercer Street in SoHo, the audience, seated at large round tables on hardback or swivel chairs, gets a bird’s eye view of the 10 romantic entanglements depicted. Chances are the actors will be copulating—simulated, of course—right on top of you.
While there’s no nudity (unless you count shirtless men and a few rear ends), the material and staging is still fairly explicit. Those who are made uncomfortable at the prospect of Public Displays of Affection should likely stay away. Those who aren’t will likely bask in the glory of the piece, performed by a cast of New York theater favorites.
Schnitzler’s piece is set firmly in 1890 (ten years before it was written). LaChiusa’s takes place non-sequentially through the decades of the 20th century, keeping the circular structure of the original text. It begins with an encounter between a Whore (Nikka Graff Lanzarone) and a Soldier (Max von Essen), followed by the Soldier and a Nurse (Elizabeth Stanley), the Nurse and a College Boy (Robert Lenzi), the College Boy and a Young Wife (Alexandra Silber), the Young Wife and her Husband (Bob Stillman), the Husband and a Young Thing (Blake Daniel), the Young Thing and a Writer (Jonathan Hammond), the Writer and an Actress (Rachel Bay Jones), the Actress and a Senator (Alan Campbell), and, finally, the Senator and the Whore.
Collectively, this ensemble dives head first into LaChiusa’s haunting score, performing it with a fearless gusto and passion. Only Campbell seems uncomfortable, holding back a bit too much in his scenes with the mesmerizing Jones and Lanzarone. Conversely, Lanzarone and von Essen’s round dance throughout the room is one of the staging’s many strong points. Stanley is effortlessly titillating as the naughty nurse of many a man’s dreams, with the charming and goofy Lenzi as the object of her affection. Silber’s gorgeous delivery of the song “Tom” is a musical highlight, while Daniel has compelling and romantic scenes with Stillman and Hammond.
Depending on where you’re seated, you may have to crane your neck here and there or twist and turn for views of the action on the other side of the room. Still, with Sandra Goldmark’s immersive set, R. Lee Kennedy’s evocative dive bar lighting, and Kathryn Rohe’s oft-sexy costumes, you may just have a craving for a cigarette when you hit the street.