nytheatre.com review by David Vining
November 4, 2009
The aptly named Little Tragedies is almost unreviewable. It is a vanity project of immense proportions. New translations of four short plays by Russian poet Alexander Pushkin make up the Tragedies. The verse translations are by award-winning Pushkin scholar Julian Henry Lowenfeld who also directs, composed new music, and acts several roles. I am not a Pushkin scholar, and thus cannot argue with Lowenfeld's credentials, but a theater director he is not.
The cast is made up of several professional actors and singers who do their best to maintain their dignity; and a few hobbyists. Actors do not speak to one another in Lowenfeld's play, nor do they really interact at all if it can be helped. They recite their lines with varying degrees of verbal histrionics (amusing and horrifying) or bland lilt (less amusing and horrifying). When not reciting they seem mostly to wait for their cues.
Lowenfeld himself is terribly amateurish (I am being kind) in his portrayal of the composer Salieri in the second piece. His musical director (a seemingly talented musician but entirely untrained actor) is a joy by comparison as an off-kilter Mozart who almost remembered all of his lines.
When intermission arrived and hour and fifteen minutes in, I debated leaving. Some did. I wish I was one of them. By the time the two and a half hours had passed and Little Tragedies was finished it had joined the pantheon of plays that actually made me want to eat my own face. The myriad of smaller sins involved in the production would but clutter the page.
Act Two included an overlong, miscast Don Juan, yet another monologue by Lowenfeld (unbilled) and the most interesting, compelling moment of the night when he broke character during said monologue to watch, confused and a bit hurt, as a large group of people walked out not ten feet away from him.
Then came the finale, during which the entire cast stood forlornly about the stage while Lowenfeld ate bread and grapes (at one point choking loudly during his soprano's aria) and squirmed, drawing focus unmercifully while performing his part as "Reveler."
This is the part of the review where I would normally say something like "unless you really like Pushkin stay away" but if you love Pushkin I must advise you particularly to stay away. Little Tragedies just might kill any feeling you have for Pushkin.