nytheatre.com review by Ivanna Cullinan
March 10, 2007
There is a lot of talent in this incredibly fragmented production. With a strong cast, some beautiful design, and an enormous amount of thought having gone into it, the Flea's production of The Director, written by Barbara Cassidy and directed by Jessica Davis-Irons, should be a much more satisfying experience than it is. There is plenty to watch here, but as a whole—well, there just it isn't one.
In a very effective and promising opening scene (evocatively lighted, as is the entire production, by Peter Ksander), the play's main character Sadie establishes what feels like the framework for the piece as she searches through a box of tapes looking for one with the Director's voice on it. Sadie (well played by Lauren Shannon) is a young actor who has interviewed other women used by or at least approached by the Director. This offstage character is known for approaching women with the time-honored gambit of wanting them to be in his movie. Evidently he has considerable success with it, and having experienced it herself, Sadie now wants to interview other women he has approached.
The play then drops out of this intimate moment with Sadie and switches over to an extremely long and unengaging voiceover of an interviewee talking about the Director, during which Sadie and friends drink forties and puff away (to establish hipster "cred"?). It was never clear what that scene is meant to establish. Nor is the purpose of a beautifully eerie video realization of a dream ever clarified.
This is followed by some of the interviewees and scenes from Sadie's life, in no particular order and lacking clear purpose in the overall scheme. Possibly serving to show different experiences of the Director, the interviewees have the potential to expose why a woman might be manipulated in such a way but are too incomplete to do so. The scenes have a tendency to feel like framing devices that are never filled out, and are not aided by their video backdrops. Essentially, the projections are a roving eye over the actor's body, more annoying and distracting than effectively supporting the text or actor. Yet the women are interesting and strongly cast, with Havilah Brewster's Nina having a marvelously specific and confident relationship with the audience.
Another floating plot line has Sadie pursuing Milton (played with arch intelligence and sly humor by Catherine Gowl), another of the Director's conquests, with unexplained fervor. It remains unexplained as their relationship drops in their next scene to an ill-defined friendship, whose main purpose seems to be allowing Sadie a place to live at one point and at another allowing a perfunctory girl/girl kiss attempt. There is a lot of indicated sexuality in the piece, including a "hot girls empowered" choreographed moment in which the cast feels distressingly young and disconnected to what it is about them that is truly sexy. If that had been the intention, to expose a vulnerability underlying the sexual posing, it could have been a devastating commentary. If it had been successfully sexual, I would have more patience with the demi-agitprop nature of the moment, but it felt like a shirt was coming off and the body still being fully clothed.
Some of the characters discuss the Director's obsession with under-age girls in a manner meant to be provocative (in our society what is too young? where is the line?), but these discussions vacillate between actually taking a stand (on any side of the question) or being a passive flirtation with power. There seems to be a desire in the play to put issues or ideas out there without judgment, but that translates into lacking any point of view and kneecaps the potential impact.
Ultimately the point of the piece seems be that Sadie is seeking power and becoming a "director" herself, but as nothing has been established earlier about her potential need for power, it feels like another unfulfilled device and the staginess of the following scenes fail to achieve any transformation. The ending of the piece introduces a little girl in a laptop video talking about boys and girls going out. For a moment I was afraid this child was going to be one of the Director's conquests. Luckily a glance at the program explained that she was young Sadie. I appreciated getting an explanation, because there wasn't one in the piece. There are glimmers of interest in The Director but many more connections need to happen for it to be fully realized.