Every Play Ever Written
nytheatre.com review by Michael Criscuolo
June 15, 2007
Actor-writer-director Robert Honeywell takes his daring experiments with genre and form to delirious new heights with Every Play Ever Written, his brilliantly uproarious new meta-play that attempts to live up to its subtitle as "a distillation of the essence of theatre." Constructed as a lecture about the history of world drama, Honeywell's show-within-a-show quickly (and purposefully) crumbles into a heated backstage comedy of intrigues as the cast's personal lives seep onto the stage. In lesser hands, such a conceit could easily turn disastrous. But, Honeywell magnificently makes it a heady occasion for both high and low comedy without sacrificing any of his Pretentious Festival street cred.
Honeywell and his fellow cast members, Lynn Berg, Audrey Crabtree, and Moira Stone, play the stage versions of themselves as they embark on what is intended to be a three-hour tour of theatre history. But, a change of plan is imminent as their stage manager, Rasha Zamamiri (using a microphone from the theatre control booth), reminds the company that they only have 90 minutes due to a last-minute schedule change. The lecture immediately turns into an ad hoc affair, with Honeywell making on-the-spot decisions about which parts stay and which ones go, much to the chagrin of his cast. Before long personal jealousies, both artistic and romantic, leak into the proceedings like a toxic waste spill and all hell breaks loose.
The main focus of the intended lecture is to illustrate the four dominant themes of theatre: power, ambition, love, and survival. Key scenes by Aeschylus, Shakespeare, Ibsen, and everyone in between and beyond are used as examples. Throughout, Honeywell punctuates Every Play Ever Written with humorous banter-like footnotes: "Was prehistoric theatre postmodern?" "Was Medea the first feminist play?" But, as the cast's personal lives enter the mix, the four themes of theatre come to symbolize their collective attempt to get through the show.
Honeywell makes clever use of the play's numerous homages. Some—like an excerpt from Everyman performed in Olde English, and Honeywell and Zamamiri playing the Greek Chorus from Agamemnon (he from on stage, she from the booth)—can be taken at hilarious face value. Others serve as riotous reflections of the other actors' growing unrest. Crabtree takes her romantic frustrations out on Stone when they play Desdemona's death scene from Othello. Berg expresses his disillusionment with Honeywell in an impassioned passage from Uncle Vanya. And, when copyright issues impact their ability to comprehensively cover the 20th century, the actors use a rap music-influenced solution to stage a revolt.
Performance-wise, everyone is in top form here. Berg, Crabtree, and Stone mine Every Play Ever Written for all the laughs it's worth (which are many), and make viewers long for their actual performances in some of these roles. (Stone as Medea? I'm all for it.) Zamamiri does excellent double-duty as both actor and stage manager, giving the show some of its funnier deadpan moments. And, as the show's aggressively snobby Master of Ceremonies, Honeywell channels Tom Cruise's testosterone-laden performance from Magnolia to great comic effect.
Every Play Ever Written is further proof of Honeywell's fertile imagination, and his extraordinary skill on all fronts. If you want to bust your gut laughing, and also be exposed to one of New York's fastest-rising theatrical talents, then you need to see this show pronto.