VIEWPOINTS — Not too big to fail: DESCRIBE THE NIGHT and A ROOM IN INDIA implode under the weight of their ambition

Last night, two highly anticipated large-scale plays opened Off-Broadway, Rajiv Joseph’s Describe the Night and Ariane Mnouchkine’s production of A Room in India. Unfortunately, both new works collapse under the weight of their considerable ambition.

The cast of Rajiv Joseph’s “Describe the Night” at Atlantic Theater Company.

The cast of Rajiv Joseph’s “Describe the Night” at Atlantic Theater Company.

I had high hopes for Mr. Joseph’s Describe the Night (SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED), which opened last night at the Atlantic Theater Company. Mr. Joseph is a playwright capable of ravishing flights of fancy that are breathtaking. His last play at the Atlantic, the intimate and soulful Guards of the Taj, as well as the intense Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo on Broadway (a surreal vehicle for the late, great Robin Williams), proved this talent. However, the panoramic but otherwise unfocused and uneven Describe the Night lacks the intoxicating poetry that was the hallmark of those previous works. Taking place over 90 years mostly in Russia, the play is in summary a meditation on events and history. But what was intended to be a series of tantalizing musings on the relationship between cause and effect ends up being a clumsily-constructed tapestry of clunky scenes. I partially blame director Giovanna Sardelli for her inability to tame the play’s wide vacillation in tone, despite the valiant efforts of the cast.

Ariane Mnouchkine’s production of “A Room in India” at the Park Avenue Armory.

Ariane Mnouchkine’s production of “A Room in India” at the Park Avenue Armory.

Last night, I attended the opening performance of A Room in India (SOMEWHAT RECOMMENDED), as staged by Ms. Mnouchkine and her company Théâtre du Soleil, at the Park Avenue Armory. Clocking in at nearly four hours on a mammoth stage, the play, a sprawling, hallucinatory piece about a rudderless French theater troupe touring India, certainly doesn’t lack for scale nor ambition. Where it falls short is its sometimes unbearable knowing smugness and self-congratulatory air. In many ways, the show’s problems are in direct contrast to the frustrating opacity of Describe the Night. Similarly, however, to Mr. Joseph’s work is the lack of cohesion of Ms. Mnouchkine’s direction, which is made more glaring by the sheer size of her canvas. Nevertheless, the large cast of 35 actors more than occasionally charm with their gregarious, if at times repetitious, Monty Python-esque antics. The production is also gorgeously designed and a joy to look at.



Off-Broadway, Play

Atlantic Theater Company 

2 hours, 45 minutes (with two intermission)

Through December 24



Off-Broadway, Play

Théâtre du Soleil at the Park Avenue Armory 

3 hours, 45 minutes (with one intermission)

Through December 20

Categories: Off-Broadway, Theater

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