Off-Off-Broadway Theater Review: SPEAKING IN TONGUES (Theater 54)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on December 1, 2012

in Theater-New York


Australian Made Entertainment’s new production of Andrew Bovell’s well-crafted relationship thriller Speaking in Tongues really gets going in the second act. The play, directed by Bryn Boice, tells the stories of nine individuals (played by four actors) whose lives Mr. Bovell cleverly intertwines, giving us a cross-section of problems that arise in love and marriage: Waning excitement, infidelity, reluctance to accept or give love, lack of trust, and disillusionment—just to name a few.

Dmitry Zvonkov’s Stage and Cinema off-off-Broadway review of SPEAKING IN TONGUES at Theatre 54

In the first act, Jane (Kathleen Foster) comes to a motel room with Leon (Michael Poignand), while Pete (Matthew Foster) arrives with Sonja (Laura Iris Hill) to a different motel room, which is a mirror image of Jane’s and Leon’s. They are there to cheat on their respective spouses and, as it happens, they are also there with each other’s spouses (with this and other coincidences, through which many of the characters in the play are connected, Mr. Bovell develops theme rather than plot, which make them dramatically sound).

Dmitry Zvonkov’s Stage and Cinema off-off-Broadway review of SPEAKING IN TONGUES at Theatre 54

When the four potential adulterers tell one another of their marital problems, a device is implemented in which the married couples speak in unison, using the same words. Besides being intellectually obvious (a husband and wife have nearly identical problems with one another), this tool, as used in the first act, seems to be a burden on the actors as well as on the director, and takes away from the theatricality of the scene. I found myself distracted by the frequent instances of speakers being out of sync with one another. Also, most of the ideas expressed are fairly standard stuff and not particularly compelling. However, my suspicion is that if the first act wasn’t played with such an overwhelming somberness but rather with irony and humor, it might have worked a lot better.

Dmitry Zvonkov’s Stage and Cinema off-off-Broadway review of SPEAKING IN TONGUES at Theatre 54

In act two, all the elements seem to fall into place and the entire show comes alive. We meet five new characters: Valerie (Ms. Foster), a psychoanalyst who has serious problems of her own; her husband John (Mr. Foster), who has conflicting feelings about his wife; Neil (also Mr. Foster) a man heartbroken over a girl who didn’t love him; Nick (Mr. Poignand), a likely suspect in a woman’s disappearance; and Sarah (Ms. Hill), a girl perpetually fleeing love and commitment. Ms. Boice’s vision, which felt a bit fuzzy initially, becomes deft and precise. The performances, satisfactory in the first part, suddenly turn chiseled and vibrant. Simon Cleveland’s lighting, flat in act one, now becomes effective, dynamically dividing the stage and helping to focus the drama. James J. Fenton’s set design no longer has the artificial barren look it had earlier. And this time, when characters speak in unison, the result is remarkably effective.

Dmitry Zvonkov’s Stage and Cinema off-off-Broadway review of SPEAKING IN TONGUES at Theatre 54

There’s a lot of truth in Mr. Bovell’s script and a number of thoughtful insights. Still, I think I would have enjoyed this play a lot more in my 20’s, when ideas about marriage—such as a loving husband capable of wishing his wife dead at the same time—was new and revelatory.

photos by Kyle Groff

Speaking in Tongues
Australian Made Entertainment at Theater 54
scheduled to end on December 16, 2012
for tickets, call 1-800-838-3006 or visit AME

{ 1 comment }

RIKI SHEFI VERED December 3, 2012 at 10:50 am

We saw the play yesterday and enjoyed its wittiness and freshness from start to end. Nine characters were well played by all four actors on an almost bare stage. The transfer from act I to act II was interesting and cleverly done, as the audience knew about couple of the new characters already.

We’ll definitely recommend the play and wish to have more good dramas like this one in the future.

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