Off-Broadway Theater Review: THE TASTE OF IT (Ballybeg at Theatre 54 at Shetler Studios)

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by Paul Birchall on July 2, 2014

in Theater-New York

STORMY ROMANCE

It is sometimes the case that the plays that seem the simplest – three characters, a few dusty flats, a tiny, shoe-box set in a miniscule theater somewhere on the 12th floor of a building off of Times Square – is the work that has the most depth.  The Taste of It, John Adams’ elegiac romance, is about love, loss, time, art, and sublimated racism – and the themes are encompassed within a drama that occasionally feels so slight and slender, you only realize the internal heft of the piece midway through.

TheTasteofIt5-Landon G. WoodsonBriana PoznerJean Tafler  PhotobyCarrieCrow

Sheila (Jean Tafler), a mature woman, reflects to us about the formative, true love of her life, which plays out in flashback with a different actress (Briana Pozner) playing her much younger self.  A Boston theater student, young Sheila approaches handsome genius dancer Ross (Landon G. Woodson), another student, with a desperate play.  She is staging a deconstructed production of Eugene O’Neill’s The Emperor Jones, and she wants Ross, an African-American, to take on the central role.  Ross loathes the play, which he considers a work of racist Uncle Tom-ism, but he is impressed by Sheila’s innovative take, and agrees to take on the part.

TheTasteofIt-Landon G. Woodson-PhotobyCarrieCrowFrom this, a tempestuous romance begins between the pair, with the particular perturbations being the result of questions of commitment – not their commitment to each other, but the willingness to compromise artistically:  Ross, who believes himself a genius, is not capable of it, while Sheila considers it a triumph if even some of her work is done.

Director Alex Levy’s character-driven production boasts an intimacy that is really quite powerful.  The central pair possesses a simmeringly passionate chemistry that all but disguises the political and philosophical issues that beset them – which is interesting and brings a human dimension to what could have been in less deft hands a plodding drama of values.  You can see what it is that attracts Woodson’s rigid but artistically idealistic Ross to Pozner’s passionate Sheila – and how that attraction diminishes as time (and the inevitable emotional maturity) sets in.  By contrast, the show’s real tragedy is how Pozner’s (at first) edgy Sheila evolves into an artistic dilettante, a transformation which ultimately disgusts Ross.

TheTasteOfIt3-PhotoCreditCarrie Crow

Adams’ dialogue is taut and emotionally rich, but the real interest is in watching Pozner and Woodson interact dramatically:  Him flirting aggressively with her in one early scene; him blasting her with rage when he senses her lack of artistic purity later on.  It is when the characters are most in conflict that the plays’ philosophical issues are evident; is their relationship turbulent because of racial issues?  Or is it about artistic dedication?  Or is it just a case of love come to naught?

TheTasteofIt2-Landon G. Woodson-Briana PoznerPhotobyCarrieCrow

Pozner is engaging as she transitions from girlish director to the sort of frosty beauty who yells at her boyfriend for taking her for granted.  Woodson’s intense, driven turn is nicely angry.  Tafler, as the older Sheila, possesses a beautifully crafted melancholy; it’s a pleasure to watch her watching the others, as it’s clear that she is essentially bringing them “to life” as objects in her memory.

TheTasteofIt3-Landon G. Woodson Briana Pozner PhotobyCarrieCrow

photos by Carrie Crow

The Taste of It
Ballybeg
Theatre 54 at Shetler Studios
244 West 54th Street, 12th Floor
ended on June 29, 2014
for tickets, call (212) 868-4444 or visit SmartTix
for more info, visit Ballybeg

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