. . . a few too many ideas, too scattered to be fully encompassed by the limited scope of this play, but still an entertaining piece of work.
The Ruby Sunrise (a new play written by Rinne Groff, playing at The Public Theater) is, at least to some degree, about television. Television, by nature, breaks down an image into data and reproduces it upon our screen. But because the life-sized realism has been compressed to fit a small set, the more information there is, the harder it is for us to process all of it. Our eyes wander across the pixilated dots, and the closer we look for meaning, the more of a blur the whole thing becomes. At the same time, if we’re willing to lean back in our chairs and accept the whole blitzkrieg of particles for what they are, we’ll find something good on. And that’s The Ruby Sunrise: a few too many ideas, too scattered to be fully encompassed by the limited scope of this play, but still an entertaining piece of work.
Also true to the television imagery, The Ruby Sunrise has a way of making the ordinary look far greater than it actually is. While the opening scene, set in a 1927’s boarding house and barn (cum laboratory) has the stuff of genius, the latter scenes, set in a 1952 television studio (with all the baggage of McCarthyism thrown in) have to settle for just looking smart. And through it all, Oskar Eustis’s direction keeps everything moving, smooth as a revolving door. Literally: the set swivels around to maximize the space, even as the actors transition under the dusky mood lighting of a single spotlight (set to a grand orchestral score).
Yet for all the smooth transitions and spot-on send-offs of the television industry (including a final scene that projects the teleplay onto a screen, in real time), there’s something wrong with the picture, and it can’t be fixed by hitting the set. For all the angry outbursts and proselytizing speeches (some of which feel quite contrived), The Ruby Sunrise doesn’t have a heart. Without that, it’s just a glittering gem.
While Marin Ireland (Ruby/Elizabeth—all the actors from the first scene are double-cast as the actors hired to portray them), Jason Butler Harner (playing Tad Rose) and Maggie Siff (Lulu) are all quite passionate and believable, they are brought down by a wide variety of generally unbelievable cohorts. It’s not really the fault of the actors, but Richard Masur’s role is to play a one-dimensional producer, boisterous to the hilt and not much more. Masur gets the most of it, but it’s like wringing blood from a stone (or ruby). Audra Blazer plays a ditz, nothing more, and while she ekes out the laughs, they are of a most shallow and forgettable substance. Meanwhile, Patch Darragh and Anne Scurria (playing the other two double-cast roles) try so hard to distinguish themselves from their Scene 1 versions that they keep lapsing between both. I guess the more people change, the more they really do stay the same, but I doubt that’s the point trying to be made here.
With all this dead weight, including the script’s meandering plots (as if it can’t decide what the story’s to be about—which in fact is what the story’s about), you’d think it’d be easy to change the channel, or tune out. And yet, Ireland, Harner, and Siff are so charismatic, they keep our eyes glued to the set, for better or worse. And it’s not really all bad: it’s just painful to think of all the dramatic promise compromised by a need for meta-fiction and parody.
Still, there’s a compelling thrust: the heartache of desperation. Ruby, a tomboy with big ideas, wants to bring her unique vision to the world—television—only to be beaten to the punch by industry. When she suffers an electrical shock, she screams “My baby!” although the playwright wisely leaves the subject ambiguous: is she literal (her daughter) or metaphorical (her invention)? Lulu—a smart, successful script-editor—is caught in her mother Ruby’s history, and needs to tell her story to be freed from her past. And Tad Rose, the somewhat prototypical under-the-radar writer, needs fame and recognition, only to constantly see his work twisted by the corporatism of television. With a sharp and witty script, Groff valiantly makes these struggles our own. But The Ruby Sunrise can’t stay focused and Groff can’t escape trying to parody the made-for-TV movie... so she winds up making one herself.
The Public Theater: 425 Lafayette Street
Tickets: $50 (212-239-6200)
Performances (Closes 12/04): Tuesday-Saturday @ 8:00
Saturday-Sunday @ 2:00
Sunday @ 7:00
According to Lincoln Center's new LCT3 project at its slogan, it takes "New Audiences for New Artists." It also takes new critics, hence the establishment of Theater Talk's New Theater Corps in 2005, a way for up-and-coming theater writers and eager new theatergoers to get exposure to the ever-growing theater scene in New York City. Writers for the New Theater Corps are given the opportunity to immerse themselves in the off-off and off-Broadway theater scene, learning and giving back high-quality reviews at the same time. Driven by a passion and love of the arts, the New Theater Corps aims to identify, support, and grow the arts community, one show and one person at a time.