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.

Monday, October 23, 2006


When it gets so hot that we can't think, we stop pretending: in Neglect, the facades of who we'd like to be are melted by the scorching glare of a talented playwright, and two talented actors reveal what happens when desperation is all you've got left.

Reviewed by Aaron Riccio

It’s often said that hell is a place on earth—if that’s true, then Neglect, a marvelous new play by Sharyn Rothstein, takes place there: Chicago, 1995, the height of record-setting mid-July heatwave. Like a good modern playwright, Rothstein isn’t interested with demons or clear-cut evil: in this level of hell, there are just two ordinary people who—we hope—might overcome their loneliness. The writer’s penchant for natural dialogue would carry this show even with poor actors: thankfully, Rose and Joseph find their perfect matches in Geany Masai and William Jackson Harper.

The two are neighbors, but they’ve never met—the only thing they share in common is the terrible condition of their slum. To be honest, Rose hasn’t left her apartment in years, and when she learns that an old friend on the first floor dies, she just chalks it up as one of those things that happen to people who live on the ground floor. It’s understandable then that it takes Joseph five minutes to get through the front door, and that’s only because he’s delivering her mail, and then only because he promises to fix her toilet.

Now, Neglect wouldn’t be much of a drama if Joseph had no ulterior motives. With all Rose’s stories of old women being shot in their homes, it’s easy to view Joseph as a criminal (which is, I suspect, how most racist thoughts begin). Even after he explains he’s only looking for air conditioning, it’s hard not to be suspicious. But Joseph, expertly played by the charming Harper, isn’t looking to hurt anybody, and the majority of Neglect is a character study of unlikely friends. But it is hot as hell, and by the end of the play, necessity rears its ugly head (and not the one that’s the mother of invention). Try as he might to find an alternative, Joseph is driven to a desperate criminal act—the irony is that by this point it’s hard to see Joseph as a villain.

He has the perfect foil in the sturdy Masai. She squeals with delight even though she talks through the foggy confusion of age, and though she’s only the shadow of what she once was, we can see the regal authority of this big-boned, strong-willed grand-matriarch. Other times—and this is where Masai’s talent is most visible—we can see from her slump, staggered walk, and difficulty rising that the world has not been kind to her, and that the weight of the world on her shoulders has permanently ruined her.

We want these two characters to be healed by one another, or to find what they’re looking for: they are both so helplessly, hopelessly human. Catherine Ward’s wonderful direction, set within the stifling confines of a quaint living room, is sharp and focused, with a minimum of movement. Her deliberate choices keep our eyes on the characters, and once there, these two might actors thrill us with the slightest flicker of their eyes. Subtlety is too little seen in the theater, and it takes a confident director to trust the cast so far.

Neglect is a social commentary as much as it is a deep, character-driven dramedy, and the only real crime would be if this marvelous play were neglected in the years to come.

The Bank Street Theater (155 Bank Street)
Final Performances: 10/24 and 10/25 @ 7:00

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