It's not what's in a name that matters anymore: it's what's in a picture. Stephen Aubrey's Daguerreotype is a little underdeveloped, but those sections that are clear show a lot of promise for reviving historical theater and reminding us of how we once were. Some people believe photos capture a soul--I think they capture a story. Now the American Story Project just needs to decide if that story's going to be about Mathew Brady, the pioneering war photographer, or if it's going to be about the unsung Civil War.
Reviewed by Aaron Riccio
The American Story Project's ambitious Daguerreotype creates a fine latent image by focusing on Mathew Brady and then branching out to the Civil War and the question "What is history?" However, Brady's narrative is underexposed. The hour-long play, for all director Jess Chayes's quick cross-cutting, doesn't get any closer to the heart of Brady (Edward Bauer), one of the pioneers of war photography, nor to the doomed relationship between him and his wife, Juliette (Hayley Stokar). We understand that he has a great passion for his work, enough that he leaves his sick wife behind to risk his life at war in the "What-is-it? wagon." And we see that age and bankruptcy force him to find meaning in his 30,000 "captured" photographs, lest he die of regret. But these are images alone: we see them without necessarily understanding the story behind them.
That's why the second half of Stephen Aubrey's script is so much stronger: he abandons the back-and-forth between Brady's lament, sitting beside his wife's sickbed, and Brady's remembrance of History (a collection of roles, including Abraham Lincoln, played by an agile, but indistinct Zach LeClair). Instead, the rest of Daguerreotype follows a lecture that Brady may have given about the history behind the photos, which allows the Aubrey to use his imagination, and not just his investigation. At this point, it's just a trio of actors working together to unfreeze the still images of the past, riding the waves of time with vibrant rhapsody.
Daguerreotype is still all over the place, blurry and unfocused, but the energy and passion make for an exciting bit of theater. With more development, the final image may be as crisp and haunting as the portraitures hung throughout the theater. But without a richer story, the American Story Project will be trapped like Brady: "walking and working among phantoms."
The Abingdon Theater (312 W. 36th Street)
Tickets (212-868-4444): $15.00
Performances (through 8/11): Thurs.-Sat. @ 7 | Sat. & Sun. @ 3
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.