Leslye Headland's Cinephilia is filled with charmingly accurate conversations for her young characters, using an exacerbated language that heightens youthful habits in a way that both mocks and idealizes them. But by the time this two-hour piece finally finishes, it feels less like a play exploring quarter-life crises and how we can turn into meta-adults, and more like an example of how well Headland writes dialogue.
Review by Amanda Cooper
There are benefits to twenty-somethings writing plays about twenty-somethings. They certainly know their subjects, and through the powers of observation and personal experience, can write fiercely accurate dialogue. New (and young) playwright Leslye Headland, who penned Cinephilia, writes charmingly accurate conversations for her young characters, giving them an exacerbated use of language that heightens youthful habits in a way that both mocks and idealizes them. But not much happens here, both in the way of action and self-discovery, which ultimately makes Cinephilia less robust of a theater experience: instead, it is part character study, part exercise in film quoting.
The play takes place entirely in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, in an apartment having few creature comforts, and plenty of mess. As the play opens, it's clear from their clothing (or lack thereof) that Arden (Katie Cappiello) and Johnny (Brandon Scott) are in a post-coital physical high. Though these two are physically comfortable with each other, and have known one another for some time, there is a lack of personal connection, or understanding – no matter how hard the neurotic Arden tries.
Through conversations that bounce back and forth between the quoting and enactment of film dialogue, and the probing dead-end attempts by Arden to define their relationship, a slight scenario is sketched out: After sleeping together for years, Arden wants more from the socially inward Johnny, who has met someone else he's planning to move to L.A. with.
About half an hour in, Johnny's roommate Plato (Christian Durso) enters, asking for attention and validation (as non-acting twenty-something actors stuck waitering are wont to do) and providing more possibilities for the film quotes. Natalie (Nila K Leigh), Johnny’s new infatuation, soon follows, but she is oblivious to who Arden is. Headland takes advantage of the awkward scenario, poking at the tension with entertaining results. But by the time this two-hour piece finally finishes, it feels less like a play exploring quarter-life crises and how we can turn into meta-adults, and more like an example of how cleverly Headland can write youthful dialogue.
The performances here are solid, but the two male actors are the ones most comfortable on stage, especially in comparison to Cappiello’s Arden, who can't stand still, or leave her hair alone, for more than thirty seconds. The production quality is high, especially the set – a railroad-style apartment that takes up the entire length of the theater space, pushing the audience into a couple rows all along the border. Also notable is the director, who allows the movement and relationships here to exude angsty, not-quite youth action.
In reading the program, it becomes clear the entire creative team are friends, and mostly friends from NYU undergraduate theater programs. It’s great that they’re all working together, but perhaps this is also why the piece ultimately feels more like an exercise, and a bit insular in nature. As the ending fades, feeling eerily (and purposefully) like the beginning, Cinephilia seems - much like the movie quotes sprinkled about it - to float out as quickly as it floated in.
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.