06 December 2017

'Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale'

When I got the brochure for the fall season at 59E59 Theaters over the summer and went over the offerings with Diana, my frequent theater partner, she glommed onto an odd little show called Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale, described in the brochure promo this way: “Through the exploration of identity and the piecing together of lives torn apart by war, TOYS ultimately asks what it means to belong.”  This caught Diana’s attention and, though I had reservations, I figured the seats were only $25, so why not give it a shot?  (This was the same brochure from which Diana selected The Violin, my report on which was posted on Rick On Theater on 22 October.)  

I’ve learned over the years now that Diana is susceptible to the hype of promotional prose and ad quotations, at least in theater listings.  I keep reminding her that those little capsule descriptions are composed—and the ad quotations are selected and edited—by theater employees charged with selling her tickets, but she keeps falling for them.  (Following the performance of the execrable pseudo-mystery play Perfect Crime, which had been an impulse-buy so we never read any advanced publicity before buying the tickets, Diana wondered how the ads quoted on the flyer could be so enthusiastic, considering what we’d just seen.  I tried to explain that the ad excerpts were carefully selected, sometimes even out of context—skirting the New York City Department of Consumer Affairs prohibition of that sort of tactic—to give a false impression.  I’d been at a loss on how to write up Perfect Crime until then: I decided to look at how such an awful play could get produced Off-Broadway and stay on the boards for 25 years.  My report on that phenomenon was posted on 5 February 2011.)

I, on the other hand, seem to have a sixth-sense ability to read those promos and get a feeling for whether the show’s likely to be good or bad; I discovered this minor talent when I was trying to be an actor and read casting notices in Back Stage and Show Business.  My intuition warned me about this play, but I deferred to Diana’s wish and we booked the show for Friday night, 24 November, the day after Thanksgiving, at 8:15.  It turned out, my instincts were golden.

Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale by Saviana Stanescu was commissioned and created by J.U.S.T. Toys Productions as “a platform for multicultural theater artists with Eastern European roots.”  Stanescu composed several different versions of this play, going back at least to 2011, following immigrants from Eastern Europe to the U.S. with starkly different experiences.  Earlier productions of Toys ran as long as 70 minutes to as short as 50 (depending, I gather, on how much director Gábor Tompa cut or how much visual imagery he inserted); according to one report, there was also an earlier, “more fleshed-out script with many characters,” but Tompa recommended a two-character “rendition in order to explore the duality of human nature.”  

The final version of play premièred at the Hudson Theatre in Los Angeles from 6 November to 13 December 2015 before coming to New York City.  In between, it played at the Interferences International Theater Festival in Cluj-Napoca, Romania, at the Hungarian Theater of Cluj (director Tompa’s home theater) from 8 to 26 November 2016, and as a special program selection of the Contemporary Drama Festival, Katona Jozsef Theater, Budapest, Hungary, 9 and 10 December 2016.  Toys was also presented at the Avignon Theater Festival in France from 7 to 30 July 2017.  It opened at 59E59 in Midtown on the East Side of Manhattan in Theater B on 8 November 2017 and closed on 26 November.  

The play is something of a vanity production in that the producers—that is, the founders of J.U.S.T. Toys—are also the two cast members of Toys.  (Director Tompa, who believes in auteur directing, also seems to have had a strong hand in shaping the final script.  He even recommended Stanescu, with whom Tompa has a long-time professional relationship, to the company’s founders when they were looking for “a small scale text” to produce.)  Tunde Skovran and Julia Ubrankovics, according to their own program notes, are both 34-year-old actresses of Eastern European origin living in Los Angeles. (Skovran was born in the Transylvania region of Romania and Ubrankovics comes from Hungary.)  

J.U.S.T. Toys Productions (a name chosen when the troupe decided to produce Stanescu’s play), by its own statement, “produces passionate and provocative theatrical experiences by inviting outstanding professionals from Europe to collaborate with American theater makers” in order to “initiate cross-cultural discussions, foster collaborations, and enrich their community with a diverse cultural heritage.”  The company’s only previous production seems to have been María Irene Fornés’s Fefu and Her Friends in May this year in L.A. (in which Skovran and Ubrankovics were among the cast).  J.U.S.T. Toys’ New York production of Toys was presented with the support of the Romanian Culture Institute in New York.

Saviana Stanescu, born in 1967 (on Washington’s birthday!) in Bucharest, Romania, is an award-winning Romanian-American poet, playwright, and journalist whose work has been seen in the U.S and internationally.  She was a college student (in computer science) in 1989 when she participated in the Romanian Revolution that overthrew Stalinist dictator Nicolae Ceauşescu and then worked as a journalist in post-communist Romania.  With a Fulbright Fellowship from the U.S. embassy in Bucharest, she came to New York City in 2001, just two weeks before 9/11.  She is currently the New York State Council on the Arts playwright-in-residence for New York City’s Women’s Project, writer-in-residence of Richard Schechner’s East Coast Artists, and Director of the New Drama Program for the Romanian Cultural Institute in New York (which sponsored the New York presentation of Toys).  She taught in the Drama Department of New York University’s Tisch School of Arts and is currently a faculty member in the Department of Theatre Arts at Ithaca College, where she teaches script analysis and playwriting.  Stanescu moved to Ithaca in 2013 after a dozen years as a playwright and part-time professor at NYU.  She holds an MA in Performance Studies (Fulbright Fellow) and an MFA in Dramatic Writing from Tisch, and a PhD in Theatre Studies from the National University of Theatre & Film in Bucharest. 

Stanescu has published four books of poetry and three of drama, including Waxing West (2007 New York Innovative Theatre Award for Outstanding Full-length Script) and The Inflatable Apocalypse (Best Play of the Year UNITER Award in 2000).  Her play White Embers was a Samuel French Off Off Broadway Short Play Festival winner in 2008.  An important question for the playwright, she explains, is whether she did the right thing by leaving her home country.  Does she now inhabit a new land she calls “In-between” and was “moving” into speaking and writing English the right decision? “Since I moved to the U.S.,” says Stanescu, “I’ve been interested in exploring living between two cultures and how you negotiate between the old values and the new.”  We’ll see that these years-old statements are still applicable in Toys.

Gábor Tompa is an internationally-known Romanian-Hungarian theater and film director, poet, essayist, and teacher born in 1957 in Romania.  Born into a totalitarian world just after the Soviet Union under Nikita Khrushchev crushed the 1956 uprising in neighboring Hungary, just 100 miles west, Tomba began early to espouse subversive ideas.  He turned to theater as a way to express these thoughts in a veiled way.  “I hoped and believed that theatre can be a force of opposition,” he’s said, “because its language can be metaphorical and not explicit.”  That sounds like the philosophy of every East  European theater pro in the Cold War era from Janusz Glowacki of Poland to Vaclav Havel of Czechoslovakia to Russians Yuri Lyubimov and Mark Rozovsky—as well as Athol Fugard and Mbongeni Ngema of South Africa in their fight against apartheid.  For Romanian artists, Tompa explained, the way was “to express themselves in metaphoric ways which were visually strong.” 

Tompa, who adopted U.S. citizenship a few years ago (while retaining his Romanian nationality), studied stage and film directing at the I. L. Caragiale Theater and Film Academy in Bucharest, graduating in 1981; he was a student of Liviu Ciulei, Mihai Dimiu, and Cătălina Buzoianu, founders of the world-famous Romanian school of stage directing.  Since then, the director’s staged plays at the Hungarian Theater of Cluj, the unofficial capital of Transylvania that’s equidistant from Bucharest; Budapest, Hungary; and Belgrade, Serbia (then the capital of Yugoslavia).  (The Cluj theater is the oldest Hungarian theater company in the world, formed in 1792.)  In 1987 he became the artistic director of the company and after the 1989 Romanian Revolution, Tompa became the managing director of the theater as well.  He has staged more than 100  plays and produced others in a variety of languages in Europe, South Korea, Canada, and the United States in addition to Romania and Hungary.  In 2007, the director founded and served as artistic director of the biennial Interferences International Theatre Festival in Cluj.  

Tompa’s taught classes and workshops and run theater programs for actors and directors in many countries in Europe and across the globe.  A sweeping change to Europe’s higher-education system (known as the Bologna Process), initiated beginning in 1999, clashed with the director’s strongly-held philosophy of teaching directing, however, and he left his home country—with which he maintains strong ties nonetheless—and found a new artistic home for this practices in California.  From 2007 to 2015, he was head of the directing program at the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University of California, San Diego, where he continues to teach directing classes. 

When Diana and I left the theater after the performance, she asked me if I would be writing about it.  I explained that when I launched ROT back in 2009, I had made myself a promise that I’d report on every play I see—and so far I mostly have.  (The few exceptions have been performances or readings by people I know or was working with.  It was impolitic—and too uncomfortable for me—to write about those shows.)  Then I confessed to Diana that this play may be the one to defeat me.  I almost gave up on one long-ago New York Fringe performance, and the afore-mentioned Perfect Crime almost didn’t make a blog report—but I came upon an approach both times that made it possible to write about them; Toys seemed like another one I couldn’t get my writing mind around.  Now, a day or so later, after working on a couple of other ROT projects, I think I can give it a go.  I did need some help with a synopsis of the script, however.  (I cribbed some of it!  Don’t tell anyone, okay?)

Stanescu’s 55-minute, one-act play opened at 59E59 on a minimalist set, designed by director Tompa (who also designed the lighting and the show’s soundscape and composed the original music), made up of a stage with a completely white back wall and a white square floor.  (59E59’s Theater B only seats 97 and the small stage is just 24½ feet wide by 15½ feet deep.)  There was nothing else on stage but a video camera on a tripod and what looked like a fax machine or computer printer down right.  (There were sounds of an old-style dot-matrix printer working between scenes.)  The actors sat on the floor, sometimes cross-legged in the middle of the stage, sometimes leaning against the back wall with their legs straight in front of them.  Tompa’s lighting threw the actors’ shadows, enlarged and often in multiples, on the rear wall and his sound design included portentous noises and original compositions, along with a mix of both classical and modern music excerpts.

As the pure, white lights came up at the opening, a pretty, young blond woman was lying on the floor in something of a fetal configuration, holding a stuffed teddy bear while a woman dressed in black leather and wearing dark glasses stood motionless against the wall at stage left.  (As Steven Ross observed on Front Mezz Junkies, “It definitely brings a creepy edge to the proceedings . . . .”)  Unfolding in not only a non-linear manner, but also alogically, Toys focuses on Clara (Ubrankovics), the young blond woman, adopted as a child from Eastern Europe by an American couple.  As an adult, she’s a doctoral candidate at NYU finishing her dissertation about women in war zones.  Her research brings her together with a recent immigrant, Madonna (Skovran), the menacing-looking woman in black, who’s from Clara’s native country and whom Clara wishes to interview.  Madonna, though, has met with Clara to tell her that they’re, in fact, sisters who were separated when Clara—originally named Fatma—was adopted and taken to the U.S. as a baby.  (I was never sure if this was true or a fantasy of Madonna’s—a nickname she adopted but later discards for her birth name, Shari—that Clara buys into.  It wasn’t the last bit in the play that confused me, and I also never sorted out if this was a response Stanescu—or Tompa—wanted from the audience.  It is a “fairy tale,” after all.)

Clara/Fatma was raised in the safe confines of Connecticut (while toiling in the ivory towers of academe and planning her idyllic, suburban wedding) whereas Madonna/Shari has lived in the fictional, war-ravaged country of Karvystan (there are hints that Shari is Muslim or that the population of Karvystan, like Bosnia and Herzegovina, is divided) under constant threat and danger.  While Clara was being coddled in comfort and security, Shari was forced to give up being an English teacher in the capital of Galajevo to “volunteer” as a nurse whose principal duty was to wash the bodies (and unidentified body parts) of the dead and prepare them for burial.  The two women have had diametrically different life—and immigrant—experiences.  This dichotomy is, perhaps, symbolized by the fact that Clara/Fatma is mostly dressed in white (or very light colors like pale blue) and Madonna/Shari wears black leather.  (On stage, Ubrankovics, who vaguely resembles actress Cynthia Nixon, wore her blond hair in a wavy bob, while Skovran’s dark hair was cut in a boyish style.  The costumes were designed by Elisa Benzoni—the only designer who wasn’t Gábor Tompa.)  Soon Shari accuses Clara of having forgotten her roots and when Clara rejects the suggestion, Shari terrorizes her by tearing the heads off Clara’s collection of little rubber dolls while mimicking a conversation in eerie voices between their parents about sending little Fatma to America.  (Shari, by the way, carries a hand grenade around with her.  She produces it a short time into the play.)

As different as Clara and Shari are, through a series of surrealistic and symbolic interactions, often wordless and dance-like (Skovran especially is either a dancer or has acrobatic training), the women come to an accommodation.  In the end, they participate in a mock wedding, wearing long, ratty, black wigs and do-it-yourself wedding gowns made from white plastic bags (some inflated with air to serve as sort of make-shift farthingales.  There’s even a groom or parson in the form of an anthropomorphic dummy.

Stanescu writes often—nearly exclusively, it seems—about immigrants and immigrating; she and all her principal collaborators on Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale are relatively recent immigrants, some permanent residents in the United States and some who split their time between here and abroad.  Indeed, Tompa introduced Stanescu to Skovran and Ubrankovics “because of their passion and their interest in the subject of immigration, which is of personal and political importance to the director,” and the playwright “is herself an immigrant and is interested in this subject.”  Of course, the experiences of immigrants in the U.S. isn’t a new topic in American theater; I think immediately of David Henry Hwang, the son of Chinese immigrants, whose body of work centers on plays about Chinese arrivals coping with adjusting to and often struggling against the ways of their new home.  (I’ve posted performance reports on several of Hwang’s plays: The Dance and the Railroad, 17 March 2013; Golden Child, 9 December 2013; and Kung Fu, 11 March 2014.)

Toys “ultimately asks what it means to belong,” according to the show’s PR.  The playwright has said of the two immigrants in the play:

They have such different experiences. . . .  One is from the West, and one is from the East. . . .  [One] was raised in a country like the U.S. with everything there, with loving parents and everything she needed in terms of education and material needs, and the other one lives in a country torn by wars. . . .  My idea was to bring these two women together.  They confront each other, but then they discover that they share a secret.  They share something.

Tompa has his own perspective on what the play’s about:

The immigrant tries to take a new identity and get rid of the old one.  That doesn’t really work.  In order to be able to go further, I think we have to face and confront our past.  Sometimes, the more we try to get rid of it or deny it, the more it starts to haunt us.  Follow us.  We have to make peace with the former identity, our roots, and our traditions.

He continues in a more universal vein:

One of the problems this play talks about is not assuming.  We are wearing a couple of masks all the time.  In a Freudian way, we lose our real identity.  Because of these masks we get frustrated, or we [become] scared of our own real identity.  This play talks about trying to run away from that identity, instead of integrating it into everyday reality, which is always changing.

“I like to say that initially I wrote the play for these two women as two separate characters,” the playwright remarks, “one coming from a war-torn country, one from the U.S, and now it’s very interesting.”  Reinforcing a frequent interpretation of the play, Stanescu adds: “Now . . . [the] nightmarish confrontation may be with yourself as an immigrant, as a person born in another country, as a person who is still trying to belong here in the U.S.”  Are the two characters Clara and Shari avatars of the same person, perhaps a mind on the verge of disintegrating?  Director Tompa seems to confirm this interpretation: “The characters, at least as I look at them, are almost not two characters, but two sides of the same character.”  I can’t say one way or the other myself, but several theater writers have concluded so (see Howard Miller’s review for Talkin’ Broadway, summarized below). 

My problem, however, wasn’t with the subject matter, but that the play and production were full of hints, symbols, and smoke screens.  What Stanescu or Tomba say in interviews (as I’ve remarked about program notes) is all well and good, but if it’s not on the stage, if I can’t see it in performance, it’s just claptrap.  It’s even worse, I think, when the playwright or director (or both) expressly set out to obfuscate their point, to bury it in theatricality and showmanship (or showing off, as it may be).  My response, when I feel I’m being manipulated for the purpose of deliberately confusing me, is to shut down.  I get pissed off and lose interest in the project.  (And, no, I’m not a fan of Harold Pinter’s work for the most part.)  That’s what happened to me at Toys.  To put it bluntly, the play’s just too peculiar, too self-indulgent.  I felt like I was watching some over-indulged children let loose in a roomful of toys (no pun intended) and allowed to play however they wanted without adult supervision while Mommy and Daddy (ummm—those would be some of the reviewers I’ve encountered on line) uttered encouragement and compliments from the sidelines.  Me, I say the emperor has no clothes!

I’m not going to say much about the performances in Toys—I can’t really: I don’t know what anyone was really doing.  I assume that Skovran and Ubrankovics did what Stanescu and Tompa wanted them to do, and must have done it to the playwright’s and director’s satisfaction because they all stayed together for all the months and even years during which the play was developed and performed before reaching New York City.  As far as I can tell, the four creative people formed a little mutual-admiration society, and it seems to work for them—if not for me.  I don’t know if Toys is typical of the work of any of them, or if this collaboration is a one-off effort.  I don’t know the work of any of the artists, but they all have substantial credits (many accompanied by glowing reviews), both abroad and in the United States.  Then again, maybe that emperor’s been walking around naked for some time.

The press coverage of Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale was minimal—the New York Times, which usually covers almost everything, didn’t publish a review, and neither did any other New York print outlet—but, unlike the two Lincoln Center Festival performances I saw this summer (While I Was Waitingreported on 1 August 2017, and To the End of the Land, 6 August), there was a round-up on Show-Score.  The review site included several notices from the L.A. première of Toys in its tally of 12 published reviews, so I recalculated the site’s results based solely on the New York coverage.  For seven reviews, the average rating came out to 69, moderately low from my observation.  The highest score was a single 90 (Broadway World), backed up by one 85 (TheaterScene.net); the lowest score was Theatre’s Leiter Side’s 45.  The breakdown for the seven local notices was 43% positive, 43% mixed, and 14% negative.  While the L.A. press was apparently kinder to Toys, with Show-Score giving those reviews four 75 ratings and an 85, raising the site’s average score to 70 with 67% positive notices, the local notices were all over the field.  Because there were so few New York reviews, I’ll be including all seven cited by Show-Score in my survey; I found no additional coverage that Show-Score didn’t include in its calculations.

All the New York reviews were on websites, as I affirmed above.  On Broadway World (the highest-rated notice), Marina Kennedy called Toys “an engaging play, one that stirs the imagination.”  She labeled the play an “adult fairy tale,” reporting that it “is completely original as [it] merges reality and fantasy in surreal settings.”  Kennedy also deemed that Skovran and Ubrankovics “excel in their demanding roles as they master both the dialogue and the action of the show's enthralling scenes.”  The BWW reviewer asserted that the performance “is an inventive show that challenges ideas about people’s backgrounds and lifestyles” and concluded that Toys “is truly an unforgettable production.”

At the other end of the Show-Score scale (the lowest rating at 45), Samuel L. Leiter, reminding us on his blog, Theatre’s Leiter Side, that he has “a friend who compiles an annual list of plays under the rubric ‘Bombs of the Year,’” declared, “Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale is a ripe contender although, given its subject matter, it should probably be ‘Grenade of the Year.’”  (That’s a reference to the hand grenade Shari carries with her.)  Leiter signaled his displeasure with this anecdote:

It’s been a while since I exited a production only to run into people standing right outside the door complaining about what they’d just seen, or for another critic, someone I barely know, anxious to tell me that his review will express his gratitude that the play was only 50 minutes long.  I had that same thought myself.

Characterizing Toys as “an antiwar play,” the TLS blogger acknowledged that both actresses “deserve kudos for their strong and valiant work on behalf of a play . . . whose appeal, reportedly, is strong for some but seriously knotty for most others.”  He found, though: “If a play is going to seek universal understanding and compassion for a serious problem, it will have to do better than that.”  Leiter had problems with all the information that the script doesn’t provide, concluding, “We must, I imagine, remember that this is ‘A Dark Fairy Tale’ and forget logical considerations.”  He went on to say, “However much this loose narrative seems to make sense of a sort on the page, regardless of the many huge expositional gaps it exposes, in performance it often becomes indecipherable.”  He put the blame for this on director Tompa, who “has given [the production] a radically theatricalized, nonrealistic, surrealistic, avant-garde staging that diminishes whatever it’s saying by drawing attention away from content to style.”  After describing the mock wedding scene as “dancing around like asylum inmates,” Leiter summed up his estimation of Toys with these words:

Assuredly, there are metaphorical explanations that exist for the women’s experiences and relationship, and one could even assume that Shari/Madonna and Clara/Fatma are projections of a single personality.  These, however, are irrelevant when you’re watching a play that seeks to evoke awareness of and sensitivity to dilemmas concerning immigration, war, violence, and family disruption.

This isn’t to say some won’t find the production and its subject engrossing, and even comprehensible.  But for those who find themselves wishing even a 50-minute running time were shorter, it’s not likely they’ll want to spend more time trying to find a cerebral explanation for what should be a visceral response.

On Front Mezz Junkies, Steven Ross (who uses only his last name in his byline) called Toys “a complicated creature to digest.”  He explained: “It begs us to try to dissect the feast of abstractionisms served up in this short 65-minute piece.”  (Note: estimations of the running time of this play at 59E59 varied anywhere from Leiter’s 50 minutes to Ross’s 65.  Possibly it varied from performance to performance.  I timed it at 55 minutes.)  The FMJ reviewer characterized the play as a “convoluted dissertation of what it means to be a woman in a war-torn country as opposed to one removed and raised in an American suburban fairy tale existence.”  He wondered, “Is this a dream, a fantasy, or a nightmare, playing out in the suburban’s guilt-ridden mind?”  Stanescu, who, Ross asserted, is “considered by many as one of the most exciting voices to emerge in Eastern Europe” since the end of communism, “has written a piece that demands attention, but confuses as much as it enlightens.”  As the cyber review-writer explained:

Throwing images of dead babies and boyfriends, both real and imaginary, all over the stage she’s attempting to create a theatre of war and its impact on women.  Some of her lines and structures are provocative and drenched with meaning, such as “you can’t say ok and everything bad is gone”, but more often than not, we are left to try to put together the oddly shaped pieces of this dark fairy tale all on our own.

Ross blamed some of this on the director, whose “go-for-broke creation is meandering and disturbing as much as it is thoughtful on and off throughout this experimental piece.”  The reviewer’s judgment of Tompa’s staging was:

There are some disturbing visual and sound concepts that are off-centered leaving much to be interpreted and discussed after the show.  It fluctuates from being engaging to confusing within its non-linear psychology. . . .  As theatre, it left me with lots [to] think about, but not engaged enough to try too hard.  Either you will be charmed and inspired by this creation, or, like me, amused but disinterested.  Toys is like a box filled with the mis[-]matched pieces from at least two puzzles, but not in their entirety, begging us to try to assemble the images without too much guidance or structure.  More time is needed than the 65-minutes given, that is if you are still interested in the end to do the reconstruction with the hope the finished images will be meaningful.

In stark contrast, interestingly, to Samuel Leiter’s evaluation of the final scene, Ross found “the last scenario playful as the costume designer, Elisa Benzoni[,] discovers a creative use of plastic bags to make a strong but abstract comment on the dramatically different focal points for those women at war and those that are not.” 

In the second-highest-rated review on Show-Score (85), Darryl Reilly of TheaterScene.net declared of the play, “Hilarity and menace converge in Romanian-born playwright Saviana Stanescu’s absorbing and mysterious theater piece” that unfolds “over the course of 50 delirious minutes.”  Asserting that the actresses “are sensational,” Reilly found that Skovran and Ubrankovics “are a dynamic team who each offer vivid portrayals with their powerful physicality and resonant voices.”  The playwright’s “dialogue is a heady mixture of Ionesco-style absurdism and fierce realism,” wrote the TS.net reviewer, and Tampa’s direction had “the intense sensibility of one of Ingmar Bergman’s cinematic dramas and the look of Andy Warhol’s 1960’s screen tests and home movies” that was “visually and emotionally arresting with its striking imagery.”  Reilly praised Tompa’s “hypnotic lighting design that has strobe bursts, pulsing electronic original music, enveloping sound design and stark scenic design” and “Elisa Benzoni’s artfully simple costume design.”  His final word was: “Though brief in length, Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale is stimulating, provocative and memorable.”

Howard Miller said, “Watching Toys . . . is like attending an exhibit of abstract expressionism and trying to make heads or tails out of what you are seeing,” on Talkin’ Broadway. He continued:

Cryptic, bewildering, absurd, nightmarish.  Take your pick of adjectives.  They all apply to this work, which is more a piece of performance art than a play, elucidating little and requiring you to interpret as you will.

A “few minutes” into the performance, found Miller, “meaning become muddied and open to multiple perspectives.”  He warned, “But do not seek coherent explication, as things become more and more metaphysical from here to the end.”  The “inference” Miller “came away with” was “that Clara/Fatma and Shari/Madonna are one and the same, and that we are viewing the piece from inside a PTSD-ravaged mind,” which perspective gives the play “some seriously disturbing images” in Tompa’s direction “with a distancing air of dispassion.”  Miller concluded:

Toys is unusual, to say the least, opaque in its delivery but nevertheless packed with meaning, like a particularly dense poem.  But if you are interested in experimental theater, now is your opportunity to see a piece by Ms. Stanescu, an award-winning Romanian-American writer and teacher.  You will either shrink away in bafflement, or take up the challenge to piece together the scattered remains of this convoluted jigsaw puzzle of a play.

On Theatre Is Easy, Piper Rasmussen reported, “An eerie, floating feeling pervades the production” of Toys, which has a “story that . . . must be pieced together from the abstract staging.”  Asserting that the play is “a timely one for a country struggling to empathize with refugees,” Rasmussen felt that the staging “is less about the story than about recreating a feeling of loneliness and disembodiment.”  Quoting Shari saying, “You never know what animal hides inside a person,” the Theasy reviewer declared, “It is a true pleasure to watch these actors share some of the animals inside them in Toys’ unpredictable fantasy world,” but added, “To connect with the story and zesty dialogue, best to read the play.”  In conclusion, Rasmussen confessed, “I would be interested to see a production of Toys that combines Stanescu's poetry and humor with less frenetic movement and fewer splashes of bright colored light.” 

“The process of creating a connection can be instant and peaceful, it could feel like fate intervened so that it happened,” contended Nelson Diaz-Marcano on Manhattan with a Twist. “It could also be the opposite, a violent and breaking process that interconnects two ideals that usually don’t connect.”  He posited, “It’s this brutal undertaking that drives the plot  of ‘Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale.’”  Skovran and Ubrankovics “are fantastic as the two women” in the play, whose souls by the end of which “are connected in a way that only a violent procedure could connect people.”  Diaz-Marcano found, “We are yearning to be part of their journey.”  But the Manhattan with a Twist review-writer went on, “It’s when the linear narratives are broken down by more experimental scenes that interest gets a bit muddled.  There are some truly perplexing moments, but most of them either are longer than they need to be or serve as a distraction of what’s happening between them.”  His final assessment, nonetheless, was: “Despite this hiccup, ‘Toys: A Dark Fairy Tale’ delivers a strong and powerful tale of the links the human condition creates and how they can help us move forward.” 

No comments:

Post a Comment