Wednesday, September 21, 2016

reviews - JOHN - Stray Cat Theatre

Shari Watts, Will Hightower, and Michelle Chin
photo: John Groseclose
highlights from local critics reviews - (click link at bottom of each review to read complete review)

Click here for more information on this production that runs through October 1st.

"...In Stray Cat Theatre’s 2016-17 season opener...an old home once used as an emergency hospital for union soldiers at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania is now a somewhat spooky looking Bed & Breakfast...Director Ron May develops an unusual but effectively spooky atmosphere...Like playwright Baker’s Pulitzer Prize winning drama The Flick performed at Stray Cat in 2013, John is a slow, deliberate, unfolding burn told in three long acts with two intermissions. It runs almost three hours and clearly audiences will be divided....When characters talk, the conversation often begins with trivialities then slowly develops into something more confrontational. And when Mertis walks in tiny steps from one side of the house to the other, either pushing a tea tray or lighting candles, it’s all done slowly, deliberately leaving us to observe every little step. Stray Cat’s production rewards but Baker’s script, its pacing and its overall ambiguous nature will test audience patience more than it did three years ago with the more engaging The Flick. " -David Appleford, Valley Screen and Stage (click here to read the complete review)

"...John, which ran Off-Broadway in the summer of 2015, is set in a bed and breakfast and is just as fascinating. John is receiving an excellent production at Stray Cat Theatre in its Arizona premiere with a sensational cast, sublime creative elements, and direction that never falters....Baker has crafted an intriguing dark comedy that is multi-layered, with genuine characters and dialogue that flows naturally. ...Baker also stuffs her comedy with many bits of interesting and mesmerizing pieces of information, ... the play does have a few small drawbacks. The three hour running time might put some people off and the supernatural, scary elements in the piece never truly come into play beyond being atmospheric.Director Ron May and his exceptional cast take an appropriate, natural and subtle approach to the material yet also instill a suitable sense of ominous foreboding in the darker moments...The cast is excellent and led by an incredibly shaded and nuanced performance from Sherri Watts as Mertis. ...Mertis may be peculiar, but in Watts' capable hands her oddness becomes an endearment. Will Hightower and Michelle Chin deliver realistic portrayals of Eli and Jenny....As Genevieve, Debra Lyman is dynamic, abrupt and potent. She speaks her mind and those around her, including the audience, pay attention. Creative elements are some of the best I've seen from Stray Cat, with Beeck's rich, meticulous set (prop design by Jessica Florez) almost becoming a fifth character in the play due to the amount of realism and detail it incorporates....At three hours in length, John may be long but it is never boring and while there might be some strange unexplained things happening in the house there is also plenty of charm and even a decent amount of heart. With excellent direction, a superb cast, and stunning creative elements, Stray Cat Theatre's production is as inviting and full of intrigue as Mertis' strange little house." -Gil Benbrook, Talkin' Broadway (click here to read the complete review)

"...“John” is confusing with its point obscured amidst several possible issues.  It’s not the Stray Cat production that is at fault, it is the play....the play focuses on a guest couple, Jenny and Elias, who have fights, and confrontations a problem with their relationship....The play’s problem is that all this minutia becomes clear early and while it appears that turns and twists will materialize to make things interesting, nothing unexpected occurs.  The plays three hour plus running time drags as nothing happens. Director Ron May falls for the play’s weaknesses and he paces the meandering plot at a plodding drag further aggravating an already dull play....The cast tries desperately to inject their never changing characters with some spark but to no avail.  ..." --Chris Curcio, KBAQ (click here to read the complete review)

"Stray Cat is also the first theater outside New York to pick up (Annie) Baker’s latest opus, titled “John.” It has a lot in common with “The Flick,” including its three-hour running time and its slim chances of selling out performances in Tempe. It’s also challenging, provocative, enigmatic and maybe even brilliant. The low-key story is set at a quaint bed-and-breakfast peculiarly decorated with tchotchkes..The aging proprietor, Mertis (Shari Watts, excellent as always) is equally peculiar, and whole minutes go by in silence as she shuffles up and down stairs and tries to make the inn homey.
...There’s not much more to the plot, but “John” isn’t about plot...and it’s also about the sinister reality lurking just below the surface of ordinary life. ... the uncanny intrudes on the ordinary, and the ultimate effect is every bit as disturbing as the H.P. Lovecraft horror story that gets a creepy reading in the third act.... “John” occasionally punctures the bubble of its naturalism with scene transitions meant to remind the audience that they are indeed watching a play. Yet this does nothing to relieve the stomach-knotting tension of the piece ..if you happen to be attuned to Baker’s idiosyncratic frequency, her words — and this cast’s committed performances — will set your spinal column buzzing."  Kerry Lengel, Arizona Republic (click here to read the complete review)

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