Tuesday, August 7, 2012

theatre review THE COMMON PURSUIT, Off Broadway, July 19

There have been many plays and musicals that attempt to show how the hopes of youth become shattered with age, including one of my favorite musicals Merrily We Roll Along. Simon Gray's 1984 play The Common Pursuit is one whose message of shattered dreams slowly sneaks up on you.   The Off Broadway revival that just ended a three month run was fortunate to have a fairly consistent ensemble of actors playing the group of five men and one woman who meet at Cambridge with the plan to form a literary magazine that will challenge those around them.  The challenges of real life and the impact of society affect everyone but when they touch upon the ideas of youth it is even more shattering. 
The main characters of the play are Stuart and Martin.  It is Stuart's idea to start the magazine and Martin, who desires a career in publishing, becomes the business man for the magazine.  The play follows their two lives, as well as the four other characters who are part of the magazine, over twenty years.   Over the years we see Stuart's struggles with getting funding for the magazine and how he eventually forms a publishing company with Martin's urging. While the other characters also have struggles of their own, mainly to do with career and relationship choices, it is really the relationship between Stuart and Martin who ground the play.  It is their struggles and the fact that Stuart is the more creative one and Martin the more business focused that also adds another layer to the play, the struggles between the creative and the commercial. 

Jacob Fishel, Josh Cooke, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, Kieran Campion,
Kristen Bush and Tim McGeever

These are characters who think they can change the world much as many college aged individuals believe. And while most of them are ambitious in their own ways with one hoping to be a theatre critic and another a philosophy professor, it is the struggle they all have and the devotion they have to each other that drives home the message of tarnished ideas and broken dreams.  I will admit that for the first act I wasn't taken that much by the play, but by the time the second act was half over I was completely focused on these friends and how life didn't always treat them the way they thought it would.   The final scene, which is a continuation of the first scene from twenty years ago, was extremely moving.  Now, I'm not certain if the reason I was taken by this scene and ultimately the play has something to do with the fact that the new cast recording of the recent concert production of Merrily We Roll Along, which as I stated above is all about broken dreams, just came out and I had just listened to if a few times or if it was the writing of Gray and the acting of this ensemble.  None the less, I ended up liking this play more than I thought I would.
Josh Cooke and Jacob Fishel
Josh Cooke as Stuart and Jacob Fishel as Martin are touching in their portrayals of the two main friends, one more loyal than the other.  Kristen Bush is Marigold, the girlfriend of Stuart who has one shocking scene and a future not exactly easy to see coming.  Tim McGeever as Humphry, the one who wants to be a philosophy professor, perfectly plays the grounding presence of the ensemble. Kieran Campion is the womanizing member, who ends up getting much more than he had originally hoped for and Lucas Near-Verbrugghe, who I'm not sure if he was just playing his part too broad for the rest of the cast or if he was trying to portray a character that he thought his friends would be drawn to.  Take for example his constant cough, which never seems to be real - I'm not sure if he's doing that to get their sympathy, or if he's just a bad actor when coughing on stage.
Directed by Mois├ęs Kaufman, I did appreciate Kaufman's light hand, especially in dealing with all of the somewhat heavy handed literary topics.  This ultimately made the play more accessible and helped with the impact of the outcomes of some of the group.  I especially liked the effective set design by Derek McLane that used a window as one of the main pieces used throughout to join the scenes, years and characters together.
Clips from this production:

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