By Bob Shuman
Richard Maxwell, a two-time Obie winner, has written a new drama—an anti-Western, set in deli milk crates (the imaginative scenic design is by Louisa Thompson)—that seems to miss home and identity. Cultures have been taken away—and are mourned–in this piece—which has a poetry reading-, outside concert-like feel, especially given the inclusion of music by Steve Earle (and the mesmerizing uilleann pipes of Ivan Goff). Here, rain is being awaited, murders have taken place, and Maxwell finds himself meditating on being a father and raising children—he’s wiser, finding different ways to consider masculinity now. Sam Shepard and Faulkner come to mind as reference points, but this really is more spiritually minded than its violence would indicate, and it could only be American, Americana. So much is owed to the playwright Irene Fornes, in terms of the short scenes and unconscious inspirations, that one might suspect Maxwell was working with her workshop exercises. Maybe this hip, but less up-tight Maxwell, also owes something to his director, Sarah Benson (another Obie winner), and her clean direction, yet both have worked on harsher pieces, unrelenting ones: Samara, which could be referring to “tranquility,” stands in contrast to a similarly titled Maxwell play, The Good Samaritans—recently shown at Abrons Arts Center in February–a cold European-like concept work, important and brutal. Here the lights are colored (Matt Frey designed them)—and even blink, while the other work showed the dead light of fluorescent tubes.
The impulse of this reviewer is to say that Maxwell might be working artistically with the country’s return to nationalism. As long ago as 2008, Split Britches wrote Miss America, in which they knew the nation was changing. Today, an election has emphasized that it has. The notion of thinking about this country’s past, earlier than the twentieth century, may be on the artistic mind, especially of course, given the success of Hamilton. Instead of plays examining paralysis, new worlds of picaresque adventure may be inviting the imagination. Maxwell might be hoping to make America remember itself again.
by Richard Maxwell
directed by Sarah Benson
with original music by Steve Earle
featuring: Becca Blackwell, Vinie Burrows, Steve Earle, Roy Faudree, Ivan Goff, Modesto Flako Jimenez, Matthew Korahais, Paul Lazar, Jasper Newell, and Anna Wray
Set Design by Louisa Thompson; Costume Design: Junghyun Georgia Lee; Lighting Design: Matt Frey; Sound Design: Palmer Hefferan; Props: George Hoffmann and Greg Kozatek; Fight Director: J. David Brimmer; Choreographer: Annie-B Parson; Production Stage Manager: Rachel K. Gross; Assistant Stage Manager: Joanna Muhlfelder; Design: Studio Usher
Press: John Wyszniewski, Rachel Shearer | Blake Zidell & Associates
Presnted at: Mezzanine Theatre
A.R.T./New York Theatres
502 West 53rd Street
New York, NY 10019
Visit Soho Rep: http://sohorep.org/samara
Photo Credits: Julieta Cervantes
Top: Vinie Burrows and Becca Blackwell; BottomL Jasper Newell