The Planet Connection theater festival is an event that has been on my radar for years, yet I’ve never been able to go see a play from it. So imagine how excited I was that I finally got to see what this festival was about. New York City is full of summer festivals, encouraging new artists to bring the best and hope to get the eyes they need in the audience. Some of these companies will go on to become staples, shows will go to the next level, and writers will make the important connections needed. Some festivals seem more interested in what they can get from unassuming playwrights, that think any festival can get them there. When I went to see “The Golden Smile” by Yaakov Bressler, I went to see both the organization and this new voice. One really impressed me with the choice of theaters, marketing and the way that it seemed to treat its participants. The other seemed to have a lot of great ideas.
“The Golden Smile” is set in a psych ward in the 50’s in which the patients get in trouble for being violent with each other, and then decide to produce a play to mask what’s happening. Great first step for an absurdist comedy. The fact that their imagination overtakes little by little their grim reality was a great touch. The actors’ energy kept me laughing and at the start pumped me up for the show. The plot itself unravels at a good pace, too. And to top it all off, the writer is a person that knows the subject rather well, being that he is a researcher at Columbia University Medical Center. All the ingredients necessary to have a remarkable production were there, yet by the time we reached the third act none of them seemed to be there anymore. Where did they go?
The show has many problems that are not obvious thanks to the great production team. They did a great job making this play feel important, and so did the marketing team. But the play didn’t follow through. While there’s a lot to like in here, the lack of cohesiveness in the plot, the brush aside of plot points, and the fact that all the characters are one dimensional hurt the product. The actors start on such a high note, and never leave it. The characters show no real growth throughout it, and because of that I was bored by the end. When the play upon a play came in, I felt like it was too little too late and it had choices that made no sense for the overall story.
While the writer tried his hardest to raise awareness for mental issues, I don’t know how much he really succeeded. The people were clichés of the mental health world, some that have been gone for years. Some characters seemed to not be anything other than an idea created but never fully realized, and while it was entertaining, these issues definitely bubble up. I’ve seen many versions of this same play — not the actual play — but the setting, the plot, the characters. It was disappointing that between all my laughs, there were so many question about what was happening. Not because I was lost, but because I just didn’t get ‘why that choice.’ The promise of a great production was there throughout the 85 minute running time, but they never were fully realized in my opinion. If there’s anything you should take from this show, is that these group of people will one day put on a great one. This is not it. As it stands they have a very good show that just doesn’t follow up on the idea as well as it should.
Out of 4 stars:
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