Saturday, January 21, 2017

Review: The Tale of Nonsexual Soulmates

By Michael Block

When it comes to relationships and romance, just because you love someone doesn't mean you have to be intimate with them. Such is very much the case in Stuart Fail's Consider the Lilies. A long-standing partnership between artist and agent begins to shake up as both parties have new ideas in regards to the definition of their bond.
Set in Paris and New York over a few months, Consider the Lilies is a long story about nonsexual soul mates. Paul and David have a dangerously complicated relationship. Paul is a rapidly aging and slowly decaying artist. David is his younger, do-anything agent. While in Paris, Paul isn't getting the recognition, and income, he's used to. David is considering going back to New York to his girlfriend. This idea shatters Paul so he reluctantly follows David back home. What keeps these two together? Love. But their contrasting definitions of love cause a severe strain in their bond. Paul and David have a great need and dependency for one another yet they both feel alone. The narrative of a sexually fluid artist and an actor turned agent with deep admiration for this man is perfectly intriguing. It's a story that is, for better or worse, deeply relatable. Yet despite a great concept, the execution was anything but. Consider the Lilies desperately needs to be edited down as there are an extraordinary amount of repetitious facts and ideas that overshadow the meat of the play. Fail needs to have a bit more trust in his audience that they can follow along with the narrative. Trimming the fat is essential for Consider the Lilies to truly be successful. For example, the robbery scene didn't have the impact it needed. If it's important for David and Paul's arc as a pair, David needs to tend and care for him with deeper stakes. Yet eliminating the scene altogether is perfectly ok. By Act II, things start to go off the rails as plots get more complicated. Introducing Paul having a child is unnecessary. The parallel is so minimal in the grand scheme of the piece. Additionally, the whole conceit of having Paul learn of David’s demise via telegram is so farfetched. If you want something with weight, have Angela introduce the information to him. The potential for drama is great.
photo by Talya Charef
With Fail planting writer and director, he ran into some issues. There were some writer choices that director Fail didn't seem to take into consideration. In no way, shape, or form should Zach have been present for David's breakdown as it was an intimate moment for the pair. As a whole, the pacing was excruciatingly slow highlighting that the play was far too long. When it came to taking care of the characters, Fail truly focused on ensuring the believability of the relationships. And in that respect, it paid off. This was the pulse of the play. And once the piece becomes less muddy, the beauty and power can shine. The scenic design from S. Watson was pretty neutral, both purposefully and aesthetically. It served its purpose but certain scenic element placement were traps for Fail's staging. Getting caught behind the Act I couch was troublesome. The unimposing score from Andy Evan Cohen was just right for this world.
Dominating this narrative was Austin Pendleton as Paul and Eric Joshua Davis as David. They had a strong bond as actors that carried through from start to finish.  That being said, there was something a tad off about it, caused by their individual performances. Pendleton used the drunken nature of Paul as a crutch, and it actually worked to fool the crowd. Davis played up the cock tease card far too early. While playful, it was infuriating to say the least. As the pompous millennial artist Zack, Peter Collier managed to show the stark difference between artist and old and new media. As the cartoonish Francois, Joseph Hamel gave up power by sitting. It didn't help that his character's presence was not essential.
Consider the Lilies has a promising premise that had a lot going against it. After carefully examining the text with a dramaturg, Consider the Lilies will be a story worthwhile.