One thing to be said about Wallace Shawn’s play “Evening at the Talk House,” a The New Group presentation, is that the chatter among the theatrical people depicted is more interesting than the Gabriel family gabbing in the similarly structured plays by Richard Nelson. Shawn’s talk is more engaging even though there is the familiar pretentiousness in his writing.
The occasion is the 10th anniversary of a play by Robert, portrayed by Matthew Broderick with admirable ease. A group connected with that production has gathered at a club and we get to know the individuals and what they have or haven’t been up to during the decade.
The staging is very informal, with cast members wandering about, including offering audience members odd-colored drinks and some confections when they enter. Eventually, in a a well-lit setting, at least for a while, the cast members settle down for conversation and contemplation. For example, there is a suggestion that a passage from Robert’s writing be read. He declines, but Dick, an actor played by Shawn, after some coaxing, rises to the occasion and reads a pontificating, philosophizing speech.
During the course of the show the author provides an in-joke at his expense, and I rather enjoyed that. When Dick is out of the room, Robert says that he is not a very good actor, which is most amusing since author Shawn plays Dick.
The revelations that come gradually reflect contemporary fears about the state of society, demise of the theater and various frustrations. What the world has come to is especially indicated by Jane, played by Annapurna Sriram, a frustrated actress, who confides to Robert that she has done secret work abroad involving killing targeted villains in foreign countries.
An interesting and intimate confrontation occurs between Robert and Jane, who had a sexual liaison in the past. Jane at first refuses to acquiesce in the reminiscing Robert attempts, but eventually she relents and we see renewed kissing between them.
Mid-way in the play the electricity goes out and the rest is performed with an array of candles that provide an eerie atmosphere. An underlying tension pervades all of the talk, and the play concludes startlingly.
Director Scott Elliott achieves an ambiance of casualness that conveys a clubby atmosphere of intimacy before the audience that is seated on each side of the playing area.
The other cast members contributing impressively in various ways include Jill Eikenberry, John Epperson, Larry Pine, Claudia Shear and Michael Tucker. Although the dialogue and interaction doesn’t really add up to the intellectual level that author appears to be seeking, the caliber of the acting grips our attention and makes the work seem deeper than it is. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street, Phone: 212-244-7529. Reviewed February 20, 2017.