Off Broadway (and sometimes Broadway) Reviews and Information.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The Common Pursuit: Intelligent and Erudite

There is a certain set of expectations that occur when a play opens in a Cambridge or Oxford students’ quarters.  We know that we are in for an erudite evening of quick wit and repressed feelings.  The Roundabout Theater’s The Common Pursuit, now at the Laurie Pels Theater, delivers this evening pleasantly, building to a nice climax which is not too overwrought.
Jacob Fishel, Tim McGeever, Josh Cooke and Lucas Near-Verbrugghe in The Common Pursuit

The Common Pursuit primarily follows five friends from University for 20 years.  Stuart Thorne, the natural leader of this group, starts a literary digest at Cambridge, bringing a group of friends with him.  He gathers a mixed group of friends; the lady-killer, the repressed homosexual, the quiet guy and the effervescent fop who tries too hard to impress.

Cut to nine years later as Stuart and the quiet guy, Martin, are struggling to put out The Common Pursuit – the digest, on a regular basis.  This is clearly Stuart’s passion, and Martin is a dedicated friend and supporter.  Martin is played by Jacob Fishel, with an exactness that is endearing and perfect for the character.  Mr. Fishel brings a real humanity to the role which provides the audience and entre to this group of friends. The character of Martin is supportive without being creepy – a true friend to Stuart.  Stuart is preoccupied with the magazine, so both his girlfriend and friends have to take a backseat.  Josh Cooke plays this facet of Stuart’s personality extremely well.  Mr. Cook’s Stuart is self-involved in a cocoon of worry about living up to his own exacting standards.

The Cambridge gang drops by at odd intervals, and we see how they have or haven’t grown emotionally.  Humphry, Tim McGeever, is settling into the lonely scholar routine back at Cambridge.  Peter, Kieran Campion, hasn’t outgrown his womanizing past and is now cheating on his wife (the “Ghastly Emily” referred to, but unseen).  And fop Nick, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe in an unfortunate role, is on the edge of success in various entertainment venues.

Misters McGeever and Campion have settled into their roles, albeit roles that are a little stereotypical.  Mr. Near-Verbrugghe, excellent in both Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Assistance, has yet to find his footing in this role.  Mr. Near-Verbrugghe has been given an unfortunate cough that seems over written and unconvincing.   If he coughed as often as the play seemed to call for, he would be hoarse in two nights; and the fake coughs are distracting.  The cough should be hinted at more, and heard less.

We revisit this group of characters twice more over the course of 20 years to see how they have or have not stayed true to their scholarly passions.  Their ultimate professional success is inversely proportional to their passion for their chosen fields, which should be ironic, but feels a little obvious.

Jacob Fishel & Josh Cooke
The biggest problem with the piece could be resolved with a simple change to the program.  The program states the play is set “20 years ago”, which was true in 1984 – when the play was written.  But now, almost 30 years later, the period is much more than 20 years in the past.  Neither the music nor the costumes give much of a clue of the time frame (Bach and Vivaldi on a college student’s record player doesn’t scream 1960s).  Had the program said “mid-sixties”, expectations would have been set correctly.  The problems and emotions are much “of a moment”, a more repressed and less wired era.

Director Moises Kaufman does a good job of staging and moving this work along, particularly in the second half, when the story seems to really settle in and grab the audience.  Playwright Simon Gray’s  story, though dated, is still both moving and very funny.  The Common Pursuit is a good show, with a very good show just under the surface.  I think it will only get better over the next few weeks.

The Common Pursuit @ The Laurie Pels Theater, Roundabout Theater Group
Playwright: Simon Gray
Director: Moises Kaufman
Cast: Kristen Bush, Kieran Campion, Josh Cooke, Jacob Fishel, Tim McGeever, Lucas Near-Verbrugghe

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