‘Days of Rage’ Theater Review: This Revolution Won’t Be Televised

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There’s a good full-length two-act play ready to break out of Steven Levenson’s 90-minute “Days of Rage,” which had its world premiere Monday at Off Broadway’s Second Stage.

It’s October 1969 in “a ramshackle old house in upstate New York,” where three college dropouts named Spence (Mike Faist), Jenny (Lauren Patten) and Quinn (Odessa Young) are attempting to start the revolution.

Richard and Jeff also used to live in this “collective,” and it’s these two other would-be revolutionaries, whom we never see, who suggest a wonderful first act for this oddly engaging but ultimately ungrounded work by the author of “If I Forget” and the book for the Tony-winning musical “Dear Evan Hansen.”

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Richard and Jeff come to a bad end off stage in “Days of Rage,” but from what we’re told, they were the real thing in terms of trying to start a revolution. Plus, they also insisted on a very theatrical approach to sex: “There was a calendar. A schedule. Who was supposed to sleep with whom.” Frankly, who wouldn’t want to see that in action on stage?

While somewhat fluid, the sex life of Spence, Peggy and Quinn is much less eye-popping, and they spend their days trying to start the revolution by handing out leaflets for a big march that’s scheduled to take place in the near future in far-off Chicago.

Back in 1969, young people did help to bring about the end of the Vietnam War, eventually, but now those hopeful activists are over the age of 60 and represent a voting block that often prevents anything progressive from happening in the country. That depressing fact lingers around the edges of “Days of Rage.”

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Unfortunately, Levenson is a little too eager to expose what Spence, Peggy and Quinn will become, not to mention what’s really cooking inside their middle-class brains in October 1969 (two months before the first Selective Service lottery).  The playwright keeps pulling the Marxist playbook out from under them, and their actions and words, while often amusing, have little consequence.

Since the collective desperately needs money, Spence takes in a stray named Peggy (Tavi Gevinson), who not only carries $2,000 in her small suitcase but is a quick learner in trying to retrace the footsteps of Richard and Jeff. She’s also a brilliant conniver who relishes bringing discord to the collective’s already slightly fraught love life. Gevinson mines the character’s deviousness to great comic effect.

What Levenson builds with Peggy, however, he dismantles with the drama’s fifth character. Playing a Sears employee named Hal, J. Alphonse Nicholson gives a nicely understated performance, but it’s just too convenient to have a young African-American character be the embodiment of reason, morality and common sense that punctures the dreams of pampered white kids.

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Trip Cullman directs an accomplished ensemble, and Faist (so memorable in “Dear Evan Hansen”) manages to reveal a few genuine moments of commitment to the cause. Totally absent is any angst about that upcoming draft lottery, however. (I was in college in 1969. It was a big, big deal.)

Louisa Thompson’s scenic design for the collective’s two-story house is massive, and awkwardly moves back and forth on wheels during blackouts to create slightly more space downstage for scenes played on the street. In the end, all that rocking only draws attention to Levenson’s overly episodic drama.

Most disappointing is Levenson’s decision to end “Days of Rage” with Quinn telling Spence what happens to the characters in the decades to come. The writing here is not treacly like Conor McPherson’s tacked-on update for the life of every character in “Girl From the North Country.” Regardless, it’s time for a moratorium on any more final scenes of future nostalgia in new plays.

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‘Person to Person’ Review: Indie Drama Flails to Little Avail

Read on: TheWrapTheWrap.

In “Person to Person,” Abbi Jacobson of “Broad City” plays a young woman named Claire too timid to stand up to her cat. Despite her mousy personality, Claire tries her hand at becoming a tabloid reporter, covering crime and grime in New York City.

Why would a former librarian like her confront (or at least attempt to confront) grizzled cops, possible killers, and/or grieving widows? Don’t expect satisfying answers from this aimless drama, which is chockablock with characters but offers little insight or cohesive storytelling.

A weightless knickknack of a film from writer-director Dustin Guy Defa (“Bad Fever”) and executive producer Joe “Mr. Mumblecore” Swanberg, this talky yet listless multi-portrait of assorted schlubs begins with some potential. Michael Cera’s editor shows Claire the ins and outs of barking obnoxious questions at strangers on her first day of work. The two journalists follow Michaela Watkins’ wealthy murder suspect — hiding behind cat-eyed sunglasses or thick, curly tresses in nearly all her scenes — over the course of the day that makes up movie’s timeline.

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Elsewhere, with much less promise, record collector Bene (Bene Coopersmith, in real life a Brooklyn personality and Defa’s former roommate) pursues a rare Charlie Parker record, while sexually searching teen Wendy (Tavi Gevinson, “Enough Said”) uses a lot of SAT words to explain to her best friend (Olivia Luccardi, “Orange Is the New Black”) the fairly straightforward wish not to spend her afternoons watching her BFF make out with some dude.

Neither character nor plot is the point of “Person to Person”; only situations matter here. That doesn’t mean Defa gets those right, either. The film bungles its freshest storyline, which makes no sense whatsoever: Despite his relatively young age, revenge-pornographer Ray (George Sample III, “Hunter Gatherer”) doesn’t know how to use the Internet (we’re given no explanation as to why not), and his eventual confrontation with the woman he hurt (Marsha Stephanie Blake, “Getting On”) focuses more on her concern about his emotional openness than about how his invasion of privacy impacted her. (With the exception of Jacobson’s Claire, the other female characters don’t fare much better.) The other narrative strand with any consequence — the murder mystery (which also draws in Philip Baker Hall’s shopkeeper) — wraps up with an absurdly large plot hole. Hula hoops could learn a thing or two from that hollow.

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A few more complaints: The acting is often rough, the autumnal palette evokes three-decade-old carpet, and the characters spout dialogue strikingly similar to one another’s. Why does this “Person to Person” even exist? After “High Maintenance” and “Master of None,” Defa’s vision is too white (with his one major token black character) to feel like a convincing love letter to the grand diversity of New York and its mundanities.

Minus an increasingly flop-sweaty Cera, none of the actors get the opportunity to do anything memorable. Seriously, what’s the use of casting a firecracker like Watkins — especially in a clock-demolishing scene that has no right not to be a flash of glorious camp — if you’re just going to shield her face from the audience during all of her brief scenes?

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A day can be mind-numbingly dull or fate-alteringly momentous. “Person to Person”
expresses this duh statement with scarcely more wisdom, nuance, or emotional pull. For the same effect, you might as well as scroll through Facebook for five minutes.

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