Presented by and at Soho Rep, 46 Walker St., NYC, April 11-May 2.
Soho Rep is well known for presenting avant-garde language plays. Watching Young Jean Lee's "The Appeal," all one can ask is to what purpose?
Described as "a historically inaccurate look at English Romantic poets," "The Appeal" offers a cast of characters made up of Wordsworth, Coleridge, and Byron. Nothing Young's characters say or do resembles these historic poets in any way. If the author hadn't used these names, we never would have guessed. Besides the fact that these writers knew each other, the author hasn't offered any reason for putting them on stage.
Possibly the play is intended as a Monty Pythonesque satire. Then the material would have to be a great deal funnier. Back to the author's purpose: If she wanted to reveal something about the way poets think, create, or live, the play is an utter failure. Her characters not only do not talk like poets, nothing they say is of any significance. When the dialogue descends to exchanges like "You're just stupid," "You're stupid!," etc., the play becomes downright sophomoric. Does the playwright really believe that these major poets were foolish people?
As directed by the author, the play is the epitome of minimalism, with its white set and bright lights by Eric Dyer. The acting verges on theatre of the absurd—but is never that funny. The opening music by Matmos leads us to expect a modern-dress version of these famous poets' lives but deceives us instead.
Pete Simpson plays Wordsworth as though he were mentally retarded. Michael Portnoy's Coleridge is at least a folk philosopher, while Byron, in the hands of James Stanley, is a case of arrested development. As Wordsworth's sister Dorothy, Maggie Hoffman is mainly used as a laughing stock. The strangest thing about the evening is the title. What "Appeal"?