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A Life

From 38 critic and 135 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Thought-provoking, Absorbing, Ambitious, Quirky

About the show

Playwrights Horizons presents Adam Bock's new play about a man—played by Emmy and Tony winner David Hyde Pierce—who turns to astrology after heartbreak. More…

Nate Martin is hopelessly single. When his most recent breakup—another in a lifelong string of ill-fated matches—casts him into a funk, he turns to the only source of wisdom he trusts: the stars. Poring over astrological charts, he obsessively questions his past and his place in the cosmos. In this disarming new play, the answer Nate receives, when it comes, is shockingly obvious—and totally unpredictable.

Front Mezz Junkies

"It’s as if we are turning the pages of a storybook, much like the glorious set design, flipping from the minutiae of one moment to another. It’s wildly engaging and deeply touching. Everyone in the cast gives us the purity of a life being lived. Pierce is simply outstanding pulling us in, as is Heberlee...I give a great deal of credit to the playwright Bock for crafting such a marvelous and unique story, and presenting it to us with such a surprising and creative vantage point." Full Review

Time Out New York

"The play is exquisite in detail but cosmic in theme; it has a Thornton Wilder soul...Directed by Anne Kauffman with a superb ear for naturalism. Sympathetic and unsentimental, the play offers a wise, quietly devastating perspective on the stuff we carry and leave behind. You may find yourself trembling as you stumble out of Playwrights Horizons and into the night, where life goes on and has been going on without you." Full Review

Front Row Center

"The writing in 'A Life' is the beautiful turned up. It’s funny, poignant and honest. The acting and directing – breathless. Director Anne Kauffman understands the weight of quiet, of silence. David Hyde Pierce, who is one of our theatrical treasures, and the rest of this outstanding cast are courageous in their ability to simply be – be there in front of us with all their humanity." Full Review


"Bock leans heavily on the element of surprise, which director Kauffman successfully exploits to the fullest. She lulls us into a false sense of complacency before completely blindsiding us...Pierce gives one of the most physically committed performances I've ever witnessed onstage...Bock's commitment to soul-shaking naturalism is reminiscent of Émile Zola at his darkest, conveying a vision of life that is so frightening precisely because we know it to be completely truthful." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"It’s hard to imagine anyone who could put this material over better than Pierce; he works every self-cancelling half-sentence and errant thought pattern into a stage naturalism so airtight it approaches the surreal...Bock’s dialogue captures the uncanny and sometimes hilarious weirdness of real speech..Balancing such disparate and volatile elements asks a lot of a director, and Anne Kauffman, in staging 'A Life,' demonstrates nerves of steel." Full Review


"Bock presents an expertly conceived take on the milieu of contemporary life and upends it with breathtaking and emotionally charged revelations. Bock’s dialogue is authentically straightforward and his characters all have a rich sense of reality...Kauffman’s staging perfectly renders the ordinary aspects that are depicted with measured pacing, real-life movements and sparkling performances. Kauffman’s realization of the play’s turning point is a coup de théâtre...A powerful experience." Full Review

The Wrap

"It’s a remarkable achievement in the theater, and one so peculiar that you probably won’t be able to recall any other quite like it...Pierce is such an engaging performer that we never ask why he’s talking to us...Anne Kauffman’s direction and her fine use of Laura Jellinek’s set, which achieves more spectacular metamorphoses than a busy caterpillar, succeeds." Full Review


"Brutally simple and staggering...Director Anne Kauffman’s production, with the help of ingenious scenic design by Laura Jellinek, cracks open like an egg, revealing a story we thought might fit easily in our palms to be something altogether more profound and messy and devastating. Pierce is a consummate performer; the grace and charm he brings to the production form the force of its emotional punch. The rest of the ensemble is top-notch as well." Full Review

Off Off Online

"In the half-hour opener, Hyde Pierce is able to connect deftly to his audience with the details of Nate’s past. Obviously famous from his work on television, Hyde Pierce is a consummately skilled stage actor as well. He has a wry comic delivery, sometimes self-deprecating, sometimes bewildered...Every moment feels lived in and true...It’s a graceful and powerful ending to a simple story, brilliantly staged and presented." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"'A Life,' so very aptly named, looks at the immense and complex as well as the small and banal. This life could be yours or mine – and it’s both exquisitely precious and cosmically inconsequential. Bock has constructed a miracle of a mirror that touches the everyman in all of us...Anne Kauffman’s direction is crisp and smart. Kauffman keeps the action moving at a pace that’s active without being frenetic." Full Review

Edge New York

"You'll be riveted to your seat, anxious to find out what happens next...In the central role of Nate, the always delightful Pierce once again proves his deft stage chops as he tears down the fourth wall by addressing the audience directly, as though we're a bystander to the action of his life...Tickets are already scarce for this short but impactful play. Catch it now, before it closes." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"A deeply affecting mediation on the fleeting nature of life, love, and human happiness...Kauffman's direction has much to do with confidently steering the play's stunning shifts in tone...Even after 'A Life' turns in a definitively macabre direction it retains the oddball humor of the early scenes. At the same time, the play grows deeper and more moving, right up to the final abrupt white-out that shows how, even at the very last second, Bock still has shocks to impart." Full Review


"David Hyde Pierce is giving a quietly devastating performance in 'A Life,' Adam Bock’s meditative one-act play about the meaning and implicit value of a human life...Bock is scrupulous in the language he uses to reveal Nate’s indecisive character...Director Kauffman stages those events that intrude on his placid existence with a sense of high drama and implacable finality. For his part, Pierce keeps his distance and lets her do what has to be done. It’s a rewarding collaboration all around." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"To reveal anything more would be to spoil the heartrending surprises of this deeply unsettling drama, which will linger long in your mind...Some will find it profoundly moving, others gimmicky...Director Anne Kaufman doesn't shy away from the play's daunting aspects...'A Life' is a little rough-hewn, both in the writing, which sometimes feels underdeveloped, and its technical aspects...But these are mere quibbles about a drama whose simple truths will leave you ineffably shattered." Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"Adam Bock’s bold new play at Playwrights Horizons defied my expectations. Even the scenic design turned out to be surprising...It is bracing in its conception, but likely to be disturbing for single people living alone in New York...Director Anne Kauffman has wisely chosen to let the play breathe without rushing through difficult moments. Even though I found it unnerving, I was glad to experience it." Full Review


"With a head that always reminds me of a bright light bulb, Hyde Pierce projects an enormously likable skepticism and a willingness to let audiences in to watch his characters try to untangle the contradictions...This preoccupation with one’s own dramas is extended through the haunting 85-minute play on Laura Jellinek’s surprising sets. Director Anne Kauffman, who explored comparably unsettling subjects last season, takes us simply and effortlessly into the unthinkable." Full Review

New Yorker

"There’s nothing strained about Bock’s new play...David Hyde Pierce, giving one of those performances that take you over, moment by sensitively explicated moment...The director, Anne Kauffman, doesn’t try to make the script more than it is; she helps to reveal the subtleties and the weirdness at its heart. Hyde Pierce and the rest of the cast are ideal collaborators for what Bock and Kauffman want to convey." Full Review

Epoch Times

"A quietly powerful drama...Pierce is excellent, taking Bock’s words and bringing the character completely to life. He shows Nate to be a not-all-that-interesting man, but one filled with feelings, and hopes that are instantly recognizable and identifiable to everyone. Credit also goes to director Anne Kauffman, who guides the piece with a sure hand, never allowing things to become overtly maudlin or comical. In this way, she makes sure the audience never forgets the humanity in the situation." Full Review

Reflections in the Light

"Under Anne Kauffman's taut direction, we get a real look into the mind of Nate...This is not a typical theater experience. The set makes unexpected changes to tell this extraordinarily sad, humorous and deeply personal story of the importance of one person's seemingly ordinary life...It's an engaging and touching 80 minutes...Pierce finds the humanity in his character and pulls us in so we feel we have experienced some significant moments in the life of a friend." Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

"At first, it seems like 'A Life' is going to be that snapshot of Nate’s life, from chart—birth—to now. The play is really after something both deeper and broader...It sneaks up on you with those questions, cleverly leading you down a sunlit garden path until it suddenly drops you in deep woods, so it never feels ponderous or self-consciously philosophical...It takes you someplace dark, sometimes even bleak, but always filled with compassion for and wonder at the arc of a human existence." Full Review

New York Theater

"I would have loved for 'A Life' to have been a play more worthy of attention leading up to the abrupt change in perspective...But all (or most) is forgiven by the end...Anne Kauffman's precise and pointed direction of 'A Life' is aided immeasurably by her design team...The supporting cast is spot-on. But it’s the charming, credible, comical and ultimately chilling performance of David Hyde Pierce that makes 'A Life' memorable." Full Review

New York Daily News

"David Hyde Pierce gives an amusing and endearing performance as gay, middle-aged Nate, who’s still trying to get his bearings after a breakup in Adam Brock’s engaging and sometimes unnerving new drama. The modest work goes places that you probably won’t see coming. The same goes for the seemingly everyday set in Anne Kauffman’s staging." Full Review


"Features an unsettling performance by theater mainstay David Hyde Pierce, as an everyman gay New Yorker in his mid-50s...Single (again) and with a caring social circle, Pierce’s Nate Martin, an ad agency proofreader, might well have been a stand-in for half the audience members at the recent performance I attended. He’s a guy like us. That’s relevant, given the startling direction 'A Life' veers off in, halfway through." Full Review

Reviewing The Drama

"In 'A Life,' Pierce proves worthy of his Tony, fully inhabiting a real person. It's a touching and sensitive portrayal, one that instantly hooked me, and made me care deeply about Nate...Layers and insights are revealed in time (thanks to director Anne Kauffman and scenic designer Laura Jellinek), and I savored Bock's Annie Baker–like silences and extended moments of stillness, of seemingly nothing happening on stage." Full Review


"More than a mere stunt, this surprising 85-minute piece also makes us think seriously about the importance of love, friends, luck, and time...Some viewers will find the work more infuriating than enlightening, or perhaps even more tedious than involving. Still, few can argue that thanks to Pierce’s singular gifts as an actor, Nate comes off as someone familiar to many of us...and someone about whom we manage to care about. That’s even more impressive than shocking an audience, isn’t it?" Full Review

Great writing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Daring, Original

See it if you're looking to be surprised, see something new, or if you're interested in the meaning of life and don't mind gentle pacing.

Don't see it if you're looking for something light or something action-packed.

Also Some interesting twists and turns that leave one thinking about what's... Read more Read less

Thought-provoking, Profound, Edgy, Great acting, Ambitious

See it if You can allow a seemingly banal but brilliantly delivered monologue jolt you into consideration of our common existential plight. DHP rocks

Don't see it if You resist being set up and led into territory that many would prefer to avoid, you won't appreciate the meditative pace, the great staging.

Also This is not an easy play to enjoy in the moment despite the great acti... Read more Read less

Profound, Great staging, Great acting, Absorbing, Clever

See it if you want an evening with David Hyde Pierce discussing life, death & the meaningful/meaninglessness of both. Pathos, humor, charm, delight.

Don't see it if you done live unconventional storytelling, sing the inner workings of a morgue, albeit delivered in a light & funny tone.

Ambitious, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if You can see the big picture in the mundane

Don't see it if You expect titilation

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Resonant, Absorbing, Moving

See it if you like quirky shows that really move you, touch you in a subtle quiet way that is beautiful and a little unsettling at the same time.

Don't see it if you need a straightforward plot. At one point I was lightly crying because I was so moved and I heard the person behind say "This is weird".

Absorbing, Epic, Delightful, Thought-provoking, Resonant

See it if stark & droll, abrasive & tender. An experimental tear-jerker in the vein of Our Town about connecting, building meaning, and letting go.

Don't see it if it's an elliptical play that's by turns ingratiating and alienating. Come with an open mind and a willingness to get onboard.

Funny, Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Subtle, Absorbing

See it if you enjoy slow plays that give you time to think about (and savor) what's happening.

Don't see it if you dislike plays with minimal action, even if the scarcity of action is critical to the play's theme.

Resonant, Profound, Heart-wrenching, Great writing, Great acting

See it if You like plays that don't follow a classic structure and tell you what to think; great acting and writing; great sound & set design.

Don't see it if You're impatient and don't like sudden shifts in plot and tone.

Relevant, Refreshing, Thought-provoking, Exquisite, Absorbing

See it if you need a breather. This show is the perfect, poignant balm after a rough election. Makes you consider what is important in life.

Don't see it if you need a distraction. The show is entertaining but slow, and asks for a modicum of your focus.

Thought-provoking, Profound, Funny, Great acting, Ambitious

See it if you want a master class in acting by David Hyde Pierce in a show with a brilliant set and a thought-provoking play.

Don't see it if you want a fast-paced show with a traditional linear plot.

Quirky, Haunting, Masterful, Fantastic set, Absorbing

See it if You have 90 minutes to spare for the most intense use of that time. This play is still resounded within me, and there is something for you.

Don't see it if You need everything to tie up at the end in a logical bow, or if you can't commit the mental energy for this provocative piece.

Also Admittedly, David Hyde Pierce, who is so likeable it should be illegal... Read more Read less

Thought-provoking, Great staging, Great acting, Profound, Funny

See it if you're a David Hyde Pierce fan (fantastic performance!), a single urbanite, and you appreciate Jeckyl&Hyde-like plot twists.

Don't see it if you want something light and fluffy -- the Jeckyl portion is hysterical but the Hyde portion is heartbreaking.

Haunting, Resonant, Great staging, Great writing, Great acting

See it if you like serious, deliberately paced plays that will take you to places you never expected.

Don't see it if you are impatient with plays that start very slow and initially seem to be going nowhere.

Thought-provoking, Slow, Relevant, Amazing set, Great acting

See it if You are interested in a show that strikes right to the heart of many the fears of a single person in NY. A little slow but still riveting.

Don't see it if You don't like introspective shows or examinations of the procedures involved in handling a death.

Daring, Unusual, Profound, Resonant, Absorbing

See it if You're interested in plays that defy form, that take risks, and if you're willing to go in blind (don't google it)! David Hyde Pierce is A+.

Don't see it if You prefer a "well-made" play with a firm plot motor and central character.

Surprising, Disturbing?, Thought-provoking, Intense, Dual-natured

See it if you enjoy shows that like Full Metal Jacket, start as one type of show and morphs into another. Comedy becomes tragedy in shocking fashion

Don't see it if you are expecting like hearted entertainment, which it starts as. It becomes a gut-punch. Intense and disturbing (thought provoking)

Also The amiability of David Hyde Pierce !becomes second to the abrupt and ... Read more Read less

Thought-provoking, Great acting, Funny, Ambitious, Absorbing

See it if You like intimate, thoughtful theater that asks you to think about the human condition as well as entertains you.

Don't see it if You want a straightforward comedy with a linear plot that doesn't ask you to think about life at all.

Resonant, Thought-provoking, Great staging, Great acting, Clever

See it if you like shows that are intimate. The staging was quite amazing.

Don't see it if you feel uncomfortable about the idea of death.

Intense, Edgy, Ambitious

See it if You want to see something you've never seen before. A strange, wonderful play.

Don't see it if You want light, fluffy theater. You're going to end up discussing this.

Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Profound, Great writing, Great acting

See it if you want one of the rare truly blindsiding plays, anchored by a perfect Hyde Pierce and a deeply humane and specific text by Bock.

Don't see it if You are expecting a lighthearted, plot-driven romp. This is a snapshot of an unknowable part of life; it revels in and savors the mundane.

Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Great staging, Entertaining, Ambitious

See it if you love David Hyde Pierce, but go for the interesting play. This play takes some twists and is very thought provoking. Great show!

Don't see it if I have some friends that are currently going through some hard times - this play might not be for them. I didn't find it sad - some might.

Thought-provoking, Dizzying, Brilliant design, Haunting, Absorbing

See it if this is a really surprising, haunting, totally unique, interesting night at the theatre. Unlike anything I've seen before...

Don't see it if you're looking for conventional in anyway. The play defies convention, to varying degrees of success, but is exciting nevertheless.

Also Laura Jellinek's set is masterful, as is the rest of the nuanced desig... Read more Read less

Thought-provoking, Resonant, Intelligent, Great acting, Clever

See it if You like David Hyde Pierce (half the show is just him) or if you like new plays

Don't see it if you've lost a family member recently

Thought-provoking, Intelligent, Great acting

See it if Very realistic, slice-of-life. David Hyde Pierce

Don't see it if you need big laughs, big sets, songs, or excessive anything.

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Surprising, Clever, Ambitious

See it if you want something unexpected, enjoy stories of gay men maneuvering through NYC, fan of David Hyde Pierce, like ballsy staging and plot

Don't see it if you've had it with stories of gay men, don't like unexpected twists that come earlier than expected, saddened by scenes of abject loneliness

Cast & Creatives (12)