New York | 3h 0m | Already closed

Describe the Night

From 32 critic and 202 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Absorbing, Ambitious, Intelligent, Great writing

About the show

Set in Russia over the course of 90 years, the Atlantic's new epic drama from Rajiv Joseph ('Guards at the Taj') traces the stories of seven men and women connected by history, myth, and conspiracy theories. More…

In 1920, the Russian writer Isaac Babel wanders the countryside with the Red Cavalry. Seventy years later, a mysterious KGB agent spies on a woman in Dresden and falls in love. In 2010, an aircraft carrying most of the Polish government crashes in the Russian city of Smolensk. 

This Week in New York Blog

"A glorious, difficult-to-describe work that searches for the truth amid many lies, melding fact and fiction in creating a wildly unpredictable, endlessly adventurous tale that is as historical as it is contemporary...A gorgeously ambitious play, continually challenging the audience with its unconventional twists and turns. Director Giovanna Sardelli brilliantly navigates through the multiple time periods...So how to succinctly describe 'Describe the Night'? Truthfully, it’s indescribable." Full Review

Theatre is Easy

"Part of the great fun comes from seeing how the stories intersect as the play shifts between different time periods and relationships. Joseph does a masterful job crafting rich characters whose tragedies and triumphs are immediately compelling...Director Giovanna Sardelli displays a skilled hand in keeping the many moving pieces flowing gracefully...Expertly cast...Joseph’s warnings about politics, corruption, and manipulation couldn’t be any more resonant right now." Full Review

Philadelphia Inquirer

"A thrilling new play...The contemporary relevance is chilling...A cast of seven exceptional actors, playing multiple roles under the supple direction of Giovanna Sardelli...Gorgeously theatrical, profound, and engrossing. And funny, if you like mordant jokes about dead ducks and leech soup. It is a terrific challenge to keep track of the relationships and linked identities...'Describe the Night' is a provocation to thought, both philosophical and political." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"We are drawn in, bit by bit, never really able to see the grandness of this structurally solid play until the final scene. And then it all comes together, shockingly. Maybe a bit too tidy, but the play’s intricate and finely woven plot outweighs the contrivance of the intertwined relationships, leaving us fully enthralled until the elegant ending...It is no lie to say how funny and touching, smart and engrossing, and powerfully exciting and engaging 'Describe the Night' is." Full Review


“The kind of historical revisionism that is thrilling onstage, but deadly in government...Earnest performances are a key ingredient in the magical realism that Joseph and Sardelli impressively sustain for nearly three hours...An arresting production that often makes us feel like we're in a Russian theater...Much more than an engrossing tall tale...It heroically wrestles with the slippery nature of truth itself, and unnervingly demonstrates why its alternatives are so seductive.” Full Review

Gotham Playgoer

"An ambitious and complex work...The story jumps around in time and place and challenges the audience to follow along. There are scenes that are quite dramatic, others that are very funny and a few that don’t have much impact but are necessary...While I found the play intellectually satisfying, it did not engage me fully at the emotional level. The characters seem more like pieces of a puzzle than individuals worthy of empathy. Nevertheless, it offers a stimulating theatrical experience.” Full Review


“Joseph’s ambitious, epic, and ultimately memorable drama...Sometimes, you will be one step ahead of Joseph, and sometimes, you will be two steps behind. And yes, perhaps you won’t care. But the rewards for those who stick with the work are bountiful. Not only is Joseph’s ultimate solution to this Chinese Puzzle of a play both ingenious and surprising, you will find yourself heading into the night with a rejiggered outlook on the concept of ‘reality’.” Full Review

The Wrap

“Without a doubt, Joseph knows how to tell a sprawling, convoluted tale that spans decades...Slowly and with great craftsmanship, over the course of three hours and many more scenes, Joseph puts the many disparate pieces together to create a broad panoramic portrait of totalitarianism...If that sounds dreary and painful in a Soviet sort of way, Joseph’s soap-opera tendencies make the story anything but...’Grand soap opera or great play, 'Describe the Night' is that rare must-see in the theater." Full Review

Theater Life

“Joseph creates a weird tapestry of truth and lies in his new drama...This overwhelming saga asks hard questions on the relationships between government and media, citizens and dictators, and how people manage to live through decades of upheaval...The plot stretches credulity but in Joseph’s shadowy world, it doesn’t matter. This is a dreamscape of epic proportions enveloping theatergoers with Joseph’s storytelling magic as it stuns with unrelenting anger at authoritarian monsters.” Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

“Dense and fascinating...A play about stories, one that begins in historical fact and spins outward...'Describe the Night' eels like a vital attempt to hold a mirror up to the former Soviet Union — in Joseph’s case, as an American playwright, a mirror in which we might also see ourselves...Intelligent, playful performances...The genius of ‘Describe the Night’ is its recognition of the intellectual overlap between Russia’s creators and its tyrants: both understand the power of story.” Full Review

Daily Beast

“Exquisitely acted by the cast and directed with a supple grace...The play is its own vivid, perfectly paced patchwork of memory, lies, and revelations. Raw confrontation and violence share the same orbit as flashes of magical realism...Sardelli and Joseph crisply marshal the play’s complex structure, immersing us in its contrasting eras, which flash up as guiding graphics on the back wall...The play uses much mirroring of past and present to subtle and powerful effect.” Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

“A 'Russian fantasia' that aspires to the brilliance of 'Angels in America'...and sometimes brushes up against it...Directed with clarity and flair by Sardelli with a bravura cast who are all superb...The entire cast devours their roles with equal parts gusto and glee...It's complicated storytelling and some may find it too dry or too soulless for their taste...But be brave and take the plunge. Writing this provocative and imaginative deserves our attention and admiration.” Full Review

Berkshire Fine Arts

"The play is almost three hours long, and whizzes by in jewel-like nuggets of high drama...The journey is magnetically held together by the superb performances of every member of the cast...Burstein moves us through time with ease, as Babel’s stories outlive their subjects and they themselves become reality...The script is peppered with piercing witticisms. Metaphors are thought provoking and amusing...'Describe the Night' unfolds with a focus on the topic of truth and power." Full Review

Edge New York

"In his intimate yet sprawling new play, Joseph has taken some pieces of Russian history and spun them into a narrative tapestry that spans almost 100 years...Joseph weaves all of these strands together expertly, introducing unexpected connections along the way...Under the sure guidance of director Sardelli, 'Night' travels back and forth through time with ease...Phenomenal cast...A partly true and totally engaging tale that would hopefully make Isaac Babel himself proud." Full Review


“'Describe the Night' is undoubtedly Joseph's most ambitious play. The play is epic, both in in terms of its length and scope...Joseph is a good enough storyteller to ensure that this is a unified and absorbing historic drama even though it jumps back and forth in time and setting...A top notch cast...If there's any weak spot in this otherwise smartly constructed and presented drama, it's in the final scene which works too hard to put everything into a neat package.” Full Review

Front Row Center

“’Describe the Night’ is a question for which there is no answer...Joseph plays connect-the-dots with historical facts and figures spanning 90 years that might – or might not – have any connection, and asks us to see a familiar face in the resulting picture...The use of such authentic and historically accurate events and characters imbue ‘Describe the Night’ with great plausibility...While it could have used some trimming, ‘Describe the Night’ is a compelling story." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"All that meta-literary conceit might sound too clever by half. But director Giovanna Sardelli maintains a taut sense of intrigue for close to three hours and brings out the script’s skewed humour...The entire cast adopts a suitably bizarre style of acting...The play’s final scenes tie up all its historical loose ends a little too neatly, thereby weakening the story’s enigmatic power. But 'Describe the Night' still brings us on an enthrallingly warped ride through Russian history." Full Review

Stage Buddy

"The ambition of Joseph’s work is stunning. The intricacies he creates by weaving together the stories of both historical and fictional characters is impressive. The play encapsulates the atmosphere of repression, terror, and truth twisting of Communist Russia and the desperation it engendered for those behind the Iron Curtain, while somehow managing to infuse it with wry humor. The story feels particularly poignant in this political environment." Full Review

New York Theater

“Ambitious, pertinent, resonant, sometimes compelling but often confusing...One can see what Joseph is about here – erasing the boundaries of time...pushing the Stalinist era flush up against the current day...If the production doesn’t hold together as one would wish, you leave wanting to encourage the playwright to keep going with it — to paraphrase ‘Angels of America,’ a comparable but more lucid work of breadth and depth, intelligence and passion: Let the great rework begin.” Full Review

The Huffington Post

“A fact-based epic drama of enormous scope...Rich, fascinating, bulging and unwieldy; Joseph weaves an interesting story, helped along by bravura performances...But while drama of this historic complexity can be highly rewarding, Joseph’s play does not quite succeed...We get a jigsaw-like evening in which you have many complete sections but can’t piece them together...Ambiguity in drama can be effective, but not when you lose your audience during the first act.” Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"Cryptic, lyrical, engrossing, if occasionally ponderous...What distinguishes Joseph’s work is his non-linear time line...It can get confusing—he’s not overly generous with clues—but it’s also intriguing...Sardelli’s direction is straightforward but just a little bit sluggish...Burstein and Grenier make perfect foils for each other, as both friends and foes...'Describe the Night' effectively summons up the Cold War era in a very character-driven way." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

"We'd be more intrigued if the people onstage were more engaging...Then again, playwriting of this breadth and intellectual interest doesn't come along every day...There is considerable satisfaction to be had as the various puzzle pieces click into place...Even when the play is taking its own sweet time, one can enjoy a cast that is adept at hopscotching across the decades...There are the seeds of a more powerful play inside 'Describe the Night,' but, still, it's a risky, rangy work." Full Review

Time Out New York

“Ambitiously complex…In a nearly three-hour play, it's impressive that Joseph keeps everything spinning almost to the very end. What's missing, though, is a sense that there's a center to the whirlwind. What idea, other than ‘fiction exists,’ is all this historical flotsam whizzing around?...Still, it’s a pleasure that someone has finally figured out to fully exploit Tina Benko's talents...'Let me tell you a story,' the ancient Yevgenia creaks...And as long as she's telling it, it’s riveting.” Full Review

Wolf Entertainment Guide

“A strange but often interesting play...The weaving of characters into the different periods can be confusing even though the actors are exceedingly good...Sardelli handles moments of intense conversation with skill...Still, there is something lacking in what the author has tried to do...One might yearn to learn more about Babel with less skipping around to make connections. Ideas clash, and the result is more of an uneasy mix than the searing look at what happened to Babel." Full Review


“An overlong, overly wordy mash-up of history and invention...We get real and imagined events, braided together and spiraling over nearly a century of Russian history...It’s terribly difficult to describe it all, but suffice it to say that the work is ambitious. Terrifically ambitious, sprawling, overlong, overplotted, uneven, and filled with wonderful performances...But, unfortunately, it does not nourish the hungry theatergoer.” Full Review

Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Masterful, Resonant

See it if Can

Don't see it if don't think you can sit through a sophisticated, complicated thinker.

Also I went back to see this play a second time. No one writes in this styl... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Resonant

See it if you like dramatic histories made present and new. See it if you like active storytelling.

Don't see it if Your attention span is short.

Absorbing, Great acting, Great writing, Intelligent, Resonant

See it if if you like gorgeous writing and intelligent thoughtful plays- and brilliant acting!

Don't see it if dont go if you dont like long plays- this is long, and you hve to focus on the gorgeous writing and whats going on every min to not lose

Also important details in the plot

Absorbing, Exquisite, Great acting, Intense, Masterful

See it if you love a great intricate story

Don't see it if you don't like long shows. its 3 hrs long

Absorbing, Ambitious

See it if An interesting take on a period of Russian history that links the three acts.

Don't see it if You like to be spoon fed and don't like to think much

Absorbing, Great acting, Edgy, Great writing, Great staging

See it if totally engrossing drama about the relationships between a group of people in Soviet Russia & East Germany

Don't see it if there's no real message here, there's no real destination. it's not a traditional type of narrative play that tells a clear, specific story.

Compelling, Masterful, Great writing, Great acting, Intelligent

See it if You want to see a fascinating historical drama that follows a compelling story over 90 years.

Don't see it if You are looking for something light and don't want to think

Also I enjoyed this play even more than I thought I would. The writing was ... Read more Read less

Clever, Absorbing, Intense, Profound, Intelligent

See it if you are interested in WWII history and want to see good actors in action.

Don't see it if you get bored from talks about politics, Nazis, and don't like gun shots in the theater

Ambitious, Absorbing, Great staging, Great writing, Intelligent

See it if an interesting and well-acted story told in a creatively and complexly crafted play--engaging all the way through

Don't see it if you require huge emotion--this play's strengths are its intelligence, poetry, and moments of wonderful writing

Absorbing, Intelligent, Ambitious

See it if You like novelistic drama drawn from history and relevant to the present .

Don't see it if You have difficulty following jumps in time periods.

Absorbing, Great acting, Clever, Entertaining

See it if A very dramatic telling of a historic story; felt captivated from the first second

Don't see it if You don't like strong drama, and perhaps history. I think both leads were terrific

Thought-provoking, Great writing, Unique

See it if You like a unique plot. The location and time periods along with the connection to all three is unlike anything you've experienced.

Don't see it if You don't have the patience for a massive plot to completely play out. It takes a long time to see all the connections.

Good, Solid, Enjoyable

See it if you like plays

Don't see it if you don't like plays.

Ambitious, Intelligent, Intense, Thought-provoking

See it if you like intelligent drama that challenges you.

Don't see it if you're not up for a play that makes you work to follow it.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Epic, Great writing

See it if you enjoy sprawling epics that jump in timeline.

Don't see it if you are not a fan of history.

Great acting, Relevant, Riveting

See it if You're interested in politics, history, discussions about truth or just want to see great acting and writing.

Don't see it if You don't want to see a play that has connections to current news stories about Russia and corrupt politicians or a play that's three hours.

Absorbing, Great writing, Intelligent, Relevant, Intense

See it if you enjoy thought-provoking theater.

Don't see it if truth is unimportant to you.

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

See it if You enjoy a though provoking experience. You can go with the flow and wait to see how all the strings attach. Enjoy depth.

Don't see it if You need linear play structure. Seek a light sit back and entertain me play.

Great staging, Great writing, Thought-provoking, Ambitious

See it if you love beautiful, intimate scenes in a complex spider web of a story.

Don't see it if you require a straight-forward, easily digestible play.

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

See it if See it if like excellent acting and story telling. A good Russian history lesson too.

Don't see it if The play was very long with 2 intermissions.

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

See it if you enjoy historical dramas even if they are mixed with a pinch of fiction. A wonderful show-stealing performance by Tina Benko.

Don't see it if you can't sit still for three hours. Or if you do not like historical plays not told in chronological order.

Also A very ambitious work by Rajiv Joseph. Still needs some work, however.... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Absorbing, Great acting

See it if You like historical drama based on real people but related with some creative license. An ambitious production with great acting.

Don't see it if You don’t like long dramatic plays with a non-linear storyline requiring attention to detail.

Great acting, Great staging, Confusing, Slow, Ambitious

See it if you like historical shows based over time. See it if you like puzzling shows. It takes a patience to understand what is happening.

Don't see it if you need your plots in chronological order or if you only like fast paced shows. Very dense material.

Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Clever, Intriguing

See it if you like historical stories with some spices thrown in; truth or dare situations and great acting by all, especially Tina Benko.

Don't see it if you don't like long plays or political history with mystery; you don't like bits of embellishment thrown into your non fiction; poor ending.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great writing, Intelligent, Riveting

See it if you're a fan of Rajiv Joseph's work, or you just want a night of epic theatre

Don't see it if you don't have the patience for a 3 hour play or if you have no interest in Russian history

Also I never thought I would be so captivated by a 3 hour show with two int... Read more Read less

Cast & Creatives (15)