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.

... Read 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. 

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See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews


“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

The Hollywood Reporter

“No shortage of imagination. But, it lacks the emotional resonance to make us sufficiently care about its characters...The playwright doesn't succeed at blending his wildly different stylistic tones and narrative lurches with sufficient finesse. For every scene that crackles with dramatic tension, there's another that quickly lapses into tedium. The links between the characters and the complicated series of events depicted often prove frustratingly elusive to decipher." Full Review

The New York Times

“A frankly tiresome play...Joseph's comedy wilts rather than blossoms in proximity to his tragedy, and his tragedy droops into bathos. The production, directed by Giovanna Sardelli, is no help...The root problem is that the characters are mere conveniences, bent like pipe cleaners into the shapes required by the overbearing plot. You spend a lot of time wondering if they are real — to history, that is — but none wondering if they are true. All too evidently, and disastrously, they are not." 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


“Ambitious, uneven and hard-to-describe...An intriguing but too-often confounding play...The writer gives his historically set storytelling a heightened imaginative lift. But often the changes in style are just too odd to fathom, coincidences are too much of a stretch...Sardelli directs with a wide and careless brush...The actors do their best to shift playing styles, but often the comic moments — and even some of the dramatic ones — are played so broad as not to be believed at all." 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

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

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 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

Broadway Blog

“Ambitious but dramatically unpersuasive and unimpressively acted and directed…The actors, trapped in the play's artificially European atmosphere, cannot make any of this humanly affecting. The worst offender is Grenier, who attempts to sound like a gruff…Russian by continually blasting his lines as if he were acting without a mic in Madison Square Garden…Burstein plays with restraint against this bombast but is unable to translate the dross of his lines into the gold of theatrical reality.” Full Review

New York Daily News

“An ambitious but anemic drama...Puzzle pieces eventually all snap together as the dramatic mash-up explores the weight of history, the slipperiness of truth and the power of connections...Performances run the gamut from convincing to cartoonish under the direction of Sardelli. When all is said and done, the nearly three-hour play lacks a cumulative punch. Describe the 'Night' — intriguing, long, and low-impact." 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


“'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


“Mixing historical characters and fictional ones, the play covers 90 years of Russian history from 1920 to 2010 and travels to ten locales in three countries. The pertinent themes are that of fake news and repression in a totalitarian state but at almost three hours, the play becomes both tiresome and convoluted. Another problem is that most viewers are unlikely to know where the truth ends and where Joseph's invention begins.” 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

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


“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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews

Ambitious, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Indulgent, Good writing

See it if you have loved Mr. Joseph's other works and you support the process of new plays. Also, it's always great to see Danny Burstein in ANY show!

Don't see it if long dramas turn you off or anything "period-based" isn't your cup-of-tea.

Dated, Interesting, Entertaining

See it if You like shows based around real life events or situations - these events actually took place, which I think is more fascinating.

Don't see it if You have a hard time following various accents and various time periods - it jumps back and forth (I thought it was clear but you may not).

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.

Night not tight

See it if Stoppard fans rejoice. Imitation is sincerest form of flattery. Ambitious, perhaps excessively. Plenty to keep tabs on. Good wintertime play

Don't see it if A lot to chew on, but ingredients don't always blend. RJ assumes we were history/lit double majors. Direction cannot contain play's sprawl.

Also Pretty cool to sit in front row and have plastic confetti wash over yo... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Slow, Well acted

See it if Epic, ambitious & talent stretching effort by Joseph to chart the reach of Stalinistic policies into modern society esp 'fake news'

Don't see it if Despite impeccible acting, drama becomes a bit turgid & slow (Sardelli's direction lacks punch) Time trevelling technique grows tedious

Absorbing, Epic, Thought-provoking, Sinister, Fragmented

See it if Characters and events intertwine from four different periods in Russian history. Only bits of truth remain, and even those are questioned.

Don't see it if You don’t enjoy piecing together fragments of a non-linear story. Intellectually challenging with a mean villain, but not emotionally moving

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

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.

Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Profound

See it if you like plays about connection, "six degrees of separation"

Don't see it if you're over the anti-communist propaganda and roll your eyes at the writer's obvious love for capitalism and America

Absorbing, Intelligent, Historical, epic

See it if you are a fan of Russian historical events from the past 70 years told in stories that go back and forth in time and are all tied together.

Don't see it if you are not interested in Russian historical events or plays that go back and forth in time that can be a bit confusing & require attention.

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, Ambitious, Intelligent, Great writing, Great staging

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

Ambitious, Disappointing, Tedious, Tiresome, Beyond the skill of this playwright

See it if You like Tom Stoppard-lite. If you enjoy this playwright (guards at the taj) you will find him out of his depth here. Tina Benko is great.

Don't see it if You've had enough of overly long plays trying laboriously to connect the dots across time. It strains to be profound & becomes overextended

Thought-provoking, Relevant, Important subject matter but not up to rajiv joseph's past work

See it if You enjoy political subject matter and are ready for a heavy night

Don't see it if You are looking for something light or looking for interesting staging - or if you are part of the Trump administration

Also Like Rajiv Joseph's other work this is heavy and historical. He has im... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Ambitious, Epic, Great acting, Intelligent

See it if you like beautifully acted plays with lots of ideas

Don't see it if you require all those ideas to add up to something concrete

Also The play was wonderful; it just missed greatness. Still, it will proba... Read more Read less

Great acting, Intelligent, Masterful, Great writing, Compelling

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

Ambitious, Great acting, Confusing, Disappointing, Long

See it if you like long, talky plays about Russia. You don't mind 2 intermissions. You like Danny Burstein, Tina Benko (the best thing about show)

Don't see it if you don't like long, serious plays about Russia. The ideas are interesting, but the writing falls short & the show is too long by an hour.

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

See it if You like well acted and staged plays. It’s long but the complex plot keeps things moving well.

Don't see it if Russian history as a backdrop would bore you or you don’t like political dramas/thrillers.

Ambitious, Great acting, Confusing, Slow, Great staging

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.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Intense, Great staging

See it if you love this playwright and are interested in unique drama.

Don't see it if you prefer comedy or musicals

The first line grabs you

See it if you enjoy the tangle of relationships and some interesting language

Don't see it if want a linear play as it goes back & forth in time

Ambitious, Clever, Great acting, Intelligent, 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.

Great acting, Confusing, Slow

See it if you enjoy historically based stories

Don't see it if you have trouble keeping track of stories that jump back and forth in and out of time periods

Funny, Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Relevant

See it if you enjoy wonderful theatre, great staging, and acting.

Don't see it if you want a musical or a simple, linear comedy that's short.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Intelligent

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.

Cast & Creatives (15)