Ars Nova presents The Mad Ones new work in which the creators of a 1970s children’s television program have commissioned a focus group to probe the parents of the show’s target audience. More…
Over stale coffee and donuts, a group of strangers navigates the murky waters of American belief and perception.
"Directed and acted to quiet perfection, it's a pitch perfect execution of a simple idea...The show is directed by Lila Neugebauer so invisibly that you half believe the audience is sitting behind a one-way mirror and watching an actual focus group...This is an ensemble in every sense of the word and each actor is doing exceptional work. Director Neugebauer works with them and a terrific creative team to create one of the most finely tuned productions I've seen in ages." Full Review
"'Mrs. Murray’s Menagerie' is exceptional theater. The entire cast is superb. A creative idea has been carefully cultivated to bloom by these actors and this theater company. Inventive and hilarious, the play succeeds in elevating a very specific situation into a psychological study of ourselves and how our viewpoints shape how we see the world. No lecturing, grandiose speeches or pontificating needed. Just watch, listen and think." Full Review
"How do I love 'Mrs. Murray’s Menagerie'? Let me count the ways. Extraordinary attention to detail, captivatingly committed performers, songs that are no less catchy for being incidental, and wicked bad hair on heads and faces...It amounts to the most fun I’ve had in the theater since the first Ars Nova production I ever saw: 'Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812.'" Full Review
"Engrossing, hilarious and ultimately sobering...Director Lila Neugebauer ratchets up the tension in the room, expertly layering the drone of questions and answers under the shifting allegiances...The piece invites us to play sociologists...We don’t know these people’s families or inner lives, so maybe we’re projecting our own issues. And with actors this good, the guessing-game is a nifty moving target...The Mad Ones make pressing your nose against the glass a voyeur’s delight." Full Review
“This Mad Ones' production is just as subtle and direct in its wonderful writing and characterization...There are no big emotional speeches by any members of this group, but instead we watch a steady accumulation of life detail and tensions around sexism and racism that simmer while questions about the show are asked and answered. It's both very funny and extremely excruciating...’Mrs. Murray's Menagerie’ is both plain and intriguing.” Full Review
"The Mad Ones’ latest delves further into naturalism, potentially risking losing the audiences in the process...A triumph in meticulously calibrated and crafted theatrical realism. Now a known commodity, director Lila Neugebauer once again shapes the piece with her trademark attention to detail...The ensemble cast is impeccable, creating fully-formed characters out of subtle looks and gestures. To single any one out would be to do the others a great disservice." Full Review
"The Mad Ones imbue the ordinary with hilarity...This tone of zaniness that is also realistic is something the Mad Ones have mastered, as they capture the inherent awkwardness of so much of human interaction...There’s simply something wonderfully different about a Mad Ones production because of their unique method of composition... But at its core, 'Mrs. Murray’s Menagerie' is great character-driven drama with a dose of all-too-real absurdity." Full Review
“The collaborative troupe the Mad Ones has a winning formula...Its newest production, again under the note-perfect direction of Neugebauer, winds back the clock to the late seventies, as six parents, plied with coffee and doughnuts, participate in a focus group for a beloved children’s TV show. Under a barrage of inane research questions - they reveal more about their home lives than they realize, and understated tensions flare. Particularly brilliant is LaVoy.” Full Review
"Though not quite as emotionally powerful as its predecessor, it is just as funny and, in some ways, more momentous...How such minutiae mount into a crisis is a mystery built into the company’s method. Some of it has to do with the subtle, super-sharp direction by Mad Ones member Lila Neugebauer...Nothing is handed to you or signposted. The process of exposition is rigorous and ingenious, forcing you to become an active agent in the discovery of the play’s themes." Full Review
"It’s delicate and refreshingly anticlimactic, very funny but joke-free, a seemingly unassuming but pointed example of the kind of painstaking group character study that the company has marked as its turf...Lila Neugebauer guides from the outside with her characteristic understatement and precision...It’s the unanswered questions and implications, the mountain of what goes unsaid, that give dimension to 'Mrs. Murray’s' premise." Full Review
"Absorbing new comedy from The Mad Ones that finds six parents, each with an instantly recognizable personality, playing off one another during a market-research session at a pace that can only be described as musical...Under the always clever direction of the ensemble’s longtime collaborator, Lila Neugebauer, there are no drastic actions or unforeseen twists." Full Review
“A very interesting play. Well written...Ego, self righteousness, and indignation make this a very humorous play...What is a pretty even paced play, it tends to slow after the first hour for about fifteen minutes, before ending strong...Neugebauer holds our attention throughout, and it makes for a nice evening...All the acting was good...’Mrs. Murray's Menagerie’ is a different kind of show. Both well staged and directed, it made for a really entertaining one you do not see very often.” Full Review
"At every step, Neugebauer and the Mad Ones exhibit an attention to realistic detail that is impressive to behold — even if it doesn't add up to the laugh-out-loud comedy of the year. Instead, 'Mrs. Murray's Menagerie' is the kind of intricate, quiet comedy that grows more resonant in the hours and days following the curtain call...We expect that we will be rewarded with a spectacular foot-stomping demolition. Disappointingly, that moment never comes — although that may be the point." Full Review
“Wonderfully quirky and hilarious...While 'Mrs. Murray’s Menagerie' is a delight, it does require patience. The first half of the focus group session goes off without a hitch, which means that for much of the play, there is not a single conflict in sight...You may find yourself wondering (as I did) what am I watching, and why? But by the end, my enjoyment flourished because I felt like I had gotten to know each character intimately." Full Review
“The question of how to raise children, what to prioritize, and what the goals are for American parents is at the core of the show...Set in the style of a 1970’s legion hall...This nostalgia for past eras of American realities is something The Mad Ones do best. Their research, attention to detail, tone, nuance, and attitude are pitch perfect...The story of the focus group, conducted in real time, is nearly plotless. Nevertheless, the ideas and character reveals are compelling enough to drive ... Full Review
"We might think our audience experience is primarily voyeuristic, but we’re more involved than we realize...Neugebauer’s direction is most deeply felt through the subtle orchestration of social cues, outwardly perceptible but in a way that only the viewers can unlock for themselves...A testament to this unavoidable influence of implicit bias, powered by privilege and agency...A tense, messy, amusing revelation of human communication and identity." Full Review
“The actors are uniformly excellent...Neugebauer once again demonstrates her skill directing an ensemble cast. Unfortunately the play has more valleys than peaks and offers little in the way of catharsis. Such restraint may be admirable, but subtlety does not always lead to compelling theater. I thought it was a step backwards from ‘Miles for Mary’.” Full Review
"If 'Mrs. Murray's Menagerie' is a pleasure, it is an oddly muted one...'Mrs. Murray' has no underlying dramatic structure; each time it looks like something might happen, it trails off in another direction. It's never dull, but it never really goes anywhere...In all other respects, the production is solid-to-inspired...Acting students...will find much to learn from an performance style so real it is almost surreal. If its results are uneven, this remains one of our most distinctive theatrica... Full Review
"The dramatic temperature barely rises, there’s a minimum of physical activity, and the same kinds of questions are repeated with variations. All we seem to be waiting for is the next big laugh...The humor gradually dissipated as we wondered what the payoff would be. As a mildly satirical take on the vapidity of such focus groups, ‘Menagerie’ is on target. As a discussion of average parents’ responses to children’s programming, it now and then says something bordering on pertinence." Full Review
“This is one very talented group of people. Their performances are all precise, honest and smart. Under Neugebauer’s direction, it is evident that a flawless ensemble is at work...Only one problem: there is no play here...You spend ninety minutes trying to figure out when what you are watching will catch fire...Then, when it ends, you're left...Not only puzzled, but slightly infuriated...Drama equals conflict...Sadly, ‘Mrs. Murray’s Menagerie’ is devoid of such things.” Full Review
"'Mrs. Murray’s Menagerie' succeeds only by showing the struggle against such reduction: the subtle ways in which these parents, sometimes with only the choice of a single word, manage to maintain their humanity in the face of such aggressive neutrality...It’s easy to respect 'Mrs. Murray’s Menagerie' on an intellectual level, but its always-at-arm’s-length subtext makes it hard for us to appreciate or connect with the material on an emotional level." Full Review
"Even at its funniest, the show evokes the kind of quiet amusement one might feel if you were stuck in an actual long meeting and trying to keep yourself secretly entertained...It’s possible that parents with young children might appreciate 'Mrs. Murray’s Menagerie' more than I did...There’s another reason why young parents might be a better audience for 'Mrs. Murray’s Menagerie.' They’ve been forced to learn to be extraordinarily patient." Full Review
"While the company's attention to detail is admirable, their work feels like the theatrical equivalent of — go on, call me a philistine — a Frederick Wiseman documentary. The authenticity is undeniable, but it makes for tedious viewing...Although all the ensemble members deliver finely detailed, canny performances featuring welcome doses of understated humor, there's too little substance in the play to make us care about their characters." Full Review
"An occasionally amusing study in human behavior, the point of 'Mrs. Murray’s Menagerie,' if there is one, proves elusive. Sometimes a slice of life is simply no more than a slice of life, no matter how nicely it may be executed by the designers and actors. Although some spectators (who are so inclined) can certainly admire the ultra-real quality of these subtle performances, others are likely to find this event to be a total snooze." Full Review
"Those who loved The Mad Ones' 'Miles for Mary' will be greatly disappointed by their latest group effort called 'Mrs. Murray's Menagerie'. The beautifully renovated Greenwich House offers the first show of the Ars Nova residency a lovely venue for this new play and the Lila Neugebauer production is impeccably acted and designed. However, this fictional recreation of a focus group, like most cinéma vérité, has no discernable dramatic event, making it a long 90 minutes." Full Review
See it if You'd like to see expert ensemble work. You enjoy unconventional storytelling. You're not yet familiar with the Mad Ones & what they do.
Don't see it if You're a strict traditionalist in terms of plot structure for plays.
See it if Ensemble actors directed like instruments in the orchestra. It's funny, smart and subtle.
Don't see it if You like dramatic tension resolved with a confrontation or catharsis
See it if You like inventive theatre with witty writing and terrific acting. Very subtle and yet dense and layered. Very unique and surprising.
Don't see it if You need a linear plot line and are impatient for "action."
See it if you want to Laugh, like character development, and want to see a fresh take on theater
Don't see it if you want a single theme as a take-away. Every person I talked to identified w/a different character & maybe that's the point.
See it if you like oddball theatre...you like especially creative writers...you're not afraid to explore something new...you want to laugh
Don't see it if you're not willing to be taken on a self reflective journey... you're expecting to know everything... you're unwilling to laugh at yourself
See it if you want to see a very intelligent show that says so much about society, group dynamics, culture, etc primarily with indirect communication
Don't see it if You don’t want to dig beneath the surface of messages to get at what is actually being said.
See it if You like a piece that gives you a lot to think about, and a lot to discover in glances, sighs, and side comments.
Don't see it if You are more driven by plot than character, or prefer that the "message" of a play be directly signaled to the audience.
See it if you enjoy plays that are different and tell more by sometimes not saying too much. A very intelligent and funny work that makes you think!
Don't see it if You want a standard type story. This is a great study in interpersonal behaviors and group dynamics that doesn’t follow a traditional style.
See it if you like to be drawn into the world and exposition — you will slowly learn who each character is and what parenting in the 70s is like
Don't see it if you don't like reading into the subtext of a moment, want everything to be spelled out to you, feel uncomfortable when plays examine racism
See it if enjoy non-traditional plays done well. Not much happens but one can read a lot into it.
Don't see it if Want action - then skip this. Just people sitting around talking may not be for everyone.
See it if hilarious satire of focus group from hell; fine ensemble passionately explores different views on values/character 2 instill in children
Don't see it if focus group format limiting, becomes redundant after 90 minutes; ending letdown; still by end feel as if tapped into psyche of community
See it if you enjoy insightful dialogue and an intelligent take on something that usually seems so mundane - a focus group.
Don't see it if you expect a real plot and a story line that builds up to a resolution or a reveal. This show is more of a "slice of life" vignet.
See it if You like improv. This show grew out of scenes written by The Mad Ones. Lacks structure.
Don't see it if You like shows with narrative, and a more traditional story. This show seems like it needed an Act 2.
See it if You want to experience the mundane, recreated with masterful detail and emulating powerful nostalgia through tiny moments.
Don't see it if You only want stores following traditional structures of plot and climaxes.
See it if You enjoy thoughtful storylines with really smart set design and multiple supporting characters in continuous, well written dialogue.
Don't see it if You need a fancy theater or a lot of smoke and lights.
See it if You enjoy profound commentary in nuanced conversation. If you like the style of The Mad Ones’ other work, you’ll enjoy this one.
Don't see it if You are unable to understand or pick up the subtleties of human relationships.
See it if You like strong performances, time specific settings, and gorgeous set design.
Don't see it if You generally appreciate theater with plot, theme, or any semblance of illumination...this has none of that.
See it if You like dialogue theatre and enjoy feeling like a fly on the wall
Don't see it if You prefer visual/spectacle theatre
Also If you liked Miles for Mary you’ll like this. It’s simply fantastic.
See it if you like people watching & look out for telling behavior/remarks. Opposite of melodrama. Observant, exact, controlled, understated.
Don't see it if you don’t read the micro as well as the macro. Not a high energy show. As well done as it is, the ordinary can be only so compelling.
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