MCC Theater presents a tale of magical realism colliding with manic vaudeville in a family drama that looks closely at the fragility of life and the power of love. More…
Change is in the air as Violet prepares to bring twin sons into the world. Inside her womb the boys contemplate their future, while her outer world is in transformation: her husband is secretly planning to leave her; her father is slipping into senility; and her daughter has taken a vow of silence. 'Smokefall' follows the lives of this family in an expansive poetic treatise uncovering the extraordinary family connections we all stretch and warp across the years but can never quite break.
"Every performance in 'Smokefall' is as rich and nuanced as Haidle’s writing, Anne Kauffman’s direction, and Mimi Lien’s inventive scenic design...Haidle implies in 'Smokefall' that whatever individual family members do, and however our loved ones err, fail, and injure those closest to them, the notion of family, and a family’s history and love, will persist." Full Review
"Haidle's careful deployment of humor is present and vital throughout 'Smokefall'...The comic and the tragic are kept in a fine balance, but emotional extremes on either side are tempered by the intellectual heft of the show: when confronted with a choice whether to elicit thoughts or feelings, Haidle seems to lean towards the thinking route... Suffice to say that the playwright has at least offered us a take on the existential family drama that's fresh, dreamy, and gripping." Full Review
"Haidle has given himself quite a tightrope to walk, blending domestic drama with wild flights of fancy and vaudeville-like routines, the farcical often occupying the same space as a pervasive melancholy. But darn it if he doesn't pull it off, shifting dramatic and emotional gears with the skill of a top race car driver, even as he conducts a conversation about the forces that shape our lives: chance, choice, genes, and destiny." Full Review
"Notes of magical realism keep the plot revolving through time, in MCC Theater's intelligent, slightly uneven production...Anne Kauffman has staged the production with fluidity and grace...Thanks to the witty, mostly credible plotting and excellent acting...The biggest question Haidle works to illuminate, though, is whether life is worth living despite inevitable tragedies and setbacks." Full Review
"Haidle has written a splendid play in which magical realism counterpoints a family drama with considerable success...The first act is the stronger of the two. It is in the second act when the playwright tells and retells the same stories over and over again that the power of the first act diminishes...The cast portrays the host of characters with honesty and believability and leads the audience into the womb of wonder that is the autumnal smokefall of life." Full Review
"Haidle refuses to be bound by traditional concepts of realism. And his surreal, imaginary bent is a critical component of his storytelling here, as it lets him dive into complicated realms of thought, feeling, and perception...For all the benefits of this originality, however, at times it's counterproductive...Haidle often seems to suffer from having too many ideas. Even so, his concerns are genuine and the emotions they generate real." Full Review
"A haunting drama that combines magical realism with vaudevillian hucksterism...MCC has pulled off a visually interesting feat, under the direction of Anne Kauffman...It’s quite obvious that Haidle believes some things can keep growing, maturing, evolving and improving, even if they’re diseased." Full Review
"Seeing 'Smokefall' again, I realized that Haidle hasn’t written characters and perhaps never intended to...'Smokefall' is filled with talk about DNA, destiny, free will, and original sin...I enjoyed 'Smokefall' much more the second time around...The play is as audacious as it is full of itself." Full Review
"'Smokefall,' feels influenced by the work of Thornton Wilder, with its mix of the homespun and the metaphysical...If 'Smokefall' is a self-consciously poetic effort that winds up less engaging emotionally or dramatically than the modern classic it evokes, the play along the way has offered a number of funny, strange or strangely alluring moments; an effective metaphor or two; and some fine acting." Full Review
"When presented in Chicago, the play was such a success that the Goodman Theater moved it from its small stage to its mainstage to ecstatic reviews. Although the current production has the same director, Anne Kauffman, something seems to have been lost on the trip east. The New York cast, entirely new, seems competent so I am not sure they are to blame. I wish the play had been able to maintain the promise of its first act." Full Review
"‘Smokefall,’ while stuffed with playful conceits and clever dialogue, remains too self-involved and cerebral to reach across the footlights and draw us into its emotional web. Haidle loves piling on the symbols and philosophical mind play, usually at the expense of the play itself.‘Smokefall’ is efficiently directed, acceptably acted, and nicely designed. But the play remains too preoccupied with thoughts about higher meanings and not enough with the human conflicts that make drama dramatic." Full Review
"The sometimes heady, rarely affecting 'Smokefall,' explores Big Ideas, without quite assembling them into engaging theatre...The players in director Anne Kauffman’s production all bring feeling to their roles, though whether the play itself elicits any from audiences seems like another matter. While its dialogue may give you pause to ponder Life’s Big Questions, the characters are rendered sufficiently remote and indistinct that their interpersonal drama is less than emotionally engaging." Full Review
"Mr. Haidle’s flights of imagination mostly left me less than enraptured...The director, Anne Kauffman, has made a specialty of adventurous new writing...and the cast is first-rate...But the play’s characters are defined exclusively by their eccentricities and flights of odd lyricism; they have no believable emotional pulse...When you have a fetus quoting Michel Foucault, you are moving beyond absurdity and treading dangerously close to plain old pretentiousness." Full Review
"The strained interactions among these barely defined characters seem to go on forever...Telling instead of showing, the playwright spoon-feeds his themes as if he's afraid the audience will be too obtuse to catch on....For all their considerable efforts, the performers are hobbled by characters who feel less like flesh-and-blood figures than creative conceits. There's tragedy aplenty in 'Smokefall,' but it's doubtful you'll find your eyes tearing." Full Review
"Anne Kauffman, a solid pro, repeats directing chores and guides this capable enough new cast, but even so the play delivers a few flashes of whimsy and not much else...The show’s takeaways are pretty obvious. We lose people. Life comes full circle. To love is 'the greatest act of courage.' That may well be. But it’s hard to love this 'Smokefall.'" Full Review
"Haidle’s previous New York plays flirted with non-realistic situations, but 'Smokefall' is the most precious and facetious of the bunch...The talented cast is surprisingly bland...A fantasy on the familiar theme of the dysfunctional family. Whimsical most of the time, clever at others, it will please some, and put off others. In this reviewer’s opinion, its offbeat and idiosyncratic format does not reveal anything new about families or how we should live our lives." Full Review
"Zachary Quinto nimbly takes on several characters, including one named Footnote, who narrates the action; and another named Fetus Two, whom we meet in the show's best scene, dressed as a vaudevillian and trading one-liners with his twin about whether it's worth it for them to leave the womb...The grim daily lives and poor choices that playwright Noah Haidle has given four generations of this family strains for the profundity of 'Our Town' but ends up in the shallow end of the pool." Full Review
"Welcome back to Haidle’s brand of whimsical literalism, where commonplace ideas and character types are tricked out in self-conscious structural gimmicks that serve mainly to gild the obvious... its evocation of Thornton Wilder’s 'Our Town' only points up, by contrast, the sententious cutesiness of a play that treats, for example, 'the world is round' as an insight." Full Review
"It often feels more like a college seminar on magical realism than a rigorous example of the genre...The actors are miraculously able to deliver this dense text in a way that doesn't sound like they're reciting from an essay on world literature...Unfortunately, director Anne Kauffman's production is equally lifeless...Likely to appeal only to undergraduate philosophy students (and those who wish they could be in college forever)." Full Review
"It’s as dark as you please, but so cute in its approach and so heavy-handed in its symbolism that it ends up belittling the very ideas it wants to advance...Anne Kauffman has directed without her customary verve...the theatrical energy almost never rises to the level necessary to support such a complicated agenda. Even when it starts to, it is usually shut down by another bit of annoying whimsy, or the realization that the philosophy underlying it is often no more profound than Dr. Phil." Full Review
"It turns out the show is yet another domestic drama about the all-American nuclear family, this one trying hard to distinguish itself from other domestic dramas about the all-American nuclear family by stylistically swerving from realism to surrealism...No one says anything the least bit interesting, and whatever we know about these people we learn from Quinto, who is called Footnote and plays the narrator." Full Review
for a previous production "'Smokefall' is a glorious play with a unique blend of sophistication and open-heartedness. It is a work that leaves you thinking about every human connection you have, whether on an intimate scale or the cosmic one. And Haidle’s genius is that along with the pain and wistfulness come great bursts of true comic brilliance, so you leave the theater in a strange state of tearful exuberance." Full Review
for a previous production "I was mesmerized by every moment of 'Smokefall' at the Goodman. Noah Haidle’s script is one of the best I have seen in years. The ensemble is terrific and the designs perfection. Don’t miss it...Director Anne Kaufman’s perfect touch never makes a false move." Full Review
for a previous production "This encore engagement is better than the original staging...Director Anne Kauffman's production has only deepened as it has grown, although I think the trajectory of the last 10 minutes still needs work...Haidle has made a few judicious nips and tucks in his script. More notably, Kauffman clearly has reworked scenes that danced too much on the surface...The acting remains first-rate, both witty and unstintingly honest." Full Review
for a previous production "Sometimes a play speaks to an audience in a special, almost personal way. It can transcend time and space seeking out those universal truths that touch each playgoer’s heart. Such is Noah Haidle’s heartfelt, intergenerational story about how love grows and flourishes...Anne Kauffman’s superb, thoughtful direction of Noah Haidle’s captivating and heartbreaking examination of love and family should not be missed." Full Review
See it if you're interested in a combination of Kushner, Wilder, Beckett, and Magic Realism The ideas about time and death left me meditative.
Don't see it if you want simple storytelling. This play makes you work.
See it if You like plays that have themes about love, memory, loss, rebirth.
Don't see it if You don't like material that has quirky characters, plot points, and scenes, or when time isn't always linear.
See it if you like surreal and poetic plays that make you think. you enjoy clever drastic shifts in style and tone between scenes
Don't see it if you don't like weird shows, you get easily confused by nonlinear storylines
See it if If you want to be challenged. This is so good in so many ways. The staging was incredible. I wish there were more plays like this.
Don't see it if If you want to think. If you are looking for fluff this is not for you. In my ranking this is a rare 2!!!
See it if You love Zachary Quinto, can relate to dysfunctional families, like thought provoking pieces, can get sarcasm and wit.
Don't see it if You have a perfect family, don't like deep philosophical conversation, or you expect to see Spock as opposed to Dr Spock.
See it if you enjoy the unusual, the nonlinear, a bit of magical realism, something not literal but mysterious, like Zachary Quinto
Don't see it if You only like realistic, chronological plays, can't abide with figures from different eras popping on stage together, don't like the ominous
See it if You like magical realism or Wes Anderson's films. Quirky story w/ fascinating characters. I cared & was interested in their journeys.
Don't see it if You don't enjoy magical realism or the utilization of flashbacks or narration to tell a story.... I however, enjoyed all of these elements.
See it if you want to see a show that reaches pretty ambitiously and manages to almost never fail, and esp. if you like Sarah Ruhl's more poetic work
Don't see it if you want something linear, or literal.
See it if Best scene - Quinto and Hutchison in plaid suits as twin fetuses about to be born. A hilarious vaudeville sketch. But very intellectual
Don't see it if arburdism is not your thing. Zachary Quinto is also the narrator and dominates the stage most of the time. He's so talented. Handsome, too
See it if You enjoy fun entertainment that makes you think You don't mind non-linear plays
Don't see it if You expect a fully realized piece. 1st act was great. 2nd act not as successful and sometimes preachy.
See it if The storytelling is compelling in its non-linear shaping. The "birth" scene is fantastic and original.
Don't see it if You find non-linear storytelling and actors playing multiple roles to be confusing
See it if you want to mine the effects of familial dysfunction across several generations through a challenging narrative approach. You like puzzles.
Don't see it if you'd be confused by lead actors playing multiple generations of family members across time and space, sometimes with little differention.
See it if You enjoy a wonderfully acted story about a basically unhappy family spanning 4 generations, much of which is told in flashback.
Don't see it if You want a strong story that easily flows. If not for the narrator, this would have been all over the place, but he kept it flowing.
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