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Members say: Thought-provoking, Ambitious, Great acting, Confusing, Original
23 reviews
74 reviews

Lincoln Center presents the New York premiere of Obie-winning playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' drama about a family forced to deal with the ghosts of its past.

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After their mother has a stroke, tensions escalate between Tate and Joanne. As they attack each other in their mother’s hospital room, they are ambushed by two strangers who make a shocking claim about their grandfather during WWII. With bold theatricality and disarming humor, 'War' follows a fractured family as its members navigate the landmines of the past and try to broker peace with each other–and themselves–in the present.


Cast & Creatives (14)

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Reviews (97)

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score

The New York Times

"This is a heavily confused play about cultural confusion, a consideration of identity that never settles into a coherent identity of its own…It is so replete with ideas and arguments—and tries to cover so much territory within a confined space—that it chokes on its ambitions. Not that many of the ideas, and the various ways in which they’re presented, aren’t provocative in themselves…This production still seems to exist in limbo in ways that its seriously gifted writer never intended." Full Review


"This whip-smart play uncannily captures the family politics that rupture around the mortality of a parent...Director Lileana Blain-Cruz negotiates between two distinct planes of existence with showmanship and efficiency...With 'War,' Jacob-Jenkins proves that family dramas can be intellectually stimulating, formally innovative, and emotionally engaging all at the same time." Full Review


"A bit of a buzz-kill. The play has something potentially interesting to say about language as a means of defining our common humanity and asserting our individual identity. But in its current over-thought, overwrought, and overwritten state the idea is stalled in the format of a strained domestic drama… Although he loses sight of the subject in the heat of the domestic drama, Jacobs-Jenkins seemed to have been onto something about language." Full Review


"Jacobs-Jenkins has never been one to back off from the possibility of making his audience feel uncomfortable...'War' is a play that is loaded with ideas, surprises and some of the sharpest writing around...As characters debate issues of communication and identity, Blain-Cruz's graceful production smoothly transitions from the real to the surreal, as the playwright's intriguing situation twists and turns." Full Review

Time Out New York

"The play’s violence is emotional and rhetorical, not literal, and derives from tensions about race and class; the playwright’s sharp voice resonates above those of the individual characters, who register semi-symbolically…'War' pokes the audience with racial discomfort—in this case, by playing with culturally loaded simian themes...The race it’s most concerned with is the human one." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

"Veering uneasily between naturalistic drama and stylized surrealism, the work doesn't fully succeed on either level…There's no denying the play's cerebral ambitions, even if the playwright is dealing with more themes than he can comfortably handle...Director Blain-Cruz wrestles with, but never pins down, the play's unruly disparate elements...A fluidly staged, visually imaginative production whose technical elegance provides an intriguing contrast to the messiness of the dramaturgy." Full Review

The Huffington Post

"There is too much that is too hazily rendered. While part of the art of the playwright is that he regularly leaves us with open questions, his prior plays did not leave us scratching our heads…The cast of seven does well...Prime honors, though, go to Woodard...'War' is, indeed, provocative and thought-provoking. But I left Jacobs-Jenkins’ 'Gloria' wanting to rush back and see it again. I left 'War' wanting to go back and see 'Gloria.'" Full Review

The Guardian (UK)

"Compelling ideas and events are introduced, then left dangling. Yet this is preferable to the handful of on-the-nose speeches in which Jacobs-Jenkins tries to explain notions or metaphors too explicitly...But Jacobs-Jenkins is a truly exciting playwright, capable of writing in an archly naturalistic mode and in ways that reach beyond realism...However inchoate or unresolved 'War' may seem, this is an artist who doesn’t monkey around." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

"Engrossing, and at times shocking...So rich and unusual is all this, in fact, that it sets a standard the second act is not capable of meeting. Though it resolves all the necessary plot implications, it gets there by way of a bunch of conventional, and too often uninteresting, arguments...If this lapse in subtlety hurts the evening as a whole, it's about the only one there is. Director Lileana Blain-Cruz keeps everyone else on point, and beautifully blends the competing realities." Full Review

New York Daily News

"Jacobs-Jenkins’ overloaded play about the need to connect and communicate set in motion by a matriarch's stroke is at war with itself. It careens from theme-to-theme as it toggles between realistic moments and surreal sections. In a production packed with overacting, Rachel Nicks’ natural and quietly affecting performance is refreshing. After the author’s terrific 'Gloria' and 'An Octoroon,' I’ll follow him anywhere. But this latest work goes nowhere." Full Review

Bob's Theater Blog

"I arrived with high expectations. Unfortunately I was disappointed. Although I credit the playwright for his ambition and imagination, I did not feel that he had produced a coherent work…The focus is divided among too many themes…Particularly in the second act, there are too many long monologues that interrupt the flow…I can’t fault director Lileana Blain-Cruz for failing to bring all the disparate elements together better." Full Review


"Uncertainty may be the objective of the playwright, whose work often roils blatant and subtle assumptions about both personal and racial identity. And yet there are so many backstories, so many challenging ideas in 'War' that its inability — or unwillingness — to coalesce leaves an unfinished feeling...We learn the world is stranded in racial history and everyone is trapped in a primal zoo. We also learn we wish we knew more." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"Like many younger playwrights, Jacobs-Jenkins seems more comfortable writing exposition-laden speeches than dialogue. Director Lileana Blain-Cruz thus struggles to create a consistent sense of dramatic rhythm over the course of the two hours...They say war involves great stretches of tedium punctuated by moments of terror and excitement. 'War' suffers from a similar imbalance." Full Review

Village Voice

"Branden Jacobs-Jenkins's fascinating, meditative play is a family drama with existential scope, the story of a single clan that widens, in both subtle and ambitiously strange ways, to contemplate inheritance and belonging — not just to parents but to ancestors, racial identities, and the species as a whole...'War' — elegant and thoughtful — is at times more driven by concept than action. But these are concepts that bear extended contemplation." Full Review

As Her World Turns

"What is identity? How is it tied to our family? To our race?...Each of these questions could occupy its own play, and by splitting focus to grapple with all of them, 'War' lacks a certain direction. But it stayed with me and I found myself mulling over parts of the show in the days after I saw it…There are a lot of ideas jumbled up into 'War,' and it’s mostly compelling, despite that it lacks the necessary cohesiveness to be a truly outstanding play." Full Review

Our Theater Blog

"Jacobs-Jenkins indulges in the trendlet of breaking the fourth wall. In his case the surreal and supernatural, integral to his story, is aided by Roberta’s addressing the audience. His is not a realistic play. Under Lileana Blain Cruz’s direction, it offers what is nearly an out-of-body experience. The techno effects, with lighting by Matt Frey and sound by Bray Poor, and a minimalist set by Mimi Lien, conspire to give 'War' its raw, and visceral power." Full Review

250 Word Reviews

"The title simultaneously refers to a family at odds with each other, the aftereffects of a grandfather’s WWII military service, and a look at how what was affects what is...Strong performances and a touch of heightened theatricality help 'War' rise above the average American family drama. Director Lileana Blain-Cruz beautifully balances the play’s realism and metatheatrics, drawing the audience into the play both literally and figuratively." Full Review

The New York Times

for a previous production "Though acted with spleen and tears, these encounters are more intellectually than emotionally engaging. Yet 'War' turns out to have a rare poetic intricacy and cohesiveness, and you’ll find yourself reassembling its jigsaw pieces in your mind afterward. Like the rest of Mr. Jacobs-Jenkins’s work, it deals with the importance of talking about identity — both socially constructed and primal — and the nigh impossibility of doing so accurately or even sensibly." Full Review

Connecticut Arts Connection

for a previous production "Director Lileana Blain-Cruz does coax good character portrayals…The playwright, however, fails to find his message in ‘War'…The coma scenes...are confusing and distract from what could be an interesting play about family dynamics…Jacobs-Jenkins doesn’t develop them or the themes enough to engage us. Folks leaving the theater were asking ushers what the ape scenes were about." Full Review

Talkin' Broadway

for a previous production "‘War’ is magnificent yet imperfect....It is transfixing at times and its overall impact is pervasive. The playwright does not give, though, Tate much room for interpretation or nuance. The character is one dimensional…This is a strong, emotional, deep-rooted family drama…'War' is an evolutionary work and acute, intellectual, imaginative individuals have combined talents to sculpt and embody the Yale Rep presentation." Full Review


for a previous production "Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' new play is a promising but jumbled evening, far from fully formed. Rather, it's a cornucopia of ideas, fragments, bits that seem to have festered in the mind of a talented writer…It's a jigsaw puzzle with pieces from several games— a work in desperate need of a more hard-nosed dramaturge...Director Lileana Blain-Cruz tries her best to wade through all the clutter, with mixed results." Full Review


for a previous production "‘War’ proves to be one thrilling, exciting and definitely risk-taking mess, further demonstrating the promise of the dynamic African-American playwright whose originality and audacity are gaining him critical acclaim…But this new play is packed with so many ideas and so much entertaining social commentary, that it tends to lose focus…The only guarantee is that Jacobs-Jenkins leaves you with a lot, quite a lot, to think about." Full Review

New Haven Independent

for a previous production "Bolder presentational choices could have been made. In some cases, the actors don’t seem up to the changes in pacing, volume, and emotion…You don’t expect a show like this, with its suspenseful death-and-mystery plot, and its attempt to connect its characters’ troubles with centuries of mistreatment of Africans, to be fluid. You do want it to be less disjointed, though. 'War' talks the talk, but its strategy lacks focus, and it loses some of its key battles for clarity." Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score

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

See it if You're a BJJ completist; you like theater that literally forces you to reflect on yourself after the show ends.

Don't see it if You don't like to sit through long moments of dialogue that don't push the story forward in an engaging way.

Intense, Thought-provoking, Interesting, Different, Not what you expect

See it if You are fine with some random elements added into your drama, and appreciate excellent acting a contemporary story.

Don't see it if You want a straight story without veering off the main action. You're looking for something funny or musical or with superstars in it.

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

See it if you enjoy interesting, compelling, flawed new works from important, young playwrights.

Don't see it if new plays scare you.

Edgy, Great acting, Intense, Great writing, Great staging

See it if you like writers who bring the whole of their classical education and deep, incisive thoughts to the table

Don't see it if you need something linear and for the tired businessman

Original, Thought-provoking, Confusing, Entertaining

See it if you like thought-provoking plays.

Don't see it if don't like plays with disjointed time lines.

Dizzying, Confusing, Disappointing, Overrated, Slow

See it if You enjoy being confused

Don't see it if You're looking for an evening of theatre at its finest.

Creative, Intelligent, Smart

See it if You are a fan of BJ-J, and you should be, or of Woodard who is as good as it gets here. It operates successfully on several levels.

Don't see it if You are uncomfortable with mysterious, the sometimes surreal, with several levels of reality. OK, not everything works, especially the end.

Absorbing, Dizzying, Thought-provoking, Confusing, Great staging

See it if Charlayne Woodard is a revelation. Wonderful casting; theatrical to its core; open absorbing; many issues of inequality are addressed

Don't see it if Like a sprinter that soars over some hurdles, crashes into some and then falls over the finish line. Goes off the rails more than once

Indulgent, Confusing, Cliched

See it if You want to see something that is more experimental. You can tell the cast is talented, despite the confusing and often over-written script.

Don't see it if You have numerous other shows you want to see. Chances are, there's one on the list that will be a more rewarding use of your time/money.

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

See it if you like to see a writer grapple with big, disparate ideas lassoed into a small family drama

Don't see it if you need one central theme or argument to take home and are uncomfortable with lots of topics being brought up and then not resolved.

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

See it if you like abstract presentation of thought-provoking ideas.

Don't see it if you're looking for light subject matter.

Original, Ambitious, Edgy, Thought-provoking, Disappointing

See it if You like well designed sets and good actors in odd circumstances. However, there were long stretches of confusing and surreal interactions.

Don't see it if You like linear stories without long drawn out monologues. The story became grating after a while and went around in circles.

Ambitious, Great acting, Intelligent, Quirky, Muddled

See it if you are interested in Jacob-Jenkins work and want to see him explore fresh themes.

Don't see it if you like clearly focused, realistic work.

Original, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Resonant, Terrific acting ensemble

See it if you are interested in the writings of Jacobs-Jenkins. Not one of his best plays, it still makes for an interesting night of theatre.

Don't see it if you do not want to engage in a conversation after the performance. The play contains a lot of food for thought.

Great acting, Confusing, Cliched

See it if You want to hear monologues and dialogues about race and family issues, and don't mind if they seem contrived.

Don't see it if You don't like family conflict stories.

Ambitious, Edgy, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Messy

See it if You like Jacob-Jenkins' work. If you want ambitious theatre that deals with important issues in creative ways.

Don't see it if You want simple, straightforward theatre. The scenes are good but the monologues take up too much time, and feel tedious.

Original, Ambitious, Thought-provoking, Refreshing, Resonant

See it if earnest & introspective; Albee-esque in concerns & approach; things connect as others dissolve; neurobio as metaphor for the human family

Don't see it if big and beautiful theatrical and thematic ideas that maybe haven't found their fullest articulation yet

Confusing, Disappointing, Excruciating, Insipid, Slow

See it if You want to be totally bored and not know what is going on!!!

Don't see it if Just don't see it! It's really painfully BAD!!!

Absorbing, Great acting, Confusing

See it if you like plays with very complex themes about race. Great acting but the material can be confusing at times.

Don't see it if You don't like heady plays that does not have a linear plot line.

Indulgent, Confusing, Overrated, Slow, Awkward staging

See it if you're a fan of a by-the-numbers family finds a secret/hospital drama.

Don't see it if confusing, pretentious and "arty" guidepost scenes aren't for you.

Ambitious, Dizzying, Quirky, Disappointing, Cliched

See it if you want a hard hitting play about racial, social constructs, meaning of family. See it if you haven't/want to see a BJJ play. Great staging

Don't see it if you expect BJJ's typical unconventional writing. Characters often seemed caricatures and one-dimensional. My interest lessened as it went on

Original, Ambitious, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Confusing

See it if you want to see a great ensemble in a play about family politics, identity, culture, collective consciousness and identity searching.

Don't see it if you don't like plays that are confusing, or that need another draft to really clarify what the author is trying to say and explore

Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Must see, Great writing, acting and staging

See it if you like layered, engaging drama with family theme and many sub-themes with fully realized characters. Relevant. great acting and staging.

Don't see it if You need to see a straight line narrative. Or you don't like family themes.

Indulgent, Disappointing, Overrated, Slow

See it if You enjoy lengthy rambling shows and long monologues (2 hours 15 minutes). You think it's insightful to see humans make ape noises and crawl

Don't see it if You don't want to see a disjointed mess of a show that's poorly written

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

See it if you like Branden Jacob-Jenkin's other works (like The Octoroon), you like plays with a touch of surrealism, you like dramas about family

Don't see it if you're interested in something light and fluffy, you hate any kind of surrealism, you don't like family dramas