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Emma & Max

From 16 critic and 28 member reviews
Members say: Great acting, Intense, Disappointing, Absorbing, Great staging

About the show

Todd Solondz ("Welcome to the Dollhouse," "Wiener-Dog"), known for his style of dark, thought-provoking, socially conscious satire, makes his theatrical debut at The Flea. More…

In "Emma and Max," Solondz turns his critical eye on New Yorkers, exploring the illusions and delusions, hopes and despair of the city’s well-off and worn down. Parenting and marriage, kids and vacation, devastation and survival – the quotidian stuff of life. In his typical fashion, Solondz spares no one and skewers everyone in a play about privilege, race, and the intersection of black and white.


"There are many plays that evoke feelings and entertain and do everything that an admirable piece of theater is meant to; I cannot say, though, that these plays are as poignant or as tragically beautiful as 'Emma and Max'. I can't remember the last time I not only stepped out of a theater in awe of what was just seen...It is so hard to come up with the perfect form of praise for everything this show is, without also thinking of how the show affects me...This production is, simply put, wonderf... Full Review


"Making an impressive stage debut with 'Emma and Max,' satirist Todd Solondz proves that he is a very astute man of the theater. As acted by its shrewd quartet of players, 'Emma and Max' is a devastating portrait of entitled urban white liberals who have never actually looked in the mirror to see how deep their prejudices go. 'Emma and Max' may not be an easy play to watch but its rewards are great." Full Review

Melinda's Malarky

"The play is a black comedy and social satire blazing with wit aimed at reckless self-indulgent white privilege...Brooke and Jay's preposterous behaviors are hilarious, cringeworthy uncovering the detritus of their insular daily lives. The set changes are plodding and all manned by Brittany. The clever scenic design adds depth and fluidity. The final act takes a drastic and deeply disturbing turn...The acting by the cast is first rate especially by Ms. Love." Full Review

This Week in New York Blog

"Wickedly funny and all too real...The play is a sharply observant skewering of the status quo in a Trump America that continues to encounter racism, bigotry, and hatred every day and where the term 'privilege' has become a dirty word...It’s also a place where payback can be a bitch, where there are consequences for physical, psychological, and sexual abuse. It’s not a happy situation, but it’s damn funny and frighteningly realistic, a mirror brilliantly held up to a society in crisis." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

“’Emma and Max’ is a trap set to deceive us all...Hyper-relevant dissection of our fears, favoritism, shortcomings...The audience will relentlessly laugh at a character until a tragic detail of their past is casually revealed...All of this is made possible from accomplished and skillful performances...The brilliance lying within ‘Emma and Max’ is that no matter how villainous some characters may appear or how irrational we are to forgive their trespasses, we can’t stop rooting for them.” Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"It’s a powerful and downright awkward exploration of hopes and despair, devastation and survival in typical Solondz fashion...An insightful and dangerous collision of concepts, weaving a thesis on race with almost more clarity and skill then Solondz’s film work, pushing hard on the humor while holding our head under water until we laugh or scream for air...The waves hit hard, even while making some of us laugh with shock, horror, and frustration." Full Review

New York Theater

"Dryly funny and uncomfortably dark. Its unsparing and unrealistic depiction of unlikeable characters seems almost purposefully designed to offend. I found it off-putting, sure, but also provocative and compelling, helped by the grounded acting of an excellent four-member cast...With the help of an inventive design team, Solondz creates a stagecraft that you might have called cinematic even if you didn’t know his background." Full Review

Theatre is Easy

"Even while shedding light on the ugliness present in American society, 'Emma and Max' still manages to create great aesthetic beauty. There may not be any hope or redemption for these characters, but Solondz has created comedy and commentary out of fictional lives that might just be closer to reality than we think." Full Review

Stage and Cinema

“All are guilty in ‘Emma and Max’ yet no one is evil. They’re all people trapped in their bodies, in their histories, in their circumstances...Solondz has tremendous empathy for his characters. In his world evil is not born of a desire to do bad or to hurt. It’s born of wanting to love and be loved, of desperation, of compulsion, of exhaustion, of the need for justice, of wanting to defend oneself and protect one’s loved ones.” Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

"The themes that have occupied Solondz throughout his three-decade film career – chiefly, the casual cruelties we inflict upon each other, and the inability to process a capacity to do harm – take center stage, translating well to the new medium...Although the dialogue occasionally veers toward the ridiculously overstated, Solondz manages to never lose a thread of sincerity in his portrayal of these characters." Full Review

The New York Times

"In physical terms, Mr. Solondz has translated his cinematic-eye view into a specifically theatrical vision with admirable success. There’s not a misstep in the staging...'Emma and Max' is always fascinating to look at, even if it’s in a masochistic way...Listening to what it has to say is another matter...From the moment we meet the whiny, needy, terminally solipsistic Brooke and Jay, it’s clear that they’re fish in a barrel, just waiting to be speared and gutted." Full Review

Off Off Online

“Solondz’s playwriting debut lacks the gut punch of his film work. For Solondz, race and class can only be understood in concert with each other...The children are the battlefield on which the main characters act out their grievances. This thematic ground has been done to death, by Solondz and any number of artists. Yet while it’s admittedly low-hanging fruit, the play dissects its tropes with wicked glee." Full Review

Theater Life

"It's a well-acted, intermittently interesting, but overly garrulous, tortoise-slow, oddly shaped play satirizing…the racial attitudes of white…liberals, as well as the nasty effects…of white privilege… Each actor makes a distinct impression, and Solondz's attractive physical production…achieves its goals. Still, 'Emma and Max''s overly broad characters lack the humanity needed for audience empathy, its dramatic structure…is distractingly lumpy, and its satire's point is too quickly blunted." Full Review

New York Stage Review

"Solondz appears to have spotted the dangers upper-middle-class liberals can face in their supposedly insulated lives...Perhaps because Solondz eventually noticed that as written Brooke and Jay are more suited to comedy sketch than legit drama, he shifts the action to Brittany about three-quarters through...Solondz, better at this point as stage director than playwright, needs a more solid way to make his points in the current political climate of vague liberal inclinations." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

“’There is next to no dramatic action in ‘Emma and Max’...Inertia is the play's default state as it lurches from one long aria of bad faith to the next, delivered by characters so repellent that the only sensible reaction is to tune out...The action move at a snail's pace...Becker and Servitto wring every last drop of bile from the roles...The play is less about race than Solondz's distaste for his fellow humans.” Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

“Much of the play is composed of long, rambling monologues that feel stilted and overwritten, designed to make thematic points. And the final scene...seems mainly designed for cheap laughs...Solondz overly indulges his writing, resulting in an evening that feels static and talky. It's no fault of the actors, who do credible work despite their schematic characters. Still, ‘Emma and Max’ ultimately feels more exploitative than illuminating of the tragic event that inspired it.” Full Review

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great staging, Intense, Masterful

See it if You want to see one of our leading chroniclers of suburbia extend his reach to the stage. You like dark satiric takes on society.

Don't see it if You have a hard time detecting satire -- or do not like commentary where all sides are shown to be problematic.

Clever, Quirky, Great staging, Great writing, Great acting

See it if A delusional nanny is terminated w/ consequence. Solondz doesn't sacrifice his dark & quirky sensibilities for the stage.Great scene changes

Don't see it if The long final 5-minute monologue drags.For a satire of race & class, the point is well taken for scene changes in character, but belaboured

Absorbing, Great acting, Great staging

See it if Good play about racism .

Don't see it if You want light fare.

Clever, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Confusing, Intelligent

See it if You want to look at race and class issues from a lot of different angles

Don't see it if You dislike long monologues and a potentially confusing plot

Great acting, Quirky, Refreshing

See it if Enjoy quirky dialogue with characters that one loves to hate and others we feel sympathetic towards. Great use of space and staging.

Don't see it if Need a full story with an arc versus separate scenes that tie together.

Ambitious, Disappointing, Indulgent, Slow, Intense

See it if you are a big fan of Todd Solondz, I suppose. Or if you want to see four actors try valiantly to make the show work. The set is attractive.

Don't see it if you like dialogue. This show is basically three long monologues with some lines between them. The pace is really slow due to scene changes.

Disappointing, Quirky, Slow

See it if you like dark plays infused with Todd Solondz's style of humor and unique perspective.

Don't see it if you expect something that has the substance and weight of Solondz's more successful films. This felt more like re-treaded material.

Also I admire Todd Solondz as a filmmaker, but felt that this play needed d... Read more Read less

Confusing, Intense, Quirky, Slow, Ambitious

See it if you enjoy shows with a heavy set element, including projections; you enjoy shows that don't have linear or very clear plot lines

Don't see it if you don't enjoy heavy drama, triggered by child endangerment

Also This was no a very cohesive piece and there isn't much to take away, b... Read more Read less

Timely, Relevant, Slow

See it if you enjoy dramas about class issues and racism.

Don't see it if you're looking for a light evening at the theater.

Confusing, Dark

See it if you want to see stereotypes of all 4 characters onstage and a bad treatment of a terrible tragedy.

Don't see it if you don't want to see stereotypes of characters. The topic is very dark and the play is essentially three monologues.

Disappointing, Confusing

See it if You're curious about the filmmaker's theater debut (or a big fan of his), or you can't get enough of satires of overentitled affluent whites

Don't see it if You don't like plays that consist more of monologues than dialogue. You've had enough of satires of overentitled affluent whites.

Also I wish the story were told with more "back & forth" (dialogue, interac... Read more Read less

Slow, Cliched, Ill-conceived

See it if you're a fan of this filmmaker and you absolutely need to know if he can make theatre. (i'll save you the time, see below)

Don't see it if you're up for a painful & long-winded monologue-heavy rehashing of racial stereotypes that fails to shed light on any of the real issues.

Great acting, Intense, Funny turns excruciating, Disappointing

See it if you're a Todd Solondz fan and want to see what he does in another medium

Don't see it if you're expecting a heartfelt and affecting comedy. This thing gets uncomfortably dark in the final segment.

Also The actors were excellent -- great to see Matt Servitto on stage -- he... Read more Read less


See it if You’re a fan of The Flea.

Don't see it if You don’t like two-dimensional treatment of race relations.

Also I like Mr. Solondz films. This play is not likable. It lacks smarts an... Read more Read less

Confusing, Disappointing, Excruciating, Indulgent

See it if You like racially tone deaf, offensive plays. Shame cause the actors are brilliant & wasted on this terrible play with TERRIBLE transitions.

Don't see it if just don’t see it. Look out for when these great actors are in something else And support them in that.

Absorbing, Entertaining, Profound, Relevant, Intelligent

See it if You like dystopic dramas with mordant humor performed in an intimate setting.

Don't see it if You like spectacle.

Banal, Disappointing, Excruciating, Indulgent, Insipid

See it if you think that Todd Solondz can do no wrong, just to prove that he very much can.

Don't see it if you want to keep liking the Flea Theatre, which almost always has compelling and meaningful productions.

Also I've loved Solondz's films, and I was excited to see what he'd do on s... Read more Read less

Clever, Great acting, Great staging, Great writing, Quirky

See it if you like a sharp and incisive view on contemporary life

Don't see it if you are worried about social mores

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Intelligent, Masterful

See it if You want to see something memorable. Incredible play. Must see.

Don't see it if You don’t want to be moved

Absorbing, Ambitious, Great acting, Great staging, Intense

See it if You’re interested in compelling and powerful ideas about identity and race. Smart staging.

Don't see it if You’re looking for tired ideas about race and identity.

Absorbing, Edgy, Great acting, Intense, Relevant

See it if you enjoy being totally involved in a wrenchingly emotional experience. Zonya Love is riveting in the main role.

Don't see it if you want fluffy entertainment.

During previews
Funny, Edgy, Intelligent, Profound

See it if you like dark, dark, dark satire about race and are fine with political correctness being thrown out the window (where it belongs).

Don't see it if if you are looking for explosive drama or laugh out loud comedy. This show is very quiet and introspective, but smart and funny.

During previews
Edgy, Intense, Thought-provoking

See it if You are a fan of filmmaker Todd Solondz's dark brand of satire.

Don't see it if You like fast-paced plays with lots of action.

During previews
Great writing, Edgy, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Resonant

See it if You want to see some truly TRULY fine acting, like comedic dramas and enjoy shows that take on current issues.

Don't see it if It’s mostly monologues (with interjections from other actors,) quiet but intense and about race. If that doesn’t interest you, stay home.

During previews
Cliched, Beautifully acted, Hi concept indie in real space, Ambitious, Muddled

See it if you are interested in seeing contemporary depictions of race relations in the US.

Don't see it if you want what is being said about race relations to be consistently powerful or insightful.

Also Anyone interested in theatrical depictions of current race relations i... Read more Read less

Cast & Creatives (6)