Different Slant

The Slant Theater Project, created in 2004 to produce challenging new work in site-specific venues, continues to test itself with The Obstruction Plays, six new works by some of New York's most exciting playwrights. Although the results are mixed, the experiment proves once again that interesting work is going on at the Slant. "Obstructions" are intended to force artists to come up with new and creative ways to solve problems. Well-known obstruction exercises include Lars Von Triers's film The Five Obstructions, in which he challenged director Jorgen Leth to remake parts of his film The Perfect Human in five different ways, each time adhering to a certain rule or limitation.

At the Slant, 30 obstructions (five for each of the six plays) were created—some might say sanctified—by playwrights Lee Blessing, Naomi Izuka, and Sarah Ruhl, and each play had to conform to the obstructions assigned to it. Obstructions range from the benign (the play must have a waffle iron) to the more challenging (there must be a character who speaks entirely in verse). The best obstructions are those that move beyond adding a character or a prop and get to structural problems. Such obstacles force the writers to come up with new and inventive ways of creating drama.

The Dinner Party, written by Dan O'Brien, is ostensibly about dinner with the playwright's family, but the overwrought narrator, who introduces himself as Dan O'Brien, continually interrupts, circumventing the drama and ultimately undermining the performance. Though the piece is funny at first, the trajectory is well established early on—the play must not go on—and by the end the performance has begun to seem stagnant.

Priest in a Pool, a short, abstruse piece by Michele Lowe, explores a moment of truth between a teenaged camper and a priest who attempts to convince the boy to jump into an empty pool, in what appears to be a variation on a trust fall. The premise here is strong, but the characters' motivations become confusing at the bewildering climax.

Caution: Parents May Be Less Insane Than They Appear, by Lisa Kron, satirizes an older couple's apprehensions about technology. When their children visit, they find all the furniture in the house has been moved for fear of upsetting an electronic vacuum. The siblings then discover that their glib disregard for their parents' concerns may not be justified. This funny piece turns dark quickly, but the ending lacks some of the terror it might have mustered.

I See London, I See France is a comic piece written and directed by Evan Cabnet. The premise here, which I won't give away, especially because of the play's brevity, is highly entertaining. The obstruction requires that part of the play must be about Donald Rumsfeld. The representation is, to say the least, unflattering.

Blossoming Andromache, written by Marcus Gardley, takes a sensitive look at an encounter between a young man named Spooky and a drunken derelict. The vagrant is bribed by Spooky's friends into pretending he is the boy's father after the real father fails to show up for a long-awaited reunion. The play starts off slowly and is overly poetic, but the characterizations are superb and the dialogue is highly unexpected.

Unlimited, by Mat Smart, incorporates a large cast of 15 actors. The play consists of very little narrative, especially at first, when it tends to drag. The ending, however, picks up considerably and includes a beautifully orchestrated moving sculpture created out of the actors' bodies.

The Obstruction Plays contains, in total, a cast of more than 20 actors, with standout performances by Robert Karma Robertson, David Carl, Arlando Smith, and Therese Barbato. The performance is a sort of ultimate drama-nerd event. Instead of going to see a "normal" show that's about looking for an answer to a dramatic question, we go to see the questions themselves, and the kinds of problems they raise when given time onstage.

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