* * *
Originality is overrated. Even the most hackneyed-sounding plot can be made fresh by a writer who understands that life is always the same—and always new. That’s the secret of Samuel D. Hunter’s “Pocatello,” a 10-character drama about a pair of severely fractured families that covers its well-tilled ground in a way that is at once predictable and involving, not to mention poignant. To be sure, it’s also well acted and directed, but don’t be fooled by the high quality of Playwrights Horizons’ production: “Pocatello” is a fine play in its own right.
“Pocatello” takes place in the dining room of an Olive Garden-type Italian restaurant located in a small Idaho town that is growing smaller and seedier by the day. Eddie (T.R. Knight), the manager, is a gay singleton whose own family long ago gave up on getting along but who still dreams of bringing its estranged members together again, even though none of them shows any sign of wanting to be reunited. He also has a second workplace family that is closer and more sympathetic, but it, too, is in trouble, for the restaurant isn’t doing enough business to keep its doors open for much longer….
Mr. Hunter’s characters all sound like real people with real problems, the kind with which you yourself are currently wrestling or have very likely wrestled at some point in the not-too-distant past….
Duncan Macmillan’s “Every Brilliant Thing,” which has transferred to an off-Broadway house after successful runs in London and Edinburgh, is an hour-long one-man comedy about depression. The sweet-and-sour premise is that the narrator has drawn up a million-item list of “brilliant” things that he likes, loves, admires or appreciates (“321. Laughing so hard you shoot milk out of your nose”) in the hope of persuading his suicidal mother—and himself—that life is worth living.
The list itself is twee and greeting-cardy and the script as a whole is close enough in tone to Nick Hornby’s “High Fidelity” to make alert viewers squirm, but the show works, mostly because of the battering-ram energy of Jonny Donahoe, the British stand-up comedian who performs “Every Brilliant Thing” in the round on a toenail-sized stage and is also credited as its co-author….
* * *
To read my review of Pocatello, go here.
To read my review of Every Brilliant Thing, go here.