The Designated Mourner
Even during the doldrums of summer, when virtually nothing is opening on Broadway except mindless spectacles like “Forever Tango” and “Let It Be,” an extremely ruminative drama bearing no plot or conflict (some would call it a snob hit) can still arrive and divide theatergoers into those that “get it” (or at least pretend to) and those who bail at intermission out of boredom.
Such is the case with Wallace Shawn’s difficult three-actor drama, “The Designated Mourner,” which is being revived at the Public Theater with its original New York cast, including Shawn, Deborah Eisenberg and Larry Pine. André Gregory also returns as director.
At the outset, I must admit that I fall into the latter category of those who are not fans of this three-hour triumvirate of confessional monologues, which has been lauded by others as a landmark work of political theater.
Back in 2000, it was performed at a small venue that only fit an audience of 30, making it the most exclusive show in town. Even at the Public Theater, only 99 audience members are admitted.
Set in an unnamed country on the verge of cultural upheaval, Shawn ruminates over his mixed feelings for high culture, his fascination with his father-in-law (Pine), who renounced his status in the political elite to write dissident essays and poetry, and his complicated relationship with his wife (Eisenberg).
While the nasal-voiced Shawn has terrific rapport with the audience and his writing is often insightful, “The Designated Mourner” loses its mystique after the first half-hour, quickly turning into an unending, static bore.
“The Designated Mourner” plays at the Public Theater through Aug. 25. 425 Lafayette St., 212-967-7555, publictheater.org.