Arts Desk

Critical Mass: Mondello, Klimek Come off the Bench for a Great Game Brawl

The  sprawling effort that is  The Great Game: Afghanistan — 10 hours, 12 authors, stories drawn from three separate centuries — deserves an equally complicated critical response, no?

We probably can't manage that. But as we've occasionally done before, we can talk (read: e-mail, Tweet, sometimes squabble) amongst ourselves. I've led off with a straight-up review, which you'll find over here.

And if all goes as planned, the next day or three will bring you thoughts, some of them potentially interesting, from the other theater guys here at the CP: Bob Mondello and Chris Klimek. The latter only saw the final third of the three-play cycle, which would cause us to break out the "wussy" taunts, except that he (a) was fighting a cold,  (b) broke his brain a little bit watching The Saint Plays (which we'll have a review of later in the week) and (c) is a sturdy fellow, and could beat me up without trying too hard.

For now, here's Bob. And stay tuned for more.

Bob Mondello: That bum-numbing, 7-hour-plus running time –- the aspect of The Great Game that probably feels daunting to most people — was actually its attraction for me. I’ve seen a lot of mega-plays over the years: Texas Trilogy (7+ hours), Nicholas Nickleby (8 hours), Angels In America (6+ hours) The Norman Conquests (6 hours), The Kentucky Cycle (6+ hours) The Coast of Utopia (9 hours). And I've come to accept that when a playwright decides s/he can’t tell a story in a conventional 2 or 3 hours, there’s probably a decent reason.

And theater companies almost always kill themselves making sure the theatricality’s there to support the length. The RSC’s 1981 Nick Nick is the classic case. Two four-hour evenings, at a then-stratospheric $100 per ticket (an orchestra seat at a musical cost less than a third of that at the time), and it sold out solid for its entire run because it was more visually inventive on a minute-by-minute basis than anything on Broadway. I couldn’t tear my eyes away from the stage.

That’s not, I note regretfully, the case with The Great Game, possibly because it relies on topicality for its punch, and it's the work product of a dozen playwrights rather than one. The individual playlets are mostly fine, but there’s an awful lot of sitting around talking politics — and only a few staging tricks (one of which is admittedly a real doozy) to suggest that anyone worried much about whether an audience might get tired of all the talk.

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