Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Play about publishing misses the mark

I so wanted to like "Stop.Reset," the new play by Regina Taylor at Signature Theatre. Best I can say is that it's a noble failure.

Playwright Regina Taylor.
Courtesy of Signature
This play promised to tackle subjects that matter to me deeply. It's set in an old-fashioned publishing company that's adrift in the sea change affecting printed books. Hey, I work in that business -- writing and publishing history books, specifically corporate histories -- and in many aspects of my life, “memory is my theme” (to quote the great Evelyn Waugh). Further, I'm kindly disposed to almost any kind of workplace drama.

Sadly, "Stop.Reset" is full of forced plot turns and generalities. They characters live in Chicago and are surprised that it's snowing. There's no hint of which great books or authors this house published; if they were as renowned as we're asked to believe, they'd at least have a solid backlist.  The so-called savior, "J" (gee, what might that stand for?), is as lost as the rest of this fictional bunch of characters. Applause at the preview I attended was ... polite.

Tip-offs for trouble were apparent upon walking in: the playwright is also the director, and the set was surrounded with visual projections to the point of clutter. By the end of the play, I felt sorry for the actors. They're excellent and they work so hard at an incoherent script. (A fond shout-out to Carl Lumbly, whom I've admired since his "Cagney and Lacey" days.) 

"Stop.Reset" reminded me of the ill-conceived play "Y2K" by Arthur Kopit in 2000 and an even sadder effort by Elaine May, "After the Night and the Music," in 2004. Both of these fine playwrights felt they had to write about technology, a subject they clearly weren't comfortable with. It was like making Tony Bennett sing rock-and-roll.

At any rate, it'll be interesting to see the reviews when "Stop.Reset" opens on September 8.