The Siegel Column – The Lesson of the Object Lesson…
By Barbara & Scott Siegel
For all its awards, glowing reviews, and standing ovations at night, the secret truth about The Object Lesson at New York Theatre Workshop is that it is slow, tedious, and boring. At 100 minutes, it feels like an endless, pretentious piece of claptrap.
The theme of the piece is how the detritus of life – the bits and pieces of things, and the memories they evoke, are the star-stuff that fills and illuminates us. Not a bad idea, but it takes playwright/star Geoff Sobelle so long to get his ideas across — with so much literal dead time (the pace makes the word “desultory” feel like a 50 yard dash) – that one loses interest long before each eventual teeny, tiny example of his theme is presented.
The set design (referred to as an installation) by Steven Dufala is impressive insofar as he has turned the large interior space of NYTW into a warehouse of boxes and other assorted garbage. In fact, it looks like a slightly more organized version of our apartment. But that’s another story. Most of the audience must sit on boxes for the entire length of the play, so one suspects that the standing ovation at the end is as much a result of a desire to get up off the boxes as soon as absolutely possible, as it is for the approval of the play.
The direction by David Neumann is worse. Despite sitting in an elevated position, there were significant scenes we simply couldn’t see. Any play designed where audience members can’t see the action is not well-conceived.
Now, almost every review – not to mention audience members – happily recount the brilliant scene in which Sobelle creates a salad by cutting lettuce and vegetables while dancing on a table wearing ice skates. Yes, it is an inspired bit – and the only one such inspired piece in the play. Would that there were more of them. And when Sobelle does something modestly clever, like recording his ruminations, then using that recording of himself as the other end of a phone conversation – he goes to the well and does basically the same thing again later in the play; that is simply creative bankruptcy.
Yet the show is a hit. The credit for The Object Lesson’s success should not go to the play but to the show’s marketing; audiences are told that they are seeing something special. They are; they are getting a first hand glimpse at the Emperor’s New Clothes.