By MCN Editor

Things We Want

Things We Want is the new show from Jonathan Marc Sherman, author of more than a half dozen off-Broadway shows. Having not seen any of the other work, it is hard to put this work into context, other than to say that you can feel from the play that it is a direct descendent of David Rabe’s Hurlyburly… for better and for worse.
The 4-person show, directed by Ethan Hawke, screams out for 4 tour de force performances, the depth of story and subtext no deeper than the individual turns of each character. This show will be very popular in acting classes, since each actor gets a big speech or two that is built to bring down the house. Unfortunately, only one performance has that effect, Peter Dinklage’s. He is stellar.
The show presents three brothers. There is Dinklage, Paul Dano (of Little Miss Sunshine and breaking out for many critics in There Will Be Blood), and Josh Hamilton, who is probably best known for his turn in Kicking & Screaming (the indie one) and for various other indie turns. The conceit is that Dano, as Charlie, returns home to the apartment he owns with his brothers… inherited when their mother followed their father (a few years later) out of the very same window that still dominates the living room. He is distraught over a lost love… or lust… or whatever. One brother (Sty, played by Dinklage) is a funny drunk, spending great effort to find and re-find his blanket and his Jack Daniels bottle (or are they the same?). The third (Teddy, played by Hamilton) is Mr. Positivity, caught up to his intestines with a self-help money-making guru.
Eventually joining this trio, rounding out the cast, is Zoe Kazan, as Stella, who Sty happens to know from his much misused 12 step group.
The big turn – and I don’t want to be too specific – is that in the second act, all three roles have changed in the dynamic of these brothers. You get the feeling, thanks to some very clever writing, that they have been flipping positions for all of their lives. But this also becomes one of the major – and kinda obvious – flaws of the show. Where is the third act, where they all flip again? The play is like a toy that Santa forgot to finish… a toy with a trick that doesn’t announce itself for a while, but then chooses not to reveal itself entirely.
That said, while Dinklage is spectacular playing both sides of his character, the other three all seem better at one side than the other… and clearly out of their depth in the weak one.
Hamilton is much better playing the facile jackass of a drunk in the second act than he was as the Greg Kinnear in Little Miss Sunshine of the first act. The problem is, one relies on the other for weight. You need someone who is equally convincing in both sides of that personality, the extremes of high and low. Dano makes an excellent post-pubescent schlub. He mopes as well as anyone. But he is still in the habit – in TWBB as well – of raising his voice to show emotion. It was a wonderful play in LMS because he is supposed to be an inarticulate kid… he is a silent actor until he cracks. And even after that first speech, he really doesn’t talk much. Here, his character is really the center of the show. And he’s okay. But the words by Sherman are, it feels, meant to be loaded to the brim with angst and subtext. And as spoken by Dano, they aren’t. And Ms. Kazan feels, especially in the second act, as though the script is resurrecting Judith Ivey’s character from the original production of Hurlyburly, Bonnie… full of pain and broken resolve and piss and vinegar. But Kazan is not quite the spitfire needed. She is game. But the part calls for, as the character defines her, a woman who might not stop a particularly hot sexual moment if she was told right before the moment it would take that she would get AIDS from continuing. Those are some dark, dark demons. And this young actress, stripped of her skirt and asked to simulate a initiation of fellatio on stage, is clearly concerned about how much of her ass is showing and not milking the oral sex beat (pun kinda intended). I’m sure it didn’t help that her parents were watching the performance I attended. But when a character who turns this raw is written, the performance must be at least near historic to be right.
I could almost imagine as cast, with Dinklage, as powerful as (all younger incarnations) Judith Ivey as The Girl, Harvey Keitel as the Big Brother, and Bill Hurt as the pained brother seeking solace – all from that first cast of Hurlyburly – and this show being an off-Broadway legend. It’s like a good musical with GREAT performance. And really, with GREAT performances, it might feel like a great play… especially if Sherman cut the first two acts down to 100 minutes and wrote the much-needed third act.
And my third act – SOME NOTION OF SPOILERS HERE for the non-existent act – would be Dano drunk, Hamilton stuck with a kid and maybe a wife, and Dinklage truly on top of the world, in a worldly way. In other words, the third rotation of the wheel.
Don’t get me wrong. All four actors in this are good actors and bring some strong moments. But this script, to work, demands titans. And that, except for P.D., they are not. Is that a weakness or a strength? Hard to say.
In the end, Things We Want is not wasted time. It won’t hurt. But it won’t dazzle as it constantly promises to either.

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

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There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

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~ David Simon