By Brian Scott Lipton
The tiny mini-dresses, the tight-tight pants and the paisley shirts. The velour sofas. The talk of key parties and “The Institute” and the copy of “I’m OK, You’re OK” casually left on the chair. Yep, the swinging ‘60s are vividly recreated in The New Group’s Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice, adapted from Paul Mazurszky’s 1969 film, now at the Linney Theatre at the Pershing Square Signature Center.
The iconic movie, for those who might recall it, was very funny, vaguely satiric and slightly sincere in exploring how two very different 30-something couples, somehow best friends, dipped their toes (well, their full bodies) into the burgeoning sexual revolution—an issue on the minds of so many cinemagoers who were struggling with their own conflicted desires. It was practically the definition of au courant. To be honest, though, I can’t fully discern the intentions of the talented playwright Jonathan Marc Sherman, composer Duncan Sheik and co-lyricist Amanda Green (who have contributed a smart and tuneful score) and director Scott Elliott in mounting the show in 2020.
The piece’s tone is definitely respectful, so we’re clearly not to meant to laugh at these characters as dinosaurs of a bygone era. And there’s no question that 50 years later, plenty of people—perhaps more than ever before—are wondering about varieties of sexual experimentation, be it polyamorousness, throuples or non-binary identity. But, if that’s the point, then why not set the show today? So, as much as I enjoyed much of the show—and especially Green’s nifty lyrics—it was Hal David’s words that kept haunting my brain: “What’s it all about?”
Still, for all the show’s Polaroid-like qualities, there’s more than just the beautifully captured details to admire here, although Derek McLane’s clever set and Jeff Mahshie’s vast wardrobe of spot-on costumes are absolutely among the production’s highlights. (I do wish, however, that Elliott could have lessened the amount of time the characters go off-stage to change their clothes or the clumsiness of some of the set changes.)
Above all, one can’t discount the excellent performances by Joel Perez, Jennifer Damiano, Michael Zegen, and especially the tartly brilliant Ana Nogueira, in the respective title roles. Each of these performers displays real commitment both by fully tapping into their characters’ minds and by revealing as much of their physical bodies as their parts require. (If it’s a contest, Perez wins, pants and hands down). And, perhaps best of all, there’s the sublime presence of Grammy Award winner Suzanne Vega, who not only lends her singular singing voice to the show but proves to be an excellent actress in a number of small but pivotal roles.
They say if you remember the ‘60s, you weren’t really there. So in the end, perhaps the show is nothing more than a way to jog the memory of those who lived (but forgot) what this particular time was like and a blast to the past for everyone born afterwards.
Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice. Through March 22 at the Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues). One hour 40 minutes, no intermission. www.thenewgroup.org
Photos: Monique Carboni