×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

A Second Hand Memory

In the opening lines of Woody Allen's new play, "A Second Hand Memory," a character who describes herself as the teller of the tale, the poetess, confesses she has dramatized the events we're about to see with a heavy hand. If only. Some pumped-up poetry might have breathed a little life into this stale account of a troubled 1950s Brooklyn family.

With:
Alma Wolfe - Elizabeth Marvel Lou Wolfe - Dominic Chianese Eddie Wolfe - Nicky Katt Fay Wolfe - Beth Fowler Bea Wolfe - Kate Blumberg Phil Wellman - Michael McKean Diane - Erica Leerhsen

In the opening lines of Woody Allen’s new play, “A Second Hand Memory,” a character who describes herself as the teller of the tale, the poetess, confesses she has dramatized the events we’re about to see with a heavy hand. If only. Some pumped-up poetry might have breathed a little life into this stale account of a troubled 1950s Brooklyn family. Trading in the familiar stock of men trapped in wrong marriages and seeking to escape via other women, the hackneyed drama evaporates from memory almost as it’s unfolding with a curious lack of weight or conviction.

Even by the undistinguished standards of Allen’s recent films, this is a pallid effort. In pics such as “Hannah and Her Sisters” in 1986 or, more recently, 1992’s “Husbands and Wives,” the writer-director once brought delicate insights and crackling dialogue to his studies of marital strain, family life, failed relationships and the philandering impulse. It’s depressing to reflect that Allen has continued, with the regularity of a conveyor belt, to recycle flimsy treatments of the same subjects despite having nothing new to add.

Opting here for more sober drama without the usual diet of one-liners and urbane neurotica, Allen attempts to disguise a tired scenario with a fussy and poorly crafted time-shuffling structure and with the use of black-sheep daughter Alma (Elizabeth Marvel) as a wry narrator, slipping in and out of her family’s dreams to comment and offer instruction on their plight.

Her ailing father, Lou (Dominic Chianese), has been swindled out of his life savings and all but lost his jewelry business, forcing him to move, with wife Fay (Beth Fowler), out of their family home into a cramped apartment. Poisoned by bitterness and anger, Lou blames Fay for giving their son Eddie (Nicky Katt) an exit from the business by sending him out West to work with his uncle Phil (Michael McKean), a successful Hollywood agent.

As the plot slots into place, it emerges that Eddie has fallen in love with Phil’s secretary, Diane (Erica Leerhsen), unaware she’s having an affair with the boss. When that rude awakening occurs, Eddie retreats hastily to Brooklyn to help bail out his father, falling into a loveless rebound marriage with Bea (Kate Blumberg), who soon announces a baby’s on the way.

While Eddie continues to look for avenues of escape from a career, a mortgage and a marriage he doesn’t want, a glimpse into Lou’s past reveals his own indiscretions and uncovers the source of his grudge against Phil.

Especially in the early action, when much of the drama revolves around him, Chianese seems uncertain in his role, playing Lou with the same mix of belligerence, doddery confusion and stubborn pride he brings to Uncle Junior on “The Sopranos.” But while it works for that character, alternating between comic relief, malevolence and melancholy, here thesp comes across as unsympathetic and underprepared.

Despite some turgid dialogue about the thunderclap of dreams colliding, Fowler creates the most full-bodied character out of Lou’s long-suffering wife, remaining poignantly loyal to a man who’s never loved her. McKean brings his customary humor to the walking cliche of a slick Hollywood shark, though he’s unable to lend sincerity to an out-of-character turnabout when self-absorbed Phil opens up to Eddie.

In a dismal segue from her stunning work this season in “Hedda Gabler,” Marvel is stuck trying to animate an artificial construct, a boozing, promiscuous drifter collecting life experience for her future as a writer and trying in vain to compensate for the love her father denied her.

Marvel at least retains her dignity, however, while the other young cast members range from ineffectual to inept. Like so many thesps in Allen’s movies, Katt is reduced to stiffly impersonating the actor-director’s mannerisms. Blumberg can do little with a thankless part, while Leerhsen (a dead ringer for Elizabeth Berkley in both looks and acting range) is equally wooden as a sweet secretary and superficial, nouveau-riche Hollywood wife.

None of the actors is helped by Allen’s unrefined skills as a stage director, the poorly planned blocking often leaving them awkwardly stranded around Santo Loquasto’s functionally traditional, multi-location set.

A Second Hand Memory

Atlantic Theater Co.; 165 seats; $60 top

Production: An Atlantic Theater Company presentation of a play in two acts by Woody Allen. Directed by Allen.

Crew: Sets, Santo Loquasto; costumes, Laura Bauer; lighting, James F. Ingalls; sound, Obadiah Eaves; production stage manager, Janet Takami. Reviewed Nov. 20, 2004. Opened Nov. 22. Running time: 1 HOUR, 50 MIN.

Cast: Alma Wolfe - Elizabeth Marvel Lou Wolfe - Dominic Chianese Eddie Wolfe - Nicky Katt Fay Wolfe - Beth Fowler Bea Wolfe - Kate Blumberg Phil Wellman - Michael McKean Diane - Erica Leerhsen

More Scene

  • Donald Trump Chucky Childs Play

    'Child's Play' Stars on New Chucky's 'Creepy' Resemblance to Donald Trump

    At Wednesday night’s world premiere of the “Child’s Play” remake, it was obvious that evil doll Chucky — the star of seven films over three decades — had a little work done. And now he bears a striking resemblance to Donald Trump. “Oh, you caught that?” Aubrey Plaza asked Variety on the black carpet outside [...]

  • Cara Delevingne attends The Trevor Project's

    Cara Delevingne Recalls Producers Saying That Being Queer Will Hurt Her Career

    Hollywood may be celebrating LGBTQ Pride Month with displays of the rainbow flag and lots of talk about supporting diversity and inclusion, but Cara Delevingne says there’s still work to be done. “Behind closed doors, we are still being told, as I have, by powerful Hollywood producers that we can’t make it if we’re queer,” [...]

  • Kiernan Shipka and Ross LynchMTV Movie

    MTV Movie & TV Awards: What You Didn't See on TV

    Many of the biggest stars in movies and television — including Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, Jada Pinkett Smith, Kiernan Shipka, Sandra Bullock, Tessa Thompson and Brie Larson — came together to present and receive honors at the 2019 MTV Movie & TV Awards, hosted by “Shazam!” star Zachary Levi. And while non-attendees are able to enjoy [...]

  • Dan Stevens

    'Legion' Star Dan Stevens Says His Character Would Fight Thanos, 'Wreak Havoc' in MCU

    Dan Stevens said his powerful, telepathic mutant Legion would do some serious damage if he ever crossed over from the eponymous FX series into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. “Legion would wreak havoc. He’d probably take on Thanos, let’s see that,” he told Variety on the red carpet at the premiere of the trippy, mind-bending superhero series [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content