Off Broadway Review: ‘stop.reset’

New play by TV actress and 'Crowns' author Regina Taylor suffers under scribe's direction


Michi Barall, Teagle F. Bougere, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Latanya Richardson Jackson, Carl Lumbly, Donald Sage Mackay. 

Waylon and Willie gave wise advice to mamas when they sang, “Don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys.”  Someone should write another verse for playwrights:  “Don’t direct your own plays.”  Regina Taylor, an award-winning scribe (for “Crowns”) and a known TV face (in “I’ll Fly Away” and “The Unit”), does herself no favors by directing “stop.reset.” For a play that seems to place high value on language and communication skills, this “tone poem on memory and change” comes across as a labored exercise in mental doodling.         

The clearest, cleanest, most transparent feature of this play is Neil Patel’s set, which invites the aud into the austerely modern office of a small publishing firm in Chicago, a city celebrated for its architectural design.

White desks and glass partitions give an open look to the cubicles where the staff work.  Floor-to-ceiling windows also promise to deliver light.  The books on the premises — a whole wall of them — are displayed in the publisher’s more traditional private office.  An almost continuous stream of authors’ names, with selections from their works (Shawn Sagady designed the excellent projections), are also strong reminders of the words-words-words that are the tools of this particular trade.

The tall, elegant man who arrives in the middle of an ominous snowstorm (that will become a blizzard) is Alexander Ames (Carl Lumbly), proud head of a highly respected black book publishing house in Chicago.  The four employees (Michi Barall, Teagle J. Bougere, Latanya Richardson Jackson, Donald Sage Mackay) who leap up from their desks to greet him are in a panic, since one of them must be fired this very day to prevent a hostile takeover by the firm’s all-business business partner.

Were this a realistic play, we might point out the unlikelihood of a publisher consulting his staff on who among them should be fired.  But this play is anything but realistic.  This becomes obvious when the strange-looking guy — called “J” and played by Ismael Cruz Cordova, who enters from the house and climbs onstage to “clean” the office (out of existence, it appears) — proceeds to advise Alex on how to deal with his problems.

The big calamity, of course, is that nobody reads anymore, not even in a reader’s haven like Chicago.  When people do read books, they read them on screens, for a fraction of the price that bookstores and publishers must charge to produce, market, and sell these increasingly rare artifacts.

While everyone at the company acknowledges the predicament that they and their industry are in, only the spooky cleaning guy promises to resolve the problem for Alex — ostensibly by teaching him how to re-tool his business for the new technological age.  But as a very large and very bold text message points out, J is something of a “trickster,” a mythological figure who takes pleasure in bamboozling stupid humans.  As he sneaks around the office speaking in riddles and stealing people’s memory cards, J seems more intent on appropriating all the memories that define Alex’s life — graphically presented in images from films and photos that flash across the big windows that serve as screens.

Clearly, this is all metaphor.  But it’s metaphor run amok, and it’s not even verbal metaphor but visual imagery.  For all the lip service paid to books and language and the immortal words of great writers, Taylor’s own dramatic idiom is surprisingly flat, possibly because she doesn’t seem to like any of her characters outside of Alex.  Him, she pities.

This is not a happy place for an actor to be, and no one, not even the hard-working Lumbly, seems comfortable talking in tongues.  It’s entirely possible, if absurdly ironic, to suggest that another director might have been more protective of the playwright’s words and cut down on the slide show.

Off Broadway Review: 'stop.reset'

Signature Theater Company; 199 seats; $25 top.  Opened Sept. 8, 2013. Reviewed Sept. 5.  Running time:  ONE HOUR, 40 MIN.


A Signature Theater presentation of a play in one act written and directed by Regina Taylor. 


Sets, Neil Patel; costumes, Karen Perry; lighting, Lap Chi Chu; sound, Robert Kaplowitz; projections, Shawn Sagady; fight direction, Rick Sordelet; voice & dialect coach, Stephen Gabis; production stage manager, Gwendolyn M. Gilliam. 


Michi Barall, Teagle F. Bougere, Ismael Cruz Cordova, Latanya Richardson Jackson, Carl Lumbly, Donald Sage Mackay. 

More Legit

  • Because of Winn Dixie review

    Regional Theater Review: 'Because of Winn Dixie,' the Musical

    Watching the musical “Because of Winn Dixie” at Goodspeed Musicals in East Haddam, Conn., it’s hard not to think of another show that premiered in the same regional theater 43 years ago. It, too, featured a scruffy stray dog, a lonely-but-enterprising young girl and a closed-off daddy who finally opens up. But “Winn Dixie,” based [...]


    Off Broadway Review: 'Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow Moscow'

    There’s something about Anton Chekhov’s whiny sisters that invites comic sendups of “Three Sisters” like the one Halley Feiffer wrote on commission for the Williamstown Theater Festival. Transferred to MCC Theater’s new Off Broadway space and playing in the round in a black box with limited seating capacity, the crafty show feels intimate and familiar. [...]

  • the way she spoke review

    Off Broadway Review: 'The Way She Spoke' With Kate del Castillo

    Since the 1990s, scores of women in Juarez, Mexico have been mutilated, raped, and murdered at such a rate that some have called it an epidemic of femicide—killing women and girls solely because they are women. Isaac Gomez’s play “the way she spoke,” produced Off Broadway by Audible and starring Kate del Castillo, confronts the [...]


    Brian Cox Playing LBJ in Broadway Run of 'The Great Society'

    Brian Cox will play President Lyndon Johnson in the Broadway run of “The Great Society,” playwright Robert Schenkkan’s follow-up to “All the Way.” The role of Johnson, a crude, but visionary politician who used the office of the presidency to pass landmark civil rights legislation and social programs, was originally played by Bryan Cranston in [...]

  • Paul McCartney Has Penned Score for

    Paul McCartney Has Been Secretly Writing an 'It's a Wonderful Life' Musical

    The pop superstar who once released a movie and album called “Give My Regards to Broad Street” really does have designs on Broadway, after all. It was revealed Wednesday that Paul McCartney has already written a song score for a stage musical adaptation of the 1946 Frank Capra film classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The [...]

  • The Night of the Iguana review

    West End Review: 'The Night of the Iguana' With Clive Owen

    If Tennessee Williams is the poet laureate of lost souls, none of his characters as are off-grid as the restless travelers trying to make it through his little-seen 1961 play, “The Night of the Iguana.” Holed up in a remote Mexican homestay, its ragtag itinerants live hand-to-mouth, day by day, as they seek refuge from [...]

  • Moulin Rouge Broadway

    Listen: The Special Sauce in Broadway's 'Moulin Rouge!'

    There are songs in the new Broadway version of “Moulin Rouge!” that weren’t in Baz Luhrmann’s hit movie — but you probably know them anyway. They’re popular tunes by superstars like Beyoncé, Adele and Rihanna, released after the 2001 movie came out, and they’ll probably unleash a flood of memories and associations in every audience [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content