Off-Broadway Theater Review: VOICES OF SWORDS (Right Down Broadway Productions at Walkerspace)

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by Dmitry Zvonkov on August 18, 2014

in Theater-New York

A SWORD THAT’S HARD TO SWALLOW

The best thing I can say about Kari Floren’s new play Voices of Swords is that it seems to be well-intentioned (it’s odd that the poster proclaims “new” when the play was produced and reviewed in 2008). Unfortunately, sitting through it feels like Ms. Floren and director Eve Brandstein conspire to drain every bit of creative energy out of both the stage and the house at Walkerspace. Embarrassed for the veteran performers, I couldn’t wait for this show to be over.

The late thirties son of a woman facing heart surgery (Phillip Christian) hires a forty-something personal organizer (Celia Schaeler) to minister to his lonely yet indomitable mother in VOICES OF SWORDS.

Though its title suggests a bloody tragedy set in medieval Japan, Voices of Swords is in fact about the relationships between middle-aged children and their aging parents in present-day New York. Alexis (Celia Schaefer) is a disorganized “personal organizer” who is hired by Kosey (Phillip Christian), a busy Washington lobbyist, to help out his aging mother Olivia (Loni Ackerman) on the eve of her double bypass surgery. Olivia and Kosey have always had a loving but adversarial relationship—this was her way of teaching him to be strong. But now he seems unable to reconcile himself with the fact that she’s become weak and needs him.

The late thirties son (Phillip Christian) of a woman facing heart surgery hires a forty-something personal organizer (Celia Schaeler) to minister to his lonely yet indomitable mother in VOICES OF SWORDS.

Alexis has a college-age daughter who, for the moment, wants little to do with her mother, and has been slacking off for six months in Amsterdam with her father, Alexis’s ex-husband, Matthew (Michael McKenzie). Alexis is also stressed because neither her daughter nor her three estranged siblings are willing to come to the fiftieth anniversary party of her parents, Teddy (Bob Ari) and Mave (Gillien Goll).

Celia Schaefer (R) as a personal organizer who has been hired to care for a lonely but indomitable older woman (Loni Ackerman, L) in VOICES OF SWORDS.

A tangle of subthemes that go nowhere, peppered with jokes that don’t work, and offering one banality after another, Ms. Floren’s script is an undisciplined, sentimental mess. Ms. Brandstein elicits performances that feel artificial and strained all around, which suggests a problem with her direction, especially considering the impressive resumés of some of the actors. There is in Voices of Swords the shadow of a desire to say something meaningful. But as is, the play feels like the result of a dull dinner conversation between early-arthritic fifty-somethings about their parents getting old and the changes and the problems and the….oh, forgive me, did I just snore?

Alexis (Celia Schaefer) imagines picknicking with her parents (Gillien Goll and Bob Ari) in VOICES OF SWORDS.

photos by Jonathan Slaff

Voices of Swords
Right Down Broadway Productions
Walkerspace, 46 Walker St. (between Broadway and Church)
M-T at 7:00 pm; W-F at 8:00 pm; Sat at 3:00 & 8:00 pm
scheduled to end on September 7, 2014
for tickets, call (212) 352-3101 or visit www.rightdownbroadway.org

(See Stage and Cinema’s review of Right Down Broadway Productions’ Revisiting Wildfire in Los Angeles.)

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

John August 25, 2014 at 8:18 am

Did we see the same play? I saw “Voices of Swords” on August 22nd and quite enjoyed it. The jokes were greeted with laughter by many in the theater. All of the performances were moving and spot on. And the surpise cause of Alexis’ stress was moving, albeit in hindsight something that could have been figured out sooner if one paid close attention to elements of the staging.

I highly recommend this play.

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Dmitry Zvonkov August 25, 2014 at 2:42 pm

We watched the same play, we just didn’t see the same play. But thank you for your comment.

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