Review | A New Brain: breezy, sweet, tuneful, long

Artistry, through Nov 9

Riley McNutt and C. Ryan Shipley in A NEW BRAIN. Photo by Devon Cox.

I’ll say it again: Artistry offers one of the most pleasant and approachable play-going experiences around. Ticket prices are reasonable. The lobby is huge (and contains a very nice art gallery). The Schneider Theatre is comfortable and perfectly sized – not too big, not too small. The theater is accessible. The parking lot is large and parking is – arguably the best thing – free.

Moreover, Artistry’s producing artistic director, Benjamin McGovern, works, always, with taste and intelligence. (He is also A New Brain‘s director.) Even when he’s presenting dreadful pot-boilers (e.g., Legally Blonde) McGovern steps boldly into the artistic void. He never apologizes. He is a treasure.

A New Brain – music and lyrics by William Finn; book by Finn and James Lapine – recounts the story of Gordon Schwinn who collapses at lunch and comes to in the hospital. Gordon has a mysterious brain disorder. First they try to figure out what it is. Then they offer him experimental – and dangerous – surgery. His mother visits. His boyfriend visits. He strikes up friendships with nurses. And, finally, Gordon… Well, see the play and discover what happens to Gordon.

The chief pleasure of A New Brain is the skill and talent the players bring to the material. They are, to a person, terrific. As Gordon, Riley McNutt is pleasantly courageous. He deals with the smarminess of the other characters and manages a small, quiet, personal courage. Riley’s mother is played (by Jen Burleigh-Bentz) with focus and real love. Bradley Greenwald plays the best frog, Mr. Bungee, you will ever see. He outdoes himself (in CTC’s A Year With Frog And Toad, in which he played Frog). Greenwald is a music theater stalwart and it is telling that in A New Brain the actors more than hold their own with him. HWTS doesn’t give enough space to wax enthusiastic about everyone, but I have to mention Mary Palazzolo at the homeless lady, C. Ryan Shipley as Gordon’s lover, Evan Tyler Wilson as the nurse. Enough.

The chief unpleasure of A New Brain is the length. The sprawl. The play is a repetitive slog. I hope Finn and Lapine can see this show; they will understand that the play badly needs blue-penciling. The one act structure is good. A lot needs to removed.

See this play for the performances. Give yourself to Artistry. They’ll take care of you.

John Olive is a writer living in Minneapolis. His book, Tell Me A Story In The Dark, about the magic of bedtime stories, has been published. John’s The Voice Of The Prairie has been performed 100 plus times and ditto Minnesota Moon and his adaptation of Sideways Stories From Wayside School. His The Summer Moon won a Kennedy Center Award For Drama. John has won fellowships from the Jerome Foundation, the Bush Foundation, the McKnight Foundation and from the National Endowment For The Arts. Please visit his informational website.


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