Now onstage: Thinking vs. feeling plays

Al Pacino and Bobby Cannavale star in “Glengarry Glen Ross.”

Two of the most hotly anticipated plays to open in recent weeks — “Glengarry Glen Ross” and “Bare: The Musical” — have been garnering incredible attention for very different reasons. Here, we compare them in review to explore what it means to enjoy a “thinking play” or “feeling play,” respectively. There’s something to be said for sheer entertainment — where an audience leaves neither enlightened nor moved, yet still had a good time in their seats — but it falls somewhere in between these more memorable polarities. Let’s take a look:

‘Glengarry Glen Ross’

David Mamet is the embodiment of the thinking man’s playwright; if this show doesn’t prove it, theater-seekers can traipse up the block to corroborate it with his newest verbosity, “The Anarchist,” with Patti LuPone. Many fans are clamoring for seats to this sold-out revival of the 1984 hit because of its big-name roster, featuring Al Pacino; others are fans of the 1992 film (also starring Pacino). Although the play has some problems with formatting (e.g., the second act being nearly twice as long as the first), it’s a tight drama that gets into the head of middle-aged career men (survivalist real estate agents) while ratcheting up the stakes until its abrupt irresolution. Its strength as a thinking play, however, is also its weakness: Viewers aren’t compelled to relate to these fairly despicable men who specifically avoid demonstrating how they feel. The characters seem to lack redeeming qualities or an explicit emotional arc, which may leave show-goers feeling sufficiently agitated and ultimately disconnected from the plot. www.glengarryglenrossbroadway.com

‘Bare: The Musical’

This play has been making its way to NYC for 10 years since its first L.A. staging; it has the built-in fan base of a cult classic with the trajectory of an underdog tale. So many people flocking to New World Stages to see it are already emotionally connected to the story which follows the implicitly heartstring-plucking saga of teenagers’ sexual awakening and unrequited love in a Catholic boarding school. But it’s not the several weak supporting roles, the overall amazing voices or even the literally heavy-handed choreography by Travis Wall that audiences are dissecting as the play veers tragically toward its climax. They won’t dwell on how the dialogue is often choppy and the symbolism overwrought. That’s because they’re too busy trying to get their tissues out in time to dry their eyes and free up their hands for a rousing if sniffly ovation. But they will carry this show’s prodding introspection low in their chests long past dinnertime before heading home to Google info about a new cast recording. Because they are deeply and incontrovertibly feeling “Bare.”

www.baremusicalnyc.com

Critic’s picks: Top 10 theater pieces of 2012

Here are the shows that were hilarious, smart, groundbreaking and/or just the best-executed:

    1. “Venus In Fur”

    2. “Once”

    3. “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?”

    4. “Death of a Salesman”

    5. “Then She Fell”

    6. “Triassic Parq”

    7. “Bare: The Musical”

    8. “Peter and the Starcatcher”

    9. “As You Like It”

    10. “Helen and Edgar”


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