Theater review: For ‘Designated’ audiences only

From left: Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn and Deborah Eisenberg star in "The Designated Mourner." Credit: Joan Marcus
From left: Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn and Deborah Eisenberg star in “The Designated Mourner.”
Credit: Joan Marcus

Clocking in at three hours and consisting mostly of monologues delivered directly to the audience, Wallace Shawn’s 1996 “The Designated Mourner” at the Public is anything but fluff. The death being mourned is that of a “very special little world” of precious intellectuals in an unspecified, increasingly totalitarian country. Jack (played by playwright Shawn) is the title character, although it’s never clear how or by whom he was designated. And his mourning is less than convincing. The only lowbrow in a trio with two highbrows — his wife Judy (Deborah Eisenberg) and father-in-law Howard (Larry Pine) — he seems to be just fine with the passing of the pretentious and privileged intelligentsia.

With his slight lisp and everyman demeanor, Shawn’s buoyant but casual energy goes a long way to keep the play afloat. His lines are frequently funny and his delivery impeccable. He dominates the recitation of anecdotes and socio-political observations, sometimes getting quite personal, as when he complains about Judy’s habit of parading naked in front of her father. Still, much of the material is esoteric, and three hours can seem like an eternity. An aura of erudition hovers over the work, but good luck trying to parse its point or meaning.

The first act concentrates on the personal: the relationships among the three characters and others in their circle. Act II is more explicit about the ruthless executions and murders presumably initiated by the government.

While deaths abound, nothing really happens in the play. It’s a work of words, not actions. People speak with seeming acuity, often purposefully pointless. “The Designated Mourner” is challenging and thought-provoking, to be sure, but many will find it tedious.

If you go

‘The Designated Mourner’
Through Aug. 25
The Public Theater,
425 Lafayette Street
$86.50,

www.publictheater.org



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
Local

MAP: New York City Street Closures August 22,…

The Percy Sutton Harlem 5K and NYC Family Health Walk-a-thon and Pakistan Day Parade and Fair will cause traffic delays and street closures in New York City this weekend. Plan…

International

U.N. nuclear inquiry on Iran seen making slow…

The U.N. nuclear watchdog appears to have made only limited progress so far in getting Iran to answer questions about its suspected atomic bomb research, diplomatic sources said on Friday,…

National

Violence-weary Missouri town sees second night of calm

By Nick Carey and Carey GillamFERGUSON Mo. (Reuters) - The violence-weary town of Ferguson, Missouri, saw a second straight evening of relative calm on Thursday…

National

Journalist James Foley's parents, after call with pope,…

The parents of James Foley, the American journalist killed by Islamic State militants in Iraq, on Friday called for prayer and support to free the remaining captives held by Islamic…

Television

Recap: 'The Knick,' Season 1, Episode 3, 'The…

The third episode of Steven Soderbergh's "The Knick" finds Dr. Thackery (Clive Owen) meeting an old flame and other characters embracing self-destruction.

Music

Webcast: Watch Polyphonic Spree live on Sunday Aug.…

Polyphonic Spree singer Tim DeLaughter sits with Metro Music Editor Pat Healy for a chat and then the big band performs live. It begins on Sunday at 9:30 pm

Movies

Matthew Weiner on directing 'Are You Here' and…

"Mad Men" creator Matthew Weiner discusses his movie "Are You Here," his history writing comedy and the tiny movie he directed in 1996 you can't see.

Movies

Michael Chiklis on his football past and 'When…

Michael Chiklis remembers playing football in high school and how that prepped him to play a coach in "When the Game Stands Tall."

NFL

3 things we learned about the Jets in…

The Jets lost the Snoopy Bowl, 35-24, to the Giants, losing the trophy and local bragging rights.

NFL

Fantasy football draft guide: How to draft your…

Many are wondering if we’re entering a new age in fantasy football drafting — one where running backs take a backseat.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Giants storylines to watch

The Giants have plenty to work on as they reach the dress rehearsal preseason game Friday night against the rival Jets.

NFL

Jets vs. Giants: 3 Jets storylines to watch

Metro looks at three Jets storylines to watch as they play the Giants Friday.

Sex

Big weddings may lead to long-term happiness

Dreaming of a big wedding? A new study indicates that the longer your guest list, the happier you’ll be in the long run. l A…

Sex

Online dating for every generation

Frank Jackson and his mother Maggie are like lots of modern families: They have dinner together regularly, keep each other updated on their lives —…

Wellbeing

Going green could be the key to getting…

If we could just pursue the things that would actually make us happy, we could help the environment too, according to a New York researcher.…

Tech

Siren: A new dating app that puts women…

Online dating can be brutal, especially for single women. Noting that many women hate wading through inappropriate messages and photos, two tech entrepreneurs decided to…