Empty29th Street Rep, New York
Through May 4
The pitfalls of adapting a classic movie for the stage are well demonstrated in the 29th Street Rep's production of "The Conversation," Kate Harris' play based on the 1974 film directed by Francis Ford Coppola. Although reasonably engrossing, this highly faithful theatrical rendition, previously seen in Chicago, ultimately doesn't infuse the material with enough unique theatricality to justify its existence.
The story centers on Harry Caul (David Mogentale), a tightly wound surveillance expert who practices his craft with an unemotional efficiency that has been cultivated by some unfortunate past experiences. His current assignment involves eavesdropping on a young couple (Leigh Feldpausch, Craig Butta), and what he hears leads him to suspect that they might be in danger. In the process of attempting to prevent their possible murder, he becomes embroiled in a dangerous situation that comes perilously close to home.
It's strange that the playwright chose this source material because the story depends so much on the cinematic virtuosity that Coppola brought to it. For instance, much of the central mystery is revealed via repeated scenes of the couple engaging in the central conversation. While the film provided endlessly interesting variations on this scene, the stage version simply has the characters repeating the dialogue, to increasingly tedious effect.
Some of the moments still register strongly, most notably an awkward social encounter between the stiffly repressed Harry and an obnoxious competitor (Tim Corcoran) who one-ups him. And while Mogentale is unable to erase memories of Gene Hackman's indelible performance in the film, he does have several very effective moments.
But despite the inventive, black-box staging by director Leo Farley and the truly impressive sound design by Joseph Fosco that goes a long way toward providing the requisite creepy atmosphere, this "Conversation" ultimately seems far too muted.
Presented by the 29th Street Rep
Director: Leo Farley
Adapted by: Kate Harris
Based on the film by: Francis Ford Coppola
Set and graphic designer: Mark Symczak
Costume designer: Rebecca Ming
Lighting designer: Stewart Wagner
Sound designer/original music: Joseph Fosco
Harry Caul: David Mogentale
Ann/Female Tenant: Leigh Feldpausch
Mark/Hotel Clerk: Craig Butta
Stanley/The Director: James E. Smith
Paul Meyers: Thomas Wehrle
Matthew Harrison: Jack Dillon
Amy, others: Amber Gallery
Meredith/Secretary: Julianne Carpenter
William P. Moran: Tim Corcoran