Theater Reviews

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Acorn Theatre, New York
Through Dec. 15

Paul Dano practically stole the show as the near-silent brother in "Little Miss Sunshine." And this Christmas, he goes toe-to-toe with Daniel Day-Lewis in Paul Thomas Anderson's new film, "There Will Be Blood." Clearly, his ability for choosing supporting-actor vehicles on the big screen is spot-on.

The same can't be said for his selection of stage projects, at least if "Things We Want" is any indication.

The would-be comedy drama is the latest indulgence from Jonathan Marc Sherman, who co-founded the Malaparte theater company with his buddy Ethan Hawke. That might explain a) why Hawke directed the production and b) why it co-stars Josh Hamilton, the ever-reliable, slightly under-the-radar star of stage and films -- who also happens to be Hawke and Sherman's longtime pal and colleague.

The talent involved doesn't end there. Rounding out the cast are Peter Dinklage, who has been on a roll since starring in the indie favorite "The Station Agent," and Zoe Kazan, having dazzled in her most recent two off-Broadway ventures: "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" and "100 Saints You Should Know."

So how does it all add up to zero? It's the script, plain and simple. The story of three brothers (Dano, Hamilton, Dinklage) in varied stages of professional and personal success and their interaction with a sexy neighbor (Kazan) is meandering at best and devoid of a single line that rings true.

The dialogue is composed mostly of the characters' endless philosophizing about life's ironies, lost dreams and thwarted romance. Within that framework, the characters undergo complete role reversals that are far too schematic, while what passes for action feels forced or utterly absurd.

And though Hawke has continued to impress as an actor onstage and screen during the past five years, his proclivities as a director don't look promising. His two cinematic projects ("The Hottest State," "Chelsea Walls") were noble failures, and his effort here makes the production into a better sleep aid than Sominex.

That's why the actors can't be blamed for their lack of presence. All four have virtually nothing with which to work because their characters are impossible to believe or just one-note ciphers. At some point, all have to shout their lines, which only ratchets their level of annoyance.

Accordingly, one can't help being aware of the title's irony. "Things We Want" refers to what the characters get, but it's 180 degrees from what the audience receives.

THINGS WE WANT
Presented by the New Group
Credits:
Playwright: Jonathan Marc Sherman
Director: Ethan Hawke
Set designer: Derek McLane
Costume designer: Mattie Ullrich
Lighting designer: Jeff Croiter
Sound designer: Daniel Baker
Cast:
Charles: Paul Dano
Sty: Peter Dinklage
Teddy: Josh Hamilton
Stella: Zoe Kazan
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