Some Americans Return

As I recall, the first time I saw Richard Nelson's play, Some Americans Abroad, the stage was set with a table (sporting a red-checked table cloth) hanging in midair, complete with plates and glasses, indicating that something was bound to be askew as the action proceeded. For the current revival at New York City's Second Stage Theatre, director Gordon Edelstein leaves the going askew to the actors, who do an admirable job of conveying the emotions of a group of American professors on a theatre tour with their students to England circa 1989. A lot is said, with just as much left unsaid, as the current and former head of the English department spar verbally with their colleagues. The current head of the department, Joe Taylor (played by Tom Cavanagh) feels superior to other American tourists yet seems so absorbed in himself he doesn't realize most of what is going on around him; and he is never quite able to tell the truth to a professor he is about to let go (played by Anthony Rapp), creating a tension that lasts throughout. The set design by Michael Yeargan primarily comprises multiple styles of chairs and tables as many of the scenes are played in restaurants, dining rooms, gardens, and bars. As each scene ends, the tables and chairs are piled upstage where they remain throughout the evening (all two hours and 20 minutes) as if to represent the layers of problems piling up in the play. The lighting is by this year's Tony winner Donald Holder (for the Lincoln Center Theatre revival of South Pacific), who once again has made the most of very little. With no scenery to speak of, he manages to give each scene its own look, through subtle changes in color, especially on the upstage cyc. The rest of the design team includes sound designer John Gromada, and costume designer Jennifer von Mayhauser. Austin Switzer is credited with projection design, but I am embarassed to admit the only projections I noticed were the projected titles that announced the location of each scene. Revivals can be tricky business, but this one succeeds with good acting, solid design, and a director who lets the actors squirm uncomfortably as their characters hem and haw around the truth.

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