Lives Up to Its NameBy Bence Olveczky
Directed by Nicholas Martin
By Sidney Kingsley
Music by Mark Bennett
Stage Set by James Noone
With Jon Patrick Walker, Charlie Day, Jack Ferver, Dominic Fumusa, Kathryn Hahn and others
Playing at the Huntington Theatre, 264 Huntington Avenue, Boston
Tuesdays through Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 8 p.m., Saturdays at 2 p.m. and 8 p.m., and Sundays at 2 p.m.
Dead End will be playing through October 8th
Dead End, kicking off the season at the Huntington Theatre, creates a convincing illusion of life in Depression-era Manhattan. But while the craftsmanship is impeccable and impressive, the show as a whole is an emotional dead end. The inaugural production of Huntington Theatre’s new artistic director, Nicholas Martin, fails to infuse Sidney Kingsley’s antiquated play with the urgency and relevance it so clearly needs.
The lavish -- almost operatic -- stage design and the carefully choreographed supporting cast of more than forty actors cannot save this soulless show, which is devoid of ingenuity and imagination. Penned in 1935, Dead End was the first Broadway production to deal with the mean streets of Modern City life. It became an instant success and was made into an Oscar-winning film starring Humphrey Bogart. But to secure the play’s broad appeal, Sidney Kingsley shied away from a critical and controversial treatment of his otherwise very potent subject matter, making Dead End a light and polite commentary on a serious societal issue.
The Pulitzer prize winning author set his story in a poor East Side neighborhood that is slowly being engulfed by developers catering to the rich and famous. The clash between have and have-nots, highly relevant for present day Cantabrigians, is illustrated in Dead End through the struggles of a group of restless street kids. Unfortunately these “dead end kids” are portrayed in a clichÉ-like manner, lacking in personality and charm and psychological complexity. This is a shortcoming of the play that is only aggravated by director Nicholas Martin’s Broadway-like staging that emphasizes style, not substance.
But while the production is both predictable and pompous, it is also highly professional, and it is evident that Martin knows the tools of the trade: Dead End is crafted with the same skills that would be expected for a blockbuster musical. The illusion of reality is cleverly created -- not by theatrical magic, but by an ensemble of capable stage, light, and costume designers, all with extensive Broadway experience.
The authentic recreation of Depression-era Manhattan is impressive, and there is even a water-filled pool in place of the orchestra pit, representing the East River. Jumping into the pool with a big splash becomes an attention grabbing trick used by the “dead-end boys” to liven up the audience in times when the play is lagging, which -- admittedly -- is far too often.
The acting provides no thrills. The large ensemble is made up of a mixture of students and established actors, but it is hard to tell the amateurs from the professionals. The characters are all rather one-dimensional and any serious theatrical talent is certainly wasted here. Sadly for some, Dead End may also be an indicator of what Huntington’s newly baked director has in store. If his first production can be used to predict the future, then we must brace ourselves for more theatrical cotton candy. Such easy-to-digest crowd pleasers may keep the box-office happy, but those of you thirsting for experimental, cutting-edge theatre will likely have to look elsewhere.