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Play Review: Oren Safdie’s “False Solutions”

After “Private Jokes, Public Places” (2003), and “The Bilbao Effect” (2010), Oren Safdie returns to New York as both playwright and director for the world premiere of his latest one-act play, “False Solutions,” now playing at La MaMa through 06.30.13.

Anton Seligman (Sean Haberle) is a mid-career starchitect who relishes his stature, but whose insecurities are easily brought to the surface. Linda Johansson (Christy McIntosh) is a smart, ambitious, outspoken, and extremely comely first-year architecture student with a family history that plays an important part as the story unfolds. “False Solutions” continues in a similar serio-comedic vein as Safdie’s previous two outings, though this time the emphasis is a bit more on the serio- than the comedic. This is, perhaps, as it should be, since the play revolves around a new Holocaust museum in Poland that the world-famous architect has been commissioned to design. Discussion, debate, accusation, recrimination, confession, and remorse abound. As does a good dose of sexual tension, flirtation, and regret.

The lights go up on Linda standing alone in Seligman’s model shop at the end of her first day as an intern in the architect’s office. (It turns out she wrote a paper about him for a first-semester assignment.) She speaks directly to the audience: “The thing about architects is that their buildings live on long after they’re dead; forming individuals, influencing communities … sometimes even defining – or reflecting – the collective conscience of an entire nation.” Even as Seligman enters, she speaks of him in the third person.

Then the banter begins. At first light-hearted and casual, over the course of the evening the conversation turns theoretical and confrontational, involving war, religious identity, and sexual politics. Lighter moments still come through – at one point the intern suggests a design move, to which the architect replies: “Won’t go down with the mayor – he’s a real estate developer.”

The dialogue is fast-paced and witty – and very cutting at times. The actors are comfortable in their characters’ skins, and do much to bring some ponderous theoretical passages to life. While “False Solution” may be a bit more challenging than Safdie’s previous two plays for the layperson (it makes insider references to Witold Rybczynski and Peter Eisenman, FAIA), the audience at this writer’s viewing left the theater both chuckling (recalling Seligman tossing his Libeskind/Gehry-esque model into a garbage can), and pondering that perhaps, to quote one: “Designing memorials – any memorial – is probably the hardest task for an architect, which Oren demonstrated. The victims, the survivors, developers, officials…”

“False Solution” makes for an enjoyable and thought-provoking evening, but there are only a few evenings left. Click here for ticket information.

Kristen Richards, Hon. AIA, Hon. ASLA, is the editor-in-chief of Oculus and ArchNewsNow.com. In a previous incarnation, she was a founding member of the Impossible Ragtime Theatre in NYC.