From such fascinating but dramatically unpromising ingredients Pomerance seeks to assemble a play. Given that Murray used the wealth of English literature to assemble his dictionary, one might have imagined a Stoppardesque approach where Murray’s painstaking effort is scrimmed through some well-known literary masterpiece providing a superstructure on which to hang the theatrically inert premise. Instead, the author tortures a garden variety family drama out of this claustrophobic milieu resulting in two-and-a-half hours of empty bombast. In such unappealing stew, his fine comedic writing sinks to the bottom.
Trevor Thomas – EdgeLosAngeles
Yes, we should live life instead of reading—or writing—about it. And yet, how could we discuss and argue and revel in the world’s experiences without the precise words to describe them? Several false endings can and probably will be smoothed over in future editions of this stimulating, stirring play.
Dany Margolies – Backstage
As was true with Boston Court’s recent The Twentieth Century Way, The Good Book Of Pedantry and Wonder requires careful viewing, with particular attention to be paid to its multi-layered use of language, entirely appropriate for a play about language. But the effort pays off. This is one of the smartest plays I’ve seen in a long while, and every bit as entertaining as it is smart.
Steven Stanley – StageSceneLA
Like many works of historical fiction, “The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder” relies too heavily on the material’s inherent fascination. There’s not an excessive amount of pedantry involved; but neither is there very much wonder.
Charles McNulty – LA Times
The editor, James Murray, is facing his end, but everybody here chatters, including him, after two hours of action, as they had at the beginning, as though they all understand each other perfectly. Even James’ diatribes about Galileo — described as ravings though they actually make perfect sense — neglect the mortality that the loss of language, or the Sisyphean effort that birthing a dictionary, imply. The play’s weakness, ironically, is not so much with the story but with the treatment of language itself. That language remains cogent and beautiful and clever, but it alone has scant connection to the birth-death ordeal of building a dictionary.
Steven Leigh Morris – LA Weekly
In John Langs’ staging, performances further narrow the characters into singular modes. Lora, who showed her range in last year’s Collected Stories in Costa Mesa, here feels consigned to exchanges that are cool and tinged with sarcasm. Getz’ Murray seems less the passionate lover of language and more the flinty martinet who is so quick to anger as to obscure what was by all accounts a man of tremendous range. Winters, stuck with a character whose two functions are sorting definitions and carrying a torch for Jane, is limited to being put-out and bottled up. Welsh, the only one with a life outside the workroom, gets a richer personality to explore and does so nicely. Two other characters, played by Travis Michael Holder, Henry Todd Ostendorf and Gillian Doyle, have interesting exchanges with Murray or others in which Pomerance gets to explore his themes away from the father-child relationships. In these moments (especially Doyle’s) the play shows its greatest promise.
Cristofer Gross – Theatertimes
The world premiere of Moby Pomerance’s The Good Book of Pedantry and Wonder at Boston Court Performing Arts Center is a rare thing—a new play that is already superb which receives a stunning and satisfying staging. You’d be surprised how infrequently those two things occur simultaneously, but it’s happened here in a felicitous co-production by Theatre @ Boston Court and Circle X Theatre Company.
Terry Morgan – LAist
Never do the characters set aside their quibbles to bond over the love of language. Never do we participate in the anxieties and excitement that must have kept this quixotic project together over decades and against impossible odds. The number “704″ — the annual page count Murray was contractually obligated to deliver — is bruited about without bringing any urgency to the table. Putting the OED on the sidelines leaves us with the undercompelling human drama. Under John Langs’ direction, Lora grimly slaps down fools in a mannered turn of unrelieved unpleasantness, and Welsh wears his character’s vulnerabilities on his sleeve. Though Getz is utterly believable as the whirlwind Murray, virtually every scene is marked by the same sputtered quibbles, while Gillian Doyle and Henry Todd Ostendorf make little impression in their barely sketched out roles.
Bob Verini – Variety
What makes this experience doubly frustrating is that you are not likely to see better acting, direction and design elements (or a better theatre) in all of Los Angeles. Melanie Lora is remarkable as the saucy, business-like Jane – she creates an inner turmoil even while the playwright does not deliver the societal conflict that her brand of fiery feminism would create in Victorian Oxford (Emmeline Pankhust was still a blip on the radar screen of the suffragette movement). Ryan Welsh as James and Henry Todd Ostendorf as Owen likewise successfully intermingle guilt, shame and yearning with Victorian propriety, even as we remain unclear as to their consummation of “the love that dare not speak its name.”
Tony Frankel – Stagehappenings
What Mr. Pomerance and director John Lang have assembled is a masterpiece of wit, information, period behavior and “words, Polonius, words.” Funny, suspenseful, clever and educational, it’s a wise play, as well as an informative one. Long at 2.5 hours, it’s also great fun, worth the extra time spent in its company.
Dale Reynolds – Stagehappenings
Pomerance is a promising writer; this play may even be the proper evidence of the fact, if it were done as written. Buts its longueurs and distractions and the sense that it often forgets its central subject – the creation of a dictionary – may, under any circumstances, prove a deterrent to ever getting it right. But this production of The Good Book Of Pedantry And Wonder, despite its array of arresting images and a host of fascinating subtexts, doesn‘t serve anyone very well.
Harvey Perr – Stage and Cinema
This isn’t history, and the characters of Jane and Paul are mostly imaginary–after all, the dynamics of a household of 11 kids had to be more chaotic than the simple pull and push of two siblings, deciding whose turn it is to see the world and whose turn it is to take care of the father and his soul-breaking endeavor. Still with ensemble is without fault and the journey is delightfully fulfilling–emotionally and intellectually.
Jana J. Monji – LA Examiner
On the one hand, none of these family conflict story lines are particularly original. On the other, the setting is unique and Pomerance is wise to pack the show with enough dictionary intrigue to keep things interesting. If there is any problem, it may be that things are a little too packed with two servants, rotating employee/volunteers working on the dictionary, and sundry subplots to accompany it all. The Good Book is a busy play that sometimes seems to be missing a real overarching sense of direction. One may wonder if the dictionary will ever be completed, but this is never really the source of tension in the family drama that seems to percolate along slowly before coming to a somewhat predictable head. At its best, The Good Book manages to evoke the kind of excitement a Merchant/Ivory film might. Director John Langs elicits strong performances from everyone including a particularly good Melanie Lora as Jane and Ryan Welsh as Paul. Accents are largely stable and convincing throughout, and the play manages to evoke a Victorian air without being particularly Dickensian. And though some of the psychological concerns of the characters, including Jane’s rather easy acceptance of her brother’s implied homosexuality, may be a bit out of place for the time period of the play’s action, it’s still a fairly interesting exercise.
Brian – OutWestArts
Performances through August 29 at The Theater at Boston Court, 70 N. Mentor Ave., Pasadena. Tickets via the theater box office at 626.683.6883.
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