THE GIFT: 55% – BITTERSWEET

“The Gift” at the Geffen Playhouse. Credit: Michael Lamont.

BITTER
An appealing and capable cast keeps the flicker of hope alive that Joanna Murray-Smith’s play “The Gift” will be worth our time despite the mounting evidence to the contrary. But by the end of this 90-minute comedy even the actors seem done in by the effort of sustaining the illusion that there’s something important going on.
Charles McNulty – LA Times

SWEET
As good as the other actors are under Maria Aitken’s expert direction, “The Gift” might very well fall apart without Van Der Beek’s carefully calibrated performance. It’s subtle, but he withholds so much right from the get-go that he immediately becomes the play’s dark center, and the promise of something ready to be revealed, if not explode, drives the play.
Robert Hofler – Variety

BITTERSWEET
Murray-Smith is a skillful playwright who is turning over questions of art and responsibility, but her play falls off the tracks right when it should be getting interesting. A work crafted to rip our guts out offers a spot of psychological indigestion instead.
Evan Henerson – Backstage

SWEET
The Gift is a difficult piece which will be met with a lot of negative reactions especially from conservatives. As intelligent, well acted and directed theatre, it deserves to be seen and heard. You may not agree with Martin and Chloe’s decision but it doesn’t hurt to open up your mind to an alternate perspective and weigh the possible positive consequences for all concerned.
Don Grigware – Grigware Reviews

BITTER
Fine performances, impressive design elements, and an absolutely stunning action sequences prove insufficient reasons for this reviewer to recommend a trip to the Geffen Playhouse for the American Premiere of Joanna Murray-Smith’s highly problematic dark comedy The Gift.
Steven Stanley – StageSceneLA

BITTER
Ultimately, one leaves the theater with a disappointing sense of somehow being cheated – this is a play of intellectual debate with only the most flatfooted discourse, and it’s a play about morality and love with no real believable emotion. Even the presence of a stellar Hollywood cast can’t make this gift worth receiving.
Paul Birchall – Stage and Cinema

BITTER
In the end, the new work, directed by Maria Aitken, primarily comes across as a talky dramedy that saves its big surprise until far into its 90-minute running time. Though the cast is engaging and the production is handsome, the play ultimately feels like much ado about too little.
Les Spindle – EdgeLosAngeles

BITTERSWEET
Had the young couple’s wish been revealed as an Act One closer, and an additional second act had taken the time to really iron out all the arguments, The Gift may have been more rewarding. As it is, Murray-Smith allows her characters and audience only moments of contemplation, presenting food for thought that is never digested.
Jonas Schwartz – TheaterMania

BITTERSWEET
Maria Aitken directs her ensemble at a quick pace in this intermission-less 90-minute show, but with abruptly awkward scene endings and the usually reliable Baker needlessly screaming her lines. Will you, the audience, be as appalled as Ed was at what Martin and Chloe chose for their gift? Or will you go along with the far-fetched premise that Sadie reasons is perfectly logical?
Gil Kaan – Culture Spot LA

BITTERSWEET
My own take on The Gift? It discusses its theme with considerable wit and style, but the plausibility of its central conceit might be bolstered if the two couples learned a little more about each other in between the two visits that frame the current action.
Don Shirley – LA Stage Times

BITTER
There seems to be a tendency among some modern writers to put some event changing experience in their plays to see what will happen. Unfortunately most of the time the event or even the characters experiencing the event are left under developed and the result leave the viewer with an unpleasant taste in their mouths as if they have been conned and cheated. After all when you go to a play or movie you are at the mercy of what is presented in that darken space. 
Robert Machray – Stagehappenings

SWEET
Maria Aitken’s direction captures the play’s changing rhythms; the action is never too fast or too slow. At one key point, scenic designer Derek McLane and lighting designer Peter Kaczorowski create the effect of a boat sailing on choppy seas that’s a work of art unto itself.
Thomas Waldman – NoHoArtsDistrict

SWEET
Directed by Maria Aitken, “The Gift” at the Geffen Playhouse is an evening worth “gifting” to yourself.
Marilyn Anderson – LASplash

BITTER
Ms. Murray-Smith has written a 90-minute play with no intermission, so it’s disheartening that director Maria Aitken relies on a visual gimmick to end The Gift. The device was as obvious as the rest of the play. It’s as if she either has no faith in the play (that’s understandable) or, more offensively, the audience. If people are willing to take time and see a play, they want more than babysitting.
Macho Show Queen – Los Angeles Magazine

BITTER
Kudos to the overall production values. Unfortunately, while Murray-Smith has some interesting ideas about life, art, artists, personal responsibility, the production was uneven and over-worked. Would I want to spend another night with these four people? No.
Audrey Linden – LA Examiner

SWEET
Murray-Smith finds rich comedy and abundant sharp one-liners in the earlier scenes, but the later revelations are less persuasive. Director Maria Aitken elicits strong performances from her cast, but the chic minimalist set by Derek McLane emphasizes a pervasive unreality.
Neal Weaver – LA Weekly

BITTERSWEET
Even so, the show benefits from savvy direction that navigates past truly bumpy tonal uncertainties, and as a dividend conjures up, of all unexpected flourishes, a dandy storm at sea. Baker remains a reliably attractive and magnetic central stage presence who commands sufficient sympathy to encourage us to stay along for the somewhat checkered journey. Yet the play, especially considered in retrospect, cannot escape a certain tiresome and unrewarding manipulative impact.
Myron Meisel – The Hollywood Reporter

BITTER
“The Gift” is not an actively bad play, so much as a confounding show that doesn’t quite work.
Katie Buenneke – Neon Tommy

BITTER
Ultimately, too much assembly is required.
Jon Magaril – CurtainUp

SWEET
The Gift is not perfect. But a play can provoke without perfection, and this intermissionless evening left me pondering questions of selfishness, responsibility and the role of the artist in society. That’s pretty good.
Christopher Cappiello – Frontiers

SWEET
Do I recommend that you see this show? Of course, for we all feel the need for more theatre of all kinds in this city…, and the Geffen has been in the forefront of providing the best shows we get. I promise that you will be exiting the theatre arguing the ending as we did… and that is The Gift from these good people.
Jay Weston – Huffington Post

BITTER
I can only say that the entire premise of the play is without credence as far as anything in it from the bonding of two such different couples to the final outcome, which in the end, is not even clear.
Carol Kaufman Segal – Stagehappenings

BITTERSWEET
There’s an old David Mamet axiom that if it ain’t on the page, it ain’t on the stage, but in this instance, the professional ensemble was able to transcend what was on the page and deliver highly polished, but pointless performances.
Beverly Cohn – LASplash

BITTERSWEET
Smith’s sardonic take on responsibility and morality has its moments, but they simply don’t add up in a significant way. The actors in The Gift are much better than the play.
Willard Manus – Total Theater

THE GIFT
The Geffen Playhouse
10886 Le Conte Ave., Westwood
Feb. 7–March 10, 2013
Tue-Fri 8 pm, Sat 2 and 8 pm, Sun 2 and 7 pm
Tickets: (310) 208-5454

Filed Under: FeaturedLemonMeterLow Rated

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LemonMeter About the Author: We don’t “review” shows here at the Lemon, rather we "review" reviews by gathering them from a variety of local review sites around the internet, judging them to be positive or negative, then forming an aggregate score that we call a LEMONMETER RATING, showing how well that show has been reviewed in total. For more detail on how the LemonMeter works visit here.

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  1. Steven Stanley says:

    Who would ever have thought I’d agree with McNulty…without having read a word of his review?
    http://www.stagescenela.com/2013/02/the-gift/