HOW TO BE SAWED IN HALF, Thirteenth Tribe, at the Athenaeum Theatre. Joanna Settle is a great director. Her bio fills almost a full column in this show’s playbill, and she’s worked with lots of impressive, hip New York-based theatrical institutions: Mabou Mines, Juilliard, JoAnne Akalaitis. It’s good she tells us this because there’s little in this flat, dull, pretentious, poorly performed show to indicate that Settle is anything but a community-theater hack trying to break into the Equity big time. Yet she’s done some nice work in the past. I liked her version of Samuel Beckett’s Play. And her production of Sophocles’ Oedipus trilogy, Blood Line, wasn’t as tiresome as others I’ve seen.

Settle is hardly the only one to blame for this shallow, preachy, formless play about a tired old magician and his rebellious young assistant–Prospero and Calibana. At least Settle didn’t write this world premiere–Hurt McDermott did. A master of intimate moments, he’s good at quiet restaurant conversations and confessional monologues that work best in small spaces like the defunct Cafe Voltaire, where two of his most successful plays were performed: Repeat w/ Madeline and Sleepwalker. But in a cavernous auditorium like the one at the Athenaeum his ideas seem trite, his words inconsequential, and his characters smaller-than-life.

–Jack Helbig