The funniest, most poignant, most original theater you’ll find this Labor Day weekend won’t be in a theater. Sirius Satellite Radio will broadcast “Theater of the New Ear,” a pair of “sound plays” recorded live at St. Ann’s Warehouse last spring. (Actors stood at microphones as composer Carter Burwell conducted an onstage band.) The Coen Brothers wrote and directed one, but the real draw is Charlie Kaufman’s astonishing Hope Leaves the Theater. Even by the high, peculiar standards set by Being John Malkovich and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, it’s a tricksy, Pirandellian triumph.
Kaufman indulges in his customary metatheatrics—imagine a play-outside-a-play—but does it in the service of a genuinely moving story about a lonely woman’s search for love. It helps that he has tailored some bespoke roles for Hope Davis, Peter Dinklage, and Meryl Streep, all of whom are wonderful. Best of all, the play’s wild leaps and shifting layers show that Kaufman has an intuitive knack for engaging an audience’s imagination. It was as rewarding a night as I’ve spent in the theater this year, all the more remarkable for being his stage debut. I am frantic to see—and hear—what he comes up with next.