REVIEW: Unfinished Sympathy: Unknown Soldier at Playwrights Horizons (for Parterre Box)

Unknown Soldier at Playwrights Horizons. (Photo by Joan Marcus)

Cameron Kelsall: It’s difficult to discuss Unknown Soldier without considering the impact of legacy.The musical—written by Daniel Goldstein (libretto/lyrics) and Michael Friedman (music/lyrics)—tried out at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 2015; it’s just now reached New York in a Playwrights Horizons production. In the interim, Friedman died, suddenly and shockingly, of HIV/AIDS at age 41. “[N]ow that Michael is gone,” Goldstein writes in a program note, “the play itself becomes an object in time, a place where we can look for him, in his humanity, his frailty, and his incredible intelligence.” As critics, David, this puts us in a peculiar and slightly awkward position: Must we not consider Unknown Soldier on its own terms, sui generis, and as a tribute to a beloved, much-missed artist?

David Fox: Honestly, I can’t recall a more dizzying ride than watching this show—my opinion of it changed so often along the way. Some scenes and songs I found completely successful and hauntingly lovely. In other moments, I admired the bold attempts, while feeling that Friedman and Goldstein actually didn’t realize their ambitions. And frankly, occasionally I found it hackneyed, derivative, and far from ready for prime time. But to speak to your point, that’s just it: Friedman’s death deprives him and us from the opportunity to see the work evolve further. For better or worse—and I think, heartbreakingly it’s both—we must now judge Friedman’s Unknown Soldier as it stands…

Read the full review at Parterre Box.

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