David Ives does it again -- almost. His earlier adaptation of Moliere’s le Misanthrope (1666), renamed The School for Lies (reviewed here in 2011) was an orgy of unending laughter. This adaptation of Regnard’s le Légataire universel (1708) which he renames The Heir Apparent isn’t as successful although Ives follows his same rules of mod transformation, because Regnard’s play falls short of the brilliance of le Misanthrope.
So what does David Ives “do” with these late sixteenth and early seventeenth century French plays?
He translates them into completely contemporary lingo, without any inhibitions or unnecessary reverence for “The Past,” unworried about “anachronism,” using contemporary slang and turns of phrase, and in a spectacular rush of imagination invents contemporary in-jokes in place of the in-jokes of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that today would seem like out-jokes, or be missed. He's tremendously witty! Meanwhile, he holds to the past in the costumes and, with titillating ambiguity, in the decor, and for the plot maintains the rules, regulations, customs and laws of the 16th and 17th centuries, all of which, coming up against the contemporary language and modern references, create a delicious cognitive dissonance.
Thanks to David Ives, these plays come to us more themselves than they would be in literal word-for-word translations. They're as good as they were in their own day which in the case of Moliere means marvelous, less so for Regnard.
Jean-François’ Regnard was a reigning comic playwright of the Comédie-Français after Moliere; this is his best known work. The situation is that a rich old man, Geronte, appears to be dying and his poor nephew, Eraste, is angling for his fortune, which will enable him to marry the beautiful Isabelle. Obstacles arise for Eraste including the varied set of characters seeking the dying man’s fortune who appear and, in some amusing scenes, claim in one preposterous way or another to be long lost relatives.
The biggest obstacle of all is that the tough old geezer, much as he seems on his last legs, simply doesn’t die. Crispin the servant, facilitator to the core, invents clever schemes to help Eraste whose own inability to do anything for himself makes him a less than sympathetic character as a lover, which I found a weakness in the play. Who cares if this jerk gets the girl or not?
Much of the early part of the play (at least it seemed to go on a long time) centers around old man Geronte’s problems with his plumbing: there’s lots of tiresome scatological joking and horsing around. Instead of an amusingly extreme aspect of character (such as one would find in Moliere), we’re stuck with Geronte’s extreme digestive problems, but Paxton Whitehead, abandoning any vestige of narcissism, gives his all to the rather repulsive role and, when called for, produces an impressive of physical transformation. By the end of the play, the characters' situations have changed but -- in contrast to le Misanthrope -- they haven't learned much.
The most interesting character is Scruple -- the short lawyer of briefs -- acted by David Pittu who plays it like José Ferrer as Toulouse-Lautrec in the 1952 John Huston film, The Moulin Rouge -- on his knees. He’s also responsible for the most hilarious scene in which the attorney, a true professional, is drawing up his client's will while oblivious to false identities -- always good for laughs, and Pittu’s intelligent but obtuse sober mien adds to the fun.
Carson Elrod is energetic and amusing as Crispin, the man of many devices and “a whole comédie-française in himself.” Suzanne Bertsch is appropriately imperious as Isabelle’s mother.
See The Heir Apparent and you’ll enjoy it, but you don’t “have to see” it the way I felt you “had” to see The School for Lies. (I saw it twice just so somebody else who'd miss it otherwise could see it once.)
The Heir Apparent plays at Classic Stage Company in New York City's East Village through May 4th, 2014. For information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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Mack the Soupsoon (... couldn't resist ...)
From the first moments of the overture, discordant and musical, played by superb musicians from the back of the stage, you know you’re experiencing something great. The Threepenny Opera is one of the greatest pieces of musical theatre of the 20th Century -- it’s up there with Porgy and Bess -- and happily this production fulfills it.
Based on John Gay's 18th-century The Beggar's Opera, The Threepenny Opera was first produced in Berlin in 1928. It's an outstanding and unusual example of a political point of view, here Brecht’s socialist critique of capitalist society, transformed into art that's not preachy: skip the preaching, as Jenny reminds us in her “Solomon Song.” Yet the message, “First feed the face, and then talk right and wrong,” comes across loud and clear -- and joyously.
Set in 19th century London and populated by low-life characters, including prostitutes, beggars and thieves, the show centers on a lean, mean crook Macheath, known as Mack the Knife. Irresistible to women, he turns the head of Polly, the protected daughter of the wise-to-the world Mr. Peachum, “King of the Beggars”, and Mrs. Peachum. When Macheath marries Polly (sort of), a furious Mr. Peachum determines to have him hanged; there are crimes aplenty to accuse him of but the Chief of Police is -- guess what -- corrupt. Still, caught in the snare of his “old dependency -- women”, as Mrs. Peachum sings it, he comes near to death, only to … see the show! It’s such a great ending. Yes, more joyous irony.
What a marvelous wealth of songs! The singers are all good but some capture the grating quality of the style of Weimar Berlin with which Martha Clarke imbues the show. John Kelly as the Street Singer delivers a wonderfully subversive introductory “Ballad of Mack the Knife” and is charismatically sleazy throughout in the role of Fitch. Mary Beth Peil is tough and terrific as Mrs. Peachum. These two most fully capture the character of the music and the essence of The Threepenny Opera.
As Macheath, Michael Park understands the meanings of his all-out songs and gets them across with rich vigor, but his persona, and gorgeously tailored suit, are too comfortable looking -- too capitalist -- for Mack the Knife. Not knife-like, he's more a Mack the Soup Spoon. F. Murray Abraham is gruff and tender as Mr. Peachum, though he’s not a great singer. Laura Osnes sings Polly’s songs with a beautiful, strong voice, though she seems too worldly-wise in advance, rather than learning a thing or three from Macheath.
Now what about Jenny? A big question for this show. Jenny, a prostitute and maid in the brothel, and Macheath’s sometime lover, is the pivotal role Lotte Lenya sang in the original Berlin production in Berlin in 1928 and again in the 1956 production at the Theater de Lys in New York City, and often heard recorded since. In this production Jenny is misconceived: turning her back of the strident, no-holds-barred Jenny that Miss Lenya gave and that’s scripted, Miss Clarke gives us a depressed, near-ingenue Jenny, played by Sally Murphy, even to the point of changing the words to suit this passive characterization. Ending her famous revenge fantasy song, “Pirate Jenny,” by imagining all “the bodies piled up” in front of her, Miss Murphy sings with a shrug: “So what?” A far cry from Lotte Lenya’s vengeful words: “That’ll learn ya.”
Maybe Miss Clarke thought Lotte Lenya's tough Jenny was too iconic, so went the other way. At any rate, this passive characterization lets us down also in “Solomon Song” where, abandoning irony for woebegone, Miss Murphy sings, face turned away, brushing across the far walls of the set like a teen-ager without a prom date. The role is salvaged only by the fact that it's a stupendous song, and Sally Murphy is a poignant, fine performer so that wistful, though off-key, didn’t interrupt the impact of this wonderful show.
The production’s overall concept, set, lighting and costumes are glorious. The spirit of caricature, the costumes, and choreography are inspired by images from George Grosz’s gutsy and unblinking illustrations of Berlin low-life of the period, as Robert Ruben, who saw the show with me commented, a bringing together of art and theater that recalls Miss Clarke's Garden of Earthly Delights inspired by Hieronymus Bosch's famous painting, reviewed here in 2008. For instance, the sofa in the brothel and the choreographed arrangement of girls on and around it appear to be drawn directly from an illustration by Grosz, a sort of tableaux vivant. All is over-washed with Martha Clarke’s luscious glow and sense of luxury. George Grosz deserves mention in the show’s program.
Joyous irony: the show’s grim, underdog message -- useless, it's useless, even when you're playing rough, useless, it's useless, you're never rough enough -- is transformed through transcendent art: you walk out of the theater elated.
The Threepenny Opera plays at the Atlantic Theater in Manhattan's Chelsea district through May 4th, 2014 -- EXTENDED THROUGH MAY 11TH. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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L-R Moses Villarama, Stephanie Hsu, Christopher Larkin, Mia Katigbak. Photo: Ensemble Studio Theatre
Blue, the girl of the family, using, she says, probabilities based on her college study of game theory, manages to swipe a copy of Action Comics #1, the first Superman comic book (worth over a million dollars, the world’s most valuable comic book) but she loses it! To get it back, she has to turn for help to her brothers who’ve never thought much of her grifter skills. This sets up a round-robin of conning with her brothers, Francis, who’s retired from pick-pocketing to become a TV magician, and H, a crooked gambler, until, in their need, they turn to that legendary con great, Mabel -- their mother.
As con artists, they base their moves on calculations of what their targets expect and don’t expect. What makes this play so delightfully funny is the playwright's canny sense of what the audience can and can't anticipate -- the playwright’s the best con artist of all: she knows what we will and won’t figure out, and that, as the play continues and we catch on, we’ll get smarter -- so she ups the ante. FAST COMPANY is a voyage through cleverness: the Kwans outwit one another and the playwright outwits us -- to the very end where she shifts gears to give an unexpected ending that enriches the meaning of her play.
Stephanie Hsu as Blue let’s us catch on through her facial expressions and body language that there’s some kind of special, i.e. family, intimacy, between herself and her brother Francis even before we know who’s who, and Francis -- with help from the playwright -- takes “cool” to new lengths. Moses Villarama is touchingly conflicted as H, and Mable, as played by Mia Katigbak, with her outstanding deadpan, is tops in the script and in the play.
As for “game theory” … well, the concept may have given a scientific whiff that would involve the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation which has partnered with the Ensemble Studio Theatre to develop plays about science, technology and economics* … but crooks were crooks before there was game theory.
FAST COMPANY plays at The Ensemble Studio Theatre on Manhattan's west side through April 6, 2014. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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… five good performers in search of a play …
I loved the idea of this show which is subtitled An Epic Tale of Fictional Lives Intertwined with 90-year-old Landmark Theater New York City Center, a building that's played such a rich role in the life and particularly the performing arts life on New York City. And the idea that the word “architecture” would have meaning both in terms of the building and in terms of individual lives sounded exciting.
L-R Claudia Acosta and Jon Norman Schneider. Rudolph Valentino on screen. Photo Carol Rosegg
Before the play begins, a portion of The Sheik, the silent film of 1921 with
Rudolph Valentino and Agnes Ayres is projected repetitively -- fun to watch but … why? Perhaps it was referencing that City Center was first built in 1923 in a Moorish style for the Shriners who called it the Mecca Temple although Valentino’s seduction of Ayres seemed worlds away from the mystic goings-on of the all-male Shriner organization. Like most of what followed in fast-moving, quick changes, it gave the sense that it was there just because somebody wanted it there, not for any driving artistic reason.
From the film the play moves to an intended unifying premise: Siempre Norteada, played by Claudia Acosta, a writer of Mexican descent from Texas announces that she has won a commission to write this play about City
Center but, she tells us, she’s only been in NYC a short time, and doesn’t know where to begin or what to write. Oh oh. And sure enough, from here, the play dissolves into a series of episodes of lives in which for the most part the relationship to City Center or to one another is largely incidental.
L-R Vanessa Kai and Christopher Livingston. Photo Carol Rosegg.
The vignettes are very well performed by Claudia Acosta, Vanessa Kai, Christopher Livingston, Jon Norman Schneider, and Danielle Skraastad who make impressive switches from one type of character to another. Vanessa Kai, for instance, moves from conveying a deferent Japanese housewife through a stoop in the shoulders and mask-like facial control to an all-out street kid from the wild side. In her Japanese woman mode, she gets a job sweeping up at City Center but that’s incidental -- in terms of her own life, she could have been sweeping anywhere.
One episode is particularly moving -- a real highlight. Christopher Livingston plays a Black street kid hanging around outside of City Center, chalking on the tall doors the names of the great composers whose music filters from inside -- Bellini, Puccini and -- with a wonderful flourish of the accent mark -- Dvorák! It's all in graffiti style but perfectly spelled and known, a beautiful, signifying tension. The dramatization of the outsider yearning for what is within the doors that keep out as well as let in is powerful.
L-R Vanessa Kai and Danielle Skraastad. Photo Carol Rosegg
The lives touched on are only glimpsed, however, and are mainly disconnected one from another, so the promise of locating some kind of structure in movement through life -- the “architecture of becoming” -- is not fulfilled. And the connections between the individuals to City Center are so loose that the play lacks its own architecture. Siempre Norteada, who tells us she doesn't know how to begin her play also, as she says, doesn’t have an ending for it. The playwright (there are actually 5 of them, maybe that’s part of the problem) has given sketches of a number of lives in NYC, some interesting, some less so. There are some touching moments but the Center does not hold.
The Architecture of Becoming plays at New York City Center on West 55th Street in Manhattan through March 23, 2014. For information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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This is the first full staging of Liliom in New York in 40 years and it's such a satisfying play I feel gratitude to Beautiful Soup for producing it. The musical it inspired, Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel, is among the best of all time but in some ways the play is even more dramatically powerful.
Written in 1909, the play takes place in Budapest, Hungary, with a foray to
Heaven. Liliom is the nickname of a carousel barker, vibrant, handsome, but also edgy, impatient and prone to violence. He’s loved by two women -- well, all the girls “love” this good looking guy but there are two women important in his life -- Mrs. Muskat, the tough, experienced, older woman who owns the carousel, and Julie, the young, inexperienced serving girl who sets up house with him.
Losing his job with the carousel because he’s taken up with Julie -- although
Mrs. Muskat would relent at the drop of a hot if he’d come back to her --
Liliom becomes depressed, hanging out with a shady friend and, in his gloomy mood, once hits Julie. Julie’s friend Marie drops by to show off her stable, loving fiancé, Wolf (the only thing “wrong” with him is he’s Jewish). Marie, shocked that Liliom hit Julie, tries to persuade her to give up her loser boyfriend but Julie, plain and simple, loves him too much.
L-R Sara Hymes as Marie and Morgan DeTogne as Julie. Photo: Samantha Mercado-Tudda
Liliom shakes his mood, though, thrilled to learn that Julie's going to have a baby, and he muses over the boy he expects to have (one can’t help hearing in one’s ears the song from Carousel, “My boy Bill…”). Energized to make money, Liliom, in one of his several bad choices, involves himself in a criminal plan that ends badly. Though given a heavenly chance to redeem himself, Liliom can’t harness his destructive volatility but, in as touching a scene as has ever been written, we learn that even with that, Julie never stops loving him
The characters in Liliom are complex, conflicted, three-dimensional, and
very real, and we feel deeply about them. It’s key that, although the acting in this production is uneven, Gerrard Lobo in the central role of Liliom has star power, including the charisma for us to believe the young serving girl, on her own in the world, would give up a secure job for love of him and -- no matter what -- never waver in her feelings. Lobo’s fine and energetic performance conveys Liliom’s multi-sided personality, tender but brutal, cocky but confused, sure but frantic.
Gerrard Lobo as Liliom. Photo Samantha Mercado-Tudda
Morgan DeTogne as Julie is earnest and sometimes affecting: I was disappointed that she almost swallowed her last, very great line, siphoning away some of its power. Sara Hymes is charming, humorous and moves with an actor’s ease in the role of Julie’s friend, Marie, whose relationship with her husband Wolf -- both strongly loving and eminently practical -- is a counterpoint to the tragic love of Liliom and Julie. Kimberly Rogers is tough, passionate and as coarse as she needs to be as Mrs. Muskat.
The production is simple and effective: a circle of ribbons conveys the carousel. Written in 1909, Liliom takes up issues that are alive in our contemporary world, including the relationship between job loss and domestic violence, and the way lack of education and the sophistication that can come with it can land one behind the eight-ball.
Although some productions may be more polished, among several exciting plays I've seen this season, this is the deepest and most moving -- the one I think I'm gladdest to have seen.
Liliom plays at Celebration of Whimsey Theater in downtown Manhattan through March 9, 2014. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
... truth ...
Gidion’s Knot is an intense gem. Two persons, a mother, Caryn (Leiner) and a grade school teacher, Heather (O’Brien) are engaged, during a parent-teacher conference in a taut offensive-defensive search for truth.
L-R Karen Leiner and Dara O'Brien. Photo by Carol Rosegg
Caryn, thin, brusque, sharp, in jeans and leather boots, comes to school looking for an explanation for a catastrophe that has met her son. Heather, soft, tender, plump, blowzy, seeks to keep Caryn -- and her probing questions and snooping around the classroom -- at bay. Caryn is looking to untie the knot of evasions and slim clues that stand between her and knowing the truth of what transpired regarding her son. Heather, the classroom teacher, knows the truth -- or does she?
With a compelling immediacy, Gidion's Knot takes place in true time -- the play takes 90 minutes, so does this remarkable parent-teacher conference -- and the characters are seen as life-size (seats in this small theater immediately around the stage). But even deeper excitement lies in the targeted dialog, the canny fencing, the emotional and intellectual shifts as Caryn, bull dogging Heather, ratting through the knot of clues, gradually illuminates the events and the emotional undercurrents.
Like Hickey in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, and with a similar cruel edge, Caryn strips away the self-protective rationalizations, forcing truth into the open for both women. Directly on the heels of Caryn's relentless and successful hunt for truth, the question looms: given the great value placed on truth, is there ever a role for compassion in the searching it out? Gidion’s Knot seems to come down on the side of the unvarnished value of searing truth, a tough verdict.
Two outstanding actresses, Karen Leiner and Dara O'Brien, in their two studies of opposites, fascinate in the course of their emotional voyage, as if they shared a lifetime, and under Austin Pendleton's subtle direction, nothing is lost and everything illuminates.
Johnna Adams’ deep knowledge of human beings, intelligence and dramatic gift has located in a meeting of a parent and teacher in an ordinary classroom an encounter as hold-your-breath suspenseful as a whodunit, and with the highest stakes. It leaves you thinking about topical issues, such a school bullying, and eternal questions, such as the nature and value of truth. This is true dramatic magic.
Gidion's Knot plays at 59E59 Theaters in midtown Manhattan through March 9, 2014. For information and tickets, click on live link of title.
... from palace to office …
In James Barrie’s comedy The Twelve Pound Look of 1920, seen recently, a woman who boldly divorced her wealthy, aristocratic husband finds independence and contentment as a typist ... but the entire play is set in the husband’s palatial home. John Van Druten, eleven years later, thrusts us directly into the woman’s workplace: we’re in the office in London Wall -- with a great set by Marion Williams -- and the play’s about the women and men who work there. Amidst the file cabinets, desks and typewriters, we’re drawn into the lives of typists and clerks in a London barrister’s office, and what they face in finding love, off-hours entertainment, spiritual satisfaction and enough money to pay the rent. What a difference in eleven years!
Miss Pat Milligan is the newest and youngest of the typists who's set upon by the in-house skirt chaser, Mr. Brewer, the firm’s handsome, young lawyer. The older and experienced Miss Janus warms Pat about him, but how can a pretty nineteen year-old girl, alone in the world and with a miniscule salary, resist the attentions of a charming professional man who wines and dines her? Best of all -- and what really gets her heart racing -- Brewer takes her to the theater!
Through the lives in this busy, working office, Van Druten lets us see love in all its parts: innocent, worldly, youthful, mature, young naïve, old naïve, heartbreaking and rewarding. A strength of this play is its unobtrusive exploration of the several ages of women, but men, too are given their due, with the young clerk Birkenshaw and the elderly head of the firm, Mr. Wagner, rounding things out in terms of gender.
Two in this fine cast particularly capture the rapid-fire humor, and tossed-off ironies of 1930’s comedies, Stephen Plunkett as Mr. Brewer and Julia Coffey as the knowing but vulnerable Miss Janus. Laurie Kennedy is amusing as the vague -- but she knows perfectly well what she’s doing -- elderly patron of the firm.
Jonathan Hogan is the firm's authoritative head, Mr. Walker, who has one foot in the old ways and the other stretching to take the big step forward, an early -- and I'd bet influential -- version of Rodgers and Hammerstein's King of Siam. Old school while open to new realities, Walker struggles to cope fairly with that current huge challenge: women in the office!
One can see why the lusty Brewer sets his sights on the pretty Miss Pat Milligan: Elise Kibler plays the part with charming sass but often speaks in a casually conversational tone, just above a whisper, without projecting her voice -- a try at some some kind of naturalism but the upshot is you can't hear her.
John Van Druten went on to write some of the finest, longest running, and most popular plays, in London and on Broadway, including I Remember Mama, The Voice Of The Turtle, Bell, Book and Candle, and I Am A Camera; and he also directed, and wrote for the movies. He was a real theater man -- no wonder Mr. Brewer is able to turn Miss Milligan's head by giving her the best kind of evening there is -- by taking her to a play, probably one by John Van Druten. Thanks to the Mint Theater for giving us the chance to see this enjoyable play -- the best kind of evening there is!
London Wall plays at The Mint Theater, mid-town West in Manhattan, through April 14, 2014. For information and tickets, click on live link of title.
... Brecht no way...
This early play of Brecht, set in British Colonial India, takes up the story of a pleasant minded civilian, an Irishman named Galy Gay, who -- on his way to buy fish for himself and his wife -- is waylaid by three soldiers whose fourth companion has disappeared and is, by force and brain washing (though that term came in later), turned into a enthused soldier, defined here as a killing machine.
It's challenging to consider whether a man can be completely transformed, re-machined as Brecht would have it, in order to fulfill a role that fulfills the purposes of society's top dogs, but the play doesn't make the case. The transitions are too abrupt, the change not convincing, and so -- whatever the reality may be -- the premise appears silly. The humanity that permeates Brecht’s best work is lacking here, and the play comes across as diagrammatic and over-long by someone whose full dramatic talent has yet to develop.
Still, whatever the virtues of provoking thought and shaking up assumptions A Man's A Man may have, this production has an opulent flavor at odds with the play's biting, expressionistic character. Among Hollywood-like touches, a vast ceiling-to-floor silvery curtain shimmers, a dead ringer for Christmas tree tinsel, to represent the façade of a mysterious, exotic temple within which one British soldier disappeared. Generally the scale of stage elements, including a prop involving a fake elephant, and the comfortable lighting, contrast with the spare expressionistic vision the characterized the initial German production of 1926. Anything can be worth doing but the visual extravagance in the Classic Stage production vitiates the drama and Brecht's tough-minded political point of view.
Gibson Frazier brings power, if not irony, to the role of Galy Gay, particularly in the catalytic scene in which through cruel devices, he’s transformed into a machine-like soldier. I think that in a production more true to the play’s essential expressionism, the schematic brutality and patent artificiality could have a strong impact. Here it elicited the response: “no way.”
The part of Widow Behick -- a gutsy Mother Courage type of woman along the lines of those Brecht wrote into several of his plays -- is played by Justin Vivien Bond, a brilliant male drag performance artist. It’s great fun to watch him -- he’s the highlight of the show and keeps it from feeling interminably dull -- but, although he takes seriously and acts well the few tender moments, the camp aspect of the performance robs the play of the natural humanity that perhaps a woman playing the part directly, without the distancing of camp, may have provided.
Duncan Sheik's music, contemporary but resonating with Kurt Weil, nostalgic but up-to-date, was appealing and I hope it finds its way into other Brecht productions since, though written for this one, it wouldn't be limited to it.
Here’s a chance to see an early Brecht play, for some a reason to go -- but it’s far from being Brecht’s best, and this production sidesteps its essence in favor of scenic and other distractions.
A Man's A Man plays at Classic Stage in Manhattan's East Village through February 16th, 2014. For information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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… not your Little House On The Prairie …
Two sisters, Sarah (Folk-Sullivan), a morbidly passive introvert, and Hannah (Khoshnoudi), more outgoing and looking for a leap to freedom, are played by two fine actresses who subtly and vividly capture their psychological contrasts through complementary monologs and some physical action. I'd like to see them in a more satisfying play.
In intriguing staging, which works well because of the dramatic strength Katherine Folk-Sullivan brings to her voice, Sarah in her first monolog is seen as a backlit shadow flickeringly behind a curtain. She’s trapped in her rural Colorado home, edgy, seething with resentment, stuck doing chores with no help from her mother. Hannah, we find, is more in the world -- she has a job in town -- and is more determined to get away. The sisters share, though, a keen dislike of their mother’s pet, a sheep named Vicky that the mother insists on keeping in the house, the remaining one of 30 or 40 sheep the family had when Dad was there and the family prospered.
Vicky the sheep, though not actually enacted -- nobody plays Vicky -- through pantomime and description is part of the action, but the mother is less visualized.
To which sister will the mother give ownership of the fine truck that Dad -- dead or just absent -- left behind years ago? Each wants to get her hands on those keys to freedom, but assertive Hannah hatches a scheme to take hold of them for herself, a plan that involves impregnating Vicky, an event grossly and unpleasantly described (signs of things to come). It brings to mind that Barbara Kingsolver in her novel Prodigal Summer makes the undeniably earthy task of impregnating goats hilarious and touching. It depends on temperament, I guess.
The mother’s birthday catalyzes the violent eruption of repressed resentments and sibling competition, including the sisters’ hostility to that third cog in the machine of sibling rivalry, their mother’s favorite, Vicky the sheep. And what happens isn’t pretty.
Will Hannah, who has the keys to the truck, get away?
And how, in current narratives of dysfunctional families -- one thinks of Tracy Letts' August: Osage County, play and film -- did the big open spaces of the American West, symbol of freedom, take on the character of a trap?
My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer, sharing this theme of "let me out of here," calls to mind as well the new play by Eric Dufault, The Year Of The Rooster, (see blog directly previous) also focused on a dysfunctional family in a claustrophobic house, in the Oklahoma plains, with a lazy, narcissistic mother, an inhibited son in need of a break-out and, of all coincidences, an animal inappropriately kept indoors who does not fare well, a heroic fighting cock (here it's the mother who finds the animal a major irritant). In The Year Of The Rooster, we understand the debilitating conflicts and tensions and share the son’s struggle to transcend them.
In My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer, reasons are as opaque as the title (there’s no hammer, just a meat tenderizer -- does that count?). We don’t know why the mother exploits her daughters, or what happened to the father, and the playwright’s talent for description is in the service of unsavory sadistic sensationalism.
My Daughter Keeps Our Hammer plays at the Flea Theater in Manhattan's Tribeca through February 14, 2014. EXTENDED through February 22, 2014. For information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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... the charismatic rooster ...
To put it simply, you have to see Bobby Moreno as Odysseus Rex, the fighting rooster: it's as stunning a performance as has ever come along.
The others of the cast, with their highly individualized characters, are equally brilliant -- though, no doubt about it, Moreno’s charismatic rooster coming alive on stage has an unforgettable edge. The play is good enough -- you have to love a play that offers this distinct array of characters.
We’re in rural Oklahoma where Gil Pepper is training a tremendously promising fighting cock, Odysseus Rex. That’s about all Gil has going for him because otherwise he’s a wimp, pushed around by everyone -- Lou, his mother, Philipa, his co-worker at McDonald’s, and Dickie, the local Important Man and cock fight promoter (a lot of the humor and irony of this play is about big fish in small pond) who wants to get his hands on Gil’s cock (and if that line isn’t in the play, something close to it is).
All Gil’s strength, and his very manhood, is in his fearless rooster, tough, angry, ready to take on anyone and anything.
With alert eyes, a piercing but unsettled gaze, snarling but vulnerable mouth and jerky movements Moreno is the rooster, bred to fight, nurtured to anger, puzzled by his own rage without losing its momentum, and with a soft spot, tragically overlooked. Moreno doesn't need a "costume" but, wittily, his jacket gets some feathers looping over his shoulders -- in Western style.
Dickie throws his weight around to get what he wants -- the rooster, and some valuable eggs Gil’s incubating. Philipa, newly appointed Manager of McDonald’s, throws her weight around, grossly humiliating Gil, her one employee, continuing the relationship he’s had with his narcissistic mother. Worthily or not, Dad, long dead, is Gil’s ideal, Odysseus Rex’s alter ego or vice versa, at any rate a source of the strength that gets Gil through to the big match, the climactic cockfight, staged all-out by Qui Nguyen, between Odysseus Rex and Dickie’s powerful old bird. If you’ve never seen a cockfight, here’s your chance -- the feathers really fly.
The cockfight opens the door to a lot more enchantment, comic and tragic, before Gil reaches a pat but reasonably satisfying resolution -- after all, we are rooting for him.
Thomas Lyons as the schlemiel finds humor in broad type and stunning subtlety. Denny Dale Bess is scary as the local impresario who, with the deep Western drawl, takes things to the edge. Megan Tusing is amusing and convincing as the nasty mouthed Macdonald’s manager, who doubles as an over-plump chicken: at the risk of repeating an idea, I’d say you have to see Megan Tusing as Philipa. Delphi Harrington is the lazy, self-centered mother who put lipstick and make-up on her little boy (the psychology is a little simplistic).
If you are anywhere in range of this play, you’re lucky: you can see Year Of The Rooster. Don't miss the chance.
Year Of The Rooster plays in an extended run at the Ensemble Theater on Manhattan's west side through February 1, 2014. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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... duet ...
This intense, gripping short play is superbly acted and perfectly produced. It’s about what happens to two men, The One (Tierney) and The Other (Butelli) as they un-moor a small boat and sail out past the lighthouse to the sea.
They are a study in contrasts, and of the power equations between lover and beloved. The One, in his striped sailor’s shirt, is youthful, handsome, brawny, with athletic ease. This is his boat, and he knows his way around the water. The Other, in his soft cardigan, is older, bespectacled, bony, awkward: when he’s ordered to tie the boat to land, it’s clear he’s never tied a sailor's knot, let alone jumped off or on a boat before. But he does it, and makes it, though with some bruises.
And then there’s their difference in words. The One, emerging from sex he didn’t want but “just did”, searches for words to express his psychic angst: he isn’t “here,” he can’t bear noise, he can’t, in fact, bear much of anything. The Other, down-to-earth, loving, questions, trying to understand. The Other is skinny, but he’s the one with the healthy appetite, whether for sex or food.
The backdrop is swathed in fabric that looks like silk, in shades of gray to white and the floor is shiny wet-black: clouds, sky and sea. (I saw a face staring down formed of the wrinkles of the fabric but I don’t know if that was intended, though I hope it was.) Although we don’t at first know where we’re headed, a sense of foreboding builds with every word and action. The One knows where he’s headed, though -- beyond the rocks to the open sea. And he carries us, along with The Other, with a siren’s skill and purpose.
A single prop is multi-purpose -- a thick, black, twisted rope. It's used to tie and untie the boat and -- through mime and sense memory that’s close to magic -- turns into a bottle pouring wine, meat to dig one's teeth into, and a tiller steering against heavy waves. Like The Other, the rope does what it has to do, even when it’s a stretch.
The play is written as a scenically and emotionally descriptive poem; the dialog moves like two musical instruments in a sonata. The One, driven by angst to metaphor, initiates the themes, and The Other, trying to understand his affectless friend, responds, puzzling over the fluid imagery. Beyond words -- and a particularly compelling aspect of the play --the personalities and power dynamics between lover and beloved are conveyed through action -- who ties up the boat? who sacrifices his common sense? who takes the tiller? Who wins?
The ecstatic conclusion perhaps over glorifies romantic depression. Still, deeply human and psychologically true, I Am The Wind is satisfying as a study of two specific human beings. It also has the spare clarity of a parable and in its play of youth and age, boldness and apprehension, land and sea, floating and sinking, is open to broad interpretations, like shapes in the clouds. Its hold-your-breath suspense carries you to an ending that is moving and cathartic.
I Am The Wind plays at 59E59 Theaters in midtown Manhattan through Sunday, January 26, 2014. For information and tickets, click on live link of title.
Diving into disjunction, deconstructing anything and everything, and squeezing ambiguities out of certainties, The Wooster Group has always stayed theatrically steps ahead. In staging this play they seem to have taken on their ultimate challenge because Shakespeare’s Troilus and Cressida is already a work of deconstruction … a few centuries avant la lettre. So what’s left for The Wooster Group to do? Exuberantly, they add their own disjunctions and ambiguities to Troilus and Cressida for a stimulating take on Shakespeare’s play based on Homer’s epic about that war between the Greeks and Trojans.
The play’s set conjures not ancient Troy but a derelict American Indian camp with a shabby teepee. A video screen, continuing the set, shows smoke rising from the top of the teepee, setting up the game of competing realities, while at the same time enlarging the meaning of the action.
We’re on the Trojan side of things where proud, graceful and scraggly warriors return from battle, bare-chested, in motley Indian leather. They cross the stage one-by-one in their individual versions of Indian-like dance steps as the gross sensualist, Pandarus, announces their legendary names: Aeneas, Paris, Hektor … Pandarus, like all the Trojans, speaks with an Irish brogue. Each warrior wears a quiver that looks like it’s seen better days, with a mask at the top -- Janus faced to their own -- a head with the features of an ancient Greek sculpture, deteriorating, empty.
So much for idealized, mythic heroes. So much for the gods, too -- the wobbly, empty heads recall that of Venus, a patron god of Troy and mother of Aeneas.
On the love front, Troilus, one of King Priam’s many sons, is in love with Cressida, a match enabled by Pandarus (who's lent his name to enabling sexual match-ups). After a night of love, word comes that Cressida is to be passed over to the Greeks in a prisoner exchange -- a cruel deal managed by her own father, who’s a traitor as well, having defected to the Greeks. Nice guy. Troilus defends Cressida -- flaccidly -- she’s handed over to the other tribe, the Greeks, who speak in English accents in contrast to the Irish Trojans.
The Greeks pass Cressida around like a toy, kissing her, she looks a little staggered but adapts readily and fast ends up in bed with Diomedes, whom she’s willing enough to love, surrendering to him without much fight her love token from weak-willed Troilus.
All the characters are one way or another weak willed and prone to betrayal, with the possible exception of Hektor, but they are stirred by thoughts of glory. At a Council Meeting-Parliament Meeting--Pow Wow, the Trojans consider abandoning Helen to the Greeks in order to end the war but, in spite of an attempt at reasoning from Hektor and warnings from prophetic Cassandra, they opt in favor of keeping Helen and continuing the war which -- in any construction -- is a well-known really bad decision.
Video monitors project cuts from a movie about Eskimos, and others from a Hollywood film simultaneously with parallel action on stage, whether arguments, violence, war councils, domestic tenderness. The monitors will also switch to project what’s actually happening on the stage (or what’s almost happening -- there’s a lot of play at work in this play). Actors glance occasionally at the monitors to time their gestures for easy-going near simultaneity, linking tech and real, cute, but it’s not over-done. It’s tantalizing and profound.
The cast is superb as actors, dancers and singers, and skillful at switching from Irish to English when they switch character from Trojan to Greek. The choreography is varied and luscious in being unhurried. The costumes and set are part of a single vision: appealing, complex, tacky. The Indian dress worn by Kate Valk, The Wooster Group’s great actress, has layers and asymmetries that, like the set itself, suggests the long history of transformations of Homer’s story.
The deconstructive battering ram The Wooster Group has brought to other iconic works was less to the point for Troilus & Cressida because Shakespeare was fundamentally already there. Instead they build on the morally dour, unidealized and fragmented view Shakespeare wrote in Troilus and Cressida and underline through tech, and time and place dislocations its inherent generalizations, giving us basically what’s in the play, although it’s sometimes difficult to catch every word because of much going on at once.
Cry, Trojans is more narratively continuous than other Wooster Group productions, less staccato and less eccentrically acted. In a word, it's theatrically less radical, and easier to take (at moments of the first half, I wondered “is this easy listening Wooster Group?”). But the second half jells powerfully. Gentlest with its roughest play, The Wooster Group remains mind-bending.
Cry, Trojans plays at The Performing Garage in Manhattan's Tribeca through February 2, 2014. EXTENDED THROUGH FEBRUARY 15, 2014 For information and tickets, click on live link of title.
P.S. For another take on Shakespeare's Troilus and Cressida, click for Classic Stage's Age of Iron.
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... author ex machina ...
Never mind the hype -- this is not a good play. The characters and their problems are interesting, but their dire situations are resolved too easily.
Things happen not through consistent characters or effective plotting but because it's how the author wants them. Tommy tells us that Doc “will always, always, be five to ten minutes behind everybody else,” but seen in action, Doc outfoxes Tommy to get the money he's owed, and elsewhere shows the wherewithal to get what he needs and wants.
What particularly annoys me about this play is that problems are resolved by a stroke of the author's hand rather than through struggles on the part of the characters that we witness or understand. Doc rambles in his idiot savant way about black holes and non-time but down-to-earth Tommy ignores him in favor of all that shining and light imagery.
The author doesn’t allow arbitrary turns of events and downright implausibility to get in the way of redemption. In my book, that’s a writerly sin.
The Night Alive plays at the Atlantic Theater in Manhattan's Chelsea district through February 2, 2014. For information and tickets, go to http://www.AtlanticTheater.org
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Reference to Sherlock Holmes, computers, time travel and mysterious goings-on -- it all sounds wild and wacky, but it’s pretentious and not clever.
The play weaves in and out about several Watsons, Sherlock Holmes’ sidekick, Dr. Watson, Alexander Graham Bell’s assistant, Thomas Watson, who, in a nearby room, received Bell’s first telephone call, IBM’s natural-language-processing supercomputer, Watson (named after the founder of IBM), and the “real” contemporary man in the play, a computer repairer Watson who’s just a nice guy.
In the first scene, the best part of the play, Eliza (Amanda Quaid), a computer genius, converses with her creation, Watson, an outstanding computer language processor. Like the inventor Spalanzani who falls in love with the wind-up doll he creates in Offenbach’s Tales of Hoffman, Eliza pretty much falls in love with her mechanical creation -- how not, since she made him the way she wanted him?
So that ... when she encounters a real, ordinary guy named Watson, who (played by the same actor) looks just like her pet computer and who says all the right things (programmed computer empathy and Elton John all in one), she falls fast in love with him too. It’s a love triangle since this “real” Watson was sent by Eliza’s estranged husband to spy on her.
Meanwhile, back in the 19th century, Sherlock Holmes’ Dr. Watson seeks to rescue a woman from a super-over-possessive and controlling husband, while Alexander Graham Bell’s Watson is involved in a parallel combination rescue operation/love triangle. All Watsons are played by John Ellison Conlee who’s amusing as a friendly computer programmed with empathetic responses but totally miscast as a lover-- worse, multiple lovers. The contemporary love scenes between Eliza, played with charm by Quaid, and Watson the computer fix-it man are as incongruous as Titania’s drugged passion for Bottom with his donkey head in Midsummer Night’s Dream, but here just clumsy, not magical.
David Costabile plays Merrick, the self-involved, over-technical but underneath it all loving husband in the triangles: his skill as an actor is apparent as he tries to make several pseudo-intellectual soliloquies he's required to deliver interesting but it’s a thankless task.
The Watson Intelligence is like Charles Ludlum’s The Mystery of Irma Vep, seen recently in a wonderful production in Sag Harbor -- but without the wit, variety, or imaginative zaniness, or Irma Vep's tour de force wonderously instant changes of costume and character; here these are easy and transparent, and sloppily carried out. After the initial “conversation” between Eliza and her computer, there’s little here to smile about, and much to yawn over.
The [curious case of the] Watson Intelligence plays at Playwrights Horizons on Theater Row, West 42nd Street in Manhattan, through December 29, 2013. For information and tickets, click on live link of title.
Socrates actively engaged in his search for understanding -- talking, talking and talking, and asking leading questions -- serene as the time approaches for drinking the hemlock, the Athenian state’s means of executing the philosopher on grounds of believing in his own gods and corrupting the youth, is an iconic historical event. Through the use of live actors speaking the words while manipulating small puppets, and with shadow puppetry on the background screen, The Republic, Or, My Dinner With Socrates seeks to draw for its interest on the tension between philosophizing and imminent death but unfortunately the production fails its material.
For one thing, the play appears severely under-rehearsed. The actors did not know their lines well, and had to improvise their way around several unplanned blocking mishaps. They’re also not very skilled with puppets whose movements were approximate at best -- there’s no trace of the virtuosity that one finds in other puppet productions and which can sometimes be breathtaking.
And what's the purpose of the puppets anyhow since the actors are onstage, costumed, speaking the lines and visibly doing pretty much everything the puppets are supposed to be also doing? Even the actors seemed confused about the puppets -- sometimes an actor would use a prop as his or her own and then, remembering the puppet was supposed to be doing whatever was to be done, switched the prop down to the puppet hovering at ankle level.
Given the raw state of the performance, it’s hard to judge how successfully Plato’s dialogs have been extracted for the purposes of a play. Socrates as we know him through Plato's dialogs wasn’t talking about the ideal state in his last hours and while a claim can always be made for “poetic license,” events surrounding his death are well known to many so that to alter them raises a problem of believability.
The diffuse quality of the script is also seen in the inclusion of a dramatization of Plato’s famous “allegory of the cave,” which is not integrated with the play's focus on the tension between “the ideal state” and “Athens executing its most famous philosopher.” On the positive side, those who know Socrates only as a famous philosopher will find out that this venerated philosopher was anti-democratic and authoritarian. The solo music, composed and played by Clifton Hyde, was evocative and a fine highlight.
Socrates “survived” even his execution in the sense that he went on to become, with Plato’s help, the most famous philosopher in Western history, and he’ll survive this, too.
The Republic, Or, My Dinner With Socrates plays at La MaMa's First Floor theatre through December 15th. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
La MaMa E.T.C., in association with GOH Productions, presents Czechoslovak-American
Marionette Theatre in "The Republic, or, My Dinner with Socrates," written and directed by Vit Horejs. The philosophers discuss democracy. L-R: Christopher Broholm and Socrates puppet, Alan Barnes Netherton and Adeimatos puppet, Jonathan Mastrojohn and Glaucon puppet. Photo by Lee Wexler/Images for Innovation.
“My ancestors fought the Indians along the Mohawk River before they signed up with George Washington,”says Russell, father of the family. “Your mother’s great great grandfather helped plan and design the Erie Canal.” This is an amusing, beautifully observed and perfectly acted play about an upper class “WASP” family -- Gurney’s favorite territory -- on the cusp of social change in the aftermath of World War II. It’s set in 1954 at a summer lake house near Buffalo, NY.
Carolyn McCormick and Peter Scolari. Photo Joan Marcus
To cut to the quick, there are moments when Peter Scolari as Russell -- Yale, money, connections, family -- is so imperturbable based on his sense of certainty about his family’s entitlement and at the same time so natural and vulnerable to the challenging immediacies, so totally believable, that I’d like to go back just to see him do it again.
Carolyn McCormick is equally tone perfect as Russell’s entrancing wife, Claire, a woman born to do all the right things and doing most of them right -- raising her two, now college aged, kids with focus and intelligence, bringing home everyone’s favorite goodies in big paper bags like the mother of the Bobbsey twins, heading up what must be every charity in Buffalo, but with her own vulnerability and underlying, passion, harnessed -- though not eliminated -- by “good breeding.”
Andrew Keenan-Bolger and Carolyn McCormick. Photo Joan Marcus
The challenges that
threaten the smooth skein of Russell’s privileged view of himself and family come thick and fast: his son, Nick (Andrew Keenan-Bolgar), is in love with a Jewish girl Betsy, (Molly Nordin) and his daughter Peggy (Ismenia Mendes) is in love with an Italian. Oh those kids! And, although she’s sticking to their own cast and class, his wife may be having an affair: Mr. Baldwin is, like Claire, a tennis player. Russell’s sport is sailing.
A scene where Russell, on a small sailboat with his daughter, persuades her -- as they repeatedly tack and and duck under a swinging boom -- to take a vacation from the Italian Marco by offering her a trip abroad (to Italy!) is so good the audience applauded spontaneously in mid-act.
Fitting the “WASP” stereotype to a T, Russell often sounds arrogant and narrow minded. He’s fast to cast aspersions on other ethnic groups, warning his daughter about her beloved Marco, for instance, by telling her that all Italians “become gangsters or politicians.” But faced with the reality of his daughter’s deep emotions, and his understanding of true character, he turns tack. After all, he did once have a Jewish girlfriend, though they never thought seriously of marrying (“I had my English roots to keep me in line, while she fell back on the Old Testament.”) And Claire sees a virtue in “hybrid vigor” all along. This is a very benign, Norman Rockwellian vision of social entrenchment.
Peter Scolari and Ismenia Mendes. Photo Joan Marcus
They’re forced to change, and they were never really that prejudiced anyhow -- just enough for Gurney’s wit to offer one delicious laugh after another.
Popular songs create not only a nostalgic aura, as in Woody Allen, but are part of the interplay between surface and depth that’s at the heart of this play. In a particularly moving moment, a brilliant moment, really, Russell moves to accompany his wife to the kitchen but she, thinking of someone else, lightly holds him off. “Someone’s in the kitchen with Dinah …. “ he sings softly. Betsy, the Jewish girlfriend's not the only one into "hidden meanings" -- so's Gurney. A message of this play is that “People can know and not know,” and at the very least, that’s something we can work with.
Molly Nordin and Andrew Keenan-Bolger. Photo Joan Marcus
There are some implausibilities in Family Furniture, particularly in the denouement. These are easily overlooked because the characters of this beautifully cast play and the reparte, and the nostalgic, seductive sense of a moment of American wholeness provide an evening of total delight.
Family Furniture plays at The Flea Theater in Manhattan's Tribeca through December 22, 2013. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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… all the stage’s a world …
The back stage magic of And Away We Go makes me think of the wonderful song about a dogged and devoted itinerant theater group in Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, “We Open In Venice” (“then on to Cremona …. and on to …. and on …"). And Away We Go, too, is on the move -- with the feel of a story about an equally valiant itinerant theater troupe only here the wanderings take them not just through Northern Italy but through time, back and forth. This imaginative, mind stretching extravaganza is beautifully pulled off by the Pearl Theatre group.
The play takes us behind the scenes from the Theater of Dionysos (not Dionysios as printed) in Ancient Athens to today, with stops at works-in-progress at the Globe in London and Versailles’s Royal Theater, and first productions of Chekhov and Beckett. As we weave through time, through plays, and through personal as well as public dramas, the leading character is everywhere and anywhere the theater itself and the chancy, chaotic, demanding and disciplined process that makes plays happen.
An aspect that makes And Away We Go particularly strong is McNally’s inclusive vision of all who make “theater.” Actors, directors, authors, mask makers, tech people, angels, artistic directors, food deliverers and audiences have roles. No in-group snobbery here -- fun is made of wannabe-a-part-of-it donors, and of everybody else -- great fun, thanks to marvelous comic performers in the Pearl Theatre’s troupe!
There’s a total human inflection -- theater as family, theater as loss of loved ones, theater as a tension between “advanced” plays and audiences who haven’t gotten there yet.
I wish that in roving through theater from antiquity, and from Russia to Coral Gables, Florida, McNally had included forays into the great theater traditions world wide. I suppose “you can’t do everything,” but, in the spirit of what works and what doesn’t, the focus on the traditions you’d find in “A History of Western Theater” course came across as narrow. I also found the AIDS episode seemed a somewhat forced inclusion.
In keeping with the joyous boisterous play, the set’s a riotous wonder of costumes, lights, manikins, and props -- it's a wonderful work of art in itself -- and the costumes are entrancing.
At the start, each actor introduces himself or herself with personal and self-invented words -- thus the theme that the great illusions are based on real people with specific lives and contexts is sounded -- and never forgotten. Since the play is a continuing flow of segues, it demands perfect timing, remarkable versatility on the part of the actors and comic and dramatic gifts. Jack Cummings III firm hand on this non-linear romp through time and space is a directorial tour-de-force .
Micah Stock as the delivery man who doesn’t “get” Godot provides one among many comic high points. Donna Lynn Champlin’s huge round eyes are hilariously expressive, whether she’s pushing a mop as a stolid Russian cleaning lady or catching up as a donor groupie in-love-with-theater. Dominic Cuskern ranges with power and humor from a perfectionist mask maker in ancient Athens to perfectionist actor at Louise XIV’s Versailles -- ever since I saw him as Malvolio in the Pearl’s Twelfth Night, I’ve thought of him as particularly outstanding in roles of men who take themselves too seriously.
Rachel Botcham is vibrant (as well as humorous -- just about everything comes with a strong dose of humor) as the woman who wants to act on stage -- in epochs when the idea of a female actor was an absurdity. Carol Schultz is touching and instantly persuasive as, for instance, the Russian Countess who doesn’t want her association with a theater group known. Sean McNall is energetic and touching in his roles as actor and actor’s lover. These are just snippets -- this play’s a feast!
The breadth of imagination of And Away We Go is invigorating. This ambitious, perfectly fulfilled production is a fine evening of that challenging, joyous and essential aspect of existence -- theater.
And Away We Go plays at the Pearl Theatre on Manhattan's west side through December 15, 2013. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title. Now EXTENDED through December 21, 2013.
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Sidney Kingsley's Men In White is a vivid drama about doctors, their lives and their practice in a hospital in 1933, the year the play was first produced. It builds on a fascinating tension between the image of doctors as heroic and pure -- “men in white” -- and the fact that they’re as prone as the rest of us to mistaken notions, ethical quandaries, and yielding to temptations.
George Ferguson is the most promising of the young doctors at St. George’s Hospital. He’s so bright and idealistic he’s headed for research with the great Dr. Hochberg -- a professional coup -- and he’s so able an M.D. that he’s called on constantly …. to set a broken leg ... catheterize a patient ... administer a shot (in those days when the medical arsenal was thinner, these general surgeons did everything). He’s not only skilled, he’s ethical -- seizing the instruments from the hands of an important M.D. who’s using the wrong method, and going on to save the patient’s life.
Will he cave in to the pressing demands for "fun" and a "full life" of his fiancée, Laura, when yet another medical emergency forces him to break a date with her -- again? She’s bitterly disappointed and near to fed-up but, forthrightly and honestly, he conveys to her his sense of duty as well as his conflict, and suggests a date for the next night.
Thus he passes the first tests of his idealistic devotion to medicine and human betterment. But others come along, as they’re bound to, and he -- like others of his colleagues -- sometimes fails to do the right thing, or does the wrong one.
Through George Ferguson, his beautiful, fun-loving fiancée, Laura, and his medical and scientific mentor Dr. Hochberg, this play examines issues that are as important today as they were in 1933. The intense strains placed on physicians (and other professionals) in the course of arduous training and practice continue to put loving relationships to hard tests -- although today the professionalism of women is more likely to figure among the personal conflicts.
The play was very bold for its time in staging a gruesome operation to try to save the life of a young woman victimized by an illegal abortion, dramatizing the significance of the struggle for legalized abortion, and reminding us of the stigma of out-of-wedlock pregnancies that still extract the highest costs from women throughout the world.
And the conflict between the intense demands of vocational and other idealism and the high purposes of a loving life is timeless.
It’s welcome that The Seeing Place Theater has given us the opportunity to see Men In White, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1934. Watching on opening night, however, I thought the play had been under-rehearsed. There were distracting line flubs, some of which led to factual anachronisms such as a doctor recommending “antibiotics,” not yet discovered in 1933 -- quick thinking on a missed cue but it came out wrong -- and language anachronisms like “the both of them” for “both of them," along with other improvisational patches.
While these things can be smoothed out, there’s a mismatch, between the goals of this theater group and the style needed to produce this play effectively.
The “behavioral storytelling” approach described in the group’s statement includes the pauses, repetitions, and multi-tries of our everyday language: this creates a slow pace inconsistent with the mood of the text, and makes you feel you’re losing touch with the playwright. Movement, too, appears improvisational, evidently because, according to the statement, “There is very little blocked on stage … ” leading to diminished visual interest.
Men In White is of a crisp 1930’s genre that needs fast repartee and stage movement related to the action, and doesn't lend itself to long pauses while actors seem to look into themselves (and on opening night, for all the world gave the impression they were trying to remember their lines).
I admire the creative idealism of this group, working toward depth through its “pro-actor philosophy” and method acting-like techniques, and I look forward to seeing how their ideas may animate in new ways other plays on their ambitious program.
Men In White plays at ATA's Sargent Theater on West 54th Street in Manhattan through November 24th. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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Time: September, 1922 – the height of the Irish Civil War
Place: The two-room tenement apartment of the Boyle family in Dublin
What an abundant play unfolds, perfectly acted and beautifully produced by the Irish Repertory Theatre!
Only one in the Boyle family is earning a living, Juno, the mother. Daughter Mary’s out on strike. Son Johnny is severely wounded in fighting for Irish independence and half-crazed fearing retribution for betraying an Irish Republican Army comrad who lived in this same building. And the father, “Captain” Jack, Juno’s preening paycock of a husband, is a hard drinking former merchant seaman, who runs off to the pub with his drinking “butty” Joxer even when a job comes walking in the door.
So money’s very short, when an English solicitor, Mr. Bentham, arrives with the news that Jack is about to receive a substantial inheritance. Anticipating the windfall, the Boyles purchase handsome new furniture on credit. And -- icing on the cake -- the handsome and professional Mr. Bentham is in love with beautiful Mary -- or so it seems. The Boyle’s stand to rise upward in the world on all counts. It’s not giving too much away to say that things don't work out that way.
In an idyllic interlude, Mary and a neighbor Maisie Madigan sing at the celebratory party at the Boyle’s apartment, a moment of joy, though with a portent: a funeral is underway at the same time for the IRA comrade Johnny betrayed. Life and death cling to one another in this play like two lovers dancing.
Among this outstanding cast, J. Smith-Cameron is strong yet tender as Juno, the mother who keeps things going at a time “the centre cannot hold,” as W. B. Yeats wrote in "The Second Coming" (Yeats was Juno and the Paycock’s original producer in 1924 at the Abbey Theatre in Dublin). O'Casey's language is in itself highly poetic and as Jack Boyle, Ciaran O'Reilly is particularly effective in bringing out the poetry O’Casey finds in the natural speach in the Irish dialect.
Mary Mallen as the young Mary is principled, warmly feminine, and in love with plenty of good reasons, which don’t always take you where you want to go. Terry Donnelly is a delightfully vibrant life-of-the-party as the neighbor Maisie Madigan. And an absolute favorite -- simply fascinating to watch -- is John Keating as Joxer Daly, Jack Boyle’s go-along-with-the-flow and duplicitous drinking partner. In a play of strong characterizations, his goes farthest beyond type into unforgettable and irresistible idiosyncracy.
Populated by richly drawn characters, Juno and the Paycock moves at a rollicking and yet lifelike pace between loyalty and betrayal, rapture and despair, lofty idealism and down-to-earth reality. I’m eager to see the other plays of O’Casey’s “Dublin Trilogy,” Shadow of a Gunman and The Plough and the Stars, but “meanwhile” I'm grateful to Irish Repertory Theatre for this exciting and fulfilling production.
Juno and the Paycock plays at Irish Repertory Theatre in Manhattan's Chelsea through December 29th, 2013. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title. EXTENDED THROUGH JANYARY 26, 2013.
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. NOW EXTENDED through JAN 26.
... Where art Romeo and Juliet? ...
What I liked best about this Classic Stage production of Romeo and Juliet was the depiction of the men around the Montague Romeo and those around the Capulets as young toughs with a contemporary style. Nothing new about that, of course, think of West Side Story, and Shakespeare in contemporary dress is commonplace. But Harry Ford (substituting the night I attended for T. R. Knight), with his thick body packed into leather and to-the-head corn rows makes a charismatic Mercutio, volatile, dirty-mouthed, amused and amusing, and the rest of the guys fit in to the idea, though they’re not consistently as convincing.
Shakespeare’s poetry is spoken throughout with an ineffective mix of over-contemporary-casual and over-emphasis on the last beat of each iambic line: strange bed-fellows. Much of the dialog is spoken so to-the-chest or throw-away, that it’s hard to catch -- this is particularly true of Romeo, played by Julian Cihi, but in general the poetry and even a lot of the words are sacrificed in the name of contemporary naturalism. The upshot: the speech sounds artificial and the poetic power is lost.
What a relief when Daniel Davis as Friar Laurence is on stage: he speaks with complete naturalism while conveying the rhythms and beauty of the poetry, and the projection of his clear, emotionally powerful voice is exciting. His strength makes the character of Friar Laurence seem more central than in other productions, and that in itself is illuminating.
Like Ford as Mercutio, Daphne Rubin-Vega plays Juliet’s nurse in a vivid characterization based on a contemporary type. Rubin-Vega’s Nurse is a bust-in-your-face Hispanic woman with an alluring accent -- think Chita Rivera -- with a crisp, aggressive white blouse, black harem pants and high heels that rock her through a fascinating gait. Excitement leads her to lapse sometimes into rapid-fire Spanish that even a native Spanish speaker might miss: evidently the director thought it was OK for the audience to lose her words for the sake of naturalism and humor but -- at the risk of being a stick-in-the-mud -- with Shakespeare, I’d rather hear all the words. Still, there’s a welcome freshness to bringing the nurse out of the shadows of servility and showing her as a feisty foreigner.
But Romeo (Cihi) and Juliet, played by Elizabeth Olsen, are the least effective actors in the production. Passion? What passion? Cihi never seems deeply affected by Juliet. Juliet’s main approach seemed to be to raise her voice all-out loud to convey strong feeling, straining her throat. There’s no erotic chemistry, even in bed. Simply put, these two young actors have at this point neither the emotional depth nor the stage presence to carry such roles.
Instead of an ensemble flow in this production, there’s a range of styles and performance individuality. It follows that the production leaves one with the impression of a few stellar bits. Mercutio, the Nurse, and Friar Laurence are well worth seeing.
Romeo and Juliet plays at Classic Stage Company in Manhattan's East Village through November 10, 2013. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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Costumed actors take your tickets, will for a modest amount pour you a glass of wine, and engage in gorgeous and intriguing dance-like interactions in front of a stunning backdrop of silky delicately-toned hangings. It makes you sure you’re in for great theater. Once Sarah Flood in Salem Mass starts, though, the fun dissipates. With its reference to the Salem Witch Trials, the play takes on the trappings of seriousness but flings itself into making a jumble of the actual events and persons; that could be OK, except that it offers no thoughts or ideas in return for its use of this tragic historical episode and the multitudes who suffered hideously because of it.
L-R John Paul Harkins, Whitney Conkling and Matthew Cox. Photo Hunter Canning
For clarity's sake: Sarah Flood in Salem Mass isn’t about witch trials (unless I missed the word, “witch” never comes up).
It does take place in 17th-century Salem, Mass. though it includes two female visitors from the future -- one of whom directly engages with the Salemites while the other just hovers in, watching the action.
There are several narrative lines and places to look. A group of girls meets in the woods for prayer and fellowship.
Some girls develop spastic seizures that worry their parents.
In a family rivalry, Thomas Putnam, an impoverished leader of the community wants the land being inherited by Haley Joel Putnam to be used for the benefit of the town while Haley Joel wants to keep it for himself.
L-R Glenna Grant, Michelle Silvani and Bradley Anderson. Photo Hunter Canning
Liz, who wants to protect beavers from deforestation and other threats, resorts to a marriage of convenience and murder in the service of her ideals.
The local tavern owner who’s lax about going to church is persecuted (this came up early in the play when I was still expecting someone to call her a “witch” but no one does).
And so on.
The kaleidoscopic presentation and cacophony make it tricky to take in the dialog which is, however, very flat. For example, chosen at random, one character says, “Everyone hates you.” The other one says, “Not my mother.” There’s a lot like that.
The mini-stories reflect aspects of the actual history of the Salem trials, e.g., some historians believe that a family rivalry may have been behind the first “witch” accusations. Spastic seizures were thought, in Salem, to be signs of the activity of witches. Juyoug, the visitor from the future who engages with those in town reminds one that Tituba, one of the first accused in Salem, was an outsider ethnically (her specific background remains uncertain).
By the play's end, a few conclusions are reached such as: whatever happens to people while they’re alive, everybody dies eventually and that’s that. We have also seen through the action that sometimes the wicked flourish. Unfortunately we don't need this play for those insights. Generally, the play seems forced, looking for original effects.
Jeff Ronan (center) and the cast. Photo Hunter Canning
Sarah Flood In Salem Mass plays at The Flea Theater in NYC's Tribeca through October 26th, 2013. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
… on the road …
A play about a group bike trip across America sounds appealing but the view is confined to the not very interesting inner landscape of a “fucked up” young woman -- her self-description. On the positive side, it’s well acted -- Jessica DiGovanni is standout in the role of 26-year old Penny -- and it’s well staged.
Jessica DiGiovanni (Penny) and David Shih (Matt with the Van). Photo Web Begole.
Penny, a “Millennial” it's emphasized, sets off on a trans-America bike trip to evade her spiritual claustrophobia and her possessive boyfriend. She’s looking for a place where she can feel comfortable and maybe, even, settle. Fellow bikers are two single guys -- the leader, Ryan, and Tim Billy -- and a lesbian couple, Annabel and Rorie. Matt with the Van is the on-hand Generation Xer.
Penny’s boyfriend Todd catches up with them but not before Penny has fecklessly connected sexually with Tim Billy and Tom, and darned if both guys don’t have the annoying tendency to insert emotion into sex: they’re looking for a relationship -- it’s her boyfriend all over again. All Penny wants is an emotionally anesthetized hook up. Annabel and Rorie try by their example to persuade her of the virtues of commitment but that doesn’t work.
Because Penny’s “fucked up,” as she often says. She can’t commit to any one or any place.
The dialogue takes a stab at nominating Penny as a representative of the Millennial Generation, but that seems inserted to give the play more heft, since none of the other millennials shares her issue. And the transgressions, which I took to be intended as a kind of descriptive critique of the millennials, were surprisingly timid. Penny’s passionless promiscuity isn’t newsworthy, the lesbian couple, also not newsworthy, is domesticated, and “fucked up” is as wild as the language gets. Penny and Ryan are on-stage nude for one stroboscobically lit moment.
Jessica DiGiovanni is terrific at capturing current ironic lingo and expressions, and it’s fun to see her and her fellow bikers covering territory as if those bike wheels they tote are bikes that could really carry them somewhere. The bottom line, though, is that we have no idea why Penny’s the way she is, and she doesn’t change in any way during the trip, nor does anyone else.
Langdon G. Woodson (Tim Billy), Vandit Batt (Todd), Jessica DiGiovanni (Penny). Photo Web Begole.
Bike America plays at The Theater at St. Clements on Manhattan's West Side through October 20th, 2013. For information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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L-R Melanie Nicholls-King (Rorie), Tom White (Ryan), Marilyn Torres (Annabel). Photo Web Begole.
The Film Society, set in an English boys’ school in Durban, South Africa in 1970 during apartheid, is a fine and intelligent play highlighted, in its Keen Company production, by brilliant acting.
The characters form a close-knit group all intimately associated with Blenheim School. We meet Jonathon, once a student there, now a teacher with a "film society" as his pet project, trying to watch a film -- practically embracing his portable projector in the dark, while the school is roiled in turmoil. The resident hot-head liberal, Jonathon’s friend and colleague Terry, put in charge of arranging a school celebration, brought in a Black minister to speak. Now the minister has been arrested for appearing on stage, yes arrested. And the school’s parents are up-in-arms at this “commie” breach of the walls of what they want to see as a conservative British bastion.
At first we think this will be about Good lined up on the side of handsome, boyish Terry who’s clearly on the side of history, the Blacks and new ideas, and Bad on the side of the stuffy, ailing Headmaster and what we assume is his rigid adherence to old ways and determination to fire Terry to appease the parents. Jonathon, we suspect, like heroes in films, will break through his apparent timidity make a heroic choice for Good -- early on that's where I thought the play was headed.
But the play unrolls to reveal ethical ambiguity at every turn, starting with the tragic fate of the Black minister: We realize that what Terry's actually done is sacrifice the minister at the altar of his own idealistic purposes -- and Terry should have known what would happen, he's lived in Durban all his life. The parents who send their boys to this school are up in arms over the scandal and breach of their reactionary values so that Headmaster Sutter is under pressure to fire Terry to protect the school that he's built from nothing and that graduates, we’re told, some very good boys? Would firing Terry be right or wrong?
And what of that lead-in about "heroic choice"? Jonathon hurriedly separates himself from the controversy -- he was only looking after the refreshments when the Minister spoke, he assures the Headmaster. But, through the single-minded machinations of his protective mother, Jonathon is promoted and then, as he gains power, is forced into action.
The school’s infrastructure is crumbling just as the old teachers are declining into ill health and death. Money is short. To what extent does Jonathon have to placate the parents to stay in business? Whom does he have to fire now? Compromise is everywhere and decisions are equivocal. It’s a very human story.
And everyone, from the gruffly intelligent Headmaster, to the overbearing aristocratic mother, to the liberal activist, is a full character. Even the prejudiced, disciplinarian teacher, Hamish Fox. wins us over for a time with his passion for teaching clear and effective writing and speaking -- no accident that he's advocating that determining upper class skill, rhetoric. Hamish is an extreme version of the kind of teacher about whom one says years later, “He was tough, but he taught me to write.”
Part of the richness of this play is that while focusing on individuals, it paints a picture of the violent context of social injustice pressing in on all sides. Within the play, we never actually leave the school, so this larger view of apartheid is created with considerable skill. The focus on a few individuals in one confined place dramatizes the withering isolation of this enclave with its values from a vanished past.
Euan Morton turns in a profound performance as the evasive, weak seeming but fundamentally ambitious Jonathon: it’s all there in every nuance of his voice, expression, and movement. It’s a prize winning performance -- you can’t see better acting.
Roberta Maxwell as the rich, scheming, domineering mother is arresting -- it’s hard to take ones eyes off her when she’s on stage. Gerry Bamman goes well beyond a “tough Headmaster” type to convey Sutter’s realistic, even flexible reckoning in his determination to maintain his creation, Blenheim School, even as he is going blind, physically and I suppose symbolically. As Hamish Fox, Richmond Hoxie is persuasive in his rear view vision, violent prejudice and belief in the importance of teaching: he manages to make his character one can love to hate and yet feel that something significant will be lost without him.
The Film Society is a fully satisfying theater experience.
The Film Society plays at the Clurman Theare Theatre Row on Manhattan's mid-town West side through October 26, 2013. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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... It’s no Picnic ...
... but it’s engaging and suspenseful, and in this beautifully produced, well cast and acted production, it gives a chance to see a rarely produced play by by William Inge.
Inge is, after all, one of America’s most successful and prolific playwrights – author of Come Back, Little Sheeba, Picnic (1953 Pulitzer Prize), Bus Stop, The Dark At The Top of the Stairs, as well as screenplays including Splendor in the Grass (1963 Academy Award for “Best Writing, Story and Screenplay”).
Perhaps Natural Affection's short run on Broadway was due to its opening during a NYC newspaper strike in 1962, but compared with Inge’s great successes, it’s a weaker play. Inge’s starting point was a newspaper account of a violent, seemingly random crime, and in trying to fill in the blanks, he seems to have turned too programmatically to current psychoanalytic ideas about the effects on sons of absent fathers and of mothering that runs hot and cold.
Sue, who’s pulled herself up by her bootstraps to become a successful buyer in a well-known Chicago department store is living with Bernie, a younger, and very handsome man, marginally able at selling Cadillacs. Sue’s son, Donnie, returns from “The Farm,” i.e., reform school, wanting to stay with her -- he has only a year left there and if she’ll keep him he doesn’t have to go back. But Bernie doesn’t want this kid with the violent past crowding up their small apartment and inhibiting their sex life.
It’s Sue’s decision, though, because she pays the bills.
What will she do? The Farm is brutal -- Donnie has scars on his back from being beaten. How can she possibly send him back? She’s already plagued with guilt for giving him up to foster care in the beginning when she was a poor girl trying to make a living and Donnie’s father disappeared.
But she’s crazy about Bernie and afraid of spending her life alone. He’s her last chance, she feels, and most of the time he’s quite a nice, agreeable guy, trying to pull himself out of the world of losers -- his pipe dream is to own a car dealership.
Donnie, too, promises to be on good behavior. It’s too bad that just as Donnie is settling in on the living room sofa, Bernie gets into an accident with a Cadillac he was demonstrating, and loses his job, depressing him and heightening his irritation with being dependent on a woman. He says the accident wasn’t his fault -- Inge doesn’t let us know whether or not we are to believe that. Was it truly random? Or a loser’s claim that he's a victim, in this case of chance?
The underlying tensions boil in the course of a Christmas celebration in which huge amounts of alcohol are consumed, Vince, the rich guy in the apartment next door, passes out, and Claire, his bored, sexy blond wife fails to seduce Bernie -- this time, these alcohol fuelled shenanigans a prelude to the final, chilling eruption.
Kathryn Erbe, famous on TV as Detective Alexandra Eames on Law and Order: Criminal Intent, is brisk, capable, and vulnerable as the Sue, torn between her gorgeous younger lover and her natural -- if insufficient -- affection for her tormented son. Erbe’s portrayal of the tense self control of this woman who made it on her own in a highly competitive field renders the emotional surges that overtake her all the more moving.
Alec Beard is charismatic as the good looking lover who approximates decency while not quite hitting the nail on the head. Chris Bert is perfect as the lean, hungry looking reform school son, who takes after his mother in holding it all in -- until he can’t any longer.
John Pankow as the rich next-door neighbor Vince is brilliant in a scene of unwinding into total drunkenness, a beautiful tour de force that the audience applauded. Victoria Mack as Vince’s seductive wife transforms with concentration and subtlety a stereotyped character into a vivid, dangerous reality.
In Natural Affection, people are condemned to repeat the past and there are what the world sees as random violent events -- both.
Natural Affection plays at the Beckett Theatre on New York City's Theatre Row, West 42nd Street, through October 26, 2013. For information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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Set in ancient Rome as its appealing title suggests (that title being one of the best things it has going for it) A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forumis a zany comedy with music. A slave, Pseudolus, makes the deal to acquire for his master, Hero, the beautiful Philia, in return for which Hero will set him free. Philia is held in the house of the pimp, Marcus Lycus, who purchased her on behalf of the Great General, Miles Gloriosus whose arrival is imminent. With Hero’s parents out of town, Pseudolus sets to work keeping Philia away from Miles Gloriosus and nabbing her for Hero, the slave’s on-the-spot inventiveness conjuring various ruses involving potions, hideouts and disguises leading to humorous false hopes and a romp of mistaken identities
This show is so wacky and so silly and so camp that its success depends on a great comic star in the central role of Pseudolus. The three performers who have played Pseudolus on Broadway, Zero Mostel, Phil Silvers and Nathan Lane all won Tony’s for Best Actor in a Musical -- no accident, because that’s the level of performance it takes. Bay Street’s production doesn’t quite get that level of magnetism and force from the center from Peter Scolari as Pseudolus, and so much of the time the play veers toward just silly.
It doesn’t help that the songs are bland -- Stephen Sondheim’s first Broadway show -- and the rampant, coarse sexism gives the show a dated feeling that the “it’s all in good fun” spirit doesn’t erase.
Still, there are some good laughs, funny site gags, clever word play and, among steady competence, a couple of outstanding performances that keep you watching and hoping which is a good thing because the second act is a lot more fun than the first. This production also benefits from a wonderful, colorful, tone perfect set of three houses on a Roman street by Michael Schweikardt, and several talented performers, including Scolari who, if not inspired, has good comic timing, energy and agility.
Nathaniel Hackmann is perfect in the role of Miles Gloriosus, the physically impressive, tough guy Roman general. Broad-stanced and pompous, he opens up his stunning operatic voice, exciting to hear, in the song “Bring Me My Bride.” He's an excellent comic actor, too, and his recoveries from the play’s mix and match befuddlements are great fun. Hackmann is the only performer, as far as I could see, who isn’t wired with a microphone -- what a relief -- it’s a pleasure to hear a natural voice after scenes of miked singing, dialogue, and much screaming (I guess that last is intended as “antic comic energy” but there sure is a lot of it).
Jackie Hoffman is equally irresistible as the loud-mouthed and over-bearing Domina, Hero’s mother and wife to Senex who can’t stand her, well played by Conrad John Schuck. What comic flexibility in her face -- mask-like and expressive at the same time! Think Carol Burnett -- Jackie Hoffman is as good or better! One of the more effective interludes in the play is when this shrewish woman nobody likes is briefly overcome with tenderness toward her husband -- which she quickly vanquishes in her song “That Dirty Old Man.”
Tom Deckman brings a lot of comic variety to his role of Hysterium, the over-anxious slave in the Senex family and a good foil to the manipulative Pseudolus. Among the lightly clad girls girls girls who dwell in the house of Marcus Lycus and parade periodically around the stage with uninhibited gyrations, Gymnasia, played by Terry Lavell is for statuesque height and gender ambiguity -- well, nobody in the audience could take eyes off Gymnasia.
A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum plays at the beautiful Bay Street Theatre on the Wharf in Sag Harbor, Long Island, through September 1, 2013. For more information and tickets, click on the live link of the title.
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This play is hilarious -- one laugh after another, and done with style and vivacity. I enjoyed every moment -- and smile thinking back to it.
It’s a spooky take-off on Gothic melodrama, Shakespeare, Alfred Hitchcock, the Bronte sisters, Rebecca,and other sources of scary and mysterious goings-on, set mainly in (where else?) an English manor house, Mandacrest Estate. Lord Edgar has recently married Lady Enid but the presence of Edgar's deceased first wife, Irma Vep, whose portrait dominates the sitting room, is inescapable. All the characters including Edgar and Enid, the one-legged swineherd Nicodemus, the maid Jane and four others, are played by a total of two actors of the same sex -- as per the author's instructions because the cross-dressing, as well as the hilarious costumes and faster-than-the-speed-of-light character and costume changes, are all part of the fun.
And fun it is as the play mounts from one wildly-imaginative episode to the next. Each time you think you’ve caught on to what Ludlam is doing, he ups the ante with a farther inventive leap.
But the play wouldn’t work for three delicious acts if it were only a joke. As a married couple, and as lovers, Lord Edgar and Lady Enid need to find the way to one another, while embattled by werewolves and vampires and life’s complicated back stories. All the camp and ironies in the world wouldn’t make it interesting if it weren’t, bottom line, about genuine characters -- even if they are nuttily hyperbolic.
David Greenspan, whether playing the former actress given to dramatics, Lady Enid, or the low-class swineherd in a greatcoat worthy of Sherlock Holmes -- to say nothing of a stint as an Egyptian dancing girl -- is brilliant. Tom Aulino who shifts in the twinkling of an eye from Maid Jane dusting the furniture to Lord of the Manor dragging in the huge wolf he’s just shot (oh no, the wrong wolf!) is equally a marvel. The actors seem to defy the laws of physics in making those changes of costume and character. But they do, with charismatic wit and breathtaking intensity.
What a clever play! What a perfect production!
The Mystery of Irma Vep plays at Bay Street Theatre on the wharf in Sag Harbor, Long Island, through July 28, 2013. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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... humanity ...
This is a rare opportunity to see one of the finest and most compelling works of art ever made. The bronze Boxer* is somewhat over life-size but so immediate it’s hard to think it's not a "real" man -- and a man of total experience: exhausted but powerful, brutalized but handsome, dazed by what's hit him but alert for whatever's coming his way. Ready.
Made in the Hellenistic period, when a love of realism made a powerful advance on earlier Classical idealism, the boxer is astonishingly realistic. Seated and near to exhaustion from a match, and bleeding from wounds all over his body, he still has the energy to turn his head. What attracts his attention? Is he hearing applause? listening to his trainer's advice? or is he getting a look at his next opponent? Still wearing his boxing gloves, he's gathering his force for his next match (these ran back-to-back). His arms are relaxed but his toes are tense: his struggles continue.
Read away that dark patina, developed over time through oxidation, and see him as he was originally, when the bronze was polished to the color of an athlete’s tanned and oiled gleaming skin.
To further "color" the statue realistically, the sculptor inlaid the rosy lips and nipples with copper: copper inlays also "paint" the rivulets of blood that run from his many wounds, and the cuts on the ungloved knuckles that landed the punches. Under the swollen eye, the sculptor inlaid a bronze alloy, darker in color than the rest of the sculpture, to depict a large bruise -- one of the most remarkable, and touching, uses of inlay in ancient art.
The boxer's eyes were never meant to be empty and blank as they appear in the photograph. Originally the sculptor inlaid the eyes using materials that made them look natural. Those inlays are now lost but to help visualize them the museum is exhibiting near the boxer inlaid eyes disembodied from some other sculpture (not otherwise known) in which the whites are marble, the irises quartz and the pupils obsidian, and the Boxer's sculptor would have used these or other materials for a similar effect. Catch your breath -- the boxer has individually formed bronze eyelashes that once surrounded those life-like eyes. Who was the great Greek sculptor who made this work? It’s unknown.
“Look at the blood running from the wound on his cheek!” visitors say, circling the statue. "Look -- he has cauliflower ears!" The realism of form and detail are fascinating and the technique is surpassingly brilliant. But that’s not in itself what makes the sculpture so compelling. What a man indeed -- the history of struggles written all over his body and his determination to fight on express a man’s story, and that of human existence. He is one man, caught in specific moment, and he is all men through time. This is a sculpture of existential truth.
The Boxer was discovered buried in the Quirinal Hill in Rome in 1885. Was it made by a Greek sculptor in Rome or was it brought there by ship as many sculptures were? Did it represent a particular boxer? The answers are unknown. What is clear is that it was highly valued, perhaps even venerated, since it was buried purposefully in antiquity, perhaps, like many valuables, for preservation from anticipated invasions. So many great bronze sculptures from antiquity were melted down for the valuable metal that only a handful survive today. Thanks to those who buried this one and preserved it.
The Boxer is on loan to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC from the Terme Museum in Rome, lent by the Republic of Italy. For further information on times and admission fees, which are recommended but optional, click on this live link.
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*Boxer at Rest. Greek, Hellenistsic period, late 4th-2nd century B.C., bronze inlaid with copper, H. 128 cm. Museuo Nazionale Romano - Palazzo Massimo alle Terme, inv. 1055. Photograph courtesy of Soprintendenza speciale per i Beni Archeologici di Roma
... the storm of war ...
This outstanding exhibition moves ones thoughts between intimate experience and vast philosophical and artistic vision, all combining to give a vivid sense of the Civil War at home and on the front.
A stunning aspects of the exhibit is the insistence with which, again and again, artists looked to the landscape to express thoughts and emotions, as if humans had a cosmic partner in nature. In the years leading up to the war, paintings of storms and phenomenal portents and storms abound, such as Frederic Edwin Church’s dramatic Meteor of 1860, and Sanford Robinson Gifford's A Coming Storm (above; full captions below), expressing the sense of war’s prodigeous imminence .
An unforgettable expression of the cosmic projection of human emotion is Church’s Our Banner in the Sky of 1861 (left). This thrilling visual leap of imagination is fueled by grief of two war “firsts”: the lowering of the Union flag at Fort Sumter when the Confederates captured the Fort in April 1861, the initiating war event, soon followed by the death of Church’s friend, Theodore Winthrop, the first Union officer war victim. And this great painting itself was recognized as the first “war picture.” The streaming colors of clouds at sunset and the star-studded sky form an alternate image of the American flag, tattered but still waving in the winds of liberty, the defeat of surrender redeemed by resilience and prediction of ultimate victory.
In turn, the Confederate painter Conrad Wise Chapman painted the tattered but resilient Confederate flag in The Flag of Sumter, Oct 20 1863 (right). At this point, the fort and in particular its flag that carried a huge symbolic burden for both sides, were under relentless bombardment by the Union Navy. Each morning, the Confederates looked to the successful raising of their banner yet one more day for renewal and inspiration. In the painting, the flag is guarded in proud isolation against the sky, the joining of its white field with the clouds lifting its image into the spiritual domain.
News of the Union’s victory at Gettysburg has just reached the beleagured army in Sanford Robinson Gifford painting of Camp of the Seventh Regiment, near Frederick, Maryland, July 1863 (above). The bright, warm sun breaks through the storm clouds at this moment, conveying the flush of optimism stirred by the news, nature pitching in to convey human experience and magnify its importance. What a moment! And yet, among the great Civil War photographs on view in this exhibit is Timothy H. O’Sullivan’s iconic view, A Harvest of Death, Gettysburg, July 1863. How do human beings make sense of and integrate such stark emotional dissonance?
Many of the paintings show scenes of life in the South before, during and after the Civil War – not cosmic but specific, narrative and detailed such as Winslow Homer's The Cotton Pickers (above). These are rich in observation of human character, ambiguous and tragic social situations and of information. In Eastman Johnson’s Negro Life at the South of 1859, the backyard of the slave quarters abounds with life among slaves of a great range of skin tones from dark to white: meanwhile, a sly -- and noticeably white -- cat slips into an upstairs window.
In Homer’s post-war painting, A Visit from the Old Mistress (1876), a white woman, needing some work done, pays a visit to a group of her former female slaves -- only now she has to negotiate with them for their wage. She’s reluctant, realistic, and resentful; the leader of the former slaves, muscular arms crossing her chest, looks to be driving a tough-minded bargain, and remembering.
Among the paintings touching on the Abolitionist movement, Thomas Moran’s Slave Hunt, Dismal Swamp, Virginia, 1862 shows hunting dogs hot on the heels of a fleeing slave family. Moran painted this for an abolitionist English patron, referring evidently to Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s abolitionist poem of 1855, “The Slave in Dismal Swamp.” The family in Eastman Johnson’s A Ride for Liberty–the Fugitives Slaves, March 2, 1862 (above) have a better chance of making it.
The exhibition concludes with a symphonic crescendo of some of the greatest American paintings: Frederic Edwin Church’s Cotopaxi, The Icebergs, and Rainy Season in the Tropics, and Albert Bierstadt’s Looking Down Yosemite Valley, California, 1865. These, and a telling and remarkable “before and after” -- John Frederick Kensett’s two paintings of the "same" scene of Rocks of Paradise, Newport, the first of 1859 and the second of 1868, in their way tell the story of the Civil War over time, marking changes of attitudes from its inception to its aftermath.
Not only the works of art but the thinking and organizing ideas are of the highest caliber. Don’t miss The Civil War and American Art. For more information on attending, including times and the recommended admission (but not obligatory) prices, click on live link of title.
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Winslow Homer, Home Sweet Home (c. 1863)
Photographs from top:
1. Sanford Robinson Gifford, A Coming Storm, 1863, retouched and redated in 1880, oil on canvas, Philadelphia Museum of Art: Gift of the McNeil Americana Collection; 2. Frederic Edwin Church, Our Banner in the Sky, 1861, oil on paper, Collection of Fred Keeler; 3. Conrad Wise Chapman, The Flag of Sumter, Oct 20 1863, 1863-64, oil on board, The Museum of the Confederacy, Richmond, Virginia; 4. Sanford Robinson Gifford, Camp of the Seventh Regiment, near Frederick, Maryland, July, 1863, 1864; 5. Winslow Homer, The Cotton Pickers, 1876, oil on canvas, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, Acquisition made possible through Museum Trustees; 6. Eastman Johnson, A Ride for Liberty-The Fugitive Slaves, March 2, 1862, 1862, oil on board, Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Richmond, The Paul Mellon Collection; 7. Winslow Homer, Home Sweet Home, c, 1863, oil on canvas, National Gallery of Art, Washington, Patrons Permanent Fund. Photos courtesy of Metropolitan Museum of Art.
This musical adaptation conveys to a remarkable extent the epic scope and compelling narrative force of Flaubert’s novel. One is intent, watching the musical, on catching every word and the meaning of each episode in the personal saga of Emma Bovary, beautiful and given to romanticism but in other ways not truly remarkable. What a lot of havoc romanticism can cause! The songs are abundant, and carry us effectively through the emotional phases of the narrative; musically they were somewhat expectable. For me, the best of the songs are the ones that are tough and "realistic."
Emma Bovary is a provincial French woman with a sense of wanting something larger, more upper class, more all consuming -- hard to put a finger on it but something different from the stifling middle class existence fate has handed her. In the musical we first meet her, and her fantasy romanticism, at her wedding to the dull, unimaginative, and much older doctor Charles Bovary where, in the midst of the ceremony she -- as a theatrical aside -- is wishing her marriage were taking place at midnight.
From there on the marriage continues to disappoint: “Tick tock, tick tock” she sings with ironic monotony, bored on the marriage bed. But how to create that something better, more luxurious, more outstanding for herself?
Roger Rathburn as Charles, Hayley Hoffmeister as Emma. Photo: Andrew Nuzhnyy.
The musical does a fine job of developing Flaubert's theme that for a woman of her time and station, the road to something better -- whatever better is -- lies not in herself but in finding -- and hooking -- the right man. Her brief concerns about the import of "holy matrimony" don't stop her from entering into an erotic though at the time unconsummated relationship with Leon, a young student -- they share a meeting of the minds and a picnic basket -- and when he leaves to study law in Rouen (not Ruen as in the program), she's easily seduced by a wealthy landowner, Rodolphe -- who won't, however, "save" her either.
As a salve to her yearnings and disappointments, Emma takes to buying luxuries for herself and her lovers -- on her husband's credit. Faced with bankruptcy for her husband, she pulls on her old sexual self-confidence once again to lure money out of her lovers but, it turns out, they’re not that interested. Eventually, though, as the tradesman Homais sings in a wonderfully nasty show-stopper song, the piper must be paid. It’s fascinating that whatever our assumptions about 19th-century provincial France, the final disaster is caused not by her infidelities but by money.
The focus on that fiscal bottom line reminds that Flaubert set this story during the monarchy of King Louise Philippe I in the period of 1827-1846, characterized by the rise of the middle class. (Why, according to the program, the musical is set in the 1890’s is beyond me, and makes the reference to the King irrelevant.)
Naturally the adaptation of a long, famously and beautifully detailed novel into a viable musical requires enormous condensation and leaving out, and an important reason the musical retains its narrative thrust is Paul Dick’s skill in doing this. I think, though, that omitting Emma and Charles Bovary’s daughter was carrying streamlining too far: the daughter is truly essential to understanding Emma’s character, conflicts and actions, and to the story as a whole.
Hayley Hoffmeister as Emma sings with skill and strength and acts with uninterrupted focus, elements in this main character largely responsible for the unremitting vitality of the musical. Perky as she is, though, I feel she is miscast in this show: her accent, movement style and expressiveness speak much more of the American west or mid-west than of 19th-century France, and her contemporary hair bob is so notably anachronistic it's distracting. (During the show, I kept thinking she’d be great in Oklahoma and I’ll be darned -- according to the program notes which I first read after, as I usually do, she received her BA and Master’s in Music Theater Performance from Oklahoma City University).
Among the good roster of performers, those who best transport us across the Atlantic to 19th-century France are Eyal Sherf and Christopher G. Tefft. As the seducing landowner, Sherf conveys wittily, while always staying in character, a fascinating snaky allure and a European flavor: he convinces us that for Rodolphe, Emma is never more than a plaything and yet, at the same time, how deeply he's affected by her beauty. You believe his desire.
There’s an allure all its own, and a big, satisfying voice, in Christopher G. Taft’s calculating, leering, and bottom line realistic Homais. He brings both brutality and poignancy to another of his show-stoppers, “Why Not Me?”
Madame Bovary, the musical -- a rich evening of theater!
L-R Eyal Scherf as Rodolphe, Hayley Hoffmeister as Emma, Roger Rathburn as Charles. Photo: Andrew Nuzhnyy
Madame Bovary plays at the Roy Arias Stage IV Theater on Manhattan’s West 43rd Street through June 2. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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Richard Foreman and the Ontological-Hysteric Theater that he founded in New York City in 1968 have been icons of avant garde theater. He’s made a number of statements about his philosophical and theatrical purposes touching on, e.g., “total theater,” “minimalist theater,” “primitive,” etc., but statements are not theater. Just what do we have in Old-Fashioned Prostitutes? Stunning style, no substance.
Entering the theater brings you to a marvelous bright world of bumble-bee colors -- golden yellow and black -- dominating in staccato rhythms: equidistant punctuations are everywhere. In terms of design, an underlying grid, overlaid with a wide variety of visual excitements, stretches from the backdrop of the stage half-way through the theater, along the walls and on overhead strings. It’s a powerful stab at a total visual experience. It’s complex (what happened to minimalist?), rich, surprising, and makes you keen for the play.
Then the play opens and from the first banalities, you realize you’ve already seen the best part. An aging man, looks back on his encounters with prostitutes in Venice, and in particular on his his ambivalent longing for one named Suzie. Raised up by his memory, Suzie vamps with a lot of European style and confidence. Her friend Gabriella is more uncertain and flapper-like winsome -- finger to cheek and two cute knees pressing in to each other. Prostitution hasn’t taken a toll on either of them and their costumes are terrific.
The solipsistic philosopher George Berkeley is referred to and philosophical words are uttered. The actors are busy and vividly costumed. Nothing much happens in theatrical terms. OK, we’ve seen it: the spectacle wears thin, Emperor’s New Clothes style. The hour length of the performance seems a long time. See it for the design, just don’t expect a play. The grid design has its roots in early 20th-century Cubism. Things here make one think of a colorful old-fashioned typewriter, sound and all, exploded large. Is this all still avant garde?
The cast does a good job with the material: David Skeist (Alfredo), Stephanie Hayes (Gabriella), Alenka Kraigher (Suzie), Rocco Sisto (Samuel), Nicolas Norena (Bibendum [aka Michelin]).
Old-Fashioned Prostitutes plays at the Public Theater in downtown Manhattan through June 6. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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Raising awareness of difficult and agonizing aspects of existence has a powerful place among the purposes of art. Qureshi’s roof garden installation certainly does that. The installation refers to the bombing of a Sufi shrine in Lahore, Pakistan in 2010 that took many lives and wounded many more. The paved floors of the beautiful, garden-like shrine were left bloody as you can see in photos at this link, (note paving in the last of the series). Go to the roof of the Metropolitan Museum and you will see similar paved surface painted a bloody red, with splotches and drops intermingled among the forms of blooming flowers, memorializing the incident and heightening awareness.
I admit to being disappointed. The roof garden installations, up to this year, have often been challenging intellectually and artistically, but they've always been gorgeous, and one leaves feeling elated. Three gardens come together at this distancing height: the city itself with its great surrounding skyscape, the garden of the park, and the garden of art. The roof has been an oasis of joy -- as in last year's Cloud City of Tomas Saraceno.
The roof garden has also provided an ideal locale for art in three-dimensions: expansive sculpture and architectural gardens. This year, with all that space and sky above, it’s a let-down to emerge onto the roof and, directed by the art, to look down, at painting flat on the paving stones. The museum is currently undergoing large scale renovations and is surrounded with scaffolds and temporary walls, so the flat surface may have been chosen for its easier installation logistics -- nothing huge had to be hauled up there with cranes and pulleys like last year!
Qureshi, born in 1972 in Hyderabad, Pakistan, used to create small works on paper that resembled miniaturist books made for the Mughal court in the 16th to 19th centuries: he inserted into this physically small, precise form contemporary images. Then he exploded, as an artist, from the small page to large scale site-specific works, enlarging his landscapes and the scope of his contemporary ideas, and using acrylic paint. It's interesting to see, though, that even in this vast, terrace-sized work, he maintains his dainty touch of the brush in his painted flower petals, some delicately tipped with white as you can see in the close-up photo, second from the top.
One looks down instead of up, and not to an oasis of joy, that's for sure. Still, Qureshi’s painted pavings, rooted, it would seem, in grief and the desire to bear witness, have a strength of their own.
In connection with the exhibition, the book, The Roof Garden Commission: Imran Qureshi, is available.The exhibition and its publication were conceived by Sheena Wagstaff, and organized by Ian Alteveer.
The Roof Garden is open every day (weather permitting) that the Museum is open, and admission to it comes with admission (recommended) to the museum. It's very pleasant -- oasis-like -- that sandwiches, espresso, and other snacks and drinks are available on the roof daily from 10 a.m. until closing (weather permitting) and a cocktail bar is open on the Roof Garden on Friday and Saturday evenings from 5:30-8PM. Click on live link, for more information.
Comments very welcome. Scroll down below the picture, click on "comments," write in comment box and click on "post," Emails are private -- no emails ever appear with comments. Photos 1, 2 and 4 -- Installation views of The Roof Garden Commission: Imran Qureshi (2013). Photo 3 -- Imran Qureshi creating his site-specific work for The Roof Garden Commission project on the Metropolitan Museum of Art's Iris and B. Gerald Cantor Roof Garden. Photos are Metropolitan Museum of Art/Hyla Skopitz
Whatever Williams may have worked out for himself in this 1981 exercise of adaptation, he didn’t do Chekhov any good, much as he admired the Russian playwright. Evidently it was important to Williams to write this play it but it's of interest mainly to those with an active concern with theater history -- in that these are two very great playwrights and it could be said anything they did is of interest.
The play -- Chekhov pure or filtered through Williams -- is a web of unrequited love. The characters gather on the estate of Sorin, brother of the famous actress Arkadina, who has come to vacation there with her lover Trigorin. He is a successful and conventional writer, a foil for Konstantin, Arkadina’s son who, with his passionate, youthful belief in a need for “new forms” for literature, is staging his avant-garde play on an improvised outdoor stage. Konstantin is in love with his actress, Nina who, in short order, falls in love with Trigorin (which might leave Konstantin available for Masha, the Steward’s daughter, who loves him passionately but it won’t happen).
The drama of the powerful first act of The Seagull -- and it retains some of its power here -- centers around Konstantin’s desire for his mother’s praise, attention and respect, and her laughing dismissal of his play which she finds absurd, with its all talk no action. “Ah,” she whispers with amused irony to her worldly companion Trigorin, “recitative.” Chekhov in this episode gave us great talk and action -- and we did not need Masha to tell us before hand, as she does in Williams’ adaptation, that Arkadina “will despise the play this evening and make no secret of it.” Here, as elsewhere, what Chekhov implies, Williams highlights with a magic marker.
Williams pushes hard to cast light on the fascinatingly equivocal relationship Chekhov created between Arkadina and Trigorin. What is the nature of their bond? Trigorin chafes at its restraints yet they remain together, his fling with Nina, and the baby produced from it, notwithstanding. Williams responds to the ambiguities by making Trigorin bisexual, inserting flings with men as well as that with Nina, a characterization that in the context seems forced and somewhat implausible.
In Chekhov’s play, Dr. Dorm is a loving personality who, as a nature romantic, assigns passionate longings to the power of the nearby lake. Dorn, in Chekhov, is a ray of hope amidst the bevy of dysfunctional characters. In keeping with his own tragic vision, Williams’ turns him into a heartless misogynist.
The earlier part of The Notebook of Trigorin, has more the feel and flavor of Chekhov, and as the play progresses Williams' tragic sensibility and vision of characters living in a world of their own illusions become more dominant. As in the characters of Trigorin and Dorn, this produces distracting disjunctions. Williams pulls a rabbit out of the hat at the very end in a grand gesture by Arkadina. It’s wondrously theatrical, and the one point where, for a moment, I felt Williams has actually improved on Chekhov, until I realized that Arkadina, narcissistic but in touch, would not have done it: Blanche Dubois of Streetcar Named Desire might well have.
Michael Schantz conveys the confidence, and underlying agitation of Trigorin, the successful author and alluring man. Jeremy Lawrence is amusing and touching as the estate owner, Sorin, who confronts in old age his failure to achieve his two goals: to marry and to be a writer.
Beyond them, the acting is lackluster, one of the casualties of which is that the symbolic power of the seagull Konstantin shoots and presents to Nina as a love gift is lost. Charise Green as Arkadina throws herself into arguments with effective no holds-barred emotionality but fails to convey the famous actress’s charisma. She characterizes the narcissistic, dominating woman by screams so grating that I tucked in turtle-wise every time I saw them coming; otherwise she adopts an intimate affect so quiet a lot of her lines couldn’t be heard.
According to the program, Williams wrote this adaptation to make the “quiet” “delicate” Chekhov more accessible to American audiences. “Our theatre has to cry out to be heard at all …” But quiet, delicate Chekhov has done very well in America and around the world, as has Tennessee Williams, both deservedly. Just not in this hybrid.
The Notebook of Trigorin plays at The Flea Theater in NYC’s Tribeca district through May 18th. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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Kon-Tiki is one of the world’s great stories -- not so well told in this movie BUT the story is SO good it’s worth seeing the movie anyhow.
It's an astonishingly audacious adventure. The Norwegian ethnologist Thor Heyerdahl in 1947 crossed the Pacific Ocean from Peru to Polynesia in a raft to prove a scientific point.
Heyerdahl, who had done field work in Polynesia believed that compelling cultural similarities between South America and Polynesia indicated that Polynesia had originally been populated by migrants from Peru. This countered prevailing scientific opinion that Polynesia had been populated from Asia: after all, it seemed impossible for early people with primitive technology to travel the 5,000 miles across the Pacific it takes to get from Peru to Polynesia. Any cultural similarities between South America and Polynesia were written off as the result of independent inventions in Peru and Polynesia.
Heyerdah saw a way to prove his point: he’d make the journey. So, with his crew of six, he built a primitive balsa wood raft, no modern materials, and, trusting on the currents to carry them there, drifted motorless from Peru to Polynesia.
A tiny raft in the Pacific ocean for a little over three months -- the journey was fraught with difficulty. The balsa wood began to get soggy, the raft lay lower and lower in the water, storms, high waves, sharks, whales, exposure all took their toll. And when they did sight land, a razor edged reef nearly finished them off. The movie gives dramatic coverage to all these threats to their lives and obstacles and to their triumphant arrival in Polynesia.
So what, then, is wrong with the movie -- outside of the fact that Pal Sverre Valheim Hagen lacks Heyerdahl’s grit , though other actors come across convincingly as outdoorsmen and adventurers?
It is episodic and not smoothly continuous. On the current-driven raft, the big threats -- men overboard, whales, sharks, powerful thunder and lightening storms, towering waves -- appear like vignettes in a Disneyworld tracked boat ride -- there they are, now they’re past, what’s ahead? The time in between -- daily tasks, food limitations, exposure, and boredom -- are referred to but not shown. For example, after one crisis Heyerdahl tells the crew to get back to their tasks: what are they? What do you need to do daily on a drifting balsa raft? A lot? or not much?
The film shows what happens consecutively but is skimpy on how it happens. There are views of the raft being built in Peru but we don’t get the sense of the mechanics of it, the how. Raising money for the project is referred to but how did he succeed? These kinds of nitty-gritty which make Heyerdahl’s book of 1950, Kon-Tiki: Six Men Cross the Pacific on a Raft, so compelling, are not made vivid. When a storm arises, we see its bigness, men clinging to posts, water washing over everything, but we don’t get the narrative of a storm with the clarity the movies usually give such scenes.
The film short-changes Heyerdahl’s intellectual purpose. I found this truly beyond annoying. In the early scenes, the Heyerdahl character states clearly his scientific purpose to prove that humans could have rafted from Peru to Polynesia, but by the end the importance of the Kon-Tiki expedition is related to its inspirational effect on future explorations, sending men into space, etc. Irrelevant. Heyerdahl didn’t prove that Polynesia was populated from Peru, but he did prove that contact between them was possible.
He broke through the fixed idea that there was no contact between the Americas and Polynesia, and showed that the cultural similarities may be the result of the movement of humans and the ideas they carry with them. He provided a new lens to view all scientific information touching on these regions, and that, as he thought, for early humans, water was a road, not a barrier.
Not that is was ever an easy trip!
So should you see the movie? Yes. Heyerdah’s proving his point is one of the great adventure stories of all time -- physical and intellectual, and here’s a chance to know about it.
And if you have a chance, read the book.
... beyond Peter Pan ...
Best known now for Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie was a popular playwright in early 20th-century London and here’s a chance to see two of his witty and enjoyable comedies -- about grown-ups.
The first of these, Rosalind, is a real gem. A beautiful, popular actress has donned a shapeless housedress and floppy slippers, and lets her hair go, holed up in a rural boarding house where she takes on the persona of her own mother just to get away from it all, to find respite from her frenetic London life where she's relentlessly the center of attention.
Having happily loosened her stays, she bothers to chat with no one except the amiable, ordinary owner of her boarding house, until coincidence draws to the boarding house one of her adoring London swains, an upper class recent university graduate. Over the course of a revelatory conversation, he discovers that this frumpy, pleasant 40-year old he's talking with is not the mother of the glorious young actress he fancies himself in love with but very the actress herself, whom he's failed to recognize under her housecoat. As she plays it for all it’s worth, he scrambles to figure out what to do with his ardor? Be true to the 40-year old? Or to his 23-year old self? He believes in love. He wants to do the right thing. And what will happen when a telegram arrives offering the actress the role of Rosalind in As You Like It?
One thing is sure: there will be a stunning transformation of a 40-year old frump into a dazzling 20-something … well, she’s actually 29: Barrie takes care to keep the play totally plausible.
Rachel Botchan is enchanting as the dowdy “mother” and equally so as the glamorous young actress -- she’s so amused, so in control -- and her transformation from old and plain to young and glamorous (Miss Botchan looks beautiful both ways) is a powerful reminder, as Barrie surely intended it, of the joys and ironies of appearance and illusion. I’ve seen Miss Botcham is several roles -- she’s always compelling but here she’s a wonder. Sean McNall brings his own amused charm to the double part of playwright Barrie moving in and out of the play and the young man in love. As the boarding house owner, Carol Schultz is a solid foil of middle-aged realism for the actress whose life is a bouquet of possibilities -- even at the "advanced age" of 29.
In the second play,The Twelve Pound Look, Sir Harry is about to be knighted, and both he and his wife, who is heavily loaded with bling, are delighted at the prospect. Kate, a typist arrives to prepare his “thank you” letters and it turns out that she, through coincidence, is Sir Harry’s former wife, who'd left him years before.
Sir Harry is one of those men who cannot grasp why any woman upon whom he’s lavished everything costly, including his high position, would leave him (I wondered about it, too), but nevertheless he's assumed all along that she left him for another man. Who was he? is the imperious question repeated in Harry’s accustomed-to-answers voice. With some amusing game playing, the truth is revealed -- she left Sir Harry not for a man but for a typewriter, cost 12 pounds, or more truly, she left him for the independence of making her own living. It could happen. But in this play it doesn't ring true.
The Twelve Pound Look is nearer to farce than Rosalind. This is not A Doll’s House, though it comes thirty years later than Ibsen’s iconic play of a married woman struggling for independence. Still, The Twelve Pound Look is entertaining, and good to know about. And the episode in which Sir Harry, before the adoring eyes of his wife, practices his moves for the ceremony of Knighthood is one of the great comic scenes, performed with flawless timing and wit by Bradford Cover. Rachel Botchan -- in another of her evening's magic transformations -- is appropriately peppery as Harry’s liberated ex-wife. And Sean McNall, in the role of J. M. Barrie on-stage, conveys an author’s ironic distance and insight, while playing also a punctilious butler.
Live piano with tunes like “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” performed by Carol Schultz, send us pleasantly to the past. And, for its own touch of the past, a stage curtain is used inThis Side of Neverland . I love the immediacy of current plays with stages open to the audience but the curtain opening onto that other world of the imagination is a pleasure of its own.
This Side of Neverland plays at The Pearl Theatre on West 42nd Street in Manhattan through May 19th now extended through May 26th. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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Kafka’s Monkey is original, creative and one of the great theater experiences. It brings together a great author, a talented playwright, and a brilliant actor so, after the fact, one might say “how could it be otherwise.” Still it’s totally unexpected. After all, a play consisting of an invited speech delivered by an African chimpanzee to an august Academy is … well, unlooked for.
A captured chimpanzee, to make the best of the violent situation which robbed him of his freedom, has through diligent observation and imitation adopted the skills, manners and characteristics of a human being. He’s here tonight, five years since his capture and arrival in England, to present an invited address to a lofty, probably scientific, Academy audience -- and yes, we are that audience. His know-how and referential world are completely human, his British English perfect. Under his white tie and tails, though, and in his movements, we can see that his bodily transformation to human is less complete: he has a chimpanzee’s long arms, broad chest, and swinging gate. His name is Red Peter -- and therein hangs a tale.
Kathryn Hunter’s portrayal of two natures in a single being, and her delivery of his speech in which he narrates the details of his capture, his gruesome shipboard journey, and his brilliant “humanizing” adaptation is among the most memorable performances in theater. A petite woman acts the role of a chimpanzee who’s acting the role of man. Think about that. She creates the character and his world. In calm, discursive moments, Red Peter is most thoroughly the man -- his right palm pressed to the small of his back in an elegant, upper class gesture. But when the emotion of his narrative builds, his chimpanzee physicality presses forward as he takes positions that are contorted for a human, natural for a chimp, or -- with a ladder prop -- leaps across branches and hangs precipitously among the trees.
Hunter makes her dancer’s strength and flexibility into the very essence of a chimp. She conveys a Chaplinesque poignancy in conveying the life events and psychic travels of the dislocated, ingenious primate, thrust from Eden. As the adaptor Colin Teevan notes in the program, “… using his own brutal experience of the ‘world of me’ as a mirror, he deftly inverts the situation to make his speech a reflection upon humanity.” Humans come out pretty loathsome but the earth is stuck with them. We're stuck with ourselves.
Like "Metamorphosis" and others of Kafka's animal stories, "A Report to an Academy," has received as many interpretations as there are interpreters. Just as the chimp survives by using intelligence and self-discipline to adapt to the more powerful humans at a sacrifice of aspects of his true self, so humans have survived in the face of all-powerful nature by using intelligence and self-discipline at the expense of their natural instincts; and, colonial peoples have survived in relation to their colonial masters in parallel ways; and Jews (since Kafka was Jewish) have survived and adapted similarly in the context of a dominant Christian culture, and so on.
The many interpretations are most all "right" and able to co-exist, because the story is a parable of power relationships. Its resonant layers of meaning, its philosophical, political and psychic range, and its strength of characterization, beautifully transmitted by the Colin Treevan, underlie this compelling theater experience.
This is for sure: during the narrative, the large audience was silent and intensely focused -- except for moments of laughter, and actor-audience interaction. With all its seriousness, Kafka's Monkey is a comedy, or much like a comedy, and true to comedies, it ends in marriage -- of a most surprising, and inevitable, kind.
This is the New York premier of the London production by the Young Vic. It’s a privilege to see Kafka’s Monkey and it’s here for a short run so I’d say -- get to it!
Kafka's Monkey plays at the Baryshnikov Arts Center on West 37th Street in Manhattan through April 17. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
This exhibition is very interesting and also somewhat disappointing.
Inevitably, among the over 200 photographs relating to a vast defining event, the American Civil War, some are powerful in the way one would expect -- photos of battlefields, of prisoners, of the injured and dead, and of the destruction the war wrought on all sides. In sheer numbers, however, the weight of the exhibition is skewed toward studio portraits,small tintypes and cartes de visite, as well as formally made medical photographs of ghastly war injuries. So many “indoor” photos take away from the sense of the huge scale of events and the truth of a war fought for overarching issues by hordes of men on famous fields of battle.
Captain Charles A. and Sergeant John M. Hawkins (full photo captions below*)
Many kinds of intimate scenes of the daily lives and experiences of Confederate and Union soldiers are sparsely represented or not at all. There are none representing the draft riots in NYC which turned murderous (for a recent play about these, "Banished Children of Eve," click here). Also, there seems to be an avoidance of some of the most dramatically powerful Civil War Photos in favor of lesser known ones, even if by well known photographers. It’s admirable to use an exhibition to extend viewer’s knowledge, but what may seem “iconic images” to Civil War buffs or photograpy experts are unfamiliar to a host of 2013 museum goers; many of the greatest photographs aren’t on this exhibition’s walls which -- combined with sense of too many formal portraits -- make the exhibition less compelling than it might have been.
Still, there’s a lot to see, absorb, and think about. Speaking of cartes de visites -- those small photos made in multiples that could be given to friends and others -- one of the most powerful works in the show is that of Sojourner Truth, the name she took for herself, who, escaping from slavery in 1826, became an active abolitionist as well as advocate for prisoners' and women’s rights (for her astonishing autobiography click here). In a switch of powerful irony, she -- who had at 9 years been sold in a slave auction -- sold a photograph of herself to raise money to aid freedmen; hence her caption, “I sell the Shadow to Support the Substance.”
Sojourner Truth, "I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance"
Today's political campaign buttons don't have portraits because we have plenty of opportunity to know what candidates look like. When Abraham Lincoln ran for President, though, people were less bombarded with images so face recognition was part of the game, as seen in this 1860 presidential campaign medal with Abraham Lincoln’s portrait -- before he grew his beard.
Photography was brand new at the start of the Civil War -- its conventional beginning date is 1848 -- and yet there were approximately 1,000 photographers on hand to capture all aspects -- yes, more than here represented -- of the War. 750,000 men died in the course of it -- 20% of those who fought and about 2.5% of the total population -- and photographers, such as Timothy O’Sullivan, photographed the dead on the battlefield, with no attempt to censor images that might “disturb” the populace as happened for a time during the war in Iraq; on the contrary, photographer Matthew Brady, for whom O’Sullivan worked, was celebrated for an exhibition in 1862 in New York for bringing home war’s reality. Field Where General Reynolds Fell, Gettysburg, July 1863
The tintypes, though both overabundant and at the same time somewhat lost in an exhibition of “Photgraphy and the American Civil War,” are fascinating and would merit a small exhibit of their own where one could absorb each of them without distraction. Many are staged: soldiers, newly enlisted and off to war, would have their photos taken in uniform and with weapons (often photographers’ prop). They're idealized -- all look handsome and on the ready, drawing their swords, etc., and they convey all the virtues of courage, intelligence and ethical strength, as in the portraits of Charles and John Hawkins (top, right). Here and there among them one catches a more intimate glimpse into personality, as in the portrait of a Union private (R); looking in to his expressive eyes, one wonders he fared.
The exhibition succeeds in making the point that its important to look beyond the famous photographer Matthew Brady to appreciate the many other talented photographers with names less known or anonymous active in photographing the Civil War. As an exhibition, "Photography and the American Civil War" is neither comprehensive nor unified by a particular focus, and its decisions seem somewhat idiosyncratic -- but it’s history, our history, and well worth seeing. Ruins of Gallego Flour Mills, Richmond, 1865
"Photography and the American Civil War" runs at the Metropolitan Museum of Art" through September 2. For more information on the exhibition, its catalog, and on visiting the museum, click on live link of title.
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*Photo captions(from top): Unknown artist, Captain Charles A. and Sergeant John M. Hawkins, Company E, "Tom Cobb Infantry," Thirty-eighth Regiment, Georgia Volunteer Infantry, 1861-62. Quarter-plate ambrotype with applied color, David Wynn Vaughan Collection. Photo: Jack Melton. Unknown artist, Sojourner Truth," I Sell the Shadow to Support the Substance," 1864. Albumen silver print (carte de visite) from glass negative, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, Alfred Stieglitz Society Gifts, 2013, Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. Unknown Artist, after an 1860 carte de visite by Mathew B. Brady, Presidential Campaign Medal with Portraits of Abraham Lincoln and Hannibal Hamlin, 1860. Tintypes in stamped brass medallion, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Purchase, The Overbrook Foundation Gift, 2012. Image: The Metropolitan Museumj of Art, NY. Timothy O'Sullivan, Alexander Gardner, printer, Field Where General Reynolds Fell, Gettysburg, July 1863. Reed Brockway Bontecou, Union Private John Parmenter, Company G, Sixty-seventh Pennsylvania Volunteers, June 21, 1865. Albumen silver print from glass negative, cfarte de visite, Collecdtion Stanley B. Burns, M.D. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. Unknown Artist, Union Private, 11th New York Infantry(also known as the 1st Fire Zouaves), May-June 1861. One-sixth plate ambrotype, Michael J. McAfree Collecdtion. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. Alexander Gardner, Ruins of Gallego Flour Mills, Richmond, 1865. Albumen silver prints from glass negatives, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Harris Brisbane Dick Fund, 1933. Image: Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY.
This is a vibrant, imaginative and creative play, formed in part from the myths of Echo and Narcissus and Orpheus and Eurydice. It’s drenched in dance and music, and beautifully performed by an exceptionally talented ensemble.
It’s a play all about liminality and carries the vision of a gaze into the unconscious -- a very bright and exuberant world. Eurydice's Dream spectacularly maintains a tension between consistency and narrative flow -- narrative sense-making and the free form of inner life. It’s tremendously impressive.
While truly an ensemble piece, the touchstone is the character of Eurydice, bitten by a viper on the day of her marriage to the musician Orpheus, and carried off to the underworld where Orpheus succeeds -- with great difficulty as always! -- in finding her, only to lose her to the lord of the Underworld by yielding to temptation -- disobeying the injunction not to look back as she follows him upward to the daylight. One glance and she’s gone forever.
Woven in is the story of Narcissus, loved by the nymph Echo but too in love with his own beauty to respond to her fully, seeking instead --impossibly, fatally -- to embrace his own lovely reflection in a stream. Blended with the ancient myths are contemporary passionate embraces and equally elusive loves, fleeting glimpses of men loving men and women loving women, circling around the tantalizing and fragile affair of Amerika and a man native to the Central or South American country she’s visiting.
L-R Andrew Dahl (Orcus, lord of the Underworld), above Marco De Ornella (Orpheus), Darrel Stokes (Foreigner) under Jessika D Williams (Amerika), Tatanya Kot (Echo) kneeling before Jason Grifin (Narcissus) Photo: Alan Roche
The stage is gorgeously painted cosmic blue interpenetrated with stars: gravity loses its hold to the dark trees painted sideways on the floor. The whole field of vision is active, like the screen of ones own inner life where episodes spin into central focus but the margins are dynamic and exciting. There are no dead spaces in Eurydice’s Dream -- wherever you look is alive, and worth considering.
Among the uniformly excellent performers, some are exceptionally individualized, and these provide a particularly arresting aspect for the whole production. These intensely specific characters are one of the reasons that from beginning to end one never wants to stop looking -- even blinking at Eurydice’s Dream seems a nuisance. Central to all, Sonia Villani as Eurydice is a fine dancer, a focused, passionate actress, and a comedian with a tragic seriousness, particularly stunning in her episode as the rubber faced Sound Mimic in a circus side show. She conveys a seamless combination of vulnerability and backbone that makes her Eurydice unforgettable. I’d love to see her play Gelsomina, the young woman in La Strada (and would make a point of seeing her in any role she takes on.)
With terrific dancing, acting and singing, Marco De Ornella brings unabridged male power to the role of Orpheus, combined with an inventive freshness. Jason Griffin’s remarkable ectomorphic beauty convinces and surprises as Narcissus. His physical battle with an intractable surface representing the so-near and yet impossibly far image in the stream is powerfully rendered and beautifully choreographed. Jessika D Williams brings a striking physical vitality to the role of Amerika and exceptionally focused, subtle facial expressions.
It’s to the choreographer's credit that much happens at once in Eurydice’s Dream but one can take it all in -- there are no conflicts about “where to look” as in a multi-ring circus, it’s all there for you as if it's all a part of you.
I found the added story of the “Glass Eye” didn’t add anything, and here and there the text seemed to flatten out but, pretty much throughout, Eurydice’s Dream is tone perfect in its vision of impermanence and transition as fundamental features of love and life. It's filled with transformations and yet holds on to its story line. Ovid, the famous teller of the classical myths in his Metamorphoses -- transformations of form and being -- would love it.
Eurydice's Dream plays on Mondays, Fridays, Saturdays and most Sundays through April 22 at the Interart Theatre on West 52nd Street in Manhattan. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title; also check blessed unrest's facebook page.
Here’s the idea: Shakespeare really wrote a play entitled The Tragedy of King Arthur but it was lost to posterity. Now, an often jailed forger of petty items such as store coupons has bequeathed to his son, who is in fact the prolific author Arthur Phillips -- note that Arthur -- the original folio … or is it a forgery?
Which is it? that is the question. An incredibly valuable folio of a lost play by Shakespeare? or a fake?
In order to find out, the play is read through -- semi-produced in a helter-skelter deconstructed way -- by Arthur, his sister Dana, and various others. But the answer is quite clear from Phillips’ first pseudo-Shakespearean line, heavy as lead. Not for an instant could anyone think Shakespeare had anything to do with this play, yet the question remains “open” for three long acts.
Playwright George Bernard Shaw took on Shakespeare -- but to prove his own mettle, he wrote plays like Shaw, not Shakespeare.
One gets the impression, though, that Arthur Phillips thinks he’s doing a pretty good job of writing Shakespeare (whom he doesn’t think much of anyhow, which may make it easier), since the overstressed pentameter (meant to be funny?) is filled with slack metaphors and the play throws in a bunch of Shakespearean tropes: sword play, soulful soliloquies, ducal rebellions against the anointed king, etc. Meanwhile, the character of our modern day Arthur, Phillips, Hamlet-like, works out his relationship with his dead father who appears on stage from time to time, no surprise there.
Evidently Phillips finds repetition at the heart of Shakespeare because the play is very repetitive: there’s not one spoof of Shakespearean sword play but three or four. A messenger bears bad tidings and is promptly killed, a humorous (?) take on messengers in Shakespeare and on diplomatic immunity but if anybody found it funny the first time, they certainly didn’t laugh at the repeats. Anyhow, after the intermission, there were fewer people left in the audience to laugh.
The set, a past-present deconstruction of an author’s study and castle parapet, is cute and -- advertisement for myself style -- features a prominent, illuminated blow-up of Phillips’ novel, The Egyptologist. The actors, with one exception, are competent, including Jacques Roy as an energetic Arthur. He made three (once is never enough here) very heavy, flat footed jumps from too high a perch that made me worry for his knees; they didn’t illuminate the character or the action, though, but seem to have been done to wake up the audience.
Will Open Mondays throughout Year for First Time in 42 Years
As of July 1, 2013, The Metropolitan Museum of Art will open to the public 7 days a week. This new schedule will go into effect at both the Museum’s main building on Fifth Avenue at 82nd Street in Manhattan and at The Cloisters museum and gardens, its branch museum for medieval art and architecture in Fort Tryon Park in northern Manhattan.
Also as of July 1, the Museum’s opening time each morning will change to 10:00 a.m. (from 9:30 a.m.). Otherwise the hours at both locations will remain the same. The new daily schedule as of July 1 in the main building will therefore be:
Friday and Saturday 10:00 a.m.–9:00 p.m.
Sunday–Thursday 10:00 a.m.–5:30 p.m.
And the new schedule at The Cloisters museum and gardens will be:
March–October: Open 7 days, 10:00 a.m.–5:15 p.m.
November–February: Open 7 days, 10:00 a.m.–4:45 p.m.
Both locations will be closed January 1, Thanksgiving Day, and December 25, and the main building will also be closed on the first Monday in May.
The Metropolitan Museum has been closed on Mondays since 1971, with the exception in recent years of the Holiday Mondays program—in which the Museum has been open on a few holidays each year that fall on Mondays. The final Holiday Mondays to be observed before the new 7-day schedule goes into effect on July 1 will be March 25 and April 1 (during Spring Break), and May 27 (Memorial Day).
Full details on admission, group tours, and visitor amenities—including dining, shopping, and parking—are available at www.metmuseum.org/visit or 212-535-7710. Also visit the museum's web site for current information and hours, since these changes will not take place until July.
About The Metropolitan Museum of Art
The Metropolitan Museum of Art is one of the world’s largest and finest museums, with collections of nearly two million works of art spanning more than 5,000 years of world culture, from prehistory to the present and from every part of the globe. The Metropolitan Museum’s main building, located at the edge of Central Park along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and The Cloisters museum and gardens, its branch museum for medieval art and architecture in northern Manhattan, welcomed 6.28 million visitors last year. For additional information about the Museum, please visit www.metmuseum.org.
A group of archaeologists and others attached to them are holed up in and around what’s referred to as a modest, rustic cabin -- but the set presents us with a vast lodge -- engaged in excavating a series of mounds in Illinois left by pre-Columbian tribes. Early in the play our sympathies fall with them, as high minded scholars seeking to advance knowledge about an early civilization, led by the august Professor, August Howe. But the play is clever in that the self-interested local, a macho brute of a guy, Chad Jasker, who wants to make his fortune developing the land, gains on our sympathies, or at least our understanding, at the same time that we are learning more and more about how crude and self centered he is.
That’s the lineup: and the issues of The Mound Builders, first presented at Circle Repertory Theater in 1975, remain timely; conflicts between those who move in the sophisticated, international world of scholarship and locals, archaeologists and land developers; by an easy extension those who want to dig things up in order to know more and those, like Native Americans protecting ancient burials for any number of reasons. And all this comes with the inevitable meditation on the blind destructiveness of time, and how all our mounds eventually crumble.
We know what Chad Junker wants and we sense what lengths he’ll go to get it.
In contrast to our clarity about Chad, a problem with the play, told in flashbacks, is that the archaeological activities of this group aren’t vivid or convincing. The play never leaves the house, an odd choice for a story about field work. Sometimes somebody goes out the door to unseen the site. Mention is made of students living in tents. But this doesn’t convey the intensity and focus of a dig, or the dawn to dusk activity of working archaeologists. A scene where some artifacts of this ancient people make it to the house and are -- not counted or catalogued but -- more or less tossed around is something of a travesty.
Also vitiating the conflict between archaeological and local interests is the presence in the house of several non-archaeologist family members. The most vividly written character is the cynical, seen-it-all, ailing Delia K. Erickson, who has all the best lines but has nothing to do with the plot. Her three initials presumably refer to the decay of … western civilization ... all civilizations … more on that time-mneditation stuff.
The upshot is that the play is somewhat engaging for a time but the implausibility and slack tone of the archaeological segment -- from the characters and their motivations to the vagueness of the dig -- intrude more and more so that one's interest, like the great civilizations, unwinds.
The Mound Builders plays at the Pershing Square Signature Center through April 14th, 2013. For more information and tickets, click on live link of the title.
This is a middling play -- if you see it you’re not sorry but you don’t need to see it. Gurney is very talented at engaging the viewer with recognizable character types involved in contemporary topics. The Old Boy was first produced in 1991.
Sam, a slick but decent politician running for Governor returns, in the 1990’s, to his New England prep school to dedicate a building to a man, now deceased, whom he once knew as a student, Perry. He’d been Perry’s “old boy”, his assigned friend and mentor, back in the 1960’s, and the two had genuinely bonded. Perry’s mother, Harriet, is there for the ceremony, donating the building in her son’s honor, along with Alison, Perry’s former wife. Perry, Sam learns, has died in vague circumstances.
What could those circumstances be? It doesn’t take long to see where Gurney’s going. As the play moves between the here and now of the 1990’s to back when the boys were at school together in the '60’s, we quickly catch on, via flashbacks, that Perry was gay, though not “out,” not even to himself. Back then Sam, the extroverted jock, and Perry, the introverted bookish opera lover, had developed a close “opposites attract” friendship, with an erotic undertone, obvious from Perry, but also from Sam, it’s suggested, a reminder of the ambiguities of sexuality. They were such buddies that Sam, burdened with an attractive but low class girlfriend, Alison, had killed two birds with one stone, ridding himself of a nuisance in Alison and resolving his unease about Perry’s homosexuality, by arranging for Perry and Alison to marry, bringing about their constrained marriage in which, for a long time, Perry lived a lie.
The suspense now, in the 1990’s, shifts to: what will Sam say at the dedication speech in honor of his friend, with his friend’s mother on hand nervously listening? Will he maintain the platitudes that will be useful for his election as Governor, as his gung ho aide urges him to do? Or will he courageously transcend political considerations and speak the “truth” about the way individuals and society conspire to constrain disapproved passions and desires?
Up at the podium, Sam presents his speech to his audience -- us -- and Gurney is right in saying on his web site that the under-dramatized presentation of the speech is a weakness of the play. That’s not the worst problem with the speech, though. Sam’s speech assigns blame for Perry’s death in a way that doesn’t make sense. The fact that this way of seeing blame springs from the kindness and well meaning heart of the playwright doesn’t paper over a real disconnect between the argument in the play and rationality. It’s too much of a stretch, and evaporates the play’s plausibility.
Some of the characters, particularly Sam as the sure-of himself-politician and Bud, his fast talking aide, are stereotypes. Others are more fully drawn. Chris Dwan gives an arresting performance as the adolescent Perry, gradually coming to know himself, sensitive, unsure but with a backbone. Marsha Dietlein Bennet is effective in a fascinating role: she morphs from the low class girl who first went off with Sam because she wanted to know where all those boys on vacation came from to a widow of an upper class man struggling to free herself from her overbearing mother-in-law.
Tom Riis Farrell brings humor and touching emotion to the predictable role of the Minister, Dexter, who was short listed for Headmaster but didn’t get the job “because I wasn’t married.” We understand, Dexter (actually, devoted as he is to the school, he doesn't have the style of a prep school Headmaster). The actor among all, who’s so good she makes one absolutely forget that she’s a “character” or that we’re watching a play is Laura Esterman as Perry’s dominating -- and heartbroken -- mother.
The Old Boy plays at the Clurman Theatre, Theatre Row on West 42nd Street in Manhattan through March 30th. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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If you’ve never seen Henry IV Part 1, the Pearl's production will bring you close to it and if you’ve seen it before you’ll love it all over again.
This last assumes you’ve loved it in the past which is probable because it’s one of Shakespeare’s best loved plays, for good reasons. Among them, it's hilarious. Falstaff is so vivid and original a character, so complex and real, that it’s hard to believe he's a creative invention; and, in the character of Prince Hal, the play deals with issues of fundamental fascination and importance for all of us, growth to maturity.
The play moves between the broad canvas of politics and war--a Scottish rebellion against King Henry IV--to the intimate--father and son, husband and wife, and that unforgettable friendship that doesn’t quite fall into any one category between Hal and Falstaff.
What makes this so delightful a production of Henry IV Part I is Dan Daily as Falstaff. He’s superb—big bellied, of course, taller than anybody else around, with the vitality, wit joie de vivre and touch of sultry wickedness one wants in the character. He's an epicurean, with the allure and paradoxes that idea contains. It’s fascinating to see this large man--and I mean really large--completely light on his feet, leaping on a table, doing a jig. One sees and feels Falstaff's thoughts--calculating or willful, assertive or accepting of a reversal--for a compelling cognitive instant before he speaks.
The question of Prince Hal's maturity makes one pause, though. What does it really mean in this particular play? We meet Hal as a a wayward libertine under Falstaff's spell, but that changes when his royal father is faced with imminent war. Then Hal buckles down, putting his easy pleasures aside to support his father's cause and become a fighter. One could call this "taking on responsibility." Or one can question human purposes, and the meaning of responsibility.
Bradford Cover as King Henry IV conveys the tension in this powerful personality aswarm with conflicts: his threatened yet adamant royal authority, and his disappointment with his pleasure loving son melded with underlying love. Shawn Fagan captures the eruptive and wry personality of Hotspur, though the character could use more physical heft. John Brummer is less original as the libertine and then chastened Prince Hal. He isn't Daily's match, which limits the rapport between Hal and Falstaff. As the Scottish rebel Douglas, Sean McNall gets the prize for the most authentic and charmning Scottish accent.
Though not usually my favorites, the battle scenes in this production are a high point, staged with passionate and convincing one-on-one duels, metal on metal. They've been exhaustively rehearsed to the point of total actors’ ease, so the fights seem completely spontaneous.
Above all, though, this Henry IV Part 1 is about Dan Daily’s Falstaff, which I think Shakespeare would have enjoyed. I sure did.
Henry IV Part 1 plays at the Pearl Theatre on West 42nd Street in Manhattan through March 17th. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
The world doesn’t need this musical. Set in a fictional Irish village, Innisfree, in the 1920’s, it’s about the “cute Irish,” and their quaint ways including the great fun of settling conflicts with a brutal, free-for-all fight -- a “donnybrook.”
The central idea, from Maurice Walsh's 1933 Saturday Evening Post short story, is interesting -- an Irish-American boxer, having killed a man and determined never to fight again, returns to his Irish village where he's forced into a fight mandated by custom (the “donnybrook”) in order to uphold the honor of his village bride.
Sean, arriving in town, immediately falls in love with the feisty Mary Kate who immediately falls in love with him. But Sean angers her brother, Will, by topping his bid for some land, so Will tries to prevent the marriage and --when it does take place through some chicanery -- withholds Ellen’s dowry. Sean doesn’t care about the money but -- Irish custom -- the dowry is bottom line, because it represents her honor. When Sean refuses to fight Will for the withheld dowry, Mary Kate, with an implausible lack of interest in her beloved’s state of mind about fighting, resorts to sexual blackamil, refusing to consummate the marriage. Through the machinations of a subplot things work out but not before there’s a -- yes! -- donnybrook, where Sean manages not to kill anybody including his wife's brother -- that would have been a problem -- but the outcome is never in doubt, and we’re not really worried about this or anything in this show, in which the stereotype characters don’t engage ones concern.
The cast doesn’t have much to work with in these trite characters, although there are flashes of dramatic tension in James Barbour ‘s performance as the American boxer, particularly when he’s singing, but the show seems too small for him.
The songs and music, some traditional and others written for the show, are largely predictable although a few, such as “But Beautiful,” have more character and are familiar -- the musical had a short run on Broadway in 1961. The song “The Loveable Irish,” with its refrain “I hate the Irish,” is offensive; Sean lists everything he finds wrong with the Irish until, at the end, he sings “but I’m Irish, too” as if that makes it OK to pour out so many negative stereotypes on a group of people, but it doesn’t.
Donnybrook! plays at the Irish Repertory Theatre in Manhattan's Chelsea district through March 31. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title. DONNYBROOK! extended through April 28th
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Isaac’s Eye takes as starting points what it asserts are a few “truths,” (e.g., Newton stuck a needle into his eye as a scientific experiment, Newton was engaged once but never married) to construct a play about the young Isaac Newton. The truths are arbitrarily selected and some are suppositions, even though they’re chalked onto a blackboard that, we’re told, holds genuine truths, which is not playing fair with the audience! While the first act has some point to it, the second trails off into unsupported, drawn out material that doesn’t add up to any insight or interest.
The first act brings together two scientists with different points of view in a potentially meaningful conflict: Robert Hooke as a proponent of experiment, and Newton, depicted as believing he has an intuitive “God told me so I am certainly right” genius.
After several letters from Newton seeking admission to the Royal Society of London, Hooke, the Society’s Curator of Experiments, comes from London to visit Newton in his rural hamlet intending to shut down the youthful competitor or at least delay him a few decades. Driven by genuine scientific curiosity, however, Hooke is drawn into wanting verification of an experiment in which Newton plunges a needle into his eye, causing a prismatic breakdown of light into color, thus proving that light is formed of particles, not waves. As I read Newton’s notes, which you can find at this link, what he describes he saw in the needle-in-the-eye experiment differs from what is recounted in the play, and doesn't demonstrate that light is particles, but I’m not a scientist so perhaps I’ve missed something.
At any rate, in Newton’e Eye, Hooke’s urges that Newton repeat the experiment using an objective subject who has no vested interest in the outcome. This leads to the revelation that Newton lied about ever having done the experiment at all, on himself or anybody else -- he just “knows” he's right about what would happen if one did it because his father died before he was born and so he’s closer to God. This gross violation of the empiricism Hooke represents creates some interesting conflict in Act I, which would be meaningful except that according to his written notes, Newton did the experiment and there’s no reason to believe he lied to Hooke. Historical drama has broad license but arbitrary playing with the audience under the guise of telling a truth is ... well frankly it’s a turn-off.
In Act II, Hooke drinks too much, makes bathetic noise, all but seduces Newton’s girl friend Catherine, and is uncovered as a child molester -- anything to keep things going. We move from over-stretched historical license to fantasy when Newton, finally trying the experiment on himself -- and abandoned by Hooke, Catherine, and everyone else because of his nasty, self-involved temperament -- spends a month or so unable to move out of a chair, with the needle in his eye.
The actors wear modern casual dress and speak in contemporary language which starts things off with an appealing immediacy. In Act I, Haskell King provies a persuasive portrait of Newton’s self-involved and ambitious personality. Kristen Bush brings warmth and dignity to the role of Catherine, the woman friend he never can quite bring himself to propose to although by Act II, her script driven deviousness and emotional turnabouts have broken through this character’s plausibility.
Michael Louis Serafin-Wells brings charismatic vitality and humor to the serious minded but pleasure loving Hooke. Jeff Biehl is engaging as actor/narrator, and also a man dying of the plague, desperate enough to agree to let Newton stick a needle in his eye in one of the play’s more gruesome scenes. Plague at the time was known to be highly contagious (Newton, like many, fled to the country to escape it), yet neither of these two smart men appears concerned about hands on experimental contact with pustule-covered man dying of the disease: Newton sticks the needle into the dying man’s eye, Hooke holds him down, and together they haul out the corpse and throw it in the river.
At times in Act I, I thought Newton’s Eye was heading for the level of the the Ensemble Studio Theatre and Alfred P. Sloan Foundation’s brilliant production of Photograph 51, about Rosalind Franklin and her role in the discovery of the DNA double helix, also directed by Linsay Firman, but no such luck.
Isaac's Eye plays at the Ensemble Studio Theatre in Manhattan's Clinton district, midtown west side, through February 24. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
Bleak bleak bleak -- a bold way to start a play, but it works wonderfully. Strangers, a woman and a boy, on a cold, road at night, next to a cemetery, waiting for a bus, but the vivid characters bring it to warm, pulsating life -- which is exactly the point.
Through snow dusted tombstones, a path runs in diminishing perspective to the distance: read infinity. The bus is late. The woman sinks into herself, her coat hanging crooked, too thin for this cold night. Things couldn't be worse. She has some ominous connection with the nearby hospital. She’s unresponsive to the fast-talking teen-ager who works to engage her with everything from philosophical riffs to brash seduction.
When, grudgingly, she takes his $20 bill to buy him (he’s under age) beer and Doritos we meet the third person in the play, the convenience store owner who turns out to be the boy’s father though, oddly, he hasn’t seen his son in a long time.
There are two exceptionally fine scenes in this show. One, is the boy's monologue born from musing on the orange Dorito powder that sticks to one’s fingers and that takes off, zooming like a comet from far to near and back again, from microcosm to macrocosm, inside to outside, being and nothingness -- it's a virtuoso piece in writing and delivery, so fast and canny I’d like to hear it again.
The other is the scene between the man and the woman in the convenience store, replete with the familiar and the uncanny, a merchant’s know-how in the face of stolen credit cards and the human connections that can override things done by the rules.
We’re in good hands with this convenience store owner. One enjoys the Deirdre O'Connell as the Woman and Zach Grenier as the Man. Photo Joan Marcus
strong capability and masculinity, combined with burred-over vulnerability Zach Grenier brings to the role, though Grenier’s a touch too cosmopolitanism for this rural corner of upstate New York. Deirdre O’Connell is touching as the woman who’s been through so much she’s almost -- but not completely -- drained. The unhesitating speed with which Noah Robbins pours out the boy’s cosmic fast talk makes you feel he knows everything, which, through his strange circumstance, he almost does.
The outcome of this short play, involving the man and the woman, is pat and, when one comes right down to it, although the boy is the most interesting and surprising character, what happens doesn’t depend on him. I felt that this loose cannon of a character was compensating for the fact that what actually happens in the play is not unusual or striking. Yet, there's a governing intelligence throughout that, though the play has some of the thinness of a practice one-acter, gives it a serious resonance. The intelligence of the language, the overall dramatic aura, those wonderful scenes, and the fine acting are compelling. The evocative set by David M. Barber fulfills the contrasts of realism and fantasy, intimate and cosmic, around which the play winds.
What will this young playwright do next? Having seen The Vandal -- and having loved Linklater’s spectacular performance in David Ives’ School for Lies at Classic Repertory Theatre -- I’ll be on the lookout for his next play, whether he writes it or acts in it!
The Vandal plays at The Flea Theater in Manhattan's Tribeca through March 3, 2013. *** For more information and tickets, click on live link of title. ***NOTE: The Vandal returns to the Flea Theater March 22 - 31.
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Picnic is a huge delicious ice cream of a fantasy you don’t even have to feel guilty about giving in to it because it comes in the guise of hard bitten realism. I loved it.
The action takes place in a small town in the midwest in and around the houses of Flo Owens and Helen Potts and the yard between them. The set, always on view, is so familiar and warmly lit, from the worn white wood frame houses with enticing glimpses through the windows to the appealingly familiar junk around, that one can hardly wait for the play to begin. The play doesn’t disappoint.
Into this tight little corner of Kansas, where several women of of a range of ages happen to be living, comes a stunningly handsome, aggressively virile young man, Hal, a drifter taken in by Mrs. Potts who, according to the more prim Flo, has offered hospitality in exchange for odd jobs to too many wandering guys before. Carrying heavy bushels of wood with his shirt off, Hal electrifies the woman of all ages -- it’s amusing, and it has truth.
We know almost immediately that we have to worry about whether Hal, with his run-ins with the law, edgy, self-defeating ways and remarkable abs will or won’t end up with Madge, Flo’s lovely eighteen-year old daughter, his equal in gorgeousness and like him without a college diploma in her future (she’s a salesgirl at the dime store).
Sure we worry -- Madge, as beautiful as a girl can be (she was Miss Neewollah, Halloween spelled backward younger sister Millie explains) is courted by Alan, the local rich young man who’s in college, and has an affluent and loved future to offer her. It would be terrible if Hal’s sexual magnetism caused Madge to throw aaside her secure future, even if Alan does seem a little wimpy. Terrible. Tch tch. Only it’s what we ardently hope for throughout the play.
There’s going to be a Labor Day picnic that night and everybody’s excitement is focused on that getting away from the usual -- like the picnic on the island in Porgy and Bess where Crown pulls Bess into his sexual orbit, away from Porgy. We fear that trouble will erupt at this picnic, for which Mrs. Potts has baked the pies (the only way an old woman can get noticed is through her pies, she laments, with some satisfaction). And in fact “trouble” does erupt -- but not at the picnic. Madge and Hal never make it there. They discover their love, both passionate and profound. And in that, they start on a path to discovering their own womanly and manly selves. Picnic’s not just about sex, after all. They change, they go deeper, which is what makes this so satisfying a play.
Not that all obstacles are past them, however. Not by a long shot. Hal -- darn it, Hal! Stay out of trouble! one thinks -- has another run-in with the law and has to flee across the river (we reassure ourselves remembering he was West Coast diving champion). But in this tight corner of mothers who have exerted too much inhibiting pressure on their daughters, maturity and independence are at the heart of the play.
Beautiful Madge, as played by Maggie Grace, has a frail delicacy which makes the toughness she finds within all the more powerful: she’s seems to need protection, until she discovers the strength to risk all, through the transformative power of love. Sebastian Stan brings out Hal’s blend of pride, sexual magnetism, and sense of ill-fated outsider.
Elizabeth Marvel is humorous and all-out emotional as the school teacher Rosemary desperate for marriage with the amiable but stuck-in-his ways Howard, played by Reed Birney (they don’t make it to the picnic either). Ellen Burstyn is amusing as Mrs. Helen Potts (she keeps that remnant of a brief, passionate marriage -- Mrs. -- in defiance of her mother). Millie, played by Madeleine Martin, is the more readily independent of the Owens’ daughters, though I wish that the designers of this show hadn’t used “darker” and “shorter” to signify “less beautiful.”
The bringing into the open of all of the women’s strong sexuality, with Hal the catalyst for revelation, must have been electrifying in the conservative 1950’s when this play was first produced: it remains fresh.
Although large cultural issues of class conflicts, pressures to conform and puritanical narrow mindedness are referred to in Picnic as if they matter, they don’t seem to cast a genuine menace on the little enclave between Mrs. Potts’ and Mrs. Owens’ houses. Picnic never has you too worried. Conflicts arise from characters and, deep down, we know that the characters are going to work it out and that the play will turn out the way we hope.
Picnic tells a story of ordinary people made extraordinarily engaging through the playwright’s crafting of their characters and understanding of their hopes, fears, plans and passions. It's funny, moving, inspiring, and wrapped in a package of sensual allure.
Picnic plays at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre on 42nd Street West of Broadway through February 24th, 2013. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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What a disappointment! I went to Clive because of two actors, Ethan Hawke, who was outstanding recently in Chekhov's Ivanov at Classic Stage, and Vincent D’Onofrio whose superb acting I watch with fascination on “Law and Order CI” and was excited at the chance to see him on stage. The upshot: Hawke gives a stellar, energetic, balletic performance in a play that goes nowhere and has no reason for being, and D’Onofrio’s great gifts are beside the point in the role he plays.
Clive is a talented, successful but self-defeating singer-musician-songwriter whom women flock to and whom he treats badly, one after the other after the other. That’s pretty much the play. The four women, all sexually used and rejected in various brutal ways, are hard to tell apart except for one, Clive’s friend’s girl, who stands out because she starts off as virginal and wearing little girl white knee socks -- virginal for the friend, that is, but not for Clive, who attracts her with his irresistible sexual pull and drives her to death.
Eventually Clive, having killed another friend, the bearishly good natured Doc, played by D'Onofrio, flees to Canada where he dies dissolutely and decidedly unloved. This is not a development, because Clive is a dissolute narcissist from start to finish -- he doesn’t change. That’s the main reason why we don’t need this play. Hawke is magnetic but he needs a decent vehicle.
Still, it's amazing that he can give so physically and emotionally all out a performance twice on Saturdays!
D’Onofrio’s greatness lies in his subtlety that lets you know what's going on inside his head -- there are small changes in his face and body language that signal large outward and inward events. Even when he lets loose emotionally, he illuminates the character, now and through his history. Here, as Doc, he plays a big guy who mainly squeezes out animal growls and snarls like someone trying not so playfully to scare a child -- not much nuance there. (Why, Mr. D’Onofrio, would you ever take this part?)
The set, by Derek McLane, is stunning -- a beautiful abstraction made of the differently textured bottoms of whiskey bottles and beer cans, with an allover heavenly tone of silvery blue. Open to view when one enters, it makes one all but certain there's a wonderful evening of theater ahead. There isn't. Clive's a parcel of wasted talent.
A reader wrote in with the link for David Bowie's performance in Brecht's BAAL -- well worth a visit: https://www.google.com/search?q=david+bowie+baal+youtube&aq=0&oq=david+bowie+baal+y&aqs=chrome.1.57j0.7017&sourceid=chrome&ie=UTF-8
Clive plays at Theatre Row, The Acorn Theatre, on West 42nd Street in Manhattan through March 9. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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… singing about work …
People talked about working in Studs Terkel’s oral history book of 1974, Working: People Talk About What They Do All Day and How They Feel About What They Do -- in Working, the musical, they sing about it.
It’s a great idea -- as composer and lyricist Stephen Schwartz -- of Godspell and Wicked -- thought when he first brought Working to the stage not long after the publication of Terkel’s book. Revised and performed through the years, in its current version it’s an engaging and at times moving series of fine musical numbers (though I wish there were no rhymes, see below), beautifully performed by a cast of six who, all in all, take the parts of twenty-six characters and sing in the ensemble.
With the words taking the lead, as they should here, and with some excellent music by leading professional composers, we catch the poetry, the accuracy and the deep feelings behind what people said to Terkel: a fireman (L), a felt dyer in a luggage factory (what a hard, messy, grinding job that is) , an interstate trucker, a cleaning lady, a housewife and others -- now singing what they like and don’t like, and what meanings they find and don’t find -- in their workaday work. All except for Joe, retired, who has that to tell us about. The performers segue in and out of their sung vignettes on the lower part of the handsomely designed stage as a fine foursome of musicians play behind a scrim above.
Work has ground down some of the workers: through Marie-France Arcilla’s singing of the assembly line dyer of felt pads, I felt empathy with her, caught in a messy, exhausting trap. Some workers are weary but Maggie Holmes (R), singing the cleaning lady, let me share her hope that there will be a better life for her daughter -- to be addressed by her last name (I wondered how that daughter’s doing, 38 years later). Jay Armstrong Johnson as the mason conveys an inspiring pride: stone lasts, and leaves you “Something To Point To,” the title of the last -- uplifting -- song in the show.
On the other hand, Joe Cassidy, as the publicists who made more money than most, conveys the emptiness of not having anything to point to after years of work (maybe; it’s ambiguous). Nehal Joshi (below L) gives an hilarious edge to the ex-newsroom assistant who makes plain to the audience what he himself can’t see, that is, why he can’t keep a job: in all his parts he touches the heart with his blend of sadness and wry humor. Saving the best for last (my best but my friends had other favorites): the performance of Donna Lynne Champlin (R) as the gutsy waitress proclaiming of her job, “It’s an Art;" it's memorable -- a first rate musical theater moment. (I looked after seeing the show and sure enough, that was one of the few songs written by Stephen Schwartz himself.)
Two things troubled me about this production, the microphones, and the rhymes.
These six performers are all fine singers and actors: why oh why were they miked??? There’s no need for it -- as professionals, they know how to make themselves heard. (And the show is in a rather small theater.) The microphones the performers wear diminish the sense of immediacy that draws one to “live theater:”
I found that the rhymes in the songs, though often clever, undercut the authenticity that Working depends on. The strength of the show lies in our awareness that we’re hearing the very words spoken by real people from different walks of life -- and real people don’t (at least not very often!) talk in rhymes. Without that sense of the genuine, this already loosely jointed musical thins out toward a series of show songs.
Though it doesn’t quite jell as the unified musical the creators intend, Working is highly entertaining and satisfying, like an exceptionally varied and unusually thought provoking evening of cabaret.
Working plays in midtown Manhattan at 59E50 theaters through December 30, 2012. For information and tickets, click on live link of title. Yvonne Korshak
Winter doldrums? … Let Restoration Comedy completely restore you!
Magic unfolds in the relatively small performing space of the Flea Theater flanked by a few rows of audience seats. That central space comes alive with color, wit, music, dance, energy. In fact the energy spills from the stage throughout the theater -- at the entrance actors costumed in the flounce and style of the 17th Century greet you with drinks and mill everywhere to talk with you, get to know you in the way of director Iskander’s immersive theater -- seen last season in the Flea’s masterful production ofThese Seven Sicknesses.
This ebullient cast, drawn from The Flea’s resident company of young actors, will even tell you -- if you ask -- that "restoration comedy" refers to the plays produced in England in the late 17th Century, notably rakish in reaction to banning of theaters and anything that smacked of abundant pleasure under the Puritans. True to its tradition, Restoration Comedy is filled with alliances, dalliances, gender bending, word play inuendo, and a dose of plain old polymorphous sexuality.
Couples entwine, bottoms are bared (this might not be one for the children), the play lets loose. Snooping through a telescope on her husband making love to another woman, Amanda wonders if this current passion of his is "double jointed.” But for all its advocacy of anything goes, this is not in your face aggressive like Hair -- there’s a delicacy to it, just as there is to the extraordinarily lovely colors that fill the stage, the creative choreography, and the marvelous music that’s everywhere. It’s real subject -- joy of life .
In keeping with a play that questions whether everyone should be held to marital fidelity or if it's too much a one-fits-all straightjacket, the plot's starting point is the marriage of a pure and virtuous woman, Amanda, and John Loveless, a libertine seeker of sexual variety. Joined in holy matrimony -- but can they possibly be right for one another? The play seeks to find out via a positive maze of ins and outs and wildly funny characters and situations. To help save his friend’s marriage (and putting aside, of course, the fact that he's madly in love with her), Loveless's best friend, Worthy, sets about teaching Amanda the art of sensual variety: she turns out to be an enthused pupil!
James Fouhey as Loveless and Stephen Stout as Foppington. Photo Aaron Zebrock
So much happens in the play -- and in the intermission which is fairly wild with singing by talented cast members, dancing, and drinks and hors d’oeuvres for all -- that the play needs strong and individualized performances from the main characters to hold the narrative line. James Fouhey dominates wonderfully as Loveless -- wry, amused, exotic, bemused, leaping across the stage with his long body. Allison Buck is charming and amusing as Amanda in both her personae -- holding firm and giving in as the apt pupil of the amorous Worthy, played with a kind of sophisticated understatement by Seth Moore. Stephen Stout is a real show stopper as the outrageous alluring sensualist, Foppington. His accent, sounding the way the old typography looks, is worth seeing the play for in and of itself. Thank you, Stephen Stout, for so many deep laughs! But everyone is no less than perfect in their many parts.
In fact everybody who has had anything to do with this play does what he or she does superbly. There's an entire troupe of first rate dancers, with fresh and imaginative choreography by Will Taylor -- not the kind of group shuffling around the stage that sometimes goes by the name of “choreography.” In designing the costumes, Loren Shaw found a way to make them both amusing and beautiful: I understand they’re all hand sewn, one more gauge of the sheer quality that's sewn into every inch of this production. I’d like to mention everybody but this is one ambitious project: I count a cast of 40 (the NY Times critic was impressed recently because Golden Boy on Broadway has a cast of 20). Hah! Eat your heart out Broadway: Off- and Off-off Broadway are where it’s at!
There’s an infectious idealism at the Flea -- as if everybody is feeling “isn’t it wonderful what we’re doing!” And it is. Why anybody who wants to go to the theater would go to anything but Restoration Comedy is beyond me -- unless, of course, you don't feel like laughing.
Restoration Comedy plays at The Flea Theater on White Street in NYC's Tribeca through December 30, 2012. For information and tickets, click on live link of title.