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February 16, 2015

REVIEW The Subtle Body by Megan Campisi, directed by Michael Leibenluft, Gold No Trade production at 59E59 Theaters

This is a light comedy about an English physician, Dr. John Floyer, and his wife who are in China in the early 18th century.  There really was a Dr. John Floyer at this time who, like Floyer in this play, was interested in measuring the rate of the pulse, although the real Dr. Floyer never went to China.   What he knew about Chinese medicine came through missionary reports.

In this period Europeans and Chinese knew very little about each other and The Subtle Body rests on comic confusions arising as Dr. Floyer and the Chinese physician, Dr. Zhang, try to understand each other’s medical practices through veils of prejudice and misinterpretation.   European
practices are seen as "barbarian."  Dr. Floyer and his wife Charlotte also
habitually misunderstand each other as he, characterized as a prissy medical
research nerd, talks about measurements and practicalities which she, Subtle2 hopefully, interprets as advanced planning for sex.

L-R Stephanie Thompson, Michael Slabinger, Ya Han Chang and Johnny Wu.  Photo: Erik Carter

Soon Charlotte begins a love affair with her husband’s Chinese translator, Wang, providing additional farcical close calls.   

The comic situations are less than original, though a few moments are rescued by the physical antics and sharp timing of Michael Zlabinger who plays Dr. Foyer, Stephanie Wright Thompson as Charlotte, and Ya Han Chang in the role of Dr. Zhang.  Things become a little more interesting near the end of the play as a new character emerges:  Yang’s Chinese wife, subtly played by Ya Han Chang in a new guise, as she and Charlotte engage in an intriguing familial situation.  

It troubles me that The Subtle Body is so unfair to the real Dr. Floyer , a great 17th-18th  century physician who in the play is shown as an inept, unromantic, out of touch buffoon.  This is an off-target characterization of a man whose observations and discoveries continue to benefit us all.   We don’t expect works of art about real people from the past to be wholly and completely accurate -- we grant authors broad poetic license.  But this play has so little to do with Dr. John Floyer that you wonder why the author bothered to bring him in at all … unless it’s because dead white males are fair game -- especially dead white European males.   

In teaching the world the use of a watch to measure the pulse (two volumes, over 1000 pages), Dr. Foyer pioneered the application of accurate measurement to clinical medicine -- an achievement reduced to a mention on a translation board at the very end of the play.  He also provided the first detailed description of emphysema, and wrote the first book on geriatric medicine but don't look for anything admirable about Foyer in the play ...  he's invariably the butt of a joke.  How misleading!  

The Subtle Body  plays at 59E59 Theaters in mid-town Manhattan (yes, that's the address) through March 1, 2015.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

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February 15, 2015

REVIEW The Events by David Greig, with Neve McIntosh and Clifford Samuel, music by John Browne, directed by Ramin Gray, an Actor’s Touring Company Production at New York Theater Workshop

In the summer of 2011 in Norway, Anders Reivik massacred  77 young people at a recreational camp.  Among the who, barely escaping death themselves, witnessed teenagers pleading to the relentless killer for their lives was a female vicar and leader of a community choir.  The Events, written by Scottish playwright David Greig and set in Scotland, examines the vicar's frantic quest to find  sense or meaning in the event, and to somehow purge herself of the memory and of the guilt of having been spared.  

Since the vicar was a choir leader, a choir is an intrinsic part of the play:  we're told that a different local singing group -- how remarkable! -- performs for each performance of The Events.  Among the members of the Stop Shopping Choir that performed when I attended, each singer dressed the way he or she saw fit.  In other ways too this multi-racial group conveyed individuality while contributing to the beautiful whole.  What a wonderful contrast, I thought, to standardized choir dress -- e.g. white shirts and black skirts or pants -- that submerges personality in favor of the common artistic whole.  That was deeply moving.

Played by a powerful Neve McIntosh, the Vicar here is given the name of Claire.  A lovely name.  But how does it pertain?  Given what she has experienced, there’s no clarity for Claire, no answer, no meaning, no light at the end of the tunnel.  What are clear, inescapably so, are her piercing memories of the horror.

Neve McIntosh makes you feel Claire’s psychic anguish through her whole self, voice, expression, and agile body.  In choreographic acting, she plays her pain in front of the ever present choir, and sometimes engages directly with individuals among them.  As in early Greek tragedy, the chorus conveys communal solidarity:  it's a scrim of constancy and conventionality for the tragic actor's heightened individual anguish.

Claire takes pride in the multi-racial and multi-ethnic character of her choir, a counterpoint to the xenophobic and archaic tribalism of the killer.  The chorus tries to nurture her in her pain but ultimately what Claire has seen and from it what she knows impel her to isolating excess, and she’s alone.  

Also recalling early Greek tragedy, there’s a second actor, Clifford Samuel who plays several rolls, “the Boy” representing the killer ( 32 years old in the actual event), a lover, a psychiatrist and others, in a tour de force of shifts of character.  

The play is mainly a visionary construction of the world by a woman increasingly alienated from her communal choir and thrust toward madness by an event.  But there are scenes that are from the objective world, independent of Claire’s anguished coloration.  The shifts can be confusing in a way that siphons off emotional tension.   Still, The Events is an exciting, focused and thought-provoking dramatization of a question that hovers in the air around all of us:  when one has seen the worst that human beings can do, what meaning is there in "healing"?  What hope is there? 

The Events plays at New York Theater Workshop in Manhattan's East Villege through March 22, 2015.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

Comments are very welcome.  Scroll down, click on live link of title, write in comments box and click on "post."  Emails are private and never appear with comments.

January 25, 2015

Review | Everybody Gets Cake! | Created and Performed by Joel Jeske, Danny Gardner and Brent McBeth

directed by Mark Lonergan, music composed and performed by Ben Model, Parallel Exit, at 59E59 Theaters

...  yes, everybody does get cake ...

Everybody Gets Cake is a zany, free flow roust through the free-flow  imaginations of its three creators.  Why do you go?  For laughs -- and there are plenty of them!  

Using mime, surprise, and hilarious connects and disconnects that go back to

L-R Danny Gardner, Joel Jeske, Brent McBeth. Jim R Moore/Vaudevisuals

early vaudeville and film comics like Charlie Chaplin and the Three Stooges, they scamper through kaleidoscopic vignettes, fighting with invisible objects, following impossible instructions, entangled in the absurd and valiantly surpassing it.  Director Mark Lonergan orchestrates a brisk and exciting pace.

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January 21, 2015

Review | A Month In the Country by Ivan Turgenev

Translated by John Christopher Jones, directed by Erica Schmidt, Classic Stage Company.

This is a stunning, constantly amusing, and deeply intelligent production of Turgenev’s iconic play about realism, romanticism and love. 

Set at a country estate in Russia in the 1840's, it features a grand group of characters, young and old, male and female, aristocrat and peasant enmeshed, each in his or her own way, in love.  I’ve read that Turgenev, best known as a novelist, didn’t like this play of his but I think he must have enjoyed working out this witty and thorough set of variations on his theme.  True, the family’s little boy, Kolya, isn’t in love -- but the playwright saw to it he had a bow and arrow to play with, Cupid personified.


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Review | The Woodsman by James Ortiz

Directed by James Ortiz and Claire Karpen, music composed by Edward W. Hardy, Strangeman and Co., in association with Robb Nanus and Rachel Sussman, 59E59 Theaters

The Woodsman, using actors, puppets, mime and music, gives us backstory, based on not well-known writings of Frank Baum, on how the Tin Man in The Wizard of Oz came to be:  it's a rich multi-media hour-long spectacle, but the story ends up pointless.   

We're in eastern Munchkinland where one tiny nuclear family finds a bit of freedom from the domination of the oppressive Witch by living self-sufficiently in a remote section of the woods, making a living by cutting trees.  As the Mother and Father mature and eventually die, young Nick is left on his own, following in his father’s footsteps as a woodsman.

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December 16, 2014

Review | Dying For It by Moira Buffini

A free adaptation of The Suicide by Nikolai Erdman, directed by Neil Pepe, The Atlantic Theater Company

... the arrow of disillusion ...

Dying For It is an all-out, hilarious satire of life under the rigid Soviet regime with vivid characters and a fascinating turn of plot -- but it’s not all funny. 

Semyon Semyonovich, unemployed, lives drearily, supported by the pittance of money earned by his wife, Masha who’s also supporting her live-in mother.  No wonder Masha’s got a bitter streak, making Semyon’s miseries worse. Seeing no other way out, Semyon decides to commit suicide, and is all the more determined after a brief reprieve from despair:  raised hopes followed by utter failure to learn to play the tuba.  Like Molnar’s Liliom, but with an eye to the absurd, the play takes up the psychological import and strains on family life when a man is out of work.


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December 07, 2014

Review | Slow Dusk and Markheim | Two Operas by Carlisle Floyd

In new chamber arrangements by Inessa Zaretsky and Raymond J. Lustig, The Little Opera Theatre of NY at 59E59

What a wonderful evening of theater.  Two short American operas, narratives set to dramatic music, superbly performed.  One leaves thrilled and elated.

SlowDusk_AuntSue_Roderer_Sadie__Beckham-Turner_Jess_Boyd_12.03.14_by Buckman
L-R Jennifer Roderer, Sarah Beckham-Turner, Alexander Charles Boyd in SLOW DUSK. Photo Buckman

SLOW DUSK takes us from commonplace to ecstatic, to tragedy, from afternoon to dusk.  Aunt Sue is shelling peas on the porch of a farmhouse in the Carolinas when Jess comes in from the fields, we learn of their concern about their niece, Sadie, who’s seeing to much of Micah -- his family belong to the Truelights and they belong to the Disciples, and anyhow she’s smart and he never finished eighth grade.  They’re wild for one another and agree to marry but -- not family as in Romeo and Juliet -- accident intervenes, as fast as it can in life. 


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December 05, 2014

Review | The Invisible Hand by Ayad Akhtar

directed by Ken Rus Schmoll, New York Theatre Workshop

… working off a ransom …

This is an exciting, beautifully written play about things that matter.   It’s serious, suspenseful and, though grim, also very funny.  In a word, it has everything … well, almost everything, there’s no romance, but it does have … the invisible hand.    

Here’s the idea:  the playwright in a leap of creative imagination extends the workings of the economist Adam Smith’s “invisible hand,” an explanation of how the markets works in capitalism to mediate between individual profit motive and the common good, to forge an unlikely link between a terrified but resourceful hostage and an ideologically driven but intelligent terrorist: a shared fiscal enterprise.  Money, so often thought of as divisive, is the link.  

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November 22, 2014

Film Note | The Theory of Everything (2014)

With Eddie Redmayne and Felicity Jones, directed by James Marshal

The Theory of Everything is a “must see” but not a “rave.”

The true story of physicist Stephen Hawking is powerful and inspiring:  he has overcome gruesome physical obstacles and beat seemingly impossible odds to lead a productive and creative career as a physicist, while enjoying a rich personal life and having three children. And Eddie Redmayne’s characterization of Hawking, a man brutally robbed by illness of motor control and speech, is beyond belief great. The disease that felled Hawking as a young man in college is ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), Lou Gherig’s disease: at the time he was stricken he was told he had two years to live but he’s alive today and in his early 70’s (which made me wonder about the diagnosis although I’m sure he’s been tested and re-tested and they must know).

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November 20, 2014

Review | You Can’t Take It With You by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman

With James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne, directed by Scott Ellis, The Longacre Theatre

Living in a townhouse on the upper West side of NYC is a wacky but lovable family  guided by the idea that life is to be enjoyed and gaining money shouldn't be a focus because, after all, you can't take it with you:  everyone should freely do their own thing  -- and so they do, with very funny results.   

Grandpa Martin Vanderhof attends commencements, his daughter Penny writes plays about monasteries and sex slaves while her husband Paul and friend build fireworks in the basement, as granddaughter Essie earnestly practices ballet and so it goes, with other emphatic personalities who find themselves part of the household.

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