November 2011 -Other Desert Cities
Write about what you know, that’s what they say, but be prepared for the aftermath. Not to spoil the anguished twists of Jon Robin Baitz’s Other Desert Cities, but when the affluent Wyeths of Palm Springs come together to celebrate the holidays, the Christmas spirit is shattered by daughter Brooke’s gift, the manuscript of her unpublished book. Unfortunately, it is a family memoir. Suddenly the holiday cheer turns threatening.
Earlier this year, the well-crafted production opened
off Broadway at
Former screenwriter, accomplished
matriarch Polly Wyeth (Stockard Channing) and her husband Lyman (Stacy Keach),
a retired movie actor, are conservative Republicans, once part of the Reagan
social clique. Youngest son, Trip (Thomas Sadowski), a reality TV show
producer, has come down from
When I reviewed the off-Broadway production, the play was tight, the ensemble impressive. Two upcoming cast changes seemed problematic because the originals, Elizabeth Marvel playing fractured Brooke and Linda Lavin as Polly’s recovering alcoholic sister, Silda, were so deftly on target.
Luckily, their replacements lend
individual assets. Judith Light’s Silda is slim and frail yet quick with her
bright, brittle quips, a precise display of her character’s intelligence and
weakness. Even as she is temporarily
supported by her sister, Silda takes every opportunity to push Polly’s buttons
and the tension between the two sizzles.
Making her Broadway debut as Brooke, Rachel Griffith (from Baitz’
television series, Brothers and Sisters)
displays a polished control at first that blankets her resentment, her friction
with her mother, and a desperate need for the family’s approval of her book. It
was Brooke who was closest with her older brother, Henry, and is outraged at
her father’s Christmas toast to the family that does not mention Henry. In the
Stockard Channing remains a seamlessly confident Polly
Wyeth, wearing the character like a second skin, skillful at keeping the
unmentionables at bay. As Lyman, Keach
lets Polly take the lead until the explosive second act when he can no longer
live with the deception and he ignites the emotional firestorm. Thomas Sadowski
portrays Trip with commendably natural ease and his sibling interaction with
The opulent expanse of John Lee Beatty's
curved stone wall and beige furnishings is enhanced with Kenneth Posner’s
lighting. While David Zin’s
costumes for Polly and Lyman reflect
Jon Robin Baitz, Joe Mantello and this smart ensemble commendably keep a balance in the battle between the family’s fierce dysfunction and their love for each other. A coda at the end proves to drive this point home.
Nov. 3, 2011 – Jan. 8, 2011
October 2011 - A Man and Boy
Frank Langella delivers a masterful performance in a difficult, albeit timely play by Terrance Rattigan. While the story takes place in 1934, one cannot ignore the similarities to Bernard Madoff and the current economic crisis. Frank Langella never fails to rule the stage as Gregor Antonescu, a manipulating financier who lacks a conscience and abuses not only his business dealings but his wife and especially his son, Vassily (Adam Driver). “Love is a commodity I can’t afford,” he tells Vassily.
While the first act should be enlightening and
dramatic, it is talky and often sags.
The play takes place in Vassily’s basement flat in
Vassily leaves for work when his father’s
aide-de-camp, Sven Johnson (Michael Siberry) shows up, followed by Gregor,
darkly incognito. Gregor is facing a
financial disaster and is planning to use his son’s flat to hide from the media
and the FBI. He has one hope for
salvation, Mark Herries of American
Act II is enlivened as Vassily and Gregor must seriously face each other. Gregor shows little love for damaged Vassily, and considers him soft and weak-willed. When Gregor asks the boy to help him with a final escape, Vassily has the strength to refuse and with the press and FBI closing in, Gregor is left with only one option he can accept.
Michael Siberry and Zach Grenier are convincing hard-boiled businessmen and Francesca Faridany as Gregor’s wife, the dramatic Countess Florence, is especially spirited. Brian Hutchinson is cast as Harries’ harried accountant and Virginia Kull is young and energetic as Vassily’s supportive girlfriend. Adam Driver is gawky and troubled as the son but fails to evoke pathos.
Maria Aitken directs the twists and talkiness with a firm hand, but Rattigan’s 1963 melodrama is often dense and lacks the needed emotion for this father and son drama. It is hard to feel empathy even for Vassily, and while all the characters add to the plot, it is Frank Langella who dominates the stage with his chill smoothless and crisp resonance, playing his adversaries and his aides as he would a chess game. His Gregor Antonescu is the abhorrent user you love to watch and hate.
American Airlines Theatre
Oct. 9, 2011 – Nov. 27, 2011
October 2011-Temporal Powers
At the Mint Theater, Teresa Deevy’s Temporal Powers tackles the moral and practical issues of right and wrong through the lenses of Michael and Min Donovan’s relationship, a once passionate marriage that is now as eviscerated of its inner vitality as its material possessions.
Money is the root of this story of
When Michael accidentally comes across an envelope
full of money, Min is elated. This could
be their salvation. Michael agrees but is
uneasy about keeping the money. It does not belong to him. Perhaps was stolen. He decides to take it to Father O'Brien, the local
priest, for safe keeping. Battling to
keep alive the last spark of hope she has for their life, Min demands they use the
money to go to
As the story craftily bobs and weaves, it seems obvious that there is no solution to right and wrong in this situation. Family and neighbors arrive with their own problems. As it turns out, the money was indeed stolen by one family member, Ned (Con Horgan), a low-life married to Michael’s long-suffering sister, Maggie (Bairbre Downling). When Min discovers this, she conspires with Ned to grab the money from Michael and split it.
Director Jonathan Bank steers a difficult course,
eliciting deftly chiseled performances, giving the story strengths that carry
it past the complex dialects.
It would help to read Temporal Powers before seeing it. Even with Deevy’s thoughtful book, the vibrant performances, spirited characters, and dialogue coach, Amy Stoller’s program insights, the colorful Gaelic idioms and dialects demand concentration for three acts. The whiskey-tasting during two intermissions may help or at least inspire debate about a play written in 1932 and quite relevant today.
Aug. 29-Oct. 2, 2011
July 2011 - Master Class
Callas was the grande diva with the requisite ego but
in Master Class, her peak years are
behind her. In a classroom at the
The three opera hopefuls are played by Alexandra Silber, Garrett Sorenson, and Sierra Boggess who are all talented but immature singers who pale in presence to Callas. Silber is awkward and nervous as Sophie DePalma, prepared to sing from La Sonnambula. Sierra Boggess as Sharon Graham enters with overblown confidence, expecting praise from Callas for her Lady MacBeth aria. At the end, she rejects Callas for what she has become, a self-indulgent diva who lost her voice. Sorenson, as tenor Antonio Candolino, gets the highest praise from Callas for his aria from Tosca. His gender is an obvious influence, since Callas harbors resentments about her female colleagues like Joan Sutherland and Renata Scotto.
Daly illustrates the “presence” of Callas. She rules
the stage. Your eyes don’t leave her, the chin held high, a confident power
strutting across the stage, the self-awareness, lightening flashes of attitude,
and a sarcastic strain of humor. She is tactless with her pianist, Manny
(Jeremy Cohen) who idolizes her and is dismissive with an unimpressed stagehand,
As fast as Callas turns to her students, she loses interest in their performances, letting their music lead her into memories of her own past performances. She weaves in her personal experiences with Giovanni Battista Meneghini, the husband she treated badly and Onassis, the crass lover who finally left her for someone younger and even more prestigious than the fading La Divina. Daly speaks Italian in two gripping soliloquies and while her accent is not sharp, her interpretation is impressive.
McNally’s play, while not an authoritative biography,
is riveting with
This production of Master Class was first produced by the
Manhattan Theatre Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
July 7, 2011 – May. 24, 2011
June 2011 - Side Effects
Lucille Lortel Theaer
June 19 – July 2, 2011
War Horse - April 2011
It was called “The Great War” and “The War
to End all Wars,” but World War I is now relatively ignored in the legacy of
wars that followed. In War Horse at
There are no famous names leading the War Horse cast. In fact, you will probably not remember the names of most company members, but there is one you will definitely remember -- Joey. Joey is a puppet although there are moments when you almost forget he is not a real horse. Even with evident puppeteers doing their manipulating, Joey elicits sympathy, laughs, tears. From the moment Joey as a foal struggles to approach the front of the stage, the audience is seduced.
Seth Numrich is memorable as Albert
Narracott, a 16-year-old boy living on a struggling farm. Albert’s mother, Rose, is a hard-worker, is
portrayed with a tough skin but tender heart by Alyssa Bresnahan. Ted, his alcoholic, mean-tempered father
portrayed by Boris McGiver, was always competitive with his own brother (T. Ryder Smith) who was wounded in the Boar War while Ted
stayed home, viewed as a ne’er-do-well. After a segment of drunken overbidding with
his brother, Ted finds he has acquired a horse that is a hunter, useless for
farm work Albert, however, forms a bond
with the horse, names him Joey and the two become inseparable, understanding
each other’s signals and moods. When war
breaks out, Albert’s father sells the horse to the cavalry, leaving his son
inconsolable. Albert runs away, lies about his age and joins the infantry,
determined to find Joey, who has already been sent to
The harsh savagery of war is potent in
this production with dramatic contrast between the boy and his horse riding
across the bucolic countryside of
The sets by Rae Smith, who also designed costumes and drawings, are spare but dramatically lighted by Paule Constable and the explosive sound design by Christopher Shutt. What looks like a banner of torn paper is slashed across the sky, with Smith’s drawings, dates, and projections. Two balladeers, Kate Pfaffl and Liam Robinson, further add to the era’s ambiance. The stars of this production, however, are Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones of the Handspring Puppet Company who lead other puppeteers to bring alive the horses with amazing movement and expressiveness. Other touches of puppetry include flying birds, ravenous crows and the whimsy of an audaciously self-confident goose.
While War Horse tells a dramatic, action-packed tale, there are no high-tech helicopters, tanks, or high-wire swings across the theater. The trauma of war is trenchantly evoked by expert lighting and sound and carefully-crafted puppetry movements. War Horse is a tribute to creativity and imagination and how it can produce an emotionally memorable and riveting theater experience.
April 17, 2011
Vivian Beaumont - Lincoln Center Theater
April 14, 2011 – open ended
Ghetto Klown - March 2011
You can take this to the bank -- John Leguizamo is truly a multi-faceted performer. In his new one-man show, Ghetto Klown, he is a fireball igniting the stage with kinetically nonstop physical movement, dancing, singing, impressions, hilarious anecdotes. Through it all, he builds to a truth that brings warmth and heartache to a story that is crazed with obscenities, frustration and rage. At the same time, it is comic and tender and much of it is in rapid fire Spanish. Surprisingly, you get the gist of it. Like everyone’s life, Leguizamo’s is a work in progress, and in this solo tour de force, he throws it all at the audience like a big stage therapy session. Chronologically, it may be off-kilter, but the essence is here, searching for truth and meaning.
Most of Leguizamo’s previous one-man shows, Mambo Mouth, Spic-O-Rama, Freak, Sexaholix... A Love Story, were award winners. However, they turned out to be prequels to Ghetto Klown, his most impressive. This continues his tale of growing up Latino, struggling towards a career, coping with crazy love affairs, and coping with relentless frustration by the relationships with his family. He was used by his bizarre mother, castigated by his hot-tempered and demanding father, and he had an aging grandfather with whom he tried to communicate.
Always a show-off, he traces his subway ride from
Much of the play involves Ray-Ray, his best friend from childhood, one of the characters he impersonates. Others include the darkly comical portrayals of film colleagues, Steven Seagal, Al Pacino and Kurt Russell. The more introspective Act II involves his second marriage and children. He manages forgiveness and understanding as far as he can. His rigid, uncompromising father will never change.
Fisher Steven’s bent for directing is proven in this flowing production, although the play could use a bit of editing. The set is simple but creative, featuring a projection board for photos, film clips and videos, one repeatedly showing Leguizamo deep in depression. On one side is a desk and chairs and a phone he uses to speak to his agent.
John Leguizamo is at home on the stage, undergoing his spontaneous, free and funny therapy sessions of his life. This is his milieu and as he says, “This is masterful… I’m dissing, I’m cursing, I’m fighting myself, it’s raunchy, it’s nasty and most of all, it is freaky.”
March 24, 2011
149 West 45 St.
March 22, 2011 – July 10, 2011
Also appearing in TotalTheater.com
Good People - March 2011
There isn’t much luck of the Irish for the Boston Southies in David Lindsay-Abaire’s excellent new play, Good People. Portrayed by a six-person ensemble led by Frances McDormand, the desperation of the working class is tough stuff leavened with gritty humor. Blame it on the economy, blame it on bad breaks, blame it on their own lack of ambition or talent, but life is a struggle. Their hope seems to ride on some stroke of luck, either landing a menial job or scoring at the bingo table.
What happens to working class people when there is no work? Lindsay-Abaire has a contemporary theme but the heart of the play is universal with characters who are strong, funny, and multilayered. Frances McDormand portrays Margie, a sarcastic, tough-talking survivor with bad breaks. When she loses her job as a cashier in the Dollar Store, she is left with horrendous debts and a severely disabled adult daughter. The babysitter is undependable, a crusty landlady, Dottie (Estelle Parsons), who waits for the moment when Margie can’t pay the rent so her son can get the apartment. With no job prospects on the horizon, that opportunity is looming.
Margie’s girlfriend, Jean, played with snappy smarts by Becky Ann Baker, urges her to reconnect with a boyfriend, Mike (Tate Donovan), who escaped from the neighborhood with a scholarship and medical school. He is back 30 years later, and Margie awkwardly shows up at his office. Circling him in a well-crafted scene of defensiveness and biting tension, she takes in the diplomas, the photos, reminding him about old times, before finally, and unsuccessfully, asking him for a job. Her curiosity about Mike’s younger, African-American wife and his home in an upscale suburb, prompts Margie to finagle an invitation to his upcoming birthday party. He later cancels the party but she shows up anyway, and it is on this night in Act II where emotions explode, old secrets are revealed and fierce passions are released.
Director David Sullivan paces the play with sensitivity and insight. Each character is on target. Estelle Parsons provides laughs as the self-serving landlady whose “art” career is making rabbits out of Styrofoam and flower pots. Jean scores as Margie’s supportive pal. Tate Donovan is excellent, assuming the upscale smoothness of his position yet inside, he is still the hard-bitten, street-smart Mikey from Southie. He had learned to describe himself to his wife as a kid from the projects but neglected to reveal the violence, racism and selfishness underscoring that image. Renée Elise Goldsberry plays Kate, his wife, a sensitive lawyer with a natural poise, rising to passion only in her fierce opinions about motherhood versus personal pride. This leads to a face-off with Margie escalating to passionate revelations about Mike. Patrick Carroll has a convincing Broadway debut as Stevie, who fires Margie and later surprises her in a move of generosity. Throughout the play, you do not take your eyes off Frances McDormand, her expressive face shadowed with desperation, and envy, her tongue quick with sarcasm and defensiveness.
John Lee Beatty’s set adds to the meticulous design of this production with turntables that unveil well-designed scenes, including a back alley with a dumpster and a living room in an upscale suburb.
David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People is a thought-provoking study of the American dream, weighing luck versus initiative, pride versus responsibility, and the truth and baggage weaving through the lives of ordinary “good people.”
March 5, 2011
Manhattan Theatre Club
Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
March 3, 2011 – May. 24, 2011
The Whipping Man - February 2011
At New York City Center Stage 1, André Braugher leads the stellar three-person cast in Matthew Lopez’ The Whipping Man, a provocative drama set in the waning days of the Civil War. Braugher stars as Simon, a freed slave, who is living with another freed slave, John (Andre Holland), in the wreckage of the DeLeon family home where they once served.
Hughes deftly set up the three compelling characters with distinctive
differences that eventually unfold with a gripping climax. Taking place on a rainy
The twist here is that the three men are
all Jews, Simon and John having taken the religion of the DeLeon family. Ironically, since this is the season of
and John want to hold a seder, celebrating their emancipation just as the Jews
were freed from slavery in
The responsibilities of each individual shift just as the new era presents uncertain challenges. While action is limited to the ruins of the once grand house, the intensity is boosted as each man unveils layers of his character and as their secrets are revealed. Middle-aged Simon is loyal and grounded and is quick to care for Caleb but also comments, that, "All these things you're telling me to do, by rights now you need to be asking me to do." Braugher keeps Simon’s dignity and sense of values until a final revelation leads to an emotional paroxysm.
Atmospheric staging is impressive with John Lee Beatty’s convincing remains of a once-grand home, Jill B.C. DuBoff’s driving sounds of rain and thunder, and Ben Stanton’s foreboding lighting.
Matthew Lopez’ play is neatly-crafted and the characters, portrayed with muscular skill by the riveting André Braugher, Andre Holland, and Jay Wilkison, evoke an emotional portrait of a shattering time.
February 13, 2011
Manhattan Theatre Club
Jan. 13, 2011 – Mar. 27, 2011 (extended twice)
Other Desert Cities - January 2011
surprisingly, Jon Robin Baitz, writer of Other Desert Cities at
The time is Christmas Eve
2004 and the place is
The family reads it and is not happy. With focused direction by Joe Mantella, the shift from light, amusing family reunion to destruction is gradual with the actors smoothly switching gears. Writing about what you know can be risky and the Wyeths discover that Brooke has not written a novel but a memoir centered around a heartbreaking time in their family’s life concerning the loss of the eldest child, Henry. The family is fractured, tries to gain footing and again is rent apart before reaching a damaged reprieve. A coda is added at the end, a shaky finale to a shattering event.
Stocking Channing’s Polly is a political Mama Rose, an iron fist in a chic tunic. She once enjoyed a privileged seat in the higher Republican hierarchy and can be a rock of support -- with conditions -- when one of her brood is in trouble. Right now, her sister and former writing partner, Silda, is recuperating in her home from her latest alcohol binge. With whizzing verbal bullets, Channing and Lanin know which sibling buttons to push for efficient collateral damage.
Nevertheless, it is Brooke and Polly who come head to head about the publication of the book and everyone who may be involved. Elizabeth Marvel gets four stars, illuminating Brooke’s character with palpable conviction, a survivor just hanging on. As brother, Trip, Sadowski, like the others, has spot-on timing and is less liberal and more accommodating than Brooke, thus handling the family dynamic more easily. Stacy Keach ably controls a range of emotions, including a tender closeness to Brooke.
John Lee Beatty’s set design in chill desert tones shows gray stone walls and room furnishings in ecru and taupe. A lighted Christmas tree is meticulously decorated in white, with gold-wrapped presents underneath. David Zin dresses Channing and Keach in stylish Saks resort wear and Lavin in a colorful caftan. Brooke and Trip’s drab casual garb sharply makes its statement against Channing’s distinctive accessories and styled hair.
A smooth production tackling universal questions with all elements in place, Other Desert Cities deserves a move on up to Broadway.
January 23, 2011
Lincoln Center Theater’s Mitzi Newhouse
Jan. 13, 2011 – Feb. 27, 2011
The Importance of Being Earnest - January 2011
The plot is twisted and preposterous, the characters silly and shallow, but The Importance of Being Earnest is one of Oscar Wilde’s most loved plays. A skewering satire, it boasts some of the wittiest dialogue in theater piercing the hypocrisies of the Victorian society in which Wilde lived. To crown this Roundabout Theatre Company production, director Brian Bedford assumes the role of dauntless Lady Bracknell, a female “gorgon” in brocade ruled by opinions like, "I do not approve of anything that tampers with natural ignorance. Ignorance is like a delicate exotic fruit; touch it and the bloom is gone.”
The three-act play with two intermissions is now revived at the
American Airlines Theatre. The story
involves two Ernests, neither of whom is actually named Ernest. Algernon Moncrieff, (Santino Fontana) feels that his life in the country is
stifling so he created an alter-ego, Ernest, who lives in
Jack is in love with Gwendolyn (Sara Topham), who is Lady Bracknell’s daughter and Algernon’s cousin. Since she tells him she can only love a man named Ernest, a name she feels inspires confidence, Jack tells her his name is Ernest and they get engaged. (Yes, it is ridiculous.) Lady Bracknell forbids the marriage, after learning that Jack/Ernest is an orphan: “To lose one parent, Mr. Worthing, may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose both looks like carelessness.”
Adding to the dizziness, Algernon discovers that Jack has his own secret country life. He is the guardian of a young lady, Cecily (Charlotte Parry) who lives on Jack’s estate in the country with her governess/companion, Miss Prism (Dana Ivey), who has eyes for the local reverend Chasuble (Paxton Whitehead). Algernon decides to secretly visit Jack’s estate and surprise the mysterious Cecily, saying he is Jack’s fictional reprobate brother, Ernest. It is love at first sight for Algernon and Cecile. When Jack, Gwendolyn and Lady Bracknell arrive at the estate, identities and lineages collide. Eventually -- and with complicated manipulations -- the problem of the two false Ernests is eventually cleared up. "I've now realized for the first time in my life the vital Importance of being Earnest," exclaims one of the new Ernests.
Wilde’s characters provide a ping-pong of smart, hilarious dialogue.
Sets and costumes by Desmond Heeley and Paul Huntley’s wig and hair design all add spring-like flavoring to the sparkling ambience of this production. He dresses Lady Bracknell in formidable elaborate fabrics with exaggerated hats.
After 116 years, The Importance of Being Earnest remains a treat for audiences. Unfortunately for Wilde, shortly after the play’s first performance, he became involved in a libel trial that led to imprisonment for two years at hard labor for being a homosexual, an assault by the society he skewered so deftly in this play.
January 20, 2011
American Airlines Theater
January 13, 2011 – March 6, 2011
Dracula - January 2011
If not for Dana Kenn’s
versatile and mobile sets, Chris DelVecchio’s dramatic sound design, and
special effects by Greg Meeh, the current off-Broadway version of Dracula
would be fatally anemic. As it is, Bram Stoker’s Gothic thriller, adapted by
Hamilton Deane and John L. Balderston, while offering some technical panache
and occasional laughs, is a dusty, old-fashioned melodrama with few drops of
lifeblood still oozing out.
Thirty-plus years after Frank Langella’s dashing Broadway, and subsequent film, interpretation of the bloodthirsty count of Transylvania, director Paul Alexander fills the Little Shubert Theater stage with smoke, thunder and lightening, strobes, shadowy bats, creepy sounds, and thespian theatricality. Unfortunately, even when displayed with all its grisly expressionism, the tale itself is a sketchy pastiche with zero chemistry between the bloodthirsty count and his latest victim, Lucy.
It’s a familiar story. Accompanying an
outbreak of mysterious murders, a strange malady of weakness is striking young
women. When Lucy (Emily Bridges), becomes a victim of the illness, her father,
Dr. Seward (Timothy Jerome) who runs a sanitarium, and her fiancé, Jonathan
Harker (Jake Silbermann), become worried. They join Professor Abraham van
Helsing (George Hearn), a vampire hunter, to search for answers to the
suspicious events, and surprise, surprise, all eyes turn to the mysterious
Count Dracula who lives in a nearby castle and prowls through the night.
George Hearn and Timothy Jerome play the
elder authority figures with confidence, and Silbermann (coming from the
daytime serial world) is satisfactory as Lucy’s fiancé. Emily Bridges, however,
while pale, is not a convincing ailing Lucy, showing only flickers of interest
in Dracula. John Buffalo Mailer has the part that must be the most fun to play,
Renfield, the Batboy inmate with a
As his Cockney caretaker,
Rob O'Hare, is winning with one of the few accents in the play that holds firm
throughout. Katharine Luckinbill plays the earnest though unreliable
maid with pert piquancy.
Michel Altieri as Dracula, unfortunately, despite flamboyant cape-flinging, hissing and leering glances, evokes neither a menacing vampire nor a lone creature searching for true love. In his American debut, this Italian actor and singer strains for drama and captures caricature, and caricature is what finally stamps directorAlexander’s rendition of this old folklore.
While vampires are currently well nourished in the book and film world, they have been anemic on the
January 2, 2011
Little Shubert Theater
January 5, 2011 –January 9, 2011
Driving Miss Daisy - December, 2010
When Miss Daisy peers intently at Hoke and says,
“You’re my best friend,” women grope for tissues and men blink their eyes. That simple statement speaks for the scope of
Alfred Uhry’s 90-minute play that won the Pulitzer Prize in 1988. Like the rest of this low-keyed, touching
story, it is a moment that grows organically out of the play, believable and
Originally presented off-Broadway and later as a successful film, when the play recently came to Broadway’s Golden Theater, two guaranteed audience magnets, Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones, were brought in to play the leads. Redgrave portrays Miss Daisy, a single-minded, 72-year-old Atlanta Jewish widow, and Jones plays her somewhat younger African-American chauffeur, Hoke, both interpreting their well-crafted characters with empathy and comprehension. Miss Daisy is a financially comfortable, secure lady who knows what she wants, is always sure she is right and knows her place in society. She also knows Hoke’s place. Hoke, experienced dealing with Southern white women like Miss Daisy, waits it out patiently but persistently.
Skillfully directed by David Esbjornson, the story starts in 1972 and flashes back through the ‘fifties and ‘sixties, the decades of social upheavals in the south. Against Miss Daisy wishes, her son, Boolie (Boyd Davis ) hires Hoke to be his mother’s chauffeur, since she has had several car accidents. As expected, Miss Daisy obstinately refuses to be driven around, objects to even having Hoke work for her. Hoke learns to play the waiting game and eventually she comes around. Without lapsing into the maudlin, a wary trust develops between the two.
Jones, despite being quite a bit older than his character, injects dignity into his required deference, knowing when to stand firm but always suitably respectful as the society of the day dictated. Redgrave stands ramrod straight as Miss Daisy, never letting her guard down, always respectable until the end when she admits not only her dependence upon Hoke but her love and respect for him. The feeling each has for the other is obvious and is the focus of the character-driven story.
Boolie is a caring son, watching out for his mother but living his own life despite Miss Daisy’s disapproval of his wife. Gaines, winner of four Tony Awards, understands and appreciates Boolie, deftly balancing long-suffering with loyalty. When he stands up to his mother, he is firm, as when he refuses to go to the Martin Luther King benefit dinner because of business repercussions.
With John Lee Beatty’s stage design more suitable for an off-Broadway production, the set is remarkably bare. Costumes by Jane Greenwood are restricted to a chauffeur’s uniform for Jones and a deep pink dress for Miss Daisy, except for the benefit dinner when she is helped into a long velvet cloak, obviously a garment worn in her more social days.
The performances of indomitable Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones and versatile Boyd Gaines reinforce the universal audience appeal of Driving Miss Daisy.
December 15, 2010
October 7, 2010 - Extended to April 9, 2011
A Life in the Theater - October, 2010
Yes, A Life in the Theater was written by David Mamet, but folks, this is not the David Mamet you know, that rapid-paced, caustic, socio-political wordsmith of controversial plays like Oleanna, Speed-The-Plow and Race. Over three decades ago, when Mamet wrote A Life in the Theater, he was a kinder, gentler Mamet, a struggling actor himself. This work reveals nostalgia toward that time in his life and empathy toward the passage of time and the grueling life upon the wicked stage.
This two-hander stars Patrick Stewart as Robert, a veteran ham and T.R. Knight (Grey’s Anatomy) as John, young and eager to learn from the older man until he gains his own footing and eventually loses his unassuming innocence. Robert and John are actors, not stars, who labor at their craft in a repertory company. Mamet sketched their characters and slightly plumped them out during 90 minutes of quick scenes, some even as short as one sentence. Directed by Neil Pepe, it is obviously a quick-flowing work, focused on life in the theater with nothing about these characters’ private lives.
The interaction between Stewart and Knight is convincing, their portrayals believable and the characters’ need for each other is obvious. Robert preens in his role of mentor, often delivering lofty lectures about the theater and/or life, with resounding statements like, “I'm saying as in a grocery store that you cannot separate the time one spends . . . that is, it's all part of one's life." At first John is glad for Robert’s attention and even occasional praise from the older actor.
The productions of the repertory company are vaudeville lampoons of period dramas. In one, the two actors portray sailors lost-at-sea with outdated corny dialogue. Says Robert’s character, a grizzled old salt, “You shouldn't let it get you down, 'cause that's what life on the sea is about."
Stewart’s is the heftier role, and his comic touches effectively jar against his self-serving professionalism as he discusses his fondness for cold cream to remove makeup, and as he prances around in his outrageous wigs, and suffers stage mishaps like a broken pants zipper. Knight has hilarious moments as well and his comic flair serves him well. He is wonderfully flustered when he misses his cue in a French Revolution production and also during a surgery mishap in a dreadful hospital spoof. The humor and wistfulness of the show is carefully balanced as Robert and John’s relationship eventually shifts, Robert revealing his loneliness, acknowledgement of getting old, and jealousy of John’s youth and possibly his future success. While John still respects him, he grows impatient with the aging, self-obsessed veteran he once admired.
The creative elements are top-of-the-line here. With shadowy indoor lighting by Kenneth Posner, set designer Santo Loquasto placed the curtain as the backdrop so when Robert and John are performing, their backs are to the audience. The rest of the stage is roomy enough for speedy set stages for makeup tables, staircases, and numerous other quick settings for the many short scenes. Costumes by Laura Bauer and Charles LaPointe’s wigs all look like they’ve seen years of hard wear in an erstwhile theater company.
Like life itself, you’ll find some hearty laughs and some heartache in A Life in the Theater, although its snappy, lightweight scenes make this play enjoyable but not great theater. Perhaps most interesting is the glimpse it offers of one of today’s hottest playwrights as he was back in the day. A line from Showboat’s “Life Upon the Wicked Stage,” obviously applies to David Mamet as well as his two persevering characters --
“There is no doubt
You're crazy about
Your awful stage!”
October 23, 2010
A Life in the Theater
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
Oct. 13, 2010 to Jan. 2, 1011
The Pitmen Painters - October 2010
With touches of Art, Red and
Billy Elliott, the current import from
With efficient diversity and personality, director Max Roberts quickly sets up the five miners, later known as The Ashington Group. Sleekly, he directs a gritty story. It begins in a barren YMCA hall, where union leader, George Brown (Deka Walmsley), hires a visiting instructor, Robert Lyon (Ian Kelly), to teach the pitmen how to appreciate art. Five men sign up for various reasons, even as basic as just getting out of the house. Besides Brown, they include Oliver Kilbourn (Christopher Connel), the most talented of the group; a dental technician, Harry Wilson (Michael Hodgson); an amusing, Jimmy Floyd (David Whitaker); and a Young Lad (Brian Lonsdale) who is out of work.
The instructor, bringing Renaissance slides with him, arrives with the idea of reviewing the history of art with his new students, but he is met with zero enthusiasm from the group who had no education past the age of 10. To engage their interest, he tells them to create their own artworks, and slowly, they give it a try. They find that painting, sketching or etching are surprisingly effective ways to interpret their live and society. The results are eventually an outpouring of truth, wit, or horror in styles that range from primitive to expressionistic. Their journey toward sophistication is not easy. One humorous sequence has the instructor bring in a young lady (Lisa McGrillis) for a live modeling session. When the provincial miners realize she is going to take her clothes off, they are unnerved. While titillated, her nudity challenges their values.
Their confidence grows when the group is
particularly drawn towards Oliver. The importance of art and society becomes evident as they talk about their progress to the audience, a compelling ending to Act I.
Act I is tight and intriguing, but Act II loses much of the production’s tight intimacy. The talented Oliver is faced with accepting the largesse of the patron or staying with the group. The instructor takes a turn of his own. Finally the politics of the day changes the social structure and economy of the northern district and life is changed for everyone.
Nevertheless, the actors are outstanding, all delivering
individual characteristics with humor, pathos and earthiness. The
The Pitmen Painters was inspired by William Feaver's book, Pitmen Painters: The Ashington Group 1934-1984, and the production, if not perfect, is engaging and a hopeful sign of success for this Broadway season.
October 3, 2010
The Pitmen Painters
Manhattan Theatre Club's Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
September 30 to December 12, 2010
Brief Encounter - September 2010
Brief Encounter, based on Noel Coward’s short play, Still Life and David Lean’s memorable 1945 film, leaves its black-and-white imprint and becomes a Crayola homage of music, laughter and flying sequences, in its current production at Studio 54. Adapted and directed by Emma Rice, it is fabulously theatrical and surrounded by as much show-biz pizzazz as you can get. She brings in film projections, songs, dances, puppets and a lively cast led by Tristan Sturrock (Alec) and Hannah Yelland (Laura). Yet, Rice shows a serious intent and respect for the work. At the core, there is a central link back to that romantic intimacy that World War II era films did so well, with Rachmaninoff’s sweeping score, star-struck lovers and trains passing in the night. Gimmicks, yes, distractions, yes, but there’s that irresistible unfulfilled romance, and it all fits like a storybook puzzle.
Brief Encounter, one of the September shows opening the 2010-2011
Broadway season, is pure entertainment and it’s a
treat. The time is 1938,
it opens in a train station tea room with a cinder in the eye. Laura, a conventional married suburban
mother, is waiting for her train to
What sets this production apart from Coward’s play and the later film is Emma Rice’s enhancement of the romance with surrounding stories and somewhat outlandish, robust characters. Annette McLaughlin (Myrtle) and Dorothy Atkinson (Beryl) work in the train tea room and enjoy their own dalliances. Unlike the middle-class staidness, sassy Myrtle, with her blonde upsweep hairdo, joins swaggering stationmaster, Albert (Joseph Alessi) in carefree hungry lust, dancing and catching moments to duck behind the counter. Alessi plays both Albert and Laura’s surprisingly understanding husband, Fred. Myrtle’s assistant, young, tiny Beryl is in the throngs of discovering the introduction to first love with lean, lanky cigarette vendor, Stanley (Gabriel Ebert). Beryl’s rendition of “Mad About the Boy” is comically sensuous. Other Noel Coward songs are performed by the cast/onstage combo. Notable is, "Go Slow, Johnny," tenderly rendered as Laura and Alec are drowning in the temptation of their passion.
The audience is lightly brought into the play before
the show, when cast members wander up the aisles entertaining the
audience. The actors playing Alec and
Laura are seated in the front row and walk up to the stage only for their
scenes. Sound designer, Simon Baker,
provides sweeps of wind, bending Laura and Alec backwards in moments of
passion. Neil Murray’s fantasy set design allows Alec and Laura to “enter” the
train in the film sequences with projections are by Gemma Carrington and Jon
Driscoll. As their faces are zoomed
larger, Laura’s grief at the end is especially compelling.
Admittedly, the romance so loved by fans of the film is vastly diluted here, yet this production has a charm of its own with its fresh interpretation of a short, unfulfilled intensity of two lives stunted by circumstances. While the recurring theme of Laura and Alec’s passion is out of the proportion to the rowdy theatrics surrounding it, it has a tangible and lingering poignancy.
September 30, 2010
September 28 to December 5, 2010
2009 – 2010 SEASON
Tin Pan Alley Rag - July 2009
Imagine, pop music meets ragtime. Or more specifically, Irving Berlin, self-proclaimed "King of Ragtime," meets Scott Joplin, unarguably, "The King of Ragtime." This enticing "meeting" could illuminate a building block of the American popular songbook. Mark Saltzman's (Altar Boys) fictional endeavor, however, barely tickles the imagination, much less entertains and illuminates.
Tin Pan Alley Rag is a fluffy amalgamation of drama and musical produced by the Roundabout Theatre Company at the Laura Pels Theater. Michael Therriault portrays the brash, confident Irving Berlin and Michael Boatman is a dignified and dedicated Scott Joplin. The characters are superficial, revealing little about themselves, but there is a high spot here, and that is the music itself and the its conflict with making money. This should drive the play, which only comes off with ho-hum familiarity. By the end, we must be satisfied with the realization that that while both men created memorable music, and both shared similar influences, they were ruled by different creative energies.
The meeting occurs around 1915.
play stuffs so much into such a short time that it does not run with any
fluidity, nor is director Stafford Arima able to ignite fire from these capable
actors with sketchy roles. Therriault played Motel in the revival of "Fiddler
on the Roof" and Boatman was seen in "Master Harold...and the
Boys." Here they seem uninspired by
their characters. Even when they finally
reach some understanding of each other, the incident lacks the heart to make it
truly compelling. Poignant? Sure.
Like the leads, the secondary characters, Michael McCormick, Idara Victor, Rosena M. Hill, Derrick Cobey, and James Judy, suitably portray their varied roles.
Beowulf Boritt's sets revolve to reveal
differing locations, one in
Incidentally, Michael Patrick Walker and Brian Cimmet play the tunes on offstage pianos.
Despite the flaws, there is the music to
July 15, 2009
The Tin Pan Alley Rag
Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and
July 14 to September 6, 2009
2008 – 2009 SEASON
A Body of Water – January 2009
What you don't know won't hurt you, they say. It can, however, can be disorienting. Just how disorienting is what Lee Blessing's play, A Body of Water, explores at the Primary Stages.
What if you wake up one morning and meet a stranger in the living room, only he says it's his living room? Not only do you not recognize the room or each other, but neither of you recognizes the house. "What a predicament?" as Jimmy Durante would say.
Where we would be without the framework of memory? How important is personal memory in our lives? When we suddenly have no recollection of our history, or who we are or where we are or where we came from, no memories of happiness and despair, trauma or exhilaration, what are we? Most admit it would be a disconcerting, frustrating experience.
How suddenly this amnesic situation came on with these people, we don't know. Two characters, played by Christine Lahti and Michael Cristofer, are poised and articulate, a middle-aged, well-off couple, not suffering from Alzheimer's, as far as we can tell. At first, they do not seem particularly frantic, just curious. They chitchat about not remembering anything but they do not explore the house, scout out the books and records that might give a clue. They do flash their robes open, hoping for a familiar mole or birthmark, but nothing. They indulge in some word play, flirtation, scratching around for the truth. They do not yet realize the terror they eventually acknowledge.
young woman arrives with coffee and donuts just as she does every morning, she
is a stranger to them. She tells them
her name is Wren and they are named Avis (
Cristopher is a versatile and energetic actor, playing Moss with sympathy and a discomfiture he reluctantly faces. The two look as if they could be married.
Laura Odeh has the unenviable role of Wren, a character frighteningly unlikeable. Whatever else she is, Wren is cruel. When she tells Avis and Moss of the murder, she justifies the story as trying to shock them into reality, and pushes it further when she forces them to look at the morgue photos of the murdered child.
The play efficiently runs for 90 minutes without an intermission. Director Maria Mileaf is adept at focusing on the point of Blessing's play and keeps the actors' characterizations spare. The ending still dissatisfied. Is only one person alive with the other living only in memory? And what about Wren? Are Avis and Moss totally in her care and control?
The interesting question of the importance of personal history gets conversation going until you leave the theatre and walk to the end of the block. It fails, however, to unleash emotionally the terror that this might actually happen to you. Even if there are no answers offered, the question intrigues.
October 10, 2008
Irena's Vow - October 2008
With intensity and conviction, Tovah Feldshuh brings the stirring
story of Irena Gut Opdyke to the Baruch Performing Arts Center. Written by Dan Gordon, Irena's Vow revives
the belief that good is powerful and heroes can be discovered at the most
horrendous moments. In the face of
fear and despair during World War II, Irena did the right thing. She knew she could be killed. She knew what she planned would be
difficult. Tovah Feldshuh elicits the
strength and fragility of this young Catholic woman who saved Jewish workers in
When Feldshuh walks
onstage, she portrays Irena as 70-something woman now living in the
While she was studying
nursing, Irena was captured by the invading Russian soldiers and raped. She was then sent into German occupied
labor. A pretty blonde who spoke German, Irena found that by stretching the truth about her domestic skills, she could get a job as a housekeeper for German Major Rugemer, overseeing a dozen Jewish laundry and kitchen workers. Irena's life took another turn when she was shopping at the food market and saw the S.S. round up and kill local Jews. Most haunting was the vision of one soldier grabbing an infant from his mother and slamming him to the ground. She could not stand by and watch any longer.
Irena found hiding places for the Jews in Major Rugemer's kitchen, then in the basement and finally through a tunnel to a gazebo, knowing they would all be killed if found. She hid them for two years, her conviction strong and encouraging.
Thomas Ryan treads a risky path playing the German Major Rugemer who showed his vulnerability in his feelings for Irena. When he found she had been hiding the Jews, he promised to keep the secret if she became his mistress. A chilling moment was the pleasure taken by Rugemer's superior, Strumbannfuher Rokita (John Stanisci) as he explained how the growing restrictions on the Jews -- forbidding them into the parks, wearing yellow stars --- trained them to be placid instead of inciting them to fight for their lives.
Important to remember is that this is an historic documentary. It may seem like either over-the-top or down-to-the depths, depending on your viewpoint. When one of the Jewish women got pregnant, it would have been overly dramatic if it were not true. Against her religion, Irena was persuaded to get supplies for an abortion but the woman decided to have the child and the other Jews supported her. The outcome of this situation forms a poignant arc at the end of the play.
The story moves vividly under Michael Parva's tight direction, helping the supporting cast elicit singular personalities. Parva keeps the universal focus of the story through Irena's eyes and the historical accuracy is bolstered by Alex Koch's projections. Kevin Judge's somber set has several sections separated by steps. Astrid Bucker's costumes and Leah J. Lukas' wig designs are appropriate for the WWII era and the circumstances of the characters.
The word "heroic" is often used loosely, but at the core, a hero recognizes the clutch of fear and instead of turning, he confronts it, not because it is his job, but because it is right. Tovah Feldshuh's portrayal of Irena Gut Opdyke again proves that good can triumph over evil. This story has a positive ending, but the fact that holocausts occur over and over again reinforces the fact that heroic people exist and their stories need to be told and celebrated over and over again.
October 17, 2008
"I describe life," said Anton Chekhov, who called his plays comedies. His comedy of life, however, is reflected through Russian eyes, balanced by a healthy dose of tragedy. Here, The Seagull focuses its absurdist seesaw balances romance and artistic frustration.
Says Masha, garbed in black, "I'm in mourning for my life." So is everyone else.
Translated with a contemporary sensitivity by Christopher Hampton and directed by Ian Rickson, the comedy comes through irony and sarcasm. The laughter is not from the belly but the mind. Rickson smoothly shifts the emotions like a kaleidoscope.
What sparkles on the austere stage is riveting Kristin Scott Thomas as Arkadina, whirling and flirting, constantly demanding attention. She is totally involved in herself as the world around her splinters in anguish and disappointment. Arkadina is not an evil person, just half-empty and fully self-centered. She is an actress of a certain age, excused for her theatrical flamboyance. Self-preservation rules Arkadina, characterized when she leaves a skimpy tip to split between three hard-working servants. It is a dream part for an actress, and in her Broadway debut, Kristin Scott Thomas relishes in it.
Romance links the characters like a daisy chain. Arkadina loves writer Trigorin (Peter Sarsgaard) as deeply as she can love anyone. Trigorin, undependable and faithless, similarly loves Arkadina. He lusts, however, after a neighbor, young actress Nina, who loves both Trigorin and Arkadina's son, the haunted writer Konstantin (Mackenzie Crook), who is in love with Nina. Masha, the estate keeper's daughter, also loves Konstantin and is frustrated with her hopelessly devoted husband Medvedienko (Pierce Quigley). Her father, Sharaev (Julian Gamble) is married to Polina, played by Ann Doud, who has a tenuous relationship with Dr. Dorn.
As the cynical doctor dryly observes, "How neurotic everyone is!"
I'll say. Just another family drama.
The cast comes from the
He does. He knows where his bread is buttered.
Peter Wight plays Arkadina's brother, Sorin, ill, aging, and wryly accepting his disappointments. He is one of the play's more sympathetic characters.
Played luminously by newcomer Carey Mulligan, Nina is compelling in transforming from innocent enthusiasm to disillusion. By the end of the play, after a failed affair with Trigorin, Nina's youthful optimism has dissipated into the regret of reality. Poignantly she says to Konstantin: "Do you remember, you shot a sea gull? A man comes by chance, sees it, and out of nothing else to do, destroys it?"
Crook illuminates the resentment and yearning of the ill-fated Konstantin. Zoe
Kazan plays Masha with constrained fury, energizing her with relentless
Tweaking these romantic entanglements are the artistic conflicts between the benefits of traditional art versus the risks of new forms.
Hildegard Bechtler's set is suitably harsh, with severe birch trees against a black backdrop outside the country house and a decaying interior with makeshift furnishings inside. The cold, spare feel is dramatized by Peter Mumford's lighting and Ian Dickinson's sounds of the Russian countryside.
A word of advice. Before taking your seat, stretch, take a deep breath and prepare yourself for almost three hours of watching this mix of characters unravel and interact before you. Your reward is satisfaction with having seen a finely detailed production of this classic. You will also have to endure the dissatisfaction of not having cared a twit about these people who do not care about each other. Like human nature, they will not change.
October 3, 2008
The First Breeze of Summer- September 2008
First Breeze of Summer, which opens the Signature Theatre Company's
season-long salute to the Negro Ensemble Company, three generations of an
African-American family ponder their lives and futures during one brutally hot
June weekend in suburban
Slowly secrets are stated and unraveled, lives and desires interwoven, and the past sets the scene for the present. Through memory segments, the social disruptions of the '70's are interspersed with Gremmar's history. Gremmar is visiting the family of her son, Milton, a construction company owner played by Keith Randolph Smith, and his wife, Hattie (Marva Hicks). Also in the house are two young adult sons, Nate and Lou, played by real life brothers, Brandon and Jason Dirden. Gremmar, who suffers from acute chest pains, shares in the family activities but also privately wanders into the past, sitting still in a chair, her eyes focus inward as she is transported to years gone by. Younger versions of Gremmar are played by Yaya DaCosta who is making her professional stage debut. With sensitivity, she portrays Lucretia at various points when love and lust bring her down. First Lucretia is young, vulnerable, and in love with Sam Green (Gilbert Owuor), who gives her a string of pearls and leaves her pregnant. She then works as a maid for Briton Woodward, a resentful, adopted white man played by Quincy Dunn-Baker. Again pregnant, this time she is the one who walks out. Later, John Earl Jelks plays Harper Edwards, a mine-worker/preacher who abandons her when he learns about her past.
Two of the three children, now grown, include Harper's son Milton, and Briton's daughter, the meddlesome chatterbox, Edna, played by Brenda Pressley. Sam's son has died.
Uggams portrayal of Gremmar is faceted with poise and intelligence. A relationship with God has softened the traumas of her life, and she has come to terms with her sensuous past and her disappointments. She learned to accept her unconventional emotions and experiences, and gained compassion without losing her spunk and wit, something appreciated by the whole family but especially by youngest grandson, Lou. Proud and wise, Gremmar is supportive of Lou's ambition to become a doctor although his father, Milton, wants him in the family business. Patiently, she counsels Lou, a bewildered and sexually ambiguous teenager, and in Act II, Gremmar, facing her mortality, takes a risk and allows Lou to learn her secrets, to which he reacts with surprising vehemence.
Lou's older brother, Nate, is frustrated and impatient working for his father. He is not as gifted or ambitious as Lou is, but he yearns for a fuller life and is critical of the way his father runs the business. He also derides their church ties. Nate is engaged to the vivacious Hope, played by Crystal Anne Dickinson. Like all the characters, Lou and Nate are carefully illustrated, fitting into a close-knit working African-American family with universal problems and centered around the church. One vigorous sequence has Reverend Mosely (Harvy Blanks) leading the family in raucous testifying session with full-throated "Glory Hallelujahs".
Reuben Santiago-Hudson savors each moment of the play, carefully fitting the puzzle pieces into the design. The story flows neatly between past and present. The set design by Michael Carnahan crams the stage with comfortable details of a middle-class home and porch with decorative plates on the wall, a piano topped with family photographs, and colorful plants. Marcus Doshi's lighting filters through the trees in the summer air. Karen Perry's costumes are faithful to the 1970's.
Finally, a summer breeze brings relief to the scorching weekend, just as
August 28, 2008
Refuge of Lies - September 2008
We've heard the
story before and it is still relevant today when power rules and power
corrupts. Refuge of Lies at
the Lion Theatre, is a fictionalized account of a
World War Two Nazi collaborator hunted down decades later to account for his
crimes. Such a tale naturally brings up
themes of guilt and forgiveness, vengeance and justice, which became just as
applicable later with genocide in
The story is based on the case of Jacob
Luitjens, and, as fictionalized accounts often state, the names were
changed. The central character is named
Rudi Vandrvaal, who fled from
When Rudi realizes his situation, he loses
all sense of equilibrium. He sees ghosts
and specters, hears pounding on the door, and becomes paranoid. He still fails, nevertheless, to recognize
his crimes insisting his sins were washed away in the river. Since the old days, he has been a different
person, living a good, productive life, happy in
Both Rudi and Simon are tortured men. Netty agonizes over his past sins, which she had once refused to hear. She begs his friends and the pastor of their church to help him because Rudi is a good, gentle man. No one knows how to help. Rudi, going mad, spends nights on the roof with his pigeons.
Meanwhile Simon agonizes over his case,
trying to get the Canadian government to expedite the transfer of Rudi back to
Rudi's turmoil is portrayed convincingly by Richard Mawe. and Lorraine Serabian stands out as his suffering wife, Netty. They try their best with this bulky script. Rudi is supposed to be a good person now, loving and caring, but we never see much of this. In the opening scene, four old friends are laughing and playing cards, but that, and often flashbacks to younger days, is the only other side of Rudi we see. Their friends Conrad and Hanni are compellingly steadfast as played by Arthur Pellman and Joanne Joseph. Drew Dix is the relentless, driven Simon and John Knass plays Pastor Jake. Libby Skalam in a whining voice, plays young Rachel without conviction.
Playwright Ron Reed, the managing artistic
Unfortunately, the themes that are so universally compelling are not firmly nailed in place, despite two and a half hours of trying.
September 17, 2008
Flamingo Court - August 2008
zeros in on the sunny side of older life, but most seniors admit the
"golden years" are not all sunshine and orange blossoms even if you
live in the
The three one-act plays star M*A*S*H's Jamie Farr and Chapter Two's Anita Gillette, crafting
sharp characterizations of South Florida retirees. They are retired from jobs but not from life
and they confront the good parts of living, like sex and love, but also the
hard times. The first story,
Tackling the hard times is the heart of the
middle play, ''Clara'' (
The strong supporting cast includes Herbert Rubens, engaging as Mark, the hearing aid salesman, and Joe Vincent as Walter, who is in cahoots with wife Chelsea's plans.. Lucy Martin's biting voice rounds out portraits of Angelina's friend Marie and Harry's daughter Chelsea.
Youmans designed a peach-hued
In these snapshots of life, director Steven Yuhasz squeezed the most comedy possible out of his actors' vocal and physical characterization. The pace is light-footed. Some of the biggest laughs went to the announcements projected above the stage between acts, comically relating tidbits about life in a retirement condo, scheduling Bingo, mall-hopping and daily lessons on using the cell phone and setting the DVD. Doris Day, Rosemary Clooney, and Frank Sinatra singing '50's hits serves as a overture to Flamingo Court, and, a bouncing ball sing-along for a original tune, "Old Is In," brings in Act II.
Flamingo Court holds no message that smacks you in the head, except for the reminder to savor the laughs in life, and that's not a bad lesson at all.
August 14, 2008
-- Will she or won't she "come out tonight"? It all depends on Amanda. Will this fading Hollywood star accept a
cushy TV sitcom playing Granny Sweetpants, or will she stick to her love of
theatre and star as Madame Ranovskaya in a
Gal, a character-driven play written in 2002 by the prolific A. R. Gurney,
opens the current season of Primary Stages and marks the play's
Gal is a light comedy with amenable characters sketched with intrigue but
not fully drawn. Jackie, director of
Jackie, however, finds her star to be an
insecure and needy diva-with-a-heart.
Amanda worries about her career, admits her memory is not what it once
was, and nostalgically remembers her privileged
She is interested but apprehensive upon
receiving a note from Dan, a former high-school boyfriend, now a local dentist
with a new name. When they do meet, Dan
makes a case for his deep and lasting love for Amanda, sending her a CD of a
song he had written for her. We learn their early romance was more involved
than first indicated. Furthermore, although Dan is married, he claims the
marriage is not happy so perhaps Amanda can enjoy a lifestyle similar to what
she once knew, as well work on stage again in
Amanda senses coincidences between her life
and that of the character she plays.
Just as Mme. Ranovskaya tries to protect her family home, Amanda
believes she may be able to regain her grandmother's home. With her stirred up emotions, she ignores the
fact that both the upper-class
A final disruption comes when Amanda
receives a call from her agent in
Susan Sullivan, best known in television (Falcon Crest) and films (My Best Friend's Wedding), ably portrays the vulnerability beneath the theatricality of Amanda, who swoops across the stage, dipping into deep curtsies at every opportunity. Sullivan likes and respects her conflicted character but the role, as written, is sketchy.
Jennifer Regan plays Jackie, the ambitious director. Not only does she have her hands full keeping Amanda on track, she worries about the future of her small theatre and her own future. Furthermore, she wants to impress the children of her lesbian lover. Amanda and Jackie are the most full drawn characters.
James Waterston brings a hardworking eagerness to Roy, the stage manager. Carmen M. Herlihy as Debbie, the college intern with a passion for regional theatre, delivers the play's best lines with earnest perkiness. Dathan B. Williams portrays an overly mannered James. Mark Blum is fervent but not convincing in his claim of a love-that-never-faded for Amanda.
Andrew Jackness designed the backstage theatre set with props of birch trees and a hobbyhorse indicating use in The Cherry Orchard. Lighting is by Mary Louise Geiger, and costumes by Candice Donnelly. Director Mark Lamos provides an ambiance of humorous gentility with a bite, but try as it might, this Buffalo Gal does not yet "dance by the light of the moon."
July 31, 2008
2007 – 2008 SEASON
The 39 Steps- January 2008
With wit, romance, and four high-powered actors, The Thirty Nine Steps transfers Alfred Hitchcock's 1935 film live to the Roundtable's American Airlines Theatre. The play is a
hand-in-glove connection to the film, breeziness overtaking the espionage thriller aspect, but who cares? If you did not see the film, you can still enjoy the play and its madcap
dexterity. Familiarity with classic 1930's spy flicks is helpful, but at the core, the current production is a non-stop action spoof, and it works with only a few sluggish spots.
In his adaptation of the film, Patrick Barlow inserted many of the familiar amusing lines. The characters bear resemblance to the film's Robert Donat and Madeleine Carroll, Hitchcock's original blonde. Hannay (Charles Edwards) is a suave chap with a trim mustache, a pipe, an arched eyebrow, and one night he is in a quandary, thinking of something
utterly trivial and thoroughly mindless to do.
"Eureka!" he says. "I'll go to the theatre."
While he is at the music hall, shots ring out and Annabella Schmidt (Jennifer Ferrin), an exotic stranger from a Teutonic country, approaches him.
"Will you take me home with you?" she pleads. Always a gentleman, Hannay takes her to his
West End flat where she tells that "the thirty-nine steps" is trying
to smuggle military secrets out of
A moment to clarify. "The thirty-nine steps," an enemy spy ring, is the film's MacGuffin, Hitchcock's central gimmick that the story revolves around, intended only to keep the
It is not a good visit for the German beauty, who ends up with a knife in her back, whispering to Hannay, "Alt na Shellach!" Hannay is now entangled in an international crisis.
The police suspect he is the murderer, and they set
off after him. Hannay heads for
into a series of near misses with suspicious, dangerous spies, and threatening police.
There is a chase across the top of
Scotland's Flying Scotsman, a near death stop in a Scottish farmhouse, an Edinbugh bridge, the highlands and a return to . The story England
is full of Hitchcockian references, obvious and obscure, including a silhouette montage of future Hitchcock films, The Birds, North by Northwest, Psycho, and Strangers
on a Train, even the obligatory Hitchcock cameo. Mingled with the bedlam is always wit and romance.
Most intriguing: The 40-plus characters are all depicted by four actors. Only Charles Edwards from the
production portrays just one character, Richard Hannay, London
always dapper in the same tweed, three-piece suit. Edwards lends him a Robert Donat-type self-confidence, balancing between apprehension and vanity. Jennifer Ferrin plays
three women, each distinctive, the glamorous German, the dowdy farmer's wife, the not-at-all-naïve Hitchcock blonde. The dozens of other characters, police and enemy, grim
Scots and churlish Cockneys, are portrayed by two energetic actors, Arnie Burton and Cliff Saunders, often with zany accessory changes. At one point,
plays two characters Burton
at one time, and Saunders is a winner as Mr. Memory, an entertainer who can answer anything.
window and door frames, costumes, shadows, smoke and lighting, for flashing switches of plot and movement. Peter McKintosh's 1930's fashions and his minimal, low-tech
sets are perfect, with Kevin Adams' lighting and Mic Pool's sound adding to the juiciness of the show. Everyone seems to be winking at the storyline and the only drawback is
an unwanted intermission in the hour and a half play.
The Thirty Nine Steps was Hitchcock's first film, a model for other films he was later to make. It concerns the Everyman driven against his will into a threatening, mysterious
situation. In a theatre season of psycho dramas and dysfunctional families, this Roundabout production is a restorative pause, a stylish, imaginative send-up done to perfection.
It is great fun as Depression-era Hitchcock presented on Millennium-era Broadway.
Jamuary 18, 2008
Come Back Little
Before entering the Biltmore Theatre, try to erase all
images of Shirley Booth from the film and original versions of William Inge's Come Back Little
Sheba, now having its first Broadway
You can do it. You can also ignore the
color-blind casting; interracial
marriage was not the norm in mid-century
S. Epatha Merkerson interpretation of Lola, touch you. Your heart will go out to the lonely, needy woman who is rejected by her own father and convinces herself to accept a
positive outlook with her alcoholic husband whom she calls "Daddy," while he calls her "Baby."
While Doc is compelling in his portrayal by a young-looking Kevin Anderson, Lola is the heart of the play. It is the story of a marriage eroded by frustration in a time when
societal demands were strict, and keeping to those
rules was often damaging to the spirit. Come Back Little Sheba is a deceptively
simple story with symbols around every corner.
giving up his dreams of medical school and becoming a chiropractor. Lola was trained for marriage and motherhood, and as she saw her youth fading, she felt she had nothing to
do with her life. Her looks and her home are in disarray, she has no social life, and her husband's love for her ebbed as he turned to alcohol. The only hope for them came when he joined Alcoholics Anonymous, and they tried to keep the marriage somewhat intact, although any emotion and intimacy was long gone.
Merkerson, the straight-talking capo-detective in Law and Order, portrays Lola with unique warmth and yearning. She subtly relays the loneliness of a woman who yearns for
things to be as they once were. Her only social connections seem to be with the daily links in her life, the postman, the milkman, and her neighbor, a meticulous housekeeper and
mother of seven who cannot understand how Lola can neglect her home so badly.
Living in their home is a flirty young boarder, Marie (Zoe Kazan), a college student who has a fiancé back home but is currently involved with another student, Turk. Brian J.
Smith's Turk is not physically hunky but adolescently lusty. Lola lives vicariously through Marie's vivaciousness, her pretty looks, and her boyfriends. Since her own sexuality is long gone and her husband has pulled away, Lola is drawn into the sensual relationship between Marie and Turk.
Unlike Lola, Doc is uneasy with Marie's relationship with Turk. Not only does Doc reflect the era's puritan values, but he is jealous of the sexual energy, and he complains that
Turk is taking advantage of Marie. Doc feels an increasing pull toward the liquor bottle in the kitchen. He is unsteadily balanced on the parallel bar of alcoholism which collapses
when he learns proof of Marie's promiscuity. This leads to a crushing climax with damaging words and unleashed repression.
Inge brings about a resolution that is
honest and believable, and when Lola calls for
James Noone's compact set design shows the
kitchen and living room of a small
Michael Pressman directs his cast with patience and natural unfolding. The secondary characters are distinct, believable and well rounded. The postman (Lyle Kanouse) brings a
laugh when he drinks several glasses of water one after another. The milkman (Matthew J. Williamson) is a wannabe muscleman and grateful for Lola's interest. Brenda Wehle
plays the disapproving neighbor.
William Inge, while not in the category of Eugene O'Neill and Tennessee Williams in delving the depths of the spirit and character of the mid-20th century. Come Back Little
January 27, 2008
Those family genes, they sure can cause trouble, and
The Weston clan comes together for the
funeral of the patriarch, Beverly, played by the playwright's father, Dennis Letts, who is making his Broadway debut just as his son is making his Broadway writing
Rosenthal's elaborate set shows three levels of a large, rambling, stifling
house without air-conditioning in the hot
The pill-popping mama, Violet, is played by Deanna Dunagan, taut and ferocious as an alley cat. From her first moments wobbling down the stairs, she presses the most hurtful buttons of everyone around her. Seated at the end of the dinner table, she passes around lacerating insults like unappetizing side dishes. She is most abusive toward her three daughters. The eldest is Barbara, played by Amy Morton, who exhibits her mother's fury mingled with her own guilt. Her marriage is faltering because husband Bill (Jeff Perry) cannot bear Barbara's damaging behavior and has fallen in love with a student. Their daughter, Jean, (Madeleine Martin), is a sultry, nubile, pot-smoking teen.
Middle daughter is Ivy, played by Sally Murphy, who has stayed near the family and has taken on the burden of her mother's care. Her revenge comes when an illicit relationship is revealed.
(Mariann Mayberry) is the youngest and lives in
Violet's sister, Mattie Fae, a brazen loudmouth portrayed by Rondi Reed, is outstanding,. She arrives with her tolerant husband, Charlie, played by Francis Guinan, the only decent character. A hilarious scene has him trying to say grace at the same dinner table that Violet rules with such virulence; for obvious reasons, finding something to give thanks for is a problem. Their son, Little Charles (Ian Barford), a 20-something loser, has been incessantly berated by his mother. Little Charles later reveals his own survival plan.
Sheriff Deon Gilbeau is a supporting character with a significant link
to Barbara and the mystery of
The third act unveils the play's surprises, and the devastating ending. Director Anna G. Shapiro keeps a sharp hold on a stunning story of memorably illuminated characters. The play begins leisurely but the point of view is never lost, nor is viewers' interest. Like Rosenthal's set, the costumes by Ana Kuzmanic are detailed for each character. Ann G.Wrightson and Richard Woodbury provide ambiance from day to night with lighting and sound designs, and David Singer's original blues adds musical authenticity.
Letts' gritty spook house invariably
brings to mind Eugene O'Neill, Tennessee Williams and Edward Albee but August:
December 12, 2007
The Seafarer - December 2007
Eat, drink and be merry, someone said, but he was not The Seafarer. Conor McPherson's dramatic black comedy at the Booth Theatre chooses one out of the three, and food with merriment are not included. Five of this year's most definitive theatre characters spend a dark, surprisingly funny Christmas Eve in a drab house in Baldoyle, north of Dublin, playing poker, bickering and boozing –plenty of boozing leading to more bickering, more boozing. Out of the endless talk, however, emerges empathy about the characters who battle their demons to as they face their humanity and life's travails.
An evening with The Seafarer would linger in the mind like a hangover were it were not for Irish dramatist/director McPherson's bursts of humor and his razor sharp colorful dialogue delivered by a magnetic and unbeatable male ensemble -- David Morse, Conleth Hill, Jim Norton, Sean Mahon, and Ciaran Hinds. Hinds plays a devil of a guy named Mr. Lockhart, a mysterious gent who first seems too urbane to mingle with the other four drunken losers. Why is he even here? All for good reason and all is revealed, but not here.
Lockhart, the characters are all chums from the same deteriorating village, men
who never quite made anything of themselves and defend their existence with
bluster and booze. Richard Harkin, both legally blind and
blind-drunk, engrosses the audience with his unending blarney; this character
is played by Jim Norton, who won the Olivier Award for this same role in
Sharky, and he is a card shark, is the play's main character, a suffering hunk of a man, a recovering alcoholic drifting near the edge of agony. He has no secure job, his wife has left him, he has no love, no hope, and he is solely responsible for his demanding brother Richard's needs, which are endlessly cajoling, irascible and malicious. David Morse, with restraint and subtlety, evinces sympathy for his character's lost situation as he tries to stay dry, to survive. He is the constrained center of this flailing bunch of inebriates.
To celebrate Christmas Eve, Richard calls in some friends for holiday drinking and poker. Conleth Hill plays Ivan Curry, who is already in the house, having passed out the night before. A good-natured drunk, he tends to stumbles around looking for his eyeglasses. He does not intend to sober up anytime soon, or leave the filthy house, avoiding his family who waits at home.
Sean Mahon portrays a sleazy Nicky Giblin who arrives bringing a stranger he met in a pub. Nicky is now involved with Sharky's ex-wife, and although Sharky does not welcome Nicky, the boozy Richard is a convivial host. The stranger, Mr. Lockhart, is eager for the poker game and now McPherson takes the play down a darker path. When the right moment arrives, Mr. Lockhart's true demonic intent emerges and it is not to win at poker at all, but to win a soul. He faces Sharkey alone to demand retribution for a debt past due. Sharkey remembers nothing about the debt nor why the poker game may cost him his immortality. At this point when the play's supernatural core is revealed, Mr. Lockhart describes a horrifying detailed description of hell.
Rae Smith designed a setting of a decrepit house -- bottles and glasses strewn about, furniture far beyond better days. In the corner is a scrawny Christmas tree and on the wall hangs a religious picture lighted by a votive candle that flickers ominously as Mr. Lockhart states his case. Smith's costumes suit the characters who dwell in or visit the house. The shadowy lighting by Neil Austin and sound design by Mathew Smethurst-Evans enliven the home fires of these dysfunctional brothers.
sluggish start, Conan McPherson (The Weir
December 2, 2007
The Farnsworth Invention - December, 2007
Few can deny that the invention of what was once called the "boob tube" is responsible both in improving and dumbing down society. There is a story in this invention, and Aaron Sorkin, one of the genre's most successful writers, wrote it down and brought it to Broadway's Music Box Theater; The Farnsworth Invention is an entertaining story of television's birth and its two midwives.
The Farnsworth Invention, a dive into physics, math and technology, turns out to be surprisingly engaging, thanks to Sorkin's swift-moving dialogue, as well as director Des McAnuff, who swipes a clean crisscrossing of two men battling for credit for this new invention. He keeps their dual stories quick-paced, seen through each others' eyes and then debated, a technique which is effective although somewhat superficial. One of the men is the genius behind the inventor, (), a "ridiculous hayseed savant," according to his competitor, . Farnsworth was a Midwestern Mormon who while still in high school was so naturally gifted in science that he was convinced that his adolescent plan to transmit moving pictures across space would work. Simpson is credible as Farnsworth, moving and standing awkwardly, wearing the ill-fitting clothes of a man who does not involve himself with such trivia as tailored suits and swank accessories.
Sarnoff escaped from the Russian schtetl,
Right and wrong regarding facts is one controversial issue with The Farnsworth Invention, but drama, nevertheless, exists. Sorkin's dialogue is crisp and breezy. The controlled, charming Machiavellian Azaria versus plain-talking Simpson, rule the stage in front of a large cast of intermingled supporting characters who stride across the stage. They are the only two actors without duplicate roles. The expansion of cast members in a play focused on one issue is somewhat distracting, but McAnuff keeps the point in sight.
The plot, however, is not one of bad versus good. While there is a power struggle with big money lawyers versus small-town genius, Sarnoff is corporate minded, but with values. His television ideals were not to be instituted by commercialism but by quality. The journey to the patent trophy is stimulating, with the history of the medium a fascinating side post.
The duplex staging is sleekly designed by Klara Zieglerova, and David C. Woolard created believable 1930's era costumes.
Sorkin started in theatre with A
Few Good Men in 1989 and
then moved west to
check for facts: www.thefarnsworthinvention.com
December 1, 2007
"You could ask anybody from my neighborhood and
they'll tell you, this is just another
At the end,
that's what it is. For Chazz Palminteri,
however, it is more, because this is his
everything is unique and special, but most of us have all seen
It is 1960,
and nine-year-old Calogero Palminteri, watches the world pass from his stoop on
the corner of
the hardware store and some betting joints. Calogero worships the Yankees and Mickey Mantle is his idol. If you grew up in the boroughs, you know the story.
Until the world changes. Directly in front of him, Calogero sees a murder take place. Two cars are vying for a space and one driver gets out and smashes the other with a baseball bat. Suddenly, the imposing Sonny, from whom everyone backs off, appears with a gun and shoots the assailant. He looks around, sees Calogero on the stoop, and disappears.
No one has to tell the boy what to do when he is taken by his father to identify the shooter in a police lineup. When Calogero comes face-to-face with Sonny, he does not identify him as the killer. From this point on, Sonny takes the boy under his wing, bringing him into Chez Joey, introducing him around as "my boy", and calling him "C".
Directed by Jerry Zaks, Chazz Palminteri brings his conversational one-man show to the Walter Kerr Theatre. He connects naturally with the audience. He had produced The Bronx Tale in 1989 off-Broadway, and in a 1993 film, he appeared as Sonny. It is a compelling, heartfelt snapshot of a certain time, a certain place, a certain social milieu with its special jabs of humor and disdain.
Palminteri is casually dressed and effectively portrays an array of colorful people with subtle body language and graceful hand gestures, neighborhood characters like Eddie Mush, Frankie Coffee Cake, and JoJo the Whale. Number-one, looming over everyone, is Sonny, who knows everything that is going on in his district and can change lives in a flash. He is a handy guy to have on your side, and Chazz knows it and admires him.
became "Chazz" to everyone but his parents. He always kept a strong bond with his father,
Lorenzo, an honest bus driver who disdained Sonny. Between the two older men, Chazz was
influenced by a duo of father figures.
Lorenzo wanted the boy to be neat, clean and educated; Sonny was the
dean of "the
James Noone designed a simple set with a center tenement and stoop, a street sign signifying a corner, and the neon invitation to Chez Joey. Chazz Palminteri needs nothing
more to set the scene and share his memories.
October 27, 2007
Pygmalion - October 2007
It is hard to keep the memory of the "loverly" My Fair Lady score from insinuating itself throughout the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Pygmalion.. Written in 1912 by George Bernard Shaw, Pygmalion, at the American Airlines Theatre, with its lightning fast dialogue is an expressive, entertaining portraiture of British classes and sexism in Edwardian times.
Most surprising in this production may be the casting of the leads. Film and TV actress Clare Danes, with very few false turns, makes a comfortable entrée onto the Broadway stage as Eliza Doolittle, the "squashed cabbage leaf" who becomes a lady. Jefferson Mays (I Am My Own Wife and Journey's End) takes on yet another characterization for his theatrical resume. He turns Henry Higgins, familiar as the Leslie Howard/Rex Harrison debonair, arrogant upper-class phoneticist, into a self-involved, spoiled, genius brat, the bane of his down-to-earth mother. His command of the Shavian dialogue is strong and precise. Both Dane and Mays are thoroughly believable in challenging roles.
As the story
goes, Higgins, "a confirmed bachelor with a mother fixation,"
overhears the "deliciously low" street accent of a Cockney flower
As the snappy
guttersnipe, Eliza Doolittle, Danes stirs vulnerability into her
David Grindley directed the production with vision and strong supporting cast choices. Boyd Gaines holds his own as a more open-minded Colonel Pickering, supporting Higgins' outrageousness but with definite pangs of discomfiture. Helen Carey plays Higgins' mother with the poise expected of her class but obviously exasperated by her son's behavior. Her tea guests, the Eynsford-Hills, mother and daughter (Sandra Shipley and Kerry Bishe), hiding the fact that they have actually lost their money, retain the necessary façade of proper etiquette. The son, Freddy (Kieran Campion), is engagingly dim and lovestruck.
Jay O. Sanders grabs the stage playing Eliza's father, Alfred Doolittle, once satisfied by his lower-class freedom yet is convincing in his leap to middle-class respectability. Brenda Wehle is adept as Higgins' housekeeper, Mrs. Pearce.
Jonathan Fensom designed appropriate sets and costumes with wonderfully cramped eccentricity. Claire Danes went from shabby dress and hat to suitable tea suit and delectable ball gown, a smooth blooming to suit her independence at the end. She proves, "The difference between a lady and a flower girl is not how she behaves, but how she's treated."
Still remembering Lerner and Loewe's music -- "You did it! You did it! You said that you would do it/ And indeed you did." The Roundabout Theatre Company's Pygmalion succeeds as a articulately sparkling battle of the classes.
October 20, 2007
The Ritz - October, 2007
"Come with me and we'll attend
Their jubilee and see them spend
Their last two bits,
Puttin' on the Ritz"
The Irving Berlin tune is not part of the Roundabout Theatre's farce, The Ritz. The Ritz, by Terrance McNally, takes place in the 1970's, and it is hard to get past the realization that looming ahead are the '80's, and the epidemic of AIDS that swept through the much of the theatre community. The Ritz at Studio 54 is a bright elaborate escapade that once had its day.
patriarch of an Italian family puts a hit on his daughter's husband, Gaetano Proclo. Proclo flees his
Chamberlin plays Proclo, disguised with a mustache
and an oversized black wig on his bald head.
He is a lovable, terrified gentle giant in a bizarre environment; it
does not take long for him to realize that he is not in
Furthermore, the hit man, Carmine Vespucci (Lenny Venito), found out where Proclo is hiding and sent a detective out to find him. Terrence Riordan plays Michael Brick, the beanpole detective with a soprano voice.
In Act II, Carmine himself shows up looking for the detective and Proclo, provoking even more searches, near escapes, and diving under beds. In addition, Proclo's wife and Carmine's sister (Ashlie Atkinson) appears, hysterically torn between her father's last wish and her husband. A final frenzy implodes when her mink coat is stolen.
Joe Mantello directs the action like an orchestra conductor, mostly con brio, but occasionally troppo pesante, with some of the slapstick sequences merely sluggish. Despite numerous comic moments and some that feel forced, the large cast turns in sparkling performances, like Brooks Ashmanskas, who finds the heart of the swishy Chris and fleshes out the stereotype.
Notable is Rosie Perez as untalented but confident Googie Gomez, shimmering in William Ivey Long's shiny spandex pants suit and a generous selection of tight-fitting dresses. McNally wrote a part that earned Rita Moreno a supporting Tony Award in 1975 and now gives Perez a chance to do her stuff in the same role. Googie has two nightclub sequences, and her first one is hilariously horrible. A hint of disaster comes when the neon light spelling, "The Ritz" loses part of its "R", and reads, "The Pitz." It is the pits, but Googie gives show biz her all with spice and vigor and as much shtick as she can manage, singing off-tune, slipping her wigs, losing her platform shoes, and performing Christopher Gattelli's hackneyed dance steps with two cleaning boys/dancers, Tiger and Duff (Lucas Near-Verbrugghe and David Turner). Her song selection mangles Broadway with "originals", like Manana (Annie), Peoples (Funny Girl), and the Sabbath Prayer from Fiddler on the Roof.
Perez plays the comic role to the hilt. Unfortunately, like Charo on speed, she has a fiery Spanish accent. Words whiz by, often indecipherably, and you really do not want to miss one word of Googie's garble.
Is The Ritz super duper? Not really. Once it was a plea for fun and tolerance during a particular decade, The Ritz now channels an ironic remembrance of what came next.
October 12, 2007
Mautitius - October, 2007
would suspect that a play about a stamp collection could be as intriguing as a
contemporary film noir? How often do you
find yourself hooked by the question, "Who has the album now?",
watching as a tiny papers in a red book, possibly very valuable, are clutched
by one sister, set on a table, grabbed by another sister, a philatelist, a con
man, dropped on the floor and threatened with a match. Manhattan Theatre Club's
The stamp collection belongs to either of two sisters. The younger, Jackie, played by Alison Pill, inherited the album from her late mother who wanted to thank her daughter for care during her illness. As the play begins, Jackie brings the album for evaluation by a philatelist, Philip. She may be young but she suspects there may be some value here and she deserves some reward for her life, which has been difficult.
Philip, played by Dylan Baker, cannot be
less interested. He does not even bother
to look up from his book as she pleads her case, but another stamp lover, the
charismatic Dennis (Bobby Cannavale), has been listening and agrees to look at
the collection. He is not an expert,
but he is interested in stamps and even more interested in the art of the
con. He spots two rare stamps from
Dennis follows Jackie home, and finds that her
estranged older half-sister, Mary (Katie Finneran), is back, insisting
that she owns the album since it had belonged to her grandfather, and not
Jackie's mother. Dennis tries to
ingratiate himself to both women, but Jackie finally gets possession of the
album. By this time Jackie has toughened
her stance, having googled the stamps and learned they might make her
rich. She agrees to meet Dennis and
Now come the twists
and turns leading to ownership of the stamps.
The bargaining between
As for Mary, what caused the family estrangement? Why is she obviously better off financially than Jackie and why is she so totally self-involved? Behind the desperation driving these characters, there are not enough answers.
The actors, however, portray their
characters convincingly. Bobby Cannavale
is ingratiating in his Broadway debut as a charming con man, ready to move to
whichever side looks more lucrative.
Allison Pill portrays a raw mix of bitterness, fragility and steeliness,
wanting nothing much more than enough to lay back on a beach with a
Marguerita. She breaks your heart
telling her sister, "I just wanted something, for once, just something.” Finneran is
an equally convincing Mary, with contained selfish determinism; one is almost ready
to see a smidgen of humanity in her. F.
Murray Abraham is menacing yet crafty, weaving his deal with Allison with oily
determination. Dylan Baker seems almost
flat at the beginning but gains personal shadows as the story evolves. The spurts of humor that arise from these
actors keep the momentum.
The staging is perfect: John Lee Beatty's set moves effortlessly from one dusty, dreary space to another, and Paul Gallo lights up the mood exquisitely.
Theresa Rebeck, in her first Broadway play, may have skimped on character depth but she knows the drama of greed and revenge, and how to manipulate with sharp tension.
October 7, 2007
Dividing The Estate - October 2007
by Michael Wilson at Primary Stages, 59E59, Horton Foote's Dividing the Estate sets greed against family loyalty during a period of
financial difficuties. The setting is
the gulf coast of
The value of the estate is reduced to the house and the land surrounding it. With taxes looming, and oil rigs and fast food locations encroaching, the Gordon family wealth is an ebb tide. The matriarch is 85-year-old, Stella, convincingly played with a fierce growl by Elizabeth Ashley, who is nowhere near that age, despite her gray wig and feeble movements. She insists she will never divide the estate, as her children urge. Stella argues that her father kept the land and house together during worse times than this, and she will do no less.
Still imperious, Stella is waited upon by her eldest daughter, Lucille, played with sweet-tempered patience by Penny Fuller. Lucille's son, called Son, (Devon Abner) takes care of the estate management, earnestly trying to hold everything together. Also living in the house is Brother, Lewis (Gerald McRaney), who has a drinking problem and is drawn toward young girls. Brother resents Son's authority over the finances, and constantly demands advances on his inheritance, most recently to pay up for dallying with a high school girl.
The youngest daughter, Mary Jo, lives in
By the end of the play, after some hope and several twists, no one is satisfied. There are no assets of their estate to share, only debits to deal with. The desperate Mary Jo, facing the hopelessness of deliverance from bankruptcy, snaps, “I know what I’m praying for, every night down on my knees. That we strike oil.” We all know the chances of that, and have to appreciate the despair of this selfish woman.
Horton Fiske, Pulitzer Prize winning playwright for The Young Man from Atlanta and Academy Award winner for the screenplay for Tender Mercies, has written a family history that flows as leisurely as a summer afternoon with characters as crisp as fresh lemonade. He points out that like people, the past, however one might remember it, always dies, letting the present step forward with its changes and challenges. The past/present gap is benignly symbolized here by Son's fiancée, Pauline, played by Maggie Lacey, an open-minded, generous schoolteacher in effective contrast to most of the family, and surprisingly, by Brother's very young fiancée.
Three servants play out their own past versus present. Arthur French stands out in this stellar cast, portraying one of the most engaging members of the household, Douglas, an elderly African-American retainer with trembling hands. He remembers his once important place in the family and insists on having his own way, even when it means taking a nap in the living room and serving the family dinner when he cannot hold a plate steady.
is as determined to do the chores he has always done just as he demands a
certain hymn be played when the time comes to be lowered into the ground next
to his mother's grave. Stella,
respecting the historic role
The humor throughout the play rises
naturally from the honesty of the characterizations and respect of the
past. If the story moves a bit too
leisurely at times, the sharp characters are smartly acted out in yet another
clear Horton Fiske view of
October 6, 2007
Opus - August 2007
What happens when a talented group dedicated to the ephemeral art of music begins to break apart? Can it ever be repaired? Can one element of the whole dynamic be exchanged for another? What if that dynamic is a world-renowned string quartet, and one vital member disappears? What happens to the other three members when the new addition is astonishingly gifted?
Such a problem is one of life's precipitous changes, self-contained, amorphic, challenging, and tackled is by Michael Hollinger in Opus, as the first offering in Primary Season's new season at 59E59. With staging by Jim Kronzer and Justin Townsend's evocative lighting, Opus is a spare production of short scenes with four chairs and five actors. Director Terrence J. Nolen keeps a purposeful pace with flashbacks and interviews, building moment to moment to an intense climax that destroys one of the characters and most likely the dynamic essence of the quartet.
The Lazara String Quartet is composed of four musicians who have been a together for years, who have worked hard to reach a level of respect in the music world. Elliot, the lead violinist is played by David Beach, is pretentious, arrogant and theatrical, in a relationship with the brilliant but irresponsible and chemically dependent Dorian (Michael Laurence). Richard Topal plays Alan, the second violinist, a womanizing loner, whose family has left him. Cellist Carl, is played by Douglas Reese, a down-to-earth family man who has been battling cancer and the group's temperament with laid-back wit.
Suddenly Dorian, their star violinist, takes off. Since the group has an upcoming White House concert, the remaining three cannot spend time looking for him. They fire him and begin auditioning for a replacement. Elliot, as self-proclaimed leader of the group, precipitously decides, not only to add the newcomer, but to change the quartet's White House selection, substituting a new piece, Beethoven's String Quartet No. 14 Opus 131, which is vastly more challenging. They audition a brilliant, wide-eyed, intensely ambitious young woman, Grace (Mahira Kakkar), who is determined to make the right decisions for her secure future in music, flip flopping between the string quartet and an offer by a symphony orchestra. She agrees to join the smaller group, which means wriggling her way into their established pattern as if she were a second wife stepping into a broken marriage.
Like a marriage, the individual pieces putting together a musical presentation are emotional, with its realism based on the fact that the playwright, Hollinger, is a classically trained violist as well as a gifted storywriter. With four personalities in a rehearsal room, the result is dramatic -- clashes, blending, endless reworking, communicating, all focused on their goal of tackling the difficult opus, considered experimental and radical. They achieve their goal and then Dorian returns. In the final scene, there are five personalities in a final explosion of melodramatic destruction.
Their stories and relationship emerge through flashbacks via different characters, each defined as personalities, each portraying as distinct an element as the instruments they play. Music coaches like Kate Berthold, have made them look as close to professional musicians as possible. Watching the four actors, while they are not physically playing their instruments, they are emotionally "playing" their instruments, feeling the music, knowing what their part is and how it varies from the others.
Jorge Cousineau provides the sounds from taped music.
What nags, however, with anyone dedicated to playing an instrument, is the deliberate destruction of one of the instruments. A dramatic move, yes, but not a believable action by a musician.
August 4, 2007
Surface to Air - July 2007
"Play the voices again," urges the mother at the start of this new play by David Epstein. It comforts her to hear the voices.
Surface to Air is a snapshot of one family and how each member has coped with the death of a beloved son.
The play is set after 9/11 but before the
The cast is led by the amazing Lois Smith
and outstanding Larry Bryggman as the parents, Princess and Hank. Their son, Rob was killed in 1971 in a bomber
Their surviving son, Eddie, a recovering
alcoholic played by James Colby with barely restrained bitterness, arrives with
his latest wife,
(Cady Huffman), flies in from
Outraged at his son's comments, Hank points out that Eddie was a hero himself, at which point, Eddie admits that he threw away his medals.
Back to the voices -- which feature Hank and his sons singing Alexander's Ragtime Band in happier days. Terry admits always feeling like an outsider because she was never asked to sing. With all the emotional baggage being spilled, Princess is upset but focusing on the lost Rob. Her acceptance of his ashes from the escort is a moment of heartbreaking despair. She takes the ashes with her upstairs and later returns for a harrowing ending. All Hank can do for her is play the voices from a peaceful past.
David Epstein has the sensitivity and the talent for conveying the emotions of this suffering family. Some may criticize him as Arthur Miller-lite, but others will credit him for Arthur Miller-promise. Both have validity. Does life go on or does life stop? Survivors deal with loss as best they can, which may be as senseless and tragic as the ground coming up to meet the falling pilot, and just as unavoidable.
July 22, 2007
Old Acquaintance - June, 2007
Family dynamics are a gold mine for the theatre. Tennessee Williams, Eugene O'Neill, and Arthur Miller knew that well, as did Kaufman and Hart.
Besides families, close friendships also do pretty well providing grist for drama and amusement, especially if they are two pals who grow up together in a small town and claw their way to the top, so to speak, by the time they reach middle age. Maybe the two close friends, Kit Markham and Millie Drake, in Old Acquaintance, currently revived at the American Airlines, did not claw, but they fit the scenario of long-time chums whose history together clothes them with affection and loyalty as well bitter envy and competition. They have their baggage, in this case, professionally and romantically. In the 1930's, these elements often resulted in drawing room comedies like The Man Who Came to Dinner and The Philadelphia Story
Written in 1940, John van Druten's Old Acquaintance is redolent of that pre-WWII era. The Roundabout Theatre Company obviously spared no expense in the elaborate settings and costumes but this revival never takes off. It stars two actors, Margaret Colin and Harriet Harris, who usually promise on-target interpretations, but here their performances are several rings away from the bull's eye despite momentary sparks of conflict and performance.
Colin plays intelligent and sophisticated Katherine (Kit) Markham, a novelist who has become a literary sweetheart with critical raves and little financial rewards. Kit has never married and savors her independence even with its loneliness; she entertains the idea of marrying her younger lover, played by Corey Stoll. Her lifelong best pal, Mildred Watson Drake, is also a novelist, but one who grinds out potboiler beach-reads and rakes in the royalties. Millie is a Barbara Cartland confection, a reluctant divorcee and the mother of an exuberant 19-year-old, Deidre (Diane Davis). Deidre, to Millie's horror, idolizes Kit while dismissing her mother. No one is really happy until the end, when a sudden, unexpected and unexplainable pairing solves everyone's problems, if not to their satisfaction.
If no one is really happy, no one is quite
sympathetic either. Colin looks and acts
the part of the bright urbanite, but she holds back the wit and bite to attract
enough interest in her character. As
Millie, Harris seems to have studied the Spring Byington catalogue of fluffy
dames, working for the slapstick rather than the caustic although she has
moments of blatant nastiness that are the delicious high points of the
play. Diane Davis portrays the young
daughter with adolescent self-absorption but not much else. As Kit's young beau, Rudd Kendall, Corey
Stoll does not render much charm or substance.
Kit and Rudd do not display the pizzazz of a popular
paces the story leisurely with three acts and does not spur the actors to show
more spirit. The sets by Alexander Dodge
say the most about the characterizations:
Kit living in a book-laden, paneled, artsy flat on
Old Acquaintance was first and last performed on Broadway in 1940, though is better remembered as the 1943 film adaptation with Bette Davis and Miriam Hopkins, and as a 1981 remake, Rich and Famous, starring Candice Bergen and Jacqueline Bisset. While amusing, this current effort falls short of the witty conversational genre and the blame must go to the leading stars who merely flicker rather than shine.
June 30, 2007
2006 – 2007 SEASON
The Year of Magical Thinking - April 10, 2007
It's always worth more than the price of a ticket to see Vanessa Redgrave on stage. When she is appearing in a one-woman play, it nudges up to a must-see. However, The Year of Magical Thinking at Broadway's Booth Theatre loses most of its magical grip with author Joan Didion's stage version of her best-selling memoir. While Redgrave can read a telephone book compellingly, this book is better suited for paper than theatre.
It is a story filtered through the mind and emotions of one of the most talented writers today, an intelligent, literate, analytical woman searching for the truth. A gripping, informative memoir on paper, however, does not always translate smoothly onto the stage. One reason may be that The Year of Magical Thinking is a journey through a woman's mind and memories. It has all the elements of heart and drama: love, death, sudden loss of a husband and child, but the search is cerebral, searches within a limited sphere from her own point of view, with little variation, broken up by her compulsion for control through research. Toward the end, even with its brilliant moments, it unfortunately leads to tedium
Over an hour and a half, Redgrave tells us we will all experience what she, as Didion, has gone through. She sits on a wooden chair and talks about her marriage, her family, about coming to terms with her loss, why she feels as she does, why she remembers what she does. The sudden death of Didion's husband, writer John Gregory Dunne, in December 2003, led Didion into her "magical year," driven to remain in control by gathering as much information as she could. She had to deal with absence, and its aftermath, including what Didion calls a "vortex." This is an unexpected suctioning into a whirlpool of memories, emotions and pain. Didion could not let go of the fact of the finality of her husband's death. She explains the "If" thinking -- if you do this, the person will return. Didion, for example, kept his shoes, illogically determining that if she did this, he would come back.
While she tried to make sense of the event, her life was further complicated by the long illness of her only daughter, Quintana Roo. Shortly after the publication of The Year of Magical Thinking, Quintana also died. Her death was not included in the book, but the author includes it in the play. If we've already experienced grief through the loss of a loved one, we can identify with many of Didion's observations and emotions, and know that no one has the right to judge how each reacts to this intensely private situation. Didion is a contained, thoughtful person; some of the hospital workers saw her as "a cool customer." Inside, she was far from "cool."
The play's staging is as Spartan as the memoirs, with curtains designed by Bob Crowley, dropping periodically behind Redgrave's chair to indicate new scenes. Director David Hare retains the restraint of being inside the mind, keeping Redgrave in her chair until the monologue reaches its end.
"Life changes in the instant," Didion wrote in her book. "(The event) seems like a while ago but it won't when it happens to you… and it will happen to you," Life as you know it can change on a dime.
Over the years, people find ways to cope, or they don't. With Vanessa Redgrave's detached recital of Joan Didion's precise, analytic book, one hears a clear, informative view of one author's journey. More head than heart, you will understand Didion's persona, but you probably will not be brushing away tears.
Talk Radio - March 2007
Liev Schreiber is Talk Radio, magnetic in his malipulative maliciousness, riveting to watch as he dissolves and re-emerges through moods of anger, humor, restlessness, frustration and emotional crisis. He is believable in every utterance, every rant, every twitch. With dialogue like — "This country is rotten to the core, this country is in deep trouble. . .and somebody better do something about it" — he gets the opportunity to render a tour-de-force in Eric Bogosian's cynical Talk Radio.
theatrical explosion of ego concentrates on one man, one night, one talk radio
show, but reflects on an entire genre of shock entertainment that continues
today. The show was first performed 20 years ago at the Public Theater, when the author portrayed
Barry Champlain is just on the cusp of going national. He distains everyone, including his listeners and himself, yet sees himself as omnipotent. Despite his drug abuse, breakdown, and inevitable self-destructiveness, his radio audience cannot get enough, reveling as he alternately spews insults, toxic wit, and schmoozes humiliation on the telephone call-ins. He fills the in-between moments with vitriolic outbursts, physically twitching, his leg jumping. He chain-smokes, guzzles coffee and Jack Daniels, does some coke and swills Pepto Bismol. Off the air, he explodes at the staff. His intensity simmers and bursts, but Schreiber never loses his grip. Then at the end, after a barrage of spewing, he breaks apart.
"I come in every night, make my case,
make my point, say what I believe in!
I tell you what you are.
I have to. I have no choice.
You frighten me…"
Realizing that his ire, his fears, the turmoil all around him, it's all mere entertainment. He can't speak. For an endless moment, only Schreiber's face reflects the pain he feels at his inability to articulate. He regains his speech, but the night is over.
Secondary characters fill out the evening. Bathed in sudden harsh light, they face and enlighten the audience about Barry Champlain. It sounds like a good plan, but serves more as a interruption to the main ring, Champlain himself. They break the momentum of Barry Champlain. He is simply more interesting. Unexplainably, Champlain had managed to attract a beautiful assistant/girlfriend, Linda, played by Stephanie March. He treats her like dirt, and understandably, she gets sick of it, but March does not compellingly capture Linda.
His longtime friend, Stu, is the airwaves' velvet rope guard, played by Michael Laurence; his station boss, Dan (Peter Hermann), who helped form this talkative monster, explains,."I keep him on the track. ... I let him go as fast as he can."
The set of a
actors provide voices for a parade of call-ins.
The interest level in these callers runs hot and cold, all pathetic
pleadings for attention and egos demanding equal time. The most memorable call-in is
Liev Schreiber has the role that spotlights the kind of actor who can grasp the audience by the neck and hold on past the last dying gasp.
Prelude to a Kiss - March 2007
A phonograph player sits centerstage, John Mahoney stands behind it, listening to Billie Holiday's haunting version of Duke Ellington/Irving Gordon's tune with the undeniably romantic lyrics:
"Oh! how my love song gently cries for the tenderness within your
My love is a prelude that never dies
A prelude to a kiss."
So begins Craig Lucas' play, Prelude to a Kiss, currently revived at the American Airlines Theatre by the Roundabout Theatre Company. An intimate tale, this love story provokes gentle laughter and gentle tears, unveiling a fantasy sweetness and charm before you sense the stinging poignancy within a supernatural sheathe.
produced off-Broadway in 1990, and later on Broadway, the play was in
contention for a Pulitzer Prize. Back
then its force was believed to be driven by the AIDS epidemic. Today, with the epidemic on the back burner,
at least in the
Peter (Tudyk) and Rita (Parisse) meet at a cocktail party, a slightly insecure guy and a goofy girl with nihilistic, socialistic ideas. If opposites attract, their attraction is instant. They fall in love and Rita brings Peter home to meet her parents, played with doting and spirited enthusiasm by James Rebhorn and Robin Bartlett. A wedding is planned. By this time, plenty of clues have been planted, indicating physical chemistry, Rita's quirkiness, pessimism and fears, and Peter's acceptance of everything she is. All this makes us suspend belief in the upcoming events. Finally, we recognize the subtext of human fears.
But first, back to the wedding. Rita is beyond nervous, verging of hysteria, but the ceremony goes off, albeit shakily. On one side appears an old man, Julius Becker (John Mahoney), mysterious, seemingly innocuous, and about to set the whole situation on its head. While he is not an invited guest, he asks to kiss the bride for luck. Why not, it's tradition? As they kiss, however, they exchange souls. Immediately, the willowy, freethinking Rita takes on new characteristics, the old man's brusque masculine movements, conservative ideas and go-for-broke bravado. Mahoney is equally on target, deftly exchanging his body language for her delicacy and speech mannerisms. Both project their new personalities with believability.
It is not until after their confusing honeymoon is over that Peter acknowledges that Rita is not herself. Who is she? He finds out when he goes to the saloon where Rita used to tend bar and there he meets Becker. Suddenly it is obvious to him that Rita lives within the body of that stranger.
Authenticating this situation depends on subtle updating by Craig Lucas, adroit handing by Sullivan, and credible performances by Parisse, Tudyk and Mahoney. In this production, Mahoney shines as the emotional core, an old man coping with lung cancer but projecting an inner sensuality he never recognized. Mahoney's engaging charm keeps the play of love and loss aloft, steering clear of melodrama. As the couple in crisis, Parisse and Tudyk are persuasive, Tudyk the steadying force of the three characters.
Whatever propels the play's purpose, one point is obvious; life is a mystery, embrace it, get what you can out of it.
John Mahoney's mysterious old man states, "Never wish for anything you're not prepared to receive."
He also concludes with tender potency, "We might as well have a good time while we're here, don't you think?"
Journey's End - February 2007
As wrenching as the visual bloodbath in films like, Saving Sergeant Ryan, live theatre can also slam war into the senses with a personal immediacy. Journey’s End mixes the trite of war with the terror, always building the stress of waiting, frustration, and monotony. You know something is going to happen. The Germans are 70 yards away and closing in, but with meticulous pacing, director David Grindley keeps the tense momentum for over two hours until all hell explodes. It continues exploding after the play ends and the curtain descends, and just past the point when you feel – "Enough!". It is an impact.
R.C. Sherriff was a British insurance agent and a veteran of World War I when he wrote Journey’s End. It was first produced in 1929. It is largely conversation, no action, a repetitive, terse, colloquial account about waiting:
"When anything happens, it happens quickly. Then we just start waiting again,” says one soldier.
All the time,
bombs and gunshots crack the monotony.
The story takes place over four days in a trench in
Jefferson Mays, given top billing, has a lesser
role, but is wryly compelling as the cook, mixing and serving unpalatable
meals, always with the last word. Boyd
Gaines authoritatively portrays Osborne, a down-to-earth veteran, nicknamed
"Uncle" by the younger men. He
is second-in-command to Captain Stanhope, convincingly played by Hugh Dancy in a
role first performed in a reading by Lawrence Olivier. Stanhope once had all the promise of a leader
but would be totally burned out after three years of war if he were not
self-medicating with alcohol. Stark
Sands is the nervous
This is an ensemble of first-rate portrayals of victims of war's desolation and hardship. The soldiers are all terror-stricken yet they have a duty to perform and responsibilities to each other. Watching them keep, and occasionally lose, that stiff upper-lip is riveting to watch.
Jason Taylor's dusky lighting on a claustrophobic set by Jonathan Fensom designs the feel of tension and fear. The sound design by Gregory Clarke is relentless. Journey’s End does not actually shake the Belasco Theatre in the finale, but it seems to reverberate with deafening screams and blasts long and loud enough to settle into the bones of the audience. When the tumult ends, the curtain rises again to present the cast flooded in an eerie, flat light in front of a wall inscribed with fallen soldiers' names. In the performance reviewed here, the audience was too stunned to rise, their unusual silence and the lack of "Bravos!" said everything about a play with impact.
We have been subjected to shock and awe in real time and subjected to unending violence in films and television. We have certainly learned more about modern weapons of mass destruction than we want to know. Journey’s End was written by The Great War, the one that would end all wars. With many millions killed and wounded in that war, you would think the point would have been made. We know that war is hell, but Sherriff's point is that it is also repetitive, boring, agonizing, sometimes necessary, and manages to bring out the respect and affection soldiers appreciate in each other.
Suddenly Last Summer - November 2006
a fan. You can almost feel the
suppressive humidity in Santo Loquasto's tropical
Mark Brokow, the story opens as Violet Venable meets with Dr. Cukrowicz, a name translated as
"Sugar". Flirtatiously, Catharine
dubs him, "Dr. Sugar." Through
one of the two female monologues that formulate the play, we learn that she is
trying to find out the truth how her 40-year-old son really died during a trip
Violet is a doting mother, convinced of Sebastian's poetic brilliance and his choice to be celibate. In previous years, she and Sebastian always traveled together. "It was never Mrs. Venable and her son," Violet tells the doctor. "Always Violet and Sebastian." Like a platonically romantic couple. Sebastian, however, used Violet much as he would later use Catharine. Last year, however, Violet suffered a mild stroke and Sebastian invited his cousin, Catharine to accompany him on the trip. Violet was not happy.
The second monologue belongs to Catharine, a voluptuous, fidgety young woman, in a vivid performance by Carla Cugina, who was also outstanding in the recent Arthur Miller revival of After the Fall. After an injection of sodium pentothal, her detailed account of Sebastian's death forms the dramatic focus of the play. As she tells it, Sebastian used her as bait in Cabeza de Lobo, luring in the young men for Sebastian to enjoy until he was killed and devoured by a group of wild, hungry beggars on the beach.
Catharine returned home psychically battered. Violet arranged for her hospitalization with Dr. Sugar, and after Catharine was stabilized, the young woman moved to the more restful atmosphere of St. Anne's. To silence the memories of Catharine's feverish recollections, however, Violet wants her back with Dr. Sugar, and silenced for good.
Gale Harold is disappointing and undistinguished as Dr. Sugar, bringing little depth to the character. At times, in fact, he seems ill at ease with these florid characters around him – and who can blame him? Two secondary characters, Catharine's mother (Becky Ann Baker) and brother (Wayne Wilcox), convincingly portray greedy, self-absorbed individuals who care nothing for Catharine but only for Sebastian's will. They are straight out of Cat on a Hot Tin Roof. Sandra Shipley plays Sister Felicity, Catharine's unduly harsh caretaker.
With brittle audacity, Blythe Danner portrays a woman of steely resolve who has always done things her way, and will get her way now, despite her breathing problems and fragility. Catharine slowly unveils her own strength and resolve to follow her path, a complexity that Cugina sells with authority.
While his language is always poetic and often beautiful, Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer is less layered than plays like, The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Name Desire. In this Roundabout Theatre Company production, it only sometimes touches its potential within the steaminess of Loquasto's lush garden starring the carnivorous Venus flytrap, the legacy of the enigmatic Sebastian Venable.
Southern Comforts - October 2006
"When it comes to love, sometimes the hardest part is not
finding someone, but learning how to live with that person once you do,"
writes Kathleen Clark. A truism-- and
the basis of
Directed by Judith Ivey with crisp attention to small details, the play suffuses the feel of an earlier age. It is old-fashioned and sentimental, zapped with moments of spice steering the story and its characters into your heart, although probably not the hearts of 20- and 30-somethings. For folks who have been around, seen enough, and experienced enough to discern what is real and important, Southern Comforts offers simple patent pleasures.
Gus has always lived in
When Amanda appears at
his doorstep to give him a pledge notice from the church, he has no intention
of reorganizing his life. Amanda was born in
Since it is raining outside, Amanda decides to linger awhile with
Gus in his house, and this begins a companionship of sorts. By the next scene, they are attending church
together, and Amanda is delaying her planned return to
It is no surprise when they marry, yet while each step is an adjustment
for Amanda; it is an upheaval for the rigid yet compliant Gus. His furniture, for example, is of the
bare-necessities decorating school, and he is fine with that, but when Amanda
moves in, she brings along all her things from Tennessee, bookcases, draperies,
a sofa, armchairs, a lifetime of collections.
This is overwhelming for Gus.
Appealingly played by Keith Davis and Penny Fuller, the two confront the unfolding problems facing new couples after they have lived long lives alone. This comes to a head when the two plan to buy a cemetery plot. Questions arise, which both Amanda and Gus took for granted. What will the gravestone say? Since both were married before, which spouse take precedent? Who will rest with whom?
Set in the present, Amanda and Gus's age situation is a bit
questionable; the story states that they are in their 70's, but as a World War
II veteran, Gus would already be in his 80's.
That aside, both characters are portrayed with natural comfort. Fuller's Amanda blends Southern girlish charm
with the grit of a grown independent woman.
The play takes place on one set, Gus' living room, designed by Thomas Lynch with evocative seasonal lighting by Brian Nason and sound by T. Richard Fitzgerald. Joseph G. Aulisi's costumes are age-appropriate, Gus in everyday casual garb probably similar to what he has worn over the past several decades. Amanda reflects the suburban lady with a tasteful flair.
Southern Comforts is the second offering of Primary Stages at 59East59 Street Theatre. Coming up is a new musical, Adrift in Macao followed by the world premiere of Terrence McNally's Deuce.
Jay Johnson: My Two and Only - October 2006
Ventriloquism – puppetry. They're different, but if you're not a fan, who cares?
You'll care, after you see! Johnson, who wrote and stars in the one-man show, declares, "I was absolutely born to do this." This is Johnson's passion, and he makes us care. During the course of the one-man show, Johnson brings to life a puppet marathon of carefully carved characters to entertain and move the audience with humor, sentiment and information.
Johnson is a boyish-looking Texan who
reached a television audience in the late 70's playing Chuck on Soap, partnered with Bob, his smart-ass
puppet. Some would call Bob a dummy, but
Johnson prefers, "wooden American."
After years of touring and a successful run off-Broadway in 2004,
Johnson is now presenting his creativity and impressive talent on Broadway's
fairly intimate Helen Hayes Theatre. The
charm is a touching and witty look back at his own life, focusing on his
enchantment with ventriloquism. Chatting
casually, he also shares some history of ventriloquism, which goes back to the
Johnson became enchanted with voice throwing at age six when he found his cousin's Jerry Mahoney doll and made it talk. Throwing his voice came easy to him. He was also fascinated by a radio show starring Big John and Sparky. An old-time vaudeville legend in the art, Arthur G. Sieving, later took an interest in the young man and carved Squeaky, who was Johnson's first puppet. Sieving also taught his eager student how the puppet is made, from the type of wood to the varnish and daily care. He told Johnson that when he puts the puppet back in his trunk, he must place a black cloth over his eyes. They stayed in close touch over the years.
The surprising part is how you start looking
forward to the puppets, some of whom are hilarious. There is Spaulding, the loquacious tennis
ball, and a sock-puppet snake named Amigo.
Johnson is a fine actor with comic timing, who communicates warmly with the audience. He has a versatile voice that brings a range of colors to his various puppets. He takes his art seriously, and subtly, he makes his audience feel his passion. A touching moment tells of his saying having to say farewell to his first puppet, Squeaky, before taking the role in Soap. The show wanted Johnson but not the sweet, red-cheeked Squeaky. Soap called for a new, edgier puppet, the sarcastic Bob. Johnson embraced Squeaky one last time and gently placed him in the trunk with the black cloth over his eyes.
Another touching moment came when Johnson called Sieving and learned he had died just days before. Sieving, however, had told his wife that Johnson would be calling soon and he had a gift for him. When Johnson went to meet the widow, she gave him a trunk that Johnson recognized as belonging to Sieving's own puppet, Harry O'Reilly. Sieving had told her that for years, his family was Harry O'Reilly and Jay Johnson, and if you think that does not touch the heartstrings…
Directed by Murphy Cross and Paul Kreppel, Jay Johnson: My Two and Only! is not a show that will have you watching if he moves his lips. Actually, you will not even care, but he is consummate at his art, even putting band-aids on his and his Bob's mouths at one point to make that point. A must-see is his Magic Marker sketch on a board that he then brings it to life. As Johnson claims, "Sometimes we just need to believe."
Beowulf Boritt designed a plain set and backdrop aimed to display the puppet trunks. While there are some risqué moments, it is child-appropriate for those who can pay attention for an hour and a half.
Sisters - September 2006
For drama, turn first to the family. It remains fodder for all tragedy and Irish playwrights are masters of the game. In Declan Hassett's Sisters, Anna Manahan, Tony Award winner for The Beauty Queen of Leenane, portrays Martha and Mary Clooney, two conflicted members of a dysfunctional Irish family in the 1950's
"When you are young," Martha comments at one point, "life is all little pieces; a sort of jig-saw." In Sisters, both women remember their own versions of life's puzzle.
In Act I, Manahan portrays Martha carrying in the cake she has baked to celebrate her 70th birthday. A bitter and resentful woman, Martha is waiting for her sister, whom she sarcastically calls, "her God almighty highness." While she feels Mary had enjoyed the privileges of being the mother's favorite, Martha was inordinately close to her father who died when she was young. Her stories about him are the only instances when her eyes soften and her spirit lightens. She remembers his taking her to sports events and how, after dinner, the two would head for the pub, Martha perched on her father's handlebars as they flew down the road. Her mother and Mary remained behind.
When her father died of a sudden heart attack, Martha was distraught. The Clooneys and the town later discovered that he was involved with the pub's waitress, who left town.
When Mary went off to teach school in
Act II, after Martha's death, belongs to
Mary, who recalls events differently.
Mary's resentment is against her father, his philandering, and his
closeness to Martha. Although Martha
believed that their mother favored Mary, Mary states firmly that this was not
The two live parallel lives, but there is in each, a secret that for years, neither knew the other shared. They were each raped, and that experience serves as the dramatic crisis in the play. Remembering the sensibilities of these two Irish Catholic women, it ties them together just as it violently rips them apart.
Manahan portrays both women with intensity, adding subtle layers, filling out both differences and similarities. Michael Scott directs the play at a leisurely pace, edging in the climax with harsh suddenness. The bleakness portrayed is duplicated in Michael McCaffery's costume designs, Martha drab and careless, and Mary in a trim, tailored suit. The staging by Stuart Marshall places a rural touch of woodchips banking each side, and Michael Scott's lighting provides atmospheric scene and time changes.
Sisters was written for Anna Manahan and debuted at the The City Theatre of Dublin. Declan Hassett's Sisters does not match the in-depth decisive family examinations by other Irish playwrights like Martin McDonagh and Conor McPherson, but Manahan's performance lends it conviction in the universality of family drama.
The Treatment - September 2006
The Culture Project begins its six-week Impact Festival dealing with the impact of torture. Eve Ensler's The Treatment, directed by Leigh Silverman, discusses the post-traumatic aftermath suffered by an army sergeant who had cruelly tortured prisoners of war. The sergeant is given no name and interacts only with the second character, an army psychologist, also unnamed. Imbued is the question of accountability: Is the victimizer always responsible for overly harsh military interrogations or have the rules of the game changed? "The new world is more dangerous," says the sergeant. Should certain conditions unique to modern times mollify his guilt? Why do the military and political higher-ups manage to shield themselves from culpability?
These aspects are not incisively
studied. They are, in fact, avoided,
like "Abu Ghraib" and "
Eve Ensler (The Vagina Monologues) wrote the two-person play for her stepson, Dylan McDermott, who grasps the role with edgy explosiveness. At the start, the traumatized army interrogator, jittery and resistant, is constantly poised to bolt from his chair, scream, and throw furniture around. He is tortured by incessant noises inside his head and cannot sleep. He taunts the psychologist, trying to crack her unflappable demeanor, and this interplay of explosiveness and control builds an interesting tension.
The psychologist is played with untouchable chill by Portia. Her job is to counsel him. Or is it? Their behaviors later begin to shift, focusing in large part to the intrusion of sexual energy/violence. Who is torturing whom? Who is the interrogator?
Ensler wrote a part her stepson could really sink his teeth into, and this he did. McDermott, best known for TV's The Practice, has a chunk of emotionalism to chew on. His angst and suffering move at a rapid pace, overwhelming the underlying questions of torture that might be addressed. With so much noise and angst, the drama begins to seep out of the 70-minute play.
McDermott, projecting much energy into the role, seems stiff and uneasy with the starting dialogue. Only later does he appear to sink into the character. Portia stays in her controlled therapist mode. Yet being nameless and without much fleshing out, both characters remain just symbols and therefore they are hard to engage with emotionally. He is distraught, yes. War provokes terrible actions. We do not find out until the end what the sergeant actually did to his prisoner, and by then medical ethics are breached, the plot shifts and the play ends abruptly. We are left with no new insights, nor even much to talk about.
The set by Richard Hoover is appropriately drab military metal with vinyl furniture. For some reason, the psychologist seems to live in this office all the time, never even changing from her uniform. Justin Townsend's lighting adds subtle time changes. Add the pounding and clanging sound effects by Jill duBoff to the furniture trashing and screaming voices, this is one noisy play.
The Impact Festival concentrates on human rights and political action, and today, a treatise on torture is most relevant. Unfortunately, The Treatment, despite the energetic and talented performances, is a disappointing opening project, and not up to Eve Ensler's usual enticing work
Indian Blood – August 2006
A. R. Gurney is not usually included in the pantheon of leading American playwrights like Tennessee Williams, Arthur Miller, and William Inge, though he has produced a solid output of elegant and skilled work. Not as flamboyant or dramatic as Williams, Arthur Miller, and Inge, Gurney's subjects focus on one aspect of society, White Anglo-Saxon Protestants living in the upper strata of our socio-economic structure. While he occasionally touches down on more political ground, the core of most of his plays concentrate on the genteel classes. He does not exactly skewer, but pokes knowingly at their privileged foibles, elucidating how they affect the rest of us. Indian Blood is a good example of this, a sententious memoir opening the current season of Primary Stages.
takes place within the establishment social class of
Eddie acts as narrator and guide to the story, commenting on everything, turning to the audience to get his point across. He lives with his conservative father, Harvey, with whom he suffers the usual father-son conflicts. His understanding mother, Jane, is typical of the era and secondary in importance to the man in the house, resenting the fact that her husband lives under the thumb of his mother. Jane is, however, a spunky woman, and has her say at the end of the play, easing the tensions in her family.
Despite his misbehaviors, Eddie knows now to get around his doting and spoiled grandmother, and he admires his mischievous grandfather, who is really behind the legend of the familiar "Indian blood." The center of the play takes place at the family Christmas dinner, where various family conflicts come to the forefront, including Eddie's fight with cousin Lambert.
The plot may
be slim, but the characters are likeable and believable. The family dynamics are relevant to the
social climate of
Eddie is compellingly played by Charles Socarides who holds his own against the other actors, although John McMartin as the grandfather is an irresistible charmer. Jeremy Blackman is on target as the nerdy cousin with understandable problems, but he is certainly the schoolmate or relative everyone can resent.
Eddie's mother, Rebecca Luker, while devoted to her family, does not let herself get bested by her in-laws or her stiff husband played admirably by Jack Gilpin. She also gets a poignant moment to show off her gorgeous voice singing You'd Be So Nice to Come Home To at the annual Christmas celebration. Pamela Payton-Wright portrays the grandmother, whose fragile demeanor and appearance belie her power in the family.
Howell Binkley sets a nostalgic ambience on a spare set by John Arlone. The actors move the chairs around, easily
arranging new settings. In the
background are projected slides of
A Stone Carver -- August 2006
Starring Dan Lauria as Agostino Malatesta, a proud, stubborn, infuriating Sicilian patriarch, William Mastrosimone's A Stone Carver, is as much about the separation of generations, division of cultures, and shattered dreams, as it is of urban redevelopment and the state's ability to take away private land by right of "eminent domain." This noble sounding phrase, "eminent domain," more often than not leads to heartbreak. In an Off-Broadway premiere at the Soho Playhouse, Mastrosimone's semi-autobiographical play directed by Robert Kalfin indicates how this edict affected his own family in 1969.
Agostino is a
lumbering hulk with Old World ethics, who worked all his life carving angels,
gargoyles, and cherubs, building a business in
Enter his only living son, Raff (Jim Iorio), with whom he has been estranged. Raff refused to become a stone carver like the seven generations of Malatestas before him. Instead, he owns a successful construction company; he is a community leader and now he comes one last time to convince Agostino to bow to the inevitable and leave the house. With him is his fiancée, Janice (Elizabeth Rossa), coming to meet Agostino for the first time.
Agostino greets them with invectives, insults, a baseball bat, and a shotgun. Janice has been warned about him and is determined to take what he throws at her. It's not easy. When she offers him the gift of a French wine, he refuses with disdain. Not only is she a blonde non-Sicilian, but her father is a lawyer, the worst of the worst for Agostino. Agostino taunts her relentlessly, calling her "pasta asciutto" ("dry pasta"). While you have to admire his spirit, it is easy to see how frustrated he makes everyone. He is a brute, crude, incorrigible, and it takes every ounce of patience for Raff to try to rescue the old man.
Their hostile relationship is painfully evident through almost two hours with no intermission. There are flashing glimpses of Agostino's life with his late wife, Emma, whose face, we learn, is on all the angels he has carved, including the one he is still working on in his kitchen. Agostino, macho and competitive even with his son, provokes Raff to put on boxing gloves and "be a man." This scene promises a dramatic peak, but unfortunately falters. It is Janice who finally turns the tide, realizing that the house and Agostino are one, with all his dreams, hopes, memories part of the masonry. It is she who finds a path around the old man's stubbornness, and finally cajoles him to comply with the inevitable.
Dan Lauria balances Agostino's boorishness with an earthy humor, his love for his wife and Italian opera. Jim Iorio, as Raff capably seesaws from giving up and trying again. We see similarities between the two, stubbornness, temper, defiance. Raff is a cleaned-up, polished Agostino.
Nathan Heverin designed a seedy kitchen set, the last livable space in this once-proud house. Josh Bradford's lingering lighting effectively illustrates the long hours that the family spends trying to tolerate each other. Director Robert Kalfin gamely keeps the hostility tension high.
Mastrosimone's A Stone Carver is fueled by the passion of his own experience. It is not the social thesis of Clifford Odets or the delving everyman family drama of Arthur Miller, but he brings a tale familiar in many cultures and relationships. Agostino's character is intolerable; it is difficult to imagine, even with the brief glimpses of warmth, that anyone would tolerate his bombastic behavior. At the end, watching him leave the house with only his treasured Caruso record, there is a sense of understanding, but not tears.
The House in Town-- July 2006
Lee Beatty's jewel box set and Catherine Zuber's lustrous costumes,
seem to affirm the F. Scott Fitzgerald comment, "The rich are different
from you and me." Richard
Greenberg's The House in Town,
The play begins just after the New Year of 1929, and we all know what event is about to impact the comfortable life of Sam and Amy Hammer. Not only is the Great Depression looming before them, but across the wide Chelsea street where they have long enjoyed an elegant lifestyle, the construction of London Terrace, a huge apartment complex, threatens not only their view and their sunlight, but figuratively darkens their future. In their townhouse, they are relaxing after their New Year's party, chatting with best friends, Jean and Con. As Amy (Jessica Hecht) chatters away with the brittle Jean (Becky Ann Baker), we learn that she yearns for a baby and is about to "return" to having sex with her workaholic husband, Sam. Before the term "biological clock" was popular, Amy is feeling the ravages of impending menopause and believes one more try may change things.
There are interesting contrasts between Sam and Amy, physical as well as emotional. Amy looks the part of a soft, gentle, hopeful wife who has always done her perfect wife job. Sam, played by the stern-jawed Mark Harelik, resembles the hard-nosed, rigid businessman that he is. Sam has recently shown a uniquely strong interest in one of his young clerks working in his successful department store. What sort of interest? Patience – the story does emerge, mostly due to the multilayered performances by Hecht and Harelik. Greenberg reveals the social fabric they live in, with values and bigotry like the impersonal reference of servants as "the Irish" and the underlying prejudice of Amy's WASP family, and Amy herself, toward her Jewish husband.
Ultimately, The House in Town is Amy's show, and Hecht does a strong job of forming the character of a woman faced with impending disaster. How she handles it is the force of the story. When the truth about her husband emerges, the rather vacuous naivete she buoyantly portrays through three-quarters of the play slowly reveals a steely core she never knew she had, nor could we anticipate. How Sam handles the situation is equally contradictory to his super-conservative demeanor.
Jean, Amy's friend, Jean, is gossipy and mean-spirited; Amy doesn't quite approve of Jean yet confides in her. Jean keeps her informed with real life and the gossip whirling in their social set. Armand Schultz as Jean's husband, Con, is a gynecologist who performs necessary illegal procedures.
These four actors reveal their individualism in compact ways. Dan Bittner plays Christopher Valence, the young clerk with jittery apprehension. Except for the mystery connection with Sam, he is referred to more than actually present.
The characters' turmoil and the encroachment of the outside world with new problems merge the story and the set, with its plush interior against the hard gray girders outside. Brian MacDevitt's lighting enhances these contrasts as does David Van Tieghem's sound design. The show constantly balances hard and soft, light and dark, comfort and danger, until upheaval takes over. The story may not be new or particularly dramatic, but the direction, creatives and actors take it back to the era where it is set, and illuminate the emotional chaos that finally ends the carefully paced story arc.
The rich are different from you and me? The House in Town displays, rather than probes, intimate problems of universality and how much or little, cash, credit and power will help smooth the march of time.
Pig Farm -- June 2006
There's something about pigs that appeal to us -- "this little piggy…." The Three Little Pigs, Charlotte's Web, Miss Piggy, George Clooney's famous pet pig, and probably skipping over a few, we're now at Pig Farm. Directed by John Rando, the Roundabout Theatre Company with The Old Globe presents this world-premiere slapstick/satire at the Laura Pels Theatre.
Writer Greg Kotis, and director Rando were both behind the successful, Urinetown, The Musical, a show with an unappealing title that won over audiences by being clever and funny in its anti-government stance. The same might be said for Pig Farm, except that the malodorous thread of a storyline is spread a bit too thin and too long.
It has its moments, crazy and wacky, yes, if you're in an Animal House kind of mood. The characters are so off-kilter, the lines so unappetizing, and the physical slapstick so reckless; unless you are really yearning for a ticket to Macbeth and instead is handed Pig Farm, there is still material to urge a giggle or two.
The setting -- a pig farm, where life is hard and dirty, very dirty. The time is now, "more or less". The impoverished farm is owned by overworked Tom (John Ellison Conlee) and his neglected wife, Tina (Katie Finneran), who desperately wants a baby. First things first, however, namely the imminent arrival of Environmental Protection Agency inspector, Teddy (Denis O'Hare), for the pig count. This is the federal government, remember, and counting over 15,000 pigs ain't easy, especially in a fierce thunderstorm. Tom has hired a 17-year-old juvenile detainee, Tim (Logan Marshall-Green) to help out with the bone-breaking work.
Tom, Tim, Tina, Teddy -- do you see a theme here? Besides the "T" names, there are other repetitions like the phrase "more or less," as many fecal jokes as can be shoehorned in, surprise pop-ups, pop-downs and a lot of gore. All these wacky characters on the farm exist on the edge of hysteria, and things start exploding pretty fast. When Teddy, the nerdy EPA inspector arrives, he starts out with his gun in holster, his Law and Order lines and his commander-in-chief attitude set to right injustice, like miscounting the pigs and illegally dumping sludge in the river. It's not long before Teddy is part of this conga line of crazies.
The actors are an intense bunch and they deliver their retching frustration with conviction. Tina, with the storm raging outside, finds herself overwhelmed by the proximity of young Tim, who wants to prove his manhood and you know where this leads. When Teddy walks in on them, he's no fool, he sees what's happening and decides he would also try his hand, so to speak, with Tina. Tina can handle herself though, while out on the farm, poor Tom is busy dumping sludge.
Director Rando throws in as much physical comedy as he can. The scene with Teddy falling backwards down the stairs is frighteningly temerarious, Tina wields a mighty rolling pin, and big Tom's fury is fierce. The emotions swing madly from heartbreak to comedy.
With terrific body language, Dennis O'Hare brings a wimpy zealousness to Teddy, lampooning the power of an inept federal government. Kate Finneran is deadly as the overwhelmed Tina, playing with an authoritative mix of restraint and frantic release. As Tim, Marshall-Green is a persuasive sex-driven, work-avoiding, reckless adolescent, and Conlee is just as plausible trying to survive as his marriage and farm are drowning in…well, you know.
Set designer Scott Pask designed a set verging on ramshackle with convincing touches like the water-stained ceiling and cracked linoleum. Gregory Gale's costumes work well,, with and without mud, and lighting by Brian MacDevitt is outstanding, evoking morning or midnight through the splattered windows.
The play, however, needs a heavy edit pen and the intermission could be cut. Pig Farm is for an entertaining hour or so, but running over two-plus hours, it's kind of stinky.
Does Festen shock? The British hit now at the Music Box Theatre, is a Danish drama about family abuse and the distortion it causes in each of its members, and it does outrage, in an ice-cold, spare Nordic way. Festen presents an accusation and its aftermath, watching the characters unravel. If you need objects flying from the rafters and blinding lights and sound for impact, you will be disappointed.
Watching made-for-television movies and following the news has made the public indelible to shock, though it does not change the fact that horrors inflected within a family are especially chilling; they should stun us, the abuse between loved ones should make us shudder.
Director Rufus Norris sharply guided the characters in David Eldridch's play through their manipulations, denials and insistences of what occurred in well-to-do Helge (Larry Bryggman) and Else's (Ali McGraw) family. The occasion is a family reunion celebrating the 60th birthday of father, Helge, a hotel owner. The hotel is reserved this weekend for family and guests arriving from various destinations, including daughter, two sons, one with a wife and daughter, a grandfather, and some close acquaintances, knowing servants, and later, an unexpected guest.
son, Christian (Michael Hayden), a successful restaurateur living in
The banquet that evening begins graciously hosted by Helge and Else. Christian then makes the first toast, and his deadly words ignite the turmoil when he bluntly accuses his father of unspeakable abuse. The other guests react first with shock, then violent denials which magnify throughout the drama. They seek the comfort of traditional songs, familiar stories, dancing around the table, employing any gloss to keep away the spoken accusations. Questions about the sister's suicide, the mother's culpability (or not), the effects on the other children – are not all answered, but they all provoke more questions. The audience is left with impressions, more of the mind than the heart.
Larry Bryggman plays Helge with a veneer of polish that, despite bursts of outrage and later acknowledgement, will let him survive. As his damaged wife, Ali McGraw rarely varies from expressions of vague distress. Her two speeches could have added considerably to the drama if delivered by an actress able to explore the underpinnings.
Michael Hayden's Christian, the favored son who turns on his parents, and Jeremy Sisto as the troubled brother, are both believably portrayed. Helena, who cannot do enough to embarrass her family, is performed with lusty vigor by Julianna Margulies. In an uncomfortable segment, knowing the others' predictable responses, she has invited her African-American boyfriend (Keith Davis) to join the party.
The story is
adapted from the original play and film by Thomas Vinterberg, Mogens Rukov and
Bohr Hansen. Ian MacNeil designed a
nightmarish black set centered around a long dinner
table that glides forward and back, with a rising bed and a lowering chandelier
as creative hints of other rooms.
MacNeil also provided befitting costumes for the characters; Christian sharp and
A sense of dread floats over the production. This group does not turn to analysis to talk out their issues; they are Scandinavians who prefer to turn aside and pretend nothing happened. Nothing, however, can stop the meltdown of the damaged family that ends the show like refuse after a hurricane.
April 8, 2006
They are Peas in a Pod,
they sing cheerfully, the real Edith Bouvier
Beale and her daughter, Little Edie,
Perhaps better known as Jacqueline Bouvier's
eccentric aunt and cousin, Edith and Little Edie's glory days were spent
luxuriating in the
The first act
takes places on the day Little Edie (Sara Gettelfinger) is to be engaged to
Joseph P. Kennedy, Jr., played by Matt Cavanaugh.
however, prevent the marriage. There are
hints of Little Edie's (Body Beautiful
her father sends a wire that he is off to
Act II is
three decades later. Tumbled-down
Scott Frankel's tunes and Michael Korie's lyrics are infectious with a sound of the Great American Songbook. They dovetail neatly into the pre-WWII ambiance. Some tunes, like the wistful, Will You? in Act I, is poignant. In Act II, Little Edie believes she is as gifted a singer as her mother was convinced of her own talent. She delivers a hilarious song, The Revolutionary Costume For Today, garbed in a convoluted outfit. The absurdity is obvious.
rules this play. Gettelfinger portrays
young Edie convincingly but is such a belter that even her love duets with
Cavanaugh are harsh. Cavanaugh's Kennedy
is barely dashing and he overdoes the
Ebersole is dressed in some William Ivey Long sumptuous gowns in Act I. Set by Allen Moyer beautifully showcases patrician elegance in the first act but fails to display how really decrepit the house was by the 1970's.
April 9, 2006
Rabbit Hole -- February 2006
How do parents deal with the sudden death of a young child? How do the other family members react: Do they -- can they -- help each other, or just isolate into their own hollow spaces? What happens to the driver of the accident car?
In his latest play at the Biltmore Theatre, Manhattan Theatre Club's Rabbit Hole, David Lindsay-Abaire moved beyond his often zany looks at life. He aims to break your heart, and under Daniel Sullivan's deft direction, he succeeds with simplicity and without sentimentality. He examines how different – and how diverse they are! – members of one family deal with grief.
The play opens with Becca (Cynthia Nixon), mechanically folding a child's clothes and setting them neatly in a pile while listening to her kid sister, Izzy (Mary Catherine Garrison), prattle on about her own disjoined, say trashy, life. It's an natural, flowing scene, slowly building to some unsettling facts: The folded clothes are on the way to Goodwill. They belonged to Becca and Howie's (John Slattery) four-year-old son, Danny, killed several months earlier, when he chased his dog into the street and was accidentally hit by a teen driver. When Izzy reluctantly reveals that she is accidentally pregnant, we watch Becca tighten up with pain.
Izzy and the sisters' mother, Nat, played by Tyne Daly, are cut from the same outspoken bolt of family cloth, while Becca is grounded, more self-contained than ever. Howie is floundering somewhere in between. How they individually deal with this trauma is one part of the play, how their family dynamic shifts is another. The heartbreak is that all are suffering.
There is yet a third component, the guilt-ridden teenage driver, Jason, played by John Gallagher Jr. who indicates the play's title in the fantasy he wrote about holes in space and parallel lives. Yet, it's hard not to also think of Alice in Wonderland, falling into the rabbit hole of grief, a crazy world where nothing makes sense.
Cynthia Nixon's finely tuned Becca symbolically wraps her arms around her body, trying to keep herself from falling into splinters. She goes about her life methodically, out of touch with e ven her best friend, disinterested in her husband, their relationship and their sex life. Traces of her lost son are painful. She wants to sell the house and all its memories. The dog is already gone. Howie, in contrast, wants to be surrounded by Danny's books and toys. His only solace comes alone in the dark living room after his wife has gone to bed, watching a videotape of his son. There is an agonizing scene when he finds his precious tape has been erased while we see, through Christopher Akerlind's exquisite lighting, Becca's shadow on the stairs, her hand on the wall, silently watching his reaction. She later tells him she "accidentally" erased the tape.
The anguish of this story is leavened by the loquatious Nat, determined to be upbeat. She's obsessed with the Kennedy family "curse," and you have to laugh at her lines until you learn that she had also lost a son. Is four-year-old Danny's death more important than her adult son's overdose? It is not until she helps Becca pack Danny's toys that she expresses the ongoing heartache she also feels. This is the beginning of survival for Becca that extends when she allows Jason, in his own awkward pain, to pay her a visit. Perhaps one of the parallel universes he writes about is where Danny now lives. It is then that she breaks down with wracking sobs, and later, Becca and Howie makes an attempt to move on together. We leave with hope that it will work out, but there is an uneasy option that it may not.
The finely crafted performances are so human that every character shines with his own light. Tyne Daly's levity is subtly grounded in earthiness and pain. Even Izzy, unable to help her sister even if she could get past her personal priorities, adds another meaningful facet to the family drama.
The turntable set by John Lee Beatty, reveals a perfect upscale home highlighting Becca's compulsive coping.
The only problem with this gripping character study is the intermission, which breaks up the emotional momentum. Otherwise, David Lindsay-Abaire, in his brilliantly delivered Rabbit Hole, proves the universality of one family's dynamics. Good theatre doesn't need much more.
February 2, 2006
Carrie Watts is often, as
she admits, "a hateful, quarrelsome old
woman," but played exquisitely by Lois Smith in The Trip to
Bountiful, she also radiates a youthful girlish buoyancy, whether quivering with
frustration, luminous in the serene silence of her beloved
pre-World War II. In the opening scene,
Carrie, rocking in her chair, gazes at a full moon, letting her spirit take her
back to the peaceful years in the rural gulf town where she grew up,
Until now. With suitcase and
handbag, and a Social Security check safely tucked close to her body, Carrie
gets to the bus depot, keeping a sharp eye out for Ludie and Jessie Mae. A young girl also traveling,
befriends Carrie, and this simple bus trip takes them both to a spot near
the incandescent performance of Lois Smith, the portrayals of other cast
members are similarly multi-layered.
Ludie (Devon Abner) has given up and shut down at the start of the show,
but by the end, after he acknowledges his love and tenderness for
Harris Yulin's staging in the intimate Peter Norton Space focuses in on these
characters and their universal situation of adjusting to life's changes. John McKernon's lighting design illuminates
each setting – the apartment, the bus depots,
Respecting the brilliant performance by Geraldine Page as Carrie Watts in her Academy Award winning portrayal in the film, Lois Smith more than holds her own with layered depth. The Signature Theater Company is offering this revival for $15 a ticket. To say it's a bargain is ridiculous; it would really be ridiculous to let this memorable The Trip to Bountiful pass you by.
January 10, 2006
Souvenir: A Fantasia on the Life of
Sometimes following your bliss is not so terrific, at least for those watching you. If you doubt that, remember the tale of Florence Foster Jenkins in Souvenir at the Lyceum Theatre.
Jenkins was a wealthy lady during the first half of the 20th century, who convinced herself that she was a talented coloratura soprano. "Convinced" is putting it mildly; there was not the slightest doubt in her mind, and she was determined and rich enough to prove it. Considering how wrong Florence Foster Jenkins was, In less capable hands, Souvenir could turn into a sad study of delusion and pathos. Gently put, her singing was chalk pressed across the blackboard, an alley cat in heat, a sonic screech. She had no sense of rhythm or pitch. The music Jenkins heard in her head was nowhere near the sounds that came out of her mouth for others to hear.
nevertheless, confidence, and she was determined to share what she felt was her
gift. She arranged yearly concerts at
the Ritz-Carlton Hotel for her friends, loving every minute of rehearsing and
performing. In 1944, she managed an
engagement at Carnegie Hall. It was
sold-out, which is hard to believe, until you realize that Jenkins had gained
quite a following. Her recordings were
collectors' items, and obviously not for her glorious talent.
Vivian Matalon directed Stephen Temperley's two-character "play with music," starring Donald Corren as Jenkins' long suffering accompanist, Cosmo McMoon. The story is told with protective sensitivity through McMoon's eyes, although he admits, "Her folly was so stupendous you had to admire its scale. Like the
One must wonder, was Jenkins really so oblivious to her lack of talent or was this a narcissistic joke on the public? Kaye is as talented with comedy as with drama and singing; by the end of Souvenir, she has inhabited Florence Foster Jenkins with a warm and sympathetic innocence who insisted, "I only hear the music."
Michael Miller designed a refined set that reflects a wealthy
The Odd Couple - November 2005
Where's the chemistry we've heard about? -- Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick back again to do their Max and Leo magic with Oscar Madison and Felix Unger. That's where the big bucks are going, and that's why over $21,000,000 more big bucks, poured into the Brooks Atkinson Theatre box office before the show even opened. It seems like a no-brainer – a proven team in a proven comedy. For heaven's sake -- it's Neil Simon's, The Odd Couple, a hit play in 1965, a film and a TV series!
classic is still hours of laughs with enough character sensitivity to give it
depth. Who by now doesn't know the
travails of sportswriter Oscar Madison (
scene is priceless; the weekly poker game at Oscar's
Although Felix, has not yet arrived, the game begins. The guys eventually learn that Felix was thrown out by his wife and is threatening suicide. When he finally appears at the apartment, Oscar shows enough sentimentality to invite the suffering Felix to stay with him. It's an invitation promising a mix of laughs, and possibly homicide.
production, however, the explosive quality is one-sided, and it's all
One well-crafted scene has the duo hosting a get-together with two nubile British sisters, Gwendolyn and Cecily, from an upstairs apartment. Oscar is eager for an evening of dinner and passion; the girls are giggly and ready for a good time. Everything's in place, except Felix, mooning over his wife and children. The tables are turned, however, when Oscar goes in the kitchen and Felix shares his despair with the girls. It's a moment of pre-metrosexual sensitivity. Felix even cries, and back in the '60's men didn't do that. Gwendolyn and Cecily nurturing instincts kick in, and Oscar is left holding his burnt London broil. It's the final straw. War is declared. Felix is tossed out.
This is where Felix has the chance to burst forth with his own energy, but Broderick doesn't pull it off.
He has some laughs, clearing his Eustachian tubes, for example, or holding a ladle under Oscar's chin to catch the crumbs, but often Lane's response deflects the moment and makes it his own.
The last scene is another poker game. Felix suddenly returns to the apartment, the sisters with him, to announce that he is getting his things and moving upstairs with them. Bitter irony for Oscar, and a well-written ending.
The supporting players are all first-rate, the poker pals quickly establishing with their own quirky personalities – Brad Garrett as the big gentle cop, Murray; harassed Rob Bartlett (Speed); peevish accountant, Peter Frechette (Roy); and nervous Lee Wilkof as Vinnie.
As the chirpy Pigeon sisters, Olivia d'Abo and Jessica Stone are sparkling potential sex partners with a cute, squirmy appeal.
John Lee Beatty's set tells the story in the first two scenes, Oscar's sloppy apartment contrasted with the same room, now immaculate after Felix moved in and sanitized the place.
Ann Roth designed perfect costumes for mid-century
Joe Mantello directs the play in two acts, and keeps the laughs buoyant, but wouldn't it have been more interesting to have the Oscar/Felix roles reversed. When Oscar gets spruced up for his date, and Felix looks schlumpy in his shirt-tails, the switch is easy enough to imagine.
If you already bought a ticket for this sold-out limited run, don't scalp it; you'll be in for an entertaining evening. The Odd Couple, while of another era, is not offensively dated and it's worth a rerun anytime.
Girl on the
The stage setting is spectacular, a house in the
That’s the best part of Richard Greenberg's A Naked Girl on the Appian Way, a Roundabout Theatre Company production at the American Airlines Theatre.
Families are always a font of drama and comedy, and with this play, Greenberg tosses shovelfuls of dysfunction into this stylized family. As soon as you begin listening to the artificial chit-chat between cookbook writer, Beth Lapin and her perturbed, humanist-businessman husband, Jeffrey, there's such a veneer over the core of these two characters that it's hard to believe or care about what's going to happen to them. The saving grace is that the veneer is comedy with a light hand, except for the one acerbic character, a senile neighbor, Sadie, intelligent but with no connection of discrimination.
by Jill Clayburgh, and Jeffrey (Richard Thomas), are proud of their successful
lives. Beth stands at her sleek kitchen
area chopping vegetables and chatting with Jeffrey. They are waiting for the
return of their adopted daughter and son who have been traveling together
Beth and Jeffrey are liberal parents of 1960's vintage, and so they are supportive of all their children, even when the travelers return with some "icky" news, punched up by a denouement to end the play. In some earlier era, their news would have been shocking, but "icky" is as bad as it gets here. There are two other characters, Elaine (Leslie Ayvasian), a neighbor who wrote a best-selling feminist book 30 years earlier, and Sadie, her nasty mother-in-law who hates everyone, including her late son; she once wrote a book, Against Motherhood. Sadie, played with gusto by Ann Guilbert, is the ginger in this mix of individuals, quoting a lot of uber-intellectual thoughts, as well as calling her daughter-in-law, "Goddam bitch" a few times more than necessary to make the point.
As a study in family dynamics, the play skims lightly, although all the creative elements are in place – bankable director Doug Hughes (Doubt), writer Richard Greenberg (Take Me Out), Clayburgh and Thomas and the others, all actors from film, stage, television. It just doesn't reach down enough. Clayburgh and Thomas play Beth and Jeffrey with reliable aplomb, Clayburgh maternally accepting even of the "icky " factor. Somehow one knows that Jeffrey will come around as well, although another bomb is tossed into the mix just as problem number one is smoothing out.
Doug Hughes directed the play with sleek pacing, but there is not enough in book or characters to work with. Catherine Zuber designed the costumes and John Lee Beatty's set was lighted by Peter Kaczorowsky.
the title come in? While on their tour
bus, Juliet and Jeffrey saw a naked girl as they were passing on the
Dedication or The Stuff of Dreams - August 2005
“The Theatre” is a favorite topic for dramatists. It’s the stuff of life. Darken a stage and anything can happen. With this in mind, there’s a sweetness to Terrance McNally’s melodrama about theatre and its importance, or not, in people’s lives, as well as its own self-absorption. It’s all there in the title, Dedication or The Stuff of Dreams. The impact of this love affair between man and art is palpable, including the danger of carrying the dedication and the dreams too far. It can wander down extraneous paths; it can veer into verbosity. Michael Morris, however, keeps a stern hand on the directing rudder and elicits some impelling performances and an endearing quality. At the same time, and despite ominous situations, there is a comedic gloss to the story and its treatment.
Lou and Jessie, with their technical director, Arnold (Michael Countryman), explore the old building. They unearth theatrical treasures from legendary performers and yearn for what seems unattainable, which is for Willard to let them permanently keep the theatre.
During their exploration, they get several drop-in visitors, including Annabelle Willard herself. She and Lou, seated center stage, discuss the theatre, he dedicated to its life-saving potential, and she proclaiming its uselessness since everything leads to death anyway. The old lady is known for her mean eccentricity and in her present condition, is disinterested in the theatre, children or anything else. Regarding conservation, for example, she declares, “'Save the whales? I say eat the whales! What has a whale ever done for me?'' Her only real contact is with her servant (R.E. Rodgers), upon whom she is dependent on for everything, including daily martinis. After a very theatrical interchange with Lou, however, Annabelle agrees to let him have the theatre -- for a price.
Also appearing are Jessie’s resentful daughter, Ida Head, played by Miriam Shor, a punk rock sensation, long estranged from her mother, and her boyfriend, Toby, astutely played by Darren Pettie. The characters all eventually unravel the secrets between them: Jessie and Arnold, Jessie and Lou’s “marriage,” Jessie and Ida, Ida and Toby, and of course, Lou and Annabelle.
The cast is
Originally intended to open Manhattan Theater Club's Biltmore Theater in 2002, Dedication or The Stuff of Dream was rejected by Lynne Meadow, the MTC’s artistic director.
It’s not a perfect play, but there is enough importance, professionalism, humor, and heart in the show to demand a quality production. With a nostalgic theatre setting by Narelle Sissons, it’s had that chance at Primary Stages.
The Constant Wife- July 2005
Without skipping a beat, the
new 2005-2006 theatre season steps in smoothly just as the previous season
eases to a close. Particularly early is
the Roundabout Theatre Company, that opens like a pop
of champagne with a W. Somerset Maugham showcase for Kate Burton in The Constant Wife at the American
Airlines Theatre. Directed by Mark
Brokaw, the show, set in upper-class
The stars are aligned for
The entire cast admirably portrays the
familiar characters playing out the old theme.
Kate Burton, bubbling, yet sharp and witty.
Though draggy in spots, Mark Brokaw keeps Maugham's well-crafted story paced as silky smooth as the drawing room's lacquered Chinoiserie furniture, so popular in the 1920's. Costumes by Michael Krass as lustrous as well as period suitable, especially the sorbet tints worn by Kate Burton.
The Constant Wife was first performed on Broadway in 1926 starring Ethel Barrymore as Constance Middleton, in 1951 with Katharine Cornell, and the last time, thirty years ago, starring Ingrid Bergman. Kate Burton more than holds her own in this latest renaissance of a frothy, but not mindless, production.
Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story- July 2005
Thrill Me: The Leopold and Loeb Story touches brilliance in the category of dark musical drama. Like the best of this genre, the drama does not leave the audience shattered, but thoughtful. Stephen Dolginoff, creator of the book, music, and lyrics has translated a true story into a tight, compelling two-character play and enhances it with a score that is often thrilling. The music does not stand alone but within the frame of the play, it helps colors in the bizarre personalities of the two young men who grew up to commit the “crime of the century.”
The often-told story takes place in 1924 in
The play opens with Leopold many years later, before a parole board, pleading for his freedom. Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb, both university students, are brilliant sons of rich respectable Jewish families. They fall in love/need. Leopold is emotionally addicted to the psychotic, flamboyant Loeb. It is Loeb who thinks up the burglaries, arson and finally murder that the young men commit. These crimes sexually arouse Loeb, as he ironically explains with Nothing Like a Fire, sung while the two watch a warehouse burn. The weaker Leopold always goes along with him, as melodically stated in the playful and sensual, A Written Contract.
While Loeb convinces his friend that they can get away with anything because they are superior to ordinary people, it is a surprising carelessness that finally brings them down. The end of this play, which director Michael Rupert keeps tight and well paced without an intermission, reaches edge-of-the-seat riveting, as Leopold erupts with meandering thoughts and memories. Loeb, still feeling superior to his captors, focuses on his future as a lawyer, becoming like Clarence Darrow, who gets them life in prison instead of a death sentence.
Both actors, Matt Bauer as Leopold and Doug Kreeger as Loeb are convincing. Kreeger has the charismatic character of Richard Loeb to work with and he does so compellingly, painting a young man of truly evil and sensuous compulsions. Loeb’s rendition of Roadster, luring the victim into the car and consequently his doom, is ice cold. While we’re never going to like the characters, we do get to understand what rules their horrific actions.
The blackness of the play looms over the small stage, set off with a gray, shadowy set of column and boxes designed by James Morgan and creatively lighted by Thom Weaver. A transparent wall in front sets off additional spaces. Lighting by Thom Weaver is imaginatively noir.
Much of the music is melodic, often romantic; the lyrics tell the story, and since the actors are unplugged, the diction is distinct. The only accompaniment is Eugene Gwozdz on piano.
Thrill Me first premiered at the 2003's Midtown International Theatre Festival, produced by Jim Kierstead, who also presents the current production at the York Theatre Company. The version this reviewer saw in late June starred Doug Kreeger as Loeb with Matt Bauer’s Leopold. Since July, the role of Nathan Leopold has been played by composer Stephen Dolginoff. Beginning Aug. 1, Shonn Wiley takes over the role of Richard Loeb.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?- March 2005
They’re back – George and Martha, those famous co-dependents battling their way through marriage. Kathleen Turner has the role of her life in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Longacre Theatre, and she takes a hefty bite and doesn’t let go. Her worthy adversary, George, is played by Bill Irwin, known to most as a comic actor but in this play, even more than in The Goat, he shows his dramatic chops.
An American classic by Edward Albee, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is
enjoying its first Broadway revival in 30 years. While the film and the passing years have
blunted its impact, the play remains a powerhouse. Beneath the relationship of Martha and George
run currents of 1950’s fear of communism, the chill between the nuclear powers,
the debate between art versus science, and the American dream. After
In 1962, the vituperation simmering beneath a marriage was shocking to see and hear the stage; in fact, the Pulitzer Prize jury voted it the most important drama of the year, but the advisory board rescinded the decision and did not award a Pulitzer Prize for drama. Four years later, the intimate nature of the medium of film hurled the play’s intensity in our faces. Today, we see it all on television, an even more intimate medium, and it’s hard to be shocked anymore.
Director Anthony Page precisely focuses on the emotional layers beneath
the sharp humor and the vicious but lonely sorrow of Albee’s drama. Almost
three hours long, Albee’s aims his sharp dialogue neatly at the target, not a
word wasted. George is a burned-out
history teacher at a small college in
The play takes place in their living room in the early morning hours after a faculty gathering. Over nightcaps, Martha begins baiting George, who methodically unveils his own simmering anger. Visiting them is a young couple, Nick and Honey. Nick is in the biology department, full of confident ambition to get what he wants, anyway he can. Honey is his child-wife who already learned to use brandy for her own support. As Martha baits George and he reacts, Nick and Honey’s individual desires and frustrations emerge and by the end, the facades have been shredded and the underbellies revealed.
Kathleen Turner’s trademark husky voice and assertiveness is a perfect fit for Martha, outrageous yet with a heartbreaking vulnerability in Act III. Bill Irwin lets his inner feelings peel like an onion, every layer as brutal as his wife’s and toward the end he emerges with the winning hand regarding their absent son which was the one link that held them together through the years.
Nick and Honey, played by
John Lee Beatty designed a dun colored living room, as joyless as its occupants but a solid background for their colorful battles. Peter Kaczorowski designed nuanced lighting as day breaks.
Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? It’s a simple nursery rhyme spiked with the name of a famous writer consumed with truth and illusion. When George sings the little tune, Martha answers, “I am.” They both gave up on truth years ago, but at the end, all illusions shattered, they have no choice. This is heavyweight theatre, offering as much to chew on today as it did in the early 1960’s.
Altar Boyz – March 2005
Last year we had Mel Gibson’s film, Passion of the Christ. What an uproar that caused. This year we have Altar Boyz at the Dodger Stages; the only uproar here is the roar of laughter. Praise the Lord.
This is a
lighthearted religious send-up of the pop music trend used to advocate
religion. There are conceivably those
few who might take offence at poking fun at something religious; they probably
should not buy a ticket for Altar
Boyz. For everyone else, however,
the show delivers some rascally takes on bringing in the heathens, using snappy
songs performed by the cutest boy band you’ve seen in years. Admittedly, however, it really hasn’t been a
good time for boy bands in
This hour and half of laughs and songs was conceived by Mark Kessler and Ken Davenport. A skeletal frame of a book by Kevin Del Aguila has a Christian boy band, the “Apostles of Pop,” on tour. The band’s theme states, “…hurtin' or hatin'… leads to Satan,” and Satan is not where they want to go, or where they want you to go. The five boys, you might guess, are named Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Juan (yes, that’s right). There is also Abraham. How about that? A Jewish apostle. Who’d have thought?
Staged like a concert, the story has the group winding up
their less-than-spectacular national Raise
To Praise tour in
Altar Boyz is a gentle look at a controversial topic. The music by Gary Adler and Michael Patrick Walker, catchy with a spirited rock ‘n roll beat, has a sweet innocence that slices into the hypocrisy of organized religion. The songs tumble one after the other, nothing standout in quality but you’ll hear more clever lyrics and melodies than you would on the Top Ten and even much of Broadway. There are moments to shine for each of the capable performers who are adept singers with soaring voices. They dance athletically and are all good-looking, and each gets his moments to show his stuff.
Scott Porter’s Matthew steps forward as the magnetic leader of the pack; his ballad, Something About You (“You make me want to wait”), is a dreamy message guaranteed to bring on swoons and blushes, especially when he directs the song at a young girl in a front seat. Cool Luke is a street-smart hip-hopper with a mushy core, played by Andy Karl. Ryan Duncan plays an Iglesias-accented orphan searching for his parents – be careful what you wish for, Juan. He delivers some rhythmic salsa in tunes like, La Vida Eternal. David Josefsberg as the Jewish newcomer, has hilarious ironic moments and states his place in the group with, Everybody Fits. Tyler Maynard is the audience pleaser, Mark, not quite out the closet, although there are those telltale signs, especially with that twinkly eye he casts toward hunky Matthew. Mark gets the 11-o’clock accept-yourself, MTV anthem, Epiphany. How his confession turns out is a cute twist.
The voice of God comes from radio personality, Shadoe Stevens.
Anna Louizo designed a spare, hard-edged set, featuring a catwalk. Natasha Katz provides show-biz lighting with rock concert effects, and Gail Brassard dresses each boy with individual flair. Christopher Gattelli choreographed vigorous and imaginative typical rock gyrations and snappy steps. A four-piece band led by Lynne Shankel keeps the beat, with sound design by Simon Matthews that gives the feeling of a rock concert without the need for earplugs. Directed by Stafford Arima, the show whizzes by like an express train right on schedule. While laughs and songs abound, Arima never lessens his focus on the point of the spoof. The last song, I Believe, reflects a touching sincerity and warmth.
Altar Boyz first appeared at the 2004 New York Musical Theater Festival and should settle in here for a healthy run. Why not? The music is lively, these Altar Boyz are talented and having a good time, and so is the audience. Amen to that.
700 Sundays -February 2005
Some may find that 700 Sundays, Billy Crystal’s look at his childhood through rose-colored glasses, edges over to the sappy side. Sentimental for sure, and even treacle in spots, but 700 Sundays has hit a nerve with theatre goers and Billy Crystal’s "special theatrical event," as the Tony nominating committee decided to categorize it, is the hottest ticket in town.
directed by Des McAnuff, 700 Sundays, refers to the approximate number of Sundays he
spent with his father who died when Billy was 15. The show about his youth, his family, his
life in the suburbs, is actually a two-act play in structure, far from the
stand-up routines and Oscar hosting for which
There’s no sensationalism here at all – no falling into drugs, no physical or psychological abuse, no violent trauma to overcome. The ordinariness of it all is what so engulfs the audience: Sunday nights eating Chinese, the old Plymouth, family barbecues, and the familiar losses of life – the sudden death of his father, the unfairness of illness, the heartbreak of high school love, the yearning to make the team and struggling to make ends meet, the eccentric relatives.
Occasionally you hear an audience member respond to something as if he were sitting around talking with a friend. That’s sort of the case, except the friend is on stage and doing all the talking.
But it is the familiarity that is most engaging. Billy Crystal’s masterful storytelling brings the everyday to life; the Yankee games with his father, how the kids teased his grandfather with the hearing aid, his cigarette-voiced Aunt Sheila and her daughter’s “lesbyterian” wedding, his father – “my first hero” -- and his supportive, loving mother, Helen, who showed incredible courage and strength after her husband’s sudden death. Even if they are too good to be true, it doesn’t matter all that much. It’s a winning story and if it’s not everyone’s life, the sell-out crowds seem to want it to be.
Many one-person projects are inspired by survival
through violent times in turbulent places.
Recently, we had Golda’s Balcony
with her family in a
But she also absorbed tradition like her Communion day, when dressed in a special flouncy white dress, Geraldine was to become the bride of God. Swelling with pride, she runs into mishaps, such as the communion wafer. Even after specific directions about the ceremony, she could not get it down and it stuck on the roof of her mouth. There is panic at the altar and irritation at Jesus. Later, preening outdoors in her finery, a neighbor throws water over her and the dress is soaked. Feisty Geraldine lets revenge overpower religious devotion. It is one of the sweetly funny memories.
There was another day when she ate a mouthwatering lunch of fish and chips only to have it end with a neighbor’s violent death before her eyes.
hour and a half on stage, Hughes refrains from lecturing motivational style
about survival. She sets up a theatrical
story with 24 characters including her younger self and brings them to life
with wit and empathy, flashing from one to the other without missing a
beat. Through swift changes in body
language and speech patterns, she evokes her parents, neighbors, and the
American director who changed her life when he helped bring her to
“My parents,” Hughes says, “learned their roles well.”
There is Eddie, the grocer, nearsighted and eccentric, and Margaret the activist neighbor, assertive and always with a cigarette, even over an open coffin. Hughes uses her expressive eyes as a form of makeup as she telescopes back through her remembrances, deciphering the values she learned that made her strong enough to return to translate into theatre what she endured in her childhood.
At age 14,
Hughes was chosen to appear in a film, Children
in the Crossfire, specifically about “The Troubles,” playing a girl much
like herself. The time she spent in
Belfast Blues surpasses tragedy through
warmth and honesty, always focused on “one wee girl’s story about family, war,
Belfast Blues premiered to critical acclaim in a small
Democracy - December 2004
It was a popular and critical hit when staged in
the play is Günter Guillaume maneuvering his way into Brandt’s inner circle in
the Palais Schaumburg even as Brandt openly disliked him. The obsequious Guillaume (“the hat stand in
the corner”) slyly observed Brandt’s policy-making, particularly regarding
theme of political intrigue and colorful divided personalities, the
kaleidoscope of ambiguities was somewhat diluted when Democracy moved to
The audience closely watches Brandt through the eyes and ears of the spy, Günter Guillaume, played by Richard Thomas who expresses the divided loyalties with confidence, obsequious around Brandt, tortured in himself, a good soldier under his East German superior, Arno Kretschmann played solidly by Michael Cumpsky. Guillaume’s relationship with Cumpsky serves to move the story along and keep the supporting characters straight.
The supporting cast, in their roles as Brandt’s associates, is first-rate though often indistinguishable from each other as each is slithery and self-protective, wary of Guillaume’s growing closeness to Brandt and watching their own positions. Julian Gamble plays Brandt’s bodyguard who sees everything. Robert Prosky portrays the wily Herbert Wehner, maneuvering in vain against Helmut Schmidt (John Dossett) to become Brandt’s successor. Richard Masur is Horst Ehmke.
Peter J. Davison provided a two-tiered set with cubicles holding colored folders, later used for dramatic effect, helped by Neil Alexander’s sound effects and Mark Henderson’s lighting.
According to Michael Frayne, Democracy is about the complexities of human arrangements. Despite a detached leading man, Frayn succeeds in boiling political intricacies down to a personal drama, still leaving the audience uncomfortable with the realization about the ironic, slippery ideal of democracy.
Twelve Angry Men - November 2004
In a world of Court TV, Law and Order and all its offshoots, how relevant can a 50-year-old play about the legal system be? What more can Twelve Angry Men offer us; we’ve seen it all played out in media trials, real and fictional? It takes place in one jury room, after what looks like an open-and-shut murder case; 11 out of 12 jurors are ready to hand in a guilty verdict and go home. Can it be worth another visit?
It can. The Roundtable Theatre Company’s production of Reginald Rose’s Twelve Angry Men, directed with compelling authority by Scott Ellis is currently featured at the American Airlines Theatre, roughly an hour and a half of building tension and satisfying characterizations with no intermission to crack the momentum. A solid ensemble cast tears apart the concept of reasonable doubt, and not surprisingly, puts it together again.
The case involves a teenager accused of murdering his combative father. He claims innocence, saying he was at the movies. He has, however, no alibi and can’t remember what movie he saw. There are witnesses, somewhat dubious: A woman who lives on the other side of the subway elevated tracks says she saw the stabbing through the subway windows, and a neighbor living in the same building as the teenager says he saw the boy running away after the event.
Eleven jurors immediately vote to convict. The holdout is played by Boyd Gaines. He is not sure if the teenager is guilty or innocent, but he thinks they should discuss it. As the other jurors, with their own agendas, argue against him or align themselves with him, the system itself is held up for examination. How reasonable is the doubt? How often do we judge on face value? Was there substantial reason for the murder? What are the underlying reasons for each juror’s decision?
The characters represent certain types and each is known only by his jury number. Gaines’ character is reasonable but tenacious in his stand. Philip Bosco is outstanding as the bellicose bigot who eventually reveals his difficult relationship with his own son. John Pankow is a baseball fanatic; James Rebhorn tries to keep a rein on the proceedings; Tom Aldridge is vulnerable as an old man and Adam Trese is just starting his advertising career. These and the other jurors played by Larry Bryggman, Robert Clohessy, Kevin Geer, Peter Friedman, Mark Blum and Michael Mastro each have room to round out their personalities.
Allen Moyer created a functional jury room set, the wood furniture indicative of an era before plastic table and chairs, the open windows and water fountain indicative of no air conditioning in summer. Michael Krass dressed the men in loose fitting 50’s sports jackets, seersucker suits and casual sports shirts. The look is of a certain age, a time where it was not unusual to see a jury of only white men.
Twelve Angry Men was first performed on television’s CBS Studio One in 1954. In 1957 it became a film starring Henry Fonda and directed by Sidney Lumet, and 40 years later, it was remade for television starring Jack Lemmon. The Roundabout production is the first on Broadway .
While the theme seems straightforward, the underlying turmoil driving each man bubbles quickly to the surface, letting the play evolve into a vehicle with relevance for the millennium era just as it had in Eisenhower’s time.
Guantánamo: Honor Bound to Defend Freedom – November 2004
Bound to Defend Freedom at 45 Bleecker, packs a wallop to those
who listen, even as news from the International Committee of the Red Cross
confirms confidential reports to the
Guantánamo was first produced in
Most telling, however, are the personal stories brought to life by an outstanding ensemble team of actors who portray their frustration, anger, hope, resignation, all using little movement. Maulik Pancholy plays Ruhel Ahmed, a young man accused of terrorist activities. He was arrested and later released, having lost his eyesight because he could not get the necessary contact lenses.
An English Muslim, Begg, (Harsh Nayyar), pleads for his son, Moazzam (Aasif Mandvi), who was arrested when he went to Afghanistan on n humanitarian mission and was then imprisoned in Guantanamo where he remains.
Wahab al-Rawi, played by Ramsey
Faragallah, is an Iraqi born English citizen who went to
play’s point of view is, guilty or
not, there is no due process, no civil rights, no adhering to the Geneva
Convention. Most alarming is how this
plays against our American traditions.
As we send “freedom and democracy” to
Directed by Nicolas Kent and Sacha Wares, the show is occasionally wordy, slowing the pace down, and the slant is not even handed, but the stories are riveting and the message disturbing. The staging of Guantánamo is starkly dramatic, with actors already in their places as inmates, when the theatre opens. In cages along each side, or on beds and chairs in the center marking off small spaces, they are praying, sleeping or sitting. Even during intermission, the actors remain onstage, and as the audience leaves the theatre, the actors, portraying the prisoners, still remain behind.
Reckless – October 2004
Mary Louise Parker, a beguiling actress whose quirky vulnerability captivates her audience, delivers another whimsical performance in Craig Lucas’ offbeat fable, Reckless, which opened on October 14 at the Biltmore Theatre. Parker plays Rachel, a chirpy suburban housewife sitting happily in bed with her husband on Christmas Eve. Outside, the snow is falling softly and the world is peaceful. But not for long. Suddenly sobbing, her husband blurts out that he has taken out a contract on her life and the hit man is downstairs right now. After all of Rachel’s holiday preparations, death is what she is going to get? How fair is that?
Rachel has no choice. Dressed only in a nightie and fuzzy slippers, she slips out through the bay window and runs into the snow, the start of a bizarre adventure. She gets to a phone booth and calls her neighbors for help, but they don’t believe her flaky story. Is this all a nightmare or horribly real?
physical therapist, comes to her rescue.
He brings her home to
She settles in with this new family, finds a job at a humanitarian group, Hands Across the Sea, and appears on a game show, Your Wife or Your Mother, with Lloyd and Pooty. Another Christmas comes and ends tragically, sending Lloyd and Rachel on the run, stopping to rest in various other Springfields around the country. Life is reckless, things happen, and who can explain them?
At the end the puzzle pieces neatly fall neatly into place. Rachel faces reality and finally settles down in the place she has always dreamed of. You can decide whether she’s waking up from the past, or to the past. Or both. It’s not the funniest play in the world, nor the most soul-searching, but there is a message of self-awareness, of the reality of life, and of resiliency.
Directed by Mark Brokow, the tale’s focus is through a len darkly, settling on the bleak edge of humor, comic and tender at the same time. This is largely because of Parker’s screwy lovableness as she bounces from one situation to another, thanks to Brokow’s brisk pacing. Eternally sunny and optimistic, almost to the rim of delusion, she is surrounded by a cast that smoothly serves the zany plot. Thomas Sadoski plays her misguided husband, Tom, and Michael O’Keefe morphs into alcoholism as the layers of his past and present overwrite his future. Rosie Perez as his wife, Pooty, beams a twinkling, deceptive personality. Debra Monk is outstanding playing a versatile lineup of shrinks, as Olga Merediz and Jeremy Shamos energetically throw themselves into various roles.
Allen Moyer's clever, but minimalist set design seems more suited to an off-Broadway house than within the elegant restored Biltmore Theatre.
Reckless originated in 1983 and was revived five years later off-Broadway at the
Circle Rep. The current version is
revived at the Biltmore by Manhattan Theatre Club and Second Stage Theatre.
“Nothing that I do is supernatural," says Marc Salem, a genial, soft-spoken, portly, balding man in a dark suit and a dry wit. While he doesn’t sing, dance or act in his one-man show on Monday evenings at Broadway’s Lyceum Theatre, he sure keeps his audience shaking their heads in amazement and wondering, “How does he do that?”
While amazing viewers with onstage mind-readings,
Whatever mind games he is indulging in, they are performed so slickly, with charm and humor, so that even a most dogged sceptic must be impressed.
“I’m just warming up,”
In one situation, he has several audience members draw pictures and then
deny that they drew them when he asks.
His games become progressively more intricate until by the end – blindfolded and touching nothing – he guesses objects sent up from the audience; sunglasses, keychain, an umbrella, a cell phone, including its brand.
Mind Games has toured around the country and the world, was featured at Feinstein’s at the Regency, and appeared off-Broadway before moving to Broadway’s Lyceum in May, where it sparkles on the evenings most Broadway theatres are dark. Audience members leave commenting with words like, “astounding” and “awesome.” Let’s add to that, “It’s fun.”
© 2008 Elizabeth Ahlfors. All rights reserved worldwide.