Catherine Byrne in Eden(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Catherine Byrne in Eden
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
The Irish Rep is one of this city's most consistently successful Off-Broadway niche companies. Two of the reasons, besides the fact that the theater has such a wealth of magnificent Irish plays to draw upon and great Irish actors to play them, is the taste and talent of its two founders, Charlotte Moore and Ciaran O'Reilly. The company is currently enjoying a well-deserved success with its production of Eden by Eugene O'Brien, and O'Reilly is one of this searing play's two exceptional actors.

Directed with intelligence and a simple elegance by John Tillinger, Eden unfolds on a bare stage that is simply (and subtly) divided in half on the diagonal. On one side is the unhappy and unfulfilled wife (Catherine Byrne) who longs for her husband -- or perhaps, in her fantasies, for a sultan. On the other side is the unhappy, unrequited husband (O'Reilly), who longs for a local, young Irish beauty. The action of the play occurs during the course of one day and night as the husband and wife, in counterpoint, tell their stories in monologues that often cover the same ground but from two very different perspectives. O'Brien's play is a rich brew of need, disappointment, desire, and genuine surprise. Every laugh is earned, every heart-stopping moment is as real as a bolt of lightning. Byrne and O'Reilly are sensational; the former's yearning is palpable and the latter's descent into drunken humiliation is visceral. In short, this is the Irish Rep at its best.

********************

Tim Hopper, Julyana Soelistyo, andChristopher McCann in Pericles(Photo © Richard Termine)
Tim Hopper, Julyana Soelistyo, and
Christopher McCann in Pericles
(Photo © Richard Termine)
That Pericles "Sher" is Good

Bartlett Sher's direction of Shakespeare's Pericles at BAM's Harvey Theatre is a unique combination of the visually spare and artistically dense; carefully composed scenes unfold and then melt into others with an uncommon fluidity. The production features exquisite lighting design by Christopher Akerlind and thrilling sound design by Peter John Still. Finally, though, it's the acting that makes or breaks this long, picaresque tale. The Theatre for a New Audience production at BAM offers a strong cast, with Christopher McCann proving once again that he is one of America's best at performing the Bard. He was unforgettable several seasons ago in the title role of Richard III at St. Clement's Church and now he is riveting as the older Pericles, his voice an instrument that seems to emanate from the place where pain and ecstasy meet.

As the younger Pericles, Tim Hopper is commanding yet entirely human and vulnerable. Robert LuPone is exceptional in a dual assignment. Andrew Weems is particularly effective as Good Simonides, a King with a heart of gold, while Graham Winton stands out in several supporting roles. Unfortunately, Kristine Nielsen disappoints because she keeps returning to her bag of comic tricks; she's funny if you see her once, but if you follow her career over time, you may grow weary of her shtick. Also disappointing is Julyana Soelistyo as Marina, Pericles's lost daughter; she doesn't have the voice for Shakespeare and it hurts the production.

********************

Max Morath(Photo © Diane Fay Skomars)
Max Morath
(Photo © Diane Fay Skomars)
From Rag to Riches

Max Morath: Ragtime and Again is really a cabaret act, but it's a deft piece of entertainment and the York Theatre Company should take pride in having presented it.

A musicologist specializing in ragtime, Morath combines slick patter peppered with nuggets of fascinating historical information with a sweeping variety of tunes from the height of the ragtime era (the mid 1890s to the late 1910s). He's a scintillating piano player with a modest voice; he's also a very expressive speaker who verges on the hammy, but he has enough personal charm to turn that ham into crisp bacon.

********************

Lucie Arnaz atJim Caruso's Cast Party(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Lucie Arnaz at
Jim Caruso's Cast Party
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Cast Party Now and Forever

Jim Caruso's Cast Party, having been cast out of the King Kong Room in January, is briefly watering at an oasis called Ars Nova on West 54th Street. But after Monday, March 1, Caruso and his caravan will again journey in search of a new location where the weekly event will surely continue to be a musical Mecca. (The Ars Nova, a wonderful space for most types of shows, is too small and lacks the right dimensions to work out as a long-term home for this unique happening.)

The good news is that the Ars Nova experience had made something abundantly clear: The essential aspects of the Cast Party are host Jim Caruso, pianist Billy Stritch, bass player Steve Doyle, and their core of camp followers. The location is unimportant. Wherever these folks set up shop, that place is the Cast Party. They make it so.

Last Monday night was a case in point. The evening began slowly but picked up when singer-songwriter Ray Jessel took the piano to sing his hilarious send-up of Kurt Weill songs. Eric Millegan's rendition of "Don't Be Anything Less" from Snoopy! added to the excitement. As always, there were stars in attendance. Lucie Arnaz sang a Billy Stritch arrangement of "It's All Right With Me" and also assured us that "Something's Gotta Give." Among the evening's other highlights were songwriter Larry O'Keefe's introduction, by way of the fetching and talented Julie Garnye's performance, of a brand new musical comedy number titled "Love is Staying With Me" from Huzzah, a show he's writing. And then there were Caruso and Stritch doing their Sonny and Cher medley (as Sonny and Cher). You had to be there. Seriously, that's the point; you have to be there!

********************

[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at siegelentertainment@msn.com.]