Natasha Richardson and Amy Ryan in A Streetcar Named Desire
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Natasha Richardson and Amy Ryan in
A Streetcar Named Desire
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
In real estate it's location, location, location. In theater, it's casting, casting, casting. So we start with the casting of John C. Reilly as Stanley Kowalski in Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire and ask director Edward Hall, "What were you thinking?" Don't get us wrong: Reilly is a swell actor, but he's woefully wrong for Stanley. This part requires an actor with buckets of charisma. We're not asking for another Brando, but give us a guy with some sex appeal. Reilly is a great character actor -- he'd be terrific as Mitch -- but Stanley he ain't.

He's not this production's only problem. Natasha Richardson may be more suitable casting as Blanche DuBois, but her performance is so out of whack that it could use the equivalent of a theatrical chiropractor -- or maybe a better director? The play is all about Blanche's tragic descent from wilting flower to madness, but Edward Hall has Richardson shaking and quaking on the edge of a breakdown right from the start. The sad and subtle delicacy of Blanche's personality is shorn away when the performance starts close to where it should end.

This Roundabout Theatre Company production at Studio 54 has some saving graces. The two supporting players, Amy Ryan as Stella and Chris Bauer as Mitch, give strong, right-on-target performances. In addition, Robert Brill skillfully evokes New Orleans with his two-tiered set. But the major saving grace is the play itself. Sure, you could rent the movie, but seeing Streetcar live is an altogether different experience. The piece is so strong that even a miscast, uneven production like this is worth seeing -- that is, if you haven't already seen it done better.

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

The Dark Side of the Moon

Lena Georgas in Beast on the Moon
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Lena Georgas in
Beast on the Moon
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Earnest and generally well acted, Beast on the Moon is dominated by its content. This is, first and foremost, a play about the genocide perpetrated against the Armenians by the Turks in the early 20th century. We experience the loss through two wounded survivors who marry in Milwaukee, Wisconsin in 1921. Aram (Omar Metwally) is his family's sole survivor, and he is emotionally crippled. He and his new wife, Seta (Lena Georgas), cling to each other in desperation -- but memories, like ghosts, haunt their very souls.

Aram is obsessed with trying to recreate his family. He keeps a large photograph of his lost relatives propped up in his new American home, with the heads grotesquely cut out. He has replaced the heads of his mother and father with photos of himself and Seta, but all the other bodies remain without faces, a circumstance he intends to change by having many children with his new wife. However, it turns out that he can't achieve solace that way: Seta is barren due to having been starved nearly to death during the years of the genocide.

Aram is intense but distant. His wife is our way into the play; she is a scrappy young woman trying to experience life as fully as she can despite being trapped in a stifling marriage with a good but misguided man. Under the direction of Larry Moss, Lena Georgas is a revelation as Seta. In her opening scene as a newly arrived mail-order bride, she manages to be funny and heartbreaking at the same time. Her performance throughout is so achingly real and "in the moment" that we only wish the play were better for her sake.

Unfortunately, even as we are moved by the circumstances of these two tragic characters, the heavy-handed and artificial plot that surrounds them keeps diminishing the effect. Too much of the script defies credulity, not the least of which is the fact that 12 years pass without Aram ever telling his wife how he escaped death in Turkey. Also artificial is the construct of the story, complete with a mysterious narrator (Louis Zorich). We eventually discover his connection to Aram and Seta but, based upon who he turns out to be, there is no way he could know all the things that he tells us.

Beast on the Moon is worth seeing for two reasons. If you're Armenian, the play will have a great emotional impact despite its serious flaws; and if you want to witness a luminous performance, you will find it in the remarkable work of Lena Georgas.

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

Donna McKechnie 
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Donna McKechnie
(Photo © Michael Portantiere)
Donna McKechnie Struts Her Stuff

This weekend at Au Bar, musical theater icon Donna McKechnie finishes up the run of her autobiographical show Gypsy in My Soul. A tightly constructed club act that gives its star the chance to sing a program of famous show tunes, it's clearly designed to play to audiences well beyond the Hudson River. It should play well: McKechnie is in good voice and she's still able to flash some razzle-dazzle dancing.

Much of the material is well-honed in that she has performed it at one time (or several times) in her career, often outside of New York. That is, in fact, the subject of the act: McKechnie's well-traveled gypsy life during which she has played in theaters all over the world. For instance, you'll get a Follies medley derived from her performance as Sally at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, and "Some People" as a memento of her performance as Rose in a Cleveland production of Gypsy.

Backed by a three-piece band, McKechnie struts her stuff on an unusually large stage (by cabaret standards) that gives her room to move -- and she makes the most of it. She teases us with a bit of "Turkey Lurkey Time" from Promises, Promises, a show in which she appeared both in New York and London. She eventually ends with a flourish as she samples her most famous, Tony Award-winning performance, singing and dancing "The Music and the Mirror" from A Chorus Line.

By the way, you'll notice that we refer to the club in which McKechnie is playing as Au Bar, not Le Jazz Au Bar. The venue is quietly changing its name precisely because of bookings like McKechnie; it has featured such other non-jazz performers as Ute Lemper, Karen Akers, and Maureen McGovern. Check it out!

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

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