Laura Linney in Sight Unseen(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Laura Linney in Sight Unseen
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Laura Linney gives the performance of her career in Sight Unseen, the Manhattan Theatre Club's searing new production of Donald Margulies's 1992 play. Here we are, moments into a new theater season, and already we've got a sure-fire, award-worthy turn from this increasingly impressive actress. And the play is every bit as good as she is; delicately directed by Daniel Sullivan, it moves seamlessly back and forth through time.

During the course of the play, we watch as Jonathan Waxman (Ben Shenkman) and Patricia (Linney) meet, fall in love, form a relationship, and eventually break up, only to meet again 15 years later. Jonathan has gone on to fame and fortune as a trendy artist while Patricia has never really gotten over the end of their romance. What makes Margulies such a gem of a writer is that the play is only partially about the emotional drama that unfolds between these two characters when they meet again. There is much more than that at stake here...

Sight Unseen is also about the ways in which we all make our moral beds -- and it's also an investigation into the very nature of art. If art isn't understood, is that the fault of the audience or the artist? That's just one of the interesting questions raised during a heated attack on Jonathan by Patricia's jealous husband, Nick (Byron Jennings). More questions about art come when a fiendishly clever German journalist (Ana Reeder) interviews Jonathan at the opening of his latest exhibit in London.

This is, by far, Manhattan Theatre Club's best production during its first season at its new Broadway house, the Biltmore. The play's only serious flaw is the performance of Shenkman, who lacks the charisma that the role requires. But the show still comes alive thanks to Linney's incandescent performance: She fills the vacuum left by Shenkman's passive interpretation of his character with a flow of emotions that seem to ripple through her soul. The power of her acting makes us believe that she really loved (and still loves) Jonathan even if, on the face of it, he doesn't at all seem worthy of this incredibly passionate woman. Without a doubt, the sight to see here is Laura Linney.

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John Hill and Michael Ardenin bare(Photo © Joan Marcus)
John Hill and Michael Arden
in bare
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
Bare is Better Than Its Title

A rock musical about kids in a Catholic boarding school? If there was a show we thought we could skip, it was bare. But, thank God we didn't.

We must confess that this is the rock musical we've been praying for -- and we say this despite the fact that it's yet another show based on a Shakespeare play, in this case Romeo and Juliet. If the show weren't so sharply written, crisply directed, and spectacularly performed, we'd ask all those involved, "Wherefore art thou, imagination?" But bare works. Happily there are plans afoot to reopen the production in September. We'll write about it in more depth when it returns but we wanted to mention it now because this is something you'll want to plan ahead on seeing.

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Curtis Stigers
Curtis Stigers
Curtis Stigers: Smart and Cool

Melding jazz and pop with a close attention to lyrics that's usually associated with cabaret artists, Curtis Stigers is a unique combination of downtown cool and uptown literate. Presently holding forth at the Algonquin Hotel's Oak Room, he takes songs by the likes of The Kinks and Randy Newman and turns them into sensitive jazz statements. When performing Newman's "Marie," for example, he sings with such thoughtful phrasing that one can almost hear the sound of his heart beating in every lyric.

In addition to singing with intelligence, Stigers plays the saxophone with stylish abandon. He's got a talented combo behind him -- but the instrumental breaks within songs often go on so long that, by the time Stigers returns to the lyrics, you find yourself surprised that he's still singing the same number. Mind you, the jazz playing is pretty awesome, but give us a deeply felt lyric every time. The happy surprise is that Stigers can deliver on that score; we'd just like to hear him do so more often.

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