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Wilder at Heart

Notes on a Wilder double bill, The Threepenny Opera, the Wau Wau Sisters, and Julie Reyburn's take on The Beatles' Abbey Road.

By New York City
Martin Carey and Maria Dizzia in Pullman Car Hiawatha(Photo © Josh Bradford)
Martin Carey and Maria Dizzia in Pullman Car Hiawatha
(Photo © Josh Bradford)
The alchemy of great theater involves a mysterious combination of ambition, talent, and taste. Right now, the magic we all hope to see whenever the curtain rises can be found in the Keen Company's production of Thornton Wilder's Pullman Car Hiawatha. The revival of this seldom-produced one-act gem along with Wilder's poignant shorter piece The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden makes a pilgrimage down to the Connelly Theatre in the East Village a must.

The Happy Journey... displays Wilder's elegant simplicity of style while Pullman Car Hiawatha demonstrates his breathtaking sense of scope. Both works pulse with a piercing understanding of the human condition, yet they play out with such subtle grace that they never come across as preachy or pretentious. And the current staging of these two one-acts is as artful as the plays themselves.

The curtain raiser is a beautiful piece about a family taking a trip by car to see a needy relative. A slice of life full of character, the playlet is powerfully evocative of a simpler, more innocent time. Charming and ultimately moving, it's the theatrical equivalent of a Norman Rockwell painting. Directed with sensitive understatement by Carl Forsman, it is flawlessly performed by Ann Dowd as the fiercely protective mother, Wilbur Ediwn Henry as the gentle father, Ryan Ward, Laura Plouffe, and Lael Logan as their three very different yet devoted children, and Jonathan Hogan as the Stage Manager.

Pullman Car Hiawatha also features Jonathan Hogan as a Stage Manager in a work that seems a test run for Wilder's later masterpiece, Our Town. Briefly, the piece puts us on a train as it hurtles through the night. We are introduced to everyone in the Pullman car, including the hobo who is hiding underneath it. No American writer, not even Arthur Miller, writes on a larger canvas than Wilder. Here, he pinpoints the train and its inhabitants on a map of the cosmos, expressing life and death in such a way that the audience is transported to a higher plane. Director Henry Wishcamper's brilliant production gives us the glimpse of eternity that's known as art.

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Chad A. Suitts inThe Threepenny Opera(Photo © TK)
Chad A. Suitts in
The Threepenny Opera
(Photo © TK)
A Better Threepenny

The Jean Cocteau Repertory Company has brought back its successful production of The Threepenny Opera for a summer run. Mackie's back in town! We're pleased to report that this partially recast version of the Brecht-Weill musical is significantly superior to the Cocteau's first attempt. The show is economically directed by David Fuller, who uses Roman Tatarowicz's impressively compact set design to great effect. The members of the large cast, led by Chad A. Suitts' solid performance as Macheath, has had the advantage of time to settle into their roles. Those who were in the Cocteau's earlier production seem more polished and the new people, Stephanie Lynge as Polly Peachum and Lorinda Lisitza as Jenny, make a world of difference in raising the professional quality of the show. Lynge brings great vocal and acting range to her performance, singing Polly's songs with assurance and exhibiting a sweet, comic flair. Lisitza's Jenny is commanding; she has the richest voice in the cast and she sparks every scene she's in. This production of The Threepenny Opera has definitely come into its own.

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Wau Wau -- Whoa!

The buzz about The Wau Wau Sisters at Ars Nova prompted us to catch this musical comedy/acrobatic act. Well, the buzz is better than the show; while there are some inspired moments, it's neither as clever nor as consistently funny as one might hope. The lesbian chic of the show has a downtown appeal and its off-beat, spoofy take on a Cirque de Soleil act is appealing but the skit humor too often feels like Saturday Night Live bits -- one-joke gambits that go on long after the laughter has stopped. Tanya Gagne and Adrienne Truscott, the writer-performers, are gifted entertainers. If only they could stretch that gift to include a little more "wow" in their Wau Wau.

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Julie Reyburn
Julie Reyburn
Under the Covers with Julie Reyburn

A new and audacious series of cabaret acts has just been launched at Mama Rose's. Collectively titled Under the Covers, it involves an extraordinary array of performers who've chosen famous record albums that they will recreate in live performance at the club throughout the summer.

We recently caught Julie Reyburn leading an ensemble cast in her version of The Beatles' Abbey Road. Reyburn, singing with Lennie Watts and Karen Mack and accompanied by a killer four-piece band, proved that a rock 'n' roll show need not be too loud. The Lennon-McCartney tunes were given fresh life in this soulful performance; Reyburn brought emotional heft to "Oh! Darling" and a blast of electricity to "Golden Slumbers." The show was boldly and artfully performed without any patter; the singers trusted their material. Michael Barbieri's lighting was wity and wonderful, while J.P. Perreaux's sound was outstanding in its restraint.

Under the Covers was conceived by Watts. Among the upcoming shows in the series are Steven Ray Watkins singing Carly Simon's No Secrets, Rob Sutton in Barry Manilow's Tryin' to Get The Feeling, Mary Foster Conklin in Peggy Lee's Mirrors, Matt Leahy in Frank Sinatra's Wee Small Hours of the Morning, Steven Brinberg in Barbra Streisand's The Broadway Album, and Ricky Ritzel in The Shirley Temple Songbook. For more information, visit the Mama Rose website.

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


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