The Old Frenemies
What constitutes binding ties? Are they marital, familial or just familiarity? Horton Foote looks to untangle this question in his most recent work; The Old Friends. Set in 1965 outside of Houston, Texas six adults are locked in a combustible and static pattern of interaction. The (often alcohol fueled) attacks and schemes are delivered daily. They may be dressed slightly differently from day to day, but they are the same greed, jealousy and loneliness inspired displays. These displays make for some phenomenal scenes and performances but are difficult to absorb... http://heresheisboys.com/2013/08/21/the-old-friends-review/
The Old Friends on Wednesday, Aug 21st, 2013
RE:Finding My Corner of the Sky
Last night, for the third consecutive year, I visited with Betty Buckley at Feinsteins The year?s show, billed as ?Ah Men:The Boys of Broadway? is a collection of Ms. Buckley favorite show tunes from film and stage sung by male characters. She opens, aptly, with ?Tonight?, and goes on to explain her discovery of Riff Russ Tamblyn at the impressionable age of 14. Having also experienced West Side Story at the age of 14, I can attest to the imprint it leaves. Add to that the discovery of both Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly as Ms Buckley and I both did and well, can real life really ever compare? It did last night. To read more: http://heresheisboys.com/2011/10/06/finding-my-corner-of-the-sky/
Betty Buckley: Ah Men! The Boys of Broadway on Thursday, Oct 6th, 2011
We Live Here, by Zoe Kazan granddaughter of Elia, and directed by Sam Gold is in previews at The Manhattan Theatre Club. Set in a beautifully designed John Lee Beatty New England home on the eve of a wedding celebration, family secrets and raw anguish are revealed. The play opens with the mother an almost unrecognizable Amy Irving opening her daughter Ali?s wedding gifts. To save her the trouble. A brittle, insecure, youngest daughter Dinah Betty Gilpin, daughter of Jack Gilpin arrives to almost zero acknowledgment by her mother. Supposedly, mommy is simply overwhelmed by the details of the small family wedding. The bride Ali Jessica Collins arrives with her fiance Sandy Jeremy Shamos whom the parents suspect is gay. He enters carrying lilacs. There is a marked tension and dislike between the sisters, who are 11 years apart. Daddy Mark Blum beloved peacemaker and Greek philosopher, rounds out the family. While still in the throws of awkward family reunion and meeting the fiance, young Dinah?s older boyfriend Daniel Oscar Isaac arrives. He is not exactly every parent?s ideal. Daniel is faculty at Julliard, where Dinah studies piano. He is also the ex-boyfriend of Ali?s deceased twin sister. Small town, that New York City, eh? This stretch of realism in the plot is barely noticeable however. There are much more gaping distractions on hand. The first act is definitely the stronger of the two, but the script could use more? time in workshop. While there are exquisitely crafted moments due in large part to the brilliance of Mr. Gold and very believable dynamics, there are equal amounts of misses. There are very lofty writing aspirations at play pun intended. Bobbing and weaving around the mythology of Adromeda, is not interesting. It should either of been fleshed out or dropped as a theme. My vote is for ?dropped? as it?s an odd device in a play about identical twins. The backdrop of the wedding, while utilitarian, is flawed in its execution. This is a family of New England intellectuals preparing for a small wedding. They would not be engaged in last minute handwritten, place cards, last minute dress fittings, last minute slide shows. Slide shows? The fiance is a Guggenheim winning portrait artist. Slide shows also don?t particularly jive with the mother last minute selecting which flowers from their own garden they will use for the wedding. All of these silly incongruities would not be so distracting if it weren?t for the fact that they are a warning. The number one rule for any writer particularly one in their 20s is ?go with what you know.? Throughout the play, we have the distinct feeling that the playwright is only in passing acquaintance with her characters. Dinah?s anorexia is considered ?cured? yet, her bridesmaid dress purchased very recently no longer fits. She also does not eat. Yet, she talks about her ?recovery? in a very unintentionally fictionalized manner. It?s very hard to believe much about her, when her most defining characteristic is unconvincing. Is she or isn?t she? It?s not that she doesn?t know, it?s that the playwright never decided. We believe she would want to be invisible and therefore develop anorexia, but the psychosocial accuracy is missing. We discover that Althea?s twin sister Adromeda killed herself it was implied earlier after Ali slept with Daniel back in high school. The means not entirely justifying the ends for you? Well, it seems that Andromeda had stopped taking her Lithium and had been locked in the piano room for days, and her parents chose this exact time to leave all the girls alone for the weekend. Still not convinced? Well, it seems the family KNEW she had stopped taking her Lithium, but were pleased she was writing music again, particularly in time for the college application process. Okay, maybe they are crazy enough to have a slide show at a small family wedding. To think that I had thought it irresponsible to send a daughter off to Julliard in the throws of an eating disorder. A flashback is used to tell us Daniel and Ali slept together. It wasn?t needed, but it did add a wonderful haunting element; having the relentless piano playing of Andi behind closed doors. The flashback device is used as the transition for a tipsy Ali and Daniel getting on his motorcycle together. The inevitable accident occurs. Ali is only banged up, but very briefly noted is that the cellist Daniel, has seriously damaged his hand. The moments after Ali is brought home from the hospital are almost unbearably sad. The writing and acting of the parents is simply excruciating. My heart just broke for them and their pain. Sobbing and sniffling, I thought ?yes!, go with what you know!? Clearly Ms. Kazan, has a true gift, demonstrated by those real, raw moments on the stage. What she and the play needed was some serious work-shopping, and a merciless editor. Why does the fiance travel on the eve of his wedding! with his easel and paints? Why are gifts being sent to the parents when the couple already lives together? The ending to this play with real potential, was very disappointing. Sandy leaves Ali. Maybe. Why? Because she slept with her sister?s boyfriend in high school? Because she rode on a motorcycle with him? It?s not clear. Why is the last scene, the sisters snuggling together promising to be there for each other forever? We never find out why they had such a distant relationship. We never find out why the family treats Dinah?s musical gifts Julliard! as a whim. As we wait on the edge of our seats for these illuminations, the play actually ends with the line; ?Look the sun is rising.? Sigh. www.heresheisboys.com
We Live Here on Monday, Sep 26th, 2011
Tyne is sublime
Before even discussing the Manhattan Theatre Club production of Master Class, can we take a moment to appreciate the incredible photo of Tyne Daly? To quote Norma Desmond; they dont make faces like that anymore. In fact, theyve slowed down the production of actresses like Tyne Daly. She has what is known as presence. She changes the electricity in a room. She has a smile not employed in this production that starts in her eyes and goes down to her toes. It does not rely upon precision dental work, but on her using her entire body as her instrument. How apt then that she should portray a fictionalized Maria Callas as written by Terrence McNally. Master Class is a well crafted, less than riveting play about Maria Callas in her later years. It lacks the overall power of the more recent; "artist as subject of a play," Red. However it has many prolonged moments which satisfy and linger. The setting is an auditorium in which Ms. Callas is holding a master class for advanced opera students. Her narcissistic ramblings and outbursts will remind you of your worse workplace moments. Underneath her posturings and hurtful tongue however, are some truly golden nuggets of teaching. The two-act play, directed by Stephen Wadsworth, is interspersed with very gracefully set flashbacks of Ms. Callas. Original recordings are used to great effect. The music, live and recorded, helps to give this play some needed dimension. Two of the three opera students are given the opportunity to really sing, and it is truly magical. It was during those moments that I stopped "watching" and became entranced. The flashback scenes are when things really get interesting, dramatically speaking. This is both a product of the script and of having Ms. Daly perform monologues. I must admit an emphasis on the latter, as the script did nothing to prevent me flashing back to Ms. Daly performing "Roses Turn." It is a testament to the actress embodying the character, that I cringed at her portrayal of Aristotle Onasis. Tyne Daly could probably utter those vulgarities, but as Maria Callas? It was horrifying. In a good way. As the premise of the play is a master class, the house lights are often up and the fourth wall is more scrim than wall. I grew increasingly tense each time Ms. Daly lobbed what I considered to be rhetorical questions at the eager to participate audience. I think this could have been somewhat offset by not having the house lights as high. The script probably does not dictate a wattage. While Im at it, I would probably lobby for a smaller house. It is a small play, and while the Samuel J. Friedman theatre is not huge, its a bit out of proportion. Tyne Daly last performed with the Manhattan Theatre Club in Rabbit Hole. Like Rabbit Hole, the reason to see Master Class is the opportunity to see Tyne Daly. www.heresheisboys.com
Master Class on Thursday, Aug 11th, 2011
A great time!
In the hands of a deft director Doug Hughes skillful musicians and excellently cast actors, Death Takes a Holiday is a simply wonderful experience. The new Rondabout Theatre musical is staged at the very compatible 425 seat Laura Pels Theatre. The intimacy of the theatre is perfectly suited to this delicate production. The set Derek McLane is rather reminiscent of the recent revival of Ragtime, which ostensibly was a concert version of the musical. I was not surprised to learn that Mr. McLane did in fact design Ragtime. I am left with a bit of a chicken and egg question in wondering if Mr. McLane was hired to lend an air of a staged concert to this production, or if this production feels like a staged concert due to the set. Regardless, the device works. The orchestra-lette is set behind a scrim in the fly. While it is always nice to see the musicians no matter how few there are the upstage fly is the perfect placement in this theatre. With the diminutive orchestra upstage, the actors should be perfectly comfortable without microphones in a theatre this size. But alas, no. More than once I was reminded of the Lena Lamont mishaps in Singin in the Rain. Perhaps taping the body mic to the forehead rather than the side of the face, would help? Perhaps it is time I simply gave up this cause? Even with the excessive amplification, there is a lovely old fashioned quality to this musical. I am a huge fan of simplicity and a City Center Encores devotee. I am not bothered in the least by the lack of dance in this musical. I suspect some ticket holders might be disappointed, but I am of the "less is more" and "if you cant do it well, dont bother" school. Id much rather see a lovely performance of honest portrayal than a casserole of all things to all people. The book, by Peter Stone 1776, Titanic does not alter the original storyline or add superfluous sidelines. There were two incongruent attempts at lewdness with which Mr. Stone should not have sullied himself. In the film to musical genre, it is as straightforward in the very best sense as The Light in the Piazza was/is. Maury Yeston Titanic, Nine, Grand Hotel wrote the lyrics and music, and clearly is also no stranger to the movie - musical genre. There are a few absolutely delicately pretty songs in the show. Nothing one would necessarily hum, but quite nice. I did have an issue with the scoring of the music. Many of the numbers are written in a far too expansive range. Nothing would have been lost by bringing down the excessive high notes. The actors, rarely hit them, and when they did it was with effort and flop sweat. It was distracting to the audience and made me wonder what was motivating Mr. Yeston. The best musical numbers are those with the household staff. Their humor and vocal prowess were an absolute delight. There is also a number, performed sitting on the apron, by the three youngest female characters, that is very memorable. The three part harmony is splendid. The casting of this production seems to be a nod to the past as well. There are boldfaced theatre names Matt Cavenaugh and Rebecca Luker but no US magazine veterans. Mr. Cavenaughs role is tiny, which I found surprising, considering his recent lead roles West Side Story, A Catered Affair. Ms. Lukers role was much more significant. Oh, to hear her sing! Even in a mostly forgettable song. Had it not been for her solo, I would have considered the entire cast all quite very good singers. She transcended them all. The performance I saw was the first in which the lead had dropped out. He was the same actor who was a recent no-show for opening night. The cause stated is laryngitis. One has to wonder about the preparation younger actors are receiving. More often than not, I have witnessed no-shows at matinees and they are always the under 35 set, leading me to wonder about their physical preparation for 8 shows a week. I am also at a loss as to how an amplified, rather subdued score its no Phantom! can be so straining. I do not wish to sound unsympathetic. Truly. I simply wonder if more is owed this generation of performers. Digression aside, I thoroughly enjoyed this show. Even without an overture, I knew in the first 5 minutes that it was going to be a good time. I love seeing new things, and what a joy to see something lovely and devoid of gimmick. There were no mindless repetitive thumping bass lines, no screaming lyrics and no sound effects. There were instead; honest portrayals of human beings, with a score that continually worked to move the story along. Much is made of bright and shiny these days. Even more is made of everyones 15 minutes and spotlights. We are often in pursuit of perfection, in material objects, in others, etc. In musical theatre there is an embarrassment of perfection. But for every Gypsy or Showboat, there is a Starlight Express, and in between, there is a whole lot of real estate. I am very happy to live in the neighborhood of Death Takes a Holiday. www.heresheisboys.com
Death Takes a Holiday on Thursday, Aug 11th, 2011
I knew upon entering the utilitarian Marquis Theatre that my instincts were right about seeing Follies. The theatre, located in a Las Vegas styled Marriott, is hardly known for its charm. But there it was, draped in dingy, droopy, graying muslin. The draping was so authentic, most did not know it was not part of the theatre. The set, Derek Mclane so realistically evoked a decaying vaudeville theatre, that I knew attention had been paid. Now I must interject that the only Follies I have seen was an Encores! staged concert version. I may not be the most reliable reporter of the event. Follies, while not a hit when it opened in 1971, is a wonderful mix of poignancy, period styling, and Zigfield Follies/Busby Burkeley pageantry. The songs Stephen Sondheim, you would recognize many, are gorgeous, and there is more than one show stopper. Follies holds an additional, while rare, distinction; it is an incredible showcase for women of a certain age. The premise is a reunion of the Weissman Girls before the closing of a theatre. The Weissman Follies spanned "the years between the world wars" and the reunion is set in 1971. A younger cast is employed to evoke the performers past selves. This would be when I start gushing about the costumes Gregg Barnes. I was reminded of those scenes in The Women and That Touch of Mink. You know, when the ladies sit in a comfortable seat and watch the fashion show while mentally choosing what theyll buy? The 1920s and 1930s costumes were dreamy, as were the 1971 gowns. Mary Beth Peil Women on the Verge, The Good Wife was ravishing in a form fitting black stretch gown and cascading gray hair. Elaine Paige was equally gorgeous on the other side of glamor in an electric blue satin gown trimmed in mink. But enough about the clothes. For now. What a cast! The two couples at the center of the storyline; Buddy and Sally and Ben and Phyllis, are played respectively by; Danny Burstein, Bernadette Peters, Ron Raines and Jan Maxwell. Danny Burstein is always fun to watch if Bert Lahr and Wallace Shawn had a singing and dancing son it would be Danny Burstein but he is far too young for this role. The problem with a show about aging, and one that announces the characters age from time to time, is there is not a whole lot of wiggle room in chronologically blind casting. Bernadette Peters suffers from this fallout as well. At one point she declares herself "49" and there is sputtering in the audience. I feel certain they meant no harm, it was just so outrageous. Ron Raines is not served well by a declaration of his being "53" either. Both Mr. Raines and Ms. Peters are in their 60s, a fact that is only highlighted by pairing them with Mr. Burstein, who is in his 40s. Ms. Maxwell is probably the only principal who is the right age. If one can suspend reality which needs to include the premise that a 52 Ms Peters could ever be a show girl, this whole thing should not be such a problem. Although I find it interesting that during a time of such enormous weight given to appearances, that we choose to overlook the obvious for the slightly more subtle which is fame. This would be the time to shout a big hurrah, that Mr. Raines is on the Broadway stage. He is a veteran concert and regional performer, and known to some for his daytime television work Guiding Light. His voice is so old school rich and reverberating, it took my breath away. Hes a bit easy on the eyes as well. He was a delightful match for Ms. Maxwell, who tore the place up with her "Could I Leave You." The lack of chemistry between Mr. Raines and Ms. Peters was perfect for the story. I know I am in a very small minority in never seeing Ms. Peters stage appeal. I adored her in the Steve Martin films, but find her voice to be thin and nasally. Her role is not huge, but I was left wondering how incredible it would have been to hear "Losing My Mind" sung by Tyne Daly. I had little time to sulk, as I had the transcendental experience of hearing Miss Elaine Paige sing "Im Still Here." I still have chills and a lump in my throat. www.heresheisboys.com Now in between all these rich, gorgeous songs brimming with pathos, are some of the best performances you will see on stage. "Whos That Woman?" is a tap, chorus line, number performed by most of the women. While most of the principal cast are not dancers, Terri White is. She plays Stella Deems and tears up the stage in this number. Holy moly! Ms. White may be familiar to readers of the New York Times. She was profiled a couple of years ago while performing in Finians Rainbow. At 60 years old she found herself homeless. Her performance needed an Encore desperately. I would not be surprised if one is added the show is currently in previews. I suspect that this might not be the quintessential Follies. My guess is that a more appropriate casting of Sally and Buddy would launch this production into the history books. That said, it is without a doubt a must-see!
Follies on Thursday, Aug 11th, 2011
RE:A Worlld Apart is other worldly
How can a modern, intellectually curious Abbess lead her nuns, if she herself has no knowledge of worldly issues? That is the question that reverberates throughout A World Apart by Susan Mosakowski. The Abbess, Mother Augustina, is played by Antoinette LaVecchia with delicacy, beauty and intelligence. Sister Cornellia Amelia Workman and Father Byrne Andy Paris complete the cast, directed by Jean Randich. Mother Augustina, a voracious reader and modern thinker, is a patient teacher as demonstrated in her scenes with Sister Cornellia. These scenes are jewels unto themselves, with these two fine actresses. We are pulled into their relationship and it is pure joy to watch them together. In full habit and wimple, it is their faces and calibrated voices which tell us all we need to know. Mother Augustina?s questioning of the larger world and specifically the laws of celibacy come to a head with the arrival of Father Byrne. A modern thinker himself, Mother Augustina wonders if he holds the answer to her questions. The path to this discovery is halting and difficult but in the end, she does find her answers. The Flea Theater is brilliantly transformed to an Abbey, with lighting Mark Barton and set design Lee Savage. The use of the space, through design and direction is captivating and inspiring. Often the negative space and sound are equally employed to evoke a time and place. There are some clever and wonderfully surprising uses of space as well. This intelligent play celebrates religion and the spiritual self in the context of personal responsibility and higher thought without cliche or obvious bias. There are so many truly beautiful moments in this production. A World Apart is playing through February 26th.
A World Apart on Wednesday, Feb 9th, 2011
RE:Pee-wee - You owe it to yourself
Reviewing Pee-wee Hermans Show on Broadway, is somewhat akin to reviewing Mummenschanz. Playing at the non-traditional Stephen Sondheim Theater and directed by Alex Timbers Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson the stage is set, if you will, for an unorthodox experience. Mr. Timbers hand is evident in the use of strobe lights and spotlights in the audiences face a leftover Bloody Bloody affectation no doubt but he has mercilfully left the actors and script to its own device. The apron of the stage is dressed in cartoon figures that are completely unrelated to Pee-wee, as is the pre-show music and light show. But once the curtain rises? It is pure unadulterated Playhouse. This show is a modernized stage production of the very popular 1980s television morning show, complete with a return of several of the actors. Written by and starring, Paul Reubens, the show stays very true to its roots while embracing this very different format. This show is clearly not for everyone, and those expecting homage to the Pee-wee movies of the 1990s will be confused and disappointed. I dont think children would enjoy this show either I was very careful to NOT attend a matinee, so I can not attest to this firsthand. This show is for fans of Paul Reubens clever, funny and incredibly creative television show. However, you will not be paying a lot of money to just have a larger version of T.V. What is remarkable about this production is the "happening" of it all. From the moment Mr. Reubens came out in character prior to the curtain being raised, the 1,000 member audience responded as one. For anyone who ever experience Rocky Horror at its height, this will feel familiar to you. It is an incredible sensation to scream, simultaneously with 1,000 people, at the secret word. Forgive me, it simply is. There is also something very moving about the deep love that is shown to Mr. Reubens. He is a truly gifted man who has not always been treated so kindly.
The Pee-wee Herman Show on Thursday, Dec 16th, 2010
RE:The Coward is Superb
It?s been 48 hours since I saw The Coward, by Nick Jones and directed by Sam Gold ?00 and I am still giggling. This Lincoln Center Theater premiere is set in 18th century England and stars Jeremy Strong A Man For All Seasons, Conversations in Tusculum, etc. with a supporting cast of seasoned actors. The premise is that a young gentleman, Lucidus Strong has been branded and is a coward by his father played by Richard Poe; M. Butterfly, The Pajama Game, etc. Lucidus initiates a pistol duel to appease his father but finds it would be best to use a surrogate to complete the task. Many shots later, his reputation fully secured as a brave and somewhat dangerous man, Lucidus comes to terms with who he really is. On paper this play could be a Bloody Bloody mess, but alas it is anything but. Gold?s direction, which borders on wizardry, culls the finest moments of humanity, bypasses all easy options, and brings forth the most delicious results. I have seen Mr. Strong in several performances and could not recognize him at all in this character is there finer praise? His characterization of Lucidus, with a nod to Martin Short and David Walliams no doubt, never waivers. What could easily be cartoonish or simply flat out annoying, is simply quite touching. No detail of realism surrounding this farce is left unplumbed. Even the stagehands are dressed in period costume, leading the audience to believe them as household servants. The curtain speech is delivered in character by the butler picture Jeeves admonishing you to turn off your cell phone. The set is decorated to perfection by David Zinn In the Next Room. The Duke Theatre is a relatively small 200 seat and exposed theatre. It is no easy feat to stage utterly convincing fight scenes, gun battles, and set changes in such an unforgiving arena. Gold?s accomplishment is additionally mystifying for this viewer as with The Coward he has ventured into an entirely new genre. The play opens November 22nd and is a definite must see.
The Coward on Monday, Nov 22nd, 2010
RE:Bells Are Ringing Every Right Note
Last night I attended the dress rehearsal of Bells Are Ringing, the opening show of the 18th season of Encores! Directed and choreographed by Kathleen Marshall The Pajama Game, Wonderful Town, etc. this production soars. Featuring Kelli OHara, Judy Kaye, Dylan Baker, and Bobby Cannavale, this staged concert version of Comden and Green and Julie Styne is the purest of incarnations. The rather straightforward book involves an answering service receptionist, Ella OHara and her good nature meddling into the subscribers lives. There is a romantic plot line as well, and a criminal sub plot. The songs are delightful Just In Time, The Partys Over and there are simply insufficient superlatives for the full orchestra. As in all Encores! productions, the orchestra is center stage and directed by Rob Berman. To be able to see and hear a musical overture? Well, I am at a loss for words. The dance numbers throughout are simply delicious. I am not entirely sure which, if not all, of the numbers were the original Jerome Robbins and Bob Fosse creations. Although, the Second Act number; Mu-Cha-Cha simply screamed Fosse. The subway car number; Hello, Hello There! is brilliant in its seemingly simple execution. It is actually quite complicated, but so well choreographed as to seem organic. Im not sure there is a higher standard for choreography than that. Ms. Marshall is quite kind to Ms OHara, a non-dancer, the utmost respect is due for directors who actually protect their actors. Ella is the center of the show, and it takes a very charismatic actress to pull that off. Ms. OHara does so without breaking a sweat. She is perhaps one of the best theatrical singers around today. Acting very well while singing very well is more rare than you would think. If there is any tiny flaw in Ms. OHaras interpretation of Ella it is her own aristocratic air. Given more rehearsal time, Ive no doubt she could lose that entirely and embrace the more vulnerable and slightly common character of Ella. There were two moments that proved this theory beyond a doubt. Ms OHara flubbed her lines on two different occasions resulting in a glimpse of a different facade. The first time is definitely worth specifying as the mistake was hysterical. She instructed the struggling playwright to sit at his computer and write. In 1956. The audience roared, and she was vulnerable and devoid of grace for a moment. I also think she is not particularly well served by the Judy Holliday wig. It is hard enough to shake the image of the incomparable Ms. Holliday while watching this show. What is so fabulous about Encores! is it proves that it is possible to produce wonderful original note: not staged movies musical theatre, with amazing talent on and off stage and without gimmicks of any sort. There is an element of "lets put on a show in the barn" to it, that for me, keeps hope alive. While this was a dress and that of a concert version, the cast was 95% off book for the entire over two hour show. It is a testament to the vision and artistic integrity of Encores! that such a polished production comes out of the most abbreviated of rehearsal time. This production is so far along that it would take very little to move it to Broadway, and for all our sakes I do hope that happens.
Bells Are Ringing on Thursday, Nov 18th, 2010
Lombardi is alright
There are enough gratifying aspects to Lombardi to make it 90 minutes well spent. The very thin play by Eric Simonson, is based on a biography. I dont know enough about sport to comment on the accuracy of the football history. Lets be frank, what I know of sport I learned from Damn Yankees. There are beautiful moments in this play that are by no means the result of Thomas Kails In The Heights, Brokeology direction. Having now seen Lombardi and Brokeology I am left believing that Mr. Kail is adept at knowing his audience and creating a format that will appease. What he is not necessarily skilled at is helping his actors connect resulting in a complete lack of dramatic tension. But he does know his audience. This production, at Circle in The Square, is filled with lighting cues, videos and sound effects. But what a joy to see theatre in the round! While one of the actors Keith Knobbs seemed to have a bubble over his head reading "pivot, pivot, pivot," most of the actors seemed entirely comfortable in the venue. Theatre in the round can be such a wonderful method of drawing the audience into the experience, and I do believe the format helped this production a great deal. It is difficult to asses performances when there simply isnt that much with which to work, but there was one clear stand-out. Judith Light plays Vince Lombardis wife Marie and steals the show I would use a football metaphor, but who are we kidding. Ms Light while known predominately for her soap opera and sitcom work, is a very accomplished stage actress Wit. She owns the stage for every moment she is on. She manages to do so without any cheap tricks which would be simply disastrous in such a small venue but by the sheer force of her embodiment of her character. Dan Lauria plays her husband Vince, and from what people tell me, Mr. Lombardi was ferocious? I wouldnt know that from Mr. Laurias performance. He was likable enough which is probably not helpful for this role but the stage is clearly not his home. I have decided that he was saving his voice I saw a matinee and I have no issue with that, however, he seemed to also be relying on his voice to do all the work for him. That can be a problem. Even so, how wonderful to see an un-miked play!! I was almost dizzy listening to sound actually change as actors moved! How novel. How wonderful. The size and style of the theatre, and the lack of amplification was joyous enough for this reviewer, but added into the equation was the fact that the majority of the audience were first time theatre goers. Now, this might have been the ONLY time they were to venture into a theatre, but thats okay too. Much has been made of the website tutorials that existed for Lombardi fans "it is customary to applaud for performances that please you." but I say "hurray." Come to the theatre to see the football memorabilia in the lobby. Take photos of yourselves in football regalia next to full size Lombardi photos. Flip through the Playbill declaring, "Id see the Blue Man Group in anything." Come one, come all. There is a whole lot of things theatre should be affordable, magical, etc. but what it should never be is elitist. The only downside to this "theatre for beginners" phenomenon was the high school class sitting behind me who arrived 15 minutes late. Their behavior would have appalled you. When the curtain calls concluded, and the house lights came up, I dear reader, had my own curtain speech to give. Please picture if you will, my 5 foot 7 self looming over slumping sitting sullen teenagers. Ahem. "Ive listened to you for 90 minutes, now you are going to listen to me. This is not your living room, this is a theatre, and that is not YouTube it is a play. Those are real people down there performing. They deserve your respect and you will give it to them." I think I lifted some of that from Herbies speech to the stage manager in Witchitas only burlesque theatre.
Lombardi on Monday, Nov 8th, 2010
RE:Time Stands Still is Stunning
At the very heart of Time Stands Still is the tension between two primary human relationships; that which we have with the world and that which we have with our primary partner. The thought, and emotion provoking play by Donald Marguiles Brooklyn Boy, Dinner with Friends is directed by Daniel Sullivan Proof, The Homecoming and playing at the lovely Cort Theatre. This four character Manhattan Theatre Club production moved to Broadway with only one change in cast, Christina Ricci for Alicia Silverstone. The play, set entirely in a decidedly not posh Williamsburg Brooklyn loft, is the story of two couples. It is a tight, lovely, moving and solid play that can only be called acringe inducing "grown-up" play. Perhaps I am attaching this moniker after seeing several productions focused on the angst of twenty somethings? More likely it is due to the very adult subject matter. How does one reconcile ones place in the world with ones sense of self? The primary couple, James Brian dArcy James and Sarah Laura Linney have just returned from Iraq, she with intense physical scars, and he with equally intense psychological scars. James is a freelance journalist and Sarah and acclaimed photographer employed by an acclaimed magazine. The other couple in the mix is Sarahs editor and former torch carrying paramour Richard Eric Bogosian and his new very young girlfriend Mandy Christina Ricci. The central story is how James and Sarah will now move forward. The layers of these four characters are fascinating and are teased out with fine directing nuance. If I had any complaint it was that Brian dArcy James seemed to be a bit restrained in his performance. I was left wondering if Mr. Sullivan intentionally designed the production in this manner so as to allow for Ms. Linney more of a spotlight, or if in fact he was being very faithful to the script. All four characters go through palpable metamorphoses. It is a testament to the actors that I wanted to pummel their characters with questions to tease out more about their motivations. How much of Sarahs life choices are predicated on her trust fund? Would she be so quick to do the work she does if she wasnt supported by someone for which she has utter disdain? And what of James spiral into his new world of fear which is demonstrated just a bit heavy handedly by the former war reporter now wearing a bicycle helmet. Is James fear now as much as a fulcrum as Sarahs money is for her? Richard and Mandy deserve a spin-off play of their own, so too are their lives mesmerizing. We watch their relationship evolve into a solid celebration of positivity while the mature relationship theyve been together 8 1/2 years of Sarah and James can not survive in the lightness. To my delight, Marguiles presents the dark side as an affect of immaturity. There is a lovely moment when Mandy explains how utterly childish it is to wrap oneself in angst and despair. The performances of all four of these actors are simply magnificent. Ms Ricci plays younger quite convincingly and has a graceful and solid stage presence. Mr. Bogosian seems at home both on the stage and in the Brooklyn loft. Mr. James and Ms. Linney are beautiful together and apart. This is an incredibly thought provoking play, that also includes some laughs on of them quite cheap, but Im in a forgiving mood. I am not sure if it will speak to every age group, but if you can see 30 ahead or can remember 55, this play will resonate deeply. The final scene is quietly powerful and quite beautiful, causing a large lump in my throat.
Time Stands Still on Monday, Oct 25th, 2010
Bloody Bloody Offensive
I had actually rehearsed my opening sentence for this Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson review. I was going to say something self deprecating about how long its taken me to see this highly acclaimed and wildly popular musical. I was prepared to offer the feeble excuse that I dont enjoy the Public Theater as a venue. But it all seems rather moot now. I am loathe to really unleash the negativity, I am tempted to merely point out that I am writing this at 3:00 PM and curtain was at 2:00 PM. For all I know, the last fifteen minutes make up for the offensive, sophomoric first 60 minutes. I would like to say that I am more offended by the all white cast and band making fun of the Spanish, Indians, Gays and Handicapped than I am about having spent $70 for my ticket! Unfortunately, I am just not that evolved. I am furious and wish I knew how and to whom I should demand a refund. I know how risky voicing my outrage is. If the audience this afternoon is any indication, people LOVE this show. My apologies for my offense if you loved this show. If you take away the lights, sound design and set, there is nothing but a fraternity review, or at best, childrens theatre with curse words. I wish I could say that the singing made up for it. I cant. I wish I could say that the movement or dance might save the day. It wont, there was none. How can this happen?! Is this the result of the culture wars? When did my side loose so badly? How does the Public of all place produce such a thing? How does it move to Broadway? How does it pass for quality theatre? Look, I like vulgarity as much as the next potty mouth girl, but cursing in and of itself is just not funny to anyone over 12. Making fun of homosexuals? Really? Using a wheelchair to illicit laughs? Seriously? Making a joke about Susan Sontags death from cancer? Im outta here.
Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson on Saturday, Oct 16th, 2010
RE:Women on the Verge are Nuts
It seems utterly absurd to even try and review a show after viewing what was ostensibly a dress rehearsal. But it is indeed that very phenomenon that compels me to blather. I have often paid to see dress rehearsals most often of City Centers Encores and find nothing terribly off putting about the experience, it can in fact, even be exhilarating, deluding me into feeling as if I am part of the experience. What was particularly off putting about yesterdays performance was that on top of being a very difficult show technically it was also a brand-new show. What specific brand of arrogance drives the creative team to not engage in out of town tryouts? Ill never know. I have not seen the movie upon which this musical is based. Im not sure that should be a precursor for seeing a show anyway. I did not enter the theatre with any of my usual "book" fatigue, derived from recent movie-to-show productions or television-to-movie productions really? have all the writers been swept away by evil aliens? I entered the clumsy yet beautiful Belasco theatre, knowing I was in for an adventure and having zero expectations. Let it be said straightaway, that an opportunity to see Miss Patti LuPone, Laura Benanti and even an under utilized DeAdre Aziza even sitting on a stool and talking about what they have loved and loss and wore, would get me to the theatre. As completely crazy as Women on the Verge is and it is I feel I got my $50 worth just with Patti singing on a bare stage wearing nothing but a little black dress and with Laura running across the stage in her underwear during a technical glitch stage whispering to the audience "everythingsgonna be fine." Priceless. But the show? Do I start with the obvious; the absurd Spanish accents yet utter lack of Latinos in any of the leads? Do I mention the miscasting of Brian Stokes Mitchell, or perhaps the mis-writing of his character? How about the superfluous constant moving of huge scenery and scene-ettes that do nothing to move the story? Then there are the gratuitous scenes so many of them that reek of an unchecked ego. All that was needed was a no-man on the creative team. There is a cab driven by the wonderful Danny Burstein that simply must be stopped. It is awkward, cumbersome and does nothing except make ridiculous amounts of noise. Speaking of noise; the sets are really really loud! The sound is completely off on the show, but Ive no doubt that will be ironed out in time. You know its bad when Patti cant be heard over the orchestra! The orchestra is divine, by the way, and it was wonderful to hear an overture no matter how truncated. The voices are all dreamy too, as is the not very memorable music. The lyrics themselves? Eh. The songs and structure of the show are very formulaic. Everything in between is nuts though. Speaking of which, I cant help but wonder about the expression on the face of the insurance underwriter when he/she discovered that his female leads would be dangled from harnesses, swinging on pool toys. Miss Benanti has a history of very serious neck injury, and Miss LuPone is a national treasure. Was that visual effect used twice really worth the risk? And what did it mean anyway? Speaking of risk; whats with the large incredibly stinky fire that is lit on stage? Excessive and scary in such a technically awkward show, not to mention a serious liability for anyone in the audience with breathing difficulties. I couldnt help but think, while watching some of these gimmicks, that a 14 year old boy had staged this show. Im still not entirely sure what the story was/is. The characters arent given much room to develop and the transitions to songs which ostensibly are to move the story forward, simply dont exist. I dont mind that there isnt much of a story and the action is confusing. I really dont. I mind laziness and arrogance and weird out of context dance numbers. All that said, I would see it again. When would I ever again have the chance to see Sheri Renee Scott, Patti, Laura, De"Adre belt out even a middling number together?
Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown on Monday, Oct 11th, 2010
RE:Tigers Be Still is a Must See
I really would have loved to had been at that first meeting with the producers. ?So you want to put on a four character play about five depressed people? You do know that we?re in the business of selling tickets, right?? Let?s face it, the only thing more tedious than being depressed, is watching someone else be depressed. So why then, does Tigers Be Still make an hour and forty five minutes fly by? Tigers Be Still works beyond all measure due to the daring of the playwright Kim Rosenstock conducting of the director Sam Gold and to the spot on acting. Tigers Be Still is the story of two families; one comprised of women, and one of men. Sherry and Grace and their mother are living together; mother lives in bed, Grace lives on the couch, and Sherry has recently emerged from her bed. Wanda the mother has taken to her bed due to the embarrassment of weight gain caused by medication to treat her depression related illness, Grace has taken to her beloved couch due to a sordid broken engagement and Sherry took to her bed mostly due to peer pressure it just started to look appealing and not surprisingly has gotten up for a chance to start her first job. We don?t ever see Wanda, but hear from her often as she uses the house phone to call her daughters, who while adults, feel quite abandoned literally by their father and figuratively by their mother. So how could this possibly be amusing? Or interesting? Alchemy, dear reader, alchemy. And in the theatre, alchemy should never be taken for granted or dismissed. It should be lauded and savored. In a stroke of casting genius and no doubt publicist?s cleverness the role of Grace is played by Natasha Lyonne whose film work includes But I?m A Cheerleader, Slums of Beverly Hills, American Pie, etc. Of late, she is perhaps more known for her tabloid appearances. Ms. Lyonne is fearless in this production. She takes us on a repulsive, hysterical journey through the stages of grief with the assistance of an awesome pop culture soundtrack. At one point Grace poignantly sings Bette Midler?s The Rose to her ex?s voice mail. She does this while clutching her ubiquitous bottle of Jack Daniels. It is a meta-Janis Joplin moment if there ever was one. One can only imagine what it was like to be her younger sister. It is no wonder that Sherry, stone sober and with a master?s degree, still stumbles into the world like a newborn colt; her limbs flailing about her and her eyes wide. She is endearing and recognizable and wonderfully awkward. A hallmark of Sam Gold?s artistry is his directing of awkwardness. It is magical and I can?t fathom how he does it. Is there a secret word? A visualization? I can only marvel. Sherry Halley Feiffer is often paired beautifully with Zack John Magaro, a depressed rudderless recent high school graduate. His principal father, Joseph Reed Birney, a high school paramour of Wanda, has hired Sherry in an attempt to rudder Zack and ingratiate himself to Wanda. I saw Mr. Birney in Sam Gold?s Circle Mirror Transformation and barely recognized him a compliment to any actor. Joseph is keeping a lid on his widower?s grief with uneven efficacy. Zack is more in touch with his loss and takes us on a journey similar to Grace?s. It is a joy to watch Zack unfold and move forward in ways both familiar and utterly devoid of cliche. There are so many perfect and true moments in this production and I am loathe to give them away. I must however, share my delight with the shoe closet ?reveal? that is as staggering to this viewer as David Cromer?s Our Town ?reveal.? One of the more true and beautiful moments happens on the floor of that closet. The lighting and sound add immeasurably to this production. The stage is brilliantly set as both homes, office and outdoors. The perimeter of the stage is constructed of beams and insulation, a reminder to us that we are seeing the most inner workings of these families. Sam Gold is known for his ability to portray the honesty of the human experience, including the humor that often thankfully lives with anguish. It is a joy to watch the intelligence of his direction unfold on the stage. If you are in NYC do see this fabulous production at the Roundabout Underground
Tigers Be Still on Wednesday, Oct 6th, 2010
See it for the performances
Mr. & Mrs. Fitch at the Second Stage Theatre is a rollicking good time and should be treated as such. John Lithgow and Jenifer Ehle, in the title roles are directed by Scott Ellis to absolute symphonic perfection. They are utterly delicious to watch on an astounding set by Allen Moyer. This new play by Douglas Carter Beane Little Doug Laughed is going to be an audience favorite despite its deep flaws. The dialogue is witty and faced paced and at times quite clever. No critique, mine or others changes that fact. But oh, the flaws. Mr. & Mrs. Fitch live in a 2,000 square foot duplex loft in a desirable section of Manhattan. Presumably they do so on Mr. Fitchs salary as a gossip columnist. The play takes place today; twitter, blogging and prominent MacBooks confirm this fact. Yet, the costumes are out of a Noel Coward play. They are gorgeous, but as incongruent as the scathing epitaphs Mr. Fitch hurls at Mrs. Fitch, seemingly out of the blue. This appears to be an homage to Albees Virginia Woolf, but they are just disturbing coming from the mouth of an otherwise pleasing fellow. This fellow, we are told, prefers men, yet Mrs. Fitch makes scathing witticisms about bisexuals bi now, gay later and not to offend her husband. Mr. Fitchs boss, presumably a newspaper editor, calls him in the middle of the night and leaves the most outrageous message on his answering machine. It is difficult to believe that someone in the news business would be so obtuse as to leave a permanent record of berating homosexual slurs slung at an employee. Mr. Fitch has a novel within him and disdain for his day job. Mr. & Mrs. Fitch go to parties with people they hate and scurry back home to type out a column in five minutes. The plot, as it were, then centers around the fact that they create a celebrity, a la A Face in the Crowd. Why they do this and what they hope to gain from it, is not entirely clear, but it makes for interesting comments. We discover that Mrs. Fitch, the more fast paced witty raconteur, is from New Jersey and attended public school. Apparently, this is code for "wrong side of the tracks." There are moments when this word smith is turned into Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday. She attributes fine chocolates, watches and neutrality to the Swedes, and makes obvious errors about Edgar Lee Masters. Whats even more appalling, is the scene written for laughs in which she uses the Joy of Cooking to figure out how to crack an egg, and must find the printed instructions for the stove? Who IS this woman? She was raised in New Jersey, clearly not with a silver spoon, does not work, has no household help we know this because there is clutter in the house but can not crack an egg? Werent we subjected to this display in Adams Rib? The incongruity spills into the dialogue too as Mr. Beane seems uncomfortable trusting the audience. He is most comfortable with witty reparte or turns of phrase, and most uncomfortable putting voice to intellectualism. There are clumsy redundant explanatory lines such as "He was with his excruciatingly young Nabokovian lover" that are cringe inducing. There is a rather desperate Sarah Palin joke as well why not stamp an expiration date on the play? Both acts are interrupted by travel monologues, first she, then he. They move nothing in the story, and bring the real strength of the play their tennis match of words to a screeching halt. The set, though ravishing and a decorators dream of balance and color, left a few questions in my mind. Would the Fitchs who have nothing but disdain for the common, really have Wally Lamb books? Would there be a copy of the Yiddish Policemens Union on the table? I found the fact that I had the same books and ideas as the Fitchs mildly disconcerting. Mr. Beane should have tried harder to align the characters he was creating with what he knew to be true.
Mr. & Mrs. Fitch on Wednesday, Feb 17th, 2010
Run to this Race
I finally saw David Mamets Race this weekend at the fabulous Ethel Barrymore Theatre. Much has been written about Mamets latest plays being "less than Mamet." I am not a huge proponent of holding artists to a rigid historical framework, yet went to this production with just a bit of apprehension. If the critics professional and water cooler alike find Mamets more recent works to be less explosive and edgy, I would agree. If they are equating the fading of sizzle and the increase of substance to be an indication of talent slippage, I would disagree. Race is powerful in the way that Mamet is always powerful. The use of language is intoxicating, the rhythms hypnotic, and the respect for the audience palpable. We are made to question the questions posed. There is subtext that is presented, not pretentiously, but dramatically. There are elements in the storyline similar to Doubt, and clearly the audience left the theatre in a similar; "did he, didnt he?" manner. The cast in classic Mamet style is comprised of four characters. Also, classically Mamet, is the poor female character. Whether the cartoonishly drawn female has become his intentional hallmark or not, it is there, as predictable as a Hirschfeld "Nina." The plot centers around a wealthy white man Richard Thomas accused of raping a black woman. The attorneys considering representing Mr. Thomas are played exquisitely by James Spader and David Alan Grier. Their assistant is a young woman of color Kerry Washington. Directed by Mr. Mamet, on an old fashioned slanted stage, creating great sight lines and interesting subtext. Mr. Thomas displays utterly convincing mannerism of the manner born. There was a moment, when Spader, Grier, and Thomas were on stage together, that I briefly thought of the different decades of pop-culture they represented In Living Color, Brat Pack, Waltons but that is entirely my own issue, and not that of the actors or the production! Ms. Washington is not served by her part or direction. She is stilted and not believable as a person, let alone a neophyte or con-artist were never sure which. Elizabeth Moss was recently able to break out of the Mamet female stranglehold in Speed the Plow. I would suggest, that Ms Moss is the exception. The only other distraction in the production is a strange pause between scenes in the second act. It is not needed dramatically or technically and is just kind of bizarre. If you love language, if you have any interest in race, politics or sociology, or if you simply love seeing brilliant performances, this is the play for you. It was entirely refreshing to leave a play feeling intellectually challenged and respected. The cast could be perceived as interlopers although all are stage actors and this could be seen by some as a bold face name production. It did not feel star studded in the least even William H Macy and his wife, seated in front of me did not disturb the lack of glamorousness of the production. Perhaps when all is said and done, Ill take multi-layered substance over sizzle any day.
Race on Monday, Feb 15th, 2010
So close, so within reach
Last night I attended a preview of A View from the Bridge at the Court Theatre. This is a limited run 14 week production directed by Gregory Mosher Glengarry Glen Ross, Speed the Plow. This was my first time with this particular Arthur Miller play. There is as much back story as there is theatrical story, and I found it all almost too much to absorb. "Bridge" is often seen as the final "take that" in the demise of the friendship between Elia Kazan and Mr. Miller. For years after the McCarthy trials, the two spoke only through their art forms. It is said that Miller expressed his sorrow and rage at Kazan with The Crucible, and Kazan replied with On the Waterfront, that then followed by "Bridge." It is very hard to ignore all that when watching this play that centers around codes of honor, betrayal and human frailty. The play is crafted beautifully and narrated by the attorney, Alfieri Michael Cristofer. Mr. Mosher has directed Cristofer beautifully. It is no small feat to narrate a drama while playing a character within the play. His transitions are fluid and his stage presence pulses with an understated power. The story, as told by Alfieri, is that of a family of first generation Italian-Americans in Red Hook, Brooklyn. Eddie Liev Schreiber and his wife Beatrice Jessica Hecht have raised their niece Catherine Scarlett Johansson. Catherine is supposed to be a sheltered seventeen year old with her first exposure to men her own age illegally arriving in the form of Beatrices cousins wouldnt that make them Catherines cousins too? Rodolpho and Marco. Tragedy unfolds as Eddie finds the budding romantic relationship between Catherine and Rodolpho intolerable. There is an unwholesomeness to Eddies interest in Catherine that colors his entire perspective. The tragedy that results from a man who loses his conscience while caught up in his misdirected impulses is life altering. On paper, this is a powerful drama, and I have no doubt that the critics and audiences will find much to wax poetic. I would tend to agree, with some minor cast changes. By now you have probably heard of the hasty departure of the original Rodolpho. Apparently the head injury he received from Liev Schreiber in a fight scene prevents him from returning to work. This is a shame, as the role is pivotal and the understudy Morgan Spector lacks the necessary charisma. He is physically uncomfortable on the stage and in this role, and he forgive me lacks the pretty face that is necessary for this part. Another little bit of unsurprising miscasting is that of Miss Johansson. She manages to navigate the stage in a convincing manner, but her age is much too distracting. It is impossible to believe that a 26 year old is a sheltered 17 year old. She is not assisted in the least by the costuming Jane Greenwood that makes her look even older. This working class girl of very meager means is put in form fitting color coordinated outfits and bright red lipstick. She is made to look like a 1950s pin-up, and the result is that she and Liev look perfectly natural together as a couple. Had Miss Johansson been 10 years younger, and perhaps not spent as much time with a dialogue coach her attempt at a Brooklyn accent is distracting and inaccurate I think she could have pulled off the part quite well. Jessica Hecht is brilliant and luminescent and I want to see her in every American classic play. She becomes the character Beatrice so completely that even her trademark screen mannerisms disappear. My heart broke for her. Liev Schreiber is a fine actor, there is no doubt. I predict that Ben Brantley sitting the row behind me will adore the performance, as will The New Yorker. Me? I found it overwrought and distracting. I felt as if I was watching him act for two hours. I never "felt" anything, and that is a shame. I wanted to be pulled into his story and empathize with his conflict, for I believe that is what Mr. Miller intended. However, all I really felt was that Mr. Schreiber was performing a one man show and that the emotional calisthenics he demonstrated did not hint at a fun dinner companion off the stage. The bones of a lovely production are in place however. The staging was wonderful, with self contained, restrained moving sets and brilliant fight scenes. Fight scenes, as we all can attest to, are a horror. They are not easy to choreograph Thomas Schall and certainly not always easy to watch. These were pitch perfect and utterly convincing except for one small moment when Mr. Schreiber is careful not to bang Mr. Spectors head on the table. The costume design save Mr. Schriebers "dockwocker dressed by Armani" look, and Ms. Johanssons pin-up look are brilliantly on point. There is one off kilter set construct in the venetian blinds in the Red Hook tenement apartment. I did very much appreciate the absence of microphones and the smallness of the production, both designed to pull me in. The audience make-up was interesting enough to warrant mention. This being previews, there were rows of critics in my section, as well as actors and other such insiders. What was perhaps more unique, was the large subset of audience members who had seen the original production 1956. This made for a very savvy audience Id be savvy too, if Id been going to the theatre for over fifty years! The subtlety of the ovation will not be heard again once the show opens. These insiders gave very enthusiastic applause to the excellent Marco Matthew Montelongo, Ms.Hecht, Mr. Cristofer and Mr. Schreiber, and gave what is known as "polite applause" to Ms. Johansson.
A View From the Bridge on Tuesday, Feb 9th, 2010