Three on a Match
Frank Langella is matchless in Match, The Tricky Part is a triumph, the nighclub Opia opens, and Steve Ross excels at the Stanhope.
As the husband and wife who come to interview Tobias under false pretenses, Liotta and Adams have their moments as well. Liotta's role is underwritten -- not to mention lacking in credibility -- but he plays it with equal measures of dignity and menace. Adams has never been more appealing than in this role of a woman caught between her husband and her conscience. Her performance helps to ground the play and provides a more realistic emotional context to drive the show toward its conclusion. Unfortunately, Belber includes a sexual come-on scene that undercuts the reality. Langella and Adams play this questionable scene with extraordinary delicacy but it unnecessarily upsets our sympathy for Tobias.
You should see this show for the actors and for James Noone's eye-catching set. The less you expect from the play itself, the more you'll enjoy the performances.
To Tell the Truth
Among the large crop of actors who have lately been writing and performing solo shows, Martin Moran is the only one whose work conjures up thoughts of the late, great Spalding Gray. The connection is that both of these storytellers appear to digress only to pull the strands of their stories together in the most elegant and subtle of ways.
Moran is a boyish and appealing actor whose winsome charm pulls us into the tale he tells in The Tricky Part. He begins with funny stories of growing up Catholic but he's cleverly laying the groundwork for something serious as he draws us into his innocent childhood world. The events that shaped his life are slowly and poignantly revealed during the course of the performance.
The sexual abuse of a child by an adult is the subject of The Tricky Part, but Moran tells the story with such clear-eyed honesty that he lets no one off the hook -- least of all himself, the victim. As the situation is presented here, the villain isn't entirely evil and the young boy isn't entirely unwilling. Taking us deep into the heart of darkness but providing the bright light of art along the way, The Tricky Part is beautifully written and exquisitely performed. It's also the least flashy one-person show of the season in that, rather than shifting chameleonlike between dozens of different characters, Moran plays no one other than himself. The only flash here is the flash of truth.
Somewhere Else to Go on the East Side
New York's East Side is fast becoming a buzzing nightclub district, and that's all the more clear with the opening of Opia at Lexington Avenue and 57th Street. The club joins Feinstein's at the Regency, Le Jazz Au Bar, and Regents -- all of which are located within a square bounded by 53rd Street to the south, 61st Street to the north, First Avenue to the east, and Madison Avenue to the west. Opia's talent booker, Lionel Casseroux, took a break from his busy schedule to talk to us about the new venue.
Most recently, Casseroux worked for The Supper Club; he was the man behind Jim Caruso's Cast Party, the weekly event held in the club's King Kong Room. It was there, says Casseroux, in his charming French accent, that one of the owners of Opia came to see him: "Antoine Blech, a singer-composer in his own right, has been a friend of mine for the last 15 years. After the King Kong Room closed, he said he wanted to open a performance room like that."
Thus was Live at Opia was conceived. Explaining what he has in mind for this new bar/lounge/club, Casseroux says, "I want to do something more than just a cabaret. I want to touch different kinds of music." And so, every Saturday evening, the room will feature blues and jazz followed by late-night performances of World Music. "I expect to get big names from Africa, Brazil, and the Caribbean," Casseroux tells us.
On Sunday evenings, Live at Opia will present classic cabaret in the person of John Wallowitch. The famous composer-performer opens this Sunday at 7pm and he'll be there every week at that time on an open-ended basis. "I want this room to be his room," explains Casseroux; "I think he's one of a kind." Following Wallowitch at 9pm will be a series of other cabaret and Broadway performers doing their acts, beginning with Daniel Isengart for two weeks starting this Sunday at 9pm. Among the entertainers to follow in that time slot are Toby Parker and Luba Mason.
According to Casseroux, "there will eventually be a late night Sunday event modeled after Monday nights at the King Kong Room. On Mondays, we'll be doing R&B, showcases for record companies, and CD release parties. I'm starting this Monday at 7pm with a party for Allyson Williams's new CD; she'll be followed by B.J. Crosby doing her act at 9pm. And then we'll have a soul jam from about 10pm till about 2am."
Casseroux describes Opia's eclectic programming as "a sort of Joe's Pub for an uptown audience. People can hang out here because we have a bar and a lounge." He's also making the experience financially attractive: "Cover charges will vary from just $15-$25 per show, depending upon the artist. There will be a $20 minimum that can be used either for drinks or food. After 10pm, there will be a varying, modest cover and no minimum at all." Best of all for night owls, the kitchen will stay open till 1am.
As for booking the club more than three nights per week, Casseroux says, "Once we really get going, then we'll expand. I want to get those three nights right. I think we'll expand in the fall."
Steve Ross: Full of Surprises
In his new show Rhythm and Romance, Steve Ross, who's steeped in the music of Noël Coward and Cole Porter, pulls a shocking surprise when he sings Jim Croce's "Time in a Bottle." Before your chin falls all the way to floor and before you begin imagining Noël and Cole spinning in their respective graves, you should know that Ross performs Croce's pop ballad as if it were a song from the 1940s rather than the '70s -- and it works! When he goes on to combine "Time in a Bottle" with a new song called "Time," by Barry Kleinbort and Joseph Thalken, Ross turns entertainment into art.
The rest of this new act at the Stanhope Hotel features the sort of music you'd expect from Steve Ross: songs by the likes of the Gershwins, Jerome Kern, Rodgers and Hart, and, of course, Coward and Porter. There are also some more recent items by Jerry Herman, Maury Yeston, and Stephen Sondheim, all performed with impeccable taste and exquisite attention to lyrics. And, as always, Ross has included some obscure novelty numbers to give extra spice to an already tasty evening -- for example, a hilarious patter number called "Last Night on the Back Porch" by Lew Brown, Carl Schraubstader, and Johnny Mercer. Steve Ross doesn't have a pretty voice but he sure can dress up a lyric to sound like a million bucks. He continues at the Stanhope in a much-deserved long run through May 16.