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To Sell Out, or Not to Sell Out?

Barbara & Scott attend the opening night performance of Between Us and revel in the music of Finian's Rainbow at the Irish Rep. logo
Kate Jennings Grant, David Harbour, Daphne Rubin-Vega, and
Bradley White in Between Us
(Photo © Joan Marcus)
At the end of a rough and tumble season, Manhattan Theatre Club appears to have settled on a play that will finally appeal to its older, more conservative subscriber base. Joe Hortua's Between Us is not as challenging as some of MTC's better works of the last few seasons, but its attitude toward those who sell out their artistic dreams for the safety and security of home and family is refreshing in its maturity. That attitude also goes very much against the grain of what artists usually have to say on this subject; most of the time, they are boastfully self-congratulatory about the financial sacrifices they make for their work. In this story about two couples that make different career choices, Hortua tries to make the debate over art vs. commerce even handed.

Joel (David Harbour) and Carlo (Bradley White) were graduate students together, each sharing the same dreams of artistic success as photographers. When we first meet them, however, Joel has given up those aspirations to become a wildly successful advertising photographer while Carlo is on the verge of major recognition in the art world. Bitter, drunk, jealous, and oh so miserable, Joel lashes out at his life and his wife, Sharyl (Kate Jennings Grant) during a visit from Carlo and his wife, Grace (Daphne Rubin-Vega), who are appalled at the unhappiness they see in their old friends. The first act is cruelly comic: The way the fight escalates between Joel and Sharyl is both harrowing and hilarious in a gasp-inducing sort of way.

The second act seems all too pat as the tables are reversed. Three years have passed, and now Joel and Sharyl (now reconciled) drop in on Carlo and Grace. The couple who chose art and good works (Grace is a social worker) are now deeply in debt and wholly unhappy. While Joel's crisis was heroically self-destructive and made for grand theater, Carlo's crisis is less theatrical; he's simply worn down, crushed by debt and failure, a petty and diminished man in comparison to Joel. His dignity is gone. Simply put, the second act of Between Us isn't as interesting as the first. Perhaps this in itself stresses Hortua's point about the insidious effects of poverty upon art, but that point could have been made more skillfully.

The acting, on the other hand, is first rate. Manhattan Theatre Club always casts its plays well (as opposed to the Roundabout, for instance). David Harbour projects vulnerability even as he blusters and bullies. As his wife, Kate Jennings Grant has a slightly bemused expression on her face during all sorts of on-stage calamities, befitting a woman who's trying to keep up appearances. White, particularly in the first act, does a wonderful job of expressing his character's success without gloating. Daphne Rubin-Vega rounds out the cast with an earthy innocence in the first act that evolves into an entirely credible moralism in the second.

Christopher Ashley, a director better known for broad comedy, brings a kinetic tension to Act I through movement as Joel and Sharyl verbally parry and thrust with their increasingly sharp barbs; Ashley tries but fails to achieve the same sort of energy in Act II. But set designer Neil Patel scores in both acts, providing a lap-of-luxury home for the wealthy Joel and Sharyl and a rather dingy, crowded New York apartment for Carlo and Grace in the second.


Melissa Errico and Malcom Gets in Finian's Rainbow
(Photo © Carol Rosegg)
Finian's Rainbow Scores

The Irish Rep has done us all a great service in offering a revival of Finian's Rainbow. Little more than an elaborately staged concert version of the show, this show on the company's small stage has more in common with the Encores! series presentations than with a fully realized production. Still, the chance to hear one of the most breathtaking musical theater scores ever written is truly worth the price of admission.

Finian's Rainbow contains at least nine famous songs, among them, "How Are Things in Glocca Morra?" "Look to the Rainbow," "Old Devil Moon," and "When I'm Not Near the Girl I Love." The music of Burton Lane and the lyrics of E.Y. Harburg are the glories of this production; the book by E.Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy, which roundly satirizes racism, was groundbreaking in its day (1947) but loses some of its impact in this 2004 concert staging.

The Irish Rep production, with two grand pianos straddling the stage, is really all about the music. It's performed by an appealing cast led by the radiant Melissa Errico as the heroine and Malcolm Gets as Og, the leprachaun in search of his stolen crock of gold.


[To contact the Siegels directly, e-mail them at [email protected].]

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