Friday, September 28, 2007
"The Dining Room" presented by the Keen Company at The Clurman Theatre at Theatre Row, September 27, 2007
A. R. Gurney's wonderful 1981 play presents a series of overlapping vignettes that give a glimpse into the many ways a dining room is part of the core of the American WASP. We get to be as much voyeur as audience in this delightful production by the Keen Company. With a cast of six, three men and three women, each actor plays so many roles that they are described in the program as merely, Man 1, Woman 2, and so on.
Director Jonathan Silverstein has assembled a pretty even cast, including Dan Daily, Claire Lautier, Mark J. Sullivan, Samantha Soule, Anne McDonough and Timothy McCracken. Their ages span a generation, but each actor at one point or another plays either parent or child. Stronger among the cast were Samantha Soule, Anne McDonough and Dan Daily.
Ms. Soule had a rather lovely moment as an aging, doddering, family matriarch who no longer recognizes her own family and is terribly uncomfortable at her son's home on Thanksgiving. When she asks to be driven back to her mother's house, her confusion at being told the house was no longer standing was quite touching.
Ms. McDonough also gave a nice turn as an aging aunt, showing her grand-nephew the ins and outs of tableware, from the silver flatware, to the china to the crystal finger bowls. When he reveals that his interest is only for a college anthropology project, her indignation is palpable. She was soon channeling my 13 year old niece with every requisite "duh!"
Mr. Silverstein keeps the pace moving very nicely across Dana Moran Williams' lovely set of a bordered parquet floor with an eclectic mix of Chippendale and Sheraton style furniture, topped with an clever ceiling treatment that turned the Clurman's black box into a much warmer space. Josh Bradford's lighting complemented nicely. Theresa Squires costumes, all in shades of blue tied together well.
I remember seeing "The Dining Room" in the mid 1980s, in another wonderful production under the direction of someone less than talented. Mr. Gurney's writing truly comes through as the strength of this show. It's a wonder there aren't more productions of it - it almost seems fool-proof.
"The Misanthrope" at New York Theatre Workshop, September 22, 2007
Ivo Van Hove, acclaimed for his Obie-winning production of "Hedda Gabler" at NYTW, returns with Tony Harrison's translation of Moliere's "The Misanthrope." This evening of mixed media, as well as mixed condiments and street garbage, is quite a visual and aural effort. Whether it really succeeds or not remains to be seen.
Bill Camp as Alceste, is a man obsessed with being "always truthful" as a means to rail against the norms of society, regardless of the cost. He is in the midst of a highly passionate affair with Celimene (Jeanine Serralles), who maintains a certain haughtiness as the object of desire and perfection to many, and likes it that way. Alceste's friend Philinte (Thomas Jay Ryan) supports him, but urges moderation. He tells him that Celimene's cousin Eliante (Quincy Tyler Bernstine) also loves Alceste, and would be a much more stabilizing force in his life than the mercurial Celimene. Philinte is also in love with Eliante, but puts his friend's need ahead of his own.
Oronte (Alfredo Narcis0) arrives with a love poem he's written to a woman he's just met. Wanting Alceste's opinion, he reads the mediocre verse. Philinte is kind and complimentary. Alceste at first obfuscates to be kind, but when Oronte pushes, he is eviscerated by Alceste and storms out insulted.
Everyone seems to be involved in some sort of lawsuit or other, when Acaste (Joan Macintosh) and Clitandre (Jason C. Brown) arrive with food. Acaste is a reviewer - one who delivers an opinion to the mindless masses. Clitandre is Celimene's attorney, with whom she has been flirting to keep his attention on her lawsuit. Alceste dives right into the food - literally - smearing himself in chocolate syrup and ketchup, potato chips and crackers. (Other than to make a spectacle of himself in this Gallagher-esque moment, I'm still not sure why.) This is the beginning of the degeneration of the relationship ship with Celimene. Not only has she been flirting with Clitandre, but is in an affair with Oronte. It is for her that his poem was written.
Arsinoe (Amelia Campbell) arrives and takes Celimene to task for her actions and association with Alceste. Seems she is jealous of Celimene's accomplishments at such a young age.
The affair is revealed, Alceste is enraged, the set is trashed, the lovers reconcile as their passion overcomes the garbage.
Mr. Harrison's translation is not just into English, but is in rhyme. This verse style forces a formality over which Mr. Van Hove has juxtaposed a colorless environment. Jan Versweyveld's set is primarily gray with black glass walls and fluorescent lighting. Emilio Sosa's costumes bring a level of androgyny with all characters barefoot in dark suits and white shirts. The color arrives first in the food brought in by Acaste and Clitandre, green apples, pink-iced donuts, pizza, chocolate, ketchup, hot dogs. Later it is in the bags of garbage dragged in from the street during Alceste's and Celimene's confrontation. I suppose the subtext is that what brings color to our lives can also be the garbage that is the end product of consumption.
The multi-media facet of this production was particularly interesting, using at least three cameras broadcasting on large monitors on the back wall of the set. The cameras follow the actors backstage into the dressing room, and even onto the street as witness to the fight. This is the third time this year I've seen use of cameras, "Frost/Nixon" and "The Spanish Play." The latter was to rather disappointing effect, while the former seemed only to nail a single moment .
Mr. Van Hove's use here make me wonder though - is this still theatre, or has he turned it into television? He does use the cameras to great effect, providing close-ups at pivotal moments, as well as exposition, such as when Alceste tells of discovering Celimene's infidelity, there is a black and white image of her biting his hand. Ultimately, I did think the camera's undercut the moment by focusing on passers by on the street as Celimene tries to hail a cab to get away from Alceste.
The cast is strong overall. Mr. Camp is one of the most fully committed actors I've seen on stage. Ms. Serralles, last seen in "The Black Eyed" at NYTW shows much more range here from passionate to petulant. Mr. Ryan's Philinte is caring and concerned. Mr. Narciso's Oronte combusts with callow youth.
It is a long show - two hours with no intermission. That said, the performances are compelling and the audience was fully engaged.
Thursday, September 27, 2007
"The Ritz" presented by Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54, September 18, 2007
One of Terrance McNally's earlier plays, I'm sure it was quite shocking in 1975. With the evolution of cable TV, the shock value is seriously lacking anymore.
The premise is that Gaetano Proclo's father-in-law has made a deathbed order to have Gaetano killed. Gaetano jumps in a cab and asks to be taken to the last place anyone would look for him, which turns out to be a bathhouse, The Ritz.
Eccentric homosexuals, twinky boyfriends, chubby chasers and leathermen abound as the farce evolves. Even a bizarre musical sequence sung by the unintelligible Rosie Perez as Googie Gomez, while entertaining, doesn't raise us beyond the level of early HBO attempts at a TV series.
Kevin Chamberlain's Gaetano comes across a little too passive about the threat to his life from the outset. He never seems particularly resistant to, or shocked by much beyond the chubby chaser who takes a shine to him.
Brooks Ashmanskas has an absolute blast as he tries to push every line and gesture further and further over the top as Chris, the bathhouse regular who realizes that Gaetano is a little more than out of his element.
As Googie Gomez, the no-talent Puerto Rican with dreams of a Broadway career, Rosie Perez completely unintelligible. It was 20 minutes after her first entrance that I could understand anything she said. It's too bad, too. I'm sure she had some pretty good lines that got away. She did have a grand time, like Mr. Ashmanskas, and is pretty fearless as a performer. In one scene where she thinks Gaetano is a Broadway producer, watching her try to climb him like a greased mountain was pretty funny.
The play must have been revised since its opening in 1975, since one of the songs (in one of the most delightfully dreadful medley) was "Tomorrow" from "Annie." Just to give you a taste, the medley included not just that, but "Rose's Turn" (Gypsy), "Shall We Dance" (King and I), "Sabbath Prayer" (Fiddler on the Roof), "People" (Funny Girl), "I Could Have Danced All Night" (My Fair Lady) and "Magic To Do" (Pippin).
The farce element of the play seems to have been disregarded by director Joe Mantello. Just about every plot point was pretty well-telegraphed, leaving little room for surprises.
Scott Pask's multi-level set smacked nicely of the '70s with the metallic and flocked wallpapers accented by the innumerable red doors. William Ivey Long's talents go untested in this production, save for one or two of Googie's frocks.
It's a fun show with plenty of cheap laughs, but I wouldn't recommend it as a priority for anyone with limited time to see shows right now.
"Double Vision" presented by Fringe NYC Encores at the Culture Project, September 15, 2007
From the promotional materials, "Six singles navigate the tricky waters of urban, modern relationships in this tale of love on the lam."
Yeah, that's what my reaction was too.
Still, this bit of Lifetime TV meets Comedy Central does have a spirited cast with some commendable performances.
Dave (Shane Jacobsen), Mark (Quinn Mattfield) and Ben (Christopher McCann) share an apartment in Queens. All three are single with commitment issues. Dave sabotages every relationship he attempts. Mark is only interested in unavailable women. Ben only wants something passionate that will end before the passion dies.
Neighbor Celia (Linda Jones) lives with a boyfriend who works days while she works nights, but she has a huge crush on Ben. Mary (Rebecca Henderson) has been dating Dave and has an opportunity for a big promotion that would require her to move to California. Michelle (Sarah Silk) is passionately in love with Ben, but is returning to France to finish school the next day.
Director Ari Laura Kreith has assembled this able cast and moves them through their paces.
Mr. Jacobsen is an oozing mass of insecurity, terrified of being responsible for anyone or anything, even himself. He spends the second half of the play naked following a car accident eerily similar to one he described at the beginning of the play. While at first effective to communicate his mental tribulations, the nudity loses it impact quickly.
Mr. Mattfield also acquits himself well in his role, he sums it up "Love. It's a lot like what you didn't ask for - like forks raining down."
Mr. McCann's Ben 12-steps his way through his role as a recovering addict. Ms. Jones' Celia frets and worries herself into bed with Ben, even before his French girlfriend has left town.
All in all, the cast was much better than their material. At 70 minutes without intermission, it could have been just as effective at 40 minutes.
Tuesday, September 18, 2007
"A Beautiful Child" is an adaptation of a Truman Capote story from a collection published in 1975, Music for Chameleons. (No credit for the adaptation was provided in the playbill.)
The story is based on an afternoon that Mr. Capote spent with Marilyn Monroe after the funeral of her acting coach, Constance Collier. The 40-minute act begins with Mr. Capote (Joel Van Liew) in direct address to the audience about Ms. Collier, and her relationship with him and Marilyn. I must give Mr. Van Liew credit for smoothly handling the latecomers who marched in after he had begun to speak. Ever polite, as Truman was, he encouraged them to find suitable seating, before continuing with his monologue. His Truman was not a caricature, nor even an attempt at imitation, but more what I imagine Truman viewed himself as a literary device in this particular story. Still fey and bespectacled, of course, but not lisping and nasal. To have done more would have upset the balance of the characters as they were presented.
Maura Lisabeth Malloy's Marilyn was very impressive. Dressed in all black and forgoing the blond locks that made her so famous, Ms. Malloy captured a Marilyn that most of us might have imagined would be in "real life": insecure, sometimes unaware, sometimes inappropriate, occasionally crude, ever vulnerable yet always thinking. She also gets a couple of terrific zingers, too. About Los Angeles: "One big varicose vein." After Truman's confession of a one-nighter with Errol Flynn and his reputed prodigious endowment, she says, "Everyone says Milton Berle has the biggest prick in Hollywood, but who cares?"
Director Linda Powell has done a nice job of keeping the flow organic as the play flows from scene to monologue elegantly. The only part that approaches a misstep is some uncomfortable choreography used as musical scene shifts. Ellen Reilly's costumes suit the moment. Lara Fabian's minimal sets also fit well.
Monday, September 17, 2007
"What!" you say? It's only September 17. How can he be reviewing something that hasn't run yet? It's not a review.
In this case, I'll be appearing in a supporting role to Karyn Levitt's performance. From the Carnegie Hall website:
PRESENTED BY ROYAL ROAD PRODUCTIONS
The Age of Romance: From Vienna to Broadway
Weill Recital Hall (Seating Chart)
Saturday, October 6, 2007 at 8:30 PM
Tickets from $25
Program DetailsKaryn Levitt, Singer/Actress
Terrence Montgomery, Director
Songs from operettas and early Broadway including works by Strauss, Romberg, Kern, Herbert, Lehar, Forrest, and Wright
Carnegie Charge (212) 247-7800
Lo and behold, I received another email from Terry last night offering me the part.
Sunday, September 16, 2007
What was well-received at the 2006 NYFringe Festival has suffered seems to have suffered at the hands of [title of show] vampires who have spent the last year "improving" this musical. Rather than finding the "Urinetown" track to commercial success, they seem to have lost their way and fallen into a trap of mediocrity. I didn't see the Fringe production and I'm sorry for that. I went to see the new commercial production running at the Minetta Lane Theatre, and I'm sorry for that, too.
There were hints and flashes of some potentially biting humor and well-sharpened barbs that have gotten edited down to dullness and disinterest. If the goal is to create a satirical and political jab at the powers and abuses of multinational corporations, choose a style and stick with it. Within the first four numbers we saw farce, musical comedy and a drama of emotional struggle. Shoved together, none of them work.
The cast have impressive credits and experience. At least half of them have appeared on Broadway.
Cheryl Freeman as Vicki Latrell sounds stuck in her Acid Queen/Tina Turner mode, singing every note through her nose. As her daughter Maia, Nikki M. James fares much better vocally.
The rest of the ensemble give fully committed performances, Stephen DeRosa is a standout, but the overall result was that I left at intermission.
Die, Vampire. Die!
Thursday, September 13, 2007
Theresa Rebeck's latest effort has begun performances at Manhattan Theatre Club. With an impressive cast, and some occasionally good scenes, the result is pretty much a cable "dramedy" (hence the pointless profanity) disguised as theatre.
I missed "The Scene" last season, but did suffer through "The Water's Edge." The mixed reviews from TS, combined with MTC's willingness to produce her on B'way gave me hope that Ms. Rebeck was hitting her stride as a playwright. I think MTC would have been wiser to produce this one at City Center and saved their big stage for better material. Sorry to see them with another miss, right on the heels of "Lovemusik."
Now, I do realize that I saw the very first preview performance and likely was one of the first run-throughs this cast has had with a sizeable audience. That said, I will proceed.
Jackie (Alison Pill) whose mother has just died after what was apparently a difficult period emotionally and financially. Among her effects are a stamp collection compiled by her late father-in-law. Jackie's half-sister Mary (Katie Finneran) has arrived after fleeing the home as a teenager, leaving Jackie to deal with the fallout.
Driving the title of the play are a couple of particularly valuable stamps, printed with errors during the reign of Queen Victoria on the island of Mauritius in the Indian Ocean off the coast of Madagascar. The pair could be worth more than $6 million. Jackie arrives at the stamp shop of Phil (Dylan Baker) to see about getting an idea of how much the collection might be worth.
Yes, that's Phil the philatelist.
Lurking about the store is Dennis (Bobby Cannavale), a somewhat shady dabbler in the stamp trade. He spots the opportunity to scam Jackie on her stamps, hoping to set her up with Sterling (F. Murray Abraham), an equally shady dabbler in the stamp trade, but with the cash to back it up.
Yes, Sterling is the man with the money.
Scams and double-crosses are attempted and exposed. Jackie slugs Mary. Sterling slugs and chokes Jackie. Sterling slugs Dennis. One could only hope that hilarity would ensue, but it's just not that funny.
As Jackie, Ms Pill is at first unsure and awkward, wavering in whatever direction she's pushed by whomever she's talking to. She does find some strength as events transpire, finding a bit of backbone that seems to come out of nowhere. She plays what she's given, but the character has been drawn a bit thin.
Katie Finneran as half-sister Mary, suffers with even less to work with. I should have counted how many times she said "He was my grandfather" in comparison to how many other lines she had. I'm gonna guess the ratio was just under 40%, but Ms. Finneran did her best to bring some kind of interest to the vapid role.
Dylan Baker's Phil is self-important and elitist with little to support it. He sneers and snubs sufficiently.
Bobby Cannavale, in his Broadway debut, charms as Dennis, but I was never really sure what his character wanted out of the transaction. I can only presume he was looking for a cut/commission on the sale of the stamps, but that part was never made clear. Beyond that, he was merely a device to facilitate the plot.
The real question is: What is F. Murry Abraham doing in this mess? Is this role his attempt to transform his image like Ben Kingsley did in "Sexy Beast?" If so, I don't think this will be the vehicle to accomplish that. He's much better than his material here, but even then can't bring the play much above mediocrity.
Doug Hughes has assembled a fine cast of very talented actors, and seems to have worked pretty hard to make the play enjoyable. The material just doesn't provide enough of a foundation to make any magic.
Catherine Zuber's talents go wasted (though I did think putting Sterling in a shiny, silver, sharkskin suit was an excellent touch), as do John Lee Beatty's excellent sets. He really has done a nice job exploiting the double turntables at the Biltmore. Paul Gallo's industrial and intrusive light towers overwhelm the delicate proscenium - does a play like that really require so many instruments to light it effectively?
Friday, September 07, 2007
Well, I can honestly say that the second national tour of "A Chorus Line" now running on Broadway is everything you might expect...of a second national tour.
At one level, I can think of many reasons why this show should always be running on Broadway. On another level, this production is not the one that deserves that run. Bob Avian's restoration of Michael Bennett's ground-breaking work from 1975 neither does justice to the original nor finds significant relevance to Broadway theatre today.
The cast is truly a mixed bag, talent-wise. Some standouts are Bryan Knowlton as Paul, Michael Berresse as Zach, Will Taylor as Bobby and Jason Patrick Sands as Don. Dance-wise the cast is generally competent, but it is the vocals that undercut this production. Marvin Hamlish's score does have some hummable tunes, but it's not the strongest of scores. As a result, some numbers are not as easy as others to perform. Unfortunately, it is the weaker singers who get these songs. Pitch problems occurred the most, with Natalie Cortez (Diana), Jessica Lee Goldyn (Val) and Melissa Lone (Maggie) as the major offenders.
Another weak spot was Katherine Tokarz' Kristine, throwing away most of her jokes in "Sing!" by swallowing her words.
Even Charlotte d'Amboise as Cassie felt weak, rushing her lines leading into "The Music and the Mirror." Whether intentional or not, Ms. d'Amboise brought a piercing reality to Cassie. Talented and singled out early in her career, but never really becoming the star she could potentially be, her song was less than a show-stopper and she failed to hold her balance in her final dance pose. Even in the working version of "One" when Zack corrects her over and over again, she still doesn't conform and blend with the other dancers.
I think what troubles me most about this production is that this was one of the first that set the bar for Broadway performers to be triple threats (sing/dance/act), is that the number of triple threats in this cast is very small, limited to the standouts above along with Deidre Goodwin (Sheila), but even some of her jokes got tossed away.
Mr. Bennett's choreography soars in some numbers ("One"), yet stumbles in others (The Music and the Mirror"), as if out of a bad jazz dance class. The Ed Sullivan reference, among others were totally lost on a large part of the audience. I would much rather have seen some attempt at updating, or if not, a focus on the show as a period piece. Doing neither undercuts the potential power inherent in this show.
Wednesday, September 05, 2007
We'd like to offer your readers the following discount:
Tickets for all performances September 14 – November 11 are just $45 each (reg. $65). In order receive this discount, tickets must be ordered by September 24.
Use code TMBLG44 when ordering.
To purchase tickets, call (212) 947-8844 or visit www.broadwayoffers.com
New York Theatre Workshop also offers both Student Tickets and CheapTix Sundays.
CheapTix Sundays: All tickets for all Sunday evening performances at 7pm are just $20 each! Tickets are available in advance but must be purchased at the NYTW box office on a cash-only basis.
Student Tickets: Full-time students with a valid student ID may purchase $20 tickets for all performances (subject to availability). Limit one ticket per ID. Tickets must be purchased in person and require an ID at the box office.
The NYTW box office is located at 79 East 4th Street (between Second Avenue and Bowery) and is open Tuesday - Saturday from 1pm - 6pm.
I didn't get to any of the shows at this year's NY Fringe Festival during the regular run, but once again several shows have returned this month in an encore series.
Chad Beckim's "Lights Rise on Grace" tells the story of Grace, Large and Riece. It's a bizarre love triangle of race, prison, and self-deception. Grace (Ali Ahn) is the child of Chinese immigrants, seduced and at once in love with Large (Jaime Lincoln Smith), who is soon shipped off to jail for 6 years where he meets Riece (Alexander Alioto).
This minimalist production moves well under the direction of Robert O'Hara, but Mr. Beckim's script still needs a bit of work. While he does pretty well having the story jump back and forth in time to reveal certain plot points, the characters suffer a bit as a result. Most injured by this is Grace. We meet Grace in a direct- address monologue and she is forthright, honest and open, traits which all three disappear as she flashes back to her first meetings with Large. She becomes a Bronx Cio-Cio-San, barely able to speak from shyness and inexperience. Yet, in her first interaction with her parents, there is no hesitation in how she expresses herself. Ms. Ahn does the best she can with the material but is hindered early on by the writing.
As Large, Mr. Smith plays the smooth operator very well, but as the plot shifts to his time in jail and his relationship with Riece, again, things don't quite ring true.
It is Mr. Alioto's Riece that gets the full treatment. A sociopath at heart, Riece is the only character who gets a true arc through the course of the play. Mr. Alioto manages to stir empathy with this troubled man as he abuses and torments Large, and later Grace, in the name of love.
In its world premiere at Playwrights Horizons, Kate Fodor's new play continues to build on her award-winning resume. "100 Saints..." centers on two people from dramatically different backgrounds passing each other on their respective paths questioning faith.
Theresa (Janel Moloney), a single mother of a teenage manipulator and self-styled bad girl, cleans the rectory and offices for Father Matthew McNally (Jeremy Shamos), who has gotten himself suspended over some photographs by George Platt Lines he tore from a library book. Theresa was raised by two logicians, both professors at the University of Michigan and took off as a pregnant teen after her parents' rejection. Father McNally has returned to visit his mother Colleen (Lois Smith), having no place else to go during his suspension. Things deteriorate when Theresa arrives to deliver a book she found in the rectory after McNally's departure. She's left her daughter Abby (Zoe Kazan) in the car, who strikes up a conversation with the ever-so-conflicted Garrett (Will Rogers), the teenage son and delivery boy of McNally's mother's grocer.
Ms. Fodor spends a little longer than what felt necessary setting up the dysfunctional relationships between mothers and children. Ms. Moloney's first scene with Ms. Kazan quickly and clearly established the contentious situation between the two. The scene played well as a situation that happens regularly between the two characters, mother exhausted and resigned, daughter contemptuous and controlling, but went on about three pages past making the point.
Ms. Kazan, last seen as a precocious school girl in "The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie" remains precocious and even more promiscuous this go-round.
Ms. Moloney's Theresa is worn from the difficult life she's lived after having her child when she was little more than a child herself at the time. Tall and attractive, but without polish or much education, she's doing the best that she can to reconcile the practical world she was raised in, but longing for something with more meaning than her day to day drudgery.
Similarly, the first scene between Mr. Shamos and Ms. Smith became tiresome. Credit is due to Ms. Smith for making this seem much less obvious. Her Colleen is a woman of the post WWII generation, committed and loyal. She immediately assumes that her son only wants to return to his parish, and doesn't understand how he can walk away from his commitment to the church. Her natural reaction is to want to help him "fix" his situation. She wields a Catholic, loving guilt like a weapon from the moment he arrives.
Mr. Shamos' Matthew captures the conflict of a man whose spiritual life is fading as the beauty and reality of the world around him wakens thoughts and desires he doesn't know how to handle. Prayer offers no answers or solace and he is haunted by the writings of a poet who said "Beauty is God's goodness made physical."
Mr. Rogers' Garrett, gets little more than use as a plot device to provide exposition from Matthew's past, and Abby's recognition at the harm she wields with her mean-spirited comments and scheming.
Director Ethan McSweeney has assembled quite the capable cast for this premiere and keeps things moving nicely, particularly in the second act as the characters' crises of faith begin to collide. What could have fallen into stereotype here remains fresh under his hand. There is a terrific moment between Theresa and Matthew in the second act when he confesses how alone he's felt, never being touched by anyone. Theresa's maternal instincts kick in and she offers to rub his head like she used to do for Abby when she was younger. The tension and its release feels like a confession in itself - a beautiful moment.
Rachel Hauck's sets rotate around a silvered tree at center stage which provides the symbols of strength and wisdom, but also provides the means for what will be the tragic moment in the second act. Jane Cox' lighting complements very well.