Friday, May 30, 2008
Sunday, May 25, 2008
In his preface for this play, Mr. LaBute discloses that this is the first play he's written that the protagonist is "...one of the few adults I've ever tackled."
Well, according to Mr. LaBute, an adult is:
- Someone who still loves his girlfriend after she reads two pages of insults out loud to the food court at the mall
- Someone who stays friends with the jock bully who lies and cheats on his wife
- Someone who reads 19th Century American literature because he likes it
- Someone who lies to the jock bully's wife when she asks about his affair
- Someone who only summons the courage to beat up the jock bully after he insults the ex-girlfriend
- Someone who doesn't take back said girlfriend when he has the chance
As Greg, Mr. Sadoski apologizes his way through this "adult" role, giving it his best, but never able to raise the level above the script. Inexplicably, this Greg who reads Poe and Hawthorne on his midnight lunch breaks working in a grocery distributor warehouse with Mr. Schreiber's Kent, never went to college. This Kent is a classic LaBute bully, a muscle-headed man-child who still acts like he's the high school football captain dating the head cheerleader. Mr. Schreiber imbues his Kent with every taunt, insult and threat a bully reserves only for his best friend.
As Carly, Kent's wife, Ms. Perabo bemoans the downside of being pretty - warding off unwanted suitors, feeling stalked at every turn. She's not the sharpest knife in the drawer. In one exchange with Greg, she asks about the book he's reading. "It's Poe. It's pretty dark." he says.
She replies, "I know. It's night out." "I meant the book." he explains.
Ms. Pill plays yet another angry young woman. The play opens with an argument between her Steph and Greg following a high school-styled "he-said, she-said" exchange relayed to her by Carly. The language approaches Mametian proportions, the result of which is uncomfortable hysteria rather than exposition or character development. The talented Ms. Pill does her best with the material, but much like Mr. Sadoski, there's only so much she can do.
Director Terry Kinney also works hard with a talented cast, keeping things apace. The scene flow feels clumsy, however, bouncing irregularly through time and tripped up by the various monologues.
David Gallo's warehouse set overpowers the proceedings, distracting from the plot, though David Weiner's lighting does what it can to minimize this.
Mr. LaBute has been relatively prolific over the last several years, producing at least one new play each year. I can't wonder if a bit of focus on quality over quantity might have it merits.
Monday, May 19, 2008
(Photo credit: Carol Rosegg)
After an acclaimed run at Joe's Pub at the Public Theatre downtown, this rock cantata by the singly-named Stew has opened on Broadway to good notices. There has been much talk that the show hasn't "found its audience" yet, but based on the full house last Saturday night, somebody's catching on. I did track that the audience demographics were sharply different from that of the cast.
The story is Stew's memoir from high school through early adulthood. Stew, who serves as narrator and chorus in his own tale, frequently plays with audience expectations. Early on, he turns them on end when he interrupts his mother's (Eisa Davis) first appearance to correct the "black version" to his more accurate middle class upbringing in Los Angeles. His younger self, only described as Youth (Daniel Breaker) bristles under his mother's love and desire for him to find his way in the world. She manages to force him into the church choir, but he dashes off to Europe at the first opportunity to experience the world and find his art.
Amsterdam, with the hash/coffee houses comes too easy for him. He's taken under wing by the locals who open the world of love and sex to him. If it's art, doesn't it have to require suffering? So he then moves on to Berlin, "a black hole with taxis." Now living in an artists' commune of sorts, home continues to reach out to him as his mother calls. She wants him home for Christmas. He pulls away again, looking forward to a new kind of holiday with the angst-loving roommates. When he announces he has a new song cycle to present to them for Christmas, they all are going home to their families for the holiday. The message is that family, no matter how crazy they make you, are a part you can't remove from your art.
I found it interesting that Stew adopted Mr. Baldwin's concept of "passing" as the foundation for his show. At first Youth is passing as an angry young teen, rebelling against the mother who loves him unconditionally. In Amsterdam, he's passing as more sophisticated and worldly than he really is. In Berlin, he's passing as the angry, ghetto, black man, repressed by the capitalist white society of the U.S. All along, he's passing as a young man in denial of how important his family, his mother, is to him. Only when she dies, can he realize his wasted effort in all the passing of his life.
As an evening of music, it's a rock concert with all the overpowering amplification you might expect. Sadly, a lot of the story gets lost in the ear-pounding volume. Musically, Stew has found some theatricality, notably in a riff on "Tea for Two" as part of "We Just Had Sex." I also thought it interesting that of all the performers on the stage, including the musicians/backup singers, Stew seemed to exhibit the least visible passion when he sang.
The supporting cast of four, de'Adre Aziza, Colman Domingo, Chad Goodridge and Rebecca Naomi Jones play the various people who came through Stew's life. Ms. Aziza, last seen in Playwrights Horizons' mediocre "Doris to Darlene" shows how the power of good material and a good director can bring out the best in an actor. Director Annie Dorsen has cleverly staged this cantata, creating mood and atmosphere with merely a couple of chairs. She gets remarkable performances from the entire cast, ranging from back-pew trouble makers at church, to Dutch stoners, to German nihilists.
I have described this show as a rock cantata. It's not a traditional musical in any sense of the word, even less so than last season's "Spring Awakening." (Kevin Adams' lighting does bear a resemblance to his Tony-winning turn from SA - suitable for the concert staging.) Story is told as much in song, divided between Stew's narration and the actors' performances. Still, I can easily see next month's Tony Awards honoring this production with Best Musical. (Don't forget Susan Stroman's "Contact" winning the award several years ago with hardly a song sung.) Though I haven't seen "In The Heights" yet, "Passing Strange" is the best new musical I've seen on Broadway this season.
Starwatch: Former Public Theatre director George C. Wolfe in the audience
(Photo credit: Andy Criss)
The synopsis from Theatremania.com:
Inner Voices: Solo Musicals features the world premiere of three commissioned works, presented by Premieres.
Tres Ninas, by Ellen Fitzhugh and Michael John LaChiusa, will be directed by Jonathan Butterell, with music direction by Todd Almond. Tony Award Winner Victoria Clark stars. The musical tells the story of a white American woman's affecting and being affected by 'The Other" at three stages of her life.
Alice Unwrapped, by Laura Harrington and Jenny Giering, is directed by Jeremy Dobrish with music direction by Julie McBride. Jennifer Damiano stars. In it, a fifteen year-old girl has big shoes to fill with her dad missing in action, Mom refusing to come out of her bedroom, and a younger sister demanding normalcy - or else.A Thousand Words Come to Mind, by Michele Lowe and Scott Davenport Richards, is directed by Jack Cummings III, with music direction by Jon DiPinto. Tony Nominee Barbara Walsh stars. When a mother's legendary silence is broken as she lies dying in a hospital room, her daughter embarks on a journey into the power of the unspoken word.
Ms. Clark continues to redefine the term "singing actress," a term first exemplified by the inimitable Barbara Cook. In "Tres Ninas," she's a ten year-old living in federal housing in a small town just south of San Diego in 1952. She and her friends have witnessed a Mexican family smuggled over the border and staying in a cave before pressing on to a new life in the U.S. Dressed in a blue nylon slip and pantyhose, her hair wadded up on top of her head, her young self reminded me just a bit of Lily Tomlin's Edith Ann as she told of sneaking food to the illegal immigrants. Fifteen years later, she's a divorced mother of two girls trying to make ends meet while working for Pacific Telephone. In another ten years, she's a bartender with a drinking problem, describing a drunken sexual encounter with an eighteen year-old migrant worker. The arc of her character depicts the life of woman who loses her way, not realizing how bad it's gotten until it really can't be corrected. Ms. Clark's performance is fearless, never shying away from the confessional and sometimes tawdry nature of her tale. She is in immaculate voice as ever, clear and pure in tone and emotion. It's a masterful appearance.
In "Alice Unwrapped," Ms. Damiano has the toughest job of the evening - - following Ms. Clark. Her Alice, helmeted and clad in foam packing sheets held on with duct tape. The exposition of her father missing in the Middle East and her mother's withdrawal drags on a bit. It's not until Alice has to pick up Ella, her eight year-old sister, from school that it gets interesting. Ms. Damiano manages the teenage existential rant part well enough, but she warms up as she relates the argument and negotiation that goes on in the back of a taxi with Ella during the ride home - literally and emotionally unwrapping herself for her sister's sake. Some of the piece was lost due to the piano volume overbalancing her voice.
Ms. Walsh's dutiful daughter in "A Thousand Words Come to Mind" takes us through the middle stages of role-reversal (a particularly dear and painful phase of life, for those of you who haven't had a taste of it yet) as her mother lies in the hospital, diagnosed with cancer. In a morphine-induced stupor, mother thinks she was the inspiration for a character in "The Human Stain" by Philip Roth after meeting him in a bar one afternoon. After flirting with the clerk at Borders, she buys the book to bring to her mother. Still unmarried, she sees potential in most of the men she meets during her mother's illness, the non-responsive doctor, the bookstore clerk, etc. Totally unconvinced about the Philip Roth story, mother goes on to identify herself in books by John Irving, John Updike and Norman Mailer, so all of those books come to the hospital too. She calls Mr. Roth's agent in an attempt to verify the tale, but is put off by his assistant, "We get calls like this ALL the time." A few days after she dies, she gets a note from Mr. Roth, telling her of a most uncomfortable encounter in a bar with her mother. Ms. Walsh relates the daughter's approaching middle age with a subtle reality, sometimes jaded and yet always hopeful. It's a nicely balanced performance.
All three acts have been directed with simplicity and economy in the bare-bones Zipper Factory. Accompaniment ranged from a single piano to piano and guitar, and piano and bass.
The show runs through May 30. They haven't spent much on marketing, which is quite a shame. These performances shouldn't be missed.
Tuesday, May 13, 2008
You just can't beat a nostalgic show with good tap dancing.
And, Encores! has brought us one of the best. Using the 1971 revival of the 1920's original, this was the show that brought Ruby Keeler back to Broadway after a 42 year absence.
Now in 2008, Encores! brings back Sandy Duncan as Sue Smith, the loving and trusting wife of philanthropist bible-seller, Jimmy Smith (Charles Kimbrough) raising their niece Nanette (Mara Davi). Jimmy's attorney Billy Early (Michael Berresse) is married to Lucille (Beth Leavel), Sue's best friend. Their nephew Tom Trainor (Shonn Wiley) has been dating Nanette. Round it out with Pauline (Rosie O'Donnell) as the wise-cracking maid.
It's all very sweet, isn't it? Actually, it is. I think this could be described as the
Director Walter Bobbie lets the sweetness flow at the helm of this gem. Simple staging allows Randy Skinner's excellent tap and soft shoe choreography shine through (I didn't find some of the other numbers quite so shiny).
Ms. Duncan is in fine form and still kicks to the right with the best of them (to the left, not so much), but she looks great and sets a standard for the rest of the cast.
As her husband Jimmy, Mr. Kimbrough (of "Murphy Brown" fame) stammers and stalls his way through the well-meaning character, often resorting to his signature "I want to be happy" reprise to deflect focus from his "...philandering with those three lovely girls. Especially, the big one."
The girls are Betty from Boston (Jennifer Cody) in a Rosie Perez-inspired turn, Winnie from Washington (Nancy Anderson) all sweetness and light, and Flora from San Francisco (Angel Reda) as "the big one."
Mr. Berresse's Billy dances best (though "Telephone Girlie" went about two phrases too long), while Ms. Leavel literally stopped the show with "The 'Where-Has-My-Hubby-Gone' Blues." I'm pretty sure that was the song which won Helen Gallagher her Tony and Drama Desk awards for the role in 1971.
As Nanette and Tom, Ms. Davi and Mr. Wiley embodied old-school-style good kids in love. Both sang and danced beautifully.
But it is the score that is the star of this show. With songs like "Tea for Two," "I Want to Be Happy," and the aforementioned show-stopper, Encores! was very fortunate to have the ever-talented Rob Fisher as musical director and conductor.
It's been 35 years since the last revival closed. I'd love to see a full-scale revival of this show back on Broadway (not just a transfer like the recent "Apple Tree" and "Wonderful Town").
(photo credit: T. Charles Erickson)
In the title of this post, Calvin's Mom (Jan Maxwell) sums up how most people respond to a parent who has just lost a child. Calvin was on a boat carrying his high school ethics class on a field trip which exploded, killing every one on board. The identification of Calvin's body was by deduction, since every one else was accounted for, except one faceless body. She is joined by Paul (Kieran Campion), a substitute teacher who volunteered to help her clean up the flowers and toys left as tributes to the dead students. She is immediately put off by his rambling, nervous, well-meaning and endless patter - all the words she doesn't want to hear anymore. He seems to know a lot about Calvin which she finds disconcerting.
Anton Dudley, who wrote this play with Ms. Maxwell in mind has done beautifully by her. He hasn't done so well by the rest of the cast, however. The monologues which Ms. Maxwell delivers are completely natural in their expressions of pain, anger and resentment. Had he left well enough alone, it could have been an evening of significant catharsis about a single mother dealing with the death of her only child. His initial focus on words and language and their role in the grieving process was provocative. Instead, Mr. Dudley also pursues a misguided subplot about beauty. Paul turns out to be not only Calvin's substitute teacher, but also a substitute father, a beautiful young man who has fallen in love with Calvin's mother before he's even met her. He flings guilt onto Calvin's' Mom relentlessly, thinking it will bring them together so they can share their grief. He pushes too far and too hard. "We have Calvin in common." he says. She recoils, stung, and rejects Paul completely. Even when Paul packs up Calvin's artwork from the classroom for her, she destroys the work in an effort to push Paul away.
Mr. Dudley also intersperses a couple of scenes between two of Calvin's classmates Dax (Brandon Espinoza) and Jule (Shana Dowdeswell) on the bus for the fateful field trip. I suppose these were meant to give a perspective on Calvin, "Think of the least memorable person in our class." she says. "Calvin" he replies, beginning a conversation on how one can identify the least memorable, since that requires remembering them at all. It's a clunky plot convention. A final monologue from Dax as he sees his friends floating in the water above him creates some interesting imagery, but the language is no longer Dax's and it undercuts the effectiveness.
Mr. Campion works hard to make his contradictory role functional. His rapid-fire delivery convey the nervous insecurity of a lonely man reaching out. His movie star looks, however, undercut the author's proposition that Paul dates very little or has very few friends. I think this is another flaw in the writing which keeps credibility at bay, giving Paul the physical beauty that Calvin's Mom no longer reflects on the outside.
Ms. Maxwell is mesmerizing in her monologues. Her pain is palpable and there is not a moment or word wasted in her direct address passages. Mr. Dudley pushes her to the point of shrewish as she rejects Paul over and over again, which belies the love she feels for her lost son.
Katherine Kovner seems to have made every attempt to work through the awkward transitions, but without some rewrites, it's a bumpy ride. Fortunately, much of it smoothed by Ms. Maxwell.
I believe this is the inaugural production for The Playwrights Realm. They have made a noble effort and I look forward to seeing what's next.
August: Osage County
Author: Tracy Letts
Producers: Jeffrey Richards, Jean Doumanian, Steve Traxler, Jerry Frankel, Ostar Productions, Jennifer Manocherian, The Weinstein Company, Debra Black/Daryl Roth, Ronald & Marc Frankel/Barbara Freitag, Rick Steiner/Staton Bell Group, The Steppenwolf Theatre Company
Rock ‘n’ Roll
Author: Tom Stoppard
Producers: Bob Boyett & Sonia Friedman Productions, Ostar Productions, Roger Berlind, Tulchin/Bartner, Douglas G. Smith, Dancap Productions, Jam Theatricals, The Weinstein Company, Lincoln Center Theater, The Royal Court Theatre London
Author: Conor McPherson
Producers: Ostar Productions, Bob Boyett, Roy Furman, Lawrence Horowitz, Jam Theatricals, Bill Rollnick/Nancy Ellison Rollnick, James D’Orta, Thomas S. Murphy, Ralph Guild/Jon Avnet, Philip Geier/Keough Partners, Eric Falkenstein/Max OnStage, The National Theatre of Great Britain
The 39 Steps
Author: Patrick Barlow
Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy, Bob Boyett, Harriet Newman Leve/Ron Nicynski, Stewart F. Lane/Bonnie Comley, Manocherian Golden Prods., Olympus Theatricals/Douglas Denoff, Marek J. Cantor/Pat Addiss, Huntington Theatre Company/Nicholas Martin/Michael Maso, Edward Snape for Fiery Angel Ltd.
Producer: Adam Epstein, Allan S. Gordon, Élan V. McAllister, Brian Grazer, James P. MacGilvray, Universal Pictures Stage Productions, Anne Caruso, Adam S. Gordon, Latitude Link, The Pelican Group, Philip Morgaman, Andrew Farber/Richard Mishaan
In The Heights
Producers: Kevin McCollum, Jeffrey Seller, Jill Furman, Sander Jacobs, Goodman/Grossman, Peter Fine, Everett/Skipper
Producers: The Shubert Organization, Elizabeth Ireland McCann LLC, Bill Kenwright, Chase Mishkin, Barbara & Buddy Freitag, Broadway Across America, Emily Fisher Landau, Peter May, Boyett Ostar, Larry Hirschhorn, Janet Pailet/Steve Klein, Elie Hirschfeld/Jed Bernstein, Spring Sirkin/Ruth Hendel, Vasi Laurence/Pat Flicker Addiss, Wendy Federman/Jackie Barlia Florin, Joey Parnes, The Public Theater, The Berkeley Repertory Theatre
Producers: Robert Ahrens, Dan Vickery, Tara Smith/B. Swibel, Sarah Murchison/Dale Smith
Best Book of a Musical
Mark O’Donnell and Thomas Meehan
In The Heights
Quiara Alegría Hudes
Douglas Carter Beane
Best Original Score (Music and/or Lyrics) Written for the Theatre
Music & Lyrics: David Javerbaum & Adam Schlesinger
In The Heights
Music & Lyrics: Lin-Manuel Miranda
The Little Mermaid
Music: Alan Menken
Lyrics: Howard Ashman and Glenn Slater
Music: Stew and Heidi Rodewald
Best Revival of a Play
Producers: Sonia Friedman Productions, Bob Boyett, Act Productions, Matthew Byam Shaw, Robert G. Bartner, The Weinstein Company, Susan Gallin/Mary Lu Roffe, Broadway Across America, Tulchin/Jenkins/DSM, The Araca Group
Producers: Jeffrey Richards, Jerry Frankel, Jam Theatricals, Ergo Entertainment, Barbara & Buddy Freitag, Michael Gardner, Herbert Goldsmith Productions, Terry E. Schnuck, Harold Thau, Michael Filerman/Lynne Peyser, Ronald Frankel/David Jaroslawicz, Love Bunny Entertainment
Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy
Producers: Duncan C. Weldon & Paul Elliott, Jeffrey Archer, Bill Ballard, Terri & Timothy Childs, Rodger Hess, David Mirvish, Adriana Mnuchin, Emanuel Azenberg, BAM, The Chichester Festival Theatre
Best Revival of a Musical
Producers: Paul Nicholas and David Ian, Nederlander Presentations Inc., Terry Allen Kramer, Robert Stigwood
Producers: Roger Berlind, The Routh-Frankel-Baruch-Viertel Group, Roy Furman, Debra Black, Ted Hartley, Roger Horchow, David Ian, Scott Rudin, Jack Viertel
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Producers: Lincoln Center Theater, André Bishop, Bernard Gersten, Bob Boyett
Sunday in the Park with George
Producers: Roundabout Theatre Company, Todd Haimes, Harold Wolpert, Julia C. Levy, Bob Boyett, Debra Black, Jam Theatricals, Stephanie P. McClelland, Stewart F. Lane/Bonnie Comley, Barbara Manocherian/Jennifer Manocherian, Ostar Productions, The Menier Chocolate Factory/David Babani
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Play
Ben Daniels, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Laurence Fishburne, Thurgood
Mark Rylance, Boeing-Boeing
Rufus Sewell, Rock ‘n’ Roll
Patrick Stewart, Macbeth
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play
Eve Best, The Homecoming
Deanna Dunagan, August:
S. Epatha Merkerson, Come Back, Little
Amy Morton, August:
Best Performance by a Leading Actor in a Musical
Daniel Evans, Sunday in the Park with George
Lin-Manuel Miranda, In The Heights
Stew, Passing Strange
Paulo Szot, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Tom Wopat, A Catered Affair
Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical
Kerry Butler, Xanadu
Patti LuPone, Gypsy
Kelli O’Hara, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Faith Prince, A Catered Affair
Jenna Russell, Sunday in the Park with George
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Play
Raúl Esparza, The Homecoming
Conleth Hill, The Seafarer
Jim Norton, The Seafarer
David Pittu, Is He Dead?
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Play
Sinead Cusack, Rock ‘n’ Roll
Mary McCormack, Boeing-Boeing
Laurie Metcalf, November
Martha Plimpton, Top Girls
Rondi Reed, August:
Best Performance by a Featured Actor in a Musical
Daniel Breaker, Passing Strange
Danny Burstein, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Robin De Jesús, In The Heights
Christopher Fitzgerald, The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein
Boyd Gaines, Gypsy
Best Performance by a Featured Actress in a Musical
de’Adre Aziza, Passing Strange
Laura Benanti, Gypsy
Andrea Martin, The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein
Olga Merediz, In The Heights
Loretta Ables Sayre, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Best Scenic Design of a Play
Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps
Scott Pask, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Todd Rosenthal, August:
Best Scenic Design of a Musical
David Farley and Timothy Bird & The Knifedge Creative Network, Sunday in the Park with George
Anna Louizos, In The Heights
Robin Wagner, The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein
Michael Yeargan, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Best Costume Design of a Play
Gregory Gale, Cyrano de Bergerac
Rob Howell, Boeing-Boeing
Katrina Lindsay, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Peter McKintosh, The 39 Steps
Best Costume Design of a Musical
David Farley, Sunday in the Park with George
Martin Pakledinaz, Gypsy
Paul Tazewell, In The Heights
Catherine Zuber, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Best Lighting Design of a Play
Kevin Adams, The 39 Steps
Howard Harrison, Macbeth
Donald Holder, Les Liaisons Dangereuses
Ann G. Wrightson, August:
Best Lighting Design of a Musical
Ken Billington, Sunday in the Park with George
Howell Binkley, In The Heights
Donald Holder, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Natasha Katz, The Little Mermaid
Best Sound Design of a Play
Simon Baker, Boeing-Boeing
Adam Cork, Macbeth
Ian Dickson, Rock ‘n’ Roll
Mic Pool, The 39 Steps
Best Sound Design of a Musical
Acme Sound Partners, In The Heights
Sebastian Frost, Sunday in the Park with George
Scott Lehrer, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Dan Moses Schreier, Gypsy
Best Direction of a Play
Maria Aitken, The 39 Steps
Conor McPherson, The Seafarer
Anna D. Shapiro, August:
Best Direction of a Musical
Sam Buntrock, Sunday in the Park with George
Thomas Kail, In The Heights
Arthur Laurents, Gypsy
Bartlett Sher, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Rob Ashford, Cry-Baby
Andy Blankenbuehler, In The Heights
Christopher Gattelli, Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific
Dan Knechtges, Xanadu
Jason Carr, Sunday in the Park with George
Alex Lacamoire & Bill Sherman, In The Heights
Stew & Heidi Rodewald, Passing Strange
Jonathan Tunick, A Catered Affair
Tony Nominations by Production
In The Heights – 13
Rodgers & Hammerstein’s South Pacific – 11
Sunday in the Park with George – 9
August: Osage County – 7
Gypsy - 7
Passing Strange – 7
Boeing-Boeing – 6
Macbeth – 6
The 39 Steps - 6
Les Liaisons Dangereuses - 5
Cry-Baby – 4
Rock ‘n’ Roll - 4
The Seafarer – 4
Xanadu – 4
A Catered Affair – 3
The Homecoming – 3
The New Mel Brooks Musical Young Frankenstein – 3
The Little Mermaid – 2
Come Back, Little Sheba – 1
Cyrano de Bergerac – 1
Grease – 1
Is He Dead? – 1
November – 1
Thurgood – 1
Top Girls – 1
Monday, May 05, 2008
I think I've become my father.
As I sat through the endless and intermissionless 90 minutes of "Glory Days" I kept thinking, "What could these kids possibly have to say at their age?" (I also kept looking around to see if my Dad was standing behind me whispering that in my ear, but alas, no.)
Will (Steven Booth) has assembled his three best buds a year after graduation for a midnight plot to get back at the football players who tormented them through their four years of high school. Skip (Adam Halpin) the army brat, turns up with long hair after suffering through a lifetime of father-imposed military crew cuts (novel!). Skip and Jack (Jesse JP Johnson) went to different colleges, but Will and Andy (Andrew C. Hall) were roommates their freshman year. In the new millennium, one of the boys has just come out of the closet and may bring another one of them with him, much to the expectation of the third and consternation of the last.
Nick Blaemire's music and lyrics feel like poor knock-offs from Jonathan Larsen, without the irony or interest. James Gardiner's book feels like he wrote it before he finished high school. Anyone who's finished high school remembers that there usually isn't that much to report in your first year out, particularly enough on which to base a show. The exposition comes in faux-rock recitatives, interspersed with banalities like "I'm still me, I swear" foreshadowing the coming out confession to come. There was an exception or two. "Open Road" was a rather tender song to ease the coming out tale. Andy's reaction to it was also about the only honest moment in the script.
As the group disintegrates over the announcement, Will's composition book is read by the other three. When Will says of it after Andy has torn it up in anger, "Everything I ever felt was in this" it was a pretty slim volume for five years of feelings during high school. Will's final song, "My Next Story" sounded a lot like Jo March.
Wonder if they meant this to be "Little Women" for boys?
Mr. Booth's Will came across like Zach Braff's JD from "Scrubs" before med school. Mr. Call's Andy blusters appropriately for the wannebe-jock, muscle head, but doesn't reveal much other than his chest. Mr. Johnson's Jack fares a bit better. He finds a nice arc for his character. Mr. Halpin's Skip probably fares best. This Skip wears his new-found humility with pride and wields it like a weapon on the other three.
James Kronzer's bleacher set gave me a few gasps as I foresaw some tragic slips and falls which didn't occur as the boys dashed up and down. Mark Lanks' overambitious lighting distracts more than it adds (and the Tarzan green for the pre-show stage is pretty awful).
Director Eric Schaeffer, who did such a nice job with "Passion" during the Sondheim Celebration at the Kennedy Center a few years back hasn't managed to find the point to this production. There's good energy, but that can't make up for a mediocre score with empty lyrics and a weak book. Messrs. Blaemire and Gardiner are young men with brand new Broadway careers (Mr. Blaemire is currently in the cast of "Cry-Baby.") Maybe with a little more life experience, they can channel their talent into something a bit more substantial.
Update: "Glory Days" has closed, immediately following the opening night performance of May 6, 2008.
Sunday, May 04, 2008
(photo: Monique Carboni)
Steven Adly Guirgis' new play is about to close its run at the Public. It's a compelling story with some terrific performances.
Danny (Michael Shannon) opens the play in handcuffs, presenting the story as a memory. He's an alcoholic and drug addict, at one time a successful writer but has been unable to repeat his early success. He tells the story of a girl "...who could roller skate on rooftops...," his mother Therese (Ellen Burstyn) who was raised by deaf Irish immigrant parents during the Depression. Her father Francis James (Howie Seago) falls to the Irish stereotype of proud, drunken and abusive. His abuse leaves his mark primarily on Therese, who spends most of her adult life as an invalid. Tired of being a burden on her children, Therese takes off in a nightgown in her wheelchair and topples herself down some park stairs, refusing at first to identify herself to the hospital staff when she regains consciousness. Eventually, the doctor (Ajay Naidu) dupes her into revealing her name and contacts her daughter Justina (Elizabeth Canavan), who tracks down Danny in rehab in Arizona to return to NYC. Dysfunction only begins to describe the family bond.
Caring for her in the hospital are nurse Magnolia (Lisa Colon-Zayas) and orderly Espinosa (David Zayas). They begin by sparring over the care of patients (she cares, he's bitter because of the poor pay rate). Both become very protective of Therese once she comes to. This occupies most of Act I.
Once Therese's children arrive, Act II the memory narrative seems to vanish with a very linear, almost traditional approach to story-telling. During this act, we learn much more about Therese's life and tribulations with her father, finally learning of the extent, impact and the ultimate cost to Therese. Danny forces this confession from her, hoping she will love herself as much as he loves her, but her loyalty and respect for her father prevents the catharsis from completing. The confession is only painful for her as she refuses to blame her father for the physical and emotional pain he caused.
Mr. Guirgis has managed to capture a very unique perspective of the generation represented by Therese. Late in the second act, Therese (Ellen Burstyn) talks about her physically abusive father with such a sense of love and respect for a man who brought her such physical pain. It reminded me very much the way my mother still speaks of her parents (though the physical abuse was never a factor for her). It was a time for children when parents were just parents, not friends. Children knew their parents loved them, whether they said it or not. Parental expectations for children to behave and strive for achievement was understood. A disgusted look of disappointment was much worse punishment than a spanking or a lecture. Danny never makes this connection, very much the same way that Therese never links her father's actions as being responsible for the physical pain she endured most of her life.
Mr. Shannon's performance as Danny is a fearless demonstration of a man with demons, some of which he's trying to exorcise, others he just can't approach. It's also a loud performance, since his point-making technique is usually shouting.
Ms. Burstyn's Therese is both manipulative and heart-breaking, particularly in her co-dependency with Danny. I'm glad I've finally gotten to see her perform on stage - it's a truly remarkable performance of talent and skill.
Mr. Zayas' Espinosa is another performance of note. Full of bravado and braggadocio, his loud complaints about the low pay and hassles of troublesome patients are a facade over a caring and thoughtful man. A particular moment of note was a scene in which he talks the son of another dying patient off the ledge of the hospital roof - saintly bullying, you might say.
The rest of the cast was pretty uneven. Ms. Canavan's Justina was little more than histrionics and shrieking, never quite reaching believability. Mr. Naidu's doctor barely achieves a second dimension. Mr. Seago's Francis James had some very nice moments, notably a scene when he learns that Therese as a young woman might never walk again.
I don't have documentation of it, but it's my understanding that Mr. Guirgis is in the habit of beginning rehearsals for his plays before they are finished. That seem evident here in the stark difference in tone between Acts I and II. He has left a couple of interesting moments unexplored. For example, when Danny arrives at the hospital for the first time, he's accompanied by Nadine (Gillian Jacobs in a very underwritten role) another escapee from the rehab center. She sees the same visions of Francis James that Therese does, but it only happens once and she's quickly banished to off-stage references, never to be seen again. Also missing were Therese's husband and mother. These felt like pretty large gaps to me.
Director Philip Seymour Hoffman has made the results as cohesive as possible. He's extracted fine performances from Mr. Shannon and Ms. Burstyn and keeps a compelling pace.
Narelle Sisson's set makes clever use of translucent panels that evoke both an intensive care setting as well as effective screens for shadows and projections, complemented nicely by Japhy Weideman's lights. Mimi O'Donnell's wardrobe was serviceable and appropriately unremarkable.
This was my first LAB/Public show. I look forward to the next.
Saturday, May 03, 2008
(photo: Tom Zuback)
After the death of his brother, poet George Carr wrote a series of poems in tribute based on the story of Saint Torpes, a martyred gladiator beheaded by the Romans whose corpse was set to sea and landed on the Mediterranean coast. The body, accompanied by a rooster and dog who were expected to feed upon it, landed untouched where the city of Saint-Tropez was founded.
Mr. Carr's late brother was a creative head of design for Calvin Klein, as well as an artist. One of his drawings serves as cover art for the playbill. It and other drawings are displayed at Manhattan Theatre Source during the run.
Mr. Carr's lovely poetry is filled with lush visuals. Inexplicably, he has felt it necessary to stage the series as a theatrical evening and himself, directs.
He has assembled a visually lovely cast of men and women, clothed by Kevin Carrigan and Calvin Klein. Unfortunately, the program makes it nearly impossible to identify the cast since their "characters" are not directly connected with each poem or segment.
The proceedings come across as an extended CK fragrance commercial with barechested, handsome young men and nubile young women who recite the poetry with quivering voices and crocodile tears. Not even the markedly professional appearance of Brandon Ruckdashel as the fallen gladiator who comes in for only the final segment can pull the overwrought evening into focus.
It was, however, an obvious labor of love for Mr. Carr in tribute to his brother. I think publishing a small volume of the text along with his artwork interspersed would have been more successful.
Friday, May 02, 2008
Transferring from its limited run at the Roundabout Theatre Company earlier this spring, "39 Steps" has transferred to an open-ended commercial run.
The movie has been remade several times, including by Hitchcock himself in 1959's "North by Northwest." This adaptation by Patrick Barlow takes on the 1935 classic film with a cast of four, three men and one woman playing every role in the story.
It's definitely a physical actor's dream gig - slapstick, quick changes, minimal sets and props to create everything from a London flat, to a train (both interior and exterior) to a police station to a rural inn, all using trunks, chairs and a table.
Charles Edwards plays Richard Hannay, the protagonist (antagonized?) hero of the story about a man dragged into the tale of intrigue. Jennifer Ferrin plays three of the female roles, spending most of her time as Margaret, one of the original Hitchcock blonds. Cliff Saunders and Arnie Burton play the rest of the characters, both male and female.
I was truly intrigued when I first heard this production was coming to NYC after an Olivier-winning run in London's West End. I was anxious to see it, now that it had transferred to a commercial run.
Now that I've seen it, though I really admired the clever and resourceful direction and production, I can't help but wonder if something like this wouldn't be better served in a venue like New World Stages. The combination of slapstick and farce produced on such a low-tech approach seems to have off-Broadway written all over it. I can almost see it taking a reputation as the kind of show, like "Blue Man Group" or "Stomp" that is a perennial favorite among visitors to NYC.
The four actors gave a nice effort tonight, but I couldn't help but feel that some of the novelty is starting to wear off. I was glad to see director Maria Aitken was in the back row of the mezzanine taking notes. Hopefully she can re-inject some of the energy back into this production.
Conor McPherson's latest work hits NYC courtesy of the Atlantic Theater Company. It's a bit of a departure from his more recent efforts, not so much geographically, but in tone and focus. His most recent efforts produced on Broadway were "The Seafarer" and "Shining City," both of which featured a distinctly supernatural and dark story. Here, we get a series of monologues from three Irishmen, each in a different time of his life.
First we hear from Kevin (John Gallagher) who's just moved out of his parents' house after completing school into a house with three roommates. He easily reveals that it was not a good decision, more than it was an act that looked more like a decision than it was truly making one.
Next up is Dermot (Brian d'Arcy James), a man recently, and surprisingly, promoted into a lucrative executive position for which he feels he is totally unprepared. His once-beautiful wife has lost her looks and he feels ashamed of his less-than-average and far-from-athletic son.
Finally, we have Joe (Jim Norton), living out his final days in a retirement/nursing home. He's just gotten a package bearing sad news.
Mr. McPherson doles out each of their stories of hope and love lost in segments. Their stories tug at the heart strings, but the moments of real catharsis are few. At first I was expecting a variation of Brian Friel's "Faith Healer" - not the case. There are times when the three seem loosely connected, but never interact with each other than taking turns speaking.
Mr. Gallagher returns to the Atlantic following the phenomenal arc he rode in "Spring Awakening." His Kevin is a thoughtful, if undirected young man. Lacking ambition or focus, he ambles along living with friends Dave, Speedie and Claire. It's no surprise that he loves Claire and feels pretty sure that she feels the same, though they never make that connection official. There's a lot of talk about meaningful looks, quiet moments and intimate settings but the words are never exchanged. Mr. Gallagher shares this tale frankly and with an earnestness that never broaches self-pity or feels maudlin. He is tender and sympathetic throughout.
Mr. James also returns to the Atlantic following his turn in "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" another Atlantic production that transferred to Broadway. He's in his usual fine form (despite a few minor accent glitches) relating his speedy ride up and down the corporate ladder. His insecure Dermot enjoys his ride up to the fullest, knowing inside that it can't last. When the other shoe finally drops and he returns to his family, his wife kicks him a bit while he's down but he knows he deserves it. Again, there's no self-flagellation or self-pity on display, just a feeling of weakness without apology.
It is Mr. Norton who gives the strongest performance of the three. His story of loving a woman he hardly knew, and the pain he feels upon learning of her death 35 years later. The nuances and shifts of emotions he displays as he weaves his story among the exposition of life among dying retirees are masterful.
Takeshi Kata's bare bones set of a stone-tiled platform with a large bench leaves a wide open stage for Matthew Richards' lighting to create the mood of the assorted locations each man describes. Jenny Mannis' wardrobe has each man dressed similarly (pants, shirt, sweater and jacket) maintaining their parallels.
Director Henry Wishcamper has landed a cast of what are probably the three strongest actors in NYC today. He's done well to keep the various stories apace, also staying out of the way of these fine performers.