A COOL DIP IN THE BARREN SAHARAN CRICKBy Kia CorthronDirected by Chay Yew
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Saturday, March 20, 2010
Sunday, March 14, 2010
Tallulah Bankhead is the center of Matthew Lombardo's play about a recording session to correct one line from Ms. Bankhead's final movie as it goes through its final editing stage in 1965.
At this late stage in her life (Ms. Bankhead died in 1968), she has ruined her career with drugs, alcohol and sex. Her film has all signs of being a flop and the creative team has all but abandoned the project. Left to handle the recording session is the film editor Danny (Brian Hutchison). Tallulah (Valerie Harper) shows up several hours late and already drunk. What follows is two acts of cat and mouse as Tallulah chases Danny's secrets down and drags them out. Along the way are a multitude of one-liners and quips, some of which are pretty funny, but eventually they get very predictable.
As Tallulah, Ms. Harper achieves a respectable impersonation, but doesn't seem to have the material to really reveal anything about her that we didn't already know. She swears like a sailor, drinks like a fish and smokes like a chimney, yet still sees her only value in her sexuality, which she foists like a weapon.
Mr. Hutchison suffers under his poorly written role, having to play straight man setting up the endless bon mots for Ms. Harper. The back story Mr. Lombardo has created for Steve is particularly contrived, with a couple of revelations telegraphed early on. As Steve, the sound engineer, Michael Mulheren floats through with little to do other than set up a few of the jokes along the way.
Mr. Lombardo based this play on the tape from the actual recording session, some 45 minutes' worth. He seems to have reached a little too far in stretching the piece out into two full acts. The flashback of Tallulah's failed and only performance of "A Streetcar Named Desire" in Florida takes up a good bit of time to poor effect. Sadly, he reverts Tallulah to no more than a wannabe Mame Dennis as she wanders about the pieces of Steve's life she has tossed to the floor. The only line missing as she attempts to pull him back together is "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death."
Director Rob Ruggiero keeps things moving, but can't get the performances to rise much above the two-dimensional writing. There are some laughs to be found, but the piece is not really ready for Broadway.
Monday, March 08, 2010
(photo: Joan Marcus)
The Pride tells two stories of Oliver, Philip and Sylvia, the first set in 1958 London and the second fifty years later. The play opens in the earlier time when Sylvia (Andrea Riseborough) has invited her boss, Oliver (Ben Whishaw) over for drinks with her husband Philip (Hugh Dancy) before dinner out. Tension builds quickly as Philip finds himself attracted to the not-so-closeted Oliver. Jump-shift to 2008 and the triangle has shifted. Oliver (sharing only the same name as his 1958 counterpart) is not dealing well with his recent break-up with Philip, the two of whom were introduced by mutual friend Sylvia.
Each character is full of issues in both periods, creating a compelling set of tales. Overwrought with guilt, 1958 Philip breaks off the brief, if torrid affair with Oliver and longs for "normalcy" in his life, seeking psychiatric help, including aversion therapy to overcome his sexual orientation. 2008 Philip has also broken off the relationship with his Oliver over the latter's compulsion for anonymous sex. Sylvia stands by in relative support in both eras, ultimately setting 1958 Philip free after coming to terms with her own denial.
The stories aren't exactly parallels, but both spend a little time at the self-hatred table. 1958 Philip can't come to terms with his sexuality, longing to make it go away. 2008 Oliver's version comes in the form of his inability to reconcile his promiscuity.
The performances are fairly even, but it is Mr. Whishaw who has the meatiest roles. His hopeful hopelessness as 1958 Oliver is tender and touchingly vulnerable. His inner struggle as 2008 Oliver is more complex, flailing between pining for the lost love of his life and succumbing to his desires. Mr. Dancy's Philips are significantly more reserved, one more painfully so than the other. Ms. Riseborough's Sylvia's separate the most, proper and withheld in 1958 and a total free spirit in 2008. Picking up the most fun is Adam James, playing an assortment of supporting roles, from a hilarious turn as a role-playing rent-boy, to a psychiatrist bordering on the sadistic.
Director Joe Mantello seems to be back on his stride in this play, using clever and thoughtful staging, almost choreographing the overlaps of period shifts from scene to scene. He elicits strong performances with a nice focus on character. David Zinn's functional set serves both periods nicely, avoiding any potential anachronism. Paul Gallo's lighting evokes an effective noir-ish sensibility to the earlier period.
The show runs through March 20.
Saturday, March 06, 2010
(Photo by Robert J. Saferstein)
David Mamet's latest effort in provocation is now running on Broadway in the form of Race. The story swirls around the law firm hired by a very rich, white man to defend him against charges of rape, leveled by an African American woman.
The defendant, Charles (Richard Thomas) has already fired his attorney once and is shopping his case around. Law partners Jack Lawson (James Spader) and Henry Brown (David Alan Grier) get roped into taking the case when their clerk Susan (Kerry Washington) mistakenly gets copies of the indictment and police reports from the district attorney, constructively making them the attorneys of record before they've had a chance to actually make a decision on it. Mr. Mamet metes out plot twists and revelations a bit obviously at times, but manages to keep the tension high as the white and African American characters examine and expound upon their own views of race in contemporary society. Mr. Mamet has toned down the volume of f-bombs, but plugs in the n-word as a substitute.
Mr. Thomas plays Charles so simpy and passive that I fully expected one of the plot twists to be that Charles is gay. (he's not, btw) Beyond that, Mr. Thomas suffers from "Jasmine Guy Syndrome," his presence practically sucking all the energy out of the theatre as he makes his entrance. (so named by a similar situation in Richard Greenberg's The Violet Hour from which Miss Guy resigned due to "health issues" during previews in 2003).
As Susan, Ms. Washington wavers between capable and self-conscious. Sometimes she gets the "Mamet patter" and sometimes she doesn't. Mr. Grier fares better, but doesn't have much to do, other than prompt tension among the characters onstage with him.
It is Mr. Spader, making an impressive Broadway debut as Jack, who carries the weight of the evening. He certainly has experience playing a clever lawyer from his years on TV's "Boston Legal" and it shows. He also adapts well to the language and rhythm of Mr. Mamet's writing.
Santo Loquasto's law library spills the story forward on the raked stage, serviceably, if unexceptionally lighted by Brian MacDevitt.
It's a better entry to this year's play season than last fall's "Oleanna" but there are similarities to "Speed The Plow" which keep this play from feeling wholly original, particularly a woman in a subservient position who may or may not be working from her own agenda. Still, it's at least another new play, versus yet another revival.