Friday, November 16, 2007

Playwrights Horizons Discount


DORIS TO DARLENE, a cautionary valentine
A new play by Jordan Harrison

de'Adre Aziza, David Chandler, Michael Crane
Laura Heisler, Tom Nelis, and Tobias Segal

Directed by Les Waters

November 16th – December 23rd
Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater
416 West 42nd Street between 9th & 10th Avenues

In the candy-colored 1960s, a biracial schoolgirl named Doris is molded into pop star Darlene by a whiz-kid record producer who culls a top-ten hit out of Richard Wagner’s Liebestod. Rewind to the candy-colored 1860s, where Wagner is writing the melody that will become Darlene’s hit song. Fast-forward to the not-so-candy-colored present, where a teenager obsesses over Darlene’s music — and his music teacher. Three dissonant decades merge into an unlikely harmony in this time-jumping pop fairy tale about the dreams and disasters behind one transcendent song.

Special Discount offer for Bloggers Posts
$35 (REG. $65) for performances November 16 – 26
$45 (REG. $65) for performances November 27 – December 23.
Limit 4 tickets per order. Subject to availability.

How to order (purchase by December 11 and mention code ‘DDBL’ to receive discount):

Online: and use code DDBL
Phone: Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily) and mention code DDBL.
In person: Ticket Central, 416 West 42nd Street between 9th & 10th Avenues

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

A Life of Bits and Scraps

"The Glorious Ones" at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre at Lincoln Center, November 10, 2007

From the talented Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens is a new musical that chronicles the career of Flaminio Scala based on the book of the same name by Francine Prose. Italian commedia dell'arte tradition is where the story centers.

As Flaminio, Marc Kudisch is in strong voice, mixing a bit of the Pirate King to his swaggering leader of the motley crew. He does have a touching moment in the 11 o'clock number, "I Was Here." There is an occasional lapse into overly nasal tones, but it's under better control here compared to other performances of his. As Columbina, his lover and leading lady, Natalie Venetia Belcon makes a giant leap away from her role of Gary Coleman in Avenue Q as the former prostitute-turned-actor. With heaving décolletage, she is most uncomfortable when her role requires her to be less sexual. This made for an interesting contrast during her song about her relationship with Scala, "My Body Wasn't Why."

As the newly created harlequin, Jeremy Webb's Francesco services satisfactorily (nice job juggling on his entrance). Erin Davie as his love Isabella has made a nice transition from the slightly manic Little Edie to the ingenue who wants to write plays.

I had a bit of trouble deciding about Julyana Soelistyo's Armanda Ragusa, the dwarf. Sometimes the gender of this role was a bit unclear, between the writing and the costume, although Ms. Soelistyo's gender was apparent. Her portrayal did fall a bit short of the kind of idol-worship Armanda professed.

David Patrick Kelly as Pantalone, and John Kassir as Dottore both acquitted themselves well in their respective roles.

Dan Ostling's multilevel wooden stage evokes the period nicely and is complemented by Stephen Strawbridge's lighting. Mara Blumenfield costumes have captured the period very nicely as well, though some of the silks looked a bit rich for such a ragtag troupe.

Director/choreographer Graciela Daniele, along with Ms. Ahrens and Mr. Flaherty have improved from their last outing at Lincoln Center, "Dessa Rose," but one can see they long for another epic success like "Ragtime." (Say what you will - it's one of my favorite scores in contemporary musical theatre.) Here, they seem to struggle between telling the tale of Flaminio's troupe or writing a commedia dell'arte piece. This becomes particularly apparent at the end as they wrap up the story exactly as they ended "Ragtime" with each character explaining his/her own final story. There are some excellent moments here, too. Most notable was "Armanda's Sack" the penultimate number in which Armanda and the troupe retrace their journey with memories sparked by bits and scraps of fabric from the multitudes of costumes they wore along the way. This song particularly reminded me of a very close friend, who could easily trace much of his own life in the same way.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Auntie Mark

"Is He Dead?" at the Lyceum Theatre, November 9, 2007

A "long lost" farce written by Mark Twain in 1898, but never performed was found in a file cabinet in a library at the University of California-Berkeley.

I'm always curious about "newly discovered" works by long-dead authors. Sadly, sometimes we discover the reason that the work was never published was because it wasn't very good, or wasn't very original as is the case with Is He Dead?

Granted, a new play by Mark Twain is bound to sell some tickets purely for the curiosity factor. Who could blame a producer for putting up a show like that? Too, the production assembles a particularly talented cast, including Norbert Leo Butz, John McMartin, Marylouise Burke and David Pittu. I was also curious to see that the play has been adapted by David Ives for this production, so it's difficult to tell which of the stale/predictable jokes belong to Mr. Twain and and which belong to Mr. Ives. To tell the truth, there are many which belong to Brandon Thomas, the author of Charley's Aunt from which this play pulls much of its humor source.

Briefly, a talented painter in Paris is financially struggling and fakes his own death to reap the benefits as his widowed sister. Toss in a couple of oddball artist sidekicks (1 Irish, 1 German, 1 American), a love interest and her poverty-stricken father and sister, two doting old maids and an evil financier and you have a classic 19th century melodramatic farce. I overheard a gentleman down the row from me comment that putting a man in a dress is one of the lowest forms of humor - and he's right.

But as I mentioned above, it is a terrific cast - and I did see only their second preview. Still, I think Mr. Twain realized there was no silk purse to be made from this sow's ear.

Mr. Butz, as Jean-Francois Millet (who was an actual painter of the time), pulls out all the stops. I did think he became remarkably comfortable in the dress very quickly in the first act. Dancing at any opportunity, I think he would have rather it were a musical (which is not a bad idea). There could be some opportunities in a musical version that would differentiate the piece from Mr. Thomas' work. Mr. Butz is engaging and entertaining as ever with a bright intensity that makes you think he believes the play is better than it is.

Byron Jennings as the evil financier, Bastien Andre, sneers and leers with the best of them. How thoughtful of Paul Huntley to provide him with a Snidley Whiplash mustache to twirl on cue. He's having a grand time.

Michael McGrath shuffles along as Millet's side-kick, Agamemnon "Chicago" Buckner, greasing the path for the deception. John McMartin's Papa Leroux doesn't manage to get past the second dimension of the script, but is entertaining nonetheless. The other performers I mentioned earlier, David Pittu and Marylouise Burke both turn in respectable performances, rising a bit above the material.

Director Michael Blakemore has taken no stance of subtletly or finesse in his handling of cast and script. The jokes are broad and the humor is physical. Peter J. Davison's contrasting sets serve nicely, as do Martin Pakledinaz' excellent costumes.

It's not a bad play, it's just not very original. It is, however, a suitable substitute for Charley's Aunt for any community or school theatre group looking to do a light period piece.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Утес и крен

"Rock 'n' Roll" at the Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, November 7, 2007

The very prolific Tom Stoppard is back on Broadway with another transfer from London's West End of Rock 'n' Roll. In it, he tracks the downward spiral of the Soviet empire beginning with the invasion of Czechoslovakia in 1968 until the fall of the Iron Curtain, tying it together with the growth of rock music. This staging by Trevor Nunn, however, feels more like a screenplay than a live stage event. Clocking in at nearly 3 hours, the more-than-just-very-long first act spends much of the time on exposition. Once things start happening in Act II, it's a bit more compelling, but still a bit heady. In his last Broadway outing, last season's Coast of Utopia trilogy, each show had a page of program notes to accompany the performance.

Rock 'n' Roll has an 8-page insert, and still spends the first hour setting up the show.

Brian Cox as Max Morrow, the die-hard communist Cambridge professor, flails and blusters over the inability of the masses to rise above capitalism. Mr. Cox wears Max's convictions as an ever-increasing weight, which ends up leaving him metaphorically and literally lame after a broken leg late in life.

Sinead Cusack takes on the roles of Max's wife Eleanor, dying of breast cancer, then later as their grown daughter Esme. Her Eleanor, a professor of classics with a penchant for Sapphic poetry, rages against her own dying, betrayed by her own body while her mind can't comprehend how this has happened to her. Her Esme, an aging flower child, never feels that she compared to her mother's accomplishments in life and work.

Rufus Sewell, as Jan, the Czech grad student who returns to his country following the invasion suffers under the weight of the new regime. Sent primarily to spy on Professor Morrow, his interest was more in how to use the Communists for his own ends - education, culture, travel.

Robert Jones' revolving set serves the proceedings very nicely, effectively lit by Howard Harrison. Emma Ryott's costumes are benignly appropriate, matching the periods from the 60s to the 90s.

Mr. Nunn's staging separated scenes with rather lengthy musical interludes, projecting song/album titles, artist/performer and studio information with a focus on music by Pink Floyd and the Plastic People of the Universe. Tightening up these transitions could cut a bit of the length of the play.

Shakespeare in his "conceptual" phase

"Cymbeline" at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre at Lincoln Center, November 6, 2007

One of Shakespeare's last four plays, Cymbeline seems to be one where he's pulling some old tricks out of his hat, hoping to mix up something new. What we get is a convoluted opera-style plot of scheming queens (real queens, that is), magic sleeping potions, gender-bending, war, not-so-dead children, beheadings and a final scene with some of the most convenient wrap-ups not seen since the final "very special Blossom" all lined up with an actual reference to history.

If you really need a plot summary, go here.

As King Cymbeline, John Cullum is still struggling on occasion with lines, but manages to bluster his way through this poor man's Lear. Phylicia Rashad, his Queen, slithers about the stage, plotting the downfall of his daughter Imogen, (Martha Plimpton) and the advancement of her son Lord Cloten (Adam Dannheisser).

Ms. Plimpton is up to her usual outstanding performance in this role that requires her to call on characteristics of both Juliet and Olivia. As her maligned, deprived yet noble secret husband, Michael Cerveris spits about as much as any actor in a Shakespeare play since Kevin Kline. His Posthumus Leonatus is a bit sniveling, but does rise to the occasion in the plot contrivances of the final act.

Jonathan Cake carries the remaining weight of this production on his beautifully muscled shoulders as the Iago-like Iachimo, plotting to wrong Posthumus during his banishment in Italy by seducing his wife Imogen. Mr. Dannheisser delights as the thick-headed Cloten.

David Furr and Gregory Wooddell, as the Jethro and Lil' Abner missing princes are physically impressive (really physically impressive), but pretty much otherwise unintelligible. Also less successful is the talented John Pankow in the thankless role of Pisanio.

Direct Mark Lamos seems to have spent more time choreographing the traffic of his large cast than bringing meaningful performances from most of the roles.

Michael Yeargan's clever sets evoke a bit of an Elizabethan setting, nicely complimented by Brain MacDevitt's clever lighting. It's Jess Goldstein's sumptuous costumes that really make the visual impact of this production.

To Tell the Truth

"August: Osage County" presented by Steppenwolf Theatre at the Imperial Theatre, November 3, 2007

Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre is one of the best regional theatres in the US, bringing yet another excellent production to Broadway in Tracy Letts' August: Osage County. There's an air of familiarity about it, feeling much like one would expect of a William Inge play written by Beth Henley. This tale manages to pull out most of the stops of a southern gothic drama set in the plains of Oklahoma. All the elements are there, drug use and abuse, alcoholism, infidelity and more (not to spoil too much of the story here). What I also find impressive is that this is a 3 act play, running just about 3 hours, including intermissions. It's refreshing to find something on Broadway that hasn't been sliced and diced down to a marketable 90-minute one-act.

Let's see, can I sum the plot up in a paragraph? Beverly (the father) drinks. Violet (the mother) takes pills and is dying from cancer of the mouth. Three daughters, Barbara, Karen and Ivy all with their own sets of issues. Busybody in-laws Mattie Fae and Charles, a loser cousin Little Charles and an overly precocious, pot-smoking, teen grandchild Jean all come together with enough revelations to tire Tennessee Williams. Toss in a new fiance, a former boyfriend now the sheriff and a Native American cook/housekeeper and stir it up good.

As Violet, Deanna Dunagan flails, curses, whines, moans, cajoles, manipulates and tortures everyone around her as she suffers her own slow disease. She conveys the full range of this personal hell in which her character suffers, from dazed and drugged moments of stupor to acid-tongued speeches full of bile and vinegar.

Amy Morton's Barbara is the oldest daughter, who bears the full weight of the family's role reversal. Her own marriage is dissolving since her husband has taken up with a student at his college, but they're pretending to still be together as the family works through its crisis. Ms. Morton excels in this trying role, naturally moving from feelings of abandonment to being fully in charge, kicking ass and taking names. As she and her sisters consider their parents' lives amid the revelations following the funeral, one asks, "When they named them the 'Greatest Generation,' have the considered all the other generations?"

Rondi Reed's Mattie Fae reminded me a lot of Lottie Lacey from Inge's "Dark at the Top of the Stairs" - overbearing and dominating both her husband and grown son. She has her own dark secret to share in Act III, which is quite a twist based on the actions of her character.

The others in the cast all acquit themselves well. Particular note to Madeline Martin's Jean, the dead-pan teen who escapes a sticky situation with her aunt's new fiance after they sneak out to share a dooby and he gets frisky.

Director Anna D. Shapiro gets things moving once the exposition of Act I is over. She does well maneuvering the large cast around Todd Rosenthal's three-level set. His open structure lays bare the bones of the house, preparing for the skeletons that will appear from the family's closet.

It's a strong production, well worth seeing.