Saturday, September 13, 2008

Fifty Words

MCC Theatre at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, September 13, 2008

"War of the Roses" meets "Private Lives" (Act II), without the star power of the former, nor the wit and sophistication of the latter.

Michael Weller, now running two shows off-Broadway (the other is The Beast at NYTW), shows a bit of range in these diverse subjects, but still doesn't offer anything more than a "Lifetime" movie as if produced for HBO, complete with unnecessary expletives and a bit of gratuitous nudity.

Adam (Norbert Leo Butz) and Jan (Elizabeth Marvel) appear to have it all. He's an architect with a small boutique firm. She's a former dancer now in an Internet-database start up business of her own. Their only son Greg, age 9, is off for his first sleepover with a friend. Since it's the first time they've been alone together in 9 years, it's the perfect opportunity to confess and batter each other with all the sins, regrets and recriminations that have made up their 18 year relationship.

It begins with inconsequential bickering, which doesn't quite boil up to a full argument, followed by reminiscing over how they met, which does.

He's immature and self-centered. She's cold and insensitive. Fireworks ensue culminating in a slap which leads to a significant episode of passion. He sees the passion as reconcilement. She sees it as one for the road.

Much like The Beast, Mr. Weller has an interesting premise, but it only wanders around itself for an hour and 45 minutes. His Adam and Jan are painfully co-dependent and almost bi-polar. Mood swings of 180 degrees are frequent for both, but only occasionally justified by the script.

Mr. Butz and Ms. Marvel are indisputably talented actors, and muddle through the muck valiantly. They both bring a humanity to their roles that begs the audience's indulgence. For any of you who might have seen "In Treatment" on HBO, the dynamics of their power struggle reminded me of the couple from the first season of that show.

Director Austin Pendleton does well to find the laughs in some of the horror of their battle, but as a one-act the play feels long. the pace is fine, but clocking in at one hour, 45 minutes, he either needs to trim a bit or add an intermission. Too, it's early in previews so there is time before locking the show down for the run.

Neil Patel's Brooklyn brownstone interior is spot on with the Viking range, stainless appliances and Pottery Barn fixtures and accessories, but I think Michelle Habeck as overworked the light plot. For me, the sign of good lighting is not noticing it. I've never seen a first floor kitchen with such cinematic ambiance.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

The Beast

New York Theatre Workshop, September 6, 2008

I haven't seen lots of what you might call "political theatre," mostly because that's not the kind of theatre I'm drawn to.

Michael Weller's The Beast, now in previews at NYTW is such a play, pushing a very strong anti-war message. Jimmy Cato (Logan Marshall-Green) is mourning his sergeant, Ben (Corey Stoll) who was died after an attack in Iraq. Both had been wounded and lost limbs (Jimmy's left arm, Ben's right arm) and both were badly burned. Ben died unexpectedly and Jimmy is lost without his hero.

Well, Ben pops up out of the coffin and leads Jimmy on a tour of murder and havoc from Germany to Mt Rushmore to Crawford, Texas (exactly). The stage is not littered with bodies in Shakespearean fashion, but the results are gruesome nonetheless.

As a play, The Beast is still in its developmental stage. Mr. Weller was inspired to write in December of 2007 and finished the script at the end of January 2008 (fast track approval, huh?). He has a strong story and incorporates some very interesting and effective concepts, but it feels particularly unrefined as yet.

In the title role of Ben, Mr. Stoll's make-up becomes an impermeable mask. What's left is a lot of bluster and the sounds of forced emotion. Mr. Weller's script doesn't provide much for him to work from, either. The transitions from ghost to monster reveal appear in toggle switches from one to the other.

As Ben's side-kick Cato (Green Hornet, anyone?) Mr. Marshall-Green is much more successful. He has the advantage of a better-drawn character and a lighter make-up burden to bear. His opening grief over Ben's death is palpable, and we see his excitement at Ben's resurrection slowly degenerate into resentment, then apathy. It's a highly effective performance.

Supporting in multiple roles is Dan Butler, first as a sleazy Captain selling arms intended for US forces in Iraq to terrorists, then as GW (as in George W. Bush), taken hostage by Ben and Jimmy at the end of their quest for a mission with meaning. I won't reveal their horrific plan here (which does involve Mt. Rushmore). Mr. Butler has a grand time playing these two scheming, yet painfully short-sighted men.

Also worth note is Lisa Joyce, playing multiple roles from a German barmaid, to a blind hooker, to Ben's wife. She clearly delineates each character and is almost unrecognizable from one to the next.

Eugene Lee's sets incorporate some interesting concepts. I liked way he kept increasing the number of flag-draped coffin pieces which served as various furniture pieces, building up to a full flag backdrop in the final scene. It's a telling statement, our flag created from the bodies of soldiers killed in a war of questionable purpose and value.

NYTW is also offering the following to you:

Tickets for performances August 29 – September 7 are just $40 each (reg. $65).

Tickets purchased by September 15 for performances September 9 – October 12 are just $45 each (reg. $65).

Use code BST4LES when ordering.

To purchase tickets, call (212) 947-8844 or visit

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.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Summer 2008 Recap

Ok, ok.

I was a little busy over the summer and only posted about myself. (Isn't a certain level of narcissism required to be an actor/blogger?)


It was not as if I didn't see anything. There were several, but I didn't find any to be particularly outstanding.

Marriage of Bette and Boo (Roundabout at the Laura Pels) June 14, 2008
Christopher Durang's version of Albee, but funnier. Nice turns by Julie Hagerty and Victoria Clark and Zoe Lister-Jones.

Some Americans Abroad (Second Stage Theatre) July 5, 2008
American academia can act stereotypically British - who knew?

Damn Yankees (Encores!) July 13, 2008
I love me some Cheyenne Jackson. I really need to get back and see Xanadu with him in the cast. Sean Hayes can play the piano, too!

[title of show] (Lyceum Theatre) July 19, 2008
The little show that could - now has! The set looked a bit too "set-like," but otherwise they've stayed true to their vision.

Impressing the Czar - Royal Ballet of Flanders (Rose Theatre - Lincoln Center Festival) July 19, 2008
I've never been a big fan of contemporary ballet, and this piece did tend to drag after the first act, but it's a splendid production and marvelously visual. Go Jessica Teague!

South Pacific (Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont) August 2, 2008
I stood in line for cancellations and boy, was it worth it!! Kelli O'Hara continues to refine and shade her performance. Matthew Morrison was in excellent voice and Paulo Szot is still as hot as ever!

Cirque Dreams Jungle Fantasy (Broadway Theatre) August 5, 2008
Definitely geared for an audience of children, it's homogenized Cirque for pre-teen and tweens.

Spring Awakening (Eugene O'Neill Theatre) August 8, 2008
My fourth time seeing the show. Several understudies performing, but the piece is holding up very nicely.

The Lisbon Traviata (The Center) August 11, 2008
Gay comedy turns into operatic tragedy in the last scene, though the tone is more Lucia than Violetta.

A Tale of Two Cities (Al Hirschfeld Theatre) August 25, 2008
Where to start on this train wreck? I could borrow from Mr. Alessandrini "I know I've seen this show before." Or, "At the end of the play you're another year older." The show is 20 years in the making which might date its inspiration (not to mention writing and musical styling) to another little piece based on a large 19th Century novel which features a French revolution.

The Tempest (Classic Stage Company) September 4, 2008
Prospero as Shylock via Mandy Patinkin (when he wasn't repeating pages of dialog after being distracted by cell phones). Stark Sands adds beefcake to his talent as a lovely Ferdinand. Elizabeth Waterston, willowy and equally lovely as Miranda. Costumes were only flattering on the pretty people. Production was otherwise kinda flat.

Not a stellar summer, but heaven knows it could have been worse!