Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Colin Quinn: Long Story Short

"Colin Quinn: Long Story Short" at the Helen Hayes Theatre, November 15, 2010

Transferring after a relatively successful off-Broadway run earlier this year, Colin Quinn spends a little more than 75 minutes tromping through the history of the world.  Skipping around the globe, his attempt at a sardonic, cynic's view of how we got to where we are boils down to a simple concept.  There are two kinds of people in the world, smart guys and tough guys.  Smart guys best represented by the Greeks, tough guys by the Romans.  The influences of each are omnipresent today, but overall the tough guys generally win.  He summarizes, "We're the descendants of the pricks."

There are quite a few laughs, particularly his descriptions of the Holy Roman Empire as the children of alcoholics, and the Incas' under the influence of cocaine producing the best and worst ideas: architecture and science, vs. beheadings and cannibalism.

In the end, there's not much to learn about history, nor does Mr. Quinn share much profundity of his own thoughts about how the world evolved.  If anyone remembers Mr. Quinn's time on the Weekend Update desk on Saturday Night Live, there won't be any surprises here.  This is a Comedy Central late night stand-up special.  Jerry Seinfeld directs, but his impact seems minimal. 

Most impressive is David Rockwell's set and video projections, though portions of the set appear leftover from Xanadu.

Colin Quinn: Long Story Short runs through November 9.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Notes from Underground

"Notes from Underground" presented by Theatre for a New Audience at Jerome Robbins Theatre, November 13, 2010

Adapted from the Dostoevsky novella by actor Bill Camp and director Robert Woodruff, Russian existentialism returns to the New York stage.

In this production, the unnamed Man (Mr. Camp) has withdrawn from society resigning his civil service job after receiving a sizable inheritance.  Torn in a paranoid struggle to accept his mediocrity vs. the noble life for which a man should strive, he confesses his insecurities via webcam alternately whining at his weakness and railing against others.  It starts out like a 19th century Spalding Gray but spins quickly off that track.

Mr. Camp's brings us a Man very much like his Misanthrope in Ivo Van Hove's production at New York Theatre Workshop a few years go.  He screams and sobs, slovenly slurping down drinks like an undiagnosed diabetic.  The use of the web cam and other strategically placed cameras projects close-ups and visual angles across the stark white set.  This technique provide dramatic effects unachievable in standard theatre craft.  Still, despite the clever use, it feels like more of a distraction from the theatricality rather than an enhancement.  Mr. Woodruff directs the action like Italian cinema with extended pauses and ponderous moments, underscored with odd musical tracks. 

Perhaps the event might have made more sense as a film instead of a play.  The material, with its focus on the working of the Man's mind might have been better served in that format.

Production values are strong.  David Zinn's white set, layered in snow (it is set in St. Petersburg, by the way) creates a sterile cave into which the Man has sentenced himself.  Mark Barton's lighting plays on the set to morph the cave into a cage as  the Man devolves.

Notes from Underground runs through November 20.

Monday, November 08, 2010

After the Revolution

"After the Revolution" at Playwrights Horizons, October 29, 2010

Amy Herzog's tale of a family's struggle between ideal and reality centers around the legacy of the late Joe Joseph, a Communist Party member who stood up to the McCarthy hearings, refusing to name names during one of the darker political periods of our nation's history.  The story explores idealism vs. reality, truth vs. money.

(Spoiler Alert)

Ben (Peter Friedman) and Leo (Mark Blum), Joe's sons and both committed Marxists themselves, have learned that a book is about to be published identifying Joe as a Soviet Spy during WWII.  Turns out Ben had a pretty good idea it was true, though he never shared it with his idealistic daughter, Emma (Katharine Powell), who runs a defense fund in Joe's name, fighting for equal justice for the questionably accused.  The news turns Emma on her ear, questioning the foundation of her beliefs.  At the same time Emma's major donor, Morty (David Margulies), announces his plans to leave his entire estate to the fund, leaving Emma torn between the opportunity that such money would provide for her cause and the contradiction of doing so in the name of a traitor. 

It's a top-notch cast for the most part, supported by Mare Winningham in a sweet turn as Mel, Ben's well-meaning if not quite as intelligent wife and the inimitable Lois Smith as Ben and Leo's step-mother Vera.   The ironically named Vera is the least ready to reveal the truth about her late husband since it would negatively affect "the cause."  Mr. Friedman maintains the strongest performance, wearing his heart on his sleeve and flagellating himself once Emma learns the truth about Joe.  Ms. Powell, in the pivotal role, suffers from inconsistency.  Some moments are full of truth, but get undermined by moments of self-consciousness.

Director Carolyn Cantor keeps things moving, but the script could stand a trim of 15 minutes or so.  Clint Ramos' set morphs well to serve the multiple locations.

After the Revolution runs through November 28, 2010.  Playwrights Horizons offers the following discount:

Order by November 9 with code ARGR and tickets are only $45 (reg. $55) for all performances Oct. 29 – Nov. 28

·        Order online at Use code APGR.
·        Call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8pm daily)
·        Present a printout of this blog post to the Ticket Central box office at 416 West 42nd Street (Noon-8pm daily).