Sunday, May 08, 2011

Catching Up the Backlog

It's been a busy spring.  Here's a collection of summaries on what I've seen of late.

"The House of Blue Leaves" at the Walter Kerr Theatre, April 11, 2011

This revival was a big hit in its 1986 production at Lincoln Center Theatre with John Mahoney, Swoosie Kurtz and Stockard Channing.  I wish I'd seen it.  Instead we get Ben Stiller, who was also in the 1986 production, with Edie Falco and Jennifer Jason Leigh.  Ms. Leigh is the only one close to being appropriately cast.  Director David Cromer seems to have strayed from what made his last two successful productions work (Our Town and Brighton Beach Memoirs) - focus on the text.  One has to wonder how much pressure there was for commercial success after the unfortunate end of the latter.  Mr. Stiller flails but never nails the desperation of Artie, making the ending twist all the more flabbergasting for the wrong reasons.  This limited run ends July 23, 2011.

"The Intelligent Homosexual's Guide to Capitalism and Socialism with a Key to the Scriptures" at the Public Theater, April 13, 2011

Tony Kushner returns to New York with a new play on an operatic scale (and length).  Taking on themes of communism, socialism, labor unions, sexuality and betrayal, this production is its latest incarnation after a premiere at the Guthrie.  Powerful and sweeping, one can see the work that has taken place, and the work still to be done.  Where it lacks the extravagant theatricality of Angels in America, it makes up in character development.  Stephen Spinella's Pil, gives us a glimpse of what Louis Ironson might have grown up to be.   Director Michael Greif, who also directed the Signature's revival of Angels... handles the mammoth work with finesse.  It's not Mr. Kushner's greatest work to date, but will rank among the better ones.  This limited run ends June 12, 2011

"Picked" at the Vineyard Theatre, April 15, 2011

Christopher Shinn brings us a tale of "be careful what you wish for" with this story of an actor who finally gets his big break to work with a world-class director (think James Cameron) on a new concept of film-making in which the process is reversed, writing the script after casting the actors.  It's an interesting concept and relatively well-written.  Coming off a starring role in "Cloverfield" Michael Stahl-David handles the scenes of insecurity experienced by most actors well.  He fails to deliver on the more emotional moments where the honesty his character purports to demonstrate don't come through.  Picked runs through May 22, 2011.

"Jerusalem" at The Music Box, April 16, 2011

Mark Rylance returns to Broadway in this story of a down-and-almost-out man fighting to keep the land he claims as a birthright from development.  He supports himself by selling drugs to the wayward youth in the area, drawing them in like the Pied Piper.  The subplot of a missing girl gets a bit lost in the shuffle from time to time, but Mr. Rylance is at his usual stellar performance level playing his own kind of St. George saving the maiden from the dragon.  This limited run ends July 24, 2011.

"The Importance of Being Earnest" presented by Roundabout Theatre Company at the American Airlines Theatre, April 21, 2011

Brian Bedford directs and makes Lady Bracknell the ultimate travesty role in this delightful revival of the Oscar Wilde classic.  Even the likes of Jane Houdyshell as Miss Prism can't steal the spotlight from Mr. Bedford.  This limited run ends July 3, 2011.

"The People in the Picture" presented by Roundabout Theatre Company at Studio 54, April 24, 2011

Once again, the Roundabout varies from their core mission of producing revivals to attempt a new production.  Even talented star power like Donna Murphy and Chip Zien can't help turn this overearnest effort into a hit.  Crossing elements of To Be or Not To Be with Sophie's Choice it finds neither the laughs nor heartache of either.  This limited run ends on June 19, 2011.

"The Normal Heart" at the Golden Theatre, April 25, 2011

What was first received as Larry Kramer's ranting polemic about the origins of the AIDS crisis and the failure of both the US and New York City governments to act in the best interests of homosexual men to stem the plague, it reveals itself as remarkably relevant today.  It also reveals itself as a particularly  good play, well-constructed and very powerful.  This all-star production in its first bow on Broadway features an excellent cast including director wunderkind Joe Mantello in the leading role of Ned Weeks, Kramer's thinly-veiled self-portrait.  Directors Joel Grey and George C. Wolfe channel the pain and anger into power.  David Rockwell's stark black and white set cleverly reveals the seemingly endless headlines and quotes from the period as the situation deteriorates, with stark projections of the increasing number of victims' names eventually covering the walls of the theatre itself.

Not to be missed, this limited run ends July 10, 2011.

"War Horse" presented by Lincoln Center Theater at the Vivian Beaumont, April 26, 2011

Based on a novel for young adults (think Coram Boy), this story of a young man's relationship with his horse during World War I is beautifully staged following its transfer from London.  The use of puppetry figuratively and literally anthropomorphizes the horse Joey, 1/2 thoroughbred, 1/2 workhorse as he struggles to survive the horror of war.  Eight million horses died during WWI - only 62,000 of them were brought back to England.  Even though the script is often predictable, the staging is breathtaking and the emotions are strong.

It's a brilliant production - not to be missed.  War Horse is on an open-ended run.

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