“On the AIsle with Larry” 9 December 2014

“On the Aisle with Larry”

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on IT’S ONLY A PLAY, THE COUNTRY HOUSE, LOST LAKE, OUR LADY OF KIBEHO and PITBULLS.

Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play, at the Schoenfeld Theatre, is the biggest hit play Broadway has seen in many a moon, selling out every performance. The Main Event is the reunification of Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick, with other stars thrown in for good measure, such as Stockard Channing, F. Murray Abraham and Rupert Grint (of the Harry Potter movies). Mine is very much a minority opinion: I hated it. Here’s why.

McNally’s characters inhabit a Broadway as most “civilians” imagine it, full of self-obsessed, narcissistic ninnies. All them are caricatures, from the fresh off the bus naïf who’s taking coats to the playwright (Matthew Broderick in Yet Another quivery high-pitched performance, pretty much the same one he’s turned in ever since his Finch in How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying), to the coke-sniffing leading lady (Stockard Channing, in a too over-the-top performance) to the enfant terrible young British stage director (I saw Grint’s understudy), who is flabbergasted that the critics love everything he’s directed, even though he thinks most of it was crap, and as a result he’s had 15 straight hits. He desperately hopes for a flop. He’s been knighted and is soon to be made a peer. Remember, Rupert Grint is playing this part. When did this guy start directing, when he was 5? Abraham plays a vicious theatre critic, who For Some Strange Reason has been invited to the opening night party at the townhouse of the producer whose money comes, of course, from her husband (caricatured by an unrecognizable Megan Mullally as a shallow, rich dimwit). Back to Abraham’s character, do you really think that critics are invited to Broadway opening night parties, particularly ones as loathed as Abraham’s character is?

What little plot there is concerns everyone’s wait for the all-important Brantley review, which will decide their fate. The dialogue is mostly just one-liner after one-liner. Some of these, I admit, are funny, but all too many are just silly. Did I mention the costumes? All the male party guests are in tuxedoes, with the exception of the rumpled director and Broderick, who’s in top hat and tails, looking like he’s glided in from an Astaire/Rogers musical. Nobody wears tuxes any more, even to opening night parties. As I said, this is a civilian’s fantasy of Broadway, not Broadway as it is. It’s a silly (and I mean that not in a good way) send-up which made me think of Forbidden Broadway without the songs.

Far better was Donald Margulies’ The Country House, which has just closed at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Broadway venue, the Friedman Theatre. This also had a theatrical subject. It took place at the Williamstown home of a fading Broadway and film star who’s playing at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. She’s invited a hunky young TV star to stay at her home, and he becomes a source of lust for every female in the play. Also in the mix are Elliott, the brother, who’s a failed actor and now a failed playwright. He’s sort of a combination of Uncle Vanya and The Sea Gull’s Konstantin. In fact, this is Margulies’ most “Chekhovian” play – not rip off, but homage to the Russian master. It was funny, and poignant, and featured wonderful performances by the likes of Blythe Danner, Daniel Sunjata, David Rasche and Eric Lange. I hope you got a chance to see it.

Off Broadway, Manhattan Theatre Club has another beautiful production, this one at City Center Stage II, of David Auburn’s touching Lost Lake, a two-hander which takes place in a run-down cabin on a lake somewhere north of here, rented by woman from New York, who’s brought her two kids and one of their friends there for the summer. It turns out, the owner of the cabin has fallen on hard times (in fact his life has mostly been nothing but hard times, bad decisions and bad luck), who is living in his truck. John Hawkes is sensational as this touching loser, and Tracie Thoms is also touching as she turns out to be not unlike her summer landlord, with bad luck and bad decisions of her own.

Lost Lake: a perfect title for a play about two lost souls.

Katori Hall’s Our Lady of Kibeho, at the Signature center, is a drama based on the true story of three Rwandan girls who claimed to have visions of the Virgin Mary. It’s an astonishing play, beautifully directed by Michael Greif, with a jaw-dropping ending in which the girls reveal Mary’s terrible prophecy about Rwanda. Don’t miss it – it’s one of the best plays of this season.

Keith Josef Adkins’ Pitbulls, at Rattlestick, is a trailer trash play.What makes it unique is that all the characters are black. The central one is the woman who lives in the trailer with her teenaged son, supporting them by making wine and selling it by the roadside. The biggest form of entertainment in the town is big fighting, and everyone’s in on it from the Mayor on down. Problem is, someone’s been killing the dogs. Everyone in the play is great; particularly, Yvette Ganier as Our Heroine. Pitbulls marks the debut of a major new playwright and is not to be missed.

IT’S ONLY A PLAY. Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE COUNTRY HOUSE. Friedman Theatre. Alas, closed

LOST LAKE. City Center Stage 1, 131 W. 55th St

TICKETS: 212-581-1212

OUR LADY OF KIBEHO. Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: 212-244-7529

PITBULLS. Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, 224 Waverly Pl.

TICKETS: www.rattlestick.org 

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                                                      — George F. Will 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

 

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“On the AIsle with Larry” 27 November 2014

“On the Aisle with Larry”

Lawrence Harbison, the Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on THE LAST SHIP, ON THE TOWN, LENNON: THOUGH A GLASS ONION, SIDE SHOW, ALLEGRO, MAJOR BARBARA, DISGRACED, STICKS AND BONES, THE REAL THING, INDIAN INK and the BIG APPLE CIRCUS.

The Last Ship, at the Neil Simon Theatre, has a score by the guy who calls himself “Sting,” and has, therefore been eagerly anticipated by fans of Mr. Sting’s music. The woman sitting next to me had travelled up from Virginia just to see the show. She loves Mr. Sting. She fell asleep about 20 minutes into the show and awoke periodically to applaud wildly after each song. Then, zzzzzz …

The Last Ship deals with the closing of a shipyard, and a conflict between two men over a woman. One of the guys went off to sea 15 years ago. Then he returns. He wants to start up with her again, but she’s involved with this other bloke, a former shipyard worked who has sold out and now works for the company which closed the yard. The workers decide to take over the yard and build one last ship, with the help of church funds provided to them by a supportive priest. Howsat? What are they going to build, a dinghy? Anyway, that’s basically the plot.

The attraction is, of course, Mr. Sting’s music, which is about the only thing the critics have praised about the show. The Ish, in the NY Times, says it’s the best score by a rocker ever. Well, no, Mr. Ish, that would be Chess, followed closely by Kinky Boots and Here Lies Love. I found the songs dull and somewhat repetitive, for the most part lacking in theatrical vitality. The visual look of the show is an eyesore, and the actors can carry a tune, but that’s about it. The choreography is negligible and Joe Mantello, the director, hasn’t come up with much to make the show interesting.

Far better is On the Town, at the Lyric Theatre. Unlike The Last Ship, this revival of the Bernstein/Comden/Green musical about three sailors ashore in the Big Apple for one day was not eagerly anticipated. The last time it was around, fifteen years ago or so, it flopped, even with good reviews. Well, it turns out this revival is hilarious, brilliantly staged by the king of comedy direction, John Rando, and with amazing choreography by Joshua Bergasse, who has resurrected the Agnes DeMillean dream ballet to music from Bernstein’s original ballet suites which inspired the show. I have never seen better dancing in a Broadway musical. The show is brimming with great bits of comic staging, and the performers are just wonderful, particularly Alyssha Umphree as that man-hungry taxi driver, Hildy, and Jackie Hoffman in a variety of roles.

I think this production is going to be a multiple award-winner in the spring. Don’t miss it.

I must confess, I had my doubts about Lennon: Through A Glass Onion, playing at the Union Square Theatre. It sounded to me to be exploitive of John Lennon and his music. Here’s what it is: John R. Waters, a lanky old guy with short hair, is Lennon – as he might have been had he lived. He talks about his life and then sings his songs, many of which are post-Beatles. I never had much appreciation for John’s songs after the Beatles broke up until now, as sung full-bore by this wonderful performer, accompanied on piano by Stewart Arrietta, who also contributes vocal harmonies. Waters does sound like Lennon, in spite of what you’ve heard; but that’s not the most important thing, which is that he embodies the man as he was and might have become.

Side Show, at the St. James Theatre, is a reconceived version of the Bill Russell (book) and Henry Krieger (music) musical (additional book material by the director, Bill Condon), which flopped the first time around even with, as I recall, pretty good reviews. It was felt at the time that the show was just too dark for the Broadway audience, with its ubiquitous side show freaks and, of course, the Hilton Sisters, conjoined twins who became vaudeville stars in the 1930s. This time around, it really connects. It remains to be seen if this will be enough to give it a substantial run.

The score is fabulous, and Condon has done a wonderful job of directing. Erin Davie and Emily Padgett, as Our Heroines the Hilton Sisters, are very compelling, and Ryan Silverman and Matthew Hydzik provide terrific support as the man who discovers them,  the man who teaches them how to be stars, and their love interests.

Go. For once, it’s not a rip-off of a movie. It’s a beautiful original story which will break your heart.

Allegro, at the Classic Stage Co., is also a reconceived version of an old musical, this one by Rodgers and Hammerstein which, like Side Show, was a financial flop the first time around (1947). Whereas, R & H’s first two shows, Oklahoma and Carousel, were based on plays, Allegro had an original plot and a structure which most have seemed confusingly experimental to the Broadway audience of its time, what with its allegorical depiction of the life of a man from his birth until he becomes a successful (but at what price?) doctor in his 30s and it’s Greek-style chorus. The original production had 78 performers and an orchestra of 35. This time around, director John Doyle has pared it down to 90 minutes, with 12 performers on a bare stage, some playing multiple roles, all of them playing musical instruments, Doyle’s signature staging, so there’s no separate orchestra.

Claybourne Elder is Joseph Taylor, Jr., the son of a small town doctor, who falls in love with a local girl, Jenny, who wants him to go into her father’s business so they won’t have to wait until he finishes medical school to get married. He does go to med school and then he’s faced with a choice: does he join his father’s practice and lead a modest middle class life or does he accept a position with a posh hospital in Chicago which will lead to wealth?

Doyle’s ensemble is uniformly strong. Elder is terrific as the young doctor, as is Elizabeth A. Davis as Jenny. You can’t take your eyes off her, and she sings and plays the violin beautifully.

Allegro had to wait 67 years for John Doyle to come along to be revealed as the masterpiece it is. It should move to Broadway but it probably won’t as Big Ben’s review wasn’t favorable enough. Don’t miss it.

Pearl Theatre Co., is presenting an adaptation (unacknowledged, of course) of Shaw’s Major Barbara, in partnership with the Gingold Theatrical Group, whose Artistic Director, David Staller is the director. Gingold is devoted to promoting Shaw’s plays, and Staller is something of a Shaw scholar. He should stick to scholarship. As a director, he’s clueless.

Staller has rearranged some of the text, starting the evening with a rant by Barbara to us, the audience, as various actors mill about making brief comments on what she‘s saying.

Then, the lights come up on a black lacquered unit set with gold trim, with staircases on each side of the stage, which looks like the Vestibule of Hell. There are various straight backed chairs positioned around this set. What this design concept means is anybody’s guess (if anyone would want to) but it has the effect of sucking all the humor out of the play like a Hoover sucks up dirt. I never saw a less funny production of a Shavian play.

The actors struggle valiantly. Two, Hannah Cabell as Barbara and Dan Daily as Undershaft, would have been terrific in a production of the play done by someone who knows what he’s doing. This Major Barbara has rocketed to the top of my Bomb of the Year list.

Ayad Akhtar’s Disgraced, last year’s Pulitzer Prize-winner, has reopened on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre. It’s about a lapsed Muslim attorney named Amir, married to an caucasian artist, who thinks he can escape his Muslim upbringing, even as his wife embraces Islamic art, which inspires her work. During a dinner party at which the guests are the wife’s dealer and his black wife (an attorney who works at Amir’s firm) the sparks fly and revelations surface, leading to violence.

This is one of the strongest Pulitzer-winners in recent years, superbly directed by Kimberley Senior and featuring terrific performances throughout, especially from Hari Dillon, as Amir. It’s a don’t-miss.

Simon Stephens Punk Rock, produced by MCC at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, is about English teens at a private (i.e., public) school. It’s about bullying and the inevitable violence which ensues. It’s very powerful, if you don’t mind the upsetting subject matter, and it’s brilliantly directed by Trip Cullman, whose failure, still, to get a Broadway shot continues to mystify me. Cullman’s ensemble is brilliant, with special kudus to Douglas Smith as an extremely troubled youth, Will Pullen as the scary bully and Noah Robbins as a science nerd.

Punk Rock rocks.

Many years ago, I had the good fortune to score a pair of tickets to the opening night of a revival playing at the Morosco Theatre, down the street from the hotel where my wife and I were staying, tourists on our first trip to New York. This turned out to be the famous revival of O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten, directed by José Quintero and starring Jason Robards and Colleen Dewhurst, which took a forgotten American classic and brought it back into our permanent national dramatic repertoire. Scott Elliott’s superb production of David Rabe’s Stick and Bones at the Signature Center, where the New Group is ensconced this season, gave me the same feeling as when I saw A Moon for the Misbegotten all those years ago; this is an American classic.

The original production transferred from the Public Theater to Broadway, where it won the Tony Award, and then disappeared from our consciousness even as the Vietnam War receded into unhappy memory. It couldn’t be more timely, dealing as it does with the homecoming of a wounded warrior. Rabe makes his American family archetypal by giving them the names of the characters in a famous sitcom. The mom and dad are Ozzie and Harriet, whose sons are David and Ricky. David returns from Vietnam blind and tormented, and Ozzie and Harriet are at their wits end trying to help him get back to being their David. Ricky, on the other hand, is pretty much oblivious, his constant companion a guitar which he plays from time to time. Even the family priest, in a nice turn by Richard Chamberlain, can’t do anything with the hostile and angry David.

Bill Pullman and Holly Hunter are phenomenal as Ozzie and Harriet, and Ben Schnetzer is scarily good as David. This is a great production of a great American play. Don’t miss it.

Roundabout has two Tom Stoppard plays on the boards – Indian Ink at their off Broadway space, the Laura Pels, and The Real Thing on Broadway at the American Airlines Theatre. Indian Ink, which is receiving its New York premiere almost 20 years after it was first done in London, is beautifully-written and wonderfully staged by Carey Perloff. It takes place in two time frames, the 1930s and the 1980s. In the latter, a scholar is interviewing Eleanor, an elderly woman, about her sister Flora, a famous poet who died when she was a young woman. The scholar is editing a book of Flora’s letters, and he has many unanswered questions about various references in them. We then go back in time to the 1930’s, to India, where Flora has gone to try to recover her health. There, she meets am artist, who paints her picture. One of the unanswered questions pertains to him.

Romola Garai and Rosemary Harris are magnificent as Eleanor and Flora, and Firdous Bamji is touching as the artist.

This is a beautiful production of a beautiful play.

The Real Thing has gotten some rather negative reviews, which amazes me because this is a really fine production, directed by Sam Gold, of Stoppard’s classic about love and infidelity, featuring terrific performances by Ewan McGregor and Maggie Gyllenhaal. McGregor plays playwright Henry Boot and Gillenhal is Annie, first Henry’s lover and later his wife.

While I could have done without the sing-alongs Gold has inserted at the start of each act, overall his direction is first-rate. This one, like Indian Ink, is a don’t-miss.

The Big Apple Circus has pitched its tent in Lincoln Center’s Damrosch Park and it’s great fun. It’s got a Cirque de Soleil-esque meaningless title, “Matamorphosis,” which annoyed me a little bit, and there’s a clown who does a bunch of unfunny things, occasionally dragging members of the audience into the ring to do more unfunny things, but this is a minor quibble, as you can go out for more popcorn when he comes on. The acts, consisting of jugglers, contortionists, quick-change artists and a spectacular trapeze act, are amazing.

THE LAST SHIP. Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St.

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000

ON THE TOWN. Lyric Theatre, 213 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000

LENNON: THROUGH A GLASS ONION. Union Square Theatre, 100 E. 17th St.

TICKETS: 800-982-2787

SIDE SHOW. St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

ALLEGRO. Classic  Stage Co. 136 E. 13th St.

TICKETS: 212-352-3101

MAJOR BARBARA. :Pearl Theatre Co., 555 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: 212-563-9261

DISGRACED. Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

PUNK ROCK. Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St.

TICKETS: 212-352-3101

STICKS AND BONES. The New Group at Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

THE REAL THING. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: www.roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300

INDIAN INK. Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St.

TICKETS: www.roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300

BIG APPLE CIRCUS. Damrosch Park, Lincoln Center

TICKETS: www.bigapplecircus.org

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                                                      — George F. Will 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

 

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“On the Aisle with Larry? 27 October, 2014

Lawrence Harbison,The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on LOVE LETTERS, INDIAN INK, FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FOUND, THIS IS OUR YOUTH and YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU.

A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, is about as bare bones as bare bones can get. A man and a woman sit behind a table, reading letters they have written to each other since they met in the second grade. Gurney’s clever use of irony makes us realize long before they do that they have loved each other all their lives. He has become a U.S. Senator, not particularly happily married, whereas her life has been one personal disaster after another. It’s a brilliant device, made even more so by the extraordinary performances by the two actors I saw performing the play, Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow. I expected excellence from Dennehy, but Farrow was truly a revelation. As her character’s life disintegrated, she broke your heart. The plan is to bring in a different pair of stars every two weeks. Next up: Alan Alda and Candice Bergen. Whoever you see in this funny, and ultimately very poignant, you won’t regret it.

Tom Stoppard’s 1995 play Indian Ink is finally receiving its New York Premiere in a superb production directed by Carey Perloff at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre. The play takes place in two time frames – 1930 in India and the 1980’s in England. The Indian part of the play is about a female poet named Flora Crewe, who has come to India for her health. In the 1980’s her sister Eleanor is interviewed by a young scholar who is editing an edition of Flora’s letters and who has many questions about references therein. She is also visited by a young Indian man whoi, it turns out, is the son of a painter who did Flora’s portrait. The play is something of a literary detective story, as the details of Flora’s brief sojourn in India before she died emerge. It’s a compelling story, made even more compelling by the performances of Romola Garai as Flora and the great Rosemary Harris as Eleanor; but they are not the only standouts. Also terrific are Firdous Banji as the portrait painter and Bhavesh Patel as his son.

Indian Ink is a play heretofore not seen here, by one of the world’s greatest playwrights. What are you waiting for?

Down at the Public Theater, you can see a terrific new musical, The Fortress of Solitude, with a book by Itamar Moses based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem, a coming of age tale of a white boy named Dylan growing up in a black neighborhood in Brooklyn. His only friend is a black kid named Mingus, the son of a once-prominent 1960s soul singer who’s now a bitter middle-aged burnout. Both boys are motherless, Dylan’s having left for Berkeley. Dylan eventually becomes a writer, whereas Mingus winds up in prison, and he conceives of the idea to try and help Mingus’ father stage a comeback.

Adam Chanler-Berat is perfect as Dylan, but it is Kyle Beltran who really shines as the tormented Mingus. He has an enormous amount of charisma, sings beautifully, and just about breaks your heart. Also strong are Andre de Shields as Mingus’ grandfather, a defrocked minister who’s just gotten out of prison, and Kevin Mambo as Barrett Rude Jr., Mingus’s dad.

The songs, by Michael Friedman, are a wonderful pastiche of 60s styles, and Daniel Aukin’s direction is first rate.

This one’s a don’t-miss.

As is Found, at the Atlantic Theatre Company, also a musical, about a young man nameD Davy who starts a magazine wherein he prints notices he has found on the street and in garbage cans all over the city, assisted by his two roommates – a cutie who is sweet on him and a large gay dude who’s been his friend since they were kids The magazine takes off, and Hollywood comes calling. Will Dave sell out by letting them make Yet Another “reality” show based on his magazine? The book by Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree is acres of clever, and Eli Bolin’s songs are very sprightly and off-beat.

Nick Blaemire is wonderful as Davy. Also good are Barrett Wilbert Reed as his no-bullshit roommate/partner, and Daniel Everidge as his gay friend who helps him with the magazine.

Again, a don’t-miss.

An interjection: It’s sad that neither The Fortress of Solitude nor Found has anywhere to go after they close at their respective theatres. They can’t move to Broadway (no stars) and they can’t move to a commercial Off Broadway venue (too many actors). So, alas, both will disappear into the ether when they close. Both deserve better.

Kenneth Lonergan’s comic drama, This is Our Youth, is enjoying an excellent revival at the Cort Theatre, the first time this famous play from the 1980’s has been presented on Broadway, seamlessly directed by Anna D. Shapiro and featuring wonderful performances by Kieran Culkin and Michael Cera as Dennis and Warren, two 20-something slackers. Warren arrives at Dennis’ apartment (which Dennis’ dad pays for, of course), with a suitcase full of “collectibles” and a bag full of his dad’s money, his dad having thrown him out. What’s to become of both youths? Lonergan’s writing retains its freshness lo these many years after the play was written, and actually makes you care about these losers.

Again, a don’t-miss.

But the champion don’t-miss in this column has to be Scott Ellis’ hilarious revival at the Longacre Theatre of the Kaufman and Hart classic, You Can’t Take it With You, about an eccentric family, all of whom have dropped out of the rat race, led by patriarch Martin Vanderhoff, played with devilish glee by James Earl Jones. Ellis’ ensemble is superb. Standouts include Annaleigh Ashford as Martin’s granddaughter Essie, who spends almost the entire play flitting around in ballet costume and Kristine Neilson as Martin’s daughter Penny, an autodidact of a playwright. Mention must also be made of David Rockwell’s wonderful set, which is sure to garner many an award nomination in the spring.

Lotsa don’t-misses going on right now. I mean it – they really are.

LOVE LETTERS. Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 256 W. 47th St.

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000

INDIAN INK. Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St.

TICKETS: 212-719-1300

THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE. Public Theater, 435 Lafayette St.

TICKETS: 212-967-7555

FOUND. Atlantic Theatre Co., 366 W. 20th St.

TICKETS: 866-811-4111

THIS IS OUR YOUTH. Cort Theatre. 138 W. 48th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU. Longacre Theatre, 220 W. with St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                                                      — George F. Will 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

 

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“On the Aisle with Larry” 12 September, 2014

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on BAUER, RED EYE OF LOVE, THE WAYSIDE MOTOR IN, BOYS AND GIRLS and BASTARDS OF STRINDBERG.

I have always felt that one of the marks of a really good play is that there’s a story there that needed to be told. Such a play is Bauer by Lauren Gunderson, at 59 E 59 Theatres, about a great 20th Century artist named Rudolf Bauer, who has languished for decades in the dustbin of history.

Bauer, an old man now, living in America and dying, is visited by his estranged former lover Hilla von Rebay, a wealthy baroness, a gifted painter herself and former curator of Solomon Guggenheim’s vast art collection. It was she who built the Guggenheim Museum to house Bauer’s paintings, and it was she who negotiated a contract whereby Guggenheim would own all of Bauer’s future works in exchange for a house, a car, and a yearly stipend. As a result, Bauer has been unable to paint for 13 years. Why does Hilla, from whom Bauer has been estranged for those 13 years, arrive back in his life now? What does she want? This is the gist of Gunderson’s fascinating play.

The production is first-rate, directed by Bill English, with Sherman as Bauer, Stacy Ross as Hilla and Susi Damilano as Bauer’s wife, Louise. Several times, kinetic projections of Bauer’s paintings appear on the set, designed by Micah J. Stieglitz, which are spectacularly rendered.

This one’s a don’t-miss.

On the other hand, you could skip Red Eye of Love, at the Dicapo Opera Theatre, a musical version of Arnold Weinstein’s 1961 play which was, in its day, considered to be an early example of American absurdism. It’s about a meat magnate, a goofy young man with dreams of becoming a doll designer, and the woman they both love.

John Wulp has adapted Weinstein’s play, making it seem imitative of cornball musical comedy of the 1920’s and Sam Davis’ music is a pastiche of styles of that period. Instead of charming, the whole enterprise just seems silly, though the performers are wonderful. Alli Mauzey practically channels Bernadette Peters circa Dames at Sea, and Josh Grisetti is wonderfully goofy as the young lead.

But in the end, Red Eye of Love just seems hopelessly old-fashioned.

A.R. Gurney is in residence at Signature this season (at long last), which has brought back his 1977 play, The Wayside Motor Inn. It’s set in a generic motel room near Boston. Gurney’s brilliant trick here is to tell several different stories, all happening simultaneously. In different rooms for them, in one room for us. There’s an elderly couple about to visit their daughter and their first grandchild, a sleazy salesman, a  college age couple there for a night of sex, a couple who are divorcing and a father dragging his recalcitrant son to an interview which might help get him into Harvard. It’s brought off wonderfully, helped by Lila Neugebauer’s tight direction and a wonderful cast comprised of veterans like Marc Kudisch, Jon Devries and Lizbeth MacKay, and fine young up and comers such as Ismenia Mendes and David McElwee as the young couple and Will Pullen as the kid who doesn’t think Harvard’s for him.

This one’s a don’t-miss.

Boys and Girls, part of the 1st Irish Festival, at 59 E 59, is a lyrical hodgepodge of monologues by Dylan Coburn Gray, wherein four young people, 2 men and two women, recount the sexual adventures. Gray’s language is very musical, often poetic, and the actors are very engaging. The play laid an egg with the mostly elderly audience the evening I attended, but if you’re a millennial and part of the hookup culture yourself you might dig seeing yourself on stage.

A group called the Scandinavian American Theatre Company has commissioned for playwrights – two Americans and two Swedes – to write short plays in response to Strindberg’s Miss Julie, and the result is Bastards of Strindberg at the Lion Theatre. Only one of the plays is at all interesting, Dominique Morisseau’s High Powered, about a black couple, part of the so-called 99% of people the rich are leaving behind. Between each play, the actors are made to dance, hop around and generally move weirdly to music. It’s insufferably artsy-fartsy.

You could skip Bastards of Strindberg.

BAUER. 59 E 59 Theatres, 59 E. 59th St.

Tickets: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

RED EYE OF LOVE. Dicapo Opera Theatre, 184 E. 76th St.

Tickets: www.smarttix.com/redeye or 212-868-4444

THE WAYSIDE MOTOR INN. Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.

Tickets: 212-244-7529

BOYS AND GIRLS. 59 E 59 Theatres, 59 E. 59th St.

Tickets: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

BASTARDS OF STRINDBERG. Lion Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.

Tickets: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                                                      — George F. Will 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

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“On the Aisle with Larry” 31 July 2014

Lawrence Harbison, the Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on SUMMER SHORTS SERIES A, MALA HIERBA, PIECE OF MY HEART: THE BERT BERNS STORY, BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY  and DROP DEAD PERFECT.

Summer Shorts, two bills of one act plays which are on about this time every summer at 59 E 59, is always a mixed bag. Usually, there’s one pretty good play in each bill. The rest are varying degrees of unmemorable. This could be said of Series A, which contains three plays; The Sky and the Limit by Roger Hedden, Sec. 310. Row D. Seats 5 and 6 by Warren Leight and Riverbed by Eric Lane. Hedden’s play is set out in the desert, where two buddies have gone hiking. One of them falls and is injured, we don’t know how seriously. They discuss their lives, mostly focusing on the injured dude’s impending marriage. Hedden’s dialogue is OK, but this play just didn’t grab me; nor did Lane’s play, which in entirely comprised of interlocking narrative monologues by a husband and wife coping with the death by drowning of their toddler daughter. It’s a poignant story; but narrated, it’s just plain undramatic, verging on the tedious, which is typical of “plays” of this kind. When will playwrights ever learn? Dramatize – don’t narrate. Leight’s play, the best of the three, is another buddy play, about three guys who share two season tickets to Knicks games. Comprised of very short vignettes, it takes place over several seasons, as we follow the lives of these three impassioned fans. Leight somehow makes it work. Less is always more.

Tanya Satacho’s Mala Hierba, at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, part of Second Stage’s annual summer Uptown Series, is a beautifully written and acted play about a young woman who’s married an incredibly wealthy older man, who is very abusive sexually. Most women would dump such a man, but Maritza is stuck because his money is supporting her impoverished mother. She’s tempted, though, by an ex-girlfriend named Fabiola, who has come down to southern Texas to try and persuade Maritza to leave her husband and come back with her to Texas. Also in the mix is Maritza’s spoiled brat of a step-daughter and the family’s all-knowing housekeeper.

Jerry Ruiz’s direction is first-rate, as are all the performances. Mala Hierba marks the NYC debut of a very exciting new writer. It’s not to be missed.

Piece of My Heart: The Bert Berns Story, at the Signature Center, is a bio-musical about a little-known 1960’s songwriter and record producer. Berns wrote and produced such hits as “Hang on Sloopy,” “Twist and Shout” and the title tune, before dying in 1967 of a heart attack at age 37. While Piece of My Heart tells an interesting story, it tries but fails to establish the case for Berns as being in the same stratosphere as Lieber & Stoller, Mann & Weil and Carole King.

Still, it’s very well directed and choreographed by Denis Jones and features terrific performances all around – particularly from Zak Resnick as Berns and Leslie Kritzer as his grown-up daughter determined to lean the truth about her father.

Piece of My Heart is well worth seeing – particularly if you enjoy early 60’s pop music.

More than well worth seeing is Stephen Adly Guirgis’ wonderful Between Riverside and Crazy, at the Atlantic Theatre Co., about a retired ex-cop named Walter who, 8 years ago, was shot in an after-hours bar by another off duty copy. He’s suing the city, and won’t take a settlement to drop his suit. As a result, he’s about to be evicted from his spacious, rent-controlled apartment. Also in the mix is his ex-son son, Junior, who lives with him and fences stolen goods, Junior’s buddy Oswaldo, who crashes with at Walter’s place and considers him as a sort of father figure (he calls him “Pops”), Junior’s luscious girlfriend who may be a prostitute, two cops (one of them Walter’s former partner), who try hard to persuade him to take the City’s substantial settlement offer, and a mysterious church lady who arrives to give Walter succor.

Nobody is what he or she seems at first, as Guirgis brilliantly develops each character, gradually revealing the truth about each one.  Stephen McKinley Henderson is giving the finest performance of his distinguished career as Walter. All the performances, though, are terrific, under the lovely direction of Austin Pendleton, with special kudos to Liza Colón-Zayas as the voluptuous “church lady.” Her scene in which we think she wants to bring Walter to Jesus but winds up giving him the pum-pum is priceless.

Don’t miss this wonderful new play by one of our finest playwrights.

On the other hand, you could skip Erasmus Fenn’s Drop Dead Perfect, produced by Peccadillo Theatre Co. at Theatre at St. Clements, a tedious attempt to bring back the Ridiculous Theatrical Company’s sort of play, with a convoluted plot which I found incomprehensible. The star is Everett Quinton, Charles Ludlam’s second banana at the Ridiculous, who plays a wealthy woman with the hots for a shady Cuban, the son of her former lover, who arrives unexpectedly. What can I say – other than Quinton is no Charles Ludlam. He’s giving a terrible performance.

What mystifies me is that the play has been directed by Joe Brancato — who is always reliable and sometimes borderline inspired – but here he is pretty much clueless as to how to make Fenn’s play interesting. Although he claims in a program note to be a fan of the Ridiculous Theatrical Co., he should stick to what he does best – realism.

SUMMER SHORTS: SERIES A. 59 E 59

TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

MALA HIERBA. McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway (@76th St.)

TICKETS: www.2st.com

PIECE OF MY HEART. Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

BETWEEN RIVERSIDE AND CRAZY. Atlantic Theatre Co., 326 W. 20th St.

TICKETS: 866-811-4111

DROP DEAD PERFECT. Theatre at St. Clements, 423 W. 46th St.

TICKETS: 845-786-2873 

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                                                      — George F. Will

 

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“On the Aisle with Larry” 22 July, 2014

“On the Aisle with Larry”

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE, ENTER AT FOREST LAWN, THE LONG SHRIFT, THE VILLAGE BIKE, OM, FORBIDDEN BROADWAY COMES OUT SWINGING AND THE MUSCLES IN OUR TOES.

The Pianist of Willesden Lane, at 59 E 59, has been adapted and directed by Hershey Felder from Mona Golabuk’s book The Children of Willesden Lane: Beyond the Kindertransport, a woman’s story of how she escaped the Nazis, travelled at age 14 to England, and became a concert pianist. It’s performed by Ms. Golabuk herself. She is an engaging storyteller and a brilliant pianist, so not only do we get a compelling story, we also get a lot of great piano music.

This one is not to be missed.

The same cannot be said of Enter at Forest Lawn, at Walker Space. Mark Roberts, the playwright, is a top TV writer whose credits include Two and a Half Men and Mike and Molly. The play is I take it based on his experience as the Executive Producer of the former, during the Charlie Sheen crisis. Roberts unwisely is acting in the play, as a monstrous TV producer. The writing is over the top but not without some wit; but director Jay Stull’s production is far more than merely over the top – it’s off the top of a skyscraper, going splat many stories below. Stull’s highly stylized, expressionist approach renders the play completely insufferable. Rarely have I seen such a wrong-headed production. Enter at Forest Lawn has rocketed to the top of my annual Bomb of the Year List.

Robert Boswell’s The Long Shrift, at Rattlestick, is better – which is not to say it’s very good. It’s about a man who has spent several years in prison for raping a high school classmate, who is released when the woman recants. He comes home a damaged man, determined to take revenge somehow.

The production has been directed by jack of all trades James Franco. It’s rather haphazard. It’s supposed to take place in Texas, but Franco’s actors don’t seem to be aware of that fact. A couple of them are miscast. Scott Haze, a frequent Franco collaborator, has a smoldering intensity as the guy just out of prison, and would have been much better in a better production.

You could skip The Long Shrift.

The following have, alas, closed:

Penelope Skinner’s The Village Bike, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, about a pregnant British woman who becomes frustrated with her husband’s lack of sexual interest in her. Pornography doesn’t cut it for her so she embarks on an affair with a neighbor who has sold her a bicycle, who becomes increasingly bizarre. Sam Gold’s production was first-rate, as was Greta Gerwig as Becky, the horny wife.

Om, a dance show featuring Savion Glover, had a brief run at the Joyce Theatre. It was sort of a Buddhism-inspired evening of clog dancing, wherein Glover, wearing shoes with wooden soles, danced on a small wooden platform center stage, surrounded by many candles, to music which I take it was Buddhist chanting. About a third of the way in, other performers came out two of whom, both women, assumed lotus positions and remained in them for the rest of the evening, as Glover stomped away, to a most deafening effect. It was like listening to 90 minutes of someone jack-hammering a sidewalk right outside your window. Interminable, and just plain awful.

Forbidden Broadway Comes Out Swinging, at the Davenport Theatre, was Yet another terrific satirical revue skewering Broadway by the great Gerard Alessandrini which, sadly, didn’t run very long. It was great fun.

Labyrinth had a fine production, directed by Anne Kaufman, of a new play by Stephen Belber called The Muscles in our Toes, about friends at a high school reunion who try to decide what they may be able to do about a classmate who they think has been kidnapped by terrorists. Kaufman’s ensemble of actors was mighty fine. I hope you had a chance to catch this one. 

THE PIANIST OF WILLESDEN LANE. 59 E 59

TICKETS: 212-753-5959 x102

ENTER AT FOREST LAWN. Walker Space, 47 Walker St.

TICKETS: fuhgeddaboudit

THE LONG SHRIFT. Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, 224 Waverly Pl.

TICKETS: www.ovationtix.com or 866-811-4111

THE VILLAGE BIKE. Lucille Lortel Theatre, closed

OM. Joyce Theatre, closed

FORBIDDEN BROADWAY COMES OUT SWINGING. Davenport Theatre, 354 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE MUSCLES IN OUR TOES. Westbeth Theatre, closed 

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                                                      — George F. Will 

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.” 

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

 

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“On the Aisle with Larry” 21 June 2014

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on JUST JIM DALE, THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN, OF MICE AND MEN, CABARET, HERE LIES LOVE, THE AYCKBOURN ENSEMBLE, THE CITY OF CONVERSATION, TOO MUCH SUN and WHEN JANUARY FEELS LIKE SUMMER.

You won’t find a more entertaining show off Broadway right now than Jim Dale’s solo memoir turn, appropriately entitled Just Jim Dale, at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre, wherein the endlessly energetic 78 year-old actor recounts his rise from his start in the English music halls, to his years as a rock star (during which he wrote the lyrics to “Georgie Girl”), eventually becoming one of the world’s greatest actors, equally adept in comedy, drama, and musicals. Some of this is his life story, some a collection of his Greatest Hits from such shows as Scapino, Barnum and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, and there are particularly amusing segments wherein he explains how much of the English language derives from Shakespeare, and when he recounts his experience recording the Harry Potter audio books.

You won’t want to miss this one, folks.

I am finally getting around to The Cripple of Inishmaan, at the Cort Theatre, which I saw quite a while ago. Indeed, a lot of this column is me playing catch-up ball. I got swamped with Playfixer projects and hurt both shoulders, requiring surgery and making it difficult for me to type.

Anyway, this is still running and is not to be missed. It’s a revival of a play by Martin McDonagh, perhaps the greatest contemporary Irish dramatist, about a crippled orphan boy named Billy whose parents drowned under mysterious circumstances and who is being carried for by two old ladies he calls his “aunties.” There’s not much excitement in Billy’s life — or, indeed in the lives of any of the residents of Inishmaan – until, that is, a Hollywood film crew arrives to shoot a “fillum.” Billy manages to get to the film set, where he is “discovered” and sent off to Hollywood.

Speaking of Harry Potter, the play stars Daniel Radcliffe in an absolutely heart-wrenching performance in the title role; and he is supported by a wonderful cast of Irish actors, under the beautiful direction of Michael Grandage. The Best Leading Actor category at the Tony’s was very competitive this year, and Radcliffe didn’t get nominated – but he sure deserved to be.

You don’t want to miss this one either.

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, at the Longacre Theatre, is another wonderful don’t-miss revival, superbly directed by Anna D. Shapiro and starring James Franco and George and Chris O’Dowd as Lenny. Franco is not the stiff you heard he is. He’s terrific as George, though overshadowed (as George always is in productions of the play) by Lenny, the showier part. O’Dowd is terrific too, as are all the supporting actors. My faves were Jim Norton as Candy, the elderly ranch hand with the stinky dog, Jim Parrick as Slim and Ron Cephas Jones as the black ranch hand, Crooks.

Roundabout’s production of Cabaret, directed by Sam Mendes, first seen here 14 years ago, is back at Studio 54, again starring the astonishing Alan Cumming as the Emcee, and featuring Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles. You expect Cumming to be great – but how is Michelle Williams? Well, great too. She’s perfect in the role. Also good are Danny Burstyn as Herr Schultz, Linda Emond as Frau Schneider and Bill Heck as Cliff.
Mendes’ direction is delightfully raunchy and Kander and Ebb’s score is one great song after another.

Even if you saw this production of Cabaret the first time around, it’s worth seeing again. It’s a great production of a classic musical.

The Public Theater’s acclaimed production of Here Lies Love, directed by Alex Timbers and with a beautiful score by David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim, has reopened for a commercial run at the Public, the first time this has happened in the institution’s esteemed history. This is the story of Imelda Marcos, done as an audience-immersive disco. It’s brilliantly conceived and staged, and features a wonderful performance by Ruthie Ann Miles as Imelda Marcos, with strong support from Jose Llana as Ferdinand Marcos and Conrad Ricamora as Aquino.

This one, too, is a don’t-miss.

Uptown at 59 E 59, the annual Brits Off Broadway Festival is going full bore. British Playwright Alan Ayckbourn has brought over his company from the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough to perform, in repertory, three Ayckbourn plays in repertory – Arrivals and Departures, Farcicals and Time of My Life. While I would describe none as top-drawer Ayckbourn, even second-tier Ayckbourn is head and shoulders above most everything else. Ayckbourn has directed all three and his direction of this wonderful ensemble is superb.

Arrivals and Departures is a comic drama about a bumbling, extremely garrulous meter man named Barry who is the only one who can identify a terrorist expected to get off the next train, and the female soldier named Ez assigned to guard him. It flips back and forth in time as we learn how Barry and Ez came to this point in their lives. Elizabeth Boag is very compelling as Ez, and Kim Wall’s Barry is a comic gem of a performance.

Farcicals consists of two related one-acts about marital infidelity, featuring the same two couples. It’s less substantial than the other two plays but by far the funniest of all three. Ms. Boag turns in a wonderful performance as one half of one of the couples. In the first part, she reassures her friend that her husband is not having an affair. In the second part, it turns out he is – with her. Boag is so good I didn’t even realize it was the same actress from Arrivals and Departures until I looked in my program when I got home, and Sarah Stanley is hilarious as the mousy wife trying to win back her husband’s attentions.

The most complex of the three is Time of My Life. It begins with a dinner party at some sort of vaguely mysterious ethnic restaurant and lurches back and forth in time as couples meet and break up. Its ending is very touching.

Three new plays by one of the British theatre’s greatest living dramatists. Not to be missed.

Nor is Anthony Giardina’s The City of Conversation, at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theatre. Set in Georgetown in the Age of Reagan, it’s about a socialite and something of a political mover and shaker named Hester, a champion of liberal causes determined to fight Reaganism at every turn, even if it costs her her relationship with her son and, eventually, her grandson. The play is witty, thoughtful and thoroughly engaging, and features a terrific star performance by the always-wonderful Jan Maxwell.

The City of Conversation is Pulitzer Prize-quality and deserves to move to a commercial run, as did Jon Robin Baitz’ Other Desert Cities, which started in the same theatre, moved to Broadway, and should have won the Pulitzer two years ago.

Nicky Silver’s Too Much Sun, at the Vineyard Theatre, also features a star performance (by Linda Lavin) as a very successful stage actress named Audrey who has a meltdown while rehearsing Medea and decides to move in indefinitely with her daughter and her husband, who are not exactly happy about this. Daughter Kitty has always had a rocky relationship with her mother, a difficult, self-absorbed woman — plus there seem to be problems in her marriage. We find out the cause of these problems late in the play, when her husband begins a torrid love affair with a teenaged neighbor boy. Although I enjoyed this, it doesn’t have the heft of Silver’s last Vineyard outing, The Lyons, but this is a fine production and one never wants to miss a chance to see the great Linda Lavin.

Finally, at Ensemble Studio Theatre there’s a wonderful production of a comedy by Cori Thomas, When January Feels Like Summer, which focuses on a bodega owner named Nirmala and her brother, Ishan, who is in the process of undergoing a sex change, calling himself Indira. Ishan is forced to run the store by herself because her husband is in a coma after being shot during a robbery, brain dead but on life support. She can’t bring herself to pull the plug on him, even though it turns out she has never had sex with him, as he was more into pornography. Also in the mix are two black teenaged boys who become convinced that recycling is ruining the planet. The more clueless of the two also thinks he’s discovered a sexual predator, so the boys put up signs all over the neighborhood warning people – and it turns out they were right.

I know none of this sounds funny but it really is, and the play turns quite poignant at the end when one of the boys falls for “Indira” and Nirmala goes on a date with a love-smitten sanitation worker named Joe.

When January Feels Like Summer is a delight from start to finish.

JUST JIM DALE. Laura Pels Theatre, 111W. 46th St.
TICKETS: 212-719-1300
THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN. Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
OF MICE AND MEN. Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
CABARET. Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St.
TICKETS: www.roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300
HERE LIES LOVE. Public Theatre, 425 Lafayette St.
TICKETS: 21-96-7555
THE AYCKBOURN ENSEMBLE. 59 E 59, 59 E. 59th St.
TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com of 212-279-4200
THE CITY OF CONVERSATION. Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, Lincoln Center
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
TOO MUCH SUN. Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St.
TICKETS: 212-353-0303
WHEN JANUARY FEELS LIKE SUMMER. Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 W. 52nd St.
TICKETS: www.ovationtix.com or 866-811-4111.

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

                                                               — Theodore Roosevelt

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

                                                               — George F. Will

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“On the Aisle with Larry” 16 May 2014

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date on what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on THE REALISTIC JONESES, BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, HEATHERS, THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN, CASA VALENTINA, LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL, THE MOST DESERVING, ACT ONE, HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH and INVENTING MARY MARTIN.

Last week, the NY Times published a rant by Charles Isherwood, expressing his chagrin that The Realistic Joneses, by his favorite playwright Will Eno, did not receive a Tony nomination, predictably with snide comments about the plays which were nominated. Click on http://artsbeat.blogs.nytimes.com/2014/04/29/what-are-tonys-saying-by-ignoring-realistic-joneses/. Every playwright should have such a champion; but remember this is the same critic whose review of Eno’s Thom Paine (About Nothing) – which in my opinion (and that of many people who bought tickets because of Isherwood and then sent angry letters to The Times) — it must assuredly was, gave that awful one-man play a lengthy run.

For some reason which escapes me, Eno has become the darling not only of The Ish but of many artistic directors and literary managers around the country. Such is the power of The Times, I guess. As for The Realistic Joneses, currently on view at the Lyceum Theatre, it’s not as inscrutable as some of his other plays. Some of it is actually rather funny, loaded as it is with weird non-sequiturs. As the play wears on, though, and as the audience realizes that there’s no real plot and it’s not headed anywhere, the laughs taper off. It’s about two couples, neighbors – one middle aged and one young, who hang out and chit chat. Turns out, both men have the same rare disease. Then it ends (which is not to say it has an ending). I didn’t find it very credible, either. This is the future of the American drama?

The Times (Brantley) panned Bullets Over Broadway, at the St. James Theatre. Again: don’t always believe what you read in The Times. This is a first rate musical adaptation of Woody Allen’s film, with a book by Allen and songs from the period which have been expertly integrated into the book, seeming at times like they could have been written for it. I assume you know the film so I won’t summarize the plot. All you need to know is that it features wonderful direction and choreography by the great Susan Stroman, witty costumes by William Ivey Long and terrific performances by the likes of Marin Mazzie as Helen Sinclair, the Leading Lady, Nick Cordero as the wiseguy with a knack for what works in a play and Helene Yorke as Olive, the gangster’s moll who thinks she has acting talent.

Go – you’ll have a great time unless you’re the sort who’d rather be bored to death at The Realistic Joneses.

Heathers, at New World Stages, is a terrific musicalization by Kevin Murphy and Laurence O’Keefe of the 1980’s cult classic about mean girls in high school (all named Heather), and the boy and girl who take them on (and bump them off one by one), featuring wonderful performances by Barrett Wilbert Reed and Ryan McCartan (in the Winona Ryder and Christian Slater roles), with a superb supporting cast under the expert direction of Andy Fickman.

This is one of the best Off Broadway musicals of the season, unaccountably passed over by the all awards organizations except for the Off Broadway Alliance. I highly recommend it.

Eric Coble’s The Velocity of Autumn, at the Booth Theatre, has just closed after a short run. It took place in a Park Slope brownstone whose elderly resident, played by Estelle Parsons, refuses to go into an old folks’ home and has threatened to blow up the house and herself instead. Two of her (offstage) offspring have talked their brother (played by Stephen Spinella) into coming to NYC to try and talk some sense into Mom. The acting was excellent, but there’s no getting over the fact that there was about 30 minutes of play there and 60 minutes of wheel-spinning. It would have been far more effective Off Broadway.

Harvey Fierstein’s Casa Valentina, at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Manhattan Theatre Club’s Broadway venue) is set in 1962 in a resort in the Catskills where straight men go for a fun weekend of pretending to be women, getting all dolled up, run by George (who goes by the name Valentina when he’s in drag) and his wife. An activist named Charlotte who is starting up transvestite “sororities” all over the country arrives for a visit and who wants George’s group to join his/her crusade. Will they or won’t they? Casa Valentina features a superb cast, headed by Anthony Page and Mare Winningham (as George and the missus), with particularly strong performances by New York stage stalwarts Reed Birney as Charlotte, Larry Pine as a judge who may be a closeted queer (gasp!) and Tom McGowan. The play shifts in focus, leaving you wondering who the central character is. We start out thinking it’s the skittish new girl, played by Gabriel Ebert; we wind up suspecting it’s Mare Winningham’s wife, who begins to question if she’s married to George or to Valentina.

No matter, though. This is a wonderful story untold before, and Fierstein handles it masterfully. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it the best play as the season, as some critics have, but still it’s mighty fine and worth checking out.

Lanie Robertson’s Off Broadway hit of several seasons ago, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, has popped up at Broadway’s Circle in the Square, featuring living legend Audra McDonald as jazz great Billie Holiday performing at a dive bar in Philly near the end of her life. McDonald, an opera-quality soprano, channels Holiday’s distinctive singing style astonishingly. She’s been nominated for an award by everyone, but there’s confusion as to whether she’s in a play or a musical. I would say the latter, but the Tony nominating committee disagrees. Ah well – who cares? She’s great. I’d go to hear her sing, with the understanding that you’re not going to hear the voice that soared with “I Loves You Porgy” but the one that sang “God Bless the Child.”

Catherine Trieschmann’s The Most Deserving, which has just closed at City Center Stage II in a fine production by the Women’s Project, was about a not-for-profit organization in a small Kansas town dedicated to funding and promoting artists, led by an determined woman (played to a tee by the always-wonderful Veanne Cox) trying to keep her board in line as they try to decide who to give a grant to. Should it by the kitschmeister on the City Council which controls the group’s purse strings or the eccentric, possibly deranged black dude who makes art from found objects? Shelley Butler’s production was first rate, her cast equally so. I hope you got a chance to see this. I’m sorry if you didn’t.

Moss Hart’s Act One has long been one of my favorites in this genre – the show biz autobiography, so I was not surprised when I found myself loving James Lapine’s wonderful adaptation at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre. Most autobiographies focus on everything the Famous Person did once he became famous; Act One is about all Hart’s trials and tribulations as he strove towards success as a playwright, culminating in the triumphant opening night of Once in a Lifetime.

Lapine, who also directed, has assembled a superb cast headed by Tony Shalhoub and Santino Fontana. Shalhoub plays the older Moss looking back on his life, as well as his father. He also plays George S. Kaufman, Hart’s eccentric collaborator, and absolutely incarnates Kaufman as I have always imagined him – witty/sardonic, obsessive and brilliant. Santino, once of our finest young actors, compellingly plays Moss as a young man. Andrea Martin does a wonderful turn as Moss’ destitute aunt who instills in him a love of the theatre.

Love of the theatre – that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? This is one of the best plays – and productions – of the season. Don’t miss it.

John Cameron Mitchell’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch is back in town, in a stunning production at the Belasco Theatre directed by Michael Mayer, starring Neil Patrick Harris – that rarity, a male critics’ darling. The show is structured as a concert by a transgendered German rock singer. The Angry Inch refers not only to Hedwig’s band but to the size of his dick after a botched sex change operation.

This is Neil Patrick Harris as you never could have imagined him – all dolled up in spectacular wigs and glitter. It’s a brilliant performance and not to be missed, even though the play itself is rather rudimentary.

Inventing Mary Martin, at the York Theatre Co., is a loving tribute to the Broadway legend, a little too hagiographic for my taste but extremely well done by three engaging performers, Jason Graae, Lynn Halliday and Emily Skinner, who perform all the songs Martin made famous in her illustrious career. It has been my experience that young people know little and couldn’t care less about the theatre’s glorious past, to their detriment. Here’s your chance to find out about one of the musical theatre’s all-time greats, star of One Touch of Venus, South Pacific, I Do I Do and, of course, and dear to the heart of baby boomers like myself who never missed the annual showing of it on TV, Peter Pan.

THE REALISTIC JONESES. Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com of 212-239-6200
BULLETS OVER BROADWAY. St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com of 212-239-6200
HEATHERS. New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com of 212-239-6200
THE VELOCITY OF AUTUMN. Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com of 212-239-6200
CASA VALENTINA. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com of 212-239-6200
LADY DAY AT EMERSON’S BAR & GRILL. Circle in the Square, 235 W. 50th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com of 212-239-6200
THE MOST DESERVING. City Center Stage II, 131 W. 55th St.
TICKETS: 212-581-1212
ACT ONE. Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com of 212-239-6200
HEDWIG AND THE ANGRY INCH. Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com of 212-239-6200
INVENTING MARY MARTIN. York Theatre Co. at St. Peter’s, 619 Lexington Ave.
TICKETS: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/929787 or 212-935-5820

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

— George F. Will

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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“On the Aisle with Larry” 11 April 2014

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on ROCKY, ALADDIN, IF/THEN, LES MISERABLES, ALL THE WAY, MOTHERS AND SONS, THE HEIR APPARENT and SPEAKEASY DOLLHOUSE.

The mad dash to the Tony Awards is in full swing. April is a great month for theatre audiences, if you have the money to spend on Broadway shows, but the cruelest month for critics, who can barely keep up with everything – and not just on Broadway, as Off Broadway seems to think that the Real Season is in April, too. But on Broadway, where Real Money is at stake, everyone’s playing Tony Roulette. If their number comes up, they can keep playing; if not, goodnight Irene.

There is an unusual amount of competition this season for the Tony for best musical. Thirteen shows, but only four can be nominated. This might surprise you, but one of the most worthy of a nomination is Rocky, at the Winter Garden Theatre, a musicalization of the iconic 1976 film about a two-bit boxer who miraculously gets a shot at the title and almost pulls it off. The book, by Thomas Meehan and none other than Sylvester Stallone takes a cinematic masterpiece and makes it compellingly theatrical, thanks in large part to the brilliant direction by Alex Timbers. The climactic fight between Rocky and Apollo Creed is an incredible piece of stagecraft, as a boxing ring descends from the flies into the house as patrons are herded up onto the stage and seat banks roll in upstage, stage right and stage left, creating a true arena. The 17-minute fight sequence is intricately choreographed. It looks for all the world as if the two fighters are beating the crap out of each other. I’m no fan of boxing – but I am of brilliant choreography, which this truly is.

The songs, by Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens, have come under criticism for being second rate. This is hogwash. Rocky contains one terrific song after another, perfectly integrated into the book and beautifully sung.

As Rocky, Andy Karl has to go up against the great performance of Sylvester Stallone in the film, rather like Rocky has to take on the heavyweight champion, Apollo Creed. Karl does not try to reproduce Stallone’s performance; his Rocky is all his own, but just as compelling as Stallone’s was. Margot Seibert makes a very touching Adrian; and Dakin Matthews, as Mickey the trainer, is every bit as crusty as Burgess Meredith was. Terrence Archie is wonderful as Apollo Creed, all pomp and bluster until he’s surprised by an opponent who actually may beat him.

When it’s over, the audience stands and cheers – and not just the macho men, either.

ALADDIN at the New Amsterdam Theatre, is a lot better than you may have heard, too. A lot of this is due to Casey Nicholaw, who directed and choreographed this stage adaptation of the animated Disney film. Yes, it’s a cartoon, with platitudinous “messages” like, “Be true to yourself” and “A girl should be able to marry the guy she loves, not the guy her dad has picked for her.” So, don’t go to Aladdin expecting anything profound. Just expect a great-fun evening.

The Aladdin, Adam Jacobs, and the Princess Jasmine, Courtney Reed, are endearing, but the real standout performance comes from James Monroe Inglehart as the Genie, who comes damn close to making you forget about Robin Williams, who voiced the role in the film, and is a strong contender for the Featured Actor Tony Award. His rendition of “A Friend Like Me,” brilliantly staged by Nicholaw, stops the show. Also good are Jonathan Freeman as the villain, Jafar (who voiced the role in the film) and Don Daryl Riviera as his sidekick Iago (not a parrot as in the film, but sort of a toady/henchman).

All the wonderful songs from the film are here, with the addition of a few more which Howard Ashman and Alan Mencken wrote which were cut from the film, the most memorable of which is “Proud of Your Boy,” wherein Aladdin expresses his hope that his dead parents would be proud of him. Yes, it’s a recycling of “Somewhere That’s Green” from Little Shop of Horrors and “Part of Your World: from The Little Mermaid but that didn’t bother me. It’s a very catchy tune.

Go – you’ll have a great time (unless you’re a jaded cynic).

I wasn’t wild about IF/THEN, at the Richard Rodgers Theatre. On the plus side, it has an original book, a rarity in these days of musicals based on movies. On the minus side, the book is awfully convoluted and confusing. Idina Menzel plays a woman who comes back to NYC after 12 years in the boonies (Arizona), her marriage over. Her story is trifurcated, as we follow her in three different what-if scenarios. This starts out being clever but eventually devolves into annoying. It also extends the running time to almost two and a half hours, which is way too long. Had Tom Kitt and Brian Yorket just stuck with one plotline, opting for simplicity over cleverness, the show would have been a lot better.

Still, Idina Menzel is back. She has one of the greatest voices in the history of the musical theatre, and her songs do not disappoint her fans. She’s the best – indeed, the only – reason to see If/Then.

The revival of LES MISERABLES, at the Imperial Theatre, is thrilling. Directors Laurence Connor and James Powell have come up with a very different scenography than the iconic original production, and Ramin Karimloo is astounding as Jean Valjean. Will Swenson is no slouch either as Javert.

This is a world-class production of one of the greatest works of the 20th Century musical theatre, and not to be missed.

Robert Shenkkan’s ALL THE WAY, at the Neil Simon Theatre, is a brilliant historical drama about President Johnson and his determinate to ram civil rights legislation through a recalcitrant Congress. President Obama’s current difficulty in getting conservatives to do anything is nothing new. Bryan Cranston is giving the performance of the season as LBJ. He’s nothing less than astonishing, but the entire (large) cast is very strong.

I think this one’s a shoo-in for the Tony Award for Best Play. It’s another don’t-miss.

Terrence McNally’s MOTHERS AND SONS, at the Golden Theatre, is a poignant if somewhat attenuated drama about the mother of a man named Andre who died of Aids 20 years ago, who for some reason decides to visit her son’s lover, much to his dismay and that of his husband, both of whom wonder, “Why now?” The strong acting carries the evening, with Tyne Daly leading the charge as Andre’s mother, but Frederick Weller and Bobby Steggert are also terrific as the gay couple.

While not top-drawer McNally, Mothers and Sons is still worth seeing.

David Ives’ adaptation of an early 18th Century farce by Jean-François Regnard, THE HEIR APPARENT at Classic Stage Co, is a frantically silly rhymed couplet farce, about the efforts of a nephew to ensure that he gets all his wealthy, invalid uncle’s money when he dies. Of the overall fine cast, the standouts are Paxton Whitehead as the old geezer and Carson Elrod as a wiley servant who hopes to get some if his dough too so that he can marry his lady love, a serving wench. Director John Rando keeps things at a fast pace, making the comedy as broad as you can imagine. Some of this is hilarious – some is just plain silly. If you’re in the mood for silly, you couldn’t do much better.

SPEAKEASY DOLLHOUSE, at the Players Club, is Yet Another audience emersive event. They bring you into the Players through a back alleyway, into the dining room which has been cleared of tables, and you’re in 1919, at the start of Prohibition. You’re let in at 7:45. Then you stand around for 45 minutes until the “show” begins. You’re supposed to wander through the Players wherever you choose. There are so many people, though, that it usually impossible to observe anything. I started out watching a terrible puppet show about the nesting habits of birds in the Galapagos Islands, then trudged upstairs where there was a card game going on. One of the players was Mark Twain. This mostly consisted of boring small talk. I finally gave up and went back down to the dining room, where there were various women singing songs of the period, one of whom was a stripper/contortionist. Finally, I gave up entirely and ditched.

Speakeasy Dollhouse, is totally chaotic and disorganized.

ROCKY. Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
ALADDIN. New Amsterdam Theatre, 214 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 866-870-2717
IF/THEN. Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th St.
TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 866-870-2717
LES MISERABLES. Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
ALL THE WAY. Neil Simon Theatre. 250 W. 52nd St.
TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 866-870-2717
MOTHERS AND SONS. Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
THE HEIR APPARENT. Classic Stage Co., 136 E. 13th St,
TICKETS: 212-677-4210
SPEAKEASY DOLLHOUSE. Players Club, 16 Gramercy Park S.
TICKETS: www.speakeasydollhouse.com

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

— George F. Will

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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“On the Aisle with Larry” 18 March 2014

Lawrence Harbison, the Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on BEAUTIFUL, LOVE AND INFORMATION, NOTHING ON EARTH CAN HOLD HOUDINI, HAND TO GOD, THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY, SATCHMO AT THE WALDORF, CHARACTER MAN, STAGE KISS, THE TRIBUTE ARTIST, ODE TO JOY, ARLINGTON, MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT and LONDON WALL

Beautiful, at the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, is about Carole King. Who is/was Carole King? Only one of the greatest pop songwriters of the 1960s. Those of you old enough to remember her songs will hear her Greatest Hits in this show, along with the Greatest Hits of Barry Mann and Cynthia Weil, who are subsidiary characters here. Douglas McGrath’s fine book follows King from early success as a teenager through highs and lows of life and love, culminating in the success of her solo album “Tapestry,” an iconic album of the early 1970s, and her legendary concert at Carnegie Hall.

Jessie Mueller is giving a sensational performance as Carole King. She’s a Broadway belter, but here she manages to reproduce King’s distinctive voice without sounding annoying, much of the time accompanying herself superbly on the piano. Jake Epstein is fine as her tortured husband and songwriting partner, as are Jarrod Spektor and Anika Larsen as Mann and Weil.

Why should you care about songs and songwriters from 50 years ago? That is, if you’re not old enough to remember them when their songs were new, and when they were young? When I think of the junk that passes for pop music today, I weep. Here’s your chance to hear some great music from an era when great songs were about love, and hope, and had catchy melodies and orchestrations that didn’t sound machine-made. You can hear the greatness that once was American popular music at Beautiful, at Motown, at Jersey Boys at A Night With Janis Joplin and at After Midnight. There’s a reason why oldies stations thrive on FM radio. Here’s your chance to discover why.

Don’t miss Beautiful.

Caryl Churchill has a new “play,” Love and Information, produced by NY Theatre Workshop at the Minetta Lane Theatre. I put “play” in quotation marks because what it actually is a series of unrelated doodles, some only 3 or 4 lines long, some 3 or 4 minutes, 57 in all, lasting almost two hours sans intermission. The critics have gone nuts. I almost went nuts, in a different way, and could barely wait for it to be over. Other than that it’s a chance to see some really fine actors, Love and Information is eminently miss-able.

As is Nothing on Earth Can Stop Houdini, at the Axis Theatre, a to varying degrees incoherent play about Houdini’s obsession with exposing mediums as frauds, incoherently directed by Randall Sharp and featuring acting which ranges from the barely adequate to the execrable.

Much, much better, and one of the high points of this season, is Robert Askins’ Hand to God, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. I first saw this two years ago, at Ensemble Studio Theatre, where it was very successful. Thankfully, MCC has brought it back, and once again we get to see Stephen Boyer’s incredible performance as a teen named Jason in his Mom’s Christian puppetry workshop at her church whose puppet named Tyrone takes on a life is his/its own. Is Jason possessed or merely severely troubled; or, in fact, is Tyrone the Devil? Boyer is hilarious/scary in the dual roles of Jason and Tyrone, and Geneva Carr, as his harried Mom, is brilliant as well.

This one’s a definite don’t-miss. It may transfer for a commercial run, but maybe not so see it now just in case.

I haven’t read the novel The Bridges of Madison County, and never saw the movie, so the musical version at the Schoenfeld Theatre was, for me, like a new, original show. It’s the tale of an Italian war bride named Francesca who has wound up a farm wife in Iowa. While her husband and two teenaged kids are away at the state fair, she has a torrid affair with a photographer who has come to town to photograph the local picturesque covered bridges. He has to move on, of course, but the memory of this lost love haunts her for the rest of her life.

Marsha Norman, who wrote the book, assumes that anyone who lives in a nowhere place like Iowa , particularly if she is artistically inclined, must lead a life of quiet desperation, surrounded by narrow-minded people, so she doesn’t bother to dramatize this. What we see is a woman in a community of down-home friendly neighbors, with a kind, hardworking husband who loves her, who loses her mind over a handsome stud. I found this rather annoying.

Kelli O’Hare and Stephen Pasquale are the lovers, and both are fine, as is Hunter Foster as Francesca’s nice guy of a husband, but I found Jason Robert Brown’s score rather dull except for a few songs. The set is very bare bones, the kind you might see in a well-meaning community theatre production.

This one just didn’t grab me. Maybe it’s a guy thing – although the woman I was with wasn’t wild about it either.

I saw two one-man shows within the space of a few days – Satchmo at the Waldorf (at the Westside Theatre) and Character Man (at Urban Stages). I recommend both.

Satchmo at the Waldorf is about Louis Armstrong towards the end of his life, living and performing at the Waldorf Astoria before an audience of exclusively white people. Armstrong’s is a great story, well-told by playwright Terry Touchout. The great classical actor John Douglas Thompson is giving a phenomenal performance as Armstrong, occasionally his white manager and Miles Davis, who considers Armstrong to have become nothing but a clown. A great story, a great performance. What are you waiting for?

Character Man, written and performed by Jim Brochu, is an engaging trip down memory lane, an encomium to all the character men (and a few women) Brochu has known during the course of his career. His stories about the likes of David Burns, Jack Gilford, Jack Klugman and Zero Mostel are great stories, all about the great generosity of actors towards each other, though a little too often Brochu comes across as something of a hanger-on and name-dropper. No matter. He’s still delightful.

Sarah Ruhl’s Stage Kiss, at Playwrights Horizons, is about an actress cast in a revival of a dreadful Broadway flop from the early 1930s. Why anyone would want to revive this turkey, and who, is never adequately explained. Jessica Hecht plays this artificial character artificially, an act I have seen one too many times. I have loved previous plays by Ruhl, but for me this one was a real misfire.

Primary Stages has extended Charles Busch’s hilarious The Tribute Artist, so you have until the end of the month. Busch plays a “celebrity impersonator” named Jimmy, down on his luck. He’s lost his job in Las Vegas and has come to NYC to lick his wounds and visit an eccentric old lady in whose townhouse he camps out whenever he’s in New York. She is an agoraphobic recluse. When she drops dead, Jimmy his friend, a brash but desperate real estate agent hatch a plan for Jimmy to impersonate the old bag in hopes of getting their hands on the house. Complications arise in the form of the appearance of the old lady’s niece who, the conspirators learn, actually inherits the house by the terms of the old lady’s husband’s will; and the appearance of a shady character who once was the old lady’s lover. He learns of the conspiracy and threatens to reveal all unless he gets a piece of the action. So this is one of those comedies wherein everybody is trying to con everybody else. It’s expertly constructed, if a little long, and well worth checking out. Great fun!

Craig Lucas’ Ode to Joy, produced by Rattlestick at the Cherry Lane Theatre, is a drama about the lover affair between an artist, played with quiet intensity by Kathryn Erbe, and a recently widowered cardiac surgeon (Arliss Howard). They meet in a bar, fall in love, and begin a downward spiral of alcohol and drug addiction. We follow them over the course of several years as they battle and finally break up, meeting again years later when both are in recovery. It’s strong stuff, and often rather over-written, but Lucas’ direction of his play is assured and Erbe and Howard are giving strong performances.

Vineyard Theatre has up and running a chamber opera by Polly Pen and Victor Lodato entitled Arlington, wherein a woman sings up a storm while she waits for her mother to come for a visit, and then is occasionally joined in the second half by her pianist, who becomes her husband, at war in the Middle East. The score is almost entirely comprised of recitative and is incredibly boring, even as well sung as it is by Alexandra Silber. Fortunately, the evening is blessedly brief.

Paddy Chayefsky’s Middle of the Night has been revived by Keen Co. at the Harold Clurman Theatre. It’s a drama about a middle aged Jewish clothing manufacturer who falls in love with his cute, blonde, gentile receptionist. He’s a lonely widower, she’s trapped in a frustrating marriage to a musician who doesn’t pay sufficient attention to her. Jonathan Silverstein has double cast all the roles but the two principals and has tried valiantly to make the play work in one set, an apartment, which functions as both her place and his. The concept doesn’t work, but fortunately there are fine performances, most notably by Jonathan Hadary as the manufacturer and Nicole Lowrance as his young lady love.

Finally, Mint Theatre has found another lost gem, London Wall ll live a life of wealth; but should she continue to wait for her boyfriend to get his act together?
Davis McCallum has directed a uniformly superb cast.

They don’t write ‘em like this anymore. Would that, occasionally at least, they did. The Mint Theatre’s productions are always worth checking out. This one is too.

BEAUTIFUL. Sondheim Theatre, 124 W. 43rd St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
LOVE AND INFORMATION. Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane
TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 212-391-1239
NOTHING ON EARTH CAN HOLD HOUDINI. Axis Theatre, 1 Sheridan Square
TICKETS: 212-391-1239
HAND TO GOD. Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St.
TICKETS: 212-352-3101
THE BRIDGES OF MADISON COUNTY. Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
SATCHMO AT THE WALDORF. Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43rd St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
CHARACTER MAN. Urban Stages, 259 W. 30th St.
TICKETS: www.smarttix.com or 212-868-4444
STAGE KISS. Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: www.ticketcentral or 212-279-4200

THE TRIBUTE ARTIST. Primary Stages, 59 E 59
TICKETS: www.ticketcentral or 212-279-4200
ODE TO JOY. Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St.
TICKETS: 212-989-2020
ARLINGTON. Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St.
TICKETS: 212-353-0303
MIDDLE OF THE NIGHT. Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.ticketcentral or 212-279-4200
LONDON WALL. Mint Theatre, 311 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: 866-811-4111 or www.minttheater.org

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.com.

“It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry.”

— George F. Will

“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”

— Theodore Roosevelt

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