“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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“On the Aisle with Larry” 29 January 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 THE SURRENDER, GROUNDED, MACHINAL, THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER, OUTSIDE MULLINGAR, WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT, A MAN’S A MAN, DISASTER, A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER, HANDLE WITH CARE and THE NIGHT ALIVE.

The Surrender, Toni Bentley’s erotic memoir, which has now closed, got a lot of negative press. True to form, I rise to defend it.

This was a monodrama wherein the speaker, clearly Ms. Bentley, tells us how she developed an obsession with sex after her ballet career ended; and not just any kinda sex – anal sex. “Euwww,” went the critics, many of whom were women. To which I respond, why not? If Club Members go for it, why not straight women? The speaker tells us in graphic detail how she achieved a kind of emotional and spiritual transcendence through her obsession, not only with anal sex but with total surrender to her lover. “You gotta be kidding me,” went the critics. Well, here’s what I think of that: any play which features a woman who really likes to Do It is a good thing and ought to be encouraged. And I found Laura Campbell, who suffered guilt by association for her temerity to perform the role courageous, sexy and very compelling. So there.

George Brant’s Grounded, which is finishing up its run at Walkerspace, is another compelling monodrama, this one about a female fighter pilot who loves flying as much as Toni Bentley’s speaker loves sex. While on leave, she meets her soul mate in a bar and becomes pregnant by him, which requires her to take a 3-year leave from the Air Force. When she returns, she finds that fighter pilots are no longer needed, and she is assigned to operate drones from a console at a base outside Las Vegas. The Air Force has become the Chair Force, Eventually, she goes crazy. Hannah Cabell is wonderful as the pilot, and deserves to get nominated for those solo performance awards the press organizations give out at the end of the season.

Roundabout has revived Machinal, Sophie Treadwell’s expressionist drama from the 1920’s, at the American Airlines Theatre, in an astounding production directed by Lyndsey Turner, featuring Rebecca Hall as a disturbed secretary who marries the boss, a Typical Insensitive Male played full-bore by Michael Cumpsty. This is A Doll House in extremis. The Young Woman (as she is listed in the program) is supposed to represent the Plight of Woman in a Man’s World. Many women will, no doubt, nod their heads and say, “There, you see? That’s what it’s like to be a woman.” As for me, I found Treadwell’s character to be a lament for female victimhood and, therefore, insufferable.

That said, Ms. Hall is terrific in the role, assisted by an excellent supporting cast; and the technical elements, from the revolving set by Es Devlin to the nightmarish lighting by Jane Cox, are Just Plain Brilliant.

Alan Sillitoe’s The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner, at Atlantic Stage II, a film from the early 1960s, has been adapted by Roy Williams, who has updated the story to the present. The new version is about a young black man named Colin who is incarcerated for petty burglary in a juvenile detention facility. A counsellor at the prison takes an interest in Colin and encourages his passion for running, believing it to be his salvation. Sillitoe/Williams have a different take, as Colin embraces his social fate rather than trying to transcend it, becoming a representative of so many young people these days, as in, “What’s the point of even trying?” I have no sympathy for this point of view; but that said, Leah C. Gardiner’s production is outstanding, as is Sheldon Best as Colin.

John Patrick Shanley’s latest, Outside Mullingar at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, is about a middle-aged man named Anthony who may or may not inherit the family farm when his Da dies. His father is reluctant to will it to him because he thinks Anthony doesn’t love the land enough. Also in the mix is a neighbor woman who has loved Anthony since she was a little girl – but Anthony is too emotionally blocked to do anything about it, mourning a failed relationship with another woman years ago. The Big Revelation at the end as to the cause of Anthony’s reluctance to commit to another woman is rather ridiculous, but Brian F. O’Byrne almost makes it credible. Debra Messing is lovely as the woman who loves him, and Peter Maloney is giving one of the finest performances of his distinguished career as the father.

Outside Mullingar is not exactly top-drawer Shanley – but it’s still worth seeing, if mostly for these three fine actors.

What’s It All About, at NY Theatre Workshop, has been extended – and rightly so. It’s a brilliant re-imagining of the music of Burt Bacharach by Kyle Riabko which taps into the zeitgeist of 20-somethings. Performed by Riabko and an incredible group of singer/musicians, it makes a strong case for Bacharach as one of the great American songwriters, and is a don’t-miss.

Bertolt Brecht’s early play A Man’s a Man has also been re-imagined, with a wonderful score by Duncan Sheik and superb, whimsical direction by Brian Kulick. For those of you who don’t know the play, it’s about a porter named Galy Gay who finds himself sucked into an absurd war waged by England against Nepal. Gibson Frazier is fine as Gay – but the best performance comes from drag performer Justin Vivian Bond, who infuses the Widow Begbick with a perfect blend of schadenfreud and sass. A Man’s a Man is not top-drawer Brecht; but still, this is rarely staged play is well worth seeing

Disaster, at St. Luke’s Theatre, is a goofy send-up by Seth Rudetsky of all those 1970s disaster movies, involving a casino ship and an earthquake immediately beneath it at a pier in the Hudson River, loaded with songs of the period. Rudetsky plays a Jeremiah whose warning about an imminent earthquake go unheeded. The performances are very broad, as you would expect, but not annoyingly so as everyone is having such a good time. My fave was Jennifer Simard as a nun with a secret gambling addiction. If you’re in the mood for silly, this would be a good choice.

An even better choice would be A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder, at the Walter Kerr Theatre, a musical version of the film Kind Hearts and Coronets, wherein an impoverished distant relative of an aristocratic family, whose mother was disinherited when she married a commoner, realizes that he’s 8th in line to the earldom. All he has to do is bump off the 7 individuals ahead of him, which he proceeds to do with flair. All his murder victims are played with aplomb by the great actor Jefferson Mays. Bryce Pinkham reaches the top of the list of Broadway leading men with his performance as the murderer.

The direction by Darko Tresnjak is witty and most inventive and the score, by Steven Lutvak (music) and Robert L. Freedman (lyrics) features one delightful song after another. The show has received deservedly good reviews but for some reason isn’t selling very well (I think it’s the cheesy TV commercial), so you can certainly go to TKTS and get half-price seats. Do so – the show is great fun.

Handle with Care, at the Westside Theatre, is a comedy by Jason Odell Williams about a hapless deliveryman who loses a coffin being shipped back to Israel, containing the body of an elderly woman. He must explain what has happened to her granddaughter. Since she doesn’t speak any English, he enlists the help of the one Jewish person he knows, whose Hebrew consists of what he had to learn for his bar mitzah. The granny, played by Carol Lawrence, appears in flashbacks. Turns out, she came to the U.S. with her granddaughter to try to find the love of her life, who she hasn’t seen since she was a young woman.

The play is riddled with unlikely contrivances, which Karen Carpenter has directed right into, but it winds up being sentimental in a good way. When’s the last time you saw a play with a happy ending?

The Night Alive at Atlantic Theatre Co. is, like Handle with Cares very dark and edgy.
It begins when a middle-aged man named Tommy brings a girl named Aimee, who has been beaten up by her boyfriend, home to his squalid room, which he rents from an old codger named Maurice. The boyfriend, a sinister chap, shows up and mauls Tommy’s gofer, Doc. Tommy wants to blow the joint and emigrate to Europe. Will the girl go with him?

McPherson’s writing is taut and poignant, and Ciarán Hinds (Tommy), Jim Norton (Maurice) and Caoilfhion Dunne (Aimee) are just plain terrific. This one, too, is a don’t-miss.

THE SURRENDER. Harold Clurman Theatre. Alas, Closed
GROUNDED. Walkerspace, 46 Walker St.
TICKETS: www.ovationtix.com or 212-353-3101
MACHINAL. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300
OUTSIDE MULLINGAR. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
THE LONELINESS OF THE LONG DISTANCE RUNNER. Atlantic Stage II, 330
W. 16th St.
TICKETS: www.ovationtix.com or 212-353-3101
WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT? New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th St.
TICKETS: 212-460-5475
A MAN’S A MAN. Classic Stage Co., 136 E. 13th St.
TICKETS: 212-677-4210
DISASTER! St. Luke’s Theatre, 308 W. 46th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
A GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE TO LOVE & MURDER. Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 W.
48th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
HANDLE WITH CARE. Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43rd St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
THE NIGHT ALIVE. Atlantic Theatre Co., 336 W. 20th St.
TICKETS: 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 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” 16 December 2013

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 WAITING FOR GODOT, NO MAN’S LAND, TWELFE NIGHT, RICHARD III, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, FUN HOME, ONE NIGHT, HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND THEN KILL THEM and THE PATRON SAINT OF SEA MONSTERS.

Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Pinter’s No Man’s Land, currently playing in alternating repertory at the Cort Theatre, are an inspired pairing. Both have two great male roles, and both express haunting feelings of existential despair in a world where the search for meaning is pointless. Essentially, Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon are trapped forever in no man’s land, as are Pinter’s Hirst and Spooner.

But in this case the play is not the thing. The Main Event is the pairing of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. McKellen is Spooner and Estragon (Gogo); Stewart is Hirst and Vladimir (Didi).

Sean Mathias has directed both plays. Had Samuel Beckett or his indefatigable executor Barney Rosset still been alive, they would have either closed this production of Waiting for Godot or demanded that Mathias go back to the setting as described in the text – a desolate place in the middle of nowhere. Mathias has chosen to literalize the interpretation of the play as a response to the awful chaos and desolation in Europe during and after the Second World War, setting the play in what appears to be a bombed –out town square, with the famously bedraggled tree growing out of it, which sets the play in the middle of somewhere instead of nowhere, which I think is Wrong. But the setting is not the only Bad Idea in this production. Stewart makes a fine Didi, but For Some Strange Reason McKellen is doing a Scottish accent which makes him sound as if he were imagining Sean Connery in the role. Shuler Hensley appears to be modelling his performance as Pozzo on Foghorn Leghorn, and Billy Crudup has been directed to dash around the stage during Lucky’s famous monologue, delivering it at a too-brisk pace, in a high-pitched voice which renders most of it unintelligible.

The production of No Man’s Land is much better. Stewart is wonderful as the addled Hirst, rather the Pozzo of this play, and McKellen here drops the Scottish accent and nails Spooner’s desperation to become Hirst’s servant – in effect, his Lucky. Henley and Crudup are much better here as Hirst’s servants. The problem is, the play itself just seems like all too much self-indulgent wheel-spinning.

Also playing in alternating repertory are Shakespeare’s Richard III and Twelfth Night (called here Twelfe Night after the spelling in the First Folio), at the Belasco Theatre. Both plays are staged by Tim Carroll and both are done in authentic Elizabethan style, with an all-male cast on a stage which approximates that of the Globe Theatre, as adapted for the proscenium stage at the Belasco. Above the stage, musicians in period dress play music on period instruments, and at the end of both the actors dance a jig.

Rylance plays Countess Olivia in Twelfth Night and Gloucester (later Richard III). He is a gifted comic actor, and his Olivia is the funniest performance in that role I have ever seen. Unfortunately, his Richard III is also the funniest performance I’ve ever seen. He comes off like The Joker in Batman, which totally undercuts Shakespeare’s portrait of Pure Evil. On the plus side, though, taking stock of the recent discovery of Richard’s skeleton in Leicester, he plays him with a curved spine and a withered left arm. His company of actors, all Brits, is superb. You could skip Richard III, but don’t miss Twelfe Night.

Another don’t-miss Shakespeare on the boards is Julie Taymor’s astounding production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Theatre of a New Audience’s handsome new Polonksy Shakespeare Center, half a block from BAM in Brooklyn, loaded with totally original staging and hauntingly beautiful scenic effects. Few of the actors can I recall ever seeing before. All are superb.

Also brilliant is Fun Home at the Public Theater, which has been extended four times. The book and lyrics are by Lisa Kron, the music by Jeanine Tesori. It’s been beautifully adapted from a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel about growing up gay in a family where the Dad turns out to be gay as well. Tesori’s music is truly beautiful, and Kron displays a heretofore untapped lyrical gift. Michael Cerveris, as the gay Dad, here demonstrates why he’s one of our greatest actors in musicals.

You can still catch Fun Home. Don’t miss it.

Alas, you’ve missed two Rattlestick productions — Charles Fuller’s One Night at the Cherry Lane Theatre, and Halley’s Feiffer’s How to Make Friends and Then Kill Them, at Rattlestick’s theatre in Waverly Place. One Night was about a traumatized female Iraq war veteran, raped and the hung out to dry by the chain of command, and a good Samaritan determined to save her. Why, we found out at the end. Feiffer’s play followed three girls from 10-20s and was a brilliantly theatrical dissection of Mean Girl Syndrome. Both productions lived up to Rattlestick’s usual high standards and confirms this theatre’s status as one of the New York Theatre’s best showcases for new plays.

You’ve also missed Marlane Mayer’s The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters at Playwrights Horizons, about the doomed love of a geeky young woman for a Bad Boy, among other things. The play was wonderfully theatrical, but I thought director Lisa Peterson got carried away with this theatricality, making a lot of it Just Plain Silly. Still, I was glad I saw it.

WAITING FOR GODOT and NO MAN’S LAND. Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
TWELFE NIGHT and RICHARD III. Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Pl.,
Brooklyn
TICKETS: 866-811-4111
FUN HOME. Public Theater, 435 Lafayette St.
TICKETS: 212-967-7555
ONE NIGHT. Chery Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St. Alas, closed.
TICKETS: 212-989-2020
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND THEN KILL THEM. Rattlestick Playwrights
Theatre, 224 Waverly Pl. Alas, closed.
THE PATRON SAINT OF SEA MONSTERS. Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.
Alas, 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” 12 November, 2013

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 SNOW GEESE, AFTER MIDNIGHT, BIG FISH, EAGER TO LOSE, BETRAYAL, GOOD PERSON OF SZECHWAN, THE MODEL APARTMENT, A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN, EAGER TO LOSE, JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK, THE WINSLOW BOY and A TIME TO KILL.

Some of the reviews of Sharr White’s The Snow Geese, currently on view at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, were more than somewhat dismissive, including that of the usually reliable Elizabeth Vincentelli in the Post. My theory on why this was is later in this column; but suffice it to say that I thought this was a beautiful production of a very compelling play. It takes place during World War I, in a hunting lodge in upstate New York owned by a wealthy family which finds, to its surprise and dismay, that recently deceased Dear Old Dad squandered the family fortune and they are now penniless.

Mary Louise Parker plays the matriarch, who’s totally in denial about the state of her family’s finances. She’s always wonderful to watch, but even though she is playing a role that’s about her age she still looks like she’s about 25, so it’s hard to believe her as the mother of two grown sons. In a superb cast, two actors stand out particularly – Brian Cross as the younger son who’s the only one he sees things clearly, and Jessica Love as a Polish maid, a refugee from war-torn Europe whose family was once wealthy too. She embodies the old maxim that there are no small parts, only small actors. Mark my words, she will one day be a Big Name. The great Daniel Sullivan has directed the play as terrifically as you would expect.

Did you ever wonder why you see so few plays not sent in the present? I think one of the reasons for this is that many critics have a prejudice against these kinds of plays, as evidenced by Big Ben’s comments in the Times; and, let’s be frank, critics not only decide what lives or dies but what, in fact, gets produced. Don’t pay any attention to Big Ben. This is a beautiful evening in the theatre.

After Midnight, at the Brooks Atkinson, is a terrific review celebrating the glorious music of the Harlem Renaissance. We are at the famed Cotton Club, there to hear one wonderful song after another, performed by the likes of Fantasia Milano and Adriane Lenox (who knew this fine dramatic actress could sing like that?), and to enjoy period choreography by Warren Carlyle which will knock your socks off. Apparently, it’s OK for musicals to take us back to the past, so all the reviews have been raves. Pay attention to them; ignore the reviews for The Snow Geese. This is one heckuva good time.

The reviews for Big Fish, at the Neil Simon Theatre were also rather dismissive and have taken their toll: Big Fish has announced that it will close on December 29. This appears to be a classic case of Nothing Could Equal The Film. I never saw the film, so I went into this with fresh eyes and had a mighty fine good time at this whimsical fable about a tall tale-spinning Dad and his son who goes on a quest to find out just what, if anything, his father has told him is true. The great Norbert Leo Butz plays the dad with all the aplomb this wonderful actor can muster, and Bobby Steggert is, as always, great as his son. For me, though, the Main Event was Susan Stroman. Her direction and choreography are truly wonderful. And, I was astounded by the projections created by Benjamin Pearcy, the most amazing I have ever seen on any stage.

Go. I promise you won’t regret it. And, you can certainly get a half-price ticket!

Eager to Lose, which has just closed at Ars Nova after a much-deserved extension, was a whacky burlesque show with a book written in rhymed iambic pentameter – Moliere does burlesque! We were at the Tim Tam Room, hosted by an actual burlesque star named Tansy. She and two other women did hilarious but absolutely authentic strip teases. The book concerned who loves who. The strips and the costumes were wonderful. I hope this show will resurface somewhere else, like Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, which started in this space, went on to Off Broadway success and is now going to move to Broadway. If it turns up again, I’m going!

Betrayal, at the Ethel Barrymore, is a fine production of Harold Pinter’s last great play, about an adulterous love affair, which famously tells the story backwards chronologically. It’s been superbly directed by the great Mike Nichols and features Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and an actor I never heard of before named Rafe Spall, who more than holds his own against these two great stars.

I can tell you this Betrayal is well worth seeing and you should go; but, alas, its limited run is completely sold out. Imagine my surprise.

The Public Theater has moved the Foundry Theatre’s production of Brecht’s Good Person of Szechwan, acclaimed last season at La MaMa, to its Martinson Hall. The production stars Taylor Mac in the twin roles of Shen Te and Shui Ta, a good hearted prostitute and her arch-capitalist cousin, and this wonderfully weird actor doesn’t disappoint. Director Lear DeBessonet perfectly translated Brecht’s style to our times.
This is one of the best productions of a Brecht play I have ever seen, and is not to be missed.

Donald Margulies’ The Model Apartment, at Primary Stages, is a dark comedy about an elderly couple. We think they’ve merely retired to Florida, but in fact they have gone there to escape their monstrous daughter. There’s a lot of hoo-hah about the Holocaust, which seemed to me rather forced; but the performances are all good – particularly, that of Diane Davis as the seriously demented daughter who tracks her parents down in order to continue to torment them. The Model Apartment is not exactly a Fun Evening In The Theatre, but if you’re up for Strong Stuff, it’s well worth seeing.

A Night with Janis Joplin, at the Lyceum, is a simulated Janis Joplin concert, featuring a sensational performance by Mary Bridget Davies as Janis, and strong performances by a quartet of singers who embody Joplin’s musical influences (Etta James, Aretha Franklin, etc.). Davies may just win the Tony for this – she’ll certainly get a nomination. Don’t miss her.

Irish Rep has up and running a fine production of O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, featuring J. Smith Cameron as Juno, a mother struggling to keep going during the Irish Troubles. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is the finest performance of her distinguished career, as one critic dine, but she’s mighty fine. Also excellent are Ciarán O’Reilly as Captain Boyle (the Paycock of the title) and John Keating as his ne’er-do-well drinking buddy, Joxer Daly.

I would say this is well worth seeing.

As for Terrence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy, at the American Airlines Theatre, this is a rather creaky drama about a father determined to clear his son’s name. The actors are all solid, but all too much of the drama occurs offstage, at the son’s trial in the House of Commons. The play just collapses.

Rupert Holmes’ adaptation of John Grisham’s A Time to Kill, at the Golden Theatre, is much more interesting; but basically it’s a staged version of the movie; well done, but why bother? Sebastian Arcelus plays the Matthew McGonaghey role, and he looks amazingly like him. This too has announced its closing. I’m not surprised.

THE SNOW GEESE. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
AFTER MIDNIGHT. Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
BIG FISH. Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St.
TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000
EAGER TO LOSE. Ars Nova, 511 W. 54th St. Alas, closed
BETRAYAL. Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
GOOD PERSON OF SZECHWAN. Public Theatre, 435 Lafayette St.
TICKETS: 212-967-7555
THE MODEL APARTMENT. Primary Stages, 59 E. 59th St.
TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200
A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN. Lyceum Theatre. 149 W. 45th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK. Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd St.
TICKETS: 212-727-2737
THE WINSLOW BOY. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300
A TIME TO KILL. Golden Theatre, 251 W. 45th 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” 10 October 2013

“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 ROMEO AND JULIET, THE GLASS MENAGERIE, PHILIP GOES FORTH, NATURAL AFFECTION, THE OLD FRIENDS, THE FILM SOCIETY, BAD JEWS, AND MILES TO GO, BRONX BOMBERS, MR. BURNS, and LADY DAY.

The new production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, at the Richard Rodgers Theatre,
directed by David Leveaux, is a modern dress version and Romeo, played by film star Orlando Bloom, makes his entrance decked up in black, riding on a motorcycle. For the most part, Leveaux’ concept works well; but the Big Question is, how’s Orlando Bloom? Surprisingly good, considering that he doesn’t have much stage experience. And his co-star, Condola Rashad, while vocally not quite there, still makes a fine Juliet. Brent Carver is excellent as Friar Lawrence, making far more of an impression than any previous actor I have seen in this role, and Chuck Cooper is a wonderfully bombastic Capulet. The strongest performance, though, comes from Christian Camarco as Mercutio, all piss and vinegar and heartbreaking when he dies. My only quibble with this production was the double death scene at the end, which ought to pack far more of a punch than it does.

Still, this is a fine production and well worth seeing.

As for The Glass Menagerie, at the Booth Theatre, this landmark revival, brilliantly directed by John Tiffany and sure to be talked about for years to come, features Cherry Jones as Amanda in one of her greatest performances, able matched by Celia Keenan-Bolger as the doomed waif Laura, Zachary Quinto as Tom and Brian J. Smith as Jim, the Gentleman Caller. The famous scene between Laura and Jim has never been done better, at least in my experience.

This production is One for the Ages. Don’t miss it.

Mint Theatre has up and running a fine production of a forgotten play by George Kelly, Philip Goes Forth, about a young man who fancies himself a talented playwright. Philip goes to New York to make it in show business, but is forced to face the fact that he doesn’t really have the drive or the ability to achieve his dream. Jerry Ruiz’ production is solid, as are all the actors, the best being Rachel Moulton in the small role of a dotty poet who lives in the apartment where Philip winds up in New York, and Jennifer Harmon as their sardonic landlady, once a great Broadway actress now reduced to this.

While the Mint doesn’t make a case, as it often does, that the play is a Lost Classic Undeservedly Forgotten, Philip Goes Forth holds the stage nicely and it’s exceedingly well-acted.

The Actors Company Theatre (T.A.C.T.) also has a forgotten play on the boards, albeit from a later era than Kelly’s, William Inge’s last Broadway play Natural Affection, wherein Inge tried to out-Albee and out-Williams with a dark portrait of a couple. She’s the breadwinner, he’s a macho car salesman. When her teenaged son comes to stay with him, fresh out of a juvenile detention facility, the sparks fly. Newcomer Chris Bert, kind of a cross between Shia LaBeouf and Paul Dana, is riveting as the disturbed kid, and John Pankow practically steals the show as a drunken next door neighbor who probably has a homo-erotic fixation on the car salesman.

It’s easy to see, though, why this play failed in 1963, around the time of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and at the height of Tennessee Williams’ fame. Inge was trying to be as shocking as them, but he was no Albee, and certainly no Tennessee Williams. His gruesome ending is ridiculously contrived. Yuck.

The late Horton Foote’s The Old Friends, at the Signature Center, has for some reason never had a full production. Like all Foote’s plays, it is set in Harrison, Texas. The central characters are Sybil Borden, who comes home after years of living in South America with her failure of a husband and is now penniless, her husband dead, and Howard Ratliff, an estate manager for the richest woman in town, who has finally found himself in his 50s and wants to marry Sybil, the girl who got away. Hallie Foote and Smith are very strong is these roles, as is Betty Buckley as the alcoholic rich bitch.

This superb production, directed by Michael Wilson, is a must-see.

Jon Robin Baitz’ first play, The Film Society, is being given a sterling revival by the Keen Company at the Clurman Theatre. If you don’t know this fine play, it’s about a teacher at a prep school in South Africa during the apartheid era, who just wants to stay out of all the school’s politics and run his film study group. Jonathan Silverstein has assembled a superb cast, led by Euan Morton as the teacher and featuring wonderful performances from the likes of Gerry Bamman as the headmaster and Richmond Hoxie as a dying teacher.

This, too, is a don’t-miss.

As is Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews, at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre, which features a wonderfully demented performance by Tracee Chimo as a young Jewish woman who fancies herself the only one in the family who is serious about her Jewishness and who is determined to have a her recently-deceased grandfather’s religious necklace. Over my dead body, says her cousin Liam, and what ensues is a titanic war of wills.

Bad Jews has transferred upstairs, after running last season in the Roundabout Underground. It’s a huge hit, and most deservedly so.

Chad Beckim’s And Miles to Go, a Partial Comfort production at the Wild Project, is about a veteran teacher at a failing high school much at odds with the school’s administration, who must contend with hopelessly unruly students and, ultimately, a gunman who comes into the school and starts firing. The play has a lot to say about the utter hopelessness of urban public education in this country, and Randy Danson is terrific as the teacher. Beckim hasn’t quite come up with the perfect ending, but still this is a gripping drama and a don’t-miss.

Primary Stages is running two productions simultaneously, Donald Margulies’ The Model Apartment at 59 E 59 (read about this in my next column) and Eric Simonson’s Bronx Bombers, at the Duke Theatre, the subject of which is the New York Yankees. In the first act, Yankee coach Yogi Berra tries to mediate a dispute between manager Billy Martin and star player Reggie Jackson, who he pulled from a game during an inning because of Reggie’s lack of hustle in right field. Martin fears that Steinbrenner will fire him. Reggie doesn’t care about anything but “the immensity that is Reggie Jackson.” A suitable subtitle for the play could be “Yogi Agonistes.” The first act is terrific, full of tense conflict, but then Simonson goes off in an unfortunate direction in the second act, which is a dream Yogi has wherein all the Yankee greats come to dinner — Dimaggio, Ruth, Gehrig, Jeter, etc. – all in their uniforms. Not much drama here – mostly anecdotes in lieu of dramatic action.

The actors are excellent – particularly Francois Baptiste as Reggie in the first act and Elston Howard in the second –and Simonson’s direction is adequate, but the play just runs gradually out of steam. If you’re a hardcore Yankees fan, you might enjoy this. Anyone else would, I think, lose interest quickly.

Playwrights Horizons has a hit with Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns, subtitled a
Post-Electric Play – a hit these days being good reviews enabling a 2-week extension of the typical Off Broadway limited run. A group of people are sitting around a campfire trying to reconstruct one of their favorite “Simpsons” episodes. A stranger comes stumbling out of the woods, and everyone pulls out their guns. These are dire times. There has been a biological catastrophe, killing most of the population, but there are some people left who for some reason are immune – just like in Stephen King’s “The Stand.” The interloper is not a threat and (what luck!) he remembers the missing part of the episode in question. As the play moves further into the future, there are travelling troupes of “Simpsons” re-enactors, and in the final act we get to see an entire performance, done like a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. This sounds daffy, I know, but who knows what will become of civilization after the Apocalpyse?

Lady Day, at the Little Shubert Theatre, is a contrived bio-musical about jazz singer Billie Holiday. It’s basically just a vehicle for Dee Dee Bridgewater to strut her stuff. Fans of Holiday’s music will enjoy this during the times when Bridgewater stops with the history lesson and just sings. For most of the audience, though, Lady Day lays a big fat egg.

ROMEO AND JULIET. Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th St.
TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000
THE GLASS MENAGERIE. Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
PHILIP GOES FORTH. Mint Theatre, 311 W. 43rd St.
TICKETS: www.minttheatre.org or 866-811-4111
NATURAL AFFECTION. Beckett Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
THE OLD FRIENDS. Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: 212-244-7529
THE FILM SOCIETY. Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
BAD JEWS. Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St.
TICKETS: 212-719-1300
AND MILES TO GO. Wild Project, 195 E. 3rd St.
TICKETS: www.partialcomfort.org or 866-811-4111
BRONX BOMBERS. Duke Theatre, 229 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.dukeon42.org or 646-223-3010
MR. BURNS. Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200
LADY DAY. Little Shubert Theatre, 422 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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