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.)
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.
DROP DEAD PERFECT. Theatre at St. Clements, 423 W. 46th St.
For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“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