Archive for category “On the Aisle with Larry”

“On the Aisle with Larry” 5 May 2019

 

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 AIN’T TOO PROUD, KISS ME, KATE, BE MORE CHILL, BEETLEJUICE, HADESTOWN, NANTUCKET SLEIGH RIDE, HILLARY AND CLINTON, INK, THE PAIN OF MY BELLIGERENCE and GARY: A SEQUEL TO TITUS ANDRONICUS. 

For theatregoers my age (old) the music of the Motown group The Temptations was part of our youth, but I think younger audience will flock along with the geezers to the Imperial Theatre, where Ain’t Too Proud is in residence for what will probably be a long run. Like Jersey Boys and The Cher Show, this is a bio-musical, working in the group’s greatest hits as it tells their story. Dominque Morissseau was the perfect choice to write the book. She’s a wonderful playwright, the recipient of a MacArthur grant and she’s from Detroit! She has done a terrific job of seamlessly weaving those great 60s songs into what becomes a rather dark story. More on that later. 

The story is narrated by Otis Williams, the last surviving original member of the Temps, as we used to call them, played by Derrick Baskin, and he’s terrific – but so are the other members of the group; particularly, Ephraim Sykes as David Ruffin, a great soul singer but a troubled man. Sykes’ rendition of Ruffin’s signature song, “My Girl,” took me back to my boyhood and made me long for my own girl. 

As you might expect, the choreography by Sergio Trujillo, who seems to specialize in what are often derided, unfairly in my opinion, as “jukebox musicals,” captures perfectly the Temps’ slick moves, and the whole thing has been put together perfectly by Des McAnuff who, you might remember, also directed Jersey Boys and The Who’s Tommy. 

The only problem with the show is the second act as, one by one, the Temps die off, Ruffin in a drug overdose when he was only 28. It’s bummer after bummer but, fortunately there are a lot of great songs to get us through the tragedies. 

Director Scott Ellis has come up some new ideas to stage Kiss Me, Kate, the Cole Porter and Sam & Bella Spewack musical at Studio 54. For one thing, he’s had orchestrator Larry Hochman add music to some songs, like “Too Darn Hot,”  to enable choreographer Warren Carlyle to turn them into big dance numbers. He’s also “fixed” the ending, which is right out of Shakespeare’s The Taming of the Shrew, adding new lyrics to “I Am Ashamed that Women Are So Simple,” in which star Kelli O’Hara is ashamed that people are so simple. There are other PC touches, some of which work, some of which don’t, but essentially this is a first-rate production. O’Hara is sensational, as she always is, but she’s matched by her co-star Will Chase, who has great fun with the role of Fred. 

Be More Chill, at the Lyceum Theatre, is a transfer from Off Broadway last season, It got great reviews then, less than great in this incarnation. It’s a teen angst story about a kid who takes a mind-altering pill to cure his awkwardness and, of course runs into trouble. I liked this show – a lot. I liked Joe Iconis’ songs, Joe Tracz’ book. I liked all the performances. I liked Chase Brock’s choreography. I am at a loss to understand why it’s been slammed. 

I also liked Beetlejuice at the Winter Garden Theatre, based on the Tim Burton film about a jolly ghoul who longs to be brought back to life – if he can only get a living person to say his name three times. Alex Brightman is hilarious in the title role, and Sophia Ann Caruso is touching as a troubled goth teen who misses her recently deceased mother, as she sings in the show’s first song, “Dead Mom.” Eddie Perfect’s music & lyrics capture the tone of the film perfectly, as does Alex Timbers’ direction. P:raise must also go to David Korins’ shape-shifting set. 

Although this has been nominated for the Tony Award for Best Musical, it’s a long shot to win, as all the momentum is with Hadestown, but I have to say I had the best time at Beetlejuice than at any musical this season since The Prom. 

Shows which lose in the Tony Roulette tend to close quickly thereafter. I hope this will not be the case with Beetlejuice. 

Hadestown, at the Walter Kerr Theatre is, like Be More Chill, a transfer from Off Broadway, but it’s the show which everyone seems to love, and it has the most Tony nominations. It’s a retelling of the Orpheus myth. The whole shebang – book, music and lyrics – are by Anais Mitchell, and it’s directed by hot young director Rachel Chafkin, whose direction of Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 wowed the critics but was not enough to entice audiences to buy tickets after star Josh Groban left. 

The reviews are, as I said across-the-board raves, and everybody I have talked to, with the exception of my companion the night I attended, thinks it’s the bee’s knees. Not me. I just don’t get it. I liked some of the performances, notably Amber Gray’s as Persephone and Eva Noblezada’s as Eurydice, but Patrick Page as Hades growled through most of his role, and his songs, few and far between, were for me the least interesting, musically. 

Ah well – who cares what I think? I just hope I am not becoming what I promised I would never be – an Old Fart. 

At the Mitzi Newhouse theatre, John Guare’s Nantucket Sleigh Ride, his first play in several years, is being given a fun, whimsical production by Jerry Zaks, starring John Larroquette as a one-hit wonder playwright, now a businessman, who goes back to 1975, in Nantucket to relive many painfully hilarious memories. 

It’s true, Nantucket Sleigh Ride is often confusing, but I for one appreciate an absurdist farce once in a while. 

Hillary and Clinton, at the Golden Theatre, is sort of about the Clintons and sort of not. It’s another whimsical play by hot hot hot playwright Lucas Hnath, whose A Doll’s House, Part Two was a hit last season. Laurie Metcalfe and John Lithgow make no effort to impersonate the Clintons and, in fact, Metcalfe is giving pretty much the same performance she gave as Nora in A Doll’s House Part Two. 

The play takes place on the eve of the 2008 New Hampshire primary. Hillary is behind in all the polls and it looks like she will lose to Sen. Obama, which will effectively be the end of her candidacy, particularly as she is out of money – which is why she summons her husband, who has stayed away from her campaign, up to New Hampshire in hopes he can come up with the cash to keep her in the race (which, of course, he does – he being Bill Clinton after all). Obama shows up to offer her the nomination as Vice President if she will agree to drop out in the interest of party unity. Will she take him up on it or won’t she? 

Hillary and Clinton seems rather lightweight, certainly compared to A Doll’s House II. Still, it’s a more or less enjoyable 90 minutes. 

James Graham’s Ink, at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, was a huge London last season and has been brought over with it’s two leads intact, again directed brilliantly by Rupert Goold.  The play takes place in the 1960’s. Australian newspaper magnate Rupert Murdoch is determined to make a ton of money in London by buying a failing newspaper, the Sun, and hiring a brilliant editor named Larry Lamb, who’s been excluded from the top executive level because he’s an outsider to a club which consists mostly of old fuddy-duddies. Together, Larry and Rupert change newspaper publishing forever, turning the boring Sun into the first tabloid, proving that sleaze always trumps honest reporting. Fittingly, Larry overtakes the best selling newspaper in the country, like David bringing down Goliath, putting the Sun over the top by, fittingly, publishing a picture of a naked woman (well, a semi-naked woman but you can see which way the wind blows) on page three. 

Bertie Carvel and Jonny Lee Miller are sensational as Murdoch and Lamb, and there is strong supporting work from the Americans in the cast. 

I liked Halley Feiffer’s latest, The Pain of My Belligerence, wherein Feiffer plays a journalist who falls for the husband of a woman she has interviewed, even though he is obviously a bad boy and possibly a serial adulterer. Why would a woman fall for such a man? Who knows? I have to say that the fine actor, Hamish Linklater, almost makes this credible with his raffish charm, and I think Feiffer is giving a very courageous performance. 

The play has been given a fine production by Trip Cullman, whose work I have always loved, and is well worth seeing. 

Finally, I have arrived at Gary: A Sequel to Titus Andonicus by downtown performance artist Taylor Mac, which takes place in the aftermath of the carnage in Shakespeare’s play but multiplies it to the nth degree. Nathan Lane plays the title role, a failed clown who is hired as a maid to help clean up the mess, something at which head maid Janice is most adept. Also in the play is Carol, a midwife, played by Julie White, who wanders in and out appearing to be bewildered that she’s in such a weird play. Lane is sometimes funny, sometimes not, as Gary, and Kristine Neilson goes even more over the top than usual as Janice. I usually like all her mugging, but here she’s more than too much. 

If you’re a fan of Taylor Mac and his peculiar sensibility I think you will enjoy this. Everyone else, be prepared to be appalled.

 

AIN’T TOO PROUD. Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St.

Tickets: 212 -239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.com

KISS ME, KATE. Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St.

Tickets: www.roundabouttheatre.org

BE MORE CHILL. Lyceum Theatre. 149 W. 45th ST

Tickets: 212 -239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.com

BEETLEJUICE. Winter Garden Theatre, 1634 Broadway

Tickets: 212 -239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.com

HADESTOWN. Walter Kerr Theatre. 219 W. 48th St.

Tickets: 212 -239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.com

NANTUCKET SLEIGH RIDE. Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, Lincoln Center

Tickets: 212 -239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.com

HILLARY AND CLINTON. Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St

Tickets: 212 -239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.com

INK. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.

Tickets: 212 -239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.com

THE PAIN OF MY BELLIGERENCE. Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd ST

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

GARY: A SEQUEL TO TITUS ANDRONICUS. Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St.

Tickets: 212 -239-6200 or 800-447-7400 or www.telecharge.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” 1 January 2019

 

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 Network, American Son, Clueless, The Lifespan of a Fact and King Kong.

Happy New Year!

If you think our country is going to hell in a handbasket and you’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore then Network, Lee Hall’s adaptation of the Paddy Chayefski screenplay from 1977 which garnered several awards, including one for Best Original Screenplay for Chayefski, you don’t want to miss the stage version at the Belasco Theatre. Directed by Ivo Van Hove and featuring a phenomenal performance by Bryan Cranston as Howard Beale, the deranged anchorman on a nightly news show who becomes a Jeremiah-like prophet, Network is one of the best things you’ll see this season.

Van Hove and his designers, most notably Jan Versweyveld (set and lighting) and Tal Yarden (video), have come up with a concept that almost makes the audience feel as if they are on the newsroom set, a perfect realization of Chayefski’s cogent demonstration of how people come to see what’s on TV as reality. Eager beaver and totally unscrupulous producer Diana Christensen sees that allowing Howard to rant on camera is a ratings gold mine – until, that is, Howard goes completely off the rails. Tatiana Maslany is terrific as Diana, though not as terrific as Faye Dunaway (who won an Oscar) was in the film. Tony Goldwyn is just OK as Max Schumacher, a jaded producer, which, if memory serves, was William Holden’s last appearance on film.

But the stars of the show are Cranston and Van Hove.

American Son by Christopher Demos-Brown, at the Booth Theatre is a powerful, gut-churning parable about the thorny, insolvable dilemma regarding race. It begins with a  black woman, Kendra, waiting late at night at a police station, to which she came when her son Jamal, didn’t come home. She is stymied by a young white police officer who is unable to provide her with information as to Jamal’s whereabouts. She has called her estranged husband, and when he arrives we are surprised, along with the policeman, that he is white. Eventually, the police are able to ascertain what has happened to Jamal, and it’s a tragic ending to this brilliant, strident new play.

Kerry Washington and Stephen Pasquale are very strong as Jamal’s parents, as are Jeremy Jordan as the police officer, and Eugene Lee as an older policeman, and Kenny Leon has directed the play with a steady, unobtrusive hand.

Like Network, American Son is a don’t-miss. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins this year’s Pulitzer Prize.

Clueless, at the Signature Center, is a musical-ization by Amy Heckerling of her cult film of the 90s about a group of Beverly Hills teenagers. Heckerling has chosen popular songs of the era but given them new lyrics, a device which I found very clever. Kristin Hanggi has done a fine job of staging the show and Kelly Devine’s choreography is sprightly and witty, and Dove Cameron is charming as the  central character, Cher. Yes, folks, this is another Cher show.

The reviews for Clueless have not been all that hot. Several critics took it to task for Not Being The Movie. Well, I never saw the movie, so I responded to this musical version with fresh eyes and ears, which may be why I enjoyed it so much.

The Lifespan of a Fact, at Studio 54, is a fine new play by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Ferrell. Cherry Jones plays the editor of a prestigious literary magazine who has contracted to publish an essay by a prominent writer about the suicide of a young man. She gives an intern the job of fact-checking the essay, and little did she know the ramifications of this decision, as he turns out to be an obsessive-compulsive young fellow who takes the job very seriously, to the point of coming up with 137 pages of notes which put into question the veracity of just about everything in the essay.

Daniel Radcliffe as Jim the fact-checker here adds another wonderful performance to his stage resume and Cherry Jones is also terrific as the editor, Emily, who has to decide whether to go with Jim’s version Truth or the essayist John’s defense of bending the facts in the name of poetic justice. As for Bobby Cannavalle as John, I am a big fan of this terrific actor who was sensational in The Motherfucker with the Hat, but I had difficulty buying him as a brilliant writer. Director Leigh Silverman has done a fine job with the other two actors, but couldn’t make Cannavalle credible.

Still, this is a very entertaining cerebral comedy and well worth seeing.

Finally, we come to the musical version of King Kong, at the Broadway Theatre. You know the story so there is no use summarizing the preposterous plot, because this show is all about the special effects, mainly the enormous puppet that is Kong, who makes Joey, the horse from Warhorse, look like a sock puppet.

Make no mistake Kong, manipulated by several people, is the star of the show. One of the things that amazed me the most was how his designer, Sonny Tilderss has made his face able to show emotion, from tenderness to rage.

The score by Marius de Vries is unmemorable, as are the performances. But Kong is amazing. 

NETWORK. Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St.

Tickets: www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400

AMERICAN SON. Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St.

Tickets: www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400

CLUELESS. Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.

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

THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT. Studio 54. 254 W. 54th St.

Tickets: www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400

KING KONG. Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway

Tickets: www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400 

“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 December 2018

“On the Aisle with Larry”

 

Lawrence Harbison, our very own critic, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on The Hard Problem, The Waverly Gallery, The Prom, Downstairs, and The Cher Show.

The Hard Problem, at the Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, British playwright Tom Stoppard deals with the science of how the brain works and asks a lot of Big Questions – what is altruism, is coincidence really just coincidence and, ultimately, what exactly is meant by “consciousness?” It’s a lot to follow, as the ideas come at you fast and furious. Fortunately, Stoppard also manages to create compelling characters, whose stories are the hooks which grab us, even as we struggle to digest all the complex science. Chief among these characters is Hilary, a grad student who gets a dream job working at a brain science founded by a hedge fund gazillionaire named Jerry, beating out another student, Amal, a mathematics whiz who’s hired at the hedge fund to predict market fluctuations. It soon becomes clear that Hilary is a most unusual scientist, in that she actually believes in God. Hilary had a baby when she a teenager, a daughter who gave up for adoption. Jerry has a daughter at just the right age. Is this Hilary’s child? Are there such things as coincidences?

Australian actress Adelaide Clemens is terrific as Hilary, under Jack O’Brien’s slick, unobtrusive direction. The Hard Problem asks more questions than it answers, but I found it fascinating. Yes, it’s not primo Stoppard, but when you compare it to the trivial American plays our playwrights produce so often pen, it stands out and is well worth seeing.

As is The Waverly Gallery by Kenneth Lonergan at the Golden Theatre, which features a brilliant performance by Elaine May, playing a wealthy elderly woman named Gladys who keeps busy by running an art gallery in the West Village. Gladys is gradually losing her marbles, much to the consternation of her grandson, who is the play’s narrator and who is touchingly played by Lucas Hedges, her daughter and the daughter’s husband, played beautifully by Joan Allen and David Cromer, and May’s depiction of this is heartbreaking, one of the greatest performances I have seen in many a moon. Also touching is Michael Cera as an artist who gets Gladys to exhibit his work, who lives in the back room because he has nowhere else to go. Gladys has a show for him, to which nobody comes.

The Waverly Gallery is not a new play, as it was originally produced off Broadway several years ago, but I expect it to be a contender for the Tony Award for Best Revival.

After seeing two weighty dramas, it was a relief to see something just plain silly and fun. Such a show is The Prom, at the Longacre Theatre, a musical comedy about a group of narcissistic actors and who decide to counteract the career-threatening bad publicity dumped on them for a flop musical about Eleanor Roosevelt which closed on opening night. They decide they need a cause to champion. They find one in a teenaged Midwestern girl whose prom has been cancelled because she wanted to bring her girlfriend.

The book by Bob Martin and Chad Beguuelin is hilariuous, and Beguelin’s lyrics the same, and Matthew Sklar’s music is delightful. The show has been wonderfully directed and choreographed by A-list director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw. As for the performers, Beth Leavel and Brooks Ashmanskas steal the show as a Broadway diva and her gay gay gay leading man. Caitlin Kinnunen is touching as the girl who just wants to go to the prom with her squeeze. Also good is Christopher Sieber as a waiter/struggling actor who went to Juilliard years ago and wants everyone to know it.

I loved loved loved The Prom. Unless you are a sourpuss, I think you will too.

Theresa Rebeck in on quite a roll this season. First there was the Roundabout of her Bernhardt/Hamlet on Broadway, featuring a wonderful performance by Janet McTeer in the titular roles. Currently running is Downstairs, produced by Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre, featuring brother and sister Tim and Tyne Daly as, well, a brother and sister. Tyne, heretofore known for playing strong women, plays a timid housewife named Irene who takes in her brother when he loses his job. Soon it becomes clear that Teddy, the brother, is not well, mentally. He is able to access an old computer though, and what he finds on it is very disturbing. When Irene’s husband Jerry comes down to the basement, we learn why she is so timid – he’s one scary guy. We never learn what is on the computer, but is it enough to get Jerry out of Irene’s life?

All three actors are superb under Adrienne Campbell-Holt’s subtle direction, making Downstairs well worth seeing.

As for The Cher Show, it’s a bio-musical about the flamboyant diva, taking her from obscurity to stardom, to the bottom and then back on top again. Cher is played by three actresses and all three are sensational, though I particularly enjoyed Stephanie J. Block as the mature Cher. Jarrod Specter is perfect as Sonny Bono, and Emily Skinner very strong as Cher’s mother (she also has a nice turn as a practically calcified Lucille Ball. The costumes by Cher’s designer Bob Mackie (who also is a character in the show) are spectacular. I thought, Cher was Lady Gaga before Lady Gaga was even born.  Fans of Cher will not be disappointed.

That’s it for now. In my next column, I’ll tell you about King Kong, American Son, Network, The Lifespan of a Fact and Clueless. Then I’m taking a break for a while.

THE HARD PROBLEM. Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, Lincoln Center

Tickets: www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400.

THE WAVERLY GALLERY. Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.

Tickets: www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400.

THE PROM. Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St

Tickets: www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400.

DOWNSTAIRS. Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St.

Tickets: https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/pr/99682 or 212-352-3101

THE CHER SHOW. Neil Simon Theatre, 350 W. 52nd St.

Tickets: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-653-8000 

“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” 5 November, 2018

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 Bernhardt/Hamlet, What the Constitution Means to Me, Apologia and The True.

It looks very much like 2018 is going to turn out to be the Year of the Woman. More women than ever before are running for office across the nation, and many political pundits are forecasting that if the Blue Wave happens, it will be in large part because of women who are appalled by the behavior of the President and his lackeys in Congress. We’ll see.

In the theatre, more plays by women are turning up on the boards than ever before. On Broadway, you can see Theresa Rebeck’s Bernhardt/Hamlet (at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre), Alexi Kayer Campbell’s Apologia (at Roundabout’s Off Broadway space, the Laura Pels Theatre) and What the Constitution Means to Me, written by and starring Heidi Schreck (at NY Theatre Workshop).

“Historical plays” are rare these days. Playwrights Horizons has come out and said they don’t produce them, and many other theatres have the same attitude, which is a shame. Rebeck’s play is, I think, her first play not set in the present. It’s about the great 19th Century French actress Sarah Bernhardt as she prepares to take on the greatest role in the classical repertoire, Hamlet. Her last venture, L’Aiglon by Edmond Rostand, which she financed with her own money, lost it all and now The Divine Sarah desperately needs a hit to replenish her coffers. Great artist that she is, she has decided to take on Hamlet, much to the consternation of the critics of her time (all, of them male of course). Max Beerbohm went to far as to write, “Creative power, the power to conceive ideas and execute them, is an attribute of virility; women are denied it, in so far as they practice art at all, they are aping virility, exceeding their natural sphere. Never does one understand so well the failure of women in art as when one sees them deliberately impersonating men upon the stage.”

Daunted by Shakespeare’s poetry, Bernhardt commissions a French prose adaptation by Edmond Rostand, her lover and the author of Cyrano de Bergerac. Still she has set herself a daunting task, and over the course of the play we watch her build her performance in rehearsal. We also are treated to a great performance by English actress Janet McTeer, although she eschews the melodramatic acting style typical of the 19th Century, playing Bernhardt playing Hamlet as if she herself were playing Hamlet today. This was probably the right choice by McTeer and director Moritz von Stuelpnagel, as a Bernhardt performance today would look awfully hammy.

The supporting players are first rate. Dylan Baker is amusing as Bernhardt’s leading man, Constant Coquelin (who would go on to triumph as Cyrano), and Jason Butler Horner is also terrific as Rostand. That fine young actor Nick Westrate has a wonderful one-scene turn as Bernhardt’s son, Maurice.

Rebeck has been bedeviled all her career by male critics who just don’t “get” her. Frank Rich called her first play to be done in New York, Spike Heels, mere “pillow talk,” for instance. She has been quite outspoken about the sexism women playwrights face, which has pissed ‘em off even more. Here, in her play about a courageous actress willing to take a risk in service of her art, damn the critics and full speed ahead, she has fought back in the best way an artist can – with her art.

When she was a teenager, Heidi Schreck went around the country competing in speech contests sponsored by the American Legion, winning enough money to finance her college education. In What the Constitution Means to Me, she recreates the sort of speech she used to give, though she makes no effort to impersonate the teenager she was when she gave it, occasionally interjecting stories about her life. The set, by Rachel Hauck, appears to be the stage of an American Legion hall, replete with photographs of many legionnaires – all of them, of course, men. When she was a kid, Schreck didn’t much consider the Constitution as a document created by men, but now she does, and is both amusing and enlightening  as to how it has pertained to women since it was signed and went into effect.

A highlight for me was when Schreck engages in a debate with a contemporary teenager, on a specific topic of constitutional law, and then the audience gets to vote on who won. At the performance I attended, this student was portrayed brilliantly by Thursday Williams.

At the end, each audience member is given a copy of the U.S. Constitution. I mailed mine to President Tweet, as obviously he has never read it.

This just in: What the Constitution Means to Me is moving to the Greenwich House Theatre later this month for a much-deserved extended run.

Meanwhile, Roundabout has another strong showing, Apologia at its Laura Pels Theatre, starring one of our greatest stage actresses, Stockard Channing, as a radical ex-pat American art historian named Kristin. Her adult children converge on her country house for her birthday, which far from being a celebration of Mom is a litany of recrimination and resentment. Son Peter is a banker who despoils third world countries, much to Krsitin’s horror. Also to her horror, Peter has recently married a Midwestern girl who is a serious Christian. Kristin is, of course, just as serious an atheist. She has recently published a memoir called “Apologia,” in which she goes on and on about Giotto but doesn’t mention her sons. Her refusal to accept what her fierce political determination has done to her family forms the core of the play.

Channing is witty, supercilious and ferocious as Kristin, and there is strong supporting work from Hugh Dancy, who plays both sons and from John Tillinger as an elderly gay friend always ready with a bon mot.

I also enjoyed Sharr White’s The True, produced by the New Group at the Signature Center, another play with a terrific central female role. She is Dorothea “Polly” Noonan, a behind the scenes manipulator in Albany politics fighting for the re-election of the Governor even as other political operatives want to replace him and think it’s time for her to go. Edie Falco was phenomenal in this great role, and although the play has now closed reportedly it’s moving to Broadway, so look for it to resurface there, if not this season then next.

BERNHARDT/HAMLET. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.

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

WHAT THE CONSTITUTION MEANS TO ME. NY Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th St.

TICKETS: 212-460-5475

APOLOGIA. Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St.

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

THE TRUE. Alas, closed 

 

“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” 30 October 2018

 

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 Ferryman, Girl from the North Country, The Nap, Summer and Black Light. 

Three imports from London, all hits last season, have opened in New York, Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman (at the Jacobs Theatre), Richard Bean’s The Nap (at the Friedman) and Conor MacPherson’s Girl from the North Country (at the Public Theater). Butterworth, an Englishman, has spun a tale about the Northern Irish troubles; MacPherson, an Irishman, has set his play in Depression-era Duluth Minnesota. The Nap I can only describe as a dark farce, which sounds like an oxymoron but it isn’t. The Ferryman features the London cast, whereas the actros in Girl from the North Country are Americans. The cast of The Nap is mix-and-match., though mostly American.

The Ferryman takes place in 1981, during the hunger strike led by Bobby Sands, and focuses on a farmer and former IRA soldier named Quinn Carney whose brother Seamus disappeared 10 years ago but whose body has just been discovered in a bog – with a bullet hole to the head. Quinn has a large family, which includes a depressed wife, an aunt who goes in and out of  dementia, another aunt who’s an anti-English radical whose brother was murdered by the English, several children and Seamus’ wife Caitlin, who for 10 years has held out the hope that her husband will return and to whom Quinn is strongly attracted (the feeling is mutual), and Caitlin’s son Oisin. A leader of the Irish Republican Army, the sinister Mr. Muldoon, wants Quinn to shut up about who might have murdered Seamus. If he doesn’t, he’ll wind up just like his brother. 

The Ferryman clocks in at over 3 hours, but it never drags as so much is going on. There are 22 actors, one baby, one live goose and one live rabbit. Beautifully-directed by Sam Mendes, it features a uniformly outstanding cast headed by Paddy Considine as Quinn and Laura Donnelly as Caitlin.

The Ferryman is one of the greatest plays of this century, and not to be missed.

I also enjoyed Girl from the North Country, though not as much as I did The Ferryman. It’s set in a boarding house, and is about the denizens therein. Songs by Bob Dylan are incorporated throughout. They are beautifully orchestrated by Simon Hale; but they seem rather arbitrary. Play stops, insert song, play resumes. It’s been wonderfully directed by the playwright, though, and there are terrific performances by the likes of Stephen Bogardus, Mare Willingham and David Pittu, though I didn’t get Willingham’s character. She’s the wife of the guy who runs the boarding house (Bogardus), who alternates between lucidity and catatonia.

You might enjoy this if you love Bob Dylan’s songs; but for me the play itself seemed rather flat.

You can’t describe The Nap as “flat.” It’s about a champion snooker player (snooker is a variant on pool, very popular in Britain) named Dylan Spokes who gets, well, snookered by a one-armed con artist named Waxy Bush, a formerly male gangster who’s had a sex change operation and is now a woman. Waxy has accomplices, include two bogus cops, Dylan’s own mother and a slick con man who poses as Mom’s Irish boyfriend. The con involves a bet Wazy has made for Dylan to lose in the fourth frame of the championship match. Dylan takes snooker very seriously and refuses – until Waxy threatens his mom. We see Dylan on a screen in the fourth frame, against a guy who, it turns out, is an actual snooker champion.

Alexandra Billings, an actual transgender performer, is sensational as Waxy and Ben Schnetzer is wonderful as Dylan. There is also strong supporting work from Thomas Jay Ryan (one of Waxy’s accomplices) John Ellison Conleee (as Dylan’s ne’er-do-well Dad, Johanna Day (as his mum) and the beauteous Heather Lind, heretofore best known for playing Shakespeare in Central Park, as part of the con who poses as a female detective who used to be a pole dancer.

The costumes by Kaye Voyce are amusingly spot-on, and the direction by Daniel Sullivan is absolutely delightful.

I promise you a very good time at The Nap.

I finally caught up with Summer, the bio-musical about disco diva Donna Summer, conceived and directed by Des McAnuff  at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, a holdover from last season which lost out in the Tony Roulette but which has managed to hold on anyway. This is an amazing achievement, but I’m not surprised as the show shines with disco glitz without ever being tacky and is wonderfully performed by three actresses, Storm Lever, Ariana DeBose and LaChanze, who portray Summer at various stages of her life.

I wasn’t much of a disco fan in its era, but I have to admit the music is infectious and all of Summer’s hits are here, such as “Heaven Knows,” “On the Radio,”  “Bad Girls,” “She Works Hard for the Money,” and “Bad Girls.”

The direction is first-rate, as is the choreography by Sergio Trujillo.

Even if you are not a disco fan, I think you will enjoy Summer.

Speaking of divas, there’s another one lighting up the stage at the Greenwich House Theatre in Black Light, featuring a transvestite performer named Jomana Jones, book and songs by Daniel Alexander Jones who, it turns out, is the one and only Jomana Jones. Jones’ telling of “Jomana’s” story is very compelling, as is his performance, backed up by two wonderful singers, Trevor Bachman and Vuyo Sotashe, who are just about the gayest gay boys you’ll ever see.

I expected the audience to be mostly gay men, but on the night I attended there were a lot of straight people, couples mostly, who seemed to really enjoy themselves. Black Light is not for everyone, but if you are in the mood for Something Completely Different, you couldn’t do better than to hie yourself down to the Greenwich House Theatre.

THE FERRYMAN. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W. 45th St.

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

GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY.  Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.

Tickets: www.publictheater.org/tickets

THE NAP. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St,

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

SUMMER. Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 W. 46th St.

Tickets: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-653-8000

BLACK LIGHT. Greenwich House Theatre, 27 Barrow St.

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

“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” 5 September 2018

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 STRAIGHT WHITE MEN, GETTIN’ THE BAND BACK TOGETHER, HEAD OVER HEELS, PRETTY WOMAN, SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ, DAYS TO COME, LESS THAN 50% and DESPERATE MEASURES.

I’ve been hearing a lot lately about Young Jean Lee, whose Straight White Men has opened on Broadway at the Helen Hayes Theatre, but this is the first play of hers I have seen; so I was curious to see if she lived up to all the hype. I would say, no.

Full disclosure: I am a straight white man, so maybe I was uncomfortable with the fact that Lee makes my tribe look rather silly. Basically, this is a sitcom-style play about a family consisting of three brothers, who get together with their father every Christmas. What little plot there is consists of the attempts by two of the brothers to figure out why the third, who lives with Dear Old Dad, isn’t making much of his life.

As you enter the theatre, you are blasted by ear-splitting noise-with-a-beat. Two women, bizarrely-costumed, are going around passing out ear plugs, which work pretty well in preventing serious damage to your ears. The women then go up onstage and do an intro wherein we learn that, in fact, they are transgender, and one of them is a Native American, thus touching two important bases in our ever more politically correct theatre. They then appear throughout during scene changes. I guess they are meant to provide ironic detachment from the proceedings, as well as to make this seem as if it is not really a realistic play (which it is), realism being so out of fashion these days, at least in the not for profit theatre, where Straight White Men originated (4 years ago, at the Public Theater), but this comes across as merely silly.

While I applaud that fact that a play by an Asian American woman has made it to Broadway, I would say this one is eminently-missable.

As is Gettin’ the Band Back Together, at the Belasco Theatre for another 9 days. This is a rather vapid musical about a guy named Mitch who loses his job on Wall Street and moves back to Jersey with his mom, who is about to lose her house to foreclosure. Years ago, Mitch had a rock group which won a local battle of the Bands contest. The band which came in second was led by a slimy character who has since become very successful in real estate and, in fact, is foreclosing on Mom’s house. His one failure in life was losing out to Mitch’s group, so he challenges Mitch to, in effect, a duel. Both guys will get their bands back together. If Mitch’s group triumphs at the battle of the bands once again, the bad guy will cancel the foreclosure.

 

It was difficult for me to ascertain just who the producers felt was this show’s audience. It tries to both celebrate and poke fun at Jersey Culture, but they can’t have it both ways. That said, this is expertly directed by John Rando and features several fine performances. Most notably by Brandon Williams as the villainous Tygen Billows, a slimy character whom he plays to the hilt.

Head Over Heels, at the Hudson Theatre is an odd hybrid, a combination of a pastoral poem by Elizabethan poet Sir Phillip Sydney and songs by the 80’s rock group the Go-Go’s. The plot, involving the attempt by a poor shepherd to court a princess, is pretty inane. The shepherd poses as an Amazon, in a costume which makes him look like Wonder Woman, in order to be near her, while her older sister falls in love with a woman. There’s even a transgender goddess in the mix! Again: who’s the audience for this sort of thing? That said, like Gettin’ the Band Back Together, this show is very well done, and features fine performances throughout, but even with the Go-Gos’ fine songs, Head Over Heels comes across as pretty lame.

Lest you think I am just a dyspeptic old fart, I did see some musicals I quite enjoyed. At the head of the list is Pretty Woman, at the Nederlander Theatre, a musical-ization of the film which made Julia Roberts a star. This could have come across as tacky, but the book by the late Garry Marshall (who wrote the screenplay) and JF Lawton is superbly crafted and the direction by Jerry Mitchell (also the choreographer) is first-rate. Andy Karl imbues Edward (Richard Gere in the movie) with loads of charm and charisma, making a rather creepy character sympathetic, and Samantha Barks turns in a star-is-born performance as Vivian, the prostitute played by Julia Roberts. The songs, by Bryan Adams and Jim Valliance, are terrific, particularly as sung by performers of the caliber of Karl and Barks. Eric Anderson has a fine dual turn as Happy Man, sort of a narrator, and the concierge of the Beverly Hills hotel where much of the action takes place, and Orfeh is equally fine as the prostitute who is Vivian’s best friend.

I had a great time at Pretty Woman.

As I did at the revival of the Lieber and Stoller revue Smokey Joe’s Café at Stage 42, formerly the much under-booked Little Shubert, which features a wonderful ensemble of singer/dancers who stop the show several times with hits that just keep on comin’, such as “Dance with Me,” “Kansas City,” “Poison Ivy,” “On Broadway” and “Spanish Harlem,” staged with much aplomb by director/choreographer Joshua Bergasse.

I couldn’t help but reflect, though, on the stark contrast between pop songs then and now. Maybe I am indeed an Old Fart now, but I wonder if there will be similar revues 50 years from now of contemporary pop music, which I consider to be mostly junk.

I am surprised that in general critical comments on Days to Come, Mint Theatre’s revival of a Lillian Hellman play from the 1930s which flopped on Broadway haven’t been more positive. I found the play a fascinating artifact from a time when people were starting to realize that the game is rigged against the little guy (sound familiar?). It’s about a strike against a brush factory owed by a well-meaning but naïve man who hires replacement workers, only to find out that they are actually thugs employed by a notorious strike-breaker. There is a subplot involving the businessman’s unhappy wife and an “outside agitator” brought in by the union to help organize the strike. I think maybe that the original audience (as well as the critics) for Days to Come expected more of a Waiting for Lefty-style left-wing polemic, whereas Hellman gave credence to both sides of the labor/business divide.

Former Pearl Theatre Co., Artistic Director JT Sullivan has done a fine job of directing, and his cast is uniformly excellent. I particularly enjoyed Roderick Hill as the labor organizer, Janie Brookshire as the unhappy wife who just may be falling for him and Pearl Theatre stalwart Dan Daily, one of our finest classical actors in the Philip Bosco mold, who licks his chops with the role of the slick but slimy strike-breaker.

I enjoyed Days to Come, as did the playwright who was my companion. This is Yet Another unjustly-forgotten play unearthed by Jonathan Bank, the Mint’s Artistic Director, by a great playwright.

I caught one of the last performances at 59E59 of Gianmarco Soresi’s Less than 50%, which has now closed. Soresi, who also acted in it, crafted an unconventional almost meta-theatrical romantic comedy about a guy creating a play for himself and his girlfriend, set within the context of a stand-up comedy schtick.

Although overall I enjoyed this play and the performances by Soresi and Hannah Hale as the girlfriend and partner in comedy, ultimately it began to wear thin for me.

By contrast, I thoroughly enjoyed Desperate Measures, a wild west musical romp based on Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure, which started at the York Theatre Co. last season and has transferred to New World Stages for a (hopefully) extended run. Ne’er-do-well Johnny has been sentenced to hang for killing a man. His sister Susanna, a novice nun names Sister Mary-Jo can save hi, but only if she sleeps with Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber (holy moly, whatta mouthful!). Director/choreographer Bill Castellano’s production is wonderfully witty, and the cast is first rate. New York theatre stalwart Nick Wyman is a particular delight as the lust-filled Governor.

Reportedly, this delightful show is struggling to hold on. See below as to where you can get discount tickets, then spread the word! 

Finally, we mourn the passing of three greats of the American Theatre, playwright Neil Simon, actress Carole Shelley and actor Brian Murray.

The obits for Mr. Simon mention his many Broadway successes, until the Broadway critics decided that comedy belongs on television, not the stage. What they all failed to mention was how popular Mr. Simon’s plays still are in the amateur theatre. Most community theatres have done just about all his plays over the years, and high schools often do plays of his which did not succeed on Broadway, such as THE GOOD DOCTOR, GOD’S FAVORITE and FOOLS. Although I worked for Samuel French, his publisher/licensor for many years, he never came in so I never met him. I did run into him at a performance of the most recent Broadway production of  WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF? But he was pretty decrepit by then. To his credit. Mr. Simon attended the theatre regularly. In his words, he wanted to see what the competition was.

Carole Shelley had a wonderfully eccentric quality in her acting, much like that of her contemporaries Maggie Smith and Rosemary Harris. In fact, when Ms. Smith left the cast of Peter Shaffer’s LETTICE AND LOVAGE, it was Ms. Shelley who was tapped to replace her. She had a distinguished career in the classical theatre but she rarely did film or television. That’s her as one of the Pigeon sisters in the film of “The Odd Couple.” She was a true Grande Dame of the theatre, and will be sorely missed.

As will Mr. Murray, a South African actor who came over here with the RSC production of ROSENCRANTZ AND GUILDENSTERN ARE DEAD and stayed, becoming a naturalized U.S. citizen. He started out as a leading man whose many memorable performances included Charlie Now in Hugh Leonard’s DA, but as he got older he morphed into a much in demand character actor, with memorable turns as Dogberry in TWELFTH NIGHT and the title role in the Irish Rep revival of DA. He was also a fine director, and I have fond memories of a production of Coward’s BLITHE SPIRIT he directed on Broadway, with Richard Chamberlain, Judith Ivey and Geraldine Page as Madame Arcati.

STRAIGHT WHITE MEN. Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 W. 44th St

Tickets: 212-239-6200 or 800-543-4835

GETTIN’ THE BAND BACK TOGETHER. Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St.

Tickets: 212-239-6200 or 800-543-4835

HEAD OVER HEELS. Hudson Theatre, 139-141 W. 44th St.

Tickets: http://www.thehudsonbroadway.com/whatson/head-over-heels/

PRETTY WOMAN. Nederlander Theatre, 208 W. 41st St.

Tickets: 212-239-6200 or 800-543-4835

SMOKEY JOE’S CAFÉ. Stage 42, 422 W.42nd St.

Tickets: 212-239-6200 or 800-543-4835

DAYS TO COME. Beckett Theatre, 410 W.St

Tickets: 212-239-6200 or 800-543-4835

LESS THAN 50% 59E59, 59 E. 59th St. Alas, closed.

DESPERATE MEASURES. New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St.

Tickets: 212-239-6200 or 800-543-4835. For discount tickets, call 212 947-8844    or go to www.telechargeoffers.com. Use discount code DPLSP1

 

“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 May 2018

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 MEAN GIRLS, HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD, CAROUSEL, THREE TALL WOMEN, TRAVESTIES, SAINT JOAN, MLIMA’S TALE and A BRIEF HISTORY OF WOMEN.

I wasn’t sure what to expect at Mean Girls, the new musical at the August Wilson Theatre, as I have not seen the film. Turns out, it’s about social pressures in a high school and focuses on a new girl who’s been living in Africa with her biologist parents, who decide to move back to the U.S., enrolling their daughter Cady in what I take to be a typical high school these days, full of back-stabbing cliques, the most powerful of which is led by a ruthless girl named Regina There are, however, two kids who stand aside from it all, Damian and Janis, who befriend Cady when everyone else has ostracized her, and they hatch a plot to bring Regina down by having Cady infiltrate her clique. She does, but begins to morph into another Regina.

Tina Fey’s adaptation of her film is really delightful, and is the best part of the show. The songs (music by Jeff Richmond, lyrics by Nell Benjamin) are not as good, but there are a couple of them that stand out. Casey Nicholaw’s direction and choreography are mighty fine, and the performers are terrific – most notably, Erika Henningsen as Cady and Taylor Louderman as Regina, who is horrifyingly good. I also enjoyed Ashley Park and Kate Rockwell as Regina’s acolytes and, particularly, Grey Henson and Barrett Wilbert Weed as Damian and Janis, the two kids who befriend Cady. Damian is a jolly gay guy, Janis an artsy type, and Henson and Weed are great fun.

Mean Girls is not exactly for sentient adults, but if it achieves a long run it will be huge in high schools, right up there with Grease and Bye, Bye, Birdie.

I somehow missed the Harry Potter phenomenon (haven’t read the books, didn’t see the movies), so I went to Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, at the Lyric Theatre, as a total neophyte. I was bowled over.

Harry, who has married the sister of his Hogwarts chum Ron Weasley, is employed at the Ministry of Magic, run by Hermione, who has married Ron, now a shopkeeper who sells jokes, ermioneHand as this two-part play begins Harry, now 38, is sending his son Albus, after Albus Dumbledore, Hogwarts’ headmaster when Harry was a student there (Albus’ middle name is Severus, after Snape) off to Hogwarts. Albus is a surly, rebellious teenager, deeply resentful of having to live up to his famous father. Fortunately, he makes a friend at Hogwarts, who helps him cope. This is Scorpius Malfoy, the son of Harry’s nemesis at Hogwarts, Draco Malfoy. The two of them hatch a plan to make their own reputations, by traveling back in time, using an illicit device they steal from the Ministry of Magic, to prevent the evil Lord Voldemort from inadvertently killing a boy when he was trying to kill Harry. Although they are unsuccessful in their efforts, they screw up the time continuum, and when they arrive back to the present, they find that the present is now a totalitarian state ruled by Voldemort. Will Albus and Scorpius somehow be able to

undo the damage they have done?

 

Jack Thorne’s script, based on a scenario by J.K. Rowling and John Tiffany, is enthralling, though extremely convoluted. With the epic scope of myth. I was helped to follow it enormously by the extensive program notes detailing the plot of all the Harry Potter books.

As for the production, directed by Tiffany, it’s absolutely astonishing, with one amazing special effect after another. All the actors are outstanding, but special kudos most go to Anthony Boyle, whose Scorpius Malfoy practically steals the show.

Reportedly, the show is sold out for months. I’m not surprised. Yes, tickets are expensive; but this one is really worth it.

This just in: Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has won the Outer Critics Circle’s Best New Broadway Play Award. It will almost certainly win the Tony Award in several categories, including Best New Play. Meanwhile, it was not even nominated by the Drama Desk for Best New Play. I understand that the DD honors both Broadway and Off Broadway in the same categories, but traditionally they have six nominees per category. In the Best Play category, they have five. Which flabbergasts me.

The new production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Carousel, at the Imperial Theatre, directed by Jack O’Brien, is splendid. A black actor, Joshua Henry, has been cast as the ne’er-do-well carnival barker Billy Bigelow, which makes perfect sense as Billy is a social outsider, and Henry is outstanding, with a beautiful bass voice and an enormous amount of charisma. Jessie Mueller is a perfect Julie Jordan, and opera diva Renée Fleming is wonderful as Nettie. Her rendition of “You’ll Never Walk alone” will lift up your soul. Lindsay Mendez is delightful as Julie’s saucy friend Carrie, as is Alexander Geminiani as Mr, Snow, and Amar Ramasar, principal dancer with the New York City Ballet, turns out to be a fine actor as well as the evil Jigger.

But the real star of the show is Justin Peck, the Resident Choreographer of the New York City Ballet, whose dances are wonderful. Jonathan Tunick’s new orchestrations enhance the choreography, making this Carousel for more dance-heavy than other productions have been.

This is a beautiful production, well-worth seeing.

When Three Tall Women premiered, it won the Pulitzer Prize, marking Edward Albee’s recovery from years of critical disfavor. Now, we have a chance to see the play again, in an exquisite production by Joe Mantello at the Golden Theatre. The play has an unusual structure. In the first half, it’s about three different women – an old lady, her middle aged caregiver and a young woman trying to sort out the old lady’s finances. In the second half, the characters are the same woman at three stages of her life. This seems to me more of a clever gimmick than effective drama, in that the entire play is more or less comprised of exposition.

So, while I am not a fan of the play, I have to say that the cast is superb. Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalfe and Allison Pill – it doesn’t get much better that this.

The revival of Tom Stoppard’s Travesties, at the American Airlines Theatre is, like the revival of Three Tall Women, a highly cerebral play; but it’s a lot more fun than Albee’s. It’s central character and narrator, Henry Carr, played brilliantly by Tom Hollander, claims to have been the British Consul in Zurich during World War One, where his life intersected with the likes of Lenin, James Joyce and Tristan Tsara, the founder of an anti-art movement called “Dadaism.” According to Carr, he could have prevented Lenin from going to Russia to take over the revolution, which would have changed the course of history. In fact, Carr is a highly unreliable, daffy narrator.

Loaded with wild puns and limericks, mixed with multiple references to The Importance of Being Earnest (the only thing that’s true is that Carr appeared as Algernon in a production of Wilde’s farce directed by Joyce, after which Carr sued Joyce for the cost of a pair of trousers and Joyce sued Carr for the cost of unsold tickets), Travesties is an intellectual roller coaster ride which manages to encapsulate the chaos of the 20th Century in the mind of one slightly demented man.

Patrick Marber’s production is perfectly paced, and his cast first rate. Warning, though: if you don’t know The Importance of Being Earnest, you’ll probably miss a lot of the fun.

Any time one gets to see a production of a play by George Bernard Shaw, it’s a must-see, and the current revival of Saint Joan, at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, is no exception. As always with Shaw, it’s the ideas that crackle. As an atheist, one would not expect him to accept Joan’s divine visions at face value, of course. What interests him is Joan the revolutionary. She had to be burnt, he says, because she posed a threat to the establishment – both religious and secular.

Daniel Sullivan has set the play on a bare stage against what appears to be an enormous, gleaming carillon, designed by Scott Pask. His cast is excellent, by and large, although I just don’t think Condola Rashad cuts it in the title role, particularly in the first act, when she’s supposed to inspire the French to defeat the English.

 

Lynn Nottage’s Mlima’s Tale, at the Public Theater, is a gripping drama about the African ivory trade whose central character in an elephant, brilliantly embodied by Sahr Ngaujah. Trade in ivory has been made illegal, but that doesn’t stop poachers from killing Mlima, or traders from figuring a way to game the corrupt government to get his tusks out of the country.

 

Nottage’s language is very beautiful and powerful, and the cast, under Jo Bonney’s inventive direction, is wonderful, all playing multiple roles except for Ngaujah. Meticulously researched but not ponderously so, Mlima’s Tale is one of the high points of this season. See it if you can.

Any time there’s a new play by Alan Ayckbourn, it’s also a must-see. Such is the case with A Brief History of Women, at 59E59, though the play is not so much about women as it is about a house, in this case an English manor, which morphs into a school, an arts centre and, finally a hotel. The play is actually four interrelated one acts, tied together by a central character named Anthony Spates, who starts out as a part-time servant at the manor, becomes a teacher, then an arts administrator and finally, a retired hotel manager filling in for the day. Antony Eden is perfectly understated as Spates.

Ayckbourn’s production lurches brilliantly from pathos to farce and back again, and his actors, all from his company at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough, are wonderful.

See this one if you can – it’s great.

MEAN GIRLS. August Wilson Theatre, 245 W. 52nd St.

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

HARRY POTTER AND THE CURSED CHILD. Lyric Theatre, 214 W. 43rd St.

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

CAROUSEL. Imperial Theatre, 249 W. 45th St.

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

THREE TALL WOMEN. John Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.

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

TRAVESTIES. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.

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

SAINT JOAN. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.

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

MLIMA’S TALE. Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.

Tickets: www.publictheater.org or 212-967-7555

A BRIEF HISTORY OF WOMEN. 59E59. 59 E. 59th St.

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

 

“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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2018 Humana Festival

 

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, usually brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York; but in this column, Larry reports on the 2018 Humana Festival.

Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Humana Festival is always one of the high points of my year. I have missed only two festivals since I started going in 1980. This year, I saw 5 plays. It is always tempting to rank the plays one sees at Humana as if this were a horse race – win, place, show – but I always try to respond to each as an individual production rather than as part of a vast bill. Still, one can’t help but have a favorite, just as one can’t help designating one the Festival bomb.

The festival began with a panel discussion featuring The Kilroys, an organization which promotes the production of plays by women which have not yet been produced. They must have been ecstatic to see that 4 of the 5 Main Event plays were by women, two of them women “of color,” as apparently being “of color” is now a given precedence when they choose their annual list. I know this because I had the honor of being a Kilroys nominator but was given the boot when I protested that this policy was racist. What I thought was a stimulating debate ensued, at the end of which I was accused of being an “aggrieved white male” and a card-carrying member of Trump nation, which outraged me as I have been a tireless champion of women playwrights all my life. I sent them a list, playwrights such as Tina Howe, Shirley Lauro, Jane Martin (back to her start when she was definitely a woman), Theresa Rebeck and scores of others – all of whom were first published by Samuel French because of me – and I included many plays by women “of color” in the anthologies I have edited for Smith and Kraus and for Applause, such as Lynn Nottage, Elaine Romero, Fernanda Coppel, Anne García Romero, Brigette Wimberly and several others. I told my correspondent to ask any of these playwrights if they think I am an aggrieved white male.

There was also an interminable keynote address delivered by Anne Bogart, who ATL thinks is a genius (as for me, I say that the emperor has no clothes), and the annual presentation of the Steinberg Awards, administered by the American Theatre Critics Association, who awarded their top prize to The Book of Will by Lauren Gunderson, about the heroic effort by members of the King’s Men to preserve the late William Shakespeare’s plays for posterity. The Wolf at the End of the Block by Ike Holter and Cry It Out by Molly Smith Metzler were runners up. Airness by Chelsea Marcantel won the Elizabeth Osborne Award, presented by Theatre Communications Group.

My favorite play (and, I think, the Festival audience’s) was Leah Nanako Winkler’s God Said This, a realistic mixed-race family drama. The Mom and Dad are James and Masako. Much of the play takes place in a hospital, where Masako is undergoing chemotherapy for cancer. Her two daughters, Sophie and Hiro, spend a lot of time with her, as does husband James when he’s not at an AA meeting. James has miraculously recovered from liver disease and the family is hoping for a similar miracle with Mom. Sophie is a born-again Christian, whereas Hiro is a thorough cynic. The scenes are broken up by James’ AA speeches. The final scene is, we think, another one of these, but James is actually delivering a eulogy at Masako’s funeral, during which the couple’s first meeting is dramatized. This is very moving, and beautifully staged.

Director Morgan Gould’s production was exquisite, and her cast first-rate. The play just won the prestigious Yale Drama Series Prize and will be produced by Primary Stages in New York next season.

I also enjoyed Deborah Stein’s Marginal Loss, about a financial services company trying to reestablish itself after the 9/11 tragedy, in which it lost most of its work force. They are in a warehouse in New Jersey, with one computer and one phone line. A temp has been hired to assist, and she quickly becomes very valuable as, gradually, they make contact with their customers and resume trading. Actors Theatre of Louisville’s Associate Artistic Director Meredith McDonough’s staging was crisp, and her actors were terrific. I particularly enjoyed Carla Buren as the temp, Margaret, who becomes an adept trader.

Mara Nelson-Greenberg’s Do You Feel Anger? was an absurdist comedy about business, as an empathy coach has been hired to do workshops with the employees, all of whom are extremely difficult. It’s as if the coach, Sofia, has fallen down the rabbit hole. The play was wildly funny, though it gradually petered out as it was really a one-joke concept until a surprising, rather forced, violent denouement, but the actors were hilarious.

In Susan Soon He Stanton’s We, the Invisibles the playwright, played by Rinabeth Apostol, interviewed various workers at a luxury boutique hotel where she worked for 10 years, as well as several guests. One of the most significant guests who appeared in the play is Dominique Strauss-Kahn, the former head of the International Monetary Fund, who was charged with raping a housekeeper but was acquitted by undermining the victim’s credibility. I doubt that the playwright interviewed him, but he came across as a truly slimy character who made Donald Trump look like a saint.

An intrepid case of 8 played multiple roles (with the exception of Apostol) and they were all terrific under Dámaso Robriguez’ slick, very inventive direction. Particularly good wss Rebecca S’Manga Frank, who invested the rape victim with a quiet dignity.

Finally, Mark Schultz’ Evocation to Visible Appearance, which was the bomb of the festival as far as I was concerned. Its central character was a teenager who may or may not be pregnant by her now-ex boyfriend. She hooked up with a very strange guy who was a Satanic punk rocker. I knew I was in trouble when I entered the theatre and was instructed to grab a packet of earplugs, which I needed whenever this guy screamed his “songs,” which were beyond terrible.

The set was negligible, with a vast junk pile spilling off the front of the stage.

Les Waters, ATL’s outgoing Artistic Director, commissioned and then directed the play. What he saw in it is beyond comprehension.

“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” 4 April 2018

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 FROZEN, THE BAND’S VISIT, ROCKTOPIA, DIDO OF IDAHO and LATER LIFE.

Frozen, the stage version of the hit Disney film at the St. James Theatre, looks like it will be an even bigger hit, with a phenomenal advance sale. The question is, does it deliver the goods for those who loved the movie?

Well, it’s a spectacular visual production, with astonishing special effects by Jeremy Chernick. The charming book by Jennifer Lee, based on her screenplay, tells the now-familiar story of a princess from the Frozen North born with the ability to make it even more, well, frozen. Robert and Kristin-Anderson Lopez have added several new songs, most of which are lovely but a couple of which are pretty silly and add nothing to the story (there’s a guy who runs an inn and a sauna way up in the mountains who has a ridiculous song called “Hygge,” sort of a frozen equivalent of “Hakuna Matata,” and then people come dancing out of his sauna in nude body stockings waving branches of leaves around in a sort of fan dance, which is truly ludicrous.

Still, I enjoyed this. The two leads, Caissie Levy (Elsa) and Patti Murin (her sister Anna) are delightful, and Levy nails the show’s most famous song, “Let it Go.” Michael Grandage’s direction is inventive, and he has assembled a strong supporting cast, including Cagney’s Robert Creighton as the weasly Weselton and  Greg Hildreth as Olaf, the snowman, done as a puppet a la The Lion King.

The night I was there, I saw hordes of little girls with their mommies, many of them wearing Elsa dresses, while the teeny-boppers wore outfits with snowflakes on them. Is this another Lion King? Well, only in that it will probably run as long; but, yes, it will please those of you who loved the movie.

As for me, I much preferred The Band’s Visit, a transfer from the Atlantic Theatre Co. now running at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre. It’s about an Egyptian band who have come to Israel to perform at a Muslim arts center, who wind up in the wrong town where they have to spend the night, and the town’s Israeli citizens take them in. Think of this as a sort of Middle Eastern Come from Away.

Itamar Moses’ book is just beautiful, as are David Yazbek’s songs. The show ends with a performance by the band, and their music is fantastic, sort of jazz with a Middle Eastern flair. I’d say they stop the show, except the show is over by this point.

The band’s director, Tewliq, was played originally by Tony Shalhoub, but he’s left the show to be replaced as the band’s conductor by Dariush Kazani, who is very touching, as is Katrina Lenk as a café owner who finds herself attracted to Tewliq for the all-too-brief time the band has in her town before they leave for the right town the next morning.

I’d also say, don’t miss it.

Don’t go to Rocktopia, at the Broadway Theatre, expecting a Broadway musical. It’s a concert which melds rock, classical music and opera, often very inventively, and the singers are phenomenal. There’s also an onstage chorus, the New York Contemporary Choir, which adds much to the overall effect. There are several solo musicians including blonde sprite Mairead Nesbitt, a founding member of the group Celtic Woman, who wows the crowd more than once. In fact, there are several stop-the-show moments. The video design by Michael Stiller and Austin Switser is phenomenal, and adds much to the overall experience.

If you prefer a rock concert to a Broadway musical, this one’s for you; but I like a good musical and I loved it.

I did see two plays which I also enjoyed, a new one by Abby Rosebrock called Dido of Idaho, at Ensemble Studio Theatre and a revival of the late A.R. Gurney’s Later Life, at the Harold Clurman Theatre, produced by the always-excellent Keen Co.

Dido of Idaho is a comedy about a female musicologist named Nora who’s having an affair with a married man who claims he plans to leave his wife (sure…). What they have in common is a passion for Purcell’s opera Dido and Aeneas and a passion, for, well, sex. She’s also a drunk. She passes out in her lover’s apartment when would should arrive but the wife, Crystal. The two women bond until, that is, Crystal finds out her new friend is having an affair with her husband, at which point she beats the crap out of her. Nora is pretty dinged up and her life is a mess, so she goes home to her mother, with whom she has talked on the phone throughout the play. There is a Big Reveal, though, as we find out that all is not as it seemed.

Lydia Khosh is wonderful as Nora, and the playwright herself turns in a fine turn as Crystal. Also good is Dahlia Davi as the mysterious mom.

This is an auspicious debut by a fine young playwright and actress.

The late A.R. Gurney has long been one of my favorite playwrights, and it was quite a pleasure to see his Later Life. I saw the original production about 25 years ago, and Keen’s production is just as good. The play is about a middle-aged man named Austin and woman named Sally at a dinner party in Boston. He’s divorced, she’s separated. She met him years before in Greece, when they were both young, and much of the first half of this 90-minute play consists of him trying to guess the circumstances of their first meeting. They were both attracted to each other, but he broke it off because he was convinced that something terrible was going to happen to him. She wants to know, did it? Also in the play are two actors who play a multitude of intruders to the terrace where the play is set. Liam Craig and Jodie Markell are delightful in all their roles and the two leads, Laurence Lau and Garrick, invest their roles with a poignant charm.

Later Life is Yet Another reminder of what a wonderful playwright Gurney was.

FROZEN. St. James Theatre, 246 W. 44th St.

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

THE BAND’S VISIT. Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St.

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

ROCKTOPIA. Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway

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

DIDO OF IDAHO. Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 W. 52nd St.

Tickets: ensemblestudiotheatre.org

LATER LIFE. Harold Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.

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

 

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

                                                                                      — George F. Will 

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

                                                                                    — Theodore Roosevelt

 

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“On the Aisle with Larry” 31 March 2018

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 JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA, GOOD FOR OTTO, THE LOW ROAD, KINGS, DOGS OF RWANDA, BABETTE’S FEAST and THE SIGNATURE PROJECT.

You have until this weekend to catch Jerry Springer: The Opera, a wild, profane and extremely funny send-up of “The Jerry Springer Show” produced by The New Group at the Signature Center. Produced originally in London 13 years ago. It was deemed way too raunchy for Broadway. Then The Book of Mormon happened.

The first act is pretty much a typical Springer show, full of weirdos and misfits willing to abase themselves for their 5 minutes of fame, at the end of which Springer is shot by a disgruntled ex-employee. Where could this go after that (you might ask)? The answer is, Hell, where Jerry is tormented by the Devil, played with, well, devilish glee by Will Swenson (who plays the murdering employee in the first act. I saw Matt McGrath as Springer, who took over for the run’s extension from Terrence Mann. He’s fine, but he still looks like a kid, albeit with gray in his hair. Swenson, on the other hand, is wonderful, as you might expect, and the ensemble cast is phenomenal.

Our top director of comedy, John Rando, has outdone himself here, and the book and lyrics by Richard Thomas are hilarious, and the music by Stewart Lee and Thomas is one wonderful song after another.

David Rabe’s Good for Otto, also at the Signature Center and also produced by the New Group, is set at a mental health center in the Berkshires, focusing on patients who are receiving treatment from two psychiatrists, played by Ed Harris and Amy Madigan, who must contend with their challenging patients and the mental health bureaucracy. While there is not much in the way of plot, the various character threads are very compelling, and there are wonderful performances by the likes of F. Murray Abraham, Laura Esterman and, especially, Mark Linn-Baker, who plays a middle-aged retarded man who is obsessed with his pet hamster, Otto, who may be terminally ill; and, as you might expect, Harris and Madigan are superb.

The reviews I read haven’t been very good, but I found this play very compelling.

Also terrific are two plays at the Public Theater, Bruce Norris’ The Low Road and Sarah Burgess’ Kings. The Low Road is an epic drama about American capitalism, set in the mid-18th Century, narrated by the Scottish economist Adam Smith, whose The Wealth of Nations is capitalism’s foundational text. Norris explores the many contradictions of unrestrained capitalism by focusing on the career of a poor foundling determined to succeed, willing to stop at nothing, including murder. Rarely do we get to see a play with such a large cast. Kings is about the corrosive influence of money in American Politics. It’s central character is a recently elected, crusading Congresswoman determined to change the System. Set against her are two lobbyists (one of whom decides to join he in her crusade) and a powerful business-as-usual Senator. Eisa Davis is wonderful as the Congresswoman, and the always-excellent Zach Grenier is delightfully smarmy as the Senator.

Dogs of Rwanda, a monodrama by Sean Christopher Lewis at Urban Stages, is a narrated tale wherein a man tells of his personal experience with the Rwandan genocide while he was a teenaged missionary. He’s published a book about this horrific experience and has been contacted by a survivor who has criticized him for not telling the whole story. Dan Hodge is mighty fine as Our Narrator, but there is no escaping the fact that this is a story, not a play, albeit a most compelling one.

Babette’s Feast, at Theatre at St. Clement’s, based on an Izak Dinesen short story, is a tale of the denizens of a small Norwegian town far to the north, called Berlevåg, who have little to do but worship God. Then, a refugee from the Paris Commune massacre arrives, named Babette, whose family have all been killed, sent there by a soldier who visited there long ago, because he remembers that everyone there is kind so he figures she will be safe. She is taken in by the daughters of the late Dean of the church and becomes their housekeeper for many years. Then, word comes that she has won the 15,000 francs in the French lottery. Rather than use her windfall to return to Paris, she stays in Berlevåg and decides to cook a grand feast for everyone in the town. It turns out that Babette was chef at the finest restaurant in Paris, the Café Americaine, and her feast is truly scrumptious costing every sou of the 15,000 francs.

Karen Conrood has employed a very inventive non-realistic approach, in which the actors mime the props and play both male and female roles, in Dana Botez’ all-black costumes, which look Jacobean, giving the town the look of a place that time forgot (which, in fact, it is). The actors are all superb, particularly Michelle Hurst, who invests Babette with a quiet dignity.

Finally, The Signature Project, at the Sheen Center, is a brilliant monologue by an Irish artist named Patrick Dunning, who has been travelling around the U.S. with an incredible painting incorporating hundreds of thousands of signatures, using the color spectrum we can see and all the rest of the spectrum we can’t. When he shines an ultraviolet and ultrared light on it, we see amazing things we couldn’t see with the naked eye. There is also Irish dancing and songs by his brother, who appears in the play via skype from Ireland to sing a duet with the artist.

I have to say, The Signature Project is one of the most amazing things I have seen in quite a while.

JERRY SPRINGER: THE OPERA. Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.

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

GOOD FOR OTTO. Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.

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

THE LOW ROAD. Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.

Tickets: www.publictheater.org

KINGS. Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.

Tickets: www.publictheater.org

DOGS OF RWANDA. Urban Stages, 259 W. 30th St.

Tickets: www.urbanstages.org

BABETTE’S FEAST. Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 W. 46th St.

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

THE SIGNATURE PROJECT. Sheen Center, 18 Bleecker St.

Tickets: www.signatureproject.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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