Archive for August, 2009

On The Aisle with Larry – August 12, 2009

“On the Aisle with Larry”

Lawrence Harbison brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry tells you about BURN THE FLOOR, LYRIC IS WAITING, SLIPPING and SUMMER SHORTS SERIES B.

Critical opinion on BURN THE FLOOR, the new dance show at the Longacre Theatre, has been very divergent. Some have lauded the dancing, and the dancers; others have dissed it for having toured around the world for several years before coming to Broadway (in other words, without first having been vetted by New York critics), and for capitalizing on the popularity of dance shows on television such as “Dancing with the Stars,” two of whose pros are featured in Burn the Floor, anything linked to television being anathema on Broadway. As for me, what I saw on the stage of the Longacre was some of the most spectacular dancing I have ever seen on a Broadway stage.

The show, directed and choreographed by Jason Gilkison, is divided into four sections: “Inspirations,” “Things That Swing,” “The Latin Quarter,” and “Contemporary,” each incorporating a full range distinct of styles of dancing. Although there are ensemble numbers involving everybody, the dancers are paired off by country of origin for featured pas de deux. The two pros from “Dancing with the Stars” are Karina Smirnoff and Maksim Chmerkovskiy, both from the former Soviet Union, and they are incredible. All the dancers are, though. Just plain jaw-dropping.

Most of the dancing is to recorded music, but there are several numbers sung by Ricky Rojas and Rebecca Tapia, both of whom have wonderful voices.

If you love great dancing, this one’s a don’t-miss.

LYRIC IS WAITING, in Irish Rep’s basement theatre (a rental), is a short drama by Michael Puzzo about a nice enough guy who tells us about his marriage to a beautiful, passionate and dangerously crazy woman named Lyric. Much of the play is direct-address to the audience. The scenes themselves are jumbled up chronologically. We see the night the dude first met his lady love; we see him trying to save her; we see him with other babes who would have been much better for him (all played well by the charming Kelly McAndrew) and there are even scenes between Lyric and none other than Bigfoot, who looks like one of Geico’s cavemen.

This does sound rather ridiculous, I know; but Puzzo has a lot packed into his play about a man’s need to save crazy women. The performances are good. I particularly enjoyed the aforementioned Ms. McAndrew, and Lori Prince (Lyric) reminded me of several women I have known, some of whom I have dated and one or two of whom I have married. She is uncomfortably terrific.

SLIPPING, by Daniel Talbott, at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, is a gay teen angst drama about a kid named Eli who has recently moved to the midwest (squaresville) from hip San Francisco, as his dad has died and his mom, a college professor, has accepted a teaching position in Iowa. Needless to say, Eli doesn’t fit in at his new school; but in flashback scenes in San Francisco we see him not fitting in there, too. The play is bookended by scenes in a hospital room. In the last one, we realize why Eli’s there. This is one problem child.

But Eli is also very charismatic, in a Dean in “Rebel without a Cause” kinda way – particularly as played compellingly by Seth Numrich. In fact, all the actors are superb: Adam Driver as Chris, the angry, self-loathing, life-loathing boyfriend back in San Francisco; Meg Gibson as Eli’s mom and MacLeod Andrews as an Iowa boy who is more than willing to put up with loads of abuse from Eli because he has the hots for him and, in fact, just might actually love this unlovable kid. I liked Talbott’s writing, and Kirsten Kelly’s direction is terrific

Like Lyric is Waiting, Slipping is very short, very much the norm these days in plays by younger writers, who seem in general to distrust the two-act form. Why? My theory is they think it contrived; whereas a play “in one” is more real, less manipulative. Maybe, maybe not.

SUMMER SHORTS SERIES B, at 59 E. 59, is overall much better than Series A. The standout is a long-lost play by William Inge called “The Killing”, wherein a lonely man brings a guy he picked up in a bar back to his room late one night. What at first appears to be a gay pick-up play turns dark when we learn that this lonely man is terminally depressed. He doesn’t have the will to take his own life, so he asks the guy he’s brought home to do it, offering him his savings ($350) to do the deed. Will he or won’t he? If you happen to know that shortly after he wrote this play Inge committed suicide, this takes on heartbreaking poignancy, but even if not it’s a gem of a one act play, beautifully acted by Neal Huff and J.J. Kandel. As for the other plays, two are rather slight but very well-done: Carole Real’s “Don’t Say Another Word” is about a clueless guy out with his girlfriend who persists in sticking his foot deeper and deeper into his mouth (I found this amusing. A guy has to be so careful when he says anything to a woman!). Roger Hedden’s “If I Had” is about two guys who landscape rich people’s yards and the bored daughter of one of their clients, and is about a subject rarely touched on in American discourse – the fact that we are not as classless a society as we seem to think we are. Again, the actors here are mighty fine.

Keith Reddin’s “The Sin Eater” takes Sophocles’ Electra as its model, setting the myth in contemporary America. Mom has killed Dad, who’s just home from Iraq. Their daughter, who’s pissed, persuades her brother, whom she thought was dead, to kill Mom. The direction is haphazard and the acting ranges from the almost-competent to the completely amateurish. Lord, I wish the Dramatists Guild would declare an official moratorium on contemporary adaptations of ancient Greek drama!

BURN THE FLOOR. Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St.
TICKETS: 212-239-6200.
LYRIC IS WAITING. Irish Rep, 122 W. 22nd St.
TICKETS: 212-727-2737
SLIPPING. Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, 224 Waverly Place.
TICKETS: 212-868-4444.
TICKETS: 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

On the Aisle with Larry – August 4, 2009

Lawrence Harbison, the Playfixer himself, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry tells you about GIRLS NIGHT, VANITIES, SUMMER SHORTS SERIES A and WILDFLOWER.

Last week I saw not one but two off Broadway musicals about female friendship, “Girls Night” in the Downstairs Cabaret Theatre at Sofia’s and “Vanities” at Second Stage. Girls Night is what has come to be called a “jukebox musical;” Vanities has original music and has been adapted by Jack Heifner from his long-running off Broadway hit play from the 1970’s. Unlike most critics, I have nothing against “jukebox musicals,” but of the two I much preferred “Vanities.”

The premise of “Girls Night” is that a group of friends, all about 40, are having a bachelorette party at a bar for the daughter of the former queen bee of the group, who died when she was but a teenager. The dear departed, however, is there in spirit, as a ghost. She does a lot of narrating, both at the start and between numbers.

This could have been a clever, fun show if it were well-executed; but the book by Louise Roche, adapted by Betsy Kelso, is unbelievably crass and vulgar. The performances pretty much match the book. The songs are mostly disco hits of the 1970s, all about female empowerment (“I Will Survive,” “It’s Raining Men,” etc.). They are heavily amplified in this small space, and are pretty much ear-splitting. In fact, there doesn’t seem to be a sound board, so the book scenes are amplified, too. Lord have mercy.

I was one of about three men in the audience, which was a full house and which whooped and hollered and generally had a great time, which mystified me and my two female companions, both women of taste and refinement who were appalled by the show, as was I. If you are a woman with absolutely no taste whatsoever, who loves 70’s disco music, this one’s for you.

“Vanities” has pretty much gotten hammered in the press, which mystifies me as much as the audience reaction to “Girls Night.” I thought Heifner did a fine job of adapting his play about three friends who progress from teenaged innocence to jaded adulthood, and I loved the music by David Kirschenbaum. Judith Ivey has done a fine, fluid job of directing and the show features three terrific performances, by Lauren Kennedy, Sarah Stiles and Annaliese van der Pol.

Heifner has made one important change to his story, which I think was necessary to make the show work as a musical. The original play is in three scenes, the last ending in anger and recrimination. For his musical version he has tacked on a final scene in which the women meet years later at the funeral of the mother of one and patch things up, thus ending on a more upbeat note than in the play. I had no problem with this, but I think it has led some critics to accuse the show of being too sentimental, which is very much a no-no for critics, most of whom are jaded cynics. If you are a jaded cynic, by all means skip “Vanities”; but if you want a tuneful, upbeat, feel-good evening Vanities is your spoonful of sugar.

“Wildflower” by Lila Rose Kaplan, at Second Stage’s McGinn/Cazale Theatre, is a charming, sentimental comedy about a divorced mom and her quasi-disturbed teenaged son who are hanging out for the summer in a town in Colorado known for its annual Wildflower Festival. She gets a job at a local country store run by a quirky teenaged girl who is determined to lose her virginity by the fall, when she goes away to college, and who decides that the aforementioned teenaged boy is the best candidate to do the deed.

Kaplan’s writing is fresh and funny until the final, weird, melodramatic scene which seemed to me totally incongruous to the rest of the play, a real head-scratcher. But the direction by Giovanna Sardelli is excellent and the performances are all uniformly fine.

Finally, I caught Series A of this year’s Summer Shorts Festival at 59 E. 59th. By and large, I wasn’t much impressed by the play choices. There was an undramatic though somewhat engaging monologue written and performed by Nancy Giles called “Things My Afro Taught Me” about her many Bad Hair Days, a quirky comedy by John Augustine called “Death by Chocolate” which I felt went on too long and was too unfocused and a mini-musical by Skip Kennen and Bill Cunningham which was creepy in a silly sorta way. The best play of the evening is Neil LaBute’s “A Second of Pleasure,” about a couple going off for a weekend together who, it turns out, are married but not to each other. Victor Slezak and Margaret Colin are wonderful in their roles (they always are), and made this rather slight part of the LaBute oeuvre more fascinating than it really is.

Lets Hope Series B is better.

GIRLS NIGHT. Downstairs Cabaret at Sofia’s, 227 W. 46th St.
TICKETS: 212-947-9300.
VANITIES. Second Stage, 307 W. 43rd St.
TICKETS: 212-246-4422.
WILDFLOWER. McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 21262 Broadway.
TICKETS: 212-246-4422.
SUMMER SHORTS Series A. 59 E. 59th St.
TICKETS: 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