Archive for January, 2010

“On the Aisle with Larry” 23 January 2010

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry tells you about SMUDGE, LOVE LOSS AND WHAT I WORE, ZERO HOUR, LITTLE GEM and PRESENT LAUGHTER.

Rachel Axler’s Smudge, at the Women’s Project’s Julia Miles Theatre, is another impressive production from this company, which seems to be thriving under the leadership of Artistic Director Julia Crosby. It’s beautifully directed (by Pam MacKinnon) and wonderfully acted. But, for me, it was awfully hard to watch.

The play is a comedy on a horrifying subject. A young couple has a baby, who is horribly deformed, and we observe their attempts to cope with this terrible situation. Nick does it by pretending there is nothing wrong; whereas Colby copes by pretending that there is no monster baby in her home. Gradually, both go rather bonkers, before retreating into imaginative ruminations about the future life of their daughter.

Cassie Beck and Greg Keller are tremendously compelling as Mommy and Daddy, and Brian Spambati contributes several hilarious turns as Nick’s bombastic brother, Pete.

If you can take the subject matter, this one is worth checking out.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore has been running a while at the Westside Theatre. I finally caught up with it last week, and had a very good time. Nora and Delia Ephron have adapted Ilene Beckerman’s book of interviews with women about their struggles with fashion. Five women sit on stools with scripts on stands, performing various roles. I was one of the few men in the audience. I felt like a spy.

As for said audience, it was yucking it up with guffaws of recognition as Katie Finneran, Michele Lee, Debra Monk, Ellis Ross and Casey Wilson enlightened us about the various travails women experience in their quest to find the right shoes, handbag, dress, etc. If you’re a guy you surely have experienced this with the women in your life, so you might find the show even funnier than did the ladies in the audience.

The above fivesome are in the show through 31 January, to be replaced by Carol Kane, Janeane Garofalo, Caroline Rhea and others.

Zero Hour has also been running a while, at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, and I finally caught up with this, too. It’s a one-man show, written and performed by Jim Brochu, who looks and sounds astonishingly like Zero Mostel. We are in Z’s studio, his sanctum sanctorum where he engages in his first love, painting, when an interviewer (unseen) from the New York Times arrives. Z proceeds to tell the guy his life story, much of which focuses on his travails when he was black-listed. He gets pretty worked up about this, and a lot of shouting goes on – but that’s the way Mostel was, always larger than life.

We also get wonderful anecdotes about A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Fiddler on the Roof, even as we learn to our surprise and dismay that Mostel hated The Producers; though why, he doesn’t say.

Brochu is absolutely wonderful in the show. Highly recommended!

Elaine Murphy’s Little Gem, at the Flea Theatre, is an import from last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Carol Tambor, an American producer, has made it an annual rite to import what she feels was the best Fringe production. Here, she presents Ireland’s Guna Nua Theatre Company in the play, which consists of interlocking monologues by three generations of women – a grandmother, her daughter and the daughter’s daughter. These stories are most compelling; but they are just that – stories. I am starting to get a bit concerned that I am seeing so many plays these days which are narrated. This seems to be a genre particularly popular with Irish writers (Conor McPherson comes to mind). What usually makes these narrative plays work is the acting, and the actors here do not disappoint. They are simply wonderful.

Little Gem appears to be something of a hard-to-get ticket. It’s worth the extra effort, though.

Finally, I quite enjoyed Roundabout’s revival of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter, at the American Airlines Theatre. In fact, of the three productions I have seen of this show-biz comedy, this one is much the best.

Victor Garber stars as Garry Essendine, an aging London matinee idol. Garry is always “on” – even when he is at home, and as he prepares to go off on a tour of Africa he must contend with a feisty secretary, his devoted ex-wife, an ingénue who is in love with him, the wife of his producer who throws herself at him and an almost demented playwright who is a fanatic fan.

Nicholas Martin, the director, keeps this craziness running along smoothly and wittily, and the cast is just great; starting with Garber, who is having great fun with this role of an actor who is always acting. Also wonderful is Harriet Harris as his secretary, and Brooks Ashmanskas is hilarious as the demented playwright/fan.

Present Laughter is great fun. Don’t miss it!

SMUDGE. Julia Miles Theatre, 424 W. 55th St.
TICKETS: 212-757-3900
LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE. Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43rd St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com. 212-239-6200
ZERO HOUR. Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 W. 46th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com. 212-239-6200
LITTLE GEM. Flea Theatre, 41 White St.
TICKETS: 212-352-3101
PRESENT LAUGHTER. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: 212-719-1300

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

—– George F. Will

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“On the Aisle with Larry” — 23 January 2010

Lawrence Harbison,The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry tells you about SMUDGE, LOVE LOSS AND WHAT I WORE, ZERO HOUR, LITTLE GEM and PRESENT LAUGHTER.

Rachel Axler’s Smudge, at the Women’s Project’s Julia Miles Theatre, is another impressive production from this company, which seems to be thriving under the leadership of Artistic Director Julia Crosby. It’s beautifully directed (by Pam MacKinnon) and wonderfully acted. But, for me, it was awfully hard to watch.

The play is a comedy on a horrifying subject. A young couple has a baby, who is horribly deformed, and we observe their attempts to cope with this terrible situation. Nick does it by pretending there is nothing wrong; whereas Colby copes by pretending that there is no monster baby in her home. Gradually, both go rather bonkers, before retreating into imaginative ruminations about the future life of their daughter.

Cassie Beck and Greg Keller are tremendously compelling as the Mommy and Daddy, and Brian Spambati contributes several hilarious turns as Nick’s bombastic brother, Pete.

If you can take the subject matter, this one is worth checking out.

Love, Loss, and What I Wore has been running a while at the Westside Theatre. I finally caught up with it last week, and had a very good time. Nora and Delia Ephron have adapted Ilene Beckerman’s book of interviews with women about their struggles with fashion. Five women sit on stools with scripts on stands, performing various roles. I was one of the few men in the audience. I felt like a spy.

As for said audience, it was yucking it up with guffaws of recognition as Katie Finneran, Michele Lee, Debra Monk, Ellis Ross and Casey Wilson enlightened us about the various travails women experience in their quest to find the right shoes, handbag, dress, etc. If you’re a guy you surely have experienced this with the women in your life, so you might find the show even funnier than did the ladies in the audience.

The above fivesome are in the show through 31 January, to be replaced by Carol Kane, Janeane Garofalo, Caroline Rhea and others.

Zero Hour has also been running a while, at the Theatre at St. Clement’s, and I finally caught up with this, too. It’s a one-man show, written and performed by Jim Brochu, who looks and sounds astonishingly like Zero Mostel. We are in Z’s studio, his sanctum sanctorum where he engages in his first love, painting, when an interviewer (unseen) from the New York Times arrives. Z proceeds to tell the guy his life story, much of which focuses on his travails when he was black-listed. He gets pretty worked up about this, and a lot of shouting goes on – but that’s the way Mostel was, always larger than life.

We also get wonderful anecdotes about A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum and Fiddler on the Roof, even as we learn to our surprise and dismay that Mostel hated The Producers; though why, he doesn’t say.

Brochu is absolutely wonderful in the show. Highly recommended!

Elaine Murphy’s Little Gem, at the Flea Theatre, is an import from last year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Carol Tambor, an American producer, has made it an annual rite to import what she feels was the best Fringe production. Here, she presents Ireland’s Guna Nua Theatre Company in the play, which consists of interlocking monologues by three generations of women – a grandmother, her daughter and the daughter’s daughter. These stories are most compelling; but they are just that – stories. I am starting to get a bit concerned that I am seeing so many plays these days which are narrated. This seems to be a genre particularly popular with Irish writers (Conor McPherson comes to mind). What usually makes these narrative plays work is the acting, and the actors here do not disappoint. They are simply wonderful.

Little Gem appears to be something of a hard-to-get ticket. It’s worth the extra effort, though.

Finally, I quite enjoyed Roundabout’s revival of Noël Coward’s Present Laughter, at the American Airlines Theatre. In fact, of the three productions I have seen of this show-biz comedy, this one is much the best.

Victor Garner stars as Garry Essendine, an aging London matinee idol. Garry is always “on” – even when he is at home, and as he prepares to go off on a tour of Africa he must contend with a feisty secretary, his devoted ex-wife, an ingénue who is in love with him, the wife of his producer who throws herself at him and an almost demented playwright who is a fanatic fan.

Nicholas Martin, the director, keeps this craziness running along smoothly and wittily, and the cast is just great; starting with Garber, who is having great fun with this role of an actor who is always acting. Also wonderful is Harriet Harris as his secretary, and Brooks Ashmanskas is hilarious as the demented playwright/fan.

Present Laughter is great fun. Don’t miss it!

SMUDGE. Julia Miles Theatre, 424 W. 55th St.
TICKETS: 212-757-3900
LOVE, LOSS AND WHAT I WORE. Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43rd
St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com. 212-239-6200
ZERO HOUR. Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 W. 46th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com. 212-239-6200
LITTLE GEM. Flea Theatre, 41 White St.
TICKETS: 212-352-3101
PRESENT LAUGHTER. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: 212-719-1300

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

—– George F. Will

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ON THE AISLE WITH LARRY — 16 January 2010

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry tells you about THIS, BRIEF ENCOUNTER, FASCINATING AIDA, PRINCES OF WACO and EARNEST IN LOVE.

Melissa James Gibson first hit the radar screen a few seasons back with what I take to be her first play, (sic), a title which made no sense to me. Anyway, she got a lot of traction with this play, and critics were impressed with her use of an unusual dramatic structure and “inventive language.” I myself was not impressed. I felt the play was boring and impenetrable. Imagine my surprise when I found her new play, This, at Playwrights Horizons, not only to be penetrable but actually entertaining and interesting, though I wouldn’t call it the best new play of the season, as did Mr. Ish in the NY Times.

There’s not much of a plot; but what there is is choice. The first part takes place at a party held by Marrell and Tom, a married couple with a baby, to which have been invited their friends Jane and Alan, and a French doctor named Jean-Pierre. Jane is a recent widow. Alan is a bitchy, alcoholic gay dude and JP has been invited as a potential New Guy for Jane. Later, Tom hits on Jane, his wife’s best friend, and begins an affair with her. Of course, the you-know-what hits the fan.

Ms. Gibson writes witty dialogue. She also writes in this new-fangled faux free verse style, even eschewing punctuation, which manages to come out sounding like good old fashioned Circle Rep realism. She, like Sarah Ruhl, seems to be heading in the direction of The R-Style, which must concern their “downtown” fans but which makes their work far more accessible to the rest of us.

Daniel Aukin’s direction was superb, and his cast excellent. I particularly enjoyed Julianne Nicholson’s performance as Jane. She had a lost quality which I found most appealing.

This will have closed by the time you read this. I hope you saw it, and am sorry if you missed it. Now about that title. This? Could have just as easily been “That.” Or (this). What’s up with this meaningless titling???

I appear to be one of the few people I know who has not seen the David Lean/Noël Coward film “Brief Encounter,” so I went to St. Anne’s Warehouse, which was presenting a British company called Kneehigh Theatre’s production of Emma Rice’s stage adaptation of Brief Encounter with no preconceptions. My friend Tondelayo, who loves the film, felt that Ms. Rice had deconstructed it/sent it up, almost in the manner of Ann Bogart, although she agreed with me that, unlike a typical Bogart/SITI event, the production was terrific. My companion SJ, who also loves the film, loved what Ms. Rice did with it, both as adaptor and director.

As for me, this was one brilliant piece of theatre. Whether or not it had much to do with the film.

Ms. Rice made terrific use of film, occasionally having her actors step right into the screen, which I found delightful. Her actors also performed several songs by Coward before, during and after the show, which was also delightful. And her pair of lovers, Laura and Alec (Celia Johnston and Trevor Howard in the film, Hannah Yelland and Tristan Sturrock here), were just wonderful.

Kneehigh Theatre operates in Cornwall, but occasionally brings its production to London. Few of us ever get to Cornwall; but next time you’re in London if Kneehigh is there don’t miss them.

FASCINATING AIDA was back recently, at 59 E. 59 Theatres. I somehow missed them before, so I took this opportunity to find out what all the buzz was about. They are an all-female British comedy group which specializes in satiric songs, which they write themselves, and which were for the most part very witty. These reminded me a lot of good old Tom Lehrer-style songs. For variety, they threw in two “serious” songs both of which, for me, were the highpoints of the evening.

I assume they’ll be back. They are definitely a don’t-miss.

Robert Askins’ Princes of Waco which is, I think, still running is a rather improbable drama about a troubled teen who falls in with a middle-aged man who turns out to support himself by petty thievery. He sets the kid up, and steals his girlfriend. When the kid gets out of the slammer, he’s boiling for revenge.

There was some good writing here, and I loved the actors – particularly, Megan Tusing as the girl and Christine Farrell as a bartender who’s seen everything and doesn’t give a damn about any of it.

Finally, Irish Rep is presenting a fine production of the Anne Croswell/Lee Pockriss musical adaptation of The Importance of Being Earnest, Earnest in Love, which is a hit and which has been extended. Amazingly, Ms Croswell, who wrote the book, has managed to include all of Wilde’s greatest lines while managing to find space for the songs, which are wonderfully witty.

My problem with the show was only that the actors were so wonderful, I wished I could see them in The Importance of Being Earnest. Beth Fowler, in particular, is a terrific Lady Bracknell, a steely-eyed battleaxe in the manner of Judi Dench in the recent film of the play, though she doesn’t do much with the performance-defining handbag line, and Peter Maloney is the best Chasuble I have ever seen. Well, I had another problem, too. As usual, director Charlotte Moore completely ignores the small audience to the side of the stage, directing as if she were in a traditional proscenium theatre, which she is not. This was fine for those of us sitting in the main section; but those sitting off to the side spent the evening looking at the actors’ backs.

So – by all means don’t miss this charming production; but if they try to sell you a seat on the side, tell them no thanks, you want to look at the actors’ faces, not their backs.

THIS. Playwrights Horizons. Alas, closed.
BRIEF ENCOUNTER. St. Ann’s Warehouse, 39 Water St., Brooklyn.
TICKETS: Alas, all remaining performances are sold out, but a
small number of “Rush” seats are available starting
one hour before the performance. You have to get
there and stand in line.
FASCINATING AIDA. 59 E. 59. Alas, closed
PRINCES OF WACO. Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 W. 52nd St.
TICKETS: www. ensemblestudiotheatre.org. 866-811-4111
EARNEST IN LOVE. Irish Repertory Theatre, 132. W. 22nd St.
TICKETS: 212-727-2737

“Who is this guy?”

For over thirty years Lawrence Harbison was in charge of new play acquisition for Samuel French, Inc., during which time his work on behalf of playwrights resulted in the first publication of such subsequent luminaries as Jane Martin, Don Nigro, Tina Howe, Theresa Rebeck, José Rivera, William Mastrosimone, Charles Fuller, and Ken Ludwig, among many others; and the acquisition of musicals such as Smoke of the Mountain, A…My Name Is Alice, Little Shop of Horrors and Three Guys Naked from the Waist Down. He is a now a free-lance editor, primarily for Smith and Kraus, Inc., for whom he edits annual anthologies of best plays by new playwrights and women playwrights, best ten-minute plays and best monologues and scenes for men and for women. For many years he wrote a weekly column on his adventures in the theater for two Manhattan Newspapers, the Chelsea Clinton News and The Westsider. His new column, “On the Aisle with Larry,” is a weekly feature at www.smithandkraus.com.

He works with individual playwrights to help them develop their plays (see his website, www.playfixer.com). He has also served as literary manager or literary consultant for several theatres, such as Urban Stages and American Jewish Theatre. He is a member of both the Outer Critics Circle and the Drama Desk. He has served many times over the years as a judge and commentator for various national play contests and lectures regularly at colleges and universities. He holds a B.A. from Kenyon College and an M.A. from the University of Michigan.

He is currently working on a book, Masters of the Contemporary American Drama.

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

—– George F. Will

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