Archive for March, 2010

“On the Aisle with Larry” 31 March 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 GIRLS IN TROUBLE, NEXT FALL, LENIN’S EMBALMERS, ALICE IN SLASHERLAND and CHING CHONG CHINAMAN. 

Jonathan Reynolds, who has lately been making quite a name for himself as a proponent of right wing politics in the theatre, has outdone himself with his latest, Girls in Trouble at the Flea Theatre. As we all know, women have an inalienable right to choose abortion, and anyone who takes on that viewpoint is at best a crank and at worst The Enemy. Reynolds has done just that in Girls in Trouble, and has been fielding angry verbal brickbats tossed at him by audience members at talk-backs after the performance. Talk about daring to walk into the lion’s den! 

The Flea likes to produce provocative plays. This one’s a doozy. It’s actually three inter-related one-acts. In the first a college student, whose father is a high official in the Kennedy administration, is driving a girl he has impregnated to get an (illegal) abortion. He gets lost, and when he finally arrives the abortionist, a black woman with a young daughter, has to rush things, with tragic consequences. In the second act, the abortionist’s daughter, now grown up, is performing at what appears to be a poetry slam, and reveals that she has gotten pregnant but plans to have an abortion just to stick it to her boyfriend, who has gone cold on her. The final act is the Main Event. In it, a TV chef who mixes politics in with her recipes finds herself confronted by a radical pro-life proponent, who gains entrance to her home by posing as the doctor who is performing an abortion for Our Heroine, who has too much going on in her life right now to deal with having and raising another child. The “doctor” turns out to be the woman from the poetry slam. What ensues is a knock-down drag-out debate about the ethics of abortion. Many people will consider the mere fact that this is even being debated onstage an outrage. Not me. I like a good argument. I only wish this part of Reynolds’ play were better— I found its resolution hard to believe. That said, Jim Simpson’s production is excellent, and the actors are terrific. 

Geoffrey Nauffts’ Next Fall has transferred from Off Broadway to Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre. God bless Elton John and his “partner,” David Furnish, who put up a big chunk of the dough for this transfer. Next Fall is a beautifully-written play about a gay odd couple, Adam and Luke. Adam is 40; Luke’s in his early 20s. Nothing unusual about that. What is unusual is that Luke is a sincere Christian, whereas Adam’s an atheist. Whoever heard of a gay play which takes Christianity seriously? 

When the play begins, Luke is in a coma after being hit by a car. His mother and father are at the hospital, along with friends Holly and Brandon. Adam’s there, too. Mom and Dad don’t know that Luke is gay. He never got around to coming out. While everyone waits for news about Luke, Nauffts takes us back in time to scenes which show when Luke and Adam met, when they fell in love, when they moved in together. These scenes develop the Christian vs. Atheist agon, as Adam finds much of what Luke believes hard to fathom. 

Naked Angels’ Off Broadway production, beautifully directed by Sheryl Kaller, has transferred intact, sans stars (just really good stage actors like Cotter Smith as Luke’s Dad, Connie Ray as his Mom and Patrick Breen as Adam). It’s a don’t-miss. Support the American Play on Broadway! 

For that matter, support the American play Off Broadway, too, where there have been several new openings of note, such as Vern Thiessen’s Lenin’s Embalmers at Ensemble Studio Theatre, a mordant farce (is that an oxymoron?) about the two Soviet scientists who came up with  way to embalm the instigator of the Russian Revolution but who subsequently ran afoul of Stalin and wound up in the Gulag. 

Billy Carden’s production starts out almost as pure Marx Brothers, and then proceeds to get darker and darker. It’s brilliant, as are Zach Grenier and Scott Sowers as the two embalmers, Richmond Hoxie as Stalin and Peter Maloney as Lenin, who’s dead but who pops up from time to time, often to tell pithy Soviet jokes. 

This one’s a don’t-miss.

As is Qui Nguyen’s latest, Alice in Slasherland, at Here. Nguyen specializes in campy send-ups of pop culture in the tradition of the Ridiculous Theatre Co., though Nguyen demonstrates time and again that camp doesn’t necessarily have to be gay. This is camp for straight people – young straight people, weaned on comic books and slasher and kung-fu films. 

Director Robert Ross Parker perfectly captures Nguyen’s outrageous style, as does his talented cast, several of whom I have seen and enjoyed before in other Nguyen plays, produced by his company, Vampire Cowboys. 

Alice in Slasherland is Great Fun. Even geezers like me can dig it. 

Sadly, Lauren Yee’s Ching Chong Chinaman, produced by Pan Asian Rep at the West End Theatre, is not so much fun. It’s about a Chinese American family which has a Chinese immigrant living with them, imported by teenaged Upton to do his math homework so he can focus on an online video game he’s playing 24/7. 

Lee’s style reminded me of Nguyen’s – very broad and campy. Unfortunately, May Adrales has directed the play as if it were a bad TV sitcom, when the outrageousness such as that employed by a Robert Ross Parker would have been more effective. 

Pan Asian Rep is the granddaddy of Asian American theatre in New York. They’ve been around for over 30 years. Since then, other companies such as Ma-Yi and NAATCO have come along, and I would say their productions make Pan Asian’s look like amateur night – except that would give a bad name to the amateurs. There is a deep talent pool here of Asian actors. Howsacome Pan Asian Rep never seems to tap into it?

 

GIRLS IN TROUBLE. Flea Theatre, 41 White Street.

            TICKETS: www.theflea.org or 212-352-3101

NEXT FALL. Helen Hayes Theatre. 240 W. 44th St.

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

LENIN’S EMBALMERS. Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 W. 52nd St.

            TICKETS: www.ensemblestudiotheatre.org or 866-811-4111

ALICE IN SLASHERLAND. Here, 145 Sixth Ave.

            TICKETS: www.here.org or 212-352-3101

CHING CHONG CHINAMAN. West End Theatre, 263 W. 86th St.

            TICKETS: 212-352-3101.

 

 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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“On the Aisle With Larry” 24 March 2009

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in the theatre world. This week, Larry tells you about the HUMANA FESTIVAL.

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During a break in the Humana Festival of New American Plays, presented each spring by Actors Theatre of Louisville, Marc Masterson, ATL’s Artistic Director, conducted a panel discussion on the topic of ensemble-created theatre. Panelists included representatives from the companies which presented this kind of work at the Festival (the Rude Mechs from Texas and refugees from the defunct Theatre de la Jeune Lune, from Minneapolis), a guy who books it and a guy who funds it. During the discussion, Masterson announced that it is his intention to give a third of the slots at the Festival each year to this kind of theatre. From his point of view, this is an exciting new way of creating theatrical events; from the point of view of the vast majority of Festival attendees, these are wasted slots. 

Theatre is ephemeral enough as it is without presenting work which has been created by a company and which is specific to its members. What often results is theatre about the process of creating theatre, as was the case with the Rude Mechs’ The Method Gun, which tried hard to satirize theatre folks’ fascination with methodology, usually of one guru. In this case, a group of actors are trying to keep the memory of their deceased acting teacher alive by performing some of her acting exercises while they rehearse a version of A Streetcar Named Desire which eliminates the characters of Stanley, Stella, Blanche and Mitch. I guess this was supposed to be funny; but it wound up being mostly inane. About halfway through, two male members of the company walked in completely naked, each with a bunch of helium-filled balloons attached to his male member. Why? Nobody knows … 

Former Jeune Lune Artistic Director Dominique Serrand presented another ensemble work, Fissures (Lost and Found), which appeared to be about the fallibility of memory. It consisted of scenes and monologues in which the actors (I cannot call them “characters”) revealed, over and over again, that we often misremember the past. Oh really? Do tell…

This non-play was occasionally funny, but quickly become tedious once the audience realized that, in Gertrude Stein’s immortal phrase, there was no there there. 

I find it most unfortunate that a festival which was created to foster the new American play is now slotting non-plays like The Method Gun and Fissures. Fortunately, these ensemble events almost always are short. Unfortunately, they never have intermissions. So, a word to the wise: unless you are the sort of theatergoer who actually likes this kind of theatre, be sure to ask for a seat near the exit door, so you can ditch unobtrusively. 

On the plus-side, at least Masterson didn’t bring back Anne (The Emperor has no clothes) Bogart and her SHITTI Company this year. Thank heavens for small favors … 

Of the actual plays presented at Humana this year, most everybody liked Scott Organ’s Phoenix and Deborah Zoe Laufer’s Sirens; few liked Dan O’Brien’s The Cherry Sisters Revisited or Lisa Dillman’s Ground. The Cherry Sisters was about five sisters determined to break into Vaudeville. The problem is, they have no talent whatsoever. The play is much better in the second act, when the sisters do become successful (as Tiny Tim or Florence Foster Jenkins were successful), because then it turns dark. The first act is about how talentless  they are. It is very difficult to make deliberately bad performance anything other than Just Plain Bad, and director Andrew Leynse just couldn’t solve this problem with O’Brien’s play. He wasn’t helped much by his cast, none of whom were particularly effective. 

Ground was an interesting though flawed play about illegal immigration. Well – if it were about that it would have been much more interesting. It’s about a young woman who comes home to her recently-deceased father’s pecan farm on the Mexico/U.S. border. Chuy, a longtime farm hand, has been running the farm, and running illegals through the farm, much as dear old dead Dad did. Set against him is the leader of a vigilante group willing to take any measures to prevent illegals from getting across the border and who is trying to get control of the land, and a local border patrol cop of Mexican ancestry who goes by the gringo name “Carl” instead of his real name, Carlos. He’s just trying to do his job. This all leads to a tragic denouement. The problem with the play is that Ms. Dillman has made the dead Dad’s daughter the central character, but she’s not particularly interesting as she’s rather passive. The real central character should have been Chuy, who is shot accidentally by Coop, the right-winger vigilante. Then the play could have risen to the realm of a powerful tragedy, though it would have to have had a better production than the one Mr. Masterson has given it on the awkward, ugly, cheapie set by Scott Bradley. 

Phoenix was a two-hander about a man and woman who have a one-night stand. She gets pregnant. She is an unsympathetic character fairly oozing negativity and pessimism. He is a Nice Guy and the Eternal Optimist. She wants to get an abortion, which as we all know is solely her choice to make. He bends over backwards to be supportive; but eventually tries to persuade her not to do it which, of course, ends what could have been a sweet love story. Or does it? Organ not only subtly undermines the irrefutability of a Woman’s Right to Choose but asks some troubling questions about why the Contemporary Woman thinks carrying a baby to term, giving birth and committing to a family is just Too Much Of A Bummer. In other words, Phoenix was, for me, refreshingly politically incorrect. It was also very well-directed by Aaron Posner, with wonderful performances by Suli Holum and Trey Lyford. 

The Festival’s smash this year was Ms. Laufer’s Sirens, about a middle-aged couple, Sam and Rose Abrams, who don’t have much of a marriage anymore. She’s a ball-buster; he’s a wimp. Sam is a one-hit-wonder songwriter whose one hit was a song about Rose written in his 20s, which has paid the bills ever since. In search of inspiration, he has lately been trolling the internet looking to meet young women. Well, Sam and Rose book an Aegean cruise, during which Sam hears beautiful, ethereal singing (which sounds a lot like his famous song). He jumps overboard, and winds up on the Island of the Siren, whose song lures men to their deaths, as we know from the Odyssey. Sam has two choices – he can either have passionate sex with the Siren, after which he’ll die, or he can eschew the sex and starve to death. Well, it turns out that the Siren has become obsessed with a Game-Boy which washed up on her beach, and she plays it 24/7 – when she’s not luring men to their deaths. When its batteries die, she lets Sam escape in order to bring her more batteries. Back home, the widow Rose is preparing for a date with her college honey Richard, when who should show up but Sam. She goes off on the date anyway, dressed as a hot teenager. Richard shows up at their rendezvous looking exactly the same as he did 25 or 30 years ago (he’s played by a young actor who looks 20 but walks like he’s 50). Will Rose come to her senses? Will Sam stand up to her? Will the Siren ever get her batteries? 

Ms. Laufer has a wonderful theatrical imagination and a fine comic sense. Casey Stangl’s direction was delightfully inventive, and Mimi Lieber and Brian Russell were hilarious as Rose and Sam. Also terrific were Lindsey Wochley in three roles (including the Siren); and incredibly handsome young Ben Hollandsworth was a hoot as Richard. 

The Humana Festival is always great fun, even if all the plays aren’t all that great. Let us pray that Marc Masterson comes to his senses and stops giving away those valuable Humana slots to artsy-fartsy nonsense.

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“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” 18 March 2009

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 YANK,BRACK’S LAST BACHELOR PARTY, A LIE OF THE MIND, A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE  and EQUIVOCATION.

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Yank! a musical by David Zellnik (book & lyrics) and Joseph Zellnick (music) at the York Theatre Co., has a decidedly different take on the so-called “Greatest Generation.” It’s about gays in the military during World War II and focuses on a young gay man who finds the journal of a kindred spirit who served in the army in the Pacific arena in WWII, a young man named Stu who goes in sexually indeterminate but who realizes the truth about himself when he falls in love with a hunk named Mitch (also indeterminate) and then meets a sexually aggressive reporter named Artie who seduces him and then hires him to be his photographer so they can trot around interviewing and photographing servicemen and, of course, have sex all over the Pacific. 

My companion of the evening, a playwright who happens to be a Club Member himself, was a little uncomfortable with the stereotypical gay characters and felt that the show reinforced the belief that all gay guys just wanna have sex, even when they’re supposed to be doing something serious, like fighting a war; but we both agreed that the show grew stronger in the second act, when the real homophobic persecution began. 

The songs are for the most part charming, and Bobby Steggert is very winsome in the central role of Stu. Ivan Hernandez, apparently a straight guy, was totally believable as Mitch and Jeffry Denman was hilarious as the unapologetically sexually predatory Artie. 

Yank! has been extended into April and is well worth checking out – particularly if you’re a Member of the Club. 

Between acts of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler Judge Brack hosts a stag party in honor of Hedda’s husband, George Tesman. When Tesman comes home from this party, the sparks begin to fly, leading to the play’s tragic denouement. Sam Marks has envisioned what might have transpired at Brack’s soiree in his fascinating Brack’s Last Bachelor Party, produced by Babel Theatre Project at 59 E. 59 Theatre C. On hand are Brack, Tesman and Eilert Lovborg, whose manuscript Tesman finds increasingly disturbing. It’s a kind of 19th Century “Future Shock,” and every time Lovborg reads from it Tesman is projected into the future, where he sees a wife who is a miserable, unhappy woman, played by the actress who will appear as Hedda in the play’s final scene. 

If you view Hedda Gabler as a harbinger of things to come this makes perfect sense. Marks cops out, though, when he finally leaves the party and brings Tesman home to his Hedda, transforming him from a stuffy 19th Century husband to a contemporary Nice Guy, who comes home to his wife to try and work things out, when what was called for was Total War. The ending’s a cop-out. 

Nevertheless, the actors are terrific. This one is worth seeing. 

The New Group’s revival of Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind, at the Acorn Theatre, has been wildly praised, and its run is completely sold out. I appear to be the solitary dissenter. I have seen the play twice now ( I saw the original production), and I still think it is a retread of themes and characters handled better in earlier Shepard plays, with a lot of wheel-spinning. Add to this the portentous/pretentious imitation-aboriginal music by Gaines and you just have a production that plays at times almost as a parody of Shepard-ism. 

The show is much better in the second act, though, and the performances, under Ethan Hawke’s direction, are excellent. Don’t beat yourself up, though, about not being able to get in to see it. 

After announcing about five years ago that he wasn’t going to write any more plays, Martin McDonagh has changed his mind, and the result is A Behanding in Spokane, at the Schoenfeld Theatre. This, too, feels like parody; but fortunately it’s pretty damn funny. It’s about a creepy old dude who has spent 47 years travelling the country in search of his lost hand, which was severed when he was 16 by a gang of hillbillies (in Spokane???) when they held his arm on a rail as a train ran over it. 

This is an admittedly ludicrous pretense for a play; but McDonagh milks it for all it’s worth, helped enormously by Christopher Walken as the one-handed dude. I doubt if there is any other actor who could have pulled this role off, because nobody does creepy/weird better than Walken. My problem with the play is that, in the end, it really isn’t about anything. It’s a great situation, with no meaning and, hence, no payoff. 

Finally, I saw one of the best plays and productions I have seen this season – Manhattan Theatre Club’s wonderful production of Bill Cain’s fascinating Equivocation, at City Center Stage One. 

King James’ Main Man Sir Robert Cecil wants to commission William Shakespeare to write a play based on a book supposedly by the King himself about the recent failed Gunpowder Plot, in which a group of radical Papists tried to blow up Parliament. Shakespeare’s company could use the money, and they are anxious to get on the King’s good side; so Shakespeare, who has never written a contemporary play, begins by interviewing the remaining few conspirators, who are being tortured in the Tower. What he finds out about the Gunpowder Plot will surprise you, though it will be no surprise that he never writes the play, realizing that if he does he and his company will be in deep trouble. Instead, he pulls out an unfinished play about a Scottish thane who murders his way to the Kingship of Scotland, throwing in some witches (the King loves witches). This mollifies King James, and Shakespeare and the guys escape a very sticky political wicket. 

Gerry Hynes’ production of this brilliant play is brilliant as well, as are John Pankow as Shakespeare (here called “Shagspeare”), Michael Countryman as Richard Burbage and as a Jesuit priest implicated in the Plot whose ability to equivocate cannot save him, and David Furr as an actor in the company who feels he should be playing better parts, a tortured conspirator and a creepily jolly, lusty King James. 

This one’s an absolute don’t-miss.

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YANK! Theatre at St. Peter’s, 619 Lexington Ave. (Citicorp Center)            TICKETS:  www.yorktheatre.org  212-935-5820BRACK’S LAST BACHELOR PARTY. 59 E. 59 Theatres, 59 E. 59th St.

            TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com 212-279-4200

A LIE OF THE MIND. Acorn Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.

            TICKETS: SOLD OUT

A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE. Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St.

            TICKETS: www.telecharge.com 212-239-6200

EQUIVOCATION. City Center Stage One, 131 W. 55TH St.

            TICKETS: 212-581-1212

 

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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“On the Aisle with Larry” 1 March 2009

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 CLYBOURNE PARK, MEASURE FOR MEASURE, GOOD OL’ GIRLS, HARD TIMES, 4PLAY and BLIND.

 Bruce Norris, a former actor (I saw him several times at Circle Rep), has fast become one of our finest playwrights. All of his plays premiere at Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Co. and one, The Pain and the Itch, was a critical and popular success in 2006 at Playwrights Horizons, and I chose it for my annual Best New Playwrights Anthology. If you thought The Pain and the Itch was terrific, wait ‘til you get a load of his latest, Clybourne Park, which has just opened at Playwrights Horizons and which has already been extended.

Remember the Younger family from Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun? They have bought a house in an all-white Chicago neighborhood, and a member of that neighborhood’s homeowners association, Karl Lindner, visits them to try and persuade them not to go through with this. Norris has set his play in that neighborhood, in the home that the Youngers have bought. In this first act, Lindner visits the sellers, Russ and Bev, to plead with them not to sell their house to a black family. Russ will not succumb to Lindner’s arguments, not because he is all that hot to promote racial justice but because he is going more than slightly bonkers living in the house where his son has recently killed himself.

 The second act flash-forwards fifty years. Clybourne Park is now, predictably, an all-black neighborhood. As blacks moved in, whites moved out. Now, a white family has moved into the house, and plans to renovate it into a “McMansion” – which might lead to “gentrification” – i.e., more white families moving into the neighborhood, thus driving up property values and pricing out black families who live there. A black man and his wife visit the white couple to plead with them not to go thorough with their plans.

 Jeremy Shamos and Annie Parisse play Lindner and his wife in the first act, and the white couple in the second. Both are extraordinary, as is FrankWood, who plays Russ. In fact, all the actors are wonderful, under Pam MacKinnon’s fine direction.

 Don’t miss this one!

 Theatre for a New Audience has a production of Shakespeare’s Measure for Measure at the Duke Theatre. The play is generally lumped together with Shakespeare’s comedies, but it is also known as a “problem play,” an appellation I have never fully understood. Anyway, director Arin Arbus has taken a somber approach to the play, emphasizing its angry satire of Puritan hypocrisy but undercutting the comedy.

 Jefferson Mays plays Duke Vincentio, who takes a sabbatical from his power to pass in disguise amongst his people in order to learn what is really going on in Venice. He lives his trusted aide Angelo in charge, who proceeds to actually enforce the laws to their letter and turns Venice into a puritanical totalitarian dictatorship.

 Mays is terrific as the Duke, and creepy Rocco Sisto is perfectly cast as Angelo. After that, the cast is some good, some not so good. Elizabeth Waterston is OK as Isabella, the novice nun who tried to save her brother Claudio, condemned to death for committing fornication, but she is vocally rather weak. Alfredo Nasciso plays the lowlife Lucio as a goodfella, which means he is just not funny, in a sardonic role which ought to provide much mirth.

I would say, do check out Measure for Measure, though. It is a solid, if uninspired, production of a play we rarely get to see; and Mays, one of our finest stage actors, is superb.

 Good Ol’ Girls, a new musical produced by Roundabout in the Black Box, is an odd hybrid of spirited New Country songs and confessional stories. The stories are adapted by Paul Ferguson from material by Lee Smith and Jill McCorkle. The songs are by Matraca Berg and Marshall Chapman, a team of top Nashville songwriters. The show tries hard to be sort of a combination of the caustic wit of A … My Name is Alice (which premiered in this very space years and years ago) and the down-home bonhomie of Pump Boys and Dinettes, but it just winds up being something of a downer.

 The songs are terrific, but the stories are all narrative monologues, and the evening just comes to a crashing halt whenever they start up. If they were funny, they might work; but these stories are almost all about very unhappy ladies. They are mostly bummers.

 The other problem is the performers, none of whom are real country singers. Which makes the whole evening sound rather bogus. You could skip this one.

 Pearl Theatre Co., now in residence at City Center State II, has a brilliant production up and running of Stephen Jeffreys’ dramatization of Charles Dickens’ Hard Times. This seems to me an excellent choice, given the hard times we are currently experiencing.

The intrepid cast of six, under J. R. Sullivan’s inventive direction, play what seems like a cast of thousands in this story about the denizens of an industrial village in the north of England. There are the haves and the have-nots, caught in the grip repressive laws designed to keep them poor and subservient, and Dickens has a lot to say about the Industrial Age’s belief that the only things that matters are facts and figures. The novel, and the play, are an Ode to Joy, and to basic human compassion.

 The cast is uniformly wonderful. I enjoyed particularly Pearl veterans Bradford Cover, as a rapacious, soulless industrialist, T.J. Edwards as a local school teacher who believes only in the truth of facts and Sean McCall as his rebellious ne’er-do-well son.

 This one’s a don’t-miss!

 I also enjoyed the new Flying Karamazov Brothers’ goof at the Minetta Lane, called 4Play. Paul Magid, the sole original member of the group, a tall, pony-tailed Groucho of a guy, is still throwing them pins as well as he ever did, joined by three young guys who fill in ably for those Brothers now departed.

4Play is a hilarious mix of world-class juggling, goofy dancing and deliberately awful jokes. The little kids in the audience the night I attended the show loved it. These are some wild and crazy guys!

 Craig Wright’s new play, Blind, is a modern adaptation of Sophocles’ Oedipus Tyrannos. We are in the boudoir of Oedipus and Jocasta. Thebes is going to hell outside. Plagues, starvation, civil unrest – the works. Jocasta wants them to get the hell outta Dodge; Oedipus wants to stay.

 Since both characters know from the get-go that “the Gods” have brought all this misfortune on Thebes because Oedipus has killed his father and married his mother, this play lacks the climax of a tragic recognition, and is just mostly wheel-spinning until the King and Queen decide to have torrid sex on the floor, during which she blinds him and he strangles her. Kinky!

Wright’s language is in ineffective mix of the stately and the vulgar, and more than one time this leads to unintended laughs. Mostly, the two actors scream at each other. Of the two, Veanne Cox fares the best. Ordinarily cast in wry comic roles, here she displays the vocal chops and emotional depth of a fine dramatic actress. The Oedipus just comes off as a rather uninteresting juvenile.

I have often wished the Dramatists Guild would declare an Official Moratorium and modern adaptations of Greek tragedies. They never seem to work, mostly because these ancient plays have little in common with what we consider to be effective drama. Even our most abstract plays basically employ psychological realism in characterization.

Craig Wright is usually a wonderful writer, whose plays I have very much enjoyed in the past, but Blind is one of the most insufferable plays I have seen this season.

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CLYBOURNE PARK. Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.

            TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com 212-279-4200

MEASURE FOR MEASURE. Duke Theatre, 229 W. 42nd St.

            TICKETS: www.dukeon42.org  646-223-3010

GOOD OL’ GIRLS. Black Box Theatre, Harold & Miriam Steinberg Center      for  Theatre., 111 W. 46th St.

            TICKETS: www.theatremania.com 866-811-4111

HARD TIMES. City Center Stage II, 151 W. 55th St.

            TICKETS: 212-581-1212

4PLAY. Minetta Lane Theatre, 18 Minetta Lane

            TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com 212-307-4100

BLIND. Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, 224 Waverly Pl.

            TICKETS: www.smarttix.com 212-868-4444

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