Archive for June, 2010

“On the Aisle With Larry” 24 June 2010

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York and this, week, Stratford, Canada.  This week, Larry tells you about ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST, LITTLE DOC, DIETRICH AND CHEVALIER, WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA and my visit to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival. 

The Peccadillo Theatre Company, dormant for a while, has come roaring back with a superb production of Lillian Hellman’s Another Part of the Forest, at the Theatre at St. Clement’s. I was unfamiliar with this play, as it pretty much fell into obscurity after its modest Broadway run during the 1946-1947 season, so for me this was like seeing a new play. It was a great way to end a theatrical season loaded with terrific plays by women. 

Another Part of the Forest is a prequel to Hellman’s most famous play, The Little Foxes, and deals with the dysfunctional Hubbard family, who make O’Neill’s Tyrones look like the Cleavers. The pater familias, Marcus, rules the roost with an iron hand, which extends to his frustrated wife Lavinia and his two sons, Benjamin and Oscar, who work for him in virtual indentured servitude. Regina, his daughter and the main character in The Little Foxes, is his father’s pet; but she too has her own agenda, and the seeds are sown for her titanic struggle against Benjamin and Oscar in The Little Foxes. Benjamin is continually scheming to find a way to get the old man’s money, and eventually he succeeds. 

Peccadillo’s production, beautifully directed by Dan Wackerman, makes a fine case for this play as a forgotten American classic, and the actors are just wonderful. Sherman Howard is appalling (and I mean that in a good way) as the vile Marcus, and Matthew Floyd Miller is brilliantly devious as Benjamin. 

The play runs about 3 hours but you never have the sense that it is over long. It’s a don’t-miss. 

Dan Klores’ Little Doc, at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, is a fascinating though ultimately unfilled drama about drug hustlers in 1970’s Brooklyn. Ric, the only character in the play who might escape this life, may or may not have stolen $50,000 from Manny, sort of a father figure to him. He plans to run off with the wife of his best friend, who doesn’t seem to care, to start a new life. 

The play builds to a tragic ending which, unfortunately, the playwright doesn’t supply; but if you don’t mind spending time with a bunch of despicable lowlifes, Little Doc is worth seeing, particularly for the fine performances, most notably by Adam Driver, who continues to impress me, as Rick. 

Dietrich and Chevalier, at the Theatre at St. Luke’s, is a bio-musical by Jerry Mayer about two great entertainment icons, Marlene Dietrich and Maurice Chevalier, who met in Hollywood in 1932 and carried on a love affair (though each was married to someone else), before parting. Both ran up against the Nazis. Dietrich managed to trump them, while Chevalier allowed himself to be blackmailed into performing in Paris during the German occupation, finding himself on trial for collaboration after the war ended.

 Interspersed with this fascinating story are songs closely identified with each, ably performed by Robert Cuccioli as Chevalier and Jodi Stevens as Dietrich. Neither looks much like his/her character, but they manage to embody their unique style of singing. 

This one is, I think, for theatergoers old enough to remember Maurice Chevalier and Marlene Dietrich. Younger people may wonder what the fuss over them was all about. 

The prolific Lee Blessing has a new one, at 59 E 59th’s Americas Off Broadway Festival, When We Go Upon the Sea, a “what-if” play which imagines former President George W. Bush hauled before the War Crimes Tribunal in The Hague. The play takes place in a suite in a first-class hotel the night before Bush’s trial is to begin. The concierge does everything he can to make the former president comfortable, which extends to bringing in a mysterious woman, who may or not be his wife, to provide him with torrid sex. 

Had this play been about the imagined trial, it might have been interesting. As it is, I just found it silly and distasteful, a rare misfire for this fine playwright. The actors are good, but you could give this a miss. 

Finally, I visited the Stratford Shakespeare Festival for the first time in many years, seeing two plays, As You Like It and The Tempest, both directed by Stratford’s Artistic Director Des McAnuf. As The Tempest was in previews when I saw it, I really can’t comment on it, other than to say the production stars Christopher Plummer as Prospero. Well, heck – let me just say that Plummer is predictably amazing. 

McAnuf has set the first part of As You Like It in a 1920’s fascist state. When we move into the Forest of Arden, we enter a surreal world right out of Magritte, replete with extras standing around wearing animal and flower-bush heads. McAnuf gets a little carried away with this concept, I think, but the acting is of such a high quality that it doesn’t matter. Brent Glover makes a fine Jacques, more quizzical than misanthropic, and Andrea Runge is a delight as Rosalind. 

In my opinion, all lovers of classical theatre should make the pilgrimage to Stratford at least once. It’s a lovely town, and there you’ll find the best Shakespearean productions this side of that other Stratford, across the Big Pond. 

ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST. Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 W. 46th St.

            TICKETS: 212-352-3101

LITTLE DOC. Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, 224 Waverly Place.

            TICKETS: www.smarttix.xom or 868-4444

DIETRICH AND CHEVALIER. Theatre at St. Luke’s, 308 W. 46th St.

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

WHEN WE GO UPON THE SEA. 59 E. 59 Theatres. 59 E$. 59th St.

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

Stratford Shakespeare Festival. Stratford, Ontario, Canada

            INFORMATION: www.stratfordshakespearefestival.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

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“On the Aisle with Larry” 1 June 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 RESTORATION, EVERYDAY RAPTURE, IMAGINEOCEAN, WHITE WOMAN STREET, GRACELAND and YEAR ZERO.

Restoration, Claudia Shear’s new play at NY Theatre Workshop, is about a 40-something woman who is a brilliant art restorer, hired to clean Michaelangelo’s “David” for the 500th anniversary celebration of its creation. Giulia is more than a little obsessive/compulsive about the job, so much so that she starts referring to the statue as “him” rather than as “it.” At one point in the play she actually quasi-tries to have sex with the statue. This is hilarious, by the way.

Giulia is great when she’s dealing with stone, but impossible when she’s dealing with people. Until, that is, she strikes up a friendship with the handsome security guard at the museum where she is working. In the course of the play, Giulia finishes her restoration of the statue and, just maybe, starts to come out of her shell.

Ms. Shear is perfectly cast as Giulia, no surprise as she wrote the role for herself. There is also wonderful work here from Jonathan Cake as Max, the security guard, and from Alan Mandell as Guilia’s former professor, who helped get her the job. Mandell sounds astonishingly like John Giulgud. Well, everyone in the cast is superb.

While I wouldn’t put this one in the absolutely-don’t-miss category, it’s a very enjoyable evening and well worth checking out.

As is Everyday Rapture, Sheri Rene Scott’s autobiographical musical at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre. I saw this last season at Second Stage, and I had my doubts about how it would play in this much larger theatre. These doubts were dispelled.

Ms. Scott tells the story of a girl from Kansas, raised as a Mennonite, who fell in love with singing when she was introduced to Judy Garland records by her gay cousin. Judy became a huge influence in her life, as did Fred Rogers, of all people. Ms. Scott’s medley of Mr. Rogers songs makes a case for the children’s TV icon as a homespun philosopher/poet. Although Ms. Scott is most of the show, there is also good work here from her 2-woman backup group, whom she calls the “Mennonettes,” and a hilarious section involving a teenaged boy who has posted a video of himself lip-synching to a song his idol sang in Aida. Eamon Foley practically steals the show with this embodiment of the joy of performing, and of being a true musical comedy fan.

Go – you’ll have a great time.

You’ll have a great time, too, at John Tartaglia’s Imagineocean, at New World Stages – but only if you’re there with a little kid. This is a delightful puppet show about three fish buddies who go on a treasure hunt. It has dancing jellyfish, bubbles, and water sprays. I took a three year-old, and she was enthralled. And because she had such a good time, I did too.

Sebastian Barry’s White Woman Street, at Irish Rep, is about a gang of saddle-worn train thieves on the trail to White Woman Street, a small town where their leader, O’Hara, had an experience in his youth which marked him for life. The play is a mostly-narrated western, with little dramatic action. It is set in southern Ohio, in 1918, where apparently there are still injuns and it’s still the Wild West. Ohio? 1918? And the language sounded awfully bogus to me. I kept trying to identify the metaphor in all of this, but couldn’t. I just wound up wondering, why did an Irish playwright write this? It made no sense to me, but what ultimately held me were the superb performances, most notably by Stephen Payne as O’Hara.

Irish Rep does much better when they revive old plays. Why they can’t find better contemporary Irish plays is beyond me.

Lincoln Center Theatre has a program called LCT3, in which they produce plays by “unknown” playwrights. Plans are underway to build a space for this very worthy venture up there at Lincoln Center; but for now, LCT3 is performing at the Duke Theatre, where I saw Ellen Fairey’s wonderful Graceland, about an adult brother and sister, both themselves sort of lost souls, struggling to deal with the circumstances surrounding the suicide of their father.

Marin Hinkle is wonderful as the sister, Sara, and Matt McGrath is great as her brother, Sam. Well, everyone in the cast is delightful, with special praise going to David Gelles Hurwitz as teenaged Miles. The scene where he tries to put the moves on Sara is hilarious.

I loved this play!

I also loved Michael Golamco’s Year Zero, produced by Second Stage at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, about a Cambodian woman and he younger brother, also struggling to deal with the death of a parent; in this case, their mother, who has just died of cancer. Ra, the sister, is dating a med student named Glenn who is hopelessly in love with her; but she holds a torch for neighborhood bad boy Han, a gang member who has just gotten out of prison and who is adored by Ra’s teenaged brother, Vuthy.

Will Frears’ production is just beautiful, and all the actors are great. Louis Ozawa Changchien is an extremely charismatic Han, and Mason Lee a wonderfully surly Vuthy.

This one is definitely a don’t-miss.

___________________________________________________-

RESTORATION. NY Theatre Workshop, 79 E. 4th St.

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

EVERYDAY RAPTURE. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.

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

IMAGINEOCEAN. New World Stages, 340 W. 50th St.

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

WHITE WOMAN STREET. Irish Rep, 132 W. 22nd St.

TICKETS: 212-727-2737

GRACELAND. Duke Theatre. Alas, closed.

YERO ZERO. McGinn/Cazale Theatre, 2162 Broadway

TICKETS: 212-246-4422.

“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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