Archive for November, 2010

“On the Aisle with Larry” 26 November 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 ELF, ANGELS IN AMERICA, COLIN QUINN:  LONG STORY SHORT, THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, ELLING, AFTER THE REVOLUTION, THAT HOPEY CHANGEY THING, THERE ARE NO MORE BIG SECRETS, TIGERS BE STILL, SPIRIT CONTROL and MIDDLETOWN.

I didn’t see the movie Elf when it first came out but I caught up with it recently on DVD on the recommendation of my son. It’s a charming film, brimming with droll wit and Christmas good cheer. The musical version of Elf, at the Hirschfeld Theatre, keeps all of the cheer but excises most of the drollery. It’s good family fun as long as you don’t go expecting it to be like the movie.

The story concerns one Buddy, a human who’s raised at the North Pole to think he’s one of Santa’s elves. When he realizes he’s human, he decides to travel to New York to find his father, a man named Walter Hobbs who is an executive with a children’s book publisher, whose office is in the Empire State Building and who doesn’t know he exists. Dad is a workaholic sourpuss, but this does not deter our hero from trying to win his love. Nobody believes in The Meaning of Christmas in NYC (can you believe it?); but gradually, Our Hero changes all of that, and finds romance as well.

The book writers, Thomas Meehan and Bob Martin, follow the plot of the film pretty much, though two favorite characters have been cut – Papa Elf, who supplies most of the exposition in the film, and the vile children’s book author who it is hoped by Hobbs will save his skin by letting his company publish his new book. I missed them both. The songs (music by Matthew Sklar, lyrics by Chad Beguelin) are cheerful and fun.

As for the performers, Sebastian Arcelus makes a fine Buddy, and there is excellent work from Matthew Gumley, as Buddy’s half brother Michael, and from Mark Jacoby as Buddy’s Dad. Jacoby looks and sounds astonishingly like James Caan in the film. Beth Leavel is rather wasted in the role of Buddy’s step-mom Emily. She’s a wonderfully quirky actress who doesn’t get much chance to break out into quirkiness. Don’t get me wrong, though, she’s fine in this rather generic role.

Elf is a charming, feel-good show. If you’re in the mood for this kind of thing, by all means go.

Signature Theatre Company is celebrating the work of Tony Kushner this season, with revivals of Angels in America and Kushner’s translation of Corneille’s The Illusion. Angels in America is running now, but good luck scoring a ticket as the entire limited run is sold out.

Kushner’s epic drama about America in the throes of the AIDS crisis still packs a punch, particularly as we suffer through the re-ascendancy of Reaganite conservativism. I was glad to have the chance to see the play again, though Michael Greif’s production didn’t make me forget George C. Woolf’s original on Broadway.

All of the actors are good, but two crucial roles seemed to me to be miscast. Bill Heck plays Joe Pitt, the conservative Mormon who’s a protégé of the evil Roy Cohn, and Zoe Kazan plays his wife Harper. Heck is a tall handsome hunk who reads mid-30s; Kazan, a sprite who reads about 16. In this production, Harper looks more like Joe’s daughter than his wife. Also, I had a hard time believing that Joe is gay, because Heck is so straight in his manner, unlike David Marshall Grant in the Broadway production. Robin Bartlett is even better than was Kathleen Chalfant in her several roles, the most important of which are Hannah (Joe’s mother) and Ethel Rosenberg. The real surprise for me was Frank Wood’s Roy Cohn. I’ve usually seen him in mild-mannered roles; here, he’s maniacally demonic. I do wish he had better diction, though. He barks out his lines like he’s a machine gun, and too much of them are unintelligible. Still, he’s fantastic – if you can understand what he’s saying.  Christian Borle is terrific as Prior Walter, as is Zachary Quinto as Louis. Borle looks astonishingly like Joe Mantello, who played Louis in the Broadway production. I was startled when I saw him for the first time, and assumed they had cast a Mantello lookalike as Louis, only to realize that in fact he was playing Prior.

Most of Greif’s staging is wonderful; but he botches the climax of the first part, Millenium Approaches. The Angel is rolled in looking like the dry cleaning, and this climactic scene is played stage left, when it certainly should be center stage. I don’t usually tell an artist what he should have done; but this was just terrible.

If this extends, maybe you’ll be able to score a ticket. With all its flaws, this is overall a fine production of one of the greatest American plays.

Colin Quinn:  Long Story Short started out last summer Off Broadway, where it was a sold-out hit, and has transferred to Broadway’s Helen Hayes Theatre. It’s basically about 80 minutes of stand-up comedy in which Quinn comments caustically on the history of ideas. I was unfamiliar with Quinn, so I had no preconceptions. He’s essentially a working class bloke, the sort of guy you might meet at a bar. He’s pretty funny; but, like Frank Wood he has terrible diction and speaks in machine gun bursts, so all too much of his act is unintelligible. And he’s miked!

My main problem with this show was that I just don’t think it belongs in a Broadway theatre, even one as small as the Helen Hayes, at Broadway prices. But if you’re a Quinn fan, by all means go. If you’re not, you could skip this one.

Don’t, however, miss Daniel Sullivan’s wonderful production of Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice, starring Al Pacino as Shylock. This is one of the greatest Shakespearean productions I’ve ever seen, and Pacino is, truly, the Jew which Shakespeare drew. He’s unforgettable, as is Lily Rabe as Portia.

Elling, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, is an import from London, where it won the Olivier Award for Best New Comedy. Brendan Fraser and Denis O’Hare star as two lunatics who first share a bedroom in an asylum, and later a flat in the outside world.

Fraser and O’Hare are hilarious, as is Jennifer Coolidge is various roles; but it’s not enough to save this loopy, terribly thin play, which is basically just a plotless series of episodes.

You could give this one a miss, unless you just can’t bear to miss Fraser and O’Hare.

This seems to be Open Season on lefties, for some reason. Amy Herzog’s  After the Revolution, at Playwrights Horizons, is a terrific drama about the adult children and grandchildren of a man who was blacklisted in the 1950s. His granddaughter, Emma, has established a foundation is his name to fight government oppression. She’s the last to know, though, that Grandpa actually was a spy for the Soviets, which means everything she has been brought up to believe is a lie.

Carolyn Cantor’s production is excellent overall, but the set just doesn’t work. It’s basically a living room which is supposed to represent different living rooms. No good. The actors, however, are great. My faves were Katherine Powell as Emma and Peter Friedman as her father, Ben. Friedman is one of our greatest stage actors, and is here seen in one of his finest roles.

My only quibble with the play is the anticlimactic last scene, wherein Emma tells her step-grandmother what she has decided to do about her foundation. The climax of the play is her confrontation with her father in the preceding scene, and it is here that her decision should have been revealed.

Aside from these quibbles, After the Revolution is a don’t-miss.

Richard Nelson’s That Hopey Changey Thing, which has just closed at the Public Theater, took a hard look at knee-jerk liberalism. It was about a family of liberal ideologues. The brother, played with his usual flair by Jay O. Sanders, is starting to veer to the right, and when he takes on his sisters’ liberal views, the sparks begin to fly.

Essentially, this was more extended debate than real play; but the debate was engaging and all the actors were terrific. I hope you saw it; but if you didn’t, you missed a humdinger.

Heidi Schreck’s There Are No More Big Secrets, at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, is a gripping drama about a Russian journalist and her American husband who come to visit old friends. She’s on the lam from mysterious forces which want to kill her. He’s the ex-lover of his host’s wife.

Like That Hopey Changey Thing, this play is long on talk; but there’s enough action to keep you engaged, and the performers are terrific. There’s even a possibly supernatural mystery thrown into the mix, which I found fascinating.

Definitely check this one out.

Kim Rosenstock’s Tigers Be Still, which has just closed at the Roundabout Underground, was a compelling comic drama about a young woman who’s a tutor for a surly teenaged boy. She lives with her sister, who’s dreadfully depressed about her breakup with her boyfriend, and who spends all day sitting on the sofa drinking Jack Daniels and watching Top Gun.

Rosenstock’s writing was fresh and witty, and Sam Gold’s production captured her quirky style perfectly. All the actors were wonderful. I hope you had the chance to see this. Rosenstock is a real comer.

Spirit Control, at Manhattan Theatre Club, is strangely compelling play by Beau Willimon about an air traffic controller named Adam who tries but fails to help a distraught women land a plane whose pilot has died of a heart attack. This is so traumatic for him that he winds up losing his family after having an affair with a woman he meets in a bar. Or does he? This is one of those plays which seems like its central character is in the funhouse, gazing at endless reflections of himself. What’s real, and what’s fantasy? As it gets cleverer and cleverer, it gets weirder and weirder.

What sustains the evening is the brilliant performance by Jeremy Sisto as Adam. Mia Barron, as the mysterious Woman in the Bar, is also great. This one is definitely worth seeing.

Middletown, at the Vineyard Theatre, is a full length play by Will Eno, whose one-man play Thom Paine (About Nothing – as it certainly was) pretty much annoyed everyone to death excerpt The Times’ Charles Isherwood, who has raved about this new Eno play. I have to admit, it’s not nearly as annoying as Thom Paine, but that’s about the best I can say for it.

Eno sets his play in Middletown, sort of a generic small town in Middle America, and makes it a kind of contemporary Grovers Corners. His writing, a snarky imitation of Thornton Wilder with none of Wilder’s compassion and empathy for his characters, posits that the denizens of this “typical American town” are all either loopy or suffering from alienation and despair. Imagine Grovers Corners peopled with nothing but Simon Stimsons.

You could skip Middletown.

ELF. Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: or 212-239-6200

ANGELS IN AMERICA. Signature Theatre Co., 555 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: 212-244-7529 (good luck …)

COLIN QUINN:  LONG STORY SHORT. Helen Hayes Theatre, 240 W.44th St.

TICKETS: or 212-239-6200

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE, Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St.

TICKETS: or 212-239-6200

ELLING. Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St.

TICKETS: or 212-239-6200

AFTER THE REVOLUTION. Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: or 212-279-4200

THAT HOPEY CHANGEY THING. Public Theater. Alas, closed

THERE ARE NO MORE BIG SECRETS. Rattlestick Theatre, 224 Waverly Pl.

TICKETS: www.smarttix.xom or 212-868-4444

TIGERS BE STILL. Roundabout Underground. Alas, closed

SPIRIT CONTROL. Manhattan Theatre Club. City Center, 131 W. 55th St.

TICKETS: 212-581-1212

MIDDLETOWN. Vineyard Theatre, 109 E. 15th St.

TICKETS: 212-353-0303

“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” 16 November 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 WOMEN ON THE VERGE OF A NERVOUS BREAKDOWN, DRIVING MISS DAISY, THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS, A LIFE IN THE THEATRE, THE PEE WEE HERMAN SHOW, PENELOPE, IN THE WAKE, THE MEMORANDUM, and PHOTOGRAPH 51.

I never read reviews of a show before I see it. Nobody should. It’s important to go in with an open, receptive mind. Too many people let critics tell them what to think, rather than deciding for themselves. Anyway, since I saw Lincoln Center Theatre Co.’s production of Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, at the beautifully refurbished Belasco Theatre, I have been reading the mostly negative reviews with mounting flabbergasted-ness, wondering, “Did these people see the same show I saw?”

I have not seen the Pedro Almodóvar film upon which this new musical is based, so I can’t compare the musical with it. The story (book by Jeffery Lane), which takes place in Madrid, centers around three women, all of whom have man troubles. Pepa, an actress who does TV commercials, finds out via a message left on her answering machine that her lover, Ivan, is leaving her; Lucia, Ivan’s wife from whom he has been separated for twenty years, is finally ready to file for divorce; Candela, a model with what used to be considered a healthy sex life (this takes place in the mid 1980s, before women became terrified that men might not only break their hearts – they might also poison them), has had a one-night stand with a man who might be a terrorist with plans to blow something up.

Bartlett Sher’s brilliant production of this complex work makes it seem almost as if you are watching a film. It’s the most “cinematic” staging of a musical I have ever seen. As for the score by David Yazbek, it is just one great song after another and is the first great musical score of this century. How’s that for hyperbole? I don’t usually engage in it; but I can’t help it here. Yazbek just plain blew me away.

As for the performances: Sherie Rene Scott (Pepa), Laura Benanti (Candela) and Patti Lupone (Lucia) and all fabulous, and Brian Stokes Mitchell (Ivan) is, too. Catherine Zuber’s costumes are spectacularly witty, and the scenic design by Michael Yeargan, which uses a lot of projections and greatly aids and abets Sher’s cinematic vision, is ingenious and wonderful.

Something about this show brought out the inner bitch in the critics. Don’t pay any attention to them. This one’s a don’t-miss.

Alfred Uhry’s Pultizer Prize-winning Driving Miss Daisy has been revived, this time on Broadway at the Golden Theatre, starring Vanessa Redgrave as Daisy and James Earl Jones as Hoke, roles made famous by Dana Ivey (in the original production), Jessica Tandy (in the film) and Morgan Freeman in both.

The play is still a touching story about bridging the great racial divide, as Daisy and Hoke progress from mutual suspicion towards friendship over the course of many years. It’s a little small-scale for Broadway, but director David Esbjornson has done a fine job of expanding it into a Broadway production. Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones are, as you might expect, mighty fine, though neither of them succeeds in topping Ivey, Tandy or, especially. Morgan Freeman. The always-wonderful Boyd Gaines plays Boolie, Daisy’s son.

I wouldn’t call this one a don’t-miss; but I did quite enjoy it. How many more times are we going to have a chance to see Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones?

I didn’t see the Kander and Ebb musical The Scottsboro Boys when it played last season off Broadway at the Vineyard Theatre. Now that I have had a chance to see it on Broadway (at the Lyceum Theatre), I understand what all the fuss was about.

This is the tragic story of nine young black men who were falsely charged with raping two white women in 1931, in Alabama, and were convicted by an all-white jury and sentenced to death. None were executed, but most spent many years in prison, and all of their lives were ruined. Kander and Ebb have chosen to tell this story using the form of the minstrel show, a form of entertainment extremely popular from pre-Civil War right up until the 1930s in which white people dressed up as happy darkies and sang jolly songs about the old folks at home, and so on. This daring concept works brilliantly, particularly in the gifted hands of director/choreographer Susan Strohman, and the cast is terrific.

As we enter a time when a U.S. senator was elected who questions the legality of the Civil Rights Act (Rand Paul), when a lot of the right-wing antipathy to our president is covertly racist, we need a show which reminds us of the hypocrisy of our past, as a sort of cautionary tale. That The Scottsboro Boys manages to do this and still be wonderfully entertaining is no mean achievement.

In contrast to Driving Miss Daisy, nothing can be done to expand David Mamet’s A Life in the Theatre (at the Schoenfeld Theatre) into a Great Big Broadway Show. This slight, episodic play might be subtitled, “Hey Diddle-Dee-Dee, an Actor’s Life for Me,” as it’s just a series of scenes between an older actor, Robert, and a young actor, John, which actually could be arranged in pretty much any order. Director Neil Pepe has done his best to give the play some size and heft, but it just sinks  It starts out amusing but gradually loses the audience as we realize that there’s no “there” there. It’s a love-letter to the actor’s craft, nothing more. It is to the credit of Patrick Stewart (Robert) and T. R. Knight (John) that it works as well as it does. Stewart and Knight are wonderful; but it’s not enough.

Producer Jeffrey Richards seems intent upon producing the Complete Works of David Mamet on Broadway. What next, The Cryptogram? I certainly hope not.

Fans of Pee Wee Herman have been presented with a delightful early holiday gift with The Pee Wee Herman Show, in the newly-rechristened Stephen Sondheim Theatre. This is basically ninety minutes of Pee Wee’s Playhouse on Broadway, with all Pee Wee’s Puppetland pals in attendance: Chairy, Ptery, Cowboy Curtis, Miss Yvonne, Mailman Mike, Jamba et al, and is great fun not only for Pee Wee fans but for the as-yet-uninitiated.

Pee Wee is, of course, Paul Reubens, who ran afoul of the law down in Florida several years back when he was caught choking his chicken in a porno movie theatre. That seemed to be the end of Pee Wee; but no! Here he comes again. Reubens actually makes a couple of oblique reference to his arrest, as when he reads a postcard from a guy from prison, who misses him. These references of course fly over the heads of the kids in the audience but elicit great guffaws from adults.                                               .

If you’re in the mood for something Completely Silly, you couldn’t do better than The Pee Wee Herman Show.

St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn recently presented Ireland’s Druid Theatre in the production of Enda Walsh’s Penelope, the third Walsh play they have done. This was a play about the suitors of Mrs. Odysseus. There are four of them left. They sit around a drained swimming pool talking about this and that. Finally, each gets a chance to make his pitch to Penelope, who is silent throughout.

I can say only that this was the least boring of the Walsh plays I have seen, which is not to say that it was any good. Much of it is insufferable, particularly towards the end when the last suitor dresses up in various costumes, one after the other in quick succession. I guess I just don’t get Enda Walsh. His plays are all talk and little action. The language is colorful and poetic – but where’s the beef?

I have been seeing some shows of late which question what it means to be a “liberal,” which I find quite odd given the theatre’s usual knee-jerk liberal bent. One of these is Lisa Kron’s In the Wake, at the Public Theater, which is about a passionately liberal young woman who thinks bloviating about the world’s injustices is enough. She is finally taken on by an older woman (I think it’s her aunt), who has actually talked the talk and walked the walk, who has just returned from Africa and who has become cynical about the possibility of doing anything to make the world a better place.

Like her central character, Ms. Kron tends to go on and on, which makes this over-long play seem somewhat overstuffed, but Leigh Silverman’s production is pitch-perfect, her actors all terrific – particularly Marin Ireland and Deirdre O’Connell, two brilliant actresses you never want to miss.

The Actors Company Theatre (TACT) has revised Vaclav Havel’s The Memorandum, at the Beckett Theatre, to mostly excellent results. The play is set in the offices of a large company. Mysterious forces are plotting to have all company communication written and spoken in an inscrutable language. When the director of the company receives a memorandum in this new language and learns that the only people who know it are now running the company, a series of mordantly funny events is set in motion.

Today, the play comes across as a satire of inane office politics; whereas I am sure when he wrote it Havel intended it to serve as a metaphor for the ridiculous modern so-called “Communist” state. Either way, it’s great fun, although Simon Jones is sorely missed in the role of the much put-upon Director. He was set to play it but then he was hit by a car and had to drop out. TACT found someone else to do the role, but he is merely adequate; whereas Jones would I am sure have been great.

When this play was first staged, Havel was in prison in Czechoslovakia for his outspoken dissent against the government of this puppet state of the Soviet Union. It’s difficult to see how this play and others would have landed him in jail; but maybe that’s just an indication of how far the world has come since then.

I have often said that one of the most important marks of a really good play is that it tells a story which needed to be told. Such a play is Anna Ziegler’s Photograph 51, at Ensemble Studio Theatre, which reveals the untold truth behind one of the most important scientific breakthroughs of the 20th Century – the discovery of how DNA works, the famous Double Helix. I remember reading about this in school, all about the genius of Watson and Crick, the British scientists who made this  discovery. Ziegler tells the true story of the real genius behind the discovery of the Double Helix – a female scientist (Yikes!) named Rosalind Franklin, who took the photograph which enabled Watson and Crick to assemble the first model of a Double Helix. They got credit for the discovery while Dr. Franklin died young, and in obscurity.

Who would have thought that a play about science could be so gripping? Linsay Firman’s direction is excellent, and all the actors are great – particularly, Kristen Bush, who plays Rosalind Franklin as if her life depended on it.

This one’s a don’t-miss.


TICKETS: of 212-239-6200

DRIVING MISS DAISY. Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: of 212-239-6200

THE SCOTTSBORO BOYS. Lyceum Theatre, 149 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: of 212-239-6200

A LIFE IN THE THEATRE. Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: of 212-239-6200

THE PEE WEE HERMAN SHOW. Sondheim Theatre, 124 W. 43rd St.

TICKETS: of 212-239-6200

PENELOPE. St. Ann’s Warehouse, Brooklyn. Closed.

IN THE WAKE. Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St.

TICKETS: 212-967-7555

THE MEMORANDUM. Beckett Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: of 212-239-6200

PHOTOGRAPH 51. Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 W. 52nd St.

TICKETS: 212-352-3101

“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” 4 November 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 LOMBARDI, LA BÊTE, RAIN, SWAN LAKE, WINGS, THE LANGUAGE ARCHIVE, POWER BALLADZ, BANISHED CHILDREN OF EVE, IN TRANSIT, DRAMATIS PERSONAE,, OFFICE HOURS AND WISH I HAD A SYLVIA PLATH.

Plays about sports are a real rarity. It has been my perception over the years that the only thing that theatre people care less about than sports is religion. Plays which take religion seriously are even more of a rarity than plays about sports. I could go on and on about why this is, and why it’s a shame; but suffice it to say that we actually have a play about sports running on Broadway right now, Eric Simonson’s fascinating Lombardi at Circle in the Square.

Lombardi takes place in 1965, as the Green Bay Packers prepare for the upcoming season. A young reporter for Look Magazine has been assigned to write a profile of their legendary coach, Vince Lombardi. Over the course of a week, the reporter gets to know Lombardi, his wife Marie, and several players, as he tries to get to the heart of what makes Lombardi, and his team, so successful. Although the play which emerges does make you understand this great sports figure, it is not a hagiographic portrait. Though it is often quite inspirational, what we get is Lombardi, warts and all.

Thomas Kail has done a brilliant job of directing, and his cast is first rate. Dan Lauria is sensational in the title role. You almost feel he’s channeling Coach Lombardi. But he is matched by the delicate performance of Judith Light as Marie Lombardi, who provides much of the humor and much of the insight into what made this great sports figure successful.

Although Lombardi is primarily for football fans, it can also be enjoyed by those of you who don’t know a touchdown from a home run. I loved it, and I highly recommend it.

I also recommend the revival of David Hirson’s La Bête, an import from London at the Music Box Theatre. When this play was first staged on Broadway almost 20 years ago, it was one of the most notorious flops of the Rich Years. Many people who saw it thought it was absolutely brilliant (myself included); but a pan from the NY Times’ Frank Rich caused it to die the death. As I recall, Rich thought the play was merely an exercise in cleverness for cleverness’ sake. Well, I’ll give him this: the writing certainly is clever.

Can you imagine, a play set in France in the 17th Century, written completely in rhymed couplets, sending up the theatre and the culture of Molière’s era, yet somehow managing to reflect our own?

A famous playwright named Elomire (an anagram of “Molière”) survives with his company on the patronage of a princess (in the original version, the patron was male) who wants to force on him another playwright and actor who she thinks is a genius, a pompous, self-congratulating bore named Valere. When we first meet this jackass, he wanders into a room occupied by Elomire and one of his actors and proceeds to hijack their conversation with a monologue that lasts at least a half hour. The reactions of David Hyde Pierce and Stephen Ouimette are priceless as they try to get a word in edgewise, to no avail, and this monologue as delivered by the great British actor Mark Rylance is one of the most incredible feats of acting I have ever witnessed.

The play tends to sag in the second act, when Princess Conti makes her appearance; but overall this is a brilliantly theatrical evening in the theatre, superbly directed by Matthew Warchus. I found La Bête great fun, and heartily recommend it.

Rain, at the Neil Simon Theatre, is also a lot of fun – if you’re a Beatles fan but not too much of a purist to enjoy a simulation of the Beatles in concert. The musicians who portray the Fab Four during various stages of their magical mystery tour are simply put, amazing. They sound exactly like the four lads from Liverpool. It’s a trip down memory lane. For those of you who would like to take such a trip and relive those golden days of musical yesteryear, go over to the Neil Simon Theatre and get back to where you once belonged.

Another great British director, Matthew Bourne, has brought his famous production of Swan Lake to City Center. The first time around, Bourne’s completely original take on the Swan Lake scenario was highly controversial, what with the swans all danced by men and what with his conception of this animal in general as a predatory thug of a bird. Here, the gaggle of swans reminded me of the gangs in West Side Story, or of Malcolm McDowell and the boys in A Clockwork Orange. This version of Swan Lake is not as controversial as it once was, but it’s just as brilliant. It’s a don’t-miss.

Second Stage has revived Arthur Kopit’s Wings, starring Jan Maxwell as Emily Stilson, a former wing-walker who has a stroke and then who struggles to recover, and directed by John Doyle.

The problem with this play is that most of it is an interior monologue spoken by Mrs. Stilson as she struggles to fight back against the debilitating effects of her “accident.” In other words, it’s rather static. The problem with this production is that the aviation metaphor doesn’t work if the play is set in the present. The heyday of stunt flying and wing walking was the 1920s and 1930s. Thirty years ago, when the play was first done on Broadway with a stunning performance by British actress Constance Cummings, Mrs. Stilson could have been a stunt aviatrix in her 60s or 70s. In other words, in order for the play to make sense it has to take place 30 years ago, and Emily Stilson has to be an old lady. In this production, Jan Maxwell looks mid-50s. She would have been walking on the wings of a Curtis Jenny in about 1980. I don’t think so! Ms. Maxwell has shown she is a gifted comic actress in previous roles, but she just doesn’t have the vocal range to play this demanding role.

I would say you could skip this production and not feel you’ve missed anything.

Julia Cho’s The Language Archive, produced by the Roundabout at their Laura Pels Theatre Off Broadway, is a wonderful comedy about a philologist obsessed with dying languages, yet who at the same time has no clue as to how to communicate with the women in his life.

Mark Brokaw’s production is witty and a lot of fun, and his cast is uniformly first rate.

This one’s a don’t-miss.

Irish Rep has another winner in Ciarán O’Reilly’s brilliant production of Kelly Younger’s Banished Children of Eve, a dramatization of the novel by Peter Quinn about the Civil War draft riots in New York. The central characters are impoverished actors, but the songwriter Stephen Foster, equally impoverished and drinking himself to death, is also part of the mix, my one quibble with the play, as he’s not integrated very well into the plot.

I don’t usually write about the set design, but I have to say that Charlie Corcoran’s whirling modular set is the best use of Irish Rep’s rather awkward space I have ever seen.

The whole thing has a very Gangs of New York feel to it. I don’t mean that as a criticism though. This is a wonderful evening in the theatre and should go straight to the top of your must-see list.

I’m finally getting around to shows that have closed, unfortunately.

Power Balladz, at the Midtown Theatre, was  a tribute to the 1980’s power ballad. It was  more of a revue than a musical. But it was extremely well-performed. If going back to the 1960s to see Rain is going back to far for you, if your musical era is the 1980’s, then this is the show would have been for you. It helps if you already know the songs, as most of the lyrics were unintelligible. I enjoyed it, though, even though I was not very familiar with the music.

In Transit, at Primary Stages was a series of vignettes about various New Yorkers coming and going. The songs were all sung a capella. I’m afraid this one didn’t make much of an impression on me, largely because I thought the music rather dull. If you missed this one don’t fret – you didn’t miss much.

Dramatis Personae, by Gonzalo Rodriguez Risco, at the Cherry Lane Studio, was about three writers, apparently all Americans. We are in some unspecified foreign country. What the Americans are doing there is never explained. There’s a hostage situation going on across the street. Had the three writers been hostages, this play might have been a lot more dramatically interesting; but as it was, it was not bad and featured excellent performances.

A. R. Gurney’s Office Hours, at the Flea, was about college professors who teach a Great Books of the Western Canon course at an unspecified university. They are under pressure from students, parents and administrators, who don’t see the usefulness, the “relevance,” of studying Dead White Males like Plato, Dante and Shakespeare. Gurney’s play was a delight, though I wasn’t wild about Jim Simpson’s direction which, I felt, lacked pace.

Finally, Wish I Had a Sylvia Plath, written and performed by Elizabeth Gray, at 59 E 59, was a one women play more or less about You Know Who — poet, suicide and icon of feminism. Ms. Gray was mighty fine; but this was definitely a show for women who like to celebrate Plath’s victimization, who believe that men are The Enemy. If you’re a guy who has had to, perhaps more than once, deal with a crazy woman in your life, it would have been a tough sit.

LOMBARDI. Circle in the Square, 235 W. 50th St.

TICKETS: or 212-239-6200

LA BÊTE. Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: or 212-239-6200

RAIN. Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St.

TICKETS: or 212-307-4100

SWAN LAKE. City Center, 131 W. 55th St.

TICKETS: or 212-581-1212

WINGS. Second Stage, 305 W. 43rd St.

TICKETS: 212-246-4422

THE LANGUAGE ARCHIVE. Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St.

TICKETS: 212-719-1300

BANISHED CHILDREN OF EVE. 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

He works with individual playwrights to help them develop their plays (see his website, 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