Lawrence Harbison,The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry reports on MASTER CLASS, THE ILLUSION, THE DEVIL’S MUSIC: THE LIFE AND BLUES OF BESIE SMITH, A LITTLE JOURNEY, MOLORA, AND VOCA PEOPLE.
Terrence McNally’s drama, Master Class, at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, sends the new Broadway season off with a bang. The play is based on actual master classes the great opera diva Maria Callas taught at Juilliard, when she was long past her prime, here condensed to sessions with three students – a terrified soprano, an overconfident tenor and a fiercely determined soprano, during which Callas pontificates, insults and cajoles these young people in an effort to make them understand what it takes to be a great artist. There are also two dramatic arias, if you will, interior monologues during which Callas talks about her life and career, alone onstage as director Stephen Wadsworth rolls out the stage of Alice Tully Hall and replaces it with that of a surreal opera stage.
Tyne Daly is sensational as the difficult, tempestuous diva, but there is excellent work as well from Alexandra Silber, Garrett Sorenson and Sierra Boggess as Callas’ three victims – sorry, students. Boggess is particularly impressive. Who knew from her charming performance as Ariel in The Little Mermaid that she has an operatic-quality singing voice?
This one’s a don’t-miss.
Signature Theatre Company decided, For Some Strange Reason, to wind up its Kushner season with Kushner’s translation of Corneille’s The Illusion, which seemed to me rather anticlimactic after Angels in America and The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide etc etc etc.
The play is something of a whimsical comedy about a man who goes to the cave of a magician hoping that he (in this production, she) can conjure up news of his wayward son. What ensues are three possible fates for him, in the last of which he dies. It’s all elegant and witty but, in the end, rather inconsequential; but Michael Mayer’s production was delightful, featuring lovely performances by veterans Lois Smith and David Margulies, as the conjuror and her new client. I was less impressed with the younger actors, but this is fairly typical for me. Smith and Margulies have the technical facility to speak verse beautifully, while all too often the younger actors have lazy tongues, and fail to hit all the notes as a result.
THE DEVIL’S MUSIC: THE LIFE AND BLUES OF BESSIE SMITH, at Theatre at St. Luke’s, is for all practical purposes a one-woman show, featuring an astounding performance by Miche Braden as the tragic blues singer. Joe Brancato has done a wonderful job of directing, and the music’s great.
This one is also definitely recommended.
Mint Theatre’s production of Rachel Crothers’ A Little Journey was a beautifully directed, acted and designed evening, so typical of evenings at the Mint, of a fascinating slice-of-life play about passengers on a training heading Out West. Roger Hanna’s set was a carousel of compartments constantly on the move, brilliantly choreographer by director Jackson Gay. The actors were all terrific; but I was particularly impressed by Samantha Soule as a young woman who loses her one way ticket to nowheresville and McCaleb Burnett as a rugged young man who proves her salvation.
What an invaluable company the Mint is! They specialize in resurrecting unjustly-forgotten plays and making them shine like new. On pain of death, never miss one of their productions!
Ordinarily, I abhor modern adaptations of ancient Greek dramas, which almost always seem to be to be even more boring than the originals, but an exception may be found at the Joan Weill Center for Dance, where a South African company called The Farber Foundry is presenting a riveting modern adaption of Aeschylus’ Agamemnon, set in contemporary South Africa, called MoLoRa, adapted and directed by Yael Farber, featuring a titanic performance by Dorothy Ann Gould, something of a South African version of Judi Dench, as Klytemnestra. Also terrific are Jabulile Tshabalala as Elektra and Sandile Matsheni as Orestes. Klytemnestra is white, Elektra and Orestes are black, so Farber’s version takes Aeschylus’ classic revenge drama, sets it in South Africa, and asks, in the end, if revenge is morally justified. It’s fascinating, wonderful theatre, and not to be missed.
Voca People, at the Westside Arts, is a silly/weird theatrical whatzit, about a crew of white-clad aliens whose spaceship runs out of juice. They land on Earth, and have to sing sing sing in order to recharge it. This they do a capella, with much use of audience participation, which I found rather cloying. But the singing is phenomenal. If you are in the mood for something silly and totally weird, this would be a good choice.
MASTER CLASS. Samuel J. Freidman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
THE ILLUSION. Signature Theatre Co. Alas, closed
THE DEVIL’S MUSIC … Theatre at St. Luke’s, 308 West 46th Street
A LITTLE JOURNEY. Mint Theatre Co. Alas, closed
MOLORA. Joan Weill Center for Dance, 405 West 55th Street
VOCA PEOPLE. Westside Arts, 407 W. 43rd ST.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
“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