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 COCK, 3C, SLOWGIRL, CHIMICHANGAS AND ZOLOFT, LOVE GOES TO PRESS, HARVEY, THIS IS FICTION, POTTED POTTER, CLOSER THAN EVER, I AM A TREE, RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN and JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR.
The seating configuration for Cock, Mike Bartlett’s brilliant new drama at the Duke Theatre, consists of bleachers on all sides of the stage, as if we were at a cock fight – which, it turns out, we are. The play begins with two male lovers breaking up. Things haven’t been going well for them lately. It turns out that this is because one of them, John, has been having a relationship with a woman, much to the mortification of his boyfriend. What ensues is a fascinating tug of rope between the boyfriend and the woman, with John as the rope.
James MacDonald, the director, has staged this cockfight with no set and no props, and the result is Pure Theatre. The scene in which John and the woman make love for the first time (she does a lot of instructing) is done as a kind of dance and is incredibly erotic. We don’t have to watch them having sex, thank God – it’s all in the words.
Cory Michael Smith is brilliant as the confused John, and there is wonderful work as well from Amanda Quaid as John’s lady love, Jason Butler Harner as his angry boyfriend and the always-terrific Cotter Smith as the boyfriend’s dad, who gives his son as much help as he can in this tug of war.
This one’s a don’t-miss.
David Adjmi’s 3C, at Rattlestick, appears to be a send-up of a silly 1970’s TV comedy. It’s about 2 girls, roommates, who invite a guy who passed out in their kitchen the night before to move in as they have just lost their other roommate and need help with the rent. He’s a somewhat addled gay Vietnam vet. Also in the mix are the vet’s best bud, a vilely homophobic landlord and his daffy wife. Admji has structured his play like a series of sitcom scenes. There is not much in the way of plot.
3C has gotten some good reviews, including one from the usually-reliable Elizabeth Vincentelli of the NY Post; but I thought it was just terrible. Where’s the beef? The acting is good for the most part, although the actor playing the landlord is dreadful. Jackson Gay’s direction is an odd mix of styles. The actors start out speaking in that mile-a-minute style which I used to see in Broadway comedies, which is eventually dropped.
This makes three bombs in a row from Rattlestick. What’s going on over there?
LCT3, Lincoln Center Theatre’s program for new playwrights, has a new home, a lovely little space called the Claire Tow Theatre atop the Vivian Beaumont. Their inaugural production in this new space is a beautiful play by Greg Pierce called Slowgirl, a two-hander featuring the always brilliant Željko Ivanek and an exciting newcomer, Sarah Steele. Ivanek plays Sterling, who lives in a shack in the Costa Rican jungle. His teenaged niece Becky arrives for a visit. She may or may not have been involved in an incident at a party in which a slowwitted girl, teased by the other kids, fell out of a window. She’s now in a coma. Becky claims she didn’t have anything to do with it; but is she telling the truth? And what is Sterling doing out there in the jungle, living as a hermit?
Anne Kauffman’s direction is absolutely wonderful, as are her two actors. This is another don’t-miss.
Fernanda Coppel’s Chimichangas and Zoloft, at Atlantic Stage II, is about a mother who suffers from depression. She has taken off for parts unknown, much to the dismay of her teenaged daughter, who thinks she’s gay. Another plot thread involves her husband, who is having a torrid affair with the father of his daughter’s best friend. The play seems improbable at times, but the acting is good.
Love Goes to Press is another winner from the exemplary Mint Theatre Co., which specializes digging up unjustly-forgotten plays and giving them first rate productions. This one’s a comedy by Martha Gellhorn and Virginia Cowles based on their experiences as journalists during World War II. Jane Mason and Annabelle Jones are a pair of hard-driving journalists torn between their desire for scoops and their desire for Love and Marriage. Guess which they both wind up choosing.
Jerry Ruiz’ production is Mighty Fine, as are Angela Pierce and Heidi Armbruster as Our Heroines, Jane and Annabelle. All the acting is terrific. Don’t miss this one.
Roundabout’s revival of Mary Chase’s Harvey, at Studio 54, featuring Jim Parsons as Elwood P. Dowd, is great fun. Parsons is both hilarious and touching as the daffy Elwood, whose best friend is a 6-foot tall invisible white rabbit; and Jessica Hecht, heretofore best known for her performances in dramas, turns in a delightful comic gem of a perforomance as Elwood’s at-her-wit’s-end sister Veta. Scott Ellis’ direction is perfect.
Harvey is considered something of an Old Chestnut, a staple for years in community theatre; but is has a lot to say about civility and decency as it gently decries the modern obsession with “reality.” I loved it. My invisible friend loved it too.
Megan Hart’s This is Fiction, as the Cherry Lane Studio, is about a young woman, a novelist, who comes home to New Jersey to tell her father and her sister that her book is about Dear Old Mom, an alcoholic who died in a car accident while driving drunk. Hart’s writing is touching and witty, and Aubyn Philabaum is wonderful as Our Heroine.
It looks like the Little Shubert finally has a hit in Potted Potter, a parody of the Harry Potter books/movies written and performed by Daniel Clarkson and Jefferson Turner, wherein the indefatigable Clarkson and Turner parody all seven of the Harry Potters in 80 wild and whacky minutes. If you’re a Potter nut you’ll find it all great fun. If you’re not, like me, you won’t get a lot of it – but you can still enjoy the goofy clowning.
York Theatre Co.’s revival of the Richard Maltby/David Shire revue Closer Than Ever, stylishly directed by Maltby, has four wonderful performers doing one great song after another. Jenn Colella’s rendition of “Miss Byrd,” probably the best-known song from the show, is priceless. I also loved Sal Viviano’s touching take on another well-known song from the revue, “One of the Good Guys” – probably because I’m one of them too.
The revue seems to be something of an endangered species. Last season the Drama Desk Nominating Committee, of which I was a member, saw only four of them – two of which we nominated in the Best Revue category. Closer Than Ever wouldn’t have been eligible, because it’s a revival – but this is easily the best revue I have seen in quite a while.
I am a Tree at Theatre at St. Clement’s is a monodrama written and performed by Dulcy Rogers, whereon she plays a timid woman (presumably, herself) who goes off to meet her three eccentric aunts to try and solve the mystery of what happened to her mother, who lost her mind and is now institutionalized. Rogers is an engaging performer and her story is well-constructed, with flashes of real literary flair, though the evening is a little too long. The Theatre at SC has bad acoustics and tends to swallow up productions, including this one. It would have seemed much better had it been in a different space.
Gina Gionfriddo’s Rapture, Blister, Burn, which closes this weekend at Playwrights Horizons, is a wonderful play which examines the state of contemporary feminism. This sounds dry and academic, I know – but this one is engaging from start to finish, even if you have an extra Y chromosome. A feminist scholar, Catherine, comes “back home” to care for her ailing mother. She reconnects with her old friends Gwen and Don. Gwen has taken the Mommy track and Don, her husband, has settled for a life of lazy mediocrity. Turns out, Don was Catherine’s boyfriend before he married Gwen, who scooped him up when Catherine went off to study abroad. Now, Catherine wonders if she might have been happier lading her life with a husband, rather than being alone; and Gwen, who has pretty much had it with Don at this point, wonders what might have been if she led a life more like Catherine’s.
Peter DuBois’ direction is subtle and astute, and all his actors are excellent. I particularly enjoyed Amy Brenneman (Catherine), Beth Dixon (her mother) and Virginia Kull as a college student to whom all this feminist and post-feminist stuff is brand-new.
If we had a healthy commercial theatre, plays like Slowgirl and Rapture, Blister, Burn wouldn’t have brief runs at non-profit theatres and then have to close.
Speaking of closings, the annual Tony massacre has been claiming victims left and right. This past season, the vast majority of shows opened in March and April, hoping for Tony nominations as they competed for the same audience. Their nominations enable them to extend their runs; but when they lost the Tony Roulette they have to close. The latest victim is Des McAnuff’s brilliant production of Jesus Christ Superstar, at the Neil Simon Theatre, which didn’t get good enough reviews to justify keeping it going once it lost its Tonys. I blame McAnuff for this. He had the temerity to take the core story — which you may recall comes not from Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice but from Matthew, Mark, Luke and John – seriously, instead of sending it up as some critics wanted him to do. So, JCS is closing this weekend, unless business picks up. I don’t think you necessarily have to suffer from what the late Christopher Hitchens called “The God Delusion” to enjoy this show. The singing is fantastic, as is McAnuff’s staging.
COCK. The Duke Theatre, 229 W. 42nd St.
3C. Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, 224 Waverly Place.
Tickets: 212- 627-2556
SLOWGIRL. Claire Tow Theatre, Lincoln Center.
Tickets: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
CHIMICHANGAS AND ZOLOFT. Atlantic Stage II. Alas, closed.
LOVE GOES TO PRESS. Mint Theatre Co., 311 W. 43rd St.
Tickets: 866-811-4111 or www.minttheater.org
HARVEY. Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St.
Tickets: 212-719-1300 or online at www.roundabouttheatre.org
THIS IS FICTION. Cherry Lane Studio Theatre,
Tickets: 212-352-3101 or https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/33005
POTTED POTTER. Little Shubert Theatre, 422 W. 42nd St.
Tickets: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
CLOSER THAN EVER. York Theatre Co., St. Peter’s Church ni Citicorp Bldg., E 54th
St. @ Lexington Ave.
I AM A TREE. Theatre at St. Clement’s, 423 W. 46th St.
Tickets: 212-352-3101 or www.theatermania.com
RAPTURE, BLISTER, BURN. Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.
Tickets: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200
JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR. Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St.
Tickets: 800-745-3000, 877-250-2929 or www.ticketmaster.com
For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
“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
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
— Theodore Roosevelt