“On the Aisle with Larry”

Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on ROMEO AND JULIET, THE GLASS MENAGERIE, PHILIP GOES FORTH, NATURAL AFFECTION, THE OLD FRIENDS, THE FILM SOCIETY, BAD JEWS, AND MILES TO GO, BRONX BOMBERS, MR. BURNS, and LADY DAY.

The new production of Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, at the Richard Rodgers Theatre,
directed by David Leveaux, is a modern dress version and Romeo, played by film star Orlando Bloom, makes his entrance decked up in black, riding on a motorcycle. For the most part, Leveaux’ concept works well; but the Big Question is, how’s Orlando Bloom? Surprisingly good, considering that he doesn’t have much stage experience. And his co-star, Condola Rashad, while vocally not quite there, still makes a fine Juliet. Brent Carver is excellent as Friar Lawrence, making far more of an impression than any previous actor I have seen in this role, and Chuck Cooper is a wonderfully bombastic Capulet. The strongest performance, though, comes from Christian Camarco as Mercutio, all piss and vinegar and heartbreaking when he dies. My only quibble with this production was the double death scene at the end, which ought to pack far more of a punch than it does.

Still, this is a fine production and well worth seeing.

As for The Glass Menagerie, at the Booth Theatre, this landmark revival, brilliantly directed by John Tiffany and sure to be talked about for years to come, features Cherry Jones as Amanda in one of her greatest performances, able matched by Celia Keenan-Bolger as the doomed waif Laura, Zachary Quinto as Tom and Brian J. Smith as Jim, the Gentleman Caller. The famous scene between Laura and Jim has never been done better, at least in my experience.

This production is One for the Ages. Don’t miss it.

Mint Theatre has up and running a fine production of a forgotten play by George Kelly, Philip Goes Forth, about a young man who fancies himself a talented playwright. Philip goes to New York to make it in show business, but is forced to face the fact that he doesn’t really have the drive or the ability to achieve his dream. Jerry Ruiz’ production is solid, as are all the actors, the best being Rachel Moulton in the small role of a dotty poet who lives in the apartment where Philip winds up in New York, and Jennifer Harmon as their sardonic landlady, once a great Broadway actress now reduced to this.

While the Mint doesn’t make a case, as it often does, that the play is a Lost Classic Undeservedly Forgotten, Philip Goes Forth holds the stage nicely and it’s exceedingly well-acted.

The Actors Company Theatre (T.A.C.T.) also has a forgotten play on the boards, albeit from a later era than Kelly’s, William Inge’s last Broadway play Natural Affection, wherein Inge tried to out-Albee and out-Williams with a dark portrait of a couple. She’s the breadwinner, he’s a macho car salesman. When her teenaged son comes to stay with him, fresh out of a juvenile detention facility, the sparks fly. Newcomer Chris Bert, kind of a cross between Shia LaBeouf and Paul Dana, is riveting as the disturbed kid, and John Pankow practically steals the show as a drunken next door neighbor who probably has a homo-erotic fixation on the car salesman.

It’s easy to see, though, why this play failed in 1963, around the time of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf and at the height of Tennessee Williams’ fame. Inge was trying to be as shocking as them, but he was no Albee, and certainly no Tennessee Williams. His gruesome ending is ridiculously contrived. Yuck.

The late Horton Foote’s The Old Friends, at the Signature Center, has for some reason never had a full production. Like all Foote’s plays, it is set in Harrison, Texas. The central characters are Sybil Borden, who comes home after years of living in South America with her failure of a husband and is now penniless, her husband dead, and Howard Ratliff, an estate manager for the richest woman in town, who has finally found himself in his 50s and wants to marry Sybil, the girl who got away. Hallie Foote and Smith are very strong is these roles, as is Betty Buckley as the alcoholic rich bitch.

This superb production, directed by Michael Wilson, is a must-see.

Jon Robin Baitz’ first play, The Film Society, is being given a sterling revival by the Keen Company at the Clurman Theatre. If you don’t know this fine play, it’s about a teacher at a prep school in South Africa during the apartheid era, who just wants to stay out of all the school’s politics and run his film study group. Jonathan Silverstein has assembled a superb cast, led by Euan Morton as the teacher and featuring wonderful performances from the likes of Gerry Bamman as the headmaster and Richmond Hoxie as a dying teacher.

This, too, is a don’t-miss.

As is Joshua Harmon’s Bad Jews, at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre, which features a wonderfully demented performance by Tracee Chimo as a young Jewish woman who fancies herself the only one in the family who is serious about her Jewishness and who is determined to have a her recently-deceased grandfather’s religious necklace. Over my dead body, says her cousin Liam, and what ensues is a titanic war of wills.

Bad Jews has transferred upstairs, after running last season in the Roundabout Underground. It’s a huge hit, and most deservedly so.

Chad Beckim’s And Miles to Go, a Partial Comfort production at the Wild Project, is about a veteran teacher at a failing high school much at odds with the school’s administration, who must contend with hopelessly unruly students and, ultimately, a gunman who comes into the school and starts firing. The play has a lot to say about the utter hopelessness of urban public education in this country, and Randy Danson is terrific as the teacher. Beckim hasn’t quite come up with the perfect ending, but still this is a gripping drama and a don’t-miss.

Primary Stages is running two productions simultaneously, Donald Margulies’ The Model Apartment at 59 E 59 (read about this in my next column) and Eric Simonson’s Bronx Bombers, at the Duke Theatre, the subject of which is the New York Yankees. In the first act, Yankee coach Yogi Berra tries to mediate a dispute between manager Billy Martin and star player Reggie Jackson, who he pulled from a game during an inning because of Reggie’s lack of hustle in right field. Martin fears that Steinbrenner will fire him. Reggie doesn’t care about anything but “the immensity that is Reggie Jackson.” A suitable subtitle for the play could be “Yogi Agonistes.” The first act is terrific, full of tense conflict, but then Simonson goes off in an unfortunate direction in the second act, which is a dream Yogi has wherein all the Yankee greats come to dinner — Dimaggio, Ruth, Gehrig, Jeter, etc. – all in their uniforms. Not much drama here – mostly anecdotes in lieu of dramatic action.

The actors are excellent – particularly Francois Baptiste as Reggie in the first act and Elston Howard in the second –and Simonson’s direction is adequate, but the play just runs gradually out of steam. If you’re a hardcore Yankees fan, you might enjoy this. Anyone else would, I think, lose interest quickly.

Playwrights Horizons has a hit with Anne Washburn’s Mr. Burns, subtitled a
Post-Electric Play – a hit these days being good reviews enabling a 2-week extension of the typical Off Broadway limited run. A group of people are sitting around a campfire trying to reconstruct one of their favorite “Simpsons” episodes. A stranger comes stumbling out of the woods, and everyone pulls out their guns. These are dire times. There has been a biological catastrophe, killing most of the population, but there are some people left who for some reason are immune – just like in Stephen King’s “The Stand.” The interloper is not a threat and (what luck!) he remembers the missing part of the episode in question. As the play moves further into the future, there are travelling troupes of “Simpsons” re-enactors, and in the final act we get to see an entire performance, done like a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta. This sounds daffy, I know, but who knows what will become of civilization after the Apocalpyse?

Lady Day, at the Little Shubert Theatre, is a contrived bio-musical about jazz singer Billie Holiday. It’s basically just a vehicle for Dee Dee Bridgewater to strut her stuff. Fans of Holiday’s music will enjoy this during the times when Bridgewater stops with the history lesson and just sings. For most of the audience, though, Lady Day lays a big fat egg.

ROMEO AND JULIET. Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th St.
TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000
THE GLASS MENAGERIE. Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
PHILIP GOES FORTH. Mint Theatre, 311 W. 43rd St.
TICKETS: www.minttheatre.org or 866-811-4111
NATURAL AFFECTION. Beckett Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
THE OLD FRIENDS. Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: 212-244-7529
THE FILM SOCIETY. Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
BAD JEWS. Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St.
TICKETS: 212-719-1300
AND MILES TO GO. Wild Project, 195 E. 3rd St.
TICKETS: www.partialcomfort.org or 866-811-4111
BRONX BOMBERS. Duke Theatre, 229 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.dukeon42.org or 646-223-3010
MR. BURNS. Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200
LADY DAY. Little Shubert Theatre, 422 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.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

“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