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 THE SNOW GEESE, AFTER MIDNIGHT, BIG FISH, EAGER TO LOSE, BETRAYAL, GOOD PERSON OF SZECHWAN, THE MODEL APARTMENT, A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN, EAGER TO LOSE, JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK, THE WINSLOW BOY and A TIME TO KILL.

Some of the reviews of Sharr White’s The Snow Geese, currently on view at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, were more than somewhat dismissive, including that of the usually reliable Elizabeth Vincentelli in the Post. My theory on why this was is later in this column; but suffice it to say that I thought this was a beautiful production of a very compelling play. It takes place during World War I, in a hunting lodge in upstate New York owned by a wealthy family which finds, to its surprise and dismay, that recently deceased Dear Old Dad squandered the family fortune and they are now penniless.

Mary Louise Parker plays the matriarch, who’s totally in denial about the state of her family’s finances. She’s always wonderful to watch, but even though she is playing a role that’s about her age she still looks like she’s about 25, so it’s hard to believe her as the mother of two grown sons. In a superb cast, two actors stand out particularly – Brian Cross as the younger son who’s the only one he sees things clearly, and Jessica Love as a Polish maid, a refugee from war-torn Europe whose family was once wealthy too. She embodies the old maxim that there are no small parts, only small actors. Mark my words, she will one day be a Big Name. The great Daniel Sullivan has directed the play as terrifically as you would expect.

Did you ever wonder why you see so few plays not sent in the present? I think one of the reasons for this is that many critics have a prejudice against these kinds of plays, as evidenced by Big Ben’s comments in the Times; and, let’s be frank, critics not only decide what lives or dies but what, in fact, gets produced. Don’t pay any attention to Big Ben. This is a beautiful evening in the theatre.

After Midnight, at the Brooks Atkinson, is a terrific review celebrating the glorious music of the Harlem Renaissance. We are at the famed Cotton Club, there to hear one wonderful song after another, performed by the likes of Fantasia Milano and Adriane Lenox (who knew this fine dramatic actress could sing like that?), and to enjoy period choreography by Warren Carlyle which will knock your socks off. Apparently, it’s OK for musicals to take us back to the past, so all the reviews have been raves. Pay attention to them; ignore the reviews for The Snow Geese. This is one heckuva good time.

The reviews for Big Fish, at the Neil Simon Theatre were also rather dismissive and have taken their toll: Big Fish has announced that it will close on December 29. This appears to be a classic case of Nothing Could Equal The Film. I never saw the film, so I went into this with fresh eyes and had a mighty fine good time at this whimsical fable about a tall tale-spinning Dad and his son who goes on a quest to find out just what, if anything, his father has told him is true. The great Norbert Leo Butz plays the dad with all the aplomb this wonderful actor can muster, and Bobby Steggert is, as always, great as his son. For me, though, the Main Event was Susan Stroman. Her direction and choreography are truly wonderful. And, I was astounded by the projections created by Benjamin Pearcy, the most amazing I have ever seen on any stage.

Go. I promise you won’t regret it. And, you can certainly get a half-price ticket!

Eager to Lose, which has just closed at Ars Nova after a much-deserved extension, was a whacky burlesque show with a book written in rhymed iambic pentameter – Moliere does burlesque! We were at the Tim Tam Room, hosted by an actual burlesque star named Tansy. She and two other women did hilarious but absolutely authentic strip teases. The book concerned who loves who. The strips and the costumes were wonderful. I hope this show will resurface somewhere else, like Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812, which started in this space, went on to Off Broadway success and is now going to move to Broadway. If it turns up again, I’m going!

Betrayal, at the Ethel Barrymore, is a fine production of Harold Pinter’s last great play, about an adulterous love affair, which famously tells the story backwards chronologically. It’s been superbly directed by the great Mike Nichols and features Daniel Craig, Rachel Weisz and an actor I never heard of before named Rafe Spall, who more than holds his own against these two great stars.

I can tell you this Betrayal is well worth seeing and you should go; but, alas, its limited run is completely sold out. Imagine my surprise.

The Public Theater has moved the Foundry Theatre’s production of Brecht’s Good Person of Szechwan, acclaimed last season at La MaMa, to its Martinson Hall. The production stars Taylor Mac in the twin roles of Shen Te and Shui Ta, a good hearted prostitute and her arch-capitalist cousin, and this wonderfully weird actor doesn’t disappoint. Director Lear DeBessonet perfectly translated Brecht’s style to our times.
This is one of the best productions of a Brecht play I have ever seen, and is not to be missed.

Donald Margulies’ The Model Apartment, at Primary Stages, is a dark comedy about an elderly couple. We think they’ve merely retired to Florida, but in fact they have gone there to escape their monstrous daughter. There’s a lot of hoo-hah about the Holocaust, which seemed to me rather forced; but the performances are all good – particularly, that of Diane Davis as the seriously demented daughter who tracks her parents down in order to continue to torment them. The Model Apartment is not exactly a Fun Evening In The Theatre, but if you’re up for Strong Stuff, it’s well worth seeing.

A Night with Janis Joplin, at the Lyceum, is a simulated Janis Joplin concert, featuring a sensational performance by Mary Bridget Davies as Janis, and strong performances by a quartet of singers who embody Joplin’s musical influences (Etta James, Aretha Franklin, etc.). Davies may just win the Tony for this – she’ll certainly get a nomination. Don’t miss her.

Irish Rep has up and running a fine production of O’Casey’s Juno and the Paycock, featuring J. Smith Cameron as Juno, a mother struggling to keep going during the Irish Troubles. I wouldn’t go so far as to say this is the finest performance of her distinguished career, as one critic dine, but she’s mighty fine. Also excellent are Ciarán O’Reilly as Captain Boyle (the Paycock of the title) and John Keating as his ne’er-do-well drinking buddy, Joxer Daly.

I would say this is well worth seeing.

As for Terrence Rattigan’s The Winslow Boy, at the American Airlines Theatre, this is a rather creaky drama about a father determined to clear his son’s name. The actors are all solid, but all too much of the drama occurs offstage, at the son’s trial in the House of Commons. The play just collapses.

Rupert Holmes’ adaptation of John Grisham’s A Time to Kill, at the Golden Theatre, is much more interesting; but basically it’s a staged version of the movie; well done, but why bother? Sebastian Arcelus plays the Matthew McGonaghey role, and he looks amazingly like him. This too has announced its closing. I’m not surprised.

THE SNOW GEESE. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
AFTER MIDNIGHT. Brooks Atkinson Theatre, 256 W. 47th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
BIG FISH. Neil Simon Theatre, 250 W. 52nd St.
TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000
EAGER TO LOSE. Ars Nova, 511 W. 54th St. Alas, closed
BETRAYAL. Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
GOOD PERSON OF SZECHWAN. Public Theatre, 435 Lafayette St.
TICKETS: 212-967-7555
THE MODEL APARTMENT. Primary Stages, 59 E. 59th St.
TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200
A NIGHT WITH JANIS JOPLIN. Lyceum Theatre. 149 W. 45th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
JUNO AND THE PAYCOCK. Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd St.
TICKETS: 212-727-2737
THE WINSLOW BOY. American Airlines Theatre, 227 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300
A TIME TO KILL. Golden Theatre, 251 W. 45th 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

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