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 WAITING FOR GODOT, NO MAN’S LAND, TWELFE NIGHT, RICHARD III, A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM, FUN HOME, ONE NIGHT, HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND THEN KILL THEM and THE PATRON SAINT OF SEA MONSTERS.
Beckett’s Waiting for Godot and Pinter’s No Man’s Land, currently playing in alternating repertory at the Cort Theatre, are an inspired pairing. Both have two great male roles, and both express haunting feelings of existential despair in a world where the search for meaning is pointless. Essentially, Beckett’s Vladimir and Estragon are trapped forever in no man’s land, as are Pinter’s Hirst and Spooner.
But in this case the play is not the thing. The Main Event is the pairing of Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart. McKellen is Spooner and Estragon (Gogo); Stewart is Hirst and Vladimir (Didi).
Sean Mathias has directed both plays. Had Samuel Beckett or his indefatigable executor Barney Rosset still been alive, they would have either closed this production of Waiting for Godot or demanded that Mathias go back to the setting as described in the text – a desolate place in the middle of nowhere. Mathias has chosen to literalize the interpretation of the play as a response to the awful chaos and desolation in Europe during and after the Second World War, setting the play in what appears to be a bombed –out town square, with the famously bedraggled tree growing out of it, which sets the play in the middle of somewhere instead of nowhere, which I think is Wrong. But the setting is not the only Bad Idea in this production. Stewart makes a fine Didi, but For Some Strange Reason McKellen is doing a Scottish accent which makes him sound as if he were imagining Sean Connery in the role. Shuler Hensley appears to be modelling his performance as Pozzo on Foghorn Leghorn, and Billy Crudup has been directed to dash around the stage during Lucky’s famous monologue, delivering it at a too-brisk pace, in a high-pitched voice which renders most of it unintelligible.
The production of No Man’s Land is much better. Stewart is wonderful as the addled Hirst, rather the Pozzo of this play, and McKellen here drops the Scottish accent and nails Spooner’s desperation to become Hirst’s servant – in effect, his Lucky. Henley and Crudup are much better here as Hirst’s servants. The problem is, the play itself just seems like all too much self-indulgent wheel-spinning.
Also playing in alternating repertory are Shakespeare’s Richard III and Twelfth Night (called here Twelfe Night after the spelling in the First Folio), at the Belasco Theatre. Both plays are staged by Tim Carroll and both are done in authentic Elizabethan style, with an all-male cast on a stage which approximates that of the Globe Theatre, as adapted for the proscenium stage at the Belasco. Above the stage, musicians in period dress play music on period instruments, and at the end of both the actors dance a jig.
Rylance plays Countess Olivia in Twelfth Night and Gloucester (later Richard III). He is a gifted comic actor, and his Olivia is the funniest performance in that role I have ever seen. Unfortunately, his Richard III is also the funniest performance I’ve ever seen. He comes off like The Joker in Batman, which totally undercuts Shakespeare’s portrait of Pure Evil. On the plus side, though, taking stock of the recent discovery of Richard’s skeleton in Leicester, he plays him with a curved spine and a withered left arm. His company of actors, all Brits, is superb. You could skip Richard III, but don’t miss Twelfe Night.
Another don’t-miss Shakespeare on the boards is Julie Taymor’s astounding production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Theatre of a New Audience’s handsome new Polonksy Shakespeare Center, half a block from BAM in Brooklyn, loaded with totally original staging and hauntingly beautiful scenic effects. Few of the actors can I recall ever seeing before. All are superb.
Also brilliant is Fun Home at the Public Theater, which has been extended four times. The book and lyrics are by Lisa Kron, the music by Jeanine Tesori. It’s been beautifully adapted from a graphic novel by Alison Bechdel about growing up gay in a family where the Dad turns out to be gay as well. Tesori’s music is truly beautiful, and Kron displays a heretofore untapped lyrical gift. Michael Cerveris, as the gay Dad, here demonstrates why he’s one of our greatest actors in musicals.
You can still catch Fun Home. Don’t miss it.
Alas, you’ve missed two Rattlestick productions — Charles Fuller’s One Night at the Cherry Lane Theatre, and Halley’s Feiffer’s How to Make Friends and Then Kill Them, at Rattlestick’s theatre in Waverly Place. One Night was about a traumatized female Iraq war veteran, raped and the hung out to dry by the chain of command, and a good Samaritan determined to save her. Why, we found out at the end. Feiffer’s play followed three girls from 10-20s and was a brilliantly theatrical dissection of Mean Girl Syndrome. Both productions lived up to Rattlestick’s usual high standards and confirms this theatre’s status as one of the New York Theatre’s best showcases for new plays.
You’ve also missed Marlane Mayer’s The Patron Saint of Sea Monsters at Playwrights Horizons, about the doomed love of a geeky young woman for a Bad Boy, among other things. The play was wonderfully theatrical, but I thought director Lisa Peterson got carried away with this theatricality, making a lot of it Just Plain Silly. Still, I was glad I saw it.
WAITING FOR GODOT and NO MAN’S LAND. Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
TWELFE NIGHT and RICHARD III. Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM. Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Pl.,
FUN HOME. Public Theater, 435 Lafayette St.
ONE NIGHT. Chery Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St. Alas, closed.
HOW TO MAKE FRIENDS AND THEN KILL THEM. Rattlestick Playwrights
Theatre, 224 Waverly Pl. Alas, closed.
THE PATRON SAINT OF SEA MONSTERS. Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.
For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: email@example.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