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 JUST JIM DALE, THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN, OF MICE AND MEN, CABARET, HERE LIES LOVE, THE AYCKBOURN ENSEMBLE, THE CITY OF CONVERSATION, TOO MUCH SUN and WHEN JANUARY FEELS LIKE SUMMER.

You won’t find a more entertaining show off Broadway right now than Jim Dale’s solo memoir turn, appropriately entitled Just Jim Dale, at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre, wherein the endlessly energetic 78 year-old actor recounts his rise from his start in the English music halls, to his years as a rock star (during which he wrote the lyrics to “Georgie Girl”), eventually becoming one of the world’s greatest actors, equally adept in comedy, drama, and musicals. Some of this is his life story, some a collection of his Greatest Hits from such shows as Scapino, Barnum and A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, and there are particularly amusing segments wherein he explains how much of the English language derives from Shakespeare, and when he recounts his experience recording the Harry Potter audio books.

You won’t want to miss this one, folks.

I am finally getting around to The Cripple of Inishmaan, at the Cort Theatre, which I saw quite a while ago. Indeed, a lot of this column is me playing catch-up ball. I got swamped with Playfixer projects and hurt both shoulders, requiring surgery and making it difficult for me to type.

Anyway, this is still running and is not to be missed. It’s a revival of a play by Martin McDonagh, perhaps the greatest contemporary Irish dramatist, about a crippled orphan boy named Billy whose parents drowned under mysterious circumstances and who is being carried for by two old ladies he calls his “aunties.” There’s not much excitement in Billy’s life — or, indeed in the lives of any of the residents of Inishmaan – until, that is, a Hollywood film crew arrives to shoot a “fillum.” Billy manages to get to the film set, where he is “discovered” and sent off to Hollywood.

Speaking of Harry Potter, the play stars Daniel Radcliffe in an absolutely heart-wrenching performance in the title role; and he is supported by a wonderful cast of Irish actors, under the beautiful direction of Michael Grandage. The Best Leading Actor category at the Tony’s was very competitive this year, and Radcliffe didn’t get nominated – but he sure deserved to be.

You don’t want to miss this one either.

John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men, at the Longacre Theatre, is another wonderful don’t-miss revival, superbly directed by Anna D. Shapiro and starring James Franco and George and Chris O’Dowd as Lenny. Franco is not the stiff you heard he is. He’s terrific as George, though overshadowed (as George always is in productions of the play) by Lenny, the showier part. O’Dowd is terrific too, as are all the supporting actors. My faves were Jim Norton as Candy, the elderly ranch hand with the stinky dog, Jim Parrick as Slim and Ron Cephas Jones as the black ranch hand, Crooks.

Roundabout’s production of Cabaret, directed by Sam Mendes, first seen here 14 years ago, is back at Studio 54, again starring the astonishing Alan Cumming as the Emcee, and featuring Michelle Williams as Sally Bowles. You expect Cumming to be great – but how is Michelle Williams? Well, great too. She’s perfect in the role. Also good are Danny Burstyn as Herr Schultz, Linda Emond as Frau Schneider and Bill Heck as Cliff.
Mendes’ direction is delightfully raunchy and Kander and Ebb’s score is one great song after another.

Even if you saw this production of Cabaret the first time around, it’s worth seeing again. It’s a great production of a classic musical.

The Public Theater’s acclaimed production of Here Lies Love, directed by Alex Timbers and with a beautiful score by David Byrne and Fat Boy Slim, has reopened for a commercial run at the Public, the first time this has happened in the institution’s esteemed history. This is the story of Imelda Marcos, done as an audience-immersive disco. It’s brilliantly conceived and staged, and features a wonderful performance by Ruthie Ann Miles as Imelda Marcos, with strong support from Jose Llana as Ferdinand Marcos and Conrad Ricamora as Aquino.

This one, too, is a don’t-miss.

Uptown at 59 E 59, the annual Brits Off Broadway Festival is going full bore. British Playwright Alan Ayckbourn has brought over his company from the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough to perform, in repertory, three Ayckbourn plays in repertory – Arrivals and Departures, Farcicals and Time of My Life. While I would describe none as top-drawer Ayckbourn, even second-tier Ayckbourn is head and shoulders above most everything else. Ayckbourn has directed all three and his direction of this wonderful ensemble is superb.

Arrivals and Departures is a comic drama about a bumbling, extremely garrulous meter man named Barry who is the only one who can identify a terrorist expected to get off the next train, and the female soldier named Ez assigned to guard him. It flips back and forth in time as we learn how Barry and Ez came to this point in their lives. Elizabeth Boag is very compelling as Ez, and Kim Wall’s Barry is a comic gem of a performance.

Farcicals consists of two related one-acts about marital infidelity, featuring the same two couples. It’s less substantial than the other two plays but by far the funniest of all three. Ms. Boag turns in a wonderful performance as one half of one of the couples. In the first part, she reassures her friend that her husband is not having an affair. In the second part, it turns out he is – with her. Boag is so good I didn’t even realize it was the same actress from Arrivals and Departures until I looked in my program when I got home, and Sarah Stanley is hilarious as the mousy wife trying to win back her husband’s attentions.

The most complex of the three is Time of My Life. It begins with a dinner party at some sort of vaguely mysterious ethnic restaurant and lurches back and forth in time as couples meet and break up. Its ending is very touching.

Three new plays by one of the British theatre’s greatest living dramatists. Not to be missed.

Nor is Anthony Giardina’s The City of Conversation, at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi Newhouse Theatre. Set in Georgetown in the Age of Reagan, it’s about a socialite and something of a political mover and shaker named Hester, a champion of liberal causes determined to fight Reaganism at every turn, even if it costs her her relationship with her son and, eventually, her grandson. The play is witty, thoughtful and thoroughly engaging, and features a terrific star performance by the always-wonderful Jan Maxwell.

The City of Conversation is Pulitzer Prize-quality and deserves to move to a commercial run, as did Jon Robin Baitz’ Other Desert Cities, which started in the same theatre, moved to Broadway, and should have won the Pulitzer two years ago.

Nicky Silver’s Too Much Sun, at the Vineyard Theatre, also features a star performance (by Linda Lavin) as a very successful stage actress named Audrey who has a meltdown while rehearsing Medea and decides to move in indefinitely with her daughter and her husband, who are not exactly happy about this. Daughter Kitty has always had a rocky relationship with her mother, a difficult, self-absorbed woman — plus there seem to be problems in her marriage. We find out the cause of these problems late in the play, when her husband begins a torrid love affair with a teenaged neighbor boy. Although I enjoyed this, it doesn’t have the heft of Silver’s last Vineyard outing, The Lyons, but this is a fine production and one never wants to miss a chance to see the great Linda Lavin.

Finally, at Ensemble Studio Theatre there’s a wonderful production of a comedy by Cori Thomas, When January Feels Like Summer, which focuses on a bodega owner named Nirmala and her brother, Ishan, who is in the process of undergoing a sex change, calling himself Indira. Ishan is forced to run the store by herself because her husband is in a coma after being shot during a robbery, brain dead but on life support. She can’t bring herself to pull the plug on him, even though it turns out she has never had sex with him, as he was more into pornography. Also in the mix are two black teenaged boys who become convinced that recycling is ruining the planet. The more clueless of the two also thinks he’s discovered a sexual predator, so the boys put up signs all over the neighborhood warning people – and it turns out they were right.

I know none of this sounds funny but it really is, and the play turns quite poignant at the end when one of the boys falls for “Indira” and Nirmala goes on a date with a love-smitten sanitation worker named Joe.

When January Feels Like Summer is a delight from start to finish.

JUST JIM DALE. Laura Pels Theatre, 111W. 46th St.
TICKETS: 212-719-1300
THE CRIPPLE OF INISHMAAN. Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
OF MICE AND MEN. Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
CABARET. Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St.
TICKETS: www.roundabouttheatre.org or 212-719-1300
HERE LIES LOVE. Public Theatre, 425 Lafayette St.
TICKETS: 21-96-7555
THE AYCKBOURN ENSEMBLE. 59 E 59, 59 E. 59th St.
TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com of 212-279-4200
THE CITY OF CONVERSATION. Mitzi Newhouse Theatre, Lincoln Center
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
TOO MUCH SUN. Vineyard Theatre, 108 E. 15th St.
TICKETS: 212-353-0303
WHEN JANUARY FEELS LIKE SUMMER. Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 W. 52nd St.
TICKETS: www.ovationtix.com or 866-811-4111.

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 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

“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

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