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 LOVE LETTERS, INDIAN INK, FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE, FOUND, THIS IS OUR YOUTH and YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU.
A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, is about as bare bones as bare bones can get. A man and a woman sit behind a table, reading letters they have written to each other since they met in the second grade. Gurney’s clever use of irony makes us realize long before they do that they have loved each other all their lives. He has become a U.S. Senator, not particularly happily married, whereas her life has been one personal disaster after another. It’s a brilliant device, made even more so by the extraordinary performances by the two actors I saw performing the play, Brian Dennehy and Mia Farrow. I expected excellence from Dennehy, but Farrow was truly a revelation. As her character’s life disintegrated, she broke your heart. The plan is to bring in a different pair of stars every two weeks. Next up: Alan Alda and Candice Bergen. Whoever you see in this funny, and ultimately very poignant, you won’t regret it.
Tom Stoppard’s 1995 play Indian Ink is finally receiving its New York Premiere in a superb production directed by Carey Perloff at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre. The play takes place in two time frames – 1930 in India and the 1980’s in England. The Indian part of the play is about a female poet named Flora Crewe, who has come to India for her health. In the 1980’s her sister Eleanor is interviewed by a young scholar who is editing an edition of Flora’s letters and who has many questions about references therein. She is also visited by a young Indian man whoi, it turns out, is the son of a painter who did Flora’s portrait. The play is something of a literary detective story, as the details of Flora’s brief sojourn in India before she died emerge. It’s a compelling story, made even more compelling by the performances of Romola Garai as Flora and the great Rosemary Harris as Eleanor; but they are not the only standouts. Also terrific are Firdous Banji as the portrait painter and Bhavesh Patel as his son.
Indian Ink is a play heretofore not seen here, by one of the world’s greatest playwrights. What are you waiting for?
Down at the Public Theater, you can see a terrific new musical, The Fortress of Solitude, with a book by Itamar Moses based on the novel by Jonathan Lethem, a coming of age tale of a white boy named Dylan growing up in a black neighborhood in Brooklyn. His only friend is a black kid named Mingus, the son of a once-prominent 1960s soul singer who’s now a bitter middle-aged burnout. Both boys are motherless, Dylan’s having left for Berkeley. Dylan eventually becomes a writer, whereas Mingus winds up in prison, and he conceives of the idea to try and help Mingus’ father stage a comeback.
Adam Chanler-Berat is perfect as Dylan, but it is Kyle Beltran who really shines as the tormented Mingus. He has an enormous amount of charisma, sings beautifully, and just about breaks your heart. Also strong are Andre de Shields as Mingus’ grandfather, a defrocked minister who’s just gotten out of prison, and Kevin Mambo as Barrett Rude Jr., Mingus’s dad.
The songs, by Michael Friedman, are a wonderful pastiche of 60s styles, and Daniel Aukin’s direction is first rate.
This one’s a don’t-miss.
As is Found, at the Atlantic Theatre Company, also a musical, about a young man nameD Davy who starts a magazine wherein he prints notices he has found on the street and in garbage cans all over the city, assisted by his two roommates – a cutie who is sweet on him and a large gay dude who’s been his friend since they were kids The magazine takes off, and Hollywood comes calling. Will Dave sell out by letting them make Yet Another “reality” show based on his magazine? The book by Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree is acres of clever, and Eli Bolin’s songs are very sprightly and off-beat.
Nick Blaemire is wonderful as Davy. Also good are Barrett Wilbert Reed as his no-bullshit roommate/partner, and Daniel Everidge as his gay friend who helps him with the magazine.
Again, a don’t-miss.
An interjection: It’s sad that neither The Fortress of Solitude nor Found has anywhere to go after they close at their respective theatres. They can’t move to Broadway (no stars) and they can’t move to a commercial Off Broadway venue (too many actors). So, alas, both will disappear into the ether when they close. Both deserve better.
Kenneth Lonergan’s comic drama, This is Our Youth, is enjoying an excellent revival at the Cort Theatre, the first time this famous play from the 1980’s has been presented on Broadway, seamlessly directed by Anna D. Shapiro and featuring wonderful performances by Kieran Culkin and Michael Cera as Dennis and Warren, two 20-something slackers. Warren arrives at Dennis’ apartment (which Dennis’ dad pays for, of course), with a suitcase full of “collectibles” and a bag full of his dad’s money, his dad having thrown him out. What’s to become of both youths? Lonergan’s writing retains its freshness lo these many years after the play was written, and actually makes you care about these losers.
Again, a don’t-miss.
But the champion don’t-miss in this column has to be Scott Ellis’ hilarious revival at the Longacre Theatre of the Kaufman and Hart classic, You Can’t Take it With You, about an eccentric family, all of whom have dropped out of the rat race, led by patriarch Martin Vanderhoff, played with devilish glee by James Earl Jones. Ellis’ ensemble is superb. Standouts include Annaleigh Ashford as Martin’s granddaughter Essie, who spends almost the entire play flitting around in ballet costume and Kristine Neilson as Martin’s daughter Penny, an autodidact of a playwright. Mention must also be made of David Rockwell’s wonderful set, which is sure to garner many an award nomination in the spring.
Lotsa don’t-misses going on right now. I mean it – they really are.
LOVE LETTERS. Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 256 W. 47th St.
TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000
INDIAN INK. Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St.
THE FORTRESS OF SOLITUDE. Public Theater, 435 Lafayette St.
FOUND. Atlantic Theatre Co., 366 W. 20th St.
THIS IS OUR YOUTH. Cort Theatre. 138 W. 48th St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU. Longacre Theatre, 220 W. with 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: 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