“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 FISH IN THE DARK, THE NETHER, ABUNDANCE, APPLICATION PENDING, JOHN & JEN and THE LION.

I don’t watch much television, so I have never seen Larry David’s show, “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and I only saw a few episodes of Seinfeld, so I did not know what to expect when I went to see Fish in The Dark at the Cort Theatre, which David not only wrote but in which he appears. Turns out, the play is the sort of dysfunctional family comedy Charles Busch parodied brilliantly in The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife, a genre pretty much absent from Broadway since the heyday of Neil Simon. David plays one of two sons whose father is dying. When dear old dad finally kicks the bucket, the problem is what to do about Mom. Which son did the Dad want her to live with?

The play is often very funny, and so is Larry David – when you can understand him. His speech rhythms are almost always of the rapid fire variety but his poor diction makes it hard to get what he is saying. Who cares? The audience loves him, and he’s backed up by a wonderful cast, whose standouts include Jane Houdyshell as the Mom, Ben Shenkman as David’s brother and Rosie Perez as a housekeeper with a secret.

Fish in the Dark is surprisingly good. Go – if you can get a ticket.

Jennifer Haley’s The Nether, produced by MCC at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, is set in the future and is about the next generation of the internet, wherein people can actually enter virtual worlds and act out their fantasies. A detective is investigating a man who runs one such site, where pervs can go to have sex with little girls and then dismember them. It’s horrifying, but fortunately we never actually see this happening. Haley holds back some surprising secrets, which I never saw coming. Anne Kauffman’s direction is brilliant, and there are chillingly superb performances from Frank Wood and Peter Friedman, both of whom I have never seen do better work.

The Nether is shocking in its depiction of a possible dystopian future, but it’s nonetheless fascinating.

I somehow missed Beth Henley’s Abundance when it was produced by Manhattan Theatre Club in the early 90’s, so seeing TACT’s revival at the Samuel Beckett Theatre was for me like seeing a new play by one of my favorite playwrights. It’s about two mail order brides come to Wyoming from Back East. Macon marries a dull but dependable man while Bess marries her intended’s brother, her intended having passed away, who is, to put it mildly, a lout. One couple prospers, the other doesn’t. Eventually, Bess is captured by Indians. When she’s rescued several years later she’s catatonic and her face is covered with tattoos. Gradually, she begins to recover from the effects of her ordeal, and when a sharpie from Back East arrives to help her write her story she winds up rich and famous, while Macon  winds up destitute.

Abundance is a compelling story and features wonderful performances by Tracy Middendorf as Bess and Kelly McAndrew as Macon, under the lovely direction of Jenn Thompson. Definitely recommended!

Application Pending, at the Westside Theatre, is a comedy by Andy Sandberg and Greg Edwards about a frazzled admissions director at an elite elementary school, until recently a teacher at the school who’s been “promoted” when her predecessor left under a mysterious cloud. Christina Bianco plays Our Heroine and at least 40 other characters, from desperate parents willing to do anything to get their kid admitted to her monstrous boss to her unscrupulous opposite number at another school to, well, many others, and she’s hilarious. It’s a tour de force performance which is not to be missed.

As I have often stated, I am a theatre geezer. You know you’re a theatre geezer when you start seeing revivals of plays and musicals and you saw the original production. I saw the original production at the now-gone Lambs Theatre of the AndrewLippa/Tom Greenwald musical John & Jen and I remember being unimpressed. I am even less impressed after seeing the current revival by Keen Company at the Harold Clurman Theatre. This 2-character musical follows the lives of a sister and her younger brother, beginning with his birth and going on to their political divergence. Jen becomes a Vietnam War protester, while John goes into the military and fights in that war. The show is almost all through-sung, and almost all the songs go on and on and on, if you know what I mean. Kate Baldwin and Conor Ryan do the best they can, but they are hampered by Jonathan Silverstein’s uninventive direction.

Finally, at the Lynn Redgrave Theatre there is a wonderful one-man show called The Lion, written and performed by Benjamin Scheuer, wherein Scheuer tells the story of his life in song and story, detailing his contentious relationship with his father, who died young, and his girlfriend, who left him to “find herself,” to his fight against cancer, which almost killed him. Scheuer accompanies himself on several different guitars. The songs are very inventive often ineffably beautiful, and his musicianship is phenomenal. He’s hands-down the best guitarist I have even seen or heard. Add to this to his charismatic good looks (he kind of looks like a cuter, nicer version of the late Robert Palmer) and you have one of the most unusual and, indeed, moving shows currently running.

The Lion is not to be missed.

FISH IN THE DARK. Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE NETHER.Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St.

TICKETS: 212-352-3101

ABUNDANCE. Samuel Beckett Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

APPLICATION PENDING. Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43rd St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

JOHN & JEN. Harold Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

THE LION. Lynn Redgrave Theatre, 45 Bleecker St.

TICKETS: 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 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