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 Network, American Son, Clueless, The Lifespan of a Fact and King Kong.

Happy New Year!

If you think our country is going to hell in a handbasket and you’re mad as hell and aren’t going to take it anymore then Network, Lee Hall’s adaptation of the Paddy Chayefski screenplay from 1977 which garnered several awards, including one for Best Original Screenplay for Chayefski, you don’t want to miss the stage version at the Belasco Theatre. Directed by Ivo Van Hove and featuring a phenomenal performance by Bryan Cranston as Howard Beale, the deranged anchorman on a nightly news show who becomes a Jeremiah-like prophet, Network is one of the best things you’ll see this season.

Van Hove and his designers, most notably Jan Versweyveld (set and lighting) and Tal Yarden (video), have come up with a concept that almost makes the audience feel as if they are on the newsroom set, a perfect realization of Chayefski’s cogent demonstration of how people come to see what’s on TV as reality. Eager beaver and totally unscrupulous producer Diana Christensen sees that allowing Howard to rant on camera is a ratings gold mine – until, that is, Howard goes completely off the rails. Tatiana Maslany is terrific as Diana, though not as terrific as Faye Dunaway (who won an Oscar) was in the film. Tony Goldwyn is just OK as Max Schumacher, a jaded producer, which, if memory serves, was William Holden’s last appearance on film.

But the stars of the show are Cranston and Van Hove.

American Son by Christopher Demos-Brown, at the Booth Theatre is a powerful, gut-churning parable about the thorny, insolvable dilemma regarding race. It begins with a  black woman, Kendra, waiting late at night at a police station, to which she came when her son Jamal, didn’t come home. She is stymied by a young white police officer who is unable to provide her with information as to Jamal’s whereabouts. She has called her estranged husband, and when he arrives we are surprised, along with the policeman, that he is white. Eventually, the police are able to ascertain what has happened to Jamal, and it’s a tragic ending to this brilliant, strident new play.

Kerry Washington and Stephen Pasquale are very strong as Jamal’s parents, as are Jeremy Jordan as the police officer, and Eugene Lee as an older policeman, and Kenny Leon has directed the play with a steady, unobtrusive hand.

Like Network, American Son is a don’t-miss. I wouldn’t be surprised if it wins this year’s Pulitzer Prize.

Clueless, at the Signature Center, is a musical-ization by Amy Heckerling of her cult film of the 90s about a group of Beverly Hills teenagers. Heckerling has chosen popular songs of the era but given them new lyrics, a device which I found very clever. Kristin Hanggi has done a fine job of staging the show and Kelly Devine’s choreography is sprightly and witty, and Dove Cameron is charming as the  central character, Cher. Yes, folks, this is another Cher show.

The reviews for Clueless have not been all that hot. Several critics took it to task for Not Being The Movie. Well, I never saw the movie, so I responded to this musical version with fresh eyes and ears, which may be why I enjoyed it so much.

The Lifespan of a Fact, at Studio 54, is a fine new play by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell and Gordon Ferrell. Cherry Jones plays the editor of a prestigious literary magazine who has contracted to publish an essay by a prominent writer about the suicide of a young man. She gives an intern the job of fact-checking the essay, and little did she know the ramifications of this decision, as he turns out to be an obsessive-compulsive young fellow who takes the job very seriously, to the point of coming up with 137 pages of notes which put into question the veracity of just about everything in the essay.

Daniel Radcliffe as Jim the fact-checker here adds another wonderful performance to his stage resume and Cherry Jones is also terrific as the editor, Emily, who has to decide whether to go with Jim’s version Truth or the essayist John’s defense of bending the facts in the name of poetic justice. As for Bobby Cannavalle as John, I am a big fan of this terrific actor who was sensational in The Motherfucker with the Hat, but I had difficulty buying him as a brilliant writer. Director Leigh Silverman has done a fine job with the other two actors, but couldn’t make Cannavalle credible.

Still, this is a very entertaining cerebral comedy and well worth seeing.

Finally, we come to the musical version of King Kong, at the Broadway Theatre. You know the story so there is no use summarizing the preposterous plot, because this show is all about the special effects, mainly the enormous puppet that is Kong, who makes Joey, the horse from Warhorse, look like a sock puppet.

Make no mistake Kong, manipulated by several people, is the star of the show. One of the things that amazed me the most was how his designer, Sonny Tilderss has made his face able to show emotion, from tenderness to rage.

The score by Marius de Vries is unmemorable, as are the performances. But Kong is amazing. 

NETWORK. Belasco Theatre, 111 W. 44th St.

Tickets: www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400

AMERICAN SON. Booth Theatre, 222 W. 45th St.

Tickets: www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400

CLUELESS. Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.

Tickets: www.ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT. Studio 54. 254 W. 54th St.

Tickets: www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400

KING KONG. Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway

Tickets: www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6200 or 800-447-7400 

“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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