Archive for November, 2019

“On the Aisle with Larry” 29 November 2019

“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 MACBETH, THE LIGHTNING THIEF, SEARED, DR. RIDE’S AMERICAN BEACH HOUSE, EVERYTHING IS SUPER GREAT and ALL IS TRUE.

Macbeth, at CSC, is not Macbeth – it’s an adaptation of the play by director John Doyle, though this is not explained in the program which, by the way, you have to download from CSC’s website (are paper programs going to become a thing of the past?). The assumption, when directors do this, is that everyone in the audience knows Shakespeare’s original, whereas I’ll wager to say that a lot of people who attend Doyle’s production think they are seeing Macbeth as Shakespeare wrote it. I have no problem with Shakespeare adaptations – as long as the program makes it clear that that’s what they are (although how would a CSC theatregoer know that without a program?). Here, CSC would not have been able to afford to produce Macbeth. Too many actors. This production employs eight. My position is that if you can’t afford to do the text of the play as the playwright intended, don’t do it. This is a constant problem for CSC, an acronym for Classic Stage Company, as almost all classic plays require casts that are far larger than an Off Broadway company can manage. So, we often end up with hybrids like this Macbeth.

As anyone who knows the play knows, it begins with the three Witches (“Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble …”). In Doyle’s production, though, the witches are portrayed by the entire cast, except for Macbeth – including Lady M. This makes no sense, and undercuts the creepiness of Macbeth’s encounter with the Weird Sisters. The Porter has been cut (“Who’s there, i’ the name of Beelzebub?”). King Duncan and Ross are portrayed by women. Fleance is portrayed by what appears to be a transgender actor (although, who knows?). The list of Doyle’s liberties goes on and on …

All of the above said, the two leads acquit themselves well. Corey Still is appropriately weenie as Macbeth and Nadia Bowers appropriately creepy as Lady M.

The Lightning Thief, at the Longacre Theatre, a musical based on a young adult novel by Rick Riordan, the first installment in the “Percy Jackson & the Olympians” series, tells the story of Percy, a troubled teen being raised by his mother, his father having ditched them years ago. Percy keeps getting expelled from schools. Finally, he winds up at Camp Half-Blood, which he learns is for children one of whose parents is a Greek God. Percy finally learns that his father is Poseidon, and that someone has stolen Zeus’ lightning bolt. He goes on a quest with two other kids to discover the culprit, who they think is Hades, so they go by bus to Los Angeles, where the entrance to Hell is (perfect!). Along the way, they meet Ares. Did he steal the lightning? Eventually, they discover the real thief, and get the lightning bolt back – and Percy meets his father. It’s sorta Dear Evan Hansen meets Hadestown, which I assume won over investors, as both those shows won the Tony Award.

The kids are played by adults, unfortunately, though some of the performances are mighty fine, particularly that of Chris McCarell as Percy. The songs by Rob Rokicki are mostly unremarkable. The scenic design, by Lee Savage, consists of scaffolding, some permanent, some rolling in and out. It’s one of the ugliest sets I have ever seen on a Broadway stage.

If you are a fan of the Percy Jackson novels, I think you would enjoy The Lightning Thief. Everyone else, be prepared to sit there and roll your eyes.

Seared, Theresa Rebeck’s searing new play at the Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space/Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater, at MCC Theatre’s new complex of two splendid theatres (which I had the pleasure of visiting for the first time), is about a genius chef named Harry and his investor, Mike, who also serves as a waiter, this being a very small operation. The chef is difficult, to say the least. The restaurant has just received a glowing review in New York Magazine, with particular praise for the scallops so, naturally, the chef refuses to cook them the following day, much to the chagrin of his partner. Although they now start to do capacity business, they are barely breaking even. A rent increase could put them out of business. The partner brings in a brilliant woman named Emily who specializes in helping restaurants reach their maximum financial potential, and what ensues is a war of the wills between Harry, who resists any change because he doesn’t care about money and Emily, backed by Mike, who do.

Raúl Esparza is astounding as Harry, but David Mason (Mine) and Krysta Rodriguez (Emily) are almost as good, and W. Tré Davis has a nice turn as a waiter, Rodney. Moritz von Stuepfnagel’s taut timing in the direction is amazing, as is Tim MacKabee’s hyper-realistic kitchen set.

Seared is one of the gifted and prolific Rebeck’s best plays, and rockets to the list of my must-see list.

I sat though Lisa Birkenmeier’s intermission-less Dr. Ride’s American Beach House, an Ars Nova production at the Greenwich House Theatre, wondering when the play was going to finally get going; but I think that must have been a guy thing. We’re big on dramatic action and conflict, short on plays in which a coupla white chicks basically do nothing but sit around, talking. They are on a roof, there for a meeting of the Serious Ladies Book Club, in which no books are discussed but a lot of venting is done. They are two BFF’s with college degrees in poetry who are working as waitresses, living in St. Louis. One of them, Harriet, played with touching simplicity by Kristen Dieh, has recently returned from Florida to visit her mother, who is dying, where she learns that NASA has a beach house near Cape Canaveral, where astronauts stay before they are shot into space, one of whom at this juncture in time is Sally Ride, the first female astronaut. Harriet’s BFF, Matilda (a stellar Erin Markey), has a husband and a baby, but there are hints that their relationship is more than “just friends.” Also in the mix is a very butch lesbian named Meg, who arrives thinking she has come to an actual book club, who provides a lot of the wit which ultimately sustains the play.

While I myself wasn’t wild about the play, I must report that it moved a female playwright friend of mine to tears.

Stephen Brown’s Everything is Super Great, at 59E59, is a wonderful comedy about a teenaged guy who works at Walmart, along with his mother. He is very angst-ridden, so the mom hires a psychologist to work with him who is highly unqualified, to say the least.

The acting is super-great, as is Sarah Norris’ superb direction.

This one, too, makes my must-see list.

Finally, I don’t usually comment on movies but I want theatre-lovers to know about All is True, produced and directed by Kenneth Branagh, who stars as William Shakespeare. Will has retired to Stratford shortly after his beloved Globe Theatre has burned down, leaving the world of the theatre behind with no regrets. He soon learns that many of the assumptions he had about his family are, well, not true.

Since little is known of Shakespeare’s final years, screenwriter Ben Elton includes much conjecture; though he makes this highly credible. His screenplay is, in a word, brilliant, as is Branagh’s performance. There are many great scenes in this film, such as one in which the Earl of Southampton (a wonderful Ian McKellen), to whom Shakespeare dedicated his sonnets long ago, arrives in Stratford to urge Will not to give up writing plays, during which it is subtly but yet abundantly clear that Southampton was the great love of Will’s life. I also loved a scene in which Shakespeare tells off a snide Sir Thomas Lucy of Charlecote, who has accused him of having engaged in trivial pursuits while he, Lucy, has been doing something that matters — running an estate. Will lays into him with a brilliant tirade describing everything it takes to run a theatre, which leaves Lucy, and us, speechless.

This film is a don’t miss, particularly if you know something about Shakespeare’s life.

MACBETH.  CSC, 136 E. 13th St.

TICKETS: www.ovationtix.com or 212-677-4210

THE LIGHTNING THIEF. Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th St.

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

SEARED. The Robert W. Wilson MCC Theater Space/Susan & Ronald Frankel Theater,

511 W. 52nd St.

DR. RIDE’S AMERICAN BEACH HOUSE. Ars Nova at the Greenwich House

Theatre. Alas, closed

EVERYTHING IS SUPER GREAT. 59E59, 59 E. 59th St.

TICKETS: 646-892-7999 

ALL IS TRUE. Available on DVD from Netflix.

“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

 

Share

“On the Aisle with Larry” 22 November 2019

“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 SLAVE PLAY, EINSTEIN’S DREAMS, FEAR, BRANDOCAPOTE and THE GREAT SOCIETY. 

Jeremy O. Harris’ Slave Play, at the Golden Theatre, is one of those plays where you think it’s one thing but then it turns out to be something quite different. In the first third of this two hour and 20 minute intermission-less drama, we are in the Old South, at a plantation. It starts off with a female slave and her sadistic overseer who, of course, rapes her. Next, we go inside the plantation house, with the randy plantation owner’s wife and a very handsome male house slave. She makes him strip butt-naked and get down in all fours, then takes out an enormous black dildo and sodomizes him with it. The third scene involves two men – one black, one white. The white guy plays the slave and the black guy plays his master. The master makes the slave lick his boot until he orgasms, which surprised the heck out of me as the black guy didn’t appear to even have a woody.

After these carryings-on, we go to the present. It turns out, what we have seen were fantasies of the contemporary mixed-race couples, participating in a sex-therapy workshop conducted by two women. What ensues is a lot of psychobabble, much of it incomprehensible.

The actors are fine, the direction’s fine; but the play is who-cares.

Einstein’s Dreams, at 59E59, is a musical about young Albert Einstein, a humble patent clerk, who falls asleep at his desk and dreams up the Theory of Relativity, inspired by a muse named Josette. The book by Joanne Sydney Lessner is sort of a Cliff Notes. Some of the songs by Joshua Rosenblum are pleasant, although one or two are not so. In “Now Backwards Moving in Time,” for instance, all the lyrics are sung backwards, to demonstrate how Time will eventually turn around and head back the other way.

Of the performers, Alexandra Silber is a standout as the Muse.

Fear, a new drama by Matt Williams at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, is a gripping cat and mouse game. At the start, a man (a plumber) drags a teenaged boy into a disused tool shed near a lake. An 8 year-old girl has gone missing, and he thinks the kid’s responsible. Another man, part of the search party for the girl, hears the ruckus and barges in to find the kid tied up and being choked. Turns out, he’s a college professor and the next door neighbor of both the kid and the guy choking him. He can’t call for help because he has no bars on his cell phone. Who’s telling the truth? Is the kid the culprit or, maybe, is it the plumber’s own son? And, what’s with the visits by the plumber to the professor’s house? Into this melodramatic framework, Williams grafts a brilliant examination of the all-consuming fear in which we all live in these dark times. 

Director Tea Alagić’s direction is taut, and there are terrific performances by Enrico Colantoni as the plumber, Obu Abili as the professor and Alexander Garfin as the scared-out-of-his mind kid. You won’t find better acting right now on a New York stage.

Don’t miss Fear.

As for BrandoCapote, by Reid and Sara Farrington, you could skip it unless you really like “experimental theatre” which here, as it usually is, is mostly imitation-Dada/surrealism. Inspired by an interview Truman Capote conducted with Marlon Brando in Tokyo during the filming of “Sayonara” the play, such as it is, uses the text of this interview to examine the similar troubled childhoods of both Brando and Capote. For some reason, most of Brando’s dialogue is heard as voice over done by the actor playing Brando, who makes no effort to sound like him, whereas much of Capote’s words are done live by Akiro Kumatsu, who does a killer Capote impression. All the actors are dressed in kimonos, and they spend a lot of time rolling up and then unrolling lengths of cloth, which they stretch across the stage.Why? Nobody knows. Sometimes, they pick up red mops and mop the floor furiously. Go figure.

BrandoCapote is only 60 minutes long, which I found blessedly brief.

Robert Schenkkan’s The Great Society, at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, is a follow-up to his All the Way, which featured a towering performance by Bryan Cranston as LBJ. Here, Brian Cox assays the role. While he’s pretty good he’s hardly towering. 

The play focuses on Johnson’s attempts to pass the Voting Rights bill even as he is trying to get Congress to pass his Great Society agenda. The usual culprits, such as Governor Wallace and the Republicans stand in his way. Of course, the Vietnam quagmire eventually brings him down. Like All the Way, it’s a fascinating portrait of a brilliant politician pulling out all the stops. Bill Rauch’s direction is superb, as are all the actors – Richard Thomas as Hubert Humphrey, Bryce Pinkham as Bobby Kennedy and Grantham Coleman as Martin Luther King are particular stand-outs.

While The Great Society is not as great as All the Way, it’s still worth seeing even if you didn’t live through the events it dramatizes, as I did. 

 

SLAVE PLAY. Golden Theatre, 252 W. 45th St.

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6210 or 800-543-4835

EINSTEIN’S DREAMS. 59E59, 59 E. 59TH St.

TICKETS: 646-892-7999

FEAR. Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121.Christopher St.

TICKETS: https://www.ticketoffices.com/venues/lucille-lortel-theatre-tickets?discount-tickets&gclid=EAIaIQobChMI9vjCw9r75QIVhJ-zCh0xjwXBEAAYASABEgJ32fD_BwE or 844-379-0370

BRANDOCAPOTE. The Tank, 312 W. 36th St.

TICKETS: www.thetanknyc.org

THE GREAT SOCIETY. Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center

TICKETS: www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6210 or 800-543-4835 

“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

 

Share