Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry tells you about YANK,BRACK’S LAST BACHELOR PARTY, A LIE OF THE MIND, A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE  and EQUIVOCATION.

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Yank! a musical by David Zellnik (book & lyrics) and Joseph Zellnick (music) at the York Theatre Co., has a decidedly different take on the so-called “Greatest Generation.” It’s about gays in the military during World War II and focuses on a young gay man who finds the journal of a kindred spirit who served in the army in the Pacific arena in WWII, a young man named Stu who goes in sexually indeterminate but who realizes the truth about himself when he falls in love with a hunk named Mitch (also indeterminate) and then meets a sexually aggressive reporter named Artie who seduces him and then hires him to be his photographer so they can trot around interviewing and photographing servicemen and, of course, have sex all over the Pacific. 

My companion of the evening, a playwright who happens to be a Club Member himself, was a little uncomfortable with the stereotypical gay characters and felt that the show reinforced the belief that all gay guys just wanna have sex, even when they’re supposed to be doing something serious, like fighting a war; but we both agreed that the show grew stronger in the second act, when the real homophobic persecution began. 

The songs are for the most part charming, and Bobby Steggert is very winsome in the central role of Stu. Ivan Hernandez, apparently a straight guy, was totally believable as Mitch and Jeffry Denman was hilarious as the unapologetically sexually predatory Artie. 

Yank! has been extended into April and is well worth checking out – particularly if you’re a Member of the Club. 

Between acts of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler Judge Brack hosts a stag party in honor of Hedda’s husband, George Tesman. When Tesman comes home from this party, the sparks begin to fly, leading to the play’s tragic denouement. Sam Marks has envisioned what might have transpired at Brack’s soiree in his fascinating Brack’s Last Bachelor Party, produced by Babel Theatre Project at 59 E. 59 Theatre C. On hand are Brack, Tesman and Eilert Lovborg, whose manuscript Tesman finds increasingly disturbing. It’s a kind of 19th Century “Future Shock,” and every time Lovborg reads from it Tesman is projected into the future, where he sees a wife who is a miserable, unhappy woman, played by the actress who will appear as Hedda in the play’s final scene. 

If you view Hedda Gabler as a harbinger of things to come this makes perfect sense. Marks cops out, though, when he finally leaves the party and brings Tesman home to his Hedda, transforming him from a stuffy 19th Century husband to a contemporary Nice Guy, who comes home to his wife to try and work things out, when what was called for was Total War. The ending’s a cop-out. 

Nevertheless, the actors are terrific. This one is worth seeing. 

The New Group’s revival of Sam Shepard’s A Lie of the Mind, at the Acorn Theatre, has been wildly praised, and its run is completely sold out. I appear to be the solitary dissenter. I have seen the play twice now ( I saw the original production), and I still think it is a retread of themes and characters handled better in earlier Shepard plays, with a lot of wheel-spinning. Add to this the portentous/pretentious imitation-aboriginal music by Gaines and you just have a production that plays at times almost as a parody of Shepard-ism. 

The show is much better in the second act, though, and the performances, under Ethan Hawke’s direction, are excellent. Don’t beat yourself up, though, about not being able to get in to see it. 

After announcing about five years ago that he wasn’t going to write any more plays, Martin McDonagh has changed his mind, and the result is A Behanding in Spokane, at the Schoenfeld Theatre. This, too, feels like parody; but fortunately it’s pretty damn funny. It’s about a creepy old dude who has spent 47 years travelling the country in search of his lost hand, which was severed when he was 16 by a gang of hillbillies (in Spokane???) when they held his arm on a rail as a train ran over it. 

This is an admittedly ludicrous pretense for a play; but McDonagh milks it for all it’s worth, helped enormously by Christopher Walken as the one-handed dude. I doubt if there is any other actor who could have pulled this role off, because nobody does creepy/weird better than Walken. My problem with the play is that, in the end, it really isn’t about anything. It’s a great situation, with no meaning and, hence, no payoff. 

Finally, I saw one of the best plays and productions I have seen this season – Manhattan Theatre Club’s wonderful production of Bill Cain’s fascinating Equivocation, at City Center Stage One. 

King James’ Main Man Sir Robert Cecil wants to commission William Shakespeare to write a play based on a book supposedly by the King himself about the recent failed Gunpowder Plot, in which a group of radical Papists tried to blow up Parliament. Shakespeare’s company could use the money, and they are anxious to get on the King’s good side; so Shakespeare, who has never written a contemporary play, begins by interviewing the remaining few conspirators, who are being tortured in the Tower. What he finds out about the Gunpowder Plot will surprise you, though it will be no surprise that he never writes the play, realizing that if he does he and his company will be in deep trouble. Instead, he pulls out an unfinished play about a Scottish thane who murders his way to the Kingship of Scotland, throwing in some witches (the King loves witches). This mollifies King James, and Shakespeare and the guys escape a very sticky political wicket. 

Gerry Hynes’ production of this brilliant play is brilliant as well, as are John Pankow as Shakespeare (here called “Shagspeare”), Michael Countryman as Richard Burbage and as a Jesuit priest implicated in the Plot whose ability to equivocate cannot save him, and David Furr as an actor in the company who feels he should be playing better parts, a tortured conspirator and a creepily jolly, lusty King James. 

This one’s an absolute don’t-miss.

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YANK! Theatre at St. Peter’s, 619 Lexington Ave. (Citicorp Center)            TICKETS:  www.yorktheatre.org  212-935-5820BRACK’S LAST BACHELOR PARTY. 59 E. 59 Theatres, 59 E. 59th St.

            TICKETS: www.ticketcentral.com 212-279-4200

A LIE OF THE MIND. Acorn Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.

            TICKETS: SOLD OUT

A BEHANDING IN SPOKANE. Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 W. 45th St.

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

EQUIVOCATION. City Center Stage One, 131 W. 55TH St.

            TICKETS: 212-581-1212

 

Who is this guy?For over thirty years Lawrence Harbison was in charge of new play acquisition for Samuel French, Inc., during which time his work on behalf of playwrights resulted in the first publication of such subsequent luminaries as Jane Martin, Don Nigro, Tina Howe, Theresa Rebeck, José Rivera, William Mastrosimone, Charles Fuller, and Ken Ludwig, among many others; and the acquisition of musicals such as Smoke of the Mountain, A…My Name Is Alice, Little Shop of Horrors and Three Guys Naked from the Waist Down.  He is a now a free-lance editor, primarily for Smith and Kraus, Inc., for whom he edits annual anthologies of best plays by new playwrights and women playwrights, best ten-minute plays and best monologues and scenes for men and for women. For many years he wrote a weekly column on his adventures in the theater for two Manhattan Newspapers, the Chelsea Clinton News and The Westsider. His new column, “On the Aisle with Larry,” is a weekly feature at www.smithandkraus.com

He works with individual playwrights to help them develop their plays (see his website, www.playfixer.com). He has also served as literary manager or literary consultant for several theatres, such as Urban Stages and American Jewish Theatre. He is a member of both the Outer Critics Circle and the Drama Desk. He has served many times over the years as a judge and commentator for various national play contests and lectures regularly at colleges and universities. He holds a B.A. from Kenyon College and an M.A. from the University of Michigan. 

He is currently working on a book, Masters of the Contemporary American Drama

“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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