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 THE ROAD TO QATAR, THREE SISTERS, THE NEW YORK IDEA, THE MILK TRAIN DOESN’T STOP HERE ANYMORE, GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES and MOLLY SWEENEY

Ordinarily, I begin my column with my thoughts on my favorite show of the week; but this week I’m breaking that rule by starting off with The Road to Qatar at the York Theatre Co. I have been going to the York for many years. Many of their shows I have liked, a few I haven’t liked; but until last week I had never seen a Total Turkey there. I guess there’s a first time for everything.

Apparently, a few years ago librettist Stephen Cole and composer David Krane were contacted out of the blue, via the internet, by a rich guy from Qatar who wanted to hire then to create a big, flashy, Broadway-style musical to premiere there, offering them a huge amount of money. The Road to Qatar is about the creation of that musical. Cole and Krane try very hard to imitate the style of the Hope-Crosby “Road to” movies, but Cole’s book and lyrics are so witless, with one lame joke and terrible rhyme after another, and Krane’s music so mediocre, that what we experience is 90 minutes of Pure Torture.

The actors, under Philip George’s way-too-broad direction, try their best to make this at least bearable, but it’s a lost cause.

How could this have found its way to the stage of the York Theatre? Could it be because they have had to do a show which came with “enhancement” money? Looks that way. Oh by the way guys: “Qatar” is pronounced “cutter,” not “catarrh.” Come to think of it, The Road to Catarrh is a much more appropriate title for this terrible show.

Much, much better is CSC’s fine production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, beautifully directed by Austin Pendleton and featuring a uniformly fine cast headed by Maggie Gyllenhaal (Masha), Jessica Hecht (Olga) and Juliet Rylance (Irena). As good as these ladies are, though, they are matched by the supporting players, especially Marin Ireland (Natasha) and Josh Hamilton (Andrey). The Paul Schmidt translation they are using seemed a little too contemporary American for my tastes, but this is a small quibble with what is one of the finest productions of this beautiful play I have ever seen. It’s a don’t-miss.

Also good is Atlantic Theatre Co.’s production of Langdon Mitchell’s The New York Idea, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. It’s a different play, though, than it was in 1909 when it premiered. Then, it was a rather shocking play about a controversial subject: divorce. Now, divorce is universally acceptable, so the play seems much more of a light comedy, particularly as here adapted by David Auburn.

The two central characters are (gasp) divorced women, one of whom, Cynthia Karslake, is about to remarry, to a stuffy middle-aged judge who is the exact opposite of her ex-husband John Karslake, a charming profligate. Meanwhile, the judge’s ex-wife Vida is a flamboyant “New Woman” – Sex and the City, 1909-style. She even smokes! Also in the mix is a dashing British lord who falls for Cynthia and tries to lure her away from him, on her wedding day no less.

I have never seen a production of Mitchell’s play but I’ve read it, and Auburn’s version is much funnier. Mark Brokaw’s production is fast-paced and witty, and all his actors are splendid. I particularly enjoyed Jaime Ray Newman as Cynthia and Francesca Faridany as Vida. My only quibble is that both ladies are stylish “Gibson girls,” but neither has the hairstyle of one. This is particularly noticeable when you look at the program cover, which features a photograph of an actual Gibson girl of the era.

Aside from this quibble, I loved this show. It’s hilarious.

Tennessee Williams’ The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, which flopped not once but twice on Broadway in the early 1960s, has now been revived by Roundabout at their Off Broadway venue, the Laura Pels Theatre. Apparently, Olympia Dukakis, who stars in it, and the director Michael Wilson went through Williams’ many drafts and tried to create a coherent play out of them. The result is a fascinating mish-mosh, which almost succeeds.

It’s about an elderly, wealthy woman, famous for being famous, who is dying in her villa on an island off Capri. Her name is Flora Goforth, and she knows she is soon to go forth into that proverbial undiscovered country, so she is feverishly trying to finish her memoir, with the help of a young American woman named Frances. A mystery man shows up on her island. His name is Christopher Flanders, and he’s a failed artist who goes about from elderly woman to elderly woman; sponging off them, yes – but also providing some comfort in their end days. Flora decides that Christopher may not be the “Angel of Death,” as he is known all over Europe, but rather her salvation.

I still can’t decide if Olympia Dukakis’ performance is Totally Brilliant or Totally Ridiculous. I lean towards the latter. She employs a strange attempted-Southern accent and she speaks as if she has a mouth full of cotton balls. Darren Pettie is hunky as Christopher, but he has no charisma, no passion, no desperation.

There’s an eccentric called The Witch of Capri who comes to visit from time. Here, the Witch of Capri is played by Edward Hibbert, a wonderfully swishy British actor who appears as if he’s wandered in from a Paul Rudnick play. He’s delightful; but he’s in the wrong play.

If you’re a big Tennessee William fan, you should take the opportunity to see this play. Anyone else, be prepared for a lot of eye-rolling.

Rajiv Joseph’s Gruesome Playground Injuries, a two-hander at Second Stage, is a poignant story of unrealized love. Kayleen and Doug have been BFFs since they were kids. As their lives progress, she gets more and more disturbed and he gets more and more banged up. Doug is incredibly accident prone, but somehow Kayleen is able to heal his wounds. Kaylee’s wounds are internal ones, and Doug is unable to save her from them. Pablo Schreiber and Jennifer Carpenter are very compelling as these two lost souls.

This one is worth seeing, particularly for the work of these two fine actors.

Finally, Irish Rep has revived Brian Friel’s Molly Sweeney. The title character is a woman who has been blind since she was a baby, and has been perfectly happy – until, that is, an American doctor operates on her and is able to restore her sight.

The story is told in interlocking monologues, given by Molly, her husband and the doctor. Friel’s writing is exquisite – but it’s narrative writing, not dramatic. What puts this over are the fine performances, particularly by Geraldine Hughes as Molly and Ciarán O’Reilly as her husband, Frank.

THE ROAD TO QATAR. Theatre at St. Peter’s, 619 Lexington Ave.

TICKETS: 212-935-5820

THREE SISTERS. CSC, 136 E. 13th St.

TICKETS: 212-677-4210

THE NEW YORK IDEA. Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St.

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

THE MILK TRAIN DOESN’T STOP HERE ANYMORE. Laura Pels           Theatre, 111 W. 46th St.

TICKETS: 212-719-1300

GRUESOME PLAYGROUND INJURIES. Second Stage, 305 W. 43rd St.

TICKETS: 212-246-4422

MOLLY SWEENEY. Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd St.

TICKETS: 212-727-2737

“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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