Lawrence Harbison, The Playfixer, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. This week, Larry reports on CARRIE, BEYOND THE HORIZON, A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN, PORGY AND BESS, HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE, WIT, THE LADY FROM DUBUQUE, GALILEO, PAINTING CHURCHES, RUTHERFORD AND SON and LOOK BACK IN ANGER – and some thoughts on the following, which have closed: CHIMERA, LEO, GOB SQUAD’S KITCHEN, DEDALUS LOUNGE, RICHARD III.
New York theatre-goers have their choice of several fine revivals on the boards now. This column is exclusively about them. I’ll catch up with the new shows in a few days.
I always have a soft spot in my heart for shows which I feel have been cruelly, unfairly treated by the theatre ayatollahs (i.e., the critics). Last season, for instance, I was at a loss to understand the bitch-fest that went on about Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown; ditto, this season’s Bonnie and Clyde. The latest is MCC’s wonderful revival of Carrie at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, which has been slammed by the critics. The original production of Carrie was the Moose Murders of Broadway musicals. I saw it – it was indeed pretty terrible. The new incarnation has been reconceived by director Stafford Arima, who has set it in what looks like a large fire-blackened room. The book is now structured as a flash-back, during which the only survivor of the horrific prom night holocaust tells what happened to the police. All of this gives the evening an air of rueful doom, which works brilliantly.
Molly Ranson is sensational in the title role, as is Marin Mazzie as Carrie’s demented religious nut mother. Arima’s staging is brilliant, and his cast is uniformly terrific. A Broadway transfer for Carrie was a strong probability. No more. It’s a damn shame. Don’t believe what you read – this show is great.
You have your choice of not one but two revivals of plays by Eugene O’Neill – Beyond the Horizon at Irish Repertory Theatre and A Moon for the Misbegotten at Pearl Theatre Co.
Beyond the Horizon is early O’Neill. It won him his first Pulitzer Prize, in 1920, but it seems rather creaky today, as does some of Ciarán O’Reilly’s staging. It’s the story of two brothers. The youngest, Robert, yearns to get away from the family farm and see the world. The oldest, Andy, is a stay at home who loves farming. Both love the same girl, Ruth. When Robert and Ruth declare their love for each other, the heartbroken Andy goes off to sea and Robert stays home and marries Ruth. And the tragedy begins, as Robert fails both in his marriage and as a farmer.
O’Reilly’s cast is solid, so this is not a bad sit. This play is rarely staged, so here’s your chance to see a fairly good production of it.
The Pearl’s production of A Moon for the Misbegotten, on the other hand, is unforgettable. It’s one of the best productions of the many I have seen of this play. I hope to God it doesn’t inspire another bitch-fest.
Beautifully directed by the Pearl’s Artistic Director J.R. Sullivan, A Moon for the Misbegotten features sensational performances by two actors new to the Pearl and one grizzled veteran. The vet is Dan Daily, whose endearing performance as tenant farmer Phil Hogan is Yet Another gem from this wonderful actor, who shone earlier this season at the Pearl in The Bald Soprano and The Philanderer. Kim Martin-Cotton, as Josie, Phil’s daughter, just breaks your heart. But the most extraordinary performance comes from Andrew May, the best James Tyrone, Jr. I have seen since Jason Robards in the famous Broadway revival in 1973. May, who has spent his career playing leading roles at major regional theatres, is here making his New York debut. His is a harrowing, deeply nuanced performance, and to my mind it establishes him as one of our greatest actors.
You may say to yourself, “Ah, but I’ve seen this play. I saw Kevin Spacey, Eve Best, Cherry Jones, Gabriel Byrne, etc. Those were fine productions, to be sure – but this one’s even better. Don’t miss it.
Porgy and Bess, at the Richard Rodgers Theatre, is another one which has gotten some unfair slams, mostly from purists who would have preferred to see all 4+ hours of it, as a traditional opera. What director Diane Paulus and librettist Suzan-Lory Parks have done is to turn this classic into more of a traditional musical drama, cutting the recitative along with the running time, turning the Gershwin classic into something which can be done by amateur and professional theatres which do musicals, as opposed to opera. So, yes – this is a cut down version; but it’s still full of glorious songs, sung by astonishing singers. Audra McDonald and Norm Lewis, as Bess and Porgy, are unforgettable. Both should win major awards this spring.
How I Learned to Drive, at Second Stage, is a solid production of Paula Vogel’s Pulitzer Prize-winner, but it doesn’t make the case for the play as an Enduring Classic. Kate Whoriskey’s direction tries to blend the silly with the serious; but all too often the blend doesn’t work. Neither Elizabeth Reaser or Norbert Leo Butz transcend memories of Mary Louise Parker and David Morse in the original production. Butz is always good; but here he just seems too young for his role.
Margaret Edson’s Wit, another Pulitzer winner, produced by Manhattan Theatre Club at the Friedman Theatre, is a moving drama about a college English professor, a specialist in the Holy Sonnets of John Donne, who fights a losing battle with ovarian cancer. Lynne Meadow’s direction is excellent. Cynthia Nixon is wonderful as the dying professor, though there are times when I feel she doesn’t quite have the vocal chops necessary for this almost Shakespearean role. Still, I recommend seeing Wit. What a pity that Margaret Edson, an elementary school teacher in Atlanta, apparently isn’t interested in ever writing another play.
The Lady from Dubuque (now being called “Edward Albee’s The Lady from Dubuque”), at Signature Theatre Co.’s spectacular new complex of three new theatres, doesn’t exactly make the case for this play, which flopped on Broadway 30 years ago, as a major work in the Albee canon, but David Esbjornson’s is a fine production, featuring a harrowing performance by Laila Robins as a dying woman unwilling to go gentle into that good night. Signature also just closed a fine production of Athol Fugard’s Blood Knot, directed by the author and featuring wonderful performances by Scott Shepherd and Colman Domingo, who made the play’s 2-1/2 hours fly by.
CSC’s production of Brecht’s Galileo, directed by Artistic Director Brian Kulick, is worth seeing, mostly for F. Murray Abraham’s performance in the title role – but also if you are, like me, appalled by the Forces of Ignorance now framing our political debate, just as they were in Galileo’s time. I just wish Kulick’s supporting players were stronger; but still, this is a 20th Century classic, in a fine production – which means it’s a must-see.
Keen Company has brought back Tina Howe’s lovely Painting Churches, at the Harold Clurman Theatre. Once again this production, directed by Carl Forsman, didn’t dispel my fond memories of the original production, but it features wonderful performances by John Cunningham and Kathleen Chalfant as Gardner and Fanny Church. It was a pleasure to see this fondly-remembered play again. Highly recommended.
Mint’s production of Gita Sowerby’s Rutherford and Son, a compelling family business drama, is also well worth seeing (as is, for that matter, everything at the Mint), featuring uniformly fine performances across the board and taut direction by Richard Corley. It’s a well-constructed realist drama with a powerful ending, unlike so many plays from our era, which just sorta peter out, which makes it a pleasure to see.
I’ve left the worst for last. Roundabout’s production of John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger is Just Plain Dreadful. Director Sam Gold has hacked up the script, cutting many of Jimmy Porter’s rants against the inequities of the British class system, turning the play into an unpleasant one about an abusive husband. The set is one of the worst I have even seen at a major New York Theatre. I’m not going to mention the actors – it’s not their fault.
Fans of Weird Theatre have had much to cheer about of late. Chimera (which has, alas, closed at Here) was a fascinating one-woman piece wherein Our Heroine explained to us that she was actually genetically her own sister, and that her son was genetically he sister’s son, not hers. Suli Holum was fantastic, playing both the speaker and her teenaged son, and the set and video designs by Jeremy Wilhelm (Video Design: Room 404 Media (Kate Free & David Tennent) were astonishing.
Also wonderful was Leo (alas, closed at the Clurman Theatre), another one-person show brought over from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival by Carol Tambor, who every year chooses what she feels is the Best of the Fringe and brings it over here for a short run. On one side of the stage was a bare room; on the other side, a huge video screen. Tobias Wegner, the performer, moved about in the room as his movements were projected on the screen – but the screen showed the room at a different angle, so Wegner appeared to climb up the walls. This wordless piece had a Beckettian existential feeling which I quite enjoyed – and Wegner was astonishing.
One you can still catch is Gob Squad’s Kitchen (You’ve Never Had It So Good) at the Public Theatre, an amusing send-up of Andy Warholism comprised largely of improvisation wherein the British troupe Gob Squad recreates abridged versions of Warhol films such as Sleep, bringing audience members up on the stage to become part of the film. It’s all done In All Seriousness and In all Tongue-In-Cheek and is great fun.
Dedalus Lounge, at the Interart Theatre Annex, is a real play, but it has some of the same weirdness of the above three shows. It’s about three Irish friends who hang out in the title bar and incorporates Queen-esque songs by Anthony Rapp, who appears in the play. Although the play itself doesn’t amount to much the three performers – Rapp, James Kautz and Dee Roscioli — are terrific.
The Bridge Project’s production of Shakespeare’s Richard III, at Brooklyn Academy of Music’sHarveyTheatre, directed by Sam Mendes, is one of the great Shakespearean productions of recent years and is not to be missed. Mendes has found a lot of humor in the play, most of it coming from Kevin Spacey in the title role, who Just Plain Astonishing, and has chopped up the battle scenes in the end as if he were doing a film. Ordinarily, I am not a fan of this kind of directorial intrusion; but I have to say, if Will was writing this play today, I think this is exactly how he would do it. The supporting cast is uniformly good, right down to the smaller roles.
CARRIE. Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher Street
BEYOND THE HORIZON. Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd St.
A MOON FOR THE MISBEGOTTEN. City Center Stage II, 130 W. 55th St.
PORGY AND BESS. Richard Rodgers Theatre, 226 W. 46th St.
TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000, 877-250-2929
HOW I LEARNED TO DRIVE. Second Stage. Alas, closed
WIT. Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Alas, closed
THE LADY FROM DUBUQUE. Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.
GALILEO. CSC. Alas, closed.
PAINTING CHURCHES. Clurman Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.
TICKETS: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200
RUTHERFORD AND SON. Mint Theatre Co., 311 W. 43rd St.
TICKETS: 866-811-4111 or www.minttheater.org
LOOK BACK IN ANGER. Laura Pels Theatre. Fuhgeddaboudit.
For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: email@example.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