“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 KING CHARLES III, ON YOUR FEET, MISERY, SYLVIA, THÉRÈSE RAQUIN, RIPCORD, LOST GIRLS and HIR.

Mike Bartlett’s King Charles III, at the Music Box Theatre, is an import from London, where it created quite a sensation. It’s easy to see why. It’s a “what-if” play, imagining what might happen when Prince Charles becomes King Charles.

I am something of an Anglophile, but I didn’t know that the British monarch is not just in a ceremonial position. He can refuse to sign off on legislation Parliament passes. Of course, no monarch has exercised that right for hundreds of years – but what if he did? While Charles awaits his coronation, Parliament passes a law severely curtailing the power of the press. Charles tried to persuade his Prime Minister to reconsider. When he won’t, Charles in effect vetoes the bill, precipitating a political crisis not seen in England since the first King Charles.

Bartlett has chosen to put the play into iambic pentameter – with rhymed couplets at the end of scenes, giving King Charles III the gravitas and dramatic power of a Shakespeare history play.

The British cast, led by Tim Pigott-Smith in the eponymous role, is brilliant, under the powerful direction of Rupert Goold.  Pigott-Smith even looks a little like Charles; but the actors playing the rest of the royal family are practically dead-ringers. I particularly enjoyed Richard Goulding as Prince Harry, who has had it with being a Royal and just wants to live a normal life.

I won’t give it away, but the ending is very powerful – almost tragic, and it blew me away. God save the King!

On Your Feet, at the Marquis Theatre, is a “jukebox” bio-musical about Gloria and Emilio Estefan, featuring wonderful choreography by Sergio Trujillo and compelling performances by Ana Villafañe as Gloria and Josh Segurra as Emilio Estefan, with strong supporting work from Alma Cuervo as Gloria’s feisty grandmother.

On Your Feet is very entertaining, featuring the Estefans’ terrific music; but it also has dramatic punch. When Emilio tells a music producer who wants him to continue producing niche music for the Latino market that he is not a Cuban, he is not a Latino – he’s an American, the audience cheers. On Your Feet, along with Hamilton, will eventually have a powerful impact in fighting the demonization of non-white people which is integral to the appeal of the Godawful Obstructionist Party’s (GOP) presidential candidates.

I have not seen the film of Stephen King’s Misery, so going to the Broadhurst Theatre to see William Goldman’s stage adaptation was like seeing a new play. You probably know the premise: Famous Novelist has an accident and is rescued by a loony fan who, when she finds out that in his latest novel, her favorite character is killed off, goes berserk and will not let her idol leave her house until he writes a new novel bringing him back.

Bruce Willis is a little too low-key for my taste, but Laurie Metcalfe is sensational. There aren’t many chills in this thriller, but still it’s worth seeing, even if you’re not a Stephen King fan.

A.R. Gurney’s Sylvia has been given a fine revival at the Cort Theatre, directed by the king of the A-List, Daniel Sullivan. It’s about a middle-aged man who rescues a stray dog in Central Park and brings her home, much to the consternation of his wife. Matthew Broderick, toning down the jittery voice and gestures which he has used ever since How to Succeed in Business with Really Trying, is very touching as Sylvia’s new master, and Julie White is fine as his wife; but the real standout performances comes from Annaleigh Ashford in the title role. She is the epitome of Dog. There is excellent work as well from Robert Sella as a guy who also walks his dog in Central Park, and as a jittery matron, practically stealing the show in the latter role.

Gurney is one of my favorite playwrights, and Sylvia is delightful. Its limited run is set to end in early January, so you have some time (but not much) catch it.

At Studio 54, Roundabout is presenting a new translation by Christopher Hampton of Zola’s Thérèse Raquin, a gloomy tale of a young wife trapped in a loveless marriage who takes a lover. They decide to murder the husband. Will they get away with it?

Keira Knightley, in the eponymous role, is rather bland, but there is strong work from Matt Ryan as her lover, and from Judith Light as her mother in law. The direction, by Evan Cabnet, is just right, and the lighting and sound, by Keith Parham and Josh Schmidt respectively, even more so.

Davis Lindsay-Abaire’s Ripcord, at the Manhattan Theatre Club, is a quirky comedy about an odd couple who share a room in an old folks’ home. Holland Taylor plays a difficult, unfriendly woman named Abby who can’t stand her roommate Marilyn, a chirpy, cheerful woman named Marilyn played by Marylouise Burke. It’s a situational comedy, made interesting by the wonderful performances of Taylor and Burke, enjoyable but not in the same league with some of Lindsay-Abaire’s previous plays, such as Good People.

I enjoyed far more John Pollono’s powerful Lost Girls, produced by MCC at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, a touching drama about three generations of women. Maggie and her mother Linda are frantic when Maggie’s teenager daughter runs away in an epic snowstorm. Maggie elicits the assistance of her ex-husband Lou, a cop, to try and find her. Piper Pirabo is terrific as Maggie, as is Tasha Lawrence as Linda. Lost Girls has a great Big Reveal at the end, which you won’t see coming and which will stun you. It’s definitely a don’t-miss.

As for Taylor Mac’s Hir, at Playwrights Horizons, I enjoyed it but must say I didn’t know quite what to make of it. It’s a dark dysfunctional family comedy, in which the author reveals that there are not just 2 sexes – there are 20. Kristine Neilsen plays the Mom, in her patented whacky style. Nobody does an addled middle-aged women better than she; but sometimes she goes more than a little over the top, as she does here.

Still, if you love Kristine Neilsen and agree with Mac’s sexual/political points, you will quite enjoy Hir.

KING CHARLES III. Music Box Theatre, 239 W. 45th St.

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

ON YOUR FEET. Marquis Theatre, 1535 Broadway

TICKETS: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-745-3000

MISERY. Broadhurst Theatre, 235 W. 44th St.

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

SYLVIA. Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th St.

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

THÉRÈSE RAQUIN. Studio 54, 254 W. 54th St.

TICKETS: 212-719-1300

RIPCORD. Manhattan Theatre Club, City Center Stage 1, 131 W. 55th St.

TICKETS: 212-581-1212

LOST GIRLS. Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St.

TICKETS: 866-811-4111

HIR. Playwrights Horizons, 416 W. 42nd St.

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

For discount tickets for groups of ten or more, contact Carol Ostrow Productions & Group Sales. Phone: 212-265-8500. E-Mail: ostrow1776@aol.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