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GLENN LONEY'S SHOW NOTES
By Glenn Loney, December, 2001
 Plethora of Plays About Problem Relationships & Families
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
 Mee/Aeschuylus"Big Love" at BAM
 Anna Paquin in "Glory of Living" at MCC
 John Patrick Shanley's "Wheres My Money?"
 Sarah Jessica Parker in "Wonder of the World"
 Young Man Transformed in "Shape of Things"
 Richard Greenberg's "Everett Beekin"
 "Speaking in Tongues" Speaking in Unison
 Unnecessary Needcompany "King Lear"
 On New 42: Very Old "Witch of Edmonton"
 Deliberately Vulgar "The Women"
 Patti Lupone Hilarious in "Noises Off"
 Monteverdi's "Ulysses" at City Opera
 Nude-Bathing in "Susannah"
 Gilbert & Sullivan "Christmas Carol"
 Irish Rep's Singing "Streets of New York"
 Teddy Roosevelt in "Tintypes"
 Cole Porter's "Red, Hot and Blue" at Paper Mill
 Really Coarse-Acting in "By Jeeves"
 Jones & Schmidt Premiere "Roadside"
 "Thou Shalt Not" Good Advice Not Taken
 Lou Reed + Edgar Allan Poe + Robert Wilson at BAM = "POEtry"
 Pina Bausch at BAM
 Fred Ho's Martial Arts Story-Theatre at BAM
 Magical "Midnight Garden" on New 42
 Flannery O'Connor Story-Theatre
 Asian-American Mini-Plays at Public
 "Unwrap Your Candy" by "Quills" Playwright Wright
 Santa Exposed in "8 Reindeer Monologues"
 Long "Adult Evening of Shel Silverstein"
 Gombrowicz's "Ferdydurke" at LaMaMa
 Elaine Stritch Triumphs at Public
 John Leguizamo's Exuberant "Sexaholic" on Broadway
 Neil Simon & Edison Hotel Back on Broadway
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A Flood of New Plays:
About Men & Women in Difficult RelationshipsOf course the Battle of the Sexes has been a central concern of the drama for centuries—even Millennia. Its preludial forms can be typed as Boy Meets Girl plots & variations.
And Some Families in Very Serious Trouble
Still, it is surprising in just one month to have so many new plays—so well produced—taking New Looks at these old themes.
Below you will find only brief notices on each show I've seen in the past month. You can infer from them what I may nominate when Awards Season comes around.
If you want potted plot-summaries, check out the listings in Time Out and other such handy shopping-guides.
Ordinarily, I'd be eager to discuss what went wrong in a playwright's plotting—or a director's staging—but I am only hours away from boarding a plane for Bavaria.
I am to photograph Christmas-tide preparations and Christkindl-Markets in such historic semi-Medieval centers as Nuremberg and Salzburg. With some snowy shots of King Ludwig's fantasy castle, Neu Schwanstein, and of the quaint Austrian village where Silent Night, Holy Night was first sung.
Not to overlook junkets to Bayreuth and Munich.
The chief purpose of this pre-holiday trip, however, is to see Tchaikovsky's haunting opera, Pique Dame/Queen of Spades, performed in a Siberia-Bavaria co-production at Nuremberg's Pocket Opera. Followed by a lavishly Constructivist/Post-Modernist version of the same opera at the Munich Opera. With reports to follow in this space…
"BIG LOVE" at BAM [*****]
This Goodman Theatre production from Chicago is the best of all the shows I've seen all month. It is both a comic riot and a deeply provocative meditation on Love vs. Justice.
"BIG LOVE" AT BAM--Worst Wedding Ever! Photo: ©Richard Trigg/2001.
It should be on Broadway, preferably on 42nd Street, in place of The Women. Playwright Charles L. Mee has based it on Aeschylus, in a burlesque version of The Suppliant Women.
Aeschylus initially had to work with a chorus of fifty men and boys. So having the 50 daughters of Danäus contracted to marry the 50 sons of King Aegyptus may have seemed a natural.
As Mee has moved the action to a seaside villa in contemporary Italy—with modern cast-constraints—we don't get to see all one-hundred of the potential bridal couples.
But the three highly contrasting reluctant brides and would-be grooms cover all the bases in male-female relationships.
The impending mass-weddings are upset when the girls begin smearing the bachelor-benedicts—who have dropped in by helicopter—with wedding-cake frosting.
This custard-pie gambit is hilarious, lulling the audience before the white-gowned girls begin stabbing the men bloodily to death.
While there are some amazing acrobatics and falls to the padded stage, this production is even more about very serious ideas and irrational emotions than it is about physical action and comedy.
Action is balanced by thoughtful soliloquy—which has been wonderfully phrased by Mee. Despite a stage littered with the dead bodies of some Americanized Middle Eastern trouble-makers at the close, the drama is finally joyous and uplifting.
Directed by Les Waters, the entire cast is exemplary.
I saw Big Love in its Humana Festival World Premiere in March 2000, and found it amusing but baffling. It was performed against a flat wall in the tiny space of the Victor Jory Theatre, hemmed in by bleachers on three sides.
This venue was entirely too small a scale for the largeness of the action and the issues involved. On the spacious open stage of BAM's Majestic/Harvey Theatre, it finally spreads its wings and sings.
This should be moved to Broadway where it can be more widely seen. Off-Broadway stages are too small to do it justice.
"THE GLORY OF LIVING" at MCC [****]Rebecca Gilman is clearly a playwright concerned with Women's Issues. Last season's troubling Boy Gets Girl concerned the obsessions of a Stalker. This earlier drama combines Abuse, Perverse Sexual Practices, and even remorseless Serial Killing.
Anna Paquin—the little girl in the film, The Piano—is amazing as the abused teenager who runs off with a psychopathic es-con, marries him, and then entices girls for his lusts, after which she matter-of-factly shoots them.
Actor/director Philip Seymour Hoffman staged, evoking a gritty honesty which is shattering. Look for this as a Major Motion-Picture. It should at least move Off-Broadway for a run.
"WHERE'S MY MONEY?" at MTC [****]John Patrick Shanley's surreal comedy of doomed male-female relationships opened too late for Halloween. But it features a ghost who wants his borrowed money back. By the close of the play, he's not the only ghost in action.
One of the best and truest satiric moments in Shanley's comedy of liars and deceivers—which he also staged—involves the unexpected daytime return of a now jobless husband to the spotless kitchen of a wife who does not want to see him in it. She married him to have both security and her own home; otherwise he is only a nuisance.
Like Shanley's Four Dogs and a Bone—also premiered at MTC—this has "cinematic comedy-romp" written all over it. But where is that film? In process? Forgotten?
Tim Robbins and Susan Sarandon were there the night I saw Four Dogs. From their reactions, I thought sure they'd want to option it. Oh well…
Still, Shanley's new show—wonderfully played—also deserves to move Off-Broadway.
"WONDER OF THE WORLD" at MTC [***]Despite the powers of Sarah Jessica Parker as Cass Harris in David Lindsay-Abaire's labored new satiric comedy, it doesn't really catch fire. It does, however, offer several roles for the resourceful Amy Sedaris, David Sedaris' sister, of the self-named "Talent Family."
Cass recalls those Early Feminists of the Sixties who left their husbands and children to Find Themselves. Cass has a list of things she must do, see, or experience. Soon, she finds herself in a motel-room at Niagara Falls with a suicidal woman who is planning to go over the Falls in a barrel.
MTC audiences even get to see the two of them being swept downriver to the brink of Niagara Falls! Lindsay-Abaire's visual jokes suggest this could be a hilarious movie.
Maybe this show could have worked had David Sedaris been called in to doctor it? Christopher Ashley staged in a series of remarkable sets by David Gallo. The sets alone—and their transformations—were worth the journey to the center of the earth in the City Center's basement.
"THE SHAPE OF THINGS" at the Promenade [**]The pre-show recorded music was deliberately deafening. This did not exactly win over the Golden Agers in the audience. Advertised as the Almeida Theatre [London] production of Neil LaBute's unpleasant play, it featured Rachel Weisz as a manipulative arts grad student.
She seduces a sloppy frumpy undergrad into transforming himself. Including getting a Nose-Job he doesn't need. Then she presents the results as her MFA Thesis Project.
The most interesting aspect of the production was Giles Cadle's stylish blue wall of openings and closings: a kind of Advent Calendar which could suggest many contrasting locations.
"EVERETT BEEKIN" at the Lincoln Center Newhouse [***]A Manhattan Theatre Club favorite, playwright Richard Greenberg graduates to Lincoln Center with this Jewish family-drama. It baffled many of my critical colleagues.
Its first section is set Post-World War II on the Lower East Side. Robin Bartlett and Bebe Neuwirth are tartly amusing as two sparring sisters. Marcia Jean Kurtz is their Kosher-keeping mother, trying to keep a goy boyfriend away from her sickly youngest girl.
The second section—fifty years later—discovers the two daughters of the more ambitious of the first two sisters in California Hell: Orange County. One sister has stayed in New York, cultivating her cultural superiority.
The other has gone lala in LaLaLand. Her flighty daughter is to marry a total bubble-head, Everett Beekin VII. And she is sleeping with his vacuous father.
As Greenberg seems to see it, this must be Ronald Reagan Territory. Or has he written this play to convince himself he doesn't want to sell-out and write screen-plays and sit-coms in SoCal?
Really, they aren't all dumb-dodos in the California Southland. Not even in Laguna Beach, Home of Pageant of the Masters!
Or is this comedic brain-death only apparent to smart New York Jews. And is it only fatal to those who migrate to the Orange Groves?
"SPEAKING IN TONGUES"--Margaret Colin & Karen Allen Chat. Photo: ©Joan Marcus/2001
"SPEAKING IN TONGUES" at the Roundabout/Gramercy [***]The most remarkable thing about this production—aside from designer Richard Hoover's movable translucent-mirror panels—is the effect of two characters speaking the same lines at the same time in the first of its three sections.
The deliberately complex and confusing interactions of two married couples—cheating on each other—intersects with the marital problems of others. Leading to an accidental death which will be circumstantially seen as a murder.
Andrew Bovell's prize-winning Australian drama of sexual mistakes, mistaken identities, and miscarried good-intentions would make a better movie than a stage-play.
If David Lynch directs the film, the Roundabout's production—staged by Mark Clements—may seem like a miracle of clarity in comparison. For all its convolutions—and Rashomon-like suggestiveness—it is still much easier to decode than Mulholland Drive!
SHAKESPEARE DISASTER AT BAM--Needcompany's "King Lear." Photo: ©Maarten Vanden Abeele/2001.
"Needcompany's KING LEAR" at BAM [*]Conceptual director/designer/adaptor Jan Lauwers is a legend in Europe. Especially in the Benelux countries, where his Needcompany's deliberate distortions of the classics have inspired several imitative ensembles. Belgians love his work: both the Flemings and the Walloons!
His 1999 Morning Song was schlepped to various major festivals and later imported to BAM. Where it won an OBIE Award—a sure sign of avant-garde opaqueness and arrogant self-indulgence.
This King Lear was so wrong-headed and bizarre, there isn't Internet Ether enough to describe its horrors.
It is only exceeded in wretched excess by the Hamlet, Macbeth, and Schlachten/Wars of the Roses shown the last three seasons at the Salzburg Festival. Check out this past summer's Salzburg Show Notes report for particulars.
REV Theatre's "THE WITCH OF EDMONTON" at Chashama [**]This ground-floor black-box studio-venue is next-door to the Condé-Nast Building on Times Square. It is a temporary performing-arts benefaction of the Durst Real Estate Family until another great high-rise can be constructed on the remaining 42nd Street frontage.
After seeing Anita Durst in the altogether in this space—as a blood-sucking Hungarian Countess—I was well prepared for the much milder horrors of Dekker, Ford, & Rowley's Jacobean melodrama.
Required reading in drama-lit courses, The Witch of Edmonton, seen anew, has much in fact to recommend it. Notably its language, its rhetoric.
And the drama is strongly—if predictably—plotted. The ensemble was generally professional and certainly earnest. The REV name implies the company's determination to "Rev Up the Classics."
CLARE BOOTHE LUCE'S "THE WOMEN"--Kristen Johnston & Jennifer Tilly. Photo: ©Joan Marcus/2001.
Roundabout's "THE WOMEN" [**]Apparently director Scott Elliott thought he was also obliged to rev-up Clare Boothe Luce's bitchy 1930s drama of Ladies Who Lunched long before Stephen Sondheim was born.
It is noisy, obvious, overbearing, and overplayed in the extreme. It is also visually and emotionally vulgar—especially in the bizarre parodies of Thirties Fashions devised by Isaac Mizrachi. Many critics, however, have raved about them—including a totally tasteless garter-belts, undies, & bras Curtain Call—as the Highest of Art Deco High Style.
Although deliberately verging on the vulgar, the lavish and smart Deco settings and multi-transformations of designer Derek McLane were, for me, the best things about the production.
Although Cynthia Nixon was also admirably in control as the wronged wife, Mary Haines, other performances were cringe-making. Nonetheless, almost all around me guffawed with senseless laughter.
This is a production Drag Queens should love.
Incidentally, way back in the late 1930s, when we were on the brink of World War II, a doughboys-in-drag production was mounted at a US Army Basic-Training Camp [you should excuse the expression!] in Georgia.
In those innocent long bygone days, LIFE Magazine was famous for LIFE GOES TO A PARTY. For this show, it went all the way to Georgia to photograph young soldiers in wigs and foundation-garments backstage.
Mrs. Luce—wife of Henry Luce of Time/Life and divorced from another millionaire, Mr. Brokaw—was on hand to compliment our boys for their convincing portrayals of bitchy, fashion-conscious women.
It should not be forgotten, however, that she later regretted this play when she became an ardent convert to Catholicism. And especially her best comic-line, shot at a frequently pregnant woman: "You're either Catholic or careless."
When Clare Boothe Luce became American Ambassador to Italy—where she was known as La Luce, or The Light—she was reported to have lectured the Pope himself on what a wonderful thing it was to be a Catholic.
He is said to have replied: "But Mrs. Luce, I already am a Catholic!"
Well, this new production of The Women is not so wonderful, but it is catholic—with a small c—in the sense of appealing to the Lowest Common Denominator of Broadway Audience Tastes.
"NOISES OFF"--Easton/Prince/Finneran. Photo: ©Joan Marcus/2001.
Royal National Theatre's "NOISES OFF" [*****]When I first saw Michael Frayn's hilarious parody of Coarse Acting, Ghastly Provincial Theatre, and Horrendous British Sex-Comedy in its initial London run, the third act didn't work at all for me.
Nor did it later on Broadway, or even in several revivals and regional productions.
In the current version—staged by that expert in Anglo-farce, Jeremy Sams—it finally does. And it seems entirely necessary to achieve comic-closure.
Frankly, in previous viewings, I was so laughed-out after the first two acts—one onstage in a doomed rehearsal, the second backstage in a disastrous performance—that I had no energy left to respond to the bottomless deflation of the last act.
Starring Patti Lupone, Peter Gallagher, and Richard Easton, this is easily the most enjoyable new production on Broadway. If Big Love were to move to Broadway, it would offer some strong competition, but the two plays would complement each other wonderfully.
Do Not Miss It!
Many Music-Theatre Productions/Old & New:
Claudio Monteverdi's "RETURN OF ULYSSES" at City Opera [****]
Although the Monteverdi Trilogy of operas is promised for BAM this spring, City Opera has newly mounted one of them in a very handsome and powerful production. Not only is it visually striking, but it's also—despite certain ritual qualities in the structure and music—deeply passionate.
GREEK GODS ON HIGH--City Opera's Splendid "Return of Ulysses." Photo: ©Carol Rosegg/2001.
That ancient legend of the ever-weaving, ever faithful wife Penelope [Phyillis Pancella]—sorely beset by scheming, preening suitors, each eager to achieve the throne of Ithaca and the long-vanished Ulysses' [Stephen Powell] wife—still has the power to command attention and arouse expectation.
Designer Johan Engels created a stage environment of elegant simplicity, splashed with color in his costumes and in the effects of the appearances of the Gods watching over the wandering Ithican and his son Telemachus [Keith Phares].
Staged by Helena Binder, this is a production which should return in full force next season. After all, how many modern operas can boast a character called L'Humana Fragilità? Or Human Frailty…
Carlisle Floyd's "Susannah" at Juilliard Opera [***]After the great success this past summer of the Bregenz Festival/Houston Grand Opera co-production of Carlisle Floyd's Of Mice and Men—based on John Steinbeck's Depression Era classic—it is puzzling that City Opera does not bring back its own recent production of that powerful work.
The Steinbeck Centenary begins 1 January 2002, so the time could not more right for a revival of NYCO's revival. But it may be that City Opera doesn't believe Floyd's operas can fill the NY State Theatre's hundreds of seats?
What many regard as Floyd's masterpiece, Susannah, was in fact recently revived by the Juilliard Opera, not by City Opera. It was an interesting, if not a compelling production—with its diagonally skewed blank wall punctuated with shuttered openings.
In any case, a Juilliard or a Manhattan School of Music opera production is always a "sometime thing." Splendidly mounted—and often strongly sung—as many of them are, they are never on view for more than three performances. By the time the word has got round—or the Times' review has accorded praise—it's too late.
The Magnificent Octogenarian, Maestro Julius Rudel—long the mainspring of City Opera—conducted magisterially. For a student-orchestra, the Juilliard instrumentalists do very well indeed.
Angela Fout was a sympathetic free-spirited Susannah—with the misfortune, as in the Biblical tale, to inflame the repressed passions of male religious hypocrites who spy on her bathing naked in a stream.
Unfortunately, Matthew Burns—as Olin Blitch, the revivalist parson who must bring her back to Christ—simply was not strong enough, either as a singer or a player.
BOB & TINY TIM SING GILBERT & SULLIVAN! Photo: ©James McNicholas/2001.
"A GILBERT & SULLIVAN CHRISTMAS CAROL" at the Quintero [**]If you were fortunate enough to have seen the recent Jonathan Miller staging of Gilbert & Sullivan's The Mikado at City Opera, you should be delighted and charmed by the way Gayden Wren has transformed the lyrics of some of those Edwardian hit-songs to retell Charles Dickens' beloved Victorian story of Old Miser Scrooge and the Three Ghosts of Christmas.
The production at the Quintero—formerly the Kaufmann—is bare-bones, even threadbare. But The New Punctuation Army—Wren's acting-ensemble—performs the often challenging new lyrics with gusto.
Barry Kaplan is crusty enough as Scrooge, but his voice is not up to the challenges Sir Arthur Sullivan has set him. The tunes, after all, are not only from The Mikado…
Boucicault's "THE STREETS OF NEW YORK" at Irish Rep [****]Dion Boucicault's popular Victorian melodrama, The Streets of New York, had other names and other lives before it reached American shores and Bowery Theatres. He aired it in Dublin, in London, and in Paris—where he also freely borrowed plots from French plays for his own dramas..
Not just another Irish Immigrant, Boucicault soon became Irish-Americans' favorite playwright with such fare as The Colleen Bawn and Conn the Shaugran.
His most polished comedy, London Assurance, is in the great tradition of Restoration and 18th Century Comedy. But Streets of New York continues to have stage-life despite its hokey pieties.
Now Charlotte Moore—artistic director of the Irish Repertory Theatre—has attempted to turn it into a musical. Unfortunately, a better version already exists, thanks to Barry Allan Grael.
But Moore's cast did their best with the cardboard characters, the Victorian moralities, and the quaint customs of that time. Ray DeMattis was amusingly villainous as the unscrupulous banker, Gideon Bloodgood.
As was his scheming and preening daughter Alida [Kristin Maloney], who intends to buy her way into New York Society by marrying the bankrupt scion of the Livingstone Family. Just imagine anyone trying to do that nowadays!
FLAG-WAVING FOR "TINTYPES." Photo: ©Kevin Fox/2001.
"TINTYPES" at the McGinn/Casale [**]Bombing the Taliban Back To The Stone Age may be effective current American Foreign Policy. But it wasn't quite the style of President Theodore Roosevelt.
TR's dictum of "Walk Softly But Carry a Big Stick" is rather different from the pronouncements of President Bush. But then the Spanish-American War was a rather different kind of conflict.
Out of it, America got Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, and The Panama Canal! And endless problems in the Caribbean…
America is not going to dig any great canals in Afghanistan. But both the United States and Russia do need an Oil Pipeline running through it!
So there may be some resonance between Turn of the Century America and today, after all. This makes the revival of Tintypes rather timely.
This show celebrates the era of TR, Flo Ziegfeld, Anna Held, Labor Unrest, Poverty vs. Riches, Vaudeville, etc., etc. Originally concocted by Mel Marvin, Mary Kyte, and Gary Pearle, it has been staged in revival by Nick Corley.
An able and energetic cast of five animates the songs of that more innocent pre-World War I world. The rousing music of Scott Joplin, John Philip Sousa, and George M. Cohan are continuing delights.
As are traditional songs such as Wabash Cannonball, Wayfaring Stranger, Wait for the Wagon, We Shall Not Be Moved, & Shortnin' Bread.
LOOKING GOOD IN STRIPES--Debby Gravitte & Friends in "Red, Hot and Blue." Photo: ©Jerry Dalia/2001.
"RED, HOT AND BLUE" at Paper Mill Playhouse [***]That delicious musical parody of 42nd Street, Dames at Sea, features a Broadway premiere on a battleship. But it clearly got this device from Cole Porter and his spoof of convicts presenting a musical, abetted by High Society Debutantes.
Considering what we have since learned about prisons, recidivism, injustice, criminal tendencies, and the like, Porter's Red, Hot and Blue now seems a musical comedy of utter innocence. Of course, with a book by Lindsay & Crouse, it could hardly have been otherwise. Their satires flourished in a much more innocent era.
Michael Leeds adapted and staged the recent and attractively "period" Paper Mill Playhouse revival. Debby Gravitte was larger than life as Nails O'Reilly Duquesne, partnered by Jim Walton as Bob Hale. Bruce Adler, as Policy Pinkle, did his comic shtick.
The Paper Mill Playhouse is only 30 minutes from midtown Penn Station. You take the Manhattan Direct to Millburn and walk up the hill to the Playhouse! So easy. And so rewarding once you are there!
"BY JEEVES" at the Helen Hayes [*]This all-too-cute little musical was produced in London's West End years ago. It even starred the marvelous Jim Dale.
But there was a very good reason it never crossed the Atlantic to Broadway. Until now, that is.
The current production—nominally staged by the world-famous author of By Jeeves' book & lyrics, Alan Ayckbourn—demonstrates resoundingly why it should have been left on the shelf of the British Library. If not of the Drama Bookshop, newly ensconced in its new home on West 40th Street…
Not only are the dim-witted exploits of P. G. Wodehouse's Jazz Age British Twit, Bertie Wooster, and his equally egregious chums no longer amusing. But, as adapted for the stage, they play out like the worst of Coarse Acting and Amateur Theatre.
Even more awful is the fact that the costumed actors greet the audience and help them to their seats, as though we were actually at an English village fund-raiser in a drafty old hall.
This may have worked well enough long ago in London. Or even at the Goodspeed Opera House—with its silver-haired audiences—which mounted this production.
But it won't do on Broadway, unless it is written by Michael Frayn and frantically performed by the talented cast of Noises Off.
The less said about the turgid score—by someone who calls himself Andrew Lloyd Webber—the better. Not even Jeeves, the all-knowing, all-resourceful Wodehouse butler could save this show.
"ROADSIDE" at York Theatre [**]Tom Jones and Harvey Schmidt have enriched the American Musical Theatre with such shows as I Do, I Do, 110 in the Shade, and In Celebration. Not to overlook The Fantasticks, which is finally coming to the end of a decades-long Off-Broadway run.
But they have never stopped trying to create new musical shows. At one time, they even had their own westside workshop for trying out new works.
These talented and undeterred boys from Texas are not discouraged by dismissive reviews nor an aging public. But, though you can take the boys out of Texas, you cannot take Texas out of the boys.
There has always been a sweetly innocent, small-town sensibility about their work. And a genuine affection for the kind of Broadway Musical that long ago was mainstream and popular.
The cynicism and sophistication of Stephen Sondheim are never to be detected in their lyrics and music.
Nor—after Anyone Can Whistle—would Sondheim have even given a passing thought to adapting a play by that thoroughly regional "local-color" playwright Lynn Riggs.
But Riggs' Roadside—a celebration of a roving old wagon-wheel showman and his headstrong daughter in the West of Long Ago—is not another Paint Your Wagon. Or Henderson the Rain King/The Rainmaker.
True, Rodgers & Hammerstein had their first big Broadway success with a deft adaptation of Lynn Riggs' simplistic tale of love & death on a midwestern homestead, Green Grow the Lilacs.
But that play itself had not been a Broadway success, so who could have known it could be transformed into Oklahoma!
Unfortunately, Jones & Schmidt have not been able to repeat the Rodgers & Hammerstein magic for another Riggs drama.
Not only have times, tastes, and attitudes changed too much, but the characters in Roadside are not very interesting. Nor is their Major Dramatic Problem compelling.
Julie Johnson does what she can with the tempestuous covered-wagon diva, Hannie. But as her Pap, G. W. Bailey is no James Barton.
"THOU SHALT NOT" at the Plymouth [**]The multi-talented and previously undefeatable director/choreographer Susan Stroman should have studied the title of her show very closely and taken its advice.
Composer Tobias Picker has just premiered an opera based on Zola's grim, sordid Naturalist Masterpiece, Therèse Raquin. But even in an opera, this heroine and her squalid tale of illicit love, betrayal, cold-blooded murder, devastating guilt, and suicide don't make a Great Night at the Opera.
It is even more repellent on Broadway, despite Stroman's diligent efforts to devise situations in which some of her outstanding choreography can be seen.
David Thompson's book moves the story from 19th century Paris to New Orleans just after World War II. The only improvement this offers is that it fits the music of N. O. Native, Harry Connick, Jr., more aptly.
Among the many problems of the show are musical/dance numbers which have to take place in clubs or locales in which half the cast has to sit and watch.
This is truly de-energizing, and it has sunk many a musical as the audience is, in effect, getting the performances second-hand. Instead of having them energetically pushed right out front "in your face."
Critics attacked "Music Man" Craig Bierko—who plays Laurent, the lover-villain-killer—as wrong for the role. That seems unfair.
He is, in fact, very seductive and attractive, even smirking in his self-satisfaction and his conquest. He's also in good voice, but with songs which are not going to pass over into the Songwriters' Hall of Fame.
The admirable Debra Monk is a dynamo as Mme. Raquin, but the character is remote from Zola's original and not well developed. Her sickly son, Camille—Norbert Leo Butz, overpraised by the critics as a metaphoric stick with which to beat Bierko—soon becomes whiney and tiresome. Returning as a ghost, he is not the comic relief described in many a notice.
As the unfortunate Therèse, the talented but unfortunate Kate Levering sings and dances well enough. But she seems strangely affectless, as though she were walking through her life—and this show—in a trance.
The bitter, costly lesson of mounting this musical should have been learned when Anna Karenina was musicalized by Circle-in-the-Square. That misguided production essentially devastated a once honored ensemble.
Thou Shalt Not try to adapt Tolstoy, Turgeniev, or Zola for the musical stage. Victor Hugo is OK, as Les Mis demonstrates.
Very Special Forms of Music/Dance Theatre:
REED/WILSON/POE AT BAM--Evoking Edgar Allan in "POEtry."Photo: ©Herman & Claerchen Baus/2001.
Thalia Theatre's "POEtry" at BAM [***]The music of Lou Reed may not seem a fit for the gothic tales of Edgar Allan Poe, but Reed certainly thinks so. He has drafted the book—as well as crafting the songs—for this unusual production by Hamburg's prestigious Thalia Theatre.
It is rendered very unusual thanks to the unsettling and unorthodox images of Conceptualist director Robert Wilson. He is an old favorite at BAM, where founder/director Harvey Lichtenstein gave him his first major productions: Einstein on the Beach, Letter To Queen Victoria, Life & Times of Joseph Stalin.
The Thalia previously astonished BAM audiences with its Wilson-Conceived/Designed/Directed Black Rider, with music by Tom Waites.
Slow-Motion or downright Inertia are hallmarks of Wilson stagings, so Poe's Cask of Amontillado, Pit and the Pendulum, and Tell-Tale Heart were no longer short-stories.
Lou Reed and Robert Wilson also touched base with Annabel Lee, The Raven—once a haunting symbol in Wilson's own arcane productions, and The Fall of the House of Usher.
But with fears of Anthrax hovering in the air, Poe's Masque of the Red Death would also have proved most timely.
PASS IT ALONG--Pina Bausch's Ensemble in "Mascura Fogo." Photo: ©Franceso Carbone/2001.
Pina Bausch's "MASCURA FOGO" at BAM [***]Pina Bausch is another BAM Old Favorite. As she is on the Festival Circuit and in major capitals around the world.
Her Tanztheater Wuppertal, as a result, is seldom to be seen performing at home in this Ruhr industrial city. But it subsidizes her ensemble, and she, in turn, has put it on the map, so to speak. Just try to pinpoint it in your atlas, however!
I photographed most of Lisbon's EXPO 1998, but I wasn't able to get a ticket for Bausch's Mascura Fogo, commissioned for this World's Fair, Portugal's first.
What I missed—what I had not previously seen in other Bausch movement/choreographies—was the setting. Not the heaps of peat as for her Rite of Spring. Nor a stage filled with flowers, a memorable effect.
Instead, the stage foreground was backed by a tight white box enclosing an uneven sloping white terrain, down which some dancers made their entrances.
As in previous Bausch pieces, the attractive and very athletic performers chatted about this and that, flirted with the audience, offered virtuoso solos and acrobatic pranks, and generally kept things in motion.
Effectively, this is more theatre than dance. But some of the repetitions of movements, phrases, and devices can become wearing, rather than amusing or powerful.
Fred Ho's "ONCE UPON A TIME IN CHINESE AMERICA…" at BAM [***]
Retelling an old Chines tale through karate and kung fu is indeed ingenious. But an evening of rigorous and repetitive Martial Arts as a performance mode becomes very tiring. Even the performers seemed pushed to their extremes.
WOMAN WARRIOR GONE WRONG--Fred Ho's Once Upon a Time in Chinese America "
The title of Fred Ho's "Martial Arts Ballet & Music-Theatre Epic"—which is how he chooses to describe its form—is borrowed from the name he gave his soundtrack, available from Innova Recordings and Big Red Media.
The destruction of the Shaolin Temple by the out-of-control Woman Warrior, Gar Man Jang [Kathleen Cruz], and its restoration by the Five Ancestors doesn't seem to relate to Chinese-America.
Nonetheless, Ho insists it's an allegory "for the modern-day destruction and resurrection of the Asian-American Movement." And you thought it was only the Taliban that had an Agenda!
"TOM'S MIDNIGHT GARDEN" at the New Victory [****]This was a marvelously magical production, especially handsome for a show designed to tour. Russell Craig's sets, stairs, and platforms recreated a haunted Victorian house, seen both in its past and in modern times.
Tom is an English schoolboy, sent to live with relatives when his brother is ill. His aunt and uncle live in a flat in an old house—which also has a mysterious old tenant and grandfather-clock as well.
Somehow, Tom makes contact with the spirit of a little girl who once slept in his bedroom. She takes him, at midnight, into her Victorian garden behind the house—which of course no longer exists.
And, as they say, thereby hangs a tale. Philippa Pearce's children's story is by now a British classic. Not as famous as Harry Potter's tales, but right up there. David Wood adapted it for the stage, and Tony Graham staged this show for Unicorn Productions.
An enchanting experience, and not only for the youngsters in the audiences at the New Victory. This is a show which could have had an Off-Broadway run—with the right kind of promotion.
More Than Just One Play for Your Money:
"EVERYTHING THAT RISES MUST CONVERGE" at NY Theatre Workshop [****]Critic John Simon may dismiss Mary Zimmerman's Metamorphoses and Karin Coonrod's Everything That Rises… as Story Theatre. But they are both much more than that.
Zimmerman's reworkings of Ovid are charming. But Coonrod's adaptations of three mordant Flannery O'Connor stories are arresting, hilarious, and finally devastating.
Her remarkable cast of Eight Actors create the illusion of some very unusual Southerners. Even with cross-gender casting on occasion.
Characters act their lines with ardor, even as they also provide the he-saids and she-thoughts. This stylization—unlike some self-conscious forms of storytelling/acting-out—soon seems absolutely right for the three tales.
They are A View of the Woods, Everything That Rises…, and Greenleaf. In which an imperious widow-farmer is impaled by a rogue bull, thanks to the various failures in duty and character by a feckless redneck family of White Trash.
This production is so good it should transfer!
"THE SQUARE" at the Public Theatre [**]This grab-bag Chinese Fortune-Cookie of a show was already a transfer. It was commissioned for the Mark Taper Forum's Asian Theatre Workshop in Los Angeles.
Maybe it's another example of what Fred Ho thinks is the Resurrection of the Asian-American Movement?
Its inter-racial cast performed a series of short plays on Asian-American themes—rather like the 10-Minute Plays at the Humana Festival. Old-Country Parents and their young assimilated American children were of course taken for a spin.
Among the currently trendy playwrights invited to contribute to the show—which ostensibly takes place in a public square—were: Mac Wellman, Jessica Hagedorn, Diana Son, Craig Lucas, Maria Irene Fornes, Ping Chong, Jose Rivera, Kia Corthron, Constance Congdon, Philip Kan Gotanda, and David Henry Hwang.
The LA-NYC transfer to the Public made good sense, as the best of these playwrights are favorites at the Public as well. Lisa Peterson staged.
TURN OFF YOUR BEEPERS/"UNWRAP YOUR CANDY"--Audience Annoyances at Vineyard. Photo: ©Carol Rosegg/2001.
"UNWRAP YOUR CANDY" at the Vineyard [**]Doug Wright—who gave the world his Sadistic Quills, strongly produced at the NY Theatre Workshop—returned to New York from workshopping his four playlets at various regional venues.
Wright has an antic fantasy that makes Ray Bradbury seem like Louisa May Alcott. But the first item, Unwrap Your Candy, showed some obvious stereotypes behaving badly in theatre-seats before a performance. Enough to make you flee the theatre—
Flannery O'Connor's horrors grow out of very real people and situations. Wright's neo-gothic shocks are devised, but still haunting. The other plays were Lot 13: The Bone Violin, Wildwood Park, and Baby Talk.
Wright staged his mini-dramas himself, with a cast including the estimable Henry Stram, Leslie Lyles, and Reg Rogers. There was no intermission, which prevented the generally aged audience from stumbling up the steep bleacher stairs to the Vineyard's exits in the dark.
"THE 8 REINDEER MONOLOGUES" at the Ohio on Wooster [***]
As I am writing this, the Adobe Theatre Company just called to find out if I can send them a FAX of my review. I don't have a FAX-machine, nor an e-mail address. And I don't have much time left before the flight to Frankfurt.
REINDEER HOLD SANTA HOSTAGE ON WOOSTER STREET.
At least I am flying Lufthansa and not with Santa in his Sleigh. As Jeff Goode imagines life among the reindeer and elves at the North Pole, you would rather be grounded. Or even stopped at the x-ray machine.
Goode is also the author of Poona the F#@kdog, as well as some 50 plays, musicals, and children's shows. Reindeer Monologues, however, is/are not fit for children. And my guest thought it not fit for adults either.
In a Rashomon-Mode, Santa's more famous reindeer—actors sporting cute antlers—come forth to tell their versions of a tragic Christmas-Tide tale which would delight the Grinch, if not some censorious grown-ups.
Gradually, it's implied that Santa has sexually harassed—possible even raped—the sultry and very feminine Vixen [Erin Quinn Purcell]. This has brought about a total collapse of Rudolph the Red-Nosed One, who thought he was "special" in Santa's lubricious affections.
Vixen's mate, Victor, was a casualty of a previous Xmas flight. So he has been replaced by a reindeer named Hollywood. And why not? Doesn't Hollywood shower us with Christmas Gift Movies every year?
Jeremy Dobrish directed, as he also did for the Shakespeare Abridged at the Century.
"AN ADULT EVENING OF SHEL SILVERSTEIN" at the Atlantic [**]I am not an adept in appreciation of the urban comedy of Shel Silverstein. I found the various playlets on view at the Atlantic generally shrill and unpleasant. My guest—who is Jewish—thought the tenor of the work was anti-Semitic! And departed.
What can I say? Obviously, Adult Entertainments are not for everyone. Just as Adult Bookstores are off-limits for some…
Karen Kohlhaas staged, urging her cast to frenzies of action and acted emotion.
"FERDYDURKE" AT LAMAMA--Polish Claustrophobia. Photo: ©Bozena Bultowicz/2001.
Gombrowicz's "FERDYDURKE" at LaMaMa [****]In the haunted tradition of the late Tadeusz Kantor and his Krackow Cricot 2 Theatre of the Dead, two Polish ensembles recently brought their production of Ferdydurke to LaMaMa. It was here also that Kantor debuted in America with his famed Dead Class.
The play—with many Kantor stylistic touches, not to say Mannerisms—was adapted from Witold Gombrowicz's 1937 novel. It was very shocking for that time—and abhorred by the Communists—but it is now required reading in Polish high-schools.
The cast of four was outstanding. But typing their names is a real effort: Jacek Brzezinski, Witold Mazurkiewicz, Jaroslaw Tomica, and Michal Zgiet.
This should tour the US. But maybe not in high-schools.
Do we want our kids experiencing the agonies of a proper young man who has a passion for a stable-boy? This is not only Perverse, but the boy is far beneath his Social Station!
John Leguizamo's "SEXAHOLIX" at the Royale [*****]
John Leguizamo is so ardent, animated, attractive, supple, syncopated, sexy, seductive, and comically candid about his life, lusts, and loves in his new one-man show that he's apt to have groupies of both sexes waiting for him at the stage-door of the Royale. Maybe even Polish lads and stable-boys…
] SEXY JOHN LEGUIZAMO IN "SEXAHOLIC." Photo: ©Joan Marcus/2001
In Mambo Mouth and Spic-O-Rama, Leguizamo developed his talent not only for mimicry of Latino types but also for providing quick comic insights into the characters of his Hispanic men, women, boys, and girls.
Leguizamo is obviously an adept observer of the distinctive body-languages and speech-patterns of his contemporaries. But he is also able to interpret them for audiences, giving an often wryly hilarious twist to the real reasons behind visible but baffling behaviors.
In Freaks—which was highly successful at the Cort on Broadway—he foused on his own family and growing up both absurd and Latino in Queens. In his new show, he returns to some of these characters and sceenes, but now his attention is directed to the problems of getting laid or even finding love.
Some of his earthy language, suggestive body-movements, and street-smarts may offend more conservative theatre-goers, but most will find this a totally engaging, hilarious, and also affecting show.
The Second-Night audience was constantly convulsed. Including crusty critics who seldom laugh at anything…
This is a Limited Engagement, so do not delay—or deny yourself a real theatre-treat.
"ELAINE STRITCH AT LIBERTY" at the Public Theatre [****]Elaine Stritch is a wonder—and very brave at her age to stand up on stage and sing. But she's very good at it, and she has some great songs from great shows.
She's also fortunate that she's had John Lahr to help her orchestrate her often chaotic life into An Evening in the Theatre. Legendary for her excesses, both with the bottle and her emotions, she is often hilarious as she explains how she licked at least the first problem. Sober 14 years!
Stritch should be encouraged to move her show. Either Broadway or Off-Broadway, depending on the possible number of people who remember her Glory Days. The show should surely tour. It has Legs—and so does she, wearing what seem to be panty-hose or leotards and a white man's shirt, its tails hanging out.
She's currently at the Public, where she's been deftly directed by George C. Wolfe, its talented if eclectic artistic director.
OVER THE TOP WITH MARIAN SELDES--Neil Simon's "45 Seconds from Broadway." Photo: ©Carol Rosegg/2001.
"NEIL SIMON'S 45 SECONDS FROM BROADWAY" on Broadway [**]This is not a case of Leaving the Best Till Last. I really don't know where to classify this most recent Neil Simon comedy.
Amateur Theatre? Playwriting 101-A?
I thought his Dinner Party last season—nominally set in Paris, but neither Parisian nor amusing—an embarrassment. Yet it ran and ran, thanks more to its stars than to its plot or artistry,
45 Seconds has virtually no plot, unless you are really worried that the nice old-country Jewish proprietor of the Edison Hotel Cafe will really have to go to Florida, after selling his eatery without telling his wife.
The action consists largely of various theatre-related stereotypes coming in from time to time for coffee and danish. It is centered on a Jackie Mason sound-alike, Mickey Fox. He's wonderfully played by Lewis J. Stadlen, who was once Groucho Marx.
Mickey has an unhappy brother [David Margulies] who lives in Philly and anguishes & languishes in the shadow of his brother's success. This may be a replay of Doc Simon's own relationship with his older brother, Danny.
Otherwise, there is very little in the show recognizably human. But there are a lot of Simon One-Liners, which should keep this formula comedy running a long time as well.
Jerry Zaks staged, which is a Big Plus. Not to overlook the Over-the-Top performance of the always marvelous—and often Over-the-Top—Marian Seldes.
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