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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, February 28, 2006
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
Plays New & Old-- *
Nilo Cruz' BEAUTY OF THE FATHER [*****] *
Elizabeth Meriwether's HEDDATRON [*****] *
John Cariani's ALMOST MAINE [****] *
Jeff Daniels' APARTMENT 3A [****] *
Charles Grodin's THE RIGHT KIND OF PEOPLE [***] *
David Lindsay-Abaire's RABBIT HOLE [***] *
The Child-Death Theme in Drama from Antiquity to the Present: *
Glen Berger's THE WOODEN BREEKS [***] *
Adam Rapp's RED LIGHT WINTER [**] *
Susan Sontag's A PARSIFAL [***] *
Neil Simon's BAREFOOT IN THE PARK [**] *
Rose Franken's SOLDIER'S WIFE [***] *
Bernard Shaw's MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION [****] *
Bill Shakespeare's [or Chris Marlowe's] ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL [*****] *
Santiago Garcia's Adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes' EL QUIJOTE [*****] *
Musicals Old & New-- *
Abbot, Bissell, Adler, & Ross' THE PAJAMA GAME [****] * PAJAMA GAME TICKETS
Will Power & Aeschylus' THE SEVEN [**] *
George Frideric Händel's HERCULES [***] *
Opera Master-Classes at the Manhattan School of Music: *
MARTA EGGERTH & CATHERINE MALFITANO *
Other Entertainments-- *
Richard Foreman's ZOMBOID! [***] *
At PS 122: ABSN:RJAB [**] *
Jason Fisher's LENNY BRUCE In His Own Words [***] *
Steven Fales' CONFESSIONS OF A MORMON BOY [****] *
At the New Victory: BARON RABINOVITSJ [***] *
At the Met Museum & the Italian Cultural Institute: *
Teatro Arte Argento's SICILIAN CRUSADER PUPPETS *
Plays New & Old--
Nilo Cruz' BEAUTY OF THE FATHER [*****]
We have yet to see a major production in New York of Nilo Cruz's Lorca in a Green Dress--although it has already been shown at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland.
At the Manhattan Theatre Club, however, Cruz provided Lorca in a White Suit. This elegant, charming, and thoroughly in-the-flesh Federico Garcia Lorca was, however, only the murdered Spanish poet-playwright's spirit, returned to whisper in the ear of his feckless artist-father.
He is, in effect, a Narrator/Commentator. Oscar Isaac usually plays Federico, but Joaquin Torres obliged on the night your scribe attended. He was wonderful in the role.
Father Emiliano Lorca [Ritchie Coster] has to deal with an angry, long-estranged daughter, a current wife-in-name-only, and North African Arab lover-lad he picked up on the street. The lusty young man has also proved attractive to the housekeeper-wife, but the arrival of Lorca's daughter gives his libido new focus.
If this sounds an improbable mixture, Cruz nonetheless evokes their passions and follies with poetic wit and charm. Staged by Michael Grief--and designed by Mark Wendland, Miranda Hoffman, & James F. Ingalls--the production had a colorful visualization that heightened its poetic effect.
Praise also to Priscilla Lopez, Elizabeth Rodriguez, and Pedro Pascal, as Karim.
Elizabeth Meriwether's HEDDATRON [*****]
Deconstructing The Quintessence of Ibsenism is the essence of the Heddatron, ingeniously, even fantastically, produced by LesFreresCorbusier. It was even more inventive--and certainly more focused--than Les Freres' previous epic involving Robert Moses and Le Corbusier.
Robots have abducted an Ypsilanti, Michigan, housewife [Carolyn Baeumler as Jane], taken her to the Amazon Rainforest and forced her to perform Hedda Gabler!
Yes, Virginia, there is not only a Santa Claus, but also Real Moving Robots onstage at HERE!
Naturally, Jane's wimp-husband is eager to find her and bring her home. But her daughter, Nugget [the marvelously deadpan Spenser Leigh], has to set-the-stage and provide narrative-sinew in the guise of giving a class-report on Henrik Ibsen & Theatre History. Nugget rightly notes that Theatre History is not as interesting as Real History, as there are no wars.
Jane's kitchen is at stage-left; her living-room, stage-right. In the center is Henrik Ibsen's dining-room table in Munich. His marriage is not good; an over-eager maid doesn't help his clenched libido. A gusty visit from the hated August Strindberg stirs the passions.
There are numerous video-monitors, vintage film-clips about the future of Robots in the Home, and live-action on tape, including interviews with experts about the feared evolution of Human Intelligence of Robots.
Elizabeth Meriwether's frantically inventive script deserves much wider production. But Les Freres' initial vision would be hard to surpass--unless on a much bigger stage, with a much bigger budget. The hilarious effects achieved in HERE's all-too-intimate theatre are a delight.
This production, in fact, should be more widely seen itself--even transferred. It should be required for all Grad Students in Theatre!
It even had a major stage-effect, worthy of Rabbit Hole at the Biltmore: The two household-sets pivot as jackknife-stages to reveal a larger center-area where the robots can show their stuff! Robots run riot!
Alex Timbers staged, with various design-tasks discharged by Cameron Anderson, Jenny Mannis, Tyler Micoleau, and Jake Pinholster. Cindy Jeffers and Meredith Finkelstein devised the robots. Now that Puppets seem to have their own awards-category, can robots be far behind?
John Cariani's ALMOST MAINE [****]
All-too-briefly on view at the Daryl Roth Theatre, Almost Maine proved a charmer. It will surely have a later life in regional, community, and school-theatres. A very talented cast of four played a variety of couples--in and out of love--in a tiny town in Northern Maine, at nine o'clock on a Friday night in the dead of a Maine Winter.
Not quite Northern Exposure--no mooses [meese?] crossed the stage, but they were mentioned--the deep-freeze effect on passion, even on affection, up north by the Canadian Border was hilariously demonstrated in such short skits as her heart, sad and glad, this hurts, getting it back, where it went, story of hope, & seeing the thing.
The fabled laconic New Englanders are exceeded by the rigid restraint of these valiant sons & daughters of Maine. Of a couple who retired and went South, it's revealed they went all the way south to Vermont!
Gabriel Barre directed the excellent cast of Todd Cerveris, Justin Hagan, Miriam Shor, & Finnerty Steeves. Even the set & prop-shifters were in character, acting out silent-skits: Patrick Noonan & Colleen Quinlan.
Given its fairly elemental--yet evocative--basic-set, this is a production that ought to tour. It may be too cute for jaded Manhattanites, but a lot of folks out there in Middle-America would surely recognize their brothers & sisters from Up North. There's even a comic Brokeback Moment…
Jeff Daniels' APARTMENT 3A [****]
If you have admired Jeff Daniels as an actor, you may be even more interested to discover him as a playwright. At a time when New York magazine and the New York Times are featuring tiny studio-apartments--some of which are little more than a door and a bed, as in the current Broadway revival of Barefoot in the Park--there's a real need for living-space in Manhattan.
What makes Daniels' dinky apartment-rental special, however, is that it is Haunted. And his charming, wistful drama is both a modern-romance and a memory-play.
Valentina Fratti's sensitive--yet amusing--staging is so good that it deserves to be seen on an Off-Broadway stage, rather than in the church-basement of the ArcLight Theatre.
This play's essential charm is enhanced by the production-values devised by Lauren Helpern, David Newell, & Traci Klainer. But its real power comes from the strong cast: Amy Landecker, Arian Moayed, Joseph Collins, Jonathan Teague Cook, & J. Austin Eyer.
Charles Grodin's THE RIGHT KIND OF PEOPLE [***]
Beyond the boundaries of Manhattan, it is probable that few Americans have to deal with the problems of passing a Co-op Board's close scrutiny. Possibly getting into a Gated Community in Texas, Florida, or California could be as difficult, but, in those states, surely MONEY is all that matters?
But, on Manhattan's Upper East Side, being allowed to purchase shares--you do not actually own the apartment, but a share in the building!--in a fabled Fifth or Park Avenue apartment-house is infinitely more complicated.
As actor/playwright Charles Grodin's amusing short comedy--at 59E59--makes cartoonishly clear. Its Board is largely composed of self-satisfied and stuffy older people. And, like many similar & actual boards, it provides ample opportunity to indulge in amateur exercises in power--and even in subtle humiliations of apartment-applicants.
The Seniors on Grodin's board seek only "The Right Kind of People," but a Jewish "trouble-maker" is rallying other tenants for an Overthrow of the Establishment. The cast is OK, and Chris Smith directed.
Some critics dismissed this intermissionless Social-Comedy as trite and trivial: of no interest when Baghdad is Burning, one might say… But these are the very people getting Bush's Tax-Cuts! Shouldn't we know more about them?
Nonetheless, as your scribe lives in just such a Co-op, he can recommend this play as an amusing exploration of this sniffy Social Phenomenon. Such boards do not have to give rejected applicants any explanation of why they were turned down.
There was a time when Barbra Streisand was turned down by several East Side Co-ops: reports suggested the boards were almost proud of their actions in protecting their neighbors from the horrors of Celebrity.
For the Record: I was turned-down on my first attempt to buy an apartment by an East 72nd Street Co-op board--without even the courtesy of interviewing me. I was told I'd been rejected on my "financials" alone. A Brooklyn College professor's salary was too paltry to live among Power-People…
Also, you have to pay cash up-front: No mortages, no financing… If you defaulted, who knows whom the bank might move into your vacant apartment: Spike Lee? Elton John? Ang Lee?
After half-a-year's further searching--looking at apartments I'd already rejected before finding East 72nd--I was in despair. But my Brooklyn College office-mate, Bernie Barrow--Ryan on Ryan's Hope--introduced me to his agent, who'd found him a fine spread on Sutton Place.
This handsome and formidable lady--her husband, the Colonel, dressed as a chauffeur so the Rolls could park in front of each building--showed me the same undesirable locations.
One unsuccessful afternoon--as I was being driven to the subway to Brooklyn--she said to me: "Your name is so familiar to me. But I cannot quite place it…" She was smoking furiously.
I said I had recently written reports for Smithsonian and LIFE. No connection. But I was in the process of a ten-part series on Public-Speaking for The Christian Science Monitor.
Bingo! "That's a wonderful series! I've been a Christian Scientist for 18 years, and I never miss an issue of the Monitor!"
"But you're smoking! Scientists don't smoke!"
"No one's perfect!"
The next morning, she called me at 7 am: "The apartment you want has just come on the market. Meet me at the building between 8 and 9, or we may lose it."
Later, she told me I'd have to have six letters from people in the Social Register. The previous board had required four, and I was astonished to discover I had, in fact, four critic-friends who actually were in the Register. I certainly was not.
"But those were all men. You need to have four or more of the letters from women, as you are a single-man."
In the event, the Board was most concerned about my being a Professor of Theatre: "You'll be having all kinds of Wild Parties. And rehearsals in your apartment!"
As I never had any desire to direct a play or throw parties, I was finally able to convince the board that I'd also not have any pets. Or even growing-plants, whose noises, while growing, might offend the next-door tenants.
"Oh, you can have a plant," said the co-op board member who would be my neighbor. His wife--who was a Daughter of the American Revolution and a Colonial Dame--never approved of me. Or my plants…
David Lindsay-Abaire's RABBIT HOLE [***]
Is David Lindsay-Abaire focused on Loss? His earlier plays, Fuddy Mears and Kimberly Akimbo, each dealt with some aspect of loss. Now, in Rabbit Hole, Cynthia Nixon and John Slattery impersonate a curiously anaesthetic married-couple who have lost a child in a street-accident and cannot seem to find their way out of this tragedy. Or even back to each other…
Apparently even worse, for Nixon's housewifely Becca, is the pregnancy of her frivolous unmarried unworthy younger sister, Izzy [Mary Catherine Garrison].
Unfortunately, the silent sorrows of Becca and Howie are not very interesting dramatically, partly because they are not--as conceived & written--interesting, complicated people. And why were there no other children?
Fortunately, Tyne Daly is on hand as a wise-cracking mother.
Most impressive, however, is John Lee Beatty's handsome set. Its initial set divides into two side-stages that pivot--like Heddatron, but much more architecturally intricate--to reveal other areas in a handsome upscale house that would not be out of place in Greenwich or Wilton.
Daniel Sullivan directed for MTC at the Biltmore. The play was an original commission for the South Coast Repertory. But, in Orange County, the houses are even more lavish--even if some of them are also inhabited by empty-people.
Songs [& Meditations] on the Deaths of Children/Kindertotenlieder-Nachdenken:
Colleagues and/or friends--not always the same--have told me how deeply moved they were by Rabbit Hole, appalled that I was not. Initially, this astonished me, until I remembered that they were exactly those people who have, for a long time, not been able to let go of their own grief--and Move On.
One even charged that I had Never Known Grief, and thus could not empathize with Becca & Howie. Perhaps, if I watched more daytime TV soap-operas, I would be more in tune with such people and this kind of TV writing?
Also, it is certainly possible to have known a great deal of grief and to transform it, or transcend it. Becca & Howie can do neither. [I suppose I've converted my sorrows into Cynicism?]
Were Becca & Howie Born-Again Christians, they would know that: "Jesus loved their little boy so much He called him Home!" If Latter Day Saints, they'd know he was one of God's Spirit-Children, created at the Beginning of Time, waiting to be born into the World and then return to his Heavenly Father.
Had they been students of Mary Baker Eddy and her great healing work--Science & Health, with Key to the Scriptures--they would realize they should Not Collect Grievances, and that the little boy's soul had returned to the Universal Soul.
Had Becca & Howie been early New England Puritans--and lost their boy in infancy, unbaptised--they would have Lost him Forever. No possibility of a Divine Reunion in the Afterlife!
As preached by Cotton Mather and Jonathan Edwards and definitively set down in Michael Wiggelsworth's Day of Doom, all unbaptised infants go directly into Limbo for All Eternity. Jesus is, however, some comfort to parents who failed in their duty to have baptism performed: He promises their dead babies and children "THE EASIEST ROOM IN HELL."
If they were Roman Catholics, the parents would probably go straight into Purgatory, waiting for masses, prayers, and candles to get them out…
Death has so many Doors…
The Child-Death Theme in Drama from Antiquity to the Present:
The central theme of Loss of a child, or children--as examined in Rabbit Hole--is no dramatic-novelty.
In Euripides' The Trojan Women, of course, the desolate keening of the Daughters of Priam is not only for their murdered children, but also for slaughtered husbands, brothers, and fathers, killed in an ultimately senseless war. Over the Unfaithfulness of one woman: Helen of Troy.
The first important example in Modern Drama is Henrik Ibsen's Little Eyolf. There, the recriminations about who was responsible, who could have prevented his drowning, are malignant, destructive.
But Ibsen's characters and the development of their narrative have a dramatic-power that Lindsay-Abaire's do not.
When Wallace Stegner--my Stanford U Prof of American Lit--was asked to make something of the letters and papers of the Foote Family, of Grass Valley--my home-town--he decided to transform them into a novel, Angle of Repose, in which the drowning of a little boy, as in Ibsen's drama, proved crucial.
The Foote Family was very unhappy with the results…
Nonetheless, Stegner's novel won the Pulitzer Prize, and Bay Area composer Andrew Imbrie turned it into an opera--which was identified by the SF Chronicle as Angel of Repose.
When I asked Wally if he had deliberately borrowed from Little Eyolf, he was shocked. Of course not! In fact, he only dimly remembered the name of the play. Serendipity, perhaps? But he was dealing with Real Events! Children do drown…
Edward Albee's A Delicate Balance--in Germany, where Albee's works are much admired: Empfindliches Gleichsamgewicht--deals with the same issues. Although Toby & Agnes still have a child, now grown up to be Marian Seldes, the accidental death of their son still haunts them and poisons their marriage.
But then, David Lindsay-Abaire is not [yet] Edward Albee. And even at 77, Albee may still not have realized his Ultimate Potential!
[Albee and I must both now be 77, for Marian once told me we were all the same age! But Marian Seldes looks better than many half her age.]
Thinking again of The Trojan Women, the death of a child--even of a son in the Pride of Youth--can be a tragic dramatic subject. It is a matter of scale: the power of the characters, the significance of the issues that caused the death, and, of course, the depth & potency of the words in which this communicated to the audience.
Perhaps Cindy Sheehan's loss of a son in Iraq is at present too topical, too political, to achieve in drama the tragic power of the grieving Women of Troy. But maybe someday?
Or how about The Women of Baghdad?
Glen Berger's THE WOODEN BREEKS [***]
This strange show makes Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood look like Our Town--and then some!
But it isn't a quasi-poetic chronicle of a typical Welsh or New England town. Its mythical venue is an imaginary Scottish village, sunk in dire poverty & despair. And peopled with very strange characters who seem to be the invention of a layabout Storyteller, who loved Hetty Griggs--who'd have none of him--leaving their child, Wicker, behind, to assume a new identity as Anna Livia Spoon.
Those who have read James Joyce--and are fascinated with names such as Anna Livia Plurabella--may suspect Influences in Wooden Breeks. The name is Scots-dialect for Breeches, of course.
Initially, beholding the ascetic bookworm Light-House Keeper atop a house-frame on the open stage of the Lucile Lortel Theatre, I thought of Knives in Hens and other strange semi-rural Scots dramas premiered at Edinburgh's Traverse Theatre.
But no! Playwright Glen Berger is not from the Heart of Midlothian. His first efforts were launched at the Annex in Seattle. He has won all kinds of awards. Underneath the Lintel--reviewed several seasons ago in this column--had a 450-performance run Off-Broadway.
Derivative though much in the character-caricatures and plot-devices may be, the bizarre fantasy and often poetic-diction of this work make it oddly compelling. This has a great deal to do, however, with the excellence of the MCC's cast, in the staging of Trip Cullman, with designs by Beowulf Boritt, Anita Yavich, and Paul Whitaker.
The MCC's artistic directors, Robert LuPone & Bernard Telsey, have earned a well-deserved reputation for selecting difficult, challenging scripts--which most other ensembles would avoid--and bringing them to vibrant, and often disturbing, life.
It doesn't hurt that Telsey is a major casting-director, for MCC's players are always outstanding. This cast is no exception: Louis Cancelmi, Veanne Cox, Maria Dizzia, Jaymie Dornan, Ron Cephas Jones, Steve Mellor, Ana Reeder, Adam Rothenberg, & T. Ryder Smith.
And it must have taken Dialect Coach Stephen Gibbs some hours to achieve the obscure rural Scots-accents spouted from this sectarian-stage.
Yes, there is grave-robbing! Yes, there is poisoning!
And, yes, the last we see of Anna Livia, she is buried alive in a glass-faced coffin, the secret-wire to the bell above her grave cut, so she cannot Perform the Miracle of Returning from the Dead.
Well, you cannot Win Them All. Even in fake Scottish Gothic Romantic Dramas.
Adam Rapp's RED LIGHT WINTER [**]
Adam Rapp's deliberately abrasive plays are much admired on the cutting-edge, but so far I have been able to restrain my enthusiasm. I may be entirely wrong about this--as I have no fact-checker--but I thought I saw Finer Noble Gases at the Humana Festival a few seasons ago.
Wasn't this odd drama the one in which various beer-guzzling males openly peed? At least, that's what I seem to remember. Did anyone vomit? Whatever…
[If you must pee on stage, at least make it dramaturgically effective. Charles Ludlam must have been the first to do this, in one of his farther-out Theatre of the Ridiculous fantasies, which did require some pre-performance beer-chugging.]
For me, the Defining-Moment of Red Light Winter occurred when the tart-tongued sadist opens his victim-chum's fridge, to squirt catsup into his milk-carton! This action gives a whole new meaning to Male-Bonding.
Then there's also his failed-playwright friend, who at least is blessed with some sharply satiric comments on Life & Culture. And a confused & confusing blonde young Swedish whore from Amsterdam's Red Light District--who is actually from someplace in America. She changes possible venues in conversation.
The collegiate sadist is, in fact, married. He keeps fussing with his wedding-ring, possibly to remind us of his inner turmoil. As Rapp staged this himself, he must have intended this overdone gesture to take on a Symbolic Significance not immediately clear to spectators.
A number of fellow-critics were greatly taken with the play and the production. At least it didn't end--as in Bug--with the incineration of the protagonists.
Boldly-lettered black & white Red Light Winter posters are plastered all over in the Village. Even in the subways… So this show may well be the Off-Broadway scandal of the season.
Susan Sontag's A PARSIFAL [***]
Wagnerites, Perfect & Otherwise, need not worry. Susan Sontag's Modernist "Take" on the Medieval Grail Legend of Percival/Parsifal is not going to be sung at the Met anytime soon. Even with a new score by John Adams, the only trendy composer who could do it justice. [Oh oh! Be careful even about what you don't wish for: It Could Happen!]
As the play-script is only six pages, there's room for a lot of da capos and symphonic Siegfried Idyll-type interludes. Sontag didn't write the text for performance, in any case. It was presented in place of a proposed essay or commentary for a Robert Wilson show of Parsifal Designs in Boston.
Subseqently, it was published in one of those Little Magazines that are born and die, mourned or forgotten.
Director John Jahnke found a copy, thought long about the work, and has now staged it with the Hotel Savant ensemble at PS 122. This is a starkly, severely handsome All-White [almost] production.
What should be Grail Knights look like Insurgent Militia-men in Black with sniper-scope rifles. Parsifal totes an Uzi, and he is even more randomly deadly than with a bow-and-arrow. Initially, he requires no costume as he appears Buck-Naked. This apparently is intended to indicate his Innocence.
Yes, there is a Dead Swan, killed by the unwitting Pure Fool Parsifal--the Rein Tor, or Pure Fool: that's what his name means, also in Arabic, apparently. Or is it in Parsi, as in Parsi-fal?
The defunct sacred-swan turns out to be a kind of head-dress for the ravishing black Kundry, whose Mother-nakedness is largely covered by her long hair, in the manner of medieval portraits of the Magdalene.
A luminous Woman in White, who bears a glowing Ostrich Egg must be Percy's mother, and he must have emerged from the egg. This innocent but dangerous marksman--he never misses--is advised by another Mother-Mentor bird-image: Black-Eyed Susan as a talking, stalking Ostrich!
Although a red-robed Grail King--called here The King of Pain--suffers a grievous wound after touching Kundry and surrenders the crown to Parsifal, there are no Flower-Maidens, and Klingsor's Magic/Sacred Spear is nowhere in evidence.
Amfortas! Die Wunde! If there's no spear, there's No Connection…
Weisst Du was Du gesehen hast? [sp?] That's a good question, especially in Parsifal. But it's one spectators could well ask themselves after this impressive, but totally mysterious, pageant.
The production should surely have a longer, wider life!
And, whatever you may think of Sontag as a Social Critic--or a playwright--she was in Sarajevo, as the bullets were flying, making theatre!
Neil Simon's BAREFOOT IN THE PARK [**]
When this early Doc Simon comedy first bowed on Broadway, the Big Laugh--The Running-Gag--was the fact that the newly-weds' tiny apartment was at the top of five flights of stairs--six, if you counted the stoop--and everyone arrived gasping for breath.
Well, they are still gasping for breath over at the Cort Theatre, but they are also fighting hard for the laughs. New Yorkers were more innocent way back then. And they were looking at Robert Redford and Elizabeth Ashley!
As apartment-prices and other costs have not been updated for this revival, the real laughs are that any monthly-rentals could have been so ridiculously cheap!
Because Neil Simon had earned his writing-spurs crafting comedy-routines for the likes of Sid Caesar & Imogene Coca, some cynics supposed that Barefoot, Last of the Red Hot Lovers, and The Odd Couple--also now in Broadway revival--were nothing more than comedic-constructions, formula-plays.
Seen now, some certainly seem so.
But most of the Simon Canon has a firm foundation in his own experiences--or those of family, friends, or famous people like Judy Garland, in The Gingerbread Lady. Clearly auto-biographical were Brighton Beach Memoirs and Broadway Bound.
After the stage-success of Plaza Suite, Hollywood decided to make a film of a Simon-sketch omitted from the play-as-produced: This was The Out-of-Towners.
As shooting was going on in Central Park, Doc Simon and I were sitting on a park-bench doing an interview for After Dark and Cue. It was then that he told me about the actual situations he had used as sparks for his comedies.
When he and his older brother Danny were writing gags and comedy-routines, it was the buttoned-up, always-neat Neil's despair that Danny was so rumpled, untidy, and seemingly disorganized. This was the genesis of The Odd Couple.
When Simon married his much-loved first wife, they started life together in just such a walk-up as in Barefoot. And even much later, in Central Park, Neil Simon was still as fastidiously dressed--and organized--as Patrick Wilson's Paul Bratter over at the Cort Theatre!
Clive Barnes has raved about Amanda Peet as the ditzy young bride. Tony Roberts is certainly different from Kurt Kaznar, the original Victor Velasco. And it is good to see Jill Clayburgh--as a wise-cracking Jewish widow from New Jersey--in a real play again. After her valiant effort to make something of A Naked Girl on the Appian Way…
Scott Elliot directed, but we have come such a long way from Early Simon now. This is a Period Play, without any necessity of Archival Revival.
Thinking about all those flights of stairs, how about reviving The Dark at the Top of the Stairs?
Rose Franken's SOLDIER'S WIFE [***]
Speaking of Period Plays, Jonathan Bank has done it again at the Mint Theatre. Finding virtually forgotten British and American dramas, he has made it the Mint's Mission to revive the more resonant of these and present them in attractively-designed and very well-acted stagings.
If remembered at all now as an author, Rose Franken was once famous for Claudia: It was her touchstone. But Soldier's Wife--although ultimately a romantic comedy--is also of special interest because of the Women's Issues it dealt with immediately after World War II.
At that time, of course, no one knew about Women's Issues, as most of the media-commentators were Men and assumed that wives welcoming Veteran-Heroes back home would be delighted to put down the welding-torches and get back into their kitchens "where they belonged."
Franken's drama must have made a great deal of sense to women theatre-goers. When ex-soldier Paul [Michael Polak] enters the tidy, tiny Rogers apartment, he hardly recognizes his charming but nervous young wife, Katherine [Angela Pierce].
They have been separated for some time, and she has had to learn to take responsibility. She's been raising their new baby almost on her own--with an assist from her widowed sister.
This was the time that Rosie the Riveter had to put down her tools and go back home. That paycheck and sense of self-confidence would suddenly be snatched away. The Vets needed the jobs.
Franken's really ingenious plot-complication is that Katherine's lively love-letters to Paul were also read by a dying buddy, whose father is a major New York publisher.
Suddenly, with their publication, she is an over-night best-selling author, ready to be launched into High Society--and onward to Hollywood--by a Diana Vreeland or Carmel Snow editor-type [Kate Levy].
She gets so carried away that she almost forgets about Paul's feelings and needs. And her need to save her marriage and home, before all else.
This is very cleverly crafted by Franken--both sensitive and amusing--with romantic payoffs for both sisters. Florence [Judith Hawking] may make a man out of the failed writer Alexander Craig [Jordan Lage].
Bernard Shaw's MRS. WARREN'S PROFESSION [****]
There was a time when even a play-reading of Mrs. Warren's Profession might bring the Police.
Even today, the subject has its unsavory aspect--as Shaw certainly intended. But is running a very successful European chain of Bordellos, in order to support yourself and your family in luxury, so very different from operating a Munitions-Factory--as in Major Barbara--to achieve the same ends?
Which of these activities does the most damage to Human Beings?
This is not quite the question immediately addressed in Mrs. Warren's Profession, but it is waiting-in-the-wings and Shaw brings it front-and-center in later dramas.
Vivie Warren [Laura Odeh] has had the finest university-education and a very comfortable young life, thanks to the financial support of her seldom-seen mother, Kitty [Dana Ivey].
Both women want to get to know each other better, after their long separation. Initially, it is a terrible shock for Vivie to learn how her tuition has been paid for. But Mrs. Warren makes a passionate appeal for forgiveness and understanding--based on the very few ways open to women to earn even survival in the 19th century.
Mrs. Warren has arrived, accompanied by a rather coarse gentleman & partner. He shows interest in Vivie, who is repelled. She is being pursued by a nice young man with no visible means of support.
The uneasy reconciliation between mother & daughter is shattered when Vivie discovers Kitty is still prospering in the business. She could even turn it over to Vivie, who seems very well-organized and self-assured.
Charlotte Moore has ably directed this revival, and Dana Ivey is a more interesting Mrs. Warren than either Ruth Gordon or Uta Hagen, seen in the previous New York revivals. Congrats to designers Dan Kuchar, David Toser, and Mary Jo Dondlinger.
For some, this drama may seem like a Late Victorian Curiosity. Perhaps they have not heard of Heidi Fliess, the infamous Hollywood Madam? Or not noticed all those Escort Services listed in the phone-book, let alone the Massage-Services offered in the rear sections of the Village Voice, the Observer, and New York magazine?
With the Fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union, suddenly there were legions of young Slavic women along major-highways in Eastern Europe and in town-squares, selling the only ready commodity they had to offer.
International Prostitution has become such an enormous industry--with potentially devastating effects on its female and male victims: yes, young Slavic men are also for sale!--that it now makes Mrs. Warren's Establishments seem almost Safe-Havens.
Considering how Major Barbara's father's Arms-Factories have also become Global Fortune-Makers, what kind of plays would Shaw write now about The Oldest Profession and The Death-Merchants?
Bill Shakespeare's [or Chris Marlowe's] ALL'S WELL THAT ENDS WELL [*****]
At the Duke on Forty-deuce, one of the most truly moving and utterly humane productions of All's Well That Ends Well is currently on view. It is also very handsomely mounted: two elegant ranks of Renaissance Venetian colonnades and beautiful High Victorian costumes.
I have seen this somewhat "difficult" comedy performed by some of the most important theatre-ensembles in the English-speaking World, and I have never been so impressed by the effectiveness of the dramatic-construction, the speciality of what before seemed stereotypical characters, and the humanity of the playwright's presentation of Human Folly & Redemption.
As directed by Darko Tresnjak, for Theatre for a New Audience--despite the Period costumes--this drama actually seems to be Happening for The First Time. This is because all the actors actually inhabit their characters.
This is the first time--after many experiences of this play in production--that I have ever BELIEVED that the characters UNDERSTOOD what they were saying--and WHY they were saying it. They also were clearly LISTENING to each other as they spoke. And even when they did not speak--which is rather more difficult.
What is more, they speak Shakespeare's words-as-ideas with great clarity and focus: these are not merely florid-sentences or extended word-plays that have to be somehow got-through so the play can come to an end.
Except for the almost-Parsifal-like rash young Count Bertram [Lucas Hall]--who only gains some self-knowledge at the satisfying close of the drama--all of the actor/characters seem to know very well who they are.
And for the first time, Paroles [Adam Stein] seems less a vain, lying, treacherous, gaudy fool--which he, of course, is--than a fascinating, even pathetic, rascal who does indeed know himself. But he will survive, as he knows, because of The Thing He Is.
George Morfogen's King of France is magisterial and humane. It is the finest work I've ever seen him do! Laurie Kennedy is both handsome and almost regal as the loving and graciously-aged Countess of Rossillion.
Kate Forbes is quietly radiant as Helena, the loving Healer who can cure the King of his fatal-illness and win the unwilling love of the undeserving Bertram. But the entire cast is excellent!
This production and this cast should be seen beyond New York! The simple but impressive sets of David P. Gordon and the charming costumes of Linda Cho look like they can travel!
[When Theatre for a New Audience gets its new Hugh Hardy & Frank Ghery-designed glass-box theatre over in Brooklyn--just across the street from BAM--this admirable ensemble will finally have a home they deserve, instead of roaming around Manhattan, taking what venues are vacant. This structure is budgeted at $38 million, but--like the War in Iraq--there might be over-runs…]
Santiago Garcia's Adaptation of Miguel de Cervantes' EL QUIJOTE [*****]
One of the most visually original and spectacular stage-productions of the season is NOT on Broadway. In fact, it is largely inside the tiny play-box of the Repertorio Español at the Gramercy Arts Theatre.
[New York's Oldest Little-Theatre, in case you didn't know!]
This stunning production is El Quijote, a new adaptation by Santiago Garcia from the many picaresque episodes of that famous Siglo d'Oro Spanish classic, Don Quijote.
This is no Man of La Mancha--although it has both a delightful score, by Jimmy Tanaka, and ingenious choreography, by Silvia Sierra and Yanko Baculic.
It is, in fact, much more than a mere musical, and Sancho Panza often seems more the focus-of-attention than the baffled old Don. There are so many story-materials in Cervantes' original novel that no one play could effectively include them all.
Some of the more famous incidents are fleetingly evoked--tilting at windmills, with revolving parasols--but there is such a riot of color and action on the small stage that it often seems about to explode with all the energy. In fact, this pulsing, surging staging frequently spills down the aisles and out into the foyer.
Thanks to the design-genius of Paula Juliana Pérez, the costumes are almost settings in themselves, and her powerful props and scenic-suggestions provide a rapidly-changing landscape of passion, folly, and fantasy. None of this would work so well, were it not for the parallel genius of Colombia's famed director Jorge Alí Triana.
All kinds of theatrical, circus, parade, and fair-grounds effects have been adapted for the production--including a theatre-booth with an endless Panorama of Crusader Exploits.
Although there are headphones for translation, the visual powers of the production are such that you don't need them. Even more powerful are the sensitive performances of Emyliano Santa Cruz as a wary, wily Sancho and Ricardo Barber as the impassioned, addled old questor-knight, Don Quijote.
Indeed, Santa Cruz could make a very convincing Leporello to that other Spanish Don, Seville's demonic seducer, Don Giovanni!
As its name implies, Repertorio Español plays in repertory, so there are still a number of performances from which to choose. You may well want to see this vibrant & spectacular show several times!
Also in rep are Nilo Cruz's Ana en el trópico--better than on Broadway; Vargas Llosa's La fiesta del chivo, and Gabriel García Márques' Crónica de una muerte anunciada!
Musicals Old & New--
Abbot, Bissell, Adler, & Ross' THE PAJAMA GAME [****] BUY PAJAMA GAME TICKETS
Considering the current theatre-practice of making ancient & modern classics more "Relevant"--so that younger Americans can relate to them in terms of their own Life-Experiences, such as they may be--Roundabout Theatre missed a Big Opportunity to be on the cutting-edge of Theatre Innovation!
Todd Haimes should have insisted that director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall cast only Chinese in the colorful revival of The Pajama Game. After all, the Chinese make all the pajamas now--not to overlook all those Christmas decorations…
Given all the efforts made to ensure that young performers from Ethnic Minorities have their chance at Fame both On- and Off-Broadway, it is all too clear that Chinese-Americans are always short-changed. Nothing changes in this regard. Years ago, Kenneth Tynan objected to the casting of Japanese in the San Francisco Chinatown musical, Flower Drum Song.
Unfortunately for such a ground-breaking concept, in China there are no Labor-Unions, so the central conflict of Pajama Game would be meaningless. How about a Chorus of Dissident Factory-Workers being sent off to Re-education Camps in the Gobi Desert, overseen by Sid Sorokin--as played by Harry Connick, Jr.?
Even with "Book Revisions" by Peter Ackerman, like Barefoot in the Park, this show still has the seductive charm of a Period Piece. Just as really cheap Manhattan rentals, up five flights of stairs, now seem the stuff of dreams, so does an hourly raise of 7 1/2 cents now seem unbelievable. Of course, there was a time long after the original PG's Broadway premiere when Union raises would have been demanded in much larger increments.
Now, as the Minimum Wage has been frozen in place for almost a decade, workers are lucky even to be permitted to have Unions, let alone factories in which to work!
Charles E. Wilson once famously said: "What's good for General Motors is good for the country!" As Bankruptcy seems to have become the hope of GM, Ford, & Delta, perhaps, by extrapolation, Bankruptcy will also be good for America?
So, in such troubled times as today's, it was a refreshing god-send to have such a charming singing & dancing reminder of The America That Used To Be!
Those who are old enough to remember Carol Haney, Bob Fosse, & Shirley MacLaine in the original show should still be pleased by their modern replacements. And especially delighted at the high-powered way in which Marshall has recalled and re-invented the Past.
Especially delightful & charming are the colorful button-bedecked toy-box sets of Derek McLane--Tony-worthy, surely! They are complemented handsomely by Martin Pakledinaz's bright costumes, as well as by Peter Kaczorowski's deft lighting.
Fresh from Light in the Piazza, Kelli O'Hara is a lovely & totally energized Babe. As the knife-throwing Hines, Michael McKean is a bumbling charmer, ably paired with the Gladys of Megan Lawrence.
But of course the Big News is the triumphal Broadway debut of Harry Connick, Jr. as factory-manager Sid. As an obeisance to his Previous Life singing with a band, he gets to play a mean piano on-stage! At the close, he also gets to remove his pajama-top to show that he's buff and has been Working-Out!
This dynamic Time-Capsule of a musical should have a good long run. Just hope the performers are being paid Scale. They still have a Union!
Will Power & Aeschylus' THE SEVEN [**]
One of my favorite critic-colleagues has hailed this Hip-Hop version of Aeschylus' Seven Against Thebes for blowing-off "2500 years of dust." It's a blow-off, all right. But not in the sense intended here.
It's not as if Seven Against Thebes is so often revived as an Ancient Attic Artifact that it desperately needs an African-American Updating to make it Relevant--and, possibly, even Understandable--to those younger New York Audiences that are staying away from the Living Theatre, preferring to Surf the Internet.
Those theatre-goers who are marginally familiar with the Oedipus Legend may remember that Oedipus Rex blinded himself when he discovered he had actually married his own mother. And that his children--Eteocles, Polynices, & Antigone, among others--were also his half-brothers & sisters.
Wow! You don't need to set that in Harlem--or West Los Angeles--for the story to shake you to your foundations. But there's more!
Aeschylus told the tale in three parts--the Classic Greek Trilogy. Seven is the second segment: In self-imposed exile, Oedipus--played as a flamboyant Black Pimp-Daddy in Will Power's updating at the New York Theatre Workshop--curses his sons who are on the verge of war to see who will govern Thebes.
As re-invented down on East 4th Street, on a raised catwalk with stairs down to a shallow forestage--backed by projections of Classic Columns, to remind spectators of this Hip-Hop Musical's Mediterranean Origins--the show is more like Boys in the 'Hood than anything resembling the Mythic Powers of Ancestral Curses and unending Dynastic Blood-Feuds. Also, there's very little space in which to perform.
The Seven, as a result, is totally reductive. Jo Bonney directed a cast including a DJ, as a kind of Chorus-Commentator. Jamyl Dobson is Polynices, opposed to the Eteocles of Benton Greene.
The third section of the Aeschyulean Trilogy finds Blind Oedipus in what is now an upscale suburb of Modern Athens: Oedipus at Colonus. At the end of his tormented, tragic life, the ancient old man enters the Sacred Grove, never to be seen again. Try doing that in Hip-Hop! Rap about Transcendence?
What might really work for Will Power is a very important section of the Legend that is not in the Trilogy, but which has come down to us vividly in Sophocles' Antigone.
Regent after Oedipus' exile, and now, again, after the deaths of both brothers, King Creon--an ideal Pimp-Daddy!--has forbidden even ritual burial for the body of his upstart rebel nephew Polynices. Sister Antigone, as a sacred duty, gives the body a token-burial: a handful of dust strewn over the corpse. For this she dies, buried alive!
Thinking about that "2500 years of dust," Antigone's handful of Theban Soil seems as real today as it must have over two-millennia ago
Now, you could really rap & hip-hop to your heart's content with source-material like that!
It's almost pathetically amusing to remember a time when critics like Martin Gottfried were demanding that Broadway musicals abandon their beloved R&H scores for the latest in popular-trends. The problem with music with a pounding beat was that the Beat trumped everything.
Varying musical modes had previously strongly supported Broadway musicals by using different styles, tempos, and modalities to suggest varying emotions, moods, and attitudes. The Beat couldn't do that. Nor were Country & Western or Rhythm & Blues so flexible.
Much earlier, some hoped that Ragtime would transform the musical. When was the last time you saw & heard Scot Joplin's Tremonisha on stage? Or Irving Berlin's version in Alexander's Ragtime Band?
The problem now with Broadway Musicals is that--aside from Stephen Sondheim--they've forgotten how to write powerful songs, tuneful melodies. Of course, Andrew Lloyd Weber's Don't Cry for Me, Argentina was a real show-stopper, and some fans actually could walk out of the theatre singing it.
Were you able to do that after seeing Light in the Piazza? Or after Seven?
George Frideric Händel's HERCULES [***]
Fortunately, Handel's Reputation remains secure. After a recent performance of his Hercules--seen briefly at the Brooklyn Academy of Music/BAM--a colleague commented: "The music was the best thing about it!"
Well, yes, of course. If the music--as composed and/or performed--isn't The Best, why bother? But if the work has been conceived as an opera--or oratorio that invites staged-performance--then the powers of the score should be met and reinforced by an equally powerful visualization.
Considering the talents involved in this Aix-en-Provence Festival/Wiener Festwochen/Opéra de Paris co-production, this Hercules could have been taking place in San Quentin Prison. Thanks to the barren designs of Richard Peduzzi, who once designed Patrice Chereau's celebrated Bayreuth RING.
What was even more disappointing was the desultory way in which the usually ingenious director Luc Bondy staged the uninspired cast and the lumpy chorus. After all, this work is about the disasters the jealousy of an insecure woman can wreak on herself and all around her.
Hercules [William Shimell], having killed an enemy king and destroyed his kingdom, has brought his royal daughter, the lovely Princess Iole [Ingela Bohlin] back a cowering captive. Mrs. Hercules [Joyce DiDonato] suspects the worst.
She could not possibly have seen Aeschylus' tragedy, Agamemnon, in which this great Hero-King brings a captive Trojan Princess, Cassandra, home to Argos--with bloody results. Herculean Myths necessarily precede those of Mycenean Greece.
Les Arts Florissant's famed founder and conductor, William Christie, saved the evening from the orchestra-pit.
Opera Master-Classes at the Manhattan School of Music:
MARTA EGGERTH & CATHERINE MALFITANO
When the Queen of Viennese Operetta, Marta Eggerth, was 87 she gave a memorable concert on the stage of the Vienna State Opera. Now, she is 93, and still singing sweetly on pitch, with supremely subtle phrasing, although less volume than in her heyday.
Recently, she presided at a Manhattan School of Music Master Class with a mixture of noblesse oblige and motherly-concern for the talents and arias of five young singers. But this was as much a workshop for developing operetta roles as it was a fond recall of over 80 years in the musical-theatre & films of Europe and America.
Imagine a young soprano receiving inspiration from the star for whom the practice-aria was actually written, by such composers as Franz Lehár, Robert Stolz, or Emmerich Kalman!
As Terence McNalley has shown, in his Maria Callas Master Class, there usually will be a young Sacrificial Vocal-Lamb laid on the Altar of Opera-Art. Marta Eggerth is kindness itself: nonetheless, when something is not working right, she won't overlook it. But, unlike Callas, she doesn't flay sopranos alive.
One young singer entered in what one assumes was supposed to be "in character," if not in actual costume. She had prepared a Vocabulary of Gestures to accompany the words of her operetta-aria: Ich bin die Christel von der Post. She sang with a forced vivacity that suggested a Carmen understudy.
Your scribe was astonished. And then some…
Karl Zeller's Der Vogelhändler--The Bird-Seller--is certainly no Magic-Flute, with a Papageno bird-seller. But it is a kind of Tirolean Peasant operetta, not a racy Spanish-style passion-pit. Its Hit-Song is Wenn Mann schenkt Rosen in Tirol. And Christel is the local Post-girl, delivering the village-mail.
Marta Eggerth--who has starred in almost all of the beloved Viennese, Budapest, & Berlin operettas--asked the young soprano if she had any idea at all about the character, the song, and her and its place the action of the operetta.
Also, as she had learnt the text in German, where did she hope to sing it in an actual production?
Good question: German & Austrian opera-theatres have plenty of new young talent. They no longer need Americans as they did back in the immediate Post-War Years.
I have seen various colorful and amusing productions of Der Vogelhändler in Munich and Vienna, but never anywhere in New York or the United States. Perhaps, if this soprano comes to terms with Christel from the Post, someone may decide to give this show an American Revival?
But then it might be even more Period--not even American Period--and dated than The Pajama Game?
A week after, Catherine Malfitano took the Greenfield Hall stage at the Manhattan School to enthusiastic applause. But she worked rather differently with her eight talented young singers. Each was encouraged to sing a chosen aria through, without corrections or suggestions.
Then she led the troupe--with whom she'd been working at home, as part of The Malfitano Project--through a series of Theatre-Games, designed to help them overcome nervousness, forget about belting out their best notes, in favor of using the words & music to help them become different kinds of animals. Or real people in contrasting emotional situations. These exercises worked very well indeed!
Malfitano seemed Mentor, Mother, & Pal to all the young singers. If you missed this Master Class, you will surely be seeing & hearing from these eight very soon.
See the Stars of Tomorrow at the Manhattan School! Afterwards, visit Grant's Tomb--it's only a block up the hill!
Richard Foreman's ZOMBOID! [***]
The Annual Richard Foreman Ontological Theatre Production--as usual at St. Mark's in the Bowery--this winter featured a Foreman First: the combination of the customary cryptic collages of Foreman-generated symbolic-objects, props, costumes, makeups, and decorations with the World of Multi-Media.
Foreman posed two video-screens above his intimate action-pit: one upstage center, the other stage-left. On these, desultory groups of indiscriminate and uninteresting people--not at all like the live Colorful Fantasts moving below them--shuffled and shifted around.
This didn't seem to make much of a visual or spiritual point. At least not to your too-literal scribe… But then, Point-Making is not an Ontological Speciality.
So let's have Foreman explain what he was seeking in this Marriage of Inconvenience:
"Mostly--people are interested in 'events.' But I find more potent, the time between events, the oscillation of the field--in this case that potent 'staging area' in front of filmed tableaux, in which the archetypically 'blindfolded' hover like semi-visible Gods--semi-controlling the wobble of 'blind' impulsive behavior on the stage below…"
There is more, much more. But this really Says It All in regard to the Zomboids, don't you think?
These usually fantastic Ontological shows were much better before the Video-screens.
At PS 122: ABSN:RJAB [**]
The best thing about this production was the on-stage construction of a kind of giant Toy-Theatre Proscenium. What took place inside it afterward reminded one of avant-garde efforts at LaMaMa ETC and Judson Memorial Church forty years ago.
OK: we all understand that Young People have to Re-invent the Wheel every generation. But why does it have to have four sides? Even hexagonal or octagonal, it might get some rolling-traction…
Jason Fisher's LENNY BRUCE In His Own Words [***]
You wouldn't want to have Mort Sahl re-cycled now: he worked from daily-headlines. And those topical topics are now Ancient History.
Your scribe saw Sahl perform, in his prime, in San Francisco at the Hungry i and the Purple Onion. Also on offer way back then were the scatological and obscene and very funny monologues of Lenny Bruce.
One of Lenny's set-pieces that Jason Fisher brings back to serio-comic life is Bruce's on-going problems with the San Francisco Police. Notably, his tendency to utter the Forbidden Two Words: "Cock-Sucker."
At that time, the words were not only not spoken among Decent God-Fearing People, but they were also never to be seen in print.
Bruce's re-enactment of his court-hearing is still hilarious: "Did he really say 'Cock-Sucker'?" "Yes, your honor, that's just what he said: 'Cock-Sucker'!"
Even the lawyer enjoys the then-forbidden pleasure of saying the banned words, as allowed in a Court of Law.
Now, of course, this fastidious attitude about giving the giver of the Act of Fellatio a slang-name seems ludicrous. Monica Lewinsky made even the most pious American wife & mother well aware of what she did to Bill in the Oval Office.
And Impeachment Maven Kenneth Starr and Leading Republican Lawmakers made sure that every American man, woman, & child would know just what went on there, semen-stained skirt and all.
When an aged and pious relative of mine heard all the shocking details, she said to me: "I would never put that dirty thing in my mouth!" She meant, of course, her late husband's, not Bill Clinton's…
Lenny Bruce's point in all of this--as well as his ferociously funny raps on Religious Leaders and other Public Figures--is the complete & brazen Hypocrisy of it all.
Jason Fisher--who does a very good impersonation--reinforces Lenny Bruce's Essential Point: that the Real Obscenities are Racism, Bigotry, Poverty, & War.
[Had he lived, Lenny would have been devastatingly hilarious about Bill & Monica. But he would have been ferocious in lampooning the current activities in the Oval Office. If cock-sucking is Impeachable, what about Unwarranted & Unprovoked Foreign Wars?]
Steven Fales' CONFESSIONS OF A MORMON BOY [****]
Did you know that: "We are now as God once was; we shall be some day as God is now."
The first time I heard this was from my US Army/Fort Ord squad-chum, who was a Mormon Bishop--and was having difficulty in being allowed to wear the requisite Mormon Male-Underwear. It had saved Joseph Smith, the Latter Day Saint's Prophet & Founder, when struck by a lightning-bolt.
As Mormons become Priests at 12--similar to having a Bar Mitzvah or First Communion, one might say, but with different consequences--being a Bishop and a Private First Class during the Korean "Police-Action" was a challenge.
He also told me that--in addition to No Smoking, No Alcohol, & No Tea or Coffee--Mormons were not permitted to drink Coca-Cola™!
This baffled me. Joseph Smith was brutally murdered--along with his brother Hyrum--by a mob of religious bigots long before Coca-Cola™ was concocted. Explanation: "He would have condemned it had he known about it!"
When I got out of the Army and was teaching in Las Vegas at Nevada Southern University, I rented an adobe-hut from the city Post-Mistress, who was an ardent member of the local Stake church. As I did not smoke or drink, she thought me an ideal candidate for LDS membership.
As a confirmed bachelor, I demurred, especially off-put by the essential requirement that all Mormon men must marry and father large families. And that the chief & proper role of all LDS women is in the Home, as Mother and Wife.
Not only is this demanded by the Commandment "to be fruitful and multiply," but it is also necessary if you are to be united for All Eternity to your own family and all of your ancestors, way back to Adam.
[Spending an Eternity with some of my relatives is NOT my idea of Heaven. But at least there is no TV in Heaven, which should prove a Blessing! Also No Fast Food!]
All this is prologue to your scribe's unreserved recommendation of Steven Fales and his frank and often funny Confessions of a Mormon Boy.
Fales, a real charmer, tried his best to be the Perfect Young Mormon Male. But he was also eager to make it as a singer/dancer in Broadway Shows.
Show-Business is not forbidden to Mormons. There's the King Family. And the Osmonds. As all Mormons are required to tithe--that is, to give one-tenth of their annual income to the Church in Salt Lake City--show-biz tithes are smiled-upon.
Although Steven Fales had done his two-year Mormon Missionary stint and married a lovely & loving Mormon girl and was the loving father of two children, he had a problem: he thought he might be Gay!
But, after all, all the children that have ever been, or ever will be, were created by God as his Spirit Children at the Beginning, waiting to be Born. Mormon men owe them a Birth and a Family now & forever…
Pious Muslims--especially the Taliban--have stoned homosexuals. That may be the worst punishment, but Orthodox Jews, Roman Catholics, many Protestant sects, and Christian Scientists have decreed their own special hells for sexual-deviants.
Mormons Elders are more loving and lenient. They pray, exhort, & support, but--if nothing works--they Excommunicate! Less painful than Stoning, but it still hurts if you have really tried hard to Live in God's Law.
When Fales finally confronted his true feelings, he Went All the Way: he became a Male Escort!
If you go to the Soho Playhouse, you'll hear it all.
The Big Shocker--after details of Sex-for-Bucks--comes when Fales pulls off his really cute hair-piece, to reveal the unpleasantly balding-head of a middle-aged man. But his body is still buff and terrific, as he is frank enough to share with the largely eager audience.
Now he has begun a New Life--more honest, more focused, more frank. But keep the toupée on: it's better than any of those Gene Kelly or Frank Sinatra ever had!
[If you want to know more about the beliefs of Latter Day Saints, you'll find all you need in The Complete Idiot's Guide to Understanding Mormonism, by Drew Williams. He also has a large, loving family, but does need a spell-checker. He regularly uses "bare," when he means "bear." As in "baring children"--surely he is not extolling stripping them naked, exposing them to the world? Williams also identifies William Wordsworth as a "US Poet." What are they teaching out there at Brigham Young University anyway?]
At the New Victory: BARON RABINOVITSJ [***]
If you expected a trombone-player on stilts, Baron Rabinovitsj' crazy orchestral-concert at the New Victory failed in that respect. But in almost every other way imaginable that really good musicians could be hilarious on-stage--conducted by a Slavic Madman, with a flowing white-mane worthy of Leopold Stokowski--this musical-outing was a Total Delight to parents and kids of all ages.
There were even Questions & Answers after--with some really sharp queries from kids in the audience. Hands shot up all over. How could they mix the classics with jazz? When did you learn to play an instrument? What's your favorite piece?
These reactions suggest that educators who are trying to save money by cutting music-programs in the schools are way off-base. Instead, they should even be inviting Baron Rabinovitsj and his Orchestra to come into the schools and share their lively show.
[Way back in the 1930s--yes, that is a long way back--even in one-room elementary-schools in California, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra was a regular Thursday-morning guest in those schools that had electricity. Or failing that, battery-radios.
[On Thursday-evenings, the Standard Oil Company of California offered the SFSO's regular weekly-concert on radio as The Standard Symphony Hour. In the mornings, however, a few works would be explored for students and teachers, with Philomel as the Ariel/Puck-like guide.
[Coupled with the regular Saturday-afternoon Texaco Metropolitan Opera Broadcasts--yet another Oil-Company!--these radio-treats introduced thousands of Golden State kids and teens to serious modern and classical music. And there was even a Baron Rabinovitsj pre-cursor: Kay Kyser and His College of Musical Knowledge!]
But what will the Future hold for Good Music?
At the Met Museum & the Italian Cultural Institute:
Teatro Arte Argento's SICILIAN CRUSADER PUPPETS
Perhaps this is not the best time to celebrate the exploits of those heroic Christian Crusaders who saved the Holy Land from the clutches of the Saracens way back in the 11th century? In any case, they didn't hold onto it very long.
Nonetheless, these now almost mythical knights and their tales of love and valor live on in great Renaissance Italian poetic-cycles and, more immediately, in the plays and puppet-performances of Palermo's Teatro Arte Argento.
In conjunction with the Met Museum's exhibition of remarkable portraits by Sicily's Antonello da Messina, the Argento Family presented at the Met The Battle of Orlando and Rinaldo for the Love of Angelica. At the Italian Institute, they also showed some of their shining-silver Puppet-Knights, and the genial Argento Patriarch, Vicenzo, demonstrated how he makes these large-scale puppets--equipped for battle, but operated with rods instead of marionette-strings!
[Considering occasional productions of Crusader-operas based on the texts of Torquato Tasso, it could well be said that the other Met, the Metropolitan Opera, is also keeping the Crusader Traditions alive.]
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2006. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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