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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, April 9, 2007
About Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
New Plays: *
Tom Stoppard’s COAST OF UTOPIA: PART THREE-SALVAGE [****] *
Athol Fugard’s EXITS AND ENTRANCES [****] *
Terrence McNally’s SOME MEN [****] *
Charles Busch’s OUR LEADING LADY [***] *
Lee Thuna’s FUGUE [***] *
Bob Glaudini’s JACK GOES BOATING [**] *
Christopher Shinn’s DYING CITY [**] *
Old Plays in Revival: *
Eric Bogosian’s TALK RADIO [****] *
August Wilson’s KING HEDLEY II [*****] *
Robert Anderson’s TEA & SYMPATHY [****] *
James Barrie’s MARY ROSE [****] *
Bernard Shaw’s WIDOWERS’ HOUSES  *
Shakespeare’s Edward Hall Double-Bill: The Taming of the Shrew & Twelfth Night [****] *
Kevin Kline’s James Lapine KING LEAR [**] *
Amelia Bassano Lanyer’s MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: A Comic Jewish Satire  *
New Musicals: *
Kander & Ebb’s CURTAINS [****] *
Old Musicals in Revival: *
At the Metropolitan Opera: Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia [*****] *
Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg [****] *
Strauss’s Die Ägyptische Helena [****] *
Other Entertainments/Other Venues: *
SPALDING GRAY: Stories To Tell [***] *
At the New Victory: LIFEBOAT [***] *
At the Union Square Theatre: BE by Mayumana [****] *
At Sardi’s: A CELEBRATION! The Life of Vincent Sardi, Jr. [*****] *
Tom Stoppard’s COAST OF UTOPIA: PART THREE-SALVAGE [****]
One of the truly Great Achievements of the Lincoln Center Theatre has been this season’s impressive ensemble-production of Tom Stoppard’s Epic Trilogy, The Coast of Utopia.
So much was hoped-for & promised when the original Lincoln Center Rep began life down on Washington Square-ready before Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theatre was ready for them. But the visionary dreams of Harold Clurman, Elia Kazan, & Arthur Miller didn’t come to fruition…
Jules Irving & Herbert Blau tried to make Repertory work in the Beaumont, but audiences-attuned to Broadway Long-Runs-weren’t receptive to rotating-rep, although that programming was standard in the sister-theatres at Lincoln Center: at the Met, the New York City Opera, & the New York City Ballet.
Actually, for so complicated & demanding a work as The Coast of Utopia, it was not possible to open all three dramas in rotating-repertory. Each had to be rehearsed & premiered in turn, with the final Marathon uniting them all in a really energy-consuming three-a-day repertory.
Your scribe saw all three of the dramas originally in the Royal National Theatre’s London Marathon. On this side of the Atlantic, he has witnessed the segments serially instead.
Perhaps had he seen the final section, Salvage, as the conclusion of another Marathon-a Long Day’s Journey into the Night of Soviet Communism-he might have found this final play more Powerful, as well as Disillusioning.
Although Salvage finds the early apostle of revolutionary Social Change in Russia-the metaphorically & philosophically ship-wrecked Alexander Herzen-initially washed up safely on the shores of Great Britain, his hopes & dreams are blasted, replaced by the onward rush of events in which he no longer can be an active force.
Bryan F. O’Byrne is nonetheless magisterial in this role, although he seems swallowed up in the complex details of family-relationships & the constant begging of rival Revolutionaries-in-Exile for access to his Private Purse.
Unlike the great Greek Tragic Trilogies-which must end with some kind of Self-Knowledge & Closure-Salvage is more like a Winding-Down than Wisdom Through Suffering.
The Rush to Revolution-always being deferred, after the disasters of the failed 1848 Uprisings-has left the very wealthy Herzen stranded on the beach as a kind of Historical-Footnote. Fortunate for him that he was able to get his considerable fortune out of Czarist Russia. Unlike such impetuous Players as Michael Bakunin [Ethan Hawke], who always have their hands out…
Among the free-loading guests at Herzen’s Salons are such luminaries as the Hungarian Freedom-Fighter, Lajos Kossuth, the Italian Patriot Giuseppi Mazzini, and, necessarily, the co-author of the Communist Manifesto, Karl Marx.
Of whom it is noted that-as a Theorist, toiling away in the stacks of the British Museum Library-he never actually worked alongside the Workers for whom he strives to build a New Society, with a Dictatorship of the Proletariat, ultimately promising a Withering Away of The State. [Hoho!]
Jack O’Brien has brilliantly directed this equally brilliant company that includes such talents as Jennifer Ehle, Richard Easton, David Cromwell, Robert Stanton, & Martha Plimpton.
In The Coast of Utopia, Tom Stoppard has provided both an Overview of the Ideas & Actions that led to Ten Days That Shook the World, but also an occasionally amusing Peek Under the Covers of the Movers & Shakers.
But after all those Marathon performances, shouldn’t there be a Final Exam?
Athol Fugard’s EXITS AND ENTRANCES [****]
With the end of Apartheid in the Union of South Africa & the establishment of the new Republic of South Africa, for a moment it looked like the furiously anti-Apartheid playwright, Athol Fugard, might have lost his major Subject-Matter.
Not at all! The Captain’s Tiger was a fascinating account of what Fugard learned about Life aboard a tramp-freighter in the South Seas, where he was the only white among a polyglot crew.
In any case, it wasn’t all about Apartheid: it was also about People. How about The Road to Mecca? A Lesson in Aloes, Boseman and Lena? Master Harold and the Boys?
Now, on his 75th birthday, Athol Fugard has brought New York city the gift of a valedictory Exits and Entrances. This is a beautiful & deeply touching drama. Not only a tribute to The Theatre, Its Magic, & Its Powers, but also a loving Memorial to an Actor of the Old School, who helped inspire a young South African playwright…
William Dennis Hurley is the struggling young playwright who introduces audiences to the backstage world of the Larger-than-Life Afrikaans actor, André Huguenet-magnificently played by Morlan Higgins.
Backstage-working as his dresser-Playwright/Fugard learns some vital lessons from coaching Huguenet in his final performances of Sophocles’ Oedipus Rex.
Years later-effectually saying goodbye-he comes backstage again & learns another lesson: this time from Hamlet, in one of the most self-recognizing interpretations audiences are ever apt to witness. André has at last understood-as Fugard also does-just what "To be or not to be" means, in taking stock of a Life Lived but Unfulfilled…
It was André Huguenet’s Dream to bring the Living Theatre to his fellow Afrikaaners. But these boorish Boers-the Architects of Apartheid-were not supportive, not really interested. Nonetheless, for thirty years he struggled on, giving Life to his Theatre, and the Theatre giving life to him.
At the outset of the play-as bells, horns, & whistles celebrate the creation of the new South African Republic-Fugard reads of the demise in Bloemfontein of his old Mentor, André Huguenet. No cause of death is given: but Fugard remembers what happens in Hamlet…
There are many plays about Lives in the Theatre, but Exits and Entrances is a very special tribute!
[Personal Note: Some seasons ago, I made the journey-not to Mecca-to South Africa. I hoped to be able to see a play at the famed Market Theatre in Johannesburg, possibly one by Athol Fugard. But on my first day in Cape Town, I was mugged in broad daylight on the main avenue by three black teenagers, trying to knock me down & tear away my cameras. Also ripping off my pockets to find my wallet…
[None of the black Street-Vendors moved to help me. They just watched. Two French tourists ran to my rescue. They escorted me back to my hotel, where the all-black staff told me I was lucky not to have been knifed: "Never go out alone. Never go out with all those cameras!"
[Later in the day, I went to the immense concrete Cape Town Culture-Center, which houses a drama-theatre, concert-hall/opera-house, & art-galleries. I hoped to see a production of a new South African play. But the British-trained theatre-manager had nothing to offer. Nor did he think it would be wise to come at night by myself to see a concert. Patrons can drive into the complex’s underground-parking. Few walk there.
[He explained that the idea of a Cape Town Repertory Theatre Company had to be abandoned, as new laws mandated performances in English & Afrikaans, as well as Native Languages, of which there are several Leading Contenders. How could one ensemble service all those Requirements? Or find eager audiences on succeeding evenings?
[Traveling onward to other centers such as Fugard’s home-town, Port Elizabeth, to Durban, Pretoria, & Johannesburg, I was pleasantly surprised to see more concrete Culture-Complexes. But I was almost equally disappointed to discover that there was either no "product" on display. Or that our white South African Tour-Guide didn’t think it wise to go out at night. Especially not to the Market Theatre…
[This seems not only the Bitter Fruit of years of Apartheid, but also of sheer Economic Disaster. Of course there is White Flight, but many who remain live behind high-walls, topped with razor-wire or electric-fences, guarded by fierce Attack-dogs, unable to sell their Mansions & Villas.
[With the voiding of Apartheid Laws, thousands of desperate black Tribesmen & their families have left agriculturally played-out & previously segregated Tribal Lands, flocking to huge cardboard & corrugated Shantytowns, flanking all major cities. But the Work is not there, and the Dispossessed Population continues to grow.
[Thousands of these poverty-stricken people do not have the price of Breakfast, let alone a Theatre-Ticket…]
Terrence McNally’s SOME MEN [****]
This handsome production at 2nd Stage opens with eight white chairs & two crystal chandeliers. Understated elegance: but nothing like Ionesco’s The Chairs-which closes with an aged couple jumping out the upper window of their Lighthouse home.
With Terrence McNally’s disparate group of Gay Men in and around Manhattan & Long Island over the years, we are a long way off from Theatre of the Absurd. To some in the audience, however, the Lifestyles of most of these often engaging-sometimes heartbreaking-characters may well seem Absurd.
How about a middle-aged father on the beach with his lover but also with his son and his lover?
This is definitely not a show for those dedicated to heterosexual Family Values. And yet, most of McNally’s yearning males long for the security of a Loving-Relationship and even for children to love & to raise.
In a series of short-takes, McNally surveys Gay Life in New York over the years: How it has changed: from deep inside the Closet, to furtive Adventures in hotel-rooms & baths, to in-your-face Flamboyance & Defiance, onward to the horror of Aids, and beyond to the seemingly Safe-Harbor of a Settled Life.
Along with the Heartbreak there is also a lot of Humor. Much of this is generated by the outspoken David Greenspan, at first hilarious as a stylish Cross-dresser in high-heels who is nearly thrown out of a Men-Only Show-tunes Piano-bar. But when he/she sings Over the Rainbow-not a dry eye…
The name of Judy Garland is almost a Mantra for McNally’s Some Men, with Judy’s complicated Love-Life a virtual Mandala…
If you are one of those Decent, God-Fearing, Right-Thinking Americans who abhor all those men who-as you may believe-deliberately choose the Gay Lifestyle, this very frank & often funny production will surely introduce you to some wonderful & suffering men who have had no real choice in the matter. Even if they have struggled to Maintain the Appearances of a Heterosexual Lifestyle: often a Disaster for them & for their families…
Trip Cullman staged the talented cast, with chairs & chandeliers from set-designer Mark Wendland & costumes by Linda Cho.
Incidental Intelligence: For many years, your scribe has preserved an audio-tape of Judy Garland’s Last Interview, made for Danish Radio-but never broadcast-just after her last-performance-ever in Copenhagen. It was made by my late friend, Hans Vangkilde, with Judy and her last husband, Mickey Deems. Judy took Hans’ virtually toxic pain-killer pills-which he believed actually killed her back in London. He gave the tape & the rights to me, but I could never find anyone interested in broadcasting it.
Charles Busch’s OUR LEADING LADY [***]
Sic semper tyrannis!
What an Unfortunate Set-back for the Careers of Laura Keene & her Company!
When the first Presidential Assassin, John Wilkes Booth, shouted in Latin: "Thus to all Tyrants"-leaping from Abraham Lincoln’s box at Ford’s Theatre-he not only put a definitive end to Lincoln’s life.
But he also effectively put an end to Ford’s Theatre & seriously affected the careers of both his own brother, the celebrated actor Edwin Booth, & that of actress-manager Laura Keene.
Mrs. Keene’s company was performing Our American Cousin on the night that Lincoln, Mrs. Lincoln, and their friends came to Ford’s, in downtown Washington, DC. At the point when Asa Trenchard utters "You sockdologizing old man-trap," Booth’s fatal shot rings out.
Charles Busch has imagined this event on stage, as well as what led up to it backstage & in the tragic aftermath, when the entire company was under suspicion. In the event-although boarding-house-keeper Mary Surratt was hanged, along with other Booth Conspirators-Keene & Company are set free.
Nonetheless, had Laura Keene not written President Lincoln-virtually demanding that he come to see Our American Cousin-the often-drunk VP Andrew Johnson would never have become President, which effectually guaranteed a botched post-Civil War Reconstruction: "Binding up the Nation’s wounds…"
As a modern-day Period-Piece, the play is an interesting attempt to recreate the Theatre-Life of a bygone time on the American Stage. But it is more about Backstage Intrigues than the Resonance of this First Presidential Assassination.
Manhattan Theatre Club’s Artistic Director, Lynne Meadow, has staged a fine cast, headed by Kate Mulgrew as an embattled but resourceful Laura Keene. Also on hand: Maxwell Caulfield, Reed Birney, & Kristine Nielsen.
Jane Greenwood’s period-costumes are a treat, as is the wandering Proscenium-Arch of Santo Loqausto.
Historical Note: Not only did Ford’s Theatre close down, but-in the wake of Lincoln’s Murder-successive Presidents avoided going to the theatre: You are a Sitting-Duck in the Presidential-Box! [Ask VP Dick Cheney about sitting-ducks!]
Only with the endorsement of Cultural Values-especially in Our Nation’s Capital-by President John Fitzgerald Kennedy & his Lovely Lady-wife, did it finally seem both Safe & Politically-Expedient to return to the Living Theatre.
Ford’s Theatre-long only a warehouse-was lovingly restored & a great new Culture-Complex was erected overlooking the Potomac-later named for another Assassinated President!
In case you have lost count, we have thus far four Murdered Presidents. A vintage-volume published during the Presidency of Theodore Roosevelt-Our Martyr Presidents-pays tribute to the first three: Lincoln, James A. Garfield, & William McKinley-whose death put Teddy in the White House.
Then there’s that Old Wheeze of Black Humor: "Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?"
Lee Thuna’s FUGUE [***]
Judith Ivey sensitively & skillfully staged Lee Thuna’s neuro-detective-drama about a woman in a mental Fugue-state. Deidre O’Connell plays Mary, who has lost all memory of who she is. She is absolutely baffled by the garrulous Zelda [Charlotte Booker], a school-chum, who has seen her photo in the paper & has come to the hospital, hoping to jar remembrance.
Apparently, Terrible Shocks can send people into Fugue, but how to bring them out? Dr. Danny Lucchesi [Rick Stear] has his own demons to deal with, but Dr. Oleander-What’s in a Name? The Oleander plant is actually poisonous!-challenges him.
Was a Lesbian Attraction a problem? Did Mary’s mother set her off? Did Mary pull the plug on her comatose mother? How & why did her daughter die? Did she even have a daughter? Is that a False Memory?
The production is simply-set but nonetheless compelling. It is like TV in 3D!
Bob Glaudini’s JACK GOES BOATING [**]
The Big News about this LAByrinth Theatre Company production-at the Public Theatre, but not of it-is the presence in the cast of Philip Seymour Hoffman!
The theatre was packed with his fans, as well as those who adore Daphne Rubin-Vega. Every twitch & snort was greeted with knowing laughter.
Jack is a lumpish oaf who wears a knit-cap pulled tightly down around his greasy locks, even inside his friends’ apartment-where they share Joints & more.
Jack & Clyde are limo-drivers. Clyde & Lucy want to fix Jack up with the fearful Connie, who cannot do anything right.
Jack wants to take Connie out Boating, but he cannot Swim. Clyde takes Jack to the gym for lessons in the Pool.
Jack wants to cook a Gourmet Dinner for Connie & their friends. It is a Disaster.
Jack wants to fuck the fearful Connie. That is also initially a disaster. She wants to be taken aggressively, but with no Violence.
Eventually, Jack & Connie are seen through a scrim, Boating!
Jack is nothing like Truman Capote, so you know how powerful this acting actually is!
Maybe I am Too Old to understand the Attraction & Brilliance of such plays-though I certainly have known people like these characters-but younger critic-colleagues assure me that playwright Bob Glaudini has real talent & that this play is a Delight!
Bring back In Cold Bloood…
Christopher Shinn’s DYING CITY [**]
Younger critic-colleagues assure me that playwright Christopher Shinn has real talent & that his play-Dying City-is an impressive achievement. It deals with the American Disaster in Iraq in Human Terms, but on the Home Front.
Or something like that… What is actually impressive is that Liev Schreiber’s younger brother, Pablo, gets to play Twin-Brothers! The problem for your scribe was that he could never be certain which of the twins Pablo was impersonating at any given moment.
As one of the two brothers was the late soldier-husband of the angry Kelly-packing-up to move-on-he must have been making Macho, to prove his Manliness in going off to Build Democracy in Iraq. In the event, he actually hated the War and his part in it. So he apparently shot himself…
His brother Peter is an actor & homosexual-or should this be formulated as: a Gay Actor?-who is angry that the senior-actor playing the James O’Neill character in Long Day’s Journey into Night has challenged his abilities, calling him a "Pussy." Or some such insult-my attention was wandering at this point.
Peter has arrived unannounced, unwanted, & unwelcome at Kelly’s apartment on the anniversary of brother Craig’s Suicide. Peter tells Kelly about being caught in the act of sucking-cock backstage. This may be taken as an Act of Aggression against her.
Is this really something she-and the audience-need to know?
Short scenes of the drama move backward & forward in Time. Which Twin is Which? Are we in the Now, or in the Then?
Is Baghdad the dying city of the play’s title. Or is this meant to be a Generic City?
As the scenes moved inexorably onward-and backward-I slowly became aware that the raised square-platform central-stage was very slowly, Inexorably Revolving, so that the Furniture-Props onstage took on a different & ever-changing Visual-Relationship to the spectators, if not the players.
Other colleagues also noticed this, however slowly the platform revolved. It became a Point of Reference.
Former College-Athlete Pablo Schreiber has very good upper-arms. He also has Talent, but this play has done him no favors.
Once again, at the Humana Festival at Actors Theatre Louisville, the American Theatre Critics Association-materially assisted by the Harold & Mimi Steinberg Trust-have awarded $25,000 for a New American Play.
Hope springs Eternal! But now that August Wilson is dead, where are our Eugene O’Neills, our Tennessees, our Millers?
Of the plays noted above, only Stoppard’s & Fugard’s are really impressive. And neither of them is an American Playwright, writing New American Plays…
In previous years of the ATCA/Steinberg Award, most winners have been less than impressive; some not even OK.
But next season, this could All Change.
Consider: With a check for $25,000 in his Hunter-Gatherer Pouch, no longer will Peter Sinn Nachtrieb have to go out looking for nuts & berries in the Berkeley Hills! This "inky-dark" Black Comedy-produced originally by San Francisco’s Killing My Lobster-won the Steinberg/ATCA New Play Award.
Two runner-up consolation-prizes are also offered. Shortly before he died, Arthur Miller won one of these!
This year’s Winners: Actor/playwright Jeff Daniels won $7,500 for his drama, Guest Artist, produced initially by the Purple Rose Theatre in Chelsea, MI. It deals with a burned-out playwright coming to the small town that has commissioned what may be his last play… Actually, Daniels is also a founder of the Purple Rose. And he was in The Purple Rose of Cairo…
Michael Hollinger was the other $7,500 winner, for his play, Opus. It deals with a string-quartet that is not always in tune with each other. This is promised for Manhattan’s Primary Stages at 59E59 next season!
Old Plays in Revival:
Eric Bogosian’s TALK RADIO [****]
Pablo Schreiber’s older bother, Liev, is terrific-volatile, violent, insulting, foul-mouthed, & Self-Loathing-in Eric Bogosian’s vintage-satire, Talk Radio. That Bogosian created this searing show way back in 1987 shows that nothing much has changed.
The Crazies, the Dumbos, the Bigots, the Unabombers, & the Terminally-Lonely are still Out There!
This powerful revival-on Broadway at the Longacre-is still set in 1987, but Barry Champlain could be taunting & cutting-off Call-In Idiots & Ditto-Heads at this very moment.
Barry is, however, no Conservative-Agenda-serving Rush Limbaugh. Nor is he an Imus in the Morning clone. His Gig is late-night & His Bent is Liberal.
Barry’s Rants could easily be aired Solo, but this is a Broadway show requiring Production-Values. So there is a State-of-the-Art Radio-Studio on stage. And a Cast of Supporting Characters, so the audience can see that Barry is no Respecter of Persons.
August Wilson’s KING HEDLEY II [*****]
Despite-or perhaps because of-the Melodramatic Ending of August Wilson’s King Hedley II, this powerful drama falls somewhat short of Tragedy as both Shakespeare & the Greeks understood it.
Hedley’s sudden & surprise Death-accidentally shot & killed by the often-absent mother who was trying to protect her son-is definitely the stuff of Victorian Melodrama. Or Television Soap-Opera…
Nor is Hedley essentially Heroic. He is a furious, proud, wounded, damaged Black Man, seriously deluded about his Prospects in Life. He might even be viewed as Pathetic-with the play becoming a Pathegy, rather than a Tragedy-were it not for the Power he exudes, even in Defeat.
Nor is Hedley experiencing the Tragedy of the Common Man-in Arthur Miller’s phrase-for the circumstances of his Birth, Upbringing, & Coming of Age have been so different from what Miller’s central-characters experienced.
He is definitely not a Willy Loman-although he dreams of owning a Kung-fu Video-shop, nor is he a Joe Keller, or a John Proctor-who is willing to die to protect his name. Hedley had no real options in Pittsburgh’s Hill District, the site of August Wilson’s ten-part cycle of Black American Life.
As King, Russell Hornsby was compelling to watch, much more Macho than Brian Stokes Mitchell, who created the role on Broadway. And certainly the equal of the original cast were Lou Myers, Lynda Gravatt, Curtis McClarin, Cherise Boothe, & Stephen McKinley Henderson, as the wily Con Man Elmore, who fatally baits King Hedley.
Derrick Sanders strongly staged this potent revival for Signature Theatre which is devoting this season to the plays of the late August Wilson.
Robert Anderson’s TEA & SYMPATHY [****]
The last time I saw Tea & Sympathy on stage was many moons ago in Paris! The reason I went to see it again was not so much for the Coming of Sexual-Age plot as for the fact that the Deborah Kerr role was being played by no less a star than Ingrid Bergman!
Bergman’s French was flawless and she certainly suggested the well-groomed frustration of a Faculty Wife at an Elite Boys Boarding-school. What was curious about the production was that all the Macho boys who taunted the "sensitive" Tom were racing along in that most feminine of languages, la langue française…
Fortunately, in the Keene Company’s excellent revival of Tea & Sympathy on Theatre Row, most of the boys are just this side of Animal House masculine & thoroughly American.
What’s especially interesting is that The Play Still Works!
It can be done as a Period Piece-indeed, director Jonathan Silverstein has set it where it originally was: in 1953. But it doesn’t seem a piece of American Educational History. It seems Immediate, a kind of Crisis that is still going on for some taunted teenagers & unfortunate women married to men with Supressed Desires.
You might think-after all these years-that Tom would no longer be in emotional agonies over his emerging sexuality. Wouldn’t Phillips Exeter Academy now have Gay-counseling? Wouldn’t Laura have seen enough Gay-themed plays, movies, & TV series to understand what is wrong, false, about her marriage?
Not necessarily. There are thousands Out There still in Rigid Denial about themselves & their relationships.
Among the outstanding cast were Dan McCabe as Tom, Heidi Armbruster as Laura, Randy Danson as Lilly, her confidante, & Craig Mathers as the over-programmed Bill Reynolds.
James Barrie’s MARY ROSE [****]
This charming revival of James Barrie’s fey play of a vanishing young girl-Mary Rose-was produced down on East 15th Street at the Vineyard Theatre. But it would have looked very much at home up on West 43rd Street at Jonathan Banks’ Mint Theatre, which specializes in revivals of neglected American & British plays.
Unlike Barrie’s Wendy, Mary Rose does not fly off to Peter Pan’s Neverland. On a Highlands vacation with her parents in Scotland, she goes to a mysterious island off the coast, while her parents stay on shore. They see her-then, suddenly, she is gone. Vanished. Not to be found…
When at last she returns, she has no memory of being gone so long, but her parents are now so much older.
James Barrie loved such Mysteries & Fantasies. Perhaps there was hidden in his psyche a child that never grew up. One who wanted Time to stand still…
But this is also a play informed, inspired, by great losses, by Deaths that touched Barrie deeply.
Tina Landau-the excellent playwright/director-staged this revival with attention to period-detail, but also with a sense of fantasy that was enhanced by James Schuette’s settings & Kevin Adams’ lighting.
Her also excellent cast included Keir Dullea-as a Narrator Barrie never imagined, Michael Countryman, Ian Brennan, Betsey Aidem, & Paige Howard as a lovely Mary Rose-also the daughter of director Ron Howard.
Dullea’s narration was provided by Barrie’s stage-directions. As George Bernard Shaw’s stage-directions are even more detailed & provocative than Barrie’s, perhaps Tina Landau can work the same wonders with Major Barbara or Saint Joan?
Bernard Shaw’s WIDOWERS’ HOUSES 
Widower’s Houses is so very seldom staged that your scribe urged many colleagues Not To Miss It!
How very embarrassing to be in the initial audience with some of them, only to realize in the first few minutes that this "adaptation" had little to do with the Searing-Wit & Social-Passion of George Bernard Shaw.
What it looked & sounded like was raw Amateur-Theatre, although some of the actors were well-dressed & well-mannered. Joe Biden might have loved that…
The staging-such as it was-opened offshore on an island near Charleston, SC. Old Plantation Slave-quarters were being visited. The walls were made of "tabby," as your scribe can also testify, having visited such mean abodes near both Charleston & Savannah.
Acts II & III were nominally set in Harlem, circa 1992. But the dialogue in Act I had been so dead & deadly-a very Long Way Off from Shavian Discourse-that I fled at Intermission.
Something I almost never do–
Shakespeare’s Edward Hall Double-Bill: The Taming of the Shrew & Twelfth Night [****]
When Sam Wanamaker was struggling to raise money for his Dream of re-creating Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre very near its original site on the South Bank of the Thames, one of his Selling-Points was that at last directors, actors, & even critics could discover how such a stage/audience-conformation would reveal the way in which the Bard’s plays should be performed.
There would be no night-time performances. Only the Natural Light of London afternoons…
Sam was so intent on an Accurate Restoration-as far as discoverable-that he was adamant about what could & could not be admitted. Aiding the project in a small way by reporting on it regularly, I asked him about his All-Male Ensemble, with boys playing the Juliets & Cleopatras, as in Elizabethan Times. He was almost angry: That simply could not be done!
But Edward Hall-son of Sir Peter-has in fact done just that with his Propeller Company. Recently at BAM, he showed a double-bill in rep of Shrew & Twelfth Night.
The dodgily homoerotic Overtones of such casting might have bothered Sam Wanamaker, but I believe it would have given him new insights into how & why Shakespeare’s female-roles were crafted as they were. And how they might have ben played for the Globe’s eclectic audience: a sprinkling of Literate Elizabethans & a rabble of rowdy Groundlings.
Hall’s Shrew worked better than the Twelfth Night. In fact, it seemed almost a New Play, with the Induction’s drunken Christopher Sly absorbed into it as Petruchio. This is one of the most physical, violent, rough, mean, & woman-demeaning Petruchios ever.
As Sly/Petruchio, the dynamic & athletic Dugald Bruce-Lockhart was amazing: sexy, handsome, but also clearly dangerous to know. And not a boss you’d want to work for…
So what a surprise to see him the next evening-magisterially-feminine in a long gown & earrings-as the Lady Olivia!
Equally amazing was the transformation of Simon Scardifield from the Bartered/Battered Bride, Kate, into the wanly wistful Sir Andrew Agucheek!
The entire company was admirable. Where-ever his spirit may be hovering, I hope Sam Wanamaker is aware of what Edward Hall & Ensemble are learning about men & boys playing the Bard’s female-roles.
Kevin Kline’s James Lapine KING LEAR [**]
Even months & weeks before the Public Theatre’s recent King Lear opened, pundits were saying that Kevin Kline was "too lightweight" for this demanding role. Some suggested it was a Vanity Production: But every Great Actor must climb to the summits of the Twin Peaks of Shakespeare: Hamlet & Lear. Forget about Pericles…
In the event-although Kline had some affecting moments-he was not up to the challenge of the Mad Scene on the Heath. Nor the Death of Cordelia…
But then his Cordelia was not very strong. And her two bitchy sisters, Goneril & Regan, were caricatures.
Nor were any of the character-values of this odd trio of siblings illuminated by foreshadowing-and continuing to shadow them-with three little girls. This seemed one of director James Lapine’s unnecessarily Cute Ideas, echoing his long-ago success at the Public, Twelve Dreams.
Impressive were Michael Cerveris’ stalwart Kent, Larry Bryggman’s affecting Gloucester, & Philip Goodwin’s melancholy Fool. Brian Avers & Logan Marshall-Green were Edgar & Edmund, respectively.
[Many seasons ago, at the Edinburgh Festival, the Prospect Theatre mounted a Lear, with Ian MacKellan as Edmund-at one point stark naked as Poor Tom! Now he is to play Lear at last. Will he tear off his rags in his mad rage on the stormy Heath?]
Lapine also elected to have Musical-Accompaniment for his Lear, although Shakespeare’s poetic-line should be music enough. Unfortunately, these flourishes & alarums often seemed Intrusive, even clashing with the mood of the scene, calling attention to themselves, rather than subtly aiding the production.
Only after the curtain-call did I read in the program that the special music had been created by no less a team than Stephen Sondheim & Michael Starobin! Had they actually read the play & really considered what the various scenes, characters, & moods suggested?
Amelia Bassano Lanyer’s MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM: A Comic Jewish Satire 
OK, how could a small-town guy-running away to London from a Bad Marriage-have written all those brilliant Tragedies, Comedies, & Histories? He didn’t even go to Oxford or Cambridge! When he died, he left no manuscripts, no books, not even a bookcase in his Will. He did leave his wife "the second-best bed," however…
In the four centuries since Wm. Shakespeare died, Scholars & Cultists have been proposing what is now a long list of candidates for the Authorship of Shakespeare’s Plays.
Chris Marlowe, anyone? Sir Walter Raleigh? Sir Francis Bacon? Queen Elizabeth I?
That scholarly Rogue, A. L. Rowse, unveiled another potential author in the person of Amelia Bassano Lanyer, whom he thought to be the Dark Lady of the Sonnets.
John Hudson is convinced she is the Onlie True Begetter of the Sonnets, Poems, & Plays. That she was also a very dark-skinned Jewish Marrano, of a family of Elizabethan Court Musicians, is even more convincing for Hudson, who has completed a new biography: The Dark Lady.
Searching for Affirmative-Evidence in the play-texts, Hudson is convinced that Midsummer Night’s Dream conceals a Jewish Satire of the defeat of the revolting Palestinian Jews at the hands of Emperor Titus.
Considering the fact that all Jews had been expelled from England by 1293-and, thus, there were no known Jews in Shakespeare’s audience-it is difficult to imagine why Lanyer would have gone to so much trouble to construct this Hidden Religio/Political/Social Critique.
Who among the Groundlings would have understood it?
And-despite the fact that both Jewish & Christian literary-scholars have been scouring the play-texts for centuries-how is it that only Rowse & Hudson seem to have fixed their attention so firmly on Amelia Bassano Lanyer? And that only they have detected concealed Jewish References?
The production at the Abingdon Theatre of MNSD as a Concealed Jewish Satire-using awkward corrugated-cardboard cut-outs to point Audience-Attention to instances of the hidden Jewish Wars Saga in the stage-action-was perilously close to Amateur-Theatre.
Even with the Signage, one had to have read the Program-Notes to have any idea what those Bees-Maccabees!-were supposed to represent.
As owner of a very old edition of Flavius Josephus’ almost contemporary accounts of the Jewish Wars, I believe he also would have been baffled, not only by MNSD as a Satirical Allegory, but also by this "Explanatory" Production.
But then Josephus-the Renegade Jew, become Roman Officer-died centuries before Shakespeare was even born…
Looking back at some 2,500 years of recorded Theatre History, there must be literally hundreds-if not thousands-of old forgotten plays worth rediscovering. With no Royalties to be paid!
So why don’t we get the opportunity to see more of these effectively "Lost Plays" in the Living-Theatre?
Speaking of the Living-Theatre, the Venerable Judith Malina has revived the Name-if not the Fame-of that avant-garde group, founded by the late Julian Beck & Malina many decades ago. The Brig, one of their most celebrated & controversial productions-which was shut-down by US Authorities for non-payment of ticket-sale taxes-is her effort to resuscitate Memories of Things Past. But we do not step in the same river twice, do we?
Kander & Ebb’s CURTAINS [****]
Murder on the stage-in Boston, no less!
Actually, more than one Murder! Curtains is not exactly as thrilling as Phantom of the Opera-no crashing chandeliers!-but you do get a portly-short producer dangling from the end of a rope, rather like a clapper in Quasimodo’s Notre Dame bell-tower.
With an amusingly obvious book by Rupert Holmes-reworking the original book & Concept of Peter Stone-this Kander & Ebb musical could be this season’s Drowsy Chaperone. It certainly won’t be on the same page as Pirate Queen.
But there cannot be more forgotten or neglected Kander & Ebb musicals stowed away in some attic-trunk, can there? No one is going to ask Rupert Holmes to re-imagine The Rink, do you think?
What suggests a comparison with Drowsy Chaperone is Curtains’ affectionate pastiche of Wild West & Plains Musicals from Oklahoma! to Paint Your Wagon-with Carousel in between. If you are old enough to long for the choreographies of Agnes deMille, you are in luck! Rob Ashford has parodied them in rousing style!
There’s also a whiff of The Producers about the way this pre-Broadway musical-tryout is being managed-and sabotaged-in Beantown.
Debra Monk & David Hyde Pierce are starred, though hardly star-crossed-lovers. She’s a Tough-Broad Producer. He’s a stage-struck, G&S-smitten police-detective, investigating the stage-murders. A Singing-Detective, as it turns out…
The time is 1959. The venue is Boston’s Colonial Theatre. The Broadway-bound musical is called Robin Hood-a long way off from the Sheriff of Nottingham and nearer the Sheriff of River City. This is effectively-if not a Western-at least a Middle-Western.
[Those who fondly remember the Reginald DeKoven operetta of the same name-Robin Hood-should be warned. There are no similarities shared by these shows. Kander & Ebb, even in jest, would never have written a song like DeKoven’s O Promise Me, which soon became most American Brides’ favored wedding-song…]
The Drama Critic of the Boston Globe-fortunately not modeled on the venerable Globe critic, Elliott Norton-can kill this Robin Hood. Is he also capable of killing its Star?
The songs are Vintage Kander & Ebb. William Ivey Long’s colorful costumes are Vintage William Ivey Long! Anna Louizos’ tacky Robin Hood sets & her fascinating backstage-environment are Vintage Musical-Theatre. Scott Ellis staged with panache & pastiche…
You should have a Great Time. And you can take the Family. If you can afford the ticket-prices…
Aside from Disney’s Mary Poppins, this season thus far has been disappointing in the Musical-Theatre category. Does anyone now even remember the necessarily seasonal How the Grinch Stole Christmas?
Both Grey Gardens & Spring Awakening are Off-Broadway transfers, not new shows. And they are both rather different-each from each other, as well as from Standard Broadway Fare-from the Juke-box Musicals that have recently surfaced.
This paucity of new musicals, spread out over the season, could certainly be blamed on the High Costs of Production. But with Pirate Queen & Legally Blonde opening just before Tony Nominations, it also seems likely that producers do not trust Nominators to remember well musicals that open in the autumn.
And why has Disney never brought that remarkable Julie Taymor Berlin production of The Hunchback of Notre Dame-Quasimodo Mechanized-to Broadway?
I didn’t much like the original Disney film, but this production was Pure Magic. The obvious problem is that the ever-moving, shifting-settings need a completely rebuilt & thoroughly-mechanized stage in order to function effectively. A stage even more technically-virtuosic than that of Radio City Music Hall!
Still, it could be worth the effort. And much more fun than the bungee-jumping in Tarzan.
Old Musicals in Revival:
No Broadway entries at this filing- But a revival of 110º in the Shade in is the wings… This means Tom Jones & Harvey Schmidt will have not one, but two, musical revivals midtown: Their Fantasticks is still at the Snapple Theatre at 50th & Broadway!
City Center Encores could be counted as Musical Revivals, but the management never gives your scribe press-tickets, so I cannot comment on them, season-by-season.
The last Encore production to which I was invited was that now World-Famous bare-bones mounting of Chicago. It moved to Broadway-where it now continues seemingly indefinitely-in much the same mini-concert-format used at City Center. It is also on view in London & points beyond.
Unfortunately, some musicals do seem to need a bit of scenery & some costumes: bare-bones don’t always work on a Broadway stage. Especially not at $110 per ticket…
Still, John Doyle’s stripped-down stagings of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd & Company have shown how Visually Less can be Dramatically More!
At the Metropolitan Opera: Rossini’s Il Barbiere di Siviglia [*****]
Fresh from his directorial-triumph across Lincoln Center Plaza at the Vivian Beaumont, Bartlett Sher demonstrated he could stage Rossini’s Barber of Seville with even more panache than he lavished on The Light in the Piazza, composed by one of Richard Rodgers’ grandsons, no less!
He was, of course, immensely aided in this Met Opera achievement by an outstanding cast and the design-genius of Michael Yeargan, whose Sevillian Environment and amusing set-props caught exactly the comedic tone of Rossini’s score & the Beaumarchais fable of Young Love outsmarting Old Age.
Instead of toting his barber-tools from Casa á Casa, Sher’s Figaro has a wonderful wagon that opens up to reveal a rolling barber-shop! And what a Figaro is the tall, handsome, dashing Peter Mattei-a real Matinée-Idol…
If anything, he effectively upstages Almaviva/Lindoro-the admirable Juan Diego Flórez-at least visually, owing to his stature, and in terms of his Energy & Stage-Presence. Why aren’t great tenors taller?
Last fall, Peter Mattei & Diana Damrau made impressive appearances at the Morgan Library, celebrating the Salzburg Festival’s coming summer seasons 2007, but also highlighting their Met debuts. Damrau was a total delight last summer in Salzburg’s Ascanio in Alba, so I was disappointed not to hear her at the Met as Rosina. Instead, Joyce DiDonato sang & played the role with charm.
Also admirable: John Del Carlo as Dr. Bartolo, dancer Rob Besserer in the mute role of his servant, Ambrogio, and John Relyea, as Don Basilio, in a yard-wide hat, designed by costumier Catherine Zuber.
What a surprise at the Venerable Old Met to have major characters make entrances down the orchestra-aisles! This is the stuff of Broadway Musicals, yet it works very well, helping to draw the audience into the frolic on stage.
This effect is re-inforced with another popular Music-Hall/Vaudeville/Burlesque device: The Runway-with the Met Orchestra in the center of its hollow rectangle. The Barbiere program calls this a Passarelle, but it’s still Show-biz and Overdue at the New/Old Met.
There is much in Bartlett Sher’s ingenious stage-direction that reveals how thoughtfully he has studied the score, as well as the libretto. He is said to be an admirer of the late Jean-Pierre Ponnelle, who always began his directorial-preparations with the score, rather than the libretto.
Ponnelle-an old friend of your scribe-once went through the score showing how Rossini’s musical inventions suggested what should happen on stage-and why. Sher’s attention to the Housekeeper’s Sneeze could be an homage to Ponnelle, who pointed out that previous directors had no idea of its meaning in the plot-action.
One of set-designer Michael Yeargan’s charming Site-Evocative ideas was the creation of a number of boxed Orange-trees, which could be scooted about the stage-space on wheels. Anyone who has been to Seville will remember the avenues of orange-trees, with lots of oranges lying about on the pavements.
Incidental Intelligence: When I was last in Seville-for the wonderful World’s Fair-I was puzzled at so many oranges just lying on the sidewalks and in the gutters, while homeless people begged for coins. No-one was eating the oranges. "Too bitter to eat!" one man explained. That must be why Seville-Orange Marmelade is so tart!
Bartlett Sher’s new Barbiere production at the Met has its own special brand of tartness as well!
And for those who know Pierre Caron de Beaumarchais’ entire 3-drama-cycle concerning the Almavivas-or, at the very least, the duo of operas, Barbieri & Figaros Hochzeit-always know what bitterness is in store for pretty little Rosina, after she gives heart & hand to the Randy Count. But Beaumarchais’ audiences had come to love Rosina/Countess Almaviva, so the third drama-La Mère coupable-was not so warmly welcomed: She has a child, and it is not Almaviva’s…
Maestro Maurizio Benini conducted with appropriate tartness & zest.
[Although the actual Old Met-at Broadway & 39th-was torn down years ago, its stuffy, dusty traditions followed it up Broadway to the new Lincoln Center, often reinforced by the autocratic hand of Sir Rudolf Bing.
[Efforts to save the Old Met focused on making it a home for popularly-priced Ethnic Musical-Theatre-Operettas, Zarzuelas, Tonadillas, and other Vintage Musical Entertainments. New York City Center had become dominated by the New York City Ballet & the New York City Opera, as well as Jean Dalrymple’s revivals of recent Broadway shows. Jean had absolutely no interest in operetta because-as she told me-it required singers who could act, instead of actors who could sing. She didn’t think there were many real singer/actors.
[But this Save the Met project was abruptly thwarted. Bing & his powerful Met Opera Board certainly did not want a huge old house midtown to siphon-off the audiences they felt should be coming to Lincoln Center. Also-although both the Old Met & the ground on which it stood had already effectively been paid-for by American opera-lovers-the income from the High-Rise Offices that would replace it would be most helpful to the New Met. A series I had written about the Project & the Forces arrayed against it was cancelled by the Christian Science Monitor, owing to the influence of the Board. I was given a Kill-Fee, and they killed the Old Met!]
Wagner’s Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg [****]
Somewhere in the extensive Loney Interview Archives are copies of reports I made after talking with Prof. Günther Schneider-Siemssen-set-designer for the Met’s vintage production of Die Meistersinger-and with Otto Schenk, who permitted me to sit-in on a rehearsal or two.
Although a new production of a famous opera is usually credited to the stage-director, it is, in fact, the set-designer who usually gives the production its distinctive Look. And that is what most opera-buffs remember: how it looked on stage, not how the director blocked the actor/singers or enhanced their understanding of their roles, both as sung & acted.
If, however, the stage-director has a stunning new Concept for the production, that will be duly noted by reviewers & opera-historians. But the design-elements are almost always central to such concepts.
Otto Schenk & Günther Schneider-Siemssen wanted to celebrate a fantasy/history version of Nuremberg in this production. Not exactly Picture-Postcard quality, but nonetheless evocative of the Medieval aspects of this ancient German city’s architecture & of the Meistersinger Traditions.
This is a production that the Met Public understandably loves. But-with Peter Gelb’s goal of making Met productions more innovatively Theatrical-this handsome vision of a kind of fairytale Nuremberg might soon be replaced with some Avant-garde Novelty from Peter Sellars or Robert Wilson.
Not that anything they might do would shock Perfect Wagnerites-now used to almost any scenic-excesses-as much as Wieland Wagner did when he & his brother Wolfgang resumed Bayreuth Festival performances in 1951. Instead of the Dance-Linden-tree-or Tanzlinden-Wagner had envisioned for his Meistersinger Festwiese scene, Wieland designed a flat green disc, to represent a tree.
Skandal! The German humor-magazine, Simplicissimus, published a cartoon showing Richard Wagner as having hanged himself on grandson Wieland’s tree.
Developing his New Bayreuth Concept, Wieland saluted Shakespeare’s 400th Anniversary by enclosing a later Meistersinger production in a Globe Theatre framework, the Medieval Architecture of London not being so different from that of Nuremberg.
At that time, Wieland told me he thought this setting was appropriate for his grandfather’s only Comic-Opera-a description that did not please the Wagnerites, who regard this work as a Celebration of the German Craftsmen’s Guilds and all that is Distinctively Germanic…
Schenk & Schneider-Siemssen also wanted a Celebration, but a much more messy & unruly one. This they certainly achieved in the initial Freiung-scene-in which the Junker Walther von Stolzing attempts to join the Meistersingers-to win the hand of the lovely Eva-as it fractiously takes place in a side-aisle of a great Nuremberg church.
The Second Act chaos provoked by Beckmesser’s Night-time Serenade is epically messy & unruly. [In Wieland’s Globe Theatre staging, angry awakened sleepers threw chamber-pots at the rioters! The next summer, these were replaced with cabbages, owing to indignant protest of the Wagnerites.]
Hans Sachs’ Wahn-monologue-following this turmoil-meditates on the craziness, as Sachs then coaches Walther in his Prize-song: a moment of relative quiet, even as Beckmesser snatches the manuscript of the song from Sach’s table.
Instead of a Fest-Meadow & a Linden-tree with dance-platform, Schenk & Schneider-Siemssen have the riotous citizens just outside the city-walls, with the Burg seen in the distance. The various Guilds push through the archway of the city-gates to find what space they can in all the crowds of revelers.
It’s a great Crowd-Scene-and all the more joyous as the sniffily proud Beckmesser is humiliated & Walther wins his bride, who was On Offer to the bachelor-Master who could craft the best song. This idea is similar to the Battle of the Singers on the Wartburg, but out-of-control Tannhäuser sings the Wrong Song!
In the current cast, James Morris is outstanding as the wise old Hans Sachs, with Hans-Joachim Ketelsen a properly proper by-the-rules Beckmesser. Both these men inhabit their roles, real actor/singers.
Also admirable are the Walther of Johan Botha-who has the sound, if not the look, of a Heldentenor, the Eva of Hei-Kyung Hong, the Magdalene of Maria Zifchak, & the David of Matthew Polenzani.
In the pit, James Levine-the Met’s GMD and also a great favorite at the Bayreuth Festival-demonstrated once again his love & mastery of Wagner’s Mastersingers… But then he has also, over the seasons, created a great Wagner Orchestra. One that is also very good for Verdi, Puccini, Handel, & Britten!
Strauss’s Die Ägyptische Helena [****]
"Was this the face that launched a thousand ships and burned the topless towers of Ilium?"
The poet was referring to the fabled beauty, Helen of Troy, and he begged her to "make me immortal with a kiss!"
Considering how many Greeks & Trojans died in the Trojan War because Helen was abducted by Prince Paris from the Palace of her Lord, King Menelaus-and taken off to Troy in triumph-would her furious & cuckolded husband have been justified in slaying her when he recovered Helen from the burning ruins of Troy?
Even in Antiquity, there were differing ends to this narrative. One of them was used by Euripides in his long-lost-but recently recovered-tragedy, Helen. He endorsed the fantasy that the woman whom Paris took to Troy was not Helen, but a Shadow of her, a Doppelgänger.
The real Helen had been preserved those ten long years in a castle on Mount Atlas, in the care of three sister-sorceresses. She was innocent of all the infidelities credited to the Trojan Helen.
It was this legend that fascinated the ingenious Viennese poet/playwright, Hugo von Hofmannstahl, when he proposed an opera about the Reunion of Menelas & Helen after the destruction of Troy to his frequent collaborator, Richard Strauss.
Would Menelaus/Menelas cut Helen’s throat? Stab her with his sword? Send her into exile? Abandon her on a desolate island-as Theseus had done to Ariadne?
That fable had already served Strauss & Von Hofmannstahl very well in Ariadne auf Naxos.
More recently, they had collaborated on Die Frau ohne Schatten, which had a much more convoluted plot, but which lacked the "authority" of Greek & Roman sources.
For audiences fond of Hofmannstahl & Strauss’ Der Rosenkavalier, both Ariadne & Frau had been a stretch, but at the Dresden premiere of Die Ägyptische Helena, in 1928, it was painfully clear that the duo had stretched the fable-and their public’s good-will-too far.
Nor did the rapidly following Met Opera premiere fare any better. The Met’s 2007 premiere of David Fielding’s brilliant re-imagining of the fable & the very quixotic plot is the first performance of the opera at the Met in all those years!
The magisterial soprano, Deborah Voigt, had discovered the wonders of Strauss’ almost forgotten score, singing it in concert at Carnegie Hall. It had been rumored that the new-and obviously expensive-production was either done at her behest, or as a gift to Voigt.
Actually, in performance, it proves to be an immense gift to all Voigt’s legions of fans, as well as to Strauss-admirers and, indeed, anyone who loves Music-Theatre.
Not only are there superb arias, duets, and choral-passages, but the entire orchestral-fabric is wondrous. It more than makes up for some of the curiosities of the plot.
David Fielding has overcome most of those problems by concentrating on the problematic reunion of the fearful Helen & the baffled Menelas, contrasted with the neglect of their enabling-friend, the Sorceress Aithra, by her philandering God-spouse, Poseidon.
Essentially, the story is about Healing a Marriage that has gone disastrously wrong. And, in production, this is a marvelous event: musically, visually, emotionally-even spiritually…
The Egyptian Helen is, in fact, so rewarding on various levels that it should find a place in the Met’s repertory. It is not just a Star-Turn for Deborah Voigt. Indeed, she thoroughly involved in the richly symbolic action, obviously concerned that she recapture Menelas’ love-and not just to keep him from killing her.
Also outstanding were Diana Damrau-as Aithra, Torsten Kerl-as Menelas, and Jill Grove as the All-Seeing Mussel. Wolfgang Brendel was a strong visual & vocal presence as Prince Altair.
Long before there was Television, there was the Omniscient Mussel. In the legend, it saw things happening far, far away. In a Bavarian State Opera production some seasons ago, it looked like an immense open clam-shell with video-capabilities.
Shadows-symbolic & otherwise-are very important to Fielding in this production. A fore-curtain of what may be the Atlas Mountains has a huge Greek Temple suspended in the air in front of it. This imposing monument cast a foreboding shadow-and it seemed to be ever-descending in several appearances.
One aspect of Fielding’s staging seemed rather strange: Diana Damrau spent entirely too much time collapsed, prone on the stage. At the end of the first act, in fact, the curtain didn’t come completely down, so there she was as the audience rushed out for drinks.
It did occur to me that she was directed to lay low in those moments when she had nothing to sing-and no place to hide?-in order not to distract from Voigt or Kerl. There has to be a better way to deploy Aithra when she is only an Onlooker…
Fielding has not only ingeniously staged Helena, but also as the designer, he has also conceived a most unusual Skewed Post-Modernist/Quasi-Expressionist setting, with severely a raked stage and giant doors stabbing upward in the air. A storm at sea reveals roiling Hiroshige waves and the outline of a man running with a suitcase.
For the Marital Renewal of the Potion-Drunk Helen & Menelas, a great bed slides out from the immense stage-left doorway. For their Morning-After, it is now on the opposite side of the stage. And the sleeping Menelas seems to have been wearing his boots all through their ecstasy!
At the close-with Total Family-Values Closure-the set-walls are swiftly transformed into great Ocean-Liners! Luckily, not the Titanic…
David Fielding effectually rediscovered Die Ägyptische Helena for his Garsington Manor Festival, where he staged the opera in open-air in 1997. Obviously his design-concept had to be greatly developed for the enormous stage of the Met, but his vision of the Reunion of Helen & Menelas remained intact, only greatly intensified with his excellent cast and the Good Strauss-keeping conducting of Fabio Luisi!
Incidental Note: Your Roving Correspondent used to be a Regular at the Glyndebourne Festival-also, like Garsington, originally centered on an historic Manor House & Gardens-and frequently at the Buxton Festival, with rather less frequent visits to the Aldeburgh Festival of Sir Benjamin Britten.
Not to overlook my attendance at the Triennial York Festival, often sitting at concerts behind HRH Alice, The Princess Royal, and her son, Lord Harewood, who was, at various times, Director of the Edinburgh Festival & of the English National Opera.
Then there’s Ireland’s Wexford Opera Festival, as well as the annual Dublin Festival. You cannot see them all-especially with no travel-funding for free-lance correspondents.
But I regret I have never been to the Garsington Festival.
Not only have I never been invited, but I also no longer have a Home-base in London from which I could drive out to festivals in Provincial Settings. Alas, all the flat-owning chums of old have either passed-on or retired to ancient mills & barns in England’s Shires…
Other Entertainments/Other Venues:
SPALDING GRAY: Stories To Tell [***]
For fans of the late monologist Spalding Gray, this well-intentioned show may help fill the void he left when he ended it all. To those familiar with his rants & his writings, some favorites again appear, as well as some previously unknown biographical events & Purpose of Life ruminations.
This show is Kathleen Russo’s Concept, staged by Lucy Sexton, and illuminated by the performance of Kathleen Chalfant, among other interpreters of Gray’s Anatomy of Melancholy.
At the New Victory: LIFEBOAT [***]
When the Nazis began Saturation Bombing of Britain’s major cities in World War II-especially with the Blitzkrieg in London and the savage attacks on Coventry-children were rounded-up and sent into the country or even across the Atlantic, to Canada & America.
The two girls-quite different in so many ways-who feature in Lifeboat tell their story in many voices: their own & those of other children & people who were trying to help them.
Isabelle Joss & Suzanne Robertson were amazing as the girls & the rest of the cast. Nicola McCartney ably crafted their story, and Gil Robertson staged it with a minimal setting suggesting both ship’s-deck and dockside.
From fairly simple backgrounds, the girls are initially dazzled at the luxury of their Indian-staffed & themed Ocean-Liner, the City of Benares.
Then a German U-boat shoots a Torpedo into the side of the ship. The girls are momentarily safe in the Lifeboat, but even that breaks up.
Yes, they do survive! But in Scotland for The Duration, not in Canada…
Incidental Note: One of my UC/Berkeley Bowles Hall friends had also crossed the Atlantic on such a liner, but he arrived in Hollywood, where his uncle, George Zucco, was a movie-actor. No lifeboats necessary, so he went to Berkeley after the war was over.
At the Union Square Theatre: BE by Mayumana [****]
An even more exciting replacement at the Union Square Theatre than its recent long-running Slava’s Snow Show is Mayumana’s BE. If you loved Blue Man Group & Stomp, this may well prove even more dynamic & challenging.
It’s all about Movement & Music-much of it heavily Percussive. The supercharged cast will not only Rock You, they will also almost exhaust you with their never-ending inventiveness & super-energetic gyrations.
The ingenuity with which they evoke moods & manners through Mime and with Found-Objects-among other props-may remind older spectators of those wonderful shows long ago offered by Switzerland’s Mummenshanz, the Black Theatre of Prague, & Laterna-Magika.
The cast is multi-national, but it has been conceived & directed by the Israeli-team of Eylon Nuphar & Boaz Berman. Especially outstanding is Côte Ivoire’s Aka Jean Claude Thiemele: Dynamic, and then some!
At Sardi’s: A CELEBRATION! The Life of Vincent Sardi, Jr. [*****]
Only in New York! This remarkable Memorial to Vincent Sardi, Jr., the fabled owner of Sardi’s Restaurant, was one of the best theatre-memorials in memory. Not only was Vincent Sardi a great restaurateur, but he was also a great lover of the theatre, a friend of the famous & not-so-famous, a man of fabled generosity, & a great family-man!
Long before the doors opened at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre-formerly the Plymouth-Show-biz folks & the General Public were lined-up outside the theatre, trading tales of marvelous meals & high old times at Sardi’s.
Even your scribe had some memories: Vince always greeted me as though I were a Sardi’s regular-which I was not. Only when Keith Baxter, Otto Preminger, or some other theatre-personality or producer had invited me to lunch for our In the Words of Interview did Vince see that Martin, the genial Maitre d’, gave us the best table.
Vince Sardi was also an excellent horseman, as well as a Leading Civic Servant, so on weekends you could often see him on duty as a New York Police Mountie in Central Park. A colleague who was also a weekend Mounted Policeman would call me: "Come on over to Bethesda Fountain with your camera! Vince & I look terrific in our uniforms-and the horses look even better!"
Vince’s son, the charming David Sardi, narrated an interesting slide & video-show of Vincent Sardi, the family-man, the horseman, the US Marines Officer, the restaurateur. There was even a film-clip of the Sardi Family at home on the Upper East Side, talking to Edward R. Murrow-who was smoking on camera the cigarettes that killed him.
There was even a Marines Honor-Guard to salute Vincent Sardi!
After the slides & videos, the Shuberts’ Public-Face, Gerald Schoenfeld, came out onto the stage of the theatre he has named for himself to sit at a red-&-white-checked Sardi’s table and host talents such as Hal Prince & Bebe Neuwirth, all remembering Vincent Sardi.
Afterward, guests drifted from West 45th Street over to Sardi’s on West 44th Street for a buffet on the house!
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2007. 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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