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By Glenn Loney, November 21, 1999

[01] Met Museum Wants Old American Plays
[02] How To Perform at Edinburgh's Fringe Festival Next August
[03] Best New Broadway Musical: "Shockheaded Peter"
[04] Good Songs in "Stars in Your Eyues"
[05] Flashing Feet in "Tango Argentino"
[06] Skeletons & Air Pumps at MTC
[07] Screwball Comedy "Fuddy Meers"
[08] Brian Friel's Irish Authors at Roundabout
[09] Unwed Mothers in "Magdalene" Laundries at Irish Rep
[10] Young WASPS at Beane's "Country Club"
[11] Big Laughs at "Epic Proportions"
[12] Flamboyantly Gay "Tailor-Made" Hollywood Leading-Man
[13] A TriBeCa "(wish)"
[14] Man Turns into "Chesapeake" Retriever
[15] Hispanic "Barefoot Boy"
[16] Mammy Louise & Other Black Stereotypes at New Federal Theatre
[17] "Lola Montez" in Basement at HERE
[18] Target Margin's "Tulpa" at HERE
[19] "Rainmaker" Breaks Broadway Drought
[20] Arthur Miller's "The Price"
[21] Durang's Dead "Bette & Boo" Babies at Juilliard
[22] CSC's Lackluster "Look Back in Anger"
[23] New "Falstaff" at City Opera
[24] Mozart's "Abduction from the Seraglio" in North Africa
[25] Gluck's "Armide" at Juilliard Opera
[26] Beautiful Butoh at BAM
[27] Pina Bausch's "Danzón"
[28] Hotel Pro Forma's "Orfeo"
[29] Belgian "Morning Song"
[30] Glass Music for "Dracula" Film
[31] Dame Edna's Royal Tour in the Booth
[32] Gale Gates' "1839" Fantasy at DUMBO
[33] Molière & Lully's "Bourgeois Gentilhomme" at Alice Tully Hall

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For our archive of Glenn Loney's previous 1999 columns, click here.


New Professional Productions
Of Ante-Bellum American Plays

At the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a 75th Anniversary Celebration is in progress.

And, for the new Millennium, the Wing's curators are currently preparing a very special salute to American Arts in New York City before the Civil War.

The show will be titled: ART & THE EMPIRE CITY: New York, 1825-1861. Its dates are set for 19 September 2000 through 7 January 2001.

This is to be a very wide-ranging show, including the performing arts of that tumultuous period of metropolitan growth and change.

Recently, admiring new acquisitions to the considerable collections of the American Wing, I was told about the forthcoming exhibition. I thought it might be an interesting enrichment to the show if actual performances of popular period plays could be included.

The show's curators had anticipated my thought. Lectures, films, and workshops are always programmed to enhance appreciation of the Met's major exhibitions.

But there is no budgetary provision for a revival of, say, Anna Cora Mowatt Ritchie's "Fashion," a wonderful mid-century comedy of Manhattan Manners. And the Met's Grace Rainey Rodgers Auditorium isn't really suitable for mounting a play. It is also so fully scheduled, there's no possibility of a two or three-weeks' showcase run.

So any Manhattan-based theatre-ensembles interested in joining the Met in this show and celebration of Old New York will have to use their own stages and budgets.

Still, there's the considerable advantage of exposure to a much wider—and knowledgeable—public by being mentioned in Met Museum publicity and program-listings!

It may already be too late for theatre groups who have set their repertories for next season. But for those with some flexibility—and an interest in American plays of the mid-19th century—this could be an interesting challenge and adventure.

For more information about exhibition dates—and possible inclusion in the show's programs—contact: Ms. Catherine Hoover Voorsanger, Assoc. Curator of American Decorative Arts, American Wing, Metropolitan Museum of Art, 1000 Fifth Avenue, New York 10028. Phone: 212-650-2615.

Here are some of the most popular American plays of that era:

METAMORA, Or The Last of the Wampanoags [1829]


THE DRUNKARD, Or The Fallen Saved [1844]

FASHION [1845]


PO-CA-HON-TAS, Or The Gentle Savage [1855]


Jonathan Bank's Mint Theatre has already revived "Uncle Tom's Cabin." As George L. Aiken's dramatization of Harriet Beecher Stowe's historic novel was already a travesty, the revival proved more of a curiosity than a revelation.

But Bank and his Mint staged an excellent revival of my edition of the virtually lost and previously unpublished manuscript versions of "The House of Mirth," by Edith Wharton and Clyde Fitch. So I applaud their efforts in exploring America's forgotten dramas and comedies.


Register Now To Perform August 2000
In Edinburgh's Prestigious Fringe Festival

Every August, theatre-ensembles from all over the world come to Edinburgh to show their work at the Fringe Festival. It is an outstanding international showcase.

Immediately after the festival, groups or solo-performers who've won Fringe Festival First Awards are often invited to perform in London and tour Great Britain. The best frequently turn up later at other European Festivals. Not to overlook tours on the American College Circuit!

Each August, there are literally scores of stand-up comedians on view. Some are already well known. Others are eager amateurs and semi-pros. Some of them have shoals of fans, so it's difficult to get seats for their shows.

Both American colleges and high-schools regularly send productions to the Edinburgh Fringe. They may not get contracts for tours, but the Fringe is a great opportunity for young Americans interested in theatre to meet—and make friends with—others with similar interests from many countries.

There are also many agents, producers, directors, critics, journalists, and artistic directors of theatres and festivals on hand. Who knows: this could be your Big Breakthrough!

This is the showplace where Jonathan Miller, Dudley Moore, Alan Bennett, Michael Palin, Fiona Shaw, Rowan Atkinson, Eddie Izzard, Emma Thompson, and Stephen Fry first got important critical raves.

Begun in 1947, the Fringe is now 53 years old. Last August, some 640 ensembles produced more than 1,500 different shows.

But that's not all the competition newcomers will face. There's also the main & major Edinburgh International Festival, the International Film Festival, the International Jazz Festival, the Edinburgh Book Festiva, and the famed Edinburgh Military Tattoo.

Fortunately, the Edinburgh Festival Fringe Office can provide you with the information you need to plan to play in the Scots capital in August. They can also help you find a theatre-space & lodgings and list you in the Official Fringe Program.

This coming summer, the Fringe will be operating in full force from 6 to 28 August. Accommodations and theatres are often fully booked by April or May. So now is the time to make a decision about playing in Edinburgh.

You can register for only £12. This does not commit you to performing in Edinburgh. But it does guarantee that you will receive all relevant mailings and additional information.

To contact the Fringe Office: Write: 180 High Street, Edinburgh EH 1 1QS, Scotland. Phone: 011-44-131-226-5257. FAX: 011-44-131-220-4205.

E-mail: admin@edfringe.com Website: www.edfringe.com


Your indefatigable reporter, reviewer, and International Traveler is off to Paris for two weeks of theatre, opera, dance, and art & architecture.

Unfortunately—having just returned from two weeks in Ireland at the Dublin and Wexford Festivals—he hasn't had the leisure to write at length about the often wonderful new shows he's seen in New York between flights. The same is true of his reports on new museum and gallery show openings.

So this edition of SHOW NOTES can be little more than listings, ratings, and brief comments. Shows are grouped by producing organizations or by genre or subject-matter.

It might seem pointless to shower rating-stars on an already closed showcase production—or on one with an extremely limited run. But they deserve credit just the same.

Some could—or will—be moved to Off-Broadway venues. Others deserve consideration for revivals in Manhattan. Or for new productions outside New York.

Outstanding—but briefly shown—productions which have been offered in rep, or for very short runs, by producing organizations are cited for their own excellence. And to alert readers to the continuing programming of such groups.

Musicals Old & New—

"Shockheaded Peter—A Junk Opera" [*****]

This is the Best New Musical of the Broadway Season!

Unfortunately, it was on view only a week at the New Victory on the New 42nd Street.

The New Victory, of course, is primarily a Children's Theatre—with strictly limited engagements. Although the Flying Fruit Fly Circus will be in residence all December.

Based on the grim and quasi-Grimm children's fables of Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann, this amazingly inventive show had eleven new songs in it. Sung by an enigmatic quasi-castrato—Martyn Jacques—and his Tiger Lillies combo.

In fact, the entire cast of five comedic actors mime, sing, and play instruments. Bizarrely, of course. This is Victorian Melodrama raised to the 33rd Degree.

They bring Hoffmann's horrifying cautionary tales—about girls who play with matches and boys who disobey—to hilarious parodic life in an on-stage theatre-box.

There are as many surprises in this multi-doored contraption as there are twists in the very twisted plots of Shock-Headed Peter and Harriet, who burns herself to death.

Dr. Hoffmann's smugly righteous verses—accompanied by his ghastly drawings of naughty children suffering hideous fates—have been translated into many languages since their initial publication in 1844.

Many wicked children have been saved from similar fates—having the ferocious top-hatted doctor cut off their filthy long finger-nails and dirty hands with a huge shears—by reading Hoffmann's book!

Despite the graphic—and puppet-accompanied—re-enactment of such savage kiddie self-help manuals, this is a hilarious show. It should return from its current tour to Broadway for a long run.

Possibly at the intimate Walter Kerr Theatre? Walter would have loved it!

"Stars in Your Eyes" [**]

Most of the songs in this awkward little musical are actually quite charming. I liked them a lot. Many would make attractive singles, divorced from the sappy and predictable plot.

As Chip Meyrelles—book, music, lyrics—created them just for this show, they are in danger of vanishing as soon as the plot is forgot.

Meyrelles can really write love ballads, comic songs, and wistful character revelations. He needs a new playwright.

Also a more attractive and winning cast.

"Tango Argentino" [****]

NELSON & NELIDA--Passionate Partners in "Tango Argentino."
It isn't true that when you've seen one tango, you've seen them all. It just seems that way.

That's also true of tango revues, which seem to creep up on Broadway with alarming frequency.

The current attraction at the Gershwin at least doesn't drown audiences in an endless succession of increasingly difficult tangos. Though there is certainly a progression of skill and complication.

These genital-threatening dances—watch out for the flying feet!—are interspersed with soulful male and female singers and bandoneon-orchestra specials.

At the close, there are nine tango-couples dancing furiously on stage. Ranging from the very youthful to the menacingly mature, they are all experts.

It's a glittering show—with stylish, sexy, sparkling costumes for the women.

New Plays—

Duet at Manhattan Theatre Club:

"An Experiment with an hp" [***]

TABLEAU VIVANT--Actors copy famous painting in "Experiment with an Air Pump." Photo: Copyright ©—Joan Marcus, 1999.
A large copy of the famed academic painting of Joseph Wright of Derby—showing a 19th century amateur scientist at work—is the temporary screen concealing an impressive Tableau Vivant of the scene from the MTC audience.

Posed in John Lee Beatty's severely spare Georgian chamber, it sets an artistic standard which cannot be matched the remainder of the evening, either in Shelagh Stephenson's drama or in the performances.

She is no Tom Stoppard. And "An Experiment with an Air Pump" is no "Arcadia." Nonetheless, the play has its merits and may be regarded as an hommage to Stoppard, rather than a theft of a concept from him.

Daniel Geroll is excellent as a self-regarding aristocrat, full of generalized love for humanity, but with very little sympathy for his own family or the proles rioting outside his country house.

His espousals of Democracy and Reason, as well as his scientific experiments, are highly suspect. One of his assistants even romances a hunchbacked servant so he can ultimately dissect her suicided corpse.

Parts of that skeleton are discovered in the house by a contemporary couple—with professional and domestic problems of their own. Pace "Arcadia."

The play also features thesaurist Peter-Mark Roget and an amateur play-within-the-play. The latter is always a bad idea—especially when the play is deliberately bad—as also in Edward Bond's "The Sea."

"Fuddy Meers" at MTC[***]

The title of David Lindsay-Abaire's zany comedy is not a Spoonerism. Before seeing this bizarre show, I thought it was a transposition of Muddy Fears.

Not at all. It means "Funny Mirrors," because the heroine's mother has had a stroke and cannot articulate clearly. The playwright also has some problems.

J. Smith-Cameron is fuzzily charming as Claire, an amnesiac who forgets in sleep what she did the previous day. She has two husbands. One has kidnapped her. The other is in hot pursuit.

Santo Lo Quasto's highly animated settings are delightful. There is some rude language, unsuitable for children. Or for me, for that matter.

"Give Me Your Answer, Do!" [***]

Brian Friel's title is quoted from that old Music Hall favorite, "Daisy, Daisy." Kate Burton plays the alcoholic wife of a supposedly talented—but commercially unsuccessful—Irish novelist.

Their daughter is a virtual vegetable in a hospital. What should they do about her? And about their own lives?

Can he sell his "papers"—his life's work—to an unnamed Texas University Library?

For contrast and some dramatic conflict, a conversely very popular Irish novelist arrives, with his acerbic wife in tow. He's already sold his papers to Texas.

Then there's Daisy's own parents, as mismatched as the other two couples. Her dad—played by Joel Grey—is a klepto and was a pub pianist.

This is not one of Friel's more compelling plays. Ireland and her people must be today one of the most over-dramatized nations and populations on earth.

"Eclipsed" [***]

Playwright Patricia Burke Brogan was herself once a novice-nun in a Magdalene Laundry." These were run by the Irish Roman Catholic Church to wash the dirty clothes of the gentry and clean the vestments of the clergy.

So she writes from a first-hand knowledge of the heartbreak and endless sufferings of the young unmarried women confined in such laundries.

Pregnant and with no male culprit in sight, they hadn't even the American option of a "Shotgun Wedding.

So they were signed into such servitude by their own embarrassed families—who were too ashamed of the girls' "Sin" to love and keep them at home.

They were torn from their babies as soon as the tots were born. The little babes grew up in adjoining Catholic orphanages, never knowing who their mothers might be.

They were offered for adoption abroad in Canada and America. Their mothers never saw them again—though they were often in the next building.

These poor women worked themselves to death, literally and figuratively "washing away their sins" in the laundries.

Even if the fathers were known, nothing happened to them. After all, it's virtual Dogma that the Daughters of Eve are always sexually tempting Innocent Adams.

Director Charlotte Moore and her fine ensemble did very well by Brogan's drama. But it lacks dramatic tension.

The Magdalen Laundries need to have their sordid story told on film. Possibly with a script by Christopher Durang?

"The Country Club" [****]

Playwright Douglas Carter Beane is the A. R. Gurney of the Younger Generation. His vision of a WASPish country club shows that not much has changed over the years.

Prejudice, stupidity, snobbery, and barely concealed neurotic hysteria abound, even if the dialogue is more trendy and less polite.

Beane's club is in Pennsylvania, but it feels like Long Island or Connecticut.

When a falling-down Wasp drunk marries a vivacious Italian-American girl, imagine the raised eyebrows at the curious Italian wedding-customs.

This was a very handsome production, designed by James Youmans, Jonathan Bixby, and Gregory Gale.

With outstanding performances by Cynthia Nixon and the Drama Department's excellent ensemble—directed by Christopher Ashley—this show should have transferred to Off-Broadway.

Seen first at the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Beane's script deserves other productions around the country.

"Epic Proportions" [****]

Most of the reviews were devastating. But "Epic Proportions" is still running at the Helen Hayes. And audiences are howling with laughter.

This isn't a cute little musical parody, like "Dames at Sea." But, minus the songs, it has some of the same goofy spoof about it.

It is not, however, a witty satire. That's what some reviewers cannot forgive.

"Dames" sweetly mocked the Broadway tradition of overnight musical stardom. "Epic" does something similar with the making of a D. W. Griffith/Cecil B. DeMille Biblical Spectacular in the Arizona desert.

Kristin Chenoweth is delightful as the Script Girl who becomes the Director. Only to have her boy-friend extra take over from her.

What designer David Gallo as done on the tiny Hayes stage is a visual miracle. And also an epic spoof of fake gargantuan Hollywood scenery.

Don't miss the sets!

"The Tailor-Made Man" [***]

Unsettling revelations that Errol Flynn and Tyrone Power had sex—and dark whispers about the house-sharing of Cary Grant and Joel McCrea, or was it Randy Scott?—are as nothing to the facts about Billy Haines, once Hollywood's most popular screen-lover.

This is his play. It also features Marion Davies, Pola Negri, Carole Lombard, and L. B. Mayer.

His flamboyant behavior abruptly ended his acting career. But he lived on as a popular Interior Decorator. The Gay Martha Stewart of Beverly Hills.

"(wish)" [**]

I do wish playwright-director Eric Siegel would avoid the temptation to write plays like this one.

It was performed in TriBeCa by an ensemble called the rUDE mECHANICALS. That is the typographical format they employ as a form of logo.

There's this dutiful but plain younger woman caring for her nagging, senile old mother. With never a word of thanks.

Suddenly the five ancient Greek Furies appear to harry her for wishing for her mother dead. Something to do with Orestes and his mother. And maybe even Oedipus and his mother, as well,

Frankly, I thought she had the right idea. But evoking the Furies in this pitiful play was thespian overkill. The Three Fates would have been quite enough—and saved on cast.

T. S. Eliot used the Furies much more effectively in "Family Reunion." They never appeared on stage.

"Chesapeake" [****]

Lee Blessing is neither Ovid nor Kafka. Yet his new metamorphosis monodrama proves both interesting and amusing.

The spectacle of a man transforming by degrees into a dog offers Mark Linn-Baker a wonderful opportunity to show his varied and considerable talents. He is much more convincing, changing into a Chesapeake Retriever, than Zero Mostel was, changing in to a rhinoceros.

Blessing's monologue is a clever—but thinly disguised—attack on Jesse Helms and a plea for more NEA funding.

"Barefoot Boy with Shoes On" [**]

It is not easy to make something of yourself if you are a young Hispanic and you have both a father and grandfather at home who are totally negative and an embarrassment to you.

They also proved very wearing on this viewer-reviewer as well. Edwin Sanchez' Ethnic thesis-drama, at Primary Stages, had serious intentions, but lacked the interest and the technique to command attention and respect.

Playwright-actor Keith Reddin made a credible appearance—but not as an Hispanic. He should write more plays. Or get better roles.

"The Trial of One Short-Sighted Black Woman
Vs. Mammy Louise and Safreeta Mae" [**]

This is not just another Courtroom Drama. But playwright Marcia L. Leslie is unfortunately no John Grisham.

The purpose of this show is obviously Consciousness-Raising for Black Women who do not have enough respect for themselves. Or for the long-suffering Black Women who came before them.

A trendy but irritating young Black Woman accuses Mammy Louise of perpetuating a stage & screen stereotype. Well, she just does not understand—but the trial helps clarify her vision.

The handsome and talented Barbara Montgomery was the Judge in this case. Ebony Jo-Ann was the stereotypical Mammy.

And November was Black History Month. Especially at Woodie King's New Federal Theatre.

A number of aged Jewish folks still live in nearby projects. The theatre is only a short walk away. So they got their Consciousness raised as well.

This polemic did not need a play. But then, it didn't really get one either.

At least I had macaroni salad and brisket at Katz's on my long walk home.

Janus-Style Duo at HERE:
Looking Backward/Looking Forward

"Lola Montez in Bavaria" [***]

If you ever cross the East River to Brooklyn, do make a point of visiting Green-Wood Cemetery. Once there, look for the simple gravestone of Mrs. Eliza Gilbert.

That is the last resting-place of the once restless Lola Montez, the "Spanish" dancer who entranced King Ludwig I of Bavaria. Not to overlook Franz Liszt and other celebrated worthies prior to 1848.

Ludwig lost his crown & throne because of Lola, her delicate ankle, and her titillating "Spider Dance." He was the grandfather of the so-called "Mad King," Ludwig II. Madness ran in Bavaria's Royal Wittelsbach Family.

Lola was raised to the nobility by the King as the Gräfin von Landsfeldt. But soon after, he was deposed—and she had to flee the country.

She may not have been much of a dancer, but she was surely a charismatic personality on stage. In London, New York, and San Francisco, she performed Lola Montez: My Life and Loves on stage to great acclaim.

As well as to some critics' boos. She even horsewhipped one sour reviewer in Sacramento.

She briefly retired to my California home-town of Grass Valley, in the High Sierra Mother Lode country. There, she held salons in the only home she ever owned. Guests included Mark Twain and Bret Harte.

So I have a special interest in Lola.

Max Ophuls' famous film does her colorful justice—with Peter Ustinov as a circus ringmaster in Lola's recreation of her tempestuous love-life. There was even an Off-Broadway musical about her time in Grass Valley.

In Munich, in 1993, the State Operetta Theatre—the Gärtnerplatz—premiered a remarkable ballet-revue of her life and art: "Lola Montez."

So John Jahnke's new version has a lot of illustrious competition. Staged in HERE's intimate downstairs space, it had some amusing effects.

And some very unlikely history, including an overgrown Ludwig II and a satyr transformed into Richard Wagner. Still, it was a Hoot!

Watch for it if it is revived in New York. Or toured on the Alternative Theatre Circuit.

"Tulpa" [***]

A "Tulpa"—if I understood correctly—is an Imaginary Being which the Dalai Lama can materialize. If that is really so, why are the Chinese in Tibet—destroying monasteries—and the Dalai Lama elsewhere?

Is Richard Gere actually a Tulpa? Todd Alcott's curious fiction doesn't answer that question, unfortunately.

Set in an especially grotty railroad flat on the Lower East Side—running parallel to the tiered seating—the drama raised various metaphysical issues. They were made flesh by the dedicated Target Margin ensemble.

Director David Herskovits' stagings are distinguished by stylistic specialties. This production, however, did not have his mysterious trademark bell, interrupting the proceedings, as if often the case with Target Margin shows.

Make a point of checking out their essentially Mannerist work. Their recent vision of Dubose Heyward's "Mamba's Daughters" was noteworthy.

Modern Semi-Classic Revivals—

"The Rainmaker" [****]

ACTING UP A STORM--Woody Harrelson as Starbuck in "The Rainmaker." Photo: Copyright ©—Joan Marcus, 1999.
Woody Harrelson and Jayne Atkinson are reason enough to rush to the Brooks Atkinson Theatre for the Roundabout's serviceable revival of N. Richard Nash's "The Rainmaker."

This is not the prose version of "110° in the Shade." It is the original on which that musical was based.

It is also a distinctively American Classic of its kind. There's the Boy Becomes a Man Play. Then there's the Ugly Duckling Drama.

Starbuck—the Rainmaker, not the Coffeeshop—helps plain-looking and plain-spoken Lizzie discover that she is really radiant and beautiful.

This has long been an excellent transformational acting-exercise. With Harrelson and Atkinson, it's far more than an exercise.

Scott Ellis staged. And the limited run should be extended indefinitely.

"The Price" [****]

People who live in small apartments with big windows do not want huge old Victorian wardrobes, hutches, or credenzas. Also, big furniture won't pass through narrow modern doorways. So you won't get much of a price for them.

That's only one of the disappointments of a beaten-down beat-cop in Arthur Miller's nearly classic drama, "The Price." He has already paid a fairly high price—or so he believes—for sacrifices he made for his father. Not to mention what his unbending moral rectitude has cost him as a cop.

Miller's "price" is is symbolic on several levels, of course. What would an Arthur Miller drama be without some symbolism?

The cop also resents the success of his doctor-brother—who got to go to college, while he cared for a cantankerous and ungrateful old father.

People often hide behind such "duties" to avoid taking a chance—and risking failure. The result, of course, is failure—at least in their own eyes—but one they believe they can blame on someone else.

He should have put the negative, nagging parent in a Home for Seniors and gone to night-school. But then his medico-brother is not a Happy Man either.

Fortunately for people who don't go to the theatre to think, but to enjoy, Bob Dishy wrings every bit of Wise Old Solomonic humor from his role as the ancient antique furniture dealer.

"The Marriage of Bette & Boo" [***]

At the Last Judgment, the Catholic Church will have a lot to answer for. Among major items on the agenda: the excesses of the Spanish Inquisition and the plays of Christopher Durang.

The Juilliard's Drama Division has just revived Durang's sad but hilarious satire on dysfunctional people in even more dysfunctional families. Their unquestioning Catholic Faith and their parochial upbringing make matters even worse.

When "The Marriage of Bette and Boo" was first shown as a full-length play, some found Durang's bitter humor tasteless, even offensive.

That audiences can laugh at the spectacle of still-born babies being dumped on stage either says something about the power of Durang's satire. Or possibly that a glut of violence and disaster on TV and in films has dulled sensibilities?

Given Governor Jesse Ventura's recent comments on the mental conditions of pious people, he and the Durango Kid should plan to have some lively chats soon.

Featuring some outstanding new talents, "Bette and Boo" was on view at Juilliard for only six performances in mid-November. But it will be back in the spring as part of the end-of-term Fourth Year student repertory.

These annual pre-graduation exercises are not to be missed. Last fall & spring, Juilliard's "The Duchess of Malfi" was outstanding.

"Look Back in Anger" [**]

When John Osborne's "Look Back in Anger" premiered in London at the Royal Court Theatre, it was immediately hailed as the harbinger of a sharply rising resentment among alienated young Brits against the entrenched Establishment.

And Osborne was saluted as their Voice. Angry Young Men and Kitchen-Sink Dramas were the rage.

But few listened closely to the dialogue in this play. Or paid much attention to the inter-relationships of the characters.

I was there, and I was surprised how many critics missed the subtexts.

When Osborne "matured," his early fans were appalled to discover he'd become something of a conservative, even a pessimist.

He always was, as this play still demonstrates. In maturity—and into age— he did remain angry, however.

Unfortunately, this drama was not well cast or performed by the Classic Stage Company. In fact, it seemed only a curious cultural artifact of a distant time.

There were few in the audience the evening I saw it. And even fewer for the post-performance discussion, as depressed spectators pushed and shoved towards the exit.

Nights at the Opera—

NYCO's "Falstaff" [****]

Mark Delavan is a raffish but obviously aging Falstaff in the New York City Opera's new production of Verdi's second Shakespeare adaptation. Young Lucas Delavan plays his long-suffering page.

This is both musically and theatrically rewarding—not least because Verdi's brilliant composer-librettist Arrigo Boito deftly edited the original play.

John Conklin's Minimalist settings—based on a triangular Tudor chamber—prevent time-consuming scene-changes and provide visual unity. And his Windsor Forest/Herne's Oak scene is properly autumnal and haunting. Just right for Halloween!

Stephen Powell was a furiously jealous Ford, nicely foiled by Amy Burton as his witty and loving wife.

Sari Gruber, Leah Creek, and Marion Pratnicki completed the complement of Windsor women, collaborating in the humiliation of the amorous fat old knight.

This charming production will remain in the NYCO repertory, so do not miss it when it's next on view.

NYCO's "Abduction from the Seraglio" [***]

City Opera's new staging of Mozart's "Abduction" is also a deliberately Minimalist production. Also designed by John Conklin, it also is based on a triangulated space, with the apex upstage.

As this space is fairly spare and bare, with little differencing, it becomes tiresome to look at after a while.

It is also painted an intense blue, which is hard to look at for long. This color seems an odd choice for a musical fable set apparently amidst the hot sands of North Africa.

Mozart's music also suggests the warmth of comedy and the even hotter passion of frustrated love. Maybe something on the order of yellow-orange or russet-red?

The cut-out decorative grills and screens are distinctly African. This story of two lovely young Christian ladies, trapped in an Islamic Harem, seems to take place among the Tauregs or in Timbuktu.

European productions more often suggest Ottoman Turkey as the scene. In any case, the core of the story—as with "The Italian Girl in Algiers"—is definitely Politically Incorrect today.

Recently at the Salzburg Festival, "Abduction" seemed to take place in Occupied Jerusalem, complete with UN Peace-keepers and a CNN TV crew.

Monte Jaffe had some momentary vocal difficulties as Osmin. But Jonathan Peck, as Pasha Selim, was appropriately noble and in noble voice. But then he doesn't have to sing in this Singspiel.

Mary Dunleavy and Lisa Saffer were fine as Costanze and Blondchen.

"Armide" [****]

Gluck's score for "Armide" is very demanding, but the professional students of the Juilliard Opera Center did it justice recently in a three-performance production in the Opera Theatre at Lincoln Center.

Considering the talent involved, both onstage and in the pit, it's a loss that there cannot be additional performances of such productions.

So much ingenuity and time goes into their design, direction, and rehearsal that many more Manhattan music-lovers should be able to see these twice-yearly stagings of seldom seen operas.

Monique McDonald was majestic, furious, and tormented by turns as the love-smitten sorceress Armide. She met Gluck on his own musical terms—as did most of the other principals.

Most impressive, however, were David Zinn's sets & costumes. The very broad stage of the Juilliard theatre was filled with an enormous roofless red chamber. Ranged along its back-wall were many red-upholstered chairs.

This basic red box was deftly differenced with a green platform, red rocks, and a translucent scrim for silhouetted satanic scenes.

This is exactly the kind of stunning postmodernist opera-mounting which is the rule in Europe. But all too often the exception in New York City.

Across the River at BAM—
The Next Wave Festival's "New Europe '99"

Sankai Juku's Butoh "Hiyomeki
(Within a Gentle Vibration and Agitation)" [*****]

Mysteries of Life and Death—involving Man as a moving body and an inner Spiritual Being, evolved from "all the elements surrounding humanity"—are suggested in the exquisitely graceful and infinitely prolonged movements of Ushio Amagatsu and his white-robed ensemble of four.

Performing with remarkable serenity and intensity in a clearly defined circle—with a great silver ring hovering above—these amazing Butoh dancers held audiences spellbound at BAM recently.

Tremendous muscular control is obviously required to perform such slow movements, but there is no apparent tension or strain.

This program—currently being shown on tour—consists of a mystical Seven choreographies. Among them: Seed—Like a Ripple; Sound—Darkness within Light, Perpetual Motion—Light within Darkness, and Anthropos—Memory from the Past or the Future.

Unfortunately Sankai Juku won't return to the United States until 2002. If you have the opportunity to see their beautifully suggestive dances anywhere before then, do so!

Pina Bausch's "Danzón" [****]

FEATHERS & FUR--Vamping the audience in Pina Bausch's "Danzón" at BAM. Photo: Copyright ©—Francisco Carbone, 1999.
For passionate admirers of Pina Bausch, the high point of the recent performances of the Tanztheater Wuppertal at BAM was her solo dance, supported by a cinematic background of much enlarged and beautifully undulating colorful goldfish. Her own delicate hand-movements and body undulations complemented the marine life.

There was much more to admire, to ponder, and to fret about. Enormous projections of natural sites and man-made constructions provided evocative backgrounds for some typical set-pieces of Tanztheater performances.

A joke about a Japanese, a Frenchman, and an American, told in the jungle, was the comic highlight of the evening. I won't spoil it for you by repeating it here.

At the close, the spirit of Johann Wolfgang Goethe arose—it's his 250th anniversary this year—to invoke his famed lyric: "Über allen Gipfeln ist rüh'," und so weiter.

Hotel Pro Forma's "OPERAtion: ORFEO" [*****]

With "a little bit of" Gluck, Copenhagen's Hotel Pro Forma has redefined and revisualized the Myth of Orpheus and Euridice in the Underworld.

Shown all to briefly at BAM, Kirsten Dehlholm's production was set in a great box filled with high-riser white stairs. A solo-dancer moved gracefully and evocatively up and down these stairs.

Singer-mimes—clothed in dark leotards and capped with black crowns—sat silhouetted on the bare white stairs. Their postures and gestures defined the changing moods and the developments in Orpheus' tragic tale.

Music was collaged from John Cage, Bo Holten, and Gluck—Orpheus' aria "Che faro senza Eurydice."

Overcome by the visual stasis, some spectators fled.

I was entranced, but I had already admired this ensemble's work at home during Copenhagen's year as Culture City of Europe. Dehlholm was then working with dwarfs and twins.

Jan Lauwers/Needcompany's "Morning Song" [**]

Way back in the adventurous, innovative, and often shocking Alternative Theatre of the Sixties, a Dutch family group came to the West Village. Settled into a performance-space, they proceeded to live their daily lives.

Audiences could pay for the dubious privilege of watching them do so. Eating, sleeping, defecating.

That was a very long time ago, and it was boring even then.

Now Jan Lauwers and his Belgian ensemble, the Needcompany, have raised this concept to the level of High Art. Dinner is cooked and consumed on stage. Vomit is spewed as well.

And there is singing, dancing, and funning. All this in "a visually captivating, purely theatrical world," according to the BAM brochure.

What the audience is supposed to be watching is the futile rebellion against fate and the endless search for Life's Meaning by a Dysfunctional Family.

Again, from the brochure: "As they search, we try to decipher the mystery of who they are and what they mean to one another."

For some fans of Performance Art, just getting over—or under—the East River to BAM is a mystery.

"Dracula: the Music & Film" [***]

It was marvelous to see Tod Browning's vintage vampire camp cinema again. This time on a very large screen! This is something BAM might do much more of.

The films wouldn't all have to have Philip Glass scores—played by Glass himself and the brilliant Kronos Quartet.

After all, the score of Francis Ford Coppola's dad, Carmine, was good enough for the Radio City Music Hall big-screen showings of Abel Gance's "Napoleon."

In fact, this score is hardly vintage Glass. It's more like musical wallpaper. One critic dismissed it as Glass Boiler-Plate. Plate-Glass?

Actually, it is the musical equivalent of the black-and-white visualization of a horror-story that might be more powerful in color. Though recent color remakes have proved even less horrifying than Browning's version. Which is now more of an occasion for cultish laughter.

The repetitiveness of the score does little to heighten emotions, focus attention, or engender terror.

Glass had better luck with Cocteau.

[Did you know that Bram Stoker, author of the Gothic novel "Dracula," was really named Abraham Stoker? You can visit his house in Dublin. It's not haunted.]

Other Entertainments—

"Dame Edna: The Royal Tour" [****]

HELLO POSSUMS!--Dame Edna kicks up her heels on The Royal Tour.
Although she frequently complains that she's been booked into the little "Booth" Theatre, the glamorous, gracious Dame Edna Everage seems very much at home there.

She is able to spot sleepers and likely targets for satire more easily than in a larger arena. Also, she can lead her gladiola-wavers more effectively.

Her actual onstage appearance is preceded by a collage of film and TV clips, certifying her celebrity. Her outfits are dazzling and her stage-presence commanding.

She fondly insults individual audience members with a hilarious directness that makes Jackie Mason look like St. Francis of Assisi.

It's interesting that her creator and alter-ego, Australian actor-impersonator Barry Humphries, does not wear falsies. This is not a Wigstock Drag Show.

Humphries is a social satirist and an entertainer—with a flat chest and great legs.

The show is a continual laff-riot—as long as you aren't the target of the jokes.

Go and laugh your head off. But don't sit too close!

GAle GAtes et al's "1839" [****]

The GAGA in their name salutes Michael Counts' grandma.

As with his memorable "Field of Mars" and "Tilly Losch," he has again written, designed, and directed a remarkably innovative and imaginative Theatre Work.

Performed for a limited run at DUMBO—Down Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass—"1839" is a strange collage of mysterious classical and 19th century images.

The title refers to the year Louis Daguerre invented his remarkable camera. But audiences don't see him or his camera. Not even a daguerreotype!

According to the press-release, Daguerre—having solved the mystery of capturing time on paper—"has a dream of a child, in the guise of Oedipus, awakening into a chaotic, disjointed landscape, a passionate and perverse vision of a culture transformed by his invention."

With music by Joseph Diebes, Artemis-Diana pursues doomed Acteon—also depicted on a Greek Altar. Soldiers in golden Roman armor shoot a lot of arrows into the wings.

In this Dream-State, Oedipus' father, King Laius, was cursed because he sodomised a boy very like the young dreamer, Henri.

And there's a giant armadillo. And a large black cat with huge eyes. On a sliding wagon, a giant rabbit and a huge apple, pear, and flower repose.

A woman jumps from an upstage window. On this ledge, a miniature Greek Temple and later a Roman Arch appear. A pregnant woman has two arrows in her bloated stomach.

All these moving images are played with great elegance and intense concentration. The effect is haunting and mesmerizing.

If you are at all interested in new forms and visions of Performance Art, you must rush off to Brooklyn to see "1839." Or, if you are too late for this limited run, plan for Gale Gates' next show. Phone: 718-522-4597.

Also currently on view is "Size Counts," a most unusual art-show, ranging over walls and pillars of the vast Gale Gates space on 37 Main Street. Over 400 canvases—all limited to 2' x 2' squares—display a fantastic range of styles and subjects.

"Le Bourgeois Gentilhomme" [***]

The two Jean-Baptistes, Molière and Lully, collaborated on this epic theatre production, involving acting, singing, and dancing. A comédie-ballet, it was created for the Court of the King Louis XIV.

Later on, in Paris—when Molière could no longer use Lully's music—the play found public popularity on its own merits. Reunited, the comedy and the ballet can make a very long evening.

To avoid this, Jeremy Sams has made an unamusing summary of the comedy. As presented recently at Alice Tully Hall—in the Great Performers at Lincoln Center series—all the roles were played by an actress and an actor.

To get most of the play out of the way as swiftly as possible, she rampaged through the condensation at furious speed, exuding forced enthusiasm and bogus charm.

I would have fled the hall, but I'd not yet seen the Ballet des Nations, nor heard William Christie conduct his justly admired period music-theatre group, Les Arts Florissants.

In the event, his musicians, singers, and the dancers were splendid. But Lully's baroque music has a certain repetitiveness which can become wearing to all but aficionados.

Richard Strauss' musical settings for this work—culminating in the opera-within-the-play, Ariadne auf Naxos—are ravishing, compared with Lully's.

But the Strauss-Hofmannsthal version also proved too long an evening. Only Ariadne has survived. This complete work was once performed by Juilliard students, and also later at the Edinburgh Festival by Scottish artists. [Loney]

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Copyright © Glenn Loney 1998. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: jslaff@nytheatre-wire.com.

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