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GLENN LONEY'S SHOW NOTES
By Glenn Loney, November 26, 2002
 After Africa
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
 "Book of Days"
 "Burn This"
 "Flower Drum Song"
 "Boys from Syracuse"
 "Man of No Importance"
 "Jolson & Company"
 "Debbie Does Dallas"
 "Soar Like an Eagle"
 Music-Drama at the Opera
 "Dead Man Walking"
 "Il trittico"
 "Andrea Chénier"
 "Il Pirata"
 "Eugene Onegin"
 "Frog & Toad"
 "Soular Power'd"
 "Def Poetry Jam"
 "Far Away"
 "Take Me Out"
 "Hollywood Arms"
 "In Real Life"
 "Romance of Magno Rubio"
 "My Old Lady"
 "Tuesdays with Morrie"
 "Say Goodnight Gracie"
 "Town Without Laughter"
 "General from America"
 "Frankie & Johnny"
 "Shanghai Gesture"
 "Fourth Wall"
 "Blue Window"
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SEARCH THE NEW YORK THEATRE WIRE
After Africa—Catching Up—In recent years, the New York Theatre Season has seemed to hit its stride later and later. So I stayed on in London longer than I usually would, figuring September's calendar would not be crammed with show-openings.
Hairspray got the jump on them all—opening extremely early. So I didn't get to see it in its press-ticket phase. As I am an awards-nominator—as well as a voter for various groups of awards—I expect/hope to see it before we begin handing out scrolls, medallions, & statues this coming Spring.
But I seem to have been even more mistaken in my assumption that nothing really important would happen On or Off-Broadway until November. So, while I was almost a month away in Zimbabwe & South Africa—see the report elsewhere on this website—a number of interesting shows did open.
I have been trying to catch up, seeing nine or ten shows a week—including Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday matinees. Unfortunately, with the African Report, the New York Museums website, and INFOTOGRAPHY deadlines, there is not sufficient time left to write at length about any of the productions noted below.
The Lanford Wilson Mini-Festival!This season, Signature Theatre is saluting the prolific and eminently American playwright Lanford Wilson. He thus joins the equally eminent company of such authors as Romulus Linney—Laura's Dad, Arthur Miller, Edward Albee, Lee Blessing, and John Guare. Albee and Guare were even in the audience the night I saw Book of Days.
But Wilson's works are being produced not only by Signature, so in the coming months we may be enjoying a Wilson Festival of sorts.
In Alphabetical Order:
Book of Days [*****]Simply but powerfully staged—in Signature's Peter Norton theatre-space—by Wilson's longtime Circle Rep director, Marshall W. Mason, Book of Days is Wilson at the top of his form.
Wilson is back on home-turf, in small-town, small-minded Missouri. A local woman [Miriam Shor] is playing Saint Joan in an amateur production. When the town's most powerful man is "accidentally" shot & killed, she gradually realizes this was murder with intent.
Shaw's Saint Joan discovered—centuries after her martyrdom—that the world was not ready for its saints. Nor is Wilson's Dublin, Missouri, with its Christian Fundamentalists and low-level power-struggles.
The entire Mason/Wilson ensemble is excellent. This powerful drama is sure to be widely produced across the nation. Bible Belt communities excepted…
Burn This [***]Even with—or perhaps in spite of—John Malkovich as the semi-crazed Pale in the premiere production of Burn This, I found it difficult to believe in the premises of Wilson's Soho-Loft Romantic Comedy. Or to care very much if its mismatched Frankie & Johnny couple found happiness.
I even thought of suggesting that Wilson might want, eventually, to burn this play, rather than include it in his Collected Works. But that's really too extreme…
This revival was offered by Signature, not in its own West 42nd Street home, but in the larger Union Square Theatre. This must have been chosen to accommodate the larger audiences the new cinematic Pale would draw.
Signature's founder/director James Houghton staged.
As Pale, filmdom's talented Edward Norton, was not exactly beyond the Pale. But he seemed physically and emotionally too lightweight for this challenging role. Norton—no relation to Peter Norton—was trying too hard. And it showed.
He seemed even pale as Nelson Rockefeller in Julie Taymor's Frida.
AMY IRVING & DANIEL GERROLL--Mrs. Alving & Pastor Manders in Ibsen's "Ghosts." Photo: ©Dixie Sheridan/2002.
Ghosts [**]For some, William Archer's translations of Ibsen are now too dated, even archaic. So various playwrights—having nothing better to do at the moment—have re-translated or adapted various Ibsen Masterpieces. And not only into English…
Lanford Wilson has attempted to translate Ghosts into American. At least there are some contemporary phrases which sound out-of-place in 19th century Norway.
Fortunately, he has not tried to make the drama contemporary. Whoever does so will have to substitute Aids for syphilis, to make Oswald's dreadful secret still lethal. Syphilis can be cured; religious excesses—as in Pastor Manders—cannot.
Ibsen's careful plotting—if it is not clad in effectively translated dialogue—will soon begin to disclose all its cogs and wheels. In this version, the mechanisms can occasionally be heard, grinding and squeaking, announcing an almost anticipated plot-development.
As designed by Christine Jones, Mrs. Alving's parlor seems to have been stripped of almost all furniture. Possibly to use the money for beds in the Alving Orphanage?
There' something fishy about this Classic Stage Company staging—by Daniel Fish. The customarily admirable Daniel Gerroll is over-the-top as a blustering, ranting Manders Ibsen would not have recognized.
The late Jules Irving's daughter, Amy, is adequate as Mrs. Alving. But, unfortunately, not moving in her distress. She was much more effective in Athol Fugard's Road to Mecca.
It was a good idea not to have an intermission.
Musicals Old & New—
Rodgers & Hammerstein's Flower Drum Song [*****]This revival/reworking of Flower Drum Song is visually an immense treat. If you admire Chinese art & architecture—and love SF Chinatown, you will be in Seventh Heaven. Or even in The Inn of the Seventh Happiness!
Some critics have complained of David Henry Hwang's new book, but I believe it's a great improvement on the original. Which was itself based on a not very compelling novel by C. Y. Lee.
R & H's sweet little Chinese heroine—Lea Salonga, in this incarnation—is no longer a mail-order bride. Now, she has bravely escaped Mao's Red Guards, who have killed her father, a famed actor in Chinese Opera.
The colorful contrasts between the glittering traditional costumes of Peking Opera and those of smart show-biz nightclub routines are heightened by director Robert Longbottom's witty choreography.
The stars and ensemble are excellent, especially Randall Duk Kim, Sandra Allen, Jose Llana, and, of course, Lea Salonga.
This is both a beautiful and a charming show. Even the R & H song-standards seem more impressive than in the original. At that time, Kenneth Tynan branded the musical—which opened the same week as The World of Suzy Wong—as "the world of woozy song." But Ken was always straining for a painful pun…
Rodgers & Hart's The Boys From Syracuse [**]Although Lorenz Hart based his book on the Bard's Comedy of Errors—an Elizabethan farce set in Ancient Asia Minor—his Broadway revision was a definitely Art Deco distillation. With lots of Heart & Hart…
This Between-The-Wars flavor was suggested in the Roundabout's recent revival of The Boys from Syracuse. But somehow even the sets & costumes looked dated, retreaded—rather than a clever, cute, sprightly updating. One almost expected a Dromio made-up to resemble Jimmy Savo…
The character mixups were labored, and the sexual innuendo—which may have seemed daring way back before World War II—seemed a definite antidote to arousal.
Nicky Silver provided the new book. He's no D. H. Wang. Or D. H. Lawrence either. His own brand of homocamp can be outrageously amusing. But this show was no laughing matter.
Scott Ellis staged, with Rob Ashford's choreography. Chip Zien worked very hard, but Dromio of Ephesus was not the right role for his comic talents.
Michel Legrand's Amour [****]This ingeniously designed—by Scott Pask & Dona Granata—French musical was a very charming, ingratiating show. But Amour was savaged by many critics, closing after only 17 performances. And a production-loss of $4.5 million.
This was one of those delightful musical fantasies which could have had a good run had it played endlessly in previews and let word-of-mouth work for it. Many people surely would have enjoyed both the concept of the show and the energy and talent of the cast.
Composer Michel Legrand's great crime in this musical seems to have been that he, his music, and the show itself are FRENCH. Nor years ago did everyone love Les Parapluies de Cherbourg, that oh-so-French film, with its through-composed Legrand score…
Malcolm Gets was ingratiating as a Kafka-esque office-worker who suddenly finds he can walk through walls. Thanks to a story by Marcel Aymé…
His forbidden love—a charming Melissa Errico—is trapped in French Catholic wedlock to an older man, a corrupt judge, abusive husband, and Nazi Occupation Collaborator.
All these strikes against him were not enough to convince my theatre-guest that the furtive union of the two lovers was not just another example of fundamental French contempt for common decencies. Go figure…
James Lapine's staging was as ingenious as the remarkably animated set, with a forced perspective of Sacre Couer upstage.
I hope that this clever show—it's a bit like Irma La Douce—is given more productions beyond the Great White Way. It has its charms.
The week after Amour closed—and Gets was no longer walking through walls—Pete Gurney's Fourth Wall opened. In this parodic show, the entire cast walked through walls. At least through the invisible fourth wall of stage-convention.
And last week, Baz Luhrman showed me one of the vintage Parisian electric-signs he's using—in Baz Luhrman's La Bohème—to evoke the essence of Paris: L'amour…
The untimely failure of Amour doesn't worry Luhrman in the least. His show, with the original Puccini score—no Michel Legrand at all—although also set in Paris, has already been a big success in San Francisco and Sydney!
A Man of No Importance [***]Reading some recent reviews, you'd think Terrence McNally [book], Stephen Flaherty [music], and Lynn Ahrens [lyrics] had committed some kind of artistic crime in the basement of the Lincoln Center Theatre. These are, of course, three very talented people—with the production credits to prove it.
Their charming new show is based on the film about the Dublin bus-conductor, Alfie Byrne, who is besotted with the plays—and lifestyle—of Oscar Fingal O'Flaherty Wills Wilde. Roger Rees—Frida Kahlo's sweet father in Julie Taymor's new film—is very affecting as Alfie. But it's hard to believe, in the period of this musical, that devout working-class Irish Catholics would be so forgiving and friendly toward what could easily be seen as a shabby middle-aged unmarried pervert.
For decent men like Alfie, the thing to do then was to have a loveless marriage, with lots of prayers, self-denial, and candles. Alfie lives at home—effectually alone—with his unmarried, lovelorn sister, a sympathetic Faith Prince. At least, Alfie has never indulged in the Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name.
But in Roman Catholic belief, the Thought is as the Deed! Wishes are Fathers to the Acts. Even though the Incumbent Pope has temporized—"We hate the sin, but love the sinner"—New York Irish still don't want Gays in their Parade.
In the early 1960s, the Dublin Irish were even more rigid. When I first crossed the Irish Sea to Dublin—in 1957—you could not bring with you condoms, birth-control information, or the London Times! Priestly pedophilia was a topic never touched upon. The sexual scandals all concerned priests touching up virgins and married women in the confessional or the sacristy.
As for Alfie's dream of staging Wilde's steamy, sensuous Salome in St. Imelda's Parish Hall—not named for Imelda Marcos—anyone who has read the play will know he's quite daft. The wonder is that his unsophisticated cast isn't appalled. Not just the blatant blasphemy of Salome dancing before the severed head of John the Baptist, for who she lusted. But Salome is also an over-the-top exercise in poetic pretension. Even more so in the original French! Only Richard Strauss's score makes Salome viable in the theatre.
AL JOLSON SINGS AGAIN. Photo: ©Rahav Segev/2002.
Jolson & Company [***]Premiered recently at the York Theatre—in the basement of St. Peter's/Citicorp on Lex—this Al Jolson bio-show has now been recreated at the Century Theatre on East 15th.
As Jolson, Stephen Mo Hanan demonstrates the demonic energy and self-absorption that made the real Al Jolson such a successful entertainer. And such a selfish, cruel human-being. And, as Jolson made his mark in Minstrel Show Blackface—which he carried over into Broadway revues—the essence of his "art" and his once blockbuster mammy-songs are a little hard for modern audiences to take. Not to mention his raspy voice and arrogant, abrasive manner…
Even in the Jazz Age, performing in the Winter Garden—which the Shuberts built for him—Jolson's blackface was beginning to bother some viewers. He lived beyond his fame…
Even more impressive than Jolson in this show are Robert Ari and Nancy Anderson in the many quick-change roles—and wigs—that flesh out the Jolson Story. It's all framed by a radio-interview, illustrated with flashbacks. At the turn of the century New York's "Theatre Rialto," Union Square is coming back to life as a theatre-center. On East 15th, Jolson is flanked on its right by De La Guarda and Magna Rubio, and on its left by the Lee Strasberg School & Theatre. The Vineyard Theatre is just across the street.
Debbie Does Dallas [**]I have never seen the porn-film classic on which this raffish new musical is based. Some who have seen it liked the movie better. Possibly because they don't really get down and dirty on the stage of the Jane Street Theatre.
Instead, it's a suggestive spoof, with the talented Sherie Rene Scott as Cheerleader Debbie who is determined to take the bus to Dallas and audition for a job with the girls who cheer on the Dallas Cowboys.
Hedwig and the Angry Inch was the most recent hit at Jane Street Theatre, so it's possible that the producers hope this not-so-sexy musical show will also attract the terminally trendy.
Debbie and her high-school chums have sex-for-dollars to save up enough money for the trip to Dallas. This musical wants to have it both ways: parodic spoof and smarmy suggestion…
Unfortunately, this is no Best Little Whorehouse in Texas.
Texas: isn't that where President LBJ and President GW Bush came from? Why didn't they put a stop to this kind of smut, besmirching the Good Name of their Home State?
Soar Like an Eagle [-*]The idea of a teenage Jewish orphan lad—whose parents were exterminated in the Holocaust—falling in love during the 1948 Berlin Airlift with the young daughter of a Nazi murderer certainly has dramatic potential.
Unfortunately, Adam Dick's book doesn't make it interesting. And Paul Dick's songs are almost embarrassing, as well. There's even a trunk-song about Laura, a girl-back-home, remembered by a US Air Force man. But it has nothing to do with advancing the tenuous plot.
The young man flies out of Berlin, hidden in one of the airlift planes. To America and a new life. But the girl is too afraid to come with him. Their older selves in advanced age—in 1989, when the Berlin Wall is torn down—also drift through this almost-amateur show.
The production was mounted in the new Lion Theatre on Theatre Row—where five tiny theatres have been stacked in one building, to replace the former row, now dominated by high-rise apartments. The new mini-theatres don't work very well.
And the tiny box-office, serving all five theatres, encourages epic traffic-jams when five lines of ticket-buyers intermingle in the cramped space. Beyond this area, however, there is a vast empty lobby, leading to the various theatres.
The audience for this wounded eagle was only a handful of people. So I felt too sorry for the hard-working actors to flee at the intermission.
MUSIC-DRAMA at the Opera House—No matter how many millions are spent on mounting magnificent new Broadway musicals—and which are sometimes completely lost in the first few days, as with the recent regretted Amour—you can almost always find more magnificent musical-theatre productions at the New York City Opera and the Metropolitan Opera. Especially during a lackluster season on the Great White Way.
Indeed, some recent City Opera stagings are as dynamic, fresh, imaginative, and eminently theatrical as anything you can see on Broadway. And the music is miles ahead of the scores of most popular composers. Even the venerable team of Rodgers & Hammerstein—not to mention Elton John & Tim Rice—cannot compete with Verdi or Bizet.
Carmen Jones was Ok, but it was still a show-biz reduction. As for Aida-by-Elton, it has its charms, but it is not Verdi-Class.
When it is conceived, rehearsed, designed, mounted, and performed as real theatre, opera can be one of the most powerful of artistic experiences. It pushes spoken drama—even some Shakespeare—right back into the wings.
This is why both drama and music-critics are eager to see how Baz Luhrman succeeds with his Bohème-on-Broadway project. He has not reworked it as an East Village Odyssey: We already have that in Rent.
No indeed. Luhrman proposes to present Baz Luhrman's La Bohème with all Puccini's music and the libretto intact. And in the original Italian at that. Even though his primary interest in creating this production is to attract young English-speaking audiences to opera-theatre for the first time. The actor-singers' mimetic arts should do much to make it real for first-timers.
When some of us critics lunched with him recently, I suggested he should go to City Opera and see how Paul Kellogg and George Manahan are doing this already!
At the New York City Opera:Many a New American Opera has died the death after its World Premiere and a sprinkling of opening-season performances. The Ghosts of Versailles is apt to return to the Met. But when?
For many years now, no one has been saying of Deems Taylor's The King's Henchman—libretto by Edna St. Vincent Millay, no less: "Look where it comes again!" Oh, sorry. That was Hamlet's father's ghost, wasn't it?
Whatever has become of Dom Argento's Casanova—which I saw in its early incarnation in St. Paul, with Beverly Sills worried about its subsequent reception at Lincoln Center. I suggested super-titles, as it was impossible to understand the sung English text.
Recently, for a Bregenz Festival revival of Carlisle Floyd's "forgotten opera," Of Mice and Men, I presented its Opera Workshop a Steinbeck/Salinas backgrounder/slide-show for this powerful modern American opera.
The Festival's Artistic Director, Dr. Alfred Wopmann, had previously seen NYCO's spare but effective revival of the work. He told us he was impressed with its tremendous critical and popular success at Lincoln Center.
That much was true. But City Opera schedules new productions only for three performances in their first—and possibly only—season. That way, if they bomb, then Rudel, Sills, Keene, and now Kellogg did/do not have three more nights of empty-houses.
Breakfasting at Bregenz with Mice & Men composer Carlisle Floyd, I noted that this fine production had never returned in any recent NYCO subscription season. He suggested I write a letter to Paul Kellogg about this. And that I mention the huge success of the Bregenz production—which was inspired by the City Opera's mislaid staging.
Kellogg never answered my letter.
Surely he had other things on his mind. Like the New York premiere of Jake Heggie's Dead Man Walking. He was onto a sure thing with this work, however.
Heggie's Dead Man Walking [*****]Not only was Dead Man Walking an immense success when first shown at the San Francisco Opera—for which it was commissioned. But this initial production has also had a further vibrant life, which will soon include performances in Australia and a San Francisco revival.
The visually powerful and deeply moving City Opera production, however, was not a loan from the Golden Gate. Instead, it was a seven-city co-production!
Like Carlisle Floyd, Jake Heggie is comfortable with popular and folk music. He is not seeking some new kind of avant-garde post-modernist musical cacophony.
The result is a strongly lyrical score which richly supports the theatrical development of the story of an alienated condemned man's spiritual redemption at death's door. This is music to which unsophisticated audiences can immediately respond.
At the same time, it subtly connects with the thoughts and emotions of music-loving intellectuals as well.
I don't by any means consider myself an intellectual—I haven't the knack for such posturing. But I was not looking forward to this apparently opportunistic opera-experience: Book by Terrence McNally! Film starring Sean Penn & Susan Sarandon! Down with the Death Penalty!
In the event, the City Opera co-production proved one of the most powerful Music-Theatre experiences I have had in years. Even if the score, by itself, is not all that memorable.
What made Dead Man Walking succeed so powerfully was its Wagnerian-style Gesamtkunstwerk production. Not that it was like a Bayreuth Ring, but that it was a complete integration of the arts in production and performance!
The massive metal gates, fences, and catwalks—designed by Michael McGarty to rise and fall and move on and off—were themselves effective as visual metaphors for the bureaucratic obstacles obstructing Sister Helen Prejean's unending efforts to reach out to the brutal rapist/killer Joseph De Rocher.
Joyce DiDonato and John Packard were superb as Sister and Joseph. This role seems tailored for Packard—as Joe, he looks like one of Richard Avedon's gritty drifter portraits. Leonard Foglia staged, with John DeMain conducting.
When Dead Man Walking returns—as it surely must—to Lincoln Center, do not miss it. The production is, however, so heavy to hang, and so complicated in its seeming simplicity, that it does not fit easily into a traditional repertory program.
And there are other co-producing cities on the waiting-list. So you may have to wait as well…
Chabrier's L'étoile [*****]This charming opéra-bouffe had become another one of those "forgotten" works of the music-theatre. Until the Opéra de Lyon revived it in a stunning and entirely fantastic production.
It was my great good fortune to have seen that visually memorable staging—and obtain the recording. And later I was lucky to see two other productions of this comic-opera before the new City Opera mounting. In much earlier incarnations, the operetta was even called The Lucky Star.
It is a cousin—if not a sister—to some Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Not least because of its quasi-patter-songs. And a plot in which an absolute monarch—King Ouf I—requires a public execution forthwith for a birthday treat. Sounds something like The Mikado?
At City Opera, Jennifer Rivera was stunning as the rascally Lazuli, who agrees to be the Dead Man Walking in this cartoon-fantasy. Lauren Skuce was the princess he loves—but who is intended for Ouf, a jolly parody by Robert Orth.
The witty libretto is Jeremy Sams' translation. He also provided the amusing English version of Michel Legrand's brief-lived Amour.
This staging—by Mark Lamos—is only one of several current City Opera productions which would look right at home on a major Broadway musical stage! George Manahan conducted.
Designers Andrew Lieberman, Constance Hoffman, and Robert Wierzel have done visual wonders with what must surely have been a small budget.
Sean Curran's delightful choreography was also Broadway-ready. What is amazing about these stagings is that they cannot have long rehearsals in short seasons. Yet they are quite as good as major musicals which have much more time to prepare for their premieres.
What's more, the City Opera Chorus—unlike the old, bad days of opera—are all talented actors and dancers, as well as singers. That may be why they can achieve such professional productions in such short time-spans. They are already a regular performance ensemble, which is not the case when a new Broadway show is beginning its auditions and rehearsals.
Puccini's Il trittico [****]At many opera houses, when a new production of Puccini's trilogy is offered, audiences can count themselves fortunate if one of the three mini-operas is outstanding.
At the City Opera, Il Tabarro is indeed powerful, though the almost abstract stage-environment is less verismo than is usually the case. Betrayal in love is the theme, and Mark Delavan, Fabiana Bravo, and Carl Tanner made the most of the fatal melodrama.
Suor Angelica is often staged as a kind of Religious Miracle, complete with Radiant Christ-Child. Puccini adored it, but it is the least effective of the three, musically and dramatically.
What is astonishing in the new production—designed by Allen Moyer and staged by James Robinson—is that it takes place in a hospital run by nuns. The children who are brought into what seems to be a clinic are obviously retarded or handicapped.
So the Jesus-child—who appears to the poor, unwed, but aristocratic mother who has had to give up her baby and enter the convent—could simply be one of the retards who has lost his way down the corridor.
She has just taken poison, out of disappointment and desperation. Her child has died, unknown to her. And her imperious aunt has just forced her to sign over all her and her child's wealth to her unblemished sister, soon to marry.
At the last moment, she begs forgiveness for her suicide. And the child appears. Maria Kanyova sang Angelica, with Ursula Ferri as the haughty Principessa.
Definitely the most successful of City Opera's Trittico is its hilarious Gianni Schicchi, set in an ultra-stylish modern Florence. There are even photo-panoramas of the great medieval/renaissance city visible from the terrace!
Mark Delavan was marvelous as the rascally Schichi, who cheats death, the lawyers, and the greedy Donati Family so the young lovers can unite.
George Manahan conducted all three operas with flair appropriate to their special emotional and dramatic qualities.
At the Metropolitan Opera:For many years, when I was still reviewing for print-media, I was always accorded the press-privilege at the Metropolitan Opera. Not nowadays, however. Websites don't hack it with the Met Press Office, presided over by Francis Giuliani. No relative. I asked him…
Considering the current cost of two seats in the orchestra, the Met saves a lot of money by giving out as few freebies as possible. Only the Salzburg Festival and the Royal Opera/Covent Garden exceed the Met's ticket-prices.
Fortunately, my longtime colleague and friend—Erna Metdepennighen, President of the Belgian Music Critics—invites me to share when she comes to cover the Met twice a season. But the Met is now so strapped for cash that they no longer have full-stage photos of the grand scenes in major productions. Amazing!
PLACIDO DOMINGO AS ANDREA CHÉNIER. Photo: ©Winnie Klotz/Metropolitan Opera/2002.
Giordano's Andrea Chénier [***]The big attraction in reviving Giordano's Andrea Chénier at the Met was not so much its power as a musical indictment of the horrors of the French Revolution. No, Poulenc's Dialogues of the Carmelites does that much more effectively—in a far more subtle way.
The star-power drawing-card was Placido Domingo in the title-role. Domingo's career has been long and amazing. He even conducts. And he is now Artistic Director of both the Los Angeles and Washington DC Operas!
In Munich recently, he was astonishing musically and dramatically as the obsessed Herman in Queen of Spades.
Last season at the Met, he was effective in Sly—which doesn't make great musical demands.
Unfortunately, this time out, he couldn't sing the fourth act of Chénier . But we had been warned at the start that he was suffering from allergies.
Perhaps it's time to take stock? Consider what now works best?
Aprille Millo was full-bodied Maddalena de Coigny. Her many fans went wild, even before she showed what she can still do. Frederick Burchinal was the opportunistic but ultimately contrite Gérard. But he could not save the two lovers from the Terror. Fortunately, or there would have been no compelling reason to make a tragic opera on this topic.
DENYCE GRAVES MEETS HER BULLFIGHTER AT THE MET. Photo: ©Winnie Klotz/Metropolitan Opera/2002.
Bizet's Carmen [****]The best thing about this performance of Franco Zeffirelli's curiously overwrought production of Carmen was—as it often is—the powerful appearance of Denyce Graves as the gypsy-girl from Seville's cigarette-factory.
I saw/heard her in the role first on the giant lake-stage of the Bregenz Festival. Graves was, however, able to conquer the vast open spaces of the stage and dominate the proceedings. And she has only improved and matured in the role.
Mary Mills was appropriately sweet, humble, and concerned as Micaëla. Clifton Forbis was a handsome Don Jose. Yves Abell conducted.
Why Franco chose to put his entire production into some kind of rough-hewn-beamed framing—with sun-shade canvases on ropes overhead—for all the scenes is a puzzle.
Also, despite the great depth of the Met's stage, he chose to design all the scenes very shallowly. The result lacked the opulent splendor of his Met Traviata and Turandot. But then he may have been visually cueing this staging to the level of the Smugglers' Hideout, rather than to the Plaza de Toros or the great Seville Cathedral—which was once a vast Mosque.
FUNERAL PROCESSION--The Met's new "Pirata" production. Photo: ©Winnie Klotz/Metropolitan Opera/2002.
Bellini's Il Pirata [***]Some critics complained about the physical simplicity—read: low-budget—of John Conklin's designs for this new John Copley staging of Il Pirata.
Actually, the elegant and fanciful columns—sometimes deployed in Bibiena-style Scena per Angolo—were not only powerful and moveable visual elements. But they also strongly suggested time, place, & mood—without great expenditure and acres of scenery.
Robert Perdziola's lavish costumes aided the period effect of the settings, as well as giving the singers some solidly visible support.
This is Pirata not one of opera's beloved Repertory War-Horses. Not only because its story is not all that compelling—almost a routine doomed-lovers' triangle.
But the score is not Bellini's finest either. There are more thrilling—and better-motivated—Mad-Scenes than found here.
But this new production was clearly a gift to Renée Fleming, who sang the conflicted Imogene, unhappily married to a sadistic Dwayne Croft.
Later, at the stage-door, in chinos, he didn't look so mean after all… Both he and Imogene's Gualtiero, Marcello Giordani, were admirably matched—and talented—opponents.
Bruno Campanella conducted.
At the Juilliard Opera Center:
Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin [****]The now venerable Julius Rudel conducted Juilliard's three-performance Eugene Onegin recently. And a talented young Russian, Anton Belov, was the cruel, quixotic anti-hero who wrecks his best friend's wedding-plans by killing him in a duel.
With an almost oriental arrangement of gauzy screens and elegant Empire furniture, both Petersburg and the Larin's country estate were effectively suggested. Christopher H. Barreca designed, with costumes from the Utah Opera Company.
In this spare but simulated Czarist Russian milieu, the alienated Onegin humiliated the lovely young Tatiana—strongly sung by Hanan Alattar. But he was much later definitively rejected by her, now the coldly elegant wife of war-hero Prince Gremin—Daniel Gross. Christianne Rushton was a cheerful but confused Olga.
As the doomed Lensky, Richard Cox was vocally effective. But he looked as though he'd been nibbling too many rum-babkas.
At the Brooklyn Academy of Music:
BRIEF HAPPINESS--Woyzeck & Marie at BAM. Photo: ©The Ocular One/2002.
Waits & Brennan & Wilson's Woyzeck [***]
A Long Way Off From Georg Büchner!The opening strains of "She'll Be Comin' Round the Mountain, When She Comes" warned me from the get-go that Tom Waits' score for Georg Büchner's Woyzeck would be quite a different experience than Alban Berg's opera-version.
Or even from a straightforward staging of the original play. Which was itself never put into final form by the dying Büchner.
Later, "She's My Coney Island Gal" added a distinctively American flavor to this first of all German Expressionist dramas—written decades before Expressionism was discovered. Kathleen Brennan shares music & lyric credits with Waits.
The audience loved every aspect of this attenuated re-telling of the tale of the simple soldier, Woyzeck, desperately in love with his flirtatious Marie—too fond of the Drum-Major for her own survival.
For me, the most powerful moments were visual, not musical. Robert Wilson—from his first days at BAM, all those long years ago—has proved himself a master of slow-motion or static scenes from dreams and nightmares.
Wilson's blackly foreboding vision of Der Freischütz—as Dark Rider, for Hamburg's Thalia Theatre and shown at BAM—also had very powerful images. But his Woyzeck seems even stronger, more accessible.
Jens JØrn Spottag and Kaya Brüel were impressive as the doomed lovers.
This production was premiered in Copenhagen in 2000. It is now touring.
At the New Victory Theatre:
The Reale Thing:Robert & Willie Reale have adapted Arnold Lobel's children's stories about the close friendship of Mr. Frog and Mr. Toad for the musical theatre. More specifically, for children's musical theatre.
A Year with Frog & Toad [***]
The charmingly designed and performed Frog & Toad production recently shown at the New Victory is a Children's Theatre Company touring show.
But, despite all its deliberate cuteness—which include Martin Pakledinaz's ingenious costumes for turtles, squirrels, lizards, and moles—it does celebrate the virtues of friendship, of caring, and doing good deeds.
Half-a-world away, in Africa—and also in Asia—children the ages of those who come regularly to the New Victory are armed by vicious military thugs and trained to kill innocent villagers. Even old people and other children:
So it's good that good deeds and good hearts and good thoughts are on view on 42nd Street.
What may be a bit disquieting about this show to sophisticated adults is the marital status of Frog and Toad as potential role-models for impressionable young children.
Each of these two habit-obsessed middle-aged males lives alone in his cute little house, sleeping all through the long winter in his own little bed. With its own little duvet.
They are very best friends. But they don't have any wives or children!
What are we to think of this?
At least, they do not Sleep Over!
Full Circle's Soular Power'd [****]Instead of a steady diet of "White Bread" fairy-tale children's theatre productions, the New Victory on 42nd Street likes to appeal to the widest possible young audiences—and their parents or teachers. No one is ever bored. No one falls asleep—at least not easily, considering the level of energy and sound in most of the productions. There was certainly plenty of energy and sound when Soular Power'd recently ran its riffs on the New Victory's historic stage.
Young Rappers and multi-racial Hiphoppers worked up a storm of music, dance, and raps.
The show was created by Gabriel "Kwikstep" Dionisio & Anita "Rokafella" Garcia. They staged and choreographed, and, of course, performed with gusto.
They were abetted by such young talents as Adesola, Afra, Angel, Baba, Blowout, Brisk, Buttafly, Ill Will, Kmel, Mami, Mega, Stretch, Tara, and Tweetie.
What next on New 42? Hansi & Greta in the 'Hood?
At the Longacre:
Russell Simmons Def Poetry Jam on Broadway [*****]If Russell Simmons needs understudies for his dynamic new revue of poetry-raps with fierce young multi-racial rappers, he could engage some of the kids from the New Victory show. They are comers all.
If you have had difficulty deciphering some Black Raps, you won't have any problems with the Longacre's new show. Every word comes across loud and clear—with its meaning and intent often dynamically underlined.
Some images and some ideas might bother you—such as the suggestion that 9/11 was plotted by the People in Power, not by Angry Arabs. But at least you will have a clearer idea of what young dissenters have on their minds these days. Especially those who speak for minorities…
Among Simmons' fiercely focused performers are Beau Sia, Black Ice, Staceyann Chen, Steve Colman, Mayda Del Valle, Georgia Me, Suheir Hammad, Lemon, & Poetri.
Stan Latham staged and co-conceived the show with Simmons—of Def Jam fame.
Back at BAM:
BAM'S "KÖRPER"--Dancers at rest. Photo: ©Bernd Uhlig/2002.
Sasha Waltz's Körper [*****]When I first saw Sasha Waltz's Körper at the Edinburgh Festival, I realized that the revolutionary dance-theatre of Pina Bausch at last had a more than worthy successor. Over time, Bausch has become more and more obsessed with the bizarre but unforgettable environments in which she develops her dance-movements.
Waltz—now a director at the famed Berliner Schaubühne—is obviously more interested in developing new dance-concepts which explore the potentials of human bodies in action and conflict.
In Körper, she is especially focusing on specific parts of the body in movement. But she does depend on a very large stage-prop for support in her often amusing explorations.
This is a tall black wall. Later—when it falls slowly onto the stage on its face—we see that it is actually a shallow wedge-shape.
Seen first standing tall, on its right side it provides a tiny hole through which a moving finger can point outward, beckoning and wiggling. A larger hole on the opposite side of the panel is large enough for an entire leg to jut out, moving this way and that.
In its center is a black rectangle which can open like a wall-niche, filled with writhing dancers' bodies. Waltz's ensemble moves to the music of Hans Peter Kuhn.
BUTOH AT BAM. Photo: ©Masafami Sakamoto/2002.
Ushio Amagatsu's Sankai Juku Hibiki [*****]Overhead in the BAM Opera House, four suspended glass vessels drip droplets of water into large lens-shaped glass dishes. Inside their sheltering perimeter, five figures are fetally coiled, spotlighted on the sandy stage-surface.
Gradually, they rise up, extending themselves, and ultimately their arms and hands skyward. Gowned almost like buddhist monks, they have white faces and arms.
Sinuously and slowly, almost in a dream, they move through various poses, almost as if they were imploring powers above. But their various choreographies are not essential rain-dances.
Instead, these Resonances from Far Away invoke the mystic relationships of the waters of the oceans with the waters of the womb. The foremost lens-dish, in fact, is filling with blood-tinted water.
There are six Movements in this dance-ritual: Sizuku/Drop, Utsuri/Displacement, Garan/Empty Space, Outer Limits of the Red, Utsuri/Reflection, and Toyomi/Resounding.
The breathlessly silent BAM audience leapt to its feet at the close. I had already seen this at the Edinburgh Festival, but it had lost none of its visual and philosophical power. Second-Generation Japanese Butoh, they say…
New Plays—More or Less:
Caryl Churchill's Far Away [****]Far Away has no Butoh Resonances.
And also interval for the audience, although there are black-outs between scenes as the world of the future sinks deeper and deeper into senseless violence and terror.
Even birds, rivers, and pint-sized nations seem in league against other odd alliances in terminal exterminative efforts.
Fear Rules in Caryl Churchill's grimly bizarre parable of what lies ahead. This brief—but certainly quite long enough—dramatic allegory was apparently written before 9/11. But it seems weirdly prophetic of The Shape of Things To Come.
Its visual and visceral centerpiece is the parade of condemned men and women, marching along in fantastic hats, designed add to their abject humiliation in the moments before their public executions.
This is preceded by a strange scene in which a young man and a young woman find each other as they create these bizarre chapeaux in the state Parade-Hat factory.
In the opening scene, a little girl tells Frances McDormand of something dreadful she has dimly intuited. Children are being bloodily killed—as though that were just part of a day's routine.
Actually, this has already happened in Somalia and Rwanda, so this is not just a Churchillian nightmare.
The brilliant Stephen Daldry directed. I had the good fortune to interview him at his tiny Notting Hill Gate theatre some years ago.
He had staged a powerful La Vida Es Sueño in its extremely confined space. This led him to London's Royal Court and National Theatres.
For several seasons, Daldry's genius was seen on Broadway in the London production of An Inspector Calls.
Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out [****]We've come a long way from poor old Oscar Wilde, Reading Gaol, and the Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name. We do get a 1960s re-run of an Oscar Imitator at Lincoln Center, in A Man of No Importance.
But now even Rosie O'Donnell is out of the closet.
Nonetheless, as powerfully explored in Richard Greenberg's Take Me Out—extended at the Public Theatre—Coming Out in professional sports is apt to take you out of the game entirely.
Darren Lemming is an all-star African-American baseball player. His name must be metaphoric, as he dares to do what most athletes would not: to Come Out. And he is then swept along, Lemming-like, in the undertow of fear and hate of homosexuals.
But he is seen initially as a very cocky—also a metaphor?—winner who believes his color and sexuality are of no concern when he is such a popular player. With both fans and team-mates.
To his cost, he finds out how wrong he is. Daniel Sunjata is very winning in this role—even though the character loses. As his team-friend—and the play's narrator, Kippy Sunderstrom—Neal Huff makes a good foil.
Joe Mantello—who now seems to specialize in gay plays—stages powerfully and almost choreographically. And, yes, you do get to see the team buck-naked in the showers!
Jordan Thaler/Heidi Griffiths are listed as responsible for casting. None of the men they chose is deficient in the genital department.
Carol Burnett's Hollywood Arms [****]When the American Theatre Critics had their annual conference in Chicago a few months ago, I could have seen this show at the Goodman. But I was told it would be much better in New York, so I waited.
It may have become better, but it still seems much too long.
The drama—co-written by Burnett and her deceased daughter, Carrie Hamilton—offers a blow-by-blow account of Ms. Burnett's early years, up to her first taste of Ed Sullivan Success.
It is a thoroughly depressing saga of familial unhappiness, made worse by the constant nagging of Burnett's grandmother, the acid-tongued Linda Lavin.
Fortunately for the play and the audience, many of her poisoned barbs are very funny. In fact, she is almost the whole show: This is surely a performance worthy of a Tony Award.
Burnett's loose-living alcoholic mother dreams, not of Hollywood Stardom, but of being the next Louella O. Parsons. This doesn't work out, of course. But she is a woman in constant Denial of Reality.
Her mother, Burnett's grizzled granny, on the other hand can always see—and foresee—the darkest side of everything. And she is seldom wrong, as such negativity is usually self-fulfilling.
Hal Prince directed, and he has heightened the comedy as much as possible.
At times, however, the reality of the desperate lives of Burnett and her ma and grandma seems to call for the playwriting talents of an Edward Albee. Or even an Emile Zola…
Or how about this family and this story being played out as The Lower Depths? In its essentials, it is No Laughing Matter.
Dael Orlandersmith's Yellowman [****]Orlandersmith's two-hander tale of growing up—and falling in love—in the middle and on the edges of a South Carolinian black community—where degrees of color are everything—is a powerful and painful revelation.
She is black, "full-figured," and, ultimately, beautiful. He is almost "High Yaller," with a mother who could "pass" and a darkly black father—who hates him for his light skin.
Growing up, from childhood, the two are attracted. Issues of color mean nothing to them: they love each other, and they share many things they love.
Unfortunately, her very black—and somewhat slatternly—family are an embarrassment to her. His family is a disaster-area because of the color differences.
When his light-skinned achiever-grandfather leaves everything to the young man, both his father and mother are livid at him for being snubbed, dissed, and passed-over.
In the ensuing confrontation, in a black rage, he kills his father. And is sent to prison for years.
Dael Orlandersmith is a poet/playwright, so there is something powerfully lyrical even in the agony and heartache of the young lovers, Alma and Eugene. And they are played by Orlandersmith and Howard W. Overshown with great warmth and intensity.
This show is a remarkably inspiring experience, but with a tragic conclusion.
Charlayne Woodard's In Real Life [*****]Orlandersmith had already dazzled Manhattan audiences with her monologue, Beauty's Daughter, at the American Place Theatre. She won an Obie for it.
But both she and Charlayne Woodard this season should win Obies, Outer Critics, and Drama Desk Awards. Unfortunately, they cannot win Tonys, for that honor is reserved only for Broadway performances.
Woodard has already had a Tony Nomination—if not the actual silver medallion—for her high-octane performance in Fats Waller's Ain't Misbehavin' on Broadway.
In fact, that show and her experiences in preparing for and performing in it are the core of her wonderfully amusing and moving new monologue.
This is a show which all aspiring drama-students should see. And their teachers as well!
Woodard arrives in New York, fresh from college drama-courses in Chicago. She is very serious about a career in Serious Drama.
She disdains the very idea of singing and dancing in a musical. She wants to put her Stanislavsky Studies to work: Building a Character!
But her first important audition—in which she wins her first Broadway role—requires singing and dancing. Neither of which she has ever studied—or practiced.
Woodard makes her agonies in mastering these basic skills—and getting up to performance-level in Ain't Misbehavin'—hilarious and also a vicarious crash-course in show-biz survival.
Lonnie Carter's Romance of Magno Rubio [****]Scenic designer Loy Arcenas not only has created St. Imelda's Parish Hall at Lincoln Center—for the musical, A Man of No Importance—but he has also designed and directed Magna Rubio in Daryl Roth's handsome new D.R.2 Theatre next to De La Guarda on East 15th Street.
The caged end-stage in this intimate space is deliberately confining, for the dismal working world of Magna Rubio and his fellow migrant field-workers is also a kind of confinement.
They may work in the hot sun on the broad fields of California's Great Valley, but they are not free to roam—unless they are fired and have to search for other crops to harvest—and so they spend most of their "free" time in a shabby bunkhouse.
John Steinbeck wrote about such migrants in Of Mice and Men, In Dubious Battle, and The Grapes of Wrath. But he was more interested in the problems of white migrants than those of Asians and Hispanics.
Lonnie Carter has based this animated and affecting music-drama on a short-story by the late migrant-worker activist Carlos Bulosan. It's the wryly comic tale of the little Filipino farm-hand, Magno Rubio, and his mail-order sweetheart.
Of course, Rubio's hopes and dreams are shattered when he discovers the lady is already married and has sent love-letters only to bilk him of his few dollars.
Israel Horovitz' My Old Lady [***]Sian Phillips is wonderfully wily as a nonagenarian French lady, the Old Lady of Israel Horovitz's very American attempt at Gallic Romantic Comedy. And Jan Maxwell is effective as her bitter, love-lorn middle-aged daughter.
Into their lives—and into their elegantly Belle Époque Paris apartment—comes the crude, brash, angry late middle-aged loser, Mathias Gold. His recently deceased but hated father has left him this apartment and nothing else.
Unfortunately—although he hopes to sell it fast, as he has no money or prospects—he discovers he cannot take possession until old Mathilde Giffard dies. And she seems in very good health and very much in possession of her wits and wit.
In the meantime, he has to pay all costs and taxes on the apartment—which his bargain-hunting father seems to have bought on speculation.
The pay-off is that—after pitched verbal battles—this disapointed man and woman find each other, under the benevolent eye of the old woman. That they are children of the same father—who loved both in Paris and in New England—doesn't present a problem to the old lady. Nor to Horovitz.
Frankly, I liked this play much more than most of Horovitz's effortful dramas. And I marvel at the silvered elegance of John Lee Beatty's wonderful setting. David Esbjornson staged, as he has with Albee's Goat and Albom's Morrie.
Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie [***]Actually, Jeffrey Hatcher helped Albom write this tribute to his old Brandeis professor. And—played by Jon Tenney—he is one of the two characters in this drama of dying.
The lovable prof is played by the estimable Alvin Epstein—whom I will always admire for his wonderful work with the late Martha Schlamme, a great artist and teacher.
As a feckless Brandies undergrad, Albom was befriended by Morrie—for whom he became something like a son. But Albom went on to become—at least in Detroit—a famous sports-writer and, for sixteen long years, forgot his promise to "keep in touch."
Only when he sees Morrie on Ted Koppel's Nightline, only to learn that Morrie is slowly dying of Lou Gehrig's Disease, does he recall his obligation. So, until Morrie dies, he flies into Boston to come up and be with Morrie.
For some older people, this intermissionless exposure to the decline of a good and loving man may be a downer. But its essence is the common-sense wisdom about Life and Love that Morrie had to instill in his beloved former student.
But it also seems Albom's mea culpa to Morrie. Not only for having neglected him so long, but also for failing to live his life more lovingly. The sentiments can be found on Hallmark Cards, but that doesn't make them less valid.
Indeed, Morrie's Advice for Living not only moved Ted Koppel's viewers deeply. It also proved equally valuable for Albom—not just in living life more fully—but also in drafting a book bearing the same name as this play.
This book, in fact, went on to become a Best-Seller and then a TV-movie, starring the late Jack Lemmon.
Thus, naming and advertisting this docu-drama as Mitch Albom's Tuesdays with Morrie has built-in brand-recognition.
So the new/old show at the Minetta Lane is sure to prove a draw to avid watchers of TV and people who are grieving for those who have passed on after long suffering.
Rupert Holmes' >Say Goodnight Gracie [***]The Off- and Off-off-Broadway audience has been steadily graying in recent years. This little show—in what used to be Winthrop Ames' Little Theatre—brought out the Golden Agers in droves.
It also recycled the Golden Age of Radio. But there were some TV-clips of Burns and Allen's old shows as well. Frank Gorshin was OK as George Burns. Maybe the show would have had more zip if Carol Burnett had joined him as Gracie?
Tom Murphy's Bailegangáire/As produced at the Irish Rep—with the Abbey Theatre's magnificent Pauline Flanagan—this tedious exercise in small-minded, selfish Gaelic misery also made some of the spectators miserable.
The Town Without Laughter [**]
I was perhaps the most disappointed, for I have seen Flanagan enact wonderful roles both in Dublin and Manhattan. This was not one of them, as she—as a dotty and demanding old woman—had to endlessly repeat an old story—which she could never bring herself to finish—about a laughing-contest many years ago.
Her two daughters—the masochistic one who gave up nursing to care for her, and the other, the local slut, who seems trying to escape the horrors of her life through sex—spar with each other, between spurts of the old tale, which they both also know by heart.
Playwright Tom Murphy directed. He is greatly admired in Eire for his dramas, but they are just too Irish for me. His Whistle in the Dark has had a number of productions in New York and beyond the Hudson, but its tragic magic also eludes me.
Richard Nelson's The General From America [***]The late great Michael Redgrave's son, Corin, blusteringly plays General Benedict Arnold in The General from America. By special arrangement with Equity.
When Arnold is finally shown as a broken, defeated man, you may well feel you have yourself been through the entire Revolutionary War. Including that disastrous Winter at Valley Forge…
This is Richard Nelson's reconstruction of the events that led up to Arnold's decision to go over to the British side in the war. And to give them the plans to West Point, of which he was then the Commander.
Nelson is an American playwright who has lived long in England. So he has the ability to see things from both sides. One of his most interesting explorations of American-British contrasts—as well as of academic politics—is Some Americans Abroad.
Surely few Americans know much more about General Arnold than the fact of his Act of Treason. Nelson investigates what led up to his betrayal of his country and the trust of his old friend and comrade, General George Washington.
Nelson's vision of Arnold reveals an intemperate, self-centered, impulsive man who—as commander in American-held Philadelphia—has been accused by a Citizens' Committee of various serious crimes and delinquencies.
As outlined by Nelson—and played to his sword's hilt by the grizzled Redgrave—Arnold is incapable of courtesy, generosity, humility, diplomacy, or forethought.
Nelson also offers a more explicit examination of Britain's "heroic" Major Andre, hanged as a spy. When he met Arnold for the cross-over to Britain, he was drunk, for instance.
Andre's advancement to the rank of major, Nelson shows, was not for his military abilities. Instead, the British Commander in America, Sir Henry Clinton [Nick Kepros], was infatuated with him and his playwriting. To the long-suffering silent distress of Lady Clinton [Alice Cannon].
Although this production attempted period-accuracy, it also attempted to emphasize almost every line in the play. Even silences were drawn out.
It is often a mistake for the playwright to stage his own drama, as Nelson has done here. It may be that every word he has written seems lapidary. Or at least absolutely necessary for the audience's understanding of the drama.
A different director would surely have given this drama a much faster pace. Even some deft editing: we do not have to know everything…
There was entirely too much detail—including an endless reading of his new poem by Major Andre. At times, I would rather have read the play than have had to sit through it.
Revivals & Raised From The Dead:
Frankie and Johnny in the Claire de Lune [*****]When I heard Terrence McNally's Frankie & Johnny was to be revived—again—I thought this was one I could miss. The meet-cute lower-depths romantic-comedy was mildly amusing when first shown in New York, but I believed I had got its message then.
The fact that it was being staged at the Belasco Theatre—where the Shuberts give charitable rentals to shows which seem doomed to box-office failure—also put the Mark of Cain upon it.
But the performances of Edie Falco and Stanley Tucci have completely transformed—even transfigured—this modest drama. And the Belasco has been crammed with patrons for weeks.
They are both excellent as two lonely losers—who find each other after a one-night-stand.
But, during the intermission, while I was reflecting on their truth-to-life as actors, several middle-aged men were being amazed at Tucci's abdominals and general "great" physical condition. Not a word about his acting abilities…
Modigliani [**]Amadeo Modigliani may have been a very difficult, self-centered man, but that almost goes with the career-choice of Artist. Unfortunately, Dennis McIntyre's shop-worn play about him—even when first shown some years ago—did not illuminate his life as an artist. Or the works he created…
I did not like the play then, nor its protagonist, as played by Jeff DeMunn. [Or was it Jon DeVries?] This revival was even harder to take, as Robert Castle had staged it as if Amadeo was a foaming madman.
The Shanghai Gesture [***]John Colton's Oriental Melodrama—set in the Shanghai bordello of Mother God Damn—in its time, both as play and film, gave many Americans a rather warped view of Chinese culture, values, and daily-life.
Nonetheless, Shanghai Gesture is one of those artifacts of Theatre History that need to be revived now and again just so we can see how far we have come in our Politically Correct Understanding of the Strange & Mysterious Orient.
Even in San Francisco, before World War II, many of its white citizens still believed that opium-dens and slave-girl bordellos were concealed among the popular Chinese restaurants they liked to visit on Grant Avenue.
Fortunately, we now also have a revival of Flower Drum Song to show us that San Francisco Chinatown's racier side was really only law-abiding fun. And nothing more than that.
In any case, Mother God Damn would not have lasted a minute under Chairman Mao and his Red Guards. But, down at the Westbeth Theatre, she is very much in command, as played by the wily, imperious Jade Wu.
This is an interesting co-production of the Yangtze Rep and the Peccadillo Theatre Company—which has made possible an inter-racial cast, featuring many talented Amerasian artists.
Peccadillo is dedicated to the worthy project of reviving forgotten American dramas. Its recent world-premiere of John O'Hara's Veronique was cut short when the heroine crashed into a cement pillar in the darkness of the constricted backstage area.
Considering the very small space it uses, Chris Jones did wonders in creating the oriental elegance of Mother God Damn's Great Hall!
The Fourth Wall [***]The entire cast of Pete Gurney's Fourth Wall walks through the wall at the close of this would-be satiric comedy. This opened just a week after a French musical—featuring a hero who walked through walls—closed after only 17 performances.
Not a good portent for a long run. Actually—although advertised as the New York Premiere—Gurney's mildly amusing spoof has been around. He has updated it to provide a topical attack on the White House and the Pentagon.
Fortunately, Gurney is not an Arab Terrorist, so he scores no Direct Hits. Where is Mort Sahl now that we really need him?
Actually, Fourth Wall is really more about theatrical conventions than political satire. It is especially about that invisible wall through which an audience watches actors in their onstage Imitations of Life.
So Sandy Duncan—another quasi-St. Joan this season battling evil—has arranged all her living-room furniture to face the room's fourth wall. To the immense distress of husband Charles Kimbrough…
In addition, various hoary devices of plotting and character are dead-panned. And the automatic-player grand-piano strikes up Cole Porter tunes for the cast to sing-along with. So this could also be called a mini-musical.
Blue Window [Not Rated Nor Reviewed]The fourth-year productions of the "Stars of Tomorrow" at the Juilliard School's Drama Division are often very impressive. Especially in terms of their physical productions.
Craig Lucas' almost-surreal fantasy of dis-connected young couples proved a good challenge to the talents of this young cast. But the production is not offered as commercial venture, open to review.
Nonetheless, tickets to both Juilliard opera and theatre productions are available to the public at very low cost, so more New Yorkers should know about these generally excellent events. [Loney]
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Copyright © Glenn Loney 2002. 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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