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By Glenn Loney, March 25, 2003

Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
[01] The Enoch Arden Law
[02] "Kimberly Akimbo"
[03] "Gun Club"
[04] "Barbra's Wedding"
[05] "Vincent in Brixton"
[06] "High Priest of California"
[07] "Fifth of July"
[08] "Tartuffe"
[09] "Far and Wide"
[10] "Heartbreak House"
[11] Cocteau "Uncle Vanya"
[12] BAM "Uncle Vanya"
[13] "Twelfth Night"
[14] "Julius Caesar"
[15] "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom"
[16] "bedbound"
[17] "Scattergood"
[18] "Dublin Carol"
[19] "Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme"
[20] "Our Lady of 121st Street"
[21] "Fucking A"
[22] "Broken Morning"
[23] "Shanghai Moon"
[24] "Etta Jenks"
[25] "The Last Two Jews of Kabul"
[26] "A Little Night Music"
[27] "Movin' Out"
[28] "Dance of the Vampires"
[29] "Radiant Baby"
[30] "Albertine"
[31] "Avenue Q"
[32] "Little Fish"
[33] "Tea at Five"
[34] "Bexley, OH (!)"
[35] "Hashirigaki"
[36] "Seán Curran Company at New Victory"
[37] "Snow White"
[38] "Helen, Queen of Sparta"
[39] "Panic (How To Be Happy)"
[40] Other Shows Seen

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The Enoch Arden Law—On Stage:

No one reads the novel Enoch Arden anymore. But it was once a blockbuster best-seller. And a stage-play. And a movie!

In fact, it was once so well known, so popular, that people referred to the essence of its climactic moment as The Enoch Arden Law: Things seen are mightier than things heard.

That is now often the sensation in the theatre: Talented casts, dynamic in action and reaction—aided by stunning sets, costumes, and lighting—frequently seem far superior to the lines they have to say. Not to mention the undeveloped characters and contrived situations they are asked to make real.

Of course, it could be argued—especially by playwrights and directors—that the actors should be so completely in their roles and plot-complications that they should not seem to be deserving of better material than they have been asked to perform.

Nonetheless, in recent weeks, some outstanding casts have certainly made their plays much more effective—even more meaningful—than they are on the page. Why are New York audiences so lucky?

Obviously, Manhattan attracts the most talented young hopefuls from all over the country. As well as some who are merely hopeful—and fiercely determined to succeed on some level. Even without discernible talent…

This embarrassment of Acting Riches must also be a dividend of having so many Drama Departments and Acting-Schools in New York City.

Stella Adler is dead—and so are Lee Strasberg, Sandy Meisner, & Uta Hagen. But their Schools Live On!

With the modern concept of On-Going Education, it's also possible for unemployed actors to think of themselves as In The Theatre by taking endless classes from famed Acting Teachers.

Over the years, I've lost count of the number of actors who have called me up to rave about a session with Bill Hickey, Austin Pendleton, or Wynn Handman. My query: "If they are so good, why aren't you working?"

Fortunately, scores of actors are working—and to very good effect. In fact, there are now so many productions On, Off, and Off-off Broadway that it's simply not possible to see them all.

In the Sixties, a conscientious reviewer could see everything on offer in New York during the week and drive up to New Haven & Hartford for the weekend to see shows at the Long Wharf, Yale Rep, & Hartford Stage. No more!

Unfortunately for your scribe, my custom of offering a roundup of show-notices when enough Playbills have piled up on the desk forces me to fall back on The Enoch Arden Law.

If more than a month has passed, I may look at a play-title blankly, wondering what the show was about.

If I'd kept the press-release, I'd have a clue, but I am drowning in paper here every day with the arrival of the post. Hence no email, FAX, or mobile-phone—there's already too much info-flow at this address.

But the instant I look at a production-photo, it all comes back to me: Things Seen Are Mightier! But, if I'm not able to see a show on press-night I don't get any photos. Even on the night, photos on CDs or via email are taking their toll. Not like a photo or slide in your hands…

In the meantime, I've been in Australia for a month, looking at Theatre Down Under and even Outback. Picking up a pre-Aussie New York Playbill, I may be drawing a blank.

But you don't need to have a plot-summary. And, if I am every to catch up on this tottering stack of theatre-programs, I haven't time to offer any.

So we'll cut to the lists:

Dysfunctional Family Dramas—

Kimberly Akimbo [*****]

David Lindsay-Abaire has topped himself. This is even better than the MTC's production of Fuddy Meers. Marylouise Burke is wonderfully wistful as the teen-ager who is already an old woman. Strange diseases breed strange heroines, but Kimberly's bizarrely dysfunctional family and best-friend are also marginally psycho, if not terminally so. Great animated settings by Robert Brill. Hyper direction by David Petrarca.

Gun Club [****]

Hunt Holman's two halves of a broken family are no laugh-riot. The pathetic attempt of a loser-dad to bond with his alienated son, via target-shooting, leads to a senseless killing. All of director Amy Feinberg's cast are admirable, especially Brian Sacca as the out-of-it son. The NRA should see this show!

Barbra's Wedding [****]

Daniel Stern's raucous comedy of a mismatched couple who live next door to Barbra Streisand exposes the fissures in their marriage on the day of Ms. Streisand's wedding to James Brolin, a TV actor. Brolin has found work, unlike Stern's ranting anti-hero, would-be actor Jerry. As directed by David Warren, John Pankow and Julie White are over-the-top most of the evening.

"VINCENT IN BRIXT0N"--Jochen Ten Haaf & Clare Higgins as Van Gogh and his London landlady. Photo: ©Ivan Kyncl/2003.

Vincent in Brixton [*****]

On the basis of letters and journals, Nicholas Wright has imagined the young, awkward, gauche Vincent van Gogh impacting on an awkward family-situation in a London suburb. Vincent, foiled in his puppy-love for the young woman of the family, transfers his affections to her widowed mother. The Brixton family dysfunctions are rubbed raw by the actions of Vincent and his prudish sister, products of a different kind of family dysfunction. Jochum ten Haaf and Clare Higgins are the mis-matched lovers, directed skillfully by Richard Eyre.

High Priest of California [****]

Adapted from Charles Willeford's novel, this intriguing drama shows how an ace California used-car salesman [David Mogentale] deals with two dysfunctional families. Too bad the lonely wife [Carol Sirugo] of a punch-drunk boxer, overwhelmed by his charm and know-how, didn't see his switch-blade. The excellent cast is directed by Leo Farley.

High Profile Revivals Of
Dysfunctional Family Dramas—

Fifth of July [****]

Lanford Wilson's climax of the Talley Family Saga, initiated with Talley's Folly, seemed much more powerful—and amusing & effective—in this Signature Theatre revival than it did in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Jo Bonney directed an outstanding cast in Richard Hoover's nostalgic farmhouse setting. Yes, some of the cast did not seem as great as those who premiered in this at the now defunct Circle Rep, but memory can play tricks. And not everyone can be Helen Stenborg.

"TARTUFFE"--Kathryn Meisle & Henry Goodman mid-seduction. Photo: ©Joan Marcus/2003.

Tartuffe [****]

Tartuffe—ably played by Henry Goodman—causes even more havoc in a Paris family than Vincent in Brixton. But Vincent is an innocent, where Tartuffe is an insidious, falsely-pious schemer. Tartuffe merely exploits an already dysfunctional situation, created by the House-Tyrant Orgon. Reviewers rightly praised the always impressive Richard Wilbur translation, but most of the cast reduced it to metre & rhyme. Bryan Bedford may be too mature for Orgon now. And John Lee Beatty's opulent set overwhelmed what often seemed boring set-pieces by the actors. Joe Dowling was given directorial credit.

Far and Wide [****]

Mint Theatre's admirable Jonathan Bank adapted and staged Arthur Schnitzler's Das weite Land, a major modern Austrian drama, virtually unknown in the United States. The entire cast formed an almost perfect ensemble. But Hans Tester was especially impressive as the rich and powerful Friedrich Hofreiter, who is also a selfish, egotistical Haus-Tyran. He deliberately provokes a duel with the son of an old friend. Not only for revenge on the young man, but also on his suffering wife. Next season at the Mint: Schnitzler's Professor Bernhardi? It exposes Anti-Semitism in a Vienna hospital, something Sigmund Freud also experienced.

Heartbreak House [**]

Bernard Shaw's artfully contrived Domestic Drama is said to represent Post World War I Britain as a Dysfunctional Family. In the Pearl Theatre production, however, it seemed more a peculiarly period-play in search of a stylish staging. The ensemble lacked the coherence and excellence of the Mint's company. Liz Covey provided some handsome costumes. The fixed unit-set proved particularly unsuited to the needs of the action, as well as the physical abilities of some actors.

Uncle Vanya [***]

Chekhov certainly knew about Dysfunctional Families! Seagull, Cherry Orchard, Three Sisters! The Jean Cocteau's founder, Eve Adamson, directed this respectable revival on the Bouwerie Lane's tiny stage. It seemed a gift to Craig Smith and Harris Berlinsky for some thirty years of treading these old boards. Few New York Off-off-Broadway theatres last a decade, let alone three, so All Hail Cocteau! Fortunately, Berlinsky's frustrated and furious Vanya was one of the best performances he's ever done with the ensemble. And Smith's Dr. Astroff was especially fine.

"UNCLE VANYA"--Vanya and Sonia take stock at BAM. Photo: ©Manuel Harlan/2003.

Uncle Vanya [****]

Simon Russell Beale played quite a different Vanya in the Donmar production recently shown at BAM. He seemed altogether more petulant, less sensitive. The major stage-fixture was a very long table—which visually hampered rather than emphasized some crucial moments. Sam Mendes staged Brian Friel's version, which seems truer to Friel than to Chekhov..

"TWELFTH NIGHT"--Olivia wears Victoria's Secret lingerie. Photo: ©Manuel Harlan/2003.

Twelfth Night [*****]

In this comedy classic, Shakespeare in effect is causing a trio of Dysfunctional Families to collide: the shipwrecked but separated twins, the grieving Olivia and her household, and the lonely, lusting Orsino and his retinue. Sam Mendes' Donmar production at BAM was magical. It was that seldom-seen LIKE THE FIRST TIME experience! Even after a score of lesser stagings, this vision was an amazement. The entire cast was a delight, especially Emily Watson as Viola/Cesario. And Simon Russell Beale was splendidly fussy and self-important as Malvolio. For once, his torments seemed truly painful, but also important to the plot. Designer Anthony Ward's hanging candles and great golden picture-frame worked wonderfully. But Olivia exposing herself to Cesario in undies from Victoria's Secret struck a false note…




Revivals of Old & New Classics—

Julius Caesar [****]

Julius Caesar was not really a product of a Dysfunctional Family. The Noblest Romans were All Like That. But he certainly had to deal with a Dysfunctional Senate—as he fatally found out. Although some critics disparaged this Theatre for a New Audience revival—staged by Karin Coonrod, who presents a problem for some reviewers, no matter what she directs—watching it and hearing it made it seem an almost entirely New Experience. Forget the Enoch Arden Law in this case. The entire ensemble spoke the Bard's words, not as Declamation of Shakespeare, but with the clarity of men and women who were actually thinking about what they were saying. This does not happen all that often, even at Stratford-Upon-Avon!

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom [****]

Whoopi Goldberg is not only a producer of this August Wilson revival. She's also strolling through the role of Ma Rainey. This is a puzzlement. Why did she put her money in it, if she didn't plan to put her mouth as well? She's more alive and interactive in the post-production Aids Appeal. Can it be that's she's been working close-up with cameras too long? The energy, passion, and projection the role calls for are little more than "thumbnails," as though she were saving her voice for the real show. Or a different audience. Charles Dutton's Levee, on the other hand, is all passion, power, and fury. His fellow combo-members are also excellent: Carl Gordon, Thomas Jefferson Byrd, and Stephen McKinley Henderson, as Slow Drag. Marion McClinton staged in David Gallo's scruffy recording-studio set.

Irish Imports—

bedbound [**]

Ireland is the Motherland of the Dysfunctional Family. But the crippled family playwright/director Edna Walsh recently showed audiences at the Irish Repertory Theatre might make you rethink your summer travel plans for B&B in County Down. You might find that excellent actor Brian F. O'Byrne in bed with his distressfully disabled daughter, played by Jenna Lamia. Klara Zieglerova's multi-cluttered set was surely the busiest scenic-environment on view all season. At least it gave audiences something to look at when the spectacle in the bed was altogether too embarrassing…

Scattergood [***]

Presumably, the Irish Rep had already seen Anto Howard's script and passed. Not so Robert LuPone & Bernard Telsey's MCC, alas. Howard is a grad of Trinity College, Dublin, and the title-character of his improbable play is, the program notes, a real Trinity College Professor Scattergood. Like Sam Beckett's Krapp, Scattergood missed his chance for the Great Love of His Life. But Howard is no Beckett. Instead, he has his Scattergood mythmaking for his students about his long-lost-love. And Scattergood tries to bring two of them together—with disastrous consequences. There is a homosexual subtext way deep down, but director Doug Hughes had all he could do to reign in the many performance mannerisms of lovable old Brian Murray. Can this be the beautiful young man who once dazzled Broadway, with John Woods, in Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead?

Dublin Carol [***]

Jim Norton is a very good actor, but maybe Brian Cox was better suited to the role of a misogynist alcoholic Irish funeral-parlor functionary. As John, his way with young lads is almost as disastrous as Scattergood's. Irish drunks are supposed to be lovable, but this one is mean, spiteful, vengeful. Playwright Conor McPherson doesn't specialize in lovable Irish anyway. And he doesn't indulge his audiences with occasional whiffs of comedy—unless his sense of humor is so very Irish that it cannot be imported. Norton was also in McPherson's The Weir. McPherson staged this stressful show himself. It was still hard work to watch. let alone listen to.

"OBSERVE THE SONS OF ULSTER"--Buddy bonding on the fields of France. Photo: ©Carol Rosegg/2003.

Observe the Sons of Ulster
Marching Towards the Somme

The initial Lincoln Center Theatre press-release announced this powerful Frank McGuinness drama as a "New Play." That surprised your scribe, for he had seen the Abbey Theatre production—both in Dublin and later at the Edinburgh Festival—more than a decade ago. What's more, he'd been able to talk with McGuinness about his initial experience as a young Roman-Catholic-raised teacher. McGuinness had a class of teen Protestants in Northern Ireland, where he discovered a parallel, but different, version of Irish History. This poetic drama remembers the useless, senseless sacrifice [For King & Country] of a squad of Protestant Irish lads, bonding before the disastrous Battle of the Somme in World War I. As the sole survivor—and the only one who went to war, hoping to die—Richard Easton is moving as the aged narrator, Kenneth Pyper. Justin Theroux is his 1915 self, with washboard abdominals. Nicholas Martin staged.

New Dramas In Town—

Our Lady of 121st Street [*****]

All stops out as the trouserless Victor—Richard Petrocell—is bellowing his head off at Felix Solis, a low-key cop. The scene is Narelle Sissons' almost vulgarly bland and antiseptic Funeral Parlor. This should be the Wake for a tough but beloved New York nun. Unfortunately, persons unknown have stolen not only Victor's pants, but also the corpse. It's a rule that you never begin a play at the top of your voice—and energy. Where do you go from there? In this case, only onward & upward in decibels, energy, and outrageousness. All the variously odd mourners who come to the mortuary are on a roll—and all seem products of very Dysfunctional Families. The cast is great, and, as directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman, they ought to have a long run at the Union Square Theatre, which is just right for this dynamic show.

Fucking A [****]

The multi-award-winning Susan-Lori Parks has gone beyond the merely metaphoric, positively poetic, and bizarrely basic in her exploratory journey as an African-American Woman Author. In Fucking A, she has decided to follow the lead of Bertolt Brecht by presenting her powerfully painful portrait of a Mother's Suffering as Brechtian Epic Theatre, complete with songs to illustrate or comment on the action. This could be more effective than it proves in production, partly because a few sections that cry out for musical commentary do not have their proper songs. Then again, Parks is not Brecht. And her strong-willed heroine-abortionist Hester [S. Epatha Merkerson] is not yet quite Mother Courage. But Daphne Rubin-Vega is Canary Mary! Michael Greif staged, in Mark Wendland's quasi-Berliner Ensemble unit-set. One hopes Parks will explore Brecht's theatre concepts in greater depth. Few have tried to emulate his idea of Epic Theatre. It has much to recommend it. The expletive title has puzzled some viewers: Is there some Higher Purpose in Ms. Parks' invocation of "Fucking A"? Well, her heroine's name is Hester, as was Nathaniel Hawthorne's tormented adulteress in The Scarlet Letter—which was, of course, The Red Letter A! But this play is a long way off from Puritan New England—and Nat Hawthorne…

Broken Morning [****]

Playwright Chiori Miyagawa's kaleidoscope of prison commentaries—from Death Row in Huntsville, Texas—was a Dallas Theatre Center commission. But six songs have been added for the New York staging at HERE, directed by Sonoko Kawahara. This work is not as powerful as the testimonies in The Exonerated, but the interview-collages do not have the same purpose or focus. The Crossing Jamaica Avenue ensemble is young and talented: George Hannah, Brian Nishil, Kaipo Schwab, Margi Sharp, & Sophia Skiles. They have to change character and cross gender in an instant. This could have been confusing, but it was not. As Chiori was a grad student of mine, I must admit I am partial—and proud of her work. She's now a prof of theatre at Bard!

Shanghai Moon [****]

Playwright-star Charles Busch was in top form as Lady Sylvia Allington in his hilarious parody of such Hollywood epics as Shanghai Gesture. The Yellow Peril was never so lustfully lurking to entrap potential White Slaves and silly Colonial Imperialist cockhounds. Unless, of course, one remembers that the comic-mainspring of that hit Broadway Musical, Thoroughly Modern Millie, deals with the same material. Maybe Mother Godddamn is being overworked? Earlier in the season, down in the depths of Jane Street, that old dramatic Shanghai chestnut was revived, with sets that almost rivaled those B. T. Whitehill devised for Shanghai Moon. Dragons hissing smoke was a good touch! Carl Andress staged a cast which included the Insidious Oriental B. D. Wong—a long way off from M. Butterfly!

Etta Jenks [**]

Whatever its faults in conception, writing, & production, Marlane G. Meyer's seamy drama about the smut-film industry at the Pantheon is at least not as witless, boring, and pretentious as Adult Entertainment at the Variety Arts. Maureeen Van Zandt plays the pretty but clueless & talentless Etta, eager for a screen-test and Hollywood Stardom. She bares all her physical talents at the outset—but at the close, she can call some shots of her own. Including hiring killers to murder the porn-producer who filmed the snuffing of an old porn-pix friend in Mexico. Unfortunately for the prurient, there are no live-action scenes or film-loops. Robert Funaro staged.

The Last Two Jews of Kabul [**]

The only thing this show had going for it in advance were the title-words Jews & Kabul. The topicality of Kabul is self-explanatory. As for anything with Jews in the title, you can count on an audience in Manhattan, no matter how bland the material. Maybe Josh Greenfeld will want to rethink this play and change Kabul for Baghdad? It's hard to believe—on the evidence of this script—that Greenfeld was nominated for an Oscar. The best thing about the production—staged by the otherwise outstanding George Ferencz—was the set. A Ruined Synagogue, designed by Tom Lee. Pre-performance at LaMaMa, the small audience commented favorably on this set-piece. It was all downhill after that…

Musicals Old & New—

A Little Night Music [****]

Combining a Night at the Opera with "A Weekend in the Country" proved very rewarding at New York City Opera. As staged by Scott Ellis, choreographed by Susan Stroman, and designed by Michael Anania & Lindsay W. Davis, this Stephen Sondheim Classic once again demonstrated its right to the opera stage. But why cast the otherwise estimable Jeremy Irons as Fredrick Egerman? He cannot sing. Had he merely Rex-Harrisoned his lyrics—speaking them in sync with the music—all would have been OK. But he actually tried to hit the notes. As Desirée, Juliet Stevenson also isn't much of a singer. But then neither was the original, Glynis Johns, which is why Sondheim composed "Send in the Clowns" with no vocal challenges. Actress Claire Bloom was very good as the wily old ex-courtesan, Madame Armfeldt. Broadway's Paul Gemignani conducted, demonstrating his longtime experience as a Sondheim music-man.

Movin' Out [*****]

Twyla Tharp's dynamic choreography—creating a dance-narrative with powerful Billy Joel music and lyrics—is so hyper, so dynamic, so supercharged that you could enjoy this brilliant show again and again. Seen on the eve of the invasion of Iraq, the Vietnam War sequences—followed by bitter bereavement and grieving—seemed specially potent and timely. Tharp's hard-hitting, super-athletic choreographies put her dancers through Movement-Hell. But they also make the teens of Bernstein's West Side Story seem like a bunch of pussies. Tharp's teens are Men—and a buddy-hug is almost an assault or a wrestling-hold. The long arms and legs of the slim, tall ballet-trained Elizabeth Parkinson & Ashley Tuttle give them fantastic extension, so that their energy and grace match the passion and violence of their men. John Selya, Keith Roberts, & Ben Bowman are amazing! The great dancer/choreographer Jack Cole would have loved this show—or been furious that he hadn't choreographed it! On piano with lead vocals, Michael Cavanaugh is as fantastic as the show's dynamic dancers.

Dance of the Vampires [**]

This unfortunate musical was based on Roman Polanski's ill-starred film about The Fearless Vampire Killers. That movie featured his wife, Sharon Tate, later murdered—with Polanski's child in her womb—by Charles Manson's monsters. In Paris, shortly before Polanski learned of the murder, he'd jokingly said to a friend: "Eeny, meeny, miney, moe, who will be the next to go?" Some evil genie must have inspired Jim Steinman & Michael Kunze to turn the film into a bizarre musical—without a score worth singing. Will Polanski's Oscar-winning The Pianist be their next musical victim? After five years, Vampires is still running in Vienna. But in Manhattan, not even the amazing—and often skull-laden—sets of David Gallo, the choreographies—some quite striking—of John Caraffa, or the staging of John Rando could breathe life into The Undead. In fact, an ageing Michael Crawford seemed only a phantom of his former self…

Radiant Baby [****]

This hyper-musical could become another Rent—with some work on the first act. Initially, the action lacks aim, but never energy. In the second half, the frantic life and artistic striving of subway-cartoonist and AIDS-victim Keith Haring come into dynamic focus. Thanks in no small way to the frenetic performance of Daniel Reichard as Haring. Before anyone knew Haring as Haring, I followed him around the subway stations, watching him fill a blacked-out poster-space with Radiant Babies and Flying Pyramids in a few deft strokes. Sometimes, onlookers applauded, and he'd take a bow and race up the stairs. I called him CHALKMAN in the report I wrote for the Westsider, Eastsider, & Chelsea-Clinton News. This name was picked up, but soon he became Keith Haring, represented by Tony Shafrazzi. Later, waiting for a bus in Pisa, I saw an immense Haring Mural on a building near the great Duomo. George C. Wolfe staged, with choreography by Fatima Robinson. After some reworking, this show should move!

Albertine [***]

Playwright/Director/Lyricist Richard Nelson has apparently had an abiding obsession with Remembrance of Things Past and Marcel Proust. His good fortune in putting Proust center-stage was enlisting the much admired composer, Ricky Ian Gordon, to collaborate. Gordon has produced some charming, wistful, and/or sad songs, notably "Is It Too Late." Nelson chose Proust's liaison with Albertine as his focus. His good luck was to have Brent Carver as the older Proust and the Pre-Raphaelite Beauty Kelli O'Hara as Albertine. His Young Marcel, however, is a casting mistake: there's nothing Proustian about him. Thomas Lynch has created a novel stage-within-a-chamber for the new Playwrights Horizons Theatre. Susan Hilferty's costumes are handsome. But there's still an aura of a Stephen Sondheim musical gone wrong about this venture.

"AVENUE Q"--Puppet-Vamp Lucy & Handler Stephanie D'Abruzzo. Photo: ©Carol Rosegg/2003.

Avenue Q [****]

Imagine an X-Rated Sesame Street and you have the essence of Avenue Q. The puppet-heads are cute, and their handlers are cuter still. Even the Adult Entertainment value of some of the interactions are cute—although they occasionally use language and images from which impressionable young audiences should be shielded. Racial Prejudice & Homosexuality are examined. Not to mention sex between Humans and Monsters! But young adults should find this musical engrossing—when it is not marginally gross. Most of Robert Lopez & Jeff Marx's songs are lively and clever. Imagine a strong song titled Schadenfreude—the German word for enjoying someone else's misfortunes! Rick Lyon's puppets are a total delight. And Anna Louizos' shabby suite of street-fronts proves a multi-purpose Advent Calendar.

Little Fish [**]

Little Fish has a problem. She cannot stop smoking. In the Era of Aids & Weapons of Mass Destruction, this in itself does not seem a compelling subject for a musical. Leonard Bernstein or Stephen Sondheim might have made something of the concept. But then Sondheim came a cropper with Presidential Assassins, surely a weightier topic than smoking. Part of the problem—aside from the performances—is that this is a would-be musical by John LaChiusa, who already came a cropper twice—with The Wild Party and Marie Christine. Graciela Daniele—his choreographer/director of choice—seems to have a touching faith in his talents. Better Luck Next Time!

The Return of the Monologue—

Actually, there's seldom a season without several one-man or one-woman shows. Jackie Mason has come and gone, but George Burns is still urging Gracie to Say Goodnight at the Helen Hayes. Golda Meier's Dybbuk is now inhabiting the body of Tova Feldshuh down at the Manhattan Ensemble Theatre.

Tea at Five [**]

For those who cannot get enough of Kate Hepburn, the Hartford Stage has exported Kate Mulgrew in their recent show. It's called "a new play by Matthew Lombardo," but it isn't a play. It's a two-act monologue, and it's a downer, as was most of Hepburn's career. She wasn't known as Box-Office Poison for nothing. Aged audiences see the young Hepburn first in a white trouser-suit having troubles with Hollywood from the safe distance of the family home in Connecticut. In the second half, she is also aged—and rather pathetic. The Real Katharine Hepburn is a Great Lady who has suffered much. This show does her no service.

Bexley, OH (!) [***]

At the NY Theatre Workshop, Prudence Wright Holmes is workshopping this memoir of a pair of caricature WASP parents. The father oddly bears some resemblance to Hepburn's stern parent. But he is even more of a disaster as a dad and a human-being. Ethnic, religious, and racial prejudices and striving for social status define this father and mother. Holmes calls her two monologues "Two Tales of One City." The first focuses on the paranoid father, obsessed with a famed alleged murderer: "Dr. Sam is under your bed." The mother gets both barrels in "African Violet Society." Alas, although Holmes is a competent story-teller, her characters are not very interesting or compelling. Sinclair Lewis already pilloried such people long ago.

Other Entertainments—

"HASHIRIGAKI"--The Exotic Trio at BAM. Photo: ©Mario Del Curto/2003.

Hashirigaki [***]

In the Summer of 2001, your scribe saw Hashirigaki at the Edinburgh Festival. In his report on this website, he wondered: "How long will New Yorkers have to wait before this show comes to BAM?" The answer is: Approximately a year-and-a-half! In the Spirit of Wartime Recycling, here's the rest of that report:

No, Gertrude Stein did not write any Japanese tales. Not that I know of. She did create for the stage—with composer Virgil Thomson—two charming & unusual operas: Four Saints in Three Acts & The Mother of Us All. But the much admired Post-Modernist German composer Heiner Goebbels was also safely on Stein Territory with his handsome & haunting performance-piece, Hashirigaki. The word is Japanese, signifying talking-while-walking—but it also refers to a classic of the Kabuki Theatre.

Created for the Théâtre Vidy-Lausanne, this attractive production has already visited Rome, Berlin, Hamburg, and Paris. This is primarily an entertainment of Images & Music, with Stein's texts from The Making of Americans functioning rather like music. Charlotte Engelkes & Marie Goyette archly share Stein's repetitive & incantory formulae with the audience in English. Yumiko Tanaka plays a variety of traditional Japanese instruments. She can make a lute sound like a banjo. The three women play against a stage-filling half-round cyclorama, on which are projected both rear and frontal designs. These are the inspirations of designer Klaus Grünberg. The effect is often surprising, though relatively simple in execution. It is certainly haunting. One stage-picture features three Japanese bronze bells on bungee-cords. The cantus firmus of Goebbels' musical accompaniment is a sort of homage to the Beach Boys' Pet Sounds. The three ladies are as accomplished as pop singers as they are in varied choreographies. Their quirky costumes—which they are constantly changing—were designed by Florence von Gerkan, who also created the costumes for Bayreuth's new Ring.

Seán Curran Company [****]

Although 42nd Street's New Victory specializes in shows with strong appeal to children, the feisty dances of Seán Curran proved almost more appealing to parents and other adults who thronged the vintage auditorium. Curran is a veteran of the long-running Stomp, and it shows in some of his stage-thumping choreographies. His attractive & athletic ensemble could easily cover for Twyla Tharp's Movin' Out cast. Quadra Box Redux—with four dancers seated on boxes & engaged in intricate rhythmic patterns of clap, slap, and stomp—suggested Austrian Schuhpläddler. And Abstract Concrete was an amazement of movement and color. Men & women in kilts whirled and step-danced in Folk Dance for the Future. The Amandina Dances had African accompaniments. Astonishments for All! Curran & Co. should have a longer run in Manhattan, but the New Victory is already booked for Thwak.

Snow White [****]

Walt Disney Studios is in Big Trouble. They need to produce Product, but they also need to Cut Back. They should talk to the talented trio who have just shown their tab-version of Snow White at the New Victory! For the Disney Touring Ice-Show, they could cut six of the seven dwarfs, as Adam Bampton-Smith does all of them himself! Not on skates, it's true. But he and Hilda Gardner, as the Wicked Queen, and Nicola Harrison, as Snow White, seem capable of any performance challenge. This show charmed adults even more than their kids. But it's not Broadway Bound, unlike the New Victory's recent Frog & Toad. Will seasoned Broadway Musical Fans welcome a cute little show about two middle-aged, set-in-their-ways amphibian bachelors? There may be a deep-water-submerged homosexual subtext, but at least they do not sleep over at each others' houses…

"HELEN, QUEEN OF SPARTA"--Hatched from an Egg at LaMaMa! Photo: ©Ryan Speth/2003.

Helen, Queen of Sparta [***]

Theodora Skipitares—one of Manhattan's most original creators of multi-media socially-conscious art & theatre collages—has done it again! This time her subject/object is the beauteous Queen Helen. But not of Troy, as in Homer. Skipitares' Helen of Sparta—as in the ancient alternative legend—was never carried off to Troy by Priam's lusty young son Paris. Instead, the Goddess spirited her off to Egypt—sending instead a Doppelgänger to Ilium. Having spent some time in India, Skipitares employs Asian puppets and other theatre-devices in telling Helen's tale. Including a great illuminated scroll depicting unrolling events!

Panic (How To Be Happy) [***]

No Off-off-Broadway Season would be complete without the annual Richard Foreman exercise in bizarre symbol-laden sets, antic costumes, and fantastic clockwork performances in the intimate attic of St. Mark's in the Bouwerie. Words can describe the visual effects, but it would take thousands to do the Totality critical justice. One picture, of course, would be worth a thousand-words, but I don't have a photo of the event. The mad cast-quartet includes Elina Löwensohn, Tea Alagic, D. J. Mendel, and Robert Cucuzza. Foreman's longtime muse and partner, Kate Mannheim, gets credit for the great antique dolls adorning the set and the idea "Let's All Join the Misfits Club." The Vulture also gets a special program-credit. This is a co-production of Foreman's Ontological Hysteric Theatre and the Wiener Festwochen. But then, don't forget that The Dance of the Vampires is still running in Vienna!

Also Seen In Passing—

After all dislocations caused by the 9/11 Disaster, it's good to see Carol Fineman's Worth Street Theatre back at work. The revival of Marlane Meyer's The Mystery of Attraction was admirable, using the intimate space very effectively. Yes, this is the very same Marlane Meyer who wrote Etta Jenks, noted above.

Todd Miller's Ghoul—staged by the Adobe Theatre on Wooster Street at the Ohio Theatre—was great fun. But not very scary, after all. It was a Frankenstein/Dracula sendup. The program invited audiences to "Scare Yourself Silly." Most laughed themselves silly. Jeremy Dobrish directed.

How about an all-star cast of Rosemary Harris, Sally Ann Howes, Hayley Mills, Simon Jones, & Barrie Ingham? They were wonderful in Coward X 2, a one-night stand at the University Club on Fifth Avenue. The three ladies read a scene from Coward's unfinished Age Cannot Wither. Harris and the men performed as Lynn Fontanne, Coward, & Alfred Lunt, recalling other days and other plays. This was a benefit for the late Sam Wanamaker's London Globe Theatre on the South Bank. Sam's handsome younger brother, William Wanamaker, was on hand to recall Sam and his passion for theatre and Shakespeare.

Alfred Lunt & Lynn Fontanne's beloved summer-home, Ten Chimneys, at Genesee Depot, will be formally opened to the public this May. Threatened with destruction and auction of all its theatre-treasures, it was saved at the last minute. Now, handsomely restored, it will be not only a theatre-museum, but an educational center for Wisconsonians and tourists alike! [Loney]

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Copyright © Glenn Loney 2003. 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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