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By Glenn Loney, July 2003

Glenn Loney
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.

Ancient & Modern Classics
New Dramas Off-Broadway
Musicals Old & New
Other Entertainments
Roaring Into the Twenties
Touring the Gowanus Canal

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NO TIME FOR COMMENTARY: Your reporter is drafting this even as he is also packing for departure in a few hours for Major European Festivals. Thus, this can be little more than listings & ratings of New York shows seen since the last report. Await longer, fuller comments from these Festivals: Bregenz, Bayreuth, Salzburg, Munich, and Edinburgh.

The shows are rated on a scale of One to Five stars. A higher number of stars denotes a higher-quality production.

"The Persians." Photo: Carol Rosegg.

Ancient & Modern Classics-

Aeschylus/"The Persians" [****]

In Ellen McLaughlin's new version, this potent anti-war drama proved both ageless and timely. Given the recent-and not yet concluded-adventures in Iraq, this adaptation should be widely seen. Among the cast: Len Cariou, Jon De Vries, Herb Foster, Henry Stram, and Roberta Maxwell.

Shakespeare/"Henry V" [not rated]

The late Joe Papp used to permit your reporter to see NY Shakespeare Festival & Public Theatre productions before openings on occasion, when I would have to be out of town On the Night. He insisted I must not review the shows. But as I was and remain an awards-nominator, he did want me to see them. Afterward, if I really liked the play and the staging, he'd urge me to write about it. I saw the new Delacorte Theatre production of Henry V before opening-date. Joe is sadly no longer around to give me the go-ahead. But I will say that it is a very ingenious and exciting staging. Do Not Miss It!

Zimmerman/"The Notebooks of Leonardo da Vinci" [****]

This handsome new Berkeley Rep production of Mary Zimmerman's adaptation of the thousands of jottings & sketches in Leonardo's notebooks is based on an original seen nearly a decade ago in Chicago at the Goodman. It is visually stunning, verging on the surreal. There is no plot, but Leonardo's genius doesn't need one. This is no Metamorphoses. But it is a Must See!

D.H. Lawrence Drama comes to life. Photo: Richard Termine

D. H. Lawrence/"The Daughter-in-Law" [***]

The Mint Theatre adds to its fine record of revivals of forgotten or neglected dramas. Lawrence connected all the dots in this drama of the struggle between a young woman and a widowed mother for the love of a weak-willed but handsome young miner. Angela Reed is impressive as the would-be wife, with Gareth Saxe as her chosen husband.

Fugard/"Master Harold" …and the boys [****]
"Master Harold:" Michael Boatman and Danny Glover. Photo: Joan Marcus.

Athol Fugard-along with Alan Paton and Nadine Gordimer-has earned a place in the poetic Pantheon of writers who have protested eloquently against the evils of Apartheid. When South Africa's White Majority finally did away with this pernicious system, Fugard may have seemed to have lost his Central Theme. But this heart-breaking revival of Master Harold shows that this has become a modern classic about human relations and growing up. It is in no way dated. Danny Glover, Michael Boatman, and Christopher Denham make it painfully real. Lonny Price staged most sensitively.



New Dramas Off-Broadway-

Wright/"I Am My Own Wife" [*****]

This is a brilliant script, stunningly performed by Jefferson Mays, and ingeniously staged by Moisés Kaufman, with a fascinating setting by Derek McLane and dramatic lighting by David Lander. Will nominators remember next April-when it's time for Drama Desk, Obie, and Outer Critics Circle Awards-all these talents? Every one deserves a nomination! Mays not only creates the bizarre character of the transvestite Charlotte von Mahlsdorff, but he also swiftly shifts vocal gears to become playwright Wright, his Berlin chum, and others. Lotte survived the Nazis-who hated homosexuals as Asocial Elements-and the East German Stasis. Unfortunately, she was forced to become an Informer for the DDR's dread secret-police, which complicates her story.

Chan/The Soongs: By Dreams Betrayed [***]

Shortly before I saw this absorbing production by the Yangtse Rep, I had read a very bulky paperback detailing the many schemes and crimes of members of the famed Soong Family of China. They-along with relative-by-marriage Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek-bilked the US Government of millions and millions in aid to China. Way back in World War II, when Henry Luce & Co. Were leading the "China Lobby," we were reading in high school a charming book: Three Sisters of China. These girls were Methodist-convert Charlie Soong's lovely daughters, Mai-Ling, Ai-Ling, and Ching-ling. They all attended Georgia Wesleyan, and became partly Americanized as a result. And all three would have an outsize influence on Modern China.

Ching-ling married Dr. Sun Yat-Sen, the "Father" of the new Nationalist China. Later she broke with her conniving sisters to become a Communist icon under Chairman Mao. Mai-Ling married the "Gimo," and Ai-Ling married H. H. Kung, a banker & Finance Minister who could make the Enron officers look like amateurs. Joanna Chan wrote and staged this rewarding drama. But it helped having read the book beforehand, as it was played in Chinese & English-with Supertitles! And projections…
Lanford Wilson's "Rain Dance." A tense scene in the guard post. Photo: Joan Marcus.

Wilson/"Rain Dance" [***]

It is the night of the first test of the Atomic Bomb in Desert Sands, Los Alamos. Wilson doesn't take his audience to Ground Zero. Instead, an American Indian US Army sergeant, a brash young physicist, and a couple of fugitive Europeans are waiting in an orderly-room for Zero Hour. The young scientist is insufferable-and insensitive. Some of the interactions, however, are provocative and rewarding.

Feiffer/"A Bad Friend"[***]

The problem with Jules Feiffer's new drama is that it focuses on the not-quite coming-of-age of a confused and
Feiffer's "A Bad Friend." Stalinist mother & "Red Diaper" daughter. Photo: Joan Marcus.

often irritating teen-age girl, a "Red-Diaper Baby" of confirmed Stalinist parents. The real interest of the play lies with the girl's mother, Naomi, painfully played by the admirable Jan Maxwell. She is unshakable in her belief in Stalin, despite the later denouncements which revealed his infamies. This ultimately destroys her, but Senator Joseph McCarthy and his HUAC gang give the rest of her family a bad time of it as well. Movie-maker Uncle Morty "names names" and survives and thrives. This is such an interesting era-with basically interesting characters-that Feiffer ought to rework the script. It certainly has strong resonances in the present era of the Ministry of Fear.



Ryan/Allison/"Cavedweller" [****]

This is such an impressive study of inter-relationships of difficult women-with markedly different characters and interests-that it should be more widely produced. Kate Moira Ryan has ingeniously fashioned the play from Dorothy Allison's novel. The title refers to a daughter who becomes engrossed in spelunking and is nearly lost in a cave. Fortunately, it's no Floyd Collins.

Duras' "Savannah Bay." Kathleen Chalfant as a famous actress. Photo: Dixie Sheridan.

Duras/"Savannah Bay" [****]

This seems a meditation on Memory, with Kathleen Chalfant and Marin Ireland gracefully gliding through it. Les Waters staged this encounter of a famous actress with her grand-daughter, both searching for a lost mother and daughter, Savannah. The Classic Stage production was elegantly spare, but piercingly beautiful.

Alvarez/Romola & Nijinsky [**]

On the tiny stage of Primary Stages, the design-effects seemed rather cramped, but director David Levine & choreographer Robert La Fosse were aiming high. Unfortunately, it was no match for the Glasgow Citizens Theatre production of Chinchilla, shown Off-Broadway some years back. Lynn Alvarez's efforts to dramatize the disaster of Nijinsky's marriage to Romola and his descent into madness were a time a bit hysteric, rather than dramatic.

Jones/"Humble Boy." [***]

With its monster beehive upstage-flanked by banks of grasses & flowers in an English country garden-the setting was the best thing about this MTC production. Tim Hatley's garden was apparently the same used by the Royal National Theatre in 2001. As the play is to be offered at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland in 2004, maybe the grasses & the beehive will hold up till then? The central character, a befuddled young scientist [Jared Harris, son of Richard], has mother-problems. Blair Brown militantly embodied all of them. John Caird staged. Paul Hecht and Mary Beth Hurt were also in the cast.

Reddin/"Can't Let Go." [***]

Keith Reddin has written a really cute little play, and the delightful Rebecca Luker is really cute in it. All the men around her are constantly coming on to her, to her distress and confusion. Unfortunately, the only man she wants now wants to become a woman. The cast lip-synchs to some formerly popular songs-which are very appropriate to the characters and situations. This property should prove very popular with regional theatres, searching for lighter fare for subscriptions audiences who Want To Be Entertained. It is a boon to community theatres.

Abrons/"Whose Family Values!" [**]

Richard Abrons' new play, especially as staged by Philip Rose, seems almost Politically Incorrect, if not downright condescending. The Time is the Present. The Place is Clayton, a suburb of St. Louis, MO. The family & friends are African-American. The evening was painful.

Musicals Old & New-
Moore/Manners/"Peg O' My Heart" [***]

Charming orphans who have to be taken in by distant-and often disdaining-relatives were a staple of popular novels-and plays based on them-at the turn of the century. Peg was a longtime vehicle for Laurette Taylor-much later famed as Williams' Amanda Wingfield-and it was written for her by her husband, J. Hartley Manners. Irish-American potential heiress comes to stay with her snooty English relatives, who constantly humiliate her. But good luck, pluck, cheerful spirits, and a big inheritance win out in the end. The Irish Rep's indomitable Charlotte Moore provided songs and staged this show, but it is still too formulaic and dated to make a comeback as a period musical. James Morgan's set was a marvel. <p>

Other Entertainments-
Cirque du Soleil/"Varekai" [****]

Cirque du Soleil productions are now touring the world. Alegría I saw again some seasons ago in Berlin at Potsdam Platz. Recently, I found one in Singapore and another making the rounds in Australia. Cirque stagings are staples in Las Vegas and Disneyworld in Orlando. All too briefly, Varekai was on view on Randall's Island in the East River. A myth of a kind of Icarus fallen to earth, it was magical to see and even entrancing to hear. But what would circuses do now without skilled performers from the former Soviet Union and Mainland China? Among the treats: Triple Trapeze, Icarian Games, Aerial Straps, Russian Swings, and two items for the Handicapped: Solo on Crutches and Hand-balancing on Canes. Dominic Champagne wrote and directed, but was marvelously aided by designers and performers. The boat trip up the East River from the East 34th Street dock was almost worth an evening by itself. But the uptown dock back of Gracie Mansion is collapsing. Mayor Bloomberg, do you know about this?

THEY'RE THE LIMIT - Company of Chicago City Limits. Photo courtesy of Keith Sherman & Associates.

Chicago City Limits/"American Idles" [**]

Improv-sparked by current topics or headlines from the audience-was great fun back in the late 1960s. We've come a long way since then. Unfortunately, improv doesn't work so well when the resident comics are drowning in the stereotypes and conventions of current lowest-common-denominator television. Fortunately for the latest generation of Chicago City Limits satirists, they fill their tiny East-Side theatre with equally young and TV-brainwashed audiences. An old fart behind me, however, was also having a great time. He said to his lady-friend: "Mother, it doesn't get any better than this!" Well, yes it does: try Bill Maher. And it was certainly a great deal better way back when comics were just exploring the limits of Chicago.

At the Museum of the City of New York-
Roaring into the Twenties: The NEW New York Woman [Closing 14 September 2003]

The drama & theatricality of the Jazz Age is evoked by this major nostalgia-show of colorful costumes, jewelry, photos, documents, and memorabilia from the 1920s. Three main areas of Women's Concerns are addressed: Fashion, Entertainment, and Health & Beauty.

But The Life of the [Female] Mind is unfortunately not a Big Item, in recalling New York Women in the Age of the Flapper. Some might well consider this as Sexist or Retro, but go see the show and judge for yourself!

The Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts has collaborated on the exhibition, drawing on its vast collections. From the world of the arts, such personalities as Dorothy Parker, Sophie Tucker, Louise Brooks, Anne Nichols, Ann Pennington, and Anita Loos are represented. Elizabeth Arden and Helena Rubinstein also receive their due for their services to New York Women.

From the world of fashion, frocks by Lanvin, Chanel, & Poiret are a vivid testimony to the more superficial concerns of New York Women in the 1920s. Does all this sound rather frivolous? Compared with the later contributions to New York Life by women like Dr. Mathilde Krim, Ms. Betty Friedan, and LaMaMa Ellen Stewart-whose photo-portraits are also on view at the museum-this show seems more like a glittering footnote to Manhattan History, on the cusp of the Depression and the abyss of World War II.

Soft-Hat Tour of Brooklyn Waterway:
Red Dive's Production of Peripheral City: Rediscovering the Gowanus Canal.

For many years, your reporter used to drive to work at Brooklyn College in Flatbush from Brooklyn Heights. One section of the elevated highway passed over the Gowanus Canal. Its waters looked dark & fetid, hemmed in on either side by cement-plants, dump-sites, factories, and crashed-car lots. Obviously, a lot of toxic effluent was being routinely dumped into this turgid stream, emptying out into New York Harbor.

But I never had the least interest in exploring the Canal or its environs, As it is at its most accessible from Brooklyn's beautiful Carroll Gardens, I should have done so long ago. Recently, I had the opportunity not only to tour a section of the Canal, but also to enjoy an Alternative Theatre On-Site Production by Red Dive.

Our tour-craft was piloted by Capt. Bill Sheehan, of Hackensack Riverkeeper. Over in New Jersey, some enlightened Environmentalists have become interested in reclaiming abused or neglected waterways for public enjoyment and recreation. Such projects in San Antonio and Houston, for instance, have made formerly ugly-even repellent-city rivers into major tourist-attractions.

Currently, there is a lot of interest in developing waterside areas in New York City for public purposes. Anyone who has been to DUMBO-Directly Under Manhattan Bridge Overpass-knows how breathtaking it is to stand opposite Manhattan, squarely between the diverging spans of the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges, with all the downtown skyline on parade-especially at night.

Some of the industrial architecture already in place on the Gowanus Canal is as impressive as some of Charles Scheeler's industrial photos now on view at the Met Museum. Certainly these should be saved-Urban Sculptures, if you will! These structures offer GREAT PHOTO-OPPORTUNITIES! Even the overpass of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway!

But other areas-such as dead-truck parking-lots, gravel-heaps, and rubbish-dumps-need to be terminated or relocated far away. Given the lovely gardens and Victorian mansions of Carroll Gardens, a reclaimed and reconceived Gowanus Canal could make this neglected section of Brooklyn a real tourist destination. As well as enhancing the small-town lifestyles of the locals!

Red Dive highlighted selected sites on the canal-tour with antic performers-some with unusual props-making these sound & sight-bites notable. A charming young African-American drill-team on the canal's President Street swing-bridge brought the water-safari to a triumphant conclusion. These sparky youngsters are called the Gowanus Wildcats Drill Team. Maureen Brennan directed this multi-tasked adventure. Unfortunately, the show was only on view the last two weekends of May.

Watch for their next Environmental Adventure! Red Dive has won awards for its site-specific performance-art & installations. Memorable was its Haunted House Tour of the Lower East Side Settlement House. For more info on their work, the Gowanus Canal, Captain Bill Sheehan, & other environmental reclamation-projects, call Red Dive at: 1212-615-6797. Publicist Karen Greco can also provide more info: 1212-560-9868.

INCIDENTAL NOTE: It was like old times to stroll down President Street again. I had not been there since 1965! My cousin, the Rev. Theron Zimmerman, had been appointed Pastor of South Congregational Church on President. This beautiful church-now a group of condos-was founded by the famed Reverend Dr. Henry Ward Beecher. His celebrated Brooklyn Heights Plymouth Church of the Pilgrims-where he held an Abolitionist Slave-Auction in the pulpit-had become too small for all the Congregationalists in the very big City of Brooklyn. Beecher, so the story goes, rode out one day in his buggy until he reached an open field and planted his buggy-whip: "Here will stand South Congregational!" Theron later was called to the Moravian Church in Doylestown, PA. [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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