Are you the publisher? Claim or contact us about this channel


Embed this content in your HTML

Search

Report adult content:

click to rate:

Account: (login)

More Channels


Showcase


Channel Catalog


    0 0

    Love & Friendship is a pretty bit of film.  Generally, it is the British — with a few notable exceptions — who make fabulous renderings of Jane Austen novels as feature films and television miniseries, and we know that the great lady’s stories and characters are as much at home in the 20th and 21stcenturies as they were in the 18th and 19th centuries.


    The thing is, I’ve never been a big fan of Kate Beckinsale or Chloë Sevigny and the film Love & Friendship did nothing to dispel my indifference to them as “actors.”  In the scenes in which they appeared, I wavered between boredom and annoyance.  They were not amusing.


    When, however, they were either minimal accessories to a scene or entirely absent, those scenes were far more enjoyable and witty.


    Xavier Samuelwas quite at home in Jane Austen’s England as Reginald DeCourcy, son and heir to Sir of the same name, and brother to the wife of Lady Susan's brother-in-law.  Reginald is a gentleman with a stick up you know where — until he falls in love with the right young woman, that is, the sweet and soulful Morfydd Clark as Frederica Vernon.  Which I suspect is not a spoiler.

     
    Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan, Xavier Samuel as Reginald DeCourcy.

    Emma Greenwell embodies the sweet character with sense and sensitivity, a totally Jane Austen heroine, Catherine DeCourcy Vernon.  Her husband Charles Vernon is that favorite of Jane Austen characters, a stodgy, not terribly bright, but loving and kindly husband, who was simply and beautifully played by Justin Edward


    Jemma Redgrave and James Fleet were flawless as Lady and Sir Reginald DeCourcy.


    Jenn Murray was delightfully horrid in a marvelous Jane Austen concoction, Lady Lucy Manwaring.

    Tom Bennett was naturally and appropriately silly as Sir James Martin.

    Ireland substituted marvelously for Kent and Surrey, just gorgeous.


    Benjamin Esdraffo’s music was just right, as was Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh’s costume design.


    All in all, the film Love & Friendship was fun, but not special.   Or perhaps just not as special as I had hoped it would be.  Making a film of an epistolary novel is quite a challenge, so the screenwriter /director Whit Stillman gets points for his taste and for even trying.  However, it does not quite work, not just because of the dull leads in Ms. Beckinsale and Ms. Sevigny (although it might have been an entirely other film with actors better suited to the roles of Lady Susan and Mrs. Johnson, respectively), but because...well, perhaps it was just those two miscast actors.  Or it may just be that letters to script work better on stage than on film…  perhaps the reading of the letters with scenes described being played behind the letter-reader until they take over the scene might work nicely onstage.... Good Jane Austen characters will not be kept down.


    What this film did best was inspire me to re-read the great Jane Austen’s little-known novella, Lady Susan. In fact, why not the entire canon….



    ~ Molly Matera, signing off to read books…on paper and in hardcover….


    0 0
  • 07/01/16--19:23: Who is the Genius?
  • Genius is the rather ambiguous title of a film about Maxwell Perkins, who was the editor to the works of  several American literary geniuses of the first half of the 20th century.  It’s based on the ambiguously titled biography of Perkins written by A. Scott Berg,“Maxwell Perkins:  Editor of Genius.”  Who is the genius Berg is talking about — this particular editor, or the authors whose work he nurtured to publication, novels by F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, and Thomas Wolfe, to name the three authors that appear in the film.  Who is the genius of the film’s title?  The writer Thomas Wolfe, or, as F. Scott Fitzgerald calls Max Perkins, the genius at friendship. 


    Genius is a sweet little character study of a movie, visually convincing, gentle, welcoming the audience into its beautifully produced world (with the barest acknowledgment of the Depression).  Michael Grandage directed the script by John Logan based on Berg’s biography of the editor to Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Wolfe, and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, to name a few. 


    While Genius purports to be based on the biography, it’s only a taste, a dram, an excerpt covering the years between when young Thomas Wolfe walked into Maxwell Perkins’ office at Charles Scribner’s Sons Publishers and Booksellers on Fifth Avenue with an overlong manuscript that would eventually be whittled down to become the very long novel, “Look Homeward, Angel.”  The younger man’s death in 1938, just over a decade after he walked into Perkins’ office, ends the story of the film.  Not even a third, in fact, of Perkins’ 37-year career as an editor of some of the most remarkable American authors of the first half of the 20th century.  But the period it covers provides a beautiful stage for Colin Firth as Perkins and Jude Law as Wolfe to play together and become men of another time. 


    Colin Firth is astute, smart, and heartfelt casting for Maxwell Perkins.  Repressed yet passionate, loving and compassionate but oh so quiet that his gentle smile is always a delightful surprise.  Maxwell Perkins was a nurturer, and Firth embraces us all.


    Jude Law did deep and detailed character work in bringing the volatile Thomas Wolfe to life, apparently barely recognizable to some members of the audience when I saw the film, with his dark curly hair and southern accent contributing to his bold portrayal of the volatile young writer from Asheville.

     

    Colin Firth as Maxwell Perkins and Jude Law as Thomas Wolfe.
    Photo Credit: Marc Brenner/Roadside Attractions

    How much like Thomas Wolfe was fellow southerner F. Scott Fitzgerald in his youth and health.  Here we see Fitzgerald as a middle-aged man weighed down by responsibility and reality.  Ernest Hemingway seems a mature sportsman, subdued yet warm and friendly, and prescient of young Wolfe’s eventual betrayal of his father figure Perkins.


    Each famous writer is nicely played as a human being, not a famous author whose books we all read in high school.  Dominic West excels in his brief appearance as Ernest Hemingway.  Guy Pearce is a heartbreaking F. Scott Fitzgerald whose glory days are past, and whose wild and vivacious wife Zelda has sunken into mental illness.  In his exquisite sadness, it occurred to me Fitzgerald might have been glad the television series Endeavour did an adaptation of “The Great Gatsby” in a recent episode.


    This shot appears several times in the film with the more modern buildings edited out!
    Nicole Kidman did fine work as Wolfe’s paramour and sponsor, Mrs. Bernstein. She looked the part of the “older woman,” without vanity, which contributed to her believability. Some of the audience didn’t recognize her, either, until they saw her name in the credits, always a compliment to an actor.


    Laura Linney was superb as Perkins’ wife Louise, aghast and downtrodden when Wolfe denigrated playwriting, her passion.  She was not merely someone’s wife or mother, she is a fully developed character, loving to her husband and children, angry when he chooses his work over a family vacation, rather judgmental of the married Mrs. Bernstein while still sympathetic.  Ms. Linney has grown into a remarkably sensitive actor whose every feeling is subtly offered to us. 


    There are many pieces creating the whole of a film, and each element of Genius was of its time, the late 1920s through 1930s in New York City.  Music by Adam Cork was emotive without intruding, at one with fine cinematography by Ben Davis of a timely production design by Mark Digby.  In my mind’s eye the film is almost in black and white, although I know that it wasn’t.  Art direction by Alex Baily, Gareth Cousins, and Patrick Rolfe was complemented by costume design by Jane Petrie.

     

    Firth as Perkins and Law as Wolfe commuting to Connecticut
    Photo Credit: Marc Brenner/Roadside Attractions

    John Logan, on the advice of biographer Berg, sensibly put the oft-read book aside to write the movie.  I read an article by a fellow who had read the excellent book and was very upset with all that was left out.  The biography of Max Perkins was about his life and his 37-year career.  Such things are difficult to cover in their entirety in a theatrical film.  Logan chose an dramatic segment with a volatile writer, and did a good job of it.


    Much as I was captivated by the film, when I walked away from the theatre I felt something missing, only realizing what I missed as I wrote this.  I missed that whole story, which can only be apprehended by reading A. Scott Berg’s biography of Perkins and the works of Perkins’ authors.  If you want more, read the books.  If you want to stop in for a visit to 1930’s New York City and the fascinating people who lived and worked there, see the film, Genius.



    ~ Molly Matera, signing off to read….so many choices….


    0 0

    Luckily for me, I caught Joe Morton in “Turn Me Loose” during its last week at The Westside Theatre. “Turn Me Loose” is “a play about comic genius Dick Gregory.” Based on how much I laughed for the 90-minute duration, I’d call that an accurate description.  Mind you, the play is as much about Dick Gregory the civil rights activist as it is about comedy, so there was plenty to ponder.


    Joe Morton brought to vibrant and seething life Dick Gregory, a controversial comic who rose to fame just before and during the Civil Rights movement.  The audience was howling with laughter one moment, then particularly pensive as Mr. Morton enacted a dialogue between Mr. Gregory and Medgar Evers in the months prior to the latter's death.  The language, whether Mr. Morton was playing the young, the old, or middle-aged Gregory, was funny, provocative, angry, smart, and passionate. 


    Joe Morton as Dick Gregory.  Photo Credit Sara Krulwich/NYT

    Playwright Gretchen Law encapsulated Gregory’s extraordinary contribution to our nation’s conscience and comedy in a brief play (deftly performed on a practical, single set designed by Chris Barreca and lit by Stephen Strawbridge) with just two actors:  Mr. Morton giving a bravura performance as Mr. Gregory, and JohnCarlin doing captivating and imaginative work as a 60s stand-up comic, a heckler, a cabbie, and a radio interviewer, among others.  John Gould Rubin directs so that not a moment of raw, scathing wit is lost, nor is a moment of warmth for the man himself.

     

    Morton as Gregory opposite John Carlin as a Radio Interviewer.  Photo credit Monique Carboni 

    Every scene was engaging and thought provoking, every drop of sweat off Mr. Morton’s face endearing. 


    The Westside Theatre’s downstairs performance space was an excellent venue for this penetrating production and I hope the play returns here or to another incarnation in an equally intimate space so those who missed this limited run might catch it next time around. 


    Not only a fine evening of theatre at The Westside Theatre, but Dick Cavettwas sitting in the row ahead of me!  Keep an eye out for a return or revival of Turn Me Loose.



    ~ Molly Matera, signing off to read a little not ancient enough history


    0 0

    It was a perfect summer evening at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park. Hot but not stifling.  Clear, with enough of a breeze to keep most of the bugs at bay.  And a brilliant production on the stage for about three hours.


    An infrequently produced play, Troilus & Cressida is set in Troy (a.k.a. Phrygia) when the war between Troy and the Greeks, ostensibly over Helen of Troy, has been going on for seven years.  This seems to be symbolized by the debris surrounding the set on its lower level, trash bags and plastic chairs separating the audience from the stage.


    Calchas, a minor Trojan priest, allegedly foresees the fall of Troy and moves into the Greek invading camp.  His daughter Cressida he leaves to the care of his brother, Pandarus, remaining in Troy.  It seems the Trojans do not hold Calchas’ daughter responsible for her father’s surely treasonous actions, and Troy’s youngest prince, Troilus, falls for her.  The "romance” of the play is orchestrated by Cressida’s uncle Pandarus. 


    John Glover, my favorite Pandarus to date, opens the play as Prologue, and closes the tale of lust, greed, and violence with sly wit.

     

    Andrew Burnap as Troilus, John Glover as Pandarus, and Ismenia Mendes as Cressida. (Photo Credit Joan Marcus, NYT)


    The major players you’ll have heard of.  Among the Greeks are 

    • Agamemnon, the great general played with confident strength by John Douglas Thompson
    • His brother Menelaus, cuckolded husband of Helen, an appropriately mealy-mouthed performance by Forrest Malloy (who also plays a creepy Calchas)
    • Nestor, the old soldier brought to grumpy life by Edward James Hyland
    • Ulysses, the canny statesman-like soldier played as a shrewd and smarmy politician by Corey Stoll
    • Achilles, famed as much for his pride and petulance as for his prowess on the battlefield, from which he has abstained for some time*, was unexpectedly and marvelously played by “understudy,” KeiLyn Durrel Jones
    • Patroclus, Achilles’ special friend lounging around the Greek camp tents played like a juvenile delinquent by Tom Pecinka
    • Ajax, an oddly scrawny and remarkably dumb soldier related to both the Greeks and the Trojans played with humor and heart by Alex Breaux
    • Diomedes, a hardened middle management level soldier well played by Zach Appelman

     

    *We learn later that this is to honor his other love, Trojan princess Polyxena

    In Troy, the setting of the story, are 
    • The valiant Hector, an honorable man, eldest son and heir to King Priam, passionately played by Bill Heck
    • Paris, the arrogant lout who stole away Menelaus’s wife Helen and whose libidinous impulses started this whole mess, was coldly played by Maurice Jones
    • Aeneas, a leading citizen soldier was adroitly and cleverly played by Sanjit De Silva
    • Troilus, youngest son of Priam — “He eats nothing but doves, love, and that breeds hot blood, and hot blood begets hot thoughts, and hot thoughts beget hot deeds, and hot deeds is love.” — is played in pubescent heat by Andrew Burnap
    • As the vulnerable young woman of the piece, in love, yet wise beyond her years, Ismenia Mendes does finely detailed work bringing Cressida to life onstage.
    • Alexander, Cressida’s clever gossiping servant sets a light tone in the first act, competing with Pandarus for his mistress’ attention and favor.  Well portrayed by Nicholas Hoge
    • In Troy we also meet Hector’s wife Andromache, silent until she can bear it no longer, bravely played by Tala Ashe
    • Hector and Troilus’ sister, the prophetess Cassandra to whom no one listens, strikingly played by Nneka Okafor
    • And Helen.  Not a typical Helen, this production gave us a fascinating portrayal of an unhappy woman who is guarded by armed men and supplied with wine.  This unusual choice was well played by Tala Ashe



    KeiLyn Durrel Jones in rehearsal, not as Achilles in this photo.  Center is Corey Stoll rehearsing for Ulysses, and finally John Douglas Thompson as General Agamemnon.  

    Daniel Sullivan’s production for Shakespeare in the Park is the best I have ever seen of this play.  It’s generically modern with soldiers in flak jackets, carrying guns as well as knives, the Trojans in black, the Greeks in desert war camouflage.  Laptops are used by Pandarus and Cressida to watch the parade of Trojan warriors returning to Ilion after a day of battle, as well as by the Greek military.  Ulysses’ long summation early in the first half of the play is enhanced by an amusing slide show.


    David Zinn’s set easily turns from Troy’s hedonistic blood-red walls with a look of watered silk to the metallic gray Quonset hut walls of the Greek camp.  A level above the main playing area is put to excellent use by soldiers, the vile Thersites, this play’s unusual “clown” (nastily played by Max Casella), a betrayed and bereft Cressida, and also serves as a strategic lookout for Ulysses.


    Ulysses is a particularly threatening character in this production, a corporate/government type, his uniform a white shirt, a suit and tie.  He instigates, cajoles, instructs the Greeks, sounding even tempered and sensible until his rage leaps out only to be restrained once more.  In the second half this wily manipulator plays Troilus against himself while condemning Cressida to the fate of all women in men’s wars, particularly those relegated to “camp follower.”


    John Glover is a brilliant Pandarus, witty, lascivious, and romantic in his matchmaking of Troilus and Cressida — unless it was purely a power play to set himself up for better times to come.  Troilus starts out sweet, romantic, but turns into a weak fool, first by not stepping up or even speaking out for his purported love Cressida while the Trojans and Greeks barter her like a goat. By the end he turns against the woman he loves as she attempts to stay alive and avoid gang rape after being tossed alone and friendless into the Greek camp.  These are enemies to the Trojan state and likewise to her.  Troilus’ character slides downhill from the moment he attains what he thinks is his heart’s desire, the love of Cressida.


    Lighting designed by Robert Wierzel and sound design by Mark Menard brought forth startling battle sounds of gunfire and explosions.  Brightly lit Trojan lovers contrasted with the gloomy grays of the Greek camp where Cressida is surrounded by soldiers hovering to pounce if her protector deserts her.


    The fight scenes, choreographed by co-fight directors Michael Rossmy and Rick Sordelet, were tight and frightening, and the dread death of Hector, an act of cowardice and misplaced vengeance, was bloody and heartbreaking.


    Women are silenced and used, Andromache left alone, Cassandra locked up, while Helen is imprisoned in Troy and Cressida is imprisoned in the Greek camp.  Very powerful statements clearly defined in this production. As Thersites says, “War and lechery confound all.” 


    Bravo Daniel Sullivan, bravo Public Theatre, bravo to a fine cast and crew for this stellar production.  Oh, and bravo to William Shakespeare once again.

     

    Tom Pecinka as Patroclus, David Harbour as Achilles (whom I did not see), and Max Casella as Thersites.
    (Photo Credit Joan Marcus)



    ~ Molly Matera signing off to re-read the play. The opening of the play has been postponed due to an accident that befell David Harbour, scheduled to play Achilles.  The night I saw this play his understudy KeiLyn Durrel Jones gave an excellent performance, so I hope he takes over the role permanently.  Go wait on line in Central Park for this one, it’s worth it.  You can see a video excerpt of the production here:  https://youtu.be/cKSI4GCHhuk


    0 0

    Kings of War is my second Shakespearean mash-up by Ivo van Hove (who directed Toneelgroep Amsterdam in performance of the adaptation by Bart van den Eynde and Peter van Kraaij).  The first (Roman Tragedies in 2012:   http://mollyismusing.blogspot.com/2012/11/friends-romans-dutch.html) was longer, truer, better.  This outing is more particularly edited, not unsuitable for the U.S. election season.  In this production, van Hove and his cohorts for this translation by Rob Klinkenberg “adapted” Shakespeare’s Henry V, Henry VI Parts 1, 2 (not so much) and 3, and Richard III into one evening about kings and family feuds and wars and just plain murder.  Or was it?


    The first two hours and twenty minutes of the evening were engaging, imaginative, clever, even funny.  The main events (political) of Henry V (“H5”) were covered, then on to Henry VI (“H6”) part 1, sliding over part 2, then clarifying the raison d’être for Richard III (“R3”) in part 3 of H6.  We fell from some highflying places to a very poor R3 for the second half of the production, so bad I catnapped during the last 20 minutes or so and didn’t miss a thing.  What happened? Why were van Hove, van den Eynde and van Kraaij able to, according to their own themes, comprehensibly condense four plays into less than 2 ½ hours, and make a hash-up in under two hours of the last one. 


    For the first half, the setting was modern, easy to rearrange, and augmented with continuous video and supertitles showing us what was happening offstage. In Shakespeare, offstage usually means violence, and sometimes it does in Kings of War.  We’d watch backstage action on video until those participants entered the playing area.  At one point, what we saw were lots of sheep.  (They were not really backstage.)  The music of the first half was brass (by “Blindman”: Konstantin Koev, Charlotte van Passen, Daniel Quiles Cascant, and Daniel Ruibal Ortigueira), very exciting and fitting, especially with the inclusion of the marvelous contratenor Steve Dugardin


    Each king was introduced on a red patterned carpet rolled onto the stage.  We have already seen the procession, of course, on the video.  The new king, Cardinals, right-hand men, queens, mothers and the like, all those people who have or wish to have the power behind the throne, would walk in step behind him (each him) as he walks to his coronation.  It’s a nifty set up, making it perfectly clear whose reign it is, with the King’s name flashed on the supertitle just to make sure we all knew what’s what.


    The Coronation of Henry V (Photo by Jan Versweyveld)




















    Shakespeare generally puts the real violence offstage, therefore it appeared on video (by Tal Yardin) in this production.  Some of it was rather harrowing, and York’s examination of Uncle Gloucester’s offstage corpse in H6 was ghastly and effective.  Van Hove and his colleagues seemed most interested in the political machinations of the kings’ courts, courtiers, advisers, wives, so it was confusing but delightful that he retained the wooing scene between King Henry and Katharina toward the end of H5. 


    There were some interesting and well-articulated performances in multiple roles by

    ·         Eelco Smitsas Grey in H5 and the king himself in Henry VI

    ·         Leon Voorbergas Charles VI of France in H5, Warwick and later Stanley

    ·         Aus Greidanus Jr. as Gloucester, the regent for Henry VI, and later as Buckingham in R3, doing nice creepy work in the latter

    ·         Bart Slegers as the Chief of Staff in H5, York in H6 and later Edward IV (however briefly) in R3

    ·         Hélène Devos was adorable as Katharina in H5, with interesting choices (hers, van Hove’s?) as Lady Anne in R3

    ·         Robert de Hoogwas excellent as a whiny Dauphin in H5, as the manipulative snake oil salesman Suffolk in H6, and charmingly broken as Clarence in R3.


    But the best, the star of the evening, was Chris Nietvelt.  I’d seen her as Cleopatra (among others) in the Roman Tragedies, and here she played three roles:  Montjoy, the French courier in H5, then Leonora, foolish and self-destructive wife to Gloucester in H6, and finally Elizabeth, wife then widow to Edward IV, mother to the two princes murdered in the Tower and to young Elizabeth, wanted by Richard for his third wife (lest you worry, eventually to marry Richmond, Henry VII).  Ms. Nietvelt continues her fine characterizations and truthful performances that I learned to expect from her the last time I sat through many hours of Shakespeare in Dutch.


    King Henry VI and Queen Margareta
    There were some rather dull performances in single roles:  Marieke Heebink as the Duchess of York in R3, when she was as shallow as her theatrical son: Hans Kesting as Richard III.  Also far from stellar and merely scary was Janni Gosling as Margareta, queen then widow of Henry VI, lover of Suffolk, and theatrically Johnny-one-note from the moment we met her.


    While I’m naming names, design and lighting by Jan Versweyveld, music by Eric Sleichim(yay first half, boo second half); costumes by An D’Huys.


    In the second half, the set looked like the lobby of a middle class hotel. We saw that what had been the musicians’ gallery in the first half was populated with a “disc jockey” with no discs, just a machine to control the electronic sound, which produced irritating noise.  But then, most of the second half was annoying. 


    Hans Kesting enters as Richard with a birthmark on his face and a limp.  His clothes are ill-tailored so he seems to be more physically inhibited than he is.  Richard was drawn to a full length mirror onstage, and kept returning to it.  Between that and the video filming him looking at himself, I had double vision with nausea.  Halfway through, to top it off, for no reason at all, Richard takes off his clothes center stage to change into his not much different costume for his coronation.  It took much longer than it deserved.  There could have been ten minutes cut off the playing time.  Surely there were other places to edit as well.


    From a firm start with the Henry plays, the evening devolved to an uninspired R3. Kings of War, while shorter than the excellent Roman Tragedies that led us to this adventure, did not live up to that 2012 production 



    This company uses the same designers and videographers and some of the same actors.  Interestingly, one of the flaws of this modern styling and the microphones and the television and the video is the same problem the Roman Tragedies had in the same BAM Opera House back in 2012: that I often could not tell who on the stage was speaking (particularly when two of the younger male actors looked rather similar to one another).  The miking of actors must be compensated for in the staging so we don’t wonder who’s speaking, what with all those sounds coming from the same place.  I also noted that the first two plays of the Roman Tragedies (Coriolanus and Julius Caesar) were well edited and “mashed” but that the last play, Antony & Cleopatra, like the last play in Kings of War, Richard III, lasted too long, as if the editors got tired and just said, this will have to do. 


    In any case, I’m glad I experienced this production, flaws and all, and will give the next Shakespearean mash-up from Toneelgroep Amsterdam a try.



    ~ Molly Matera, signing off to re-read Coriolanus to figure out how much the Red Bull Theater production cut.


    0 0

    The Red Bull Theater’s production of William Shakespeare's Coriolanus at the Barrow Street Theatre is ensemble playing at its best, directed by Michael Sexton.  The small and tight-knit ensemble played early Romans and Volscians of all classes. 


    About five centuries before Julius Caesar was stabbed in the Curia, the Roman patricians and warriors and plebeians had defeated their previous king, Tarquin the Proud, and established the Roman Republic.  This was not a republic in which all citizens were equal, but it was a start.  The play’s plebeians of the early republic become a character as a group with a common view.  When the play begins, the plebeians (lower class, working class, what you will) have “tribunes” to represent their interests in the patrician Senate.  Essentially the tribunes can be seen as go-betweens (like your local councilman, congressman, etc.), and can misinterpret or misrepresent (willfully or not) the plebeians to the patricians and vice versa. The plebeians want their fair share of grain (of which the patricians have more than they need).  The patricians don't want to give anything away.  This society is blatantly stratified. 


    Caius Marcius is a fine soldier but a socially inept patrician.  Too soon after the Roman army has gotten rid of “Tarquin the Proud,” Caius Marcius behaves with much too much pride, setting himself up for a fall after rising as a military hero and gaining the surname Coriolanus after conquering the Volscian city of Corioli.  His politically ambitious friends and family want him to accept the Consulship of Rome (the highest elected political office of the Roman Republic).  I doubt it will surprise anyone that this does not turn out well 


    The splendid cast elucidating the story and the people are:


    Dion Johnstone is a powerful and articulate Coriolanus.  Strength and fury emanate from him except when he’s speaking to his mother, wife or son.  He is powerful, passionate, a bit dense, and very arrogant.


    Virgilia, Coriolanus, and Volumnia in front, Cominius and Titus Lartius behind.  (Photo By Carol Rosegg)
    Lisa Harrow was ruthless as Coriolanus’ mother Volumnia.  Her love for him displaced by her own ambition, Volumnia is not an easy character to like, but Harrow makes her three-dimensional.


    Patrick Page was engaging but sleazy.  He is just a politician, but his heartbreak at Coriolanus’ rejection of him in the second half of the play is real.  His Menenius Agrippa was a Southern styled good-old boy.  While amusing, this choice seemed rather tired, even trite since everyone else in the play has city or homogeneous accents. Like the production, Mr. Page has political points to make.



    Patrick Page as Menenius Agrippa (Photo by Carol Rosegg)

    Matthew Amendt as Tullus Aufidius did not look like a tough warrior so he had to act it, and he did.  He spent a great deal of time off center, and I enjoyed watching him out of the corner of my eye as he responded — or didn’t — to Coriolanus.  His building fury is only broken by the death of the man he ordered killed, a man as like him as a brother.

     

    The banished Coriolanus and Tullus Aufidius (Photo by Carol Rosegg)

    Aaron Krohn played a strong Cominius, Coriolanus’ long-time friend and general. Krohn comes into his own as the sensible and sensitive friend to Coriolanus back in Rome.  Zachary Fine was Coriolanus’ fellow soldier and friend Titus Lartius. Both are also transformed to be part of the plebeians of Rome, slipping easily into other speech patterns and beliefs. Fine also plays a sodden member of the Volscian Aufidius’ staff and was charming and funny opening the production’s second half with great hilarity — this should be no surprise from the man who played Crab and Valentine in the Fiasco Theater Company production of Two Gentlemen of Verona at TFANA in 2015 [https://mollyismusing.blogspot.com/2015/05/2-shakespeares-and-upstart-crow.html]. 

     

    Titus Lartius, Coriolanus, and Cominius (Photo by Carol Rosegg)

    The plebeians are easily manipulated by the two tribunes who are supposed to represent the plebeians but who have agendas of their own.  These two are well played by Stephen Spinella(Sicinius Velutus) and Merritt Janson (Junius Brutus). Sicinius makes me very angry, but Spinella is so good and was honestly physically afraid of Johnstone’s Coriolanus that my anger with him faded, if just for the moment.


    Rebecca S’Manga Frank played multiple roles, from Coriolanus’ wife Virgilia who she completely differentiated from angry Roman plebeians calling for Coriolanus’ banishment.


    Olivia Reis played Coriolanus’ small son.  Her face was a child’s face until she reappeared as a courtesan in the Volscian camp or a Roman plebeian, when she became an entirely different physical person. 


    Edward O’Blenis did excellent work as First Citizen in Rome, an angry man, powerful and skilled at goading his fellow plebeians to revolt.  In the Volscian city of Corioli, he is the lieutenant to Tullus Aufidius. 


    Christina Pumariega played a broad range of roles, each better than the last, from the Roman patrician Valeria to an acrimonious plebeian to a bawdy wench in the town of Corioli.


    Coriolanus is the story of a man who was not temperamentally suited for public office.  He was a fine solider and general. He knew himself inappropriate to be Consul but allowed those with more ambition than he had push him to accept the honor.  What he may not have seen, since understanding people was not his strong point, was that each friend and relative who urged him on wanted to live in the reflection of a Consul’s power.  That was for themselves, not for him, not for Rome.  Inevitably his unfitness surfaced, his unfiltered mouth insulted every person he did not consider his peer, that is, most of mankind and particularly the plebeian class whose votes (“voice”) he needs to be named Consul.  The incensed plebeians accuse him of treason and want him either executed (by being thrown from the Tarpeian Rock) or banished.  Being banished from the country whose wars he’d fought is a bitter pill.  He goes over to the other side, to fight by the side of his arch enemy Tullus Aufidius, goes to war against Rome and denies his friends and family. 


    The final act of murder/execution was harrowing to see and highly effective, played center stage as it was.  And, not surprisingly, the fool who ordered the death of Coriolanus regrets it and is heartbroken but it is too late to mend. 


    Does any of this sound familiar?


    I am not a purist in Shakespeare: I’m all for cutting, editing, even moving scenes around if it clarifies and moves the story along.  Shakespeare’s storytelling is strong enough to withstand a great deal of messing about.  This streamlined script, though, seemed a tightly strung bow, aimed predictably to show the power that can lie with two manipulative politicians directing the uneducated masses as a weapon against an enemy, not necessarily of the people, but of those two politicians.


    I’ve seen the play before, and found it dreadfully appropriate that I saw this production on election night.  



    ~ Molly Matera, signing off to re-read Jane Austen’s Sense & Sensibility, the novel, as opposed to the wonderful play version produced by Bedlam that I swooned over last week.


    0 0

    The Samuel H. Scripps mainstage at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center is a wonderfully designed performance space:  it is multiple theatres in one, so flexible one may not recognize it from one season to another.  This production’s proscenium staging worked perfectly.


    The Servant of Two Masters is silly, absurd, crass, ridiculous, pointless, and very, very funny.  Downright hysterical in fact, based on commedia dell’arte, a theatrical structure that set standard character types into scenarios, the characters performing functions in standard plots that usually involved lovers, tricksters, and hungry servants.  Characters were typically masked (and therefore recognizable in every town the troupe wandered into) except for the young lovers.  There are always young lovers.  The actors/characters often improvise the actual scenes, filled with slapstick, physical humor, and often violence.  Midway through the 18th century, Carlo Goldoni put this scenario on paper. 


    Something like 270 years later, Christopher Bayes (director) and Steven Epps (lead actor, the hungry servant Truffaldino) have taken Carlo Goldoni’s play (as adapted by Constance Congdon) and discarded whatever words interfered with the laughs they were looking for, which probably change nightly.  This is a living theatrical form, dependent on current events and the audience’s knowledge thereof.  Like improv, but with a storyline providing more overall structure. 


    Considering the political humor running riot through the performance, I wish I could be transported back in time to hear what they all said before the election.


    The evening started with Italian music your grandparents (maybe great grandparents) played and listened and danced to.  No, not Dean Martin or Al Martino, earlier than that, back in the old country, the kind with mandolins and guitars and small accordions — like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FlNBuS7YgM.  With music in our ears, magic appeared around the wonderful mainstage with a Roman arch creating the proscenium and strings of patio lights illuminating the theatre like starlight.  It was delicioso.


    Briefly, the servant of two masters has two masters because he has no money and he’s very hungry and his first master didn’t give so much as a centime for a hunk of bread.  “Federigo” (spoiler alert:  actually the late Federigo’s sister Beatrice in disguise for most of the play) won’t have money until “he” goes over the books of deals with Pantalone, father of the young woman to whom Federigo was affianced.  And therein lies a tale.  The second master turns out to be Florindo, for whom Federigo/Beatrice is searching, the man who killed Beatrice’s brother Federigo in a duel over her and who is her lover.  No one recognizes anybody, of course.  Poor Truffaldino, the incompetent servant, is still hungry halfway through the play!


    Meanwhile another young couple’s wedding plans start out blessed but upon the return from the dead of Federigo, well, the first arrangement must take precedence, which infuriates the Dottore, father of Silvio, the beloved of Clarice. Love is frustrated, Beatrice reveals herself as a woman to Clarice so of course they’re now like sisters, while the true lover, Silvio, is jealous and behaves very foolishly.  Oh, what will become of them all?


    And Truffaldino is still hungry.  When he finally has a chance to eat, it’s catch as catch can:  food flies over the curtain to be caught and tossed by Truffaldino juggling with the two highly energetic waiters (Aidan Eastwood and Sam Urdang) while he’s also juggling the service of a meal to each of his masters.

     

    The juggling waiters (Photo by Gerry Goodstein)

    The play is filled with music (all played by Christopher Curtis and Aaron Halva), including television advertising jingles from 30 years ago, snippets of show tunes, some pretty ditties for the ladies to sing (by Aaron Halva), pratfalls and slaps, a little swordplay, and an evening of ridiculous fun. 


    This company of players knows how to milk a laugh, go off and around the bend and then, like good jazz musicians, bring the story back on track and move along briskly.  And they all sing wonderfully. 


    The star of the show is Truffaldino portrayed with high energy by the remarkable Steven Epps.  He runs from one master to another, he leaps, he weeps, he receives beatings, he is a hoot and a half.


    I didn’t even recognize one of my favorite actors from the Fiasco Theater Co., Andy Goteleuschenplaying the Dottore, father of the whiny lover Silvio (Eugene Ma).

     

    Steven Epps as Truffaldino and Allen Gilmore as Pantalone.  (Rehearsal photo by Gerry Goodstein)

    Pantalone, father of Clarice, sometimes friend and sometimes enemy of the Dottore, was well played by Allen Gilmore.


    Orlando Pabotoy’s Florindo brought down the house when he came out brushing, or perhaps caressing, his wig.


    Liam Craig’s Brighella the Chef is creepy but not as nasty as the Brighella character often is in Commedia.


    Liz Wisan never fooled me, I knew she was a woman dressed as a man!  But the audience always knows, it’s the characters onstage who aren’t playing with a full deck.  As Beatrice in disguise as her dead brother Federico, Ms. Wisan did a fine job as alternately winsome and tough.


    Adina Verson is very charming, sings beautifully and is hilarious as Clarice.


    Finally, Emily Young is sweet, funny and poignant as Smeraldina, the typical lady's maid conspiring with her mistress only to fall for the not in the slightest bit wily Truffaldino.  She also had a fine time speaking as a modern feminist standing up for women’s rights against the vulgarians coming into power.

     

    Cast unrecognizable without their masks, except for the Dottore (L) and Pantalone (4).   Rehearsal photo by Gerry Goodstein..

    My feeling about nine out of ten of the shows I see is that they run a little longer than they need to — and this very, very funny show was not an exception.  It could lose 10, 15 minutes.  Just not the intermission, which is needed for the audience to catch their breaths after over an hour of laughing as well as for the bathroom break implied by Truffaldino. I suspect which 10 minutes is arguable — something I felt lasted too long, such as Pantalone’s leg business, probably did not appear so to others.


    There’s no down time in The Servant of Two Masters, it’s just chock a block non-stop, full of laughter and song.  If you’re sensitive to raunchy innuendoes, verbal or physical, you might be offended once or twice, but really, in today’s world, aren’t we offended by someone or something multiple times a day?  Grin and bear it for the sake of the rest of the life-giving oxygen provided by all the laughter.



    ~  Molly Matera, signing off to read TFANA’s always entertaining program with quotes about the playwrights, the play, the times.  Or perhaps watch the 1952 film, Scaramouche!


    0 0

    The Samuel H. Scripps mainstage at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center is a wonderfully designed performance space:  it is multiple theatres in one, so flexible one may not recognize it from one season to another.  This production’s proscenium staging worked perfectly.


    The Servant of Two Masters is silly, absurd, crass, ridiculous, pointless, and very, very funny.  Downright hysterical in fact, based on commedia dell’arte, a theatrical structure that set standard character types into scenarios, the characters performing functions in standard plots that usually involved lovers, tricksters, and hungry servants.  Characters were typically masked (and therefore recognizable in every town the troupe wandered into) except for the young lovers.  There are always young lovers.  The actors/characters often improvise the actual scenes, filled with slapstick, physical humor, and often violence.  Midway through the 18th century, Carlo Goldoni put this scenario on paper. 


    Something like 270 years later, Christopher Bayes (director) and Steven Epps (lead actor, the hungry servant Truffaldino) have taken Carlo Goldoni’s play (as adapted by Constance Congdon) and discarded whatever words interfered with the laughs they were looking for, which probably change nightly.  This is a living theatrical form, dependent on current events and the audience’s knowledge thereof.  Like improv, but with a storyline providing more overall structure. 


    Considering the political humor running riot through the performance, I wish I could be transported back in time to hear what they all said before the election.


    The evening started with Italian music your grandparents (maybe great grandparents) played and listened and danced to.  No, not Dean Martin or Al Martino, earlier than that, back in the old country, the kind with mandolins and guitars and small accordions — like this: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5FlNBuS7YgM.  With music in our ears, magic appeared around the wonderful mainstage with a Roman arch creating the proscenium and strings of patio lights illuminating the theatre like starlight.  It was delicioso.


    Briefly, the servant of two masters has two masters because he has no money and he’s very hungry and his first master didn’t give so much as a centime for a hunk of bread.  “Federigo” (spoiler alert:  actually the late Federigo’s sister Beatrice in disguise for most of the play) won’t have money until “he” goes over the books of deals with Pantalone, father of the young woman to whom Federigo was affianced.  And therein lies a tale.  The second master turns out to be Florindo, for whom Federigo/Beatrice is searching, the man who killed Beatrice’s brother Federigo in a duel over her and who is her lover.  No one recognizes anybody, of course.  Poor Truffaldino, the incompetent servant, is still hungry halfway through the play!


    Meanwhile another young couple’s wedding plans start out blessed but upon the return from the dead of Federigo, well, the first arrangement must take precedence, which infuriates the Dottore, father of Silvio, the beloved of Clarice. Love is frustrated, Beatrice reveals herself as a woman to Clarice so of course they’re now like sisters, while the true lover, Silvio, is jealous and behaves very foolishly.  Oh, what will become of them all?


    And Truffaldino is still hungry.  When he finally has a chance to eat, it’s catch as catch can:  food flies over the curtain to be caught and tossed by Truffaldino juggling with the two highly energetic waiters (Aidan Eastwood and Sam Urdang) while he’s also juggling the service of a meal to each of his masters.

     

    The juggling waiters (Photo by Gerry Goodstein)

    The play is filled with music (all played by Christopher Curtis and Aaron Halva), including television advertising jingles from 30 years ago, snippets of show tunes, some pretty ditties for the ladies to sing (by Aaron Halva), pratfalls and slaps, a little swordplay, and an evening of ridiculous fun. 


    This company of players knows how to milk a laugh, go off and around the bend and then, like good jazz musicians, bring the story back on track and move along briskly.  And they all sing wonderfully. 


    The star of the show is Truffaldino portrayed with high energy by the remarkable Steven Epps.  He runs from one master to another, he leaps, he weeps, he receives beatings, he is a hoot and a half.


    I didn’t even recognize one of my favorite actors from the Fiasco Theater Co., Andy Goteleuschenplaying the Dottore, father of the whiny lover Silvio (Eugene Ma).

     

    Steven Epps as Truffaldino and Allen Gilmore as Pantalone.  (Rehearsal photo by Gerry Goodstein)

    Pantalone, father of Clarice, sometimes friend and sometimes enemy of the Dottore, was well played by Allen Gilmore.


    Orlando Pabotoy’s Florindo brought down the house when he came out brushing, or perhaps caressing, his wig.


    Liam Craig’s Brighella the Chef is creepy but not as nasty as the Brighella character often is in Commedia.


    Liz Wisan never fooled me, I knew she was a woman dressed as a man!  But the audience always knows, it’s the characters onstage who aren’t playing with a full deck.  As Beatrice in disguise as her dead brother Federico, Ms. Wisan did a fine job as alternately winsome and tough.


    Adina Verson is very charming, sings beautifully and is hilarious as Clarice.


    Finally, Emily Young is sweet, funny and poignant as Smeraldina, the typical lady's maid conspiring with her mistress only to fall for the not in the slightest bit wily Truffaldino.  She also had a fine time speaking as a modern feminist standing up for women’s rights against the vulgarians coming into power.

     

    Cast unrecognizable without their masks, except for the Dottore (L) and Pantalone (4).   Rehearsal photo by Gerry Goodstein..

    My feeling about nine out of ten of the shows I see is that they run a little longer than they need to — and this very, very funny show was not an exception.  It could lose 10, 15 minutes.  Just not the intermission, which is needed for the audience to catch their breaths after over an hour of laughing as well as for the bathroom break implied by Truffaldino. I suspect which 10 minutes is arguable — something I felt lasted too long, such as Pantalone’s leg business, probably did not appear so to others.


    There’s no down time in The Servant of Two Masters, it’s just chock a block non-stop, full of laughter and song.  If you’re sensitive to raunchy innuendoes, verbal or physical, you might be offended once or twice, but really, in today’s world, aren’t we offended by someone or something multiple times a day?  Grin and bear it for the sake of the rest of the life-giving oxygen provided by all the laughter.



    ~  Molly Matera, signing off to read TFANA’s always entertaining program with quotes about the playwrights, the play, the times.  Or perhaps watch the 1952 film, Scaramouche!


    0 0

    Last Wednesday night, Rattlestick Playwrights Theater & Page 73 presented the New York Premiere of “Orange Julius” by Basil Kreimendahlas directed by Dustin Wills.


    At the end of 90 minutes of fine acting by the small cast on the compact stage, I asked myself, “What was that play about?” 


    Orange Julius” has many elements.


    The five-person cast was fabulous, particularly Stephen Payne as Julius and Mary Testa as his long-suffering wife France — I do not recall ever hearing her name, but that was her name according to the program.  Of course, it was his name that was important:  Naming a Vietnam vet “Julius” allowed him to make a joke about Orange Julius while linking his name with Agent Orange.


    Mr. Payne and Ms. Testa played with utter naturalness, creating organically grown and shaped and developed characters in beautifully textured performances.


    Their children were called “Nut” (played by Jess Barbagallo) and “Crimp” ( played by Irene Sofia Lucio).  The first time we see her she’s crimping her hair and threatening to crimp that of her little sister.  These two have a lovely sibling rivalry, taunting, teasing, helping one another.  A real relationship on paper, although a real connection between Mr. Barbagallo and Ms Lucio seemed lacking. 

     
    In rehearsal:  Stephen Payne and Jess Barbagallo (Photo Credit:  Bruce Cohen)
    The play takes place in the family garage, which sometimes seems to play a living room, sometimes a car, and, when the garage door is open, Vietnam.  Kate Noll’s set design was simple and clear, evoking a time, an economic class, a trap.


    Montana Levi Blanco’s costume design was excellent — every person was wearing clothes befitting the character. That’s good costume design, to be essentially unnoticed.  The small space was well lit by Barbara Samuels and the sound by Palmer Hefferan was effective.  Director Dustin Wills’ staging used the tight quarters to excellent advantage.


    The play begins in the 1980s, told in flashbacks by an ever-present onstage narrator — Nut — who talks way too much and is not quite reliable.  She — or he — is earnest, but memory is not fact, as noted when Nut says he was 7, 9, or 8.  Later she was 12, or 10 or 13. 


    Nut is of small stature.  While referred to throughout as a girl, a daughter, a sister, Nut is played by a male.  Nut speaks of wanting to go through a past life regression, to the audience, and to his mother when still pre-pubescent.  Is this play Nut’s past life regression?  The confusion is not clearly settled (perhaps not for Nut either), even when Nut’s older sister offers him/her a training bra.  Nut at some point was a girl, but enters the Vietnam scene clearly as a male. 


    Nut is simultaneously engaging and annoying.  Sister “Crimp” is sometimes mean or angry, always the epitome of a big sister bestowing wisdom and love on her younger sister, Nut.  At least one character is missing, a brother referenced in several scenes but never seen.  Is he dead?  Is he in a hippie commune feuding with his Vietnam vet father?  There’s a story left untold.  Not every story need be told, yet the missing brother nagged at me and held my interest longer than Nut did.  Because Nut is telling the story, it’s an awful lot about him/her when it is Julius and Mary who are the most interesting characters.


    Back to my original question:  What is this play about?  What point is playwright Kreimendahl trying to make?


    ەThe effect of war on the next generation?


    ەThe aftermath of science used for evil (i.e., Agent Orange)?


    Possible fact:  Julius went to war, was attacked by American military industrial complex and fatally poisoned with Agent Orange.  It was vile from the very beginning and it took decades to kill, but kill it did, via multiple cancers.


    Not quite possible fact:  Nut says that in Vietnam, a girl was born the same day he was and her father too had been poisoned with Agent Orange.  The Vietnamese father was dead and the girl was born with bulging eyes that could never close. 


    Is that true?  How could Nut know that?  We only know what Nut tells us, shows us, but we readily believe that Julius was poisoned with Agent Orange and died a slow death psychologically and physically.  Therefore, should it not follow that we believe that a girl was born in Vietnam the same day Nut was, with a birth defect, possibly connected to the poisoning of her father with Agent Orange.


    ەIs the play about the nature of Self?  Of Truth?

     
    In rehearsal:  Director Dustin Wills and Ruy Iskandar (Photo Credit: Bruce Cohen)
    There are many flashbacks to Vietnam played beyond the open garage door with Julius and the angry foulmouthed soldier “Ol’ Boy” (only named in the program), well played by Ruy Iskandar. Julius and “Ol Boy” are there, but so is “Nut.”  Or at least the actor is.  Was his “past life” self there, is he playing someone else, is he playing his father?  But Julius was in the same scenes.  It’s not that they weren’t good compact little scenes.  It’s that they didn’t make much sense as a part of the whole.  Is this Nut in his memories of another life?  Has this character in Vietnam anything to do with Nut?  Are any of Nut’s memories reliable? 


    An old television is on a worktable in the garage.  It is often on through the play, showing old films and television programs and a lot of “Platoon.”  I do not have clear memories of that film, just the scenes repeatedly shown in movies about war movies.  An audience cannot be expected to remember the film, and yet I think much of it was re-enacted in the Vietnam flashbacks, so what was the story of Julius and why was Nut re-enacting “Platoon?”

     
    In rehearsal:  Irene Sofia Lucio and Mary Testa (Photo Credit: Bruce Cohen)
    Meanwhile, Nut’s sister grows up to be a nurse who is defecated on by a patient she was turning to prevent bedsores.  While this was clearly not on purpose, still, this is what she thinks her life is, being “dumped” on. She is bitter.  Her choices seem to be based on what she knows she can do (take care of sick people) but which do not please her.  She tried to help her mother care for her father, but France wouldn’t always allow it.  France needs help and cries out for it, but does not accept it from her children.  Ms. Testa’s pain is heartbreaking. 


    It’s difficult to know over what time period the episodic play takes place:  mostly in the 1980s, although once Nut says it’s 2004.  There are some touching moments, some funny ones, some sad ones. Late in the play, and presumably in time, France tries to feed her husband baby food, which may be all that he can stomach.  He pushes the spoon away, makes a mess as a child would, and pushes France’s hand away.  He then gently clasps her wrist.  He is still Julius, her husband.  The moment is brief, but memorable.  Julius is broken, supported by his family.  He is angry, he is in pain, he has terrible memories.  France is cracking under the strain but holds the family together no matter what.  Sister “Crimp” traveled in and out, seemingly always there until we’re told she lived in another part of the country.  At some time or another.  Time matters.


    Nut appears to have been transgender in a time that would not be forgiving or understanding.  That issue, however, comes off as a sidebar, a distraction from the real story of Julius & France.  If the play is supposed to be about Nut discovering herself as male, why isn’t that the story?  Why not tell Julius’ story with a son?  We don’t know why Nut is telling us all this, and since she or he isn’t a reliable narrator, we may never know.


    All in all, I liked everything about the production except the play, because the playwright could not make up his mind as to what it was about.  Many interesting elements, interesting moments, interesting characters. But too many elements.  It was a surprisingly long 90 minutes.



    ~ Molly Matera


    0 0

    It has been brought to my attention that I’ve not posted anything — about cats or gardens or theatre, nada — in months.  Apologies.  I’m here, my cats are here, my garden is growing, and I’ve seen a number of plays and dance programs and such in New York City in the past six months. 


    To catch you up, in January I saw….


    Beauty Queen of Leenane at BAM

    This was Martin McDonagh’s first produced play, which played in Europe and Broadway twenty years ago, directed then and now by Garry Hynes.  I did not see it then.  The first McDonagh play I saw was The Lieutenant of Inishmore, one of the funniest, most macabre and bloody plays I’ve ever seen.  And, I believe, the play that taught me the word “fecking.”


    The Beauty Queen of Leenane is hard to describe: it’s dour and depressing and dismal.  People are mean, and yet a lot of it comes out funny.  That’s what McDonagh does, he makes you laugh and feel guilty for laughing.  As a McDonagh play, I expected some violence, and pretty crazy people, which he provided.


    The second act was directed to run so slowly that all the echoes of Act I that may have been fabulous from a literary point of view were totally predictable theatrically, which is annoying and made the act very long.  Mind you, when we got to the big reveal, it was astonishing, and Aisling O'Sullivan, who played Maureen, was just marvelous.  As was the woman who played Maureen twenty years ago, who plays the mother this time around, Marie Mullen


    While I enjoyed most of it, I did get bored during the second half and overall was rather disappointed. 




    In February, I went to Carnegie Hall and enjoyed

    Bamberg Symphony.  It was just wonderful, I so enjoy being at Carnegie Hall.  In the first half, the solo violinist did a little “Caprice” as a sort of encore (after he snapped his bowstring and had to borrow a bow from the First Violin), and at the end of the second half the orchestra did a brief encore as well. The sound is awe-inspiring in this magnificent place.  The program was Mozart’s Overture to Don Giovanni, Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto, and finally Mahler’s Symphony No. 5.  A lovely evening.



    Then came Man of Good Hopeat the BAM Opera House (from South Africa’s Isango Ensemble and Young Vic, based on a book by Jonny Steinberg and directed by Mark Dornford-May).  The evening began with a bang as the full cast played half a dozen marimbas joyously, then ran around the steeply raked stage trading places. The audience, wide awake, left their dull days behind.


    The conductor stepped on to the playing space with a tall man in traditional Somali garments and white skull cap.  This was Assad Abdullahi, whose story we followed for two hours, from the age of 8 in Somalia when his mother was murdered in front of him, traveling across borders throughout Africa with different groups until he ended up in Capetown, South Africa, in his adult life.


    Performances were marvelous across the board.  While the singing and dancing were uplifting, the play needs cutting so as not to bludgeon the audience.  We saw refugees treated like refuse, beaten, killed, driven away.  Terrifying.  The pounding of the repeated indignities visited on the main character and his family and friends, while the audience was shocked and appalled, that same pattern, over and over, does beat the audience into shutting down. The unvarying story of misery: attack, move on, find clan, family, even a wife, lose them:  In a life, this is all devastating.  An audience (at least an American audience) will turn off with the repetition.  All in all, an exciting and memorable piece of work.




    The last February theatre outing was to BAM for

    Escaped Alone by Caryl Churchill, from London’s Royal Court Theatre, well directed by James McDonald.  Odd, interesting, often funny, almost Pinteresque.  Beckettesque?  Excellent performances by Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham, June Watson.  It appears to be, perhaps, the end of the world, and four women sit in a back garden talking about ordinary things, ordinary life, and some unusual bits as well. This idyllic scene is interrupted by Ms. Basset’s character, Mrs. Jarrett, stepping to one side as the curtain falls to show garish screens of horror. She tells stories about the first days, the third weeks, how humanity survives whatever it is we’ve done to ourselves.  Then she’s back in the garden. Which is the real world?


    This pattern repeats -- garden, chat, the horrors of the after....apocalypse?  WWIII?   garden chat, horrors, garden chat....Four women on a nice summer afternoon.  Maybe.

    Escaped Alone is hilarious, frightening, and more than worth your time if it shows up at a theatre near you.




    March was busy, starting with

    Joan of Arc: Into the Fire at the Public Theater.  This was, at best, disappointing.  Its 95 minutes felt like more than 2 hours.  The absurdity of a teenage girl with religious mania singing about “freedom” in the 15th century started the evening off badly.  The good news is that the woman who played Joan was fabulous:  Jo Lampert.  See her, hear her do anything.  David Byrne’s music was uninspired and his lyrics were simplistic and puerile.  Effects were great.  They burned her at the stake.  Onstage.  Unfortunately, this extraordinary visual was destroyed because the play wasn’t over.  There was one more tedious scene, which took place 24 years after Joan’s death when her mother (played by Mare Winningham) goes to the cardinals and bishops to plead for Joan to be retried and found innocent so she can go to heaven where she belongs.  Dull final scene with a remarkably dull song with eight guys looking at her dumbly.  Dreadful.


    Just remember the name Jo Lampert.




    Latin History for Morons at the Public was pointless. Even its 90 minutes were too long.



    A gift of a production of The Skin of Our Teeth, written by Thornton Wilder in 1942, at Theatre for a New Audience was delightful and imaginative.  Director Arin Arbus captured the madness in the wild crazy funny evening at the Polonsky Shakespeare Center, imaginatively enlivened by excellent music.  Mary Wiseman was a marvelous Sabina. A great time was had by all.


    One flaw by TFANA of which I must disapprove – something my friend experienced recently at the Guthrie – the program listed performers NOT in order of appearance but in alphabetical order by their last names.  Not helpful to a curious audience member and not respectful to the performers and musicians.




    The Play That Goes Wrong played at the Lyceum.  It is hilarious, ridiculous, tight, well-staged (though marred by some visibility problems due to the transfer of venue from its original London home). The Play That Goes Wrong written so well by Henry Lewis, Henry Shields, and Jonathan Sayerthat I could not believe it was written at all, was directed by Mark Bells and is about set pieces breaking, actors doing or not doing things at the wrong times in the wrong places, and tech crew interacting with the audience.  Every actor’s nightmare (except being nude) came alive in wakefulness.  I laughed hard for the whole play. Some people thought it was a poor man’s version of Noises Off, but they must have been grumpy at the time.  Just laugh.




    Linda by Penelope Skinnerat the Manhattan Theatre Club at City Center, directed by Lynne Meadow.  Set in the beauty industry, it follows the disappointment of a woman who fought for female equality in her career, sacrificing family relationships without even noticing, only to find after two decades that nothing changed.  Interesting and depressing. Wonderful performance by Janie Dee as Linda, and the entire cast.  A thought-provoking evening.




    Sweat by Lynn Nottagemoved from the Public Theatre to Studio 54 where I saw it after it had won the Pulitzer Prize.  The play was exciting, poignant, topical.  Sweat has a chuckle or two because human beings are funny, but it is depressing as all hell.  Brilliantly acted, it is Theatre that Holds a Mirror Up to Society and is consequently infuriating, sad, and damn good. 


    The play’s action starts in 2008 and goes back to 2000 so we know how everyone got here. It’s a slow build.  The actual, single “incident” that changed everybody’s lives happens more than halfway through Act 2.  An incident of some sort has been expected since the beginning of the first act.  It raises far more questions than it answers because life is not simple with heroes and villains, black and white, or linear action.  The play is riveting, important, stimulating, and so well acted that I was really angry and almost shouted back on occasion.  Very tight cast and excellent direction by Kate Whoriskey.




    Pacific Overtures @ Classic Stage Company was wonderful. Never having seen the original, I was not bothered by the differences — the traditional all-male cast was augmented by one woman, and the play was edited to run 90 minutes with no intermission.  Soaring voices told a fascinating, little known story.  The narrator sounded just like George Takei, and then there he was, onstage!  That was oddly thrilling.  Very glad to have experienced this play live, and now I understand and love the songs much better than I had just listening to a Sondheim album.





    Well, that’s quite enough after months of nothing.  Next week:  May, June and July.  Promise.


    Signing off to write the next batch….



    Molly Matera, 13 August 2017


    0 0

    In May, I entered a Russian samovar or the interior of the Imperial Theatre on West 45th Street.  Onstage and everywhere, the Broadway production of Natasha Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812 has transformed the theatre into Napoleonic era RussiaWhile I have nothing against Josh Groban, I chose to see Dave Malloy (who returns to the role next week) as Pierre while Mr. Groban took a well-deserved vacation.  It was a fabulous and exhilaratingly different evening.



    Scenic Designer Mimi Lien redesigned the entire interior of the theatre to create the Russia of Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.”  Paloma Young’s costumes fit each character like a bespoke glove, accompanied by fitting hair and wig design by Leah J. Loukas. With the complementary arts of lighting (Bradley King) and sound design (Nicholas Pope), this production and the fabulous characters and atmosphere and social politics actually inspired me to once against attempt to read that hefty Tome.  Sam Pinkleton’s choreography took flight all around us and director Rachel Chavkin brought it all together in a wondrous whole.

    a highly unusual seating chart

    Dave Malloy, the composer, lyricist, book writer and orchestrator of the piece and originator of the role Pierre Off Broadway, has a gruff, bearlike demeanor and voice, and his Pierre was a grounding force in that extraordinary cast.  They are an athletic bunch, from leads to chorus and ensemble, moving among and around the audience at all levels.  This production has no second or third wall let alone a fourth.


    After Malloy as Pierre (no, he hasn’t got Groban’s pipes, but his solid presence lends Pierre the gravitas he deserves) my favorite performer and his inseparable character was Lucas Steele as the roué and cad, Anatole, in a flamboyant performance as that despicable creature we adored.  Denée Benton's Natasha was a delightfully lusty and foolish ingenue with the voice of an angel, whose best friend Sonya was well played by BrittainAshfordAmberGray is marvelous as Pierre’s wicked wife Hélène.  There is no weak link in this astounding cast.


    Denee Benton as Natasha
    And the music.  It soars it sings it dances it bounces it pines it weeps.  Mr. Malloy is sensitive to every nuance, multi-talented, capturing the flavor and rhythms of Russia in a very American musical.


    I don’t generally care for environmental theatre after a day of working —I do not want to work as audience as well.  But the ensemble of Natasha Pierre…. are psychic — they knew instinctively which audience members just want to sit and enjoy the experience and which want to take part.  They left me alone but sat on the step next to me.



    I cannot say too much about this production of this wonderful musical play.  I absolutely loved it and recommend it to all and sundry.  Go.  Bring your in-laws.  Soon.  It closes September 3, 2017!



    ~ Molly Matera, signing off to listen to the score in peace….not war






    0 0
  • 08/22/17--18:00: Julius Caesar Meets Fox News
  • In early June, William Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at the Delacorte Theater (The Public Theater’s Shakespeare in the Park) was fun but imperfect, although not for any of the reasons Fox News and their followers thought.  It is always a political play, of course. Theatre companies of the past four centuries have used it to do theatre’s job of holding that mirror up to “nature,” reflecting whatever the current leadership, in any country, was doing.  The play did its job of throwing a spotlight on the ambition of the current power base and its adherents.  This time the right wing was terribly upset by a production that showed an actor resembling Donald Trump as Julius Caesar, the deliciously slimy Gregg Henry keeping the production's promisesThose very same right-wing pundits were not at all bothered, in fact they were utterly silent, when the Guthrie cast an Obama lookalike as Julius Caesar a few years back.  I trust we can all judge the significance of that.

     

    Tina Benko and Gregg Henry as Calpurnia and Julius Caesar onstage at the Delacorte.  (Photo Credit:  Joan Marcus)

    For those who do not know, back in 44 B.C.E., Julius Caesar was stabbed in the Roman Senate house.  That’s history.  In Shakespeare’s play there are just a handful, perhaps two hands, of conspirators.  Really there were more like 60, but that’s too large a cast for most stages or theatre companies.  Shakespeare was no fool.


    Fox News thought it highly significant that “everyone” who stabbed Caesar was a minority or a woman.  In fact, Brutus was played by a stalwart of the Public Theater (and now television), Corey Stoll, who is a white male.  Really their response just shows that the right wing does not read the classics or attend the theatre in NYC or anywhere else, where color-blind casting has been the norm for years.


    Some aspects of Oscar Eustis’ production were sharp and funny, but some pushed the play a bit off course.  It’s all very well to cast the marvelous Tina Benko as Calpurnia with an oddly Melania-like accent and Elizabeth Marvell as Marc Antony, playing it as a cross between a southern politician and C.J. from The West Wing.  Most of the performances were highly effective.

     

    Elizabeth Marvell as Marc Antony at the Delacorte.  (Photo Credit: Joan Marcus)


    However, the war in Rome after Caesar’s assassination was not between hippies and storm troopers, but a civil war between relative equals. Cinna the Poet was murdered by an ignorant and easily manipulated mob, not by state police. Veering off-book in the second half struck the wrong note after the humor of Gregg Henry’s characterization of Julius Caesar.  Sometimes it’s not about taste, but about logic. Just telling Shakespeare’s story of Julius Caesar is quite significant enough.


    ~ Molly Matera, signing off until the next remembered evening of theatre....

    0 0

    In June I went back to Brooklyn for 

    Cirkus Cirkor at the BAM Opera House. 
              



    It was not our first time enjoying this wonderful Swedish troupe, nor will it be the last. The Cirkus excels at death defying acrobatics.  These people are awe-inspiring (and always inspire me to exercise, if only for a few days).  One of the astounding acrobats, at the opening of the second half, came forward and told us all to stand up, put our feet together, and close our eyes.  She also advised those of us on the edge — by which she meant the first row of the Mezzanine — to be careful!  Our bodies would be constantly moving in tiny jerks to retain balance. When you’re not reading an e-mail or walking or driving or anything, stand still and close your eyes, and you’ll feel it — your new balance.  It was a pleasing exercise in the middle of a thrilling evening.



    Check their scheduled appearances here — in 2017, they’re in Europe, but they usually play the U.S. every year or two!  https://cirkor.se/en/node/26523/turneplan


    *

    Kristine Nielsen, Kate Burton, and Kevin Kline in Present Laughter.

    Then back to Broadway for Americans playing Brits:

    Present Laughter at the St. James is not Noel Coward’s best play, and this production seemed almost set in stone. Of course, Kevin Kline was brilliant; and yet, the piece so lacked spontaneity that it just rode around him, like stationary horses on a merry-go-round.  Still, Cobie Smulders made an excellent Broadway debut. Kate Burton was quite fine as the “estranged” wife, Kristine Nielsen hilarious if formulaic as Kline’s long-suffering secretary, and they all made Susan Hilftery’s costumes look fabulous on David Zinn’sgorgeous set, where I would be happy to live. And Reg Rogers was marvelous.  The production, directed by Morris von Stuelpnagel, was expertly done for what it was; however, I felt there was a desperation to the play. Perhaps influenced by the cameras filming it that evening. Perhaps because it was a play Noel Coward wrote for himself to play in ...  Perhaps it was all about the danger of me looking forward to something too much. I left the theatre a bit disappointed. 


    *

    The Joyous cast of INDECENT (Photo by Sara Krulwich)

    Later in June, Indecent at the Cort Theatre was threatening to close.  I’d walked by the theatre all spring, more and more interested.  Suddenly it was the weekend the play was scheduled to close, so  I broke my own rule and trucked into Manhattan for a Saturday matinee.  Theatre instincts won out over MTA dread.  


    The play Indecent by Paula Vogel and this production created by Vogel and director RebeccaTaichman combined their radiant talents and hearts to create sheer brilliance:  This is what theatre is about. Indecent is light years beyond other plays of the season.  Its subject matter ranges over religious life, pogroms, homosexuality, immigration, prejudice in all its forms, life in the theatre, censorship, and love.  Oh, the love.  Indecent is not a musical, but it has music and flowing, aching choreography by the scintillating David Dorfman, on top of imaginative story-telling that brought us into the lives of human beings in frightening times.  My absolute favorite play of the season, Indecentis heart breaking and joyous at the same time.  I was overcome.  The play extended another 5-7 weeks past its closing date, but it is gone now, and I’m so sorry for everyone who did not see it. 

     

    Photo by Carol Rosegg

    I must call out Richard Topol’s gorgeous work as Lemml, the Stage Manager, and yet that's misleading because every performance was sterling, between actor/musicians and musician/actors. Oh hell, I’ll just list them all:  Cheers to exemplary work by Katrina Lenk, Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis, Steven Rattazzi, Adina Verson, Matt Darriau, Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva.

    Also outstanding were Christopher Akerlind’s Tony-winninglighting design, Matt Hubbs’ sound design, scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez, costume design by Emily Rebholz, projection design by Tal Yarden, hair and wig design by J. Jared Janas and DaveBosa, and the soul-baring and joyous work of Co-Composers and Co-Music Directors Lisa Gutkin and AaronHalva


    And oh, the rain.



    Molly Matera, signing off BUT I do have good news:  For those who missed INDECENT onstage, it will be aired on PBS Great Performances on November 17: http://www.playbill.com/article/broadways-indecent-sets-november-air-date-on-pbs-great-performances  Mark your calendars and DVR!



    0 0

    Lincoln Center, Friday night June 20, 2017.  Photo Credit Me.
    June ended for me with Osloby J.T. Rogers at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center.  The play was briskly intellectual, cleverly interesting, occasionally quite funny (people are), its characters were passionate in different ways — and yet the play was not.  Oslo was about the unlikely yet true secret meetings leading up to the Oslo Accords and the Arab-Israeli Peace Process back in the 1990s.  The production, directed by Bartlett Sher, was excellent, with great performances by all, particularly those who played more than one role.  But something seemed to be missing for me, perhaps because I know that all this passion, manipulation, energy and sincere effort led merely, after all that, to a temporary success.


    Not to mention I’d been overwhelmed by Indecent less than a week before….

     

     

    Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays in OSLO


    On the day before Independence Day I saw 1984 at the Hudson Theatre.  Alas it was all for show.  Lots of shock value, with lighting effects that may be detrimental to people subject to migraines or epilepsy.  Reed Birney was excellent.  The play may be of possible interest to anyone who did not read the book in school — now that’s a dreadful thought leading to feelings of hopelessness. Simply put, the play was not good. 


    Read the book.




    Then after Independence Day, more Shakespeare with Hamlet at the Anspacher Theater at the Public Theater in its downtown headquarters.  Director Sam Gold’s production was innovative and exhilarating, playing in four hours that felt like two.  Oscar Isaac is a splendid Hamlet, clever and soft, the boy next door with a secret.  He is an actor with a technical mastery of the language that makes it all sound utterly spontaneous.  The very small cast wove in and out of multiple characters.  Standouts were Gayle Rankinas a quirky, golden-voiced Ophelia, Ritchie Coster as Claudius, Anatol Yusefas Laertes, and Peter Friedman as Polonius.  Unfortunately, this limited run closes Sunday.  (Yes, that’s this Sunday, 3 September.)


    Isaac as Hamlet with Rankin as Ophelia.  Photo by Sara Krulwich

     ⟱


    A couple weeks after loving Sam Gold’s production of Hamlet, I saw his production of A Doll’s House Part 2 at the John Golden Theatre.  At best, it was annoying. The play runs a four-act structure in 90 minutes, with mostly two-person scenes beyond which playwright Lucas Hnathmust grow.  For no good reason at all, Jayne Houdyshell’s character suddenly started swearing right and left.  I felt it was probably so that Chris Cooper, the sole male in the cast, wouldn’t be the only character using foul language.  And much as I typically like Laurie Metcalf, her Nora made me think of Roseanne, which is not pleasant for me.  Condola Rashad was oddly intriguing as Nora and Torvald’s grown daughter. Director Sam Gold may have received accolades for this one, but I cannot agree this time. 


    Jayne Houdyshell and Laurie Metcalf. (Photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

    🔂


    In closing, it was a lively half year of theatre for me.  When I look over my notes scribbled after these performances, one theme repeated.  “Smartphones.”  This bane of civilized discourse creates annoying addicts too self-centered to turn off their "phones" when requested, too insecure to get through intermission without them.  It should be noted that this rude behavior is not limited to one generation.  What a world.  But that’s for another musing.



    ~ Molly Matera, signing off to enjoy Labor Day Weekend with friends and family.  Be safe and have fun.


    0 0
  • 10/26/17--18:58: The Two-Play Weekend
  • MEASURE FOR MEASUREis a problematical play. Modern audiences have difficulty comprehending Isabella’s choices, all of the characters are unlikable, and in the final moments, the Duke may be as low and vain as the fallen Angelo.


    The primary problem with the Public Theater’s bizarre production is that the audience members who do not already know the play, the characters, the story, will not have a clue what’s happening in this production by the Elevator Repair Company.

    Some of the acting is fine, but the direction by John Collins is not.  Too damn clever in a concept, and greatly lacking in storytelling.  The Public Theater calls it "an experimental production."  Apparently the experiment is how to not tell the tale.  

    Happily, the excellent Scott Shepherd as The Duke was comprehensible and funny and took us all into his confidence. That helped. Rinne Groff was an excellent Isabella, attempting modernity for a difficult character. Pete Simpson as Angelo was just odd, Mike Iveson as Lucio alternated between hilarious and annoying, which sounds like a good impersonation of Lucio. Vin Knight as Escalus was serviceable. Most of the cast, however, was sub-par, for which I believe the director must be held to account.

    What the Public calls “technological dramaturgy” is reliance on the projection of Shakespeare’s script on the walls of the stage, presumably hoping we’d read the words we could not hear. The beginning of the play was directed for everyone’s speech to be so fast the audience could not comprehend it. It was a relief when the speech slowed to molasses as Isabel met her brother, the lusty Claudio, in prison. This pivotal scene is a painful conversation, and while it may, in reality, feel excruciatingly slow, unfortunately that is not theatrical. The long pauses may have felt emotionally earned to the actors, but not to the audience. Then the play sped back up again, dolls were tossed about, and finally the play was over.

    Measure for Measure is a challenge for any director, but there’s no need to toss the baby out with the bathwater.

    #


    THE TREASURERby Max Posner at Playwrights Horizons is beautifully played by a cast of four (two of them in multiple roles). Unfortunately, conceptually interesting as the play might have been, it has no beginning, a muddle of a middle, and no ending.


    Even as directed by the brilliant David Cromer, this doesn’t feel like a play, but a pondering.


    Laura Jellinek’s spare and practical scenic design served the space well, and costume design by David Hyman fit the characters. What fit the characters even better were the wonderful actors portraying them:

    • Peter Friedman in the title role — nameless, only “The Son” in the program, to whom no one refers by name. Straightforward, simple, real, and perhaps the play’s “Everyman.” 
    • Deanna Dunagan is heartbreaking as the mother, Ida Armstrong — she definitely has a name, and wants everyone to know it. Ms. Dunagan shrinks rather than grows in the role, her gradual physical decline is perfection. She forces us to enjoy Ida, no matter how self-centered she was.  After all, while most women grow up to fall into the role of mother, not all of them are suited to it, or want it. Ida insists she was a child when she married and when she had her children, but then she grew up and found true love. It seemed to me that she remained a child leaving everything to her more romantic second husband and then to her children when he died.
    • Marinda Anderson and Pun Bandhu play the remaining roles of The Son’s two brothers as well as a salesperson and other strangers. Each character is clearly delineated by these fine actors. It was, however, initially confusing to hear a woman playing one of the brothers.


    The play, even more than the Son, asks what is really owed parents who desert their children? “The Son” clearly feels his mother demands too much and isn’t necessarily entitled to it, but also thinks he’s wrong to resent her. Ida had no guilt over her poor performance as a mother; why has The Son such guilt over what he perceives as his poor performance as a son? Dutiful as he is, because he cannot love his errant mother, he’s sure he’s going to hell.


    The play is not dull because the characters — as written and as acted — are not dull. It just doesn’t go anywhere. Well, perhaps on an escalator to hell.


    Note: The program, of course, includes too much opinion from the artistic director of Playwrights Horizons and the playwright, so the play cannot live up to their emotional connection with their journey with the play. Which is why such things should only be read, if at all, after the performance.




    0 0

    J.B. Priestly’sAn Inspector Calls has tension and mystery, causing anxiety.


    J.B. Priestly’sTime and the Conways has not.


    The Roundabout’s production of Time and the Conways at the American Airlines Theatre on 42ndStreet is beautifully produced and cleverly staged.  Costuming, furnishing, sound, lights, it has all that.  And perfectly competent, often more than competent, performances by the actors.


    What it doesn’t have are interesting characters.  Or, barring interesting, at least likeable characters.  All these people worry about is money they do not earn.  They’re boring.  They’re unpleasant.  Some are downright nasty.  By the end of the play, we wonder if Mrs. Conway’s late husband, who died some time before the play began, deliberately drowned himself to get away from her bad mothering.


    Downton Abbey (constantly brought to mind in the production’s advertising because of Elizabeth McGovern’s presence as the matriarch and the television series’ vastly superior depiction of a family with a certain stature in the beginning of the 20th century undergoing a massive change in society in the decades that follow the first world war) worked because we had time to give a damn, to know even the villains, to watch the girls grow up.  In the three scenes of this play, the fine acting shows us a good deal but not enough to make us care. 


    At least not me.


    What’s most surprising here is that this production is smoothly directed by the splendid Rebecca Taichmann yet it has no life.  It is a set piece of another time, instead of being about time as Priestly apparently intended.  To read about a play and be told the author’s intent is not the same thing as getting it by watching and listening. 


    The players and designers of this production gave it their all, so the problem was not with them: 

     

    Elizabeth McGovern, Anna Camp, and Charlotte Parry.  Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

    ·         Anna Camp is bubbly as Hazel, the pretty one, at least to people like herself.  She is mean to her working class suitor, and predictably marries him so that she fades into a wan imitation of herself19 years later.

    ·         Anna Baryshnikov is excellent as the sweet Carol, the favorite who died young

    ·         Gabriel Ebert does fine work as Alan, the eldest son, who appears an unambitious doofus but is surprisingly wise

    ·         Brooke Bloom is strident and then heartbreaking as Madge the socialist daughter in a sad depiction from youthful hope to the bitter submission of age.

    ·         Charlotte Parry gracefully plays Kay the young writer who broke free of the family, and, despite her disappointed sadness, at least has dignity

    ·         Cara Ricketts as family friend Joan, obviously enamored of young Robin.  Like Hazel’s romance, this doesn’t work out too well.  Perhaps Priestley was really writing about sad upper class marriages.

    ·         Matthew James Thomas smartly played Robin, the pretty son who will quite obviously be a useless bounder.  Perhaps I’ve read/seen too many stories of English society between the wars, but that too was terribly predictable. 

    ·         Alfredo Narciso did excellent work as Gerald Thornton — the nice young man who’s not family but grows up to be the family solicitor.  He had nice moments of clear silent emotion and repression.

    ·         Steven Boyer was excellently unpleasant as Ernest Beevers, who creeps into a family gathering in the first scene practically stalking Hazel, returning as her husband in the later time period.  A dislikeable character, Boyer is of the working class, and while we empathize with his position, we wish he could rise above the nasty upper class family he married into.


    The production has fine design work, clever and marvelous set design by Neil Patel, and his usual excellent lighting by Christopher Akerlind, and fine costumes by Paloma Young (with hair and wig design by Leah J. Loukas), respectively.



    Finally, I must note the fascinating inclusion of “Hands On,” sign interpreters of the play who discreetly but clearly signed the entire performance house left.  


    ~ Molly Matera, looking for something more pleasing as the Roundabout season continues.



    0 0
  • 11/19/17--20:09: The Woods for the Trees....
  • The other night I saw a children’s show at Classic Stage Company called The Stowaway, a clever compilation of Shakespeare’s words and phrases in a storyline pulling a little from here, a little from there, with pirates and shipwrecks, usurping dukes, a little magic, and a talking ship’s figurehead.  It was a lot of fun, and I was only sorry to see too small an audience.  This Trusty Sidekick Theater Company production deserved more.  The play is technically for kids 5-12, but they let me in without one!  Alas, its last performance was November 19th, so I’m afraid you missed it.  Keep an eye out for this fun company of players presenting original theatre for kids.  https://classicstage.org/shows/2017/11/the-stowaway-or-how-the-mistress-quickly-went-from-madcap-to-majestic/


    Also starting out from East 13th Street…


    Compare and Contrast:  Double Vision of the Forest of Arden


    Two productions of William Shakespeare's As You Like It reveal missing pieces in each.  For Classic Stage Company (CSC), the usurping Duke Fredrick merely serves to throw people together to fall in love in the Forest of Arden.  On the other hand, in Arden Everywherethe other As You Like It at Baruch’s Performing Arts Center, or BPAC — the new inhabitants of the Forest of Arden are refugees waiting to see what may happen next in their lives as determined by unknown others.  Banishment leads to refugees — we just didn’t call them that until Arden Everywhere’sdirector Jessica Bauman did.  Shakespeare’s Jaques is melancholy in this beautiful — albeit cold — place, but perhaps we should have been listening to him more closely.


    CSC’s John Doyleshows us only a simplistic if charming love story — well, several love stories, which lead to marriages that silence the women who have contributed so strongly to survival in exile.


    Doyle’s As You Like It, running under two hours,leaves out most of the story and conflict so that, no matter how pretty the ditties composed by Stephen Schwartz, the evening is almost pointless.  Except, of course, that it was such a pleasure to watch Ellen Burstyn’s stillness onstage and hear the simplicity of the Seven Ages of Man at her hands in her abbreviated performance of Jaques.  Abbreviated it was, as was the whole play. 


    While I enjoyed the Arden Everywhere’s Jaques as played by Tommy Schrider, perhaps the actor is too young to deliver the Seven Ages of Man as well as Ms. Burstyn did.  Hers was on the spot, extempore, as it were.  His was recited.


    John Doyle may think he’s stripped the play down to its elements at CSC, but in fact he stripped it to ten actors in search of a play.  The cast sang Stephen Schwartz’s ditties very well, particularly Bob Stillmanas Duke Senior.  Unfortunately, the addition of jazzy music did not make up for the lack of a play. Favorite performances in this production were Rosalind (Hannah Cabell), Celia (Quincy Tyler Bernstine), and Phebe (a multi-level Leenya Rideout) and the inestimable Ms. Burstyn. 


    In Arden Everywhere, the Phebe over-acted terribly, as if she were in a thousand-seat house (she wasn’t) but Helen Cespedes’ Rosalind and Liba Vaynberg’s Celia were fabulous. 


    Since Jessica Baumandid not cut away the entire play, Dikran Tulaine as the Dukes Senior and Frederick got to remove a coat and become either the nice or the nasty duke before our eyes.  This was much more interesting for the audience.  Not to mention true to the play even though it didn’t use the play’s name, while CSC used the name but did something else, the way films do. 


    Touchstones were played by Dennis Rozee in Arden Everywhere and Andre de Shieldsin the CSC production.  Both performances were expert and funny while totally different from one another, which is one of most entertaining aspects of seeing two productions of the same play in close proximity.


    The Oliver/Silvius in Arden Everywhere were well differentiated as played by Kambi Gathesha.  Some of the cast at BPAC were not professionals and their inexperience showed, so the play as a whole had some issues.  But at least Arden Everywhere did the whole play, not just the romantic comedy that CSC’s AYLIpresented.  Both evenings were enjoyable, but Arden Everywhere was far more satisfying.

     

     

    Molly Matera, signing off to think about men in kilts.


    0 0

    The Band’s Visit, lovingly directed by the wonderful David Cromer, is a beautiful piece of theatre with delicious music and characters in a handsomely constructed evening.


    Based on the Israeli film of the same name, the play’s book is by Itamar Moseswith music and lyrics by David Yazbek, music that soared and made us dance in our seats and our souls. Music and love, that’s what The Band’s Visit is about. It is seductive and charming, sweet but not treacly.


    Patrick McCollum’s delightful and elegant choreography grows from the characters’ movements and feelings, easily making its way around Scott Pask’s imaginative scenic design.


    While its music put me in mind of the brilliant Indecent earlier this year [http://mollyismusing.blogspot.com/2017/08/], The Band’s Visitis much simpler, a snippet — more of a short story than the full novel Indecent resembled. Nonetheless, The Band’s Visit gives deep satisfaction with interesting characters we can identify with in ordinary and extraordinary social situations. A small town visited by unexpected strangers, foreigners. In a small American town, would these foreigners have been taken in and enjoyed? I may be grumpy and downright depressed about the state of our nation, but I’m very much afraid not.


    The basic story is simple. An Egyptian band is invited to visit an Arab Cultural Center in an Israeli city to play a concert of traditional music. There are two towns in Israel with names that sound, to non-Israelis, extremely similar. The city expecting the band is Petah Tikva. The aforementioned Egyptian band gets on the wrong bus to the wrong town — Bet Hatikva. According to its residents, said wrong town not only has no Cultural Center but no culture at all, although it does have a roller skating rink. It’s a dusty desert town with people who are terribly bored and hopeless, yet somehow the best humans you could hope for. The greeting the lost band received was musical and hilarious led by the thrilling Katrina Lenk, as a local café owner named Dina. A taste: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OzcHlnJ4c1Q  Dina and the Egyptian bandleader, Tewfiq, charmingly played by Tony Shalhoub,explore one another as they while away the evening, gently discovering each other’s past and present.


    The cast is sublime, featuring actors who are musicians, actors who dance or skate, music everywhere. There’s John Cariani as a young father learning to be a husband and Etai Benson as a lonely young man who befriends a sax player with a passion for Chet Baker. Unlikely friendships form, and music arises from them all. A running theme of what appears to be a hopeless long-distance romance gives us Adam Kantor staring at a pay phone for hours, awaiting a call from his girlfriend. When that young man sings, he breaks hearts.


    Tony Shalhoub, Ari’el Stachel and Katrina Lenk (Photo Sara Krulwich)

    The Band’s Visit is a seductive musical evening, an exquisite short story with far-reaching themes to which we’d be wise to pay attention.



    ~ Molly Matera, signing off and offering this:  If you have lost faith or hope, go to The Band’s Visit, then share the joy.


    0 0

    Last Spring I bought tickets to a "City Center Encore” of Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner’s Brigadoon. City Center typically does “concert” stagings — that is minimal staging, some costuming, broad stroke choreography.  After all, these shows run less than a week and don’t have much time for rehearsal. Stage actor union rules for staged readings were stated in the program — performers might have “scripts in hand.”  

    Not this time. This production was put together for a Gala on the Wednesday, so what I saw that Thursday night was highly polished.


    A wonderful scrim separated the onstage orchestra from the action (sometimes down, sometimes not) on which projections showed NYC, Scotland, heather on the hills, a forest, all in watercolor softness, with soft or bold colors depending on the scene.  Each scene was gorgeous, naturalistic without being in the slightest bit photographic.  A steep rounded staircase representing any number of hills separated the onstage orchestra from the action (except when the conductor handed a branch of heather to Fiona).


    Kelli O’Hara as Fiona has the voice of an angel but doesn’t leave it at that. She breathes life into her character — her Fiona is real and warm and alive.


    Choreographer and director Christopher Wheeldon was respectful of the original Agnes DeMille choreography, which even I could recognize (women’s hands), but enhanced, streamlined, and strengthened it.  The women dancers were delightful, and the men … Oh my....


    Men in kilts. Dancing. Leaping. Twirling. Gasp.


    Robert Fairchild (formerly of the NYC Ballet, who danced American in Paris, which I now regret not seeing just to have watched his performance) played the sad and angry “villain” of the piece, Harry Beaton, who is a much more interesting character than the Americans from the 20th century. Ballet dancers have played Harry in the past on stage, as well as in the film. Fairchild was magnificent, every movement sublime.  He has not yet developed much vocal guts as an actor, but his body does it all.


    As the second romantic lead, Charlie Dalrymple, Ross Lekites sings smoothly and sweetly.  He sang two of my favorite songs, “Go Home With Bonnie Jean” and “Come to me, bend to me,” breaking my heart in the process and moving his fiancée Jean (Sara Esty) and her friends into their lyrical dance.  Ms.Esty is not much a vocal presence, but that hardly matters. She was totally present and graceful, telling her love story with the lines of her body, giving Charlie and us her heart.


    Stephanie J. Block was a big vocal presence as Meg Brockie, singing the hilariously tongue-twisting “Me Mother’s Wedding Day.”  Once the Americans came to Brigadoon, Meg pined after Jeff, the sad-sack drunken friend of the leading man, Tommy.  Aasif Mandvi played Jeff with wit and warm sarcasm. As the object of Meg’s affection/lust, Mandvi totally embodied this potentially depressing character all the way to his last moments onstage.


    Patrick Wilson was Tommy, the romantic lead opposite Kelli O’Hara. I’m not a Wilson fan, I’m afraid. Whenever I’ve seen him he’s perfectly competent, he just doesn’t interest me.  He did his job well here; a strong singer, performing fine duets with Fiona, and he actually did more than justice to the overly expository songs of the second act.  I always enjoyed Gene Kelly’s depiction of Tommy in the movie, but then I always enjoy Gene Kelly.  Perhaps the role is just poorly written.


    Dakin Matthews was excellent as Mr. Lundie, who explains the (utterly absurd but who cares) premise of the play.  Patricia Delgado was expressive as the woman who clearly wanted Harry Beaton and danced the thrilling funeral dance.  This was far from morose, rather full of passion and very beautiful.


    It was a truly joyous evening at the beautiful City Center.



    ~ Molly Matera, signing off still hearing the lovely music and thrilling to Robert Fairchild dancing in my dreams.


    0 0

    Fiasco Theater is playing Shakespeare’s great comedy Twelfth Night at Classic Stage Company (136 East 13th Street) until Saturday January 6, 2018.  Run don’t walk to catch this exciting, funny, musical, lyrical, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, pastoral-romantic comedy best suited to this season. 


    Twelfth Night is often described as a perfect comedy and it may well be so.  But for that twin thing.  The romance is restrained (what with people in disguise), the comedy is not.  And in this production, the cast is superlative.  May I present:


    Andy Grotelueschenas Sir Toby Belch

    Jessie Austrianas Olivia

    Emily Young as Viola/Cesario

    Noah Brody as Orsino (also co-directed)

    Ben Steinfeld as Feste (also co-directed)

    Tina Chilip as Maria

    Paul L. Coffey as Malvolio

    Paco Tolson as Sir Andrew Aguecheek (among others)

    Javier Ignacio as Sebastian (among others)

    David Samuel as Antonio (among others)

     

    Fiasco Theater at CSC (Photo by Joan Marcus)

    John Doyle’s scenic design is flexible and creative, as is costume design by Emily Rebholz


    Andy Grotelueschen’s Sir Toby may well be the best funniest and most consistently alive I’ve seen, with a real relationship between him and Tina Chilip’s happily hilarious Maria.


    Ben Steinfeld as Feste shows himself as a fine comedic actor and musician and singer, quite romantic, and apparently a good director, since he and Noah Brody directed this production.


    Noah Brody is a well-developed and believable Orsino (although I will always remember the delicious Orsino of Paul Rudd at Lincoln Center).


    Jessie Austrian’s Olivia is a sex-starved delight.


    Emily Young’s Cesario/Viola is witty, strong and quite marvelous.


    As is their custom, when not actively onstage, the members of the Fiasco Theater sit or stand on the sidelines watching their colleagues and laughing along.  And accompanying one another on musical instruments and vocals, which makes for a funny, musical, delightful evening.


    As always, the twins bit in the last scene goes on too long — how dense are these people — but that’s just a momentary annoyance that may only happen to people (like me) who’ve seen the play many times.


    So go to 13th Street, go online, get a ticket, celebrate a well-over-200-year-old play.  Just because it’s done all the time doesn’t mean it’s always done as well as this.  Trust Fiasco Theater.  Go!




    ~ Molly Matera, signing off to go bake Christmas Cookies....



    0 0

    Music is mysterious.  It pulls emotions out of us, it urges us to remember for good or ill, pleasure or pain.  It riles us up, it calms us down.  Among other neurologists, Oliver Sachs particularly has written about music’s healing capacity.  Music therapy for people with dementia has been shown to awaken lost energies and memories.


    The odd story of Farinelli and the King is an example of music’s magical power.  King Philippe V of Spain, while some days brilliant, was just as often deeply disturbed, hiding in his room, fearful of other people, holding conversation with his goldfish Alfonso.  When his wife Queen Isabella heard castrato Farinelli sing she believed he could help her husband, so the two made the arduous journey (this was early in the 18thcentury) from England to Spain for this great experiment.  Surely hearing Farinelli’s glorious voice could awaken the king from his coma-like state.


    This play is based on the real relationship and real story that Farinelli, a great castrato of the 18th century, gave up his opera career to live with the king and queen of Spain for nine years, singing to keep the king’s humors level.  In addition to my interest in the subject matter, the play itself more than held my attention and I cared very much for the characters as written by Claire Van Kampen.  It is most beautifully produced with fine musicians and actors gracing the stage.  Ms. Van Kampen is also the musical arranger, so clearly knows her subject.  JonathanFensom’s designs immediately draw us into the London theatre, the Madrid palace as well as the house in the forest we experience later.  


    John Dove’s direction pulls all these marvelous elements together for a musical and engaging evening.


    Mark Rylanceplays King Philippe V.  Mark Rylance is a genius. Funny, endearing, sometimes frightening and heartbreaking. Philippe is at his best away from the responsibilities and clutter of court and city life, out in the forest where he wants to hear the stars singing. Don’t we all. When Jonathan Fensom’s scenic design transports us to the forest, we too wish to stay.

     

    Mark Rylance as King Philippe V

    Queen Isabella as played by the engaging Melody Grove is practical, powerful and passionate.  She is the one who brings the audience along on this journey, making us root for her goals to save her husband.


    Dan Crane acts Farinelli with sensitivity and grace, while Iestyn Davies, a countertenor, sings Farinelli. 


    It’s an interesting conceit:  When the scene calls for Farinelli to sing, Mr. Davies enters the stage dressed exactly like Crane’s Farinelli, and begins to sing and act his aria, prowling the stage.  Crane’s Farinelli remains, silent, not too close to his alter ego, not too far, communing with the inner spirit of the singer Farinelli.  At least that’s what it looked like to me, and I was riveted.  Crane seems to be subtly reflecting what’s going on inside the singer Davies.


    This was oddly fascinating to watch and oddly not disruptive to the action.


    Conflict external to the king’s distress is largely supplied by the King’s wily and seemingly advanced Doctor Cervi, deftly played by Huss Garbiya.  The doctor (and Isabella and the King) are in constant conflict with the king’s minister De La Cuadra, coldly and beautifully played by Edward Peel. 


    Queen Isabella originally found Farinelli performing for London theatrical manager John Rich, who is wittily and convincingly played by Colin Hurley


    Like the Globe’s last production here at the Belasco Theatre, the set design is in two levels, the gallery wrapped around and above the playing area on three sides so that audience members may sit on the stage surrounding the players, while the upper back gallery is occupied by the excellent musicians.  We can see all, yet they don’t draw attention from the players.  It is imaginative and impressive and very well used.  In the second half, Mr. Rylance adds a third level as the King chats with the audience as if they were denizens of the forest. 


    If you’ve read what I’ve written in past months about the musical passions of Indecent and The Band’s Visit, you may wonder about the music in Farinelli and the King.  A harpsichord plays the audience in, and is joined in the half hour before the play starts by a violinist, a cellist, and a lute player.  These and more musicians accompany much of the action for the evening and afford great pleasure. 


    This play was not as effective for me as it will be for opera lovers.  The formal style of operatic singing awakens no passion in me.  Although I intellectually know how powerful the music is (and I know we cannot know what a castrato really sounded like), I was not brought to any emotion by the singing.  Mr. Rylance’s performance as the troubled king showed me, however, all I needed to know about that music’s effect.


    Finally, I must mention the fabulous hair and wigs by Campbell Young that helped set us in Madrid or the forest and truly complemented the character development.


    Farinelli and the Kingplays at the Belasco only until March 25, 2018.  Performances are marvelous in a brilliant design, and the play stands on its own without plays of a similar “type” to compare it to — in any case, nothing and no one compares with Mark Rylance.  If tickets are still available, get to the Belasco and hear the singing of the stars.

     

    Mark Rylance as audience at the Delacorte in 2015.  Photo:  Matt Hennessy


    ~ Molly Matera, signing off to contemplate a new year.  Be happy and healthy.


    0 0


    Last month, I saw the Friday night performance of the closing weekend of The Children at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, presented by the Manhattan Theatre Club.  It was a limited run from London’s Royal Court Theatre, and I am grateful to have come to my frugal senses in time to order a ticket.  Like the last production I saw that was directed by James McDonald— at BAM, Caryl Churchill’s Escaped Alonethe set was in a box of sorts, so while I was slightly concerned with the height of my rear mezzanine seat (would I miss any downstage action?), once the play began, I got it all.  The box, rather like an adult-size diorama, was designed by Miriam Buether and represents the downscale home away from home where a long-married couple, Robin and Hazel (played by Ron Cook and Deborah Findlay) have lived since parts of the coast of England fell into the sea and what was left was irradiated by a failed nuclear power plant.  It just so happened that the couple who inhabit the diorama formerly worked at said nuclear power plant before their retirement to a lovely country house where they kept cows and chickens. All of which are now irradiated.


    Into this kitchen/living area comes an unexpected visitor with whom the couple had worked decades before. This is Rose, played by Francesca Annis.

    Ron Cook, Deborah Findlay, Francesca Annis.  Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich (NYT)
    For the next hour and three quarters, we wonder what the visitor is doing there, so close to the irradiated land.  The dynamics between the threesome vary between old friends and old enemies, particularly when it’s just the two women.  When the man enters the picture box, well, that’s interesting.


    They reminisce, they argue, they tell tales of children and cows.  When we finally learn why Rose is there, we’re shocked, but not appalled.  Fair’s fair.


    The playwright, Lucy Kirkwood, was unknown to me. She will be no longer, as this was fine, intricate writing with interesting living characters (all of them in their 60s) telling a layered story of personal relationships, personal loss, and personal responsibility, as well as societal predicaments.  This is a thoughtful play with plenty of laughs since, after all, people are pretty funny, and the actors are terrific as is the precise direction by Mr. McDonald.

     

    Rose, Robin, and Hazel (Credit:  Royal Court Theatre)

    Scenic design by Ms. Buether and lighting by Peter Mumford are fitting and fabulous, atmospheric, and, on occasion, frightening.  I especially liked the surface between the set diorama and the orchestra, which I slowly realized was filled with water, rather like a moat.  Reflective water, still, and then rising water.  Rising and rising…. 


    Back in February 2017 at BAM [http://mollyismusing.blogspot.com/2017/08/what-i-did-those-missing-months-of-2017.html], the last James McDonald-directed play I saw shared similarities with The Children, in another Miriam Buether scenic and Peter Mumford lighting design, as well as in attitude toward the future.  Fallible and arrogant humans have made a mess of things and will suffer the consequences.  No zombies, no robots, no aliens.  Just humans and the results of their hubris.  Terrific stuff. 


    ~ Molly Matera, signing off to continue scribbling about some other performances this winter....


    0 0


    2018 has been a tough year for Molly so far.  January brought a death, as January is wont to do.  My eldest cousin — firstborn of my generation as well as first to die.  He comes to mind frequently.  There is always much to talk to him about.  Maybe he’s listening somewhere, but we’ll never know until it’s too late to blog about.  My personal fantasy is that he has joined family members who preceded him to a golf course somewhere (at least two foursomes hovering about), from which exercise they return “home” where my Nana is eager to feed them.  It’s a choice.


    Update on Cats:  Millie lost a few teeth to the dentist, but otherwise my little three-some is well. 

    Wilbur

     

    Chick and Millie watching ....


    Little Grey

    Little Grey escaped her former captor and insists on living free so long as I feed her twice a day.  She claimed my garden and chased away a big black cat in the warm weather, but they are now buddies, sharing food and lodgings.  Of late there’s a third DSH daily, and an occasional visit from a mixed breed who appears to be part Siamese.  Later in the evening there had been an opossum, but most recently there are two young raccoons.  The opossum always walked or ran off in a different direction from the cats, but the raccoons seem to be sharing the same squat as Little Grey and her feline friends.  What next, this human wonders.  The animals are all getting along fine.  Humans, on the other hand….


    2018 is not fun. And I’m not even thinking about politics!  Perhaps it’s because Spring refuses to actually Spring but rather hide away from these chilly days.  

     

    barely budding



    My job, which is a very good job, is nonetheless trying to kill me.  I keep trying to get rid of things at home so that my “heirs” will only inherit good things, not clutter.  I’ve barely written a word since my last post here in early March, until last night when I went to my local for a couple pints.  Thus inspired, I scribbled based on barely legible scratches and kept going from memory of the theatre I’ve seen this year.  Little by little, bit by bit, I’ll post Molly’s musings on those.


    ~ Molly Matera, signing off to talk theatre.



    0 0



    Hangmen made me thirsty, especially after the shock of the first scene.  I had read scenic designer Anna Fleischle’s comments on the challenge of this three-setting play, first produced at the Royal Court Theatre in London, then here in New York to occupy the small space of the Atlantic Theater Company (formerly a church on West 20th street where I’m 99% sure I saw a delightful Much Adosomething like thirty years ago).  Each setting had to be independent of the other two, and yet permanent in a limited space. 


    The first scene is a humdinger.  A young man is about to be hanged (it’s England in the early 1960s, Lancashire), screaming his innocence every step of the way.  There are arguments and recriminations and accusations and a rope and a noose and a WHOOSH —- from the stage and then from the audience as the air rushed out of them when a trapdoor dropped the protesting young man and he disappeared below the stage.  Hanged.  Horror.


    After that opening, the scene is handily turned into a pub — the comfy corner sort with a warm wooden bar and a landlady truly pulling those pints of ale — with the jailhouse set rising to hover above as the pub’s ceiling while the memory of that gallows never leaves anyone in the pub.


    As is the norm with playwright Martin McDonagh, there is laughter, guilt, laughter, guilt, horror and fear.  Hanging is now a punishment of the past in England, although the hangman the audience saw doing his job in that first scene — and whose wife runs this pub — doesn’t believe the moratorium on hanging will last.  A young reporter tries to get numbers from him — how many men — maybe women –— had he hanged?

     

    Hangmen Syd and Harry (Photo Ahron R. Foster)

    Harry the hangman’s former assistant Syd, played by Reece Shearsmith, with whom Harry had fallen out, shows up casting doubt on the guilt of that last pathetic young man hanged, who had been convicted of killing a young woman on a beach.


    Harry the hangman is a guy next door sort of fellow and is played by the wonderful Mark Addy.  He’s a hale-fellow-well-met sort of hangman in the pub:  bigoted, bitter, judgmental but funny. Everything that happens onstage is played with simplicity and realism, from the ridiculous conversations among the pub’s regular drunks to the searing doubts cast by the former assistant Syd.  Harry’s wife Alice (Sally Rogers) owns the pub and has a complicated relationship with her husband — similar, perhaps to any difficult transition when one spouse’s retirement creates chaos at home.  Harry and Alice live above the pub with their teenage daughter Shirley, whom Harry calls “Mopey.”  And they have a spare room.

     

    Mooney and Shirley (Photo by Ahron R. Foster)

    The entire small cast is superb, from Gaby French as Harry & Alice’s teenage daughter to an unrecognizable Maxwell Caufield as the hangman’s greatest rival, also now a publican. 


    McDonagh, in concert with his sharp director Matthew Dunster, heats it up at the end of the first act, when the creepy Mooney (who prefers the term “menacing”), a southern stranger (as in from down London way), tries to rent the spare room from Alice.  Johnny Flynn does fine work as Mooney insinuates himself in with the ladies of the family, while scaring the bejesus out of the audience. Instead of becoming a boarder (which thought fills the audience with dread), Mooney has a one-sided shouting match with Alice and storms off.  Meanwhile the “mopey” daughter has gone out without a word. 

     

    Mark Addy as Harry and Johnny Flynn as Mooney (Photo by Ahron R. Foster)

    Was the last hanged man truly innocent and is this menacing Mooney the real killer?  Where’s daughter Shirley gone?


    Act 2 opens with Syd fanning the flames of fear. The police are called in when Shirley does not return, and the young reporter Harry had treated so rudely in the first act comes in to assist in finding the girl.  In return for a newspaper story about Shirley, he gets all those numbers he wanted. Connections, relationships, false or misleading, confuse us all as the tension mounts with everyone wondering where’s Shirley?  Mooney returns and …. No, I cannot tell you that.  Suffice to say that all the stops are pulled out in Act 2, with another rope, another noose, lightning (courtesy Joshua Carr, lighting designer), thunder, and another hanging question.


    Hangmen is oddly lacking in blood (my first McDonagh was The Lieutenant of Inishman, which was the bloodiest play I’d ever seen) and may not be McDonagh’s best, but this mystery thriller is a roller coaster ride of a good evening in the theatre.


    ~ Molly Matera, signing off to watch In Bruges.



    0 0
  • 07/31/18--19:36: Two at Second Stage

  • In the past couple months, I’ve seen two plays at the Second Stage Theater Company:  Mary Page Marlowe andStraight White Men.  Both were interesting, by and large well-acted, yet neither fully succeeded, for different reasons.


    In Mary Page Marlowe, deep character development with no end but death was made more interesting by having multiple actors playing the eponymous woman at various ages — and not in chronological order.  By and by we saw her life, one scene after another adding to our understanding, just not in order so that, perhaps, we could understand her better than people who knew her all her life — in order.  And since it’s so very well done, it almost worked.


    Straight White Men, however, is flawed. Again, interesting character relationships, but to no resolution.  Is this why the playwright/director/producer decided to blame it on the audience during the pre-show by blasting electronic percussion at an offensively high decibel level, then making a theatre curtain out of a glitter ball to flash strobe lights at the audience?  At least last year’s exceedingly unpleasant production of 1984 forewarned the audience that there’d be migraine-inducing effects.  But the audience of Straight White Men was assured that they were being abused to make a point:  That some LBGTW+, as explained by two pointless characters, often felt as uncomfortable as the audience did just by being in non-LGBTW+ society.  The relief at the end of that 30-odd minutes was so great we were bound to be glad of the play, right?  Talk about hitting the audience over the head with a baseball bat to send a message. Which, by the way, does not appear to be the point of the play at all.


    Mary Page Marlowe by Tracy Letts, directed by Lila Neugebauer.  Hereafter “MPM.”


    MPM was largely about one woman’s life of not dealing with her alcohol and sex addictions.  We first meet her as her first marriage is coming apart.  It takes a while, with this not chronological play, to learn something about why.  When we meet her mother (passionately brittle work by Grace Gummer) and father (sympathetically portrayed by Nick Dillenburg), we feel the gap between these young marrieds just after WWII.  When we meet the mother again distancing herself from her 12-year-old daughter with alcohol and a sharp tongue, we see the beginning of Mary’s rugged road.


    Mary is played by six excellent actors:

    ·         Mia Sinclair Jenness at the age of 12

    ·         Emma Geerat the age of 19

    ·         Tatiana Maslany at the ages of 27 and 36

    ·         Susan Pourfar in her 40s

    ·         Kellie Overbey at 50

    ·         And Blair Brown in her 60s-70s.


    Geer and Brown were the only Marys who got to smile.  The 19-year-old (Ms. Geer) in hope of a different life from that of her mother, and Ms. Brown at having made it through to sobriety and her third and favorite husband, Andy, sweetly played by Brian Kerwin.


    ·         Tatiana Maslany is so good that her lack of theatrical experience was negligible.  Already broken, her Mary is tough, aloof, and protective.


    ·       Susan Pourfar is a New York actor I have followed for some time, from a far off Broadway production of Turn of the Screw, to Tribes and most recently Mary Jane at New York Theatre Workshop.  She never disappoints. Here her Intensity disguises her pain and perplexity.

     

    Kaylie Carter, Ryan Foust, and Susan Pourfar as Mary Page Marlowe

    ·         The harshest scene in the play and probably in Mary Page Marlowe’s life, was the aftermath of a particularly dreadful time when Mary hit rock bottom, presumably precipitating the end of her second marriage.  Kellie Overbey is devastating, first in her quiet acceptance of her guilt and just deserts, and finally in her fury.  Her husband, very well played by David Aaron Baker, cannot deal with this Mary and his floundering marriage.


    ·         Blair Brown’s Mary, having survived her life and three marriages, is the only Mary with a real smile. 


    ·         Kayli Carter is excellent as MPM’s daughter Wendy, a put-upon (and she really is!) teenager and a concerned young adult losing patience with her alcoholic mother. 


    All in all, MPM offers good direction, good acting, good design, and a just slightly off script by the always interesting Mr. Letts.



    Straight White Men by Young Jean Lee, directed by Anna D. Shapiro. Hereafter “SWM.”


    The Premise:  The father, Ed, has his grown boys over for the Christmas holidays, harking back to the days of the boys’ youth, while their mother was still alive. 


    Entertaining as SWM sometimes was, with some very nice ensemble work and an excellent scenic design by Todd Rosenthal, it didn’t seem to know where it was going.  Witness the pre-show, which we were told was part of the play.


    The Players:


    ·         Armie Hammer is the youngest brother, Drew.  He is tall and handsome and OK, but this actor’s lack of theatrical experience shows.  Without an editor to cut away, Mr. Hammer did not flow from one scene to the next, even though the play, unlike Mary Page Marlowe, was in chronological order.  Not that he made mistakes, or if he did I was unaware.  Unfortunately, he was not alive on stage.


    ·         Josh Charlesis excellent as middle brother Jake, unctuous to cruel, living in the moment as well as in the past, frequently “fighting” with his younger brother Drew. 


    ·         Paul Schneider as the eldest brother Matt was quietly full of surprises and quite marvelous. I am not familiar with this subtle actor’s work but will be paying attention in future.


    ·         Stephen Payne as Ed, the father, seemed a little uncertain of his lines early on (as the third actor to play this role in rehearsal and previews), but strengthened as the evening wore on. Mind you, his final scene was quite unbelievable, but that’s the fault of the writer, not the actor.

     

    Payne, Charles, Hammer, Schneider.  Photo by Sara Krulwich.

    Matt is presently underemployed and living with the father, who is happy to have his company.  While the others leave their messes behind, Matt cleans up after everyone.  He says more than once, “I just want to be helpful.”  That he does a great deal of work to make everyone else comfortable, things his mother would have been doing had she been alive, was barely noticed and not meaningful to his brothers or even his father.  This of course is insulting to the boys’ mother, and all mothers.  Matt’s brothers wonder why, with his brains and college degrees, he’s not doing more with his life.  They don’t get him at all.  He is not behaving like their notion of a privileged straight white male.


    Strong relationships of a lifetime between the brothers are powerful and hilarious.  If one says something unforgivable and others leave the room, somehow they come back to dance it off in delightful choreography by Faye Driscoll.  After all, family is family and it seems they’ll always get along in the end.  Until they don’t and the ‘different’ one, with unaccustomed ideas and conclusions, is left out in the cold.  These three sons have no resemblance to “My Three Sons” of 1960s television. 


    By the end it seemed to me that the play had moved on to gender issues.  Matt started being what he considered truly useful when the mother died, and he took care of the youngest brother the way the mother would have — talked him down from hysteria, encouraged him to take a shower (you’ll feel better) and then to have a sandwich (ditto).  Throughout Matt played the mother’s role of feeding the men and cleaning up after them.  Her loss, which clearly affected each man, made Matt step into her place.  And none of the other men in the family had any respect for what he was doing — to them Matt had become a loser if he lacked ambition and didn’t use his intelligence and training to do something “bigger.”


    Since that was the most interesting thing to come out of the play, I do not understand why the writer and director decided to disguise this by implying in the obnoxious pre-show that the play was about LGBTQ+ issues and punishing the (largely white) audience with overly loud electronic muzak and glaring strobe lights. 


    Theatre and politics go together, but this pairing ended in a nasty divorce.



    Note regarding a truly annoying and unfair trend in Playbills:  In the (not so distant) past, the cast list was in order of the actors’ appearances, making it easier for the audience to figure out who played what if they didn’t already recognize the players.  Lately the listing has been alphabetical by the performer’s last name, which means that if you didn’t already know the actor’s name, you won’t learn it from the program.  For instance, in MPM, there are six men in the cast.  One male character had a full name listed, so was easily identifiable as the father of the main character.  All other male character names showed just a first name, so if you missed a mention from the stage in each man’s sole appearance, you were out of luck.  I recognized Brian Kerwin as MPM’s third husband, therefore spotted him in the program as “Andy.”  For the first two I have no clue, and there were three non-husband male characters.  If we’re not identifying characters by “married lover” or “guy at the dry cleaners” in the character list, how can we know the actor name?  Until Playbill goes back to listing characters in order of their appearance so we can figure out those actors we don’t already recognize, I will continue to complain about this to all and sundry.


    It’s been a while since Molly spoke her mind.  I will try to catch up this summer, as I did last summer, and fill you in on theatre-going not mentioned since April (!) of this year.


    ~ Molly Matera, signing off to search for scraps of paper on which she scribbled her thoughts about other plays….