Monday, December 4, 2006

Getting Serious and Going Crazy

For those who complain that there's nothing but fluff on the New York stage these days, I beg to differ. Yes, Broadway is in danger of becoming Disneyfied (although I have to confess to enjoying "Mary Poppins"), but last week I had the pleasure of seeing two dramas that were engrossing, provocative and boasted some great acting: "The American Pilot" at Manhattan Theatre Club and "Two Trains Running" at the Signature Theatre as part of the company's August Wilson season. (Tickets for the latter are on $15, so there's no reason not to check it out.)

I was especially moved by the performance of Leon Addison Brown, who plays an off-balance character known as Hambone. He's spent every day of the last nine years trying, and failing, to get the ham he feels the proprietor of the deli owes him. It's not clear whether he's retarded or has a mental illness, but the character really grounds the play and the other characters around him.

It got me thinking about how challenging it is to play a character like that without looking like you're "acting crazy." I had a similar reaction to Daniel Davis' wonderful performance in the Off-Broadway show "Talking Heads" some years ago, and I think Tony Shalhoub does a terrific job making his character's OCD believable on "Monk." On the opposite end of the spectrum was Matthew Broderick struggling valiantly and failing miserably to convince as a madman in a Broadway revival of "Night Must Fall" some years ago.

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