Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Not-So-Masterful Builder

James Naughton in The Master Builder.

Having enjoyed James Naughton's work in the musical Chicago, the play Democracy and his own cabaret show at Feinstein's I was looking forward to seeing what he could do as the tortured Solness in The Master Builder.

He hasn't performed that much in the last couple of years, although he had a small role as Meryl Streep's husband in The Devil Wears Prada and his voice reverberates throughout the Cialis commercials that always seem to be running on TV.

Unfortunately, I thought Ibsen's role fit him like a potato sack. My review.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Wonder Woman Wows

I started off this week drinking pink champagne two days in a row, on Monday afternoon at a bridal shower for a co-worker who's tying the knot this weekend, and Tuesday night to celebrate the premiere of Lynda Carter's new cabaret show.

I'm always happy to accompany my friend Brian to Feinstein's when he's in need of a plus one. Not only are the wine and food delish, but now that theatergoing is becoming an increasingly casual affair, it's nice to have occasion to dress up and pretend to act like a sophisticated Upper East Sider.

Although I loved Wonder Woman as a kid (even dressed as her for Halloween 20-some years ago), I was surprised at how much I enjoyed the show, how eclectic Carter's musical taste is and what a dynamic stage presence she has (not to mention how amazing she looks at 57). Also in the house were Alan Cumming and Cheyenne Jackson ("representing the gays," a colleague joked), whom she seemed to enjoy posing for photos with after the show.

She went from bluesy standards like "Put the Blame on Mame" and "Fever" to Paul Simon ("Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover"), Patsy Cline ("Crazy"), Bonnie Raitt ("I Can't Make You Love Me") and even performed a tune of her own ("Toto"), which appeared on her 1978 Portrait album (yeah, somebody in the audience had a copy of the original LP on hand). Her whimsical sense of humor about her iconic past -- Wonder Woman, TV movies and TV specials -- was enchanting, and it's one of the reasons I searched YouTube for clips. My favorite, for sheer energy and camp value, is the one above.

Friday, October 17, 2008

From Sorrows to Kindness

Annette O'Toole and Christopher Denham in Kindness.

I can't argue with folks who say that Adam Rapp, an author I've written quite a bit about, essentially writes the same unapologetically autobiographical play time and again, but I would point out that you could accuse Tennessee Williams of doing just that.

If not much seems to happen in terms of onstage action, there's a vast amount of tension percolating just under the skin of his characters that more than compensates. That's certainly the case with his new play Kindness, which I had the opportunity to review.

His plays often linger in my psyche for days after I see them because there's so much packed into them. One way he illustrates the generational and intellectual gap between mother and son is by showing her still listening to '80s music on cassette tapes while he and his young female friend text-message with their cell phones.

As with his first non-young-adult novel, The Year of Endless Sorrows, which I read earlier this year, he seems to be becoming less of an angry-young-man writer. In Kindness he demonstrates more compassion and understanding of the parental characters, and in Sorrows I was quite touched by how effervescently he depicted falling in love:

"It was at this moment -- on a New York City bus traveling west while snow was passing diagonally across the aquarium-like windows, while two seemingly insignificant lives were converging like windswept birds approaching some rapturous shore at the beginning of the last decade of the twentieth century, on the cusp of our great holiday season, in late December of 1991 -- it was at this precise and overly written about, verbally investigated moment that I knew with the certainty of a diamond cutting glass that I would fall face-first in love with Basha."

And in both Sorrows and Kindness, he pokes fun at plays that have starred his brother, Anthony: In the former a play at the Atlantic Theater Company called Trafficking in Broken Hearts becomes Traffic Lights and Broken Bridges, and in the latter Rent becomes a similarly-themed Broadway musical called Survivin'.