Thursday, October 22, 2009

Questions and Landers

Some theatergoers I know avoid monodramas so vehemently you'd like they feared contracting mono from them. I can understand why, especially when they're biographical. A person's life story hardly ever falls into neat dramatic structure, and too often I feel like I've been plopped down into a classroom instead of a theater.

But when The Lady With all the Answers became heavy on the biographical data, the pleasure of watching Judith Ivey embody advice-lady Ann Landers pulled me through.

Friday, October 9, 2009

All's Very Well

What a difference a few months can make! In June (the day Michael Jackson and Farrah Fawcett died, no less) my colleague and all-around pal David and I caught Phedre, the first show in the National Theatre's new initiative to broadcast plays via satellite to move theaters around the world. There were journalists and press agents galore, a reception for VIP patrons (we were not among them) and a line of regular ticket buyer stretching down the block.

Of course, it was that was the project's debut and production starred Helen Mirren, but somehow I expected more fanfare for the second screening, All's Well That Ends Well, even though there were no above-the-title names in the cast (although Clare Higgns and Conleth Hill have been on Broadway and Oliver Ford Davies is a familiar face to PBS junkies like myself).

But the theater (City Cinema 123) was barely half full (or half empty if you're an optimist) for the three- hour screening, and what a shame! It was a visually splendid, thoroughly enchanting production of one of the few (only?) Shakespeare plays in which a woman (Helena) drives the plot. (During the pre-show and intermission coverage director Marianne Elliott and designer Rae Smith explained their fairy tale concept of the show.)

It's certainly worth checking out if you can get to one of the theaters where it's yet to be shown, including the Skirball Center for the Performing Arts at NYU tonight. It could be just what's needed to chase away any ghosts left over from Peter Sellars' ill-received Othello.

I also saw that production with the aforementioned David, who said that the way an actor delivered one of play's final lines reminded him of a line delivery from the Mystery Science Theater 3000 classic Teenagers from Outer Space. That's when you know it's time to go home and get some sleep.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Panych Attack

The Kids in the Hall introduced me to the joys of Canadian comedy during those long post-college days that I struggled to find a job. Since then many other Canadians have brought me great laughs, especially Don McKellar, whose written and/or starred in films I adore (Last Night), TV series (Twitch City, Slings and Arrows) and a hilarious and heartwarming musical (The Drowsy Chaperone).

Earlier this year I enjoyed the comedic panache of Canadian Morris Panych's play The Dishwashers at the Americas Off Broadway festival, so I had high hopes when I was assigned to review the New York premiere of Vigil. Although I give Malcolm Gets props for tackling such a demanding role, I couldn't help wondering what a fellow Canadian like Bob Martin, who so deftly balanced humor and malaise in The Drowsy Chaperone, could have done with the role.

Friday, October 2, 2009

Tales of Two Stories

Over the last two weeks I took in a pair of testosterone-laced two-handers, both of which were undone largely by too-familiar tropes: Richard Hoehler's Fathers & Sons (pictured), which I reviewed for Time Out, and Keith Huff's much ballyhooed A Steady Rain, starring James Bond and Wolverine, also known as Daniel Craig and Hugh Jackman.

Whoever it was that sat me a mere three rows from the stage and Hugh Jackman, I thank you. He's lovely to look at, but why, oh why, did he pick a play that amounts to such hokum to mark his return to Broadway after a five-year absence. Maybe my response to the show would have been kinder if I hadn't just finished reading an excellent new Joseph Wambaugh novel, Hollywood Moon, on the subway before the show. He may have left the LAPD 35 years ago, but he understand police work from the inside.

After seeing A Steady Rain I wasn't surprised to read that Huff graduated from the Iowa Writers' Workshop, not the police academy. He does a nifty job introducing the characters and laying the groundwork for their story, but about halfway through this 90-minute enterprise, believability evaporated. Hugh's character, a Chicago patrol cop, talks about the night bullets were fired into in house, sending his young son to the hospital … but he's back out on duty with Craig's character — the next day!

No major police force would send one of their own back out on patrol 24 hours after their home and family had come under attack! There would be reassignments, visits to shrinks, a procedure to follow before he could be cleared for duty. Once that happened the play never reestablished its credibility, despite the charisma of its capable stars.

Ah well, at least only one ringing cell phone was heard, and that a faint one, and at a point in the show where there was a natural pause, so no actor-audience interaction to report.