Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Plays With Plenty of Passion

Dominic Fumusa in Passion Play.

So many theater folks have bemoaned the lack of new hits on Broadway this fall that I wonder if anyone's noticed all the fabulous new plays that were part of the Off-Broadway landscape, usually for runs that were far too short.

TheaterMania's list of the 10 best shows of '10 includes six Off-Broadway shows. Besides Sarah Ruhl's Passion Play, the entry that I contributed, two of my other faves, New York Theatre Workshop's hypnotic The Little Foxes and Simon McBurney's soul-stirring A Disappearing Number, also made the cut.

If I could have picked all 10 myself, I also would have included Middletown, Clybourne Park, A Bright New Boise and In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards.

In general I'm not a fan of year-end best and worst lists (I'd rather just focus on what I can look forward to next year), but a couple of others that I enjoyed are the picks from Time Out New York's three staffers, which demonstrate a diversity of stage offerings, and the often maligned Charles Isherwood's list in New York Times, also a celebration of bright, new and largely Off-Broadway plays.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Sparkling Venice: "Like a Wild Animal"

Lily Rabe and David Harbour in Merchant.

The first time I saw David Harbour on stage I couldn't help noticing that he's incredibly beautiful. It didn't take long to realize he's also very talented and smart (a Dartmouth grad, to boot). The production of Virginia Woolf he did with Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner on Broadway remains vividly etched in my mind even though I saw it more than five years ago, as does that episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent in which he played a religious nut who kills his family.

So I was happy to see that he was one of the new cast members joining the Broadway transfer of The Merchant of Venice, replacing Hamish Linklater as Bassanio, and was glad to have the chance to talk to him about his role. My favorite quote of his is about working with Al Pacino: "He is like a wild animal, sort of like a dog that you don't actually know how to train. But I love that because that's when something inspired actually happens."

The show's even stronger than it was in Central Park this summer (or perhaps I was just better able to focus since I wasn't melting in 95 percent humidity). Either way I found Harbour's performance quite thrilling. In Bassanio's first scene with Antonio, the one where Bassanio convinces him to borrow money for him, Harbour touches the back of Byron Jennings' neck in a way that's both intimate and manipulative, and it demonstrates the power Bassanio has over his friend. A really interesting choice.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pee-wee at the North Pole?

Pee-wee and Globey in The Pee-wee Herman Show.

Anyone who's caught Pee-wee Herman's Broadway show and isn't a polar bear or a penguin might have noticed that the theater was freeeeeezing! Even though I saw it on a moderate November afternoon, I kept my coat on the entire time. Well, according to an insider (and when I used this term it means I heard it second- or third-hand), Paul Reubens wants the theater to be that cold so that his Pee-wee makeup doesn't run.

And here I thought he was just eternally youthful!

Pee-wee's big Broadway debut is one of several shows that I recently reviewed for Cititour. Here's a rundown of some highlights and lowlights, in descending order:

The Pee-wee Herman Show

The Pitmen Painters

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown


Overall, though, I can't complain. I've seen some fantastic stuff this year, even just this week. In the Footprint: The Battle Over Atlantic Yards was a knockout, as was the National Theatre's Hamlet, with the terrific Rory Kinnear, which I watched with critics and audiences at Cinema 1 2 3 Thursday night, and tonight I begin my three-part journey to The Great Game: Afghanistan.