Thursday, December 13, 2012

Secular Celebrations

Stephen Spinella and Tovah Feldshuh in Volpone.

Sometimes the plays and films and TV shows that best fill me with the Christmas spirit aren't the ones that directly relate to the holiday. Take, for example, Red Bull Theater's jaunty, frolicsome production of Ben Jonson's Volpone, part satire, part morality tale about greed.

Even on the musical front, I prefer the the dark yet hope-filled current Broadway revival of Annie to the overdone spectacle of A Christmas Story, The Musical. I guess Annie is kinda, sorta a Christmas musical, since it takes place in December and ends at Christmas, but it's still a subtler celebration of the season, which is just how I like to mark it.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Lesson in Bombing

Kohl Sudduth and Ana Reeder in Radiance.

Yep, there actually was an episode of This Is Your Life that featured a Hiroshima survivor meeting one of the pilots who dropped the bomb. Now there's even a play about it, written by Cusi Cram (the original Cassie on One Life to Live) and staged by the Labyrinth Theatre Company. Wish I'd enjoyed it more than I did.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Pinter the Poet

Sands in A Celebration of Harold Pinter.

There's a Pinter lovefest going on over at the Irish Rep, with British actor Julian Sands of A Room With a View fame performing Pinter's poetry and prose--interspersed with reminiscences from himself and others--in the John Malkovich-directed A Celebration of Harold Pinter, which I enjoyed on a Saturday afternoon.

Not included in the hour-and-a-quarter show, although it's one of my favorite bits of Pinter prose, is this gem that appeared in The Guardian in 2003, when the paper solicited greetings for President Bush's on his first state visit to Great Britain:

Dear President Bush,

I'm sure you'll be having a nice little tea party with your fellow war criminal, Tony Blair. Please wash the cucumber sandwiches down with a glass of blood, with my compliments.

Harold Pinter

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Author, Author (and Director, Director)

Larry Pine and Gia Crovatin in "Lovely Head."

You don't often see names like Neil LaBute, Estelle Parsons or Craig Bierko in shows at La MaMa, let alone all three of them involved in the same production. But they're all part of AdA (Author directing Author), two one-acts from LaBute and Italian up-and-comer Marco Calvani. As you might have guessed from the title, the catch is that each author directs the other's play, and by the end audiences are likely to want membership in this mutual admiration society.

Monday, October 8, 2012

Up in Smoke

Jennings and McCormick in Ten Chimneys.

Having appreciated the stage work of Carolyn McCormick and Byron Jennings, who are married in real life, for many years (not to mention the former's appearances on Law & Order, I was pleased to have the opportunity to see them onstage together. In Jeffrey Hatcher's entertaining but uneven Ten Chimneys, they star as famed theater actors Alfred Lunt and Lynn Fontanne, who were married in real life.

It's a particularly grand showcase for McCormick, who reaches full diva mode on more than one occasion. Were we living in the 1930s, when the play is set, a time when actors could become famous from stage work alone, I wonder if they would have emerged as a starry duo.

Friday, October 5, 2012

Dan From Downton

Dan Stevens

One of the great things about writing features for the Theater section of Time Out New York is getting to do in-person interviews. Filmmakers are already finished with their product, so who knows where they might be; and musicians are likely to be on tour somewhere. But stage actors and directors have to be in New York, and even writers who don't live here are likely to be around for rehearsals.

And who would want to pass up the chance to meet one of the stars of Downton Abbey, especially when it's Dan Stevens, a.k.a. Cousin Matthew, who's making his Broadway debut in The Heiress with Jessica Chastain. When I spoke to him in September, he'd just returned from a quick trip to London, where he and his fellow Booker Prize judges were meeting to vote on the short list, and not long after we start our interview, who should saunter over to us in the lobby cafe of the Signature Center (where the cast was rehearsing) but Ms. Chastain herself, with a reporter from British GQ. Sometimes the pageantry of writing about Broadway is as good as the actual pageantry of attending a Broadway show.

After the interview, I left the building at the same time as Stevens and the show's press agent. We walked past a couple of Signature employees, and when we got outside, Dan headed off to lunch and the press agent and I stopped to chat for a bit. One of the employees we'd passed, a very giddy young woman, came outside and practically pleaded with us to help her get a picture of Stevens. Since I don't work for the show, I couldn't help her, and the press agent was returning to his office for the rest of the afternoon, but he assured he would be returning in a half hour after, and even suggested that age-old tactic of standing behind a pillar, waiting till he walked by and then "accidentally" walking into him.

Some of the best theater in New York does not happen on the stage!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Detroit in New York

Detroit author Lisa D'Amour

Interesting fact I learned when I interviewed Obie-winning experimental artist Lisa D'Amour for Time Out New York: She'd never been to the city of Detroit at the time that she wrote the play Detroit, about suburban neighbors struggling to cope during the Great Recession. D'Amour is actually a New Orleans gal, and what she witnessed in her hometown in the wake of Hurricane Katrina fed into her first mainstream work, a Pulitzer Prize finalist play that has finally found a New York home Off Broadway--with a fresh cast and director--after a proposed Steppenwolf-to-Broadway transfer failed to materialize.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Tricky Business

Cahn and O'Connor in Getting the Business.

Sometimes a play starts off with such bounce and pizzazz that you're certain the evening ahead will be a most delightful one. Alas, that was not the case with Getting the Business, a two-hander featuring downtown-theater luminary Susan Louise O'Connor. After a zippy opening, in which a woman with only the vaguest of credentials persuades a businessman (playwright Victor L. Cahn) to hire her as his secretary, this satire about the confluence of office and political politics gradually starts to sag.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Women on the Fringe

Onalea Gilbertson in Blanche.

Very pleased to have had the chance to review a couple of worthwhile shows at this year's New York International Fringe Festival, especially ones in which women play such prominent roles onstage and off. And, though I didn't realize it at the time, both originated in the great fringey country of Canada: The List, about a harried wife and mother's obsessive to-do notes, from Montreal; and Blanche: The Bittersweet Life of a Wild Prairie Dame, pictured above, a song cycle inspired by the story of a singer-composer-musician's grandmother, from Alberta.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Proms Night

Beechey and Andrews in My Fair Lady.

Caught the terrific BBC Proms My Fair Lady concert on Saturday, thanks to the wonders of Internet radio and the BBC. I planned to listen just for a bit at the beginning, but three and a half hours later, I was still there as Annalene Beechey's Eliza Doolittle made her way back to Anthony Andrews's Henry Higgins and they...what exactly? Lived happily ever after? Embarked on the beginnings of what would become years of on-again, off-again codependency? I'm too much of a romantic even to entertain the thought of their relationship spiraling into one filled with physical or verbal abuse, but given their dispositions (I can't see either one embracing couples counseling) and familial role models, it's a possible outcome.

As I listened to the broadcast--which was the entire stage show, accompanied by the John Wilson Orchestra playing the film orchestrations (and fully staged and costumed for those lucky enough to be watching it at Royal Albert Hall--I realized that I don't know the libretto nearly as well as I know the songs. Even though My Fair Lady is my favorite musical of all time, I have never seen a live production of it. I've listened to many recordings and seen the movie, but hearing just the words and music on Saturday made me notice little things about the characters that I hadn't before.

Like how dysfunctional the relationships that both Higgins and Eliza have with their opposite-sex parents are. Even after Eliza's father inherits a vast sum of money and he learns that she's left Higgins, he makes it clear that he won't be giving her any financial support. And Mrs. Higgins never once indicates that she's proud of her brilliant though exasperating son, only that she's embarrassed by him.

When I was younger I hated that Alan Jay Lerner changed George Bernard Shaw's ending by sending Eliza back to a man who treated her with such disdain. I've softened since then, especially if Higgins appears to have realized the error of his ways by the end (which in this instance I thought he had), and although I don't see a long-term happily-ever-after in their future, they should have a lot of fun for a while, and maybe through each other be able to heal some of the parental wounds they've been lugging around.

But please, don't anyone try to write a sequel. I'm perfectly content to let this sequence of events play out in my mind.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

"Moins" Cirque

Cirque du Soleil: Zarkana

My feelings for Cirque du Soleil shows often mirror my feelings for green tea. Love the idea behind it, and want very much to love the thing itself, but I can only muster up a limited amount of pleasure from either.

Actually, I've enjoyed all the Cirque shows I've seen as I've watched them. What's not to love? They're gorgeously designed and the acrobatics are spectacular. But once you've seen a couple of installments and the format becomes familiar (I've seen five, including the current one, Zarkana, twice), the returns diminish, and what I saw evaporates from my memory.

That's because the plot and characters are only loosely defined ways to frame clowns and circus acts, and for me a little bit of those go a long way. And that's probably why I enjoyed the pared-down version of Zarkana that I saw a few days ago. It was cut from two and a half hours with an intermission last summer to 90 minutes with no intermission this summer. And I'm guessing this is the version that will take up residence in Las Vegas later this year. One thing that hasn't been shortened however is the price. How convenient!

Not that any theatrical experience should be priced on a per-minute basis, but if producers aren't spending as much money to present a show, they could passed the savings on to patrons. It's not as if Radio City Musical Hall was packed the night I saw it; the side orchestra sections were completely empty.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Love in War

Heidi Armbruster and Angela Piece in Love Goes to Press.

I haven't see the HBO movie in which Nicole Kidman plays pioneering war journalist Martha Gellhorn to Clive Owen's Ernest Hemingway, but I have seen the delightful comedy she cowrote with Virginia Cowles, Love Goes to Press, which is receiving a stellar revival by the Mint Theater Company. It bombed on Broadway in the '40s, probably in part because mid-20th-century New York wasn't ready for two female protagonists who weren't ready to give up their careers just because they found a good man. Anyone writing chick lit in those days was ahead of their time.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

As She Likes It

David Furr and Lily Rabe in As You Like It

I can't wait to see where Lily Rabe's career takes her, but I hope it won't be too far away from the New York and the theater world she's become so much a part of. Her Portia in the Shakespeare in the Park production of The Merchant of Venice was exquisite, and I expect she'll be just as brilliant as Rosalind in As You Like It. She was certainly bubbling with enthusiasm for the show when I met up with her over the Memorial Day weekend.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Great Deeds

Conor Lovett in Title and Deed

You never know who you'll run into at the Signature Center. Tuesday night John Guare was there, to see either Title and Deed or Medieval Play, I imagine. He wasn't in the audience of My Children! My Africa! because that's the show I was seeing, and with the audience on three sides of the stage, he'd have been noticed. I did spot Jay O. Sanders and Maryann Plunkett, as well as Public Theater artistic director Oskar Eustis in the house.

During intermission I also spotted Will Eno in the lobby. Title and Deed, his 70-minute monodrama, which I'd seen a few days earlier, had already concluded for the night, and he was waiting for the actor who stars in it. He knew about the minor mishap that occurred the night I saw the show: About 15 minutes in, the stage lights went down, the house lights came up, and Conor Lovett, the performer, looked perplexed and bewildered. But having been fooled by One Man, Two Guvnors into thinking that a metatheatrical device was something that happened by chance, I wondered if this wasn't part of the play. Even after a young woman in a headset came into the house and explained that the fire alarm had been triggered but everything was fine and the show would resume shortly.

Lovett didn't wait. He stepped into the house via a ramp that leads from the stage and was able to pick up where he left off, though he certainly found a better rhythm when the lights returned to normal and he got back on the stage. (Will told me that the problem was smoke used in Medieval Play that got out of control.)

Title and Deed is another Eno gem that zings from quirkiness to profundity beautifully and effortlessly and before you even realize what's happened. "You look like you were just born. Most people get over that," is what the character in this play recalls an ex-girlfriend saying to him. Funny, but haunting, too.

I'm not that great at describing the plots of his plays, but themes are another matter. The soul's need to find a place of permanency in a world where everything is just temporary is what I'd say the play is about. Indirectly it relates to the economic crisis this country is in and yet is about so much more.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Double Guvnors

Oliver Chris, Tom Edden and James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors

Here's nifty way to enjoy two men and four guvnors. On Sunday May 20, BAM is showing the NT Live broadcast of One Man, Two Guvnors, which was taped in London last fall, at 11am. If one really had a hankering to, you could catch that and still have enough time to grab a quick lunch, eat it while you ride the 2 or 3 train from Brooklyn to Manhattan and catch the 3pm Broadway matinee of One Man, Two Guvnors at the Music Box Theatre. What else? Maybe write an essay or a blog entry comparing and contrasting the two productions? Note what lines were changed, how performances evolved, how English vs. American audiences responded to certain moments?

Alas, I wont' be able to...I'll be in Princeton, N.J., attending attending a new American play (Are You There, McPhee?) starring a wonderful Canadian actor (Paul Gross).

Monday, May 14, 2012

Crazy for The Caretaker

Jonathan Pryce in The Caretaker

Until I started looking into Jonathan Pryce's theatrical past for this Time Out New York feature, I hadn't realized that the last time he did a nonmusical play in New York was 1984, or that the short-lived Broadway show--Accidental Death of an Anarchist--also featured Patti LuPone and Bill Irwin. The only time I'd seen him onstage before this past weekend was as Fagin in Oliver! during a trip to London in 1995.

But he's just outstanding in The Caretaker, which is now at BAM until mid-June. He plays Davies, the tramp at the center of the Harold Pinter drama, like a mental patient who either escaped or was discharged too soon, and it works really well. It makes his plight, even his paranoid rants about black people and drafts, much more tragic and funny. And it gives him the chance to engage in a heap of intriguing stage business without seeming hammy, from the way he taps about the stage when he tries on a pair of shoes to to the way he engages with plays with an old lawnmower or takes off his pants and sniffs the crotch. Has me longing for a fall trip to London to catch his King Lear...

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Fire's Burning

Theo Stockman and Claire van der Boom in An Early History of Fire.

Anyone else notice that the New Group had a solid sleeper season in 2011-12? Maybe I'm the only one who thought so. Neither Thomas Bradshaw's Burning, Erika Sheffer's Russian Transport nor David Rabe's An Early History of Fire was a perfect play, but each was dark and combustible and challenging--the sort of fare that's getting harder to find even Off Broadway. (Note references to fire and burn in the titles of two of the shows.) I had a chance to review the last of the three for Time Out New York.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Man of the Year

James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors.

It's good to know I have at least one thing in common with Her Majesty the Queen--we both laughed our asses off at One Man, Two Guvnors. I caught the NT Live broadcast last year, and she saw the show with new cast last month.

I'm very glad that the original cast, including the dynamic James Corden (who I interviewed for Time Out New York), Oliver Chris and Tom Edden, are reprising their roles on Broadway.

Incidentally, Richard Bean, the terribly clever playwright who turned Carlo Goldoni's The Servant of Two Masters into One Man, Two Guvnors, now set in 1960s Brighton, England, instead of 18th-century Italy, mentioned that some words and jokes that might not make sense to Americans had been tweaked for the Broadway production. Because of where I used to work, I noticed immediately that the reference to Mills & Boon, the U.K. publisher of romance novels, had been switched to Harlequin, what the company is known as in this country, and also a very clever in-joke for those familiar with commedia dell'arte characters. Harlequin is the term for the comic servant character.

Just one historical inaccuracy I caught: The is line is now, "A Harlequin Romance by Danielle Steel," and I'm afraid Danielle Steel didn't publish her first novel until 1973, and wasn't a big-name author until the 1980s. But enough hairsplitting. Just tell Alfie to bring the soup.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Yonkers Redux

Finnerty Steeves, Matthew Gumley and Russell Posner in Lost in Yonkers.

I was a college student when Lost in Yonkers was on Broadway and remember well the outcry when it beat Six Degrees of Separation for the Tony and Pulitzer. The current Actors Company Theatre revival brings out its assets thanks to a strong cast, but it's interesting that Brighton Beach Memoirs, briefly revived in 2009, and a play that wasn't even nominated for a Tony in 1983, looks like the stronger play today.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Son & Daughters

Robert Hogan and David Van Pelt in Rutherford & Son.

When I read that Githa Sowerby hid her gender for the original production of Rutherford & Son, which was attributed to "K.G. Sowerby," I was glad to be living in 2012 and not 1912. Times have certainly changed for the better, I told myself with confidence.

Then I recalled a study released three years ago that showed that overwhelmingly more plays by men than women are produced in New York, and that the same play with a distinctly female author's name attached to it is treated differently than when it's submitted with a male writer's name attached.

It happens in fiction too. When Nora Roberts started writing futuristic thrillers, she took the moniker J.D. Robb, and of course the Harry Potter books aren't attributed to Joanne Rowling but to J.K.

Interstingly, in Rutherford & Son, the two strongest characters aren't the titular industrialist and his eldest male child, but Rutherford's daughter and daughter-in-law, wonderfully played by Sara Surrey and Allison McLemore.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Times Past

Kobi Libii and Gabe McKinley (right) of CQ/CX.

The saga of former New York Times reporter Jayson Blair gets dramatic treatment from one of his former colleagues, Gabe McKinley, whose latest play, CQ/CX, is on the boards courtesy of the Atlantic Theater Company. I got to talk to McKinley, Blair and Kobi Libii, the young actor who plays Blair.

Monday, January 23, 2012

Getting Their Irish On

Anthony Rapp, James Kautz and Dee Roscioli in Dedalus Lounge.

It's becoming a tale as old as time: Friends entering their 30s get trapped between youth and maturity and don't know which way to turn. But even though some dance and song (a few numbers cowritten by Anthony Rapp) have been added to the batter, Gary Duggan's Dedalus Lounge never congeals.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Welcome to Pittsburgh, Miss Julie

D.J. Mendel and Jillian Lauren in Cattywampus.

Writer-director (and Pittsburgh native) Robert Cucuzza plucks August Strindberg's Miss Julie from the "classic" stage and drops it back into the experimental-theater arena, where it began, with Cattywampus, a rambunctious contemporary-Pittsburgh-set adaptation starring Jillian Lauren and the the always engaging D.J. Mendel.

I'm always impressed at how multitalented and generous so many New York stage actors are. Cattywampus has live underscoring by two musicians, one of whom (at the piano, if I recall correctly) was Elevator Repair Service's Mike Iveson, recently seen in the entrancing The Select (The Sun Also Rises).