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GLENN LONEY'S SHOW NOTES
By Glenn Loney, March 1, 1999
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
 Helen Hayes Theatre Demolished
 Betty Buckley in Vein of Silver
 "Making Peter Pope"
 "Snakebit" Has Fangs
 Swoosie Kurtz in "Mineola Twins"
 Devilish Larry Pine in "Chemistry of Change"
 Reagan-Era "This Is Our Youth"
 Gay Teen Love in "Beautiful Thing"
 Harold Pinter's Vintage "Hothouse"
 Miller's "Death of a Salesman" Reborn
 Uma Thurman & Roger Rees in "Misanthrope"
 Frenzied "Fosse"
 Rocking "Bright Lights Big City"
 Treat Williams in "Captains Courageous"
 Frank Rich Applauds Internet
 Best Ever "Forbidden Broadway"
 Mahler's "Kindertotenlieder" Staged
 Henry Purcell at BAM
 Puppet "Rusalka" at LaMaMa
 Learn Yiddish at "Oy!"
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For our archive of Glenn Loney's previous 1999 columns, click here.
THE HELEN HAYES THEATRE THAT WAS
These claw-marks showing on the facade of the real Helen Hayes Theatre were part of a deliberate action to prevent delay in the demolition of this Beaux Arts Broadway Landmark.
THE HELEN HAYES THEATRE THAT WAS--Claw marks deface the Beaux Arts facade. Photo: Copyright ©—Glenn Loney 1999/The Everett Collection.
This once beautiful facade was designed by Herts & Tallant, who also gave the Brooklyn Academy of Music [BAM] its wonderful Beaux Arts exterior decoration.
Once it became quite clear that the Helen Hayes was doomed, some Historic Preservationists sought to save at least the theatre's exterior. It was suggested that it could be dismantled and reconstructed on another site.
But working out such difficult details takes a lot of time, especially in Manhattan. And the developers of the Marriott Marquis Hotel—which today squats on that site and those of four other demolished theatres—did not want delays.
At that time, your reporter was following the dire developments. The project-architect was at first agreeable to the removal of the Hayes facade, if it could be done quickly and easily.
Unfortunately, there were no surviving architectural records to document the actual design and construction of the theatre. If the facade shown above had been mounted on a steel or iron frame, then removing [and numbering, for reassembly] the terra cotta elements would be feasible.
Initial probings revealed that the entire face was bonded to the bricks of the building. To pry loose details of the facade would be time-consuming, difficult, even dangerous.
And what theatre-collector would want clawed souvenirs?
There was also no way to retain the Helen Hayes facade as part of the Marquis's West 46th Street side. It would have seemed peculiar, out-of-place, in a Post-Modernist concrete structure—which now looks like the Great Wall of China, with windows in it.
Elements of the facade—notably the pressed copper faces and emblems on the roof-line pediment—were to be salvaged and used as decorative touches in the new hotel.
Try and find them!
If you are confused by all this—possibly having recently seen a play at the Helen Hayes on West 44th Street—that great actress's name was transferred two blocks down the Great White Way.
That attractive little Art Deco theatre was originally called The Little Theatre . It was built by Winthrop Ames, after his immense New Theatre [1909—later the Century Theatre, uptown on Central Park West and West 62nd and 63rd Streets] proved impossible to operate as a repertory theatre.
[Something the much later Repertory Theatre of Lincoln Center nearby at the Vivian Beaumont had to learn the hard way.]
Even the long-vanished Helen Hayes Theatre did not begin its life under that name.
Opening as Broadway's first theatre-restaurant, in 1911, it was initially a "Parisian" revue theatre, known as the Folies Bergere. It was Manhattan's answer to the original in the City of Light.
Leggy chorines and drinks and snacks didn't work out so well. So it became the Fulton Theatre. Later, it was relabeled and re-packaged as the Helen Hayes.
[A good Theatre Trivia question-series might include citing the sites of, say, the Maxine Elliott , the Nora Bayes , the Julian Eltinge , and the Guild Theatres.
[Named after the popular singer Nora Bayes, that intimate rooftop theatre was above the Weber & Fields Music Hall. The New York Times destroyed the entire complex on West 44th Street to enlarge its printing-plant. You now have to dodge around its trucks to reach Sardi's and the current Helen Hayes Theatre.
[The Eltinge—renamed the Empire Theatre—is the far-west historic anchor of the huge new Forest City-Ratner 42nd Street multi-movie development.
[The Theatre Guild's playhouse on West 52nd Street, The Guild , is now the Virginia Theatre. But it was for many years the ANTA Theatre.
[And your reporter presided over a now-defunct archive in the ANTA attic: AIDART, or the Advanced Institute for Development of American Repertory Theatre.
[That was back in the late 1960s and early 1970s. When many American theatre folk really believed it would be possible to establish a national network of repertory theatres—comparable to what has existed in Europe for a century or two.]
The Hayes was not the only theatre to die to make the Marriott Hotel—and the tacky, almost improvised Marquis Theatre—possible.
Despite the vigorous protests of Joseph Papp, Colleen Dewhurst, and other theatre-activists, the historic Morosco , the Bijou , the Astor , and the Victoria [1909—another Herts & Tallant playhouse, which opened as the Gaiety Theatre] all bit the Broadway dust.
The latter two playhouses had been movie grind-houses for years, hidden away under Broadway signage. But the construction of the Marriott Marquis doomed five mid-town theatres.
This kind of demolition is still going on. The old Central Theatre  has just been scooped out on West 47th Street.
It will be replaced by a Planet Hollywood Hotel. Which only indicates that people would rather sleep in hotels than in theatres.
The Central, of course, had not been legitimate for a long time. But its backside rubbed against the Lunt-Fontanne [1910—originally called the Globe]. Now it also has gone down—but not quite like the Titanic next door.
If you want to know more about Broadway's vanished and surviving theatres, there are a number of books available. Worth your while:
The City & The Theatre, by Mary C. Henderson; At This Theatre, by Louis Botto, and 20th Century Theatre, by Glenn Loney.
[Photo: ©Glenn Loney/Everett Collection, 1999.]
[For editorial & commercial use of Glenn Loney's INFOTOGRAPHY photo-archive, contact The Everett Collection, 104 West 27th Street, NYC 10010. Phone: 212-255-8610. FAX: 212-255-8612.]
Plays New & Old—
Betty Buckley Is a Golden StarBetty Buckley is such a talented and attractive performer, it is a shame that she so often has to triumph over material which is not really worthy of her abilities.
In Nicky Silver's "Eros Trilogy" [**]
Perhaps that's why she is cast in such shows as "Sunset Boulevard" and that forgettable Marivaux Musical last season?
Possibly, producers hope that she will not only attract crowds of her admirers, but that she will also be able to find some playable sub-texts in the dreary material their authors, lyricists, and directors have assembled.
There is, unfortunately, nothing either golden or silver in the monologues and letter-play Nicky Silver has collected under the wildly misleading title of "Eros Trilogy."
Aside from the considerable psychic and physical charms of Ms. Buckley, Silver's three dramatic efforts constitute a Positive Antidote to Sex.
[To borrow a phrase from a Restoration Comedy—some of which Silver would do well to consult, if he is devoid of interesting new comedic inspiration.]
The effortful evening at the Vineyard Theatre opens with two monologues, expanded—or retreaded—from an earlier Silver opus. Why did he believe they needed to be re-explored?
Ms. Buckley manages to evoke Goethe's Eternal Woman—with little help from Silver's text—in her curtain-raiser monologue. Among other aversions, she detests people spitting, especially in Public Places.
[Ah, but when you have the Flu, what are you to do?]
Zak Orth frenetically performs the second monologue as this woman's psychologically damaged son. The stocky lad has done some damage on his own.
He is, of course, homosexual. How could it be otherwise, with such a mom?
After the Interval, seated at tables at opposite sides of the tiny stage, Ms. Buckley and T. Scott Cunningham read letters to each other over a tedious span of years.
She is the alcoholic Miriam, failed wife and mother. He is the psychically damaged Roger, coming to terms with his Gayness.
The forms of monologue and letter-play offer virtually no opportunities for dramatic inter-action. And, when the characters involved are not themselves very interesting, it's hard work for both actors and audience.
With "Dear Liar," at least you get the intelligence and wit of George Bernard Shaw and the charm and vitality of Mrs. Patrick Campbell. The letter-play involving Robert and Elizabeth Barrett Browning also has its peculiar attractions.
Even "Letters from Stalingrad" is/are more interesting than those Nicky Silver has dropped in the slot.
Harbor Theatre LaunchesYou actually get to see Peter Popo [Harry Bouvy] being made on stage, though he's nearly fully clothed.
Frenzied "Making Peter Pope" [***]
His infatuated ravager, Henry Lamberti [Eric Morace], is a confused, under-educated, lonely Italian lad from darkest Queens.
Ashamed, Peter has changed his Lima, OH, name to Pope, on arriving in New York. He is also confused, sexually and otherwise.
Working as a computer-programmer and studying part-time at Hunter College, Peter is trying to impose some order on his hectic life.
Henry, a part-time driver for a mysterious Mafioso, has been stalking Peter, in search of a real relationship.
Ordinarily, that would be quite enough for a boy-gets-boy comedy Off-Broadway.
Paul Rudnick would have thrown in some gratuitous one-liners—as in "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told."
But playwright Edmund De Santis is not a Rudnick. His wry and bitchy humor grows directly out of character and situation.
As narrated by Peter Pope, the events have a strongly biographical flavor. Either De Santis has lived through these events—and survived—or he knows the people involved like next-door neighbors.
For this is not a simple Gay Manhattan Love Story. Back in Lima [pronounced like the bean, not the Peruvian city], Peter's long-suffering mother has died.
His nerdy father is remarrying—an overage party-girl who just loves sequins and glitter. She has a daughter who was "sweet on Peter" in the 2nd Grade—and now longs for a career in The Musical Theatre.
Peter's angry, disorganized sister is a Lesbian in far-off LA.
All these people—Peter included—are self-centered, obsessed, and selfish. Had De Santis not made them more ridiculous than serious, this would be a Long Day's Journey into Ohio and Queens.
Poor Peter is so beset with so many noisy claims on his attention and affection that he cannot properly begin his narration.
Rather like Caryl Churchill's recent "Blue Heart" at BAM, this fractured comedy begins over and over again. Each time differently, for there is another raucous claimant for attention on the scene.
If you are one of those seriously religious people who hate Gays and Lesbians, this play is not for you!
De Santis ridicules both Gay and the Straight Attitudes. It's clear, however, that he doesn't like macho drunks who feel compelled to insult and assault homosexuals.
But he does have a kind of understanding pity for a father who was always Afraid of Life.
If you are a devout Protestant, Orthodox Jew, Muslim, or Catholic who believes that Yahweh/God/Allah has send AIDS as a Plague to punish people like Peter and Henry, you really won't enjoy De Santis's incisive character-critiques of the folks back in Lima.
But, if you give this a miss, you won't be able to appreciate the skill with which director Derek Todd keeps all this domestic horror and hilarity in motion.
Once Bit, Twice Shy:
Lessons in Living from "Snakebit" [****]
MACHO-MAN AND GAY BEST-FRIEND--David Alan Basche and Geoffrey Nauffts in a relatively relaxed moment in "Snakebit." Photo: Jace Alexander.
Go see it at once!
That is, if you can get tickets for the often sold-out performances at the intimate Century Theatre.
Unlike other current dramas about confused young people, "Snakebit" has no drug-taking on or off-stage, no abusive alcoholics, no Killer-Moms, but lots and lots of regrets for opportunities missed or botched.
David Marshall Grant—who so ably played Joe Pitt, the confused young Mormon husband in "Angels in America"—has written a wryly painful and amusing drama about old Connecticut school chums briefly and furiously reunited in Los Angeles.
As Jonathan, a multi-machoed young actor of monumental self-regard and career-obsession, David Alan Basche is a wonder of energy and insensitivity as he alternately berates his miserable wife Jenifer [Jodie Markell] and verbally bashes his gay best-friend, Michael [Geoffrey Nauffts].
The entire cast deserves award-nominations, including Michael Weston as Gary, a hyperactive HIV-Positive New Age Optimist, who has just been taken up by Michael's ex-lover, also named Gary.
The various crises in Michael's sunny LA living-room threaten to destroy individuals and longtime relationships. Or to heal them.
Jace Alexander—actress Jane Alexander's son—has staged with an almost unbearable tautness and energy—which is comically relieved from time to time as characters pause to catch their breaths in mid-rant. Or to take stock.
Two from Long Island:
"Mineola Twins" at the Roundabout [*****]
Swoosie Kurtz—all two of her—is reason enough to rush off to the Roundabout's Criterion Center to savor Paula Vogel's "The Mineola Twins."
RICHARD NIXON & SWOOSIE KURTZ IN "THE MINEOLA TWINS"--Kurtz [in dark glasses] plays the "Good Twin" in Paula Vogel's new comedy. Photo: Copyright ©—Joan Marcus.
Kurtz—a two-time Tony Award-winner—has always been a fabulous comedienne. Now she doubles her comedy-whammy as the twins, Myrna and Myra.
One is a goody-goody girl—with outrageously pointed breasts—who teases endlessly but won't Put Out.
Her twin-sister—the Bad Girl/Slut—loves football so much she's now screwing her way through the Second String Team.
This colorful, witty production is worth seeing for Kurtz's madcap caricatures alone. But the way she changes both character and costume in an instant is also breathtaking to witness.
The theatre-stunt of playing two characters—especially Identical Twins—goes all the way back to Roman Comedy. Shakespeare updated it in "The Comedy of Errors."
Carlo Goldoni made it central to "The Venetian Twins." Jean Anouilh constructed "Ring Round the Moon" around the device.
Swoosie Kurtz proves one of the best ever in meeting this performance challenge.
Paula Vogel—as she has shown in "Baltimore Waltz" and "How I Learned To Drive"—isn't interested only in crafting crowd-pleasing well-made plays. But that she certainly does, especially in "The Mineola Twins."
She has another, much more important, emotional agenda. She clearly hopes for a better society, one in which sexual diversity is respected and protected.
The Bad Twin—after a drugged-out, Hippie, Patricia Hearst-style phase, and some time in prison—becomes a caring Lesbian and manager of a Planned Parenthood Clinic.
Her Good Sister—embittered by Life, Men, and her Sibling, not to mention electro-shock therapy—becomes a Radical Rightist Radio Talk-Show Hostess. Her defining act will be the bombing of her sister's clinic.
Those people who not only hate Lesbians but also Liberals and wicked women who want to destroy human life in their wombs will surely hate this show.
Otherwise, it's a Hoot! And also a very amusing caricature of the violently opposed Moral Extremes current in American Life.
Mineola, for the uninitiated, is an appalling patch of suburbia on Long Island, near Hofstra University. It is definitely NOT The Hamptons!
A phallic municipal water-tower looms over Robert Brill's visually hilarious set-pieces. They scoot on and off, moving the action from 1950s Art Deco design-leftovers to contemporary decorative disasters.
Jess Goldstein's wonderfully brazen costumes constitute a Panoramic Critique of American Fashion. They also enable Mo Gaffney and Mandy Siegfried to play all the other male and female characters in Paula Vogel's Moral Parody.
The ingenious and dynamic director, Joe Mantello, has given the show a furious pace and powerful punch with makes it all the more memorable.
Yes, Virginia, some sour women in fur-coats did leave at intermission. Dragging their wealthy old husbands after them.
Either they did not want to see Lesbians on stage. Or they believe—as some unforgiving Christians still do—that unmarried girls who get pregnant should be forced to carry the fetus to term, as punishment for their sexual sins.
What kind of child will be born from such an angry, resentful, unwelcoming womb does not seem to concern them. Nor do they worry about who will ultimately parent it, feed and clothe it, educate it. And, possibly, even love it.
A Women's Project:
"The Chemistry of Change" [**]
Marlene Mayer's consciously kooky comedy, "The Chemistry of Change," seems to have attracted admirers—and productions—across America.
THAT OLD DEVIL LARRY PINE--Mixing some dubious magic with Carlin Glynn into "The Chemistry of Change." Photo: Martha Holmes.
Its current New York premiere, at Theatre Four, is under the auspices of Playwrights Horizons and the Women's Project.
Women should be picketing this play & production!
Not only is Carlin Glynn—as Lee, the family Matriarch—operating a dangerously mismanaged, illegal, and bloody Abortion Clinic. But she also hopes to repair the defunct Family Fortunes by marrying a rich nerd she does not love.
This is not the first time she has married for money. Not exactly a Women's Role Model for the 21st Century!
She is also a horrible, belittling, castrating, selfish, thoughtless, exploitive, strong-willed mother.
She long ago ruined her embittered, tomboyish daughter Corliss's hope of a romance and a husband. One son has been driven to drink. The other two seem marginal idiots.
On her way to marry her latest victim, she meets Smokey, the devilishly debonair proprietor of a Hell Hole carnival-ride. He even sports two tiny red horns.
As slyly played by Larry Pine, he is devilishly attractive and persuasive. All the women in the family are drawn to him. Even the men, as well.
His foreknowledge of all their hopes and dreams—and his mysterious wads of cash—set all things right.
In your hopes and dreams, Marlene Meyer!
None of the characters has a breath of reality under the broad caricatures. Both the characters and the plot seem willed into existence. As though prepared for an assignment in Playwriting 11A.
Meyer and Amy Freed must have taken the same course in playwriting. Freed's recent "Freedomland"—also produced by Playwrights Horizons—had an equally unbelievable kooky family.
Lisa Peterson directed ineptly, awkwardly. She obviously didn't have directing-class with Joe Mantello.
To do her justice, she has impressive directing credits at major innovative New York and regional theatre-spaces. She is currently Resident Director at LA's Mark Taper Theatre. As well as a member of the estimable Drama Department and the Ensemble Studio Theatre.
I hated her bizarre Feminist revision of Hawthorne's "The Scarlet Letter" at CSC. And I was not alone. But I have also admired several of her Manhattan stagings very much.
Can it be that Women's Plays bring out the worst in her talents?
This Is Our Youth?Can it be that I have Alzheimer's?
The Reagan-Era Revisited [***]
I cannot now remember The Reagan Era. Not with any clarity. But then neither can he. Reagan couldn't remember it when it was happening, so why should we be expected to do any better?
Nixon, Reagan, Bush: it's all a horrible "Good Morning, America!" blur. Not that Carter & Mondale emerge with any distinction from the Rubble of Memory.
At the Douglas Fairbanks Theatre, however, there is now an aide memoire which may recall one aspect of the Reagan Years.
If you did not know any young New York Jewish Junkies at that time, "This Is Our Youth" will make up for what you missed.
This is a Second Stage revival—staged by Mark Brokaw—which has moved Off-Broadway, in response to glowing reviews.
But is this play really necessary?
When it was premiered, back in 1996, it wasn't so warmly received. So Second Stage—as is its mission—gave the play a Second Chance.
The most breathtaking moment occurs when a plate of expensive white powder goes flying into the air. Desperate attempts to scrape up the snow don't work.
Big bucks have been spent to acquire it so it can be re-sold for even more money to compulsive sniffers.
But Kenneth Lonergan's play isn't only about misuse of drugs, or about lives without reason or purpose. It's also about misplaced hero-worship. And Getting Laid.
Mark Rosenthal, Missy Yager, and Mark Rufallo are totally persuasive in their roles. In the ratty pad of the Abusive and Usive Dennis Ziegler—aided by Lonergan and Brokaw—the trio creates a brief Season in Hell.
This is definitely not a Room with a View. Don't bring the kids!
Sweet Breeze from the Windy Second City:
A "Beautiful Thing" in London Council Flats [****]
If you have already seen the film, you may think it's not worth trekking over to the Cherry Lane Theatre to see the same story shown live on a tiny stage in a ratty setting.
BOY MEETS BOY IN "BEAUTIFUL THING"--Matt Stinton and Dan Gold in a London Council Flats Romance. Photo: Lisa Ebright.
The lonely and desolate Southeast London teen-agers, Jamie and Ste, live in tiny, ratty Council Flats. Their miserable lives—devoid of future hopes—are also tiny and ratty.
This may have seemed much more impressive, "opened-up" into their wider community, as it was in the movie.
But the experience of seeing the boys' story unfold live—on the steps in front of four flimsy apartment-doors—is something special. This, because of the performances of Matt Stinton and Daniel Eric Gold as Jamie and Ste.
They discover a genuine and protective affection for each other: Jamie, a neglected wimpy bastard, and Ste, constantly slammed about and verbally abused by both father and brother.
Kirsten Sahs is also excellent as Jamie's harried pub-waitress mother, Sandra. She's too cash-short and sexually needy to waste much time or love on him.
Kurt Brocker is Tony, a passing penis in her life. Susan Bennett is Leah, the fat, unloved, school-reject, Mama Cass-fan next door.
The taut, engaging production comes from Chicago's Famous Door Theatre. It has been sensitively staged by Gary Griffin.
Steppenwolf and Victory Gardens are not the only innovative, alternative theatres in the Windy Second City. The Theatre Scene there is alive and expanding.
Atlantic Revival Proves More Is Less
In Harold Pinter's Stuffy "Hothouse" [***]
As a ramrod-stiff ex-colonel, Larry Bryggman seemed to be sputtering and choking from the imagined heat on stage in a British State Facility of which he was chief.
GET READY FOR A SHOCK!--Kate Blumberg and Jordan Lage prepare to give Liam O'Brien the Third Degree in Harold Pinter's "The Hothouse." Photo: Carol Rosegg.
In contrast, many of the audience kept their coats on because the theatre was so cold.
Nor did the auditorium warm perceptibly as simulated emotional temperatures rose to the boiling point in Harold Pinter's Absurdist "The Hothouse."
Unlike Pinter's later Absurdist Mysteries, there were almost none of his Signature Pauses. But this drama was drafted way back in 1958.
When the world was young, and the names of Pinter, Osborne, Wesker, Kops, Storey, Rudkin, and Bond were not yet encyclopaedified.
Pinter may even have been working on the "Hothouse" concept when he was still acting under the stage-name of David Baron. A handsome partner to the actress Vivian Merchant.
The distinguishing stylistic feature of "The Hothouse" is not the Pinterian Pause, but the recycling of a torrent of bromides, clichés, frayed slogans, and ridiculous commonplaces.
[An American playwright-who shall be nameless here—later used this clichéd idea for most of the dubious dialogue in a dreadful drama called "The Watering Place."]
Pinter's delight in withholding useful—even necessary—information from the audience certainly shows, even in this early work. He does this to heighten mystery and lend unearned importance to arbitrary actions or remarks.
Is Larry Bryggman's character, Roote, really trying to get to the root of what's going wrong in the Convalescent Home—or madhouse—he runs for "The Ministry"?
The desperately confused young man—whose duty it is to make sure all the patients are locked in their rooms—is meek as his name, Lamb.
He is given a peculiar grilling and jolting electric shocks in a secret attic chamber.
And, when a fall-guy must be found, he seems the Designated Sacrificial Lamb!
Then there's Roote's underling and croney, the drunken Lush. Not to overlook the scheming Miss Cutts, who beds all the men who'll have her.
Tubb and Lobb do their job.
Most insidious of all the intriguers, however, is the coldly correct Gibbs [Jordan Lage]. He alone survives a deadly massacre of the staff when the Hothouse overheats.
Karen Kohlhaas staged in Walt Spangler's spacious white-tile sanitorium setting. And the cast worked very hard to make the drama work.
But several times people began to clap because they thought we'd reached intermission—or the end of the play.
This is partly Pinter's fault, structurally. But more incisive staging and acting could have made this more coherent.
Is all the ranting and raving meant to be hilarious—or intimidating?
Are all the flipflop plot intrigues meant to be comic surprises—or sinister developments?
Are the strange noises intended to raise tension and evoke menace—or are they House of Horrors giggles?
Characters treated like caricatures were robbed of any real mystery or menace they might otherwise have projected. The highly energized playing-style invited laughter, rather than gasps.
Joe Orton later did this kind of thing much more ingeniously and amusingly.
Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman"
Is Reborn at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre [****]
Speaking of Chicago theatres, the powerful new production of Arthur Miller's "Death of a Salesman" was premiered there in the Goodman Theatre last fall.
CONVERSATION AT THE LOMAN FAMILY BREAKFAST-TABLE--Kevin Anderson as Biff; Brian Denehy as Willy Loman; Ted Koch as Happy, and Elizabeth Franz as Linda. Photo: Eric Y. Exit.
That may account for the odd and counter-productive scenic-design of Mark Wendland. And for the semi-expressionistic lighting of Michael Philippi.
The Goodman—sited beneath the Chicago Art Institute on Michigan Avenue—has no fly-gallery. Settings have to sit—or move—on the stage-floor.
There is no room overhead for imaginative scenic solutions. And Wendland surely did not want to copy Jo Mielziner's memorable "Salesman" skeleton of the Loman house in Post-World War II Brooklyn.
But that example of American Expressionism on stage was compact, showing all rooms in the Loman home simultaneously, with a few set-props from the sides for scenes elsewhere.
In the new "Salesman," two attached set-boxes—with movable set-props—scoot about and revolve. There's also a turntable, making the show something of a Loman Coney Island Carousel.
The cavernous black voids of the large stage may have a metaphorical visual charge, suggesting the emptiness of the American Dream. Or the emptiness inside Willy and his two feckless sons, Biff and Happy.
For me, however, they detracted from the focus of important scenes. They even made the progression of scenes, in the developing family disaster, seem more tenuous, less impressive and inevitable.
Nor did the lighting make up for this in visual linkages. It rather highlighted the separation of scenes and the isolation of characters.
This is, after all, Arthur Miller's vision of a modern tragedy, with a modern demotic hero—or even anti-hero. He once explained his new approach to the ancient genre in "Tragedy and the Common Man."
Willy Loman may not be a Greek king, a great philosopher, or a daring general. But he has had a vision, a dream, and it has failed him. It destroys him, as surely as any classic hero was undone by false beliefs and hopes. Or epically misguided actions.
Although Miller's indictment of Unfailing American Optimism and Elmer Babbittry was cautionary in the late 1940s, it has even more resonance today. Oddly enough!
The tremendous military expenditures in World War II brought America and its people out of the Depression Era. Or many of them, for the Lomans didn't make it.
In the current hectic feel-good years of bullish booms—and desperate down-sizings and multi-national mergers—men like Willy Loman are even more expendable. And they don't have to wait until they are old and tired like Willy to be dumped in corporate ashcans.
As the social safety-nets of the postwar years are slashed away at century's end, the tragedy of Willy Loman and his family is even more potent and laden with portent.
People who have only the labor of their bodies to offer—or, like Willy, only their smiles, conviviality, and urgency to sell their wares—are more than ever expendable.
Brian Dennehy's Willy is powerful in despair, a hulking body hiding a hundred failed hopes and a thousand lies and deceits.
I have seen Lee J. Cobb, Thomas Mitchell, and Albert Dekker in the original production. Not to forget Dustin Hoffman's version of Willy.
Dennehy holds his own in this league of great actors.
As does Elizabeth Franz as Linda. She is heart-breaking. Attention must be paid to this Tony-quality performance.
Curiously, she sometimes sounds a bit like Mildred Dunnock in her wistfulness. But, when she is saying goodbye on Willy's grave in the "Requiem," her voice takes on the quality of Julie Harris.
From the artfully careless way that Kevin Anderson's shirts fall away from his strong shoulders, it may be that his Biff has not only been a ranch-hand out West.
He may have picked up some cash by hanging around small-town Greyhound Bus Stations. To make his equipment available to repressed locals.
Robert Falls directed, so he must have the key to this visual clue. Or it may be that both he and Anderson think the audience deserves something hunky to look at in all this gloom and doom.
The East 13th Street "Misanthrope"
At Least Roger Rees Is Not Roger Rabbit [***]
The Idea of Uma Thurman, on stage live, was immensely appealing—even before I saw her demonstrate her mastery in Modern Molière.
UMA THURMAN OUTPOURING FOR ROGER REES--A comparatively quiet moment in the CSC's Martin Crimp "Misanthrope." Photo: Dixie Sheridan.
The radiant Thurman does not claim months and years of acting-classes with Uta Hagen, Bobby Lewis, Stella Adler, Sandy Meisner, and Lee Strasberg. Or even with the latter-day gurus Austin Pendleton and Wynn Handman.
So some reviewers—who may not have been watching what was actually happening on stage at the CSC—saw fit to mock her as an actress. Some of these experts, in contrast, were deeply impressed by Nicole Kidman's New York debut.
Uma Thurman is not only lovely, she is also a Natural on stage. Her sexy and mercurial Jennifer dominates the stage with no apparent effort.
Unlike the sweaty excesses of Roger Rees, as Alceste, a caricature of a playwright. Rees begins at a level of frenzy which virtually precludes more expenditure of energy or outrage.
But he doesn't much decline from this level either, so his character lacks not only nuance but coherence as well. He is impossible to take seriously as a candidate for anyone's affections, especially a woman so fickle as Jenny.
In fact, he's such a constant scold and nuisance, it's a wonder anyone invites him anywhere.
Matters are not helped by Martin Crimp's updating—or rewriting—of Molière's comic masterpiece. He has transported something resembling the original plot—but not the essential manners, social-stations, economic conditions, and personae—to trendy modern London.
But these are no longer cultured, wealthy, idle, pretentious Parisian patricians—closely attached to a powerful and splendid court. These are the overweening dregs of Film, Fashion, and Fleet Street.
It's not at all the same kind of social caricature as Molière's. Nor is the playing of it helped by Crimp's insistence on endlessly intrusive rhymed couplets.
Instead of echoing Molière's ingenious use of couplets—or even giving translator Richard Wilbur something to worry about—they constantly call unwanted attention to themselves.
Sometimes the rhymes are, in fact, really funny. But not in context of situation and character. So they are more often a distraction.
The CSC's new Artistic Director, Barry Edelstein, staged this briskly paced production in Narelle Sissons' attractive Post-Modernist disjunctive setting.
Mary Lou Rosato—one of John Houseman's original Juilliard Drama and Acting Company stalwarts—was marvelous a Marcia, a cloying, envious drama-coach. Playing Jennifer's friend and critic, she cooed as she stabbed.
Some insiders thought they saw an amalgam of several famous lady-teachers of acting in this caricature. Does this mean Rosato will never eat lunch at H-B Studios or Juilliard again?
Musicals Old & New—
Bringing "Fosse" to the Broadhurst:
A Tribute to Bob—and Then Some! [****]
As a compendium of Bob Fosse's signature choreographies, this is a much more rewarding experience than the current Broadway revival of "Chicago."
Christopher R. Kirby, Elizabeth Parkinson and Desmond Richardson in "Fosse," the new all-dancing musical based on the work of famed director/choreographer Bob Fosse. (photo: Joan Marcus)
For one thing, the dancers in this show actually have some space in which to strut their stuff. "Chicago," on the other hand, in effect is actually the concert version of the memorable Broadway hit, as briefly mounted in the City Center "Encores."
Its major set-piece—a tiered box of seats—limits movement and dancing to a downstage and forestage strip. "Fosse," however, can joyfully fill the entire stage when a huge ensemble number is underway.
The space can be closed down for smaller-scale dances with two ornate black-painted prosceniums which can pivot inward from either side of the wings.
These echo a fake golden proscenium constructed out front to close down the opening somewhat.
As black is the predominate color on stage—and in many of the costumes—the constantly dancing, diminishing, darting, and stabbing shafts of colored and neutral light from Andrew Bridge's state-of-the-art lighting-instruments do much to focus attention on dancers and the dances.
Bridge's gobbos and swirling mini-beams are occasionally as interesting to watch as the actual movements in some of the choreographies.
One of the reasons for this is that Fosse largely choreographed on his own body. Then he and his longtime muse and star, Gwen Verdon, would teach the movements and routines to the dancers.
That is one reason for the apparent repetitions in "Fosse." As in his previous all-dance show, "Dancin'," he imposed on himself a necessarily limited "vocabulary" of dance movement.
Had he chosen to explore the movement possibilities of tall dancers, of dancers with very long extension, and similar body-features unlike his own, there would have been much more variety.
But then, such imaginary choreographies wouldn't have been Vintage Fosse. As for the ubiquity of bowler hats and other forms of head-gear, the word is that Fosse was bothered by his thinning hair.
Fosse had a daunting and driving energy which never seemed to diminish. This shows in the current dance-panorama as well.
It shows more, in fact, than it did when the distinctive dances were originally performed in specific Broadway musicals.
That's because—with the exception of some solos, duos, and small ensembles—most of the works are major musical numbers.
It's rather like those wonderful Lee Theodore American Dance Machine programs—which were often one show-finale after another. Before long, this exhausts not only the dancers, but also the audience.
"Fosse" does not disappoint in this regard. Some of the shows it anthologizes include: "Chicago," "Dancin'," "New Girl in Town," "Pippin," "Sweet Charity," "The Pajama Game," "Damn Yankees," "Redhead," "How To Succeed," "Big Deal," and "Cabaret."
The dynamic dancers are too numerous to list, but Verdon, Ann Reinking, Richard Maltby, Jr., and Chet Walker deserve neon lights for their splendid efforts.
This is not, however, an acted-out—or through-danced—biography of Bob Fosse. It is a tribute instead to his achievements and innovations as a show-biz choreographer.
There is one autobiographical moment. Though it was missed by most reviewers.
During "There'll Be Some Changes Made," the music & lyrics were backed by a steadily thumping heart-beat.
But Fosse wasn't really able to change his "way of living" as much as was necessary to prevent his overworked heart from giving out. This suggestive number ends with the heart-beat faltering and dying.
East Village "Bright Lights Big City"—
Upscale Theatre Workshop "Rent"
Rocking the Novel Round the Clock [****]
If you liked the original "Rent" at the New York Theatre Workshop, you may just love "Bright Lights Big City," currently being showcased there.
IS THIS THE NEW UPSCALE "RENT"?--Exploring Jay McInerney's novel—"Bright Lights Big City"—with rock music at the New York Theatre Workshop. Photo: Copyright ©—Joan Marcus.
Of course, if you are one of those addicts who stands in line daily on 41st Street outside the Nederlander Theatre, hoping to see the Broadway "Rent" one more time, you could really hate the new show.
It is not a celebration of East Village Grunge, social disaster, and teenage disaffection & duplicity.
Based on Jay McInerney's novel of that name, "Bright Lights Big City" is more upscale and uptown in its concerns. Though its anti-hero certainly does do slumming and drugging downtown.
The entire musical has been created by the Glaswegian Rocker, Paul Scott Goodman: Music, Lyrics, Book.
What's more, he is also its narrator-cum-MC. He plays a mean rock guitar, but his Glasgow accent might need supertitles for some.
The production, staged by Michael Greif, is much sharper and more dynamic than "Rent." Paul Clay's Minimalist Post-Modernist settings and Angela Wendt's trendy costumes add an extra sheen of sophistication.
Always a good idea when you are dealing with a trendy vision of Drugs, Sex, and Designer-Labels in Manhattan in the mid-1980s.
But the show's central character, Jamie [Patrick Wilson], is a virtual Black Hole as a human-being. Not exactly Mr. Cellophane, but he is a callow, selfish, confused young man of no particular attractions, talents, or achievements.
This is also something of a problem with Chris in "Cabaret," but at least he tries to be a writer. It's also a problem with the central figure in "Company"—Bobby is the human-glue which holds the musical couples together. He's apparently adorable, but that seems to be the extent of his attractions.
This initial production has all the signs of Broadway Transfer on it. If you cannot get tickets during the run on East Fourth Street, wait for it, wait for it!
"Captains Courageous" at MTC:
Boy Overboard/Treat Williams on Deck [***]
If this musical transfers to Broadway from the Manhattan Theatre Club, it will be only because Treat Williams has an even larger fan-club than has turned out for him in the sub-basement of City Center.
TREAT WILLIAMS MENTORS A SPOILED BRAT--Brandon Espinosa gets a kindly lesson on deck in "Captains Courageous" at the Manhattan Theatre Club. Photo: Copyright ©—Joan Marcus.
As a musical, however, "Captains Courageous" is neither terrible nor memorable.
Whatever made Frederick Freyer [music] and Patrick Cook [book & lyrics] think the Spirit of Freddie Bartholomew should be channeled at this moment in infinity?
Could they have been inspired by the success of "Titanic"?
Fishing for halibut off the Grand Banks is not quite the same thing, however, as fishing for bodies from the Titanic.
Nor is the set as interesting as that of Titanic." As evoked by designer Derek McLane, it is a raked rectangle—or inclined plane—which revolves to suggest deck and cabins.
The cautionary spark of the story is: Spoiled-Rotten But Badly-Neglected Rich Kid Falls Overboard From Ocean-Liner.
Picked up nearly drowned by an outmoded sail-powered fishing-trawler, the snotty juvenile, Harvey E. Cheyne [Brandon Espinoza], learns humility, hard-work, discipline, and cooperation from the tough seamen.
He is especially befriended by Manuel [Treat Williams], a skilled Portuguese-American fisherman. He is something of a loner and the butt of some ethnic slurs.
But he is a really good, caring person. And Williams does very well indeed by this character and his songs.
Here once again is all the Good Stuff you came to expect of Hollywood Films when they were still in the business of peddling Moral Messages.
The MTC's indomitable Artistic Director Lynne Meadow directed, with musical staging by Jerry Mitchell.
Frank Rich Applauds Internet Theatre WebsitesIt's always entertaining when members of the American Theatre Critics Association converge on New York for an annual Mini-Meeting.
The special speaker this February was Frank Rich, on leave from Op-Ed Page columnist-duties at the "New York Times" to write a book.
Rich emphasized the importance of informed drama criticism in maintaining writing and performance standards around the United States.
He was concerned to learn from some members that arts coverage has virtually disappeared in major newspapers in their regions.
It was noted that publishing conglomerates don't think their readers are interested in the arts, especially theatre. Movies, however, qualify as entertainment, not as art.
Some ATCA members told Rich and fellow-critics that they have created their own web-pages in order to continue reporting on the arts and providing reviews when local newspapers and magazines fail to do so.
Frank Rich applauded this initiative. He noted the increasing importance of such coverage. Rich also seemed puzzled that major publishers are ignoring such Internet developments.
"When you can read the 'New York Times' on the Internet free, why buy it?" he asked, somewhat rhetorically.
Best Alessandrini Edition Ever!Want to save Big Bucks on Broadway Shows?
"Forbidden Broadway Cleans Up Its Act" [*****]
Just go to Ellen's Stardust Diner to see the new edition of "Forbidden Broadway."
You can experience all the hilarious high points of major musicals and dramas, old and new. For only one ticket and all in one evening.
Alessandrini and his fantastic cast of four take deadly aim with their lampoon-harpoons. Currently, there are even more raucous nadirs of show-biz awfulness to be targeted than in many a season.
The new show—conceived and written by Gerard Alessandrini—opens with Alan Cumming, the androgynous MC of "Cabaret," suggestively leering at the audience.
But, before Common Decency can be outraged, Mayor Rudy Giuliani bounds onto the stage to put a stop to this soft-core porn, smut, & filth. He extols his success in Disneyfying the Theatre District.
Michael Bartoli even looks and sounds like Rudy G. But Alessandrini has resisted the temptation to present the Mayor in drag—though there is a famous photo of His Honor as a parody femme.
The wonder is that Bartoli, Lori Hammel, Edward Staudenmayer, and Ellen Margulies can so ably impersonate such a range of Broadway stars and characters.
Alvin Colt's colorful and ingenious quick-change costumes and wigs do much to make this work in a matter of seconds.
Ute Lempert is campily travestied as the new star of "Chicago." And much is made of the fact that there is no scenery and not much variety in the Bob Fosse choreography.
Margulies is a bold-face Annie caricature, lamenting the lack of revivals—which have left her an overage unemployed juvenile.
Although most of the sketches mock the pretensions of musicals, the current melodramatic hit, "The Beauty Queen of Leenane," and its super-thick Irish accents get a richly deserved roasting.
Even the talented Julie Taymor is raked over the coals for lending her puppetry talents to such a soggy, sentimental story as "The Lion King." The foursome's evocations of dancing African animals are hilarious.
Not to forget the neck-braces they have to wear, because Lion King's animal masks are so bulky. This is very funny, but in truth the masks are very light and easily manipulated.
That's one reason why artists involved in shows parodied by Alessandrini seldom take offense, but more often laugh along with the lay audiences. There may be a germ of truth in some spoofs, but it's all in good fun.
The endlessly revolving turntable in "Les Miserables" is whirled around more than necessary. But it's clever to have Edith Piaf comment on its seemingly endless run.
The "Titanic" lampoon is jolly fun—and, yes, the critics didn't rave—but it is still running strong.
This sketch conflates the musical with the film. Aged Ida Strauss throws off her voluminous skirts to reveal herself as a perky Kate Winslet—with an immense jeweled heart at her neck. She is soon joined by the heartless. smarmy, smirking King-of-the-World, Leo What's-his-name.
"Miss Saigon," "Ragtime," and "Jekyll & Hyde" also are hilariously mocked by Alessandrini and his comical quartet.
Although Matthew Bourne's gay version of "Swan Lake" has left the Great White Way, its goose-feather tutus are revived in this panoramic review of Broadway pretension.
Ethel Merman makes a special appearance to show a modern Phantom how to reach the second balcony without a mike.
Bernadette Peters' attempt to recreate the role of Annie Oakley is soundly mocked. She's lucky she didn't choose "Annie" for a Broadway comeback. "Forbidden Broadway" would have made musical mincemeat out of that.
Jennifer Jason Leigh's ineffectual Sally Bowles is campily contrasted with Natasha Richardson's Nazi Dominatrix, in the Studio 54 "Cabaret."
To clean up Broadway's act, the foursome pushes "Cabaret" into the wings. It's replaced by the gingham and dirndl of "The Sound of Music."
The best of parodies—written or performed—have always been eminently amusing even if the originals are unknown. This is certainly true of this new edition of "Forbidden Broadway."
Those who have seen the actual shows will of course appreciate some delicious inside jokes missed by novices. But anyone who loves musicals and theatre in general will be delighted with this musical exercise in Theatre Criticism.
And it will indeed save a lot of money—unless the spoofs are so outrageous that you think you really have to see the shows—to make sure they aren't that awful.
"Time" lists "Forbidden Broadway" as one of the Year's Ten Best. And the "New York Times" has suggested a Special Tony Award for Alessandrini.
They are both right!
Mahler's "Kindertotenlieder"Soprano Rebecca Blankenship and Canada's reigning theatre-genius, Robert Lepage, have collaborated on a most interesting staged version of Gustav Mahler's "Kindertotenlieder"—or "Songs on the Deaths of Children."
Visualized at John Jay College [***]
It would be aesthetic reward enough just to hear and watch Blankenship interpret the five songs in this deeply moving cycle.
But to have the added dimension of experiencing all that in the dramatic framework of a mother's breaking with her husband and losing her beloved young daughter is even more potent.
On stage, a book-lined room has dust-clothes spread over its furniture. Lepage causes these to slide silently away, one at a time. This sets a somber tone to the play-with-pantomime-and-song which then unfolds.
At one point, the bookcase fades away to reveal the deck-railing of an ocean-liner. It's not the Titanic, but the lovely blonde girl who walks along is nonetheless doomed by disease.
There's another sadly effective moment as well. Both mother and daughter stand in profile looking into mysterious light which seems to come from the depths of an antique wardrobe closet.
If there is a problem about the realization of this concept, it lies in the acted text, imagined by Blake Morrison. This does not rise to the challenge of Friedrich Rückert's original verses or Mahler's wonderfully grieving musical settings.
Although this was performed only three times in the current Lincoln Center Great Performers Series, it is sure to be shown at major European Festivals, as well as in many American venues.
Will Lepage next attempt to visualize Mahler's wonderful "Des Knaben Wunderhorn"? And how about "Das klagende Lied"?
Henry Purcell's Odes & Birthday Music:
Les Arts Florissants Flower at BAM [*****]
To celebrate their 20th anniversary season, William Christie and his Arts Florissants ensemble recreated some very joyous Royal Birthday Music at the Brooklyn Academy of Music.
William Christie, conductor and founder of Les Arts Florissants photo by Michel Szabo
"Come ye sons of Art, away!" did not need a reconstructed Long Gallery at Windsor or a richly hung chamber at Westminister to put these surging harmonies in context.
Nor did Christie's musicians, chorus, and soloists have to wear period costumes to remind the audiences that this magnificent Ode was composed for the Birthday of Queen Mary in 1694.
Les Arts Florissants have few equals in the fully staged recreation of 17th & 18th century operas, however. This they have repeatedly shown on major European opera stages, at international festivals, and also at BAM.
Among these handsome productions have been Lully's "Atys," Rameau's "Hippolyte et Aricie," and Charpentier's "Médée."
Queen Mary shared the English Throne in her own right with her Dutch Protestant husband, King William of Orange-Nassau. [That's why there's a Nassau County on Long Island and some Oranges in New Jersey. Not to forget the College of William & Mary in Virginia!]
Purcell obviously wanted to offer Queen Mary something very special. That certainly shows in this exuberant music—which continues to engage listeners after three centuries.
The second of the two major Purcell odes was "Hail bright Cecilia," composed for St. Cecilia's Day in 1692.
Considering the fiercely Protestant feeling which still bristled after the defeat of the Catholic King James II—with Jacobites always lurking in the Scottish wings—it is remarkable how much respect the idea and image of St. Cecilia commanded.
Even firmly Protestant poets and composers had a special obligation to St. Cecilia. Not only was she their patron saint, but her Day in London provided an admirable showcase for composers hoping for commissions and musicians seeking students.
The special odes composed for the Court of William & Mary were actually heard by very few and very privileged people.
But Purcell used both the courtly occasions and St. Cecilia's Day festivities as opportunities to try out new musical ideas and forms. These he then incorporated into his operas and other Publick Musick.
Countertenor Stephen Wallace was outstanding, as indeed also were basso Clive Bayley, soprano Rachel Elliott, and tenors Joseph Cornwell and Rodrigo del Pazo.
First violinist Myriam Gevers stood out, not only for her sensitive playing, but also for her elegant shining gown—which contrasted admirably with the Basic Black of the rest of the ensemble.
Conducting, William Christie seemed to be richly enjoying himself sharing the splendors of Purcell's music and his ensemble's music-making with the large BAM audience.
The joy of the occasion was tempered for some music-lovers by the fact that there were only two performances of the program. Even when Les Arts Florissants present period operas in full sets and costumes at BAM, performances must be limited.
Because it costs so very much to import ensembles like Christie's—even without sets & costumes—there can never be long runs at BAM.
For those who really love both period revivals and cutting-edge music and theatre events, BAM is New York's major venue. So, if you have never been to Brooklyn and BAM, it is time to get acquainted. Phone: 718-636-4100. Now!
Animated "Rusalka" At LaMaMa Annex [****]
This wonderful Czech festival of every imaginable kind of puppetry is based on the ancient fable of a Water Nixie who falls in love with a mortal.
Photo of Rusalka by Beatrix Pies
Becoming human to be with her lover, she finds herself abandoned. And unwelcome in the watery kingdom from which she came.
Dr. Antonin Dvorák turned this sad tale into an entrancing opera. His music has also been used for the puppet "Rusalka," produced by the Czechoslovak-American Marionette Theatre at LaMaMa.
Someone "formerly Prince" contributed music, as well as the funky and innovative sounds provided by William Parker's Organic Theatre Ensemble, performing live.
This is no Salzburg Marionette staging, with wooden puppets dancing on strings. There are plenty of strings attached to some of the marvelous figures. But there are also rod, hand, and cut-out puppets as well.
As in many Central and Eastern European puppet-theatres, the manipulators also appear—both as handlers and as characters in costume.
This fascinating show premiered in Europe back in 1996. This was its second visit to LaMaMa in a matter of months. Watch for its eventual return. And its appearance elsewhere in North America and abroad.
Rusalka, by the way, isn't the only water-sprite with a romantic problem. Melusine is another Nixie with the same fixation on a careless prince. And there's of course Audrey Hepburn as Ondine!
Nixies with quite a different problem are the Rhine Maidens in the "Niebelungen Saga"—and Richard Wagner's operatic version, "Das Rheingold." They want their Rhine Gold back, if you please!
Orloff's "Oy!" in the Melting Pot:Oy veh!
Learn Yiddish the Hard Way [**]
Rich Orloff had the not entirely original idea that a Yiddish Revue, primarily in English, might be a pleasant diversion.
Showcased in the extremely intimate Theatre 3 on West 43rd Street, the performers at least are mildly diverting. They work hard to infuse amusement into Orloff's amateurish sketches.
Designed on an extremely modest budget, "Oy!" is largely distinguished by clothes-lines on pulleys, on which brightly colored letters are hung by the cast.
Jewish Food saves Stanley and Stella's marriage in "A Trolley Named Tsuris."
God is an Inexperienced Yente who creates Eve before Adam. This is not quite as funny as Paul Rudnick's notion—in "The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told"—that God created Adam and Steve.
Each rearrangement of the alphabet introduces a well-worn topic: Kvetch, Kvell, Yente, Treif. You name it—but don't eat it!
Even some of those in the audience wearing Yarmulkes didn't seem much amused. [Loney]
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Copyright © Glenn Loney 1999 No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: email@example.com.
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