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GLENN LONEY'S SHOW NOTES
By Glenn Loney, May 10, 2003
 "Enchanted April"
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
 "Polish Joke"
 "Dirty Story"
 "Life X 3"
 "The Last Sunday in June"
 "American Magic"
 "A Long Day's Journey into Night"
 "A Day in the Death of Joe Egg"
 "Empress of China"
 "As You Like It"
 "A Midsummer Night's Dream"
 "Urban Cowboy"
 "The Look of Love"
 "Don Juan" at the Lortel
 "Don Juan" at LaMaMa"
 "Don Giovanni"
 "Little Women"
 "The Rape of Lucretia"
 "Les Troyens"
 "Béatrice et Bénédict"
 "Symphonie Fantastique"
 "Cosí fan tutte"
 "Golda's Balcony"
 "Broad Channel"
 "Victory Begins at Home"
 "Talking Heads"
 "The Play What I Wrote"
 Edwin Booth Award to NY Theatre Workshop
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How to contact Glenn Loney: Please email invitations and personal correspondences to Mr. Loney via Editor, New York Theatre Wire. Do not send faxes regarding such matters to The Everett Collection, which is only responsible for making Loney's INFOTOGRAPHY photo-images available for commercial and editorial uses.
How to purchase rights to photos by Glenn Loney: For editorial and commercial uses of the Glenn Loney INFOTOGRAPHY/ArtsArchive of international photo-images, contact THE EVERETT COLLECTION, 104 West 27th Street, NYC 10010. Phone: 212-255-8610/FAX: 212-255-8612.
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Into the Arizona Sunset!Once again, merely listings, with no in-depth commentary. For that, you have always the New York Times at your fingertips! Your scribe is off to Scottsdale, AZ, for an intensive week of Jin Shin Jyutsu treatments: Like Acupressure only far more effective! Also side-trips to the Red Rocks of Sedona, a center of Spiritual Power, and a ride on the Old Verde Canyon Railroad, with trackage through richly-hued mountains & cliff-walls…
New Plays & Old Ideas—
Matthew Barber's ENCHANTED APRIL [*****]
The idea of adapting that enchanting romantic film, Enchanted April, for the stage seemed an odd choice. How could the visual beauty of that movie be recreated on the stage of the Belasco? But this delightful production is not a re-run of the film. Instead, it has been ingeniously adapted from the original novel by Elizabeth von Arnim. The walls of designer Tony Straiges' Italian island-castle are covered with great flowers—suggesting the beautiful gardens seen in the film. Restoring the impaired emotional lives of four quite different women is wonderfully accomplished by the excellent cast: Elizabeth Ashley, Jayne Atkinson, Patricia Conolly, Michael Cumpsty, Dagmara Domincyzk, Daniel Gerroll, Michael Hayden, and Molly Ringwald.
Molly Ringwald and Jayne Atkinson
David Ives' POLISH JOKE [*****]Polish Jokes may be Politically Incorrect, but they are like Irish or Jewish Jokes in that regard: "I'm Jewish, so I can tell this joke. You can't!" David Ives may not be Polish either, but his hilariously caricatured characters are Polish-Joke-Polish: "How many Poles does it take to screw in a light-bulb?" "What's a light-bulb?" This show is so zany and so lovable that it should become a staple of regional, college, and community theatres. Designers Loy Arcenas [sets] & David Woolard [costumes] heighten the madness. All the cast are admirable farceurs—some in multiple roles: Walter Bobbie, Malcolm Gets, Richard Ziman, Nancy Bell, & Nancy Opel.
John Patrick Shanley's DIRTY STORY [**]S & M is becoming an alluring metaphor for plays dealing with Terror, Chaos, & International Crisis. American Magic uses it—plus B & D—to evoke US interrogation of Muslim Terrorist suspects. Shanley deploys it to present the confrontations of Palestinian Arabs with Israelis, in the persons of an Israeli with a video-camera and an Arab with no defenses. A briefly-seen chess-player represents the departing British Mandate over Palestine. A wild American cowboy-type represents guess what? Shanley directed. The Anti-Defamation League won't enjoy this show…
Yasmina Reza's LIFE (X) 3 [***]As with Yasmina Reza's Art—in which there are three "takes" by three male friends on the extravagant purchase of an abstract artwork—her new play re-plays the same awkward scene three times. Important guests arrive an evening too soon: not exactly a new idea in drama. And it requires an immense Suspension of Disbelief to equate the suppressed hysteria of John Turturro with the behavior of an insecure & very minor French Astrophysicist. Nonetheless, Helen Hunt is beautiful as his wife. Linda Edmond is almost heart-breaking as the humiliated wife of the Chief Honcho French Astrophysicist. But the couples don't have to be French: this is a generic play.
Jonathan Tolins' THE LAST SUNDAY IN JUNE [**]Your scribe is so Out Of It that the title meant nothing until the lights disclosed a small Greenwich Village apartment full of men of various ages & conditions looking down—literally & figuratively—on the Annual Gay & Lesbian Parade. Apparently, playwright Tolins intended this to be deja vu Boys in the Band all over again, with obvious references to the traditional components of a Gay Play. Tolins' The Twilight of the Golds was also a gay play, but with a difference. If a Jewish Male Heir is obviously not going to have children, the danger is that the Family, if not the race, will die out. This belies that old Borscht-belt joke: "Jewish boys can't be homosexuals. Their mothers won't let them!" As for that Last Sunday, Berlin's LOVE PARADE now features thousands of marchers & watchers. Even isolated towns in Eastern Europe now have their own "Christopher Day" Parades! There are Cross-Dressers & Leathermen everywhere!
Gil Kofman's American Magic [*]The only magic seen at Alternative Stages in this very peculiar political protest play was that it made half the audience vanish at intermission! Kofman's fevered fantasy of Ashcroftian Investigative Techniques—dealing with presumed Muslim Terrorists—proved a thoroughly gratuitous exploration of S & M scenes. The energetic cast struggled valiantly with the materials, but this script should have died in Workshop. For Protest Theatre: Bring back Bertolt Brecht! Or even Eric Bentley!
Old Scripts Revisited—
Eugene O'Neill's A LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT [*****]This American Masterpiece is the dark side of O'Neill's Ah Wilderness. It needs no commentary, but this new production—staged by Robert Falls—is Magisterial! Vanessa Redgrave is heart-breaking as the tragically addicted Mary Tyrone. [This did not prevent a Jewish critic sitting next to me from observing that "Redgrave supports the Arabs!"] Brian Dennehy is wonderfully self-pitying Irish as the miserly husband & father—and ruined actor—James Tyrone, for whom drink is a Good Man's Failing. Philip Seymour Hoffman's Jamie Tyrone is the most powerful and affecting portrayal I've ever seen of this difficult role. [And I have seen a number of outstanding productions of Long Day's Journey in a long, long life as a reviewer: This drama is the American Acting-Everest equivalent of England's Hamlet.] The more subdued agonies of Eugene O'Neill's alter-ego, younger brother Edmund Tyrone, were very sensitively, yet passionately, lived by Robert Sean Leonard. His Edmund is not as showy as Hoffman's Jamie, but it seems more deeply felt. Nonetheless, O'Neill, like the great Richard Wagner, could have used an editor. While it is a very good thing that O'Neill did not seek to put his audience through an entire 24 hours with the Tyrone Family, one soon gets the message of their agony, James' miserly rants, and Mary's all-too-oft repeated plaints about cheap hotel-rooms and never having had a real home or any friends. But O'Neill was writing in another age, one in which an admired playwright could ask audiences to sit still—with a dinner-break—for a dramatic epic like Mourning Becomes Electra that reprised the effect of the day-long tragedy-trilogies in the Ancient Greek Theatre. Santo Loquasto's immense brown-plank setting of the O'Neill cottage in Waterford—even with board-walls running way up into the flies—does manage to suggest the claustrophobia of that cramped little house. When you visit it, you will surely be amazed as how tiny the upstairs bedrooms are. Mary Tyrone couldn't have done much pacing to and fro in such confining spaces, but they could have driven anyone crazy!
Peter Nichols' A DAY IN THE DEATH OF JOE EGG [****]It's not easy to impersonate a terminally handicapped child, but Madeleine Martin does very well with this role. Eddie Izzard & Victoria Hamilton also excel in the roles of Bri & Sheila, her despairing parents, who devise endless games to conceal their heartbreak. Dana Ivey is outrageous as Bri's interfering mother. Michael Gaston & Margaret Colin are amusing as clueless do-gooders. Laurence Boswell staged.
Ruth Wolf's EMPRESS OF CHINA [***]SARS hasn't been the only scourge of China. The Dowager Empress Tzu-hsi was even worse than the Opium Wars and the Open Door Policy. Ruth Wolff's intimate drama reprises the last days of the Manchu Emperors, with all the horrors & intrigues of the Inner Courts of the Forbidden City. Complete with the Chief Eunuch, the mastermind behind insidious & deadly plots. The late Charles Ludlam—on a Guggenheim Grant—explored the same poisonous venues in Eunuchs of the Forbidden City. Ludlam was after laughs; Wolff and director Tisa Chang are not. An excellent cinematic sequel to this play is Bertolucci's The Last Emperor. The Soong Family—with "Gimo" Chiang—now deserve similar dramatic dissection. Madame Chiang is still alive at 104! Another Dowager Empress or Dragon-Lady!
STOP THE PRESSES!!!
THE SOONGS: BY DREAMS BETRAYED—Just as I was closing this file—after putting in all the HTML codes by hand, as my antiquated software cannot do that—I received a postcard announcing the Soong Drama listed above. This will be presented by the Yangtze Repertory Company at the Theatre for the New City for two weekends only: Fri & Sat/30 & 31 May/7:30pm & Sun/l Jun/3pm and Fri & Sat/6 & 7 Jun/7:30pm & Sun/8 Jun/3pm. For Reservations: 1212-254-1109:
The Yangtze Repertory often offers interesting, even challenging, productions, so this should be worth checking-out, especially if you are interested in 20th Century China and how it got to be what it is today. The Theatre for the New City is located at 155 First Avenue, across from PS 122, which is also always well worth a visit!
INSTANT SHAKESPEARE:Most of Shakespeare's plays have too few roles for women. And too many for men. That's the fault of History. But large casts cost money—including all those costumes!—and they present real problems to directors who don't know how to deploy characters convincingly on the stage. So what a great idea to mount large-cast Bardic War-Horses with intimate ensembles! Especially if they are athletic, acrobatic, inventive, and cute!
Just Add a Few Cute Actors
And Bring To A Brisk Boil!
Public Theatre's AS YOU LIKE IT [****]Director Erica Schmidt has brilliantly managed to recreate AYLI inside, with an ensemble of only six actors. She also did Debbie Does Dallas with a very small cast—but that's another story. This ingeniously-edited adaptation was originally staged in a natural environment, but it survives quite well on a bare stage. Cross-dressing & cross-casting make cast reductions possible, but they also remarkably speed up the pace of playing. Athletic & handsome Lorenzo Pisoni's doubling as Orlando & his evil brother, Oliver, is a wonder of changes. Including a one-handed back-somersault, landing his head neatly in a bowler hat! Cirque du Soleil or Hollywood may soon steal him away from the theatre. Applause also for: Drew Cortese, Johnny Giacalone, Bryce Dallas Howard, Jennifer Ikeda, & Lethia Nall! This compact & colorful show is ideal for touring, especially in schools.
New Victory Theatre's A MIDSUMMER NIGHT'S DREAM [****]Peter Meineck's Aquila Theatre Company is already touring its eight-actor ensemble of MSND, and it's a high-energy show you will enjoy if it comes your way. What's most amazing is the clarity of the British accents: Shakespeare's words & ideas really count for something here! But the play's excellent quartet of confused young lovers is American-born, bred, & trained: Ryan Conarro, Renata Friedman, Andrew Schwartz, & Lindsay Rae Taylor. Brits Lisa Carter, Kenn Sabberton, Louis Butelli, & Richard Willis complete this talented and attractive ensemble. Only Willis—literally & metaphorically the Bottom of this production—is way over the top. This is the kind of oversize Music Hall performance which killed Variety Over There & Vaudeville Over Here. Willis is, however, not alone on Broadway: Foley & McColl are doing the same shtick in The Play What I Wrote. It is also embarrassing to watch these players falling about on stage with helpless laughter at their own dull pranks & mugging. During these awkward moments, even the kids in the New Victory audience were strangely silent: "What are they laughing at up there?" Fortunately, much of this edited MSND is visually very striking, both in motion & in its props—such as the wonderfully versatile umbrellas which dance with delight, rotate with ferocity, conceal both mortals & fairies, and descend like clusters of stars from Heaven.
Musicals New & Old—
HAIRSPRAY [*****]Your scribe was not permitted to see this amazing show for weeks & months. It had opened while I was still in Europe, before what used to be the Opening of the Broadway Season. By the time I returned, it was already so smothered with raves & honors that—or so I was repeatedly told—the producers didn't need a website rave. Fortunately, I am—as non-recording Secretary of the Outer Critics Circle—an Awards Nominator and a Voter. Not to overlook also being a Voter for the Drama Desk Awards. So, shortly before the nominations, I suddenly got aisle-seats for this fabulous musical. Obese Americans will soon come to love the show's dynamic & charming heroine, the chubby-teen Tracy Turnblad. Marissa Jaret Winokur deserves every one of the award-nominations she's recently received! And the inimitable Harvey Fierstein—as her Rose-like frustrated mother—should gladden the hearts not only of the overweight, but also of cross-dressers everywhere! Sursum Corda, with Fries! The attractive cast, the songs, the choreography [Jerry Mitchell], the sets [David Rockwell], & the costumes [William Ivey Long] are all outstanding. The mountain of Award-Nominations for the show attest to that! Mark O'Donnell & Thomas Meehan have ably adapted John Waters' outrageous film. And Jack O'Brien has brought his usual savvy to the staging, trying this out in Seattle, where the prevailing winds make hairspray something more than a musical joke.
URBAN COWBOY [***]Country & Western is not very high on the Cultural Event Lists of most New Yorkers. Nor are trips to Branson, MO, to eat dinner at Dolly Parton's Horse-Show. But, for those who grew up—as I did—on the Grand Ol' Opry & Alka-Seltzer's National Barn Dance on Saturday nights, there's a real appeal in this music and its often plaintively lonesome lyrics. Adapting the John Travolta movie for the musical-stage may not have seemed a bright idea, but the results are not disappointing. In fact, this is a high-energy show with a very attractive cast. Rumor has it that it was even better before director Lonny Price & others began tinkering with it. Matt Cavenagh & Jenn Colella make an interesting off-on-again couple. Sally Mayes & Leo Burmester are winning as the awkward hero's loving aunt & uncle. No, this is not The Sound of Music, but there must be a lot of ordinary Americans out there in Times Square who would love a down-home show like this! It deserves to run.
THE LOOK OF LOVE [**]Subtitled The Songs of Burt Bacharach & Hal David, this show is definitely not a musical, nor yet quite a revue. The songs are not block-busters, or even that memorable, unless you came of age when they were hot. The cast is able, without being compelling—or especially attractive. The sets look like perambulating rabbit-cages and the costumes seem from Daffy's rather than H & M. Astonishing—and depressing—that the lackluster choreography is credited to Ann Reinking. Scott Ellis directed, but he has certainly had better nights than this one.
NINE [*****]I loved The Lion King and The Producers, but I have never been invited back to see how they look now. Most new musical productions—however ingenious & attractive—I'm not desperate to see a second time. But even after such long runs, I'd still love to see Lion King & The Producers. And now I can add Nine to that list. Frankly, I didn't initially care for Arthur Kopit's reworking of Mario Fratti's original BMI Workshop book for this adaptation of Fellini's 8 1/2. But I now see the problem was largely in the way the show was originally staged. Director David Leveaux and choreographer Jonathan Butterell have now made the fractured script work wonderfully in Scott Pask's brilliantly Industrial Post-Modernist setting. Antonio Banderas is not Marcello Mastroianni, nor does he try. He is his own man, and a totally faithless charmer at that. His many handsome women—stylishly dressed by Vicki Mortimer—include Jane Krakowski, Nell Campbell, Laura Benanti, Mary Stuart Masterson, Deirdre Goodwin, Mary Beth Peil, Saundra Santiago, the inimitable Chita Rivera, and Myra Lucretia Taylor as the fat whore, Saraghina. Maury Yeston's songs now also all sound like winners!
GYPSY [Not Seen for Review]Traditionally, the Outer Critics Circle is the first of major award-givers to nominate and announce contenders for the current Broadway & Off-Broadway Season. The Drama Desk follows, and then the Tony Awards of the American Theatre Wing. This prevents the various awards being mixed-up. Or the first two sets of awards disappearing under the Majesty of the Tony Awards.
As some shows put off their openings until just before Tony Nominations—obviously to avoid being forgotten by critics who may not remember what happened way back in December—in practice Outer Circle Nominators need to see some important new plays & musicals in previews, though they are not yet open for review. This is a courtesy extended by each show's producers: otherwise the productions could not be considered for awards in the current season and would have to be deferred to the following year, by which time they certainly would have been forgotten.
This courtesy does not permit the Nominators to review the shows at that point, nor to vote on them in that state. For voting & reviews, the shows have to be seen after they are "frozen," opened, and playing to a top-price-paying public. It also means that the critic-nominators are not supposed to discuss in print what they have seen in the previews.
Sam Mendes, the talented British director of the revival of Gypsy, invited Outer Circle Nominators to meet with him just before they saw a preview. He noted that several pieces of scenery for the show weren't yet ready, but he explained the visual effects they were meant to provide for the scenes in question. This was a professional courtesy providing simple information, but it was not something that should have found its way into gossip-columns.
Unfortunately, Manhattan's new generation of Sydney Falcos still lives from malicious gossip. One of the NY Post's columnists seized upon this preview-visit to interrogate several Outer Circle Nominators. Not your scribe, however, as I honor the courtesy extended to us and the spirit in which it was made. This was not to be discussed in any way in a review or as a comment on the show. Nonetheless, in the Post, a nameless nominator made a dismissive & derisive remark about Gypsy. From its wording & tone, I can guess who it was. The remark was cruel & unprofessional. The incident is regrettable and should never happen again.
Before long, I look forward to seeing Gypsy as it was meant to be seen for review: "Frozen" & Open!
Mixed Messages from Molière & Mozart:You can certainly have too many productions of Midsummer Night's Dream in any given season: One is usually more than enough! But you do not expect to be overwhelmed with stagings of the Don Juan Legend. Recently, only a few nights apart, three versions were on view:
Don Juan & Don Giovanni at the Crossroads!
Don Juan at the Lucille Lortel Theatre [***]
John Christopher Jones as Sganarelle and Jennings as Don Juan
Byron Jennings was a terminally effete Don Juan in Christopher Hampton's adaptation of Molière's version of Tirso de Molina's tale. Because this was a Theatre for a New Audience production, the staging and character-interpretations were also resolutely new & trendy. John Simon condemned it roundly, but the show was not without insight or interest. In addition to Jennings, Nicholas Kepros was admirable as the Don's furious father. Best of all, however, was John Christopher Jones as Sganarelle, or Leporello to opera-lovers. Bartlett Sher staged.
Don Juan at La MaMa e. t. c. [*]
Subtitled Wages of Debauchery, this Czech-American Marionette Theatre production of the legend, as a kind of Central European Folk-Tale, was finally agony to sit through. But as there was a scanty audience in the tiny LaMaMa theatre and no intermission, it was impossible to make a graceful escape. Some of the puppets and scenic-concepts were clever-to-impressive, but the production as a whole was leaden, determined, and somewhat amateurish. Pieces even fell off the set, to the consternation of the puppeteers. One of Mozart's most lovely soprano arias was sung in a most annoying manner. And, although audience-interaction with live actors is odious, it is even more awful when a puppet is clawing at your leg!
Don Giovanni at the Juilliard Opera Center [****]Having just seen the LaMaMa Don Juan, I didn't think I could bear to sit through one more retelling of the tale, even by Lorenzo DaPonte, with the able assistance of Wolf Mozart. But any production featuring the already professional actor-singers in the Juilliard Opera Center program is not to be missed. Fortunately, director Edward Berkeley found ingenious ways to make this ancient story modern, not least through the stunning Post-Modernist unit-set of Raoul Abrego. This was wonderfully augmented with some major set-props, notably an immense silver bust of the slain Commendatore! Brian Mulligan was a dashing & demonic Don, with Daniel Gross' Leporello a lively comic foil. Deborah Domanski's Zerlina was a total delight, visually & vocally. Stars of Tomorrow at the Juilliard! It may be Politically Incorrect, but I found it difficult to believe Jang Won Lee's Don Ottavio as an 18th Century Nobleman, either from Seville or Vienna. Weston Hurt also had a visual problem as Masetto: he lacks a right forearm, which made it difficult for him to manage some stage-business. His voice and emotional reactions are very good, however. Jahja Ling conducted the excellent young Juilliard Orchestra.
Operas New & Old—
Louisa May Alcott Sings Again!
Mark Adamo's LITTLE WOMEN at the City Opera [****]Had you never read & re-read Louisa May Alcott's Little Women & Little Men, you might be excused for being confused at all the fuss on stage at the New York State Theatre recently. Who are all these people? What is Jo's Real Problem? Is she a Lesbian—in a time when no one knew what they were? Why should we care? Fortunately, I had read both kiddie-novels many times, as well as Alcott's considerably more powerful Hospital Sketches & Stories. Like Walt Whitman, she was a Civil War Nurse in Washington, DC. In later life, she referred to her two most famous works as "Moral pap for children." Librettist-composer Mark Adamo has obviously not musicalized Alcott's family-dramas on a juvenile level. But his retelling—and singing—of the complex relationships of these famous four sisters of semi-fiction might have been more rewarding with a dash of Freud or Jung. The music is pleasant but unmemorable. One all-purpose song runs through the music-drama, but there are no outstanding arias. Rhoda Levine staged in a fairly static manner. George Manahan conducted circumspectly. Jennifer Dudley sang Jo.
Benjamin Britten's THE RAPE OF LUCRETIA at NYCO [*****]As often staged in discrete neo-classic unit-sets in Europe, this work often seems a bloodless chamber-opera. Not so in the new, searing, Post-Modernist vision at City Opera. The noted avant-garde director Christopher Alden—powerfully aided by set & costume-designer Paul Steinberg—has made it immediate and shattering. Had Alden made the sinister Tarquin Prince into Son-of-Hussein—and Lucretia into Laura Bush—it would, however, have proved both tasteless and unbearable. Considering the conceptual excesses of European directors, that may be the next step. Good Taste has never been a strong suit with either Christopher or his brother David Alden, both of whom work a great deal on the Continent. In Lucretia, sexual tensions & suggestions that might well have flustered the composer are strongly mimed, even if they do not get much support from the score. Mel Ulrich was an especially menacing Tarquin. Monica Groop's chaste Lucretia heightened the tension. This imposing production is a must-see when it is again repeated by City Opera. Daniel Beckwith conducted with passion appropriate for the steamy scenes on stage.
THE BERLIOZ ANNIVERSARY PERFORMANCES!In his own time, Berlioz was somewhat out of place—or out of step—with musical tastes and traditions in Paris. He loved the great English choral & oratorio works, especially for massed choruses. But these were not popular with the French. And, like Wagner, he was fond of enriching his opera-narratives with lyric & symphonic passages of surpassing loveliness. But this did not make them more powerful dramatically or emotionally. But the British learned to love Berlioz long before the French did. Now his Anniversary Year is upon us, and he will finally get a thorough hearing.
LES TROYENS at the Metropolitan Opera [****]Berlioz never saw or heard his epic opera complete in his lifetime. If he has been able, since his passing, to look down, up, or sideways, he must surely have been surprised at what he has seen. Some stagings have divided the five-hour masterpiece into Two Nights at the Opera. Some have even tried to avoid showing all of the Trojan Horse. In the 1960s, at Covent Garden, designer Nicholas Giorgiades showed only its four immense legs. The superstructure one had to imagine towering unseen in the wings. Herbert Wernicke's ill-fated Salzburg Festival production only showed its head and tail through a narrow slit in the Walls of Troy. Munich's recent Trojans was almost too Post-Modernist. The first section was sung on a fallen Roman Arch, but the second could have been at Miami Beach. The Met's old production was more forthcoming about the horse, but proved fairly static in performance. The new Met staging—thanks to the late Maria BjØrnson's revolutionary & very suggestive Post-Modernist unit-set—provides much more sense of meaningful movement and emotional tension. For theatre-lovers—as opposed to music-lovers—Berlioz can be frustrating. Had he chosen to set only the actual drama involved, the opera could be three hours long. But he could not resist including his wonderfully symphonic inspirations and lyric dance-passages which delight the ear without advancing the plot or even revealing character. Other than to demonstrate that Queen Dido certainly likes to keep Aeneas from getting on shipboard with an endless series of musical entertainments. A remarkably slimmed-down Ben Heppner was the Met's heroic Aeneas, with Sue Patchell as Cassandra and Michelle DeYoung as Dido. Francesca Zambello staged. James Levine conducted, drawing out the musical phrases, as is his wont.
BÉATRICE ET BÉNÉDICT at the Manhattan School of Music [***]Berlioz was commissioned to compose a new opera for the opening of the Grand Theatre in the famous spa-town of Baden-Baden. Initially, the Intendant wanted something related to the Thirty Years War. Had Bertolt Brecht been around then, they could have premiered Mother Courage! But Berlioz wanted something lighter, more congenial. Like Verdi a lover of Shakespeare, he extracted the Beatrice & Benedict satiric love-comedy from Much Ado About Nothing as a one-act opera. He was so enchanted with the story as a musical fable that he enlarged it to a full opera. But—omitting the core-plot of the cruel repudiation of Hero by Claudio on her wedding-day—he was left with a very slight, not very dramatic episode. Berlioz' enlargement & enhancements are musical delights, but they are not dramatic or theatrical. As presented up on Convent Avenue—in a matter-of-fact production just this side of a concert-in-costume—the structural weaknesses seemed even more pronounced. But critics continue to wonder why this opera is not more often staged! At least I have made a photograph of the bronze plaque on the Grand Theatre which commemorates the World Premier on its stage of Béatrice et Bénédict.
Basil Twist's Berlioz' SYMPHONIE FANTASTIQUE [****]Basil Twist is something of a genius. Recently at HERE, he dazzled audiences at the Toy Theatre Festival with his magical mystical Edward Gorey narrative, told & illustrated with miniature boxes, tiny furniture, mini-drawers, small scrolls, little mirrors, and other lilliputian devices. His vision of Berlioz' Symphonie Fantastique had already been shown at HERE, but Lincoln Center's Great Performers Series had the wonderful idea of importing it to Lincoln Center for the Anniversary. The rich red velvet toy-theatre curtain rose on each movement of the symphony, which was then artfully echoed by colored scarves, feathers, and other objects wafting through dark waters, as bursts of air-bubbles rose for musical emphasis. At the close, Twist's crew of object-handlers came out in wet-suits for their bows. This unusual show "tanked" in the most imaginative & beautiful way possible!
Jonathan Miller's COSI FAN TUTTE at BAM [*****]
Don Alfonso in Jonathan Miller's new staging at BAM.
If you missed this brilliantly Post-Modern vision of Così at BAM, you will surely see it soon at some other major opera-house. It is the kind of brilliant Jonathan Miller staging which he made his trademark at the English National Opera. In fact, his ENO Mikado production is now in the NYCO repertory! In the program, Miller notes that this is the fifth time he has staged Così. All previous mountings have been set in the period of the opera, something he would still insist on with Figaro. Unlike many modern stage-directors, intent on updating the classics for Lumpenproletariat audiences—Miller understands that it makes no sense of transport to modern New York or London the action of a play or opera that depends for its dramatic effect entirely on a strict observance of a class or caste-system and its attendant rituals, stations, positions, obligations, traditions, and manners. Così, however, is not so confined or linked to the Vienna of 200 years ago. So, in Miller's new version, when the young lovers return in disguise to test the loyalty of their lady-loves, they slouch into the loft-doorway like grungey rappers or beaten-down Beats. The smart-ass maid, Despina—sipping her Starbucks latte—says they're from Dorkestan! But, as this is a modern vision, there is no easy, if embarrassed, peaceful resolution to Don Alfonso's malignantly misogynist game of love & loyalty. That the famed opera-stars Helen Donath & Thomas Allen appear as lively, totally believable actor/singers in a closely-knit ensemble is a delight. They have both already had long, long careers, but you'd never know it from the vitality of their performances and the emotive power of their voices. Eric Cutler & Garry Magee were the young lovers, with Alexandra Deshorties & Rinat Shaham as Fiordiligi & Dorabella. Robert Spano conducted the Brooklyn Philharmonic. This is a production to see and hear again and again!
Georg Frideric Händel's FLAVIO at NYCO [*****]David Zinn's ingeniously Art Deco-esque Post-Modernist sets & costumes for Handel's <i>Flavio—notably in motion—give this somewhat routine opera seria a much-needed visual charge. Handel composed some 46 of these works for his London audiences, but this was not among the most popular. The new City Opera staging suggests some reasons: Despite many arias, duets, choruses & musical passages of great beauty & charm, the plot is ridiculously, needlessly complicated, even for opera seria. Who loves whom? Who gets who? Who really cares? Peter G. Davis has declared that Handel was actually mocking the conventions of the form in Flavio, through his choice of characters, plot devices, and musical modes. That is a generous interpretation, but Flavio doesn't work as satire now, especially for audiences who have not cut their spectator-teeth on 18th century castrato operas. The real reason for this revival is the glory of the music, wonderfully performed by such admirable talents as the counter-tenors David Walker & Bejun Mehta. The entire cast was outstanding in this odd work, made all the more enjoyable by its stunning physical production. How about rows of nodding tulips which have a musical sense? Once again, George Manahan conducted with authority and joy. When Flavio returns to the NYCO repertory, make a point to see & hear it!
LaMaMa e. t. c. Revives CARMILLA [****]Carmilla was one of LaMaMa's great early production triumphs. "LaMama" Ellen Stewart considers it the world's first multi-media opera. Even now, in this anniversary revival, the magnification of video adds power to the performances. With music by Ben Johnston, the late Wilford Leach adapted Sheridan LeFanu's vampire-novella of the same name to create a very special work of music-theatre. Given LaMaMa's small stages and low, low budgets, the decision of Leach & co-director John Braswell to confine almost all the action to a center-stage sofa proved ingenious. Carmilla and her fascinated victim, Laura, sit there as the faces of her father and others come to life in the ornamental woodwork of the sofa to sing warnings. In LeFanu's original, his Vampira is Milcara, Countess of Karstein—who re-anagrams her name into Carmilla. This is a thrilling, compelling experience, thanks not only to the singing sofa but also to Margaret Benczak & N. C. Heikin as Laura & Carmilla.
Under the Presidency of Her Royal Highness,
The Princess Caroline of Monaco & Hannover!
Les Ballets de Monte-Carlo's CINDERELLA at BAM [*****]
This season, the Brooklyn Academy of Music has outdone itself in programming outstanding productions from abroad. So it is entirely appropriate that the Drama Desk has given it a Drama Desk Special Award this Spring! With Ingmar Bergman's Stockholm production of Ibsen's Ghosts scheduled for June, BAM recently dazzled its loyal audiences with a stunning new Cinderella from Monaco. This brilliant production was the high point of an aggressive Monaco Cultural Tourism promotion in New York City, constantly noted on WQXR, the radio-station of the New York Times. Not having been in Monte Carlo since 1957, I have just realized I need to return. The Monte Carlo Ballet is amazing: not only in the artistry & vitality of its attractive young dancers, but even more so in the very original vision of director/choreographer Jean-Christophe Maillot. His re-vision of the Cinderella-Story is both exciting and entrancing. The sense of loss both Cinderella & her father feel for the death of the beloved mother & wife is affectingly danced. And—as Prokofiev's dynamic yet lyrical score offers echoes of his Love of Three Oranges and Russian folk-lore—in Cinderella's servile misery, she is shown, Petrouchka-puppet-style, a vision of the wonderful fate that lies ahead of her. This is a brilliant moment, as is the vision of her feet clothed in dazzling dustings of glitter, rather than glass-slippers. Set-designer Ernest Pignon-Ernest's constantly scooting white panels—dog-eared like the pages of a much-loved fairytale book—provide an effective performance-milieu, without trapping the tale in an historical period. A staircase which could have been made of a fan-folded book-page makes a powerful centerpiece for noble & enchanting entrances and departures. If this is a typical sample of the Monte Carlo Ballet's repertory, it's time to book a flight for Monaco.
Moment from new Ballets de Monte Carlo production at BAM.
Although Princess Caroline has married the Heir to what remains of the titles of the Kings of Hannover—who, beginning with King George I, also sat on the British Throne: Queen Elizabeth's Ancestors!—she is still very much a handsomely visible symbol of Monaco and its Ruling Family, the Grimaldis. Fortunately, when she and Prince Ernst August are in Hannover, they also have there an imposing Neo-Classic Opera-House and a very modern theatre. They also had the World's Fair of 2000 AD!
Is Jim Carrey Over?Just asking… Have you heard anything?
Monologues & Talking Heads—·Tovah Feldshuh & GOLDA'S BALCONY [****] The dynamic Tovah Feldshuh—who certainly can do glamour—avoids it in her recreation of an aging Golda Meier. But she wonderfully evokes the courage and revolutionary career of this powerful and earthy woman who fought for the creation of the State of Israel and, as Prime Minister, guided it through very dark times. The Balcony of the title has a double-meaning. Not only a ledge jutting out from an apartment-block, but also a podium deep underground, where Golda is able to oversee the manufacture of WEAPONS OF MASS DESTRUCTION, namely the atomic-bombs Israelis created over thirty years ago to protect their fragile Zionist State from its many Arab enemies. A high point of this mono-drama is Golda's recalling her desperate phone-calls to Henry Kissinger to get planes, tanks, and weapons immediately during the 1973 conflict with five Arab Armies. Her announced fear was that, if Israel were to be defeated, Jews would effectively cease to have an existence. So she had armed her remaining planes with atomic-bombs and threatened Kissinger & President Nixon with using them if the United States did not come to Israel's aid with more conventional weapons. Golda recalls that Kissinger told her he was, first, Head of the National Security Council; second, Secretary of State, and only thirdly, a Jew. She ripostes: "Henry, here we read from right to left!" She got her planes & guns. This tribute was written by the octagenarian playwright William Gibson—of Helen Keller fame—and he was as vigorously applauded as Feldshuh at the MET's opening down on Mercer Street.
Ronald Rand & CLURMAN [***]The late director/critic Harold Clurman was larger than life, and Ronald Rand has certainly tried to suggest that in his monodramatic tribute to the Great Man. In his later days, Clurman was a Distinguished Professor at the City University Graduate Center. I was merely a Professor there, not Distinguished, but this gave me the opportunity to get to know Clurman—and critic Stanley Kauffmann, who had the office next to mine—much better than I had from just reading their brilliant reviews. Clurman's Lies Like Truth is still as pregnant with ideas as Eric Bentley's equally seminal The Playwright as Thinker. My first encounter with Clurman was at the long defunct Theatre Arts Magazine, where he had come to discuss an article he was contributing. I thought he talked like a Brooklyn truck-driver, despite his cherished French Rosette buttonhole. But it was terrific talk, especially later when I could ask him about a disastrous play he'd just staged on Broadway—Where's Daddy? —and he'd speak very frankly about the realities of working on stage. Once, when we were delegates in Stockholm for an International Conference of the ITI, we witnessed a very avant-garde production at the Royal Dramatic Theatre. The audience sat in the center, surrounded on four sides by stages, with a very wet rain-effect. "Well, the Swedes certainly know how to do rain," he told me, indicating he hated the play. Grad students often complained that—although Clurman taught four differently-titled PhD courses—he always told the same anecdotes and didn't in fact teach what the titles promised. I thought they were very lucky to have the opportunity to get to know one of the then Living Legends of the American Theatre. This, after all, is one of the major benefits of studying theatre in New York City! Courses with Clurman, Kauffmann, Bentley, even Clive Barnes! Even in advanced age, Clurman was a great man with the ladies. Selected PhD grad students not only got an excellent French dinner and an evening at the theatre, but also the chance to survey his fascinating apartment in the Landmarked Osbourne on West 57th. The days of critics & directors of the stamp of Harold Clurman—like those of Wine & Roses—are long gone!
Doc Dougherty & BROAD CHANNEL [****]One of my CUNY PhD students lived in a tiny clapboard house in Broad Channel. Just under the flight-pattern into Idlewild Airport—now JFK. When I first drove there in my old VW, I thought I was driving into a wetlands area. Everyone seemed to have at least a rowboat tethered on canals back of their houses. Most of the good folks I met there were shanty Irish, with scant aspirations of earning midtown Doctorates in Theatre. But Doc Dougherty has now wonderfully recreated a wild young Irish-American, growing up slightly absurd among other confused, crazy, even criminal teen-agers of various ethnic backgrounds. This is both hilarious and sad. Doc drafted this memoir with Anna Theresa Cascio. As he performs it, it sound very much like a Lived-Experience.
Louis Mustillo & BARTENDERS [***]
Author/Actor Louis Mustillo behind the bar.
"There are 1,259,874 bartenders working in the United States today. This is a show about six of them." That's the official-line on Lou Mustillo's Bartenders. I have no idea who did the counting: Can this million-plus number have been derived from Bartenders Union records? Living a simple and abstemious life, I have no familiarity with sitting at bars and chatting with bartenders. If I go to Kennedy's or another Irish Pub for Shepherd's Pie, I always try to find a quiet table in the back, away from the multiple TVs, the noisy arguments, the guff, and the occasional fights. But Mustillo's barkeeps are an amusing lot.
Bill Maher & VICTORY BEGINS AT HOME [****]Bill Maher has the distinction of being the First American To Be Threatened By The Bush Administration! The President's censorious Press Secretary, Ari Fleischer, responded to one of Maher's Politically Incorrect quips about the current White House Reign of Terror—to combat Global Terrorism—with a warning that people had better be careful about what they say. This show will do nothing to reassure John Ashcroft that Maher has mended his ways. He presses all the buttons: Weapons of Mass Destruction, Regime Change, Tax Cuts for the Rich, Cuts in Social Services for the Poor, Freedom for Iraq, Freedom Fries, and so forth & so on. There is a TV monitor mounted on the balcony railing so he can check out short-titles of his stand-up-comedy topics & targets. Maher even fields questions from the audience, though some people are determined to make statements, rather than ask his opinions. His spontaneous replies are in fact often both amusing and thoughtful. Honk If You Love Jesus! But don't miss this show! The run is limited, but surely it could be extended? There is a Market for Political Dissent.
Alan Bennett's TALKING HEADS [*****]I first saw these six monologues in London, on television, with Alan Bennett himself as the insecure Graham in A Chip in the Sugar. And Maggie Smith! The good news is that the six outstanding actors now bringing these wryly amusing portraits of British Eccentrics to life at the Minetta Lane Theatre—in two programs of three monodramas each—are almost as good as the originals. Lynne Redgrave is especially fine in Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet. Kathleen Chalfant is enchanting Bed Among the Lentils, as is the bubble-headed actress Valerie Mahafey portrays in Her Big Chance. Christine Ebersole shows her mettle in A Lady of Letters. Daniel Davis is as good as Bennett—though different—as the diffident, fearful, but acerbic Graham. Brenda Wehle is impressive in The Hand of God. That distinguished actress, Frances Sternhagen, has recently been added to the roster of performers. Michael Engler sensitively directed his players.
Other English-Accented Entertainments—
Sean Foley & Hamish McColl & THE PLAY WHAT I WROTE [***]Rubber-legged Sean Foley is a joy to watch, with his repertoire of John Cleese-like Silly Walks. Hamish McColl makes a good foil. But their act is either the epitome—or the nadir—of British Music Hall comedy. It is what killed Variety over there and Vaudeville over here—as noted above. Some routines are so bad you cannot help laughing: How can they do this stuff with straight-faces? If you want sophisticated British male comedy-duos, try Hinge & Bracket or Kit and the Widow. Still, this show is worth a visit as every performance features a MYSTERY GUEST. Kevin Kline, Nathan Lane, & Glenn Close have done their stuff. Our evening was made special by Roger Moore. His face was covered with glowing Robust Juvenile pancake makeup: rather like orange Play-Doh, but he has a great comic sense and obviously enjoyed the kidding. The highlight of the evening, of course, is the actual play what McColl wrote: an amazingly awful dungeon-drama of the French Revolution's REIGN OF TERROR! Talk about Timely Topics! This mini-drama even had Dancing Skeletons! A sometime serious actor & later film-star named Kenneth Branagh directed. Whatever became of Dame Emma Thompson?
At the Drama Desk Awards Nominations event at St. John's Boutique on Fifth Avenue, some stars took advantage of colored felt-pens to create Instant Artworks. Harvey Fierstein's sketch showed his show-title very big: HAIRSPRAY! In the crush, I found myself face-to-face with Sean Foley. He insisted he had just been mistaken three times for Antonio Banderas! This is a fair sample of the team's impromptu & sophomoric humor.
The Umbilical Brothers & THWAK [***]This athletic Aussie duo has been here before, but they are so good at what they do they simply had to be seen again. They delighted New Victory audiences—some of the middle-aged dads seemed more convulsed with laughter than their kids—with their signature routines. The major gimmick is for David Collins to hold a mike close to his mouth and make all kinds of sounds—walking, crashing, squishing, gurgling, thumping—as well as providing the voice for his chum Shane Dundas, who only moves his mouth as his actual words come from Collins' mouth via mike over the loudspeakers. Quite an effect! What would these two guys have done before Marconi and Lee DeForrest? In Australia, they'd probably have had to box kangaroos to get an audience…
And The Edwin Booth Award Goes To:Every Spring, the PhD Theatre Grad Students at CUNY—now ensconced in the old block-big B. J. Altman's Bldg—choose a distinguished theatre personality or Performance Ensemble to receive the EDWIN BOOTH AWARD. This season's winners were the folks down at the New York Theatre Workshop, headed by Jim Nicola. Among its many artists & administrators are talents such as Paul Rudnick, Fanny Green, Michael Greif, Claudia Shear, and Doug Wright. They were on hand with Nicola to discuss the work down on East Fourth Street. Claudia Shear even cried as she read aloud a section from her monologue Blown Sideways Through Life. [Loney]
The New York Theatre Workshop!
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