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GLENN LONEY'S SHOW NOTES
By Glenn Loney, May 30, 2004
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
HOMEBODY/KABUL [*****] *
THE DISTANCE FROM HERE [***] *
BETWEEN US [***] *
THE TRIANGLE FACTORY FIRE PROJECT [****] *
BOY [*] *
THE NORMAL HEART [*****] *
ENGAGED [****] *
MR. PIM PASSES BY [****] *
THE TRUTH ABOUT BLAYDES [****] *
BARE: A Pop Opera [****] *
THE JOYS OF SEX [**] *
MIRANDOLINA [****] *
THE TWO AND ONLY [*****] *
BUG MUSIC [***] *
FASHIONABLE PREJUDICE *
Plays New & Old-
Some 17 drafts later, Tony Kushner's Homebody/Kabul seems to have taken its definitive final form on the Harvey Theatre stage of the Brooklyn Academy of Music. In the meantime, it has been developed at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre and in Los Angeles at the Mark Taper Forum, both under the direction of Frank Galati.
When it was first shown at the New York Theatre Workshop—in 2001, shortly after 9/11—Kushner's vision of the ghastly gulf between the Christian cultures of the West and the Islamists of the Middle East seemed eerily intuitive—and also thoughtfully well-informed.
How could it be that Tony Kushner understood the centuries of tribal and religious strife in Afghanistan better than President George W. Bush and his Neo-Con cohorts in Washington?
And how did he get the brilliant idea of revealing the almost bottomless gulfs between human-beings in the West and in the Middle East in terms of an insignificant dysfunctional English family encountering both Pashtun Taliban and Tadjik Afghanistanians?
Obviously, such major issues—which ultimately affect almost everyone—are better explored in specific human terms, rather than as Brechtian Epic Theatre.
"Homebody" Linda Edmond reprises her monumental monologue about her longing to see Kabul, inspired by an old guide-book. Then she packs and goes off to Afghanistan—and is never seen again.
Her indifferent husband is dragooned into coming in search of her by their desperate, disaffected daughter, Priscilla—who has a history of emotional problems. In Kabul, they are told of the Homebody's horrible death and dismemberment. Later, however, they learn she is alive and has become one of the wives of a Muslim. But she doesn't want to see them ever again.
At the legendary Grave of Cain—who may have founded Kabul eons ago—Priscilla takes leave of her mother. And seems to have experienced an emotional epiphany…
The displaced Muslim wife—a Kabul librarian before the advent of the Taliban—is desperate to escape the country to London. During exit-interviews, she is nearly executed. Later, Priscilla visits her, now securely at home in Homebody's kitchen. There is a Healing.
No one—except perhaps the Taliban figures—emerges entirely unchanged by Kushner's orchestration of East Meets West. Not only are his political, social, historical, and psychic insights into Afghanistan important and disturbing, but the languages in which he veils them are both poetic and profound.
Maggie Gyllenhaal is both infuriating and touching as Priscilla, as is her wimpy father, played by Reed Birney. Bill Camp is amusing as the addicted quasi-Brit rep Quango. Rita Wolf is dynamic as the abandoned ex-wife/ex-librarian. Among the Muslims, Firdous Bamji, Dariush Kashani, Ali Reza, and Aasif Mandvi are all admirable as actors—if not all as characters—in this provocative philosophical horror-drama.
Director Galati uses the revolving set of James Schuette—with the costumes of Mara Blumenfeld and the lighting of Christopher Ackerlund—to atmospheric effect.
Who was it said Tony Kushner would have nothing more to say after Angels in America?
THE DISTANCE FROM HERE [***]
Modern Theatrical Realism has come a long way from the fevered red-neck sexuality of Tobacco Road, which once was a major Broadway scandal. And it has moved miles onward from the senseless horrors of English working-class lads stoning a baby to death in its pram. Edward Bond's once sensational Saved pales in comparison with the indifference and virtual paralysis of Neil LaBute's teenage losers in The Distance From Here. This time, a detested crying baby, shoved in a zipped-up overnight bag—ostensibly to be held as a hostage—is defiantly tossed over a wall, possibly into the penguin-pond at the zoo.
LaBute may have unresolved problems with women in general. His The Shape of Things certainly was no Hymn to the Female Goddess. In The Distance From Here, he introduces his audiences to an extremely dysfunctional family, more or less presided over by the disaffected & disconnected Darrell's mother, Cammie [Melissa Leo], who has a live-in lover Rich [Josh Charles].
But, although she flaunts her sexual appetite for Rich in front of Darrell [Mark Webber], she doesn't realize that her daughter Shari [Anna Paquin]—whose fatherless baby is endlessly crying in the bedroom—is also getting shtupped by Rich. The sexually-ravenous Shari is trying to get brother Darrell between the sheets with her as well. Anna Paquin is a very long way off from The Piano!
Darrell's best friend is the dim-bulb Tim [Logan Marshall-Green]. The two could have been inspired by the murderous duo of Columbine High.
In an interesting program-note, LaBute says he knows these kids very well. [They are, in fact, close kin of the Trailer Trash in the bloody holocaust of Bug.] LaBute suggests that he could also have been a Casualty, a Loser, one of the Walking-Wounded. He grew up alongside kids like Darrell and Tim: "They knew, even at sixteen, that they had absolutely no hope in life and they were pretty pissed about it."
But LaBute also notes: "Even growing up in America, I think most of us are only two detentions and one dead-end job away from ending up just another failed dreamer with a difficult childhood and lousy luck."
Is this the teen-age sequel—half-a-century later—of Death of a Salesman? The Failure—or the Lie—of the American Dream? With the outsourcing of American manufacturing to Mexico, to Asia, to Robot Assembly-Lines, there soon won't even be Dead-End Jobs for the millions and millions of Darrells & Tims. Sending them off to die in Iraq is not a Solution.
BETWEEN US [***]
The best thing about Between Us is the Frank Lloyd Wright Prairie House knockoff used for the first-act. And the most exciting moment of the act is the smashing of a leaded Wright window by the drunken, out-of-control host. This handsome set was designed by Neil Patel, and he's been clever to make the window repairable for each performance. I felt much worse about that savaged Art Deco window than I did about either of the two marriages on view.
The first act of Joe Hortua's Yin & Yang drama of two married couples goes on entirely too long. It is establishing that the marriage of Joel and Shayrl is embarrassingly and noisily on the rocks. And right in front of their successful and happy Best Friends, who have come on a visit.
Joel is, in essence, a failed art-photographer who hates himself for shooting ad photos. He drinks too much and has become sloppy and offensive to Sharyl. In fact, they are getting a divorce—which their friends didn't know. And they live in the Middle West: such a come-down from New York!
The second act takes place three years later, with Joel and Sharyl dropping in on Carlo and Grace in a seedy Manhattan walk-up. Their marriage, lives, and love wonderfully repaired by a drunken epiphany Joel experienced, they have come to apologize for their bad-behavior way back in 1999.
But now the tables are turned: Carlo's hopes have been blasted. He cannot sell a photo. He and Grace suffer under a "crushing burden of debt." He even asks Joel for a loan. Generous Joel is happy to oblige, also to show off by tipping the delivery-man $100.
In both acts, matters are made considerably worse by the couples repeating damaging opinions about their unsuspecting friends—which should have been kept confidential. Carlo's essential problem is that he is so fixated on Being an Artist that he cannot even consider getting a job to pay the bills. This is not a problem peculiar to New York.
Do you know couples like this? Surely you have seen them on the Soaps? Or even on Prime-Time!
For the Record: Christopher Ashley staged, with David Harbour and Kate Jennings-Grant as the Frank Lloyd Wright house-dwellers and Bradley White and Daphne Rubin-Vega as the New Yorkers.
THE TRIANGLE FACTORY FIRE PROJECT [****]
Playwright Christopher Piehler—working with the ensemble of the Actors Company Theatre—has recalled for modern audiences a ghastly chapter in the American History of the Exploitation of Workers. This is the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory Fire.
Long before desperate office-workers were jumping from the Twin Towers to escape the raging fiery inferno inside, burning factory-girls were jumping and thudding to their deaths on the sidewalks of what is today the New York University campus.
A flash-fire broke out in the eighth-floor cutting & sewing room of the Triangle Factory, but there were no adequate protective measures. Or clear escape-routes. No sprinklers, no fire-drills, no fire-extinguishers—and one of the two crucial exit doors was padlocked, unable to be opened.
The first half of this echo of 1930s Federal Theatre Living Newspaper dramatizations establishes the terrible working-conditions of Garment Workers in general in New York early in the 20th century. The context of the times is also evoked.
Labor unrest among workers results in the formation of the ILGWU, supported among others by the majestic Mrs. O. H. P. Belmont. Workers' testimonies and imagined memories are orchestrated to relive the actual fire and the horrible deaths.
The second half of this indictment of unscrupulous capitalism at work reprises the trial of the two Russian immigrant factory-owners, who have retained a smarmy lawyer to free them of the charges of the death of a betrothed young worker.
And they are duly acquitted, the jury-foreman having been a factory-owner himself. So no one was responsible for this disaster, which is promptly dismissed as an Act of God.
Not only have the two Russian Jewish entrepreneurs forced Orthodox Jewish girls and women to work on Saturdays—the day of the fire—but they eventually pay only a pittance to families of the dead. But their per capita gain on the insurance of each lost worker is much, much larger. Talk about Incentives for the Rich!
Scott Alan Evans conceived and directed the project, ably assisted by the acting ensemble and the unit-set of Mimi Lien, the costumes of David Toser, and the lighting of Mary Louise Geiger. Members of the able ensemble: Jamie Bennett, Nora Chester, Francesca Di Mauro, Kyle Fabel, Rachel Fowler, Kelly Hutchinson, Timothy McCracken, James Murtagh, and Scott Schaefer.
In Carousel, there's a song: You're a queer one, Julie Jordan. The same might be said of Julia Jordan's new play, BOY. The boy in question [T. R Knight] is seriously challenged on his left side, but he's also challenged as a budding author. He cannot finish his short-stories with anything but a Happily Ever After ending.
His Community College English Lit Prof believes he has real talent, but she is angry that his most recent story displays "crappy" writing. She also complains that, despite a Univ. of Minnesota PhD, she couldn't "get tenure" in her home-state. Actually, what she must mean is that she couldn't get a teaching-position there.
Her talentless son has just returned defeated from three years in New York City, trying to be an actor. She urges him to complete his own PhD, and move to another state where he can "get tenure."
She doesn't know he has made e-mail contact with the Boy—nor does he know Boy is in her class and also getting useless psych sessions from her seriously ill and often ignored husband. Nor does she know that her son also admires Boy's writing talents, to the point of editing them and having Boy write more honest endings to his stories. With a view to getting them published!
Boy's real interest in this failed would-be actor & immature adult is to have him make another vaporizer for marijuana. The old one broke, so Boy has not been able to get as high as he'd like.
The play opens and closes with the failed actor entering, via window, the bedroom of his abandoned girlfriend, who is now studying to be an MD, specializing in Oncology. She throws his smelly socks out the window.
He and the Boy are both obsessed—as is the mother/teacher—with the ending of George Eliot's The Mill on the Floss. In their view, the catastrophic flood finale is totally unprepared-for as an ending.
Aside from the fact that these characters—with the possible exception of Boy—are initially and ultimately uninteresting, there seems little reason for giving this script more than a staged-reading. With many subsequent revisions…
And a good Flossing for all concerned!
There is also a real problem about presenting verbally what is agreed by various characters to be an impressive writing-gift. Playwright Julia Jordan is herself seriously challenged, so it is impossible that Boy's inflated imagery should enchant reasonably literate audiences.
Poet/playwright/librettist W. H. Auden solved this problem musically in Hans Werner Henze's neglected opera, Elegy for Young Lovers. When Gregor, the great Austrian poet, recites his greatest poem ever before an enthralled audience in Vienna, it is entirely vocalise!
When I visited Auden years ago in his summer home in Kirchstetten, I asked him about this device. Auden explained that he was trying to write the entire libretto in his own finest poetry, so how could he offer a poem that was even better? Vocalise was the only answer.
For the Record: Mary Ann Evans—known to fame as George Eliot—is buried in London's Highgate Cemetery. Her tomb is beside that of her love, the economic philosopher Herbert Spencer. And they are both just across the way from the huge gilded bust of KARL MARX!
THE NORMAL HEART [*****]
Frankly, I wasn't looking forward to a revival of Larry Kramer's The Normal Heart. I thought it would be Old News, recapping a time of terror when a Major Silence descended in Manhattan over emerging details of the Worldwide Plague that is AIDS.
Kramer was then understandably furious at the silence of the New York Times, the obstructions of Mayor Ed Koch and City Hall, the fatal "fuck-me" attitudes of many of New York's Gays, the indifference of major medical centers & hospitals, and the self-righteous glee of Fundamentalist Religious Leaders: "AIDS is God's Punishment for choosing a Life-Style that is a Sin!"
It was only a matter of time—not very much time, in fact—that women would become infected by partners who swung both ways. Now, millions of men, women, and tiny children around the world are infected. And many are dying—horribly, in agony, wasting away, without medicines or care, shunned by neighbors and families.
This rapid and terrible spread of AIDS—which might have been prevented, or at least delayed and treated—makes The Normal Heart even more powerful now, seen with the dreadful knowledge of what has happened and is still developing—especially in Africa.
As dynamically staged by David Esbjornson, the entire cast is passionate and even heart-breaking. Seldom has there been such a high level of energy, dedication, and fury on a Public Theatre stage. Raúl Esparza is especially powerful as Ned Weeks, the abrasive Kramer stand-in. Joanna Gleason—as the only doctor in New York who is aware of the danger of the plague and trying to do something—is splendidly strong.
Also admirable—as indeed are all the actors: Paul Whitthorne, Fred Berman, Jay Russell, McCaleb Burnett, and Richard Bekins, as Ben's loving brother who cannot deal with the problem. Or with having himself or his law-firm connected in any way with the campaign to Warn the Gay Community of the perils of promiscuous sex and the deadly dangers of the disease.
This revival is so powerful—and actually timely—that all concerned New Yorkers should see it. Especially teen-agers, who now seem to think they are Invulnerable. And that there is a Cure for Everything. But there is no cure for Ignorance & Stupidity.
The black Presidents of Zimbabwe, Zambia, and South Africa are still In Denial. AIDS is rampant, but Pres. Mugabe still believes it's only a disease of white male homosexuals—and they deserve it. Of course, thanks to the interventions of the Religious Right and Roman Catholic lobbyists, the United States government still cannot urge fighting AIDS in Africa—or other Third World areas—with use of condoms. Does the Pope really believe that it's better that a child is born with AIDS—than not conceived at all?
But—as AIDS is a sexually-transmitted disease—some unbending clergy still see it as God's Judgment for Sexual Sins: Gay or Straight, Married or Unmarried. For that matter, at the highest levels of American government, the chief line of defense against this deadly disease has been Nancy Reagan's Just Say No—adapted from her War on Drugs.
Another Line of Defense is Pres. Geo. W. Bush's beloved Mantra of Abstinence: No Sex Outside Marriage. And definitely NO MARRIAGE for Gays. From which it follows that they should have no sex whatsoever. Unless, of course, Pres. Bush would permit a gay man to marry a lesbian woman? Will that be OK?
Larry Kramer! It's time for a new play on these governmental idiocies, so obviously dictated by the rampant Homophobia of all the Major Religions. Neither Orthodox Jews nor Fundamentalist Christians are eager to tolerate a "Deviant Life-Style, consciously chosen." That being Gay may not be at all a matter of choice is not written in their Holy Books. And Fundamentalist Muslims, under the Law of Shariah, are obligated to stone gays to death!
So go see The Normal Heart—and think about all its implications!
Thanks to the brilliant stage-designer John Lee Beatty, William Schwenk Gilbert is enjoying an archly stylish revival of his Wildean comedy, Engaged, at the Lucille Lortel Theatre. Most people have no idea of Gilbert without Sullivan, but he was on his own a considerable cartoonist, punster, parodist, poet, essayist, and playwright.
Unfortunately, he was not a comedic dramatist in the witty image of Oscar Wilde. There are, in fact, some very clever comments in Engaged, but most of the banter is devoted to spinning out the plot. The first act—set in a broadly cartooned Scots cottage & garden—is heavy-going as the plot-lines must be established and the stereotypical characters introduced. So director Doug Hughes has elected a super-energized, archly stylized manner of playing which has its own rewards—and somewhat covers up the nature of Gilbert's fusty feather-duster.
Jeremy Shamos—as the ardent lover of women, the wealthy young gentleman Cheviot Hill—is wonderfully artful in this style. He is a joy to watch as he falls for each new pretty face he encounters, promising heart & hand. His guardian and quasi-friend, Belawny, has to prevent this, for a marriage will nullify his own pension. Belawny has other problems as well, for he is eloping with the potential bride of a furious Scots Major.
The Scots peasants who open the scene live from derailing trains enroute to Edinburgh—or is it Glasgow? Fortunately, their cot is right by the mainline railroad-track—possibly on the wrong side of the tracks. But not for them, as they offer refreshment and lodging to the survivors of train-wrecks.
There is an amusing resonance between the questionable marital-situations in Engaged and Milne's Mr. Pim Passes By. Was Cheviot actually married in the cottage garden? Is it in Scotland. Or in England.
South of the border, Banns must be posted; Church & State Laws must be observed. In Scotland, however, a simple declaration of marriage by the man and woman, in the presence of witnesses, is sufficient to make the bond legal. That's why some British plays of the 18th and 19th centuries are so concerned with couples fleeing north to Scotland's Gretna Green to compound a "Scotch Marriage."
Maybe that's the Gaelic answer to Gay Marriages?
A. A. Milne at the Mint—
Repertory Double-Bill of:
The Mint Theatre's "Mr. Pim Passes By." Photo: ©Richard Termine/2004.
MR. PIM PASSES BY [****]
THE TRUTH ABOUT BLAYDES [****]
Most people—if they recognize the name of A. A. Milne at all—know him as the author of the Winnie-the-Pooh books. Few also know him as a prolific playwright. Fortunately, one of that select few is Jonathan Bank, Artistic Director of the Mint Theatre Company. With the two excellent productions of Milne dramas currently on view at the Mint in repertory, Bank's loyal audiences now know better than to Pooh-Pooh Milne as a Man of the Theatre.
Bank's choice of Milne plays is especially apt. Not only can they both be played in the same baronial English salon, but they are also both concerned with Moral Issues. In addition, they provide interesting acting-challenges to the Mint's capable repertory ensemble—who have already shown their multiple talents in such productions as Schnitzler's Far and Wide, Lawrence's The Daughter-in-Law, and Granville-Barker's The Voysey Inheritance.
And I must admit a special partiality toward Jonathan Bank as a director/producer—and to the Mint as a mutating ensemble—unafraid to tackle the problems of bringing interesting characters from other times and places back to Real Life, making their dilemmas, agonies, and ecstasies both sympathetic and immediate. Bank and his actors did this memorably in his revival of Edith Wharton's The House of Mirth, based on my doctoral-thesis-edition of the original scripts.
The Moral Issues in Mr. Pim Passes By have a curiously contemporary quality. At issue centrally is the Institution of Christian Marriage. In fact, Marriage Between a Man and a Woman, Sanctified by God and Church. Country squire and Justice of the Peace George Marden refuses to permit his niece and ward, Dinah, to marry a handsome young artist. Brian has no fixed employment or income—and he paints clouds like triangles. George is a stickler about Conventions—and Appearances: What Will the County Think?
Mr. Pim drops by to request a Letter of Introduction from George. Unfortunately, he happens to mention a chance encounter with a criminal reprobate from Australia. This man is the first husband of George's wife, Olivia—who thought the rogue long-dead.
Suddenly, this raises immense problems for George, as they no longer seem married in the Sight of the Church and of God. Olivia is a Bigamist! And they have been living happily in… George cannot bring himself to utter the word: SIN. As this is a comedy—if a cliff-hanging one—all is delightfully resolved, with George somewhat chastened and mellowed by the experience.
Aside from President George Bush and his fanatic Fundamentalist Followers, not so many Americans would today understand George Marden's vexing—even to him terrifying—dilemmas. But for the Two Georges, God's Laws & Ordinances are sacrosanct: not to be flouted nor mocked! As George is an Anglican, the laws are very clear. But, as the time is 1920—only the beginning of the Jazz Age—the Commandments of the Church of England are not to be taken lightly.
Unfortunately for some members of the Royal Family, these Laws & Ordinances are still in force. And the Queen—the Head of the House of Windsor—is also the Head of the State Church. Thus it was that the Queen's own sister, the late unhappy Princess Margaret Rose was forbidden to marry her true-love, the divorced Captain Peter Townsend.
When the Queen's only daughter, Anne, the Princess Royal, divorced Mark Phillips, she could not remarry in the Church of England. Instead, she and her new spouse were married in the Church of Scotland. Scotch Presbyterians are clearly less stringent!
But what will happen when the future King of England—divorced himself, but now widowed—prepares to marry his Consort-Apparent, the divorced Mrs. Camilla Parker-Bowles? King Edward VIII lost his throne because of his infatuation with the divorced American, Wallis Warfield Simpson. Can God's Laws be changed to accommodate changing Morality? Or are they really God's Laws, after all?
The Moral Issues in The Truth About Blaydes are more serious—and more complex. The great Victorian poet, Oliver Blaydes, dies shortly after his 90th birthday, showered with honors and respect.
His son-in-law has made a career of recording every utterance of the Great Man. His wife Marion is an idiot-admirer of her aged father. Marion's younger sister, Isobel, has devoted her life to nursing her demanding old dad. She even sacrificed her only chance for married happiness, turning down the proposal of a now famed critic who has come to present Blaydes with a Birthday Tribute.
Just before he died, Blaydes confided His Dreadful Secret to Isobel: the poems which have made him famous were all written years ago by his dying room-mate, who hoped for posthumous fame. He has carefully released the poems over the years, his only failed volume being one of his own verses.
The angrily virtuous Isobel wants to tell the world of her father's fraud. She even wants none of the money or possessions his success has given the family. She would like to locate the poet's heirs and give it all to them. Blaydes was an artful imposter, so Right Must Be Done. And her father ruined her life, so Isobel also wants to punish him—or at least his memory & reputation.
Her sister, her brother-in-law, and their spoiled children are at first panicked. Then they decide the old man was just addled in thinking someone else wrote the poems. This play was written before anyone knew about Alzheimer's. Fortunately, the critic—who never stopped loving that girl he met 18 years ago—helps Isobel to come to terms with her anger and grief. And even with her greedy, mendacious, snobbish family…
Lisa Bostnar was outstanding as both Olivia Marden and Isobel Blaydes. She is one of the mainstays of the Mint ensemble. Stephen Schnetzer was forceful as both Marden and the critic. Jack Davidson was two entirely different people as Mr Pim and Isobel's brother-in-law. Also admirable were Kristin Griffith, James Knight, Victoria Mack, and Katie Lowes—as two interchangeable parlor-maids. Jack Ryland was the aged plagiarist Blaydes. It was especially interesting to see these fine players change so completely between a Saturday matinée and an evening-performance! Sarah Lambert's setting hardly changed at all.
Musicals Old & New—
BARE: A Pop Opera [****]
How times have changed!
If the Sisters of Mercy at Mount St. Mary's Academy of sixty years ago could see today the Student-Activities of a modern Catholic High School—in Bare, the Pop Opera—they'd all die of shock, waving their crucifixes as they collapsed. The pious Sisters showed no mercy to their students, and high-school proms and class-plays under their stringent supervision would never have featured the liberated behavior of Bare's contemporary teens.
Although there is a priest on hand to confess and admonish the sexually blossoming young parochials, he is no pedophile: only an Adult Power & Morality Figure. And his Vatican-sanctioned advice to the teens isn't helpful. It only adds to their various Guilt Trips.
Central to this supercharged new Rock Musical is the gay love-affair between a softly sweet boy, Peter, and a jock, Jason, who is also admired by the oversexed girls of this Parochial High. Perhaps to sustain his macho image, he has sex with a girl who has relentlessly pursued him. He gets her pregnant.
Jason's lover has too many hash-brownies at the prom and unwisely tells his Guilty Secret to an angry loser who's jealous of Jason. Just before the opening of the school-play—Romeo & Juliet, of course—Jason drinks a potion and dies on stage.
Older folks will need earplugs, but there is tremendous energy in this colorful show. Some of the production-numbers are both clever and provocative. Michael Arden and John Hill are the Odd Couple, trying to conceal their amour. Romelda T. Benjamin is Sister Chantelle—a New-Age Nun without an Old Habit. Jim Price is the tough-talking but ineffectual priest. He cannot help the two boys.
Bare's score is by Damon Intrabaretolo—did he go to a Catholic High?—with lyrics by Jon Hartmere, Jr. They also collaborated on the book. Kristin Hanggi staged, with choreography by Sergio Trujillo.
Gay boys in a Catholic High aren't news anymore. But musicals about such Mortal Sins are certainly something new. But as the Pope has so eloquently said: Hate the Sin, but Love the Sinner! You may love these two star-crossed teenage sinners.
Perhaps the Priest-Altar-Boy Pop Opera is not far off? Bare is, after all, is being performed in the old court-house where Urinetown set new standards of Popular Taste in musicals.
THE JOYS OF SEX [**]
It now seems almost a century since Kenneth Tynan gave the world Oh! Calcutta! It seemed to run forever in Manhattan and London—often to houses filled with Japanese businessmen. In other major cities, it was as ubiquitous as The Vagina Monologues now seems to be.
There must be an endless supply of repressed Jewish dentists & wives from New Jersey, hoping for some titillating shock & awe on Broadway and Off-Broadway stages. The Joys of Sex weakly & stereotypically reprises many of the sex-problems, fantasies, and fetishes of such previous shows.
Unfortunately—aside from the luscious African-American queen, Jenelle Lynn Randall—the other three energetic & determined performers are largely charmless and certainly not sexy. But they all work very, very hard amid the dildoes, whips, and leather.
This is a Musical, with book & lyrics by Melissa Davis and book & score by David Weinstein. The various sketches seem aimed at a primarily Jewish audience, rather than a Waspy one. Women around me were hooting with laughter at routines which have now also been done to death on television.
New Jersey must be a Sexual Desert!
Jeremy Dobrish directed, with minimal choreography by Lisa Shriver.
How could an operatic version of Carlo Goldoni's 18th century Italian comedy, La Locandiera, or The Mistress of the Inn, only in 2004 be enjoying its American Premiere?
Given the continuing popularity of Goldoni's comedy, even today, surely Mirandolina should have been staged long before the Manhattan School of Music's recent production?
One reason is that it only received its World Premiere in 1959. In Prague, no less—although the composer began work on it when he was living in the United States in exile. Unfortunately, the same fateful neglect has afflicted Bohuslav Martinu's other important & impressive operas: The Greek Passion and Juliette, or The Key To Dreams.
Both of these, however, have recently been given stunning productions at the Bregenz Festival, arousing renewed interest in Martinu's works. The Greek Passion was, in fact, a co-production with London's Covent Garden Royal Opera. This production will be on view in the coming London season.
But it's also to be hoped that all three of these Martinu scores will soon receive more American mountings.
Considering the charms and inventions of Mirandolina's score and libretto, this small-cast opera should have wide appeal. On stage at the Manhattan School—where fall and spring student opera-productions are always handsomely mounted—David Newell provided a glowing yellow-box of a set, patterned with green artichokes and lighting-sconces that moved about the walls. Various chambers in the inn were suggested by opening two doors in a wall. Each time they were opened, they revealed different cupboard-contents: a bar, hotel-reception, clothing, even a downward staircase!
Working with the ingenious stage-director Sam Helfrich, costume-designer Miranda Hoffman devised some outrageously stylish costumes—both period and contemporary—that almost upstaged the comedic action. Her outfits for the duo of traveling actresses—passing themselves off as aristocratic ladies—should be on display in a Costume Museum!
As the witty and wise inn-keeper, Mirandolina, Elaine Alvarez was impressive, both vocally and in action. She had to fend off the amours of the Marchese—a strong-voiced Charles Temkey—as well as those of the Conte, sung very stylishly by Trey Cassels. Her challenge was to arouse the interest of the woman-hating Cavaliere di Ripifratta, wonderfully created by Liam Bonner. The actresses were charmingly embodied by Meredith Flaster and Nicole Mitchell. In the end, Mirandolina gave her heart to her Man of All Duties at the inn, Fabrizio. He was stalwartly sung and acted by the attractive young Jinho Hwang.
David Gilbert conducted the Manhattan School's Opera Orchestra with spirit.
THE TWO AND ONLY [*****]
Jay Johnson's wonderfully illustrated account of his development as a boy-ventriloquist is also an amazing historical survey of this unusual Performance Art. Once thought to be the province of the Diabolically Possessed and practiced by Sorcerers and Seers, eventually a detailed study in the 19th century concluded that ventriloquists were Mentally Ill.
On a swooping blue-carpeted set littered with cream-colored trunks, baskets, and suitcases filled with puppets and dummies, Jay Johnson charms as he interacts with various puppets of the past and of his own devising.
Johnson is especially moving as he describes his friendship with a legendary ventriloquist and carver of dummies. This remarkable artist agreed to carve his last dummy for Johnson—and audiences at the Atlantic Theatre get to meet him vocally as well as the Master's own dummy, Harry O'Shea.
Johnson also interacts with needling Bob Campbell, the puppet he played opposite on the TV sitcom Soap. He played Chuck Campbell loud and clear, but initially the TV mike was not recording his saucy alter-ego, Bob. The problem proved to be the techies were putting the mike above the puppet, but his voice was coming from Johnson's unmoving lips.
Jay Johnson is an absolutely delightful guy to meet on stage, and his handsome show is hilarious, informative, and, at times, deeply moving. This is a show for the entire family—and it should tour the nation!
Meanwhile, do not miss it down at the Atlantic!
BUG MUSIC [***]
MC/Clarinetist Don Byron presided over this instructive and amusing show, based on the music of his CD, Bug Music. At the New Victory, children & parents were treated to reprises of some beloved cartoons, as well as footage of the great days of Jazz up in Harlem at the Cotton Club and elsewhere. He introduced three important modern composers: Duke Ellington, Raymond Scott—orchestra-leader of radio's Your Lucky Strike Hit-Parade, and John Kirby. He also noted—for the benefit of children who have never experienced the kind of segregation that was endemic before Martin Luther King's protests—that orchestras were either white or black, never mixed.
Byron's terrific on-stage combo was right-on as it played Ellington's Doin' the Voom Voom and The Mooch, as well as Scott's War Dance for Wooden Indians—with film-footage of this taps-is-tops number, Siberian Sleigh-Ride, and Powerhouse. John Kirby was represented by his adaptation of Franz Lehar's Frasquita Serenade and Tchaikovsky's Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairies, which Kirby turned into a "Bounce."
Don Byron—who is currently Artist-in-Residence at Symphony Space—introduced his musician-colleagues and their respective instruments. These were shown on multiple TV-monitors as Byron and each player showed how they worked, with sound-samples. This wasn't exactly A Child's Guide to the Orchestra, but it came close.
The real point of the show, however, was to demonstrate how the music played has been adapted for Hollywood cartoons, notably those of Warner Bros. So the audience got to see Bug Bunny in Falling Hare, as well as Raymond Scott's Meatless Fly Day, The Penguin, and Wackicki Wabbit, among others. The finale was a Tom & Jerry cartoon, with Don Byron's score for it played live onstage as the cartoon frantically unrolled!
Noted in Passing:
In Unfashionable East Village:
Way over in Alphabet City—between Avenues A & B—is Alex Roe's Metropolitan Playhouse. It is an intimate performance-space at the second-floor-level of a massive staircase that once throbbed to the drumming of Catholic schoolgirls' feet. This massive parochial-school is also home to the Connolly Theatre.
Roe's company specializes in bringing the American Theatrical Heritage back to life. This is an honorable endeavor that several other short-lived ensembles have pursued in Manhattan—with varying results. But always with the Problem that New York audiences are usually searching for The Latest Thing. Not for revivals of David Harum, The Contrast, Uncle Tom's Cabin, The Octoroon, The Great Divide, or even The New York Idea.
Actually, there is a large body of really interesting American plays that ought to be revived in professional productions. The Broadway & West End director, Frank Dunlop, achieved a success at BAM with a stunning production of The New York Idea, but his BAM theatre-ensemble didn't long survive.
Recently, Alex Roe departed from his customary American-fare to produce an impressively-cast & articulated staged-reading of The Fashionable Prejudice. This was in fact the American premiere of a comedy first played in 1735, at Paris' Comédie Française. And why has it taken so long for Pierre Nivelle De La Chaussée's charming comédie larmoyante to finally have a hearing in New York?
Possibly because no one really knew about the play, or about its author. Or, indeed, about much of the drama of 18th century France. Still fascinated with the 17th century comedies of Molière, most British and American directors had only fairly recently discovered Marivaux. The comedies of Nivelle De La Chaussée were, effectively terra incognita.
Dr. Marvin Carlson—Distinguished Professor of Theatre at the City University Graduate Center—decided to explore the dramatic literature of 18th century French comedy to discover possible comic treasures and to learn why this body of work had been so long forgotten, even in France.
In the event, he has not only discovered—but also created a charming English translation of—Nivelle De La Chaussée's The Fashionable Prejudice. If anything, Carlson has improved on the rhymed-couplets of the original comedy. His often ingenious rhymes and witty formulations of the sophisticated dialogue are positively Sondheimian! What's more, Carlson's acting-text is eminently playable.
Alex Roe's attractive actors were charming, even incisive, although they'd had little rehearsal for the reading. Without emphasizing the couplet-rhymes or the syallabic-accents—as some players do, especially with Richard Wilbur translations—the cast made the lively dialogue seem both amusing and natural.
The plot concerns a jealous husband who—in contrast to the more libertine Parisian aristocrats of his time—is infatuated with his own wife. But his silly schemes to test her affections badly misfire. In sharp contrast to the more cynical society of Paris and Versailles, shown in Molière's comedies, this play looks rather like the new Sentimental Comedy of England.
Those interested in either reading or producing The Fashionable Prejudice will find it in Dr. Carlson's new book: The Heirs of Molière: Four French Comedies of the 17th and 18th Centuries. This collection of Prof. Carlson's translations is published by the CUNY Grad Center's Martin E. Segal Theatre Center. The three other comedies are: The Absent-Minded Lover, The Conceited Count, and The Friend of the Laws.
For more information—or to order a copy—contact: <http://web.gc.cuny.edu/mestc> [Loney]
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2004. No re-publication or broadcast use without proper credit of authorship. Suggested credit line: "Glenn Loney, New York Theatre Wire." Reproduction rights please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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