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GLENN LONEY'S SHOW NOTES
By Glenn Loney, October 30, 2004
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
Between Europe and China—Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa! *
Plays Old & New—Shakespeare Revisited! *
Rose Rage/Henry VI/1,2, & 3 [****] *
Othello [**] *
Richard III [**] *
Hedda Gabler [***] *
The Dybbuk [***] *
The Bald Soprano & The Lesson [***] *
Twelve Angry Men [****] *
Reckless [****] *
Ana en el trópico [****] *
Arcadia [*****] *
The Oldest Profession [*] *
And Now for Something Relatively New! *
White Chocolate [*****] *
Pugilist Specialist [*****] *
String of Pearls [****] *
Push Up 1-3 [***] *
Last Easter [***] *
Spatter Pattern [***] *
Trying [***] *
Triptych [**] *
The Lepers of Baile Baiste [**] *
Sin/A Cardinal Deposed [**] *
Laugh Whore [*****] *
Jewtopia [***] *
People Be Heard [**] *
"Honor Bound To Defend Freedom" [****] *
Democracy/The Democracy Project— *
Dirty Tricks [***] *
9 Parts of Desire [*****] *
Musicals Old & New— *
The Frogs, A New Musical [****] *
Dames at Sea [**] *
Dracula, The Musical [**] *
Brooklyn, The Musical [***] *
Other Entertainments— *
Plan B [****] *
Kikker [****] *
Food for Thought *
At the National Arts Club [****] *
Next Wave Festival at BAM— *
Shows With Music— *
Forever Tango [*****] *
Platée [*****] *
Symphony Fantastique [*****] *
Here Lies Jenny [***] *
The Next-To-The-Last Revue [*] *
Between Europe and China—Mea Culpa, Mea Maxima Culpa!
Hats are all very well for Dr. Seuss and his remarkable Cat in the Hat. But there is such a thing as having entirely too many hats to wear on all occasions. That is the momentary difficulty of your stolid scribe. As the Principal Correspondent for the New York Theatre-Wire, I finished & filed my reportage on major European Music & Theatre Festivals in September, on my return from two months on what used to be called the "Continent."
As Principal Correspondent for the Theatre-Wire 's collateral website, New York Museums.com,, I also fully intended to file a report on especially interesting Museum & Gallery exhibitions abroad. There were a number of them on view, some of which should come to the United States, funding being found.
Unfortunately, almost immediately on my arrival in Central Europe, I was attacked by a raging infection—caused by a Wisdom Tooth extracted the day before my departure. [DO NOT FLY IMMEDIATELY AFTER HAVING MAJOR DENTAL SURGERY!]
In two days, the swelling and mucous were so severe I couldn't open my jaw, and I could hardly breathe: like a combination of Diphtheria & Lockjaw. Rushing to Emergency at Krankenhaus Schwabing in Munich, I was sent back to my hotel by the lady-doctor on duty as having a mere case of Laryngitis.
After two more days of increasing suffering, my luck was to have a Munich friend—just returned from holiday to help me—send me back to the same hospital, but this time to Ear, Nose, & Throat Emergency. The infection was judged Life-Threatening, so I was operated on that night. I insisted on staying no more than five days as I had so much [unpaid] reportage to do for both websites. The result was that I had a difficult time catching up, compounded by computer-agonies.
[For the Record: My total Munich hospital bills for these five days—including surgery, all other medical procedures, examinations & tests, half-hour penicillin-drips four times daily, nursing-care, private hospital-room and meals—cost me only about $4,000. You could pay that much for only a day in a Manhattan hospital! This fee would have been significantly reduced had the hospital accepted my New York HIP medical coverage. The room would have cost 34 Euros, instead of 340 Euros. But, in the light of this experience, is there something American health-care is doing wrong?]
On my return from the Edinburgh Festival, I had almost 200 film-cassettes of European images to have developed & printed. These—both slides and prints—I have been labeling image by image, organizing in large albums, and computer-indexing for my INFOTOGRAPHY™ ArtsArchive™ Collection which will soon be online.
This is my major project in retirement, and it takes almost all of my time, so I can no longer write extensive review/reports of theatre-productions or museum & gallery exhibitions. At this moment, I am two days away from departure for China and scores more of print, slide, and digital images of that Not-So-Sleeping Giant.
Thus, I can do little more than list new shows at Theatres & Museums—with a very brief commentary. If I ever get caught up on the photo-indexing, I hope to be able to share more extended impressions of the plays, musicals, operas, ballets, & concerts I see almost every evening and most matinées in my capacity as Founder/Advisor of Modern Theatre Online, Secretary of the Outer Critics Circle and Awards-Nominating Member of its Executive Committee, as well as being a voting-member of the Drama Desk, the Theatre Library Association, the American Theatre Critics Association, the Music Critics of North America, and the Dance Critics Association.
Not to overlook my regular reportage for New York Theatre-Wire & Critics Choice for New York Museums.com, plus Western European Stages, among other venues for discussing Arts and Performing Arts events and achievements. This is all fascinating, but it is much easier to experience than to sit at the computer-keyboard and describe it. So Listings will have to do for a while…
Plays Old & New—Shakespeare Revisited!
Rose Rage/Henry VI/1,2, & 3 [****]
This version of The Wars of the Roses came to New York from Chicago's estimable Shakespeare Theatre. It was staged by Edward Hall, son of Peter Hall—who created the Wars for the RSC decades ago. Young Hall is an obvious inheritor of his father's talent. A powerful, energy-charged production, it was often deafening as metaphoric butchers sharpened knives and cleavers for endless choppings of livers and beheadings of cabbages. This was a visual counterpoint to the endless slaughters in the three chronicle-plays. The cast was outstanding. If—or when—you go to Chicago, do not miss one of the Shakespeare Theatre's inventive productions on the Navy Pier!
The usually innovative Cheek by Jowl troupe was reductive—rather than imaginative—in this Othello revival, recently shown at BAM. The set was five long foot-lockers which could also double as coffins. This was an unfortunate visual metaphor. The hyperactive Iago was unintelligible, but Nonso Anozie's Moor was moving as an Outsider cruelly deceived. Best of Cast: Jaye Griffiths, as Emilia. Declan Donnelly directed.
Richard III [**]
Critic John Simon judged this production as Richard The Third-Rate. What more can one say? Casting the dwarf thespian, Peter Dinklage, as Crookback seemed a stunt at the Public Theatre—once famed for its Shakespeare stagings. Dinklage is an interesting performer, however, and he has a very powerful voice for such a small body. He did not inhabit the role, but rather gave audiences a winking insider guided-tour of the character in action. The rest of the cast would not be out of place in a community-theatre event, save for the powerful Queen Margaret of Isa Thomas.
Golden Oldie Revivals—
Hedda Gabler [***]
Dutch director Ivo van Hove is famous for his bizarre stylizations of modern classics, and the New York Theatre Workshop is his shrine in Manhattan. Updating Hedda Gabler was not, however, a Good Idea. It only makes sense in its time and place. The problems it poses seem ridiculous in a contemporary context. Its Moral Values no longer have much meaning—except, possibly, to Born-Again Christians. The cast was excellent at taking Van Hove's direction, even when required suddenly to bellow otherwise low-key lines. This delivery-affliction is common in German theatres, but it's usually reserved for bellowing Shakespeare and Goethe. When not shouting, the players gave quite believable readings of their lines. Elizabeth Marvel was Hedda, but unfortunately not a marvel.
The Dybbuk [***]
TR Warszawa brought this Polish production to BAM. Conflating S. Ansky's original with a Hanna Krall story, it had a certain fascination. It was certainly more challenging than Paddy Chayevsky's version, The Tenth Man. This was a co-production with Wroclaw's Teatr Wspolczesny, an admired innovative theatre in what was once Breslau. An excellent cast recreated a vanished Polish-Jewish world. Krzysztof Warlikowski directed. [The last time I saw Ida Kaminska's Warsaw Jewish Theatre performing in Yiddish, most of the blond young cast were gentile actors who had learnt their lines phonetically.]
The Bald Soprano & The Lesson [***]
Why doesn't Tina Howe write some wonderful new plays, instead of translating/adapting Ionesco's? Even Tony Kushner has done this, when he gave the Public Theatre his version of The Dybbuk. Can the problem be Writer's Block? At the Atlantic Theatre, the Absurdist Powers of Ionesco's The Bald Soprano & The Lesson were still apparent in Carl Forsman's stagings, but the interpretations were needlessly hysterical. These plays are more effective when the characters seem to be behaving perfectly naturally. Bring back Alan Schneider as Ionesco's True Interpreter! Or Channel him from beyond the grave: That would be truly Absurdist!
Twelve Angry Men [****]
On the M4 bus the week before I saw this high-octane revival, two women were discussing their matinée experience at the American Airlines Theatre—where the seats are more comfortable than on their flights:
"There should have been some women on the jury!"
"No! Are you nuts or something? The way they talked, you couldn't have a woman in that room! It's all Man-Talk."
She has a point, but she could have pushed it further.
The male expressions of class or racial prejudices aired in Reginald Rose's film-script—turned play—now seem rather dated. Having served on a few Manhattan juries, I think I know what I'm talking about, if you know, like, what I mean?
But an enterprising Women's Lib student of mine some years back did make an All-Women Jury adaptation that seemed to work. But she couldn't have had a jury of both men and women.
Boy, are those guys on stage in the new Roundabout production really angry!
Director Scott Ellis creates an effective ensemble, with memorable performances from Philip Bosco, Larry Bryggman, Tom Aldredge, James Rebhorn, and Boyd Gaines, another of those talented Juilliard Drama alums.
Allen Moyer's appropriately drab Municipal Court setting has some fascinating built-scenery outside the windows. This is good when the action palls or is too re-memorable. The room also slides stage-left to reveal the Men's Room.
Wow! Talk about Stanislasvski and Realism!
This charmingly Absurdist comedy is a Total Delight in MTC's handsome new production at the Biltmore Theatre. Mary-Louise Parker is endlessly amazing as the ditzy heroine who cannot stop talking and innocently—but disastrously—interfering in the affairs of others who are even more bizarre than she. Mark Brokaw staged in the ingenious Christmas-Window Settings of Allen Moyer. Do not miss this wonderful and hilarious show!
Ana en el trópico [****]
If you were moved by Nilo Cruz's Ana in the Tropics on Broadway, how much more you may savor it at Repertorio Español, where it is being performed in rep in Spanish! Although I am partial to the Lector of Jimmy Smits—a Brooklyn College drama student during my tenure there—I was even more impressed by Francisco Gattorno in this role. Cruz's drama—inspired by Anna Karenina—was premiered in a hundred-seat theatre in Boca Raton. So it fits very well into the tiny stage of the oldest Little Theatre in New York, With the ingeniously spare but stylish designs of Robert Weber Federico, director Rene Buch has won a wonderful ensemble effect from his talented players. Translations for non-Spanish speakers!
Director Elizabeth Swain—a Professor of Acting at Marymount Manhattan College—created a near Miracle recently on East 71st Street. Her revival of Tom Stoppard's Arcadia, with an all-student cast, was quite as professional as those seen in London and New York. Although the talented, attractive young performers are only students, they created their characters with a total sense of Belief. What's more, they articulated the convoluted and even arcane ideas in Stoppard's ingenious script with the assuredness of people who know what they are talking about. I found that I understood the play in this production more than I had in the two previous pro productions! Set-Designer Robert Dutiel created an elegant Georgian dining-room quite as handsome as that in London. Gail Cooper Hecht's costumes were also impressive and effective The entire cast was admirable, but Jeff Boles—as an overweening ambitious academic literary-detective—was especially energized.
The Oldest Profession [*]
The Signature Theatre is having an entire Season of Paula Vogel. Her Baltimore Waltz is one of my favorite plays, and How I Learned To Drive is certainly outstanding. But The Oldest Profession seems to be one of those Trunk Plays which should have been left in the bottom of the trunk. Vogel must have a special fondness for its concept, as she seems to have been tinkering with it off and on for some time. Set in 1980, it presents four ageing white whores and their Madam, who seem to service even older Johns in Manhattan, transplanted from their native New Orleans. They operate from a park-bench by the 72nd Street Subway Station. As each one dies off, she has her Storyville Moment in what must be Whores' Paradise. I found their gainful employment in this Profession totally improbable—especially the idea that they learnt their Craft in New Orleans. But the entire enterprise—including this production—seemed tasteless. Embarrassing even. Why have such able performers as Marylouise Burke, Joyce Van Patten, Carlin Glynn, Katherine Helmond, & Priscilla Lopez been reduced to appearing in such a show> Why don't Tina Howe & Tony Kushner team up and write a really interesting play for them>
And Now for Something Relatively New!
White Chocolate [*****]
William Hamilton, the Observer's brilliant cartoonist of Social Satire, has written a wonderful new Social Comedy. His premise is that a brilliantly Social couple go to bed White and wake up Black. Reg E. Cathey, as Brendan Beale, is hoping to be named Chief of the Met Museum. Will this Amazing Change ruin or help his chances? His main competitor is also Black. Lynn Whitfield is hilarious as his Brooklyn Jewish Princess-wife, newly Black. Julie Halston is even more amusing as a relative who thinks the couple have been hired as some kind of party joke. She dons blackface to get into the spirit of things. The Beale's spoiled daughter has been hoping to shock them with her marriage to a Chinese-American student, Winston. Political Correctness flies out the window at the Century Theatre, but it is sure to move to Broadway before long. This is a show you have to see! David Schweizer staged in James Noone's elegant settings, with stunning costumes by David Zinn.
Pugilist Specialist [*****]
Shown initially in a tiny theatre-box at 59E59, this supercharged production has now moved. It was originally seen in London, to great acclaim, and it is on its way to San Francisco, home of its creators, The Riot Group. Pugilist Specialist was written by the engaging Adrinano Shaplin, who also plays the Marine Corps Hit Man for Dangerous Terrorists. The Special Forces Team's assignment is to take out some Mideastern Muslim Fanatic, but it's a set-up. This amazingly effective and taut drama is also acted effectively and tautly by the High Octane cast. The set is only several backless benches. Nothing more is needed. If the Riot Group is intent on heading West, they may have to drill a new Manhattan replacement-cast. But it will be difficult to replace Stephanie Viola, Drew Friedman, Paul Schnabel, & Shaplin. This is a Must-See Show! It helps explain what has gone wrong in Iraq. Not to forget Iran-Contra…
String of Pearls [****]
On the Main Stage at 59E59, Michele Lowe's String of Pearls is a charming modern fable in which a string of pearls has an amazing journey—even through the belly of a fish—until it finds its way back where it belongs. The impressive cast of four—Ellen McLaughlin, Mary Testa, Sharon Washington, & Antoinette LaVecchia—play a number of roles—some hilarious, some tragic—exploring a variety of American Lifestyles. Eric Simonson staged effectively.
Push Up 1-3 [***]
If you have never heard of Germany's Roland Schimmelpfennig, could it be that his name is just too difficult for American critics to type? Recently shown at the Connolly Theatre by Desert Apple Theatre Company, Push Up 1-3 proved to be an insightful semi-comedy about inching up the Corporate Ladder. There is nothing distinctively German about this tale of office-infighting. Globalization seems to have an Americanizing Effect on Corporate Culture even in the European Union. Cynthia Dillon directed the talented cast in Melanie Dreyer's translation.
Last Easter [***]
Even a Trip to Lourdes does not arrest or cure the cancer of the Lighting-Designer heroine of Bryony Lavery's wise-cracking drama about Terminal Illness. Hugh Landwehr's prop-cluttered set of shelves—as in I Am My Own Wife—proved an appropriately theatrical backdrop. Veanne Cox was distraught as the designer, momentarily distracted by the amusements of the gayish Gash, flamboyantly played by Jeffrey Carlson. Doug Hughes staged this MCC production at the Lucile Lortel Theatre.
Spatter Pattern [***]
Subtitled (Or, How I Got Away with It), Neal Bell's new play is occasionally punctuated by the sound of a bell. Is this an audio-metaphor? Peter Frechette is a frustrated gay writer, searching for a new story to tell. Reduced to cheap cheap cheap Manhattan digs, he discovers his next-door neighbor is a professor suspected of murdering a girl-student—but not yet charged or imprisoned. This is not exactly the Scott Peterson Story, however. Michael Greif directed. There are interior comments spoken aloud, heard supposedly only by the audience. Strange Interlude, indeed! When are directors going to stop casting Frechette as a gay male? Why not test his range with a macho John Wayne role?
The estimable Joanna Glass has chosen to put the aged and dying Judge Biddle onstage in his Georgetown office up over the garage. Some of those who knew this onetime American Attorney-General—under FDR—and Nuremberg Trials justice have suggested that he was not a very interesting personality. Fritz Weaver demonstrates this in depth, the dramatic tension arising from his adjusting to a new secretary [Kati Brazda]—who will outlive him. They both make an effort, which translates as "trying," but he is also a very trying character indeed. Sandy Shinner staged for Chicago's Victory Gardens Theatre. The production is on view now at the Promenade.
Edna O'Brien dramatizes the tension between two women in love with the same man. One, his wife, effectively stalks the other, a self-involved actress. His daughter also has her own Issues. David Jones directed Ally Sheedy, Margaret Colin, & Carrie Specksgoor in this been-there-done-that three-hander for the Irish Repertory Theatre. Unfortunately, the husband/lover never appears, so this must be what is often called A Woman's Play…
The Lepers of Baile Baiste [**]
Playwright Ronan Noone has won all kinds of awards for this drama and its sequel, The Blowin' of Baile Gall, but he is no Martin McDonagh. Nonetheless, he has addressed the issue of Roman Catholic priests "interfering" with young altar-boys and students, a current and infamous news topic which deserves more attention from novelists, dramatists, and film-makers. With such characters has his Drunken Irishman, he comes close to parody. David Sullivan directed the production, seen at the Phil Bosakowski Theatre.
Sin/A Cardinal Deposed [**]
Although Michael Murphy has dramatized a legal deposition of Boston's Bernard, Cardinal Law, concerning his apparent protection of pedophile priests such as Father John Geoghan, this doesn't add up to a tense courtroom drama. Its chief interest on stage—at the Harold Clurman Theatre—is the thoughtful impersonation of the Cardinal by John Cullum. Quite a change from Urinetown! Thanks to the interlarded acted-out letters of complaining parishoners, there is some semblance of attention being paid to the priestly misdeeds. Carl Forsman staged for the New Group.
Laugh Whore [*****]
At the Cort Theatre, Mario Cantone is keeping his audiences in stitches with his tales of Growing Up Gay & Italian in Brooklyn, as well as his fantastic Show-Biz anecdotes. He's also a very talented song-stylist and dancer. In his closing-routine, he pays tribute to the other monologists bowing on Broadway now. Notably Eve Ensler, whose Vagina Monologues made her a household word Worldwide. To shouted suggestions from the audience, he offers his hysterical impressions of Dead Stars who never had the chance to be in one of Ensler's Celebrity Casts of the Monologues. His Bette Davis, Joan Crawford, & Barbara Stanwyck are right on target. Cantone also does deft parodic—but affectionate—impressions of Judy and Liza—with a Z. Not with a Zzzzzzzz! You can't fall asleep when Mario's in Action! Director Joe Mantello shaped the show for the stage. Judging from the audience's frantic response, this show should have a long run. Cantone is, as he says, a whore for a laugh. He'll do anything to set you laughing.
Bryan Fogel & Sam Wolfson play the main roles in their very own broad racio-religious farce. Bryan is an Irsh Catholic who wants to become Jewish to win the hand of a Jewish Princess he's loved ever since school years ago.
He's even willing to be circumcised at the age of 30! He's so hung up on the idea of a Jewish wife because he'd never again have to make a decision about anything. This could be both a racist and a sexist joke, but the audience loved it.
He enlists the aid of his old chum, Adam/Sam, who is Jewish but is only attracted to gentile girls. His family, however, wants him to marry a Jewish girl—and soon, but he's had no luck thus far. Bryan introduces him the Jewtopia, a website for mating single Jewish boys and girls.
Some hilarious mis-matches result.
Every Jewish-Button is pushed: every cliché, every stereotype is explored. At times, this borders on the vulgar or coarse, but the audience seemed to love those moments even more.
In general, however, the performances are energetic and amusing, especially as the other cast members have to double and triple. But Born-Again Christians wouldn't Get It…
People Be Heard [**]
Way back in the times of Tender Land and The People, Yes!, there was this idea that The Voice of the People Is the Voice of God. In fact, Vox Populi Vox Dei established this canard centuries ago in the Roman Empire. Before there was television, there was a radio-program called Vox Pop! This "Comedy with Songs" by Quincy Long suggests, however, that the People Not Be Heard. In fact, I was so off-put by it I wanted to cry out: The People, No! Erica Schmidt staged, with Peter Pucci's choreography. An additional disappointment was the involvement of Michael Roth—a composer I have admired—in this project. School-Board parodies just don't Make It.
"Honor Bound To Defend Freedom" [****]
Before it came to 45 Bleecker Street, this show was already riveting audiences in London, where it is still on view. If you thought the revelations of prisoner-abuse in Abu Ghraib were appalling, you may find the testimonies in this production even more distressing, especially in terms of violations of Basic American Rights and International Law. Among the fine performers in Guantanamo are Kathleen Chalfant and Robert Langdon Lloyd—who was once on Broadway in Peter Brook's famed Marat/Sade production. Actual testimonies were crafted into this stage-vehicle by Victoria Brittain & Gillian Slovo. Nicolas Kent & Sacha Wares staged.
45 Bleecker may become the Venue of Choice for The Theatre of Political Protest. Previously, it was home to the long-running Exonerated, dealing with prisoners Unjustly Condemned to Death in American prisons.
Democracy/The Democracy Project—
Underneath the mainstage at 45 Bleecker, The Democracy Project is experimenting in a space they call 45 Below. Their work is complementary to some of the productions upstairs. Bridge & Tunnel was recently on view at 45 as well. This is obviously a Space To Watch. The idea in Democracy was to invite four playwrights to create short dramas defining or illustrating their understanding of the concept. Rather like the Ten-Minute Plays at the Humana Festival, and as uncertain of achievement. It is not at all easy to write a very short play that can make an important point. Only two of the four mini-dramas really worked, but what was more amazing was the fact that the casts had very little time to rehearse the scripts: More like staged-readings, but the actors were often page-free in short order. Best of the scripts was Jerome Hairston's Lip Service, and Ray Anthony Thomas was tops as a cab-driver. Also contributing was playwright Theresa Rebeck, whose Omnium Gatherum was first shown at the Humana Festival.
Dirty Tricks [***]
Judith Ivey IS Martha Mitchell! This seems to interest and amuse audiences of a Certain Age down at the Public Theatre. But for younger audiences, this unfortunate victim of Richard Nixon's and her own husband's Dirty Tricks needs some explanation. But John Jeter's monologue doesn't quite put everything in context: What really happened to Martha when they forced her into the hospital? Martha's own loose tongue—dripping Southern Belle innuendo—may have been her own worst enemy, however. After all, what Patriotic American could believe that the Attorney General of the United States would be involved in criminal activities, Suppressing Basic American Freedoms? Cast out of Official Washington, Martha Mitchell oddly enough became a favorite weekend guest of Fire Island gays. Dames at Sea's George Haimsohn made a photo of Martha being towed in a child's wagon from one Cherry Grove party to another.
9 Parts of Desire [*****]
On the morning of the day I saw this brilliant exposition of the passions and sorrows of Iraqui women, WQXR, the radio-station of the New York Times, announced that Iraqui civilian deaths caused by the American Invasion now total some 100,000. Not merely 1O,000, as reported by US sources. But then we do not really count the Iraqui dead, as Iraquis do not seem themselves to count in America's Grand Scheme for Imposing Democracy on the Middle East.
Heather Raffo, a very gifted Iraqui-American author and artist, has written a wonderfully poetic and deeply moving series of interwoven monologues revealing the hearts and minds of a variety of Iraqui women. What is more, she also performs all of these women, giving each a distinctive character and energy. This is a remarkable tour de force in itself, but it is also an important theatre-documentary of heartbreak and hope, of love and loss.
The title refers to the insight of the fabled Imam Ali that of the ten parts of desire Allah—Praised Be His Name!—gave to Mankind, women received nine parts and men only one. This may also explain why so many Muslim women—not just Iraquis—allow themselves to be so badly treated by their men.
This is a Must See production and a passionate Human Experience. Imagine the anguish of an Iraqui woman-doctor who treats little girls with breast cancer and delivers two-headed babies. The soil of Iraq is poisoned with radioactive toxins. And she herself is now pregnant…
Raffo's show is handsomely mounted at the Manhattan Ensemble Theatre down on Mercer Street near Canal. This is the theatre that gave Broadway Tovah Feldshuh in Golda's Balcony. It's to be hoped that 9 Parts of Desire also will be moved to a midtown commercial theatre so many more people will have the opportunity to share in Raffo's rapture of human life under the greatest stresses.
Musicals Old & New—
The Frogs, A New Musical [****]
Aristophanes has come a long way from the Yale University swimming-pool, where Steve Sondheim's musical version of The Frogs premiered. Somewhat later, we did it at Brooklyn College—in Gershwin Auditorium, not the pool—and Sondheim generously came all the way out to Flatbush to give advice and support!
Originally, Burt Shevelove had provided Sondheim with an updated book for his music & lyrics. In its newest incarnation at the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Shevelove had himself been updated by the show's star, Nathan Lane. Lane gave the lines and action an election-time cutting-edge which might make this new book a bit passé by 2005, depending on who wins the election.
Nonetheless, with the direction & choreography of Susan Stroman, the musical direction of Paul Gemignani, the designs of Giles Cradle, William Ivey Long, & Kenneth Posner, and an outstanding cast, this was a Broadway musical not to be missed. Unfortunately, it did not transfer farther down Broadway, but that may well have been because its wit and concerns were far more elitist than is currently popular on the Great White Way. This was a fabulous visual experience: the inventive set-pieces, fantastic costumes, and unusual lighting-effects just did not stop coming. Perhaps this production would not have been adaptable to a conventional proscenium-stage, after all.
But there should have been a video of the colorful production, at the very least. True, the Lincoln Center Library for the Performing Arts makes a video recording of every important staging, but these are for study-purposes, not commercial sales.
Dames at Sea [**]
The late George Haimsohn, one of the three creators of the 42nd Street musical parody, Dames at Sea, may be looking down in distress at what the Jean Cocteau ensemble has done with this charming musical farce. At UC/Berkeley right after World War II, George and I were fellow-writers in the basement of Eshleman Hall. George was editing the literary journal, Occident, while at a desk not far away I was a Senior Night Editor for The Daily Californian, the "Monarch of the College Dailies." When I returned from four years of teaching in Europe, North Africa, & the Middle East, one of my first New York theatre-experiences was the opening-night at Caffé Cino of Dames at Sea, This was a completely serendipitous accident: I had no idea a mini-musical was to be performed. It was raining and I wanted to get out of the showers. By now, I'm almost an expert of this show. Its late composer, Jim Wise, and its other book/lyricist, Robin Miller, were longtime friends.
At the Jean Cocteau at the Historic Bouwerie Lane Theatre, the problem is not the sets or costumes. They are cute and clever, far more so than at the world-premiere, which had no sets to speak of. No, the problem is that the singers are not very good. Nor all that charming & attractive, which certainly helps in parodies. No Bernadette Peters is waiting to be discovered in this company. Their Threepenny Opera was also painful to hear.
Dracula, The Musical [**]
Dracula sucks! But that's obvious; it's what vampires are supposed to do. After Dance of the Vampires rapidly expired on Broadway—even with Michael Crawford—you might think producers would be wary of the Undead Onstage. But this is a musical composed by Frank Wildhorn, who gave the world The Civil War, Jekyll & Hyde, and The Scarlet Pimpernel. Its music is generic, even with book & lyrics by the estimable Christopher Hampton and Don Black, sometime Andrew Lloyd Webber collaborator. Melissa Errico is wasted.
Nonetheless, I'm very glad I had the chance to see this show, mainly for its fantastic parade of stage-effects. Endless stained-glass & carved-wood Art Nouveau set-pieces descended from the flies, scooted on from the wings, and rose endlessly from the bowels of the David Belasco Theatre stage. It was a veritable visual festival of the designs of Belgium's Victor Horta and Prague's Alfons Mucha. The show also had extensive flying-capabilities. Every few minutes some vampire zombies would zoom through the troubled skies, or Dracula would float straight up in the air. The problem with all this ingenious stagecraft was that it was not used more sparingly. It became boring after while, not surprising. It was even, eventually, laugh-provoking.
Brooklyn, The Musical [***]
What good luck for the waif-like heroine of this musical that her father was not born in an Outer Borough. Both she and the musical could have been named Staten Island!
Some critics have actively hated this show. Nonetheless, I found it louder than Rent, more colorful than Rent, and marginally more interesting than Rent, in its fausse naïf fairy-tale fable. Its music is of course generic, but that should appeal to the mindless hordes who have kept Rent running for seeming decades now. The evening I saw it at the Plymouth, the audience was in ecstasies. Cleavant Derricks' Street-Singer obviously appealed. I liked best the ingenious costumes of Tobin Ost, apparently fashioned of colorful street-trash.
At the New Victory—
I've only once been disappointed with a production at the New Victory Theatre. It was just too childish for me, though the kids around me found it of interest. Otherwise, the shows have been outstanding, representing some of the most inventive theatre-works from around the world. The forté of the New Victory is discovering and programming unusual theatre-experiences which can engross kids and adults alike. The Korean Cookin' transferred to the Minetta Lane, in fact. And some shows have even been seen in London's West End. The new season is off to a good start:
Plan B [****]
Working with American director Phil Soltanoff, French-based Compagnie 111 has explored in this wordless but action-packed stage-work the possibilities of a Planar Surface. It can stand vertically, with window/doorlike openings for the four male performers to use variously. It can incline as a plane, down which the men can slide or walk on a slant. Flat on the floor, with a video-camera overhead, it can make the men seem to leap through the air and perform impossible physical feats. All this to music: no words necessary!
Holland's Theatre Terra recently charmed old and young alike with the musical, Kikker, inspired by the beloved children's books by Max Velthuijs. For those not in the know, Kikker means Frog in Dutch. Frog in Love, published in 1988, was the first of the series by Velthuijs, who creates a new title every year. The picture-books are now available in 27 languages.
Theo Terra's company specializes in musical productions with a mixture of puppets and human-actors. Kikker's young hero is worried—on the eve of his family's move to a new home—of losing old friends and familiar sights, only to be a stranger in a strange new environment. His puppet-friends rally to help him. The visual effects are colorful and charming. The songs are also available on a CD called Frog. Among the catchy tunes & lyrics are Can't Get To Sleep, I'm So Scared, Hey, Cold Froggy, and Song of the Removals Men.
Food for Thought
At the National Arts Club [****]
Next door to Edwin Booth's famed Players'—its title does not include the word "Club"—is the ornate National Arts Club, a handsome relic of the Gilded Age. It is the regular scene of art-shows by members, but it is also host to playwright Susan Charlotte's admirable Food for Thought. In a series of autumnal noontimes, readings of important or interesting plays are given—after audiences have enjoyed a calorie-rich bountiful buffet.
On opening-day this fall, Arthur Miller's A Memory of Two Mondays was given a memorable reading/re-creation. Its powers were wonderfully evoked, even without staging. What is remarkable about most of these readings is that the casts have only an hour or two before performing to master their lines. Joel Vig directed a cast including Frank Converse, Sam Coppola, & Kevin Stapleton. Vig also directed Tennessee Williams' The Strangest Kind of Romance, which featured Tammy Grimes.
Arthur Miller's talented sister, Joan Copeland, and Lois Nettleton were in the cast of a program of four one-acts. But by far the most impressive of the autumn programs was Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, directed by Melvin Bernhardt. As Max, Richard Easton was magnificently malevolent. Natacha Roi was enigmatic as Ruth.
For more information, check out: www. foodforthoughtproductions.com
Next Wave Festival at BAM—
In addition to the Polish Dybbuk and the Cheek by Jowl Othello, BAM's fall Next Wave Festival has also featured two unusual mixtures of music and theatrics.
Flaubert was the nominal inspiration for The Temptation of St. Anthony, designed, lit, and staged by Robert Wilson—who began his meteoric career at BAM years ago. Geoffrey Holder created the elegantly simple costumes for this Bernice Johnson Reagon artwork. She devised the libretto for songs and texts about St. Anthony's journey through temptations, as well as composing the music for songs and chants. Her actor-singers were impressive in their Wilsonian ritual dignity.
Terry Riley's Sun Rings was Far Out in Space. On stage, it featured the Kronos Quartet fiddling with some odd electronics as well as with their own strings. In the orchestra pit of the BAM Opera House, the Dessof Choirs intoned the mystical slogans and incantations. This was often haunting, even mesmerizing. What did not work, however, were the too frequent repetition of fuzzy videos of exploding sun-spots. The Hubbell Telescope on a bad day? There were also some awkward and inapposite blackboard scribblings of physics-equations and other dancing visuals.
The Opera House has undergone a handsome exterior renovation and now bears the name of Peter G. Sharp, whose Foundation has also put his name on other performing-arts venues in Manhattan.
Shows With Music—
Forever Tango [*****]
Who can resist the energy, excitement, and sexual suggestion of the Argentine Tango? Not Broadway audiences certainly. Luis Bravo's Forever Tango was extended into November at the Shubert and will surely return again and again. It has of course been here before and is always welcome. Not only for the stunning dancing but also for the wonderful Bandoneón musicians. Although the dance duos and ensembles are wordless, they often have their own mini-dramas to unfold in movement and gesture. There is always a sense of danger, of challenge, of sexual magnetism. That the sudden sharp jabs of knees and legs against a partner's legs do not result in bodily harm seems amazing. In one number, however, it is amusingly suggested that a quick leg-thrust will put an amorous man out of commission for a while.
I first saw this ingenious Mark Morris revival of Jean-Philippe Rameau's Platée at the Edinburgh Festival, when Morris and his ensemble were in residence. Revived at the New York City Opera, it seems even better with the passage of time. Jean-Paul Fouchécourt is not only an able singer, but also a gifted comic actor in his character as the ugly but self-ignorant water-nymph who believes Jupiter is amorous of her clammy charms. Just being able to move about in Isaac Mizrahi's fantastically froggy costume is quite an achievement. Morris' dancers are able visual foils for the NYCO's fine singers. Timothy Nolen is a joy both as Jupiter and Momus—who has a golden arrow through his hat. Mizrahi's ingenious costumes wonderfully complement the sets of Adrienne Lobel. Daniel Beckwith conducted.
Symphony Fantastique [*****]
There are not so many musical works that will lend themselves to puppeteer Basil Twist's watery visualizations—as magically employed in Berlioz's Symphonie Fantastique, shown at the Dodger Stages. The Engulfed Cathedral might well be another. But Twist is off in an entirely different direction, with a new version of an ancient Japanese puppet-technique at the Japan Society. This was my third experience of his vision of Berlioz, shown first at HERE and later at the John Jay College theatre. After the performance, the audience was invited backstage to see the large tank of water in which the wet-suited puppeteers move their swags, wands, and magical lights.
Here Lies Jenny [***]
Bebe Neuwirth was down and dirty as a Kurt Weill dockside tramp. This was a rather deliberately grotty production in an equally shabby-deliberate venue at the Zipper Theatre. Roger Rees conceived and directed, with quasi-choreography by Ann Reinking. All the tunes were by Weill, but lyrics were not entirely by Bert Brecht. Ogden Nash, Alan Jay Lerner, Langston Hughes, and Ira Gershwin also contributed. The net-effect was watching Jenny be badly treated by male brutes in a cheap harbor dive.
The Next-To-The-Last Revue [*]
Martin Charnin conceived and directed this pickup cabaret at Sam's Dream Street Cabaret, at 263 West 45th Street. Even with contributions by Marvin Hamlisch, Charles Strouse, Thomas Meehan, Ronny Graham, & Charnin, the material seemed dated. And the attempts of an inexperienced young cast to give the lyrics and sketches some kind of theatricality seemed like hard work. For them and the viewers. [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: email@example.com.
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