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Loney's Show Notes
By Glenn Loney, April 1, 2005
Caricature of Glenn Loney
by Sam Norkin.
Please click on " * " to skip to each subject in this index:
Plays New & Old: *
David Mamet’s ROMANCE [*****] *
Donald Margulies’ BROOKLYN BOY [***] *
Lee Blessing’s GOING TO ST. IVES [****] *
Stephen Belber’s McREELE [***] *
Rinne Groff’s INKY [***] *
Gina Gionfriddo’s AFTER ASHLEY [***] *
Paula Vogel’s HOT ‘N’ THROBBING [**] *
Stephen Adly Guirgis’ THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISACARIOT [***] *
Christopher Shinn’s ON THE MOUNTAIN [**] *
Kirk Marcoe’s I SEE FIRE IN THE DEAD MAN’S EYE [**] *
Jan Buttram’s TEXAS HOMOS [***] *
Translations in Premiere: *
Arthur Schnitzler’s THE LONELY WAY [***] *
Jean-Claude Carriére’s THE CONTROVERSY OF VALLADOLID [***] *
Jean-Claude Grumberg’s THE WORKROOM [**] *
The Beckett Revival: *
Samuel Beckett’s ENDGAME [***] *
Samuel Beckett’s HAPPY DAYS [***] *
Famous Plays Revised, Re-imagined, & Reworked: *
Aristophanes’ THE WASPS: *
Recreated as A VERY NAUGHTY GREEK PLAY [*] *
Carlo Goldoni’s SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS [*] *
Monodramas & Monologues: *
Mercedes Ruehl in WOMAN BEFORE A GLASS [****] *
Laurie Anderson in THE END OF THE MOON [***] *
Penny Orloff in JEWISH THIGHS ON BROADWAY [***] *
Three Men in THE PENIS MONOLOGUES [*] *
Musicals Old & New: *
Monty Python’s SPAMALOT [****] *
DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS [***] *
GOOD VIBRATIONS [*] *
ALL SHOOK UP [****] *
Specialty Musicals: *
SHOCKHEADED PETER [****] *
Voltaire, Leonard Bernstein, Hugh Wheeler, *
Richard Wilbur, et al, & Hal Prince’s CANDIDE [*****] *
Kenward Elmslie’s LINGOLAND [****] *
Kessler & Davenport’s ALTAR BOYZ [****] *
Gerard Alessandrini’s FORBIDDEN BROADWAY [*****] *
Ruiz & Sapp’s EYEWITNESS BLUES [***] *
Other Entertainments— *
Matthew Bourne’s PLAY WITHOUT WORDS [*****] *
LesFreresCorbusier’s BOOZY: *
The Life, Death, and Subsequent Vilification of Le Corbusier and, More Importantly, Robert Moses [**] *
Irondale’s WASTED: *
HistoryMystery of Public Education and How It Got That Way [*] *
NaCl Theatre’s THE CONFESSIONS OF PUNCH AND JUDY [**] *
The Young Vic’s SLEEPING BEAUTY [****] *
Theatre T’s TYPO [***] *
Brown, Marvell, & Flair’s LASER VAUDEVILLE [**] *
At the Austrian Institute: *
MARTA EGGERTH at 92! *
With 2-CD MY LIFE MY SONG *
Plays New & Old:
David Mamet’s ROMANCE [*****]
Larry Bryggman’s manic goofy judge in David Mamet’s hilarious farce, Romance, is a wonderful reprise of the best of burlesque & vaudeville comics. And of those time-honored buffoonish courtroom scenes! Who would have thought that Mamet could be so skilled at slapstick comedy?
Not only that: he’s also able to harpoon some outrageous Gay attitudes and affectations without appearing homophobic at all. But it is clear that Mamet has no use for Political Correctness. He breaks all the rules about what can and what cannot be said.
This is done so blithely, so matter-of-factly, that the audience is soon roaring with laughter—even though they must know it is offensive and hurtful to use such words, to utter such outrageous insults and ideas. The spontaneous laughter demonstrates what Mamet knows—and many more cautious playwrights have suspected: That there is a LOT of hypocrisy out there in the world of Nice Thoughts & Correct Actions.
The shifty accused—abetted by his white-collar white Wasp lawyer—is trying to get off by promising to bring Peace To The Middle East through Chiropractic Adjustments. If you thought The Settlements were The Problem, you’re dead wrong: the culprit is Lower Back Pain!
Neil Pepe has directed with a sure sense for swift timing and over-the-top performances. But this is not a Mug-Fest. The most effective comedy—including slapstick—needs to be played by each actor with absolute belief in his rightness. Winking at the audience can ruin everything.
The entire cast is excellent. At Awards Nominations Time, how can you laud Larry Bryggman without also giving a grateful nod to Bob Balaban, Christopher Evan Welch, and the rest of this merry crew?
Donald Margulies’ BROOKLYN BOY [***]
Most New York critics seem to agree that Donald Margulies is a capable playwright, able to write effectively of the small crises, victories, and losses of modern metropolites. I add my vote to that estimation, although I have not been riveted by his insights into his characters and situations.
In fact, though Brooklyn Boy—not to be confused with Brooklyn, The Musical—is obviously autobiographical, it nonetheless has the look, sound, and feel of other plays and books by Brooklyn Jewish Writers who were early and deeply imprinted with an Immigrant and Orthodox-observant Heritage. And who also had bitter, sarcastic, unforgiving fathers—whom they could never please.
In the early phases of this play, the Brooklynites seem authentic, even wryly amusing. But Margulies is neither Neil Simon nor Arthur Miller. This is all-too-familiar territory. And, in Thomas Wolfe’s immortal phrasing: "You can’t go home again!"
As for the successful author watching his Great Work be cheapened and destroyed by Hollywood film-makers, this has become almost a standard set-piece for anyone unfortunate enough to be paid $500,000 for the screen-rights to his masterwork.
Daniel Sullivan staged a generally admirable cast, with Adam Arkin as Margulies’ stand-in. I thought he was very good—and leading-man good-looking—but several Jewish critic-colleagues told me he didn’t look or act "Jewish-enough," whatever that may mean…
Considering all the newly immigrant Soviet Jews now populating Brighton Beach and other Brooklyn havens for yesteryear’s Tevyas, a new and different kind of Brooklyn Jewish Coming-of-Age Angst-Drama should soon make its appearance. And, if Hollywood tries to muck up this work, the Russian Jewish Mafia knows how to deal with that!
Lee Blessing’s GOING TO ST. IVES [****]
This is a very powerful play, although only a two-hander. The answer to the hoary riddle: "How many are going to St. Ives?" is disposed of early on. As for the man who had seven wives, the drama is not about the many women of a murderous African despot, but about the determination of his own mother to poison him before he tortures and viciously kills more of his people.
But it is also about a dedicated white woman eye-doctor in St. Ives—who has lost her only son as a result of her own folly. Can this imperious African Dowager Empress—powerfully played by L. Scott Caldwell and splendidly robed by Ann Hould-Ward—really want to take the life of her only child? Medical Ethics and basic Mother-Love forbid Vivienne Benesch, as Dr. Cora Gage, to give May N’Kame the poison she demands.
Dr. Gage, however, wants the Emperor’s Mother to intercede with her son and free four African doctors from an imminent Death Sentence. Blessing builds the tension as the strength of his two characters is revealed in action. The outcome is not as predictable as many may expect.
Maria Mileaf staged this potent play for Primary Stages.
Stephen Belber’s McREELE [***]
Recently, much attention has been attracted by cases of Men and Women on Death Row who have been unjustly convicted. Exonerated, in fact, gave them dramatic form—and had an extended run down on Bleecker Street.
But what if an articulate black man, condemned to death, were to be freed by the efforts of a journalist who believed in his repeated assertions of innocence, only to discover that he had been scammed by the very convincing convict?
Stephen Belber’s Darius McReele is just such a verbal spell-binder. As eloquently played by Anthony Mackie, his forceful public statements about the need for Prison Reform—and reform in general—make him seem an ideal candidate for the forthcoming Delaware Senatorial Race. Michael O’Keefe plays the credulous journalist who forces McReele to tell him the truth.
Now what is the Crusader going to do? Discredit the Candidate? And himself as well?
Doug Hughes directed tautly. [Is it really possible to use that word that way?] Well, the production was very tensely, tautly played. You could not fall asleep…
Rinne Groff’s INKY [***]
Inky is what some would call a Woman’s Play. At least it was staged by Loretta Greco for the Women’s Project, way over on West 55th Street, catty-corner from the new Alvin Ailey dance-center.
Jessi Campbell plays a skinny, feisty immigrant care-giver whose East European name the quarrelsome and upwardly-mobile Greg and Barbara cannot pronounce. Audience-members were given a miniature boxing-glove—not as an homage to Hillary Swank’s Oscar-worthy performance—but because Inky knows how to protect herself and Allison, the couple’s young daughter, with her fists.
Apparently, Barbara only feels like sex with Greg when she can rummage through his pockets for $100 bills. Inky notes this. She also discovers he’s been dipping into company funds to finance the family’s upscale lifestyle.
Having at last found a family and a home, she is determined to become more than just a care-giver, if Greg cannot shoulder the whole husband/daddy burden.
The parents, however, are appalled to discover that Inky and Allison have been pummeling other kids on the playground for their Lunch Money.
The play ends in media res, without any real resolutions. It felt like a TV Pilot. I wanted to see more of the odd adventures of Inky and her Family. Some women critic-colleagues, however, hated it.
Gina Gionfriddo’s AFTER ASHLEY [***]
Here is what I wrote about After Ashley when I saw it last spring in Louisville at the Humana Festival:
"Would you like to see a ‘tastefully re-enacted rape & murder’ of the late Ashley Hammond on prime-time TV? If you thought The Jerry Springer Show and all those TV Reality Shows were on the outer fringes of what could or should be shown to Family Audiences, think again! Playwright Gina Gionfriddo's After Ashley suggests the ultimate in Home Entertainment.
"Ashley is a pot-smoking mid-life-crisis wife & mother. Her indifferent hypocrite-Liberal husband, Alden, is a minor hack journalist, specializing in Education features. Her 14-year-old son, Justin, has insight and wisdom far beyond his years. Far more than either of his pathetic parents. He's at home, sick with Mono, watching Dr. Bob on TV with his bird-brained mother. Justin wittily harpoons Dr. Phil—no, no! Dr. Bob—as Ashley longs for Life in the Fast Lane. Justin asks of people who appear on Jerry Springer: "Have they no shame? Have they no dignity?" He also tells his mother—who has no friends—he cannot be her best chum. After all, he's only 14.
"Their skittering conversation is hilarious and has the audience laughing so loudly some lines get lost in the guffaws. What's more, the hilarity continues, even as Alden Hammond [Stephen Barker Turner] writes a best-selling book, After Ashley, about his wife's brutal death. Soon after, he gets his own TV show with the "tasteful rape & murder" re-enactments, including that of his own wife. There's even a very upscale home for abused women, named after Ashley, richly endowed by a Jewish philanthropist, eager to proclaim the Family Name.
"Unwisely, Justin's dad and his TV producer [Frank X] enlist Justin to appear on TV and at the opening of the home. He spares no one his angry sarcasm at this exploitive hypocrisy. It's right on target—and also still hilarious, as the commercial promotional developments after Ashley's death have already been marginally surreal.
"Justin holds his father directly responsible for his mother's death. Because Alden was too lazy to mow his own lawn—and too cheap to pay someone able to do a good job of it—he hires a homeless sociopath, passing it off as another of his Good Deeds for the Less Fortunate. This hired man unfortunately does more than mow the lawn.
"Before her hideous murder, the lonely, desperate, lovelorn Ashley had in fact found a Fast Lane—which proved to be a Dead End. She joined a cult that made videos of their Group Sex adventures. Justin has a copy of this tape, which just might defuse the attempts of his father and the TV producer to make a Saint of Ashley.
"Gina Gionfriddo's sharp satire hits bulls-eyes on a number of targets: Prime-Time TV, Family Values, Political Correctness, American Ideals, Social Conscience, Philanthropy, Exploitation, Marketing Promotions, and bullshit in general.
"After Ashley is ready for Prime Time itself. It should be seen on Broadway, as well as anywhere in America where they are watching TV. Perhaps it could become a series on TV—but with Gionfriddo's hilarious & satiric fangs bared!
"Gionfriddo's cast was very good, but Jesse Hooker's Justin was almost too good to be true as a 14-year-old with a punch-line for every idiocy uttered by Carla Harting, as his mother. The admirable Paul Owen designed the minimal sets for the Square-Arena of the Bingham Theatre in Louisville. But director Marc Masterson didn't make best use of these set-pieces in some scenes, for spectators in my section of the tiered-seating had to look at Ashley's back for some 15 minutes as she and Justin sparred. Playing In the Round requires that all the audience should be able to see the actors also in the round."
With such high expectations, I am sorry to have to report that After Ashley did not debut on Broadway, but down on East 15th Street at the Vineyard Theatre. Nor is that production apt to move to the Great White Way. It was a disappointment.
Other critic-colleagues—who had also seen it in Louisville—offered suggestions for its loss of impact. Most of them had to do with the New York casting. And I concur. Instead of a mid-life-crisis disaster of a wife & mother, the Vineyard’s Ashley looked and acted like an ageing teenie-bopper. And it was also a mistake to cast the TV producer as a venal white man. Making him a black man on the make gave the Humana production an extra edge.
Although Kieran Culkin and Anna Paquin’s work as the cynical son and a girl Goth pickup was very good, it almost outshone the rest of the performances. Director Terry Kinney did not make the most of his opportunities.
Nor was Neil Patel’s drab and confining unit-set on the Vineyard’s small end-stage at all helpful. The Louisville premiere profited from being performed in a large open space, surrounded by spectators. This script still has plenty of potential. It is waiting for a more ingenious, intuitive regional production.
Paula Vogel’s HOT ‘N’ THROBBING [**]
What is the matter with Paula Vogel anyway? Baltimore Waltz was a minor masterpiece. How I Learned To Drive was yet another, but in a different vein.
Now, her more recent sex-oriented plays seem forced and problematic. At least they present credibility problems for this viewer. I haven’t yet recovered from Signature’s production of Vogel’s The Oldest Profession, with aged Louisiana whores trying to score in Manhattan.
In the latest of the Signature’s Vogel Season, Hot ‘n’ Throbbing, we see a washed-out woman [Lisa Emery] desperately trying to meet a deadline for a new semi-porn romance: Hotter than Harlequin, it seems. As she pounds her computer-keyboard, through opposing windows the audience sees her femme fatale and a Sam Spade-like private-dick, urging on her literary fantasies.
At the same time, she has to deal with a lively, attractive teen-age girl who wants to go out and Sleep Over. She forbids this. And there’s a bookish younger-brother who allegedly masturbates with a baseball-glove. Well, you get the picture…
Her estranged & strange ex-husband is also pounding on the door for admittance. She has a Restraining Order, but, once on the couch, he knows no restraint. Result: One less woman’s-romance-author…
In the program, Vogel notes: "Some plays only daughters can write…obscenity begins at home."
If this is really true, what can we expect from the likes of Paris Hilton, once she learns to type? We already know what she can do with a video-camcorder. This is being widely marketed under the title: A NIGHT IN PARIS!
Vogel uses Moby Dick as a symbol of Obsession. At least it’s not pornographic, is it? Is Ahab’s Passion somehow obscene? Well, yes, now that you come to think of it. Just Call Me Ishmael, but spare me more of these sex-disaster dramas! Les Waters staged. Would it have been more fun with John Waters?
Stephen Adly Guirgis’ THE LAST DAYS OF JUDAS ISACARIOT [***]
This is another semi-celestial-farcical courtroom drama which could easily be bracketed with David Mamet’s Romance. Jeffrey De Munn plays another hilarious judge, but his bench seems to be bolted into Purgatory.
The cast of characters is worthy of the Oberammergau Passion Play, which traditionally has an all-white, all-Catholic Bavarian village cast. Nothing of the sort here: director Philip Seymour Hoffman has assembled a festival of multi-ethnic talents. How about Eric Bogosian as Satan for starters?
Oddly enough, Judas seems the least interesting, compelling, or effectful in the entire cast. Is Sam Rockwell—as Judas, of course—"in mourning for his life"?
Devout Christians—Stephen Adly Guirgis’ satire is surely not meant for them—are all familiar with the age-old question about the place of Judas Iscariot in Eternity. Is he damned to Roast in Hell in the most impossible of torments—worse even than Abu Ghraib—forever and ever? Amen.
Or was Judas’ foretold betrayal of Christ a necessity in the playing-out of the Greatest Story Ever Told: The Passion & Resurrection of Jesus Christ of Nazareth? What does Mel Gibson have to say about this Question in the re-cut version?
Or, despite Christ’s endless compassion for Repentant Sinners, is Judas still condemned—even with his subsequent bitter regrets and attempt to return the Thirty Pieces of Silver? Rejected in these efforts—made to the High Priest of the Jews, not to the Romans, it should be remembered—he then committed suicide! Even Hamlet knew this was Wrong!
Guirgis’ Trial of Judas explores various issues of legend, tradition, folklore, superstition, theology, and offbeat comedy. It also revels in language that would surely offend the super-pious.
This is not the right production for the Annual Spring Drama Outing of the Legion of Mary. As a general rule, sincere Roman Catholics should avoid all stagings at the Public Theatre. Were His Holiness not so gravely ill—A Sickness Unto Death?—he could possibly declare them Anathema. Or issue a Papal Bull?
Catholics unsure of their Faith may also want to avoid the Public’s mounting of The Controversy of Valladolid, a kind of Clerical Trial which does not reflect well upon the Mother Church’s historic vision of Humanity.
Christopher Shinn’s ON THE MOUNTAIN [**]
This play seems to have been inspired by the suicide-death of Kurt Cobain. It is centered on the lonely, needy, young widow of just such a Rock Star—and her rebellious daughter. What if Cobain-clone had made a personal CD of an original song that had never been issued? And what if a sexually interesting stranger made an approach to the widow, who has concealed the CD behind a picture? And what if he also made a move on her daughter?
And there you have the combustibles in Christopher Shinn’s odd drama, staged by Jo Bonney for Playwrights Horizons. Mountain-hikes are all very well, but taking out Personals Ads is a risky business… You could meet Mr. Wrong.
Kirk Marcoe’s I SEE FIRE IN THE DEAD MAN’S EYE [**]
That’s just fine for Kirk Marcoe—who both wrote and directed this drama. Nonetheless, I would have liked to have seen some fire in the play…
Catherine Bush’s THE FRANKENSTEIN SUMMER [***]
So much is known—or at least rumored, or supposed—about that fateful sleep-over of Percy & Mary Shelley at Lord Byron’s Lake Geneva villa that playwright Catherine Bush set herself a difficult task to imagine what really happened and how the famous characters interacted.
Probably, had this rain-soaked visitation not resulted in Mary Shelley’s writing the Gothic novel now widely known as Frankenstein, most of the world would have forgotten about this seemingly minor literary event.
Fortunately, Bush has been able to craft a bio-dramatic-fiction that works on stage and gives a fairly accurate picture of what is known about the major players’ moods, habits, obsessions, beliefs, and ambitions.
In any case, I’m always a sucker for a Costume-Drama or Film. These genre-works can make you forget about George Bush & Weapons of Mass Destruction, even if only for the moment…
As George Gordon, Lord Byron—Bush was careful to let the audience know his rightful Style & Title through a bit of awkward dialogue—the director Marc Geller was persuasive, right down to Byron’s club-footed limp.
Bush also made sure that the audience would realize that the Monster was not, in fact, his creator, Dr. Victor Frankenstein. This fictional experimenter of the early 19th century conducted earnest but misguided scientific tamperings with Nature that were the irreligious, even Satanic, equivalents of stem-cell-research!
Jan Buttram’s TEXAS HOMOS [***]
This title was a bit off-putting. How could there be Sexual Deviants in a sovereign state that prizes gun-toting Masculinity, self-righteous Christian Decency, and widely flaunted Family Values so very highly?
Anyone who has read the columns of Texan Molly Ivins already knows that the state is run by unashamedly Corrupt Politicians. So why shouldn’t metropolises such as Dallas/Fort Worth and Houston have their quotient of Gays?
But a small place like Tyler, Texas? Yup! And some of them are Married, with Families. Jan Buttram’s lively social-farce suggests that even self-deceiving gays can also be politically corrupt enough to survive and even escape Public Opprobrium & Legal Action.
This play is not only about the essential hypocrisy of Public Political Perceptions, but also about the inability of ordinary men to deal with their inner needs & urges, thanks to continuing ignorance, superstition, dishonesty, and religious intolerance.
Reed Birney was wryly amusing as pious Protestant pastor, caught with his metaphoric finger in the wrong hole, invoking both God and Jesus to forgive his sins. Melvin Bernhardt staged.
Translations in Premiere:
Arthur Schnitzler’s THE LONELY WAY [***]
At Jonathan Bank’s adventurous Mint Theatre, he had a palpable hit with his production of Dr. Arthur Schnitzler’s Das weite Land, translated as Far and Wide.
Instead of reprising this remarkable Viennese physician—a friend of Dr. Freud, that other famous Viennese doctor—with an unknown but powerful play such as Professor Bernhardi, Bank banked this season on his and Margret Schaefer’s translation of Der einsame Weg, rendered into English as The Lonely Way.
Even in Vienna—or Munich, or Berlin—where Schnitzler’s drama is still played, this portrait of a difficult philosopher-artist-loner and the complex, conflicted people with whom he comes into contact opens a door into a vanished world. And one that is far too "talky" for modern action-starved audiences.
But there are no similar social circles in America, and possibly never could have been. New York, even in the Gilded Age, was not quite like the turn-of-the-century socio-sexual hothouse of Vienna. The door now opens for us onto an unkown world instead…
The current Mint production sets the Time as The Present. And in Vienna.
Perhaps I do not know the right circles in contemporary Vienna, but Schnitzler’s Wegrats, Julian Fichtner, Stephan von Sala, and the glamorous former star, Irene Herms, still seem trapped in Habsburg Amber.
Bank staged his translation, working with a finely-tuned ensemble. But there was something academic about this vision of Vienna.
This is not the American premiere—even if you’ve never heard of the play. In 1931. the Theatre Guild out-of-towned it before Broadway, which it never reached. Too many spectators falling asleep along the way?
Jean-Claude Carriére’s THE CONTROVERSY OF VALLADOLID [***]
Jean-Claude Carriére was Peter Brook’s Mahabharata adapter, but he is also the author of a half-a-hundred screenplays, including The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie and The Unbearable Lightness of Being. He writes for the stage as well, aside from his Bouffes du Nord collaborations with Brook.
His Controversy of Valladolid is a provocative curiosity. It could be regarded as Anti-Catholic by some, for it presents the Legate of the Pope summarily deciding that Black Africans are not really human-beings. And, as such, can be legally enslaved to work in the killing Caribbean cane-fields and the oppressive Spanish Colonial plantations of Central & South America.
No Official Protocol was made of what was in effect a Papal Trial in the Monastery of San Gregorio, in Valladolid in 1550. This secret conclave—meaning "locked with a key"—was presided over by the Pope’s Legate—a magisterial Josef Sommer—who was delegated to hear evidence on the true nature of the Indians the Spanish Conquistadores had found and subsequently enslaved and/or killed in the Americas.
Drawing on extant letters and writings of the two major advocates in this procedure—Conde Sepulveda and Father Bartolomé de las Casas—Carriére has imagined how they would have presented their opposing views. Fray Bartolomé had worked among the oppressed, endangered Indian tribes, both to convert them to Catholicism and to protect them from injustice and bodily harm—as far as he could.
Powerfully played by Gerry Bamman, he argues forcefully, passionately about their essential Humanity: God’s Children, just like the Spanish—who systematically did not behave with humanity toward them. Frequently, the Legate has to squelch his angry passion.
Sepulveda, on the other hand, reasons from the writings of Aristotle, virtually another kind of Holy Scriptures to Catholic Scholastic Church-Fathers, although Aristotle was certainly no Catholic. To bolster his logic with practical demonstrations, he confronts an Aztec family with a stone image of Quetzalcoatl, which he commands a black servant/slave to shatter with a sledge-hammer. They are naturally horrified, proving that they have not accepted the Salvation of God and are thus a sub-human species.
Even the somersaults & jokes of the King’s Jester-Dwarf do not amuse them. If they were really human-beings, and not some sub-species of animal, how could they resist such delicious court amusements?
Ultimately, the Legate is convinced that the American Indians do indeed have souls and should not be enslaved. But certainly converted! An angry planter who has come from the New World demands some substitute for the loss of their labor. He suggests black Africans, and the Legate agrees.
The aftermath of this secret meeting is History.
[If the name Valladolid rings a dim, distant bell, you should know that William Randolph Hearst bought the immense wrought-iron altar-screen of the Cathedral of Valladolid and brought it to America. It now stands in the very heart of the Metropolitan Museum of Art! Talk about Cultural Conquistadores]
Jean-Claude Grumberg’s THE WORKROOM [**]
Grumberg’s Workroom is rather like Gorki’s Lower Depths/Lodging for a Night. Personal and public dramas spin themselves out among Holocaust-refugee tailors and seamstresses in a cramped and grotty little Parisian sweatshop. The characters are stock, but more diverse than Gorki’s.
The most interesting aspect of this Unbound Theatre production—just off 8th Street in Greenwich Village—was the actually cutting of cloth and the sewing and stitching. Getting the most out of a bolt of fabric, or even from a remnant, is an Art in Itself!
This dedicated group describes itself as "an artist-driven ensemble who [sic] champions live theatre as a vital part of the human experience."
Considering what they have to offer, one could wish that George & Laura Bush could make one of these performances also a vital part of their own human experience.
Does the First Family, in fact, go often to the theatre? Does George prefer Hamlet to Spamalot? Or does he prefer to remember what happened to Abraham Lincoln the last time he went to see a play?
["Aside from that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?’]
The Beckett Revival:
Samuel Beckett’s ENDGAME [***]
By now, any theatre-buff who has lived through the heyday of The Theatre of the Absurd knows that most of Samuel Beckett’s dramas of dissolution & desperation do not end well. For a Fun Evening in the Theatre, you want Gene Ionesco. At least his dissolutions & desperations often had a Vaudeville quality to them. Think of Rhinoceros—either with Sir Laurence Olivier or Zero Mostel!
Beckett did, however, show a morbid sense of humor in Endgame by depositing Hamm’s ancient mother & father in onstage garbage-cans, from which they peer out now and again. Director Charlotte Moore has emphasized this by having the two huge rubbish-receptacles downstage at the Irish Rep.
Alvin Epstein is amusing as he begs for a sugarplum from his blind, crippled son. Kathryn Grody is in the other can. But the best feature of this respectful revival is the wryly introspective Hamm of Tony Roberts. Those who know and love him from Woody Allen Epics may not recognize him as he expands his acting-horizons. Adam Heller is not quite crushed, defeated, victimized enough as Clov. He makes an effort, but seems too bland.
Samuel Beckett’s HAPPY DAYS [***]
The last time I saw a production of Happy Days, its star was Mrs. Peter Brook—Natasha Parry—in a touring show, managed by Brook’s genial son. It was performed in the original French—or did Beckett really write it in Gaelic or English initially? The venue was a Culture Center in Sofia, Bulgaria.
I was a guest of Sofia’s leading drama-critic—who had made a big fuss about how important it was for us to see this staging. When she realized the performance—even the pauses—would be entirely in French, she tugged on me to leave with her.
As I had just finished a book on Peter Brook—Peter Brook: From Oxford To Orghast—I insisted we stay. She remained, but was not a Happy Camper: "It’s boring, and I don’t understand French…"
Well, boring repetitions of Winnie’s baselessly optimistic observations on the state & quality of her life—as earth piles up around her body up to her neck!—has become a visual and textual symbol of the lives of many many people. George Bush, like many, cannot see the earthworks rising around him…
The visual problem with the recent revival at the CSC was the apparent result of Winnie’s lacking some kind of interior-life—or dim-awareness—that could make her totally unwarranted enthusiasm for living life on steadily diminishing terms seem subtly insecure. As Winnie, Lea DeLaria depended too much on studied grimaces and gestures that seemed more comic shtik than visible expressions of inner fears & uncertainties.
David Greenspan was, however, admirable as Willy. Both Beckett and Winnie don’t give him much to do, but he did it very well: fresh from being a nude William Blake at LaMaMa, in Belize!
Jeff Cohen directed. He could have helped his Winnie explore her interior life more…
Famous Plays Revised, Re-imagined, & Reworked:
Aristophanes’ THE WASPS:
Recreated as A VERY NAUGHTY GREEK PLAY [*]
The Aquila Theatre Company has previously staged some imaginative productions inspired by the classics. This was not one of them. Not that The Wasps cannot be translated/transformed into a very cutting & amusing topical satire.
Stephen Sondheim certainly succeeded with his adaptation of Aristophanes’ The Frogs, seen first in the Yale University swimming-pool and later at Brooklyn College in its Gershwin Theatre. And, most recently, at Lincoln Center, in the Vivian Beaumont, with a libretto-overhaul by its star, Nathan Lane.
With a four-man cast and lacking the traditional classical singing/dancing chorus of 25—there was a brief intrusion of what seemed to be Baruch College dancers—the production was Basic Bare Bones. This encouraged the company to resort to rather embarrassing Audience Participation. Or Interaction…
This is always an Act of Desperation, similar to the Broadway Ploy of eliminating the Intermission when the spectators depart in droves during Previews. This Very Self-Congratulatory Tribute to Aristophanes also had no Intermission. I fled the Baruch sub-basement before this naughty play wound down.
Better Luck with Cyrano and The Invisible Man!
Carlo Goldoni’s SERVANT OF TWO MASTERS [*]
This painful attempt to revisit Goldoni’s famed Commedia farce made one long for the late Giorgio Strehler’s magisterial Milan Piccolo Theatre production which was so good it toured the world. At PS 122, the "innovative performance" of Servant was a group-effort by the aptly-named Play Practice Theatre Company. Unfortunately, they need a lot more practice.
Especially in Commedia techniques—some of which they have only the dimmest concepts of. Not that some of the troupe are not able and attractive, but they simply do not have the performance-skills to make such a script work.
The program notes their aim: "…to explore the unique and singularly powerful qualities of theatre." To do this, they prefer "explosive, physical, outlandish, experimental plays that use camp and humor to subtly put across cultural critiques." Oh… Unfortunately, there is nothing subtle about Goldoni, nor about their production.
One of my critic-colleagues dismissed the show: "College Theatre!" Another corrected him: "No, Michael! High School drama-class!"
Had they studied at Brooklyn College—especially when we did The Frogs—they might have learnt something about the History of the Theatre, its plays, performances, and audiences. They could even have studied performance-styles. Not to forget Improv with Distinguished Professor F. Murray Abraham!
Monodramas & Monologues:
Mercedes Ruehl in WOMAN BEFORE A GLASS [****]
If you never experienced Peggy Guggenheim in her element—in her Venetian Museum/Palazzo—you might believe that you are now seeing the Real Peggy at the Promenade Theatre. What you are seeing, however, is a bravura performance by Mercedes Ruehl, one which is much more over-the-top than Signora Guggenheim would ever have permitted herself with guests come to wonder at her remarkable collection of Modern Art on the Grand Canal.
In fact, Ruehl has noted that a friend of Peggy’s told her that the real art-collector was much more reserved. Nonetheless, Ruehl and her author—Lanie Robertson—have a tale to tell and a bio to summarize in less than two hours. Those who do not know about her marriages to Lawrence Vail and Max Ernst—as well as what happened to the children she had with Vail—need to know some of the gory details. [They can learn more about Ernst as an artist at the Met Museum, where he is having one of those posthumous retrospectives.]
Robertson’s script—and Ruehl’s performance—emphasize not only how important Peggy Guggenheim was in supporting the careers of some now legendary modern artists, such as Jackson Pollock, but also how perceptive she was in recognizing their genius when few others had endorsed them.
That she bedded some of her protégés—as well as some handsome & compliant gondoliers—can only be described, as this is a one-woman show.
Thomas Lynch’s inventive setting—furniture keeps descending from above—suggests, rather than replicates, the styles, colors, forms, and subjects of some of Guggenheim’s modern masterpieces. Willa Kim evokes her glamorous wardrobe—also works of art! Phil Monat’s lighting does much to highlight action & objects, as well as infer Venetian Light on Guggenheim’s piazza.
Although she often inveighed against the other Guggenheims—notably Uncle Solomon with his Frank Lloyd Wright Rotunda, his Kandinskys, and his Teutonic Muse, Gräfin Hilla von Rebay—her collection and her palazzo are now an integral part of the International Guggenheim Museum Movement, with outposts in Berlin, Bilbao, and possibly, eventually Salzburg, as well as on the Grand Canal.
Laurie Anderson in THE END OF THE MOON [***]
It seems improbable but Laurie Anderson was engaged in 2002 as an Artist-in-Residence by NASA. Considering how taxpayers’ money is spent on such giant boondoggles as Star Wars technologies—not to mention finding Weapons of Mass Destruction in Iraq—this stint may well have been one of the few times research monies were well spent: Anderson’s own researches in electronic technologies for use in her unusual performances can be seen as adventures in both art and science.
Instead of the formerly forbidding stacks of speakers and other electronic objects, Anderson’s performance armament is getting smaller and more compact. There’s still an electronic keyboard, but her mini-viola creates—thanks to her own ingenious computer-programming—a range of haunting sounds to accompany her ruminations on life, death, and space.
In a program-note, she makes a pregnant observation: "Why is it that Outer Space is always somehow about the future? And not about the vast and ancient past?"
This is an unsettling insight. The light we see from distant stars and galaxies has been traveling toward us for aeons! So Space also has a history, perhaps older and longer than ours…
Anderson says that Space, in The End of the Moon, has become a "stand-in for our shifting attitudes toward the future, our dreams, hope, and sense of direction."
Listen to the Lady!
Penny Orloff in JEWISH THIGHS ON BROADWAY [***]
When Urinetown was first on offer in Manhattan, way down below Broadway, I avoided seeing it. I was so off-put by the title, which seemed deliberately tasteless, designed to attract attention. When it moved uptown to an old courthouse, I finally gave in and was totally delighted.
When it moved to Broadway, I was eager to see it again: this time in the Historical Landmarked Henry Miller’s Theatre. Today, all that remains of this venerable theatre is its stabilized façade, waiting to be embedded in a new Durst High-Rise.
I had the same negative reaction when I read a listing for Jewish Thighs on Broadway. Thighs? How suggestive and unseemly! A title like Jewish Sighs on Broadway would make more sense, I thought: Memories of the Holocaust perhaps…
I’m glad I decided to see this unusual mono-drama, not only for its amusing reprises of the agonies of endless auditions—without follow-up call-backs—but also for its lively chronicle of the battle of a lovely young performer with the ravenous Beast inside her. Growing up in a Los Angeles Jewish Family dedicated to Good Food and Lots of It, Penny Orloff soon realized she was not going to become a Broadway Star if her thighs were not slim and svelte.
Orloff’s full-stage-with-props mono-drama is subtitled: Misadventures of A Little Trouper. She has obviously Seen It All. Onstage, she is Miriam Rosen—diet-right, raven hair, fine skin, beautiful bones, lovely voice—but she isn’t getting the call-backs. Changing her name to Abigail Paine seems to do the trick.
I did find it hard to believe that New York casting-directors are Anti-Semitic, or at least that they are only interested in beautiful, talented Shiksas. If Barbra Streisand had to change her name to get a break, she could at least have spelled it right.
Actually, Orloff did make it to Broadway, in Hal Prince’s ill-fated Doll’s Life: five nights.
This seems still a disappointment to her, but she was for a number of memorable seasons a principal soprano at the New York City Opera. As an opera-lover and an on-going fan of City Opera, this seems to me an even greater achievement than being in a Broadway musical.
When she mentioned being in Hal Prince’s City Opera staging of Silverlake, I suddenly made the connection: That’s why the name Penny Orloff seemed so familiar! How many nights at the New York State Theatre had she and her musical colleagues delighted me!
Old Soldiers may just fade away, but troupers like Penny Orloff do not. She has been on tour with this show for five years. The program notes that it has been to 42 American cities!
The Chaspen Foundation—which commissioned this show and the Penny Orloff novel on which it is based—actually called me to thank me for coming to see it at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row. I noted there had not been many people in the audience, which seemed a shame as the material is of interest and Orloff has a lovely voice and a distinctive style.
The executive who spoke to me said that wasn’t a financial problem: "This show was completely paid for before it went out on tour!"
The Foundation is located in Redmond, Washington, and receives some support from Microsoft. But it will be glad to receive any tax-deductible contributions you care to send: Chaspen/Arts, 18311 NE 99th Way, Redmond, WA.
Three Men in THE PENIS MONOLOGUES [*]
As Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues now seems to have been performed all over the world—in many, many languages—it was only a matter of time before the Men Had Their Say. In fact, this is invoked at the opening of The Penis Monologues as a reason for creating the show.
In the event, it was not reason enough. Apparently, author/director Robert Watts interviewed a number of men to record their various problems, prides, fears, and regrets about their Male Organs. These testimonies are grouped by themes and then related by three actors, standing—as it were—for the original interviewees.
If only Liam Neeson—standing in for Dr. Kinsey—had conducted the interviews, this might have been a much more interesting evening. As it was, I had had all the penises I could take—metaphorically speaking—by intermission and so went to the Men’s Room, took a pee, and headed on home, hoping no one would be moved to create a show about Prostate Cancer.
Musicals Old & New:
Monty Python’s SPAMALOT [****]
Eric Idle is no Stephen Sondheim. These days, neither is Sondheim.
But two of Idle’s rhymes in his "Jews-Song"—which carries the less-offensive title of "You Won’t Succeed on Broadway"—are notable. Not exact quotes, as they didn’t give me a script: Something like: "if it isn’t kosher, you don’t have a show, sir!" And: "only a small percentile wants to see a dancing gentile!"
These jests may not be Politically Correct—today, Wasps are the only group you can mock or parody with impunity—but the capacity audience at the Shubert Theatre roared with laughter. As indeed they did for almost anything that occurred on stage.
Frankly, I think the movie of Monty Python and the Holy Grail was more amusing, if not as Broadway Glitzy. But no shekels have been spared on Tim Hatley’s delightful costumes and settings. After a really disappointing season—for both drama and musicals—Spamalot is a Hormel-Meat Everest, towering over the Rotten, Shook-up, Vibrating Brooklyn Scoundrel hillocks below.
Unfortunately for any hoped-for New Directions & Innovations in the American Musical-Theatre, Idle’s book and Mike Nichols’ directorial decisions fall back on venerable formulas. But those of burlesque and vaudeville, rather than the sophistication of Noël Coward, Jule Styne, Leonard Bernstein, or even Gilbert & Sullivan.
Of course, Sophistication is the very last thing you’d expect from Monty Python. Still, Idle and John Du Prez’s melodies could have been more derivatively amusing in their efforts to parody the tunes of Andrew Lloyd Webber and others. Webber’s songs are already unintentional parodies of their Classical Host-Tunes, so this may not be a funny idea anyway…
The famed & distinguished critic, Robert Brustein, sat two seats away from me. At intermission, he was getting a thorough vertebraic going-over. [Can you get back-pain from watching a Broadway Musical?] I was going to ask him what he thought of the use of animated-cartoon devices to enhance the action of the show—as opposed to the ubiquitous Puppets which now infest every musical.
Stuffed dead cows, tossed over castle ramparts, are not really puppets. They don’t talk and act cute. But, suddenly, there it was! The Killer Rabbit as puppet!
Tim Curry, of Rocky Horror fame, was an ageing, exasperated King Arthur. His Round Table proved to be a Vegas Wheel of Fortune. At least it wasn’t operated by Choctaw Indians…
There was also Audience Participation! The Holy Grail was found under the seat of a front-row spectator. He got to take a bow. Oh, did I mention Mike Nichols?
DIRTY ROTTEN SCOUNDRELS [***]
After the disappointment of John Lithgow’s valiant but failed attempt to save the musical version of Sweet Smell of Success, I hoped he’d have better musical luck with Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, a movie I failed to see. So I cannot judge how much better the movie was than the musical is. Or vice versa…
Maybe it’s as bad an idea to adapt old movies for the Broadway musical stage as it is to fake a plot for the Beach Boys Songbook. In any case, ingenuity, originality, wit, sophistication, musical invention, and all that other Good Stuff has down the drain. What are they doing over there in the BMI Musical Workshops?
Lithgow looked good as the bogus & bankrupt Royal, but Norbert Leo Butz stole the show with his acrobatics & mugging as the would-be seducer/scammer, Freddy Benson. Sherie Rene Scott outscammed them all, but she had real competition in the charm sweepstakes from Joanna Gleason.
For some reason, David Rockwell’s somewhat scanty, glitzy, tawdry, & endlessly moving set-pieces did not show the genius and wit of other recent Rockwell production-designs. Was he all shook up when he realized he had two major Broadway shows opening almost at the same time?
Jack O’Brien staged, with Jerry Mitchell’s choreography. They did what they could to keep things moving, but I have no plans to get the sheet-music for David Yazbek’s somewhat derivative songs. Nonetheless, community theatres may find this show within their scope.
GOOD VIBRATIONS [*]
Wrong title: mostly bad vibrations from the stage. Mama Mia! set a dangerous precedent. The songs of ABBA, salted into a musical-book, may have worked the first time around. It is, after all, still running worldwide.
But that was no guarantee that the tunes & lyrics of Brian Wilson & the Beach Boys could make a viable musical. In the event, that did not really happen, but at least the stage was full of youthful, if meaningless, energy. John Carrafa both staged and choreographed, but the material defeated both him and his cast.
ALL SHOOK UP [****]
OK, already. If the Beach Boys can’t make it on Broadway, will the songs sung & created by Elvis Presley fare any better as the substance for a new musical? Apparently not for the New York Times, but the rest of the over-capacity audience at the Palace Theatre matinée was going crazy.
Although I actually met Elvis when I was teaching in Las Vegas, way back in 1955—before he became a Living Legend—I never understood the Mystery.
My aversion to popular romantic songs was formed early in the Great Depression, when my mother played "Red Sails in the Sunset" over and over until she "got it into her fingers," as they say. So I am not a fit judge, not in tune with the general public’s tastes. I didn’t even vote for George Bush, so how can I pretend to have my finger on America’s Cultural Pulse?
Nonetheless, I had a very good time at the Palace, and I enjoyed the tremendous energy with which the cast acted out a Brandoesque Wild Ones romantic fiction. Cheyenne Jackson—is that his real first-name?—is the next best thing to Brando, and he is not a shopworn Elvis Impersonator, thank god.
As an old Techie—and a longtime Theatre Crafts reporter—for me the best features of this hyper-charged production are the ingeniously moving and mutating settings of David Rockwell, who also designed Hairspray and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. And he created the new interior of F. A. O. Schwartz as well. But that’s another story…
Christopher Ashley staged, with choreography by Ken Roberson. This is a show that will surely run and run and run. The cast has enough Blue Suede Shoes for a Marathon Run!
SHOCKHEADED PETER [****]
Based on Dr. Heinrich Hoffmann’s horrific and admonitory tales for children, Shockheaded Peter premiered in Manhattan some seasons ago at the New Victory. It went on world-tours and was for a season in London’s West End at the Piccadilly Theatre!
Now it is back in New York and seems settled in for a long and rewarding run.
Those who can do Google-Searches may be able to find my review when it was first on 42nd Street. It is somewhere in the Loney Show Notes Archives on NY Theatre-Wire. That enthusiastic report says it all!
Voltaire, Leonard Bernstein, Hugh Wheeler,
Richard Wilbur, et al, & Hal Prince’s CANDIDE [*****]
[The Opera House Version]
There has always been Audience Participation in Hal Prince’s New York City Opera version of Candide. Candide and his bedraggled crew push their way through the front rows of the New York State Theatre on their daunting but satirical quest, to the immense amusement of spectators who are accustomed to Sills, Fleming, Domingo, and Hepner remaining up on stage.
I am no longer accorded the Press Privilege at City Opera—possibly because I write for an "unimportant" website, rather than for a print-medium such as the Times or Opera News—so I no longer feel obligated to tell readers how wonderful this revival was. My initial review of this production at NYCO is also buried somewhere in the Loney Show Notes Archives on NY Theatre-Wire.
George Manahan conducted.
Kenward Elmslie’s LINGOLAND [****]
I have long been a fan of both librettist/lyricist Kenward Elmslie and of his favorite composer, Claibe Richardson. Indeed, so enthusiastic was my admiration for their creation of a musical that was set in my Home-Town, they even had me over for lunch to talk about Grass Valley, California, and the notorious "Spanish Dancer," Lola Montez.
There are even two songs from Lola in Elmslie’s retrospective auto-bio musical-revue: "Staring" and "Beauty Secrets." After Lola fled Bavaria, having lost King Ludwig I the throne, she paid her bills with her famous Spider Dance, her acted accounts of her Life and Loves—Franz Liszt was one of her lovers, and by sharing her good-grooming tips. [She is buried in Green Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn. The tombstone reads simply: Mrs. Eliza Gilbert, but it’s really Lola…]
Much more important musically in this revue are Elmslie’s lyrics for Ned Rorem’s Miss Julie, Jack Beeson’s Lizzie Borden, and for Richardson’s melodies for the musical of Truman Capote’s The Grass Harp.
Elmslie is himself the Master of Ceremonies and provides a running commentary on his life & career. It has been a rich and even challenging career, certainly. And the show is a nostalgic joy.
Kessler & Davenport’s ALTAR BOYZ [****]
If you have watched those Born Again Christian singers on Evangelical TV with dismay, what will you think of a Born Again Boy-Band? Well, actually the five dynamite lads in this show sing and dance more than concertize, but they are both amusing in their hokey religious parodies and very attractive in performance.
Inspired by the voice of G. O. D., the boys delight as Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, and Abraham. Yes, there’s a Jewish guy before the altar as well! The boys are Scott Porter, Tyler Maynard, Andy Karl, Ryan Duncan, & David Josefsberg.
There’s not a whiff of the scandal of priests interfering with altar-boys, but one of them does have a Problem. Jesus Saves!
Gerard Alessandrini’s FORBIDDEN BROADWAY [*****]
If you are fed up with the new musicals on Broadway, or do not want to pay 2x $100 to see a long-running classic, go see the new edition of Forbidden Broadway at the Douglas Fairbanks down on Theatre Row. It’s virtually all new, even if some of the musicals parodied are not.
Phantom is revisited, but not in the skit that’s represented it for several previous editions. Merman is back, but in a new frame. All New! All New!
The Fiddler parody opens with a lively attack on the All-Goy casting and Spanish-English Alfred Molina as
Tevya. My initial misgiving was: "But he’s no longer in the show: this stuff is dated already!"
Actually, I had not seen that skit before, so it was indeed all new, and it was immediately followed by Harvey Fierstein in full beard and Tevya-cap, but dressed in his flowered female frock from Hairspray. Hilarious!
The dynamic new cast—all attractive, versatile, and musically multi-talented—consists of Ron Bohmer, Megan Lewis, Jason Mills, and Jennifer Simmard. Alvin Colt’s costumes—as ever—are a visual hoot.
This show costs much less than any Broadway musical, and it is funnier and more musical than most! See It!
Ruiz & Sapp’s EYEWITNESS BLUES [***]
Mildred Ruiz and Stephen Sapp delighted the Opening Night audience at the New York Theatre Workshop premiere of Eyewitness Blues. Sapp was Junior McCullough, a hornist inspired by his Muse. For lovers of Black and Latino musical modes, there were Blues, Jazz, Rock, and Hiphop.
I’m more of a Mozart Man, so the Def Poetry Jam of it all made me feel a bit like the lone Outsider at the Newyorican Poetry Café. Nonetheless, I couldn’t stop marking the beat, as did those all around me.
Matthew Bourne’s PLAY WITHOUT WORDS [*****]
Having seen Bourne’s Play Without Words in London at the Royal National Theatre way back in 2002, I was surprised that it took so long to reach New York. True, it lacked the extra frisson of male-dancers wearing tutus—which brought his Swan Lake triumphantly to Broadway.
But, being inspired by the darkly suggestive film, The Servant, it clearly had enough internal perversity to attract the most sophisticated and varied of Manhattan audiences. So why did it have to make its New York debut way over in Brooklyn at BAM’s Harvey Theatre?
No matter. It provided yet another reason to visit Junior’s Restaurant and nibble its famous cheesecake!
As he could not have hoped to have Dirk Bogarde dancing the original sinister cinematic valet, Bourne’s stroke of theatrical genius was to have not one valet, but three. And three masters, matched by three stylish and imperious fiancées.
This permitted the suggestion of varying moods and intentions within each character, as well as both open and concealed emotions. It also had the visual advantage—as this staging is a virtual dance-pantomime—of replicated movement in synch and its counterpoint.
What puzzled me in London still baffled some spectators at BAM: why were there only two housemaids, when everyone else was a visual triad?
[Curious Coincidences: Originally, the Harvey was called the Majestic. It was a more or less derelict downtown movie-theatre that Harvey Lichtenstein—then Artistic Director of the Brooklyn Academy of Music—had reworked to suggest Peter Brook’s famed but shabby Paris theatre-home, the Bouffes du Nord. He created it specifically for Brook’s magisterial Mahabharata—but clearly with the hope that Brook would return each season to his new home at BAM in his very own theatre. That was not to be. In fact, Peter Brook’s new creation will be briefly shown up at Barnard/Columbia, in the LeFrak Gymnasium!]
The Life, Death, and Subsequent Vilification of Le Corbusier and, More Importantly, Robert Moses [**]
The Urban Planning connection between Le Corbusier and Robert Moses may not have occurred to many drivers on the Long Island Expressway: "The Longest Parking-Lot in the World." It really had not surfaced in my own ruminations about architecture, city-planning, and traffic-patterns.
Nor had I imagined that Mayor Fiorello H. Laguardia was something of an effete Modern Caligula. Nor that FDR, Mussolini, and Goebbels were in some kind of architectural-entente. That Jane Jacobs had been Le Corbu’s mistress and muse—only wearing a different wig—was a real surprise! Not at all likely…
But that Nelson Rockefeller was that guy at the Last Supper who betrayed his Mentor? That I could believe. He was the man who destroyed free tuition in the City University of New York, after all. Not to overlook Diego Rivera’s demolished mural in Rockefeller Center…
What surprised me most about this lively and totally surreal collage of the Metropolitan Regional Reign of Robert Moses, however, were the several published comments by author Adam Scully and others of the ensemble that no one had previously seen Moses and His Works as worthy of a theatrical production.
Obviously, Scully & Co. hadn’t done very thorough research into the topic. Theodora Skipitares some years ago created a magical evocation of Moses and his creations in the LaMaMa Annex, complete with remarkable models! It owed a lot to Robert Caro’s epic bio, but at least Skipitares got her facts right. I liked it so much that I—as one of the Nominators for the Muni Art Society’s Brendan Gill Prize—praised it extravagantly. But it was eclipsed that year by a collection of old New Yorker features.
One thing Boozy noted—and which invites some analytical thought about the paradox—is that our most admired theoretical architects do not seem to get very much actually built. One thinks not only of Le Corbusier, but also of Peter Eisenman, Raimund Abraham, and even Daniel Libeskind.
One of my most respected critical colleagues thought this show—complete with live rabbits—was nothing more than smart undergraduates fooling around. Maybe, but they are obviously very well connected, for the production has been getting a lot of press, notably in the celebrity-gossip areas.
HistoryMystery of Public Education and How It Got That Way [*]
Frankly, I very much looked forward to this new theatre-exploration by the Irondale Ensemble. Their recent recreation of the crisis in the creation—and destruction—of Diego Rivera’s doomed mural in Rockefeller Center had been a fascinating evocation of the Depression Era and some of its major power-players. An even earlier Irondale examination of the career of Henry Clay Frick was revelatory and compelling.
My mistake was to arrive at the Theatre for the New City much too early. By the time the house was open, I had already read the copious summaries in the Irondale newspaper of the Lives, Careers, and Theories of Major American Educators. I already knew more than I wanted to know about what has been going wrong in Public Education for generations.
Unfortunately for sustaining audience-interest, much of this background was replayed onstage with ensemble-members impersonating the educators and expounding their theories. The framework for this endless exposition was a Sam Spade-style Private-Eye, retained to find an old man’s son. This brought him into many an historic classroom.
There weren’t many in the audience to begin with, but several snuck out as soon as they realized what was going forward. Unwisely, Irondale had an intermission. A stern schoolmarm ordered us to observe the recess-period. So I obeyed and decided to leave school altogether.
Better Luck Next Time! Do your research, but don’t replicate it onstage. Boozy had some similar problems, but its use of facts and historic personalities was so surreal that it was not boring.
NaCl Theatre’s THE CONFESSIONS OF PUNCH AND JUDY [**]
Perfomed in the basement theatre-space of HERE, this psychoanalytical/symbolical modern vision of the Traditional English Punch & Judy Show was an interesting workout for the attractive twosome, Tannis Kowalchuk and Ker Wells.
Punch & Judy are the originals in the daily drama of Spouse-Abuse, Gender-Conflicts, and generally Dysfunctional Families. Their contemporary counterparts—from the Cleveland Public Theatre—rang the changes on these olden tunes with a variety of theatre-techniques, including the traditional puppet-booth.
This show gave new meaning to that old song: "You Always Hurt the One You Love." Fortunately, there were quite a few laughs as well!
The Young Vic’s SLEEPING BEAUTY [****]
Rufus Norris has gone far beyond the basics of Charles Perrault’s beloved French fairytale. This handsomely designed Young Vic revision of the tale of the Pricked Princess also includes a fearsome Ogre and an Ogress.
Most of the choreographed action occurs on a complex central circular platform with levels and rings that can rise and fall. Katrina Lindsay designed this and the impressive costumes & masks. As with the best of children’s tales, this show is not without its quotient of shocks and scares. But this Beauty is also beautiful to behold in motion.
It bowed in New York at the New Victory—which also premiered Shockheaded Peter some seasons ago. Perhaps the Young Vic will bring Sleeping Beauty back to another Manhattan venue in a future season?
Theatre T’s TYPO [***]
Cute little Jamie Adkins—who wrote & co-directed this two-hander show at the New Victory—bills himself as "Clown & Acrobat." His partner, Anne-Marie Levasseur, describes herself as "Comedian & Musician." The conceit—or concept—of the production is that he is trying to type on an old upright typewriter, while she is composing and whacking away at an electronic keyboard.
Her musical noises annoy him no end. He apparently is making endless typo’s—hence, the show’s title—and wadding up sheets of paper. The upshot of this is that he is forced to resort to some basic Indian-Club juggling, slack-wire walking, balancing, ring-whirling, and other stock-fare, as she accompanies him admiringly.
Although Adkins is from San Diego, his love of Circus Arts took him to Quebec and Cirque Éloize. Levasseur is a native Quebecoise. They are both charming, so the clown-arts were fairly painless. But who is now still using an old typewriter? If she has a Moog, why doesn’t he have a laptop?
Brown, Marvell, & Flair’s LASER VAUDEVILLE [**]
This show at the John Houseman Theatre is more of the same, as above, without the typewriter. But with the added visual infusion of a laser light-show that doesn’t really do much for the basic juggling and acrobatics. In fact, the best of the lasers can stand alone and in no way recall the Golden Age of Vaudeville.
Hopes were high in the lobby, for the three-person troupe had posted blowups of old Vaudeville programs, reviews, and photos. Were we to see W. C. Fields and Will Rogers live again?
No such luck. The show is your basic Indian-Club juggling, slack-wire walking, balancing, ring-whirling, and other stock-fare. What audiences do not want—and performers strive to avoid—is dropping the clubs or losing control of the rings. Pros know how to take this in stride, but when too many fumblings occur, no amount of cute grins audience-ward will save the event. Flop-Sweat breaks out.
There were some black-light & laser-assisted moments that recalled the best effects of Laterna Magika, which toured in the US during the Cold War as The Black Theatre of Prague. Perhaps this troupe could replicate more of the Czechs’ ingenious routines?
In any case, Vaudeville was rich in comic-routines, featured singers, monologues, mini-dramas, and dance-specialities, such as Irish Clog-Dancers. Juggling and Lasers don’t make up for the lack of these other performing arts, if Vaudeville is truly to be evoked.
The best part of the show was at the top, when audience-members received three colored handkerchiefs and were instructed in the technique of juggling them. I treasure my three cloths! Unlike heavy clubs or balls, they float lightly in the air, so you can quickly retrieve the one that got away!
At the Austrian Institute:
MARTA EGGERTH at 92!
With 2-CD MY LIFE MY SONG
Those Music-Theatre fanatics who constantly mourn the loss of the Great Divas of Opera and Operetta should be delighted to know that Marta Eggerth is 92 and can still sing and greet fans & friends with the smiling graciousness of the Empress of Viennese Operetta.
Recently, she took the stage at the Austrian Institute to recall some of her wonderful roles and stunning productions of opera and operetta. I was amazed that this great lady would be looking and sounding so fit and vital. She noted that someone had said she was really 95, but that she was lying about her age: "When you reach 90, why should you lie about the years?"
Some years ago, she sang the charming songs of Franz Lehár and Emmerich Kálmánn at Castle Clinton down on the Battery. This was a great Austrian fest in honor of the operetta tenor Richard Tauber. At that time, I was astonished that she could still sing so melodiously at an age when many sopranos had retired.
On her two new CDs, there is a cut from a concert she gave in Vienna in 2002! The CD album covers 70 years of Marta Eggerth’s 80-year career on the stages of Europe and Broadway. Her favorite role, Hanna Glawari, in The Merry Widow, is represented in a medley of her own arrangement. She also sings a duet with her late husband, the powerful Polish tenor, Jan Kiepura.
Her son, pianist Marjan Kiepura and his wife, Jane Knox, had to raid various archives and search the Internet to find early recordings of opera selections of Mme. Eggerth singing Puccini, Bellini, and Rossini, as well as songs from pre-World War II films. She made more than thirty films. Mimi, in La Bohème, was both an Eggerth stage and screen–role.
On the CDs, she sings in six languages, including her native Hungarian. And Marta Eggerth sings songs from operettas written for her by such talents as Robert Stolz and Paul Abraham, as well as Lehár and Kálmánn.
Although Viennese Operetta has lost the luster it once had on Broadway, hearing these new/old recordings might well make music-theatre fans long for stylish & imaginative revivals of Die lustige Witwe, Land des Lächelns, and Die Czardasfürstin!
My Life My Song is issued by Patria Productions—with plans for more such classical recordings—under the catalogue number KIE3000. It can be found at Tower Records, the Met Opera Shop, and, of course, on Amazon.com. [Loney]
Copyright Glenn Loney, 2005. 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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