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The (T.V.) Guide Of Casting

Betty

It’s late July and the first whispers of Broadway’s 2013-2014 season can be heard. Unlike a sighting of back-to-school displays, this prematurity is welcome. Even if one loves the summer and is ensconced in a villa or beach hideaway, paradise can get a bit tedious. And if you’re of the school that there is never enough sand, seafood and sangria it’s nice to think of how you will assuage yourself once the leaves turn. And let’s face it, anticipation is more than half the fun.

If you’re a lover of (what I call) main stage Broadway and swoon at all things Llyod Weber, there’s almost always something to look forward. It’s also almost a sure bet that revival lovers will be happy. But what’s more of a gamble, and therefore a bit exciting, is news of new works, fabulous directors or stellar stage performers. Both camps of theatregoers; main stage and not-so-main stage often experience FOMO (fear of missing out) in extreme form. The line for the cronut is nothing compared to the virtual line for an “insert celebrity name here” show, jukebox musical, or made from TV, or film show. Nothing creates buzz like buzz, and most main stage shows have a marketing machine to beat the band. A quieter, no more attractive frenzy occurs over the not-so-main stage offerings as well. The bragging rights are comparable as well. In brownstones, penthouses and rent control classic sixes, you can hear any of the following; “Cumming’s Macbeth? We saw it before it went to Broadway. Of course Patti was great in Gypsy, but the Encores! production was quite different. You wanna see flying? You MUST see Peter and the Starcatcher.” (Somewhere in apartments we couldn’t afford or dare to enter there are similar conversations of theatre so obscure & avant-garde that knowing their titles is as good as seeing them.)

John Patrick Shanley (Doubt, Defiance), James Lapine (Sunday In The Park With George, Into The Woods), Doug Hughes (Inherit The Wind, Mauritius, A Man For All Seasons) will be collaborating in various configurations at The Manhattan Theatre Club. These names are guaranteed to perk the imagination of any theatre lover. The Manhattan Theatre Club often achieves a delicate balance of risk and sure thing. They produce new work and attract stellar performers. The new work is often very good and the performers are often well cast. (Hardly minor points!) It’s not surprising then that the casting for Mr. Shanley’s new play evoked in me a Scooby-Doo type response. The new work will star Brian O’Byrne (Doubt, Defiance, The Beauty Queen of Leenane) and Debra Messing (television star). Now there are plenty of accomplished stage actors who found fame in sitcoms, but (according to her resume) Ms. Messing doesn’t seem to be one of them. Acting on camera is an entirely different endeavor than acting on stage. (You can test this at home by pulling up the one live show of Will & Grace. While it is still edited it is raw enough to discern where each actor’s comfort zone lies.) This is not to suggest that people can’t surprise us in the most delightful way. I love nothing more than hearing the voice in my head shout; “Crikey, would you look at that! He/she is GOOD!” And (for the right price) I’m willing to give any performer (within reason) the benefit of the doubt. But this casting does have me wondering.

I would love to be a fly (or a less disgusting insect) on the wall during the creative meetings. I’d also love to eavesdrop on the editorial meetings in which celebrity opinion pieces are chosen over journalism. What can I say; I love to witness verbal jousting! I’m absolutely certain (she says while adjusting her rose colored glasses) that at least one person pipes up in these meetings; “Do we really need to go the celebrity route?” before being pelted with cronuts.

 
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Posted by on July 20, 2013 in Media/Marketing, Theatre

 

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Macbeth – Review

When a mind is lost where does it go? If you are Alan Cumming at Lincoln Center you venture into the world of William Shakespeare’s Macbeth; not the man, the play. In this ostensibly one-man play Mr. Cumming plays all the most vivid and recognizable parts while a patient in an institution. He descends into custody after a criminal event. The play opens to the stirring pantomime of him being undressed by attendants (Ali Craig and Myra McFadyen.) Evidence is collected, gently and cooly from; beneath his nails, inside his wounds and mouth. He is allowed to hold onto one evidence bag. A bag we assume holds the emotional evidence of the crime. The attendants climb the stairs and reach for the door as the first audible lines are spoken; “When shall we three meet again.”

So begins the tour de force that is this Macbeth production from the National Theatre of Scotland. It is a Herculean undertaking this play within a play. To convincingly construe a device to deliver a one-man Macbeth is no easy feat. Directed by John Tiffany and Andrew Goldberg this stunning production hits the mark with only one or two relatively small hiccups. The creative alchemy of the; storyline, set (Merle Hensel,) sound (Fergus O’Hare,) image (Ian William Galloway,) characterization and staging work to keep the audience mesmerized. Without the excellent staging or performance it would be impossible to follow this play. Mr. Cumming easily transforms himself into (at times dueling) characters. He often achieves this with only his body and voice although there is a prop or two also engaged. We are helped to follow these transitions with real time projections.

What is most remarkable about this Macbeth is not Macbeth. It is a tale, told through Macbeth of a man’s descent into insanity. Clever devices such as the attendants appearing to periodically anesthetize Cumming, or the closed circuit cameras (producing the projections) in his locked ward remind us of what we’re watching. We are forced outside of Macbeth at the appearance of the Lady’s bloody hands. The lady’s hallucination becomes the patient’s hallucination becomes stigmata as the attendants look fruitlessly for a source for the blood. We are reminded of the ill man on display during more than one emotional collapse. A heart wrenching yet contained Cumming dissolves and curls into himself. One of these devolutions has an attendant carrying him to the bed. This event can only be called a pas des deux. There is much beautiful movement (Christine Devaney) in this production, but it is this particular dance that clutches the heart.

It can be seductive to forget that we are not watching a Macbeth, but a man who is lost in the world of Macbeth. Cumming’s portrayal of all the characters is so convincing (and at times very funny.) He manages to capture the sexual chemistry between husband and wife with nothing more than his own body. Toward the end of the play we discover the content of his evidence bag. Our imaginations easily construe countless plausible explanations for this man’s psychiatric demise. It is not clear he will ever recover. The last words spoken are; “When shall we three meet again” suggesting we are inside the endless loop that is his mind.

 
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Posted by on July 9, 2012 in Theatre

 

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