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Tag Archives: Roundabout Theatre

The Winslow Boy – Review

Winslow Boy

Sometimes it really is just a matter of right. It can turn the world upside down and erodes health and home; letting right be done, but it is one of the few things that separates us from the animals. A flawless example of this phenomenon can be seen in the Roundabout Theatre Company’s The Winslow Boy. This (1946) Terrence Rattigan is based on a true turn of the (20th) century incident in England. A 14-year old boy has been accused (and expelled for) stealing a five-shilling postal note. It is a minor, at best, infraction but one that is entirely relatable in our modern world. Even without adjusting for inflation one can easily imagine a family fighting to clear the name or rectify a similar slight today.

In this production from The Old Vic and directed by Lindsay Posner it isn’t necessary to impose any modern or personal reality. The story and performances are so compelling and relatable as to stand completely on their own. For almost three hours the audience watches a family, at home, struggle with the realities of doing the right thing. We see them over the course of two years wrangle with declining resources and health. Their uncertainty, certainty, regrets, and pride are real and raw, all of it under the constraints of 1912 London manner. Making period pieces and characters believable and relatable is no easy thing. Often it is unnerving to see only a familiar actor in a wig or buckle shoe. Posner’s actors disappear into the play and all the audience sees is the characters. Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Grace Winslow) is a joy to behold as she rides the emotional roller coaster the events have created. Her husband Arthur played by Roger Rees captures the quiet internal struggles of his class, time and circumstance. Charlotte Parry and Zachary Booth play the elder Winslow children to perfection. It is the youngest boy of the play’s title that is the most surprising. His role, while not huge, is pivotal and he must achieve the most challenging of technical feats. Due to the timing of the incident and length of the pursuit of justice, Ronnie Winslow must age two adolescent years. Many writers and directors suffer from age-blindness and see few gradations from 0-21. Under Posner’s direction Spencer Davis Milford portrays Ronnie with heartbreaking age accuracy. He is almost unrecognizable as he ages from Act to Act. The fragile and vulnerable child morphs into a blasé teenager. He grows up (quietly and subtly) before our eyes.

Henny Russell, Chandler Williams, Michael Cumpsty and Alessandro Nivola are wonderfully cast as Violet, John Watherstone, Desmond Curry and Sir Robert Morton. The set by Peter McKintosh has a smaller role, but a no less perfectly executed one. The living room, with doors opening to the garden and dining room, is a homey depiction of middle-class Britain. The choice to make the set static is wonderfully retro and adds much to the production. The audience feels they are peeking into a window not watching a play.

The Winslow Boy opens at the Roundabout Theatre on October 17th

 
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Posted by on October 3, 2013 in Theatre

 

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The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin – Review

Unknown

What is rehabilitation and is there such a thing as redemption? Can time served ever neutralize crimes committed? Can a life, interrupted by crime and punishment ever resume a recognizable form? Or is a prison term simply the beginning of the punishment? Steven Levenson’s The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durnin poses these questions with honest, powerful and very real results.

Tom Durnin (David Morse) appears at his son James’ (Christopher Denham) door after five years in prison. Tom is charming and smooth as he convinces his estranged son to temporarily house him. Father and son have much in common as they struggle (quite independent from one another) to get their lives back utilizing similar means. However, it is the wide chasm between them that dominates their relationship. They both grasp, with fits and starts at women to shape their lives. James meets the lovely, skittish Katie (Sarah Goldberg) at a creative writing class. Their attempt at courtship rings painfully true with equal parts endearment and frustration. Meanwhile Tom keeps his eye on the prize of seeing his ex-wife Karen (Lisa Emery). He cajoles, connives and threatens his son and his son-in-law Chris (Rich Sommer) for his ex’s whereabouts. He is unrelenting and there’s no doubt he will get his way. Chris endures much of the bewitching and terrifying negotiations of Tom. Chris is an easy and vulnerable target as he’s agreed to meet with Tom against his wife’s wishes. Tom’s got him, and courts and threatens him in pursuit of a job and his ex-wife.

Tom is charming and scary, and there is no better actor than Mr. Morse than to deftly and winningly play such a character. Tom’s explosions are not simply the result of rage, but are driven by a profound sadness and loss. In Mr. Morse’s hands these episodes send chills down the spine and tears to the eyes. He wants his life back. He’s done his time, he’s apologized and taken responsibility, but there’s no going back. His ex-wife has remarried, after enduring public humiliation and financial ruin. His daughter and her children are lost to him. And it’s not clear if he will ever be reinstated to the bar and move on from his barrista job. In less deft hands, the play might verge on cloying or even twee. But there is no slipping into sentimentality and these characters are fully formed (and beautifully performed.) No one is a villain or a hero; there are no right or easy answers only varying shades of grey. Directed by Scott Ellis, the production is delicately balanced. The fluid staging and the honest performances are the perfect match to the script. The ending is the finest example of Mr. Levenson’s restraint. Everything is poised for a satisfying and definitive conclusion, but instead it all stays very real making it all that much more moving.

The Unavoidable Disappearance of Tom Durning is playing at the Roundabout Theatre

 
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Posted by on August 22, 2013 in Theatre

 

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Talley’s Folly – Review

talley's folly

The curtain-less stage, set for Talley’s Folly (by Jeff Cowie) is impossible to ignore. The southern weathered boathouse littered with rusted and discarded objects begs for the arrival of Miss Havisham. The small apron of the Laura Pel’s stage is festooned in large cartoon-like flowers, setting the stage if you will for this realistic play that knows it’s a play.

Lanford Wilson’s 1979 Pulitzer Prize play begins with eliminating the fourth wall. Matt Friedman (Danny Burstein) walks through the house and onto the stage and announces how long the play will be and why he’s there. He repeats his opening speech (at a higher speed) for latecomers. For audience members who cling affectionately to the fourth wall, this is somewhat terrifying. But before we have time to rethink our choices, a halting and delicate story unfolds and we are immersed, enthralled and utterly smitten. We meet Sally Talley (Sarah Paulson) whom Matt has traveled to woo. Theirs is not an easy courtship. In fact at times it would seem that whatever courtship there is only exists in Matt’s mind. Sally is a lovely blonde woman from a wealthy family that is less than thrilled with the existence of the obviously Jewish and vaguely European Matt. That the play takes place during World War II is interesting but not all that relevant. The family’s attitude is timeless as is the story of Matt and Sally. To outline what occurs between them in the course of 90 minutes would deny potential audiences the real pleasure of this play.

Mr. Burstein who if truth be told, owns any role he plays, is Matt Friedman. True the role will always conjure its creation by Judd Hirsch’s (in 1979), but Mr. Burstein is not in anyone’s shadow. He is larger than his physical self yet not in anyway overblown. He plumbs the humor while swallowing the pain. Matt Friedman could easily become pitiable, but Burstein never allows that to occur. Ms. Paulson could easily become set dressing in his presence but under Michael Wilson’s direction they shine equally upon the stage. While we at times we become frustrated by Sally, we never once doubt her. The actors capture the realism and the poetry of Matt and Sally; we ache for them and we cheer for them.

The Roundabout Theatre’s Talley’s Folly opens on March 5th

 
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Posted by on February 28, 2013 in Theatre

 

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Picnic – Review

picnic

There are theatrical experiences so real, so raw that it is only when the house lights go up that you remember where you are. Time passes imperceptibly and there is no one to your right or left, just those people up on the stage. Such is the mesmerizing effect of the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Picnic (by William Inge.) Directed by Sam Gold and with an ensemble cast only dreamed of in parlor games, Picnic is a feast.

The set (Andrew Lieberman) is brilliant, designed with the (harmless) voyeur in mind. The Owens house is front and center with many rooms visible. Scenes play in and out of the house and across yards and we watch from across the way. We watch Flo Owens (Mare Winningham) long for what’s best for her daughters Madge (Maggie Grace) and Millie (Madeline Martin.) We watch the Owens boarder Rosemary (Elizabeth Marvel) grasp at a chance for happiness. And Mrs.Potts (Ellen Burstyn) watches them because it makes her feel alive and gives her respite from a demanding invalid mother. There are men who propel the motion of their lives as well. Howard (Reed Birney) has been a steady presence in Rosemary’s life and Alan (Ben Rappaport) may just be Madge’s future. It is Hal (Sebastian Stan) who comes to upend their lives.

Picnic really is the story of women and how they live within the social confines of the 1950s and manage their desires. Flo, a single parent for many years, knows her daughters can have more than she ever did. She sees the artistic and intellectual gifts of her youngest Millie. Her elder Madge is stunning and Flo recognizes her beauty for the commodity it is. She is blunt with Madge about the shelf life of such an asset. Madge doesn’t see the point in being pretty, although she certainly does manage to have a great deal of fun with her looks. She’s savvy enough to realize that her sister has far more than she ever will. Flo sees Al as Madge’s ticket to the good life and encourages her daughter to fake passion to gain his commitment. Rosemary, the ‘spinster school teacher’ of a certain age is coming up right to the edge. She is a ball of fire and energy and is filled with more life than the women half her age. She senses (as Flo does about Madge) that it’s now or never.

It is this urgency of both Flo and Rosemary that provide the most powerful moments of the play. The power and anguish unleashed is unsettling. There is an impulse to turn away. But watching Ms. Winningham and Ms. Burstyn together is not to be missed. And to watch Ms. Marvel in what can only be called a Tony worthy performance is amazing. Ms. Marvel is unrecognizable physically. Normally a lovely and graceful, erect woman, she is curved and springy as Rosemary. In her wig and costume she is reminiscent of an energetic Eileen Heckart. It is her performance and her scenes with Howard that will linger. Their relationship and Rosemary’s longing are played out in a stirring dance sequence (Chase Brock choreographer.)

If there is any weakness in this magnificent production it is that of the ingenue casting. Watching Madge struggle with the superficiality of her ‘gift’ would be more compelling with a more layered actress. Casting Ms. Grace was an interesting stroke of realism, but might have missed to mark just a bit. Mr. Stan conveys a splendid mix of ingratiating grifter and wounded soul, but physically he may not be ideal. There isn’t enough difference in presence between Hal and Al to fully grasp Madge’s attraction. But as this play belongs to the grown women, it’s a minor point.

For all of its very raw and heartbreaking moments, Picnic is an uplifting play. Witnessing people finding their way and grasping joy is always inspiring. And there may never be a stronger ensemble and director than that of this production.

 
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Posted by on December 27, 2012 in Theatre

 

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Look Back In Anger – Review

Look Back In Anger was written by John Osborne in 1957.  It was considered the first of the anti-drawing room plays and introduced to the stage the “angry young man.”  Fifty five years later, he is still quite angry. The play has been produced recently at home (London) and abroad, it has also been made into a film.  This Roundabout Theatre production directed by Sam Gold is a four character interpretation of the play.

Jimmy (Matthew Rhys) a working class university graduate is married to Alison (Sarah Goldberg) the daughter of a colonel.  Jimmy runs a sweets stall with Cliff (Adam Driver) who also lives with the couple.  Later they are joined by Alison’s actress friend from childhood, Helena (Charlotte Parry.)  The fifth character, the most prominent of players, is the set.  The stage at the Laura Pels is reduced to a depth of six feet.  It is the bleakest and filthiest of sets you are likely to ever see.  Dishes, laundry, trash, and food litter the floor and a stained mattress is propped in a corner.  The filth only grows as the play progresses.  The (relatively) tiny stage and the use of a lit “offstage” work to reinforce the utter claustrophobia of the characters’ lives.  Having the actors sit on the aisle (on the edge of the audience) is not distracting but it also does not add anything.  It is just one device that is employed to add elements of realness and rawness to this production.

Jimmy is a character you have seen portrayed often.  He is filled with self-loathing and expresses it through verbal abuse and absolute derision for those he loves.  He is above all else, a victim.  His regal looking wife Alison spends much of the first act in an open dressing gown, half-slip and bra.  She dutifully irons her husband’s underwear as he hurtles insults her way.  To avoid boredom, Jimmy also goes after Cliff, often physically.  While these goings on are certainly tedious, the performances are riveting.  The actors are so thoroughly immersed in their characters it is impossible to remember their past performances (of which I’ve seen several.)  There is a comfort with their characters which is rarely seen.  This is a very physical play, with much wrestling (fight direction by Thomas Schall) in a very small space.  Not once, did any of the tousling look staged.  There is also much silliness, mostly in the form of animal imitations, which would look forced and moderately humiliating in lesser hands.

Helena arrives later in the play, looking groomed and radiant and reminding us that not everyone lives amidst such squalor.  Discovering the way in which her friend is living and taking into consideration Alison’s yet to be announced pregnancy, she arranges to send Alison back to her family.  I have to admit that I did not see that coming.  I wasn’t necessarily hoping for Alison to stay with Jimmy, I’m just not sure of her motivation to leave.  Needless to say, Helena and Jimmy start up an affair.  I say “needless to say” from a theatrical perspective, not a psychological one.  It’s not clear what either of these women see in Jimmy.  Now if they had fallen for his friend Cliff, I could understand.  Cliff is the only sympathetic character around.  He is loving and filled with an inexplicable optimism.

The house lights are used throughout the production to create mood, or anti-mood as the case may be.  Both acts begin with full house lights.  There are several minutes of silent action that occur fully lit.  The effect is lost on an audience who would rather talk amongst themselves.  Call it Pavlovian, but the full house simply would not silence until they were plunged into darkness.  Their talking was actually less distracting than was my empathy for actors being ignored.  The curtain-less (does anyone use curtains anymore?) six foot deep stage feels like a thrust, and the fully lit “wings” add to the intimacy.  I found so much full lighting and lack of “off-stage” just a wee bit distracting.  The acting really speaks for itself here.

The staging itself is beautiful, as is the acting, but the play simply left me cold.  While Cliff is a most sympathetic character, nothing much happens to him.  As the play came to a close, the previously excruciatingly well behaved woman seated next to me started to rustle in her purse.  I could not discern what in the world she would be doing, until she brought a tissue to her nose.  “Oh,” I thought, “she has a cold.”  No.  She was crying.  Did something sad happen?  Now, I am not made of stone.  I have been known to well up over curtain calls.  But I found nothing particularly moving about these characters, or their lives.  I had a bit of trouble believing that anyone would actually make a salad while sitting on the floor and toss the unused bits around the floor.  If the play was making the leap into surrealism, I would have been fine.  But clearly the claim to fame for this particular play and production is its realism.  However, I would see it again for the performances alone.

 
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Posted by on January 23, 2012 in Theatre

 

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