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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 Uncategorized

 

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Man and Boy – Review

The Rondabout Theatre Company has mounted a revival of Terence Rattigan’s Man and Boy.  For those with a pressing engagement or abbreviated attention span, I will cut to the chase: it is phenomenal.

Frank Langella (‘nough said?) stars in this drama set in Greenwich Village in 1934.  Directed by Maria Aiken, the fluid and balanced action unfolds in real time one October evening.  Man and Boy, written in 1961, feels terribly modern both in its storyline and style.  Langella’s character, Gregor Antonescu is an international financier, credited with resuscitating the European markets after World War I.  He is debonair, larger than life, steely, and by his own admission, without conscious.  Things have come to a bit of a nasty head for G.A., as he is known to his trusty assistant Sven Johnson (Michael Siberry) who bears a second cousin resemblance to Max in Sunset Boulevard.  Sven seeks out the Greenwich Village apartment of G.A.’s estranged son Basil (Adam Driver) for a clandestine business meeting.  Basil has denounced his lineage and lives as a piano playing socialist in a dreary basement apartment (designed by Derek McLane.)  Underneath the thin layer of his disguise is Basil’s adulation of dear old dad.

Not surprisingly G.A.’s impulse upon seeing his son for the first time in five years, is to offer the young man to his closeted business adversary.  Prostituting one’s young, does not earn any parenting awards, but it feels completely in character for G.A.  There is nothing surprising about the turn in the story, yet it must be said that the matinee audience (of a certain age and with just a hint of bridge and tunnel A.O.C.) giggled nervously with the implications.  This storyline is not meant to be funny, and in 1934 Greenwich Village socialist circles, homosexual activity would not be unknown.  I suspect a different audience would have a different response.

The cast is perfectly balanced out by Basil’s girlfriend Carol (Virginia Kull,) the business nemesis Mark (Zach Grenier) his accountant Beeston (Brian Hutchinson) and  G.A.’s second wife the (purchased title of) Countess (Francesca Faridany.)  The relationships and interactions between these characters is completely thought out and believable.  Most of us won’t commandeer a basement apartment in an attempt to rescue our international financial empire, but we can relate and understand the words and actions of all of these characters.  That is the mark of truth in writing.

This production has an overall British feel to it, no accident considering the lineage of some of the creative team.  There is a simple intelligence to the production that this play richly deserves.  There are plays that take (well rewarded) effort on the part of the audience.  I love Martin McDonagh, but you better not blink for 2 hours or you will be lost.  Additionally, plays steeped in symbolism can be a delicious intellectual exercise.  But there is something to say for clean, emotionally true drama.  And when it’s exquisitely executed, it is a must see.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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