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The Last Ship – Review

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Lately it seems that before you can even pull a room temperature pint, there’s another “working class” British musical rolling into town. Small industrial towns (having seen better days) apparently are where hardscrabble dancers and designers are born. Perhaps Broadway has become the yin to television’s posh yang of Downton Abbey and Selfridges. No one would blame you for taking one and only one look at the press releases for Sting’s The Last Ship. Enough already! But I assure you, you would regret that decision. The Last Ship is how you remember (false memory or not) musicals to be. It is moving and soaring, with dance and music that serves the story.

It is a recognizable story, one perhaps with its roots in earlier theatre – edgy son, disappointed father, abandoned love and child, redemption. There is nothing particular unusual or revelatory about the book (John Logan and Brian Yorkey) it’s simply solid and moving. It is the firm foundation for what is ostensibly a light opera. A small town has lost its only industry (ship building,) out of work and hope the men have a chance to build one last ship together. But of course it is the love story buried in the welding and winching that will break your heart. The music and lyrics (Sting) are rich, understandable and at times quite stirring. The orchestration (Rob Mathes) fills the theatre and at times transforms what very well could be considered pub music into a score. While the direction (Joe Mantello) of this large cast is superb, it is the choreography (Steven Hoggett) that brings The Last Ship to an entirely new level.

The movements are natural yet entirely rhythmic throughout the production. Set changes become dance, and the dances are so deceptively simple they are just life. Many in the large chorus are hefty blokes and to watch them move is a delight. The movement/dance suits the characters and the story and seems to be continuously in play. When the characters dance it is merely an extension of their expression. This naturalism is how they sing as well.

Nobody bursts into a number in The Last Ship. All the singing comes organically from dialogue. The character Jackie White (Jimmy Nail) actually talk/sings (a la Rex Harrison) his way through solos until joined by a chorus. It is a very effective use of his rich baritone and his role as the foreman. Gideon, the wayward son is played by two actors, the younger (Collin Kelly-Soredelet) also playing the son of Meg (Rachel Tucker.) Sound confusing? It’s not. The elder Gideon (Michael Esper) is a strong presence and it’s always clear who is who. The women are splendid but this really is a men’s show. One man practically steals it in the role of Father O’Brien (Fred Applegate.) It’s a delicious role and storyline and Mr. Applegate is just delightful.

The set (David Zin) is stark, clever, effective and serves the actors and the story. There is also some very clever lighting (Christopher Akerlind) that works as additional set. If there is any flaw at all in this production it is one song that doesn’t quite belong. I believe it’s a recycled Top 40 (of Sting’s) and I leave it to you to discover it. To find it is tantamount to finding a tiny crack in a masterpiece; it makes you appreciate the mastery even more.

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Posted by on October 23, 2014 in Uncategorized

 

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The Other Place – Review

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We are who we think we are. Thoughts grow and change over time, but we remain a composite of our memories and our ideals. What happens when those factors don’t grow or change but dissipate? Not in one fell swoop, but slowly and then with ferocious speed that sputters and slows only to resume its pace once more. Who are we when our memories ooze and morph like the innards of a lava lamp? When an illness has no exact start time, how do we differentiate between who we were before and who we are now?

Those questions are just some of the powerful and profound concepts delivered in the mere 80 minutes of The Other Place (Manhattan Theatre Club.) Written by Sharr White with a delicacy and excruciating insight rarely seen in concert with such powerful playwriting. The play is told with many flashbacks and to great psychological thrilling effect. Things are seldom what they seem and that’s what makes Mr. White’s writing so fine. Life is messy, human behavior is diagnosable but not predictable.

Laurie Metcalf is Juliana, a brilliant and accomplished scientist who currently works for a drug company. The drug she’s helped to create is for (yes) dementia. We are introduced to her in her very best condition as she reenacts her first diagnosable episode. She is a somewhat unreliable narrator and it is through her eyes that we view her marriage and her diagnoses. The introduction of her husband Ian (Daniel Stern) and the strength of her doctor (Zoe Perry) helps us to tease apart the narrative. It is an achingly real and raw narrative with a substantial dose of complexity. We learn of the layers of loss and regret and are left wondering how to separate psychic pain from a psychic degenerative wound. Ms. Metcalf is captivating. She is a lithe vibrant powerful woman who must devolve into a heap in a very short period of time. No matter how exacting the writing, in a lesser actor’s hands this feat could go terribly wrong. Ms. Metcalf is on stage the entire time and it is simply not possible to avert one’s eyes. She is wonderfully matched in intensity and artistry by Mr. Stern and by Ms Perry and John Schiappa who play multiple roles. It is a tight and complementary ensemble.

The fluidity of this production is due to the grace of Joe Mantello’s direction. On paper The Other Place might be indecipherable. But with spot on sound (Fitz Patton), lighting (Justin Townsend), precise video (William Cusick) and a pitch perfect set (Eugene Lee & Edward Pierce) the story unfolds gracefully and beautifully.

This is a play whose power and artistry linger. If there was any flaw (and it can be argued there wasn’t) it’s a little tidiness towards the end. It is a rare night at that theatre in which your mind and your soul are put so thoroughly through their paces.

The Other Place opens January 10th.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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