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I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road – Review

act

Somebody wants some supper fixed
And somebody wants some love
And there’s just no time to write a song to say what I’m thinking of
But tomorrow I hit the road
Gonna let loose of this heavy load and FLY!

Few shows capture a time period as perfectly as Gretchen Cryer and Nancy Ford’s I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road. It was a feminist anthem, performed at Joe Papp’s Public Theater in the late 1970s and is being (briefly) revived as part of the Encores! Off-Center series at NY City Center.

The tale (based upon Ms. Cryer’s experiences) is of singer Heather Jones and her attempt at finding her own voice. Today is Heather’s birthday, she’s 39, which her manager Joe urges her to keep to herself. He would prefer she not mention being a single mother or express anger or upset the men in the audience. He wants her to be successful and then she can sneak in the real. Set in a theatre, during the rehearsal for this evening’s opening night, adds to the overwhelming believability of this show. Unlike many “showbiz” shows, we are watching real people have a real experience. The songs are seamlessly woven into the narrative creating almost an operatic quality.

It can be challenging to sing and say words so steeped in a movement or time period. Singing rock together with ballads is not for everyone, particularly with the original recording artist sitting in the front row. But Renee Elise Goldsberry (Good People, Rent, Lion King) transcends even the highest expectations. Her voice has a quality not often found today; it is devoid of belting and breathiness and filled with richness and feeling. Her sound is reminiscent of female folk singers of the 1970s, a delightful auditory nod to the time period. There is nothing anachronistic about her performance however. She is fresh, real and present. She sings of growing up in the 1950s and being told to smile. “If you smile in just the right way you’ll make a pretty wife and someone will take care of you for all your pretty life.” When Ms. Goldsberry sings these words we don’t think of sepia toned photos of a little girl in front of the family car. Her interpretation makes us think of Facebook photos showing girls in identical suggestive poses.

Fredrick Weller (Glengarry Glen Ross, Take Me Out) is perfectly cast as the layered manager Joe. His delivery (of some of the funner lines) is timed to the millisecond. He is infuriating and endearing and a wonderful counterbalance to the “artist” energy on the stage. Theirs is a friendship that you suspect and hope will go the distance, despite (or maybe because of) their differing viewpoints. The friendship itself is serenaded in the showstopper Dear Friend. Joe wants Heather’s act to play the Troubadour, and he feels that her reading her divorce decree out loud is not the ticket to success. But Heather’s been down this road before. She has recorded a hit song that now makes her physically ill in its sweetness. She works on a soap opera where she’s undoubtedly polished and pushed into a mold. She has some experience with being put in a package and sold. The (fabulous) band and her female back-up singers are only too glad to help her deliver the real. Christina Sajous (Spiderman, Baby It’s You) and Jennifer Sanchez (West Side Story, Ghost) create a perfect sound and harmony with Ms. Goldsberry. Jason Rabinowitz (acoustic guitar) breaks the audience and Ms. Goldsberry’s heart with a solo performance of In A Simple Way I Love You.

It is always a bit risky to revive a period piece that was not a runaway hit. But under the deft direction of Kathleen Marshall and with a cast to beat the band, this production may actually surpass the original (which this reviewer saw and committed to memory as a very impressionable woman in training.)

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Posted by on July 25, 2013 in Uncategorized

 

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Othello: Public Theatre – Review

Watching the Public Theatre’s production of Othello reminded me of seeing a large art installation in a Chelsea gallery.  As I’ve walked round and round various modern configurations that scream an inaudible MESSAGE, I often find myself admiring the artist’s complete and utter self absorption.  “Audience be damned” screams the installation, or in this case Peter Sellars, in his direction of Othello.  This Othello at the uncomfortable and antiseptic NYU Skirball Center is more of a derivative of Shakespeare’s play, than the play itself.  It is recognizable as Othello, but unlike a riveting deconstructionist production, it adds nothing, only takes away from the original.  The enormous auditorium stage is stripped completely, exposing the garage door used for load-in, fuse boxes and flies.  The entire set consists of chairs (sometimes used for “off-stage” actors, and sometimes not,) two standing microphones and 45 video monitors that seem to serve no purpose whatsoever.  Although in case you missed Mr. Sellars’ point, they too are deconstructed.  The conceit of the bare stage can work, but it doesn’t here.  The space is large and the performances are not. Let us start with the very first word uttered on stage.  My spine stiffened and I quickly scanned the audience for signs of communal disbelief.  Shakespeare miked?  Philip Seymour Hoffman miked?  No, no this can’t be.  It must be a device, wait and its intent will unfold.  There was no intent.  It is a large space and for reasons that will remain a puzzlement to us all, Mr. Sellars miked his actors.  There is simply no possible way to enjoy the language and live delivery of Shakespeare via a microphone.   After that first line, I decided that this was not to be seen as theatre, but as an art installation.   As such, this production is not uninteresting, if for no other reason than for seeing the pageantry of unharnessed narcissism. The casting was of particular interest.  I am exaggerating, but it seemed that Othello was the only non-African American actor on that stage.  I’m all for adventures in color blind casting, but this just does not work.  What’s next?  An all white Color Purple?  Surrounding Othello with people of color, and casting him with a Latino actor, is a great conceit for good dinner party conversation, and should not go beyond that.  John Ortiz is Othello, and handles it as well as Mr. Sellars allows.  (Sellars’ heavy hand print is on every performance.)  Philip Seymour Hoffman as Iago is bipolar and has body issues.  Mr. Hoffman spends half of his stage time being placid and the other half; enraged.  He is continuously pulling on his sweater, that does fit rather snuggly over his belly (stress eating during nightmarish rehearsals, no doubt.)  Mr. Hoffman is a phenomenal talent, we all know that, but none of it was evident here.  During his low moments he was clearly recognizable as himself versus Iago. and enraged, he just seemed silly.  Where exactly was the rage coming from?  The only standout, who seemed to transcend Mr. Sellars’ “no do it like this” direction was Desdemona, (Jessica Chastain.)  While she was put through the same absurd paces as her fellow actors, her clear true voice rang out.
The paces that the actors endured included confrontations by cell phone and blackberry, meshing of multiple characters into one, gender switches, a rape scene substituting for a duel, and zero affection between any of the characters.  Othello and Desdemonda spent a great deal of time on the video consoles simulating what can only be called “sleep hugging,” giving no indication of any passion but merely conveying exhaustion (perhaps another remnant of the stressful rehearsal period?)  There was absolutely nothing between Iago and Othello, which left so many actions baffling and void of any drama.  There was no raucous tavern scene, merely a couple of guys drinking beer and no action to speak of, short of the rape (which was horrifying on several levels.)
Adding to the art installation phenomenon was the lighting of this production.  Welcome to Othello: The Light Show.  The lighting  cues were so prominent and misguided that I became convinced they were done by a recent “lighting major” graduate.  “Look what I learned!”  But alas, I was so wrong.  The lighting is by James F Ingalls, a veteran designer.  Bizarre video monitors showing basically nothing aside, the constant; full lights, square spots, full lights, filtered lights, staccato was just unnerving.  What in the world was the point? I suspect that the point was personal.  Audience be damned!  If the audience be damned,.than it really isn’t theatre.  This production at best would make for an interesting lesson for acting students (taught by a self absorbed autocrat) but at its worst it is a personal indulgence and should be treated as such.  As a rule  many private behaviors should be done behind closed doors.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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