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A Moon For The Misbegotten – Review

Having never seen Eugene O’Neill’s The Moon for the Misbegotten before, I should not feel as confident as I do asserting that the current production at The Pearl is a reinterpretation.  I don’t mean in a “let’s changed the ethnicity of the cast” or “let’s insert incongruous devices” or “let’s see how much technology we can use” kind of reinterpretation.  Instead I suspect that director J.R. Sullivan chose to tell the story in a new way through casting.  This (excellent) cast is both physically and spiritually slightly against type.

At first glimpse Josie (Kim Martin-Cotten) is a lumbering, smudged and bedraggled farmwoman.  She shifts her center of gravity down and splays her legs as she barrels across the stage.  But when she slows down and we get a good look, she’s quite lovely.  Perhaps, when this play was originally produced (1947) she might be considered a bigger woman, but by today’s standards she has an enviable figure.  Much of the play is centered around her insecurities in her appearance.  By casting a woman as classically pretty as Ms. Martin-Cotten this device seems quite modern.  Her struggle seems all the more real because of its psychological origins.

Her father Phil (Dan Daily) is a large barrel chested man who could be a distant relative to Alan Hale (Sr. or Jr.)  He has an affability that belies his lot in life.  We know from an early conversation between Josie and her fleeing brother Mike (Sean McNall) that daddy can be bombastic.  Dan Daily’s Phil seems more Captain Kangaroo than that which adds another layer of psychological realism.  The adult children experience him in a manner that is theirs alone.

Jame Tyrone Jr. (Andrew May) is Long Day’s Journey Into Night’s Jamie all grown up.  For anyone who’s ever wondered about the effects of addicts raising children, I give you Jimmy.  Mr. May plays Jimmy as a loving and softhearted man with a dark demon deep within.  He presents himself as so socially endearing that his excessive drinking is the only hint of what lies beneath.  Until the earth opens and swallows him.  This nuanced performance is so realistically accurate.  The tormented and deeply tortured rarely advertise their condition.

The theatre (City Center’s Stage 2) adds yet another key ingredient to this production.  A small thrust theatre, with the audience practically on the stage, sustains connectivity for the 3 1/2 hour(!) play.  There is much, of course, that is heart wrenching about this play, but there is much that is very very funny as well.  It is by nature a very heavy play but this production feels fresh and very relevant as well.  There was a girl of about 10, sitting next to me.  She sat stock-still and transfixed throughout the entire production.  As did I.

 
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Posted by on April 6, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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End Of The Rainbow – Review

The Belasco is an ornate wonder of a theatre.  The walls are covered in dark pastoral murals, the ceiling in stained glass coats of armor.  Carvings and drapery cover every other surface.  All of the lushness stands in somewhat stark contrast to the excruciatingly discomfort of the seats.  It’s as if the theatrical experience was forgotten in the act of creating the spectacle.  The Belascon’s current inhabitant; End of the Rainbow might well be suffering the same condition.

The play, by Peter Quilter captures the essence of the final months of Judy Garland’s life.  Quilter understands the contradictions and complications that were at work.  But directed by Terry Johnson, this production isn’t so much a play as it is a version of Beatlemania.  There is far too much tribute singing both in the recreation of the concert performances and (in a bizarre break in character) to stir a rousing ovation at the end of both acts.  Less singing might make this a more interesting play.  The problem however with knowing exactly how something ends is how then to make it dramatic.  Sometimes that can be accomplished with very fine acting.

Tom Pelphrey is spot on as Mickey Deans, Judy’s very young soon-to-be fifth (and last) husband.  Mr. Pelphrey has the unique ability to walk the tightrope between sinister and charm.  (Someday I hope to see him in How I Learned To Drive.)  Michael Cumpsty portrays Judy’s sometime accompanist, Anthony.  His is the most compelling and beautiful portrayal.  The only emotional resonance of the show comes from his two minute speech, downstage in a single spotlight.

Tracie Bennett doesn’t so much play Judy as she does impersonate Miss Garland.  It is terribly distracting to experience a full-length play built around an impersonator.  It is immaterial to assess whether someone is a good Judy Garland impersonator or not.  The fact remains that if anyone could even come close to the magic of the real Judy Garland, we would not still be talking about her (and her completely irrelevant fifth husband) 40+ years later.  Keeping that sad fact in mind, a performer is further ahead to take a page from Meryl Streep’s book, and capture the essence of an icon, not create a pale imitation.  It might sound like a minor issue, but the difference (to an audience) between acting and impersonation is tremendous.

The set of this production (William Dudley) is of the Ritz Hotel (London) and melds beautifully into the ornate theatre.  There is a very charming band set behind a scrim that is revealed to create the concert hall.  There is a bit of awkwardness with the transitions on stage.  A garment rack wheeled onto the stage to indicate a dressing room is silly and seems like a leftover device from a work shopped performance.

I was struck by some of the script’s painful yet accurate insights and think Mr. Quilter could have the makings of a gem, in the right hands.  However he probably needn’t bother.  In its current form, this show will be a huge success.  The audience went wild for Ms. Bennett’s rendition of one of Miss Garland’s worst performances on record.

 
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Posted by on April 5, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Pipe Dream – Review

N.Y. City Center Encores! is back to its old self with its production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Pipe Dream (1955.)  Fully choreographed (Kelli Barclay,) with a perfect set (John Lee Beatty) and costumes (Toni-Leslie James) that by all rights should be in my closet, Encores! once again, does not disappoint.

Pipe Dream is based on two John Steinback novels (Cannery Row and Sweet Thursday) and has a certain grittiness that one may not always associate with Rodgers & Hammerstein.  To be perfectly candid, I often suffer from insulin depletion at declarations of climbing every mountain, or of the corn being as high as an elephant’s eye.  I’ve always been more of a; boy like that, sit down you’re rocking the boat, you’ll never get away from me, kinda gal.  And while Pipe Dreams is by no means a perfect show, it has lured me onto Team R&H.

The theme of the show is that of the world of work, and not the button downed briefcase carrying kind.  Much of the show takes place in both a house of…well, a house of female comfort and a flop house.  There are some simply beautiful songs; Everybody’s Got A Home But Me and Suzy Is A Good Thing (which opening notes are reminiscent of the opening to Bali Hai.)  There are also one or two songs that simply fall flat.  However, with a strong producer (back in 1955) it’s clear that this show could have been work-shopped into something wonderful.

With any show that does not come complete with recognizable tunes or story, or has not come directly from a film or comic book; casting is key.  Marc Bruni (director) hit a trifecta with Leslie Uggams, Tom Wopat and Stephen Wallem.  Mr. Wopat and Ms. Uggams are in great voice and simply devour their characters.  Mr. Wallem is an extremely enjoyable character actor (with a very good singing voice) and captures the character of Hazel perfectly.  The male and female romantic leads; Will Chase and Laura Osnes are not as suited to their roles.  Romantic leads are never that interesting to play, and without a certain spark, or electric magnetism, they are not very interesting to watch.

The real star of any Encores! production is the thirty(!) piece orchestra, directed by Rob Berman.  At a time when paired down orchestras are being divided and sequestered into basement rooms with tiny monitors of the stage (across the street) it is phenomenal to see a full orchestra on the stage.  When the curtain rose to reveal the elevated orchestra I heard a young girl gasp.  If there is anything that is less than positive about Encores! is that the run is always far too brief.  Pipe Dreams plays until April 1st.

 
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Posted by on March 28, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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Ask Me How Do I Feel

Sitting in Avery Fisher Hall, with the N.Y. Philharmonic upon the stage, celebrating Anywhere I Wander: The Frank Loesser Songbook, I felt like a  ringing bell, popping spring and swinging gate all at once.  From the very first note of the “Frank Overture” the packed house knew they were in for an amazing night.  The evening’s program was introduced by Robert Morse, his ovation demonstrating how much audiences believe in him.

The first number; Bushel and a Peck was performed by a male trio (John Bolton, Bernard Dotson, Michael Seelbach) in three part harmony.  I was left wondering why it is not always performed in that manner!  The trio were choreographed (Andrew Palermo) down to the half-note, their standing microphones used as dance partners.  The numbers following were predominately from the stage (The Most Happy Fella, Where’s Charley, etc.) but there were film and pop songs performed as well.  Marc Kudisch’s rendition of Hans Christian Anderson was moving and amusing.

Of particular personal joy was the performing of several numbers from Guys & Dolls.  I had never previously had the privilege of seeing a perfect professional rendition of these songs.  Victoria Clark was positively luminescent in her rendition of If I Were A Bell.  It was somewhat poetic to have Mary Testa performing Adelaide’s Lament, as she and I had both endured the (2009) Guys & Dolls revival.  Ms. Testa, with all her sneezing and wheezing and her sinus that’s really a pip, made the song all her own and it was fabulous!  If there was any disappointment to the evening it was the quality of Robert Morse’s microphone.  What felt like a once in a lifetime experience; seeing Mr. Morse perform I Believe In You, was marred by static and feedback.  I was left wondering how the N.Y. Philharmonic does not have a stage manager adept at killing the body mic and running on stage with a hand-held.

Fortunately that is not what lingers.  What I will always recall is the incredible orchestra, joyfully conducted by Ted Sperling and over 2,700 people singing along to Once In Love With Amy.

 
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Posted by on March 27, 2012 in Uncategorized

 

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The Road To Mecca – Review

The Road To Mecca is having its Broadway premiere. Set in 1974 (and written in 1984) it is a story based upon a real Afrikaan woman; Miss Helen.  Written by Athol Fugard (Master Harold…, etc.) and directed by Gordon Edelstein (The Homecoming) this production stars Rosemary Harris.

This three person, two act play centers on Miss Helen’s future.  Her young friend Elsa (Carla Gugino) has arrived unexpectedly out of concern for Miss Helen.  Elsa, a British South African, has traveled 800 miles (to the middle of nowhere) to connect with her dear friend.  The third character, Marius (Jim Dale) does not arrive until just before intermission.  Miss Helen’s oldest friend, the reverend Marius is certain he knows what is best for her.  It seems an artist, close to 70, living alone in rural South Africa and surrounding her home with large cement sculptures, is a bit troubling to others.

There are issues with this play, but none whatsoever with the performances.  Rosemary Harris is simply awe inspiring.  The character, as written, is not terribly eccentric or unusual, and Ms. Harris does not add any forced mannerisms to compensate.  She is such an honest actor, we don’t hesitate for a moment to believe that Miss Helen is a quiet, unimposing woman who has to create.  (It is interesting to consider if the real Miss Helen was as devoid of manner, or if this is the playwright’s daring interpretation.  Artists, more often than not, are portrayed as borderline mad.)  While I was mildly self-conscious of my admiration for Ms. Harris’ stamina and memorization skills, I’d like to think my ageism was reinforced by the play itself.  Ms. Harris (in her 80s) is playing a woman nearing 70 whose faculties are beginning to slightly diminish.

Carla Gugino (Desire Under The Elms) is absolutely lovely.  Elsa is a bit of a rebel in her politics and manages to create a bit of a stir in her upscale world.  Her compassion and awareness for the world around her is genuine and she struggles to muster the same compassion for herself.  She has driven all day to the Karoo village, after receiving a concerning letter from Miss Helen.  It is a believable motivation as Miss Helen lives without electricity let alone a telephone.

The first act is too long and too repetitive.  Mr. Fugard seems to struggle with assigning worth to words.  They are not all equal.  There are questions and motivations left unanswered yet metaphors exhausted.  The second act is a marvelous change.  The arrival of (the wonderful) Jim Dale provides the tension needed.  What ensues are wonderful scenes between Marius and Miss Helen, Miss Helen and Elsa and some sly and lovely scenes with all three characters.

The set (Michael Yeargan) and lighting (Peter Kaczorowski) are technically excellent, but might need tone tweaking.  Much is made of Miss Helen’s issues with light and darkness and with her artistic prowess.  Yet, the set (her home) is devoid of much artistry.  There’s a bit of sparkly paint, and some mirrors, and maybe that’s how the real Miss Helen lived, but I’m not sure it works dramatically.  Much of the play is performed in very dim light as the action takes place during one long night.  The lighting, part of the metaphor parade, is distracting.  Each time a candle is lit or extinguished, a spotlight gets its wings.  The actors are not saddled with microphones (hallelujah) but in the sixth row, I sometimes had to strain to hear Ms. Harris.  Audience members further back and not adept at listening, may have difficulty.

If one can ignore the awkward technical bits, and endure the first act, see this play.  The performances are truly wonderful.  I saw this preview for the chance to see Rosemary Harris on stage.  I would do it again.  The final line of the play, spoken by Elsa, packs an emotional wallop not to be missed.  A predictable ending?  Perhaps.  But it works.

 
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Posted by on December 30, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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