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Lombardi – Review

There are enough gratifying aspects to Lombardi to make it 90 minutes well spent.  The (very thin) play by Eric Simonson, is based on a biography.  I don’t know enough about sport to comment on the accuracy of the football history.  (Let’s be frank, what I know of sport I learned from Damn Yankees.)  There are beautiful moments in this play that are by no means the result of Thomas Kail’s (In The Heights, Brokeology) direction.  Having now seen Lombardi and Brokeology I am left believing that Mr. Kail is adept at knowing his audience and creating a format that will appease.  What he is not necessarily skilled at is helping his actors connect resulting in a complete lack of dramatic tension.  But he does know his audience.  This production, at Circle in The Square, is filled with lighting cues, videos and sound effects.  But what a joy to see theatre in the round!  While one of the actors (Keith Knobbs) seemed to have a bubble over his head reading “pivot, pivot, pivot,” most of the actors seemed entirely comfortable in the venue.  Theatre in the round can be such a wonderful method of drawing the audience into the experience, and I do believe the format helped this production a great deal.  It is difficult to asses performances when there simply isn’t that much with which to work, but there was one clear stand-out.  Judith Light plays Vince Lombardi’s wife Marie and steals the show (I would use a football metaphor, but who are we kidding.)  Ms Light while known predominately for her soap opera and sitcom work, is a very accomplished stage actress (Wit.)  She owns the stage for every moment she is on.  She manages to do so without any cheap tricks (which would be simply disastrous in such a small venue) but by the sheer force of her embodiment of her character.  Dan Lauria plays her husband Vince, and from what people tell me, Mr. Lombardi was ferocious?  I wouldn’t know that from Mr. Lauria’s performance.  He was likable enough (which is probably not helpful for this role) but the stage is clearly not his home.  I have decided that he was saving his voice (I saw a matinee) and I have no issue with that, however, he seemed to also be relying on his voice to do all the work for him.  That can be a problem.  Even so, how wonderful to see an un-miked play!!  I was almost dizzy listening to sound actually change as actors moved!  How novel.  How wonderful.  The size and style of the theatre, and the lack of amplification was joyous enough for this reviewer, but added into the equation was the fact that the majority of the audience were first time theatre goers.  Now, this might have been the ONLY time they were to venture into a theatre, but that’s okay too.  Much has been made of the website tutorials that existed for Lombardi fans (“it is customary to applaud for performances that please you.”) but I say “hurray.”  Come to the theatre to see the football memorabilia in the lobby.  Take photos of yourselves (in football regalia) next to full size Lombardi photos.  Flip through the Playbill declaring, “I’d see the Blue Man Group in anything.”  Come one, come all.  There is a whole lot of things theatre should be (affordable, magical, etc.) but what it should never be is elitist.
The only downside to this “theatre for beginners” phenomenon was the high school class sitting behind me (who arrived 15 minutes late.)  Their behavior would have appalled you.  When the curtain calls concluded, and the house lights came up, I dear reader, had my own curtain speech to give.  Please picture if you will, my 5 foot 7 self looming over slumping sitting sullen teenagers.  Ahem.  “I’ve listened to you for 90 minutes, now you are going to listen to me.  This is not your living room, this is a theatre, and that is not YouTube it is a play.  Those are real people down there performing.  They deserve your respect and you will give it to them.”

I think I lifted some of that from Herbie’s speech to the stage manager in Witchita’s only burlesque theatre.

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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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Brokeology – Review

There are two elements that prevent Brokeology (at Lincoln Center) from being great theatre; the direction and the play.  The play, by Nathan Louis Jackson is the story of a small family (African American) in Kansas City.  It is a very straightforward tale of a father (Wendell Pierce) in failing health, and his grown sons (Alano Miller and Francois Battiste) fumbling to plan his long term care.  This probably could be an interesting conceit had the characters been written with more depth and the family dynamics better exposed.  There are very large holes in the story which make it difficult to care for the family and its journey.  Why does the younger son have a Masters Degree from UConn and the older son is a fry cook and unwed father still living in his hometown?  Why is the father whose religion is his marriage to his deceased wife, so blase about his eldest not marrying the mother of his grandchild?
Some of these holes could have been offset with better direction.  Thomas Kail (In The Heights) is probably more suited for a musical stage.  There are no attempts to connect the actors to each other on the stage.  The pacing is so deadened as to weaken any momentum and hence dramatic tension that might be eeked out from the script.  Mr. Pierce (a very enjoyable actor) is not directed in any way that alludes to the progression of his disease.  Were it not for some special effects, we might never be aware of his deterioration.  This is a problem for a plot device that hinges on the sons making a decision about their father by summer’s end.  Mr. Miller is a fine actor with a lovely stage presence, who as the younger high achieving son is given little assistance from the script or director.  He is placid and never conveys any inner conflict about his “should I stay, or should I go” decision.  There is a hint in the script that he is to be the softer more communicative son of the two, but the direction did nothing to illuminate that fact.  Crystal Dickinson is delightful as the often dead mother of the family.  She need only show up from time to time to remind us of the guiding light that she was for this family.  The real stand-out of this ensemble, and the reason to see this play is Francois Battiste.  He is a mutlilayered heartbreaking dynamo, that claws his way out of the stagnation of this production.  It will remain a mystery as to why he, and only he, comes across as a fully formed character.  I know exactly what makes him tick, even with a rather contrived plot line.  There were moments throughout the production that made me wonder if the director really understood the play.  The first Act opens with the (alive) wife surprising her husband with homemade T-shirts.  Even though they were pre-set on the curtainless stage, I had difficulty making out what they were supposed to spell out and what their point was.  It is only later in the script where we learn that the wife had great artistic aspirations and had dropped out of college.  There is nothing in her character that would have us believe that she was delusional about her talents.  Why not have the costumer or set designer make those t-shirts fabulous?  The woman wanted to paint murals rife with political statements, and the shirts were at best monotonous.  Counter to this was the perfect set and lighting of this play.  The working class Kansas City home had its outer edges exposed in the thrust theatre.  Fragments of insulation and patchy lawn were slightly visible.  It was a lovely subtle touch.  The costuming was not as subtle as the elder son was dressed as “gangster lite” and the younger as “prep school holiday.”
This production continues to baffle me in many ways.  I don’t entirely understand how it made it to Lincoln Center nor do I understand the full (but odd) house on Saturday night.  I have never been to a production that had 50% Caucasians over age 75 and 50% African Americans (of various ages) as its audience.  I believe that composite actually explains a great deal about this production’s journey.  This play was clearly marketed to this particular audience.  I don’t know where or how (as I am not a member of either group.)  Clearly the firm mandated with this task should be lauded.  The audience showed (some 20-30 minutes late) and stayed.  They did not respond or seem terribly interested, but of course they gave the performers a standing ovation.  It was during this ovation that the tears flowed down my face.  Wendell Pierce stood on the apron of that stage, free of script and direction, his body and face were never more expressive and he broke my heart.  As the lump rose higher and higher in my throat, I ached for what could have been, with such a talented cast.

 
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Posted by on August 20, 2011 in Uncategorized

 

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