Let's Talk Off Broadway

Yvonne Korshak reviews Off-Broadway, Broadway, Film and Art

Category: Broadway Theater (Page 1 of 3)

REVIEW | OSLO | By J. T. Rogers | Directed by Bartlett Sher | Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center

… at the gates of war … 

No conflicts seem more stubbornly unsolvable in modern politics and history than the hostilities  between Israelis and Arabs.   How fascinating that there were, in fact, secret negotiations between Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization, enabled by idealistic,  peace-seeking Norwegians, that resulted in a signed agreement in 1993, the first of the Oslo accords.   Oslo tells the that story in such a way that the audience is caught up in the suspense of high stakes history.

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REVIEW Sweat | By Lynn Nottage | Directed by Kate Whoriskey | At Studio 54

… losers and losers …

Sweat is not a perfect play but it’s important and by the end has great impact. As this drama unfolds, we witness through the lives of engaging individuals how competition for jobs poisons relationships between ethnic and racial groups and, most poignantly, between friends.  The backdrop is the total disregard of industry and “Wall Street” for the individuals who support them.

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REVIEW | The Humans | by Stephen Karam | Directed by Joe Mantello

… it wasn’t meant to be this way …

Just after World War II, Frank Sinatra filmed and recorded an inspiring song, “The House I Live In,” an expansive, optimistic view of America.  In The Humans, the dwelling that is America has been reduced to a dumpy apartment.

And it’s no longer owned, it’s a rental – and the rent goes to the Chinese landlords.

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(A very) Long Day’s Journey Into Night | by Eugene O’Neill |Roundabout Theatre

… very long day’s journey …

Long Day’s Journey Into Night has a particular importance and glamour as an autobiographical work by one of America’s greatest playwrights, with the Tyrone family in the play being drawn from Eugene O’Neill’s memories of his own family.  While often called a masterpiece, Long Day’s Journey is a wordy and repetitive play.  For the psychological infighting, love-hate interactions and deceptions to remain compelling for the play’s 3 ¾ hours running time, it needs great actors with psychological depth.  Jessica Lange is effective as the mother but the three male actors are disappointing.

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REVIEW An American In Paris | Music and Lyrics by George Gershwin and Ira Gershwin

Book by Craig Lucas | Directed and Choreographed by Christopher Wheeldon |

Inspired by the film starring Gene Kelly and Leslie Caron

This new Broadway musical, American in Paris , has absolutely spectacular dancing and choreography, magnificent scenes and scene changes, and wonderful Gershwin songs.   The story, well, it’s a little weak but never mind.  American in Paris will fill you with joie de vivre.

And if you know the movie — though not always in the same ways this is every bit as good!

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Review | You Can’t Take It With You by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman

With James Earl Jones and Rose Byrne, directed by Scott Ellis, The Longacre Theatre

Living in a townhouse on the upper West side of NYC is a wacky but lovable family  guided by the idea that life is to be enjoyed and gaining money shouldn’t be a focus because, after all, you can’t take it with you:  everyone should freely do their own thing  — and so they do, with very funny results.   

Grandpa Martin Vanderhof attends commencements, his daughter Penny writes plays about monasteries and sex slaves while her husband Paul and friend build fireworks in the basement, as granddaughter Essie earnestly practices ballet and so it goes, with other emphatic personalities who find themselves part of the household.

When granddaughter Alice, a working girl, is ardently courted by Tony, the son of her Wall Street millionaire boss, having a zany family becomes a problem — at least that’s how Alice sees it.  She loves Tony, he loves her, but she’s sure the differences between his upper crust family and her own batch of eccentrics makes their marriage impossible:  he ardently disagrees but the catastrophic collisions and explosions (literally) when his fancy mother and father come to dinner — on the wrong night — don’t make their union any easier.  Still, comedies end in marriage and this is decidedly a comedy so — go figure.   

One of my friends said of this production of You Can’t Take It With You, ““Seemed awfully forced and pretty dated.  Silly maybe.”   Another said, “I thought it was dated and silly too.  But I enjoyed it anyway.  Thought it was fun.”  I’m with the second.  It’s a lot of fun — laughter is so good, and there’s such a lot of it, I wouldn’t have missed it for the world! 

But yet, why this sense of “silly?”

The reason is that the main conflict is under-motivated:  Alice’s certainty that the differences between their families makes their marriage impossible is not fully credible, from the start it doesn’t make sense  but seems invented to keep the play going:  conflict’s weakness can give rise to that word “silly,” for the otherwise beautifully conceived, written and performed comedy,   

Evidently the film director Robert Capra also thought the central conflict needed strengthening, as I found when I looked more deeply into the play’s history.  The play was first produced on Broadway in 1936, and won the Pulitzer Prize in 1937, and ran for 838 performances.  Still, when Capra made the movie  in 1938, he  substantially raised the stakes. 

Capra made Mr. Kirby, instead of just a Wall Street millionaire, a munitions manufacturer with a big government contract who intends to buy the Vanderhof’s decrepit house out from under him, as part of his plan to vanquish his business competitor.  So, in the film, it’s not just an overblown romantic conflict: the house itself is threatened by the business designs of Tony’s father, and with it the very way of life of our lovable, independent-minded Vanderhof family.    

I’m waiting to see the movie which I’ve ordered but I’d bet it won’t seem “silly”.  Capra’s film won the Academy Award for Best Picture and Best Director.  (I’ll report back here on the film with a P.S.)

But there’s nothing like seeing the play with live actors and this production — wishy-washy conflict or not — is a delight.  James Earl Jones seemed not to work very hard but he’s such a great actor that he moved me deeply.  This is a large cast of brilliant comedic actors — Annaleigh Ashford as Essie, for example, who erupts into ballet at every cue like a cuckoo clock, but with less predictability.  Elizabeth Ashley was perfect as the aristocratic fugitive  from the Russian revolution working at Child’s restaurant and ready to deliver blintzes for any number.  And Julie Halston as the vodka-besotted actress Gay Wellington takes the cake for bringing laughter:  you just have to see how (in a bit I didn’t find in reading the play) she made it up the stairs reeling off “There once was a man from Nantucket …. “ it was … well, this production is near the end of its run — but if you can see You Can’t Take It With You , you’re in for a good time.

You Can’t Take It With You  plays on Broadway at the Longacre Theatre through November 30, 2014.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.  

Yvonne Korshak

Comments very welcome.  Scroll down, click on “comments,” write in comment box and click on “post.”  Emails are private and never appear with comments.

Picnic by William Inge, directed by Sam Gold, Roundabout Theatre Company

Picnic is a huge delicious ice cream of a fantasy you don’t even have to feel guilty about giving in to it because it comes in the guise of hard bitten realism.  I loved it. 

The action takes place in a small town in the midwest in and around the houses of Flo Owens and Helen Potts and the yard between them.  The set, always on view, is so familiar and warmly lit, from the worn white wood frame houses with enticing glimpses through the windows to the appealingly familiar junk around, that one can hardly wait for the play to begin.  The play doesn’t disappoint.    

Into this tight little corner of Kansas, where several women of of a range of ages happen to be living, comes a stunningly handsome, aggressively virile young man, Hal, a drifter taken in by Mrs. Potts who, according to the more prim Flo, has offered hospitality in exchange for odd jobs to too many wandering guys before.  Carrying heavy bushels of wood with his shirt off, Hal electrifies the woman of all ages – it’s amusing, and it has truth.  

We know almost immediately that we have to worry about whether Hal, with his run-ins with the law, edgy, self-defeating ways and remarkable abs will or won’t end up with Madge, Flo’s lovely eighteen-year old daughter, his equal in gorgeousness and like him without a college diploma in her future (she’s a salesgirl at the dime store). 

Sure we worry – Madge, as beautiful as a girl can be (she was Miss Neewollah, Halloween spelled backward younger sister Millie explains) is courted by Alan, the local rich young man who’s in college, and has an affluent and loved future to offer her.  It would be terrible if Hal’s sexual magnetism caused Madge to throw aaside her secure future, even if Alan does seem a little wimpy.  Terrible.  Tch tch.  Only it’s what we ardently hope for throughout the play.   

There’s going to be a Labor Day picnic that night and everybody’s excitement is focused on that getting away from the usual – like the picnic on the island in Porgy and Bess  where Crown pulls Bess into his sexual orbit, away from Porgy.  We fear that trouble will erupt at this picnic, for which Mrs. Potts has baked the pies (the only way an old woman can get noticed is through her pies, she laments, with some satisfaction).  And in fact “trouble” does erupt – but not at the picnic.  Madge and Hal never make it there.  They discover their love, both passionate and profound.  And in that, they start on a path to discovering their own womanly and manly selves.  Picnic’s not just about sex, after all.  They change, they go deeper, which is what makes this so satisfying a play. 

Not that all obstacles are past them, however.  Not by a long shot.  Hal — darn it, Hal! Stay out of trouble! one thinks — has another run-in with the law and has to flee across the river (we reassure ourselves remembering he was West Coast diving champion).  But in this tight corner of mothers who have exerted too much inhibiting pressure on their daughters, maturity and independence are at the heart of the play.    

Beautiful Madge, as played by Maggie Grace, has a frail delicacy which makes the toughness she finds within all the more powerful:  she’s seems to need protection, until she discovers the strength to risk all, through the transformative power of love.  Sebastian Stan brings out Hal’s blend of pride, sexual magnetism, and sense of ill-fated outsider.

Elizabeth Marvel is humorous and all-out emotional as the school teacher Rosemary desperate for marriage with the amiable but stuck-in-his ways Howard, played by Reed Birney (they don’t make it to the picnic either).  Ellen Burstyn is amusing as Mrs. Helen Potts (she keeps that remnant of a brief, passionate marriage – Mrs. — in defiance of her mother).   Millie, played by Madeleine Martin, is the more readily independent of the Owens’ daughters, though I wish that the designers of this show hadn’t used “darker” and “shorter” to signify “less beautiful.”    

The bringing into the open of all of the women’s strong sexuality, with Hal the catalyst for revelation, must have been electrifying in the conservative 1950’s when this play was first produced:  it remains fresh.

Although large cultural issues of class conflicts, pressures to conform and puritanical narrow mindedness are referred to in Picnic as if they matter, they don’t seem to cast a genuine menace on the little enclave between Mrs. Potts’ and Mrs. Owens’ houses.  Picnic never has you too worried.  Conflicts arise from characters and, deep down, we know that the characters are going to work it out and that the play will turn out the way we hope.

Picnic tells a story of ordinary people made extraordinarily engaging through the playwright’s crafting of their characters and understanding of their hopes, fears, plans and passions.  It's funny, moving, inspiring, and wrapped in a package of sensual allure.     

Picnic plays at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre on 42nd Street West of Broadway through February 24th, 2013.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

Comments very welcome.  Scroll down, click on "comments," write in comment box and click on "post."  Emails are confidential;  no emails ever appear with comments.

Golden Boy by Clifford Odets, directed by Bartlett Sher, Lincoln Center Theater at the Belasco Theatre

After great success with his plays Waiting for Left and Awake and Sing!  in 1935 – and a stint of movie writing in Hollywood – Odets returned to Broadway with Golden Boy in 1937.   Being familiar with the first two plays, I looked forward to a chance to get to know Golden Boy.   I wanted to like it.   I even expected to be excited by it.

Here’s my view:  Golden Boy is a pretty good play, and could be powerful with great actors, particularly a resonant actor in the part of Joe Bonaparte, the young boxer.   In this production, the pretty good play has pretty good actors and a good attempt to bring the world of boxing on stage – but none good enough to overcome the thinness of the characterizations.  It tells a dramatic story but with stereotypes, and the fundamental premise, that Bonaparte has potential as a great violinist is never made convincing so – much to my surprise — I found it somewhat tiresome.  (A review of an earlier production says Odets himself thought the situation implausible, though the reviewer doesn’t mention the source.)

Joe Bonaparte is a young kid with two talents – for the violin and for boxing (welterweight division).  Caught in this conflict between art and filthy lucre — reflecting a similar conflict in Odets’ life that took him temporarily from Broadway (“art”) to Hollywood (“filthy lucre”) – Joe gives in to the lure of fame and money. 

Bonaparte turns a deaf ear to the tactful, loving attempts of his father, a music loving Italian, to keep him on the straight and narrow high level career path as a violinist, while the boxing lure is sweetened all the more when Joe falls in love with Lorna, the girlfriend of his good guy manager, Tom.  Sure enough, in his quick rise to near the top in the boxing world, he breaks his hands, ruining them for the violin in a point of no return which was, however, inevitable from the start.  He’s so good at anything he does — violin, boxing – he becomes a contender fast, at which point the mob, in the person of sharp dressing Eddie Fuseli, enters to buy a piece of him with an offer that can’t be refused.

The setting and characters are gritty – boxers, trainers, gangsters, cops, as the cast list describes the extras.  One of the cleverest and most interesting aspects of the play is the way Odets has the brutal boxing matches occur offstage, with their bloody outcomes conveyed to the audience through what happens in the dressing room, giving us an intimate view of the vast gladiators’ combat taking place out there.  The production tries to be gritty:  scenes set in club gyms include well choreographed sparring boxers.  But the arrangement of the mechanical rolling in and out of set changes is distracting and out of tone with the play.

Seth Numrich, who plays Joe Bonaparte, is a good actor and summons up a lot of passion – and even develops a tougher “New York accent” — as the physical and psychological conflicts intensify, but he’s just too refined and delicate for the part.  I understand William Holden played Bonaparte in the 1939 film:  this I want to see.  Meanwhile, I thought what the young Brando would have done with it.  At one point a punch drunk boxer nags his manager to arrange a match with Bonaparte and the manager tells his boxer he'll “never make [Bonaparte's] weight,” but the punch-drunk guy looks a lot thicker and stronger than Numrich, and a lot more at home in the world of in-and-off-the-ropes.

Danny Mastrogiorgio has a chance to show some appealing subtlety in the play’s relatively complex role of Bonaparte’s self-interested but not ruthless manager.  Yvonne Strahovski does as well as one can with a stereotyped character, the not-so-dumb blond boxing manager’s girl friend amd she looks great in those wonderful '30's clothes, narrow and with shoulder pads.

Anthony Crivello as the mobster Eddie is Tough, Premptive, Scary, Snappily Dressed and un-nuanced (again I found myself wishing for Brando, now in his Godfather guise).   Joe’s father, Tony Shalhoub, is just too angelically good, as is Joe’s union organizer brother, Frank, played by Lucas Caleb Rooney, though Frank’s head wound, won for a cause of helping his fellow men is an interesting foil to Joe’s bloody wounds won beating up another guy in the boxing ring.  Joe’s father’s spiritual Jewish soul mate, Mr. Carp, played by Jonathan Hadary, is so superficial in his “deep” mutterings and name dropping of philosophers that he makes you smile.  Carp's an extraneous character – he makes his weak stab at giving the play “universality” and disappears.      

The play gives a look at the underside of the boxing world and its extremes of brutality, and treatment of the boxers as “meat” – there are bloody moments that make you catch your breath.  But we never really understand why Bonaparte is as he is, what makes him run – it can’t be just because he’s a little cross eyed, can it?   Especially since we never see that at work or believe it.  I'd say the trait of “cross eyed” was tossed in to help individualize Odets’ unclear characterization of his main character.

I can imagine that actors who draw on deep inward resonances – like the method actors for whom it was written, and who played in the original production – would help to overcome inconsistencies and superficialities.  This would allow the play’s best qualities to emerge.  The story is somewhat implausible but – one can suspend disbelief.  The glimpse of a tough milieu not well known to many of us is fascinating.  And the rush to the heights and descent to the depths – recalling The Great Gatsby  – holds great drama.  This production is paced so briskly and brightly that the actors don't have the chance to give their fullest, and the play's genuine strengths are not fulfilled.  Still, in a Broadway season sparse on serious plays, this may do well, and I sort of hope it does.  With a play so well meaning, it's hard not to be in its corner.

Golden Boy  plays at the Belasco Theatre (a gorgeous theatre worth seeing in its own right) on West 44th Street in NYC.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

Comments are very welcome.  Scroll down, click on "comments," write in comment box and click on "post."  Emails are private and never appear with comments. 

***WIN TWO FREE TICKETS TO Clifford Odets’ Golden Boy on Broadway HERE! ***

Pinterest contest for GOLDEN BOY.
the winner receives two tickets to the show and dinner for two at Saju Bistro
To enter, here's the link:
 
The contest runs through December 9.  CLIFFORD ODETS' GOLDEN BOY! 
 

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AT LINCOLN CENTER THEATER AT THE BELASCO THEATER ON BROADWAY    (these are live links for more information)

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? by Edward Albee, with Tracy Letts, Amy Morton, Carrie Coon, and Madison Dirks, directed by Pam MacKinnon, Steppenwolf Theatre Company

This is an excellent production of a very well written and engrossing play that leaves off with an unpleasant sense of sound and fury signifying not much. 

It’s about a husband and wife who constantly argue and undercut one another.  This is done under the guise of what's supposedly a significant psychological, even philosophical, revelation involving a mutually held illusion but in my view that’s a highfalutin pretext: the unlikely revelation is no more than a justification for a tremendously skilled playwright to write a total orgy of witty, sharp, well observed nastiness between a married couple.  That can be a lot of fun, but it's also pretty sordid.

George and Martha (Father of our Country?  First Family?), married for 23 years, know just where to wound the other in their back and forth bickering.  She’s the daughter of the President of a small New England college.  He’s an ironic, underachieving Professor of History – well, only Associate Professor after all these years, as Martha is given to reminding him and the young couple, Nick and Honey, who come by for a nightcap after a faculty party.

Nick’s a new faculty member in the Biology Department and Honey’s his frail, giddy wife – like Martha without a job to call her own.  It’s already late when they arrive at Martha and George’s book strewn house where they all hang out until dawn, with more drinking from the 1950’s appropriate portable bar than any four people could realistically down and remain alive in that length of time.

What keeps you engrossed is the marvelously written dialog, above all the vicious, canny backbiting between Martha and George.  Each knows where the other hurts, and each seems to have as a life purpose to dig in to that spot and twist the knife.  They do this with lean, sophisticated, quick, witty repartee which is fascinating to follow.  If the play’s worth producing, that’s why.  And if this production is worth seeing, it’s largely because Tracy Letts and Amy Morton are brilliant in their parts, the the laid back and ultimately protective George, she the no-holds barred harridan with a hidden illness at the core.  These are two great actors at work on superb dialogue and for that I’m glad to have seen the play. 

Carrie Coon is clever and at times hilarious as the prim, rich academic wife with a brandy addiction who dances, as she tells us, “like the wind.”   Madison Dirks does a workmanlike job as the opportunistic newly hired biologist who’s willing, though not able, to sleep with faculty wives including – make that especially — the University President’s daughter, in order to make it up the academic ladder.

The set — with the oriental rugs and books piled up in the fireplace — is appealing and recognizable as the living room of entrenched college faculty.

But the picture of the academic life doesn’t ring true.  George, we hear disparagingly from Martha, “writes papers”:  being that productive at this middling school, he'd certainly have become a full Professor by now if the playwright – setting him up as Martha’s target — hadn’t needed him to be a flop.  There's no reason that the new hotshot biology faculty member would have to assume that the road to success was sleeping with faculty wives.  Publish or perish is more like it and ambitious Nick had better get started writing some papers of his own.  These characters don’t come across as real people – they’re outlandish – but the dialog is so good you hardly notice.  The big revelatory ending is forced, and not really believable.  But Amy Morton’s emotional rendering is so powerful you believe it while it’s happening – this great actress believes it, so while she's at it, you do.  

The real illusion here is based on Albee’s skill, strong enough to give you the illusion while you’re watching that Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is about something important.  It isn’t.  Nick and Honey – before they’re completely soused – worry that they’ve been dragged in on an indecorous husband and wife fight that they shouldn’t really be watching and they're right.  It didn't do them any good.  The play's long on laughs but short on humanity.       

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?  plays at the Booth Theatre on West Broadway in Manhattan.  For information and tickets, click on live link of title.

Yvonne Korshak

Comments very welcome.  Scroll down, click on "comments," write in comment box and click on "post."  Emails are private — no emails ever appear with comments.

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