Let's Talk Off Broadway

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

Tag: Austin Pendleton

Jean Lichty at the early feminist NORA, and Todd Gearhart as her husband, Torvald in Bergman's NORA after Ibsen's A Doll's House

Review | Nora | by Ingmar Bergman | After Ibsen’s A Doll’s House | Directed by Austin Pendleton

… a doll’s household … 

Jean Lichty at the early feminist NORA, and Todd Gearhart as her husband, Torvald in Bergman's NORA after Ibsen's A Doll's House

Todd Gearhart as Torvald and Jean Lichty as Nora. Photo Carol Rosegg

In the name of “crystallization,” Bergman’s paring down of Ibsen’s compelling play with its early feminist theme sticks to the plot but gives us fewer ways to know the characters.  It puts major, inner change on fast forward — making for an unconvincing drama.

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L-R Sean Walsh and Austin Pendleton. Photo Bobby Caputo

Review | Chinese Coffee | By Ira Lewis | Directed by Louise Lasser | With Sean Walsh and Austin Pendleton | On The Wind Productions | Roy Arias Stage II Theater

This is a suspenseful play of psychological gamesmanship between an older mentor and a younger, less educated but talented writer.  The psychological unfolding is filled with suspense.  Jake (Pendleton), a 50-year old photographer and bookish older guy is weary and, as the play begins, tensely avoiding Harry (Walsh), 44 years old, who, just having lost a make-do job as a doorman, penniless, pushes in to Jake’s stifling apartment looking for some money Jake owes him. 

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Review | Gidion’s Knot by Johnna Adams | Directed by Austin Pendleton | With Karen Leiner and Dara O’Brien | 59E59 Theaters

… truth …

Gidion’s Knot is an intense gem.  Two persons, a Gidion'sKnot6mother, Caryn (Leiner) and a grade school teacher, Heather (O’Brien) are engaged, during a parent-teacher conference in a taut  offensive-defensive search for truth.

L-R Karen Leiner and Dara O'Brien.  Photo by Carol Rosegg

Caryn, thin, brusque, sharp, in jeans and leather boots, comes to school looking for an explanation for a catastrophe that has met her son. Heather, soft, tender, plump, blowzy, seeks to keep Caryn — and her probing questions and snooping around the classroom — at bay.  Caryn is looking to untie the knot of evasions and slim clues that stand between her and knowing the truth of what transpired regarding her son.   Heather, the classroom teacher, knows the truth — or does she?

With a compelling immediacy, Gidion's Knot takes place in true time — the play takes 90 minutes, so does this remarkable parent-teacher conference — and the characters are seen as life-size (seats in this small theater immediately around the stage).  But even deeper excitement lies in the targeted dialog, the canny fencing, the emotional and intellectual shifts as Caryn, bull dogging Heather, ratting through the knot of clues, gradually illuminates the events  and the emotional undercurrents.

Like Hickey in Eugene O’Neill’s The Iceman Cometh, and with a similar cruel edge, Caryn strips away the self-protective rationalizations, forcing truth into the open for both women.  Directly on the heels of Caryn's relentless and successful hunt for truth, the question looms:  given the great value placed on truth, is there ever a role for compassion in the searching it out?  Gidion’s Knot seems to come down on the side of the unvarnished value of searing truth, a tough verdict.

Two outstanding actresses, Karen Leiner and Dara O'Brien, in their two studies of opposites, fascinate in the course of their emotional voyage, as if they shared a lifetime, and under Austin Pendleton's subtle direction, nothing is lost and everything illuminates.  

Johnna Adams’ deep knowledge of human beings, intelligence and dramatic gift has located in a meeting of a parent and teacher in an ordinary classroom an encounter as hold-your-breath suspenseful as a whodunit, and with the highest stakes.  It leaves you thinking about topical issues, such a school bullying, and eternal questions, such as the nature and value of truth. This is true dramatic magic.

Gidion's Knot  plays at 59E59 Theaters in midtown Manhattan through March 9,  2014.  For 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.

Review | Ivanov by Anton Chekhov | Translated by Carol Rocamora | Directed by Austin Pendleton | With Ethan Hawke as Ivanov | Classic Stage Company

Ivanov is not as perfect a play as Chekhov’s Three Sisters  (at Classic Stage) or The Cherry Orchard, which came later,  but I enjoyed it even more – filled with fascinating and amusing characters, it spills over into a rambunctious panorama of life.  That’s all the more amazing because — characteristically Chekhov – the characters like to proclaim that they're  “bored ” but the play is vital and engaging – how does he do it?  One thing:  the writing is marvelous.  And in this Classic Stage production, the acting is superb, and Austin Pendleton's naturalistic, soft-voiced direction highly effective in drawing you in and making you believe.

Ethan Hawk gives his all:  he understands every nuance of Chekhov’s portrait of the anguished, depressed Ivanov and portrays it vividly through voice, facial expression, and movement – he fairly dances through the part.  His is a particularly individualized performance, but all the actors are perfectly cast and draw the most of humor and meaning from their parts.

Ivanov, a landowner in late 19th-century Russia, is in straightened fiscal circumstances, is married to a woman he no longer loves, and has let his once ambitious agricultural plans for his estate fall by the wayside.

Plenty of reason to be depressed in all that, and so we first meet him lying in his rumpled white linen suit on his rumpled bed in daytime, fitfully trying to read.   Interruptions, such when the steward of his estate comes in with a shady — read modern exploitive — money-making scheme, exasperate him.  Reminders – as from the well-meaning, pompous young doctor, that Ivanov should save his wife Anna, who is dying of tuberculosis, by taking her for a long rest in a warm climate – exasperate him even more.

Sorry for himself as he feels, though, Ivanov is not a victim:  he’s brought his woes on himself, but he’s created a victim in his wife.  Five years ago, he passionately wooed her, and she gave up Jewish faith and her family for love of him.  Had he, back then, wooed her for her money?  so that his “falling out of love” is really disappointment that when she converted to his Russian Orthodox faith she lost her dowry?  Or did the stifling cloud of his depression simply descend upon him as Chekhov, a medical doctor, knew can happen?  We’re never sure.  One thing is clear:  Ivanov is not a good man – but a fascinating theatrical character, and fascinating to women.

Now Anna's doctor is continually hammering at Ivanov to take her away for warmth and rest while Ivanov abhors the idea of being alone with her.  Anyhow, he doesn’t have the money.  He evades all pressing issues by going over to the Lebedevs' estate where things are a lot more fun, even though he’s harassed by Zinaida Lebedeva, a tight-fisted  money lender, for the 9000 roubles he owes her.  There are a variety of acquaintances, characters, jokes, his warm friend, Paul Lebedev, and – brandy in the punch — the Lebdev’s 20-year old daughter, Sasha, who’s infatuated with him. 

Anna and her faithful advocate and doctor follow him there, only to catch him kissing Sasha, which leads Anna to believe that Ivanov has always been false, their love a sham from the start, that the bitterest pill for a sick woman.   How Chekhov works out these situations of love and betrayal … well, let’s just say Ivanov finally does something forceful. 

Such rich, abundant, fully realized theater as Classic Stage’s production of Ivanov  takes you beyond yourself.  Chekhov creates a full world that offers the bright, stimulating pleasure of attentiveness for the duration of the play.  And the characters are so alive, amusing and vivid that they stay with you in your world afterwards. 

Ivanov  plays at Classic Stage Company in Manhattan's East Village through December 9th, 2012.  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.

Review | A Minister’s Wife | A Musical Theater Version of George Bernard Shaw’s Candida | Book by Austin Pendleton | Music by Joshua Schmidt | Lyrics by Jan Levy Tranen | Conceived and Directed by Michael Halberstam | Lincoln Center

A big problem for A Minister’s Wife is that, unlike most of Shaw’s plays, Candida is in my view — though others disagree — dated.  It has to do with a woman determining her own fate but the ideas circulating about relationships between men and women, marriage and love, are archaic — and there’s barely a spoonful of Shavian wit.  These problems were evident in the recent production of Candida  by the Irish Repertory Theater , and setting some speeches to music, as in A Minister’s Wife, doesn’t make them go away.

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Review | Three Sisters by Anton Chekhov | Translated by Paul Schmidt | Directed by Austin Pendleton | Classic Stage Company

… three ages of women …

Chekhov wrote Three Sisters for production on a proscenium stage but I think he would have been thrilled to see this expansion of his work in Classic Stage’s magnificent large and high performance space.  The potential breadth of Three Sisters is fulfilled in a way I’ve never seen before: the philosophical vision, the psychology and the drama enlarge as if here they’ve found a space to unfold their wings.

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Review | Vieux Carre by Tennessee Williams | Directed by Austin Pendleton | Pearl Theatre Company

… streetcar named memory …

The setting is a run-down boarding house in New Orleans’ French Quarter in the 1930’s and you know you’re in good hands from the first moment.  The house is empty now, The Writer comments at the start, remembering when he lived there, but clearly it isn’t — Mrs. Wire, the landlady is on stage even before the play begins.  With that brilliant contradiction, Williams conveys the paradox of memory.

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