Let's Talk Off Broadway

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

Tag: Classic Stage Company (Page 1 of 3)

The playwright ponders ... Pierre Corneille by an unknown 17th century artist. Bibliotheque Nationale de France.

Review | The Liar | By David Ives | Adapted from Corneille’s play Le Menteur | Directed by Michael Kahn | Classic Stage Company

… bold brilliance …

This play is for everybody who loves words, word play, unexpected puns and rhymes of an unbound imagination.  It’s hilarious –and expands one’s sense of the English language.

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Review | Peer Gynt | By Henrik Ibsen | Directed and Adapted by John Doyle | Classic Stage Company

… what’s the hurry ? …

This Classic Stage production of Peer Gynt, adapted by John Doyle, should be called Peer Gynt Shortened and Simplified. 

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Review | Iphigenia in Aulis from Euripides | Transadaptation by Anne Washburn | Classic Stage Company

… Lucidity …

Euripides’ Iphigenia in Aulis is a very great play and its force comes across in this production.  It leaves you shaken by the tragic, and elated.

The play’s force lies in the extraordinary power of Euripides’ mind, and the experience of seeing the play in this production by Classic Stage is mind-to-mind, his and yours.  What a privilege!

The Greek army is on its way to Troy when its ships are becalmed at Aulis.  For days on end no winds arise to fill the sails.  The army is frustrated, morale is low.  A seer reveals to Agamemnon, the Greek leader, that there will be no wind until Agamemnon sacrifices his own virginal daughter, Iphigenia – sacrifice as in slit her throat on altar — to appease the gods who are angry for their own reasons.  Goaded to fulfill the gods’ demand by his brother Menelaus (some nerve, it’s to bring Menelaus’ wife, Helen, back from Troy that Greeks have raised this army) Agamemnon sends for Iphigenia, using the ruse that he’s arranged her marriage with Achilles.

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Review | Doctor Faustus | From Christopher Marlowe’s Play | Adapted by David Bridel & Andrei Belgrader | Starring Chris Noth | Classic Stage Company

A smart man makes a really bad bargain

Faustus makes his famous life and death deal with Lucifer that he will have lower-down devil Mephistopheles as his servant, to fulfill all his wishes, but he’s already been warned: Lucifer is Mephistopheles’ true master.  Ultimately not even a devil can serve two masters.

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Review | A Month In the Country by Ivan Turgenev | Translated by John Christopher Jones | Directed by Erica Schmidt | Classic Stage Company

This is a stunning, constantly amusing, and deeply intelligent production of Turgenev’s iconic play about realism, romanticism and love.

Set at a country estate in Russia in the 1840’s, it features a grand group of characters, young and old, male and female, aristocrat and peasant enmeshed, each in his or her own way, in love.  I’ve read that Turgenev, best known as a novelist, didn’t like this play of his but I think he must have enjoyed working out this witty and thorough set of variations on his theme.  True, the family’s little boy, Kolya, isn’t in love — but the playwright saw to it he had a bow and arrow to play with, Cupid personified.

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Review | The Heir Apparent by David Ives | Adapted from Le Légataire Universel by Jean-François Regnard | Directed by John Rando | Classic Stage Company

David Ives does it again — almost.  His earlier adaptation of Moliere’s le Misanthrope (1666), renamed The School for Lies  (reviewed here in 2011) was an orgy of unending laughter.  This adaptation of Regnard’s le Légataire universel (1708) which he renames The Heir Apparent isn’t as successful although Ives follows his same rules of mod transformation, because Regnard’s play falls short of the brilliance of le Misanthrope.  

So what does David Ives “do” with these late sixteenth and early seventeenth century French plays?   

He translates them into completely contemporary lingo, without any inhibitions or unnecessary reverence for  “The Past,” unworried about “anachronism,” using contemporary slang and turns of phrase, and in a spectacular rush of imagination invents contemporary in-jokes in place of  the in-jokes of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries that today would seem like out-jokes, or be missed.  He's tremendously witty!  Meanwhile, he holds to the past in the costumes and, with titillating ambiguity, in the decor, and for the plot maintains the rules, regulations, customs and laws of the 16th and 17th centuries, all of which, coming up against the contemporary language and modern references, create a delicious cognitive dissonance.

Thanks to David Ives, these plays come to us more themselves than they would be in literal word-for-word translations.  They're as good as they were in their own day which in the case of Moliere means marvelous, less so for Regnard. 

Jean-François’ Regnard was a reigning comic playwright of the Comédie-Français after Moliere; this is his best known work.  The situation is that  a rich old man, Geronte, appears to be dying and his poor nephew, Eraste, is angling for his fortune, which will enable him to marry the beautiful Isabelle.  Obstacles arise for Eraste including the varied set of characters seeking the dying man’s fortune who appear and, in some amusing scenes, claim in one preposterous way or another to be long lost relatives. 

The biggest obstacle of all is that the tough old geezer, much as he seems on his last legs, simply doesn’t die.  Crispin the servant, facilitator to the core, invents clever schemes to help Eraste whose own inability to do anything for himself makes him a less than sympathetic character as a lover, which I found a weakness in the play.  Who cares if this jerk gets the girl or not? 

Much of the early part of the play (at least it seemed to go on a long time) centers around old man Geronte’s problems with his plumbing: there’s lots of tiresome scatological joking and horsing around.  Instead of an amusingly extreme aspect of character (such as one would find in Moliere), we’re stuck with Geronte’s extreme digestive problems, but Paxton Whitehead, abandoning any vestige of narcissism, gives his all to the rather repulsive role and, when called for, produces an impressive of physical transformation.  By the end of the play, the characters' situations have changed but — in contrast to le Misanthrope — they haven't learned much.  

The most interesting character is Scruple — the short lawyer of briefs – acted by David Pittu who plays it like José Ferrer as Toulouse-Lautrec in the 1952 John Huston film, The Moulin Rouge — on his knees.  He’s also responsible for the most hilarious scene in which the attorney, a true professional, is drawing up his client's will while oblivious to false identities — always good for laughs, and Pittu’s intelligent but obtuse sober mien adds to the fun.

Carson Elrod is energetic and amusing as Crispin, the man of many devices and “a whole comédie-française in himself.”   Suzanne Bertsch is appropriately imperious as Isabelle’s mother.  

See The Heir Apparent and you’ll enjoy it, but you don’t “have to see” it the way I felt you “had” to see The School for Lies.  (I saw it twice just so somebody else who'd miss it otherwise could see it once.)

The Heir Apparent plays at Classic Stage Company in New York City's East Village through May 4th, 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 | A Man’s A Man by Bertolt Brecht | Translated by Gerhard Nellhaus | Original Music by Duncan Sheik | Directed by Brian Kulick | Classic Stage Company

… Brecht no way…

This early play of Brecht, set in British Colonial India, takes up the story of a pleasant minded civilian, an Irishman named Galy Gay, who – on his way to buy fish for himself and his wife – is waylaid by three soldiers whose fourth companion has disappeared and is, by force and brain washing (though that term came in later), turned into a enthused soldier, defined here as a killing machine. 

It's challenging to consider whether a man can be completely transformed, re-machined as Brecht would have it, in order to fulfill a role that fulfills the purposes of society's top dogs, but the play doesn't make the case.  The transitions are too abrupt, the change not convincing, and  so — whatever the reality may be — the premise appears silly.  The humanity that permeates Brecht’s best work is lacking here, and the play comes across as diagrammatic and over-long by someone whose full dramatic talent has yet to develop. 

Still, whatever the virtues of provoking thought and shaking up assumptions A Man's A Man may have, this production has an opulent flavor at odds with the play's biting, expressionistic character.  Among Hollywood-like touches, a vast ceiling-to-floor silvery curtain shimmers, a dead ringer for Christmas tree tinsel, to represent the façade of a mysterious, exotic temple within which one British soldier disappeared.  Generally the scale of stage elements, including a prop involving a fake elephant, and the comfortable lighting, contrast with the spare expressionistic vision the characterized the initial German production of 1926.  Anything can be worth doing but the visual extravagance in the Classic Stage production vitiates the drama and Brecht's tough-minded political point of view.    

Gibson Frazier brings power, if not irony, to the role of Galy Gay, particularly in the catalytic scene in which through cruel devices, he’s transformed into a machine-like soldier.   I think that in a production more true to the play’s essential expressionism, the schematic brutality and patent artificiality could have a strong impact.  Here it elicited the response:  “no way.” 

The part of Widow Behick – a gutsy Mother Courage type of woman along the lines of those Brecht wrote into several of his plays — is played by Justin Vivien Bond, a brilliant male drag performance artist.   It’s great fun to watch him – he’s the highlight of the show and keeps it from feeling interminably dull – but, although he takes seriously and acts well the few tender moments, the camp aspect of the performance robs the play of the natural humanity that perhaps a woman playing the part directly, without the distancing of camp, may have provided.

Duncan Sheik's music, contemporary but resonating with Kurt Weil, nostalgic but up-to-date, was appealing and I hope it finds its way into other Brecht productions since, though written for this one, it wouldn't be limited to it.  

Here’s a chance to see an early Brecht play, for some a reason to go – but it’s far from being Brecht’s best, and this production sidesteps its essence in favor of scenic and other distractions. 

A Man's A Man plays at Classic Stage in Manhattan's East Village through February 16th, 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 | Romeo and Juliet by William Shakespeare | Directed by Tea Alagić | Classic Stage Company

Where art Romeo and Juliet? …

What I liked best about this Classic Stage production of Romeo and Juliet was the depiction of the men around the Montague Romeo and those around the Capulets as young toughs with a contemporary style.  Nothing new about that, of course, think of West Side Story, and Shakespeare in contemporary dress is commonplace.  But Harry Ford (substituting the night I attended for T. R. Knight), with his thick body packed into leather and to-the-head corn rows makes a charismatic Mercutio, volatile, dirty-mouthed, amused and amusing, and the rest of the guys fit in to the idea, though they’re not consistently as convincing. 

Shakespeare’s poetry is spoken throughout with an ineffective mix of over-contemporary-casual and over-emphasis on the last beat of each iambic line:  strange bed-fellows.  Much of the dialog is spoken so to-the-chest or throw-away, that it’s hard to catch – this is particularly true of Romeo, played by Julian Cihi, but in general the poetry and even a lot of the words are sacrificed in the name of contemporary naturalism.  The upshot:  the speech sounds artificial and the poetic power is lost.

What a relief when Daniel Davis as Friar Laurence is on stage: he speaks with complete naturalism while conveying the rhythms and beauty of the poetry, and the projection of his clear, emotionally powerful voice is exciting.  His strength makes the character of Friar Laurence seem more central than in other productions, and that in itself is illuminating.

Like Ford as Mercutio, Daphne Rubin-Vega plays Juliet’s nurse in a vivid characterization based on a contemporary type.  Rubin-Vega’s Nurse is a bust-in-your-face Hispanic woman with an alluring accent – think Chita Rivera – with a crisp, aggressive white blouse, black harem pants and high heels that rock her through a fascinating gait.  Excitement leads her to lapse sometimes into rapid-fire Spanish that even a native Spanish speaker might miss:  evidently the director thought it was OK for the audience to lose her words for the sake of naturalism and humor but – at the risk of being a stick-in-the-mud — with Shakespeare, I’d rather hear all the words.  Still, there’s a welcome freshness to bringing the nurse out of the shadows of servility and showing her as a feisty foreigner. 

But Romeo (Cihi) and Juliet, played by Elizabeth Olsen, are the least effective actors in the production.  Passion? What passion?  Cihi never seems deeply affected by Juliet.  Juliet’s main approach seemed to be to raise her voice all-out loud to convey strong feeling, straining her throat.  There’s no erotic chemistry, even in bed.  Simply put, these two young actors have at this point neither the emotional depth nor the stage presence to carry such roles. 

Instead of an ensemble flow in this production, there’s a range of styles and performance individuality.  It follows that the production leaves one with the impression of a few stellar bits.  Mercutio, the Nurse, and Friar Laurence are well worth seeing

Romeo and Juliet  plays at Classic Stage Company in Manhattan's East Village through November 10, 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 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 | Galileo by Bertolt Brecht | Translated by Charles Laughton | Directed by Brian Kulick | Choreographed by Tony Speciale | With F. Murray Abraham, Robert Dorfman and Amanda Quaid | Classic Stage Company

The conflict in Galileo is iconic:  freedom of ideas vs. censorship.  Brecht peppers his play and his character of Galileo (1564-1642 ) with some Marxist views which are anachronistic but the play triggers thought and thrills one at the power of human intellect.

Everybody’s having a good time looking through the telescope Galileo has recently perfected, and figuring out its benefits and fiscal profits.  Galileo, short of money, wouldn’t mind reaping some profit, too, but fundamentally he’s peering into his telescope in his quest for truth, recording his observations, and thinking about them.  His observations and calculations reveal to him that the earth rotates around the sun, not the other way around.

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