… all the world’s a vanity fair …
This is a mind-expanding production of Vanity Fair. It’s also funny, extravagant and visually fascinating.
… all the world’s a vanity fair …
This is a mind-expanding production of Vanity Fair. It’s also funny, extravagant and visually fascinating.
Relax, Moliere doesn’t need help – not this help anyhow
Is it possible for Don Juan to be dull? Unfunny? Unsexy?
The answer is yes. Oh shucks. Jess Burkle’s tedious adaptation relies on the audience identifying with contemporary lingo and clichés, rather than on new wit.
… which side was it you said you’re on? …
The audience — myself included — stood and applauded with pleasure at the end of Major Barbara, but the applause was more for the laughter and sheer theatrical delight that came earlier in the play than for the confusing ending. First, toward the end, you think you’re missing something and then you realize it’s not quite making sense. No fault of the performers who were perfect throughout, but Shaw just did not fully resolve this play. But he gives you much to enjoy and think about.
… all the stage’s a world …
The back stage magic of And Away We Go makes me think of the wonderful song about a dogged and devoted itinerant theater group in Cole Porter’s Kiss Me Kate, “We Open In Venice” (“then on to Cremona …. and on to …. and on …"). And Away We Go, too, is on the move — with the feel of a story about an equally valiant itinerant theater troupe only here the wanderings take them not just through Northern Italy but through time, back and forth. This imaginative, mind stretching extravaganza is beautifully pulled off by the Pearl Theatre group.
The play takes us behind the scenes from the Theater of Dionysos (not Dionysios as printed) in Ancient Athens to today, with stops at works-in-progress at the Globe in London and Versailles’s Royal Theater, and first productions of Chekhov and Beckett. As we weave through time, through plays, and through personal as well as public dramas, the leading character is everywhere and anywhere the theater itself and the chancy, chaotic, demanding and disciplined process that makes plays happen.
An aspect that makes And Away We Go particularly strong is McNally’s inclusive vision of all who make “theater.” Actors, directors, authors, mask makers, tech people, angels, artistic directors, food deliverers and audiences have roles. No in-group snobbery here – fun is made of wannabe-a-part-of-it donors, and of everybody else – great fun, thanks to marvelous comic performers in the Pearl Theatre’s troupe!
There’s a total human inflection — theater as family, theater as loss of loved ones, theater as a tension between “advanced” plays and audiences who haven’t gotten there yet.
I wish that in roving through theater from antiquity, and from Russia to Coral Gables, Florida, McNally had included forays into the great theater traditions world wide. I suppose “you can’t do everything,” but, in the spirit of what works and what doesn’t, the focus on the traditions you’d find in “A History of Western Theater” course came across as narrow. I also found the AIDS episode seemed a somewhat forced inclusion.
In keeping with the joyous boisterous play, the set’s a riotous wonder of costumes, lights, manikins, and props — it's a wonderful work of art in itself — and the costumes are entrancing.
At the start, each actor introduces himself or herself with personal and self-invented words — thus the theme that the great illusions are based on real people with specific lives and contexts is sounded – and never forgotten. Since the play is a continuing flow of segues, it demands perfect timing, remarkable versatility on the part of the actors and comic and dramatic gifts. Jack Cummings III firm hand on this non-linear romp through time and space is a directorial tour-de-force .
Micah Stock as the delivery man who doesn’t “get” Godot provides one among many comic high points. Donna Lynn Champlin’s huge round eyes are hilariously expressive, whether she’s pushing a mop as a stolid Russian cleaning lady or catching up as a donor groupie in-love-with-theater. Dominic Cuskern ranges with power and humor from a perfectionist mask maker in ancient Athens to perfectionist actor at Louise XIV’s Versailles – ever since I saw him as Malvolio in the Pearl’s Twelfth Night, I’ve thought of him as particularly outstanding in roles of men who take themselves too seriously.
Rachel Botcham is vibrant (as well as humorous – just about everything comes with a strong dose of humor) as the woman who wants to act on stage – in epochs when the idea of a female actor was an absurdity. Carol Schultz is touching and instantly persuasive as, for instance, the Russian Countess who doesn’t want her association with a theater group known. Sean McNall is energetic and touching in his roles as actor and actor’s lover. These are just snippets – this play’s a feast!
The breadth of imagination of And Away We Go is invigorating. This ambitious, perfectly fulfilled production is a fine evening of that challenging, joyous and essential aspect of existence — theater.
And Away We Go plays at the Pearl Theatre on Manhattan's west side through December 15, 2013. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title. Now EXTENDED through December 21, 2013.
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… beyond Peter Pan …
Best known now for Peter Pan, J. M. Barrie was a popular playwright in early 20th-century London and here’s a chance to see two of his witty and enjoyable comedies – about grown-ups.
The first of these, Rosalind, is a real gem. A beautiful, popular actress has donned a shapeless housedress and floppy slippers, and lets her hair go, holed up in a rural boarding house where she takes on the persona of her own mother just to get away from it all, to find respite from her frenetic London life where she's relentlessly the center of attention.
Having happily loosened her stays, she bothers to chat with no one except the amiable, ordinary owner of her boarding house, until coincidence draws to the boarding house one of her adoring London swains, an upper class recent university graduate. Over the course of a revelatory conversation, he discovers that this frumpy, pleasant 40-year old he's talking with is not the mother of the glorious young actress he fancies himself in love with but very the actress herself, whom he's failed to recognize under her housecoat. As she plays it for all it’s worth, he scrambles to figure out what to do with his ardor? Be true to the 40-year old? Or to his 23-year old self? He believes in love. He wants to do the right thing. And what will happen when a telegram arrives offering the actress the role of Rosalind in As You Like It?
One thing is sure: there will be a stunning transformation of a 40-year old frump into a dazzling 20-something … well, she’s actually 29: Barrie takes care to keep the play totally plausible.
Rachel Botchan is enchanting as the dowdy “mother” and equally so as the glamorous young actress – she’s so amused, so in control — and her transformation from old and plain to young and glamorous (Miss Botchan looks beautiful both ways) is a powerful reminder, as Barrie surely intended it, of the joys and ironies of appearance and illusion. I’ve seen Miss Botcham is several roles – she’s always compelling but here she’s a wonder. Sean McNall brings his own amused charm to the double part of playwright Barrie moving in and out of the play and the young man in love. As the boarding house owner, Carol Schultz is a solid foil of middle-aged realism for the actress whose life is a bouquet of possibilities – even at the "advanced age" of 29.
In the second play,The Twelve Pound Look, Sir Harry is about to be knighted, and both he and his wife, who is heavily loaded with bling, are delighted at the prospect. Kate, a typist arrives to prepare his “thank you” letters and it turns out that she, through coincidence, is Sir Harry’s former wife, who'd left him years before.
Sir Harry is one of those men who cannot grasp why any woman upon whom he’s lavished everything costly, including his high position, would leave him (I wondered about it, too), but nevertheless he's assumed all along that she left him for another man. Who was he? is the imperious question repeated in Harry’s accustomed-to-answers voice. With some amusing game playing, the truth is revealed — she left Sir Harry not for a man but for a typewriter, cost 12 pounds, or more truly, she left him for the independence of making her own living. It could happen. But in this play it doesn't ring true.
The Twelve Pound Look is nearer to farce than Rosalind. This is not A Doll’s House, though it comes thirty years later than Ibsen’s iconic play of a married woman struggling for independence. Still, The Twelve Pound Look is entertaining, and good to know about. And the episode in which Sir Harry, before the adoring eyes of his wife, practices his moves for the ceremony of Knighthood is one of the great comic scenes, performed with flawless timing and wit by Bradford Cover. Rachel Botchan – in another of her evening's magic transformations – is appropriately peppery as Harry’s liberated ex-wife. And Sean McNall, in the role of J. M. Barrie on-stage, conveys an author’s ironic distance and insight, while playing also a punctilious butler.
Live piano with tunes like “I’m Always Chasing Rainbows,” performed by Carol Schultz, send us pleasantly to the past. And, for its own touch of the past, a stage curtain is used inThis Side of Neverland . I love the immediacy of current plays with stages open to the audience but the curtain opening onto that other world of the imagination is a pleasure of its own.
This Side of Neverland plays at The Pearl Theatre on West 42nd Street in Manhattan through May 19th now extended through May 26th. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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If you’ve never seen Henry IV Part 1, the Pearl's production will bring you close to it and if you’ve seen it before you’ll love it all over again.
This last assumes you’ve loved it in the past which is probable because it’s one of Shakespeare’s best loved plays, for good reasons. Among them, it's hilarious. Falstaff is so vivid and original a character, so complex and real, that it’s hard to believe he's a creative invention; and, in the character of Prince Hal, the play deals with issues of fundamental fascination and importance for all of us, growth to maturity.
The play moves between the broad canvas of politics and war–a Scottish rebellion against King Henry IV–to the intimate–father and son, husband and wife, and that unforgettable friendship that doesn’t quite fall into any one category between Hal and Falstaff.
What makes this so delightful a production of Henry IV Part I is Dan Daily as Falstaff. He’s superb—big bellied, of course, taller than anybody else around, with the vitality, wit joie de vivre and touch of sultry wickedness one wants in the character. He's an epicurean, with the allure and paradoxes that idea contains. It’s fascinating to see this large man–and I mean really large–completely light on his feet, leaping on a table, doing a jig. One sees and feels Falstaff's thoughts–calculating or willful, assertive or accepting of a reversal–for a compelling cognitive instant before he speaks.
The question of Prince Hal's maturity makes one pause, though. What does it really mean in this particular play? We meet Hal as a a wayward libertine under Falstaff's spell, but that changes when his royal father is faced with imminent war. Then Hal buckles down, putting his easy pleasures aside to support his father's cause and become a fighter. One could call this "taking on responsibility." Or one can question human purposes, and the meaning of responsibility.
Bradford Cover as King Henry IV conveys the tension in this powerful personality aswarm with conflicts: his threatened yet adamant royal authority, and his disappointment with his pleasure loving son melded with underlying love. Shawn Fagan captures the eruptive and wry personality of Hotspur, though the character could use more physical heft. John Brummer is less original as the libertine and then chastened Prince Hal. He isn't Daily's match, which limits the rapport between Hal and Falstaff. As the Scottish rebel Douglas, Sean McNall gets the prize for the most authentic and charmning Scottish accent.
Though not usually my favorites, the battle scenes in this production are a high point, staged with passionate and convincing one-on-one duels, metal on metal. They've been exhaustively rehearsed to the point of total actors’ ease, so the fights seem completely spontaneous.
Above all, though, this Henry IV Part 1 is about Dan Daily’s Falstaff, which I think Shakespeare would have enjoyed. I sure did.
Henry IV Part 1 plays at the Pearl Theatre on West 42nd Street in Manhattan through March 17th. For more information and tickets, click on live link of title.
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A Moon for the Misbegotten is a tense, character driven play that demands great acting and this excellent production provides it: Kim Martin-Cotton is as fine an actress as I’ve seen anywhere and she makes the role of the tough-on-the-outside farm girl, Josie Hogan, come alive.
The play, written in 1943, takes us back to a 1923 farmhouse. Like O’Neill’s earlier play, Beyond the Horizon, currently Irish Repertory Theater, this, too, is about trying to hold on to the farm. Josie and her father Phil Hogan, are tenant farmers, and their landlord, James Tyrone, Jr., is a local boy who made it in the big city as an actor, and whose self-weary, drunken lack of self-respect leads him to mock his own success. Josie’s in love with Tyrone, but hides it behind a cynical, sluttish affect. He claims, in an affected, stentorian way, to love her, but she doesn’t believe a word, comparing her big farm girl self to the dainty women she figures he knows in the city.
… pre-vintage Shaw …
Shaw’s early play, The Philanderer of 1893, is a romantic comedy that’s as focused on the ideas of Henrik Ibsen as it is on love, and with good reason: for Shaw ideas and love were equally suffused with eros.
Shaw saw Ibsen’s A Doll’s House five times around 1893 and this iconic drama was revelatory, bringing him to the possibility of a theater of ideas. And, with his comic bent, and awareness of the pitfalls of stern moralizing, Shaw sought a humorous way to explore Ibsen’s theme of the independent woman. This led him in The Philanderer to comic exaggerations which today to me seem dated, though when the play was first produced, they may have seemed fresh and provocative. As a gauge of that, the Pearl’s program tells us that “…due to strict censorship … it was not performed on the stage until 1902.”
… two great productions … (lucky playwright!)
In the Wooster Group’s visceral production of Williams’ Vieux Carre, a writer/narrator allows his memory to transport him to the past, and to a run-down boarding house in New Orleans’ French Quarter in the 1930’s. Why this place at this time? Because it’s the site of his coming of age recognition of his homosexual nature. But he’s not alone here: the place is crowded with other tenants who, in their different ways, take part in the drama of his self-recognition. His memory brings to life their passions and agonies as well as his own. There are two proud, old southern ladies who scavenge garbage pails to stay alive, the “rapacious”, tubercular old artist coughing into his handkerchief, the young woman from the north whose particular pain we learn of late in the play, her stud man, the landlady, the maid, and the young drifter who becomes the writer’s ticket to a free life.
Click to read about The School for Lies, from Moliere’s The Misanthrope currently playing at Classic Stage –and it’s great!
… opposites attract …
There’s a magic to Moliere’s The Misanthrope and here’s what it is. It’s a play in which just about nothing happens … and yet you leave it with a big smile and the sense that you’ve seen something delightful. What is it? The
language! It’s witty and charming: it makes you feel like you’ve been at a party with vivacious, intelligent guests.
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