Let's Talk Off Broadway

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

Tag: Signature Theatre

Review | The Antipodes | By Annie Baker | Signature Theatre

… bored room …

The Antipodes is a distasteful play.

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Review | Master Harold and the Boys | Written and Directed by Athol Fugard | Signature Theatre

… careless triumph …

Master Harold and the Boys moves with this compelling force of a Greek tragedy.  It’s classic and iconic, and must be seen.  It is profound in character and social vision.

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Review | Angel Reapers | By Martha Clarke and Alfred Uhry | Signature Theatre

Directed and Choreographed by Martha Clarke

Here again Martha Clarke has given us a lovely new creation of her unique vision, a theatrical union of dance, music and narrative.  Although Angel Reapers, about repression and ecstasy among the Shakers, is a smaller, less commanding theater piece than Clarke’s Garden of Earthly Delights and her staging of  Threepenny Opera, it has her mark.

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Review | Incident At Vichy | By Arthur Miller | Directed by Michael Wilson | Signature Theatre

… and then there were none … 

In many ways, this is Arthur Miller’s most pessimistic play, and also perhaps his greatest.  At least, this outstanding production makes it seem it is.

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Review | Love & Money by A. R. Gurney | Directed by Mark Lamos | Signature Theatre

Will the rich dowager be fooled by the tall, handsome and, in her WASP world, exotic Black con man who has a lot of smooth dance moves?  That is the question.

Cornelia, a wealthy WASP dowager (emphasis on WASP is Gurney’s) is closing down her house with all its rich furnishings (great set by Michael Yeargan) to move to some sort of elder living which she with vivacious irony refers to as a “nursing home.”

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Review | The Painted Rocks At Revolver Creek | Written and Directed by Athol Fugard | Signature Theatre

The World Premier of a Superb Play

Nukain is an uneducated black farm laborer working in South Africa during the period of apartheid who has nothing of his own but a vision: he paints brilliant designs on bare rocks, creating beauty out of bare bones nothing. This stunning play presses forward with the intensity of a Greek tragedy.

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Review | The Mound Builders by Lanford Wilson | Directed by Jo Bonney | Signature Theatre | Pershing Square Signature Center

A group of archaeologists and others attached to them are holed up in and around what’s referred to as a modest, rustic cabin – but the set presents us with a vast lodge – engaged in excavating a series of mounds in Illinois left by pre-Columbian tribes.   Early in the play our sympathies fall with them, as high minded scholars seeking to advance knowledge about an early civilization, led by the august Professor, August Howe. But the play is clever in that the self-interested  local, a macho brute of a guy, Chad Jasker, who wants to make his fortune developing the land, gains on our sympathies, or at least our understanding, at the same time that we are learning more and more about how crude and self centered he is.    

That’s the lineup:  and the issues of The Mound Builders, first presented at Circle Repertory Theater in 1975, remain timely;  conflicts between those who move in the sophisticated, international world of scholarship and locals, archaeologists and land developers; by an easy extension those who want to dig things up in order to know more and those, like Native Americans protecting ancient burials for any number of reasons.  And all this comes with the inevitable meditation on the blind destructiveness of time, and how all our mounds eventually crumble.

We know what Chad Junker wants and we sense what lengths he’ll go to get it. 

In contrast to our clarity about Chad, a problem with the play, told in flashbacks, is that the archaeological activities of this group aren’t vivid or convincing.  The play never leaves the house, an odd choice for a story about field work.  Sometimes somebody goes out the door to unseen the site.  Mention is made of students living in tents.  But this doesn’t convey the intensity and focus of a dig, or the dawn to dusk activity of working archaeologists.   A scene where some artifacts of this ancient people make it to the house and are — not counted or catalogued but — more or less tossed around is something of a travesty. 

Also vitiating the conflict between archaeological and local interests is the presence in the house of several non-archaeologist family members.  The most vividly written character is the cynical, seen-it-all, ailing Delia K. Erickson, who has all the best lines but has nothing to do with the plot.  Her three initials presumably refer to the decay of … western civilization … all civilizations … more on that time-mneditation stuff.

The upshot is that the play is somewhat engaging for a time but the implausibility and slack tone of the archaeological segment  — from the characters and their motivations to the vagueness of the dig — intrude more and more so that one's interest, like the great civilizations, unwinds.

The Mound Builders  plays at the Pershing Square Signature Center through April 14th, 2013.  For more information and tickets, click on live link of the 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 | The Train Driver | Written and Directed by Athol Fugard | With Leon Addison Brown and Ritchie Coster | Signature Theatre

 … inadvertent …

Among the Fugard plays I’ve seen, this – possibly excepting the iconic The Island  – is the finest.   It’s intense, with a driving force.  Especially interesting, although race figures importantly, the tragedy isn’t driven by race but by common humanity – weaknesses and all.  I wonder if some would argue that point.  It’s certainly not characteristic of Fugard.  But just as the characters transcend race, so does the play’s driving idea.

It’s set in what first seems an off-putting, grubby, sandy, junk cluttered cemetery for those who die unclaimed and unknown, on the outskirts of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, but in time it comes to seem a kind of glorious kingdom for the black caretaker-grave digger, Simon.  The junk is transfigured into something most precious.  An obviously mentally agitated man, Roelf, who’s white, throws himself on the dusty scene with powerful fury, looking for the burial of a black woman he can only describe by her haircovering, a "red doek," and her dead infant – so he can curse at her.

Why?  She's ruined his life.  Roelf's a train driver and a black woman, with her infant in her arms, had stepped in front of his train to kill herself and the child.  The impossibility of braking the moving train in time, the screech of the brakes, the knowledge of rolling over the woman and child and pulverizing them – the sheer horror – has forced this relatively ordinary white guy, who shares  characterizing disdain for Blacks of his kind and place, into a frenzy of searching, guilt, heightened awareness, and insanity that has forced him to lose his job, home, wife and family and landed him, desperate and volatile, in this woebegone place.

Roelf periodically pulls out a poignantly small newspaper clipping with the account of the train accident, biting down on the pain, and reminding us that the play is “true,” that is, based on a actual incident.  The clipping mentions that the train driver received psychological counseling — obviously not enough to cleanse him of his killing the woman and child.  The psychologist reminded him that, given the braking time of a train, he could not possibly have avoided the accident.  Still Roelf can find no peace in his shattered soul. 

At night the cemetery is visited by violent men, and by feral dogs who come to dig up bodies, which is why Simon works hard with his shovel to dig the holes deep.  We wonder if, at nightfall, the wary Simon will let Roelf into his shabby, pick-a-piece-here-and-there cabin, and are touched when he, without emotion, and not disturbing his own routine, does.

What a subtle shift of relationships!  Simon has a home, of sorts, more than Roelf, a regular White guy, who's been thrown out of the house forever because his despair pushed him to raging destructiveness.  Simon warms up some beans for himself in a can over a candle and sleeps under a blanket.  Roelf sleeps on the floor. 

The cautious bonding between these two traditional arch enemies is brilliantly nuanced.    When they begin to use those formal, sentence-introducing words, “My friend, we take note.  My friend.  In the Beckett-like, existential gloom of the cemetery, the traditional enemies, prejudiced Afrikaner and wary Black South African, come together.

And as Roelf continues his driven search for the woman's grave, he gradually reealizes the meaning of this cemetery for unclaimed bodies and the implications for the lives of those buried here.  With the shock of hitting new territory, he recognizes what drove an unknown woman to place herself and her baby on the tracks of an oncoming train — despair.  Raw empathy opens him to a new horror that displaces his obsession with vengeful cursing:  a human being can live and die belonging to no one.  Now he yearns to re-write the past so that he can put things to rights, he can claim her at her death. 

Energized by his new purpose, heedless of risk, not stopping for night, Roelf digs frenetically to find the woman's burial.  But it's Roelf's turn to cause an inadvertent tragedy — for Simon.  Collateral damage.  As Roelf said early on of the woman who stepped in front of his train, if only people who wanted to commit suicide would just jump in the river, sparing others from involvement.

This outstanding play is brought to life by two magnificent actors.  Ritchie Coster conveys the lean, driven Roelf with his voice, his expression, his entire body in a great, generous performance:  the actor gives all.  (I missed some words because of the Afrikaner accent.)  Leon Addison Brown is powerful as Simon, large, dignified, uneducated, intelligent, wary but with human warmth: he holds the fulfillment of the play in his hands in the unforgettable last lines.

Directed by author Fugard, this is in all facets a brilliant production. Christopher H. Barreca’s design for the cemetery and Simon’s cabin, ingeniously included and heartbreakingly “furnished,” is tonally perfect, and real … I’ll never forget that sand, those hubcaps.  Stephen Strawbridge’s lighting makes one feel the passage of days within the play’s short running time, and Doug Wieselman’s original music supports the emotional content unobtrusively, allowing the Fugard’s dynamic action, canny dialog and magnificent language to come through.

For each man kills the thing he loves, 
Yet each man does not die.

                                                      Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol

The Train Driver  plays at the Pershing Square Signature Center in Manhattan’s Clinton district, West 42nd Street, through September 23rd.  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 | Blood Knot | Written and Directed by Athol Fugard | Starring Colman Domingo as Zachariah and Scott Shepherd as Morris | Signature Theatre

… Who wears the suit ?….

Set in South Africa in 1961, during apartheid, Blood Knot tells the story of two brothers, one who looks White and the other Black. They’re sons of one black mother each with a different father and, as is said of the one who looks completely White, “It happens.”

They were treated differently from the moment of birth.  How do we know? The older got the Biblical “Black” name of Zachariah, while the younger. born looking White, was given a “White” name: Morris.

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Review | The Illusion by Tony Kushner | Adapted from Pierre Corneille’s L’Illusion Comique | Directed by Michael Mayer | Signature Theatre

… “an extravagant trifle” …

The Illusion is well produced, stunningly acted, and trivial.  It’s interesting, though, for the attention it brings to formal aspects in theater history.  When Corneille wrote L’Illusion Comique in 1635, it was highly experimental for the time — daring variations on the theme of how to write a play by a young but experienced playwright (7 plays written by the age of 29).  As one would surely learn if one took the course in college, in L’Illusion Comique Corneille breaks with the three classic unities of action, time and place, mixes various traditions – tragic-comedy, pastoral, Commedia del’arte, etc. — and incorporates not one (as in Hamlet) but multiple plays within a play, the characters’ names changing in concert.  This play about the evanescence of all things is as confusing as it’s meant to be.  It’s very much a precocious — by close to 400 years — exercise in deconstruction

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