Let's Talk Off Broadway

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

What’s “American” about Sinclair Lewis’s It Can’t Happen Here?

In a discussion of Sinclair Lewis’s novel, It Can’t Happen Here, written in 1935, one person said, “This could be about any dictatorship, couldn’t it? Is there anything particularly American about this dictatorship? I felt I had an answer but it took time to think it out. Here it is:

I believe that what makes the book specifically American is Lewis’s use of the landscape. The vast American landscape, as we know, has been an embodiment of the promise of America, a symbolism which, as has been widely recognized, is an aspect of 19th century American landscape painting.   From minus-Day 1, leaving the Old World you could move to the New World for a better life (however you defined it).  New settlements.  Homesteading.  What a contrast with the Old World!  In America, those who were born free were animated by the idea that if you didn’t like where you were, you could go where you thought things would be better.  Good heavens,what a boon came with that birthright!  There was always a “new frontier”.  Then, Manifest Destiny bumped up to an end in the 1870’s, but the cultural imagination takes eons to catch up. The belief in new frontiers open to Americans was vibrant up to and during the 1930’s and way beyond.  In John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath (1938), in which the westward migration is a central theme, the “Okies”actually reach the edge of the continent–like Lewis, Steinbeck already had a nuanced view that left room for hope.

Lewis was born in the Midwest, Minnesota, in 1886 (at the tail end of “Manifest Destiny”). In shaping the story so that his main character, Doremus Jessup, travels from his home in New England to the West, Lewis mirrors the American migration westward. In going west, Doremus’s hopes are for both himself and America.  And Lewis makes sure that Doremus appreciates the vast western skies.  In giving us a glimpse of those unbounded skies through the eyes of his character, Lewis, at the end of his novel, intensifies our hopes  …sends us to maybe... thereby making all the more powerful the uncertainty, and the ironic potential, with which he leaves us.

Albert Bierstadt, Rocky Mountains, Flander’s Peak, 1863, 6’2″ x 10′ 1″, oil on canvas, Metropolitan Museum of Art. Public Domain

Review | Shakespeare’s As You Like It | Directed by John Doyle | Bay Street Theater, Sag Harbor, Long Island

…  without enchantment …

As You Like It is a wonderful play so that, even with this disappointing production, it’s not a wasted evening.  The language is so powerful and some of the scenes so funny that they surpass the flat interpretations they receive here, and in particular two actors —  André de Shields and Leenya Rideout – are satisfyingly perfect!

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Review | Thoroughly Modern Millie | Book by Richard Morris and Dick Scanlan | Music by Jeanine Tesori | Lyrics by Dick Scanlan | North Fork Community Theatre, Mattituck, Long Island

A delightful musical filled with laughs — that’s Thoroughly Modern Millie, presented with youthfully energetic and thoroughly enjoyable performances at the North Fork Community Theatre.

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Review | Intimate Apparel | By Lynn Nottage | Bay Street Theatre, Sag Harbor, Long Island

… spinning a play from a photograph …

Intimate Apparel is a good play, worth seeing, though it’s not a you-must-see-it play like Lynn Nottage’s Ruined (2008) or her more recent Sweat, both of which won the Pulitzer Prize. Nottage is a fine, intelligent playwright and to spend the evening with her through the medium of this play, written early in her career (2003), is satisfying and thought-provoking.

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Jules Feiffer's "The Man in the Ceiling" at Bay Street Theater, Sag Harbor, L.I., NY

Review | The Man in the Ceiling | Book by Jules Feiffer | Music and Lyrics by Andrew Lippa | Bay Street Theatre, Sag Harbor, Long Island

… segregation … 

The idea of this new musical show is that the world can be rough on for a little boy with a big imagination. Unfortunately this show can be rough on the audience.

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Review | Rotterdam | by Jon Brittain | Directed by Donnacadh O’Briain | 59E59 Theaters

… love and gender …

Fiona (Anna Martine Freeman) and Alice (Alice McCarthy) are two young women lovers, expatriate Brits living in Rotterdam.  On the very evening that Alice is composing an email to her parents to finally let them know that she is gay, Fiona drops a bombshell:  she tells Alice that she, Fiona, is truly a transgender man, and that she intends to transition to being physically male.

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Review | The Antipodes | By Annie Baker | Signature Theatre

… bored room …

The Antipodes is a distasteful play.

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Review | Cabaret | Book by Joe Masteroff | Lyrics by Fred Ebb | Music by Joe Kander | North Fork Community Theatre, Mattituck, Long Island

…  for sure come to Cabaret

If you want to see a top-notch production of  one of the best American musicals, see Cabaret at the North Fork Community Theatre.  The songs, the musical splendor, the theatrical extravaganza and the powerful story are wonderfully realized in this production, and with an orchestra of eight fine players – you don’t always get live music like that on Broadway.

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Cast of Antigone by Jean Anouilh, adapted merging text and opera by Eilin O'Dea. Translated by Lewis Galantiere

Review | Antigone | By Jean Anouilh | Translated by Lewis Galantière | Fusion Theatre

                                                … the force of destiny …

Here’s an amazing experience!   You walk into a small off-Broadway theater.  The stage is about as minimal as can be – mainly there’s a baffle board at the back and an upright piano to the side.  Early on  Antigone, kneeling, agonized by Creon’s order forbidding burial for the body of her rebellious brother, expresses her anguish with an operatic soprano aria, “Pace, pace, mio Dio”  from Verdi’s La Forza del destino.  What a shock!  And what a way to convey intense emotion in a play.

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Review | Vanity Fair | By Kate Hamill | Adapted from William Makepeace Thackeray’s Novel | Pearl Theatre Company

… all the world’s a vanity fair … 

This is a mind-expanding production of Vanity Fair.  It’s also funny, extravagant and visually fascinating.

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