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

Tag: Barrow Group Theatre

Review | The Tragedy of King Arthur by Arthur Phillips | Directed by Jordan Reeves | Guerilla Shakespeare Project | Barrow Group Theatre

L-R Jordan Kaplan as Lawyer, Eric Emil Oleson as Father, Jacques Roy as Arthur, and Tom Schwans as Professor.  Photo:  Debby Goldman

L-R Jordan Kaplan as Lawyer, Eric Emil Oleson as Father, Jacques Roy as Arthur, and Tom Schwans as Professor.  Photo:  Debby Goldman

Taking as its starting point that “Nobody really likes Shakespeare,” this play, adapted from Arthur Phillips’ book, The Tragedy of Arthur, is annoyingly arrogant, along with its failed humor and confused and banal “plot.”  As a Shakespeare sendup this might have worked as a ten-minute skit, but not as a three-hour play.

Here’s the idea:  Shakespeare really wrote a play entitled The Tragedy of King Arthur, but it was lost to posterity.  Now, an often jailed forger of petty items such as store coupons has bequeathed to his son, who is in fact the prolific author Arthur Phillips — note that Arthur — the original folio … or is it a forgery?

Which is it? that is the question.  An incredibly valuable folio of a lost play by Shakespeare? or a fake?

In order to find out, the play is read through — semi-produced in a helter-skelter deconstructed way — by Arthur, his sister Dana, and various others.  But the answer is quite clear from Phillips’ first pseudo-Shakespearean line, heavy as lead.  Not for an instant could anyone think Shakespeare had anything to do with this play, yet the question remains “open” for three long acts.

Playwright George Bernard Shaw took on Shakespeare — but to prove his own mettle, he wrote plays like Shaw, not Shakespeare.

One gets the impression, though, that Arthur Phillips thinks he’s doing a pretty good job of writing Shakespeare (whom he doesn’t think much of anyhow, which may make it easier), since the overstressed pentameter (meant to be funny?) is filled with slack metaphors and the play throws in a bunch of Shakespearean tropes: sword play, soulful soliloquies, ducal rebellions against the anointed king, etc.  Meanwhile, the character of our modern day Arthur, Phillips, Hamlet-like, works out his relationship with his dead father who appears on stage from time to time, no surprise there.

Evidently Phillips finds repetition at the heart of Shakespeare because the play is very repetitive:  there’s not one spoof of Shakespearean sword play but three or four.  A messenger bears bad tidings and is promptly killed, a humorous (?) take on messengers in Shakespeare and on diplomatic immunity but if anybody found it funny the first time, they certainly didn’t laugh at the repeats.  Anyhow, after the intermission, there were fewer people left in the audience to laugh.

The set, a past-present deconstruction of an author’s study and castle parapet, is cute and — advertisement for myself style — features a prominent, illuminated blow-up of Phillips’ novel, The Egyptologist.  The actors, with one exception, are competent, including Jacques Roy as an energetic Arthur.  He made three (once is never enough here) very heavy, flat footed jumps from too high a perch that made me worry for his knees;  they didn’t illuminate the character or the action, though, but seem to have been done to wake up the audience.

The Tragedy of King Arthur plays at Barrow Group Theatre on West 36th Street in Manhattan though April 7, 2013.
Luis Carlos de la Lombana as the strong man. Photo: Martin Fernandez Lombana

Review | La Strada | Written by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli and Ennio Flaiano | Adapted by Gerard Vazquez | Directed by Rene Buch and Jorge Merced | Starring Nanda Abella, Luis Carlos de La Lombana and Israe l Ruiz | Compania Artistica La Strada | Barrow Group Theatre

… prismatic perfection … 

La Strada shines like a gem.  The writing, acting, music, movement, mis en scene are perfect.  Based on Fellini’s great film of 1954, and now set in Spain, it tells the story of Gelsomina, one of the world’s extra persons, a slightly feeble-minded, dreamy young woman “with a cauliflower head”  who, in a poor family of too many women, is sold by her mother to Zampano, an itinerant “strong man” entertainer and together they set off on a bleak, Goyaesque road.

He bursts chains with his muscle and lung power;  she in her sad but appealing striped, droopy costume, passes the hat.  A few coins trickle

Luis Carlos de la Lombana as the strong man. Photo: Martin Fernandez Lombana

Luis Carlos de la Lombana as the strong man. Photo: Martin Fernandez Lombana

in.  They work comic bits in which she’s the butt of the joke.  The strong man is brutal in this way and others, and when things take that turn, he’s unfaithful to her.  She’s deeply attached to him in ways we don’t thoroughly understand.

Joining up with a circus, they meet an absolutely wondrous clown, light footed and charming in his movements, profound in his understanding.  Attracted to Gelsomina, he’s gentle, respectful, and filled with insight — everything Zampano is not.  The clown — with tender patience — teaches Gelsomina a beautiful song.  Two dwellers on the edges of society finding an end to loneliness, a purpose in each other — there’s the possibility of an idyllic ending, of heaven on earth.

But — oh, eternal triangle — what about Zampano?

The clown and the somewhat dimwitted girl, two poor and easily overlooked human beings, make as great a sacrifice on the altar of honor and love as exists in literature or life.  He gives her a remarkable and most self-sacrificing gift: he tells her that she alone, and nobody else, would stay with Zampano (Who is really the strong man?).  His gift is to let her understand she is needed.  The waif for whom life seemed meaningless, now has a purpose.  Existence is unified and so everything matters, even a tiny pebble.  Even Gelsomina.  Even Zampano. She and the clown reach — poetically and not fully verbalized — a noble and tragic understanding that she will stay with Zampano.  In time, as the tragedy works unsparingly through these three lives, the melody the clown taught Gelsomina hangs on the wind of someone else’s memory.

It’s a play with a narrow focus and a vast, truly universal, meaning.  It looks at three figures who are unimportant by societal reckoning, on the margins, and finds in their “small lives” the full range of human experience from from selfishness to self-sacrifice and from brutality to love.

This powerful and moving play is performed in Spanish with English super titles so available on the monitor you hardly notice you’re reading them.  Nanda Abella is touching and passionate as the soft, uncertain girl who discovers a tough center within herself.  Luis Carlos de La Lombana conveys the circus strong man’s all-out brutality with only a hint of vulnerability.  Israel Ruiz brings an unforgettable sense of depth to the role of the clown — one feels the clown knows all there is to know, conveyed with a dancer’s flexibility and irony of a great actor.

The set with swooping rhythms in the brownish tones of a landscape by Goya, makes the small stage seem big as the world and the road continuing, in harmony with the largeness of these “small” characters.

The music, songs by Luis Carlos de La Lombana and Caridad Martos, arranged by Jorge Merced, is poignant, enveloping, and beautifully played by Stephanie David on the violin and Jennifer Harder on the trumpet.

This spare, fast tragic tale — like Cavelleria Rusticana — fires the imagination.

La Strada plays at TBG Theater on West 32nd Street in Manhattan through December 4th.

Teatrostagefest & La Strada Company Special Event November 5th at 3 PM, Adapting Fellini to the Stage.  TalkBack immediately following the 3 pm performance Saturday, November 5th.  Q & A with La Strada Company performers, directors, and special guest Marlo Fratti, playwright of the musical Nine, an adaptation of Fellini’s film 8 1/2, followed by reception/refreshments  with participants to which the audience is invited.

Nightsong For The Boatman by Jovanka Bach | Directed by John Stark | Barrow Group Theatre

… departure …

What a bunch of characters!  On an isolated wharf lit by a bright moon two men are engaged in a Jacob and the Angel-like struggle shooting dice.  Murlie, with a tough-guy accent, looks like a denizen of the docks as does his soft-spoken, shaved head buddy Dunbar. When Harry loses, he’s sure the dice are loaded — we’re sure, too. But what are the stakes? Big but undefined. All we know is that Harry’s compelled to reappear at this spot at midnight in a week. Sounds spooky, and it is. Even the naturalism of the dock and thuggish Murlie are surreal. The waiting rowboat with its high Viking prow looks too small for going far or holding much — like the boat in the center of Max Beckmann’s triptych in the Museum of Modern Art, Departure. And like that painting this play is filled with mythic suggestion.

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