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

Tag: Davis McCallum

Review | Fashions for Men by Ferenc Molnar | Directed by Davis McCallum | Mint Theater Company

 … back to Budapest with you! … 

I had the good luck to see Molnar’s Liliom recently off- off Broadway and it’s a marvelous play: in its way as good as the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, Carousel, based on it.  So (though I admit the title struck me as a little silly) I was really keen to see another Molnar play. Molnar, a Hungarian, was after all among the most popular playwrights in Europe and America for much of the first half of the 20th century.

In this play of old world Europe, Peter Juhâsz, who owns a fine haberdashery in Budapest, knows his scarves, neckties, and how to cater to fancy customers well enough but he’s too angelic a man for business.  He gives credit too easily and, generally, he just doesn’t “get” the bottom line …  until, in a single day, because of his lack of financial acumen, the business is put into receivership and, to top it off, his wife leaves him for his best sales clerk.

His Excellency the Count, who appreciates Peter’s honesty,  saves the day by giving Peter a manager’s job on his country estate.  Paula, the pretty shop girl at the haberdashery has been carrying on a flirtation with the Count that she hopes will make her rich.  She follows Peter to the Count’s estate ostensibly out of loyalty to him but really to continue her quest for the Count, and the  “pretty places and beautiful clothes”  he could give her.

Kurt Rhoads and rachel Napoleon in FASHIONS FOR MEN by Ferenc Molnár.<br /><br /><br /><br /><br /><br /> Photo: Richard Termine

Kurt Rhoads and Rachel Napoleon Photo: Mint Theater

Peter, who’s fallen in love with Paula and has no idea of her true purpose, tries to protect her from the nefarious desires of His Excellency who, finding his interfering a nuisance, fires Peter– back to Budapest with you!  Which for Paula turns out to be not quite the relief that she expected.

Will the desirable woman choose the rich older Count or the young, poor but oh-so good haberdasher? that is the question.

The choices that women make for love and the sacrifices they make for their lovers have illuminated many great issues in life and literature, but what’s illuminated here?  Fashions for Men seems a vehicle for no more than a familiar, always titillating, situation – the clandestine flirtation of a poor young woman with a sugar daddy, that and a few laughs.

Kurt Rhoads and Joe Delafield in FASHIONS FOR MEN by Ferenc Molnár. Photo: Richard Termine

Kurt Rhoads and Joe Delafield in Fashions for Men by Ferenc Molnár. Photo: Richard Termine

As Paula, Rachel Napoleon is charming though with a somewhat strained voice. Kurt Rhoads’ vitality and outstanding stage presence as the Count make one wonder why Paula would be drawn to limply virtuous Peter anyway, though he’s ably played by Joe Delafield?  Jeremy Lawrence as the wise old store clerk is completely natural and engaging.

A variety of briefly seen characters in Peter’s haberdashery  search for socks and raincoats with perfect comic timing and humorous costumes – of the period and yet hilarious.   The set, particularly that of the haberdashery, is breathtaking:  realistic and accurate in detail – and broadly gorgeous!

The mission of the Mint includes producing  “worthwhile plays from the past that have been lost or forgotten …to bring new vitality to these plays and to foster new life for them,” and every play I’ve ever seen at the Mint has done just that!

From George Aiken’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, to D. H. Lawerence’s The Daughter-In-Law (who knew Lawrence wrote plays?), to Hemingway’s The Fifth Column (who knew Hemingway wrote plays?) to Wife to James Whelan by Teresa Deevy (who’s that?) and many more — each has been a revelation of just the kind the Mint intends. What a record!

Fashions for Men shares with these a fine production and the opportunity to come to know more broadly theater of the past.  Still, I wonder if, among Molnar’s plays (not including Liliom which is fairly well known), this was the best choice for a revival.

Fashions for Men plays at The Mint Theater on West 43rd Street in Manhattan through April 12, 2015.

Review | London Wall by John Van Druten | Directed by Davis McCallum | Mint Theater Company

…from palace to office…

In James Barrie’s comedy The Twelve Pound Look of 1920, seen recently, a woman who boldly divorced her wealthy, aristocratic husband finds independence and contentment as a typist … but the entire play is set in the husband’s palatial home.  John Van Druten, eleven years later, thrusts us directly into the woman’s workplace:  we’re in the office in London Wall — with a great set by Marion Williams — and the play’s about the women and men who work there.  Amidst the file cabinets, desks and typewriters, we’re drawn into the lives of typists and clerks in a London barrister’s office, and what they face in finding love, off-hours entertainment, spiritual satisfaction and enough money to pay the rent.  What a difference in eleven years!

Miss Pat Milligan is the newest and youngest of the typists who’s set upon by the in-house skirt chaser, Mr. Brewer, the firm’s handsome, young lawyer.  The older and experienced Miss Janus warms Pat about him, but how can a pretty nineteen year-old girl, alone in the world and with a minuscule salary, resist the attentions of a charming professional man who wines and dines her?  Best of all — and what really gets her heart racing — Brewer takes her to the theater!

Through the lives in this busy, working office, Van Druten lets us see love in all its parts:  innocent, worldly, youthful, mature, young naïve, old naïve, heartbreaking and rewarding.  A strength of this play is its unobtrusive exploration of the several ages of women, but men, too are given their due, with the young clerk Birkenshaw and the elderly head of the firm, Mr. Wagner, rounding things out in terms of gender.

Two in this fine cast particularly capture the rapid-fire humor, and tossed-off ironies of 1930’s comedies, Stephen Plunkett as Mr. Brewer and Julia Coffey as the knowing but vulnerable Miss Janus.  Laurie Kennedy is amusing as the vague — but she knows perfectly well what she’s doing — elderly patron of the firm.

Jonathan Hogan is the firm’s authoritative head, Mr. Walker, who has one foot in the old ways and the other stretching to take the big step forward, an early — and I’d bet influential — version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s King of Siam.  Old school while open to new realities, Walker struggles to cope fairly with that current huge challenge: women in the office!

One can see why the lusty Brewer sets his sights on the pretty Miss Pat Milligan:  Elise Kibler plays the part with charming sass but often speaks in a casually conversational tone, just above a whisper, without projecting her voice — a try at some some kind of naturalism but the upshot is you can’t hear her.

John Van Druten went on to write some of the finest, longest running, and most popular plays, in London and on Broadway, including I Remember Mama, The Voice Of The Turtle, Bell, Book and Candle, and I Am A Camera;  and he also directed, and wrote for the movies.  He was a real theater man — no wonder Mr. Brewer is able to turn Miss Milligan’s head by giving her the best kind of evening there is — by taking her to a play, probably one by John Van Druten.  Thanks to the Mint Theater for giving us the chance to see this enjoyable play — the best kind of evening there is!

London Wall plays at The Mint Theater, Midtown West in Manhattan, through April 14, 2014.

Review | Henry IV Part 1 by William Shakespeare | Directed by Davis McCallum | Pearl Theatre Company

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 charming 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.

Powered by WordPress & Theme by Anders Norén