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

Tag: Guild Hall

Review | Steinbrenner! by Ira Berkow and Bill Madden | Starring Richard Kind | Guild Hall, Southampton, Long Island

… Lucky to be George Steinbrenner …

This was a tremendously enjoyable evening: with his vitality, charisma, and theatrical intelligence, along with his comic timing, acting depth, and all-round performer’s talent, Richard Kind, supported by a fine cast, took us in hand through Berkow and Madden’s take on how George Steinbrenner owned and ran the NY Yankees.

By the end of this staged reading, a work in progress based on Bill Madden’s best-selling book, I wasn’t sure we got to know the real Steinbrenner, but we saw once again that that Richard Kind is one of the funniest men alive.

The play has a biographical arc, from Steinbrenner’s childhood through to old age as his son (Bradford Cover) takes over the Yankees, closing the circle.  The focus, though, is all on Steinbrenner’s years of owning – and micromanaging — the team, and restoring it to its earlier, temporarily diminished, hard-to-beat the Yankees glory.  In the main, he comes across as brash, unsentimental, and tough on everyone around him: lose a game, get fired. He hires Billy Martin (Danny Fischer) as Manager, fires him, re-hires him, fires him, re-hires.   Complacency, Steinbrenner says, doesn’t win games.

In his winning-is-all dominance of subordinates, Steinbrenner brings to mind Donald Trump “You’re fired”.   Berkow and Madden, while making much of the swagger, go beyond it to show us a more complex and kinder side to the man.  We learn early about Steinbrenner’s generous and not overly publicized philanthropies.  He shows a tender if equivocal loyalty for a favored few: he had a special place in his heart for the great Yankee catcher Thurman Munson (played by R. J. Gruber), and when Munson dies in a crash of his (Munson’s) private plane, the winner-takes-all Steinbrenner, moved by grief and respect, is willing to forfeit games to honor him.

And it’s worth noting that while many players and staff came and went revolving door style, his right hand man, Gabe Paul (Zach Grenier), never quit and Stick (Danny Fischer again), a top talent coach and sometime General Manager stayed by him – though to hang in there, and collect their big salaries, they, like everyone in the Yankee organization, it seems, had to take a lot of flack.

Steinbrenner’s combination of confidence and unease is traced to his demanding, perfectionist father whom he never could fully please.  His relationship with his wife is referred to lightly, but enough to let us know that he was an ardent and determined suitor – just like when he was courting a star baseball player like Reggie Jackson (Duane McGlaughlin).  His relationship with his long-time pal, Elaine Kaufman (Judy Kaye) of Elaine’s, Manhattan famously “in” restaurant, provides a female note.  Judy Kaye as Elaine,  along with Zach Grenier as Gabe Paul, are cool, smart foils for the rambunctious humor that emanates from Steinbrenner’s single-minded determination, and literal takes on whatever comes along.

Although the play was read by fourteen actors playing even more parts, Richard Kind as Steinbrenner is dominant.  You never lose sight of him – nor do you want to!  It’s hard to separate how funny and touching he is as an actor from the play’s essential qualities.  The story’s told with insight but the we learn too much of what happens by being told.  Since Steinbrenner is presented as a work in progress, the authors may move it more from spoken narrative to  dramatization.

And about that big question:  how did Steinbrenner’s Yankees become so great?  The big bucks are mentioned but the focus leaves you thinking their success spun out of his outsize personality.  Wasn’t it his outsize pocketbook, and his willingness to spend huge amounts of money?

Steinbrenner was a delightful evening of theater.  I look forward to see more of it.

Steinbrenner, directed by Randal Myler, played at Guild Hall in Southampton, Long Island, NY August 2, 2015.

Review | All My Sons by Arthur Miller | Starring Alec Baldwin and Laurie Metcalf | Directed by Stephen Hamilton | Guild Hall, Southampton, Long Island

I love it when, looking over the set before the play begins one sees onstage a house with wood shingles, small town or rural, with a porch and a yard and the suggestion of a lived in interior.

Picnic, The Fifth of July, August: Osage County, All My Sons are some of them.  It raises a pleasant nostalgia and eases loneliness – one’s going to meet the family!  One does, and with it the dramatic tensions and hidden truths behind the appealing setting.

Set in August 1946, shortly after the end of World War II (and first produced in 1947), All My Sons takes place in and around the porch and yard of Joe Keller, a successful small town manufacturer, and his wife Kate.  Their son Larry, a WWII pilot, is MIA and presumed to have died in action, though Kate vehemently refuses to believe he is dead.

Their other son, Chris, has now fallen in love with Ann Deever who’d been Larry’s girlfriend, and when she arrives at the house for a visit, Kate, certain that Larry’s still alive, finds their romance disloyal and unbearable. To make it worse, Ann’s also the daughter of Joe’s former partner, Steve Deever.  Joe and Steve had been tried for shipping from their factory mis-manufacturered cracked aircraft cylinder heads for P-40 planes during the war but Joe was exonerated (he was said to be home with the flu the day the parts went out) while his partner, Deever, went to jail, where he still sits. To knowingly send out faulty engine parts is so horrible that neither Ann nor her brother George have so much as written their father since he went to jail.

Only, we learn, that George Deever, now a lawyer, has just paid his father a visit in jail.  And that, and other hints, make the Keller’s – and us – realize that, amidst the refreshing grape juice and romance and Joe’s plans for a great dinner out that night,  that matter of guilt with the cracked airplane parts simply will not disappear, in spite of the Kellers’ desperate attempt to bury it in the past.

Consider what’s at stake.  Larry Keller was a pilot presumed to have died in a combat mission.  If Joe had a part in letting the faulty aircraft parts out of the factory, he would, essentially, be responsible for his own son’s death – a thought beyond bearing.  And as we begin to consider that possibility, we realize that Kate’s insistence that her son is still alive isn’t just a mother’s grief-driven craziness – for Larry to be alive is her husband’s only hope.

And as things turn out, it is a thought beyond bearing.

It’s not for nothing that Arthur Miller have Joe’s factory manufacturing parts for the P-40 because it was considered our best fighter plane available in large numbers – in other words, there was a rush on them and so, when some of the cylinder heads came through the manufacturing process with a small crack, Joe was frantic to fulfill his quotas and, as he says, not lose his contract, and so he sent out the faulty parts with an ineffective patch.  For Miller, this decent man’s tragedy is a compound of personality, capitalism and war.  They way the author gives full due to each of these elements is part of the greatness of the play.

The play is not perfect – there are a few implausibilities – but it’s powerful and compelling.  This is the first time I’ve seen it and I think, among Miller’s most serious plays such as Death of a Salesman and The Crucible, this is my favorite.

In this superb production Joe, played by Alec Baldwin, comes across at first as easy-going in style but driven from within. He speaks with an intimate and fascinating fast-talking hucksterism to the mark for the confident businessman who’s determined – oh so determined – to make the sale, and he builds the part to great intensity. Laurie Metcalf gives a nothing-short-of-great performance as the anguished Kate with much to hide, jerkily holding to the norms of social interactions while electrified from head to toe with fear and the determination to control a ruinous situation.

Miller based All My Sons in part on a news story about an aeronautical manufacturing company in Ohio that conspired with army inspection officers to approve defective aircraft parts, but he altered the story greatly.  He also drew inspiration from Henrik Ibsen, both for his understanding of “the well made play,” and, from The Wild Duck, for the relationship between the two business partners.

I think also the play gains force from Miller’s adherence to Aristotle’s rules of unities in his Poetics:  All My Sons is indeed a single story that unfolds in one place in a period of a day — and with a relentless uncovering of hidden guilt worthy of Greek tragedy.  These are among the influences that flowed into Miller’s brilliant and original drama, a play fired by his grief over the war, his compassion for human beings, and his sense of justice.  All that and a young playwright’s desire to write a play that as he said would be well received, and it was!

All My Sons is a gripping evening of theater.  The story is tragic and one leaves exhilarated.

All My Sons plays at Guild Hall in East Hampton, NY, through July 28, 2015.  As I write, it’s near the end of its short run and the remaining performances are sold out.

Review | Equus by Peter Shaffer | Directed by Tony Walton | With Alec Baldwin and Sam Underwood | Guild Hall, Easthampton

… “interspecies love” …

A psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, has thrust on him a singularly disturbed young patient, Alan Strang.  The teen-ager has committed the shocking act of blinding six horses.  A magistrate compassionately seeks to spare Alan from the criminal justice system by handing him over the her friend, Martin, expecting him to help the young man resolve whatever is his problem … become happier … or less anguished … something in that direction.

The play is a psychoanalytically styled probing in search of a cure with scenes from Alan’s life and crime dramatized.  Unique in the annals of psychoanalysis, the psychiatrist talks more than the patient!  Alec Baldwin, in the role of the psychiatrist, goes on and on and on, pretentiously philosophizing and telling us what to think about the matter at hand and everything else.

It turns out the boy is sexually hung up on horses, those muscular, strong necked, sweaty beasts.  It wouldn’t be fair to reveal how his passion for horses leads him to blind them except to say there’s a great deal of sensationalism in this play, which may explain why it’s still around after its initial London and Broadway productions in 1973.  I’ve read that Alan’s nudity created international attention (!) back then.  Today that’s so common (yawn) … so in this production the nudity is hyped by including female as well as male nudity in an actual, staged love scene between Alan and his would-be girlfriend but, for good reason, there’s no chemistry.

In addition to the human characters, this production includes five horses (not the six described by Alan’s crime).  Never mind that one’s missing — the horses area really well done!  They’re played by five men wearing brown body suits, openwork horse-head shaped helmets and heavy, openwork boots shaped like hooves that force them to clump around slowly and loudly, nod their heads, resists the bit with their chins, and create, all in all, a fascinating and appealing illusion of horses — or, since they have the bodies of men, centaurs.  The brawny, brown, pheromone-rich horses are stand-ins for “the love that dare not speak its name.”  How telling that as recently as 1973, horses were thought to be easier for an audience to take as sex objects for men than other men!

But Alan, and his psychiatrist, and “the cure” … these are totally unconvincing and — an old-fashioned word for a dated play — corny.  The psychiatrist actually promises Alan he’ll cure him.  And silly as that sounds, in the play, he sort of does.

EQUUS plays at the Guild Hall Theatre in Easthampton, Long Island, through July 3rd.

Review | The Glass Menagerie by Tennessee Williams | Directed by Harris Yulin | Guild Hall, East Hampton, NY

Master of Seduction

No one writes seduction as well as Tennessee Williams.  In his Ten Blocks on the Camino Real, earlier this season, sex is morally and physically deadly for Kilroy — i.e., he has every reason to resist.  And it does take the Gypsy’s daughter awhile — a delicious, suspenseful while — but he succumbs.  In Vieux Carre, another game played out on a small bed, an unattractive man, elderly and sickly, uses skill, experience and patience in a breathtaking seduction of a beautiful young man.  You might think you wouldn’t want to see that — but you do.

Act I of The Glass Menagerie sets up an intriguing psychological situation but it’s not until the great seduction scene of Act II that, in this production, the play comes alive.

Tom, who’s both a character and narrator in this play, wants to be a writer and yearns for adventure but is stuck in a shoe factory supporting his tyrannical mother, Amanda, and lame and reclusive sister, Laura, who finds emotional refuge in her collection of small, glass animals that break easily, like her.  Amanda, an erstwhile Southern belle, chatty and flirtatious, tries to make her intensely shy daughter into a creature like herself, while holding too tight a rein on her son through emotional blackmail and incestuous flirtatiousness — at one point, as my friend noted, in response to one of her intimate onslaughts, Tom covers his groin with his cap.  The traps that lock this family are economic and psychological but Williams is most interested in the psychological.  As Sartre concluded in his play No Exit, of the very same year, 1944, “Hell is other people.”

Frantic to find Laura a suitor, Amanda pushes Tom to invite for diner a man from the factory, Jim who, it turns out, Laura had been attracted to in high school, only intensifying Laura’s pathological shyness.  Jim takes it on himself to draw Laura out of her shell … instead of a bed, Williams here gets them sitting together on the floor, in candlelight, while the others are in the kitchen.  Outstandingly handsome in this production (though not in the script) and sure of himself in a full-of-himself sort of way, Jim succeeds in opening her to romance and a kiss in a tender and cruel seduction.  It turns out he’s engaged.  For him, it was a combination kindness and ego-trip.  For Laura, it’s the ultimate loss.

The Glass Menagerie, Williams’ first great theatrical success, has strong reference to his own life (see also Vieux Carre).  Like the narrator-son in The Glass Menagerie, Williams’ true name was Tom, and it’s no stretch to see in the psychologically fragile and abandoned Laura a reflection of his mentally ill sister Rose whom Williams felt he had abandoned (Jim’s nickname for Laura is “Blue Roses” from his play on words of the pleurosis she suffered.)

The play’s psychological themes speak strongly to the powerful stream of Freudian thought in much twentieth-century literature, particular in the earlier years when everyone was writing about psychological arrest, a la Kafka, and when it was widely believed, for instance, that homosexuality was caused by absent fathers and over-protective and seductive — Amanda-like — mothers.  But the play remains fresh because Williams’ characters are vivid and fully developed, their passions deep, and their interactions intense, believable and inevitable.

The Glass Menagerie, with Amy Irving as Amanda, Ebon Moss-Bachrach as Tom, Louisa Krause as Laura and John Behlmann as Jim, plays at Guild Hall in East Hampton through July 26.

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