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

Tag: Hamish Linklater

Review | Posterity | Written and Directed by Doug Wright | Starring John Noble as Henrik Ibsen and Hamish Linklater as the sculptor Gustav Vigeland | Atlantic Theater Company

Posterity is an unexpected, fascinating and brilliant play performed by great actors.

It’s 1901 and as the end of life draws near for great Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen, the City of Oslo (Kristiana at the time) seeking to commemorate him with a portrait bust, awards the commission to the sculptor, Gustav Vigeland. Thus begins a play of titanic struggle between and within – between the playwright and the sculptor, and within their souls.

Both have reasons to want the Ibsen portrait and to distrust it, to hate it.  They’re both opinionated, individualistic, and self-centered, and with their own set of agendas.  They enrage one another to a fury but respect each other’s intelligence, creating dazzling verbal wordplay.

Review | The Vandal by Hamish Linklater | Directed by Jim Simpson | Flea Theater (returning March 22-31, another chance to see it!)

ak bleak bleak — a bold way to start a play, but it works wonderfully.  Strangers, a woman and a boy, on a cold, road at night, next to a cemetery, waiting for a bus, but the vivid characters bring it to warm, pulsating life — which is exactly the point.

Noah Robbins as the boy and Deirdre O'Connell as the Woman. Photo Joan Marcus

Noah Robbins as the boy and Deirdre O’Connell as the Woman. Photo Joan Marcus

Through snow dusted tombstones, a path runs in diminishing perspective to the distance: read infinity.  The bus is late.  The woman sinks into herself, her coat hanging crooked, too thin for this cold night.  Things couldn’t be worse.  She has some ominous connection with the nearby hospital.  She’s unresponsive to the fast-talking teen-ager who works to engage her with everything from philosophical riffs to brash seduction.

When, grudgingly, she takes his $20 bill to buy him (he’s under age) beer and Doritos we meet the third person in the play, the convenience store owner who turns out to be the boy’s father though, oddly, he hasn’t seen his son in a long time.

There are two exceptionally fine scenes in this show.  One, is the boy’s monologue born from musing on the orange Dorito powder that sticks to one’s fingers and that takes off, zooming like a comet from far to near and back again, from microcosm to macrocosm, inside to outside, being and nothingness — it’s a virtuoso piece in writing and delivery, so fast and canny I’d like to hear it again.

The other is the scene between the man and the woman in the convenience store, replete with the familiar and the uncanny, a merchant’s know-how in the face of stolen credit cards and the human connections that can override things done by the rules.

Deirdre O'Connell as the Woman and Zach Grenier as the Man. Photo Joan Marcus

Deirdre O’Connell as the Woman and Zach Grenier as the Man. Photo Joan Marcus

We’re in good hands with this convenience store owner.  One enjoys the
strong capability and masculinity, combined with burred-over vulnerability Zach Grenier brings to the role, though Grenier’s a touch too cosmopolitan for this rural corner of upstate New York.  Deirdre O’Connell is touching as the woman who’s been through so much she’s almost — but not completely — drained.  The unhesitating speed with which Noah Robbins pours out the boy’s cosmic fast talk makes you feel he knows everything, which, through his strange circumstance, he almost does.

The outcome of this short play, involving the man and the woman, is pat and, when one comes right down to it, although the boy is the most interesting and surprising character, what happens doesn’t depend on him.  I felt that this loose cannon of a character was compensating for the fact that what actually happens in the play is not unusual or striking.  Yet, there’s a governing intelligence throughout that, though the play has some of the thinness of a practice one-acter, gives it a serious resonance.  The intelligence of the language, the overall dramatic aura, those wonderful scenes, and the fine acting are compelling.  The evocative set by David M. Barber fulfills the contrasts of realism and fantasy, intimate and cosmic, around which the play winds.

What will this young playwright do next?  Having seen The Vandal  — and having loved Linklater’s spectacular performance in David Ives’ School for Lies at Classic Repertory Theatre — I’ll be on the lookout for his next play, whether he writes it or acts in it!

The Vandal plays at The Flea Theater in Manhattan’s Tribeca through March 3, 2013.  NOTE:  The Vandal  returns to the Flea Theater March 22 – 31.

Review | The School For Lies by David Ives | Directed by Walter Bobbie | Classic Stage Company

… triple play …

What a romp!  What sheer fun!  Moliere would have loved The School For Lies.

And what a record, three for three, for Classic Stage and David Ives:

  • 2009:  Classic Stage produces Ives’ brilliant play about Spinoza,  New Jerusalem:  The Interrogation of Baruch de Spinoza
  • 2010:  Classic Stage produces Ives’ Venus in Fur which was a big success and launched Nina Arianda into stardom (though I found it tiresome)
  • 2011:  Classic Stage produces Ives’ The School for Lies, from Moliere’s The Misanthrope, and they’re right back on brilliant

The School for Lies roughly follows Moliere’s The Misanthrope with Ives translating it into the words, rhythms, and catch-all phrases of today’s youth-slanted English — and these are very young characters.  He’s discovered complete freedom of vocabulary — no word for word translation but every attempt, and success, at catching the sense of each line, its feeling, the characters’ pleasure in saying it and the impact on the hearer.

The effect in its way is pure Moliere.  Ives bridges the 17th to 21st Centuries!

And, though perhaps less inventive, Ives is as witty as Moliere!  Like The Misanthrope, The School for Lies is in rhyme — rhyming couplets, strings of internal rhymes, can-you-top-this? rhymes, punning rhymes, delayed rhymes that you wait for and that never disappoint on arrival — bringing a grin, a chortle, a guffaw, and a sigh of satisfaction.

We’re in Paris among aristocrats in the 17th Century.  Well, we’re sort of there:  the furnishings are of the time, and the characters wear gorgeous period costumes  but they talk like us.  Celimene is a spirited, witty recent widow and a flirt who loves society.  Frank is an impulsive, sarcastic brooder, disdainful of humanity and its superficial social conventions — hugs in particular.  He’s sort of a hippie, she’s a party girl, and yet they love, sparring like Annie and Frank in Annie Get Your Gun.   The play abounds with rich characters, Philante, Frank’s friend with the “be reasonable, Frank” message who turns into a Queen ex machina;  Clitander (fun and names) super rich and content with his stupidity;  Oronte, whose dreadful poetry bears the brunt of Frank being frank, and others to entangle themselves in each others’ lies and loves.

This is a cast with great comic timing and marvelous expressions — subtle and broad as needed — Jenn Gambatese is particularly amusing as Elainte who loves … well, everybody here loves a few different people.  The tall, tousled Hamish Linklater gives a vigorous and always humorous performance and he’s handsome so that we can believe Celimene falls in love with him against her better judgment.  Mamie Gummer is persuasive as Celimene though the role could use more sparkle.  Everybody’s good but I’d particularly mention Steven Boyer whose long-suffering deadpan in the role of two servants holds the play together — you’d think that particularl joke that goes along with him might be overdone, but it works every time.

I’ve seen The Misanthrope at the Pearl Theatre recently which prompts comparison:  the stories and characters are similar but the differences are interesting — though I was so captivated by The School for Lies that these took awhile to sink in.  In The School for Lies, the hero, Frank, speaks of his hatred of hypocrisy.  In The Misanthrope,  the parallel hero, Alceste, hates hypocrisy and injustice.  And therein lies a tale.  The School for Lies is focused on individuals, on the foibles of this group and the hilarity they engender.  Injustice looms larger in The Misanthrope where, for all the laughter, one is always aware of the great power imbalances of the social structure and the insecurities they cause.  All in all, The School for Lies is a less political play than The Misanthrope.  In a way this is surprising, since Moliere, living and writing under the tight reign of Louis XIV, had two of his plays banned by the government, while Ives has nothing to lose.

(And those court cases often referred to are totally unclear to me in both plays.)

And Moliere’s play, for all of its exaggerated characterizations, is more realistic in terms of personalities and relationships, particularly in the more complex, anguished and genuinely philosophical character of Alceste, now Frank in The School for Lies.  And speaking of realism, Frank impossibly turns out to be someone else — but it’s so wonderfully funny you wouldn’t want it any other way.  These aspects give Moliere’s play the universality that inspires interpretations, adaptations, performances and other kinds of conversations with it in new generations — like The School for Lies.  But The School for Lies has its own great wit and language.

The School for Lies plays at Classic Stage in NYC’s East Village through May 22;  that’s too short a run for such an enjoyable play!

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