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

Tag: Jeremy Lawrence

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 | The Notebook of Trigorin by Tennessee Williams | a Free Adaptation of The Seagull by Anton Chekhov | Translated by Ann Dunnigan | Directed by Laura Braza | Attic Theater Company

Whatever Williams may have worked out for himself in this 1981 exercise of adaptation, he didn’t do Chekhov any good, much as he admired the Russian playwright.  Evidently it was important to Williams to write this play it but it’s of interest mainly to those with an active concern with theater history  — in that these are two very great playwrights and it could be said anything they did is of interest.

The play — Chekhov pure or filtered through Williams — is a web of unrequited love.  The characters gather on the estate of Sorin, brother of the famous actress Arkadina, who has come to vacation there with her lover Trigorin.  He is a successful and conventional writer, a foil for Konstantin, Arkadina’s son who, with his passionate, youthful belief in a need for “new forms” for literature, is staging his avant-garde play on an improvised outdoor stage.  Konstantin is in love with his actress, Nina who, in short order, falls in love with Trigorin (which might leave Konstantin available for Masha, the Steward’s daughter, who loves him passionately but it won’t happen).

The drama of the powerful first act of The Seagull — and it retains some of its power here — centers around Konstantin’s desire for his mother’s praise, attention and respect, and her laughing dismissal of his play which she finds absurd, with its all talk no action.  “Ah,” she whispers with amused irony to her worldly companion Trigorin, “recitative.”  Chekhov in this episode gave us great talk and action — and we did not need Masha to tell us before hand, as she does in Williams’ adaptation, that Arkadina “will despise the play this evening and make no secret of it.”  Here, as elsewhere, what Chekhov implies, Williams highlights with a magic marker.

Williams pushes hard to cast light on the fascinatingly equivocal relationship Chekhov created between Arkadina and Trigorin.  What is the nature of their bond?  Trigorin chafes at its restraints yet they remain together, his fling with Nina, and the baby produced from it, notwithstanding.  Williams responds to the ambiguities by making Trigorin bisexual, inserting flings with men as well as that with Nina, a characterization that in the context seems forced and somewhat implausible.

In Chekhov’s play, Dr. Dorm is a loving personality who, as a nature romantic, assigns passionate longings to the power of the nearby lake.  Dorn, in Chekhov, is a ray of hope amidst the bevy of dysfunctional characters.  In keeping with his own tragic vision, Williams’ turns him into a heartless misogynist.

The earlier part of The Notebook of Trigorin has more the feel and flavor of Chekhov, and as the play progresses Williams’ tragic sensibility and vision of characters living in a world of their own illusions become more dominant.  As in the characters of Trigorin and Dorn, this produces distracting disjunctions.  Williams pulls a rabbit out of the hat at the very end in a grand gesture by Arkadina.  It’s wondrously theatrical, and the one point where, for a moment, I felt Williams has actually improved on Chekhov, until I realized that Arkadina, narcissistic but in touch, would not have done it:  Blanche Dubois of Streetcar Named Desire might well have.

Michael Schantz conveys the confidence, and underlying agitation of Trigorin, the successful author and alluring man.  Jeremy Lawrence is amusing and touching as the estate owner, Sorin, who confronts in old age his failure to achieve his two goals:  to marry and to be a writer.

Beyond them, the acting is lackluster, one of the casualties of which is that the symbolic power of the seagull Konstantin shoots and presents to Nina as a love gift is lost.  Charise Green as Arkadina throws herself into arguments with effective no holds-barred emotionality but fails to convey the famous actress’s charisma.  She characterizes the narcissistic, dominating woman by screams so grating that I tucked in turtle-wise every time I saw them coming; otherwise she adopts an intimate affect so quiet a lot of her lines couldn’t be heard.

According to the program, Williams wrote this adaptation to make the “quiet” “delicate” Chekhov more accessible to American audiences.  “Our theatre has to cry out to be heard at all …”   But quiet, delicate Chekhov has done very well in America and around the world, as has Tennessee Williams, both deservedly.  Just not in this hybrid.

The Notebook of Trigorin  plays at The Flea Theater in NYC’s Tribeca district through May 18th.

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