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

Tag: Roundabout Theatre Company

Review | Picnic by William Inge | Directed by Sam Gold | Roundabout Theatre Company

Picnic is a huge delicious ice cream of a fantasy you don’t even have to feel guilty about giving in to it because it comes in the guise of hard bitten realism.  I loved it.

The action takes place in a small town in the midwest in and around the houses of Flo Owens and Helen Potts and the yard between them.  The set, always on view, is so familiar and warmly lit, from the worn white wood frame houses with enticing glimpses through the windows to the appealingly familiar junk around, that one can hardly wait for the play to begin.  The play doesn’t disappoint. 

Review | Don’t Dress For Dinner by Marc Camoletti | Adapted by Robin Hawdon | With Ben Daniels, Dam James, Patricia Kalember and Jennifer Tilly | Directed by John Tillinger | Roundabout Theatre Company | American Airlines Theatre

Don’t Dress for Dinner  — and don’t see this show either. I went because I read somewhere it was really funny.  It is, for about ten minutes.

But the rest is an uninspired cliche — though well performed in madcap farce style — a play about a weekend somewhere outside of Paris where the English husband thinking his English wife will be elsewhere invites his French mistress (though Jennifer Tilly makes no attempt to seem French in the role) and hires a French cook for a really sweet time but things get complicated when a family friend the wife is having an affair with shows up and the wife decides to stick around so everyone has to pretend that the cook is really the family friend’s girlfriend — or his niece, depending who’s being lied to — and that the mistress is the cook who doesn’t know how to cook and yellow gucky food ends up all over the lap of the family friend so then …  oh well, you get the idea.

It’s all thoroughly predictable including the fact that who ends up with who is a mere matter of who’s available — in a word it’s crude.

The funny part? Early on, in Act I, when the mistaken identities first get going, the plain-girl cook, wittily played by Spender Hayden, enthusiastically takes on the part of an ultra-sophisticated high class French woman who tosses down her drinks and dances the tango with gusto.  And for a brief while, Jennifer Tilly is amusing as the mistress thrust into role of the cook who doesn’t know her baked alaska from her quiche — basically she plays herself and that’s kind of fun.

There’s a bit of the women taking off their tops almost in sight of the audience, and Tilly eventually emerges in a soft porn corset and garter belt outfit which she makes the most of — she really is an uninhibited performer!  And I did enjoy her throaty, little girl voice.

But you can be sure this sitcom a) goes on too long and b) ends — no surprise here — with a routine “whoever’s left over” partnering up for sex that leaves a bad taste that all but wipes away the interlude of good fun in Act I.

Don’t bother.

Don’t Dress For Dinner, produced by Roundabout Theatre Company, plays at the American Airlines Theatre on West 42nd Street in Manhattan.

Review | A Man for All Seasons by Robert Bolt | Starring Frank Langella as Sir Thomas More | Roundabout Theatre Company

… A mixed bag …

A Man for All Seasons is founded on a topic of great inherent power:  the collision of individual conviction and state power.  The play is well written, well constructed, and given every advantage in the fine acting of Frank Langella and the excellent production by Roundabout Theatre.

Why then does it fall flat?

Because Sir Thomas More has all the virtues while his enemies have all the vices.  That’s not human nature nor history and so, as drama, it doesn’t ring true.

King Henry VIII and his lieutenant, Cromwell, override the opposition of Thomas More and others to wrest an independent Church of England free from the grasp of the Roman Catholic Church.  The historical context is highly ambiguous in terms of “right” and “wrong.”  Yet More in this play is all high minded, personal conviction, the King is a callow youth and libertine devoid of political purpose — a vast oversimplification of this empire builder — and the passionate Protestant Thomas Cromwell is a conniving, power hungry Iago — though not endowed with Shakespearian charisma.

The play recounts More’s fall from royal grace to poverty, imprisonment and execution because of his principled stand — his refusal to sanction the King’s divorce from his wife of nineteen years who had not borne him a son, and his marriage to Anne Boleyn, the very acts that catalyzed the King’s leap for his nation’s independence from the Roman Catholic Church.  At the play’s end, More is beheaded for his refusal — “I will not bend” — to sign the Act of Supremacy that made Henry VIII the Supreme Head of the Church of England.

You’d never guess that Cromwell, who some see as the originator of the English Reformation, was as devoted to his vision of a sovereign England as More was in his loyalty to Rome.  History tells us that More persecuted Protestants and was not opposed to burning at the stake for heretics, although he tolerated his Lutheran son-in-law.  Evidently he was a mixed bag, like everyone else.  Outstanding theatrical experience and skills at play in this production can’t mask the strain of covering up the overly simplistic view of A Man for All Seasons.

It’s interesting that so far this Fall there have been four plays that focus on the conflict between individual conscience and the power of the state — A Man for All Seasons, The Grand Inquisitor, Galileo, and Antigone, all discussed in posts here below.  Three of them focus in one way or another on the Inquisition.  Is this a category?  Theater of the Inquisition?

A Man for All Seasons is playing at American Airlines Theatre on West 42nd Street in New York City.

Of related interest, see New thoughts on A Man For All Seasons in post above, and Vivat Rex! Exhibition Commemorating the 500th Anniversary of the Accession of Henry VIII in post above.

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