Tuesday, January 30, 2007
Of the 50+ plays that Amiri Baracka (aka LeRoi Jones) has written throughout his career, Dutchman is his most famous and not his best. Its continued prominence is due to the fact that when it premiered forty years ago, it was the right play at the right time about the right subject. In 2007, however, it is no longer a taboo button-pusher; it's almost quaint. You will likely forget this, though, when you're watching Dule Hill and Jennifer Mudge tear through Baracka's text on stage at the Cherry Lane Theatre, in a stylish production by film director Bill Duke. There aren't two better actors in New York to tackle the central roles of Clay, a black man trying hard to assimilate; and Lula, a white woman who seduces and humiliates him on a subway train. Hill is commanding and powerful, and delivers Clay's penultimate monologue with enough fire to torch the whole of Greenwich Village, while Mudge is pure sexuality personified. No man in their right mind would turn her away, no matter how dire the ensuing consequences are.
Sunday, January 28, 2007
Saturday, January 27, 2007
What do you get when you combine a talented ensemble cast, an acclaimed playwright and a well-respected actor/director at the helm? One hot mess of a show. Yasmina Reza's A Spanish Play, at Classic Stage Company under John Tuturro's misguided direction, is a fuck up the likes that only CSC can produce. Nearly everything about it is wrong, from the horribly bright and unimaginative lighting to the backstage videos that are interspersed throughout the play. Tuturro shows his weakness as a director by allowing his actors to languish aimlessly around the stage with no apparent direction, and even has the great Zoe Caldwell deliver a monologue staring at the wall with her back to the audience, for no reason whatsoever. With the exception of Denis O'Hare, who applies his usual annoying schtick, the cast is in fine form; I was especially taken by Katherine Borowitz, who plays an unsure actress playing an unsure actress. But aside from that, everything else is a bust; this misexecution should be the final nail in the coffin of Brian Kulick's disastrous reign as artistic director of CSC.
Sunday, January 21, 2007
Like Christine Ebersole's Little Edie Beale, Peter Weller is so deeply committed to his character that there is never a doubt in your mind that you are seeing Frank Lloyd Wright on stage. He centers Richard Nelson's banal and bland drama Frank's Home, an exercise in futility that chronicles three days in the later life of the famed architect. Mr. Weller plays Wright as a fragile soul, divorced from the world while trying to retain a modicum of pride. Also wonderful are Harris Yulin, as Wright's mentor, Louis Sullivan; Maggie Siff, reminiscent of a young Judy Kuhn as his loving but resentful daughter, Catherine; and Mary Beth Fisher as his flighty, alcoholic mistress. Still, the play--like the roofs of Wright's homes--tends to leak a bit too much.
Saturday, January 20, 2007
I ended up at the TKTS booth when comps for the show I was supposed to see fell through and decided to revisit The Vertical Hour. The play, which I really liked when I saw it in early previews, has only gotten better with time; it is one of the tightest amalgamations of political philosophy and domestic drama that I've ever seen onstage. Bill Nighy continues to wow with his alternately hilarious and touching performance as a hermetic doctor, and Andrew Scott has settled nicely into the role of his son. Tonight, however, the stage belonged to Julianne Moore: she was confident, strong, vibrant, beautiful and moving. I would encourage all of her early detractors to see the play again, and I promise you will be dazzled by her.
Why is The New Group so obsessed with having people on stage prior to curtain? In the past few seasons, we've had Lili Taylor greeting the audience before Aunt Dan and Lemon, Ethan Hawke's unconscious ass hanging out of his boxers as the crowd filed in for Hurlyburly and that scary nun who must've been baking under those lights for The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. They have now taken it to a whole new level, inviting ticketholders to walk onto the stage and enjoy a glass of champagne with Wallace Shawn, just before he performs his 90-minute monologue The Fever. I'm not gonna lie: the champagne was nice.
In The Fever, Mr. Shawn (identified only as "The Traveler") sits in the study of a Manhattan apartment and recounts his experiences being ill in a third-world country mired by civil war. Now, I adore Shawn, but this didn't seem like a stimulating afternoon of theatre to me. I was (mostly) wrong; he is rather commanding, using different tones of voice and stunning lighting effects to represent different factions of the narrator's mind. While the play does drag, and comes off as pedantic from time to time, it's certainly not the dull exercise in monotony that you may expect it to be. Shawn may be no Spalding Gray, but he's also no Eve Ensler...he can hold your attention without resorting to cheap theatrics.
Friday, January 19, 2007
I love Kathy Griffin. I love her trainwreck of a Bravo reality show. I love her on Larry King talking shit about her ex-husband, and I love her throwing down with Star Jones. I love her so much that I chose to see her at Carnegie Hall over Kristin Chenoweth at the Met. Let me just say that I made the right choice. From the moment Griffin walked on stage, looked out at the cavernous (and sold out) Stern Auditorium, and muttered, "Holy shit," she held the audience in the palm of her hand. Two hours and a thousand Britney's, Lindsay's and Whitney's later, the crowd leapt to their feet and delivered a thunderous, well-earned ovation. And to my more elitist friends who constantly pontificate to me that Griffin is nothing more than a watered-down Sandra Bernhard impersonator, I'll leave you with this image: Dick Cheney's teabags on Ann Coulter's forehead. You really had to be there
Wednesday, January 10, 2007
No living playwright can touch Brian Friel on a linguistic level. I usually hate it when playwrights are referred to as "poets," but for Friel, it seems to be an apt moniker. Translations, his 1981 work about Anglicizing an Irish speaking county in 1833, overflows with beautiful prose. Garry Hynes has staged the play for the Manhattan Theatre Club (co-produced by the McCarter Theatre) at the Biltmore in a lyrical and lush production that truly captures the essence of the piece's beauty. At the top of Act Two, the gallant British Lieutenant (Chandler Williams) tells his Irish paramour (the radiant Susan Lynch) to, "Say anything at all. I love the sound of your voice." Likewise of Friel: It doesn't matter what he says; what matters is the captivating way he says it.
Paul Rudnick is an adept jokester. He can write a one-liner like nobody else working, filling each sentence with venomous vigor. So, why in hell would he ever attempt political comedy? His Regrets Only, currently playing at City Center Stage I, is a limp meditation on gay marriage and friendship. It centers around two fixtures of the New York social scene: Tibby McCollough (Christine Baranski), a wealthy and gorgeous socialite, and her best friend, a Bill Blass-esque fashion designer named Hank Hadley (George Grizzard). Hank has recently lost his longtime partner, and is incensed when he learns that Tibby's lawyer hubby (David Rasche) is authoring an anti-gay marriage bill for the president. Forced comedy, and an incredibly flimsy twist, follows. Baranski cannot be faulted; she makes Rudnick's sharp sasses soar, and looks ravishing while doing it. However, the great character actor Grizzard is woefully miscast. He tries way too hard to gay it. I only wish that the play was deserving of its leading lady.