Wednesday, February 28, 2007
Can it be? The LAByrinth Theater Company, home of dark and brooding plays about dark and brooding people by dark and brooding playwrights, has produced a gentle romantic comedy, and a great one at that? Inconceivable! Bob Glaudini's Jack Goes Boating is not a romantic comedy in the Sleepless in Seattle sense, of course, but its sensibility would seem to be taken from films and plays of that genre. It has moments of dramatic intensity, but at the core of the work, it's heartfelt, sweet-natured and often riotously funny. In the title role, Philip Seymour Hoffman creates a lovable, Marty-esque lug who falls head over heels for an eccentric co-worker of his friend's wife. John Ortiz and Daphne Rubin-Vega offer terrific support as the less-than-perfect married couple Jack pals around with, but this production's real find is Beth Cole as the object of affection. She's pitch-perfect, holding her own and stealing the spotlight from the seasoned pros around her. Some of the dramatic arc needs to be tightened up before the show officially opens, but for a very early preview, it's in great shape.
Tuesday, February 27, 2007
The current revival of Giancarlo del Monaco's sumptuous production of Simon Boccanegra is probably the most successful production I've seen all season at the Met. Everything about this staging seems to just work, and after the 3.5 hours are over, you think to yourself that you could easily sit there for three-and-a-half more. Thomas Hampson brings a delicate, marvellous amalgamation of brooding darkness and genuine warmth to the title role, and his duets with the bass Feruccio Furlanetto were thrilling. Angela Gheorghiu triumphs as the doge's long-lost daughter Amelia; I don't think there's another soprano working today who can touch her when it comes to Verdi. This is the first revival of this production since its debut in 1995, with Kiri Te Kanawa and Placido Domingo, and it should become a permanent fixture on the Met season calendar.
Wednesday, February 21, 2007
About a half-hour into Dying City, Christopher Shinn's plodding and generally perplexing new play at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre, an old man tripped and fell while trying to flee. That was more interesting than anything that happened onstage in the entire play. This isn't one of those "so-bad-it's-funny" plays; it's one of those "just plain bad" ones. Couple that with sophomoric acting from the truly unwatchable Pablo Schreiber and the miscast Rebecca Brooksher, and languid direction from James Macdonald (he had the same problem with his staging of Caryl Churchill's A Number), and you've got one of the most agonizing evenings of theatre in a long time. Chekhovian melodrama at its worst.
Tuesday, February 20, 2007
To be honest, I wasn't really feeling Roundabout's revival of Craig Lucas' Prelude to a Kiss at first. The beginning fifteen minutes seemed a bit too tentative, as a young couple (Alan Tudyk and Annie Parisse) meet at a mutual friend's party, fall in love, and decide to marry after a whirlwind courtship. It wasn't until the scene of their actual wedding, midway through Act 1, that I fell in love with the play and production, and was rapt from then on. Daniel Sullivan is a master at blending genres; here, he has tapped into the realms of loss and redemption and perfectly juxtaposed them. I was on the verge of tears when The Old Man, beautifully played by John Manhoney, delivered an eloquent monologue about the dangers of living too long. Tudyk and Parisse are also ideally cast; they're a darling love match. That's the play, though: a truly darling marriage of style and substance.
Monday, February 19, 2007
The musical adaptation of Studs Terkel's Working isn't very good. It's got a creaky book and half of the musical numbers are garbage. That's why I was scratching my head when it was chosen as the vehicle for an Actors' Fund benefit concert. Gordon Greenberg did his best to cut down on the monotony by reducing the show to ninety intermissionless minutes and cutting as many superfluous songs and characters as possible (he did away with the godawful newsboy bit), but it still came off feeling like Chinese water torture for most of the evening. Luckily, the cast was way better than their material; everyone was on the ball. I feel wrong singling people out in this case, but three stick out in my mind: the brilliant Mary Testa, playing the convivial waitress and blowing the roof off of the Zipper with "It's An Art"; Ed Dixon and his blue-eyed soul rendition of "Lovin' Al"; and Merle Dandridge, whose "Just a Housewife" broke my heart and "Cleaning Woman" brought me to my proverbial feet. Why isn't she in every show?
Kiki on Shawn Hornbeck, the Missouri teen who was kidnapped at age eleven and returned to his parents five years later: "People have been wondering why he never tried to run away, why he never tried to call the police. Honey, if you didn't have to go to school and you were getting all the sex you needed in one place, would you try to run away?"
I heart Kiki.
Saturday, February 17, 2007
I had to see this show one more time before it closes, and sadly, work reasons are keeping me from tomorrow night's final performance. Still, I'm glad I was able to see it again for my fifth time. The orchestra and mezzanine were packed, something I've never seen for this show before, and the audience was loving it from the minute it started. I'm really going to miss being able to see Julie White's rip-roaringly brilliant performance. Having Zoe Lister-Jones back, even for a finite amount of time, makes me very happy; she brings such depth and humanity to her underwritten role. Too bad she isn't Tony eligible. Tom Everett Scott has gotten stronger with every return visit, and Johnny Galecki is just priceless. I'm sad to see another new American play close, but I will remember Douglas Carter Beane's terrific satire as the best modern day comedy of manners since, well, Douglas Carter Beane's As Bees in Honey Drown. Bravo and brava, company and crew!
In the age when the Rush Limbaughs and Ann Coulters of the world are more popular and more prevelant than ever, Eric Bogosian's Talk Radio seems as relevant as ever. Robert Falls' crackling revival, currently previewing at the Longacre, is full of fun and livewire intensity. As Barry Champlain, a no-holds-barred shock jock whose Cleveland radio show is about to go national, Liev Schreiber has possibly turned in his best stage performance yet; he's galvanizing and engrossing, but never plays it too over the top. You believe every word he's saying, even when Bogosian's dialogue runs toward the ridiculous, and your eyes remain glued to him throughout the entire intermissionless 100 minutes of the show. He's ably supported by Peter Herrmann and Stephanie March, who delivers the "Barry Champlain is a nice place to visit..." monologue better than anyone I've ever heard before. I'm really loving the play revivals on Broadway this season; each one seems stronger than the last.
Friday, February 16, 2007
Kevin Kline is an able Shakespearean, but I couldn't help shaking the thought that he's completely miscast as Lear. His trademark naturalism is all wrong for the larger than life king, and half the time he seems to wander around the stage of the Anspacher aimlessly, reciting his lines as if he were reading a telephone book. And this is before his descent into madness, which came off totally unbelievable. It pains me to write that Kline is lackluster, but he really, really is here.
He's surrounded by several other poor performers: Laura Odeh is laughable as the always laughing Regan, while Brian Avers' Edgar didn't seem to register a single human emotion. Philip Goodwin plays The Fool as if he'd just had a small stroke before walking onstage. Worst of all, though, is Logan Marshall-Green's Edmund; he's an actor with very few tricks, and often finds himself either over annunciating or just plain shouting.
There is some good, though: Kristen Bush is appropriately moving as Cordelia, and Angela Pierce presents Goneril as a proper stone cold bitch. Best of all, though, is Michael Cerveris' Kent; with this performance, he's announcing himself as a rising star of American Shakespearean interpretation.
Wednesday, February 14, 2007
I cannot shower enough superlatives upon Karita Matilla, currently giving the performance of a lifetime in Leos Janacek's Jenufa at the Met. Matilla is of the school of emotional interpreters, a very rare breed in modern opera. Watching her get down and dirty on stage is a completely fulfilling experience, among the best I've ever had at an opera. It also helps that her co-star is the great Anja Silja, the queen of the emotional interpretation. You could hear a pin drop during their scenes together. For once, the Met has paired their divas with two incredibly worthy leading men: the forceful and fascinating Jorma Silvasti sang Laca with fiery passion, and Jay Hunter Morris, in his company debut, brought an intriguing humanity to the cold-hearted Steva. The production closes this Saturday; do yourself a favor and go. You won't soon find two titans like this sharing the stage again any time soon.
Tuesday, February 13, 2007
Just call this one Renee's Turn. In Tatiana, the passionate heroine of Tchaikovsky's Eugene Onegin, La Fleming has possibly achieved her greatest operatic triumph. Her flawlessly sung performance, including a letter scene that will go down among the best ever, will be remembered for years to come by all those who see it. It's too bad she doesn't have an Onegin to match her: Dmitri Hvorostovsky is surprisingly static. In recent interviews, he has said that he's bored with playing Onegin and it shows: I half expected him to pull out a crossword during his big Act One solo. He's a terrifically talented performer, but it's time for him to find a new signature role. He didn't come alive until the final scene, when he and Fleming ignited the Met with an intense passion that had been missing from his performance all night long. Still, this Yevgeny is no match for his Tatiana.
Monday, February 12, 2007
Sunday, February 11, 2007
Wow. I wasn't expecting much from R.C. Sherriff's Journey's End, but by the time I left the Belasco, I felt as if I'd definitely just seen the best revival of the season. Scratch that: the best revival in recent memory. David Grindley's production is both razor sharp and drum tight, and comes off as so relevant you'd think it was written yesterday. The entire ensemble is flawless, and brilliantly led by Hugh Dancy as Stanhope, a man broken by the indignities of war. He is nicely contrasted by the bright-eyed and still innocent Raleigh, nicely portrayed by Stark Sands. Boyd Gaines and Jefferson Mays offer terrific support. For the first time in quite a while, I left the theatre saying that I couldn't wait to go see the show again.
[Tony prediction: Hugh Dancy for Best Actor in a Play]
Saturday, February 10, 2007
I never pass up the chance to see Betty Buckley live. She's one of the most forceful and dynamic stage presences, and a truly flawless song stylist. She didn't disappoint tonight at the Allen Room, where she sang songs of love in honor of the upcoming holiday. Bathed in the beauty of the Upper West Side, Buckley delivered favorites old and new: a jazzy "No One Is Alone"; a haunting "Anyone Can Whistle"; and a definitive rendition of Brenda Russell's "Get Here". Her encore, the blues classic "The Down Don't Bother Me", brought the audience to its feet and the house down. I can't wait for Ms. Buckley's new solo show, Singing For My Supper, at Feinstein's next month. The interim will seem intolerable.
Do I even need to write anything? Is it necessary in this case? For one, I'd gladly give up smoking, sex and Maker's Mark on the rocks if Victoria Clark would come to my apartment and sing "Losing My Mind" to me every night. Secondly, Donna Murphy is our Merman and Michael McGrath our Mickey Rooney. Victor Garber is probably the last old school leading man. Everything really is possible. I wish I could be articulate, but I can't. I'm still reeling.
Wednesday, February 7, 2007
This play is more than just common; it's downright bad. I was crying on the inside for my girl Lynn Collins. So brilliant as Rosalind in NYSF's As You Like It two summers ago, girlfriend is now saddled with a solipsistic and stupid play about a woman who falls for the doctor who performed a surgery that ended up killing her infant daughter. Courtney Baron wrote Ms. Collins' character as a shallow and mean-spirited nightmare of a woman, and she receives absolutely no sympathy from the audience. You know there's something wrong when a woman who has lost her premature baby comes out as more villain than victim. To quote an elderly gentlemen in earshot when leaving the theatre: "Just give her 300 milligrams of Motrin and she'd get over it!"
Lynn, I still love you, though. Please get someone to revive Cat on a Hot Tin Roof for you.
Tuesday, February 6, 2007
J.M. Barrie's Mary Rose is a beautiful play, full of poetry and lyricism. Tina Landau's production for the Vineyard Theatre highlights this by having the formidable Keir Dullea read Barrie's lush stage directions to the audience between scenes. They read like a novel. Sadly, Landau's rendering suffers from some major miscasting: celebrity scion Paige Howard is all wrong for the title role of a young woman who vanished from a mystical Scottish island as a girl, only to return rather touched twenty days later with no recollection of what happened. Howard could not maintain her British accent to save her life, and seemed quite uncomfortable onstage. Despite some fine moments in the play's gorgeous final scene, it's an uneven and regrettable performance, and I spent most of the play wishing that Samantha Soule wasn't tied up doing The Voysey Inheritance. However, other fine performances abound, most notably Dullea and Darren Goldstein, as Mary Rose's adoring husband. More than ever, though, the play really is the thing. Get yourself down to Union Square and marvel at what dramatic language can achieve.
Monday, February 5, 2007
Over the past decade, Anna Netrebko has done what very few opera performers can: she has become a viable crossover artist. In Europe, her records top both the classical and pop charts, and her renditions of "Musette's Waltz" and "O mio babbino caro" receive music videos. Still, her fame has cost her the respect of opera purists, who don't seem to take her as seriously as her more classical peers. Last night though, singing the difficult role of Elvira in Bellini's I Puritani, she won me over as a lifelong fan. In the years that I've been going to the opera, I don't think I've ever seen such a magnetic presence on the stage of the Met. For the famous Act Two mad scene, "Vien, diletto", Netrbko laid on her back, on the foot of the stage, with her head hanging down into the orchestra pit. Say what you will about her, but she has guts. The men last night were less successful, especially the weak Gregory Kunde as Arturo, who didn't truly come alive until well into Act Three, but that didn't really matter. You couldn't take your eyes off of Netrebko.
Sunday, February 4, 2007
Julie White, Angela Lansbury and Vanessa Redgrave should be thanking their lucky stars that Michael Wilson's production of Summer and Smoke isn't on Broadway. If it were, they would all be out of luck come Tony time, when Amanda Plummer would wipe the floor with them and every other serious contender. Plummer so fully inhabits the role of Alma Winemiller, a homely and repressed minister's daughter lusting after the hedonistic doctor next door (the terrific Kevin Anderson), that you barely get a chance to catch your breath while watching her emote. Summer and Smoke is one of Tennessee Williams' best (and rarely produced) plays, and it's really wonderful to see a brilliant production of it. Next stop, Broadway? Let's hope so.
Saturday, February 3, 2007
Theatre for a New Audience had a rare opportunity to expose theatregoers to Christopher Marlowe's brilliant, rarely performed The Jew of Malta. The play, arguably the greatest work of Shakespeare's only formidable contemporary, has been butchered beyond belief by director David Herskovits and dramaturg Michael Feingold. The cast is led by F. Murray Abraham as Barabas, the vengeful title character out to set right the wrongs done to him by his Christian countrymen. However, he is a far too natural actor for the role; there's no fire there. The ensemble that surrounds him is even worse: a JCC in Branson could put together a better group of thespians. By the end of the play, I was jealous of Barabas for being burned alive.
Alfred Molina is giving a career-best performance in Howard Katz, receiving its American premiere by Roundabout at the Laura Pels Theatre. The comedy-drama is easily Patrick Marber's most satisfying play, peppered with snappy dialogue, interesting characters and a compelling story. In the past, Marber has produced these desirable characteristics, but never all at once. Molina is supported by an extremely able supporting cast, which includes veteran Beckett interpreter Alvin Epstein, Tony winner Elizabeth Franz, and best of all, the peerless Jessica Hecht. Here is an actress that, no matter how little stage time she has, always makes an impression. One facial expression from her is worth more than an entire performance from most other actresses in New York. She's our Julie Harris.
Friday, February 2, 2007
What happened? Voyage was a delightful romp of a Russian soap with philosophy and fun facts thrown into the mix. Shipwreck was brilliant, profound and totally moving. And now, we have Salvage, which is, on a whole, unsalvageable. Taking place mostly in London, where Alexander Herzen took up residence after the death of his wife, child and mother, the final installment of Tom Stoppard's Coast of Utopia trilogy seems as if it was culled from throwaway moments cut from the first two better plays. The lack of interest here extends to Brian F. O'Byrne as Herzen; he could, no pun intended, coast through Voyage and Shipwreck because they were so well-written. However, the flaws of this play really heighten the fact that he is so utterly miscast as Herzen that it's almost embarrassing. The only positive touches here are Josh Hamilton and Martha Plimpton as Nicholas and Natasha Ogarev; both of these talents have spent most of the trilogy on the sidelines and now finally get a chance to shine.
Thursday, February 1, 2007
Kate Robin's play really helped me. Some could say it changed my life. You see, as I sat in the darkness of Atlantic Theatre's brand new Stage 2 bored out of my mind, I decided to drop a class that will seriously cut down on my school workload. Theatre really can have a profound impact on you!