Thursday, May 17, 2007

Blog break

Well, I left New York today and am going to be gone for the better part of the next three months. In that time, I'll probably only manage to get into the city rarely, so reviews this summer are going to be few and far between. I do have some shows lined up already: In June, I'll be seeing a preview of Eurydice and Romeo and Juliet in the Park; July brings about Gypsy with Patti Lupone and Old Acquaintance on Broadway; and August has Beyond Glory and the other Shakespeare in the Park offering, A Midsummer Night's Dream, in store. I'm also going to try to fit in Xanadu somewhere down the line (mama loves cheese), and possibly make a return visit to Forbidden Broadway to sample their new material.

I'll keep reading you, and I hope that you keep reading me. I will be back full-force come September.

Wednesday, May 16, 2007

In a Dark Dark House

Anyone who has seen a play by the ultra-prolific Neil Labute knows the basic setup of all of his works: introduce characters, mix in some tension and then throw in a (usually predictable) eleventh hour twist. His newest misanthropic dramady, In a Dark Dark House, deviates from this familiar pattern, introducing a shocker rather quickly and letting it lay there for far too long. The audience knows that something else is coming around the corner, and spends the rest of the evening trying to figure out what the playwright has up his sleeve. Fortunately, it gives us something to do other than pay attention to the baffling action that's happening on stage. I'm often a defender of Labute's style, but there is very little that anybody could positively spin here; it feels like something that was thrown together in a few hours, with little conflict and even less resolution. One bright spot, though: Frederick Weller turns in an intensely vivid performance as a man out to right a wrong committed against his brother (a disappointing Ron Livingston) when they were children. His surly and often glib line readings (both good things, in this case) fit right in with Labute's elan.


Patrick Hamilton's Gaslight--formerly called Angel Street, and the basis for George Cukor's 1944 film of the same name--is one of those plays where the style and tone of the piece is so integral that any diversion from it causes the entire piece to fall flat. Sadly, it is clear from the opening moments of the Irish Repertory's current revival that this mounting, while handsome to look at, is going to be a long affair. Most of the performances are far too modern for the decidedly period story, and also much too manic for the essential elements of suspense to seem genuine. Laura Odeh has the unenviable task of essaying a role made famous on screen by Ingrid Bergman, and often suffers the most; in an attempt to project her character's descent into insanity at the hands of her husband (David Staller, also unconvincing), she overexaggerates every gesture she makes, sacrificing any semblance of actual human emotion. Irish Rep stalwart Brian Murray fares the best as a hardboiled detective with a score to settle, but it's not quite enough. By the time that the show starts to really cook--mostly in the last fifteen minutes--you're already mentally checked out.

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Crazy Mary

The title character in A.R. Gurney's new play is the (somewhat disputed) scion of a formerly wealthy Buffalo family who has been interned in a tony sanatorium for the rich since the early 1970s. No one from the family has visited her in years, and she rarely speaks; she prefers to spend her days listening to classical music and opera on the radio in her room. Her solitude ends when her last living relative--a distant cousin who recently became her legal guardian--pops onto the scene to investigate the mysterious life that Mary has led since being committed. I had worried that in the hands of A.R. Gurney this scenario would come off as far too schematic and situational, but it turned out to be a lovely surprise; it's easily his best play in years. Unlike other recent works by the author, which have seemed promising but undercooked, Crazy Mary boasts fully-formed ideas and a drum tight dramatic arc that is both hilarious and harrowing. A few pieces fall flat (especially some tired and unnecessary shots at President Bush that have become unavoidable in Gurney's work of late), but a majority of the script is solid, and director Jim Simpson keeps the action moving at a steady pace. Sigourney Weaver makes a welcome return to the stage as the newly reconnected kin with ulterior motives, but the play belongs to the wonderful Kristine Nielsen, who is deeply affecting as a woman that time left behind. New York would be a much grimmer place without her sizable talents.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Stairway to Paradise

The musical revue is alive and well and living at City Center (through Monday, at least). Stairway to Paradise, conceived by Jack Viertel and directed with vigor by Jerry Zaks, charts the progression of this uniquely American phenomenon that took Broadway by storm in the first half of the last century. In true revue form, there's almost no book to speak of (other than two comic scenes that are adeptly performed), and each number flows beautifully into the next. The creative team smartly culled both fanciful slapstick numbers ("Triplets", "Pack Up Your Sins and Go to the Devil") and social commentary ("Brother, Can You Spare a Dime?", "Supper Time"), giving the audience a full view of the genre's spectrum. The ebullient cast makes sure that the material never feels mothbitten, with Kristin Chenoweth tearing through what little scenery there is and Christopher Fitzgerald raising the adorable factor to 11. The star of the evening, though, was Ruthie Henshall, whose sultry alto voice is perfect for torch songs like "Ev'ry Time We Say Goodbye". Frankly, this is the closest I've been to theatrical paradise in quite some time.

10 Million Miles

For those of you who suffered through Floyd and Clea Under the Western Sky earlier this season, you can now subject yourself to its sequel of sorts. 10 Million Miles, currently playing at the Atlantic, is another intermissionless, ninety minute road trip to hell. The musical has a few tuneful numbers (written by Grammy winning country singer Patty Griffin), but they are usually stuck between long strings of unimaginative music and bland, boring dialogue. It would help if the two central drifters--a compulsive liar and a bad girl on the mend, both with a heart of gold of course--were at all compelling, but in the hands of Matthew Morrison and Irene Molloy, they barely register. Both have pleasant voices, but neither manages to convey even a soupcon of theatricality or emotion. The heavy lifting is left to Skipp Sudduth and Mare Winningham, who are excellent in a myriad of supporting roles. Sadly, they don't get enough time in the spotlight to make this often tedious journey worth the trip.

Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Journey's End

A third visit only reaffirmed that this is the best play in New York.

Sunday, May 6, 2007


It would be easy to write off Gino Dilorio's Apostasy, a comedy-drama about death and salvation that just finished up a run at Urban Stages, as a bad play and call it a day. In many respects, it's an apt description; nearly everything that the play tries to do falters. It's glib when it tries to be heartfelt and cliched when it tries to be profound, and conveys as much emotional depth as a standard television movie. Still, the basic idea of the play is somewhat interesting--an agnostic woman, Jewish by birth, falls under the spell of a black televangelist, much to the chagrin of her abortionist daughter--and in the hands of a better playwright, it could have sizzled. The acting is what made the play watchable, with Harold Surratt particularly arresting as the preacher, but it wasn't quite enough. I lost my faith in the play early on, and unlike the central character, it never came back.

Saturday, May 5, 2007

Il Barbiere di Siviglia

I'm not a huge fan of The Barber of Seville (or the bel canto repetoire in general, for that matter), but Bartlett Sher's brisk and stylish new production for the Met had me grinning ear to ear for three hours. Anyone with Sher's brilliant Broadway productions of Awake and Sing and The Light in the Piazza know that he always does a masterful job of blending savoir-fare and substance, which is something that is usually lacking in modern opera interpretations. His usual collaborators--set designer Michael Yeargan and costumer Catherine Zuber--work hard to cover every inch of the Met's giant stage and deck the dramatis personae in chic period attire, while Christopher Ackerlind's ultrabright lighting matches the sunny mood of the light opera perfectly. In his company debut, Lawrence Brownlee makes for a smashing Almaviva, and while I will always prefer a coloratura voice for Rosina, mezzo wunderkind Joyce DiDonato is pretty darn special.

Orfeo ed Euridice

Everything about Mark Morris' production of Orfeo ed Euridice for the Met reeks of high concept: An onstage chorus dressed as deceased celebrities (I noticed Abe Lincoln, Gandhi and Marie Antoinette, just to name a few), stylized costumes by none other than Isaac Mizrahi and lots of modern dance. All of these elements eclipse the simple and fantastic love story at the center of Gluck's masterpiece. Morris has fallen into the trap that most dancers face when directing in another medium, and the production suffers because of it. With the focus squarely on the movement aspects, the heart of the piece is replaced by hurlyburly. Frankly, I'm surprised that he didn't just stick the singers in the pit, as George Balanchine did with his 1935 production of this opera. The production is notable for the fine performances of its soloists--Maija Kovalevska's Euridice is especially radiant--and the glorious orchestra under James Levine's baton. However, I left feeling that Morris had mistakenly arrived early for the ABT season.

Friday, May 4, 2007


Twenty minutes into Lovemusik, Lotte Lenya tells her lover, Kurt Weill, that "people don't change, certainly not me". Twenty minutes later, Weill tells Lenya--now his wife--that she is "the most important thing in [his] life, after the music". If you're fine with the fact that the entire arc of the show is expressed in those two utterances that come long before the curtain falls on Act I, then you're in for a tolerable, if less than kinetic, evening of theatre. However, those who have relished the fascinating correspondence that serve as the musical's source material (myself included) will leave hungry for much more than what is presented at the Biltmore. The action is much smoother now than when I saw it in previews last month, but the show itself is still too heavily driven by concept rather than actual storytelling. One cannot blame Michael Cerveris or Donna Murphy, brilliant as Kurt and Lotte, or the fine ensemble that includes the likes of David Pittu, who is delectably slimy as Bertolt Brecht. Still, anyone who goes in expecting the play to be the thing will be sorely disappointed.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007

Il Trittico

Only Jack O'Brien, a peerless director in the world of theatre, would choose such a mammoth undertaking for his Metropolitan Opera debut: staging Puccini's Il Trittico, a collection of three gorgeous one acts. And only Mr. O'Brien could have created the magic currently on display. Each opera stands on its own quite well (and they are often split apart or paired with other short operas), but the overwhelming feeling that you get watching them all together, one right after the other, cannot be replaced. O'Brien--along with adept designers Jules Fischer and Peggy Eisenhauer--create three separate worlds, all strung together by a common theme of death. Gianni Schicchi is delightfully buoyant, while Suor Angelica resonates long after the curtain falls on the image of an illuminated Virgin Mary. However, it is the show's opening piece, Il Tabarro, that is the most satisfyingly rendered; the story of jealousy and adultery on the Seine absolutely galvanizes the Met's stage. There was nary a weak link in any of the casts, but special shout-outs are in order for Stephanie Blythe, brilliantly tearing through all three mezzo roles, and Maria Guleghina, who gave her finest performance to date as the unfaithful wife in Tabarro. Brava, ladies, and I'll see you at the final performance next week.