Friday, September 23, 2016

Love, Love, Love

This is not a review. I saw the first preview of Love, Love, Love, and a review wouldn't be appropriate. However, the show is already in excellent shape, and quite interesting, and completely worth writing about. Take my random natterings with a extra-large grain of salt, and beware: there will be spoilers.



Love, Love, Love is by Mike Bartlett, whose King Charles III was downright thrilling. It follows a couple of remarkably self-centered people from their meet-not-so-cute in the 1960s  (Act I) through their marriage and life with teenaged children (Act II) to their retirement years (Act III). If drama is about people learning or growing or changing, this is not a drama, although parts are quite moving. If comedy is about laughing at people who neither learn nor grow nor change, it's definitely a comedy. And parts are quite funny.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Blossom

James Blossom is a hero--over and over again. He defuses a Nazi nuke miles under the sea and "is given a ticker tape parade and his face on the five dollar bill." He saves the life of the Secretary of Agriculture by performing emergency surgery. He escapes from a "prison above the sea."

James Blossom has Alzheimer's disease. He is growing unable to tell fantasy from reality. He regularly thinks his daughter is his wife. And he has become potentially dangerous to himself and others, so his daughter moves him into a nursing home--a nice nursing home, but a nursing home. He is not happy, but he is also not ready to roll over and die. Little by little, he adapts. Blossom is an engaging character, and as we get to know him better, we like him all the more.

This is James Blossom:

James Blossom
Designed by Spencer Lott
Photo: Maria Baranova

Blossom, running at Dixon Place through September 24, was written and directed by Spencer Lott, who has an extra creativity gene (or 12!), a big heart, a huge desire to entertain, and a similarly huge desire to tell a real, believable, and heart-breaking story. He mostly succeeds--and succeeds big--but the show's flaws keep Lott from hitting the grand slam that he surely can.

Thursday, September 08, 2016

Small Mouth Sounds

Six people assemble for a spiritual retreat with varying levels of comfort and enthusiasm: an ultra-limber, ultra-sexy yoga instructor; a lesbian couple, affectionate but annoyed with each other; a quietly friendly older man; a sad-sack white guy whose multi-colored skullcap seems to be covering a secret; and a blonde who is far more interested in texting her recently ex-boyfriend than achieving spiritual growth. They are spoken to by a loopy, self-important, unseen guru, who explains the rules of the retreat (many of which will be broken), talks about the philosophy of their time together, and announces that there will be no talking.

Zoƫ Winters, Max Baker, Quincy Tyler Bernstine,
Babak Tafti, Brad Heberlee, and Marcia DeBonis
Photo: Ben Arons Photography

By largely eliminating dialogue from the play, author Bess Wohl and director Rachel Chavkin have set themselves a fascinating challenge, one that they meet with intelligence, compassion, and humor. They give us three-dimensional people full of foibles and strengths and a gentle sorta-plot that fills the two hours beautifully. The cast is strong--Marcia DeBonis, Brad Heberlee, Babak Tafti, Max Baker, Quincy Tyler Bernstine--and the projections (Andrew Schneider) and soundscape (Stowe Nelson) effectively and attractively conjure up the idea of being in the woods.

I don't want to say more, since the delight of the play is watching it unfold in small, wonderful moments. It's running until October 9. I highly recommend it. (My colleague Elizabeth Wollman was somewhat less enthused.)

PS. It has the funniest nude scene I've ever witnessed.

Wendy Caster
(second row, tdf tickets)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

The Same RIver Twice: Art Times Essay

My latest Art Times essay is up:
The Greek philosopher Heraclitus believed that you can never step into the same river twice because the water is ever-flowing—and also you have changed. Nor can great plays be held in place. The recent Young Vic production of A Streetcar Named Desire at St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn underlined this fascinating fact. (By the way, this essay assumes a familiarity with Streetcar and therefore contains spoilers.)
read more 
Rosemary Harris as Blanche

 
 


Sunday, August 28, 2016

The Tony Awards: 1970 to 1974

Some friends and I are working our way through past Tony Award shows, and it's been a surprising journey in many ways. This past week, we watched 1970 through 1974. The Tony gestalt has changed a lot over the years. (If you want to watch some shows yourself, here's a place to start; also, the Tony website is starting to put up some telecasts).

Glynis Johns in A Little Night Music

The most striking difference is that the telecast was not treated as an extended advertisement for then-current Broadway musicals. In fact, many nominees were not represented by scenes at all: Company, Follies, A Little Night Music, The Rothschilds, The Me Nobody Knows, Two Gentlement of Verona, Grease, Irene, and Shelter. Yes, some of them had already closed, but many were still running.

In contrast, Applause had numbers on not one, but two Tonys. And the scene from Coco in 1970 included an extensive dialogue scene (with some breathtakingly bad acting by Gale Dixon) and a fashion show and Katharine Hepburn giving her impressive all to singing/massacring "Always Mademoiselle" in a truly unparalleled performance.

Wednesday, August 03, 2016

Small Mouth Sounds and Men on Boats

Small Mouth Sounds, a play by Bess Wohl currently being restaged at the Signature Theater after an initial run at Ars Nova last year, is sweet and diverting, if not as deft or probing as it seems to want to be. Still, it's fun, and very well-performed. The general thrust: six people, only two of whom know one another, attend a weeklong silent yoga retreat (a seventh cast member, not seen until the curtain call, is the group's instructor, who frequently addresses the retreaters over a particularly unyogic PA system). Despite their silence, which is only occasionally broken over the course of the week, the various participants nevertheless get to know one another (or think they do), make meaningful connections (or fail to), and do their level best to get away from what ails them.

Small Mouth Sounds has been getting raves, and I hate to poison the well, even a little--especially since the cast is so winning and the production so warm. Still, I didn't fall completely in love with the play, the overarching narrative of which sometimes felt a little too easy in some places, and a little forced in others. Don't get me wrong--this isn't a pan, it's more like a 7 out of 10. The play does fine with its depictions: humans are messy and interesting and quirky, and the characters all deliver the goods on that front. Also, one of the play's greatest strengths is how brilliantly it nails contemporary American yoga culture. As a longtime practitioner of yoga (if not of silence), I was frequently tickled by everything from the instructor's softly-intoned, inspirational fables to the outfits Rodney (Babak Tafti) wore--and by his name, even, which was surely a reference to Rodney Yee.

And yet I was a little underwhelmed by some of the play's plot points and thematic conceits. Yes, right, sometimes the most devoted and seemingly spiritually connected people end up having major flaws, and can even turn out to be less enlightened or enlightenable than those who initially seem ridiculously out of place at a spiritual retreat. Yes, sometimes, whether we talk too much or not at all, we can fail to truly hear or understand one another. And yes, conversely, sometimes connections between two people happen instantly and deeply, as if by magic, also regardless of whether words are exchanged at all. Is that all there is?

As an extended acting exercise that has been placed in the hands of a very, very good ensemble, Small Mouth Sounds is better than good. I'm just not sure that the characters' stories, whether spoken or not, fully add up to the sum of their parts.

Sara Krulwich

Monday, July 18, 2016

When Less is More: The 90-Minute Play

My latest essay is up at Art Times:
What accounts for the rise of the intermissionless 90-minute play? A prevalent theory points to the shrinking attention spans of a population inundated 24/7 with news, information, entertainment, and gossip. 


I think this theory relies on knee-jerk conventional wisdom and ignores the huge success of, oh, Hamilton, which runs 2:45; The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, which also runs 2:45; and 2014’s Pulitzer Prize-winning drama, The Flick, which runs a quiet and plotless three hours; all three have intermissions.
[read more

Wendy Caster


Sunday, July 17, 2016

Privacy

It's almost impossible to discuss James Graham's new play Privacy without saying too much. So here's what I will say:


  • Privacy is a frequently entertaining, sometimes horrifying examination of (the lack of) privacy in today's world, as seen from the point of view of someone new to the world of online dating.
  • Daniel Radcliffe's charm and sheer likability carry the play through some dull parts.
  • Privacy would be much improved with 20 minutes or so carved away.
  • The rest of the cast is also pretty wonderful: De'Adre Aziza, Raffi Barsoumian, Michael Countryman, Rachel Dratch, and Reg Rogers.
  • Josie Rourke's direction is well-paced and creative.
All in all, Privacy is a well-disguised lecture that I'm glad I saw.

Wendy Caster
member ticket; 10th row