Sunday, July 29, 2012


Ricky Martin gives good lean—posing against a wall, languishing next to a pillar, and climbing a ladder, tilting his body precariously away from the rungs. Despite a voice that merely hits the notes, and arms as stiff as cardboard, Martin charms as Che. Part of that is due to the sex appeal that brings so many “livin’ la vida loca” fans to the Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice revival. Martin’s clothing hangs effortlessly, with his white opened shirt and tight pants emphasizing the parts that make him worthy as a pin-up. Yet his physical beauty never disarms since he plays Che more as a friend than intense subversive. When the show opens with the First Lady of Argentina’s funeral, he wanders through the crowd, one of the people, as he offers a handkerchief to one grief-stricken person, and places a hand on another mourner’s shoulder. He seems as accessible as Eva Peron herself. It is unsurprising that a decline in ticket sales coincided with his summer vacation.

Evita first appeared on Broadway in 1979 and propelled rising actors Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin, into theater stardom, nabbing them both Tony Awards for the Eva and Che roles. The casting in director Michael Grandage’s version feels less balanced: a stratospherically popular Latin singer/actor, a Broadway stalwart in Michael Cervaris’ (Assassins, Tony Award) Juan Peron, and Argentine actress Elena Rogers as Eva, known more for dancing than singing abilities. I can’t comment on her work, though, since the Wednesday matinee performance I saw featured Christina DeCicco (Wicked), but the Martin fan behind me (on her third visit) said assuredly that the audience was lucky for the substitution since, “Rogers can’t sing.”

Casting a celebrity in a Broadway show creates a double-edged sword. The market brightens with the possibility of fans coming to multiple performances (see above), but that sometimes makes a show more about the star than the well-calibrated group effort good theater takes. And, in a show about Eva Peron, who inspires a recurring line about providing “just a little bit of star quality,” DeCicco needs to offer more luster than the other characters. With Martin’s omnipresent sparkle, she can’t. Cervaris does offer some competition as Eva’s general-with-president potential, partnering the calculating, standoffish presence of the rising politico with an underlying raw emotion, intimating that the power coupling was also about love. Rachel Potter as the Mistress out shines them all though, standing plaintively on the stage as the social-climbing Eva moves upward in bed and steals her paramour. The sweet resonance of Potter’s voice and its trembling vulnerability in “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” haunts all the remaining scenes. It is not a good sign when a few stanzas in the first act surpass the famous “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina” number.

The revival follows the original plot, beginning with the end of Eva’s life and effectively uses newsreels to show the state funeral before time traveling back to her humble beginnings, to Eva’s time as an actress, and, finally, her rise to the near top of the Argentine government. The sets (by Christopher Oram, who also designed the costumes) beautifully change from a piazza where mourners congregate to a local tavern to the sweeping majestic marble columns of a palatial estate with the aid of Neil Austin’s lighting. Particularly pleasing are the sudden patches of light let in when the building doors burst open, acting as a spotlight of sorts for flamenco dancers or the crowds of citizens who enter.

The hummable score by Lloyd Webber is augmented by the addition of “You Must Love Me,” written for the 1996 film with Madonna, and also used in the 2006-07 London revival version. Rice’s lyrics still offer little depth—more chuckle-providing than sharp observation, such as the line, “Her only good parts are between her thighs,” sung in “Peron’s Latest Flame.”

When Evita opened in April, reviews were all over the place (see Huffington Post or Show Showdown May 14th or 21st reviews for examples), and it is easy to see why. Much of Evita offers enjoyment, but it never coalesces into memorable theater even though you’d like it to do so.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Clybourne Park

Bruce Norris's Pulitzer-, Tony-, Olivier- and Evening Standard- award winning play Clybourne Park, which has been running since late March at the Walter Kerr Theater, is not perfect for all its accolades. There are some cheap jokes, played for belly laughs. Some of the characters are more well-developed than others. And some of the connections between characters from different eras are just a little too convenient. But the show works well for its flaws, which somehow manage, in some ways, to reinforce the playwright's grasp of and attempt to wrestle with race, class, gender, and language over several decades. Aren't we all sometimes sort of two-dimensional, crass, or even brutish in particular settings? Aren't we all as closely connected to the past as we are eager to push it behind us? Are we ever truly capable of real collective social change, or does our present always end up latching stubbornly onto the wriggling snake's tale of the past? Despite occasional missteps--which are maybe not missteps after all--Norris makes debate about this stuff seem easy, breezy, and often very, very funny.

Clybourne Park is set in the same house during two different eras. Act I takes place in 1959. A middle-aged white couple are preparing to move to a new neighborhood. As the nervously quirky, overly chipper Bev and her relentlessly downbeat husband Russ banter about the move, the derivation of the word "Neapolitan," and a footlocker that needs to be moved downstairs, they are gradually joined by their black maid, Francine, who is getting ready to go home; their pastor, Jim, who wants to talk with Russ about his depression; their neighbors, Karl and Betsy, who want to talk with Russ and Bev about the sale of their house; and Francine's husband, Albert, who has come to pick his wife up from work. While the white characters initially join Bev and Russ's light banter, talk soon gives way to deeper, more painful issues: a grown son who did terrible things before killing himself; a pregnancy that yielded a stillborn baby; the ways a community can uplift and foster; the ways a community can abandon and alienate. And there is a great deal of talk about the fact that Bev and Russ's home has been sold to a black family. It is only when the white characters begin this conversation in earnest that they take any real interest--and "real" is pushing it--in Albert and Francine.

Act II takes place in the same house--now empty and thoroughly dilapidated--in 2009. Now a historic, predominantly black neighborhood, Clybourne Park is attracting the interest of young, upwardly mobile white couples who covet the spacious homes and proximity to downtown Chicago. One such couple, Lindsey and Steve, have purchased the house and submitted plans to tear it down and build something taller, more ostentatious, and--you can just tell--way uglier in its place. The same cast members, in different yet overlapping roles, meet again in the house to go over the ordinances, discuss the plans, and air their concerns about the demolition and new construction. Light conversation--again, stemming from the derivations of words related to different geographical locations--results in a few asides that connect some of the characters to those in the first act: the lawyer representing the couple is the daughter of Karl and Betsy. Lena, who, with her husband Kevin, serves on the community board, is the niece of the woman who bought the house from Bev and Russ in 1959. Soon enough, the conversation turns again to race.

Morris draws a number of parallels between the first and second acts, while at the same time keeping both rooted in their time periods. In act I, race looms larger than gender and class in the minds of the characters, even as the playwright gently reminds us of the many ways they intersect. Talk is more direct when it touches on race in this pre-Civil Rights world; the white characters don't think twice about neatly erasing the black characters from the discussion--or from the room--until it becomes convenient to include them, whereupon they are blithely condescended to at every turn.

The second act is set in 2009, a year that the now-quaint term "postracial" was used most frequently in this country. The act is also, however, rooted in the post-Civil Rights--and post-second wave, post-Stonewall, post-PC, and postmodern era--and so language, perception, and discussion about race has become touchier, more nuanced, more layered, and thus, Morris implies, a lot harder to negotiate for pretty much the same ends. In light of the new complexities of language and meaning, Morris's use of cheap jokes and easy characterizations end up taking on a lot more weight in performance before a contemporary audience: what are we doing when we laugh at the racist jokes the characters hurl at each other in act II? Just how layered and informed are our reactions? Are we laughing ironically?

Morris concludes, quite cynically, that we haven't really changed at all, even though the ways we talk about race have become more nuanced, sophisticated, guarded. His play ends up back in 1959, just prior to the actions that take place in act one: For all the changes we've pushed for in this country, he deftly tells us, and for as often as we like to pride ourselves on being blind to class, gender, and racial differences, our big old snake of a culture just won't release its rattling tail from its iron-clad jaws.

Saturday, July 21, 2012

Baby Case

Thirty-two separate characters are listed in the program for Baby Case, and I didn't care about any of them. The show is a descendant of Chicago, Ragtime, and Assassins, but without any center. Since it tells the story of the kidnapping of the Lindbergh baby, you might assume that Charles and Anne Lindbergh would be the main characters, but they're not. In fact, neither even gets the big "our baby's been taken" song--the baby's nurse, a character we know nothing about, gets it. Perhaps America is supposed to be the main character, but that's a concept, not a character. Chicago, Ragtime, and Assassins are about America, but after they're about people and desire and obstacles and arcs and journeys. (It's kind of mean to compare a new show to Chicago, Ragtime, and Assassins, since they are three of the finest shows of the past 50 years, but Baby Case invites the comparisons.)

Michael Ogborn, who wrote the book, lyrics, and music, is undoubtedly talented and has much to say. None of it is new, however, at least in Baby Case, but that's okay. Everything really has already been said; the challenge is to be fresh and compelling while re-saying it. Ogborn doesn't meet that challenge.

Some of the lyrics are interesting, a couple of songs are beautiful, and Ogborn's ambition is admirable. But he is not a good book-writer; he lacks the all-important ability to efficiently bring characters to life. And the more characters you have, the more efficient you have to be. (I know and care more about the Emma Goldmans of Assassins and Ragtime--even though she is a minor character in both--than about anyone in Baby Case.)

To the extent that Ogborn is showing how society and the press make a circus out of tragedies, he almost pulls it off, and he is definitely helped by director Jeremy Dobrish and choreographer Warren Adams. There's a jazz-hands moment when the chorus is singing "Someone's Taken the Lindbergh Baby" that has a zip and point of view that might have invigorated and defined the rest of the show.

The cast is uneven. Will Reynolds is weak as Lindbergh but better as Bruno Hauptmann (odd double casting!). Anika Larsen, who can be excellent, is unimpressive here, except in the scene where she is told that her son is dead; she's simultaneously heart-breaking and technically impressive. Michael Thomas Holmes is an effective Walter Winchell, and Jason Collins does well with a variety of roles. Eugene Barry-Hill is outstanding, bringing real dimension to a neighbor who may or may not have seen Hauptmann on the Lindbergh estate.

The set and costumes by Martin Lopez are attractive, and the lighting by Zach Blane gives the exactly right hyper-focused glow to the proceedings. The sound is iffy; people's voices drop out when they stand at certain locations onstage. (There was also some sort of interference at the performance I saw; it sounded as though someone off-stage was coming through the speakers.)

The audience response seemed mixed. There was a fair amount of friends-in-the-audience hooting and hollering. Some people didn't come back for act two (including the friend I went with). At the end, some people clapped politely while some people stood.

The advance buzz on Baby Case was quite positive, and I can sorta see why. The show has energy and some humor and a certain shine. But until and unless it gains a center, the whole will remain less than the sum of its parts.

(press ticket, 2nd row on the aisle)

Friday, July 20, 2012

Peter and the Starcatcher

Fairytales should seem magical—and parts of this prequel to J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, (adapted by Jersey Boys co-writer Rick Elice from humor writer Dave Barry and suspense novelist Ridley Pearson’s best-selling 2004 children’s novel) do deliver that sparkling sense of the impossible made possible. Without resorting to crashing chandeliers or the web-swinging acrobatics of superheroes, directors Roger Rees and Alex Timbers, set designer Donyale Werle, lighting designer Jeff Croiter, and movement director Steven Hoggett construct a setting that merely suggests scenery. With inventive simpleness, items such as ladders, toy boats, and the actors own bodies convey an ocean voyage, a terrifying pirate attack and shipwreck, and an island adventure merely through a collection of magical movements: a sea storm accelerates with the mere sway and shift of the actors’ torsos and erratic splashes of light; a rope becomes doorways, stairs, and locked rooms where captives sit in the dark waiting for rescue.

The play starts with the departure of the ship, Neverland, and its myriad of occupants: a pirate-like crew, three helpless orphans placed in a trunk on a dubious adventure, and a Nanny and her precocious charge, Molly. The daughter of Captain Scott, and part of a secret group that protects star stuff (a powerful star essence) from nefarious purposes, Molly comes off as a Sara Crewe sort—a girl who is more adult than child—who likes to make pronouncements such as “Something about the boy made her think she grew up,” which she says after first meeting Boy, the future Peter Pan. Like the Frances Hodgson Burnett character, she shares an unusual closeness with her father, who often leaves her alone. Molly sees something extraordinary in Boy and, after a shipwreck, they become friends as they shelter a chest of star stuff from pirates and other evil entities.

While the storyline follows the traditional premises of fairytales (good vs. evil, the power of friendship, the loss of love), its constant insertion of vaudevillian, almost in-the-know hipster humor distracts from the potential magic of its story and the original staging. More “Family Guy” than Disney, Starcatcher ultimately becomes grating as jokes about Philip Glass, “Can you hear me now?” commercials, and prosciutto make puns more important than emotion. Although billed as a play, Starcatcher offers several musical numbers (by composer Wayne Barker) that rarely add to the story’s development. For instance, the second act opening number offers a line of mermaid showgirls, mostly danced in drag by the nearly all-male cast. The number is both humorous and fun, yet there’s no purpose to it: it’s merely a cheap laugh.

Much of the cast from last year’s New York Theatre Workshop production return, including Christian Borle (TV’s “Smash”), Celia Keenan-Bolger (Tony Award nominee for The 25th Annual... Spelling Bee), and Adam Chanler-Berat (Next to Normal). For all, it is a triumphant reunion. As Black Stache, Borle injects the future Captain Hook with an over-the-top showiness, making him both a villain and a clown, as his slapstick acrobatics spins him across the stage, tripping with a dangerous precariousness over items like a chest. The theatrical version of Sasha Baron Cohen, Borle delights as he menaces his future adversary, Peter Pan. Keenan-Bolger gives Molly a sweetness and humility amid her know-it-all opinions that make her a strong, relatable multi-layered character. Chanler-Berat also shows Boy’s duality, and is both vulnerable and steel-flinted—a man-child who has seen too much and, yet, wants to linger in the innocence of youth despite leaving the possibilities of the future behind.  The three, ultimately, become the sparkling stuff that makes Starcatcher enjoyable: for as the show states every villain needs his hero. And, for Boy and Molly every child needs that special person who helps them become what they are meant to be.

(Mezzanine; Broadway Box ticket)

Peter and the Starcatcher was also reviewed by Show Showdown in April at

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Gore Vidal's The Best Man

There's something comforting about being reminded, every so often, of that old saying, "The more things change, the more they stay the same." Gore Vidal's 1960 chestnut The Best Man, currently easing into the final stretch of its excessively star-studded revival at the Schoenfeld Theatre, is a testament to the best and worst aspects of that adage. Almost half a century ago, the play reminds us, American politicians were just as corrupt and corruptible, backhanded, backstabbing, status- and image-obsessed, and power-hungry as they are now. Then as now, when a politician insisted that he had nothing to hide, he damned well did; then as now, it was hard to tell the person from the persona, and honesty from opportunism. Perhaps the fact that I find all this comforting makes me as deeply cynical as Vidal's characters, but so be it: I sort of like being reminded that ours is not the very worst of times, that American party politics has always been pretty ludicrous, and that our republic manages to stand nonetheless.  

The Best Man began its run in March 2012, when the Republican nomination for president had yet to be cinched. Back then, even though everyone was pretty sure that Romney would end up taking the lead, there was some--um--surprise surging that momentarily disrupted the now-typical trajectory. I suspect that the Vidal play felt slightly less dated before all that jostling stopped, and with it the hint of anything approximating suspense. One thing that has most certainly changed in electoral politics is that there is no longer quite as much in the way of surprise, at least when it comes to the run for the White House. The Best Man hinges on the frantic back-room dealings among candidates vying for delegates in the kinds of lurid, mud-slinging, liquor-fueled, white-knuckled battles that used to take place during the presidential convention itself. Sounds exciting, no? Actually, dated or not, The Best Man is rather inconsistent, as plays go. It's very talky, a tad too long, oddly paced, and peopled with characters who are not always fully fleshed out or very interesting.

The logic seems to have gone, with this revival, that even a dated show about election-year politics would run well during an election year, especially if it were filled to the brim with famous people that the audience just couldn't stop applauding and appreciating, even when they're barely onstage or just phoning it in. James Earl Jones available to chew the scenery as an LBJ-like, sassy former president (and yes, I just called LBJ "sassy")? Check. Would Angela Lansbury be willing to play the even sassier chair(wo)man of the party's women's division? Check, and if she could spin comic gold out of a throwaway line about the rhythm method somewhere in the middle of act II, even better. How about the dueling politicians? John Larroquette as the brooding intellectual idealist? Got him! John Stamos (replacing Eric McCormack) as the young, power-hungry opportunist? He's in! How about their wives? Cybill Shepherd (replacing Candace Bergen) and Kristin Davis (replacing Kerry Butler), respectively? Check, check! Seriously, even the bit parts in this show are played by highly recognizable theater folk: try Jefferson Mays, Mark Blum and Donna-effing-Hanover on for size, beeeeyatches. Don't recognize the names? Believe me, you've seen them all--maybe just on "Law and Order," or in a bit part in some movie, or learning via press conference that her icky weasel of a husband plans to divorce her for the woman he has been openly dating behind her back, but anyway, you've seen them all somewhere.

And for the most part, seeing them all together up on stage is good fun: Jones and Lansbury, especially, are just as delicious as you'd expect them to be. Great actors earn their names as great actors for good reason; the two of them just sort of sparkle. Lansbury is especially sparkly in the flowy, flowery, bejeweled orange-and-peach getup she's decked out in for much of the second half of the show, but then again, Jones wears a boring old suit throughout, and yet every changing expression on his face is worth memorizing. Larroquette's role is not as fancy--he plays a brooding, introspective, sensitive type--but he's impressive in it. And Stamos, having only just taken over for the departing Eric McCormack, does a fine job as the more amoral, opportunistic candidate.

I wish I could rave, as well, for Davis and Shepherd, but they, like their predecessors, seem to have been cast in thankless, horribly dated roles merely to fill out the famous-people quotient in the cast. Davis does fine as the sexy, ditzy wife of Stamos's character, and she wears clothing very well; seriously, that's sort of what seems to be much of what is required of her role. Davis was raised in Columbia, South Carolina, and yet her southern accent needs some work. Otherwise, kudos to her for being able to find a character somewhere in the folds of her many outfits.

Shepherd easily has the most punishing role in the play: she is the estranged wife of the Larroquette character. He has apparently thrown her over for many, many other younger, sillier women, and they've lived separate lives for a while. She is brought back into the fold because it's looking like he's going to get the nomination, and so he needs to pose as a happily married man whose little woman adores him. It turns out that she's cool with appearing publicly on his arm and waving to the cameras and talking about what a great man he is because despite his rather vicious rejection of her, she believes in him and thinks he'd be a good president. Also, she still misses him and wants him back and...ick. Shepherd is, like Davis, new to the role and clearly not yet comfortable in it. She warmed up a bit in the second act, but then again, there's not much to warm up to; in speaking her stilted, wooden lines, she comes off as--you got it--stilted and wooden. It doesn't help that whoever designed her costumes hasn't quite figured out how to dress her. Are you noticing a trend, here? Clothing, in this play, really makes the women; there's simply not much else available to them.

Which brings me back to that old saying, "the more things change, the more they stay the same." Just as it's comforting to be reminded that politics have always been dirty, it's also comforting to be reminded that when it comes to the public realm, more and more of us have been invited to sit at the welcome table and fling mud at each other in the years since this play was written and first launched on Broadway. Knowing this may not make for the most thrilling evening at the theater, but it's good to be reminded of it, by a truly dazzling cast, nonetheless.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Triassic Parq

I  thoroughly enjoyed Triassic Parq: The Musical in an earlier incarnation, when it was known as Jurassic Parq: The Broadway Musical. This time around I enjoyed it less. Part of the problem was the combination of bad enunciation and bad sound. Another problem was that many of the jokes were not strong enough to survive a second viewing. Still another problem was that there were four or five people who laughed, loudly, raucously, at everything. Everything. Every damned thing. It was like watching the show with a manic, deeply annoying laugh track. (It's strange that too much laughter can hurt a comedy, but it can.)

Alex Wyse, Claire Neumann, Wade McCollum,
Shelley Thomas, Lindsay Nicole Chambers
(Photo: Carol Rosegg)
On the other hand, these strengths remain: a fun concept (in this parq, the dinosaurs are all female to keep them from reproducing; however . . .); a great deal of energy; very entertaining choreography. The preshow is fun, with the sense of waiting for a Disney ride, and the program is clever. Wade McCollum, who is wonderful in Submissions Only, is wonderful here as well.

But then there is this large weakness: writers Marshall Pailet, Bryce Norbitz, and Stephen Wargo constantly rely on the word fuck and its kin for cheap laughs. Perhaps it is because fuck can be heard even when the sound is unclear, but it seemed that every second word was fuck. In reality, maybe it was every 15th word, but that is still too fucking much, you know? Even the "turn off your cell phone" announcement managed to get the word in.

Am I a prude about dirty words? Fuck, no. There are times that my every-15th-word is a curse. But doing a satire of Jurassic Park allows potentially endless creativity, and relying on fuck is a way to end creativity. Or should I say fucking creativity?

I would still recommend this show to people who like fuck-based humor. And maybe the sound and enunciation will be improved, or maybe you will have better seats than I had. Many people in the audience seemed to enjoy the show (although the person I went with loathed every second), and I did enjoy it myself the first time I saw it.

(press ticket; 8th row or so on the aisle)

Sunday, July 01, 2012


It's always dangerous to see a show after hearing weeks of hype. Expectations are tricky things. But Tribes is every bit as good as everyone says it is.

Billy is the only deaf person in his family. His parents decided years ago to have Billy taught lip-reading rather than sign language to keep him in the mainstream world. Billy's parents are both writers; his father is a pompous know-it-all who claims to debate people for fun but really needs to hold people down. Billy's sister Ruth is an opera singer; his brother Daniel, who is working on his PhD, is schizophrenic.

Looking at this description coldly, it seems that author Nina Raine made some heavy-handed decisions. After all, giving Billy language-oriented parents and a singing sister would seem to over-emphasize any points she makes about Billy's life. And isn't Daniel's schizophrenia maybe one thing too many for a show to take on? In lesser hands, these might be problematic issues; in Raine's hands, they are not. Raine grounds her show in believable humanity and lets any issues take care of themselves.

When Billy becomes involved with Sylvia--who is going deaf and who teaches him sign language--every button in the family becomes pressed. The father looks down on sign as a lesser language and condescends to Sylvia every chance he gets. The mother wonders if she hobbled Billy's life by not teaching him sign earlier. And brother Daniel, who feels closer to Billy than anyone else on earth, is frightened of Billy having a life outside the family.

Between them, author Raine and director David Cromer make Tribes a beautifully theatrical experience. The audience is vividly brought into the family's lives and limits. There are moments--carefully chosen and very well-done--where we, like the family, cannot perceive what is going on.

The one serious limitation of the show is that it is done in the round, so everyone is always seeing someone's back. I feel like I only saw Mare Winningham's face three or four times and so was cut off from much of her performance. If this was a deliberate decision, to have the audience struggle to keep up, it's a problematic one. There's a difference between carefully chosen moments of incomprehension and not knowing what's going on. However, this problem isn't enough to totally destroy play's brilliance.

Jeff Perry as the bombastic father is so convincing that I wanted to slap him. Winningham is, I think, quite good, but as I said, I didn't see much of her performance. Nick Westrate and Gayle Ranking, as the Billy's brother and sister, are both quite effective. The most outstanding performance, however, is given by Susan Pourfar as Sylvia; she manages to be both vivid and subtle, strong and heart-breaking.

Tribes is as good as they say. It's running through September 2.

(Fifth row near a wall; tdf ticket.)

The Columnist

The Columnist, by David Auburn, is a smart, straightforward bio-play, with the juicy, juicy starring role of Joseph Alsop, the nationally syndicated columnist who both reported and made history from the 1930s through the 1970s. How lucky for Auburn--and for us--that John Lithgow took the role.

Lithgow has had an amazing career, with success in theatre (plays and musicals), TV, movies, and writing (books and librettos), all of it much deserved. He gets to the marrow of the characters he plays, and no matter how sympathetic he may make them, he never ignores their dark sides. In other words, he gives us multi-dimensional humans in all their complexity.

In The Columnist, he has a role that calls on all his skills and insight, and it's a pleasure to see him strut his stuff. The look on his face when he realizes that someone may actually want him for himself. How he relies on his pride to cover his pain. His anger when he's crossed. His heartbreak when his friend JFK is assassinated. His stubborn insistence that the math proves that it's worth losing 100 Americans in Vietnam to kill 400 Vietnamese.

While The Columnist suffers from the weaknesses of the genre (few people are kind enough to live lives that offer good dramatic arcs), it's consistently interesting, and director Daniel Sullivan keeps it moving right along. The supporting cast is strong. The sets by John Lee Beatty are effective and attractive, and Kenneth Posner's lighting provides impressive yet subtle support to the changing moods of the show. But The Columnist is ultimately about the columnist, and Lithgow is the overarching reason to see this show. If you want to see some exquisite acting, move quickly--it closes on July 8.

(Fifth row; press ticket)

Dropped Names by Frank Langella (book review)

I love gossip. I love knowing who's sleeping with who and why X isn't talking to Z. But there is a limit. And, in his new memoir, Dropped Names, Frank Langella goes well past it.

The book is aptly named. Langella drops dozens of names: people he worked with and/or slept with or even just met once in passing (and, in one truly odd vignette, someone he never met yet compared penis sizes with). Marilyn Monroe. Rita Hayworth. Elizabeth Taylor. Montgomery Clift. Lee Strassberg. Laurence Olivier. And he pulls no punches--even punches that really should be pulled. He calls actors second-rate, tells who never picks up the check, and shares very very private moments. He says that he did two awful things to Jackie Kennedy and seems totally unaware that in writing about her now, he's doing a third.

There's something deeply icky about the whole endeavor. He writes only about dead people (with one exception). Is it (1) to spare their feelings? or (2) to deny them a chance to tell their side of the story? Even if it's choice (1), his choice to expose people who believed him to be a friend is creepy.

To Langella's credit, he knows that he's arrogant and somewhat closed down. But he doesn't seem to understand that he's also a user. And a shit.

Gossip is fun at a party when a stagehand or production assistant tipsily shares anecdotes of the great and/or famous. But for a peer to do it--someone who claims to have loved many of these people--and to do it in print, and to do it for profit, is repulsive. I'm glad I took the book out of the library and didn't contribute to his cheerful selling out of his old friends.