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Friday, June 26, 2015

Equality!


Thursday, June 25, 2015

Shows For Days

photo: Joan Marcus

The trickiest part of crafting a memoir is getting your very personal story to speak to something universal and recognizable for a wide audience. The best works of autobiography -- whether on the page (think Helen Keller's The Story of My Life or, more recently, Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking) or the stage (Long Day's Journey Into Night, The Glass Menagerie) -- burrow deep into their authors' most private, painful and significant life experiences to create work whose power supersedes the specific. In an era where memoirs are more ubiquitous than ever, it is becoming harder and harder to strike this balance.

Unfortunately, Douglas Carter Beane's Shows For Days (at Lincoln Center's Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater) misses the mark by a wide margin. In telling his own story, Beane is so hyper-specifically focused on minutiae that you're left to wonder if the people he's writing about would care to spend time with -- much less recognize the humanity in -- themselves.

Monday, June 22, 2015

Men on Boats

In Clubbed Thumb's production of Jaclyn Backhaus's extraordinary Men on Boats, perfectly directed by Will Davis, it is 1869, and ten men are canoeing down the Colorado River in search of the "big canyon." They are in many ways a familiar bunch: the laconic hunter, the effete Englishman, the quirky old man (think Walter Brennan), the young man on his first adventure, the brilliant map-maker, and so on. They are led by a brave, stubborn one-armed captain. Their adventures and misadventures echo those of dozens of movies, old and new. No cliché goes unturned.

This might be business as usual, except that the actors are all women. They play the men as men, with no sense of drag or winking at the audience. They commit! They are a brilliant bunch of performers, and they nail the male clichés, all of which become sparkling new in their hands. Macho posturing, half-whispered voices, plaintive campfire songs, jostling for command, and other manly activities and traits all demand a fresh look when played by these amazing women. That the cast is multi-racial adds another layer of built-in commentary.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

My Perfect Mind

Here is how My Perfect Mind is described in press materials and on the 59e59 website:

Petherbridge, Hunter
Photo: Manuel Harlan
Acclaimed classical actor and two-time Tony Award nominee Edward Petherbridge was cast as King Lear, when on the second day of rehearsals he suffered a stroke that left him barely able to move. As he struggled to recover Edward made a discovery: the entire role of Lear still existed word for word in his mind.

From being on the brink of playing one of Shakespeare's most revered roles, to lying in a hospital bed surrounded by doctors, Edward never imagined what tragedies and comedies lay in store for him.

I would have liked to see that play.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

The Qualms

Photo: Joan Marcus
Bruce Norris can write. His dialogue crackles, his jokes mostly land, and occasionally he creates surprisingly vivid, three-dimensional characters. He's also a polemicist, and while he's less didactic -- and far less capital-S Serious -- than present-day windbag David Mamet, it's always clear that he has a point to put across, and he won't rest until you get it. This usually results in his plays, at some point, devolving from breezy, mildly unsettling evenings into a full-on death match, in which the characters basically form a circle and start berating each other. (For reference, see: pretty much the entire second act of his Pulitzer Prize winner, Clybourne Park). Again, this is not to say that the man's without talent. It's just that some people are better at using the sugar to make the medicine go down.

Norris' latest, The Qualms (at Playwrights Horizons through July 12), has a lot going for it. For my money, it boasts the tightest acting ensemble currently treading boards in New York. The action -- no pun intended -- centers around a beachfront condo where a group of middle-aged, well-to-do suburbanites have gathered to swap partners. Most of the guests are old pros; the too-cutely named Chris (Jeremy Shamos) and Kristy (Sarah Goldberg) are the newbs. Kristy hooks up with the host's partner (the brilliant Kate Arrington) within the first five minutes of the play; Chris spends the full ninety minutes resenting the entire arrangement, despite the fact it's implied that the idea to attend was his. 

Saturday, June 13, 2015

The Qualms

The Qualms, by Bruce Norris, focuses on a bunch of friends who get together periodically to have sex with one another in twos and threes. They are mellow, sure of what they want, and loving. On the night of the play, a new couple has joined them: Chris and Kristy. Chris and Kristy radiate the awkwardness of people who have never done this before and aren't 100% sure they want to do it now.

Champlin, Lucien
Photo: Joan Marcus
In a way, The Qualms is a Utopia story. A group of people have made the world they want, and it works, until (not to mix metaphors) the snake shows up in the garden of Eden.

Chris is the snake here, and what an overwritten, straw man of a snake he is. Of course, he's white and works in finance. Of course, he's rigid and humorless. Of course, he's moralistic and judgmental. Of course, he's racist, sexist, homophobic, and size-ist. Of course, he's jealous and paranoid. Of course, he's unrelievedly rude. And, of course, they don't just throw him out on his ass, because then there wouldn't be a play.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Guards at the Taj

Doug Hamilton


Rajiv Joseph's stunning heart-breaker of a play, Guards at the Taj, is currently running through the end of June at Atlantic Theater Company's Linda Gross Theater. It is a beautiful production: crisply directed by Amy Morton, sumptuously lit by David Weiner, and superbly acted by Omar Metwally (Humayun) and Arian Moayed (Babur). I hope it gets extended, and I hope you get the chance to see it.

Guards at the Taj is similar to Joseph's Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo in its moody ruminations and its gently absurdist bent. But it is a smaller, more carefully constructed, and thus more emotionally satisfying affair: two characters, two sets, five brief and tautly constructed scenes. The show examines a few years in the lives of two (very) low-level imperial guards in Agra, India during the mid-1600s. Humayun and Babur are just as lost and yearning as many of the characters in Bengal Tiger were. But while that play felt looser and less cohesive, Taj zooms in on its characters' preoccupations, philosophies, emotional needs, strengths and weaknesses. Also, their lifelong friendship and love for one another, which is central to this play's warm, if also rather bloody, heart.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

10 out of 12

Tech rehearsals occur in the days immediately preceding actual performances. They allow the set, lighting, and sound people, along with the stage management team, to practice, polish, and sometimes even perfect their end of things. Tech rehearsals are notoriously stop-and-go. For example, a scene might get a line or two in and then be stopped for 20 minutes as lights are dealt with. Two lines later, the scene might be stopped again to fix a sound cue. Tech rehearsals tend toward the tedious, but they can also be full of humor and comradery.

Sue Jean Kim
Photo: Julieta Cervantes
Anne Washburn's new play, 10 out of 12, directed by Les Waters at the Soho Rep, immerses the audience in the not-very-smooth tech rehearsals of a not-very-good play. We watch scenes from the show and see and hear the designers and director make artistic decisions and deal with obstacles. The characters are located all around the theatre, as they would be in a real tech. Through individual audience headsets, we also hear the stage manager and backstage techies do their jobs and chat about this and that. We witness personal interactions both in the theatre and on the headsets. It's a nice setup.

Tuesday, June 09, 2015

Heisenberg

photo: Joan Marcus

An almost-bare stage, two actors, razor-sharp direction, simple lighting, a few props: sometimes this is all you need to create an absolutely magnetic piece of theater. Such is the case with Heisenberg, the new play by Simon (The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time) Stephens receiving its world premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club's intimate Studio at Stage II. It may well be the hottest ticket in town these day, due in large part to the low ticket price ($30 a pop) and the presence of Mary-Louise Parker, returning to her Off-Broadway roots and giving her best stage performance in over a decade.

In Georgie -- a pathologically lying American living in London -- Parker has found a role exquisitely tailored to her particular strengths. We first meet her in a train station, where she's embarrassed herself by kissing the neck of a complete stranger, an Irish butcher named Alex (the extraordinary Denis Ardnt). You see, she momentarily lost herself, thinking Alex her late husband. She poignantly explains how much she misses him, tears held perfectly in her eyes. Moments later, she confesses that she's never been married.

After the chance meeting, Georgie continues to insert herself in Alex's life, alternately exasperating and beguiling him. She appears at his butcher shop, not looking to buy any meat. She makes confessions as quickly as she retracts them. The writing places Georgie perilously close to stereotype -- the audience could as easily be annoyed with her as Alex sometimes is -- but Parker's finely wrought work helps accentuate the character's seductive and sensual elements. Parker has never been a particularly sexy performer, despite playing sexualized characters; here, when she asks Alex to bed, you never question whether it's something she would do, or what the outcome would be.

Arndt is an actor primarily seen in California and West Coast regional theater. If the Lortel Archives are accurate, this production represents his first foray onto the New York stage in nearly thirty years. Let's hope the next interval isn't so lengthy, because he is a revelation. Playing against an actor as plugged into the text as Parker cannot be easy, yet Ardnt's Alex matches her step for step, and he manages to be just as spontaneously surprising as his co-star. Together, they comprise the most kinetic couple on the New York stage.

[$30 full price ticket, fourth row audience right]

Monday, June 08, 2015

How'd We Do? Show Showdown Tony Predictions Wrap-Up

This post discusses the accuracy of the predictions we made here at Show Showdown. Suffice to say that none of us should leave our day job and go into fortune-telling. Mind you, we did all get Curious Incident for best play, Fun Home for best book, and Helen Mirren for best actress in a play. We may not be Nostradamuses, but we are awake! (And I'm not going to point out the ones where we were all wrong.)

Fun Home wins Best Musical, proving that it takes a village
(of extremely talented people)
Photo: Sara Krulwich
The "total right" stat at the bottom of this table is a little unfair, because not all of us made predictions in all the categories (hence the empty cells). The numbers in parens after the "total right" numbers are how-many-right-per-how-many-predicted stats.

Our correct predictions are highlighted.


Cameron
Liz
Sandra
Wendy
Best play: Curious Incident
Curious Incident
Curious Incident
Curious Incident
Curious Incident
Best musical: Fun Home
An American in Paris
Fun Home
An American in Paris

Best revival of a play: Skylight
Skylight
Skylight
Skylight
You Can’t Take it With You
Best revival of a musical: The King and I
The King and I
On the Twentieth Century
The King and I
On the Twentieth Century
Best book of a musical: Fun Home
Fun Home
Fun Home
Fun Home
Fun Home
Best original score: Fun Home
Fun Home
The Last Ship
Fun Home
Fun Home
Leading actor in a play: Alex Sharp
Alex Sharp


Alex Sharp
Leading actress in a play: Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren
Helen Mirren
Leading actor in a musical: Michael Cerveris
Robert Fairchild
Michael Cerveris
Ken Watanabe
Michael Cerveris
Leading actress in a musical: Kelli O’Hara
Kristin Chenoweth
Kristin Chenoweth
Leann Cope
Kristin Chenoweth
Featured actor in a play: Richard McCabe
Richard McCabe


Micah Stock
Featured actress in a play: Annaleigh Ashford
Annaleigh Ashford
Annaleigh Ashford

Annaleigh Ashford
Featured actor in a musical: Christian Borle
Brad Oscar
Andy Karl
Christian Borle
Christian Borle
Featured actress in a musical
Ruthie Ann Miles

Sydney Lucas
Judy Kuhn
Scenic design, play: Bunny Christie and Finn Ross, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Wolf Hall
Bunny Christie and Finn Ross, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Bunny Christie and Finn Ross, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Scenic design, musical: Bob Crowley and 59 Productions, An American in Paris
The King and I
The King and I
The King and I
The King and I

Costume design, play: Christopher Oram for Wolf Hall Parts One & Two

You Can't Take It With You
The Audience

Wolf Hall Parts One & Two

Costume design, musical: Catherine Zuber for The King and I

On the Twentieth Century
The King and I
The King and I
The King and I

Lighting, play: Paule Constable for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Lighting, musical: Natasha Katz for An American in Paris

The Visit


The King and I

Direction, play: Marianne Elliott for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Marianne Elliott for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Marianne Elliott for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Marianne Elliott for The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Direction, musical: Sam Gold for Fun Home

Sam Gold, Fun Home

Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris
Casey Nicholaw, Something Rotten!

Choreograpy: Christopher Wheeldon for An American in Paris

Joshua Bergasse, On the Town
Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris

Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris

Christopher Wheeldon, An American in Paris

Orchestrations: Christopher Austin, Don Sebesky, Bill Elliott for An American in Paris

John Clancy, Fun Home
Rob Mathes, The Last Ship
Rob Mathes, The Last Ship
Christopher Austin, Don Sebesky and Bill Elliott, An American in Paris
Total correct
13 (13/24)12 (12/19)9 (9/16)15 (15/23)

The Tony Awards: Speeches You Didn't See

There will be plenty of time for people to weigh in on the ups and downs of the Tony Awards broadcast last night. I personally thought it was, for the most part, fine: Alan Cumming and Kristen Chenoweth overcame stupid opening material (and some unfortunate schtick throughout) to be pleasant enough as co-hosts. The musical numbers were engaging enough, or not, and either made me want to see the productions in question, or not. Sting has grown a beard and looks like a dope. Jersey Boys has been running for 500 years and I have no fucking clue why they did a closing number, but I hardly lost sleep about it. And finally, while I'm the first to argue that these kinds of awards ceremonies just don't mean very much, I was nevertheless thrilled for the cast and company of Fun Home, and glad to know that the Tony voters recognized that show as a major artistic achievement.

I was, however, kind of bummed that so many good speeches, by winners from some interesting and monumentally important categories, were cut from the broadcast. I thought I'd post them all here. If there are more that I'm missing, please feel free to let me know, and I can put them up, too.

Meanwhile, I look forward to reading more about what other people thought of Sting's beard in the days to come.

Wednesday, June 03, 2015

Show Showdown's Totally Unscientific, Completely Biased, Absolutely Pointless Tony Forecast, 2015


This year's Tony Awards are going to be aired on Sunday, June 7, and we at Show Showdown are so excited that we couldn't help but weigh in with our first ever forecast. There are a number of categories that are totally up for grabs this time around, and the close competition should make for a ceremony that is filled with surprises.

Our picks are listed below, with occasional commentary, and omissions when one or the other of us had no strong opinions about a particular category, or hadn't seen enough to weigh in comfortably.


BEST PLAY
Cameron, Wendy, Sandra and Liz
Will win: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Wendy: Curious Incident couldn't do what it does as a movie or TV show; it makes full use of the magic of theatre to take us on a journey both with someone and in his head.

Cameron
Should win: Disgraced

Monday, June 01, 2015

Tuesdays at Tesco's

In many ways, it's a familiar story. An adult child continues to care for her elderly parent despite never receiving simple acknowledgement and acceptance of who she is. The adult child might have married out of the faith or chosen a profession against the parent's advice. The adult child might be gay. Whatever the circumstances, the elderly parent remains withholding, no matter how helpful the adult child is or how many sacrifices and compromises she makes.

Simon Callow
Photo: Carol Rosegg
In Tuesdays at Tesco's the adult child is transwoman Pauline. Pauline's father makes no secret of his disgust at her physical presentation, insists on calling her Paul, and stands as far away as possible when they do their weekly shopping at the titular Tesco's, a British grocery/department store.

Written by Emmanuel Darley (adapted and translated by Matthew Hurt and Sarah Vermande) and directed by Simon Stokes, Tuesday at Tesco's stars Simon Callow. While it's sort of a one-person show, Callow shares the stage with musician Conor Mitchell, who accompanies Pauline's periodic dance breaks, which are physical expressions of her emotions and personality. When not playing, Mitchell takes notes, slumps at the piano, and otherwise pulls focus. Together, the dances and Mitchell's presence add little and take away a lot. They would not be missed in a show that feels oddly long at 75 minutes.