Saturday, February 27, 2010


Najla Saïd lives in multiple, sometimes warring, cultures. In her insightful, compassionate one-woman show Palestine, she shares her coming-of-age story, evolving from Upper West Side princess to proud Arab-American. Saïd has a big heart, a sharp mind, and a wry sense of the absurd. The show clocks in at 100 minutes, and could use some trimming; Saïd just doesn't have the skill to remain consistently compelling and engaging for that long (few humans do!) , and the choppy blocking and odd lighting (which often throws distracting shadows on her face), do not help.

Friday, February 26, 2010


A baffling stylistic departure for playwright Craig Wright in which the ancient Oedipus tragedy is given a modern-times revision, Blind is an unfortunately weak and consistently uninvolving 80 minute one-act that feels far longer. We watch Oedipus (Seth Numrich) and his wife-mother Jocasta (Veanne Cox) arguing in their bedroom, mostly with accusations that the other knew they were blood-related before they hooked up. The atmosphere should be tortured and intense but Wright's dialogue, an awkward and deadly serious mix of the modern and the faux-ancient, keeps getting stuck in the actors' mouths and tripping them up. It's not clear why Wright decided to take Oedipus on in the first place - putting the story in a modern setting doesn't add anything to it and strips it of its gravitas. Cox spends a good deal of time on the floor propped up by one arm as Numrich stands over her going on, and on, with complaints - Wright has reduced Oedipus to a wearying lightweight and Jocasta, for most of the play, to a doormat. The two actors are at least in the same play; Danielle Slavick, who occasionally intrudes as a servant, is in a different one altogether.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010


photo: Carol Rosegg

A gay love story between two WW2 servicemen told in the style of an old-fashioned romantic musical, the Zellnik brothers' Yank! is a rarity indeed: an unabashedly emotional, enormously entertaining throwback that packs contemporary punch. Powered by a savvy book and a delightful score that summons the 40's without sounding by-the-numbers, the musical succeeds at paying homage to the musical theatre of the period while employing its conventions to tell a story that could not be told at the time it's set. (It's somewhat analogous, although not as formally rigid, to what Todd Haynes achieved with his film Far From Heaven.) The story, gently and effectively framed by modern-day narration, centers on the wartime romance between young private Stu (Bobby Steggert, nothing short of astonishing) and his Hollywood-handsome squadmate Mitch (Ivan Hernandez) whose love dare not initially speak its name for reasons both societal and personal. The musical charts their attraction toward each other and its consequences, allowing Stu a convincing and powerfully portrayed trajectory from insecure, emotionally isolated kid to self-respecting, gay-identified adult. There's certainly a take-away socio-political message, but Yank! is first and foremost a nifty, enjoyable entertainment. Great levity is provided by Jeffry Denman (also responsible for the show's snappy choreography), who is exceptional as an Army journalist who mentors Stu in the codes of conduct of gay subculture; further support comes from the cast's lone female Nancy Anderson, who shines in a variety of 40's-style songs.


In Greek tragedies, the juicy stuff happens off-stage, and then someone tells us about it. But what really happens? Can the storytellers be trusted? In Blind, Craig Wright explores perhaps the juiciest off-stage scene of all: Oedipus and Jocasta facing the fact that they are son and mother. Setting the play in contemporary times (cell phones figure prominently), Wright gives us much that is interesting and thought-provoking but also, unfortunately, much that sets the audience tittering (when the blind Oedipus tries desperately to dial a number on his cell phone, it is hard not to guffaw). Wright's dialogue is frequently overdone; the characters talk a lot in language that I can only think to call high-falutin'. Sometimes it works--Oedipus and Jocasta should be different than--larger than--life, but some pruning wouldn't hurt. Lucie Tiberghien's direction has strengths (she smartly chooses to have the characters talk like people instead of intoning their lines) and weaknesses (Oedipus's blocking once he's blind brings to mind a kid peeking through a blindfold). Veanne Cox and Seth Numrich give valiant, exhausting performances; Danielle Slavick is not able to make much out of her underdeveloped character. While there is much wrong with Blind (sadly, more than is right), I'm glad I saw it---watching talented people take chances is one of the glories of theatre.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Broadway Musicals By The Year 1927

photos: Maryann Lopinto

I'd never been to one of the Broadway By The Year revues at Town Hall before. After seeing this latest edition, which kicked off the tenth year of the series, I'm suitably ashamed. Are these shows always as elegantly presented and as thrillingly performed? Is there always as captivating a mix of ballads, comedy songs, and dance pieces? If so, I've been missing out on the most polished, most enjoyable Broadway concerts in town.

The concept of the series is to spotlight Broadway numbers from a particular calendar year (1927 this time, when more than 200 shows opened on Broadway according to our warm, welcoming host/producer Scott Siegel). This was the year of the watershed musical Show Boat, represented in this revue by 6 numbers from a gorgeous, "unplugged" (unamplified) performance of "You Are Love" (Alexander Gemignani and Kate Baldwin) to a lovely take on "Make Believe" (sung by Ragtime revival castmates Quentin Earl Darrington and Christiane Noll). The Show Boat highlights were undoubtedly "Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man", sung with great feeling and superb skill by new cabaret sensation Carole Bufford, and "Bill", nothing short of sublime as sung by Baldwin. Only "Ol' Man River" disappointed in comparison with Darrington, otherwise splendid all evening, too heavy-handed.

Besides other American Songbook standards that first appeared in 1927's Broadway shows - for instance "S'Wonderful" (charmingly put over by Bobby Steggert), "My Blue Heaven" (Chad Kimball), and the title song from Funny Face (a delightful duet for Bufford and Christopher Fitzgerald) - there were a couple of little-known gems, such as the yearning, lilting ballad "Just A Memory" from Manhattan Mary, flawlessly delivered by Fitzgerald. An essential component of the Broadway By The Year shows, I've come to learn, is the inclusion of dance numbers. Here, Jeffry Denman and Noah Racey totally killed with the Gene Kelly-Fred Astaire tap duet "The Babbitt and the Bromide" from Funny Face. Another dance highlight: Kendrick Jones and Melinda Sullivan paired up for "The Varisty Drag" from Good News. Throughout all this variety, Ross Patterson leads his versatile Little Big Band combo with unerring taste and sensitivity.

One of the revue's great joys is the chance to see the performers of today so convincingly slip into and sell the styles of yesteryear, including operetta (Ron Bohmer, sensational with a piece from The White Eagle and novelty vaudeville numbers (Marc Kudisch, bringing impeccable comedic timing and musical skill to "She Don't Wanna" from The Ziegfeld Follies of 1927). He and Denman, each with a ukulele, had all of Town Hall in their pocket with their fun take on "He Loves and She Loves" from Funny Face. Sign me up to see their club act should they ever reprise it. And definitely put me down for more Broadway By The Year - one shot, and I'm hopelessly hooked.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Mr. and Mrs. Fitch

photo: Joan Marcus

Intermittently funny and often annoying, Douglas Carter Beane's latest contemporary comedy of manners explores the lengths to which people will go in order to stay famous. The titular couple (John Lithgow and Jennifer Ehle) are a pair of married gossip columnists who haven't had a major scoop in ages; their heard-but-not-seen boss (voiced cantankerously in a series of voice messages by Philip Bosco) is breathing down their necks to either deliver or disappear. Faced with this scenario, what is there to do? Unfortunately, Carter Beane takes what could have been an interesting dissection of journalistic ethics and uses it as nothing more than an excuse for his two stars to trade varying degrees of bon mots for nearly two hours. Some are very funny; others land with a thud, and anyone without a vast repertoire of pop culture allusions will be bored out of their skulls within the first ten minutes. It doesn't help that neither Lithgow nor Ehle is particularly well-cast: he's far too earnest to convince as a bitchy, disillusioned gossipmonger, while she cannot overcome the simple fact that she's not a comedienne. They try valiantly, but there's not a moment when you don't see them sweat.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Clybourne Park

photo: Joan Marcus

The two acts of Bruce Norris' often caustic, provocative comedy take place 50 years apart in the same house. (We've heard of the place already - it's the very one that the Younger family buys in A Raisin In The Sun.) In the stylized first act, set in 1959, "white flight" is about to alter the neighborhood when a superficially sunny homemaker (Christina Kirk, excellent) and her brooding husband (Frank Wood, ditto) pack their things after a personal tragedy. In the second act, set in 2009, the same house has been sold to a white couple (Annie Parisse and Jeremy Shamos, both deliciously transparent) whose plans for the property offend the black neighbors (Crystal A. Dickinson and Damon Gupton, both wonderful and adept at subtext). With wicked humor Norris contrasts the then and now of how we talk about race - in the first act with a veneer of politeness that masks ignorance and bigotry, and in the second act with a veneer of correctness that masks distrust and resentment. By the time the present-day liberal characters sink to sandbox level and start throwing mud at each other (think God of Carnage only smarter and funnier) the oft-outrageous comedy has made its point that the more things change the more things stay the same. What's especially striking about the play, despite what may seem a cynical message about our supposedly post-racial America, is that it's spiked with moments of genuine poignancy. Even its most bracing element, the first act's back story of the white couple's son (Brendan Griffin, precise and detailed), delivers its stinging message with a mournful compassion. Highly recommended.

Clybourne Park

photo: Joan Marcus

Several recent productions have dealt with the always-sensitive issue of race relations in America, but few have been as nuanced and well-constructed as Bruce Norris' Clybourne Park, which opens tonight at Playwrights Horizons. Set in two contrasting eras--segregated 1959 and the supposedly post-racial present--the play navigates the changing dynamics that both mid-century white flight and contemporary gentrification have proferred. In the first act, a white couple (Christina Kirk and Frank Wood) decide to quit their urban neighborhood in the wake of a personal cataclysm. The sale of their house (to an African American family) opens up a can of worms for the rest of the community, who cannot shake their deeply-rooted racism. Fifty years later, the neighborhood is now predominately black, and the plans for a white couple (Annie Parisse and Jeremy Shamos) to level the house that broke the color barrier causes longtime residents to question their sense of society. Norris, riffing well on Lorraine Hansbury's A Raisin in the Sun, manages to capture every aspect of both debates with aplomb; alternately hilarious and heartbreaking, he allows all of the characters to search the depths of their souls and discover things that they might have wanted left untouched. The cast is practically flawless, but special mention goes to Wood, quietly brilliant as a father who cannot overcome a horrific tragedy.


photo: Patrick Redmond

I was surprised by the emotional power and the striking theatricality of this solo show, in which writer-performer Pat Kinevane alternates flawlessly between 4 characters 80 years and older. The people he plays are living out their sunsets in Ireland, but Kinevane has punctuated the piece with some conventions of Japanese theatre. The juxtaposition of more naturalistic monologues with scenes of stylized Eastern movement proves to be both thematically valid and theatrically dynamic; it also frames the collection of stories in a way that allows them to gather a greater emotional resonance than they might on their own. Given the show's title, it's not surprising that the elderly characters are linked by loneliness; what is surprising given the theme is that Kinevane's writing is often as unsentimental as his characterizations are captivating. The piece plays like a ritual to honor the forgotten elderly that does, in fact, truly honor them.


Every now and then you see something truly unique, and Pat Kinevane's one-man show qualifies. A blend of Irish character studies and Japanese Kabuki theater, it is a superb showcase for this exceptionally warm and generous performer. The beauty of the Kabuki movements Mr. Kinevane uses to transition between scenes doesn't seem quite enough to explain their existence, but the happy temptation is to always give this work the benefit of the doubt, swept up as one is in its imaginative evocations of the lives of four aged survivors, now confined to nursing homes. More than a play, it's poetry, and an immersive experience. That's no mean trick for one performer to pull off. Read the full review.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Pride

In Alexi Kaye Campbell's thoughtful, totally riveting drama we see two stories, one set in 1958 and the other in the present day, which involve the same actors playing same-named but different characters. What joins the alternating stories is that both are about gay love affairs; the playwright contrasts the then and now of gay love in thematically rich and emotionally powerful ways. What is most exciting and provocative about the play is its assertion that gay connotes an identity rather than an activity, and its underlying plea to recognize love rather than sex as the most progressive and most liberating connection between gay men. The play's main argument might seem authoral and the play's structure pretentious in less capable hands but this playwright falls into neither trap; he puts over the ideas while fleshing out believable, absorbing characters to draw us in emotionally. Under Joe Mantello's taut direction, the performances are gripping and truthful. In the 50's-set story as a married man who self-loathes his shameful "deviation", Hugh Dancy is heartbreaking: he has one scene of the "feel one thing, say another" variety that could draw tears from a stone. Ben Whishaw is especially exceptional in the present-day story, fully inhabiting a man whose erotic attraction to shame does damage to his love relationship. The other two performers are also excellent: Andrea Riseborough gives brilliant support completing each story's triangle, alternating between gravity and levity all evening; Adam James is unfailingly spot-on in several minor roles, most notably as a current-day magazine editor calling for a feature story that superficially glorifies anonymous gay hook-ups.

The Pride

The publicity material for The Pride says, "Oliver, Philip, and Sylvia are caught in a kind of erotic time warp. Their complex love triangle, replete with conflicting loyalties and passions, jumps from 1958 to the present and back in a maelstrom of fantasy, repression and rebellion." Okay, I didn't get that. What I saw was a play about two distinct sets of male lovers, one in 1958 and one in the present, and the women in their lives. Yes, the characters had the same names in both time frames, but I interpreted that fact as a way to set up parallel stories. Anyway, it doesn't matter. Either way, The Pride, written by Alexi Kaye Campbell and directed by Joe Mantello, is a strong, moving, insightful investigation of how homophobia destroys people, what love really means, and how difficult it can be to know and accept one's self. While The Pride is in many ways a play of ideas, Campbell avoids any preachiness or artificial structuring. Instead, he gives us a story of believably flawed people stumbling through life, as people often do. The first act is excellent and hard-hitting; the second act is not as well-developed, possibly because being 100% true to the set-up would have been a bit brutal. The cast is well-nigh perfect. Ben Whishaw is somewhat mannered, but it works, and he so totally inhabits the bodies of the two Olivers that you know which one he is by how he stands. Andrea Riseborough, in the sometimes thankless role(s) of Sylvia(s), imbues her/them with a potent inner life and remarkable strength. Hugh Dancy has that amazing ability to devastate with just a movement of his eyes or the slightest tilt of his head. And Adam James, in three supporting roles, perfectly complements the other performers.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Fêtes de la Nuit

Photo: Jill Usdan

Naked Goddess France in a tub, three silent Graces, and a stately tango usher us into the romantic arena of Charles Mee's Paris. To use two appropriately French-derived words, Fêtes de la Nuit is a collage of vignettes on the theme of love, but it's more visceral, and rewarding, than the typical movie of intertwined stories like Valentine's Day. We'll call it a play for want of a better word, but it's more of a theatrical celebration, scene after scene of a richly observed and finely sketched world where romantic love is subject number one, with sex, art, and the character of a great city clustering close behind. Read the full review.

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Dog and Wolf

From the start, Catherine Filloux's Dog and Wolf, directed by Jean Randich, sets up unconvincing situations and characters. Why would a political refugee be so unwilling to make her case? Why would the lawyer put up with her? And why does he keep circling back and forth in his wheelchair like, well, an actor carrying out awkward blocking? The first two questions are eventually answered, but not satisfactorily. The third question reflects Randich's generally annoying staging. For example, the actress playing the political refugee keeps making believe that she's chain-smoking, throwing one long untouched cigarette to the ground and squishing it with her heel and then faux-lighting another. (Yes, there was probably a reason the actors couldn't smoke, but the untouched cigarettes were distracting--it's a small theatre!) Similarly, a character mentions that wine is about to be served from a jerry can, but then pours it from some sort of plastic bottle (jerry cans are steel). Details matter! After the "dog and wolf" phrase is explained (at dusk you can't tell one from the other), the show talks a lot about sheep. I don't know why. Dog and Wolf clearly aims to be a significant statement about politics and repression, but the stories of abuse felt manipulative and the depiction of one of the Bosnian women came across as condescending ("oh, look at the entertaining ethnic person who will help the white guy find his emotions").


Photo: Mark Raker

If you like really bad puns, men in kilts doing and saying silly things, and gorgeous juggling, then the Flying Karamazov Brothers are for you. In their latest show, 4Play, they provide a hilarious version of the Dance of the Cygnets from Swan Lake, wear funny glasses, and juggle while playing musical instruments. And that's just the tip of the iceberg! A good time was had by all.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


photo: Robert J. Saferstein

David Mamet's sharky waters can make many an actor belly up but James Spader cuts a course through the territory with killer ferocity. Lean and hyperfocused, his central performance as a no-nonsense, hip-shooting attorney is the reason to see this otherwise thin, far less provocative than advertised drama. The central plot concerns the legal defense of a noted, affluent middle aged white man (Richard Thomas) accused of raping a black woman. Mamet means to get in our faces as the lawyers (Spader, along with an excellent but underused David Alan Grier) suss out how to work the jury, but he doesn't really have anything substantive to say on the subject; it just keeps coming back to everyone feels guilty and everyone is out for themselves. Thomas has the extremely challenging job of playing a character who by design has to seem equally credible as guilty and innocent to the audience - he does the job, but his performance seems strategic at every moment. If you are familiar with Mamet you can easily predict what's going on with the young black female in the law office - it's not a real character but an idea of one, and Kerry Washington doesn't overcome its artificiality. Nonetheless there is genuine theatrical pleasure in watching Spader do a hustling, cunning Mamet man - he's a magnetic force on stage despite this being his debut, and he speaks the dialogue like he's spitting out nails.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Happy Now?

photo: James Leynse

While overlong (at 2 and a half hours), at its best Lucinda Coxon's portrait of a highly functional, entirely competent but unhappy modern woman (played by Mary Bacon) taps into a nagging fear: even doing everything we're supposed to and "having it all" isn't enough for happiness. To the playwright's credit, she doesn't have the character learn or espouse some tidy life lesson - instead we're asked to clock the ordinary, run of the mill disappointments and do the math ourselves. The playwright's overarching idea is solid, but some of the details are trite - a bit about how men hate "Will & Grace", for instance, makes you feel like studio audience. The play has a distinctive humor some of the time, such as in the nifty opening scene between our heroine and a cheesy serial seducer (C.J. Wilson, a hoot), but it's not consistent.

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Dog And Wolf

Reviewed for Theatermania.

Clybourne Park

It's 1959 and black family's about to move into a white Chicago neighborhood, to the consternation of the community. White flight. Half a century passes and after rough times the neighborhood is ripe for gentrification. But resentment lingers into the new generation, and by the time a contractor digs up an old trunk buried in the yard, and plops the baggage of the ages literally on center stage, we've seen just how the ugliness of America's never-ending racial "conversation" has transformed over the decades – transformed, but hardly died down. Aided by Pam MacKinnon's commendably transparent direction and fine performances all around, playwright Bruce Norris has dramatized his perceptive view of these changes (and lack thereof) with wit, skill, and heart. The play never feels self-conscious; it deals with larger-than-life issues with compelling life-sized characters and naturalistic dialogue – the hardest kind to write. It's a marvelous accomplishment. Click here the full review and a discount ticket code.

Sunday, February 07, 2010

Parsons Dance

If you have any interest in dance and you haven't seen the magical, joyful Parsons Dance, you really should. They're at the Joyce through February 21st. I particularly recommend that you catch the astonishing, breath-taking Caught.


[Spoilers below.]

The thoroughly amiable Fanny, Encores! latest re-creation, tells the story of a couple separated by his love of the sea. Harold Rome's music is lush and lovely; his lyrics are serviceable. The strong cast is led by Elena Shadow as Fanny; James Snyder as her errant lover Marius; Fred Applegate as Panisse, the man she marries to give her and Marius's child a name; and George Hearn as Marius's father. The show's almost fairy-tale amiability works against its ability to develop any deep conflict: for example, Panisse is too good to be real, even going so far as to die in time for the lovers to re-unite. It also has a couple of songs that are real earworms ("Oh, Fanny, oh Fanny, Fanny," etc). But Fanny's old-fashioned charms are many, and Encores! did well by it.

For The Love Of Broadway: Betty Buckley at Feinstein's

By now you've heard the drill: Betty Buckley's new cabaret show (at Feinstein's for a month-long stay) eschews her usual forays into jazz and pop and consists almost exclusively of songs from the Broadway catalog. Except for the encore of "Memory" from Cats (complete with extended arm and finger) Buckley steers clear of the Broadway songs that she has been previously associated with. That's a gutsy move that yields some real treasures, such as her beautifully delicate take on "Lazy Afternoon" from The Golden Apple and a world-wise read on "Hey There" from The Pajama Game. While the set showcases Buckley's interpretive skills as a singing actress, the pace of the evening would benefit from one or two more well-placed uptempo numbers. (Note however that the set seems to have been built for some variation - reports from Tuesday indicate numbers from Nine but they weren't among the 20 or so songs in the set when I attended on Wednesday.) One of the nice surprises about the song selection is that Buckley hasn't confined herself to only American Songbook standards; she's dug deeper for material that is newer ("Fine Fine Line" from Avenue Q), special ("When I Belt", written for the set) or decidedly more cult-ish than universally known ("I Never Know When To Say When" from Goldilocks). Backed by her accomplished trio (headed by Kenny Werner) Buckley deserves bonus intimacy points for working the space so well: rather than fixing herself front and center she makes sure to connect to the entire room. (And in a delightful bit she plucks an audience member to serenade on stage with "You've Got Possibilities" from It's A Bird, It's A Plane, It's Superman. You may think of Buckley as a Broadway diva, but in a bit like this one she's down-to-earth endearing.

Saturday, February 06, 2010


photo: Joan Marcus
Is it too early to call James Snyder the discovery of the year? Maybe, but this young singer-actor--previously seen in the ill-fated musical adaptation of Cry-Baby and heard on the studio recording of Bare: A Pop Opera--makes a huge, unforgettable impression in the concert production of Harold Rome's Fanny, at City Center through Sunday. As Marius, a young man so enamored of the sea that he abandons the woman he loves (Elena Shaddow, the title character), Snyder projects smoldering emotions, and sings with a tremulous tenor that cuts through the score's haunting ballads. His recitation of the title song, in which his beloved's name is repeated several times, will not soon be forgotten. Shaddow is also stunning; her shimmering soprano sounds like a remnant of Broadway's bygone golden age. The always dependable Fred Applegate does a beautiful job with Panisse, the man Fanny marries after Marius sets sail, and George Hearn--though sounding a bit tired--is endearing as Marius' stern but caring father, Cesar. The entire production, from top to bottom, is the most satisfying that the Encores series has presented in recent memory, and in a perfect world would be preserved on a cast album. One performance (and plenty of tickets) remains: miss it at your peril.

Friday, February 05, 2010

Clybourne Park

I don't normally write about shows this early in previews, but since I loved it and didn't get a press ticket for it, I thought it worthwhile to bring Bruce Norris's new play, Clybourne Park, to your attention. In a cleverly linked pair of one-acts, one in 1959 and one in 2009, Norris wittily examines the nature of "community," particularly as it relates to class. It's far more complex than that--so much so that it's not until the last ten minutes of each play, and the terrifically diverse performances of Jeremy Shamos, that race even comes into focus. Also embedded in the script is the tale of a soldier--the ultimate stranger--and his sad suicide. Furthermore, Norris neatly shows the dangers of hyper-politeness, both of the past and present, in which our way of respectfully stepping around what we really mean is ultimately more offensive and harmful than simply coming right out and saying it. The ensemble is terrific, particularly Christina Kirk's 1959 fluttery housewife and Annie Parisse's excitable 2009 "post-racial" liberal, and it's the best work Pam MacKinnon's done as a director: high-paced naturalism suits her.

Thursday, February 04, 2010

For the Love of Broadway: Betty Buckley at Feinstein's

For Betty Buckley fans, there is much to cherish in For the Love of Broadway. The song list nicely combines old standards with the occasional surprise ("There's a Fine, Fine Line" from Avenue Q, for example). Her music director/pianist Kenny Werner provides solid backup and thoughtful, satisfying solos. Buckley uses the mike well (though why she uses a mike at all is a puzzlement) and does a good job of including even those audience members who are practically sitting behind her. For an hour and a half or so, she gives her fans her full-out Betty Buckley Broadway thing. Personally, I don't get Betty Buckley. To me, she always leads with her ego and never, ever, ever lets you forget that she's a star busy acting.

Time Stands Still

photo: Joan Marcus

Some spoilers below, but not the major ones.....

I scrolled through almost all the reviews of Donald Margulies' Time Stands Still and find myself in the curious position of having taken a different meaning from it than others I've read. I saw the play as an affirmation of the social consciousness of the artist. Not that anyone in the play calls noted war photojournalist Sarah Goodwin (Laura Linney) an artist although they come close and not that there's a halo drawn over her head. As the play opens she returns home to her Williamsburg loft physically scarred and weakened after a car bomb explosion. She soon makes it known that she intends to be back on the job documenting war as soon as she is strong enough, but her near-death experience has put other ideas in everyone else's heads. Her partner on and off the job James (Brian D'Arcy James) just wants to be "comfortable" at home rather than go back to work yet again in a war zone. Her good friend and editor Richard (Eric Bogosian) may profit from her work, but he just wants her safe and sound and tries to tempt her into assignments close to home, a sentiment echoed by his new younger girlfriend Mandy (Alicia Silverstone) whose social consciousness doesn't extend far beyond her own occupation as an event planner. What can she do as a regular person except feel bad when she sees war images, she asks rhetorically, evading any identity as a citizen of the world. At the top of the second act James has some lively business damning the "manufactured experience" of some unnamed piece of socially conscious war-themed theatre he recently attended: it's a rich irony considering that he's begun filling up his days writing articles about horror movies. At the core of it, he's saying he's given up on art (just as he will later give up on journalism) affecting any change in the world. The people all around Sarah aren't selfish monsters - they're fundamentally good people we recognize who just want to take care of themselves and their own happiness. It's no wonder that she begins to doubt her calling and to struggle with whether she is doing social good in her work or is just a "ghoul with a camera" turning a profit on suffering. I found the play consistently thought-provoking to a thrilling degree and the production (directed by Dan Sullivan) to be pitch-perfect. All the performances are excellent - Linney especially is revelatory, fully believable at every moment and giving a compelling performance by dint of its constant truthfulness. I can't imagine there's going to be a richer, more riveting performance on Broadway anytime soon.

Wednesday, February 03, 2010


photo: Eduardo Placer

Despite the title and the come-on, the focus of Daddy is less on the middle-aged stud (Gerald McCullouch) and his relationship with an office intern (Bjorn DuPaty) than on the one with his longtime best bud (Dan Via, also the playwright). The early scenes lead you to expect a story about the challenge to a longterm friendship when one gets into a serious relationship, and maybe that's what the playwright thinks he has written, but whatever might be uncomfortable and ugly in the dynamic between the friends is glossed over. The playwright has written himself a saint to play, wise and selfless and good to the core. There are some solid one-liners ("Anyone who says opposites attract has never been to a gay bar") and McCullouch sounds some notes of honesty, but the plot finally takes a melodramatic, groanworthy turn that manages to conveniently dismiss the older-younger affair and further sanctify the best friend.

The Crucible

Before I went to see this production (at Manhattan Theatre Source) of Arthur Miller's classic I tried to determine how many times I'd already seen the play performed in my lifetime. I lost count around 20. I'll confess, I was skeptical that I'd get much out of seeing it again in a small 50-seat black box, but there I was fighting tears along with most everyone else during that final scene. The tiny-budget production doesn't have any directorial gimmick and makes do with a few white boxes and a cross in the way of scenery, but it turns out that seeing the play well-performed in a super intimate space is all that is needed to give the story fresh urgency. That, and a powerful central performance by Seth Duerr who understands, unlike so many others I've seen in the role, that the more vital and flawed the character the more compelling his story. His Proctor is hot-tempered and formidable, miles away from Daniel Day Lewis' milquetoast performance in the misguided film which turned the play into nothing more than a pageant of victimhood. Other very strong performances include Sarah E. Mathews as Proctor's wife, Naomi McDougall Jones as Abigail, Amy Bohaker as Mary Warren, and Angus Hepburn as Danforth.