Saturday, January 24, 2015

Between Riverside and Crazy

In the truly amazing Between Riverside and Crazy, the wonderful Stephen Adly Guirgis signals us quickly that all is not what it seems. Pops, the old man in the wheelchair, is neither ill nor injured. The people who call him "Dad" are not his children. And the one-line description that is being widely used to descibe the play ("Between Riverside and Crazy centers on a retired policeman threatened with eviction and his extended family and friends") barely scratches the surface of this funny, fascinating, insightful, and surprising examination of truth, love, family, racism, loyalty, and the law. (I am not going further into the plot because I don't want to spoil anything.)

Stephen McKinley Henderson, Liza Colon-Zayas
Photo: Kevin Thomas Garcia
Stephen Adly Guirgis is a superb playwright. He should be mentioned with Albee and Stoppard among the living greats. Why?

  • A great playwright presents three-dimensional people and lets us see what makes them tick--and makes us care about what makes them tick. Check.
  • A great playwright uses language that is simultaneously lyrical yet real. Check.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Is Julie Taymor right for Grounded?

So, suddenly there's an announcement. Julie Taymor. Anne Hathaway. Grounded. Tickets already on sale, and going fast.

Anne Hathaway
Vivien Killilea/Getty Images for Psiff
It's my turn to order tickets, so I check the available dates. I have a subscription to the Public with three other people, plus another friend has asked to join us. In short order, we are down to only a dozen possible dates. I go to the Public and wait 25 minutes as the one person in line ahead of me asks a million questions, and not particularly politely.

Grounded is at the Anspacher. After spending close to 3 hours looking at people's butts during the Normal Heart, I will no longer sit on the side there.

So I go into negotiations with the amazingly patient box office guy, and my friends and I end up with 5 out of 6 of the left box seats for a Saturday matinee, despite our general aversion to Saturday matinees.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

A Delicate Balance

The line between elliptical fascination and obscure tedium can be thin, and the current production of A Delicate Balance falls to the wrong side far too often.

John Lithgow, Glenn Close
Photo: Brigitte Lacombe
The long-married Agnes and Tobias have a careful relationship in which needs are drowned in words and alcohol and appearances reign. In its own way, the marriage is a success, although neither participant is particularly happy. Into their careful world come three challenges: Agnes's sister Claire, a "willful drunk" who speaks her mind; their daughter Julia, fresh from yet another failed marriage and whiny as can be; and their good friends Harry and Edna, fleeing from an overwhelming feeling of anxiety in their own home. The setup is intriguing, like a game of Jenga where each move brings the structure a step closer to collapse.

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Into the Woods

Jim Cox
No, this isn't a review of the movie. I'm talking here about the Fiasco Theater production, which is currently in previews Off Broadway at the Laura Pels Theater. It's terrific: innovative, warm, funny, sad, infectiously goofy, and performed by a charming cast that lacks the studio-scrubbed pipes and carefully groomed good looks of the cast featured in the film. I'm paying the company a complement, by the way, and not implying that they're ugly--though if they were, that'd be cool, too. Into the Woods, after all, purports to be about our favorite fairy tale characters, but it's really about how messy and flawed and directly contradictory human beings are. Botoxed actors who wear their rags perfectly, and boast artful smudges on their faces, are kind of missing the point. 

So are productions (and films) that take the woods literally, at least as I now see it. Don't get me wrong: I saw the original Broadway production many years ago, and the film version about a month ago, and I thought both were fine. But neither one caused Into the Woods to work its way into my blood, brain, and soul the way that, say, past productions of Follies, Company, and Sweeney Todd have. I know plenty of people for whom Woods is top tier Sondheim. But me? I've just never understood what the fuss was about.

Tuesday, January 06, 2015

The River

Photo: Sara Krulwich
Playwright Jez Butterworth embraces the poetic in his work. In his 2009 epic Jerusalem (seen on Broadway in 2011, with Mark Rylance), he attempted to answer Blake's patriotic decree: "I will not cease from mental fight, / Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand: / Till we have built Jerusalem / In England's green and pleasant land." He ended up producing a play that matched the grandiosity of Blake's verse, which longtime readers of this blog will recall as not being one of my favorites. In his newest play, The River (currently on Broadway at Circle in the Square), both Ted Hughes and W.B. Yeats are name-checked, though its the latter who holds the key to understanding this intimate and beguiling chamber drama.