Friday, August 31, 2018

Days to Come

Is any theatre company in New York more consistently satisfying than The Mint? IMHO, the answer is a great big "No!"

Larry Bull, Janie Brookshire, Ted Deasy, and Mary Bacon
Photo: Todd Cerveris
(The set is much better-looking in person than this picture shows)

Here's what you (nearly always) get when you go to The Mint:
  • An unsung play from decades ago that is at worst interesting and at best flat-out wonderful.
  • A playwright who is smart, insightful, compassionate, and, usually, forgotten. 
  • Direction that is clear, straightforward, smooth, and completely in service to the play.
  • A cast that ranges from good to extraordinary.
  • A set you'd like to move into.
  • Costumes that are often beautiful and usually just right for the character.
  • Excellent lighting, sound, props, and fights.
  • A satisfying evening.
The current show, Days to Come, is by Lillian Hellman, who is not forgotten, but the play mostly is. I usually think of Hellman's work as tightly plotted and smoothly structured; Days to Come is neither. (It was her second play to be produced, and it closed after seven performances.)

Hellman herself diagnosed the problem with the play: "I wanted to say too much." Indeed, while the plot focuses on how a strike at a brush-making firm affects the small town where it occurs, the show also has a lot to say about relationships, money, family secrets, how to live a worthwhile life, the underlying reality in friendships between people of different classes, violence, sexual mores, and what does or doesn't make a woman's life full.

The result is somehow both too flabby and too thin, but still compelling. Hellman's point of view is not simple, and it is that complexity that makes the play worthwhile. 

The current production has all the strengths listed in the bullet-point list above, but I'd like to give shout-outs to Jane Shaw's sound design, which makes real the world outside the play, and to fight director Rod Kinter and stage managers Jeff Meyers and Kristi Hess, who provide some really nice effects. 

Wendy Caster
(press ticket, fifth row)
Show-Score Score: 85

Cast: Mary Bacon, Janie Brookshire, Larry Bull, Chris Henry Coffey, Dan Daily, Ted Deasy, Roderick Hill, Betsy Hogg, Kim Martin-Cotten, Geoffrey Allen Murphy, and Evan Zes. Sets, Harry Feiner; costumes, Andrea Varga; lights, Christian DeAngelis; sound, Jane Shaw; props, Joshua Yocom; fight director, Rod Kinter; dialects and dramaturgy, Amy Stoller; casting, Stephanie Klapper, CSA; production stage manager, Jeff Meyers; stage manager, Kristi Hess; illustration, Stefano Imbert; graphics, Hey Jude Design, Inc.; press, David Gersten & Associates.

Sunday, August 26, 2018

The Band's Visit

Last night I went to see The Band's Visit for the second time, with five other people. One had seen it before, the other four hadn't. When the show was over, we were all glowing.

We sat in the last row, in the $49 seats. We had some binoculars with us, but we only used them occasionally. Sitting in the last row was just fine, which is a tribute both to the structure of the Ethel Barrymore Theatre and to David Cromer's quietly intense direction. The Band's Visit happens at a whisper, but it is a whisper that fills the theatre with emotion and beauty. (My niece said that the show was "like a poem," which I think is a great comment.)

One of my all-time favorite experiences is seeing something new and wonderful in the theatre, and The Band's Visit is both. It's a quiet show. It has no plot. It's a theatrical iceberg: 80% of its content is below the surface. The score is lovely, the lyrics by turns funny or moving or both. The performances are exactly right. The set is simple and thoroughly serves the show. The band's "Sergeant Pepper's uniforms" are perfect.

I'm so glad that the show won so many Tonys, all of which were completely deserved. It would have been unsurprising for the Tony voters to go for flash rather than quiet, but I guess The Band's Visit left them glowing as well.

Wendy Caster
($49 seats, last row)
Show-Score Score: 99

Friday, August 17, 2018


I get invited to a lot of shows, and it's not always easy to decide which ones to see. Often I rely on a familiar name: if person A is directing or person B is acting or person C wrote the music, I know I'm likely to enjoy their contribution, at least. But then there are the shows that have no familiar names. In those cases, I make decisions sometimes almost at random, knowing I'm taking a chance.

Blair Medina and Alec Irion
Photo: Michael Kushner

So I took a chance on Heist! for the simple reason that I love heists. Oh, and the theatre is walking distance from my home. I wasn't optimistic, but I was open to having a good time.

And, I'm glad to say, I had a very good time. Heist! is uneven and needs some polishing, but the basics are there: decent plot, some good songs, a strong sense of what is being spoofed. And this particular production has two huge pluses: director James Will McBride and choreographer Jenna Haimes. McBride keeps the piece moving along at a perfect clip and helps his performers find that silly-musical-comedy sweet spot of overacting just the right amount. Haimes manages to make excellent original choreography out of cliche steps, with some fun quoting of famous shows (I caught Chicago and A Chorus Line, but I suspect there are more).

Sunday, August 05, 2018

Art Times: Choreography: Intrinsic or Replaceable?

My latest Art Times essay is up:
In some ways, it’s exciting news: Director Ivo van Hove will stage a production of West Side Story, with new choreography by Anne Teresa De Keersmaeker. Van Hove says he aims to bring the show “into the 21st century.” De Keersmaeker says, “The challenge will be to offer a new reading.” Their ultimate goal is to revitalize a classic.
(read more)

Jerome Robbins (center) demonstrating a dance combination for George Chakiris (left) for the movie version of West Side Story.
Jerome Robbins (center) demonstrating
a dance combination for
George Chakiris (left) for the
movie version of 
West Side Story.