Photo by Don Kellogg

Sunday, January 27, 2008

August: Osage County

I've been wrong before. This time, it's no different. "No, I don't want to go sit thru a 3 hours and 30 minute dirge!" Well, after reading the review and hearing the buzz, I changed my mind. Boy-oh-boy, was that a great decision.

A few notes - it's not a dirge, it doesn't seem like 3 hours (two 10 minute intermissions make up the rest) and it was worth every penny i spent on the ticket ($99 bucks, left orchestra).

Go see this ensemble. They are tops. A testament to the quality of the show - just about every seat in the Imperial Theater (that's 1400+ seats, folks) was occupied! For a play, no less. Amazing. The full company, direct from Chicago, and the Steppenwolf Theater Company has taken Broadway by storm. While there is no billed "star", clearly Deanna Dunnigan rules the roost as family matriarch Violet Weston.

The drama on stage kept you engaged the entire time, in no small part due to the biting writing of Tracy Letts and the brilliant direction of Anna D. Shapiro. The set, a dollhouse replica of a house on the plains in Oklahoma, was brilliantly envisioned and masterfully executed.

I won't give away a stitch of the plot, the twists and turns or the outcome. That, my friends is for you to experience yourselves. Pop a pill or two and fasten your seat belt. The next 3.5 hours are going to be a bumpy ride!

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Runt of the Litter

Way the hell over on the west side - 37th and 11th Ave - - who knew there was even a theater there? Well there is - 37 Arts - a great big space - theaters, rehearsal space, offices and performance rooms, you name it! A find, all in itself! Toss in a rockin' hot ex-jock putting on a one man show and I'm pumped up for it!

This play, Runt of the Litter, was originally performed (to great accolades) in 2002 at MCC Theater and is being brought back around for another go-round this year. It's the semi-autobiographical (i guess that means that most of it is true, but some of it is made up) story of 1980's Houston Oiler's safety Bo Eason and the life-long rivalry he had with his older brother (also a professional football player). Says in the playbill he left football to pursue an acting dream. And so he did. As the title suggests - Bo was always the "runt" and his brother always the "golden child" or so the story goes. Along with this comes all the "I was always out to beat him" and "Always out to prove myself better than him" stuff.
Fictional character Jack Henry tells us the story from the locker room just before he and his brother would oppose each other (for the first time) on the gridiron at the Superbowl. Throw in tales of the father who fueled the whole battle and the mother who gave up alcohol only to watch her sons play football and live their dreams. I think you know where this is going.
Not being much of a sports fan, it figures that I'd be the one to get thrown the football during the show's opening. "Hold on to this for me, would ya?", he says as he tosses me the ball. I was sitting in the 2nd row. "Oh brother, a one man, interactive show", i think to myself. Thankfully, that was the first and last of the interactive part. Just a tease. But let me tell you - this guys was ON. The show was fast paced, loud, energetic, and powerful. I won't say I walked away learning any plays - but I gotta say that Bo Eason is worth the trek over to 11th Ave. Even if only to see the aging blue eyed sports god and his totally rockin' bod. You'll leave pleasantly surprised.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

The Homecoming

The Homecoming, by Harold Pinter. A Pinter Play. I've always wanted to experience one on Broadway. And now I have. I've seen it. I've read the professionals' reviews. I've even done some research on Harold Pinter. I still don't think I understand what on earth happened on the stage at the Cort Theater!

I do understand, after reading blog after blog, that what the actors were saying was supposed to be different from what we were comprehending. I understand the "layers below" are what you were supposed to come away with. The conflict. Family. Rivalry. Sexual Undertones. Leader of the Pack. Success. Failure. I get that. I do. I really do. However, there is such a sharp contrast between spoken word and message that it is difficult to keep such vastly different concepts separate in your head while the work is being performed. "What did this mean?" "Why did he say that?" A friend of mine used the word absurd to describe it. It seems to fit.

Given that I somehow understand that i don't understand it, I understand now that the actors did an outstanding job at what they did. The pregnant pauses, the stillness, the thoughts left unfinished. Brilliant acting. Brilliant delivery. Kudos to Ian McShane, Raul Esparza, Eve Best, Michael McKean, Gareth Saxe, and James Frain. It seems to me that the show can only be a success when they are all 100% "on" each evening.

Even after hours of rumination on the play and playwright - i get that I'm not supposed to get it - but i just don't get it. Well, i say, Forget it!

Monday, January 21, 2008

A Marriage of Convenience

The given title is one thing. The actual experience is more like an evening of torture. I had high hopes for a play with the subject matter concerning a sophisticated good looking gay man looking to run for political office but having to compromise and marry a woman (who also happens to be a lesbian) to be "accepted" win the post. I'm not saying I had to run away laughing much as I did after another politically charged play this winter, November. However, my hopes of an entertaining evening were indeed dashed quite early on.

Turns out Normal Beim wrote and directed a train wreck on 43rd Street. The actors that he (or someone else) cast all had those mildly affected tones in their voices - - you know the ones who all seemed to learn English in a finishing school in the south of France and forgot how to speak normally? The lead character, Senator Gary Vincent, played by Todd Reichart seemed to be the worst offender (the others were right behind him). Every sentence seemed to be overly dramatic, overly emotional, accusatory, defensive, or simply outright pompous.

The show proceeded to go beyond the concept of the "marriage of convenience" in act one into the world of political maneuvering and took a turn into the toilet with the lead character Senator Vincent by the end of act two. Again, disappointing. Perhaps that was Mr. Beim's intention, and I cannot fault him for writing it - but I think Mr. Beim had many options in front of him when crafting his ideas and simply made the wrong choices in the characters' development along the way. He pays the price with the results he achieved. Thumbs down.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Straight Up with a Twist

Paul Stroili is the writer and performer of a one man show at The Players Theater in Greenwich Village. I'm torn on this one. It's not so much the actor as it was the subject matter. First of all - one person show has THERAPY written all over it. Nothing different here. It's self admitted somewhere along the way too.

Second of all - What's a straight man doing in a one man show? What traumatic experience does he have to share with all of us? Is he a gay Mormon kicked out of his family, on drugs, and a hooker in NYC (ala Steven Fales, Confessions of a Mormon Boy)? A gay Mormon mourning his dead boyfriend? (ala Jay Perry, Facing East)? A gay man channeling Ethel Merman (The Big Voice)? I know he's not an 80+ year old recovering alcoholic actress (Elaine Stritch, at Liberty) nor a Blond bombshell struggling to show she's got talent (Susanne Sommers, Blond in the Thunderbird)... i could go on and on...

So what is he? He's a straight man who knows the difference between Merlot and Cabernet; who knows the difference between mauve and taupe and who knows how to fold a fitted sheet (doesn't everyone?!). It's the story of what he calls the "Renaissance Geeks". I for one am not buying it. He also doesn't like the term "metrosexual". Well that's good because he certainly doesn't dress well and doesn't look very "pretty". (as in, he ain't gettin' a part in Dawson's Creek).

What did i like... strike that... LOVE? His impersonations for sure. Rich Little - eat your heart out. He tells the story thru dialogues with his mother (cigarettes and brooklyn accent - merits of course). His father (Italian accent), his older brother (goomba johnny), his jewish grandmother (pick up if you're there!) and his psychiatrist (as a patient he's the Mercedes). I'd much rather have just sat and listened to him tell a story thru these characters - but instead I had to endure his complaints that children and later adults all thought he was gay - how tragic! How sad for him! To be branded gay. Gosh.

Let's not waste two hours over complaining about being called gay. The therapy and catharsis might be cheap and it might play well in the red states of Jesusland, but aside from a few B&T's who got cheap tickets on a Saturday night, it's not bound to play well to a mostly gay audience in New York City (in the west village, no less!).

Thursday, January 17, 2008

The 39 Steps

Alfred Hitchcock's classic film turned into a comedy on stage. Who would have thought?! The Roundabout Theater's winter play is a side splitting comedy.

Straight off the West End in London, this production features 4 actors playing about 150 parts! Charles Edwards aptly plays the handsome and debonair Richard Hannay - the main character in the show. He gets caught up with 3 women - all played aptly by Jennifer Frrin (Annabella Schmidt, Pamela and Margaret). The other 148 characters he encounters are all played by the multi-talented, funny-as-hell duo of Cliff Saunders and Arnie Burton.

Aside from the bookends of the play, which feature Richard Hanney telling us a story from his leather chair in his living room, the entire script is straight from the movie. With bare bones sets and low tech effects they manage to take you on a chase across England by train, car, boat and even plane. The parody adapted by Patrick Barlow, fits in references both visual and spoken to many (if not all) of Hitchcock's other works - including North by Northwest and The Birds.

Dare I say, that Hitchcock himself was most likely slipped in as one of the dark shadowy figures too. Now that's something only a Hitchcock aficionado would understand, but this show holds plenty for both the "in the know" Hitchcock fans as well as those not so familiar. Not being one myself, I relied on hearing things for the first time and still laughing plenty.

So if you're bored at home, tired of the news du jour - wars, elections (that's from the show, folks) - sneak over to the American Airlines Theater and catch a classic Hitchcock reincarnated on stage. Well worth the journey (gun shots not included).

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Come Back, Little Sheba

William Inge's 1950's expose on alcoholism and the family is playing at the Manhattan Theater Company this winter. I must say, a bit stale and dated, for sure. I'm not a William Inge expert, but recalling Bus Stop I seem to remember quite a bit of the same feel - lots of dialogue, slow moving story, but a good one nonetheless.

One thing makes this one worthwhile - S. Epetha Merkerson. She plays Lola - the main character of the story who never leaves the stage. The drama is played out in her living room and kitchen for 2 hours. The good, the bad, and the ugly (yes, there's some of each) are laid out in front of us as the story is told... and unfolds.
A great supporting cast all around - including special mention of my neighbor (Chad Hoeppner) who plays Bruce - the fiance. Kudos, Chad!

There are a few other up and coming young folks adding a little eye candy - Brian Smith (Turk) is as gorgeous and talented with his shirt on as with it off (*sigh*). Matthew Williamson plays the milkman - who visits twice - A strapping young man he is.... And let's not forget the postman - he drops in for Act I and we see him just at the end of Act II delivering the letter he promised.

Perhaps Lola will read that letter someday and we'll get to find out what he has to say. Well, for now, wander on over to the Biltmore Theater to catch a gem.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

She Likes Girls

This review is slightly out of the ordinary - as I don't think it's fair to review a workshop - - but just a few comments on this one that I saw recently at the Lark Play Development Center.

The play was written by by Chisa Hutchinson. It was inspired by the 2003 murder of a teenage lesbian at a bus stop in Newark, NJ. Performed in two acts, this final workshop was a poignant, touching and focused work. The actors were magnificant and their portrayal of the key characters was empathetic. I did not even feel that I was viewing a workshop. Kudos!

By way of background - a play goes thru readings and then workshops before it gets to a theater for "commerical" production. In these workshops, the author gets the opportunity to see how his or her words get transformed into dialogue by actors on a stage.