Photo by Don Kellogg

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Farragut North

Where did Beau Willimon get his inspiration and "inside info" when writing this play?  I learned after I returned home from the theatre from Roma Tore's NY1 Review that Mr. Willimon worked on the Howard Dean Presidential campaign.  The entire work now makes even more sense.

We've certainly been inundated for the past 18 months with political campaign foder.  Sadly it almost seems an empty day if we are not bombarded with some scandal, accusation, some grist from the proverbial political mill.  

Nor does it go unnoticed by this viewer that this show cleverly didn't run much past election day at the Atlantic Theatre.   We've really had enough.   But it's never quite enough until Broadway has taken it's shots too.   And what a bulls-eye this one turns out to be.  Now - this is not the dream cast (Leo DiCapprio and George Clooney) rumored last year to be doing a Broadway-bound version - but it's damn good nonetheless.   John Gallagher Jr. (Spring Awakening, Rabbit Hole) takes on the role of Stephen, the young, ambitious, cocky, rising star in the political campaign communications world (of course he's damn sexy doing it too).   Chris Noth (Sex and the City, Law and Order) tackles the role of Paul, the elder, more experienced and seasoned campaign advisor.  

The dialogue is sharp.  Kudos to director, Doug Hughes.  The humor, well placed and the acerbic and emotionally charged dialogue well delivered.  The plot, twisted and entirely (unfortunately) believable as one would expect.  The "gun" in act one gets used as one might expect.  No spoilers here.  

Possibly the most disappointing aspect of this show is the unfortunate familiarity with the subject matter that the audience brings to its seats.  Shock? Not a chance.  But I'm virtually positive that is not what the production was shooting for.  Cynicism, more likely. 

Strangely enough, at the end of the show, the "next generation" gets his first shot in front of the press and cameras (flash-flash-flash).  He reads a brief statement then looks up, as if to say "that was the script - now I'm going to tell you what it's really all about".  He looks us straight in the eye with that sincere, "we're going to change the world" face and tells the press (that's us) that the "people" is what the campaign is all about - it's the reason the candidate is running and that he will lead us into a new era.  The audience applauded exuberantly.  Hmmm... Fade to black.

Saturday, November 22, 2008


A superb revival of David Rabe's 1971 play by Roundabout Theatre Company. Racism, war, and homosexuality all wrapped up in an explosive 1965 Virginia Army Barracks. As relevant today as it was at its first performance. How far we've come. How little has changed. Take a look at the promo clips on the YouTube below:

Friday, November 21, 2008

On the Town

Another glorious, if only short lived, revival at City Center Encores!  A wartime musical penned by the indomitable pair - Betty Comden and Adolph Green with music by Leonard Bernstein.  The tale, as it goes, has 3 baby-faced sailors on shore for 24 hours in New York City.  One can only imagine the trouble they find.    First performed in 1944 during WWII, there is probably some small echo today of a wartime nation watching a few fresh faced (read absolutely gorgeous) young military boys entertain us on stage.  

Fresh off his role in Gypsy - Tony Yazbeck takes the helm (Gabey) with the support of his two sailor buddies - Justin Bohon (Chip) and Christian Borle (Ozzie).  The trio dance the show away - dazzling us with their graceful steps.   Paired up with each of the boys are equally talented young ladies each with a different take on life in the big apple - Leslie Kritzer (Hildy),  Jessica Lee Goldwyn (Ivy) and Jennifer Laura Thompaon (Claire de Loone) all live up to the expectations of their characters and each make you smile in their own way.  Brava!   But who steals the show?  Well - Madame Maude P. Dilly of course.   Played by none other than the incomparable Andrea Martin.

The show, as you would imagine, is a bit dated.  Kind of wholesome, square, and contrived - but most of the classic American musicals are.  For us in 2008 - it may seem phony - but it provides us with a glimpse back when times and people, too, were simpler.

Guest Music Director and conductor Todd Ellison took the helm of the Encores! Orchestra in grand style - involving himself in a scene or two - as it usually goes with the Encores! productions. 

If I had one complaint - it was not about the show's production quality - it was about the staging.  Shame on you John Lee Beatty for allowing the house to be sold out and then setting the "second" stage so far back.   The idea of placing the Encores! orchestra right up front is great, but you can't create an entire stage behind them.  Nobody can see what's going on - except for those in dead center orchestra seats!  For Christ's sake - i was sitting center grant tier - and i had trouble seeing what was going on back there on the sides.  The poor people who paid $95 a ticket in Row A of the Mezzanine should revolt and have you pay them back personally.

Were it not for the boyish and ever-graceful Tony Yazbeck (um, yes, i think he's absolutely and completely dreamy) I might be annoyed.  *sigh*

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Prayer for My Enemy

Playwright Craig Lucas packs a whole lot of punch into the 1 hour and 40 minute (no intermission) off-Broadway debut of his new work, Prayer for My Enemy.  One might say  - "the kitchen sink" is even in there.   The Noone's have a plethora of problems and complications in their lives - alcoholism, an autistic child, bi-polar disorder, divorce, mild poverty, a gay (or maybe not) son, the Iraq war, and the list of personality "adjustments" that the entire family makes to accommodate all these things.   

Skipp Sudduth blurts out with certitude exactly what he thinks and feels  - about his son, the Iraq war, the failings of his life, and so much more - he's the alcoholic one - a 12 step success for 6 years now - despite his bi-polar disorder and his extreme interest in reptiles and mammal documentaries on TV.  Michele Pawk walks on eggshells trying to hold the family together - always acquiescing, pleasing, pointing out the silver linings - all the while crumbling and tormented inside about her son - Jonathan Groff - the one who's maybe gay - self admittedly effeminate, but he LOVES WOMEN.  He points this out to his childhood friend Tad (Zachary Booth) and the audience early on as the play alternates between dialogue and what Lucas calls "the psychic interior" - all the characters telling the audience what they are thinking but not saying along the way - or are they really saying it?  

But what does Victoria Clark  - an acerbically  bitter woman from Manhattan who loves to escape to the country and is now visiting her dying mother in the hospital - have to do with any of this?  Well, no spoilers here - we'll just say - "loaded gun".

There's a whole lot going on with this family - but I think part of the message Mr. Lucas is trying to pass on is "who's life isn't complicated these days"?

Friday, November 14, 2008

Mouth to Mouth

Kevin Elyot's new work at The Acorn Theatre is jam packed with raw emotion and intentionally unanswered questions.  The play opens up at the end.  South London suburb.  Present.  Frank and Laura (David Cale and Lisa Emery) in a very one sided melancholy scene.  Frank clearly wants to tell Laura something. Laura is clearly upset by something.  Rewind.   Frank and his doctor, Gompertz (Andrew Polk) discuss Frank's unspoken illness and his desire to reveal a secret.  Comic relief indeed.  Rewind.  Frank, Laura, Roger (Darren Goldstein) , Cornelia (Elizabeth Jasicki) and Philip (Christopher Abbott) and Dennis (Richard Topol) - a family affair of sorts, an uncomfortable dinner party, and  a "shocking" revelation by Philip, the 15 year old son recently returned from Spain abruptly end the dinner plans.  Continuing forward - we learn of yet another shocking secret between Philip and Frank.  Fast Forward back to the opening scene. Can Frank bring himself to tell Laura what he wanted to say?  Is what he wants to say going to being solace to Laura in any way?  Is he somehow at fault?

If this was at all confusing - I don't mean it to be.  It should be very clear to even the most inattentive theatergoer what's going on.   The unspoken.  Secrets.  Untold facts.  Who is really talking to whom in life?  Do we see what is going on or do we just see what we want?   Clearly  Kevin Elyot has a firm opinion on this.   Mouth to Mouth is both a figurative title (whether my mouth or yours, words sometimes flow and sometimes don't - and we often don't want to listen to what we hear) as well
 as a physical meaning in this plot - It seems that (among other frolicking that followed) Frank saved Philip from drowning at the lake by giving him mouth to mouth resuscitation.  

Outstanding performances by Lisa Emery (Laura) and David Cale (Frank).  The sheer innocence of Christopher Abbott (Philip) is priceless, genuine, and brilliantly captured by Director, Mark Browkaw.  Brilliant subtleties, such as a Philip emerging in his first scene shirtless tantalizes the audience and offers up the question of his sexuality.  Laura scolds her son for smoking in a photograph.   And yet the opening and closing scene we find her indulging.  Never spoken.  Did we hear a passing comment about when Laura and Roger met so long ago?  It rings in our ears in the penultimate scene between them again.

Bravo, New Group.   A fine evening of theatre, indeed.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

An Ideal Husband

Oscar Wilde, as well as Kendall Rileigh and Melanie Moyer Williams, did not have brevity as one of their guiding principles.  But let's just blame it on Oscar.  Kendall and Melanie have intelligently transformed Mr. Wilde's 1895 comedy about politics, money, and scandal into a charming evening of shockingly relevant theatre without much effort.  It seems that the problems of 100 years ago are just about the same as they are today in this arena.

The show drags on a bit unnecessarily - i think the adaptation could have chopped a few lines here and there.  Brad Thomason and Lindy Flowers were standouts as the Senator and his devout and upstanding wife.  Alex C. Ferrill immersed himself in the pompous character of the wealthy Governor's son with aplomb.   Despite being dumped out on the street at the late hour of 11pm, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening of adapted theatre at the Red Fern Theatre Company.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

To Be or Not To Be

A well acted, yet disappointing production is currently languishing at the Biltmore Theatre (I know, it's now the Friedman) at the Manhattan Theatre Club.  A little bit of a play within a play concept going on here;  Throw in a lot of Hitler jokes;  Add a dash of humor and you've got Nick Whitby's To Be Or Not To Be.   

Based on the 1941 original and subsequent 1983 Motion picture staring Mel Brooks, this stage production seemed to pale in comparison.  Perhaps that was Nick Whitby's interpretation or possibly Casey Nicholaw's direction or maybe both.  Or maybe it was just the fact that taking a motion picture and turning it into a play doesn't always work. Strangely enough, I felt that this was somehow intentionally staged to compete with Roundabout's The 39 Steps.  I think RTC won that contest hands down.   Stop copying.  Start pioneering.  Welcome Back Lynne Meadow.

You'd better get to work.  You are 0 for 2 so far this season.  Barry Grove's choices that you are now stuck executing appear to be miserable failures.

It's not particularly knee slapping funny, but it's not a flop either.  Entertaining, yes.  Run-don't-Walk, no.   Run time is about 2 hours (thankfully).  The story doesn't really have much more in it to last any longer.  I have to say that the ending (at least what you perceive as the ending) is odd.   Thankfully someone threw in one last joke to let you leave the theatre with a smile.   To Go or Not to Go?  Don't rush.