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Jul 18th

NEW YORK REVIEW: Of Mice and Men

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Kosovar in New York

John Steinbeck’s play, which he adapted from his novel, is a poignant narrative about human connections among people leading lives of what is wont to be called quiet desperation.

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James Franco as George and Chris O’Dowd as Lennie, photo Richard Phibbs.

Sensitively directed by Anna Shapiro, it tells the story of George (James Franco), a California ranch worker who in the Depression has hooked up with Lennie (Chris O’Dowd) a mentally retarded fellow who is too strong for his own good.

They work as itinerants on farms and ranches. They stay together out of undefined affection that defeats the loneliness that would otherwise engulf them. The play was first produced on Broadway in 1937.

Franco as George is tough, strong and silent but also sad and weary. O’Dowd’s Lennie is big and hulking, but with a voice is that is soft and cracking. Both of them show gentle sides. They give memorable performances.

George complains how Lennie ruins his life. They have to leave the places they work, because Lennie is always getting into trouble. But Lennie giggles about them looking out for each other. It’s Steinbeck’s metaphor for people taking care of one another to defeat the wretchedness of lives destroyed by economic conditions.

When they arrive at a new ranch, they are directed to beds in a bunkhouse. They set by Todd Rosenthal exudes grunginess. They run into Curley (Alex Morf), the misnamed close-cropped son of the boss, who is suffused with anger and hostility. He is especially miserable, because his new wife (Leighton Meester) is tarty and flirty with the ranch workers, but pays no attention to him.

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James Franco as George and Jim Norton as Candy, photo Richard Phibbs.

Family is missing all around. George says, “Guys like us that work on ranches is the loneliest guys in the world. They ain’t gotno family. They don’t belong no place. They come to a ranch and work up a stake and then they go in to town and blow their stake. And then the first thing you know they’re poundin’ their tail on some other ranch. They ain’t got nothin’ to look ahead to.”

“But not us!” Lennie declares. “And why? Because… because I got you to look after me…. and you got me to look after you… and that’s why!”

George and Lennie dream they will save to buy a farm with animals and a garden.

Candy (Jim Norton) an old man with a blind, lame sheepdog he’s had since he was a pup mourns when the animal is put to death by one of the ranch hands, because he is useless. Candy wants to join the imagined farm, because he is afraid he won’t be able to get any more jobs and “I won’t have no place to go.”

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Chris O’Dowd as Lennie and Leighton Meester as Curley’s wife, photo Richard Phibbs.

A black worker (Ron Cephas Jones) is also lonely, segregated in his own small shack. With no one to talk to, he reads books. He’d join the farm, too.

The wife complains there are no women to talk to. Her fantasy is to get into the movies.

Will any of their dreams be realized?

Alas, Lennie’s strength is inversely proportion to his intelligence. He likes to pet animals, but handles them too roughly. That’s the “mice.” In the end, men and their dreams are also destroyed. It was what the Depression did. The play is important not only for the history it tells, but because it reminds us what life is like for many people of that underclass today.

Of Mice and Men.” Written by John Steinbeck; directed by Anna D. Shapiro. Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street, New York City. Opened April 16, 2014; closes July 27, 2014.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and theatre critic.  Her web site is The Komisar Scoop (
http://www.thekomisarscoop.com) .  

Jun 11th

NEW YORK REVIEW: The Killer

By Cameron Lowe
By Lucy Komisar in New York

http://www.thekomisarscoop.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/MichaelShannon-as-Berenger-delighted-by-the-Radiant-City-photo-Gerry-Goodstein.jpg
Michael Shannon as Berenger delighted by the Radiant City, photo Gerry Goodstein.
 
Ionesco’s absurdist satire is a vivid dark commentary on the popular refusal to acknowledge the horrors of the rise of Naziism. And the belief of some Germans that Hitler was ushering in an era of shining, sparkling glory. They could ignore that some people were disappearing, perhaps murdered.
 
Director Darko Tresnjak’s staging is part straight, part bizarre, to make every line resonate in contemporary reality.
 
Berenger (a too naïve Michael Shannon), Ionesco’s Everyman, gets off a wrong bus he rode to the last stop. A civil servant (a properly officious Robert Stanton), tells him he is in the Radiant City which he, the architect, built. He says how wonderful it is.
 
Berenger declares, “I just knew that in the middle of our gloomy city, right in among all our sad, dark neighborhoods full of mud and dirt, I would find this bright, beautiful area, not rich or poor, with these sunny streets, these avenues streaming with light.”
 
http://www.thekomisarscoop.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/06/RobertStanton-as-the-architect-photo-Gerry-Goodstein.jpg
Robert Stanton as the architect, photo Gerry Goodstein.
 
We don’t see it – the green lawn, the flowers he remarks on. The set is an open space into which we pour our imaginations. Then the architect gets a phone call from his secretary Dennie (Stephanie Bunch) to say she is quitting. She can’t take it. When she arrives, Berenger quickly falls in love with her.
 
He wants to move to the wonderful place. But the architect informs him that the people who live there want to leave. They go out only in groups of ten or fifteen. And even that doesn’t necessarily reduce the danger.
 
There is a murderer stalking the populace. He kills three people a day. Everybody in the neighborhood knows him. He meets people at the bus stop in the guise of a panhandler and latches onto them. When they arrive at the lagoon, he offers to show them the photo of the Colonel. When they look over to see better, he pushes them in.
 
The architect invites Berenger to a café for some wine. There is a cry, and the next victim is killed. It’s someone we know.
 
Shannon appears a bit too wide-eyed and flakey as Beringer, and the hour of the first act could be cut, condensed. (When the original Paris director wanted to cut the play, Ionesco refused.)
   
But in the second act, the symbolism thickens, or darkens. Berenger has a room in a building whose concierge (the delightful Kristine Nielsen) is a quirky, grimacing, philosophizing character. She is cantankerous: “These days, there’s just too much education, if you ask me. That’s why everything’s gone downhill. Even sweepin’ the stairs is harder than it used to be.”

Berenger discovers that everybody knows about the killings, they have for years. When he returns to his cluttered room, he discovers that his friend Edward (the excellent Paul Sparks), has somehow gained entrance. 

Edward is a white-faced fellow with a sharp noise, black coat and weird demeanor. Sparks creates a chilling character. Berenger tells Edward about the killings and says, “what amazes me is that you’re no longer upset by this. I’ve always believed that you were a sensitive, humane man.”
 
Edward has a large satchel which he clumsily knocks against a table, dumping a sheaf of photos of a colonel on the ground. Berenger notes, “It’s an army officer with a handlebar mustache, and epaulets – a colonel with all his decorations.” He declares, “The monster’s things! These things belong to the monster! It’s extraordinary.” There are children’s watches and a diary and writings of the criminal’s philosophy.
 
He makes no connection to Edward. The people who saw the evidence of Hitler’s crimes also discounted them.
 
Suddenly, everything comes together in a third act that begins powerfully with a rally led by Ma Piper (Nielsen) in a military uniform decked with medals. Flags have the image of a white goose. A large poster of a goose is on the wall. She declares, “You can trust me to drive the chariot of state, which is drawn by my geese. Vote for me. Put your trust in me. My geese and I claim the right to govern you….Good people, you’ve been deluded. We’re going to de-delude you!” Nielsen is a brilliant fascist “Pied Piper,” subtle, soothing, then aggressive.
   
Her followers wear black arm bands emblazoned with a goose, and they punch the air in salutes. We recall that Edward wears a black armband. The crowd shouts, “Hooray for Ma Piper. Hooray for the geese.”
Ma Piper says, “I’ll change everything. To change everything we don’t need to change anything. We don’t change things, we change their names. The old delusions couldn’t stand up to psychological and sociological analysis. The new delusions will be unshakable. It will only have misunderstandings. We will perfect the lie.”
 
We’re going to de-alienate humanity! To de-alienate humanity, we must alienate each individual – and there will be free soup for everybody!
    
She pledges, “We will never persecute anyone, but we will punish….We will not colonize the people but occupy their lands to liberate them! ….Forced labor will be called volunteer work. War will be called peace, and everything will be changed, thanks to me and my geese!”
And suddenly, she declares, “And as for the intellectuals – We’ll teach them to do the goose-step! Hooray for the geese!” And, “We only have to take a few steps backward to be at the forefront of history!” So now it’s clear. Where are the protestors?
 
A man, a hero, comes, and says “The hero battles against his time and creates a different time.” “Down with Ma Piper” he says.
And Ma Piper declares, “Me and my geese, we’ll distribute all public funds! We’ll all share equally. I’ll take the lion’s share for myself and my geese.”

He shouts, “And freedom for critics!” Of course, they will beat him up. And the police and military arrive.
 
In the dénouement, Berenger finds himself alone with “the killer,” a man in a slouch hat whose face we never see, who he tries to persuade against hatred. “I’m determined not to give up on you,” says Berenger. “We can both speak the language of reason, I thought I sensed that, the cerebral kind. You deny love, you suspect charity, they don’t compute in your calculations, you think charity’s just a big fraud!” Still the naïveté of liberals. And he goes on.
 
This part of the play again is too long and repetitious. And the killer’s repeated sniggering (he has no other lines) gets tiresome.
Forget such quibbles. “The Killer” is not performed frequently. If you care about political theater, you must see it.
 
“The Killer.” Written by Eugène Ionesco; directed by Darko Tresnjak. Theatre for a New Audience at Polonsky Shakespeare Center, 262 Ashland Place, Brooklyn. (Nevins or Atlantic Avenue stops on subway.) 866-811-4111. Opened June 1, 2014; closes June 29, 2014.

- See more at: http://www.thekomisarscoop.com/2014/06/ionescos-the-killer-is-surreal-dark-commentary-on-a-public-that-welcomed-naziism/#sthash.7srWptit.dpuf
Apr 29th

New York Review: Amaluna

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

The greeting is “Meine Damen und Damen.” In German, it means “My ladies and ladies.” Amaluna in Latin means mother and moon. Clearly this is a woman’s show, by and about women. There’s even a moon goddess.

Andréanne Nadeau as Moon Goddess.

Andréanne Nadeau as Moon Goddess, photo Charles William Pelletier.

It’s not feminist in the sense it has a political message.

But showing women circus performers in roles other than their bodies being tossed around by men is certainly feminist and very welcome.

Comparing this to other Cirque du Soleil production’s I’ve seen, the distinction was that the women exhibited grace above proficiency in tricks. They are aerialists, trapeze artists, acrobats, tumblers, balancers.

Virginie Canovas, Kylee Maupoux, Marina Tomanova

Virginie Canovas, Kylee Maupoux, Marina Tomanova, photo Charles William Pelletier.

The best guy was Viktor Kee, a juggler with a lizard’s tail that he flicked around expertly.

Lili Chao, who balanced precariously on the edge of a huge glass bowl, also swam in it. I didn’t know what that was about.

The only part I didn’t like – and I never like this in Cirque du Soleil productions – was the clowns. The female clowns were no less unfunny than the usual male clowns. Is this something about French Canadians, or what? A bit about a woman in a baby carriage undergoing labor and giving birth to a bunch of footballs was especially silly.

Viktor Kee

Viktor Kee, photo Charles William Pelletier.

Postscript: I read later that the “plot,” to the extent there is one, was inspired by Shakespeare’s “The Tempest.” Oh, the huge water bowl was the sea. But it didn’t say that to me. And without a scorecard (appropriate for Citifield) or a written program, it might have been anyone’s guess. Why weren’t audience members informed?

But, if you like elegant acrobatics, especially as performed by women, this is a good show. Very good.

Amaluna.” Creative Direction by Fernand Rainville; directed by Diane Paulus. CitiField in Queens, at the Willets stop of the 7 train. 800 450-1480. Opened March 27, 2014; closes May 18 2014.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and theatre critic.  Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.

Apr 22nd

NEW YORK REVIEW: The Heir Apparent

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

Amelia Pedlow as Isabelle, Suzanne Bertish as Mme Argante, Dave Quay as Eraste, photo Richard Termine.

Amelia Pedlow as Isabelle, Suzanne Bertish as Mme Argante, Dave Quay as Eraste, photo Richard Termine.

Can an early 18th century French play be hysterically funny and up to the minute in New York? Yes, if the author is David Ives who has turned a 1708 restoration comedy by Jean-Franҁois Regnard into a very witty commentary on greed, including the ethics of cut-throat capitalism. Plus ҁa change

The masterful director is John Rando, who gave us the political satires “Urinetown,” “The Toxic Avenger” and Ives’ “All in the Timing.” This is one of the best plays of the season.

Ives has crafted a broad modern on a tale about greed written in rhyming couplets at the turn of the century – that is the 17th-to-18th century. It’s aristocratic (1%) France. Gilt chandeliers adorn a rich man’s sitting room. His nephew, Eraste (an appealing Dave Quay) in an aquamarine velvet coat, has been waiting around for years to collect a lucrative inheritance. He wants to marry the fetching Isabelle (charming Amelia Pedlow in violet gown), but her mother Madame Argante (a tough, take-no-prisoners Suzanne Bertish) won’t consent unless he has ready cash.

But though the rich uncle, Geronte (a wonderful Paxton Whitehead), seems always at death’s door, he never seems to wheeze his last. And worse, the old guy wants to marry Isabelle, though he calls her Georgina (a former love?)

Things come to a head when he calls a lawyer to write his will. He tells Eraste that he plans to leave some money to relatives he’s just heard from, an American nephew and a niece who’s a pig farmer’s wife.

Paxton Whitehead as Geronte, Carson Elrod as Crispin, Claire Karpen as Lisette, photo Richard Termine.

Paxton Whitehead as Geronte, Carson Elrod as Crispin, Claire Karpen as Lisette, photo Richard Termine.

Eraste is frantic. But his clever valet Crispin (Carson Elrod), disguises himself as the obnoxious loud mouthed American, with a coonskin cap, woodsman’s garb and Texas accent, to destroy this fellow’s chances. Elrod is wonderfully physical, jittery, jumpy, limbs akimbo, almost acrobatic.

Then Crispin, his lover Lisette (Claire Karpen), who is Geronte’s maid, and Isabelle, arrive one after the other, each dressed as the feckless pig farmer’s wife.

When they have persuaded Geronte to disinherit these fraudsters, they cry, “A million! A million! A million!” And Lisette declaims to Eraste, “Congratulations, sir, from social scum!” The four join hands and Crispin declares, “Now all for one, and one… The rest you know. And here’s to holy matri-money! “

Meanwhile, Ives livens up the script with current politics. Geronte complains about the prices charged by doctors and declares, “Of course if we had national health insurance…But this is seventeen-oh-what?” (oh-eight)

When Madame Argante appears to have solved the cash flow problem with a box of Geronte’s francs she has acquired, she declares to the impecunious suitor Eraste, “Is it my fault your spending powers are spent? That you’re one of the Ninety-Nine Percent?” Estate punches the air.

Claire Karpen as Lisette, Paxton Whitehead as Geronte, Dave Quay as Eraste, David Pittu as Scruple, photo Richard Termine.

Claire Karpen as Lisette, Paxton Whitehead as Geronte, Dave Quay as Eraste, David Pittu as Scruple, photo Richard Termine.

Ives inserts a couple of comic faux film moments where the lovers, Eraste and Isabelle, in spotlight, declaim:

Eraste: “Ah, mon amour!
Isabelle: Je t’aime!
Eraste: Je t’aime!
Isabelle: La lune!
Eraste: Le soir!

(Et plus.)

The lawyer, smartly named Scruple (a funny, sharp David Pittu), is described as no bigger than a loophole. Pittu plays him on his knees.

These plays always had a moral, and Crispin establishes one here: “… capitalism, cut throat, self-promotion/ In case you didn’t know the ethic this is about.”

And he inquires if it isn’t also “the rise of the bourgeoisie and a proto-capitalist society / devoted to competition, consumerism, and cut-throat self-promotion?” (One assumes Ives updated Regnard’s text of 1708.)

Geronte, who suddenly regains his health, finally understands what is going on and gets philosophical, “And let me toss this thought into the cup:/If people hope you dead, you have Fucked Up.”

Claire Karpen as Lisette, Paxton Whitehead as Geronte, Suzanne Bertish as Mme Argante, Dave Quay as Eraste, photo Richard Termine.

Claire Karpen as Lisette, Paxton Whitehead as Geronte, Suzanne Bertish as Mme Argante, Dave Quay as Eraste, photo Richard Termine.

Madame Argante also gets the moral, declaiming:

How gold has “clogged history’s onward march with wars of greed/,
Usurped the common good for private need,/
Transforming me into a heartless vulture/
Who as a blushing maid craved art, and culture!/
Who played bad folk songs wearing purple tights, /
Smoked weed, and argued for the people’s rights!/
Well, I’ll no more be slave to money’s chains,/
But do what mere humanity ordains!/
SOCIALISM!

The others hold up fists. Geronte says: “This is America! “ They sigh, and take down their fists. He corrects himself. “France!” They hold up their fists and twist-dance off stage.

Lucky America that, in spite of the money-buys-all political and economic system that the text suggests, it has Ives’s terrific play.

The Heir Apparent.” By David Ives, adapted from play by Jean-Franҁois Regnard; directed by John Rando. Classic Stage Company, 136 East 13th Street, New York City. 212-352-3101. Opened April 9, 2014; closes May 4, 2014.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and theatre critic.  Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.
Apr 16th

NEW YORK REVIEW: Potion

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

The Stolen Chair Company did last year’s brilliant (and Drama Desk nominated) production, “The Man Who Laughs.” So it is no surprise that this season’s offering is a supremely inventive and clever site-specific production at a Soho bar. It takes place in the People Lounge on Allen Street south of Delancey. The admission includes three very exotic, interesting, tasty cocktails!

But more than that, the production is an intimate look – from a fly-on-the-wall vantage point – of what happens at a bar among the owners, bartender and patrons, especially regarding their romantic desires and connections.

Raife Bakeras Tom and Natalie Hegg as Charley, photo Carrie Leonard.

Raife Bakeras as Tom and Natalie Hegg as Charley, photo Carrie Leonard.

Since the Stolen Chair Company is never ordinary, the dialogue is done as non-musical opera. That means that the text is spoken, not sung, but it’s said in cadences, in duets and pieces for four, characters speaking over each other as if they would do singing opera. And the pieces and cadences are based on real operas. Quite extraordinary!

The place is Charley’s Potion Lounge Speakeasy. Patrons are seated at low seats along the walls opposite a real bar.

The founder and owner, Charley/Charlotte (Natalie Hegg), is dressed gypsy style with a too-low-cut top. Turns out she is in love with her business partner, Tom (Raife Baker).

The bartender Jim (Noah Schultz), with a Dali moustache, is ready to deal with patrons’ problems (but not those of his bosses).

The plot is a bit like a bar-scene soap opera, but much more immediate, up-close, and more diverting. The cast is first-rate. Collaborators Rikhye and Stancato create an utterly realistic mood.

Noah Schultz as Jim, Molly O'Neill as Emma, Liz Eckert as Andi, David Skeist as Philip, photo Carrie Leonard.

Noah Schultz as Jim, Molly O’Neill as Emma, Liz Eckert as Andi, David Skeist as Philip, photo Carrie Leonard.

Andi (Liz Eckert) an unhappy character who doesn’t like anybody, arrives and soon tells all that “humanity is pitiful.” Jim says, “You hate us, but come here…” Andi: “Because you allow me a minute or two of relief.”

It’s a reality show, like overhearing a bar conversation. Emma (Molly O’Neill), a patron, says, “I don’t think I’ve found who I am.” Charley replies, “We can make you whoever you please.” Charley says, “Everyone wants to change something.”

There’s also interaction among the staff, especially between Charley, who is secretly sweet on Tom. “Charlotte why do we have ten crates of lychee nuts?” She: “They were such a bargain.”

Patrons come in. A guy, Philip (David Skeist) comes on to Andi, hitting on her.

Ed Forth (Jon Forehlich) a health inspector, suggesting he might give the place a bad report, wants a drink potion that makes woman fall in love with him.

David Skeist as Philip and Liz Eckert as Andi, photo Carrie Leonard.

David Skeist as Philip and Liz Eckert as Andi, photo Carrie Leonard.

There’s also the magic of the cocktails that are served through the evening, with labels such as “Curiosity.” They are, we are told, potions that affect how you are. Charley says, “Our drinks intoxicate but do much more.”

The bar is a drinks hall of mirrors that takes peoples’ traits and problems and magnifies them. Philip and Andi have a hot interaction that moves through the bar salon/audience.

Patrons get to sample drinks called “Curiosity,” “Pins Needles,” and “Love Potion. It’s all indeed quite intoxicating.

“Potion, a play in 3 cocktails.” Conceived by Kiran Rikhye and Jon Stancato; written by Rikhye, directed by Stancato. Stolen Chair at People Lounge, 163 Allen Street (south of Delancey Street; F train to 2nd Avenue stop; Allen is a continuation of First Avenue, so take First Avenue exit.) Live music by Sean Cronin; cocktails by Mixologist Marlo Gamora. Sundays at 7pm. The bar is small, so online reservations recommended.

The cocktails are “Curiosity:” rye, cynar, lemon juice, honey, lemon twist; “Pins & Needles:” mescal, ginger beer, green chartreuse, lime juice, chili salt rim, lime twist, and “Love Potion:” lambrusco, gin, absinthe, syrup, lemon juice, lemon twist.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and theatre critic.  Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.

Apr 9th

NEW YORK REVIEW: Stage Kiss

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

Sarah Ruhl is a very funny clever playwright. Her “Stage Kiss” is a witty play about acting, especially what happens when two ex-lovers get cast in a play that requires a lot of kissing. That’s a physical “mannerism” that has a lot of physical impact. I mean, even staged fights don’t land real blows.

Jessica Hecht as She, Michael Cyril Creighton as Kevin and Patrick Kerr as the Director, photo Joan Marcus.

Jessica Hecht as She, Michael Cyril Creighton as Kevin and Patrick Kerr as the Director, photo Joan Marcus.

The two actors, She (Jessica Hecht) – is this a satirical jab at Albee? – and He (Dominic Fumusa), both now in their mid-40s, are doing a play from 1932 Broadway. Hecht, one of my favorites, seems always slightly mentally off-key, a comic pose, and Fumusa is a very good slightly angry romantic lead. Angry at this impossible woman, but still turned on by her.

She starts out with another actor who is reading the part:

SHE: Nice to meet you, Kevin. Do you want me to actually kiss Kevin, or Kevin do you mind if we kiss; you look young, I don’t want to traumatize you.

KEVIN: No—please, go ahead.

Jessica Hecht as She, Michael Cyril Creighton as Kevin, photo Joan Marcus.

Jessica Hecht as She, Michael Cyril Creighton as Kevin, photo Joan Marcus.

AS ADA: (To Kevin, as the lover) God, I love you. I love you I love you I love you. They kiss.

AS ADA: Your lips taste like—let me taste them again. She kisses him again. Of cherries? No.

KEVIN: I’m so sorry, I’m so sweaty, the elevator’s broken—

SHE: Oh no, you’re beautiful. She kisses him again. Of chestnuts. Oh, God, I want to kiss you all day!

KEVIN: (AS LOVER) And I you. She kisses him again. She starts laughing. Sorry—there was a little crumb in your mouth.

KEVIN: Oh, sorry. He wipes the crumb.

Then “He” (Fumusa), her former lover, does a rehearsal with “She” (Hecht).

AS JOHNNY: I always said you would end up with a man with a briefcase. I knew that, even when we began our doomed romance.

But don’t tell me you’ve become conventional, darling—kiss me—one last kiss…

That’s what I came for, isn’t it? One last kiss. You’re as beautiful as the day I met you.

(This reminds me of a Noel Coward play. Or maybe it’s “Casablanca.”)

AS ADA: Am I?

AS JOHNNY: (very sincerely, dropping out of character, slightly)
Yes, only I wish I’d put these lines on your face myself. Each one. He traces the lines on her face, tenderly.They kiss.

Dominic Fumusa as He and Jessica Hecht as She in Stage Kiss, photo Joan Marcus.

Dominic Fumusa as He and Jessica Hecht as She in Stage Kiss, photo Joan Marcus.

AS ADA: Oh, Johnny!

HE: Line—

DIRECTOR: Let me take you to Sweden—

AS JOHNNY: (overlapping) Let me take you to Sweden. You should die in a place where the trees are higher than the buildings.

AS ADA: No, I prefer to die where the buildings are higher than the trees. I’m a city girl. I like to be perched high above everything—so I can see. (So wonderfully hokey!!)

AS JOHNNY: Above everything—including people.

AS ADA: What’s that supposed to mean?

AS JOHNNY: (Talking as both Johnny and HE) It was as though you were always perched above me, taking in the view, you couldn’t even see my face.

SHE: Seriously? I saw your face! (not her line at all) What? Line?

DIRECTOR: I can’t help it if you aren’t very tall.

AS ADA: I can’t help it if you aren’t very tall.

AS JOHNNY: Don’t be glib!

The cast, photo Joan Marcus.

The cast, photo Joan Marcus.

AS ADA: I was mad about you! Mad! Don’t you see?

(Isn’t this Coward?)

AS JOHNNY: (Also as HE) Then why’d you leave, Ada!

AS ADA: (Also as SHE) It was impossible! Perhaps if I’d loved you less it would have been hunky-dory! I loved you too much! They look at each other. For longer than is required.

DIRECTOR: I think I hear my husband.

AS ADA: I think I hear my husband. Hang it all!

Husband enters.

AS HUSBAND: Hello, Johnny. Welcome to New York. I understand you’ve been in Sweden?

AS JOHNNY: That’s right. (He says something in Swedish.). That means: Thanks for having me. It’s good of you. In Swedish. I’m sorry about the—circumstances.

Michael Cyril Creighton, Dominic Fumusa and Jessica Hecht in play within a play, photo Joan Marcus.

Michael Cyril Creighton, Dominic Fumusa and Jessica Hecht in play within a play, photo Joan Marcus.

AS HUSBAND: Oh, don’t mention it, she doesn’t want it mentioned. Do you have everything you need to make you comfortable?

They also do a funny noirish play within a play.

You get the idea. Better to cite these clever hokey funny lines than to describe them, which would miss so much. I loved this play.

So they get together for a while, but not permanently, and the end doesn’t really matter. It’s all the dialogue that leads up to it. Sarah Ruhl is a wonderfully funny playwright. And director Rebecca Taichman keeps tongue firmly in check to create a memorable comedic delight.

Stage Kiss.” Written by Sarah Ruhl; directed by Rebecca Taichman. Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street, New York City. (212) 279–4200; Opened Feb 7, 2014; closes April 5, 2014. 4/4/14.

Lucy Komisar is a New York journalist and theatre critic.  Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.
Mar 21st

NEW YORK REVIEW: The Pig, or Václav Havel’s Hunt for a Pig

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

This collaborative, inventive multi-media play with music is based on a Samizdat dialogue the Czech dissident Havel wrote in 1987, using the device of a popular rural pastime – roasting a pig – to satirize the communist government. It was inspired by the true story of Havel trying to find a pig to roast for his friends.

The performance starts with the excellent mood device of Czech singer Katarina Vizina and Jenny Lee Mitchell of Cabaret Metropol, doing European songs to music redolent of Kurt Weil.

Robert Honeywell as Václav Havel and Katherine Boynton as American TV reporter in ‘The Pig, or Václav Havel’s Hunt for the Pig,’ photo Arthur Cornelius

Robert Honeywell as Václav Havel and Katherine Boynton as American TV reporter in ‘The Pig, or Václav Havel’s Hunt for the Pig,’ photo Arthur Cornelius.

When the play opens, Havel (Robert Honeywell) is trying to buy a pig for a big village party. But every time he thinks he has made a deal with a farmer, the price goes up. Even for buying a pig, the system doesn’t work. It seems corrupt and abusive.

A dumb American TV reporter (Katherine Boynton) has come to interview Havel. She wears a too-tight dress, too-high heels, has too-messy long hair, and pronounces Havel with a long A. She is accompanied by a camera on a tripod, so that we see her scenes and other excellent and funny video on screens on four sides. (The audience is on chairs and at tables along the walls.)

Moira Stone, and Terence Stone as the couple of ‘The Bartered Bride,’ in ‘The Pig, or Václav Havel’s Hunt for the Pig,’ photo Arthur Cornelius.

Moira Stone, and Terence Stone as the couple of ‘The Bartered Bride,’ in ‘The Pig, or Václav Havel’s Hunt for the Pig,’ photo Arthur Cornelius.

The story is surreal. In the midst of all, as a political point, sections of the famous opera by Smetana, “The Bartered Bride,” are performed by Moira Stone and Terence Stone. (Their operatic voices are excellent.)

The Smetana work, the most important Czech opera, was written in the 1860s when the country was under the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Czech could not be spoken, though it continued to be heard in rural communities. Thus it had a political message which Czech director Vladimir Morávek added in 2010 when he decided to stage Havel’s samizdat.

Katherine Boynton as American TV reporter, Robert Honeywell as Václav Havel holding the bill for the pig, and cast, in ‘The Pig, or Václav Havel’s Hunt for the Pig,’ photo Arthur Cornelius.

Katherine Boynton as American TV reporter, Robert Honeywell as Václav Havel holding the bill for the pig, and cast, in ‘The Pig, or Václav Havel’s Hunt for the Pig,’ photo Arthur Cornelius.

The price of the pig goes so high, that everyone in the village has to sign for it. But when the front page of the long, accordion-pleated bill is finally held up, it is Charter 77, the name of the human rights manifesto co-authored by Havel and signed by Czech writers and intellectuals in 1977.

Havel would spend four-and-a-half years in prison before the communist government fell to the Velvet Revolution and he became president.

The production gets a fine adaptation by Edward Einhorn and is directed with smartness and verve by Henry Akona. Honeywell is appropriately self-effacing as Havel, and Boynton emulates every self-important glitzy TV media star. Havel would have loved it.

“The Pig, or Václav Havel’s Hunt for a Pig.” Written by Václav Havel and Vladimir Morávek. Adapted into English by Edward Einhorn. Directed and musical arrangements by Henry Akona. 3LD Art & Technology Center & Untitled Theater Company #61. 80 Greenwich Street, New York City (a few steps south of the #1 train Rector stop). 866-811-4111.

The 20-minute cabaret begins ten minutes before curtain. After the hour production comes another half hour of music by Cabaret Metropol. You can buy pulled pork or vegetarian sandwiches and Czech beer, or water; no wine. Food must be ordered 24 hours in advance.Opened March 10, 2014; closes March 29, 2014. 3/20/14

Lucy Komisar is a New York Journalist and Theatre Critic.  Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.
Mar 19th

NEW YORK REVIEW: Love and Information

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

Caryl Churchill is one of my favorite playwrights (“Serious Money,” “Top Girls”) and a major dramatic commentator on the feminist and the political. I am therefore sorry to report my disappointment in her latest work, “Love and Information.” It’s a pastiche that seems thrown together from notes that never got turned into a script.

The play occurs in a black box lined with graph paper. It pretends to be a commentary on what currently is going on in our technological lives. But it is pedestrian compared to what she has done before. Much of it is incomprehensible.

Let’s start with the best. A couple meets after years, but their memories don’t sync. Neither remembers the other’s recollections. What’s left of their romance is just vague.

It’s called “EX.” It’s worth quoting in its entirety, because it is very clever Churchill. Shows what she could have done. And fans will enjoy it.

“I’m glad we’ve done it, just to see
so am I
after all these years
because it was very important at the time, it’s been very important
it has for me, all my life, very important
so never to have seen each other again would have been
it would have been impossible
it would have been sad anyway.

John Procaccino and Randy Danson in 'Love and Information,' photo Joan Marcus.

John Procaccino and Randy Danson in ‘Love and Information,’ photo Joan Marcus.

You remember the Italian restaurant?
no, yes, on the corner was it?
with the bushes outside?
no, I’m mixing it up with
I can see the waiter now
no, I can’t get the waiter
the waiter with the mustache who always smiled so much when we came in.
I used to have spaghetti carbonara and you had clam sauce.
I can’t remember eating, no, I was too busy looking at you probably.

I really loved you then.
I loved you.
I always remember you standing in that field
I wonder where that was, was it
all the buttercups.
I’ve got a really clear picture of you running ahead of me down a street. We were running for
a bus I think.

Do you remember that hotel, we took a room for a couple of hours in a hotel, there was green
wallpaper and we stood there kissing.
I remember the first time
no, that’s got overlaid by so many other times, I can’t, I remember once by a river, we were
practically on a trail where the hikers
the kitchen, the kitchen at your friend’s house
which friend?
I never knew your friends’ names
was it Chris? Terry?

I don’t know, you remember the kitchen?”
I might if I knew which house. Did we do it in a kitchen?
Behind the door. There was soup on the stove.
I remember us just looking at each other.
The time in the street, we just stopped.

I was thinking more a time when you were sitting on the side of the bed.
Was that early on or near the end?
Near the end I think. Do you know the time I mean?

I sometimes go past that coffee shop.
Which one?
The one where we kept trying to say goodbye.

Maria Tucci and John Procaccino in 'Love and Information,' photo Joan Marcus.

Maria Tucci and John Procaccino in ‘Love and Information,’ photo Joan Marcus.

I think I’ve blotted that whole day out.
We were really happy.
Or sad, we used to cry.
Did we?
Sometimes.”

It’s very funny. It conjures up the spirits of Nichols and May. I quote the whole bit, because I thought it so good.

Alas, nothing else in this play comes close.

Two people in their 50s, in a vertical bed covered with a white spread, can’t sleep. She says I can’t sleep, I think I’ll get up and go on Facebook. This is funny?

Other people don’t remember the past without seeing videos of it.

In a bit with uninterested kids, a woman says, “I’m your mother, she’s your grandmother.”

A guy is in love with a virtual woman, a robot. They are on exercycles. He says, “She loves me.”

This is cartoon stuff. Many skits are not close to being interesting or funny or with a point. And if you have to sit there trying to figure out what she means, beyond the boring obvious — yes, some people talk to their computers and cell phones more than to other people – it isn’t working.

I don’t comment on the actors because they all did their jobs, but none of them were memorable.

If this wasn’t Caryl Churchill, no one would take it seriously.

Love and Information.” Written by Caryl Churchill; directed by James Macdonald. New York Theater Workshop, in association with the Royal Court Theater at the Minetta Lane Theater, 18 Minetta Lane, New York City. 800-982-2787. Opened Feb 19, 2014; closes April 6, 2014.

Lucy Komisar is a New York Journalist and Theatre Critic.  Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.
Feb 20th

NEW YORK REVIEW: No Man's Land

By Cameron Lowe

Review by Lucy Komisar in New York

Patrick Stewart as Hirst, Ian McKellen as Spooner, photo Joan Marcus.

Patrick Stewart as Hirst, Ian McKellen as Spooner, photo Joan Marcus.


Harold Pinter liked to play games in his plays, teasing the audience, suggesting facts and realities that might or might not be true. He does this in “No Man’s Land,” written in 1974. It is an acerbic commentary on human nature, with a particular bite of the literary set.

Pinter’s prickly style is well served by director Sean Mathias and finely acted by Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart, with strong support from Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley. If you like intellectual diversions and mysteries, this play is for you.

The setting is a villa, in a strange living room enclosed in round walls of gray squares, almost like a tomb, unusually bare except for a silver bar, a blue/gray rug, a few chairs. Spooner (Ian McKellen) and Hirst (Patrick Stewart), men in their sixties, are getting drunk.

Hirst, well dressed in a sports jacket, is a famous writer an essayist, poet, man of letters. He is pretentious about how he opens his house to poets, but not all poets. Spooner is rather shabby. Hirst apparently picked him up at a local pub, Jack Straw’s Castle in Hampstead, an area in North London favored by prosperous writers. Spooner introduces himself as a friend of the arts, of poetry, but his ragged persona raises doubts about who he really is and what he does.

Ian McKellen as Spooner, photo Joan Marcus.

Ian McKellen as Spooner, photo Joan Marcus.

McKellen and Stewart are excellent as they embody in voice and body movements the psychology of the over-weaning, successful rich and the desperate, failed poor.

Pinter satirizes the musings of intellectuals. Spooner says that “there are some people who appear to be strong, whose idea of what strength is is persuasive, but who inhabit the idea and not the fact.” Chew on that. He thanks him for asking him in, “kindness itself” in England and in Hampstead. That is a writer’s joke. And the sarcasm continues, that he won’t stay, that his security is that he elicits from others constant indifference. You get the feeling that you are inhabiting an intellectual in joke.

Spooner talks about his wife. And Hirst’s wife. They recall serving tea on the lawn. Spooner asks, “What happened to our cottages? What happened to our lawns?” He says, “We share something. A memory of the bucolic life. We’re both English.” But the alcohol takes its toll. Hirst collapses and crawls out of the room.

Two employees arrive, both rather threatening, Foster (Billy Crudup) in a leather jacket and cockney accent, who introduces himself as Hirst’s son, which turns out not to be true; he is the housekeeper. Then Briggs (Shuler Hensley), Hirst’s secretary, in a brown leather jacket. There’s the typical Pinter menace in their talk as well as their thuggish clothes.

Ian McKellen as Spooner, Patrick Stewart as Hirst, photo Joan Marcus.

Ian McKellen as Spooner, Patrick Stewart as Hirst, photo Joan Marcus.

Hirst comes back still drunk. Soon Foster flips a switch and all goes black. Another threat. In the morning, Spooner, who has been locked in the room, is served breakfast with champagne.

When Hirst returns in pinstripes, there’s a new mood. He declares that they were friends at Oxford. He says they dined at club there in 1938. Hirst asks, “Did you have a good war?” And then he declares crudely that that he seduced Spooner’s wife. Pinter likes to write about literary figures’ betrayals, such as in his play of that name which was inspired by his own wife-betraying affair.

Is any of it true? We don’t know. But Spooner’s response to what might be termed psychological abuse is self-humiliation.

The title of the play repeats Hirst’s comment that “No man’s land…does not move ….or change…or grow old…remains…forever…icy….silent. Are they living in reality or their imaginations? Pinter doesn’t want us to know. Intriguing, although sometimes the wordplay around a mysterious void is not altogether satisfying.

No Man’s Land.” Written by Harold Pinter; directed by Sean Mathias. Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th St., New York City. 212 239-6200. Opened Nov 24, 2013; closes March 30, 2014. (2/17/2014)

Lucy Komisar is a New York Journalist and theatre critic.  Her web site is The Komisar Scoop.

Jan 6th

NEW YORK REVIEW: Macbeth

By Cameron Lowe

By Lucy Komisar in New York

 

The cast in Japhy Weidman's dramatic lighting, photoT.Charles Erickson,

The cast in Japhy Weidman’s dramatic lighting, photo T. Charles Erickson.

Jack O’Brien’s staging of “Macbeth” at Lincoln Center puts the emphasis on “stage.” The physical production is minimal and stunning, with high backdrop curtains painted with noble shields and lighting aimed like lasers at key figures or diffused to bathe actors in shadows. There is fine pageantry and music.

Unfortunately, Ethan Hawke, as the ruthless, power-hungry noble who seeks the throne of Scotland, forgets he is on a stage, where one needs presence, and not in the movies, where it’s okay to be laid-back. Hawke speaks too low and too fast, and sometimes even mumbles. He appears timid, frightened, even distraught, with the demeanor of a drug addict.

Ethan Hawke as Macbeth, photo T. Charles Erickson.

Ethan Hawke as Macbeth, photo T. Charles Erickson.

That means that on the shiny black circular stage he has no grandeur, which should be the requirement of a tragic figure. Instead, we get elegant cinematic moments. At one point the stage holds a table with a vase of roses. Silver paper covers the stairs and walkway that leads to King Duncan’s room. Then Macbeth climbs the stairs, and the red petals fall as he is murdering Duncan (Richard Easton). It’s gorgeous, but the drama is aesthetic. (The set is by Scott Pask.)

There’s more Hollywood in the Macbeth-Lady Macbeth (Anne-Marie Duff) clinch, a funny eroticism.

Ethan Hawke as Macbeth and Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth, photo T. Charles Erickson.

Ethan Hawke as Macbeth and Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth, photo T. Charles Erickson.

Duff, in a blonde chignon, wears fashion-magazine clothes which somehow clash with the armor plating of fighting troops, though some of the men’s outfits, black pants and coats, soldier’s garb of leather skirts and jackets with metal studs, might be couturier as well.

The color scheme is black and white, with a bit of blood red. After the killing Macbeth wears a red robe. (Costumes are by Catherine Zuber.)

Malcolm Gets, John Glover and Byron Jennings as the Weird Sisters, photo T. Charles Erickson.

Malcolm Gets, John Glover and Byron Jennings as the Weird Sisters, photo T. Charles Erickson.

Fashion-plate aside – and her clothes would work at any Hollywood party — Duff is good in her guilt-driven mad scene, which she dominates. Other scenes are less engrossing, more filmic.

A highlight is the comic weird sisters, played by men (Malcolm Gets, John Glover, Byron Jennings) who cackle and giggle in a campy drag style.

O’Brien’s choice of men is more accurate than casting them as women, which many directors have done. When the noble Banquo (Brian d’Arcy James) meets them, he says, “You should be women, and yet your beards forbid me to interpret that you are so.” That’s in the text, maybe an inside joke, since all the players in Shakespeare’s time were men.

Daniel Sunjata is strong as the noble Maduff who opposes Macbeth, and Bianca Amato is excellent as his wife, who meets with a regal coolness and aplomb the killers Macbeth sends as retribution.

Ethan Hawke as Macbeth and Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth at the banquet, photo T. Charles Erickson.

Ethan Hawke as Macbeth and Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth at the banquet, photo T. Charles Erickson.

The banquet scene is excellently staged. Banquo’s ghost appears as in a supernatural movie shrouded in a streaming white light at Macbeth’s great dinner, which features servants bearing trays of cocktails and canapés and a wooden groaning board covered with platters of lobsters.

When, seeing the ghost, Macbeth leaves in horror, witches and harpies arrive to devour the feast. O’Brien also creates a splendid tableau of harpies at a smoking hole. Indeed, the visuals are terrific. One is curious about what power this director had over the performance of the Hollywood star, Hawke, who is the major disappointment of the production.

“Macbeth.” Written by William Shakespeare; directed by Jack O’Brien. Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center, 150 W. 65 St., New York City. 212.239.6210. Text. Opened Nov 21, 2013; closes Jan 12, 2014. 12/27/13.

Lucy Komisar is a New York Journalist and Theatre Critic. Her web site is The Komisar Scoop