Death of a Salesman
Reviewed by David A. Rosenberg
Produced by David Richenthal, Jujamcyn Theaters, Allan S. Gordon, and Fox Theatricals, in association with Jerry Frankel, at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre, 230 W. 49th St., NYC. Opened Feb. 10 for an open run.
Into his masterpiece "Death of a Salesman," Arthur Miller poured, not only his own soul, but the soul of a country forever impaled on the twin spikes of illusion and ambition. In director Robert Falls' riveting production at the Eugene O' Neill Theatre, a splendid company of actors gives us a powerful testament to how theatre at its best seeps into the unconscious.
The story is familiar. Willy Loman, unable to go on, returns to his Brooklyn home a broken man after a failed trip to New England. His long-suffering wife, Linda, and his two boys, Biff and Happy, are enmeshed in his perverted values and disintegrating life. The production emphasizes the play's two time zones, present and past, as well as the bifurcated locations, mind and body, of a man whose ride "on a smile and a shoeshine" is screeching to an end.
Brian Dennehy is Willy, rubbing his temples as if to ward off impending collapse. Though by turns raging and vulnerable, his performance lacks a trajectory and is ultimately disappointing. As Linda, Elizabeth Franz is overwhelming. Kevin Anderson is a terrifying Biff, Ted Koch a sad-sack Happy. Howard Witt is wonderful as the compassionate Charley. The cast is uniformly excellent: Kent Klineman's Stanley, Kate Buddeke as The Woman, Allen Hamilton's Uncle Ben, Richard Thompson's Bernard, Steve Pickering's Howard, plus Barbara eda-Young, Chelsea Altman, and Stephanie March.
Mark Wendland's set design and Richard Woodbury's music/sound design tellingly reflect Willy's wanderings between real and imagined. Birgit Rattenborg Wise's costumes and Michael Philippi's lighting evoke a world of people who cannot hold themselves together.
Making Peter Pope
Reviewed by Victor Gluck
Presented by The Harbor Theatre, at the 30th Street Theatre, 259 W. 30th St., NYC, Feb. 15-March 6.
The bad news about Edmund De Santis' new play "Making Peter Pope," is that it is derivative and familiar. If memory serves, didn't Albert Innaurato write a play some years ago, called "Gemini," that told a similar story‹albeit not in such a liberated fashion?
The good news about De Santis' play is that it is engrossing, entertaining, suspenseful, and sexy. Although the advance publicity describes it as a comedy, it is more accurately a drama. It deals with the year the title character lost his mother, met a hunky Italian boyfriend, attended the wedding of his father to a new wife, dealt with his suicidal sister, crossed paths with his new drug-addicted stepsister and her homophobic husband, and was tested for AIDS.
The title is a misnomer unless it refers to making Peter Pope into the person he is today. What is most interesting about the play is its structure: It is narrated by Peter (played by Harry Bouvy) in a series of flashbacks that interrupt and overlap each other as he stands in a circus set designed by Charles Townsend Wittreich, Jr., and tries to M.C. his own life. Derek Todd directing an ensemble cast of seven adroitly keeps the many plot strains in the air and makes the alternating scenes coherent.
Although the cast is playing recognizable types, the acting is of a high caliber. In the central role Bouvy is rather bland, but this works in his favor with all the colorful eccentrics around him. Eric Morace is quite effective as the Italian of Peter's dreams who surprisingly pursues him. Fred Velde as Peter's father, who isn't willing to accept that his son is gay, and Joanne Dorian, as the new stepmother who has a penchant for spangled outfits, are very believable.
Reviewed by David Sheward
Presented by and at CSC Theatre, 136 E. 13th St., Feb. 14-March 7.
It seems like a natural. Transplanting Moli're's "The Misanthrope" from the 17th-century French court to contemporary media-frenzied London. After all, the play's target is shallow insincerity among the bewigged fops. How far is that from the shallow insincerity of show-biz glitterati? Just substitute cell phones for handkerchiefs and Mercedes Benz for a horse-in-four and you're in.
Martin Crimp's adaptation, currently on view at the Classic Stage Company, sometimes strains to duplicate the rhymed meter of the original. "Shit" and "it" are his favorite couplings. But, overall, this is a witty updating, especially if you're familiar with the politics of the British stage. The problem is, CSC Artistic Director Barry Edelstein has staged this sharp satire with the high-pitched hysteria of a Feydeau farce. Granted, everyone onstage is a stock type, but there has to be some tinge of inner life to even the most hackneyed of clowns.
Roger Rees plays the title curmudgeon as an enraged firebrand out of early John Osborne. He was screaming so much, I feared for the health of his voice. We have to like this guy in spite of his prickly disposition. He represents Moli're's credo of honesty being the best policy even when it makes us uncomfortable. Rees makes us just want to cover our ears. Likewise, Adina Porter, Seth Gilliam, and John Gould Rubin don't get much further than posturing.
On the plus side: Michael Emerson, Nick Wyman, Mary Lou Rosato, and, most surprisingly, in a variation on her own sex-icon, movie-star image, Uma Thurman.
Narelle Sissons' ultra-chic set is a spot-on jibe at contemporary soulless architecture and Martin Pakledinaz's costumes rib the fashions of both Calvin Klein and Versailles. Paul Huntley's wigs deserve mention, as does Stephen Strawbridge's disco-esque lighting and Darron L. West's punkish sound design. Overall, a mixed "Misanthrope."
Ashes to Ashes
Reviewed by Irene Backalenick
Presented by Roundabout Theatre Company, at the Gramercy Theatre, 127 E. 23rd St., NYC, Feb. 7-May 9.
Harold's Pinter's "Ashes to Ashes," which now makes its American debut at the Gramercy Theatre, is not a play. There is no proper beginning, middle, and end, no plot that moves forward to resolution. It is better defined as one short scene. But what a scene! In 45 minutes Pinter discloses a relentlessly haunting, menacing world (his usual stock in trade). While a husband tries desperately to communicate with his wife, with questions grounded in reality, her answers are distant, disconnected. What causes the wife's remoteness, the husband's desperation?
Ambiguity rules, as in all Pinter's works. Only gradually does one realize that these two are married. And one gets a sense of what fuels the wife's behavior only toward the play's close, in a single shattering speech. But even that speech (which ought not to be revealed here) lends itself to varied interpretations.
Ambiguity and menace are the very strengths of Pinter works‹those muted howls that define man's place in the universe. But in specifics, a Pinter play is what any viewer chooses it to be, and this is certainly true of "Ashes to Ashes," despite the message inherent in its title. It is a piece about the aftermath of violence. But what specific violence? We are left to fill in the blanks.
As to this production, director Karel Reisz has a firm hold on the proceedings, a solid sense of this playwright's style. And the magnificent Lindsay Duncan, who appeared in the London production, is completely tuned in to the Pinter mode. Focusing on a distant point over the audiences' heads, she gives every word, every line full measure. David Strathairn proves less absorbing as the husband, Devlin. But that may not be the fault of this excellent actor. As the interrogator, he is given a less interesting, less Pinter-like role.
Equally important is the design team's impeccable work, with sound by G. Thomas Clark and lighting by Richard Pilbrow. And Tony Walton's stunning set, a mix of the real and the abstract, is a perfect milieu for "Ashes to Ashes."
Babes in Arms
Reviewed by David A. Rosenberg
Presented by Encores!: Great American Musicals in Concert, at City Center, 131 W. 55th St., NYC, Feb. 11-14.
Charles Schulz had it only half right. When the Peanuts creator decreed "Happiness is a warm puppy," he obviously hadn't yet seen "Babes in Arms." This latest delight by the six-year-old Encores! series at City Center made audience members both leap and weep in joyous gratitude.
To be sure, the book is a patchwork affair, ladling its cornball jokes with once-contemporary references to Marx, Nietzsche, and Schopenhauer. The year was 1937 and all sorts of philosophical and sociological notions were rife in a land under the thumb of the Depression. But, lest we forget, "Babes" is also the ur-showbiz story, the very one in which, when the kids have no place to perform, someone declares, "Wait a minute‹what about‹the barn! The old red barn! That's a perfect summer theatre!"
And perform the Encores! cast did, to perhaps the loveliest musical comedy score of them all: "Where or When," "I Wish I Were in Love Again," "My Funny Valentine," "Johnny One-Note," "Imagine," "The Lady Is a Tramp," and the title number. Composer Richard Rodgers and lyricist Lorenz Hart were at their merriest and most melodious. (Both also wrote the book, here trimmed and tightened by John Guare.)
In director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall's spiffy, inventive hands, the score was treated with affection, the book with just enough winking to make it palatable. David Campbell and Erin Dilly were a rapturously appealing twosome, while Jessica Stone and Christopher Fitzgerald were frolicsome as lovey-dovey battlers.
Stopping the show were nine-year-old tap prodigy Cartier Anthony Williams, and a quartet of "Chorus Line" alumni‹Donna McKechnie, Priscilla Lopez, Thommie Walsh, and Don Correia‹even before they did anything at all. Everyone was impressive, from the madcap Kevin Cahoon to the sturdy Perry Laylon Ojeda, from belting Melissa Rain Anderson to the dancers and singers whose exuberance practically invited the audience onstage to join the fun.
Fun it was, thanks to Peter Kaczorowski's lighting, Scott Lehrer's sound, Toni-Leslie James' costumes, and John Lee Beatty's sets. And, of course, a great big Valentine's Day smack to Rob Fisher and his incomparable Coffee Club Orchestra. Now, how about "Peggy-Ann"?
James Naughton: Street of Dreams
Reviewed by Robert Windeler
Presented by Mike Nichols, at the Promenade Theatre, 2162 B'way, NYC; opened Jan. 28, extended to April 11.
Fans of James Naughton's singing voice since 1977's "I Love My Wife" have waited a long time for this show. Our reward for patience is not quite cabaret and yet not theatre, featuring 20 eclectic songs in 95 brisk minutes. Naughton sings in a rich, rangy bass-baritone and comports himself with the self-confidence and touch of the showoff that is necessary to make any solo act work. As good as he is, this set would not be half so wonderful without the backup jazz-pop quintet headed by musical director and pianist John Oddo. Dave Pietro on the saxophone, Jay Azzolina on the guitar, Steve Laspina on bass, and Ray Marchia on drums are all virtuosi‹and they make nifty backup singers. Naughton displays a breadth of taste to match his breadth of talent. His disparate numbers include such standards as "Stardust," the Jon Hendricks rocker " I Want You to Be My Baby," satirical songs from Dave Frischberg and Randy Newman, and even a touch of country: Hank Snow's "I've Been Everywhere." Naughton is generous, almost Sinatran, in his acknowledgement of composers and lyricists.
The entire set is glib, funny, admirably staged (by an uncredited person or team) with between-songs chat that is just enough and completely charming. What the act isn't, however, is soulful, insightful, or even autobiographical‹although his run-up to an exquisite rendition of "The Folks Who Live on the Hill" makes you wish for more Naughton and less olio of favorites and influences. He does no golden oldies, either: songs from "Chicago," "I Love My Wife," or "City of Angels." This greatest-hits avoidance seems almost perverse.
The advantages of doing a cabaret act in a theatre are increased audience attention, no clinking glassware, smoke in your face or crowding at small tables. The disadvantage, in Naughton's case at least, is not feeling the necessity to break through that fourth wall to establish an intimate connection with the audience. He talks and sings at us, not to us, leaving "Street of Dreams" a somewhat distant accomplishment, for all its many virtues.
The Chemistry of Change
Reviewed by Glenda Frank
Presented jointly by the Women's Project and Productions and Playwrights Horizons, at Theatre Four, 424 W. 55th St., NYC, Feb.10-March 7.
Lee, a venal divorc e (Carlin Glynn), doesn't dance with the seductive Devil (Larry Pine) in the pale moonlight. She makes him husband number 10‹and brings him home to a "Tobacco Road" brood of grown children for whom the adjective "dysfunctional" is a goal. The Devil has his work cut out for him if he's to have any peace in his new life.
Act I of "The Chemistry of Change," Marlane Meyer's dark new comedy at Theatre Four, a co-production of the Women's Project and Productions and Playwrights Horizons, is aglow with absurdities, sulfuric humor, and razor-edged repartee. The characters' eccentricities are more than just amusing gimmicks. They mask a panoply of contemporary angst: teenage growing pains and passions, childhood traumas. lonely middle age, and a rage at fathers who disappear in the night.
It's all an irrational, poetic, hyperbolically funny ride, until Act II when Meyer seems to feel a need to straighten out everyone's lives. The richly textured language, daughter Corlis' (Jodi Thelen) jazzy outbursts of male hatred. the promise that Baron, the older son, is really "a demon, a shape-changing entity"‹the imaginative wonders of the play deflate into problems with absurdist, but sometimes sitcom, overtones.
As compensation, the innovative direction of Lisa Peterson (who also staged the marvelous "Collected Stories") and the acting, which begin strong, get even better. Characters like Shep (Hamish Linklater), the youngest son, who has impregnated his "dwarfish" high school teacher, and Farley (Barry Del Sherman), who never outgrew his longing for a pet, become distinctive and endearing characters. The nondescript Aunt Dixon (Brenda Wehle) is transformed from the frumpy, unmarried aunt to a working glamour gal as the Devil (a carny who owns a fright ride called the Hell Hole) and Peterson weave their spells.
"The Chemistry of Change" is good‹no, very good‹theatre, but it promised to be much more.
The Mineola Twins
Reviewed by Irene Backalenick
Presented by Roundabout Theatre Company, at the Laura Pels Theatre, 1530 B'way, Feb. 18-May 23.
That plays must be staged, not read as literature, to come alive, was never truer than with Paula Vogel's newest offering. In reading the script, one wonders what the confusing, tepid piece is trying to say.
It takes the vision and skills of a director like Joe Mantello to give "The Mineola Twins" its due. Now on its feet at the Laura Pels Theatre, the play bursts forth in its glory‹a funny, perceptive, biting take on The American Woman. Vogel was never more political and never more on target.
Beyond being solid entertainment, "The Mineola Twins" explores the roles women have been called to play‹or chosen to play. Using the old Hollywood theme of the Good Twin and Evil Twin, Vogel traces two sisters' lives through three Republican administrations (the Eisenhower, Nixon, and Bush regimes).
But this is not just a double dose of Olivia deHaviland or Bette Davis, slugging it out with herself on screen. Twinning is used here as a metaphor for the duality of human nature‹dark and light, male and female‹yin and yang, if you will. And the metaphor defines the political/social struggle as well. In the conservative '50s, women were both exalted and enchained as homemakers, even while some struggled to defy that image. Though conformity dominated the '50s, the lone voices of rebellion began to surface. And in later eras, those contrasting positions were polarized and solidified. It's all there in the Vogel tale.
Mantello has assembled an excellent cast and design team, which, under his firm direction, serve the play well. All the design work (Robert Brill, with Scott Pask, set; Jess Goldstein, costumes; Kevin Adams, lighting; David Van Tieghem, sound) contributes to the sly humor of the piece and its imaginative staging.
As to its performers, the play is a tour de force for the estimable Swoosie Kurtz, who in effect gives us six clearly differentiated portrayals. She plays both twins at three phases of their lives, with a variety of hilarious hairstyles (courtesy of Bobby Miller). And both Mo Gaffney and Mandy Siegfried, in cross-gender roles, add sizzle to the proceedings.
Rollin' on the T.O.B.A.
Reviewed by Cindy Nemser
Presented by John Grimaldi, Ashton Springer, and Frenchmen Productions, Inc., at the 47th St. Theatre, 304 W. 47th St., Jan. 28-March 14; reopens at a theatre and time TBA.
If you want to get a glimpse of black vaudeville in its purist form, "Rollin' on the T.O.B.A." is one show you won't want to miss. T.O.B.A. stands for Theatre Owners Booking Association, which was the circuit of more than 80 theatres where incredibly talented and original performers like Bill "Bojangles" Robinson plied their trade, even as they were exploited by their white employers. Conceived by Ronald "Smokey" Stevens and Jaye Stewart, with excepts from "The Simple Stories," by Langston Hughes, this affectionate review offers a cornucopia of comic sketches, sassy songs, and eye-catching dance numbers.
Emulating past performers, the principals of T.O.B.A.‹Rudy Roberson (Stewart), Ronald "Smokey" Stevens (Stevens), and Sandra Reaves-Phillips (Bertha Mae)‹spend their time either on the stage or on the train traveling all over the country. It is in the latter location that we get a glimmer of the tough times they endured‹in Georgia they could not get into the dining car for a meal. But all is not gloom, for onstage it is fun to revel in such raucous favorites as "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" and "One-Hour Mama." Reaves-Phillips is at her soulful best when she belts out "Take Me as I Am." Stevens and Robertson are no slouches either, as they slip and slide through their dances routines, do a priceless pantomime routine as poker players, and extract every nugget of humor out of "Huggin' and Chalkin'. " Some of the routines are hilarious, as when Stevens and Robertson come to realize that white folks aren't ready for integration because they don't have soul food on their menus.
David Alan Bunn adds to the fun by playing a mean piano, and Michele Reisch's costumes add even more razzle-dazzle to a show already brimful of sparkle.
Pat Hall & Pam Patrick: (under) Cover Girls
Reviewed by Lisa Jo Sagolla
Presented by and at Dance Theater Workshop, 219 W. 19th St., NYC, Feb. 9-10, 18-19, 27-28.
Choreographer Pat Hall and singer-drummer Pam Pat-rick's collaborative work "(under) Cover Girls," presented at Dance Theater Workshop, offers an evening of fascinating music and enthusiastically performed African-style dancing. Written and directed by Valeria Vasilevski, and conceived by Hall, Patrick, and Gayle Rozie-Green, the work uses dialogue, songs, and movement to explore young women's experiences with menstruation, parents, ethnicity, and identity. Though its premise is well taken‹that the "perfect" beauty of the media's cover-girl images can create damaging feelings of inferiority and confuse young girls' developing self-identities‹the ideas are communicated in an unimaginative fashion that proves dull rather than thought provoking.
The production's music, however, is phenomenal and powerfully propels the piece. The combination of instruments is intriguing‹a female voice, a cello, and an array of African drums and percussion instruments. They set a somber tone in an opening selection featuring beautifully groaning cello sounds, raise the roof with exhilarating jamming, and brilliantly transform into a boogie-woogie jazz combo with the cello played pizzicato like a stand-up bass, and brushes swooshing across drumheads and cymbals.
Hall is a comely performer who dances an alluring solo, with sensuous arms, slinky torso moves, and rapid spins. Her choreography, however, focuses predominantly on body moves‹most of which are familiar African steps‹and lacks craft or invention in its overall visual design. The ensemble is either scattered about the stage, dancing non-locomotor unison phrases for extended periods or moving in flat, straight lines and predictable couplings.
The uninteresting choreography is performed by dancers who have been students in Hall's community movement classes. One suspects Hall to be a wonderful teacher, as all her dancers move with a joyous confidence and commitment, while some display advanced levels of technical skill.
The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers
Reviewed by Lisa Jo Sagolla
Presented by and at Theater for the New City, 155 First Ave., NYC, Jan. 15-24.
You probably don't think of New York City as a hotbed of American Indian culture, but thanks to the tireless preservation and teaching efforts of Louis Mofsie, artistic director of The Thunderbird American Indian Dancers, New Yorkers can meaningfully experience the Native American dance tradition. Mofsie's company presented its 36th annual concert and pow-wow at Theater for the New City.
It's a fascinating evening of Native dances framed by Mofsie's narration, which provides a wealth of engrossing contextual information about each dance.
Neatly divided into four sections, the program offers dances from the Northwest Coast, the Iroquois, the Southwest, and the Plains. The highlights include Ray Black Feather's intricate hoop dance and a tricky contest dance that requires a man to lift a tiny feather from the floor with his mouth, without touching the ground with his hands, knees, or elbows. The concert climaxes with a thrilling "Fancy Dance" in which a soloist astounds the spectators with the speed and intensity of his wild movements.
The program also includes "Wanbalee," choreographer Michael Taylor's keen juxtaposition of the Hopi Eagle Dance and softly lyrical modern dance. Two men, dramatically costumed in Hopi regalia, execute the traditional Native steps while modern dancers Maura Lee and Mikako use the broader kinesthetic range of their dance form to enlarge and embroider the symbolic eagle moves and postures. Their expansive, gloriously danced movements winningly complement the strength and clarity of the more restricted Native vocabulary. The four dancers graciously share the space, each respectfully aware of, but not altered by, the others' energies.
When audience members were invited to join in a round dance, numerous participants leapt to their feet with surprising alacrity and snaked their way around the floor with an array of personally improvised movement choices. One man married a Hora-like grapevine step to the native drumbeat while another hunched over and hopped in an enthusiastic rendition of American Indian choreography seemingly acquired from a Hollywood "western."
Congratulations to Mofsie and his company for keeping Native American culture alive in Gotham!
Avila/Weeks Dance Enwrapture
Reviewed by Phyllis Goldman
Self-presented at Joyce Soho, 155 Mercer St., NYC, Jan. 28-30.
Since 1991, Homer Avila and Edisa Weeks have labored steadily and steadfastly at choreography, and recently presented the fruits of that labor in the Joyce Soho theatre‹a simple, elegant space to show dance. Their concert was an endearing culmination of their efforts.
The couple has an odd twist to play on. She is quite tall and slim, and moves with a flowing ease. (I hope she is not wedded to the dyed cherry-red hair which detracts mightily from her natural beauty.) Avila is her counterpart‹small and sinewy, darting around the stage with an eagerness and zest that form his winning presence.
Six pieces were on the bill. Some proved more successful than others, but each had a life of its own and showed implicit thought.
"Caught in Thermidor's Twilight," a duet choreographed for Richard Rivera and Leonora Stapleton, began with Stapleton jumping to Rivera's shoulders. It was a startling beginning, and the first few minutes let the viewer feast on Stapleton's mastery of movement. She can walk to the drugstore and make it a memorable moment. However, the piece was much too long, and ideas began to diminish. Both dancers were completely at home with the demands of the choreography, but at a certain point the dance had no place to go. Then repetition and filler steps took over, and the piece lost its importance.
"Dubious Faith" began with Avila as the preacher silently spouting his words of fire and brimstone (an inspiring text by James Joyce), with arm and hand choreography that was like audacious signing. He fought against the spell of the delicious Weeks, who did not let a turned-around collar deter her. This narrative of seduction-of-prophet-into-sinner took a grand shape without being melodramatic. Weeks undresses the holy man, shapes his jacket into a crucifix on the floor, pinioning it with two wine goblets. Then she lifts the shamed man, carrying him upside down to eternity.
The closing piece, "Everlasting," to a hammering Philip Glass score, was framed with stops, starts, directional shifts, and a cunning geometric maze created by the dancers. The absence of wing space at the Joyce Soho added an extra layer, as the dancers are seen waiting for their cues in full view of the audience.
Reviewed by Cindy Nemser
Presented by the Worth Street Theater Company, at the Tribeca Playhouse, 111 Reade St., Jan. 15-Feb. 15.
Jeff Cohen has adapted Georg Büchner's "Woyzeck" into a searing indictment against racism in a new work titled "Whoa-Jack!" Episodic in structure and at times disjointed, this play, which is also directed by Cohen, still has power to kindle strong feelings as it recounts the events that lead up to its tragic denouement.
The action has been relocated to an army base in Alabama, circa 1960, and tells the story of Private Jackson, who is betrayed by his mistress and ultimately destroyed by the white officers. He is also subjected to medical experimentation by a callous doctor, which conjures up the infamous Tuskegee syphilis experiments. Throughout the play Jackson is haunted by the specter of the cruel lynchings of the Ku Klux Klan. He senses all too clearly that he, too, will share this fate. Commenting on the events is singer Queen Esther, who gives moving renditions of classic blues numbers such as "Solitude," "Strange Fruit," and "God Bless the Child." Steve Bargonetti and Diane Gioia also provide appropriate original music.
Though "Whoa-Jack!" is well written, the acting leaves something to be desired. Michael D. Brown as Jackson is not strong enough to garner the emotional weight needed to make this tragic hero a significantly poignant figure. He is also difficult to understand at times and so we miss some of the most significant monologues in the play. Genie Sloan (Mary) tends to overact in her dual roles of femme fatale and victim. Peter Shaw as the white major who beds Mary is right in character but he, too, swallows his words. The best performances are by Roy Barnitt as a hateful colonel who constantly needles Jackson and Andy (Marcuis W. Harris), who tries to hold the private back from the abyss that lies in wait for him.
Nina Winthrop & Dancers
Reviewed by Lisa Jo Sagolla
Self-produced under the administration of Danspace Project, at St. Mark's Church, 131 E. 10th St., NYC, Feb. 11-14.
Nina Winthrop's choreography makes emotions visible. Presented through Danspace Project's DANCE: Access series at St. Mark's Church, Winthrop's intensely psychological work is ingeniously nestled within lulling sound environments that hold us captive. The internally focused dancing of her commendable performers also proves riveting.
In the hour-long solo "Stalling Into Elation," Amanda Loulaki responds organically to invisible forces that surround her body and disturb her psyche. As the unsettling energies assault and tug at her‹bending her torso or yanking at her elbows‹she reaches, stretches, gazes, pulls, and punches, making moves that seem too real to be labeled dance or choreography. They are physicalizations of a personal struggle against relentless currents of emotions.
Loulaki is a warm mover who elicits deep empathy. Unfortunately, pitted against the power of her live performing presence, the videotaped images of Loulaki's dancing projected behind her look flat and gimmicky. The live saxophone accompaniment, however, composed and performed by Jon Gibson, is yummy, its strident, wailing tones comfortingly complemented by a recorded score of low, rumbling sounds.
In "Three Lives and Something" four dancers, moving in parallel lines, each execute individual task-driven choreographies that are too engrossing! Rarely do the dancers work in unison, yet their distinct phrases cannot be observed simultaneously. Their movements conjure absorbing scenarios from which you are disinclined to avert your eyes. One grows repeatedly angry at having spent too much time with one dancer whose intriguing motions have caused you to miss lots of other good stuff. Alas, this piece must be seen four times‹one entire viewing for each dancer. In addition to the wonderful Loulaki, the cast includes Brad McKenzie, the sprightly Bou, and the manly Jennifer Nugent, a strong, engaging mover with an unusually pretty face. Again, Gibson provides enticingly soothing music, this time playing a bass flute on top of a recorded score of clinks, drips, and falling rain.
Reviewed by Victor Gluck
Presented by Roy Gabay and Ron Kastner, in The Famous Door Theatre Company (Chicago) production at the Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St., NYC. Opened Feb. 14 for an open run.
Although British playwright Jonathan Harvey's "Beauti-ful Thing" has already arrived on these shores in an acclaimed film, its original stage version is now reaching New York in a production by Chicago's Famous Door Theatre Company.
Constricted by its realistic setting designed by Robert G. Smith‹the front door stoops of three council flats in a working-class neighborhood of South East London‹the first act with its many blackouts is slow, and the British accents and slang are off-putting. However, by the second act the sensational ensemble acting directed by Gary Griffin and the subtle storytelling of this coming-out story becomes a beautiful thing.
Jamie, Leah, and Ste are teenagers from dysfunctional one-parent families who live next door to each other in May 1993. Leah has been kicked out of school and hasn't found a job. Jamie refuses to attend gym class and fights with his barmaid mother, and Ste, an athlete, must deal with daily beatings from his alcoholic father and abusive brother. When friendship between the boys turns to love, Ste has the bigger problem of dealing with the repercussions of having his family find out.
In the central role of Jamie, red-haired Matt Stinton, a brilliant mimic, is wonderfully able to shift mood on the rollercoaster of his life. Daniel Eric Gold is heart-breaking as the inarticulate, confused Ste. No less remarkable is Susan Bennett's Leah, who worships the Mamas and the Papas and sits around drinking and dabbling in drugs.
Kirsten Sahs, who won Chicago's Joseph Jefferson Award for Best Actress with this subtle performance, plays Jamie's mother‹a woman in her 30s hiding her needs and unhappiness under a rough exterior. No less moving is Kurt Brocker, as the sensitive 27-year-old painter who loves her more than she loves him.
Rigg on RADA
Dame Diana Rigg was nominated earlier this year for an Olivier Award for her performances in "Britannicus" and "Phedre," at London's Almeida theatre. She attended RADA in the 1950s.
"There were those on scholarships, like me, who could not have afforded to go otherwise, and there were some whom you felt had made a choice between Constance Spry [noted flower arranger, 1886-1960] and RADA, and regarded the place rather as a finishing school.
"We had voice, verse, fencing, and movement lessons. I couldn't wait to get out and act. My instincts were right because you learn most when you are surrounded by people who are better than you.
"We just had to accept what we were told and, in a sense, acting is not really like that. You have to distil for yourself, use what is valuable for you and discover it for yourself.
"For sheer fun we went to coffee bars. Somebody would be playing a guitar, and we'd sit on cushions on the floor, and not a joint in sight. It was pre-drugs. [Tutor Wini-fred Oughton] said I didn't have a vestige of talent and the best thing I could do was find another job. My parents were very upset, but I just thought she was an old bag."
RADA on Acting
Before you pay your fee to audition for a British drama school, you could do a lot worse than buy a new book‹"Teach Yourself Acting," by Ellis Jones, vice-principal of RADA. It's the only book aimed at both Brits and Americans who want to study in the U.K.
Jones is a former actor and has worked not only in theatre, but also on screen and radio. He answers most of the questions you may be asking yourself, for example, "What can I expect from training?" and "How important is the choice of audition material?" He even shows you how to lay out your first C.V. (resume). There's a glossary of technical terms and 13 pages of contact addresses.
"Teach Yourself Acting" is now on sale in the U.S., or write to NTC/Contemporary Publishing Company, 4255 W. Touhy Ave., Lincolnwood, Chicago, IL 60646-1975.
Caesar and Cleopatra
Reviewed by Irene Backalenick
Presented by the Jean Cocteau Repertory, at the Bouwerie Lane Theatre, NYC, Jan. 15-March 6.
Once again, that incomparable husband-wife team of the Jean Cocteau Repertory, Craig Smith and Elise Stone, have carried it off. They have turned George Bernard Shaw's "Caesar and Cleopatra" into a delightful romp, as it was meant to be, without ever sacrificing its more-serious meanings. The astute observations on the nature of man are all there, seasoned and salted by humor. Words tumble out, particularly in a lengthy prologue by the Egyptian God Ra (delivered painlessly by Harris Berlinsky). But then Shaw gets down to business, opening with the wonderful Sphinx scene. Stone is revealed as a kittenish Cleopatra, in hiding from the Roman invaders whom she believes will eat her. She meets and confides in an unknown stranger (Smith as Caesar), who comforts her. In no time, the young girl and middle-aged man are the best of friends. It begins a relationship in which he will become advisor, mentor, friend, lover.
Director Robert Hupp (the Cocteau's artistic director) sets this play in Shaw's own time, which emphasizes its wry Shavian outlook. Robert Klingelhoefer's set also reflects that era, more Victorian than Pharaonic. Margaret McKowen's costumes, too, are intriguingly turn-of-the-century. Smith strides on stage, looking dapper in an African explorer's attire, and later garbed as a dashing 19th-century soldier.
This Caesar is not the heroic figure of Shakespeare's tragedy, but rather a Shavian man, one to whom we can relate even today. This is a complex Caesar, neither good nor evil, but with traits which serve both himself and the Roman Empire. Craig Smith gives the character full measure, endowing him with wisdom, wit, and dignity‹but with shrewdness and selfishness as well. Intellectually, he towers above his subordinates and offers a sharp contrast to the childish Cleopatra who will mature under his instruction.
Though Stone is no 14-year-old in real life, she can portray any age believably. And this time around she is a luscious teenager, trembling on the brink of womanhood. Others in the cast who give solid portrayals are Harris Berlinsky (who plays Cleo's foolish tutor, when he is not Ra), and Christopher Black as the stodgy Britannicus.