at the Music Box Theatre
When I saw Festen in London two years ago, it blasted the back of my head off. David Eldridge's searing stage version of the Dogme film took a potentially seamy dysfunctional-family story and made it a riveting exposé of shattered trust and fragmented relations. Set on Ian MacNeil's artfully minimalist set, Rufus Norris' highly theatrical production conveys a mad celebration ripped apart by a painful secret. A psychologically blighted son confronts his dominating father and negligent mother with the history of abuse he and his twin sister—who has recently committed suicide—have suffered. Traditional, silly songs and merry toasts are employed to cover up the truth, but the past is painfully confronted in a gut-wrenching climax.
The American transfer retains Norris' entrancing staging, which still possesses the power to mesmerize. Multiple locations within a large Danish hotel are skillfully conveyed, and in one expertly paced sequence the action in three different rooms occurs simultaneously. Norris perfectly focuses the dinner table scenes so we're never confused as to where to look or who is who, even with a dozen actors on stage.
While the technical elements of Festen have weathered the transatlantic crossing, the play has lost some emotional baggage at customs. Perhaps it's because the American cast had only the standard few weeks' rehearsal and previews before critics were allowed in, while the British cast had been performing together for months when I attended. Maybe the Broadway company will grow stronger after more time together. But at the press performance I attended, they had not coalesced into a believable family.
Michael Hayden effectively embodies the broken spirit of the damaged son, Christian, but he starts out as a haunted zombie. With nowhere to go, his performance is one-note. Larry Bryggman gets the jolly surface of the overbearing father, but he fails to suggest the monstrous ego lurking beneath. Ali MacGraw, making her Broadway debut, is stiff and bland as the mother. Her only brief moment of depth comes when she finally accepts the reality of her son's accusations. Jeremy Sisto and Carrie Preston engage in shouting matches as a bickering couple without establishing the connection that holds them together. Julianna Margulies acquits herself brilliantly as she reveals the evidence verifying Christian's claims of abuse. Among the supporting players, David Patrick Kelly stands out as an endearing hypochondriac who has a complaint for every occasion.
As in London, Jean Kalman's spectral lighting augments MacNeil's set. Paul Arditti's evocative sound design and Orlando Gough's haunting music effectively add resonance, a quality woefully absent among too many of the cast.
> > > > > Reviewed by David Sheward
at the Cherry Lane Theatre
Three blue-collar buddies in a working-class town—inseparable since childhood—find themselves on different sides of the picket line when the union calls a strike at their factory.
That, in a nutshell, is the outline of On the Line, Joe Roland's new play in which he also stars as Dev, the most hot-headed of the affectionately self-described Unholy Trinity of No Good, which includes David Prete as dedicated father Mikey and John Zibell as college-educated Jimmy. Sound performances are delivered by all.
The trio works on the assembly line all day. At night they down beer, ogle women, and watch football. You can predict that the warm affability in the first act will turn contentious in the second, and it does. Jimmy and Mikey seem more level-headed than the feisty Dev, but they are approached individually for management jobs, a prospect Dev finds tantamount to betrayal. "You don't bet against the home team," he declares later, the metaphor defining his unwavering loyalty to the workers.
All three actors studied with Mike Nichols, the lead producer, and the play comes with his hearty endorsement. In the press materials, the famous producer-director praises the play for its timeliness. Sure enough, the situation and the portrayal of corporate management as callous and unyielding seem true to the headlines.
But friends torn apart by conflicting values is an oft-dramatized device, and one misses a deeper resonance here. The conceit of having the actors speak to unseen characters offstage introduces a level of artifice at odds with the otherwise realistic presentation. The Mamet-like expletives are plentiful and the dialogue salty, prompting the woman behind me to remark dismissively, "This is a guy play."
Still, she stuck it through, and, indeed, for all the familiarity of the play's themes, Peter Sampieri's taut direction and Roland's eventful narrative are absorbing. The refurbished, much-improved Cherry Lane Theatre gets an unqualified thumbs-up.
> > > > > Reviewed by Harry Forbes