Thursday, January 08, 2009

Lloyd Rose

See more articles from The Washington Post

Holmes: Not So Elementary; Why It's So Hard to Play This Baker St. Irregular

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
March 1, 1998
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Sir Arthur Conan Doyle wasn't a genius but in Sherlock Holmes he created one, arguably the only convincing genius in literature other than Hamlet. The swiftness of Holmes's mind, his ability to think outside conventional boundaries, his uncanny alertness to detail all impress us as the real stuff -- we recognize his brilliance. We also recognize his artistic personality: the indifference to worldly fame, the amoral delight in a difficult case, the vanity, the moodiness, the occasional nervous collapse.

Though Holmes is the hero of a series of melodramas, he has the emotional complexity of a character from a great novel. This has tended to flummox actors; they have a hard time adapting such a rich figure to the simple needs of an adventure story.

Between Basil Rathbone's smooth intellectual in the '40s movies and Jeremy Brett's damaged artist in the '80s television series, an actor tends to come down on one side of Holmes or the other: the gent or the eccentric, the reasoner or the artist, the perfect Victorian or the edgy neurotic. The Holmes stories have, rightly I think, been called modern fairy tales, but their central character has a mortal weight, touched by the withering breath of reality. It's disconcerting but not exactly a surprise to discover that Holmes fits with textbook exactitude the clinical definition of schizotypal personality disorder: emotionally avoidant, mind-centered, capable of creating thought systems so abstract they're next door to paranoid delusion. Yet this genius polymath loner, this fellow who, when he's not on a case, lies around on the settee shooting cocaine into himself and bullets into the wall, can be dressed up and taken out without a qualm, for he has perfect manners, a stout conscience and a passion for knowledge and order -- for knowledge as a way of achieving order -- that makes him the quintessential Victorian gentleman. The extreme contrasts of Holmes's personality would be pathological in an actual person, and Doyle gave a nod to reality by endowing his detective with symptoms of manic-depression -- bouts of dulled lethargy alternating with fits of inspired energy. (Doyle knew what he was writing about: His dreamy, artistic, idle father, Charles, spent his life in and out of mental hospitals and alcoholic nursing homes.) The movie Holmes -- as epitomized by Rathbone, the most famous one -- has usually been in the benign rather than the troubled mold, but interestingly enough the first dramatization of the character had definite shadows. In 1897, the American actor William Gillette reworked Doyle's draft of the play "Sherlock Holmes" into a starring vehicle for himself and, just as Eugene O'Neill's father spent decades playing the Count of Monte Cristo, toured as Holmes for nearly 30 years. A handsome, craggy man, Gillette wanted a romantic role, and his scripted Holmes shows Byronic traces of brooding melancholy. Contemporary photographs of Gillette in the part show him staring with burning gaze into space, no doubt meditating on the loneliness of genius. (When the Royal Shakespeare Company triumphantly revived the play in the mid-1970s, John Wood, in the lead, followed Gillette's path -- reviews described his Holmes as "haunted and steely." At the time, Wood reckoned that he was the 109th actor to play the character.) Gillette defined Holmes for generations of theatergoers -- and for readers as well, since the American illustrator for the stories took the actor as his model. But until Brett's iconoclastic seizure of the role in the '80s television series, the most familiar Holmes was Rathbone's. Rathbone certainly looked the part, all nose and forehead, and he clipped off his syllables with a guillotine snap. Rathbone was hampered by generally mediocre scripts and the moviemakers' concept of Dr. Watson (the blithering Nigel Bruce) as an imbecile. But even ignoring these problems, his Holmes isn't altogether satisfying. There's something irritating about the way he always seems to be smiling condescendingly down at the semi-moronic Watson. This Holmes is too often a smug know-it-all, honoring foolish mortals with his presence. The nasty satirical takes on Holmes -- from Peter Cook in "The Hound of the Baskervilles" (1977) to Frank Langella in the play "Sherlock's Last Case" (1987) -- aren't really responses to Doyle's Holmes, a briskly comic creation and not without his own satirical wit, but to Rathbone's superior smirk as he explains why he knows more than anyone else in the room. In the end, there is just something too bland about Rathbone; he makes you understand what a deadly adjective "overcivilized" is. In the 1970s, for the BBC, the diminutive English actor Peter Cushing jerked the character in a whole other direction. Rathbone glided in the part; Cushing had a tendency to bounce. Though he possessed the requisite beaky profile for the role, Cushing's appearance and manner were somewhat elflike. He was always popping up at people and rattling off their darkest secrets to them, then bounding away in search of new clues. This Holmes has to have had the shortest attention span of any portrayal on record -- pixilated by his own astonishing thought processes, he hardly noticed where he was or to whom he was talking as he raced his deductions down. Cushing was a little odd, but he remains the only actor who really captured Holmes's blithe eccentricity, his gaiety and wit. Otherwise, the post-Rathbone Holmeses were rather a dreary lot. Holmes is a wittily conceived and written character; he has a lot of style. This seemed to intimidate a lot of actors (perhaps they thought playing style would make them too "actory"), who watered the character down to very weak tea indeed. In "Murder by Decree" (1979), Christopher Plummer, on the trail of Jack the Ripper and scandal in high places, was purse-lipped, moist-eyed and indignant, a '60s moral scold taking on the Establishment. Robert Stephens, often a fine actor, played Holmes as a tentative and unhappy homosexual in Billy Wilder's misguided "The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes" (1970). Stephens moped around, and instead of appearing incisive merely looked worried. In 1965's "A Study in Terror," John Neville (who succeeded John Wood on Broadway) looked the role but was little more than active and well-meaning. Surprisingly,even Ian Richardson, an actor with enough edge to slice a diamond -- he was Francis Urquhart, the villainous politician of English TV's "House of Cards" and "To Play the King" -- blunted his characterization of Holmes. Richardson sat back in his armchair and smiled a lot in the most genial manner imaginable. Holmes is meant to have been an accomplished chemist, but Richardson's portrayal suggested that somehow, a century early, the character had discovered Prozac. Holmes'sdrug of choice, of course, wasn't something that would mellow him out but a stimulating shot of cocaine. In the 1976 film "The Seven Percent Solution," the erratically brilliant actor Nicol Williamson played the comedy of Holmes's dazzlingly swift thoughts as a cocaine high. The conceit of Nicholas Meyer's charming book was that the archfiend Moriarty was only a creation of Holmes's drug-fueled psychosis, and that the great detective of crime had to be cured by the great detective of the mind, Sigmund Freud. The volatile Williamson was born to play psychotics, but his portrayal of Holmes is gentle and discreetly comic. Even after Holmes has recovered his health, Williamson plays him as faintly out of it, like an absent-minded professor. He's the first actor on film to suggest, however delicately, that Holmes pays a price for his genius. With the late Jeremy Brett's elegant, neurasthenic Holmes, that hint in Williamson's performance becomes the center of the character. A lot of Holmes fans dislike Brett's performance, finding it altogether too flamboyant and peculiar. Brett looks uncannily like the figure in the original Sidney Paget illustrations for the stories (on which the television series's art direction is based), but he brings something spidery and unhealthy to the role. Though he convinces you that Holmes is a genius, he also makes you suspect he's a little nuts. Brett's neurotic is definitely a Holmes for our time. If he's an antidote to the blandly well-meaning versions of the character, he's also a good deal stranger than the stories' Holmes. Brilliant as it is, Brett's characterization still comes down on one side of the simple psychological equation of melodrama: the nice guy or the crazy guy. But Holmes's force as an artistic creation -- and he's as vital as a character out of Dickens -- comes from the fact that his light and dark characteristics refuse to separate out. Holmes's literary contemporary Count Dracula wore elegant evening clothes into society but in private turned into a wolf or a bat. That paragon of virtue and service Dr. Jekyll periodically became the brutish Mr. Hyde. But Holmes never splits apart, and his unresolved tensions render him ambiguous and surprising as only the greatest literary characters are.

Cite this article

See more articles from The Washington Post

`Hamlet,' Cut To the Quick; Production Gives Prince a New Dimension

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
June 12, 1998
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Pale, indeed, as death, the white-faced, white-haired, black-suited ghost of Hamlet's father (Edward Petherbridge) materializes suddenly at the fancy wedding party of Hamlet's mother and uncle, frightening his son -- who has just been mocking Horatio's account of a supernatural visitation -- nearly into a fit. Educated, ironic and high-strung, Alex Jennings's Hamlet is unprepared to find himself thrust into a bloody, paranoid ghost-story-cum-melodrama. Petherbridge's ghost is hushed and mournful, almost diffident, as if the dead father senses that what he is going to ask of his son is far, far too much. And it is. Oh, it is.

The most anguished "Hamlet" I've ever seen, director Matthew Warchus's Royal Shakespeare Company production at the Kennedy Center unapologetically mucks about with the play. Borrowing the banquet appearance of Banquo's ghost from "Macbeth" and giving it to Hamlet Sr. is the least of Warchus's tricks. He's ripped out the whole political part of the play: no Fortinbras, no Norway, no "How all occasions do inform against me" soliloquy. The famous opening scene with its shivering soldier crying out the question that might define the whole evening -- "Who's there?" -- is gone. The play opens instead with Hamlet scattering his father's ashes, while on the scrim behind him a black-and-white movie -- family home movies? his private memories? -- flickers with the images of a little boy playing with his father in the snow.

The film footage, shot by Rik Statman, echoes the famous sequence from "Citizen Kane" of the child Kane playing in the snow just before he's taken from his mother (the two boys wear similar caps), and this production sets the play in the world of "Citizen Kane" -- that is to say, the high-bourgeois world of money and power in the capitalist age. (Mark Thompson's looming, austere sets, gothic-shadowed by lighting designer Hugh Vanstone, look like "Kane," too.) This is also the setting for Ibsen's dramas about family and its discontents, and on one level, Warchus's cuts reduce "Hamlet" to an Ibsen play, albeit the greatest one ever written. There has been a lot of critical squawking about this, but since in actual practice no production of "Hamlet" ever fully realizes more than an element or two of the play, there's something refreshing in the frank way Warchus has just cut out all the parts he didn't want to do and possibly couldn't have handled. There may be less of this "Hamlet," but what there is is all there. And anyway, on another level, the production is radically inclusive. With its glittering wedding celebration in a grand, corrupt house, its Claudius in a well-cut suit that can't disguise his thuggishness, its Ophelia in a white slip and red heels crawling around the floor to pick up her antipsychotic pills, its play-within-a-play shadow-projected onto a sheet, and those fitful, flickering images of the child prince and his dad, this "Hamlet" takes place in The Movies -- gangster films, swank musicals, female sob stories, even horror films, a world of props and manners we instantly recognize. As this common cultural reference for the audience fuses with the play, the production expands into the Eisenhower Theater like an explosion in slow motion. The evening is full of images that freeze in your memory as if caught by a flash: Hamlet staring, stricken, over his gun at the praying Claudius; Hamlet scrunched childlike on the floor of his mother's bedroom, gazing at his mother (Susannah York) and his father's ghost as if at some inner vision of Oedipal guilt; the snow falling softly in the churchyard where Ophelia's body will be laid (never mind that it would be too cold in Denmark to dig a grave in the frozen earth); Hamlet talking to Rosencrantz and Guildenstern and the Player King in the cold attic at Elsinore, where he has gone to ruminate, amid the suitcases and packing boxes, upon suicide ("To be or not to be" having been moved from Act 2 to Act 3); Ophelia, prostrate on the floor after vomiting, croaking reassuringly, "All will be well." It's an advantage that the lanky, boyishly handsome Jennings looks as if he could play P.G. Wodehouse's famous twit Bertie Wooster. Life is proverbially a tragedy to those who feel and a comedy to those who think, and Hamlet is the stage's greatest thinker. Among his other achievements, Jennings is brilliant at bringing Hamlet's ruminations into the theatrical present so that the character is constantly discovering things rather than just delivering words of wisdom -- "There are more things in heaven and earth . . ." -- to the unenlightened. With Jennings, this restless, febrile intelligence becomes a torment, subjecting Hamlet to an onslaught of complexities thick and biting as gnats. By the play's end, when he seems to have aged 10 years, you've watched the youth ravaged from him drop by slow drop. Jennings is first among acting equals, what with David Ryall's bumbling but loving Polonius, Paul Freeman's tight-lipped, suspicious Claudius, York's grave, strong-minded Gertrude, Derbhle Crotty's shattered Ophelia, Alan David's merrily callous gravedigger, Colin Hurley's well-meaning, unimaginative Horatio, Rhashan Stone's slightly goofy Guildenstern, and Petherbridge's two wonderful performances as the Ghost and the quietly prickly Player King. The one place I thought Warchus went too far was in putting Hamlet in clown makeup to act as emcee at the play-within-the-play. It's theatrically justified, and it makes thematic sense -- but maybe too much thematic sense, as if the director were nudging us and saying, "Beckett! Get it?" We don't need this over-explaining, since Jennings already has made clear that perhaps the greatest source of Hamlet's agony is that he's a comic character -- witty, flexible, outside and above the action, disinclined to take anything, least of all himself, too seriously; uncommonly, skeptically, heartbreakingly sane -- who finds himself unaccountably stuck with the lead in a tragedy. Hamlet, by William Shakespeare. Directed by Matthew Warchus. Designed by Mark Thompson; lights, Hugh Vanstone (re-created for this tour by Geraint Pughe); music, Gary Yershon; sound, Paul Arditti; music direction, Richard Brown; assistant director, David Hunt; film sequence, Rik Statman for King Key Movies; fights, Terry King. With Jenifer Armitage, Richard Cant, Derek Ezenagu, William Houston, John Killoran, Syreeta Kumar, Toby Longworth. At the Kennedy Center through June 21. Call 202-467-4600.

See more articles from The Washington Post

Theater; Washington Shakespeare's Potent Brew of `Macbeth'

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
March 18, 1992
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

The Washington Shakespeare Company's "Macbeth," which opened Sunday at the Church Street Theatre, is sometimes powerful, sometimes pedestrian. In the title role, T J Edwards continues to demonstrate his almost uncanny sense of comfort in classical roles. They seem in some odd way to relax him: There's no pushing, no straining after effect; just a grounded, lived-in quality. His Macbeth isn't the rich and startling performance his Hamlet was last season, but it's passionate and fully thought out.

With its visions, doom and witchcraft, "Macbeth" is possibly Shakespeare's most superstitious play. Its plot closes darkly around the hero, who before his death is reduced to a hideous, iron-cold nihilism, which he articulates in the famous "Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow" soliloquy. Macbeth doesn't follow the arc of the average tragic hero: We don't really get to see the "good" Macbeth before he's rushing down the road to Hell, each murder making the next one easier, and each pushing his goal of secure power farther away. There's no conventional suspense; the moral horror just coils more and more tightly around you.

For his tragedy to play, Lear needs his daughters, his Fool, his Kent; Othello his Iago and Desdemona; Hamlet a whole cast of supporting characters. Macbeth needs only his Lady. This is fortunate, as the cast here is mixed, but Nanna Ingvarsson is a forceful and beautiful Lady Macbeth, urging her husband to spill blood and then shrinking back as he develops a taste for it. Vocally, she's outmatched by Edwards, who has a fine, resonant voice; hers is light, which diminishes the character's power in her arguments with her husband.

But the pair have several memorable scenes together. At one point, murder done, they sit center stage, the darkness looming around them, a knife, almost unnoticed, between them. And immediately after Macbeth kills the king, Lady Macbeth - her hands also bloody from planting the murder weapons on the sleeping guards - has to push her wild, distracted husband offstage without getting any telltale blood on either of them. It's a grim, absurd moment, and she reprises it, dreaming, in her sleepwalking scene.

The most extreme choice in the production was to make Banquo, Macbeth's fellow soldier whom he later has killed, female. This isn't completely off the rails - this production seems to be set in some barely Christian dark ages, a time when the Celtic tradition of women warriors wasn't yet completely forgotten. Kate Fleming is appealing and tomboyish in the role - you start wondering what her Rosalind might be like, or her Saint Joan. Jason Adams is a strong, reserved Macduff, Macbeth's nemesis. He's particularly good in the scene in which he tries to register that his family has been butchered; it takes him a painful, bewildered few moments to get it through his head.

Adams also designed the set: two levels, with an emphasis on triangular shapes and supports. The effect is rigidly geometric, rather stiff, but directors Brian Hemmingsen and Jim Stone use the levels and stage depth well, keeping the action moving and achieving some impressive images, such as Macbeth speaking to the Weird Sisters out of a fog, or King Duncan sleeping and then dying in an abstract space where the rules of up and down are suspended.

In general, Hemmingsen and Stone's direction is assured, with thought given to all the problems the text poses, and no sloppiness. They handle the Weird Sisters traditionally but effectively (Macbeth's second visit to them echoes Trevor Nunn's great l970s production at Stratford), emphasize the sexual strength of the Macbeths' marriage, bring out the pity in the murder of Macduff's wife and children. They're less successful in sorting out for the audience who all the supernumeraries are, or giving these characters' scenes much life. The production tends to slacken in places; it doesn't have the terrible, inevitable descent Shakespeare wrote.

David R. Zemmels's lighting is dramatic and expressionistic; Ron Ursano's sound effects sometimes work and sometimes, particularly when they cut off too quickly, don't. Joan Tamai-Smith and Mia Reeves have designed costumes that I hope owe most of their appearance to the Washington Shakespeare Company's relative poverty, since they're a hodgepodge of materials that verges on the humorous. Brad Waller has choreographed brief, believable fight scenes - always a challenge in Shakespeare.

This is far from a great "Macbeth," but it's full of ambition and intelligence, and in Shakespeare, that counts for a lot.

Macbeth, by William Shakespeare. Directed by Brian Hemmingsen and Jim Stone. Lights, David R. Zemmels; sound, Ron Ursano; set, Jason Adams; costumes, Joan Tamai-Smith and Mia Reeves. With T J Edwards, Nanna Ingvarsson, Jason Adams and Kate Fleming. At the Church Street Theatre through April 12.

Cite this article

See more articles from The Washington Post

Programs That Stole The Show; Some of Paris Theater's Best Lines Were Drawn

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
June 21, 1998
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

"Artists and the Avant-Garde Theater in Paris, 1887-1900," now at the National Gallery of Art, is a little curio of an exhibit: 67 theater programs illustrated by such artists as Toulouse-Lautrec, Munch, Bonnard and Vuillard. Only a real theater scholar will recognize even a small fraction of the plays featured by the Theatre Libre and the Theatre de L'Oeuvre as examples of that shocking new style, naturalism: serious dramas with titles such as "The Bankruptcy" and "His Wife's Lover," radical antidotes to the froth of mainstream Parisian theater.

Today, the earnest realism that was so progressive and threatening a century ago is considered old hat and slightly embarrassing, the stuff of TV movies. The surest way to bankrupt a theater? Put on an all-Ibsen season. Lo, how the riot-provoking have fallen. Though it's only fair to say that, at the time, the more poetic elements of staging were emphasized even for plays about real life, the theatrical avant-garde consisting mostly of Symbolists and anarchists.

At the Theatre Libre, the program illustrators were not required to provide drawings that had anything to do with the play. So Vuillard's illustration for "Monsieur Bute," a rather melodramatic folderol about a retired executioner driven to kill again, shows a peasant beneath a tree massaging the earth with his gnarled hands. Bonnard has designed a cover showing an epicene nude figure holding a mask of tragedy, leaving a space for information about whatever the play turns out to be. Theatre de L'Oeuvre preferred that the program covers have something to do with the play. This resulted in a lot of rather muddy covers by Vuillard for a number of Ibsen plays. But it was for Theatre de L'Oeuvre that the two most interesting programs in the exhibit were designed: Toulouse-Lautrec's witty line drawing of Oscar Wilde for "Salome," and Munch's drawing of Ibsen, looking like an Old Testament prophet with spectacles, for "John Gabriel Borkman." Not surprisingly, the best pieces in the show are by Toulouse-Lautrec, an appreciator of night-life and vulgar, exhibitionist energy. Most of the illustrators work in muted, "serious" colors, but Lautrec's palette is bold with reds, yellows and oranges. In his illustration of a woman in an opera box wearing an absurdly stylish black hat and peering through opera glasses, and another cover of a stylish couple, the woman massive and well-fed, leaving a restaurant to make the opening curtain, he captures the immediacy, excitement, transience, silliness and beauty that are such an inseparable and precious part of the theatrical experience.

See more articles from The Washington Post

The Studio's Irish Times

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
April 7, 1998
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

So far at least, it looks as if the Studio Theatre's second theater, the Milton, is going to be home to productions that feature outstanding central performances. We've had Sarah Marshall in "Sylvia" (as a dog) and in "Miss Margarida's Way" (as a wacko teacher), and now we have Ted van Griethuysen, stepping down from the Shakespeare Theatre stage and classical roles to give a superb rendering of the title role in "The Steward of Christendom."

When Joseph Appelt's bleak lights come up, van Griethuysen's Thomas Dunne is in an iron bed in a county insane asylum, dressed in dirty long johns, his mind wandering. The light almost makes a sculpture of van Griethuysen's remarkable face: the pale, heavy-lidded eyes that can be either reptilian or frighteningly vulnerable, the strong beak of a nose, the high forehead and cheekbones. He's shabby yet iconic -- the kind of actor Beckett must have had in mind when he wrote his airless, alienated comedies.

Sebastian Barry's play isn't Beckett. Though he's being praised as one of the new young Irish writers, everything in this play is familiar. Since 1916, there has been a single template Irish play (or movie) comprising The Troubles, religion, betrayal, guilt, redemption and family unhappiness. As Dunne's disordered mind roams his past, it's all here again. Though a Catholic, Dunne served Her Majesty's government as a member of the Dublin Metropolitan Police until power passed to the rebels Eamon De Valera and Michael Collins in 1922, at which point, offered a lesser post, Dunne resigned. His life became without meaning, and two of his three daughters fled his household, one to marriage, the other to America. Only the polio-crippled Annie (Holly Twyford) remained to comfort him. Any echoes of "King Lear" have to be accidental, since Dunne does nothing in particular to bring his sorrows on himself and learns no transcendent lessons. We understand that he feels deep guilt at having served what was largely the Protestant cause of union with England, but you'd have to know more about Irish history than any American audience is likely to know in order to understand what has happened to him. Names like De Valera, Collins, Robert Emmet and Larkin are thrown about, but even if you happen to read the program notes explaining who everyone is, the history remains convoluted and difficult to connect with Dunne. In the end, he mourns simply because it's his fate as an Irishman. Van Griethuysen is so good in the role that he almost -- not quite -- makes the slenderness of the script not matter. He shows reserves of tenderness here he's rarely gotten to express onstage before, and he plays madness lightly, with an innate sense of taste and believability. He finds the humor in the role, and in places he's piercingly poignant. This is van Griethuysen's first venture into a small performing space and a modern role, and one can only hope it's the first of many to come. Under Joy Zinoman's direction, the supporting cast is strong. But only Twyford is quite on van Griethuysen's level. Their scenes together have a power that reminds us of other, greater father-and-daughter plays. The Steward of Christendom, by Sebastian Barry. Directed by Joy Zinoman. Set, Russell Metheny; costumes, Helen Q. Huang; sound, Gil Thompson; music director, Elise Kress; props, Contessa Riggs. With Fidelma Murphy, Michael Goodwin, Scott Griswold, Elizabeth Pierotti, Jennifer Selby Albright, Patrick Clague, Neal Moran. At the Studio Theatre through May 3. Call 202-332-3300.

Cite this article

See more articles from The Washington Post

Theater; The Sins of `The Father'

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
February 14, 1992
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

August Strindberg's "The Father," which opened Wednesday in the Old Vat Room at Arena Stage, is the theater's masterpiece of misogyny and male self-pity. In Victorian-era Sweden, an army captain is at odds with his wife over how to educate their daughter. The battle is joined, and by play's end he's in a straitjacket, lured there by his loving old nanny, one of the many women who bedevil him.

To relatively cool heads, the hysteria of "The Father" is on the edge of being ridiculous, and director Douglas C. Wager has wisely found the humor in the piece. This deadly battle of the sexes has a comic element, particularly when one or the other of the warriors has sunk to some new low in dirty fighting: You laugh at how awful human nature can be and, by implication, how awful you might be, given the right - or wrong - domestic circumstances.

The play is weakest when the captain seems like an innocent victim and his wife a scheming devil-woman. This isn't an uncommonly held view of the sexes, and it isn't beyond the reach of art, either, but it's dull - the play is no longer about a struggle but about watching one character's machinations. And in spite of two fine central performances from Henry Strozier and Tana Hicken, Wager lets "The Father" tip in this direction. He gains something in macabre humor but loses a lot in complexity: A play that can hit you like a bullet just pelts you with a few stones.

Strindberg is an artist rather than a ranter because in the center of his work there isn't some prim certainty but a fearful unknowingness. "The Father" is full of things that make your teeth grind, such as the Captain's sneering at female abolitionists and declaring that they want to free the black slaves but husbands, the "white slaves," "must be enchained forever." How sorry for himself can a guy feel? But Strindberg sets up ambiguities too, and in these areas the play is really disturbing.

To what extent is the Captain right about his wife's plotting, and to what extent has he made it all up? Even he isn't sure. Does the wife have a point about the daughter's education (she wants her to pursue her painting) or is the father correct (he believes she has no talent and should become a teacher)? Strindberg won't let us know. The underlying horror of the script is the wife's awful innocence - she destroys her husband unwittingly, wielding the weapons that come to hand. If she seems to be a mere monster, you can always believe that if he had married someone else things might not have gone so badly. But if women and men are indeed, as the Captain claims, from different species, there's no way out - the love-match of man and woman is bound to turn into a coupling from hell.

Strozier gives a strong, moving performance as the Captain, a man swallowed alive by the women upon whom he is so needily dependent. Reserved in his suffering, Strozier makes the Captain sympathetic without sentimentalizing him. He does a masterly acting job in a difficult role. The problem with the characterization is that there are no arrows in the Captain's quiver. It's one thing for him to be outmatched by his wife, and another for him to be helpless from the start. If he can't fight back, there's no fight, just a rout.

Pale, her mouth set bitterly, Hicken is a formidable opponent as the wife, Laura. As she showed in "The Cherry Orchard," Hicken can convey frightening, unfathomable female strength, and she understands as an actress how to play weakness as powerful. Hicken very carefully shades Laura so that we can see her doubts and hesitations, her surprise at her own power, but it isn't enough. There's no vulnerability in her; she never takes a hit. And Wager has set her up so that she appears to be a duplicitous schemer rather than single-minded and desperate.

The setup - and the consequential tilting of the production - comes in a single, key scene. In an earlier quarrel, the Captain has argued that a man can never be sure he is the father of his child, and she has disagreed. Later, to get to him, she throws his own argument in his face and declares that, by his reasoning, he can't know if his daughter is really his. Wager stages these gibes of hers seductively - she strikes her last blow while stretched on a chaise longue, her eyes fierce and knowing. From this point on, all ambiguity is gone - you have to believe that she betrayed him and is manipulating him.

Wager hasn't given the actors in the smaller roles much guidance either. Terrence Currier is a cipher as the wife's brother, a pastor, who criticizes her to her husband behind her back. As the doctor who is drawn into the couple's death-battle, David Marks gives no indication of why the character should allow himself to be used as a weapon by first one side, then the other. What is the doctor getting out of this, anyway? Or is he just another helpless (undramatic) victim? Only June Hansen, as the Captain's boyhood nanny, captures the chilling paradox at the play's center - when she destroys her former charge, it's out of genuine love.

As a curtain-raiser, Laurence Maslon has directed Strindberg's one-act "The Stronger," a power struggle between two actresses in which one does all the talking and the other scores points with her calculated silence. Pamela Nyberg plays the talker amusingly, but all on the surface - you're not sure why she starts and then continues an attempted conversation that she suspects will reveal her husband's infidelity. Jurian Hughes is feline and delightful as the listener, and it's impressive to see her a few minutes later in "The Father" playing a confused young girl. The most interesting thing about the piece is that it's pretty clearly the inspiration for Ingmar Bergman's "Persona."

Doing Strindberg in the intimate space of the Old Vat was an inspired idea - you're up close to hot emotions. Marina Draghici's settings are beautiful yet somehow a little eerie, and Marjorie Slaiman has designed exquisite gowns for the women and a fine suit for the doctor (the hems of the Captain's and the pastor's coats aren't well sewn). The production certainly plays as Wager directs it; it's just not the great play that Strindberg wrote. The terror of confusion and uncertainty, the possibility of what passes for love doing hideous harm - all these are missing. You're watching a very well-written melodrama.

The Father, by August Strindberg, translated by John Osborne. Directed by Douglas C. Wager. Sets, Marina Draghici; lights, Kevin J. Lawson; costumes, Marjorie Slaiman; sound, Robin M. Heath. With Henry Strozier, Tana Hicken, Terrence Currier, John Leonard Thompson, David Marks, June Hansen, Jurian Hughes. And The Stronger, adapted and directed by Laurence Maslon. With Jurian Hughes, Pamela Nyberg, June Hansen. At Arena Stage, in the Old Vat Room, through April 5.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

*
MLA
*
Chicago
*
APA



See more articles from The Washington Post

Godot Watch Continues, With a Smile

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
September 8, 1998
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

"We're waiting for GOD-o," says Vladimir, reversing the traditional pronunciation of the name (i.e., God-O), and that's not the only freshness in the Studio Theatre's production of "Waiting for Godot." Samuel Beckett's legendary absurdist play about two bums waiting for a guy who never shows up has been interpreted as being about many things. This is not only the funniest production I've seen, it's the most theatrical, exploring the waiters' existential predicament in terms of the possibilities and limitations of performance.

In a countryside whose dull waste is relieved by just one tree, Vladimir (Thomas W. Jones II) and Estragon (Donald Griffin) wait for Mr. Godot to come. Vladimir and Estragon are conceived as opposites: the mind and the emotions, the introvert and the extrovert, the dreamer and the rationalist, the neurotic and the phlegmatic. They're the ultimate comedy team, twin artists (in homage to historical black vaudevillians, they wear faint, pale versions of the clown-mouths of traditional blackface). In this production they perform routines so they can forget that they are nobody and nowhere. Jones's Vladimir in particular is desperately manic, as if the character feared stillness or silence, as if it were the same as death.

Sometimes Jones's capers are less about Vladimir's reacting to his predicament and more about the actor's charming the audience. But at his best, Jones pops out of the script and comments on it in a way that calls to mind Groucho stepping to the camera during a dull movie scene and advising the audience to go out for a smoke: "I have to stay here, but you don't." And at the end, when it comes home to Vladimir that he does have to stay in this nowhere-here, Jones has the depth to make us feel his awful emptiness.

Griffin's Estragon is the non-showoff of the characters, a man who conserves his energy (he's the only one we see sleep). While everyone else is frenziedly doing something, he just tries to get by, possibly because he understands the futility of the situation: "There's no lack of void." Griffin is a naturalistic actor of such grace that his ordinariness often shades into the poetic, and he is always surprising. The least flashy performance, his is in some ways the richest.

On this particular day, after filling up time with the usual jokes and squabbles, our heroes encounter two other wayfarers: the bullying, pretentious Pozzo (Michael Tolaydo) and his slave Lucky (Hugh Nees). Pozzo and Lucky are the most easily understandable elements in the play: the master and the slave, the capitalist and the worker, the rich man and the poor man, sane mediocrity and crazed genius. With a subtlety worthy of one of Genet's political plays, Beckett makes Pozzo strangely vulnerable to his suffering possession, whose very subservience frightens him.

Tolaydo's Pozzo is an ingratiating fellow, eager to impress his new friends and dying for a chance to perform for a new audience. Tolaydo plays the role with delicacy -- he lets loose the ham that lurks inside him, then lightly, almost affectionately, parodies hamminess and shapes it into a performance. Hamming is an actor's desperate attempt to save himself by grabbing all the attention, and all the attention is exactly what Pozzo wants. Like any great performer, he flirts, he intrigues, he delights, he surprises, and he finally runs through his repertoire of tricks and is forced to hit the road once more.

The enigmatic Lucky is actually called upon to perform. He dances in a hideously awkward fashion, and also speaks -- a long logorrhea -- of words that finally jam up on one another. Lucky's speech is like the "word salad" of schizophrenia or a stammering attack of Tourette's syndrome. It veers from didactic formality to compulsive obscenity, desperate to communicate something but unable to clarify what.

In short, it's a brilliant but near-impossible piece of theater shtick, and Nees does wonders with it -- and with the whole difficult part. His actions and enunciations are precise, motivated. We may not know what Lucky is doing, but Nees makes clear that Lucky himself has a master plan, however incomprehensible. The character makes no sense, and yet we know him.

Director Joy Zinoman and designer Russell Metheny have set the play in a derelict drive-in theater, with its sense of vanished good times and illusions gone dark. Joseph Appelt movingly lights this un-place, and Fred Karns's music periodically underscores its loneliness. Helen Q. Huang's costumes are inventively shabby. In the tiny role of the boy who announces that Mr. Godot isn't coming, Jonathan P. LeFlore is unusually affecting.

Beckett wrote "Waiting for Godot" with the example of vaudeville comedy teams in mind, and fittingly enough the first American Estragon was the extraordinary vaudeville star Bert Lahr. A few years back, Lincoln Center pressed the point with a production that featured the famous funny men Steve Martin and Robin Williams as Vladimir and Estragon; reviews were polite but unenthusiastic. Zinoman's production demonstrates that "Godot" isn't about being funny, it's about the tensions, hopes and failures of performing comedy: the brief warmth of laughs, the long cold in between. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. Directed by Joy Zinoman. Sound, Neil McFadden; props, Contessa Riggs. At the Studio Theatre through Oct. 4. Call 202-332-3300.

Cite this article

See more articles from The Washington Post

Le Neon's Beckett By the Book

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
April 14, 1999
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

What with Le Neon's second production this month of short works by Samuel Beckett, Scena Theatre's ongoing spate of Beckett plays and Washington Stage Guild's recently closed hit "Lucia Mad," about the relationship between the playwright and James Joyce's mad daughter, the Irish absurdist is enjoying a local mini-revival this year.

Le Neon's second program consists of three short playlets -- "Rough for Theatre I," "Footfalls," "What Where" -- as well as "Krapp's Last Tape." (And if you arrive early enough, you can see "Act Without Words II" as a curtain-raiser.)

The first concerns a meeting between a blind man (Kim Curtis) and a lame man (Richard Henrich) whose disabilities would seem to ensure that they help each other out. In a Beckett play? Fat chance. "Footfalls" is a mysterious, poetic piece about a pacing woman (Rupa Vickers) whose life has been frozen in place by her now-bedridden mother (Madeline DeVan). "What Where" is a political fable adapted from a television script. And "Krapp's Last Tape," which has been called Beckett's most autobiographical play, shows us a man (Ed Johnson) at the end of his life listening to excerpts from his taped diary. Directors Monica Neagoy and Didier Rousselet have produced a visually striking evening with some striking images. In "Rough for Theatre I," the blind man's hair stands up and is streaked white like a parody of Beckett's famous brush cut, but the pale streaks also suggest ass ears, and since there seem to be bits of long grass stuck in the lame man's tousled hair, the impression is of two of the menials from "A Midsummer Night's Dream" fallen on hard, hard times. (The expressionistic makeup, and the costumes, are by Justine Scherer.) In "Footfalls," wearing a wild white wig and wrapped in a dress that looks like unraveling mummy wrappings, Vickers is as startling as a banshee. The interchangeable characters of "What Where" wear military-style coats and boots but have long, tangled hair falling past their shoulders. The dialogue has the hollow death-bell tone that characterizes Beckett: "Why don't you let yourself die?" "I am not unhappy enough." "Yes, `light,' " muses the lame man. "There's no other word for it." "Time passes," intones a character in "What Where." "That is all. Make sense who may." Sense is not the point with Beckett, unless it's a sense of unease, of dread, of mortality -- or a sense of humor. The Le Neon production isn't exactly lacking in the last, but this is a very polite, respectful presentation of work by The Master. Everything is beautifully and carefully done, from the stylized, strongly posed movements of the actors to the banal, deadly tick of a clock. People who love the vulgarian in Beckett, the rudeness and common theatrical sass, won't find him here. A Beckett Festival (Show II), by Samuel Beckett, translated by Marnie Manoukian, Anne Duffy and Coleen Dollard. Directed by Monica Neagoy and Didier Rousselet. Lights, Martha Mountain; set, Jordana Adelman; sound, Rupa Vickers; props, Stacy Bond. At Le Neon Theatre through May 2. Call 703-243-6366.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

See more articles from The Washington Post

Two Classics, Splendidly Redone: Kevin Spacey Gives `Iceman' Its Frigid Heart

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
April 9, 1999
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Death is a salesman in Eugene O'Neill's "The Iceman Cometh" -- specifically, the traveling hardware salesman Theodore Hickman, a k a Hickey, who drops in on his drunken-bum pals in Harry Hope's Lower West Side bar and proceeds to destroy them for their own good. The brilliant, powerfully malevolent Kevin Spacey, who plays Hickey in the production that opened tonight at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, may someday have another role as good as this, but he'll never have a better one. Spacey's an iceman himself -- an actor whose immense presence and force are fueled not by interior fire but through the mysterious physics of some inner Absolute Zero. He incarnates with terrifying casualness the vacuum-cold nihilism at the center of this great, clumsy, half-mad, killing play.

I saw the production, an import from London's Almeida Theatre, at its last preview six days ago, and it was ready to open then, a beautifully directed and acted ensemble piece for 19, each with his or her own sad song to sing. The year is 1912 and the setting is a flophouse/bar -- the same year and the same setting in which the 23- year-old O'Neill once tried to kill himself. Twenty-seven years later, the playwright was finally ready to write about the place a character in the play calls "the No-Chance Saloon . . . the Bottom- of-the-Sea Rathskeller."

The speaker is Larry Slade (a subtle, fascinating performance by Tim Pigott-Smith), the most self-aware of the delusional losers who spend their time drinking at Harry's. Larry is an ex-anarchist who has dropped not only out of politics but out of life itself. He sits in the corner of the bar waiting, as he announces periodically, for death to end his misery, and sneering affectionately at the "pipe dreams" of his fellow drunks. Harry Hope (James Hazeldine) hasn't left his bar since his wife, Bessie, died in 1892 and is convinced that this is because he's still grieving for her. The bartender Rocky Pioggi (Tony Danza) tells himself that he's not really a pimp, even though he "manages" a couple of girls, because a pimp, after all, wouldn't have a real job, like bar-tending. Broken-down Joe Mott (Clarke Peters) is sure that someday he'll start the gambling house he dreams of, and professes not to mind the condescension of his fellows, who are given to phrases such as, "You're the whitest black man I've ever known." And the rest of the whores and bums and thugs have their pet illusions, too -- tiny, flickering fires of lies to keep cold reality at bay. Knowing he's in town, his pals have been looking forward to Hickey's arrival. We gather from their conversation that the "hardware drummer" is a glad-handing, free-spending guy, always ready with a joke, a man who brings a party with him. His favorite gag, which the bums laughingly repeat to one another, is that old one about the iceman -- HUSBAND (calling upstairs): Has the iceman come yet? WIFE: Not yet, but he's breathing hard! A little shiver of unease precedes Hickey's entrance. One of the characters has seen him on the street and brings back this message: "Tell the gang I'll be along in a minute. I'm just figuring out the best way to save them and give them peace." A few minutes later, Hickey himself whirlwinds into the room, clapping backs, buying drinks and cracking wise. Just like old times except, they notice with dismay, he's sober. Written by an unrepentant drunk, "The Iceman Cometh" is the great American literary treatment of alcoholism, and one reason is that it not only scorns the lushes but the reformer as well. Hickey has gone through some undisclosed life-changing event and now, sobered up and, as he says, "at peace" with himself, he's determined to share his new life with his friends. The first thing to do is to rid them of all those ridiculous "pipe dreams." The most famous -- in some sense, the only -- Hickey has been Jason Robards Jr., who starred in the 1956 revival and again in the mid-'80s tour (in which Spacey had a small role) and who "owns" the role the way Lee J. Cobb owns Willy Loman or Brando, Stanley Kowalski. Robards overflowed with warm, slightly sticky charm. His Hickey was a seducer, a master of the old blarney. He sold through flirtation, and there was neediness in his soul. Spacey, in contrast, has the hyped-up, aggressive energy of the used-car salesman on television who yells that we must come down to his lot now, now, now. He's going to sell us if it chokes us. It's an open secret that aggression can underlie selling. Persuading the customer to buy something he didn't know he wanted is just this side of a con, a relationship David Mamet acknowledged and exploited in "Glengarry Glen Ross." That anger often fuels bonhomie is also no surprise. The life-of-the-party Hickey is dead inside, a little heap of cold ashes. Robards allowed the character some vulnerability -- he wanted to bring his friends to hell with him because he was lonely. Spacey's Hickey is beyond this, high on the frigid thrill of finally admitting he's the killer he always guiltily suspected he was. Robards's Hickey had further to fall, which may be why this current production, excellent as it is, doesn't have the destructive force of the 1980s revival, or even of the 1973 movie in which Lee Marvin attempted the role. Marvin wasn't up to the part but, like Robards, he suggested a man trying to outrun his own shame. Spacey, chillingly, gives the impression that Hickey is never more serenely himself, never more at peace, than when, one at a time, he shoots down his friends' reasons to live. Technically speaking, this is a less subtle characterization. But its purity is shattering. This Hickey is a shadow, a dark myth, something in human nature we don't want to look at. Spacey whirls around the stage from man to man, touching an arm, slapping a shoulder, pointing a finger -- half back-slapping politician, half boxer feinting punches. It took an Englishman like the director Howard Davies to show us that Hickey is an American archetype and to bring out that old radical O'Neill's political message: that at the heart of capitalism, despite its promise of bounty and good times, is destruction. Davies' and Spacey's approach also gives the audience a different sense of the play's ending, when, except for Larry, Hickey's ex- friends happily return to their illusions. In the '80s revival and the film, Larry was the only man tough enough to face reality, and the rest were shown to be foolish men too weak to live without illusion. Here, when the monstrous Hickey is expelled and the denizens of Harry Hope's reform their community of lies, it looks like a triumph. They may not be strong enough for life, but they've been strong enough to reject death. I never thought I'd see this play with a happy ending.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

See more articles from The Washington Post

A Midsummer Night's Scream

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
June 10, 1999
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Billy Aronson's "The Art Room," which opened Saturday at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, sets the story of "A Midsummer Night's Dream" in a mental ward. There's some basis for this, given Shakespeare's comparison of "the lunatic and the lover," but Sara Chazen's direction is so screeching that any possible moonstruck pleasures in the uneven script are drowned out.

Our Bottom is the gentle, retarded Thomas (Delaney Williams), a good-hearted, lonely soul who dreams of meeting "a fairy princess." The pairs of lovers confused about whom they want to be with are uptight, neurasthenic Jon (Oliver Wadsworth) and stuttering, schizophrenic Jackie (Jennifer Mendenhall), and workaholic businessman Art (Hugh Nees) and his wife, narcoleptic Madeline (Maia DeSanti).

Aronson has written for "Beavis and Butt-head," among others, and television writers usually know how to get to the point. But "The Art Room" is full of long, static monologues, self-consciously arty things that are about their own poetry rather than about the characters who have to speak them. There's a lot of dashing about and diving in and out of doors and yelling. The cast has apparently been told to "act crazy," and that's what they do rather than act their characters. They're not behaving like mad people, they're behaving the way actors think mad people do, with some cute mannerisms added. The worst offender is Wadsworth, with his strident, twitchy performance as Jon. Even the talented Mendenhall only occasionally gets to slow down sufficiently to create a character. Williams has some genuinely pathetic moments, and Nees, an offhandedly buoyant actor, manages to float benignly above the mess. The production is so noisy it's hard to hear what comic rhythms there might be in the script. I got the impression that some of the lines would have been pretty funny if they hadn't been goosed into a frenzy, and when things slow down toward the end, there are indications that the play might even be affecting. Maybe in some other production. The Art Room, by Billy Aronson. Directed by Sara Chazen. Set, Robin Stapley; lighting, Jay A. Herzog; costumes, Lynn Steinmetz; sound, Dan Schrader. Also featuring Lynn Steinmetz. Woolly Mammoth through June 27. Call ProTix at 703-218-6500.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

*
MLA
*
Chicago
*
APA



See more articles from The Washington Post

'Whiteheaded': Fair to Giggling

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
September 17, 1999
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

"The Whiteheaded Boy," which opened last night at the Kennedy Center, is an old-fashioned play produced with very modern deconstruction, commentary and irony. Fortunately it's funny. The Irish theater group Barabbas--The Company performs Lennox Robinson's sprawling family comedy with only four actors, and at first, bouncing around on the text like it is a trampoline, the performers may remind you of The Flying Karamazov Brothers attempting something very, very long. But their purpose isn't to send up the script but to play with it affectionately and bring out its amiably satirical core.

The Whiteheaded Boy (the term is a colloquialism for "the favorite"), a k a Denis (Louis Lovett), is the pride of his small- town family. From his birth, they have fawned over him, praised his intelligence and virtues, and expected him to do Great Things. Denis has taken the only course a young man of integrity could--as the play opens, he's flunking out of college.

Though Denis's sainted mother (Raymond Keane) continues to indulge him, his siblings are less conciliatory. In fact, they're fed up, particularly his brother George (Mikel Murfi), who determines to send the miscreant off to a new life in Canada, and never mind that he was contracted to marry the daughter of John Duffy (Keane again), the most powerful man in the village. Never mind, that is, until Duffy takes umbrage and threatens to sue for breach of promise.

Though Lovett has only the role of Denis, Keane plays not just Ma and Duffy but brother Peter, who appears to be half-witted, while Veronica Coburn handles one of the sisters, a serving woman, Duffy's daughter and doughty Aunt Ellen. The marvelously peculiar Murfi morphs himself like a living cartoon into thrust-jawed George, shy sister Jane and ambitious sister Baby. The actors sometimes spin in and out of character in a split second--with Keane, for example, answering a door through which he then enters.

Sean Hiller has designed a highly stylized playing space, its turn-of-the-century furniture painted on white cubes. Director Gerard Stembridge keeps the action so brisk it's as if the actors were popping in and out of thin air. Except for Lovett who, true to his character, puts a whole lot less effort into things than anyone else, yet somehow ends up the star. Stretching out in the best chair in front of the fire, while his mother kneels to toast him a bit of bread, he smiles like a self-satisfied cat.

The Irish have always satirized themselves as a people more willing to believe a romantic fiction than the grubby truth, and "The Whiteheaded Boy" is firmly in this tradition. The play was written in 1916--the year of the Easter Uprising. It postdates the publication of Joyce's Ireland-skinning "Dubliners" and "Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man." But you'd never know it. "The Whiteheaded Boy" exists placidly outside history--mildly acerbic, intrinsically gentle. Without an up-to-the-millisecond production like this one, an American audience would likely snooze through the play, waking up occasionally to chuckle at a pleasant joke.

The Whiteheaded Boy by Lennox Robinson. Directed by Gerard Stembridge. At the Kennedy Center through Sept. 23. Tickets 202-467- 4600. @Art Caption: Louis Lovett, the Whiteheaded Boy, left, has the full attention of Veronica Coburn, Raymond Keane and Mikel Murfi.

See more articles from The Washington Post

Signature's 'Sweeney Todd' Cuts To the Quick

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
September 15, 1999
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

I didn't see Eric Schaeffer's original production of Stephen Sondheim's "Sweeney Todd" in 1990, so I can't say that with this new one he's done it again. But he's sure done it. His latest "Sweeney," which opened Monday at Signature Theatre, is a sizzler, its hottest spots being the grave, lowering characterization of the Demon Barber by Norm Lewis and the sensational performance of Donna Migliaccio as that mistress of homicidal cuisine, Mrs. Lovett.

Sent away for 15 years on a trumped-up charge, Sweeney Todd returns to London hoping to find alive the wife and infant daughter he left behind. He was sentenced in the first place because the corrupt Judge Turpin (Lawrence Redmond) fancied his pretty young wife, whom, once Sweeney was out of the way, he brutally seduced. The wife is nowhere to be found, and the daughter, Johanna (Jennifer Royall), who has grown up into a beautiful young woman, is the ward of the judge.

Maddened by suffering and intent on revenge, Sweeney is befriended by the widowed pie maker Mrs. Lovett. Soon the two are in business together, with Sweeney slitting the throats of customers he thinks won't be missed and Mrs. Lovett feeding them into the meat grinder as filling for her pies (and hard work it is, as Migliaccio lets us know, wearily but patiently dragging corpses around the cellar). For a time this odd pair achieves a stable parody of romantic companionship. But only until the plot starts tumbling to its ghastly conclusion.

As the murderous hero, arguably more sinned against than sinning, Schaeffer has cast the African American Broadway actor Lewis. At first glance, you think that Lewis's color is going to add some contemporary political acid to the tale, but the actor's brooding style suggests not modern American anger but the locked-in, melancholy evil of the 19th-century Gothic villain. He has tremendous quiet charisma, a powerful stillness.

Lewis's lower vocal range isn't quite up to the score, but his acting makes this slight shortcoming not matter. With his bruised- looking eyes and frightening inwardness, Lewis is a great Sweeney, and something innately gentle in him suggests the tragedy of destroyed goodness.

With her force-of-nature presence and big gorgeous voice, Migliaccio is an extraordinary Mrs. Lovett. This immense performance is uncannily delicate--far from being a camp monster, Migliaccio's Mrs. L has a shy hopefulness that's surprisingly touching. Practical, lusty and essentially optimistic, Sweeney's landlady is, for all her grotesquerie, a life-loving creature. And one of the most shivery elements in this extremely shivery production is the way this vibrant villainess falls in love with, in the person of the darkness-seeking Sweeney, death.

This strange, terrible romanticism is at the heart of Schaeffer's production as well as the show itself. Instead of playing into the score's acrid tendencies, music director Jon Kalbfleisch has pulled a full-bodied, almost warm tone from Jonathan Tunick's orchestrations, and the result is a tension between longing and bitterness. Schaeffer writhes his ranks of ragged Londoners in serpentine patterns that are almost pretty, and when he stages Judge Turpin's prayer and self- flagellation, designer Daniel MacLean Wagner lights the scene like something from one of Caravaggio's anguished religious canvases. The production twists on an axis between ghastly comedy and spookily serene beauty--it's dizzying, it's sickening, it's transporting.

Lou Stancari's decrepit-looking set, multileveled and many-doored, depicts London as a maze for its ratlike denizens. Costumer Anne Kennedy is at both her scruffy and elegant best. The actor-singers are all excellent; special mention must be made of Dana Krueger as the horrid, sweet-voiced Beggar Woman; Michael Sharp as the innocent, doomed servant Tobias; and Redmond, who, no stranger to villains, nonetheless reaches new levels of pitiableness and threat as the judge.

"Sweeney Todd" was a tale first told in the pages of an 1840s "penny dreadful," a bloodcurdling, stomach-churning urban legend that aimed to do nothing but thrill, and thrill cheaply. By the time Sweeney's adventures reached the Broadway stage--with music and lyrics by Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler, direction by Harold Prince- -they had been politicized as some sort of left-wing fable about the mistreated poor and their vengeance on the evil rich. The gibbering, politically in-your-face "Marat/Sade" was as much a source for the musical as the original potboiler.

On Broadway the show, essentially a chamber opera, took place on the gigantic stage of the Uris Theatre in front of a huge backdrop depicting the oppressive social structure of "The English Beehive." The Signature production is less pretentious. Schaeffer isn't afraid of bad taste; he doesn't need to trick up the story's vulgarity with good intentions. The political lines are there, but they're swamped, as they always were despite Prince's best efforts, by the tide of blood, gore and perversion that surge through the material.

Schaeffer has remembered that, for all their highbrow reputation, most of the great operas have plots that are ridiculously lurid, and he trusts Sondheim's brilliantly detached score--a cold, complex and beautiful work that purifies the story's gruesome excesses and sets them resonating like struck crystal. The grisly details titillate, the unsparing music chills and the whole production, like an opera, finds the emotional truth at the core of the overwrought and the tawdry.

Sweeney Todd, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim, book by Hugh Wheeler from an adaptation by Christopher Bond. Directed by Eric Schaeffer. Sound, David Maddox; props, Avery Burns. With Chad Kimball, Jimmy Smagula, John J. Kaczynski, Buzz Mauro, Philip Bender, Jean Cantrell, Ilona Dulaski, Rodney Hussey, Liz Isbell, Tracy Olivera, R. Scott Thompson, Timothy C. Tourbin, Daniel Felton, Rebecca Nacht. At the Signature Theatre through Oct. 31. Call 703- 218-6500. @Art Caption: Donna Migliaccio and Norm Lewis. Norm Lewis as the deadly barber and Lawrence Redmond as the dastardly judge.

Top publication categories at HighBeam Research


Hide hide
Newspapers

* International Newspapers, Local Markets A-Lh
* International Newspapers, Local Markets Li-Z
* International Newspapers, Major Markets
* U.S. Newspapers, Local Markets A-Dh
* U.S. Newspapers, Local Markets Di-M
* U.S. Newspapers, Local Markets N-S
* U.S. Newspapers, Local Markets Ta-Th
* U.S. Newspapers, Local Markets Th-Z
* U.S. Newspapers, Major Markets
* U.S. Newspapers, Special Interest

Journals

* Academic and Educational journals
* Applied Sciences journals
* Business and Economics journals
* Health journals
* Humanities journals
* Legal and Political journals
* Management journals
* Medical journals
* Social and Theoretical Sciences journals
* Technology journals


Business magazines

* Economics magazines
* Engineering, Construction, and Transportation magazines
* Finance and Accounting magazines
* International magazines
* Investing, Sales, and Marketing magazines
* Management magazines
* Manufacturing magazines
* Specialty and Local Interest magazines
* Trade magazines

Government magazines

* Applied and Social Sciences magazines
* Computers and Media magazines
* Energy, Government, and Defense magazines
* Legal and Political magazines
* News and Education magazines
* Technology magazines

Academic magazines

* Academic magazines
* Educational magazines
* Humanities magazines
* Law magazines
* Scholarly magazines
* Science magazines


Health magazines

* Medical magazines
* Nursing and Health magazines
* Psychology, Children, and Parenting magazines

Sports and Life magazines

* Arts, Construction, Medicine, Science, and Technology magazines
* Culture magazines
* General Interest magazines
* Politics and Business magazines
* Social Sciences magazines
* Specialty and Local Interest magazines
* Sports, Fitness, Recreation, and Leisure magazines

Popular publications

* AP Online
* Business Wire
* Chicago Sun-Times
* PR Newswire
* The Boston Globe (Boston, MA)
* The Washington Post

Reference

* Dictionaries, Thesauruses, Pictures, and Press Releases
* Encyclopedias, Almanacs, Transcripts, and Maps
* News Wires, White Papers, and Books

* Save this articleSave article
* Print this articlePrint
* E-mail this article to a friendE-mail
* Export this article to Microsoft WordExport to Microsoft Word
* Export this article to Microsoft PowerPointExport to Microsoft PowerPoint
* Blog this articleBlog this article
* Cite this articleCite this article
* See related articlesRelated articles

See more articles from The Washington Post

'Hot 'n' Throbbing': Double Feature

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
September 13, 1999
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Paula Vogel's "Hot 'n' Throbbing" is probably, like her "How I Learned to Drive," a difficult, controversial script, but it's hard to get much sense of the play from the Arena Stage production, which director Molly Smith has tricked up with a film-clip accompaniment that visually competes with and finally defeats the actors.

Charlene (Lynnda Ferguson), a single mother of two teenagers, is supporting her family by writing screenplays for a feminist movie company that specializes in "adult erotic entertainment for women." Her job hasn't taught her anything, however, about giving sexual guidance to adolescents: Her daughter, Leslie Ann (Rhea Seehorn), is a tantrummy loudmouth with secret masochistic fantasies, and her son, Calvin (Danny Pintauro), likes to peep at Sis undressing.

Then there's her estranged alcoholic husband, Clyde (Colin Lane). She's gotten a restraining order against him but, as the news daily reminds us, those don't exactly work. He comes to call. She shoots him in the right buttock. Things go downhill from there. Very, very downhill.

Vogel has included two nonrealistic characters, played by Craig Wallace and Sue Jin Song, to articulate hidden thoughts and provide commentary, but they just crowd the action. They're little more than living footnotes who, with the film-clip footnotes, contribute to the general noise. Like an academic joke, Vogel's play becomes about the glosses she and Smith add to it.

Bill C. Ray's set in the Kreeger Theater is rather condescending toward the characters it houses. Charlene may be working-class, but nothing about her indicates she would have a black velvet painting of a stag on her wall (I hope this wasn't meant to be symbolic). The orange shag carpet and dull furniture look like generic parodies of what the middle class sniffs at as low-income lifestyle tackiness. There are five television-video monitors on this set, four turned toward the audience, one facing upstage to cue the actors. As the stage story unfolds, the monitors provide a running set of film-clip footnotes that underscore, sometimes ironically, each scene.

The actors are excellent, but you could have Laurence Olivier playing all the roles and the audience's eyes would still go to those TV screens. It's bad enough to make the play compete with the filmed images, even worse that those images are often classics.

Who's going to pay attention to Charlene's simmering anger when on the screen is the notorious scene from Sam Fuller's "The Naked Kiss" in which a bald prostitute beats a man with a shoe? Who's going to watch onstage violence when the horrific shower scene from "Psycho" is being run on four monitors?

Even late in the play, when the TV screens show a video version of what we're seeing onstage, that version steals all the focus. Though a live stage production works with an audience, sensing and responding to our reactions, a videotape of film clips is rigidly timed. So the speed and editing of the clips take over the rhythm of the production, leaving the acted story floundering flaccidly in the backwash.

In the center of this play there's some genuine, risky ugliness-- the female suspicion that masculine strength will always ensure masculine control; that a woman's tender emotions--her socially approved love and compassion--are her worst enemies; that there's something fundamentally, unalterably wrong with men. Vogel slaps these nasty fears smack in the audience's faces. "Hot 'n' Throbbing" ought to be on a double bill with David Mamet's fear-of-feminism "Oleanna."

Hot 'n' Throbbing by Paula Vogel. Directed by Molly Smith. Lights, Allen Lee Hughes; sound, Timothy M. Thompson; costumes, Marilyn Salvatore; fights, Michael Jerome Johnson. At Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater through Oct. 17. Call 202-488-3300. @Art Caption: Lynnda Ferguson and Colin Lane in Paula Vogel's "Hot 'n' Throbbing." Rhea Seehorn and Colin Lane are father and daughter in a dysfunctional "Hot 'n' Throbbing."

See more articles from The Washington Post

An American Family: Black, Bourgeois and 'Blue'

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
April 24, 2000
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

"Blue," which opened Friday at Arena Stage, is the same old family comedy, except that it's about an upscale African American family. Perhaps this shouldn't make a difference, but it does. The black middle class is so rarely depicted onstage that the jokes and situations don't just seem fresh; they are fresh.

Phylicia Rashad's Peggy is the extravagant, high-strung mother of the Clark clan--a South Carolina family that has made its money in the funeral business. As described by her younger son, Reuben (Michael Wiggins), who narrates the play, she's neither heroine nor villainess, but a complex, shifting mix of both. Peggy enters laden with two new fur coats, gleeful at having shocked a snotty white sales clerk with her luxurious purchase. She barks orders to an offstage maid (whom we never see) and prepares for the regular Friday ordeal of dinner with her mother-in-law, Tillie (Jewell Robinson).

Though it's the mid-'70s, the Clark household is politically quiescent. Elder son Sam III (Howard W. Overshown), though he sports an impressive Afro, limits his rebellion to bringing home a "country" girlfriend, LaTonya Dinkins (Messeret Stroman), a friendly, effusive soul who casually cusses and doesn't, as she puts it to Sam, "talk white like your family."

So far, "Blue" looks as if it's going to be a mildly satirical comedy about class differences. But then it swerves in a new direction as Blue Williams (Arnold McCuller), a singer both Peggy and LaTonya adore, assumes a more important role. Until the very end, Blue appears only when his records are played--a dream image of manly sexual sophistication--but his presence comes to dominate the play.

Playwright Charles Randolph-Wright (who directed Arena's recent sizzling "Guys and Dolls") wants to address a lot in "Blue"--family dynamics, class conflict, black bourgeois culture, true love vs. romantic delusion. He hasn't quite got the skill yet to pull all these elements together. Mostly he deals with them one at a time.

As a result, the play hops around a good deal, and at times it's not clear what story or stories Randolph-Wright is trying to tell. But with much help from the focused directing of Sheldon Epps, the evening is unified by its energy and goodwill. Randolph-Wright may not exactly know his story, but he knows his characters and they ride the plot confidently wherever it goes.

Whichever direction the play veers, Rashad stays in the center. Peggy, whose acquisitiveness is inseparable from her love of life, is a richly conceived character. Rashad revels in her glamorous changeability, believable both as the mother her elder son hates and the wife her husband deeply loves.

Overshown is too old for, and awkward as, the teenage Sam III, but gains authority and conviction as the adult Sam in Act 2 (which takes place 15 years later). Wiggins is yearning and vulnerable as Reuben. As Reuben's younger self, Brandon Troy McMickens is good but seems too grounded to grow into the troubled man we see in the second act.

Randall Shepperd is a calm, stoic presence as Peggy's husband, the quiet, dignified Sam Jr., who takes life straight on with a minimum of fuss. Robinson is tartly funny as the outspoken Tillie. Stroman is a delight as the teenage LaTonya and manages to keep the character warmly likable when, in Act 2, she has to behave in a way that seems unreasonable and punitive.

Costumer Debra Bauer has a lot of fun with the clothes--maybe too much so with the ones from the '70s, which are such jokes that they distract from the characters. (No actor, however talented, can upstage a pair of major-funk platform shoes.) James Leonard Joy's set pokes gentle fun at Peggy's pretensions but also gives the impression of a comfortable, lived-in home.

Singer and recording artist McCuller has a jazz-trumpet, Gabriel's- horn voice. Gliding through the play in his electric-blue suit, McCuller's Blue is the spirit of music, a font of hope, beauty, endurance and achievement. He's the artist as cultural father figure, and in his image the disparate pieces of the play come transcendently together.

Blue, by Charles Randolph-Wright. Music by Nona Hendryx, lyrics by Nona Hendryx and Charles Randolph-Wright. Directed by Sheldon Epps. Lighting, Michael Gilliam; sound, Timothy M. Thompson. At Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater through June 11. Call 202-488-3300.

Clubs': Impersonation Without Heart

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
June 20, 2000
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

"Queen of Clubs," which opened Saturday at the Church Street Theater, has an intriguing premise: to explore the relationship of drag impersonation to the person being impersonated. And it has a dynamic performance from Paula Gruskewicz as vamp extraordinaire Tallulah Bankhead. But though it plays energetically, Frank Donnelly's play never satisfyingly addresses the issues it raises, and the evening ends up rather muted.

We meet Bankhead backstage just before her first-ever performance of Blanche DuBois in a 1956 New York revival of "A Streetcar Named Desire." Her friend Estelle Winwood (Lynn Steinmetz) is with her, and so are a number of less real figures: her late politician father (Timmy Ray James), Tennessee Williams (Chris Brophy), Noel Coward (Frank Robinson Jr.) and, above all, a Tallulah impersonator (John C. Bailey).

Gazing grimly into her mirror, Bankhead intones, "I'm too old to play this part!" (Gruskewicz has the startlingly dark voice down pat). It's her first line and the setup for what drama there is in the play, as the onetime star and sexual shocker (she was known to take any opportunity to flash) faces the erosion of time. In her youth, she combined her exhibitionism and campiness with real talent. Now she's afraid only the campiness is left, that she's turned into a has-been joke--a fear her impersonator, haunting her dressing room, incarnates.

Tallulah has many flashback conversations. Many of these are with Daddy, the need for whose love apparently drove her to seek attention at any cost. When she's in one of Coward's plays, he warns her (Robinson makes him waspish but diplomatic) about her tendency to play to her fans. A nervously agreeable but elusive Williams (Brophy's small turn is a gem) slides away from her desire to originate the role of Blanche, even though he may have partially based it on her. Winwood comforts and puts up with her in both the present and the past, though at one point exasperation drives her to snap, "I can say with pride that no drag queen has ever done an impersonation of me!"

Donnelly is in very interesting, unpleasant territory here with his suggestion that a drag impersonation can be a degradation as well as a celebration, and his depiction of the female impersonator as hating her/his subject. But nothing is dramatized. As the impersonator, Bailey clomps around with what surely must be deliberate clumsiness, but does this mean he's expressing contempt for the woman he's imitating or that his drag queen is just a lousy performer? The character's envy of Tallulah is made clear, but not the fascination that would lead to a career of pretending to be her.

Lou Stancari has stripped the Church Street stage to the building's back brick wall, building a messy, busy backstage that contains not only Tallulah's dressing room but a green room for the other actors and a lighting booth. It's both homey and mysterious, and director Jeff Keenan makes wonderful use of it, sending the technicians and Tallulah's fellow actors (played by Brophy, Robinson, James and David Muse) about their ordinary business while Tallulah frets before her mirror. Their calm workmanship is a contrast to her histrionics and an example of the kind of simple craftsmanship that eluded her as a performer.

Gruskewicz is a churningly emotional, mercurial Tallulah, now imperious, now seductive, now childlike. It's a fascinating performance but, unlike the woman she's playing, Gruskewicz isn't monstrous. (In the film "Mommie Dearest," faced with the similar challenge of acting a deranged star, Faye Dunaway could match Joan Crawford's madness with her own.) Anyone who hasn't seen what little there is of Bankhead's film work or read the rowdy stories about her may wonder what all the fuss is about. What makes this collapsing, self-involved star any different from all the others of her ilk? We spend an intermissionless 90 minutes with this woman, but at the end of the evening we have no idea why.

Queen of Clubs, by Frank Donnelly. Directed by Jeff Keenan. Lights, Dan Covey; sound, Mark Anduss; costumes, Timm Burrow; props, Stewart Waller. With Ralph Bueno. At Church Street Theater through July 23. Call 800-494-TIXS.

Cite this article

Laughs Multiply

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
May 3, 2000
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

In "The Mathematics of Change," playing at Theater J through Sunday, Josh Kornbluth "hits the wall" as a freshman math student at Princeton. He makes a hilarious splat.

This second of Kornbluth's trilogy of autobiographical one-man evenings (the first was "Red Diaper Baby," which will repeat this Saturday in a late-night performance) takes him from proud math nerd to victim of a nervous breakdown as he scales the perilous heights of higher mathematics.

Kornbluth paces in front of a blackboard as he recounts his college trials. Even in retrospect, it's an emotional experience. Much chalk is flung about.

Josh has breezed through the lower mathematics. Even triangle- based trigonometry, which felled his fellow students--"Kids were impaling themselves on triangles. Other kids were going inside triangles, never to emerge!"--failed to slow him down.

Having been told by his eccentric, math-loving father that he will be "the greatest mathematician who has ever lived," young Josh is full of confidence, even though his high school math teacher sneers at him that someday he will "hit the wall." The wall turns out to be calculus.

There are lower walls on the way that, although Kornbluth doesn't smash into them like Wile E. Coyote, do trip him up. There's the little matter of his student employment, for example. First he works assisting a biology professor. His job: "Giving very bad diseases to mice."

After a misadventure involving a syringe, Kornbluth seeks another line of work. He ends up in the physics department adjusting screws inside the cyclotron while it's still turned on and spewing radiation.

You may think it isn't possible to laugh yourself silly at jokes about math. But you would be wrong. True, the show sags in places.

We revisit some of Josh's eccentric fellow Princetonians a bit too often. And things don't so much segue into more serious territory as suddenly fall into it. But Kornbluth is an endearingly funny performer--rumpled, earnest and ironic in equal measure--and this is a laugh-out-loud evening.

His first day at Princeton, the eager Josh learns about math majors who have cracked under "the strain."

What, he wonders in his innocence and arrogance, could that strain possibly be?

"The Mathematics of Change" is about his finding out. What cracks the audience up probably did come very near to cracking poor Josh up when he went through it 24 years ago. But that's comedy for you: One man's agony is another's guffaw.

The Mathematics of Change, by Josh Kornbluth in collaboration with John Bellucci. Directed by John Bellucci. Lights, Mike Daniels. At Theater J through Sunday. Call 800-494-8497.

See more articles from The Washington Post

'Camino Real': Freighted Fable; Tennessee Williams Play Falters Under Its Own Weight

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
June 6, 2000
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Tennessee Williams's "Camino Real" ought to be a great play. But for all its ambition and poetry, it's dramatically inert, and for all the vigor and visual audacity of his production at the Shakespeare Theatre, Michael Kahn can't get it on its feet. If he can't do it, it probably can't be done.

"Camino Real," with its punning Spanish/English title ("the royal, or king's, road," "reality"), is a literate fable populated with historical and fictional characters, plus a symbolic hero, Kilroy, who takes his name from the famous graffito "Kilroy was here." Kilroy (Victor Love) is a former boxing champ with a bad ticker--his heart, he explains in one of Williams's more beautiful lines, is "as big as the head of a baby." Such a big heart was made to be broken, and that's what the whores and tricksters who populate the play set out to do.

The play is set in a seedy town that's part Tijuana, part Casablanca, with the classy Siete Mares hotel on one side of the plaza and the seedy flophouse called Ritz: Men Only on the other. In the center of the plaza is a fountain, long since run dry. Ominous uniformed men in sunglasses (Tim Marrone and Rahmein Mostafavi) loiter at the fountain's edge, ready to do the bidding of Caspar Gutman (David Sabin)--yes, the Sydney Greenstreet character from "The Maltese Falcon."

Staying at Gutman's Siete Mares are Casanova (Jean LeClerc), Marguerite Gautier, better known as Camille (Joan Van Ark) and some pompous wealthy folk. The Ritz: Men Only is frequented by the down and out, such as Proust's Baron de Charlus (Floyd King). Sinister street cleaners (Peter Mendez and Timothy Getman) trundle a big yellow dumpster through the streets, ready to collect the dead.

Also present: Don Quixote and Lord Byron (both played by Philip Goodwin); a blind old woman known as La Madrecita de los Perdidos (Sheila Allen) and her son, the Dreamer (Jorge Anaya); a Gypsy (Franchelle Stewart Dorn) and her daughter, Esmeralda (Tessa Auberjonois), whose virginity is restored every full moon.

Had enough symbolism?

Kahn is at full directorial power, pouring energy into the text, which just absorbs it, passively, without responding. He and designer Derek McLane have come up with a nightmare carnival set, and Kahn scatters leering grotesques across the stage to cavort and taunt poor Kilroy. All in vain. As written, Kilroy's story goes in stops and starts, and the love affair of Casanova and Camille that periodically replaces it is dull stuff. So are Williams's many, many speeches (the longest is Byron's) about the necessity of courage and dreams.

Dorn, ably supported by Lawrence Redmond in drag as her servant, Nursie, adds some snap whenever she's onstage, and many of the actors in small parts--Catherine Flye, Helen Hedman, Naomi Jacobson, Ralph Cosham, Marty Lodge and, especially, King as de Charlus--are witty and fun. But the big roles are drearily written--preachy and poetic-- and bog down the actors playing them.

Actually, considering the weight of its symbols and references and philosophizing, it's a miracle that the play isn't completely ridiculous. It isn't. It has some lines of great beauty and a sweet hopefulness that's frequently moving. The mix of people and ideas from literature, movies and American popular culture is inventive and potentially exhilarating. Williams's reach is impressive. But he exceeds his grasp, and the play just slips through his fingers and lies motionless on the stage.

Camino Real, by Tennessee Williams. Directed by Michael Kahn. Lights, Russell H. Champa; composer, Adam Wernick; costumes, Murell Horton; choreography, Karma Camp. With Eric Hoffmann, Reza Garakani, Ann Ducati, Flordelino Lagundino, Todd Bailey, Tiffni Jellinek, Jam Donaldson. At the Shakespeare Theatre through July 23. Call 202-547- 1122.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

h Blanket Bonkers; Christopher Durang Churns Waves of Laughter

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
May 23, 2000
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Christopher Durang's "Betty's Summer Vacation," a comedy about a beach-house time share gone more wrong than you might have believed possible, is bitter and overlong but undeniably hilarious. And in the Studio Theatre production that opened Sunday, J.R. Sullivan has exuberantly directed an all-lunatic cast, led by Sarah Marshall at her most psycho-splendiferous.

Betty (Holly Twyford) has signed up to spend the time share with a bunch of strangers, a move she realizes may have been unwise when she meets the first of them: Trudy (L.A. Powers) is a ditsy nonstop talker of the most deadly hyper and boring sort. However, Trudy is but the first gentle raindrop presaging a full-scale antisocial hurricane: The other guests turn out to be a dumb macho lout, Buck (J. Jason Huber); a derelict flasher, Mr. Vanislaw (Tom Kearney); Trudy's slutty, garrulous mother, Mrs. Siezmagraff (Marshall); and Keith (Scot McKenzie), a shy serial killer.

I'm not giving anything away. The arrival of this crowd is only the play's setup.

Things start off like a bizarre and sordid sitcom, with the skillful Twyford (only a talented comedian can play a straight role this winningly) in the flustered, "normal" Mary Richards role. People say and do nutty things and deliver their best one-liners just before they exit. So it really shouldn't be any surprise when the beach house turns out to be haunted by a laugh track.

And there's plenty to laugh at. Durang's comic lines have a spin that puts Linda Blair's head in "The Exorcist" to shame. Keith: "We had cousins from the Ozarks living with us and they cross- pollinated." Mrs. S: "We don't talk much because her father incested her when he was drunk, and I never did anything about it because I was codependent." Trudy (to Buck): "Were you ever molested by your parents?" Buck (in reply): "Is this kind of foreplay talk?"

A satire on Court TV, awesomely dominated by Marshall (she hasn't been this tensely crazed since "Miss Margarida's Way"), is a little comic masterpiece all on its own. The characters are inspired grotesques: At times, Twyford's sane Betty seems to have landed in a hideously updated version of "Alice in Wonderland." The actors have a slightly sinister ball with these outrageous roles, from McKenzie's sweetly sly Keith to Huber's brick-thick Buck and Powers's skittishly loopy Trudy to Kearney's porno-comic turn as Mr. Vanislaw. Not to mention the vocal shenanigans of the laugh track (Oliver Wadsworth, Lisa Adams and Jeorge Watson), which, like a poltergeist growing in strength, acquires speech as the play develops.

James Kronzer has provided the perfect antiseptic and kitschy beach-house set (there are plastic scallop-shell wall lamps), and Reggie Ray's costumes are jaw-droppingly tasteless as well as, in one notable case, a triumph of homemade science-fiction style worthy of "Doctor Who." Neil McFadden has produced a parody-perfect sitcom score.

Durang is a theatrical master of the long comic snit. His characters get more and more and more worked up until you think they're going to burst a blood vessel and then, unbelievably, they get worked up some more, and then some more, until finally you're not just laughing, you're beginning to be afraid. The plot of "Betty's Summer Vacation" takes this route as well, burgeoning into such dizzying, disturbing wildness that the explosive ending seems like a necessity: This thing couldn't just end, it had to be stopped.

As it loses its sanity, the play also transforms itself. What begins as a snarky satire on sitcom "niceness" morphs into a rant about modern-day American voyeurism, as represented by our fascination with "The Jerry Springer Show" and Fox television specials and the Bobbitt and O.J. trials (if "Betty" had been written more recently, you can bet Elian Gonzalez would have been mentioned).

But as the evening detonates, play and playwright go out of control together: A sour undertaste emerges from our growing sense of Durang's personal disgust with American culture, his revulsion and powerless rage, his weariness, his hurt feelings. "Betty's Summer Vacation" has more than a trace of the sensitive American artist's traditional squeamishness about this country's yowling, unrepentant vulgarity. The man who made his reputation with the desecrating "Sister Mary Ignatius Explains It All for You," which featured a homicidal nun, now apparently thinks things have gone Too Far. He's an odd pleader for civility.

But boy, is he funny.

Betty's Summer Vacation, by Christopher Durang. Directed by J.R. Sullivan. Lighting, Nancy Schertler. At the Studio Theatre through June 25. Call 202-332-3300.

Cite this article

ATION; A Century At Center Stage; At Once Deft and Dazzling, Sir John Gielgud Epitomized a Bygone Era

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
May 23, 2000
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

In 1977, in London, I went to see the National Theatre production of "Volpone," starring Paul Scofield and Ben Kingsley. I was young and had no money, so I stood in line for the cheap seats. These, by fiat of Laurence Olivier, the National's founding artistic director, were always to be in the first few rows--his idea being that, no matter how rotten and poorly attended the show, actors should never have to look directly into empty seats.

I was settled on a bench right at the stage and was examining the set when suddenly, somewhere up behind me, I heard the voice of an angel. The impossibly beautiful sound fell upon the audience like a benediction. I had never in my life heard anything like it (and never have since). Twisting on the bench, I looked back up over my shoulder and saw, in one of the boxes, John Gielgud speaking the prologue to the play.

The sonorous magic of that voice didn't come across fully on recordings or in movies, I don't know why. So those who know him only from movies (which would be most people), in which he sounds full- toned and mellow and, well, very English, have no more idea of what his speaking voice was like than someone looking at a black-and- white postcard of the Sistine Chapel ceiling knows what it is to see it in person.

Gielgud, who died Sunday at the age of 96, was the epitome of a certain type of acting genius: English, Shakespearean, rarefied, a gentleman of the theater and poet of the stage. Such was his legend when, at the age of 77, he re-created himself as a movie comedian with his Oscar-winning performance as Dudley Moore's imperious butler in "Arthur"--an unexpected late-life triumph for a man who had been seen as the most refined and elegant champion of a highbrow art.

But Gielgud's film work gives little idea of the kind of actor that, for most of his life, he was. Olivier, with his star's beauty and climber's instinct, had a movie career and made sure many of his great Shakespearean performances were either filmed or taped. But except for glimpses--his narrow-eyed, soldierly Henry IV in Orson Welles's "Chimes at Midnight," his rather subdued Clarence in Olivier's "Richard III"--Gielgud's Shakespearean achievement is lost to us.

In that "Volpone," he played, hilariously, one of the great comic roles: the bumbling social climber Sir Politic Would-Be (creeping with delicate fussiness about the stage, his eyes darting suspiciously from side to side, he was like a paranoid tortoise). Five years later, after a lifetime as an icon of the highest theatrical art, he won that Oscar for "Arthur."

Gielgud made his first film, the silent melodrama "Who Is the Man?," at age 19, in 1924. But he mistrusted the young medium, remaining more comfortable on and interested in the stage. By 1929 he had joined the Old Vic, where with Olivier he began to establish his legacy as a great actor. In one memorable production of "Romeo and Juliet" in the '30s, he and Olivier switched off nightly between Romeo and Mercutio.

Gielgud was to say afterward that he felt he won Mercutio on points, largely because he was so good with the poetry and aced the famous Queen Mab speech, but that the fiery, yearning Olivier beat him out as Romeo. At the time, precisely because of his vocal skill and sweetness, Gielgud was the critics' darling; Olivier was said to "mangle" the verse. As the decades passed, Olivier pulled neck-and- neck in favor, and the two assumed, for shorthand purposes, alternate definitions of greatness: Gielgud's air to Olivier's fire, his claret to Olivier's burgundy, his serene Tolstoyan genius to Olivier's sweaty Dostoevskian passion. Detractors sniped that Gielgud was the finest actor in the world--from the neck up. His supporters responded that anyone that brilliant from the neck up didn't need a body.

As he had hesitated about film, so Gielgud hesitated about modern- -i.e., post-World War II--drama. In 1957, when Olivier made a characteristically bold leap into the Now with his Archie Rice in angry-young-playwright John Osbourne's caustic "The Entertainer," Gielgud embarked on a seemly 10-year career performing an evening of Shakespearean excerpts, "The Ages of Man." He didn't "get" writers like Samuel Beckett. In fact, we owe to Gielgud the fact that, in the early '50s, Ralph Richardson and Alec Guinness turned down "Waiting for Godot"; asked for his advice, Gielgud told them he thought the script was "a load of old rubbish." (He subsequently, shamefacedly, changed his opinion.)

Gielgud came around in the '70s when, with Richardson, he did triumphant productions of David Storey's "Home"--set in a sinister old-age home--and Harold Pinter's enigmatic "No Man's Land," in which, with opaque ominousness, he insinuated himself into the household of Richardson's wealthy, reclusive writer. The English plays of the period were self-consciously underwritten: Dialogue was oblique, motivations obscure, utterances terse (Pinter still writes like this).

Thrown into this thorny and austere theatrical briar patch, many traditional actors floundered, but to Gielgud it was home. Like Richardson, and unlike Olivier, he was that paradoxical creature, an acting introvert--his power had always come from holding back, achieving as much as possible with as little strain as possible. A spare text simply emphasized his minimalist genius--a man who's the greatest actor in the world from the neck up can release an emotional tsunami just by twitching an eyelid.

The precise Gielgud became linked with the cloudily otherworldly Richardson in the public mind, a brother act in the vaudeville of theater legend. Peter Hall, who succeeded Olivier as head of the National, sketched in his diary this droll portrait of the pair:

"I took Ralph Richardson and John Gielgud for a tour of the South Bank [the new National Theatre site]. It was very funny. John, who is nearly seventy, treated Ralph, who is seventy-one, as if he were an extremely aged and endearing relative up from the country, unused to city ways: 'Mind those holes. . . .' 'Don't trip over those wires.' They were both in long coats and large trilbys, Ralph sporting a stick. They could have been nothing but actors. And great ones too."

Gielgud was also linked, forever, with his old acting partner and rival Olivier. He probably found this tiresome--the two men were not close (friendship was not one of Olivier's occupations). But they're stuck together mythologically, the two heads of a fabulous monster, the Great English Acting Past. (Some would say it was a three-headed monster, including Richardson.)

There is probably more to this than the usual sentimentality. It would be ridiculous to say, in terms of simple talent, that Ian McKellen isn't Gielgud's equal, or Albert Finney Olivier's. But that's no more meaningful than talking about today's great ballplayers vs. the heroes of baseball's glory days. The game has changed. Gielgud and Olivier and Richardson came out of a grueling system of repertory. Theater was thriving when they came of age, and they had played dozens of roles, of all sorts, by the time they reached their late thirties.

There's no substitute for this kind of intense on-the-job training, and it's not available today. There aren't as many theaters and productions; even an actor who wants to do as much work can't. It's the cliche of obituaries to say that a man's death marks the end of an era. But with the remarkable and long-lived Gielgud, that happens to be the case.

See more articles from The Washington Post

'Charming & Rose': Unhappy Ever After

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
June 30, 2000
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

"Charming & Rose: True Love," presented by the Theatre Conspiracy, is yet one more lecture about how the lessons fairy tales teach women are wrong, wrong, wrong. Rose (Sarah Fox), a princess raised by wolves, meets Prince Charming (Jon Cohn) in the forest, and they get it on. He loves her animal, er, vitality but is embarrassed to have her at the dinner table with his relatives.

Things are complicated by a) Rose's wolf family, which apparently wants her back and surrounds the castle, and b) Rose's fairy godmother Melisande (Melanie Tatum), who keeps appearing and expressing dismay at Rose's silly pre-feminist dreams. Melisande knows how harsh the world really is and how vile men can be, and before this play is over, so does Rose.

Charming actually loves Rose but would rather hurt his father, the king, than love her as she deserves. He's the only character whose predicament can draw our sympathy, and he's the villain.

Given the built-in difficulties of the role, Cohn is an engaging Charming. Fox's performance never recovers from her having to crawl around on all fours and snarl in a manner meant to be wolflike. Tatum is alternately smug and hectoring as Melisande, and irritating in both modes.

Given the cramped space in the black-box theater at the District of Columbia Arts Center, Jennifer Stewart has designed a set that allows for some interesting staging by director Jason Kaiser.

Even leaving aside the fact that women have been writing this play in one form or another for more than 30 years, and the question of whether we really need another one, "Charming & Rose" stands on its own as a dreary piece of work.

Charming & Rose: True Love, by Kelley Jo Burke. Directed by Jason Kaiser. Lights, Lynn Joslin; sound, Michael Savenelli; costumes, Jessie Kellogg; props, Cari Schmucker; fights and choreography, Diane Cooper. At the District of Columbia Arts Center, 2438 18th St. NW, through July 8. Call 202-462-7833.

Cite this article

See more articles from The Washington Post

New Stages of Development

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
December 31, 1995
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Acritic's choice of the best of '95, in alphabetical order:

BESSIE'S BLUES (Studio Theatre): Astonishing. Tom Jones II's musical collage inspired by the life of Bessie Smith featured Bernardine Mitchell leading a talented cast. Not so much a biography as a series of riffs and meditations on African American history -- particularly the history between black men and women -- the production was full of one surprise after another, its only consistencies being beauty and intelligence.

ESCAPE FROM HAPPINESS (Round House Theatre): An escape into happiness, from the inspired casting together for the first time of local theater legends Sarah Marshall and Nancy Robinette as equally flaky daughter and mother, to Jane Beard's maniac performance as a stressed-out lawyer, to Daniel DeRaey's spring-heeled direction. Comic bliss.

FIXIN' TO DIE: A VISIT TO THE MIND OF LEE ATWATER (Beegie Truesdale, producer): Bruce McIntosh was electric in Robert Myers's play about the charming, shallow, rather awful young political genius who was the white knight of the right and the bete noire of the left. Myers, McIntosh and director George Furth took a detached view of their complicated subject that allowed the audience an ambivalent response to him, a rarity in a political play.

HENRY V (Shakespeare Theatre): Michael Kahn may one day top his direction of this "Henry V," but if he does there's the danger the roof will blow off the theater. With Harry Hamlin carrying the play's emotional center as a man learning how hard it is to put away childish things, Kahn's daringly abstract approach to the text yielded one of the most audaciously successful Shakespearean productions I've ever seen.

LONG DAY'S JOURNEY INTO NIGHT (Arena Stage): That once-in-a-blue- moon theater experience, a masterly production of a masterwork. Director Douglas C. Wager delivered all the searing, emotional battery of this great play, and Arena regulars Tana Hicken and Casey Biggs gave definitive portrayals of the drug-addicted mother and drunken, lost son who are among the family members Eugene O'Neill shows us boiling each other in the acids of betrayal and resentment.

THE MERCHANT OF VENICE (Source Theatre): A hip update that actually worked, as director Joe Banno set Shakespeare's troubling comedy in the corporate-shark world of the '80s, with gratifying results. This production was actually funny instead of merely unpleasant, and Michael Tolaydo was a fine, sorrowful Shylock.

STEAK! (Consenting Adults Theatre Company): Nowhere near as professionally executed as the other entries on this list, "Steak!" had going for it a genuine originality. Though at first it appeared to be a satire about meat-eating cowguys vs. vegetarian cowgirls, the musical curled itself into the welcome, lovable shape of a Shakespearean comedy, all absurdity and true lovers meeting.

THREE SISTERS (Studio Theatre): Richly comic, appallingly painful Chekhov. Joy Zinoman directed this emotionally sophisticated production, with a superb cast that included Sarah Marshall, Nancy Robinette, Jon Tindle and Brion Dinges; Russell Metheney designed the Prozorovs' multi-roomed, past-haunted house, in which the play takes place.

THREE TALL WOMEN (Kennedy Center): Edward Albee stares down death and death almost blinks in this Pulitzer-winning drama in which a dying woman faces her mortality. Marian Seldes was majestic in the lead.

WATBANALAND (Woolly Mammoth Theatre): Doug Wright's dark comedy about fertility didn't so much pack a punch as deliver a kick to the heart. This was a production to remind you what it's like to see something shocking, not just noisy, onstage.

Cite this article

See more articles from The Washington Post

Onstage, Works With a Distinct Canadian Accent; Tide of Imports Flows From the North

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
September 10, 2000
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

O Canada--why are you so well represented in the Washington theater season this year?

Playwright George Walker, long a Round House regular, is making his Woolly Mammoth debut with "Heaven." Studio Theatre is producing two Canadian artists: Morris Panych's "Vigil" is the opening show, and performance artist Daniel MacIvor appears in late September. Meanwhile, Arena Stage provides a venue for French Canada with an English-language production of Michel Tremblay's "For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again."

Suddenly--in Washington theatrical circles anyway--Canada is hot. This is the same Canada commonly regarded as the Iowa of North America (think wheat, think boring), the country so nebbishy that the "South Park" moviemakers knew they could count on a laugh just by naming one of the film's big musical numbers "Blame Canada!" The land of the bland.

Okay, fine, there were those funny "SCTV" folks, and there's that David Cronenberg film-director guy who never found a bleeding wound he didn't like, and Neil Young and Barenaked Ladies, not to mention William Shatner--well, there. We're back to it.

Canada: birthplace of William Shatner.

Just possibly, America's artistic chauvinism has been a shade in error.

Arena Artistic Director Molly Smith, who as head of the Perseverance Theatre in Alaska produced a number of Canadian plays, says that good Canadian playwrights "have always been there. There's a host of wonderful writers in Canada not being produced in the U.S."

Jerry Whiddon, the artistic director at Round House, is one who has been producing Canadian plays in this country, mainly by George Walker, whose "Filthy Rich" he staged in 1987. (And Signature Theatre has done two plays by the controversial Brad Fraser, including the brilliantly titled "Unidentified Human Remains and the True Nature of Love.") Round House has subsequently done seven Walker plays, though this year the Walker production in Washington is, for the first time, at Woolly Mammoth. "I think it's ironic that this is the year we don't have a Canadian play in our season," Whiddon notes of the heavy presence of Our Northern Neighbor in the list of upcoming plays. "I think it's great. There's a wealth of writing talent in Canada."

Whiddon and Studio Artistic Director Joy Zinoman use the same phrase to describe theatrical Canada: "a new-play development lab." "I brought back 200 plays," Zinoman says of her trip to Toronto last November. "There aren't enough theaters as a ratio to writers, even though there are so many first-rate theaters." She has two other Canadian plays, Tremblay's "Les Belles-Soeurs" and "Perfect Pie" by Judith Thompson, scheduled for readings the first weekend in December.

Whiddon also visited Toronto last November. So did John MacDonald and Joe Banno, artistic directors of the Washington Stage Guild and the Source Theatre, respectively, even though neither of their theaters is producing a Canadian work. MacDonald visited the famous Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake (Shaw being the Stage Guild's favorite playwright) and Banno saw a number of productions, including the latest by Robert LaPage, whose "fabulous, evocative pieces" he adores.

"When I was in grad school at Carnegie Mellon," Banno recalls, "a Broadway company manager spoke to my class and told us, 'When you hear the word "Canada," run! Because it's going to be terrible.' If that was even true then, it isn't anymore."

All the artistic directors praise Canada's support of its theater. "The government money is really going into the writing," Zinoman observes approvingly. Whiddon agrees: "They really nurture their home- grown talent."

And Canada doesn't restrict its nurturing to at-home programs. The reason for all this travel from the District is simple: The Canadian government provides grants to American theater professionals so that they can come and see for themselves what's going on. One way to fight the dreaded northward creep of American taste is to bring Americans up, inoculate them with some Canadian culture and let them return to spread artistic fever.

The program, administered in Washington by the Canadian Cultural Attache Louise Blais, is well-run and generous. MacDonald filled out his application form "knowing I didn't really fit" (since the Washington Stage Guild rarely does new plays), and happily discovered that the guidelines were flexible enough to allow him to visit the Shaw Festival.

Such support is admirable, and the participants in the program are grateful. Still, the situation can't help provoking a complicated response. On the one hand, the Canadian outreach is terrific. On the other . . . pointing out that the announcements of Washington's Helen Hayes Awards nominees are made each year at the Canadian Embassy here, MacDonald comments dryly:

"There's more support for Washington theater from Canada than locally."

NOW PLAYING

"Incident at Vichy," a strongly directed production of Arthur Miller's 1964 play about the psychology of collaboration, a co- production of Washington Shakespeare Company and Washington Jewish Theatre, at Washington Shakespeare Company. Through Sept.24.

"Therese Raquin," Emile Zola's tale of murder and guilt adapted by playwright Neal Bell, at the Olney Theatre Center. Through Sept. 24.

"The Great White Hope," the groundbreaking play based on the fighting career of black boxer Jack Johnson, at Arena Stage. Through Oct. 15.

"Heaven," a new play by George Walker ("Escape From Happiness") about a human rights lawyer facing his own prejudices, at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. Through Oct. 1.

"My Foot My Tutor," Peter Handke's "avant-dumb-show," by Fraudulent Productions at the District of Columbia Arts Center. Through Oct. 7.

"Romeo & Juliatric," the latest outrage from Cherry Red Productions, at Metro Cafe. Through Oct. 14.

"Timon of Athens," Michael Kahn's modern-dress production of Shakespeare's bitter, satirical, misanthropic drama of greed and false friendship, at the Shakespeare Theatre. Through Oct. 22.

"The Rhythm Club," a new, Broadway-bound musical about popular music as a subversive force among teenagers in 1930s Germany, directed by Eric Schaeffer, at Signature Theatre. Through Oct. 22.

"Snakebit," a play about a poignant encounter among old friends, set in Los Angeles, at Round House Theatre. Through Oct. 1.

"Vigil," starring Floyd King in a dark comedy about a man who befriends his sick aunt in the hope of inheriting her fortune, at Studio Theatre. Through Oct. 18.

"Closer," a tense sexual drama from London, directed by Joe Banno, at Source Theatre. Through Oct. 8.

"The Lady From the Sea," one of Ibsen's classic examinations of women and marriage, at the Theatre of the First Amendment. Through Oct. 1.

"The Idiot," Stanislavsky Theater Studio's revival of its stunning adaptation of the Dostoevski novel, at Church Street Theater. Through Oct. 8.

"Someone Else's Wife and the Husband Under the Bed," another Dostoevski adaptation, this one of a lighter nature than "The Idiot," at Classika Theatre. Through Oct. 14.

SEPTEMBER

14--"Hollywood Pinafore, or The Lad Who Loved a Salary," an updating by George S. Kaufman of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic, opens at American Century Theater. Through Oct. 14.

15--"For the Pleasure of Seeing Her Again," a portrait of a maddening but marvelous mother by the well-known French-Canadian playwright Michel Tremblay, in English, opens at Arena Stage. Through Oct. 29.

22--"The Lonesome West," a meanly funny play about a pair of quarrelsome Irish brothers, opens at Rep Stage. Through Oct. 15.

22--"Uttar-Priyadarshi (The Final Beatitude)," a presentation by Ratan Thiyam and his Chorus Repertory Theatre of India of Thiyam's anti-war play, opens at the Kennedy Center. Through Sept. 23.

26--"Inherit the Wind," the famous drama about the 1928 Scopes trial in which Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan debated the truth of the theory of evolution, starring James Whitmore as Darrow and longtime Arena star Robert Prosky as Bryan, opens at Ford's Theatre. Through Nov. 5.

OCTOBER

6--"She Stoops to Conquer," the classic comedy about a rake too intimidated by his "refined" fiancee to pop the question, opens at Center Stage. Through Nov. 5.

10--"The Madwoman of Chaillot," Jean Giradoux's gentle but oddball comedy, starring Halo Wines, opens at the Olney Theatre Center. Through Nov. 12.

14--"The Dead," the Tony-winning musical based on the James Joyce short story about a man who discovers his wife has a secret, opens at the Kennedy Center. Through Nov. 12.

19--"Once Five Years Pass," Lorca's semi-autographical drama, opens at GALA Hispanic Theatre. At their new home, the Warehouse Theatre on Seventh Street NW.

25--"You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown," the "Peanuts" musical, opens at Round House Theatre. Through Nov. 19.

26--"Ill Met by Moonlight," a play about a professor of Irish mythology who discovers his nephew may be about to marry a changeling, opens at the Washington Stage Guild. Through Nov. 26.

26--"Oscar & Sperenza," a play about Oscar Wilde and his colorful mom, opens at Trumpet Vine Theatre Company. Through Nov. 12.

28--"The Tempest," Joe Banno's production of the Shakespeare play, with Michael Tolaydo as Prospero, opens at the Folger Theatre. Through Dec. 3.

30--"Preaching to the Perverted," the newest show by performance artist Holly Hughes, opens at Woolly Mammoth Theatre. Through Dec. 5.

NOVEMBER

1--"Two Sisters and a Piano," a drama about sisters under house arrest in 1991 Cuba, opens at the Studio Theatre. Through Dec. 13.

2--"Via Dolorosa," David Hare's anguished meditation on the Arab- Israeli conflict, opens at Theatre J. Through Nov. 26.

2--"The Philadelphia Story," the classic American comedy about love among the upper classes, opens at Rep Stage. Through Nov. 19.

3--"Play On!," an adaptation of Shakespeare's "Twelfth Night" set to music by Duke Ellington, opens at Arena Stage. Through Jan. 7.

7--"Richard II," Shakespeare's drama of a king who finds true nobility only as he's deprived of his crown, with Wallace Acton in the title role, opens at the Shakespeare Theatre. Through Dec. 31.

7--"In the Absence of Spring," Joe Calarco's surreal theater piece (he writes and directs it) about survivors of a plane crash, opens at Signature Theatre. Through Dec. 17.

8--"Kwaiden," three Japanese ghost stories in a puppet theater piece conceived for adult audiences, opens at the Kennedy Center. Through Nov. 12.

15--"Faust," Stanislavsky Theater Studio's staging of both parts of Goethe's masterpiece, opens at the Church Street Theater. Through Dec. 17.

16--"Fall," a comedy about a 14-year-old girl at dance camp, opens at Center Stage. Through Dec. 17.

21--"Man of La Mancha," the musical about Don Quixote, directed by Jack Going, opens at the Olney Theatre. Through Dec. 24.

22--"The Battle of Stalingrad," a limited engagement from the Marionette Theater of Tblisi, Republic of Georgia, opens at the Kennedy Center. Through Dec. 3.

23--"Cyrano," the classic about the lover with the large nose, opens at Le Neon Theatre. Through Dec. 17.

24--"Christmas at the Old Bull and Bush," the annual bash, opens at Interact Theatre. Through Jan. 7.

25--"A Christmas Carol," the adaptation of the Dickens classic, opens at Ford's Theatre. Through Dec. 31.

29--"The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told," Paul Rudnik's very, very, very gay take on the Bible, opens at Source Theatre. Through Jan. 7.

DECEMBER

5--"Buffalo Hair," a drama about the 19th century African- American "Buffalo soldiers", opens at ACTco. Through Dec. 17.

5--"Fosse," the Tony-award winning dance musical based on the work of the director/choreographer Bob Fosse (the film version of "Cabaret"), opens at the National Theatre. Through Dec. 31.

8--"K2," a drama about two men climbing the deadliest mountain in the world, opens Dec. 8 at Arena Stage. Through Jan. 28.

19--"Blast!," the Broadway-bound London hit featuring 68 cartwheeling, saber-tossing musicians with a score ranging from Ravel to Bernstein, opens at the Kennedy Center. Through Jan. 14.

27--"Twelfth Night," Shakespeare's melancholy comedy of love performed by Shenandoah Shakespeare Express, opens at the Folger Theatre. Through Jan. 31.

INFORMATION ON SELECTED THEATER COMPANIES AND STAGES

AFRICAN CONTINUUM THEATRE COMPANY (ACTCo)

No set address

202-529-5763

AMERICAN CENTURY THEATER

At the Gunston Arts Center

2700 S. Lang St., Arlington

703-553-8782

ARENA STAGE

1101 Sixth St. SW

202-488-3300

CENTER STAGE THEATER

700 N. Calvert St., Baltimore

410-332-0033

CHERRY RED PRODUCTIONS

At the Metro Cafe

1522 14th St. NW

202-675-3071

CLASSIKA THEATRE

4041 S. 28th St., Arlington

703-824-6200

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA ARTS CENTER

2438 18th St. NW

202-462-7833

FOLGER THEATRE

201 East Capitol St. SE

202-544-7077

FORD'S THEATRE

511 10th St. NW

202-347-4833

INTERACT THEATRE COMPANY

No set address

703-848-2632

KENNEDY CENTER

2700 F St. NW

202-467-4600

LE NEON THEATRE

At the Rosslyn Spectrum

1601 N. Kent St., Arlington

703-243-6366

NATIONAL THEATRE

1321 Pennsylvania Ave. NW

202-628-6161

OLNEY THEATRE CENTER

2001 Olney-Sandy Spring Rd. (Route 108), Olney

301-924-3400

REP STAGE

At Howard Community College

10901 Little Patuxent Pkwy., Columbia

410-772-4900

ROUND HOUSE THEATRE

12210 Bushey Dr., Silver Spring

301-933-1644

SHAKESPEARE THEATRE

At the Lansburgh

450 Seventh St. NW

202-547-1122

SIGNATURE THEATRE

3806 S. Four Mile Run Dr., Arlington

703-820-9771

SOURCE THEATRE

1835 14th St. NW

202-462-1073

STANISLAVSKY THEATER STUDIO

At Church Street Theater

1742 Church St. NW

202-265-3748

STUDIO THEATRE

1333 P St. NW

202-332-3300

THEATER OF THE FIRST AMENDMENT

At George Mason University

4400 University Dr., Fairfax

703-993-8888

THEATER J

At the District of Columbia Jewish Community Center

1529 16th St. NW

202-518-9418

TRUMPET VINE THEATRE

COMPANY

At the Rosslyn Spectrum

1601 Kent St., Arlington

703-912-1649

WAREHOUSE THEATRE

1021 Seventh St. NW

202-675-3071

WASHINGTON SHAKESPEARE COMPANY

601 S. Clark St., Arlington

703-418-4808

WASHINGTON STAGE GUILD

924 G St. NW

202-529-2084

WOOLLY MAMMOTH THEATRE

1401 Church St. NW

202-393-3939

d of The Ring; 'The Great White Hope,' in Championship Form at Arena

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
September 11, 2000
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

In his professional debut as black boxer Jack Jefferson in "The Great White Hope," 26-year-old Mahershala Karim Ali proves as much of a champion as the man he is playing. As soon as Ali (what a fortuitous name for an actor playing this role) enters, lithely muscled and as quick on his feet as a dancer, he shows you Jefferson's sense of play and display. This is a stylist, not a slugger--an ironist who verbally stings his white insulters, as he physically does his ring opponents, so lightly and swiftly they aren't sure they've been hit. Until they land on the canvas.

The late Howard Sackler's huge drama, a rant against white racism, was developed and first produced at Arena Stage in 1967 and made a star of the original Jefferson, James Earl Jones (and of Jane Alexander as Jefferson's mistress). Now Arena Artistic Director Molly Smith has taken on this sprawling, troublesome legend--boxing, so to speak, in its shadow. Like her young lead, she scores a knockout.

Sackler conceived his drama--inspired by, as much as based on, the career of the first black heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson--as an epic, spanning years and continents and written in free verse. In Brechtian fashion, he keeps the audience at emotional arm's length by devices such as having the actors address us directly or by writing whole scenes in another language.

At the same time, he pounds us over the head with the injustice of it all, setting his hero up for one low blow after another from a white society terrified of the implications of a black fighting champion. Unable to bring him down legitimately, his enemies (apparently all of white America) throw the Mann Act at him: He's made the mistake of going across a state line with his white fiancee and then making love to her.

It is love, too. Johnson himself had three white wives. But that sort of realism has no place here. It's necessary to Sackler that Jefferson and his beloved Eleanor (Kelly C. McAndrew) be babes-in- the-woods lovers who don't know the danger they're courting. But rather than innocent, they seem dim. Just possibly the middle-class Eleanor could have been this insulated from social reality, but the idea that Jefferson could have reached young manhood in such naivete is ridiculous.

To give Sackler credit, he has some idea of how this affair plays to the African American community of the play. Though Jefferson's mother (Denise Diggs) and his trainer Tick (Wayne W. Pretlow) accept Eleanor, his fans and acquaintances eye her more warily. And his abandoned common-law wife, Clara (Aakhu TuahNera Freeman), is enraged. In the first part of the play, Clara comes across as a bad- tempered joke, vicious enough to want to turn Jefferson over to the feds rather than have him live with his white woman. But later she emerges as a vengeful stand-in for all her sisters, those dismissed by Jefferson's casual remark "Everyone knows I've thrown off colored women."

Also hovering around to point out to Jefferson his sin in abandoning his own is Scipio (Clayton LeBouef), a Garveyesque figure in African garb who tends to appear at the edge of the action shaking his fist at any evidence of black accommodation to the white man's world. Occasionally he abandons his symbolic status and comes right into the play to harangue people: "How much white you pinin' for? How white you want to be?" (Understandably, considering how awkwardly he's pushed into the narrative and their faces, the black characters look at him with some bewilderment.)

Scipio must speak for the playwright, since Sackler has made every single white person in the play evil, evil, evil--except for Eleanor, a fair-minded Englishman (Richard Henrich) and Jefferson's Jewish manager, Goldie (Joel Rooks). (Given the play's political slant, you keep waiting for a denunciation of Goldie as an exploiter, but it never happens.)

In the late 1960s, white audiences must have writhed in delighted masochism at seeing their hatefulness so rawly dramatized--though their discomfort was no doubt mitigated by the fact that most of the whites in the play aren't of that enlightened class that commonly attends the theater. For black audiences, there may have been something cathartic in watching a white playwright beat up on his own, and a grim satisfaction in the play's depiction of a vast intercontinental conspiracy to bring Jefferson down. The play was always hysterical and frenzied, but initially it had timeliness on its side.

Now its overwrought elements make it seem somewhat comic. The whites run around like Wile E. Coyote, hatching one dastardly plot after another only to have them all explode in their faces. This is where Smith's idea for stylizing the play fuses brilliantly with the script. Scott Bradley's set and Lap-Chi Chu's lighting deliberately suggest a circus, with each scene presented as a new act--it's the modern "media circus," in which Jefferson's life would be reduced to entertainment. In this metaphor, the whites are clearly the clowns. Yet--and here the production becomes bleakly and bitterly absurdist-- these pathetic jokes are dangerous. Laughter won't make this devil flee.

With the exception of Jefferson, the roles are one-dimensional, so McAndrew's Eleanor is rather dull and Rooks's Goldie more a collection of lovable mannerisms than a person and LeBouef's Scipio an icon rather a character. Freeman's vitality bursts through the cliches of her part as the ex-wife, and Pretlow's natural warmth makes Tick more than just the loyal best friend he's written as. Most of the 28 actors play three or four roles, and notable among them are David Fendig as a frighteningly civilized FBI bureaucrat, Sarah Marshall as a Hungarian impresario, Conrad Feininger as a reptilian journalist, Howard W. Overshown as an African prince, and Henrich, Ian LeValley, Craig Wallace, Timmy Ray James, Terrence Currier and Lawrence Redmond in a variety of small parts.

In the central role, Ali is radiant. His Jefferson is still youthfully open, happy in his art, his talent whispering to him its own truth of mastery and fortune. Seeing this brightness and joy fall to hatred and sour envy adds an extra, almost tragic level to the story of social injustice. Jefferson evokes Othello, not because of the white wife, but because we're watching a great nature be destroyed by a pettiness beneath its noble comprehension.

The Great White Hope, by Howard Sackler. Directed by Molly Smith. Sound and music, Michael Keck; costumes, Rosemary Pardee; choreography, Mike Malone; fights, Michael Jerome Johnson. With Joseph Cronin, Mark E. Gladue, Scott Griswold, Bus Howard, Michael Jerome Johnson, Jack Kyrieleison, Tom Quinn, Thomas Adrian Simpson, Laura Sligh, Eric Sutton, Jeorge Watson. At Arena Stage through Oct. 15. Call 202-488-3300.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy t

See more articles from The Washington Post

'Snakebit': A Graceful Glide Into Glibness; Theater

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
September 13, 2000
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

"Snakebit," which opened Monday at the Round House Theatre, is a very up-to-date examination of three friends who serve in many ways as family for one another. It's smart (the author is David Marshall Grant, who wrote the terrific screenplay for HBO's "Citizen Cohn") and extremely well acted, but so smooth that the evening is a little bland.

This is not the fault of the production, directed by Daniel De Raey, who has made such luscious comedy out of George Walker's scripts ("Escape From Happiness," "Better Living"). Though the play, set in one room, is full of stagily convenient entrances and exits, De Raey makes it all look natural, and he's drawn emotionally detailed performances from his actors: Paul Morella, newcomer Ben Hulan and Round House regulars Jane Beard and Marty Lodge.

Morella is Michael, a gay man living in L.A. whose disc jockey lover has just left him. Michael is preparing to move, but in the meantime some old friends, a married couple, are staying with him while the husband, Jonathan (Lodge), auditions for a movie. Wife Jenifer (Beard) frets about their 6-year-old staying with Jonathan's sister back in New York, and Michael, who is a social worker, frets about a troubled 11-year-old girl whom he feels he's abandoned.

Grant has two irresistible targets in his sights--Los Angeles and actors--and he scores a bunch of very funny bull's-eyes. The self- involved Jonathan, whose sole previous credit is as a rapist in "Brute Force II," is a familiar monster but drawn here with great skill, as well as a certain amount of sympathy. Lodge plays the character with so much brio and commitment that his selfishness amuses and charms more than repels us. Later, when Jonathan is suffering, Lodge gives him such depth of feeling that the audience is won over almost completely.

Morella is very fine as Michael--sensitive and powerfully understated. He suggests a greater complexity than the author actually provides. Though "Snakebit" is meant to be Michael's story, Grant puts the character at a dramatic disadvantage by making him primarily a reactor and a watcher--he seems always to be slouched on the sofa or perched on the window seat as the play goes on in front of him. He's not positioned to control the drama, so noisy, conflicted Jonathan takes over.

Given Lodge's fundamentally decent Jonathan, Jenifer comes across as more unsympathetic than Grant probably intended. We're meant to see her as neglected by Jonathan and possessed of strong mothering instincts, but she seems rather spoiled. And her dragging poor Michael into a panic she has over her baby's health is inexcusable. Beard is quite good and, as usual, doesn't comment on the character as she plays it, so it's not clear whether she thinks of Jenifer as a jerk. But the audience is pretty much bound to.

Though Hulan is fresh and funny as a classic California space cadet, his role of Gary is a stand-up routine, not a character. The verbal agility with which Gary is written indicates why, in spite of all the activity, "Snakebit" remains rather placid. Grant is just too damn good at expressing his characters' thoughts, so good that we get more of them than we need. Glibness smooths out what dramatic bumps there are in the script--everything just flows by in a river of talk.

Snakebit, by David Marshall Grant. Directed by Daniel De Raey. Set, Daniel Conway; lighting, Daniel MacLean Wagner; music and sound, Scott Burgess; costumes, Rosemary Pardee. At the Round House Theatre through Oct. 1. Call 301-933-1644.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

See more articles from The Washington Post

Prisons of the Mind; At Studio, a Tender 'Two Sisters'

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
November 7, 2000
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Greta Sanchez-Ramirez and Nancy Rodriguez in "Two Sisters and a Piano.""Two Sisters and a Piano," at the Studio Theatre, is a study of the psychological consequences engendered even by relatively unsevere political oppression. The script could be played as a nightmare of paranoia and the elusiveness of motive, but director Serge Seiden has made the equally legitimate choice to concentrate on the emotional complexities, bringing out playwright Nilo Cruz's compassion and tenderness.

In 1991 Havana, the romance novelist turned political activist Maria Celia Obispo (Greta Sanchez-Ramirez) and her younger sister, Sophia (Nancy Rodriguez), are under house arrest after spending two years in prison. Maria's husband is in exile. His letters are kept from her, and she has no idea whether he is going to be able to get her out of Cuba.

Twenty-four-year-old Sophia, more a political hanger-on than a committed activist, is the shallow Ismene to Maria's stoic Antigone. Sophia is tired of poverty and confinement, tired of having no fun.

Daniel Lee Conway's set, with its stained stucco walls and worn furniture, underscores the impression of stagnation and decay. Periodically, when the sisters dream of freedom, the walls become transparent, revealing a lilac sky and a white sea, with dark splotches too distant to decipher: Are they trees or decaying buildings, or are they actually mildew growing on the walls of the house in which two lives have stopped?

Into this potentially volatile situation comes Lt. Allejandro Portuondo (Paul Morella), an ambiguous figure who has the power to release Maria's husband's letters to her. When he tries to get her to talk about her writing, she suspects he's merely attempting to trap her into some incriminating revelation. Even later, when he expresses sexual and romantic interest, she isn't quite sure he's on the level. On the other hand, the audience notes, she also appears to be trying to manipulate him, even if she's only half-aware of it.

The emotional line of the story is sometimes hard to follow because Seiden hasn't directed the actors to prepare us for the coming changes in their characters. They just seem to change personalities about midway through. Morella's Portuondo starts as an oily, grinning villain, and the sensitive, confused man who emerges later, though well acted, comes out of nowhere. In her early scenes, Rodriguez makes Sophia engagingly natural and sane, so her eventual crackup is unconvincing. Sanchez-Ramirez is sternly the same all the way through, but she's acting in a mannered style of poses and odd gestures (turning to leave a room, she kicks up a foot behind her, like a dancer) that clashes with the other actors.

The most satisfying acting, partly because the character has no trajectory but is in only one scene, is from Lawrence Redmond as Victor Manuel, the piano tuner Sophia flirts with. An ordinary man who comes face to face with his own vulnerability and wistful longing, Redmond's Manuel is continually surprising us and himself. It's a complicated, affecting performance.

This is a play about the consequences of thought--imprisonment, persecution--in which none of the characters is really sure what he or she thinks. Cruz works this paradox not for cruel humor but for its complexities. Portuondo is the man in charge who knows what's going on in the government but not what's happening in his own heart. Maria not only can't be sure what he's up to, she can't be sure of her own motives. These conflicts aren't resolved in a sentimental, satisfying way; Cruz keeps his characters, and us, off balance, lost in a wilderness of mirrors.

Two Sisters and a Piano, by Nilo Cruz. Directed by Serge Seiden. Lighting, Joseph Appelt; costumes, Helen Q. Huang; sound, Gil Thompson; props, Sue Senita Bradshaw. At the Studio Theatre through Dec. 10. Call 202-332-3300.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

sel': Spinning Its Pretty Wheel

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
March 25, 1994
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

British director Nicholas Hytner has directed "Carousel," which opened last night at Lincoln Center, with a style and bravura that are at times literally breathtaking. His opening scene is overwhelming. During the music to the prologue (which includes the "Carousel Waltz"), we see the mill girls lined up regimentally at their looms, working in the shadow of a gigantic clock. Then the clock strikes 6, the closing whistle shrills, and the whole stage begins to whirl. The girls spin to their coats and hats, the factory spins to reveal its gates, the booths and lights of the fairground spin on to the stage, and finally, there arrives the carousel itself, the brilliantly colored vortex of this spiral, its turning reflected by a row of green and red lights along the curve of the Beaumont Theatre's balcony.

This is an astonishing sequence. Still, when you take away Hytner's fireworks, the stunning visual contributions of set designer Bob Crowley and lighting designer Paul Pyant, and the lusty, exuberant dances of Sir Kenneth MacMillan, what you have left is still "Carousel" - the mostinert show Rodgers and Hammerstein ever wrote. This production is brilliantly directed, all right; it's directed to the nines and beyond. It's also dull.

Based on "Liliom," a l921 play by Hungarian dramatist Ferenc Molnar, "Carousel" is the story of no-good roustabout Billy Bigelow, who marries a girl and beats her, kills himself rather than be arrested for a robbery, and then is given a chance by Heaven to atone by helping his wayward daughter. In "Liliom," the Billy character flunks this test. "Carousel," however, has an upbeat ending: Billy intervenes positively in his daughter's life by supernaturally prompting her to pay attention to her high school graduation speaker - whose message, not surprisingly, turns out to be the final-curtain version of "You'll Never Walk Alone," i.e., keep your chin up.

This kind of shaky and unsatisfying storytelling is typical of "Carousel." The songs seemed placed arbitrarily throughout the script, an unusual failing for Rodgers and Hammerstein, who were masters at throwing the audience a song just when it would most punch up the show. The comic relief - Carrie and Mr. Snow - isn't comic. And there are long, long static patches where people stand out in a field and sing a few songs, then sit in a bakery and sing a few songs, then sit on the shore and sing about what a great clambake they just had.

The sweet-as-fruit-syrup score - which includes "If I Loved You" and "June Is Bustin' Out All Over" - is considered by many musical comedy aficionados to be a classic. For such fans, this "Carousel" is reasonably well sung, though on the night I was there some of the voices were nervously tight. Shirley Verrett, who as Nettie has to handle the big corny dramatics of "You'll Never Walk Alone," seemed particularly tentative and was sometimes hard to hear. Michael Hayden sings the lead of Billy Bigelow well but unremarkably (his strengths, which are considerable, are in his acting and presence). However, Audra Ann McDonald as Carrie Snow and Sally Murphy as Billy's luckless wife, Julie, are in full, sweet voice.

Hytner has attempted to bring this staple of high school drama clubs into a recognizably adult world. Much verbal emphasis is given to the fact that Billy beats Julie. But, particularly in Murphy's high-pitched, rather stiff playing, Julie doesn't make any sense - she may strike modern audiences as more pathological than sweetly forbearing. Hayden has the swaggering sexual presence of the young Brando, but he strikes no return sparks in Murphy. So the truly adult element from Molnar - the irresistible sensuality that leads the lovers to a doomed marriage - isn't present.

Significantly, Hytner is most effective when he can ignore the script and concentrate on movement and images, as in that dizzying beginning. The lovers woo under a moon swollen to bursting that floats over them in a dark blue sky, dwarfing a lighthouse on the horizon. The clambake takes place on a sandy island surrounded - courtesy of Pyant's lighting - with shimmering blue water. Billy dies in a massive alley where fog (Pyant again) drifts softly against the bricks and the looming warehouses seem as empty and desolate as buildings at the end of the world.

It's all enough to make you gape in wonder. But you may also feel that the show hasn't earned these effects, that they've been piled up on a faltering foundation. The visual sensuality dwarfs the musical itself - the sweet, familiar songs and the underwritten script are too enervated to support the lushness. Rather than bringing "Carousel" to new life, Hytner's production dances on its slumbering corpus.

See more articles from The Washington Post

Finding New Life in `Death of a Salesman'

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
February 11, 1999
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

The production of "Death of a Salesman" that opened last night at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre begins with a stark, self-consciously dramatic image. A door slams open and there slumps a backlit Brian Dennehy, weighted with two enormous carrying cases, his face shadowed by his fedora, his big body draped in a coat that hangs as mournfully as a shroud. The mythic Willy Loman -- salesman, father, dreamer, loser, victim, archetypal American -- is back on Broadway, 50 years after Arthur Miller's play premiered and became an instant classic.

"Death of a Salesman" is revered because it seems to say something about the ruthlessness of American capitalism. After a career on the road, the burned-out Willy discovers that the company he served so loyally has no further use for him. But the play works onstage, and stays with people, because of the tortured relationship between Willy and his elder son, Biff (Kevin Anderson). This is the play about hating your father and loving your father and owing your father and, above all, never being good enough for your father. About letting the old man down.

Director Robert Falls has decided to focus on Biff's story as the one that drives the play. In retrospect, this seems like a simple, even obvious choice -- but in fact, I've never seen the play done like this before, and the emphasis on the son's dilemma revolutionizes it. As a play about Willy, "Death of a Salesman" is powerful but wobbly. Is the man in his predicament because of heartless American business, or because he wasn't actually much of a salesman? Miller provides lines that support both points of view, and the result isn't a complex ambivalence but simple confusion. All the characters talk about what a good man Willy is, but we watch him encourage his sons to cheat and steal. He'd rather mooch off his friend Charley (the wonderful Howard Witt) than accept a job from him. When we meet Willy, he's going crazy, and we assume it's because of what life has done to him. Then there's a flashback to 16 years earlier, and he's already going crazy. The play keeps positioning itself as a tragedy about the failure of a man who's done his best, but it also keeps showing us that Willy hasn't done his best. If you try to follow Willy's story seriously at all, Miller's double- mindedness keeps it from making any sense. Biff's story, however, makes sense and then some. He's the high school football hero who somehow never managed to make good, tormented because he's a disappointment to his father. It's not just that he was supposed to be a star in life as he was on the field: He was supposed to make up for all of Willy's failures and flaws, becoming the man he could never be. "Biff, I swear to God, Biff, his life is in your hands," Biff's brother, Happy (Ted Koch), tells him. Biff is miserably aware of this. In most productions, the knowledge and his inability to act on it destroy him. In this one, he makes peace with his own frailty. He faces the fact that he's not going to be the hero who saves his father's life. He grows up. This interpretation not only gives the play more narrative strength, it gets around the production's biggest weakness, which is Dennehy's performance as Willy. He gives it a great try, but Dennehy's drawback as an actor is that he can't convince you he knows pain. He's very similar physically to Lee J. Cobb, who originated the role. But Cobb was a huge, wounded animal, dying from a bullet he never heard coming. There's no wound in Dennehy, no mournfulness or sorrow. He's pugnacious, an extrovert -- bulletproof. He can make Willy crazy, but he can't make us believe that he suffers. Dennehy almost never looks into the other actors' eyes, and Anderson's performance is about trying to get in front of his gaze, to make Willy see Biff rather than his idealized fantasy of the boy. This is the most loving Biff I've ever seen -- a screwed-up man whose one saving strength is his feeling for his father. As we watch, Biff desperately tries to twist himself into a shape Willy can take comfort from. He can't do it. He snaps. Anderson, who is terrific throughout, becomes very quiet at this point, resigned rather than beaten. His failure finally sets him free. Willy's wife, Linda, is played by Elizabeth Franz as a frail, gentle creature who buffers Willy with her tenderness to keep the hard world away. It's a great performance. So is Witt's sardonic, fatalistic, warmhearted Charley -- Willy's best friend, who doesn't even much like him. And so is Kate Buddeke as the vulgar, cheerful woman Willy beds in a hotel room. "Death of a Salesman" is often referred to as a tragedy, but it isn't. We don't feel pity and terror at Willy, just pity: He's a figure of pathos. It's a resonant pathos, though. To the extent that the play deserves its reputation as a masterpiece, it's because Miller dramatized first and for all time the iconic American loser. The man to whom life and work are a game at which he loses, for no reason he can understand. Who thinks that being well-liked is the key to success. Whose existence is slowly buried under a pile of objects he can't pay for: refrigerator, washing machine, carburetor, vacuum cleaner, hot water heater. "For once in my life," he complains to Linda, "I'd like to own something outright before it breaks." But he never gets to that point. He breaks first. Death of a Salesman, by Arthur Miller. Directed by Robert Falls. Set, Mark Wendland; lights, Michael Philippi; costumes, Birgit Rattenborg Wise; original music and sound, Richard Woodbury. With Richard Thompson, Allen Hamilton, Steve Pickering, Barbara Eda- Young, Kent Klineman, Stephanie March, Chelsea Altman.

See more articles from The Washington Post

'Coat' Of Many Meanings

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
January 13, 1999
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

In "Uncle Philip's Coat," the one-man show at Theatre J, Larry Block plays three characters: an actor named Larry Zhivatovsky; Larry's immigrant father, who became a jeweler; and his father's brother Philip, who never became much of anything. The script by Matty Selman has a plot forced upon it--we're meant to understand that unlike his earnest father and like Philip, Larry is a dreamer and drifter.

Both Larry's father and uncle survived a horrific pogrom as children. The father put it behind him as much as he was able by diving headfirst into America: work, get ahead, push your children to do better than you.

Philip sold brassieres, among other things, out of the pockets of his enormous peddler's cloak and ends up dying of hypothermia on the street. "My father loved him in his own way," Larry tells us, "but in his heart he loathed him, hated his guts." The rift is deeper than the ordinary conflict between a hard- working Good Brother and an irresponsible Bad Brother. Neither Block nor Selman underlines this point, but Philip is a walking affront to all sorts of precious ideas: assimilation, new beginnings, the possibility of escaping the past. Philip is a living ghost, the ghost of all the murdered dead. He won't let the brothers' story be the usual upbeat immigrant tale: flight from persecution, success in a new home. He rejects success. He won't play along. He will never forget. The play isn't quite up to this astonishing character at its center. Block plays Philip as gentle and vulnerable, sentimentalizing him instead of finding the suffering and fury that drove him to a death on the streets. He handles the role of the father much better, with ambivalence, showing us the man's endurance and courage but also demonstrating his petty narrow-mindedness. "Nothing is going to happen!" he lectures Larry about his acting ambitions. "It's not about talent. It's about making a living. You don't have to like everything you do. Some things you just do." The scenes in which Block plays Larry are the least interesting. Partly this is because Block is a little cute in the role, playing up to the audience and looking for its love. Partly it's because Larry is simply not as interesting as his father and uncle. He doesn't have their history. He doesn't have their pain. Uncle Philip's Coat, by Matty Selman, based on a story by Selman and Larry Block. Directed by Marcia Jean Kurtz. At Theatre J through Sunday. Call 800-494-8497.

See more articles from The Washington Post

'Stop Kiss': Put Your Lips Together and Blame

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
January 18, 2000
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Under Lee Mikeska Gardner's direction, "Stop Kiss" is wonderfully acted by Rhea Seehorn and Holly Twyford as two straight women who unexpectedly find themselves falling in love. With horrible consequences, of course, this being a Woolly Mammoth production and the world being the cruel, insensitive place it is.

It's not giving anything away to preview the play's disaster: As the lights rise, a hospital bed accompanied by IV drip bags is set up stage right. Obviously, someone has to end up in it. That turns out to be Sara (Twyford). A saintly young woman from St. Louis who teaches inner-city public school kids who of course just adore her, she also brings freedom to the directionless Callie (Seehorn)-- freedom, and possibly, for the first time, love. Not five minutes into the play, we move into the future and see how this burgeoning love will come to be mutilated.

Playwright Diana Son is on the staff of "The West Wing," one of the most richly written current TV series, so she knows how to entertain. And thank Heaven. If this play weren't funny, it would be unbearable. Not because of the misfortune that befalls the heroines but because of the script's manipulative special pleading.

"Stop Kiss" is another play about gay persecution that gives the impression, probably inadvertently, that the reason we should care whether the characters are beaten up is not because their civil and human rights are being violated but because nasty things are happening to such darn nice people. The implication of this theatrical parade of virtuous victims is that if the gay people were jerks, they wouldn't merit any special concern. They certainly wouldn't merit the attentions of a playwright with a point to make.

Callie and Sara are not only witty, gorgeous, honest and socially aware, they're not even really gay. Sara has an ex (Ian LeValley in a fine, somber performance), and Callie has a sort of bed-mate/friend (ingratiating Jeorge Watson). Plus they never actually do anything so definitely sexual as go to bed together. No, a homophobe spots and punishes them on their very first kiss, the poor innocent lambs.

Maybe their precious innocence is why they're in a Manhattan park at 4:30 in the morning--though even pointing this out, the script makes clear, is "blaming the victim." It's difficult to figure out exactly what social problem the play is attacking. The fact that New York parks aren't safe at night? Violence against gays? Violence against women? Callie and Sara probably would have been attacked in that park at 4:30 a.m. whether they'd kissed or not. For that matter, either one of them could have been attacked in a shopping mall parking lot. The case that seems to have inspired the play's description of Sara's battering involved a woman walking through Central Park in the middle of the day, not doing anything in particular except being female--a condition at which her attacker apparently took offense.

If it weren't for the gay-bashing, "Stop Kiss" would be a charming lightweight comedy about two previously heterosexual women discovering they're falling in love. The scenes in which this slowly and awkwardly dawns on them are quite funny and well observed. And Son has a way with one-liners. Of course, at the same time she's writing these comic lines she's holding the specter of that forthcoming beating over our heads--encouraging us to laugh but making sure we feel bad if we do. This isn't devastating social criticism and it isn't an example of life's ambiguity. It's just a setup.

Stop Kiss, by Diana Son. Directed by Lee Mikeska Gardner. Set, Tony Cisek; lighting, Lisa Ogonowski; sound, Hana Sellers; costumes, Susan Chiang; props, Jennifer Peterson. Assistant director, Lynnie Raybuck. With Doug Brown, Desiree Marie. At Woolly Mammoth Theatre through Feb. 13. Call ProTix at 703-218-6500.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.


See more articles from The Washington Post

Make Socialism, Not War; Shaw's Talk-Heavy 'Too True'

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
March 30, 2000
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

It's a historical commonplace that World War I destroyed the European cultural self-confidence of the 19th century. George Bernard Shaw's "Too True to Be Good," now playing at Washington Stage Guild, demonstrates how completely the modern-sounding Shaw--idealist, socialist, scold--belonged to that century. The play, written in the late '20s, is about the wreck of his own confidence, and with that comes the wreck of his ability to pull together all his crazily sprouting ideas into a coherent play. "Too True to Be Good" isn't very good, really, but it's kind of fascinating.

In the first act, we meet a wealthy, pampered young hypochondriac, Miss Mopley (Tricia McCauley), who decides to help a clergyman- burglar (Bill Largess) and his doxy, Sweetie (Lynn Steinmetz), steal her necklace and then run off with them to spend the proceeds. There is also a talking microbe (Brian McMonagle)--"I'm only a poor sick bacillus!"--who explains some of Shaw's cranky theories of medicine to us.

At the end of this act a character informs us, "The play is now virtually over, but the characters will discuss it at great length for two acts more." The audience can't say it hasn't been warned, though actually the next two acts introduce lots of ideas not in the first. In fact, the last two acts are pretty much a different play.

They take place in some mythical foreign country where the British army keeps a small outpost in order to fight the brigands, even though the natives continually explain that the last brigand, now 97, retired decades ago. The idea of active brigands has been given new life by the schemes of Miss Mopley and her confederates, who are pretending she has been kidnapped in order to get a ransom out of her overprotective mother (Laura Giannarelli).

For a modern audience, this part of the script is most interesting for the character of Private Meek (McMonagle again), who like "M*A*S*H's" Radar O'Reilly really runs things while letting his CO (Vincent Clark) think he's in charge. Meek was based on Shaw's friend T.E. Lawrence, better known as Lawrence of Arabia, and for anyone who knows Lawrence's unhappy life the portrait seems almost willfully naive. Faced with a complex personality, the playwright simply turned him into a cute Shavian character.

Nothing really happens in the final two-thirds of the play, though a lot certainly goes on. A father finds a long-lost son. Sweetie follows her "lower truth" into a new romance. Miss Mopley's conventional mother does a turnabout. And Shaw's spokesman, the burglar-clergyman, expounds on his despair: We have "no workable morality, no Heaven, no Hell and no God!"

The script is filled with what today we'd call absurdist elements, but it's heavily, heavily talky, and the resulting ponderous quirkiness doesn't play very well. Director John MacDonald tries to keep things energetic, but the result is that, with a few exceptions (Bill Hamlin's Doctor, and the always reliable Largess), the actors strain themselves trying to wave the leaden blanket of Shavian lectures as if it were a feather boa of witticisms.

Shaw had lived to see the cause of his youth--Fabian socialism-- become integrated into the mainstream of British politics. Right had triumphed, but the First World War still came on. The brilliant, hectoring know-it-all had nothing left to do but keep talking--a helpless egotism he satirized by having the burglar-clergyman unable to stop giving us a sermon, even as the lights go down.

Too True to Be Good, by George Bernard Shaw. Directed by John MacDonald. Set, Greg Mitchell; lights, Marianne Meadows; sound, Brian D. Keating; costumes, William Pucilowsky; fights, John Gurski. At Washington Stage Guild through April 23. Call 202-529-2084.

Cite this article

See more articles from The Washington Post

For Moliere's 'Tartuffe,' A Delightfully Bright Halo

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
April 19, 2000
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

It should be no surprise that in her debut as a director, in "Tartuffe" at the Olney, the brilliant comic actress Halo Wines has come up with a splendid theatrical confection. James Kronzer's round- walled 17th-century set seems to transport the action to the inside of some gigantic wedding cake, Lonie Fullerton's costumes and wigs are in pale candy colors, and the actresses wear headdresses that might be spun sugar. The production itself is rich, sweet, gluttonously funny--a humor rush.

Moliere's satire about a religious con man who insinuates himself into a bourgeois household has a dark, bloodletting edge to it. At Arena in the '80s, Harris Yulin gave Tartuffe a threatening, bullish sexuality, and in a recent Royal Shakespeare Company production Anthony Sher was slithery and poisonous. Wines doesn't ignore the nastier elements; she just lets them take care of themselves while she reclaims the play for comedy.

Foolish Orgon (Alan Wade) has fallen under the spell of the hypocritically pious Tartuffe (Mitchell Hebert), whom he has invited into his home and decided to marry to his daughter Mariane (Carolyn Pasquantonio), heedlessly breaking her engagement to Valere (Christopher Lane).

Among other things, "Tartuffe" satirizes the middle class's unease with pleasure and its yen for self-denying virtue. In his black cassock, Tartuffe is like a crow among the brightly plumed songbirds of Orgon's household. He has the cool sartorial elan of an inky-clad New York bohemian among vulgarly overdressed tourists. Moliere's vulgar bourgeoisie are happy with their lives. Only Orgon falls for the con of superior moral style. Everyone but Orgon's mother (Anne Stone) understands that Tartuffe is trouble. The sensible servant Dorine (MaryBeth Wise) tells him so; his beautiful, loyal wife, Elmire (Julie-Ann Elliott), on whom Tartuffe has set his amorous sights, tells him so; his sensible brother-in-law Cleante (David Marks) tells him so, but the dolt just won't listen. He hobbles around on his knees crossing himself piously, a fool for the novelties of religious austerity.

By modern standards, Moliere's 17th-century world is an extraordinarily sane one. Individuals behave foolishly, but the underlying reality isn't absurdist and meaningless. Goodwill and good sense tend to triumph in his plays rather than simply swirl down the drain in a sordid mix with meanness and stupidity.

This noted, Moliere totters "Tartuffe" on the edge of the abyss. Orgon's gullibility leads him and his household to ruin, and things are set right only by a deliberately ludicrous plot twist in which the King (from offstage) saves the day. Moliere depended on court patronage, but there's a double message in this royalty-praising ending. By crediting the King with fairness and virtue (which includes a forgiveness of treason) the playwright also demands that he live up to those qualities. And in the bare-faced ridiculousness of the contrived happy ending, Moliere acknowledges the hopeless mess that Orgon would have found himself in had this story been a real- life one.

Wines has an exceptional cast. Wade is a suberbly complacent self- deceiving goof. Elliott is sexy, smart and sophisticated in the Diana Rigg mold, and Wise is robustly ironic as Dorine.

Good-hearted, bearlike and a bit vague, Marks seems to have wandered out of a Dickens novel. Eyes hooded and lips pursed, Hebert is a riotously smart Tartuffe. At times he nearly loses control of his deception, he's so slack-jawed at the stupidity of his mark. (He and Wade have a couple of scenes together that are as smoothly nutty as a vaudeville act.)

Yet without undermining the individuality of his or her performance, each actor seems also to have absorbed some of the fabulous comic instinct of both Wines herself and her late husband, the otherworldly genius Richard Bauer.

I last saw Wines and Bauer do Moliere in a production of "The Imaginary Invalid" in 1983. Here it's as if, in some haunting, reincarnated way, they are playing all the roles. For anyone who loves comedy, the result is bliss.

Tartuffe, by Moliere, translated by Richard Wilbur. Directed by Halo Wines. With Traber Burns, Kathleen Coons, Peter Finnegan, Grady Weatherford. Lights, Tom Sturge; sound, Jesse Terrill. At the Olney Theatre Center through May 14. Call 301-924-3400.

Cite this article

See more articles from The Washington Post

Athol Fugard's Affirmative Inaction

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
January 11, 2000
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

"Master Harold . . . and the boys," Athol Fugard's guilt-ridden autobiographical play about a white South African teenager and the black men who work for his parents, is designed to deliver a slap of shame to whites and a jolt of justification and righteous anger to blacks. And this is exactly what the Studio Theatre's new production of the 1982 play does. Powered by Thomas W. Jones II's kinetic directing and a trio of fine performances, led by an electric James Brown-Orleans, the play knocks the audience flat on the canvas.

On a rainy day in 1950, schoolboy Harold, nicknamed Hally (Steven Eskay), stops after school at the tearoom owned by his parents to pass the time with two longtime family servants, black men both: the willing, if not-too-bright, Willie (Michael Anthony Williams) and the warmhearted Sam (Brown-Orleans). Hally is shaken almost as soon as he enters by news that Sam has gotten over the phone--Hally's alcoholic father may be coming home from the hospital today.

Though he can't quite admit it to himself, Hally has been hoping that the only way Dad would leave the hospital was feet first. As he waits for a confirming phone call from his mother, he talks with Sam about the past and about a ballroom dancing contest Willie plans to enter--all the while convincing himself that Sam has probably gotten the news wrong. But Sam hasn't.

It becomes clear that the neglected Hally was to all intents and purposes raised by Sam, that this black servant is his "true" father. It also becomes clear that in order to deny his hatred of his actual father, Hally will have to direct that hatred at another target--and we have a pretty good idea who that target will be.

The climax of the play, in which the white spoiled brat turns on the saintly black servant who has done him nothing but good, is a knockout. In fact, the ending is so explosive that it almost makes you forget that up until that point there hasn't really been any play. "Master Harold . . . and the boys" runs only 80 minutes, and it's still an hour too long.

Fugard's way of conveying Sam and Hally's relationship isn't to show us but to tell us. We hear lots of stories about the past. The play doesn't move into the theatrical present tense until the end. This strands the actors, who aren't given anything much to play now. Sensing the hollowness in the script, Jones fills the stage with movement, trying to cover up that not much is actually happening in that tearoom other than Hally's getting more and more frightened and frustrated about his father.

Hally is a devastating self-portrait of pampered white shallowness and selfishness. For some, the most wince-inducing moments in the play may not be Hally's final outburst as much as his whining melodramatically to these two stoic, uncomplaining South African blacks about how awful his problems are.

As an exercise in white guilt, "Master Harold . . ." is peerless. And it suffers from the usual limitations guilt imposes on a work of art: The guilty person is the dramatic center, and no one else is allowed to have full humanity, only to be the guilty one's victims. Though Fugard allows him an outburst, Sam isn't permitted to be fully, humanly angry. At the end, he has to turn back into that recurrent white fantasy--The All-Forgiving Black Man (see "The Green Mile" for a contemporary version). This is an illustration of how awful white people are, but the awful white person still gets to hog the play.

Master Harold . . . and the boys, by Athol Fugard. Directed by Thomas W. Jones II. Set, Daniel Conway; costumes, Robin Stapley; lights, Michael Giannitti; sound, Tony Angelini; props, Stacy Bond. At the Studio Theatre through Feb. 13. Call 202-332-3300.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

See more articles from The Washington Post

'Floyd Collins': Haunting Music Trapped in a Cavernous Tale

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
January 12, 2000
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Unsatisfying as a show but musically extraordinary, "Floyd Collins," at the Signature Theatre, is based on the true story of a man trapped in a Kentucky cave for 17 days in February 1925, while above ground a media circus raged and roiled. The story had everything--sentiment (the poor trapped man!), horror (the dark, deadly cave!), local color (Kentucky hillbillies!). And to cap things off, Collins obligingly supplied the perfect unhappy ending by dying.

Collins's predicament and death have been dramatized once before, in the 1951 Kirk Douglas film "Ace in the Hole" (also known as "The Big Carnival"), which castigated the callous, scoop-greedy journalists who flocked like jackals to Collins's living grave. Adam Guettel and Tina Landau's musical isn't as focused (though, unsurprisingly, the most successful number, in old-fashioned musical comedy terms, is the reporters' blithe, heartless "Isn't That Remarkable?"). Landau's book has a sporadic quality, picking up and dropping characters and bits of story without developing anything.

This isn't necessarily the wrong approach for a dramatic parallel to Guettel's dark, plaintive, mysterious score. But it is the wrong approach for the script's realistic style, which features intense conversations and moral outrage right out of Arthur Miller. While the music whirls and shimmers like a ghost, the book clomps along earnestly.

Guettel's lyrics, straining for poetry, aren't up to his score, either. Dissonant and odd, then suddenly achingly romantic, the rich music seeps around the constricting words. (Musical directors Kimberly Grigsby and John Kalbfleisch bring out all the eerie clarity in Bruce Coughlin's orchestrations.)

Any tension the show might have depends on the audience's concern for Collins, which in turn depends on the audience's fully understanding what is happening to him and when. "Floyd Collins" gets very vague on this issue, and James Kronzer's set doesn't clarify matters.

You can't really tell exactly how Collins is trapped, or how hard it is to get to him, or whether the people who thought they could rescue him were correct or just fooling themselves. Since we don't know whether rescue is even possible, the arguments about the best method of freeing the trapped man have no dramatic force; they're just noise.

Director Gordon Greenberg has given the show a straightforward staging, trotting out the cliched characters--the evil businessman, the mad and mystical sister, the wise mother--and putting them through their paces. Neither he nor the actors seem comfortable when the scenes involve standing around and arguing or imparting information, but things come to life when the action is abstract--as in the phantasmagoric "The Carnival," Collins's vision of the media madness up above.

Rich Affannato is affecting enough as Collins, but he's not a particularly compelling singer. Except for Garrett Long, who plays Floyd's crazy sister and has a clear, exquisite soprano, no one in the cast is--and a few voices are waveringly inadequate. And none of the acting overcomes the thin obviousness of the writing.

Kronzer has designed an ordinary-looking cave that goes with the flat words and flat characters, though the music seems to demand something awesome, some cavern out of "Peer Gynt." The presence of the orchestra up behind the cave entrance is often disconcerting. Jonathan Blandin's spooky, dreamlike lighting provides some of the dread the material seems to demand, as does Brian Keating's sound, which echoingly evokes the abyss.

Collins comes to a kind of peace before his death, of course, as characters in American films and drama inevitably do. No one but a villain ever goes out screaming in despair. It's disappointing that such a musically daring work has such a timid and conventional ending.

"Floyd Collins" can simultaneously get on your nerves and entrance you, as if it were a dream with an irritating surface narrative laid over a sublime latent meaning. You can find the whole idea of the mystical idiot girl teeth-grittingly annoying, for example, yet still be stunned when she wanders against a green sky singing her strange songs.

The night I saw the show, some people left at intermission, and I understood why. But I also understood why this odd musical has won the awards it has and made so many critics swoon.

Floyd Collins, music and lyrics by Adam Guettel, book and additional lyrics by Tina Landau. Directed by Gordon Greenberg. Choreography, Ken Roberson; costumes, Anne Kennedy; props, Christine Kelly. With Will Gartshore, Patricia Pearce Gentry, Jason Gilbert, David T. Grimes, Ty Hreben, John J. Kaczynski, Dwayne Nitz, Michael Sharp, Tom Simpson, Scott Sedar, Jim Zidar. At the Signature Theatre through Feb. 10. Call 703-218-6500.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliograp

See more articles from The Washington Post

Theater; Shakespeare Company's Iffy Ibsen

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
April 14, 1994
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Richard Mancini gives an entertaining popinjay-like performance as the seedy radical Ulrik Brendel in the Washington Shakespeare Company production of Henrik Ibsen's "Rosmersholm" that opened Monday night at the Church Street Theater. A self-deluding drunk, he yet cloaks himself in spry dignity. When he's onstage, or when Prudence Barry is emitting frazzled authenticity as the housekeeper Mrs. Helseth, this production has some life. Otherwise, it's not very interesting.

Not that "Rosmersholm" is one of Ibsen's best. The story of a free-thinking "liberated" woman who turns out to have a secret in her past, it floats a lot of themes that Ibsen handled better in other plays. There's the incest motif and sense of family doom from "Ghosts"; the destructive woman perfected in "Hedda Gabler"; the idealistic young woman who leads the older man to his death, which reaches its apotheosis in "The Master Builder."

Yet Rebekka West, the troubled antiheroine of "Rosmersholm," certainly has her fascinations. A believer in sexual and intellectual freedom, she is the epitome of the idealist undone by her unacknowledged baser nature. Rebekka is one of the great roles for an actress, and the major reason to do the play - as with "Hedda" and "A Doll's House" - is because you have a performer to showcase in the part. Deborah Gottesman, who plays Rebekka here, is handsome and projects intelligence, but she doesn't give any sense of the character's innocent duplicity, her hiding from her own sensuality, her tragedy.

The man she loves is John Rosmer (John Emmert), a pastor converted to atheism and the cause of social justice. Rosmer is himself mightily repressed. Of the sexual need of his late wife, dead by suicide, he says, "Oh, the terror it inspired in me." He and Rebekka almost literally repress themselves to death, victims of their own ideals and of the sudden upsurge of passions they have tried to ignore.

Director Megan Morgan hasn't much experience, and while beginners should tangle with the big plays, perhaps they shouldn't ask an audience to pay to come see their efforts. Morgan has the ghost of the dead wife stalk on and off so often that she seems to end up with more stage time than the housekeeper. As the apparition, Lucy Symons glares sulkily when she isn't gliding around and looking out windows. This attempt to concretize the fantastic brings the play to a thumping halt every time the late Mrs. Rosmer comes a-haunting.

Everything else in this complex and subtle drama is played on the surface. Without nuances, "Rosmersholm" barrels along without making a whole lot of sense. The characters seem to get upset and hysterically change their minds without much reason. There's a lot of sitting and talking, and then sudden emoting. This is the kind of production that has traditionally, and wrongly, given the brilliant Ibsen a bad name as a dull, stodgy, ineptly melodramatic playwright.

Rosmersholm by Henrik Ibsen. Directed by Megan Morgan. Set, Steve Thorpe; lights, Benjamin Hay; costumes, Snezana Sasha Kojic. With Richard Henrich, Christopher Wilson.

Cite this article

See more articles from The Washington Post

Theater ;A `Room' With a Viewpoint

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
April 29, 1994
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

On the page, Virginia Woolf's eloquent, graceful style makes her ironies seem refined almost to the point of being muted. Eileen Atkins, who is playing Woolf in the one-woman "A Room of One's Own" at Arena Stage, is a sturdier sort than the fragile-looking creature we know from photographs of Woolf. She enjoys the writer's ironies. One might say she revels in them. One might even say she pushes them home with understated relish. High wit and common sense make a welcome union in her vigorous, charming performance.

"A Room of One's Own" is the famous published version of the 1928 lecture Woolf gave to Oxbridge female students on the daunting subject "Women and Fiction." The piece is celebrated today as an icon of feminist writing and suffers somewhat from being so neatly categorized. CertainlyWoolf's argument is feminist, and certainly she strongly makes the point that the reasons for the dearth of great female artists are social rather than genetic. But she's not altogether in line with modern feminism and its leftist-influenced embrace of powerlessness; nor is she interested in proving the moral superiority of women. She is too busy dealing with books with titles like this: "The Mental, Moral and Physical Inferiority of the Female Sex."

Laugh if you want. That book was on the shelf in the British Museum Library only sixty-odd years ago. At the time Woolf gave her lecture, education for women was still hotly controversial. The major, though often unexpressed, reason that men opposed women's education was that it didn't train them properly to be wives. Lest anyone think "A Room of One's Own" is dated, consider that this is an opinion that was being bruted about in Singapore just this month. (One could safely hazard that, in this country, it's a topic that still comes up for discussion in private men's clubs.)

Wearing a rather dowdy purple suit and worn-looking brown heels, Atkins's Woolf is brisk and rather alarmingly intelligent. Atkins can put a hissing spin on a word that's as funny as one of Jack Benny's pauses. "Essayists," she pronounces, with a distaste that damns the whole scribbling tribe. Describing a meal at an impoverished women's college, she murmurs, "Prunes and custard for dessert."

Like Shaw before her and Brecht after her, Woolf had a healthy respect for money. She maintained that more art had not been produced by women and the working classes because they hadn't the leisure for it: "A woman must have money and a room of her own if she is to write fiction." Woolf has been criticized as elitist for this opinion (in a way that, one needs hardly point out, Shaw and Brecht never were), when in fact she was merely a pragmatic materialist - not unlike, say, Marx. It was Brecht who wrote that virtue couldn't be expected of people till their stomachs were full. Woolf simply makes the same point about art. She was not sentimental about poverty.

How reasonable and unthreatening Woolf makes the argument for equality of opportunity for women sound. You'd think no one would raise a fuss about it at all. Woolf is so judicious, so well-intentioned, so - let's be frank - eager to prove to the men that she was not just a silly, mentally inferior female but could argue well by their rules of reason. Considering in what little esteem men still hold women, her civilized arguments seem somewhat pathetic. She might as well have shrieked and shrilled; no one thanked her for being so fair-minded. Listening to the calm pronouncements of "A Room of One's Own" - especially in Atkins's dry delivery - one would never know that they were written by a woman who was sexually fondled as a child and who a decade hence would drown herself. Woolf's sweet reason is quite real; it's just not the whole story.

"Women are hard on women. Women dislike women. But I rather like women," Woolf wrote, so giving the most elementary and truest definition of feminism. Women who dislike women and people - they tend to be mostly male and almost all white - who get the PC fantods about feminism are right to be afraid of Virginia Woolf. Everyone else should find "A Room of One's Own" an intelligent pleasure.

A Room of One's Own, adapted by Patrick Garland from the lecture by Virginia Woolf. Directed by Patrick Garland. Set and lights, Bruce Goodrich. With Eileen Atkins. At Arena Stage through June 19.

See more articles from The Washington Post

Tough-as-Nails `Mrs. Klein'; Halo Wines, With Strength of Character

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
May 1, 1992
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Halo Wines's hearty power hoists Nicholas Wright's rather banal play "Mrs. Klein," which opened last night at Arena Stage, to a new, morally complex level. The story of the famed psychoanalyst Melanie Klein, who developed her theories in part by analyzing her own infant children, the play makes the obvious ironic point that this brilliant child psychologist wasn't such a good mother. But under director Zelda Fichandler's guidance, Wines and her two costars, Pamela Nyberg as her daughter and Jurian Hughes as the colleague who wishes she were, "Mrs. Klein" becomes a hideously sophisticated, disturbing comedy about power and survival in a family.

Melanie Klein left Germany in the '20s and settled in the expatriate psychoanalytical community in London. Her theories, more popular today in Europe and South America than in this country, were based on the precept that the formative experience of life comes in infancy, not in the later, Freudian, Oedipal period of early childhood. She also posited the idea of "reparation," in which the wounded individual tries to make altruistic use of pain by giving the love he never received, an ethical and rather sentimental concept, intellectual light-years away from Freud's tough-minded and deterministic view of human nature.

In this light, Klein's treatment of her patients can be seen as an effort to make up for her failings as a mother. A harsher view is that Klein made excuses for her shortcomings by insisting on the value of her work, and this is more like what actually goes on onstage, not only because of Wright's satirical and rather unforgiving portrait, but because of Wines's larger-than-life performance. You can't like this Melanie Klein, or sympathize much with her, or even, really, respect her. But you're sure in awe of her.

Wines has created a force-of-nature personality, an almost anthropological study of a shrewd, manipulative egotist. Her Klein has the ruthlessness without which genius doesn't come to much. She demands harsh truth-facing in others, never quite realizing that the intellectual system in which she lives isn't bringing her closer to the truth but, by allowing her to control reality, protecting her from it. The play begins on the day after her son dies abroad in a mysterious climbing accident, and the real drama is watching how Klein maneuvers herself and everyone around her into an emotional position from which she can deal with his death.

Wines has it all: the piercing intelligence, the battered strength, and also the easy selfishness, the dramatic posturing, the self-pitying martyrdom, the uncanny ability to win every round by shifting her emotional weight so that her opponent goes flying over her head. Wines's boisterous spirits make the character even more impressive. This isn't just an intellectually powerful woman; this is a fleshy, greedy life-lover. The chill truth at the center of this performance is that love of life is utterly, and sometimes destructively, amoral.

Klein's daughter is no match for her. In life, poor Melitta tried to fight her mother by going to an analyst who opposed her ideas, and by writing papers attacking her mother's theories. In the play, she's a whipped puppy, easy pickings for this mom who has not only survived but prospered by eating her own young. "There are bad mothers," she protests querulously at one point. "Mothers who are totally bad. You're one of them." Water off a duck's back to Wines's Klein. This is a woman who, faced with a nasty revelation, can declare, "I don't recall it and I don't believe it."

Nyberg looks terrific in the long-lined 1930s skirt and vaguely Chinese pajamas Paul Tazewell has designed for her. She's a big, physically self-confident woman, and this provides a lot of the comedy as she succumbs to her dumpy, unbeatable mother. Nyberg plays Melitta as a bit of a spoiled princess. She has no real fight in her; she keeps thinking she'll win because her mother ought to love her, and when her whining insistence on this fails, she's weaponless.

As Paula Heimann, an analyst who worships Klein and desires to become her substitute daughter, Jurian Hughes is watchful, standing on the edges of the mother-daughter battle, waiting for her opening. You don't get much of a sense of intent from Hughes's Paula, though. Wright hasn't made her journey through the play very clear, and no one in this production has provided what he didn't. Paula has to sit on the sidelines a lot, and during these long periods, when you want to be reading what each shift between the Klein women means to her, Hughes is enigmatic to the point of removing herself from the play. When the character emerges strongly at the end, it's not unexpected but it's not exactly well prepared for.

The melodramatic conflicts of the mother-daughter-surrogate daughter triangle are the weakest part of the play, though, and it doesn't much matter that they're underwritten. The spice of the evening is watching these human fools battle emotion. "Chiefly what I feel is numbness," says Wines about her grief, thoughtfully shaking a cake server as she concentrates on the always-fascinating state of her own emotions. The word "hostile" flies around a lot, and so do lines such as "She sees the cleaning woman as her mother" and "You put my letter in your id drawer!" All human behavior is reducible to theory, and all human tragedy fits neatly into a theoretical structure. Wines's most devastating moment is when she discovers her son has not committed suicide: Guilt she can take, but not the vagaries of chance, not the knowledge, as Paula yells at her, that "it had nothing to do with you!" Control is everything for this terrible and impressive woman, because control means safety, and safety means survival, and survival - not altruism or knowledge or healing or the truth - is the point.

Douglas Stein has provided a lovely sitting room-study set; unfortunately, he's also provided a downstage area littered with children's toys into which characters move, with dismaying obviousness, to regress. The evening is too long and it moves too slowly. In the first act, particularly, you can feel Wines struggling to pump some juice into the proceedings. But there's not a cliched moment in it - you never know what's coming next, and even when the play seemed to end, then start up again, I found myself staying with it, fascinated. It's a remorseless human comedy.

Mrs. Klein, by Nicholas Wright. Directed by Zelda Fichandler. Set, Douglas Stein; costumes, Paul Tazewell; lights, Nancy Schertler; sound, Susan R. White. With Halo Wines, Jurian Hughes and Pamela Nyberg. At Arena Stage's Kreeger Theater through June 14.

Cite this article

obert Morse Brings `Tru' to Life

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
September 26, 1991
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Robert Morse scored a triumph playing the writer Truman Capote on Broadway, winning the Best Actor Tony Award for 1990, and with the opening of "Tru" at the Kennedy Center he proved that time and touring haven't diminished his performance a bit. This is star acting, with all the larger-than-life razzmatazz that implies, and also a subtly modulated and affecting characterization.

Jay Presson Allen's script is stitched together from Capote's stories, essays and interviews, and it has a patchy quality. Over the course of two evenings at home with Capote right before Christmas, the play charts his realization that the excerpt of his tell-all novel "Answered Prayers," just published in Esquire, has cost him his society friends. These were mostly wealthy, beautiful women such as Babe Paley and Slim Keith, who had taken him up as friend, confidant and pet. The pet peed in their laps.

Morse's Capote defends himself here, as Capote did in life, by scrambling to the high ground of Art: "I'm not one of them. I'm an artist. And artists belong to no class. And people like that, who cozy up to artists, do so at their own risk." Actually, with his glitzy 1966 masked ball and his trips on other people's yachts and stays at their estates, it was Capote who was doing the cozying up. His betrayal of his friends' secrets may have been at bottom a spasm of self-revulsion. The peculiar thing isn't that he turned on the rich, but that he expected them to forgive him.

There was an ugly side to Capote's act that neither Morse nor Allen (who also directed) touches. No mention is made of the fact that "Answered Prayers" not only skewered a bunch of socialites but also included a hateful portrait of Tennessee Williams's degradation in his last days. Most of us smirk when the rich get it, but the nastiness about Williams was pure meanness, and seemed to have more to do with Capote's envy than his art.

Morse's Capote is a more benign fellow - pixieish, charming, helplessly hurt by his friends' abandonment. The drama of the evening is Capote's slow understanding that he has made a dreadful, irrevocable mistake. The script actually gets him to this point when there's still an act and a half to go, but Morse peels Capote's defenses away as delicately and gradually as if they were cobweb, as if the poor character's psyche might crack if he moved too fast, and he gives the evening a painful suspense. His Capote is constantly being caught off-balance by his pain - it sweeps him up and turns him to face things he doesn't want to. At one point a Western Union operator who is a fan compliments him lavishly, and Morse's face registers not pleasure but despair and self-irony that praise from a stranger should have come to mean so much to him.

Morse has a distinctive face - round-eyed and, at 60, still boyish. Kevin Haney (who aged Dan Ackroyd for "Driving Miss Daisy") has transformed him into a remarkable replica of Capote, and to this Morse has added the writer's well-known mannerisms - the high, childish voice, the fluttering hands, the wicked little shivers of glee. To anyone who has seen Capote on talk shows, the effect is almost eerie. Yet Morse goes way beyond the trick of imitation. He starts out very mannered, hidden behind Capote's trademark glasses, sending his voice sliding up and down the scale, and then, once he's etched the behavioral outlines for us, becomes gradually subtler. His emotional arc follows this stylistic one: Capote descends from bravura into deep, quiet unhappiness. Morse is heart-rending, not least because he plays this pathetic journey with no self-pity at all.

David Mitchell has re-created Capote's U.N. Plaza apartment with its stunning view of the East River and collection of plaster cats, a fine frame for Morse's portrait. In a one-person show, the director is really the actor's partner - and Allen has guided and supported Morse's performance with clarity and a brisk lack of sentimentality. Together they reveal Capote as essentially an innocent, a suffering child beneath his glittery persona. On cold reflection, this may be entirely too nice a depiction - but while you're in the theater, they make you believe it.

Tru, written and directed by Jay Presson Allen. Set, David Mitchell; lights, Ken Billington and Jason Kantrowitz; costumes, Sarah Edwards; makeup, Kevin Haney. With Robert Morse. At the Kennedy Center through Oct. 20.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

See more articles from The Washington Post

THEATER; On Stages Great & Small, Something for Everyone

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
December 29, 1991
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

If 1991 demonstrated anything about Washington theater, it's that audiences may have more choices than ever. The big institutions can provide touring spectacles, classics with stars in them and lushly produced traditional plays, with the occasional foray into the high-budget offbeat. The small theaters have brought us the first D.C. productions of new plays by David Mamet, George Walker, Nick Dear, Nicky Silver and Richard Greenberg.

The reach of the smaller theaters - Woolly Mammoth, Source, Studio, Washington Shakespeare Company, Round House, Washington Stage Guild, American Show case and others - often exceeds their grasp. But what's a theater for?

If you're a theatergoer who wants a product - something finished and, even at its worst, professionally slick, like a movie - then the small theaters have only their occasional hits to offer you. But if you're curious about the theater - the way it works, the way talent develops, the wavering line between success and failure on the stage - then Washington's small theaters are delivering a lot. Their quality varies. But they're all professionals.

Woolly Mammoth, for example, has a bigger identity than any of its individual productions: It's the theater you can count on to go for the outre. Under Jerry Whiddon's artistic direction, the Round House has proved to be the theater of the disenfranchised - the one most likely to produce plays about people on the fringes: minorities ("Willie and Esther"), the elderly "Odd Jobs," the socially marginal and just plain crazy ("Love and Anger"). Washington Shakespeare Company varies its focus somewhat, but is strongest when it's running head-down at Shakespeare's works themselves, determined to knock something new onto the stage or get concussed trying. Washington Stage Guild is comfortable with high Anglo-European plays by writers like Shaw or Molnar, and its idea of a one-man show isn't performance art but Jon Tindle doing Tennyson's narrative poem "Maud." GALA is dedicated to Spanish and Latino theater culture, and Horizons to a wide-ranging interpretation of the phrase "women's issues."

In other cases, the theater's overall theoretical thrust isn't as clear, and you end up wondering what's coming next. The Studio will put on a surprise like its revival of "The Women," or the Source will discover Kevin Kling's neglected comedy "Lloyd's Prayer." American Showcase will provide a chance to see little-done Athol Fugard, and then tackle the latest from Mamet and Lanford Wilson.

Lots of times these productions don't quite work. Or maybe they only work a little. Or maybe they fail in some ways and are startlingly successful in others. But they almost always contain surprises. Who would have thought "The Women" would turn out to be a social document rather than camp nonsense? That T.J. Edwards would succeed where so many have failed in making sense of "Hamlet"? That GALA's essentially amateurish production of Federico Garcia Lorca's "The Love of Don Perlimplin and Belissa in the Garden" would somehow convey the play's greatness in a way professional productions of Garcia Lorca often fail to?

Washingtonians are also lucky in having two major booking houses - the National Theatre and the Kennedy Center - that can be relied on to import the Broadway shows everyone wants to see: "Tru," "Grand Hotel," "Lost in Yonkers" (this was actually pre-Broadway) and big touring shows like "Bye Bye Birdie." And the Kennedy Center occasionally slips in something well-done but not commercial like the Irish satire-tragedy "The Shadow of a Gunman" or last season's "She Always Said Pablo."

And since Michael Kahn came to the Shakespeare Theatre, Washington has had two excellent institutional theaters. The Shakespeare Theatre has its hits and misses, and the hits often involve Kahn as director. This season's "King Lear," with its affecting central performance by Fritz Weaver, is a case in point. It wasn't a fully satisfying "Lear," but I don't actually expect ever to see a fully satisfying production of this vast, impossible tragedy; Kahn's "Lear" had attack, intelligence, clarity and images that stay with you. Now that he has the beautiful new space at the Lansburgh, he will probably be able to attract the first-class directors who shunned the cramped, what-do-you-do-with-those-two-pillars space of the theater at the Folger Shakespeare Library.

Under Zelda Fichandler, Arena Stage became a world-class theater. We won't see new artistic director Douglas C. Wager's first season until 1992-93; the present slate of plays was planned with Fichandler's input. She went out with a couple of stunners, one directed by Wager: "She Stoops to Conquer," a bawdy, playful production by Joe Dowling, drunk on the excesses of staging; and "The Seagull," which Wager actually succeeded in making into a heartbreaking comedy. Wager's play taste won't be the only thing that becomes clear next season. He'll probably also reshape the Arena company. What probably won't change - only a fool would meddle with it - is Arena's superb technical staff, which seems able to fulfill any director's or designer's vision both elegantly and practically.

Like the smaller companies, Arena and the Shakespeare Theatre have their missteps. Though it may be hard to persuade a patron who has just sat through something he hated, these aren't really important in the long run, and an individual poor production, or even an unlucky string of them, doesn't necessarily say anything about a theater's artistic worth. A theatrical institution, one that's a collection of artists who always or frequently work together, is like a ball team. You don't go to watch them win by dozens of points every game; you go to watch the story of the evolution of their skills, the fates of their ambitions, the drawbacks and/or overcomings of their weaknesses.

In a sense, a five-play theatrical season is like a novel with five chapters; the plot is the vision of art and society the theater wants to present, merging with its inevitable human and artistic shortfalls. That's the real drama.

See more articles from The Washington Post

Theater; Grim Whimsy; Tangy `Mud People' At Woolly Mammoth

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
October 23, 1991
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

The Woolly Mammoth Theatre can be counted on to provide Washington audiences with the strange, the difficult and the outre. But every now and then - as with "Harvey" a few seasons back - it seems to develop a desperate need for whimsy.

Being Woolly Mammoth, it wants the whimsy laced with strychnine. Keith Huff's "Mud People," which opened Saturday night, is what Frank Capra and Rod Serling might have produced if they'd had a child. It's set in a rot-beneath-the-surface small town (incest, child abuse, wife beating etc.), and one of the characters is an angel. It's to Huff's credit that the result, while not exactly satisfying, is never ludicrous, and director Grover Gardner and his cast give the proceedings a rough energy.

The atmosphere of the play is suggested perfectly by Lewis Folden's set - a grubbily detailed interior of a greasy spoon, with dreamy silk-screens of sky and trees floating behind it. Huff's play has a message - forgiveness sets the victim free - but he cuts the wholesomeness with doses of human meanness and stupidity. People don't get any better just because they encounter a miracle.

Huff's heroine is Barb Zesto, a waitress with a miserable past and a temper that could blister paint. His other major loser is Buzzy, a journalist who has sold only one story in six years. Both of their lives are changed by the encounter with the angel, who gives them what they want, though not exactly as they might have chosen to have it.

The story rolls all over the place. Act 1 sets things up so that it looks as if Barb's abusive father is going to exploit the heavenly visitor, a plot idea that just drops away in Act 2. There are a lot of Mysteries From the Past involving who is whose father and who shot whom when. These revelations are, in fact, so grim that Huff's message about forgiveness begins to look a little facile and smug. His people don't appear damaged enough for what they've been through, and their resilience seems slightly psychotic rather than inspiring.

But the cast bats the dialogue around with conviction and vigor. Kate Fleming is a bitter, scary Barb - too deeply enraged, really, for a convincing happy ending. Michael Willis brings his talent for playing dopes to Buzzy - he makes him a prickly fool, gathering his tattered dignity around him with disdain. Kryztov Lindquist has the advantage of looking like an angel, and Sarah Park, as Barb's daughter, is one of those fresh, natural child actors who make the whole art look absurdly simple. Richard Salamanca has a lot of presence as Barb's ugly-tempered father, Mitchley, but he doesn't make sense of the character, who seems from his past actions much worse - crazier, even - than the tough, relaxed man we see on the stage.

"Mud People" is a piece of populist mysticism - like "Our Town" or the Capra film "It's a Wonderful Life." It doesn't have "Our Town's" wrenching third act, though, and the problems it deals with would have blindsided Capra's angel, Clarence. Huff tries to have it both ways. He piles on the uglinesses of life, and then says that if we only adopt the right emotional attitude things will be okay. Heaven's in your own back yard, and you always have the power to get back home. That sort of moral boosterism can work in a fairy tale, but in a play purporting to deal with real life, it's a lot of mud to swallow.

Mud People, by Keith Huff. Directed by Grover Gardner. Set, Lewis Folden; lights, Christopher Townsend; costumes, Rosemary Ingham; sound, Daniel Schrader. With Sarah Park, Michael Judge, Kate Fleming, Kryztov Lindquist, Richard Salamanca, Rosemary Regan, Doug Brown, Michael Willis and Ryan S. Richmond. At the Woolly Mammoth Theatre through Nov. 17.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

ter; Grim Whimsy; Tangy `Mud People' At Woolly Mammoth

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
October 23, 1991
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

The Woolly Mammoth Theatre can be counted on to provide Washington audiences with the strange, the difficult and the outre. But every now and then - as with "Harvey" a few seasons back - it seems to develop a desperate need for whimsy.

Being Woolly Mammoth, it wants the whimsy laced with strychnine. Keith Huff's "Mud People," which opened Saturday night, is what Frank Capra and Rod Serling might have produced if they'd had a child. It's set in a rot-beneath-the-surface small town (incest, child abuse, wife beating etc.), and one of the characters is an angel. It's to Huff's credit that the result, while not exactly satisfying, is never ludicrous, and director Grover Gardner and his cast give the proceedings a rough energy.

The atmosphere of the play is suggested perfectly by Lewis Folden's set - a grubbily detailed interior of a greasy spoon, with dreamy silk-screens of sky and trees floating behind it. Huff's play has a message - forgiveness sets the victim free - but he cuts the wholesomeness with doses of human meanness and stupidity. People don't get any better just because they encounter a miracle.

Huff's heroine is Barb Zesto, a waitress with a miserable past and a temper that could blister paint. His other major loser is Buzzy, a journalist who has sold only one story in six years. Both of their lives are changed by the encounter with the angel, who gives them what they want, though not exactly as they might have chosen to have it.

The story rolls all over the place. Act 1 sets things up so that it looks as if Barb's abusive father is going to exploit the heavenly visitor, a plot idea that just drops away in Act 2. There are a lot of Mysteries From the Past involving who is whose father and who shot whom when. These revelations are, in fact, so grim that Huff's message about forgiveness begins to look a little facile and smug. His people don't appear damaged enough for what they've been through, and their resilience seems slightly psychotic rather than inspiring.

But the cast bats the dialogue around with conviction and vigor. Kate Fleming is a bitter, scary Barb - too deeply enraged, really, for a convincing happy ending. Michael Willis brings his talent for playing dopes to Buzzy - he makes him a prickly fool, gathering his tattered dignity around him with disdain. Kryztov Lindquist has the advantage of looking like an angel, and Sarah Park, as Barb's daughter, is one of those fresh, natural child actors who make the whole art look absurdly simple. Richard Salamanca has a lot of presence as Barb's ugly-tempered father, Mitchley, but he doesn't make sense of the character, who seems from his past actions much worse - crazier, even - than the tough, relaxed man we see on the stage.

"Mud People" is a piece of populist mysticism - like "Our Town" or the Capra film "It's a Wonderful Life." It doesn't have "Our Town's" wrenching third act, though, and the problems it deals with would have blindsided Capra's angel, Clarence. Huff tries to have it both ways. He piles on the uglinesses of life, and then says that if we only adopt the right emotional attitude things will be okay. Heaven's in your own back yard, and you always have the power to get back home. That sort of moral boosterism can work in a fairy tale, but in a play purporting to deal with real life, it's a lot of mud to swallow.

Mud People, by Keith Huff. Directed by Grover Gardner. Set, Lewis Folden; lights, Christopher Townsend; costumes, Rosemary Ingham; sound, Daniel Schrader. With Sarah Park, Michael Judge, Kate Fleming, Kryztov Lindquist, Richard Salamanca, Rosemary Regan, Doug Brown, Michael Willis and Ryan S. Richmond. At the Woolly Mammoth Theatre through Nov. 17.

Cite this article

See more articles from The Washington Post

Theater; `Patience': Poetry With Heart

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
October 23, 1991
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

The great Chilean poet Pablo Neruda won the Nobel Prize for Literature in l971; two years later, he died while in the custody of the Pinochet regime. GALA Hispanic Theatre is currently staging the exiled writer Antonio Skarmeta's loving homage to Neruda, "Burning Patience."

An account of how Neruda helps a lovesick young mailman win his wife, the play is slight and idealized, but genuinely touching. It's a fan's note - Skarmeta's love for Neruda's poetry carries you through the script's whimsy, and makes its simplicity vibrant. And when grim history catches up with Skarmeta's sweet fantasy, the evening delivers a brutal punch.

Those not familiar with Neruda's work might think from "Burning Patience" that it was all love poetry. And Skarmeta devotes so much attention to his lovers that at times he gives the impression that the sole glory of poetry is that it's a good tool for getting young women into bed. Neruda - as written, and as played by Ed Johnson - is a gruff, golden-hearted sort, a compassionate skeptic. Yet when Johnson recites Neruda's poetry he actually convinces you that it expresses things he has felt and thought, and the little fairy tale romance seems almost a creation of his open, hopeful artistic sensibility.

Director Jorge Huerta has staged the play on a sandy-floored set (by Hal Crawford), and he ties the disparate locales together skillfully with sound, particularly the sound of the ocean roaring and murmuring outside Neruda's home. The cast is a little overeager and tends to play the obvious; this isn't a complex production. But its drawbacks are compensated for by the freshness and rather charming enthusiasm of everyone involved, and by GALA's making available this play - a contemporary Latin American script with relevance to totalitarian regimes everywhere - to Washington audiences.

Burning Patience, by Antonio Skarmeta. Directed by Jorge Huerta. Set, Hal Crawford; sound, David Crandall; lights, David Zemmels; costumes, Hugo Medrano. With Ed Johnson, David M. Malmgren, Loretto McNally, Simone Key, Luis Baltierra, Steve Samuelian. At GALA Hispanic Theatre, alternating in Spanish and English, through Nov. 17. @Slug: B02PAT

imore Waltz': Dying in Wonderland

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
May 17, 1994
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

At the beginning of "The Baltimore Waltz," which opened Sunday night at the Studio Theatre, Anna informs us that she'd like to die "with dignity. No body secretions. Like Merle Oberon in `Wuthering Heights.' " A victim of the mysterious, prevalent ATD (acquired toilet disease), which strikes disproportionately among elementary school teachers, Anna takes off with her gay brother Carl for Vienna, looking for a miracle cure.

The Europe she passes through is a looking-glass world, where everyone she meets is played by the same actor (the inspired J. Fred Shiffman). Most of these folk are bellboys and waiter-types whom Anna (Sarah Marshall) enthusiastically beds because, as it is announced at one point, she has discovered there is a seventh stage in the Reactions to Dying hierarchy: lust. Meanwhile, Carl (Stevie Ray Dallimore) is being very mysterious about a toy rabbit. Harry Lime, the black-market drug profiteer played by Orson Welles in "The Third Man," shows up. Everyone wears trench coats. There is a second toy rabbit, this one black with red glowing eyes. The Little Dutch Boy, now an embittered 50, shows up.

Gradually, under the swirling comic surface a corpse-still fact is glimpsed: It is not Anna who is dying but Carl, and the whole play is a hallucinatory, satirical, angry, fantastical outpouring of her helpless grief.

Bracingly audacious and ambitious, Paula Vogel's script has its soggy patches, where the brilliance becomes incomprehensible or the cleverness goes on too long, but director Kyle Donnelly's production is just about perfect. Directing realistic plays, Donnelly can seem weighed down by naturalism, like a dancer having to perform in work boots. With "The Baltimore Waltz," she puts on the red shoes. This is her most unfettered, breathtakingly sustained piece of direction since her amazing "School for Wives" two seasons ago at Arena Stage.

The angry AIDS play has been done and redone, from "The Normal Heart" to "The Twilight of the Golds," and Vogel's rage is her least interesting theatrical emotion. The replacing of AIDS with the fictional ATD and of homosexuals with that American icon the elementary school teacher is a clever idea rather than a savage one. But when she handles certain other emotions connected with death - terror, helplessness, loss - Vogel is some kind of surreal master.

Set and lights designer Michael Philippi has designed a deceptively stark space - a white room with a bed. But the walls are also doors, and Philippi's lighting shifts angles, intensities and tones to transport us through the play as rapidly as the editing in a movie. Donnelly stylizes the transitions between the relatively short scenes so that if the characters don't exactly waltz, they do dance from incident to incident. And with its shifting plasticity and precise timing, the production has, as dancers are said to, its own kind of "line."

In the middle of the play, we get a slide show of Baltimore masquerading as Europe. This conjunction is no more distorted than Anna's confusion of her grief over her brother with her own fear of dying. "The Baltimore Waltz" is true to the messiness of life's most extreme emotions, when not only are there no answers, but the questions themselves seem impossible to frame. In the play's most outlandish and repulsive scene, the "real" Anna's reaction to her brother's deterioration and the uselessness of his doctors is communicated to us through a fantasy in which the "dying" Anna visits a crazed Viennese specialist who drinks urine. Body secretions splash aplenty in this sequence. Anna was right to fear them; they make any hope of dignity a soiled joke.

Marshall is pixilated, funny and piercingly moving as Anna. The role of Carl is not as fully written, but Dallimore has such a relaxed, warm stage presence that it's easy to share Anna's affection for her brother. Shiffman, in one of his regrettably rare stage appearances, is an unstable comic presence, taking now this shape (prissy, inhibited), now that (insane, nasty), now another (naive, goofy).

This production is as self-consciously "directed" as any I've seen, but it's not about its direction - Donnelly doesn't get between the play and the audience. Throughout, her direction remains brisk, cool, dry, the better to let the sloppiness, the grossness, the sheer not-niceness of grief and death hit us unprotected. "The Baltimore Waltz" is, after all, a comedy. We sit laughing at it, even though when we laugh it only hurts.

The Baltimore Waltz, by Paula Vogel. Directed by Kyle Donnelly. Set and lighting, Michael Philippi; costumes, Helen Q. Huang; choreography, Robert Biedermann; sound, Gil Thompson. At the Studio Theatre through June 12.

Cite this article

hony': Loony Tunes

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
July 8, 1991
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

"Oil City Symphony," which opened Saturday night at Studio Theatre's Secondstage, is all the "s" words: silly, sweet, satirical, square. An Off-Broadway hit in New York, it's a bouncy, good-natured spoof of a particularly appalling form of Bad White People's Music (although there is a black cast member who plays a nerd with squeaky-clean polish).

The occasion is a "reunion recital" of a group that used to play together in high school. Not electric guitars, no, though at one point they manage to pump out "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida" on their clarinet, piano, acoustic guitar, synthesizer and drums. It makes perfect sense that perhaps the dopiest of all rock songs is the high point of lunacy in this theatrical celebration of musical dopiness.

The musician-performers are referred to by their real names. There's voluptuous Chan "Ginger" McQuay, in a lavender dotted-swiss dress, on guitar, and perky Holly Shockey, with a smile out of a toothpaste ad, on synthesizer. The men provide three styles of nerdiness. Tony D. Hawkins, on reed instruments, is lanky and shy. Jimmy Ferris, the drummer, is bright-eyed and eager. And James Geer is all Mr. Show Biz as the pianist - his high moment comes when, in homage to Jerry Lee Lewis, he stands on the piano bench in his midnight-blue tux with velvet collar and manages to stamp the keyboard with his foot.

The cast and script's attitude toward the musical performance is half-nostalgic, like "Forever Plaid," and half-camp. Nostalgia is represented by songs such as "End of the World," camp by "The Beehive Polka" and lyrics such as "There's the Pacific/ Isn't it terrific?" But it's never tiresomely knowing. There's real affection in the satire. And considering that the show is essentially one joke, it's wonderful how that joke sustains for the whole 90 minutes of the show.

James Kronzer has provided the tacky-with-aspirations set: a performance platform in the high school gym. And Sandra Smoker-Duraes did the eye-boggling uncool costumes. The director, R.L. Rowsey, keeps things jumping along. Everyone involved seems to be having a terrific time, and they draw the audience into their merriment.

Oil City Symphony, by Mike Craver, Mark Hardwick, Debra Monk and Mary Murfitt. Directed by R.L. Rowsey; set by James Kronzer; lights by David Zemmels; costumes by Sandra Smoker-Duraes. With Jimmy Ferris, James Geer, Tony D. Hawkins, Chan "Ginger" McQuay and Holly Shockey. Through July 28 at the Studio Theatre.

Cite this article

Top publication categories at HighBeam Research


Hide hide
Newspapers

* International Newspapers, Local Markets A-Lh
* International Newspapers, Local Markets Li-Z
* International Newspapers, Major Markets
* U.S. Newspapers, Local Markets A-Dh
* U.S. Newspapers, Local Markets Di-M
* U.S. Newspapers, Local Markets N-S
* U.S. Newspapers, Local Markets Ta-Th
* U.S. Newspapers, Local Markets Th-Z
* U.S. Newspapers, Major Markets
* U.S. Newspapers, Special Interest

Journals

* Academic and Educational journals
* Applied Sciences journals
* Business and Economics journals
* Health journals
* Humanities journals
* Legal and Political journals
* Management journals
* Medical journals
* Social and Theoretical Sciences journals
* Technology journals


Business magazines

* Economics magazines
* Engineering, Construction, and Transportation magazines
* Finance and Accounting magazines
* International magazines
* Investing, Sales, and Marketing magazines
* Management magazines
* Manufacturing magazines
* Specialty and Local Interest magazines
* Trade magazines

Government magazines

* Applied and Social Sciences magazines
* Computers and Media magazines
* Energy, Government, and Defense magazines
* Legal and Political magazines
* News and Education magazines
* Technology magazines

Academic magazines

* Academic magazines
* Educational magazines
* Humanities magazines
* Law magazines
* Scholarly magazines
* Science magazines


Health magazines

* Medical magazines
* Nursing and Health magazines
* Psychology, Children, and Parenting magazines

Sports and Life magazines

* Arts, Construction, Medicine, Science, and Technology magazines
* Culture magazines
* General Interest magazines
* Politics and Business magazines
* Social Sciences magazines
* Specialty and Local Interest magazines
* Sports, Fitness, Recreation, and Leisure magazines

Popular publications

* AP Online
* Business Wire
* Chicago Sun-Times
* PR Newswire
* The Boston Globe (Boston, MA)
* The Washington Post

Reference

* Dictionaries, Thesauruses, Pictures, and Press Releases
* Encyclopedias, Almanacs, Transcripts, and Maps
* News Wires, White Papers, and Books

* Save this articleSave article
* Print this articlePrint
* E-mail this article to a friendE-mail
* Export this article to Microsoft WordExport to Microsoft Word
* Export this article to Microsoft PowerPointExport to Microsoft PowerPoint
* Blog this articleBlog this article
* Cite this articleCite this article
* See related articlesRelated articles

See more articles from The Washington Post

Theater; `Hamlet': Fresh Prince; Shakespeare Company's New Take on the Tale

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
May 29, 1991
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

To paraphrase the critic Kenneth Tynan, on opening night T.J. Edwards played Hamlet and won.

As the troubled Prince in the Washington Shakespeare Company's production of "Hamlet," Edwards is haunted and dangerous without poeticizing or sentimentalizing the character. This is an obnoxious Hamlet, a pain-in-the-neck, who, just as you're about to get sick of him, moves you with his suffering. The most unsettling, exciting thing about Edwards's characterization is that he plays Hamlet as much less crazy than he puts on to the court and much more crazy than he lets on to himself. You're always on edge when he's onstage, fearful that any minute he's going to lose his grip and either he or some member of the court is going to be badly, badly hurt.

Essentially, of course, this is what happens in the play. As Comden and Green put it, "A ghost and a prince meet/ And everyone ends in mincemeat." There's a strange, rather beautiful logic to Edwards's performance - he imposes a clean forward movement on the play's labyrinthine complexities. From the moment when, still bitter and grieving, he is faced with his father's ghost and sworn to avenge his murder, Hamlet is in over his head, faced with something too terrible for him to deal with and stay sane.

And then things get steadily worse. His girlfriend rejects him, his old friends spy on him, he kills the wrong man when trying for the king. It's not surprising that, in his antic moments, Edwards's Prince verges on hysteria. When reflective, he's sober with irony and self-reproach - a man who finds it difficult to take himself more seriously than fate does.

On a technical level, Edwards is particularly impressive in the soliloquies, which he approaches without either self-consciousness or brio. In his handling, these solos aren't obstacle courses to be run but magnificently written dramatic poetry that, given even half its due, will do much of the actor's work for him. And in theatrical paradox, his humility toward the words elevates him, and he sounds as if the famous speeches were thoughts occurring to him for the first time.

Edwards is well matched by Brian Hemmingsen as the Prince's usurping uncle Claudius, who has killed Hamlet's father, married his mother and taken the crown. Claudius is often played as slimy or weak. Hemmingsen gives him tragic stature as a man who has committed one awful sin and knows in his heart he won't escape paying for it. His Claudius is calm, stoic and - to his queen and poor mad Ophelia - gentle. He watches his crime catch up to him with grim fatality and, in the slaughter at the end, yields to his death with dignity; he's a gambler who's lost everything but his nerve.

The whole production shows the same passionate intelligence as these two central performances. Director Chris Henley has approached the text with an understanding of its problems but no discernible trepidation - it's as if he had fun solving theatrical conundrums. There's a great deal of freshness and wit in his approach; you watch many of the familiar scenes feeling you've never seen them before.

In some cases, you haven't seen them quite this way. The dumb show preceding "The Murder of Gonzago" (the play with which Hamlet catches the conscience of Claudius) is performed, very charmingly, by marionettes. In his famous speech on the many types of drama the actors specialize in, an exasperated Polonius is reading off the troupe's seemingly endless advertising boards. And though not all the problems involving Hamlet Sr.'s ghost have been solved, his second appearance, in his widow's bedroom, is an Oedipal shocker.

The performances are strong throughout. As Ophelia, Nanna Ingvarsson is a delicate, well-meaning girl whom madness turns raging and unpredictable. (In one of his many intelligent touches, Henley brings her onstage to hear of her father's death from Hamlet's lips.) Alan Jirikowic is the only truly comic Polonius I've ever seen. He makes the old man not so much a pontificating bore as the kind of fellow who can't help qualifying every utterance, a foible his acquaintances accept with as much affection as irritation.

The Gravedigger is a sure-fire role, but Michael Judge still makes something of it, creating a character who has, quite literally, staked out his own bit of turf administering the kingdom of the dead. Richard Mancini is a small, neat, graceful Player King who politicly indulges Hamlet's advice about acting.

There are problems. Odd little careless bits, like having two sentries bundled up and complaining about the cold while Horatio, when he joins them, neither wears a coat nor feels the lack of it. Certain questions haven't been addressed, like whether the queen believes it when Hamlet tells her that Claudius murdered her husband (she seems not to, but it's unclear), or why, if Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are such fools, Hamlet ever hung out with them at Wittenberg. The prop skulls are, to put it gently, not well handled (I'm not sure any production can survive more than one prop skull). And the first appearance of the ghost isn't quite successful, though his meeting with Hamlet is - there's something particularly creepy in the way, his message given, he strides off the stage without acknowledging his son's fearful, tentative longing to touch him.

Throughout the production, David Crandall has provided the sound of trickling underground water, as if the foundations of the castle and the state were being slowly worn away. It's a cold, faraway sound; it makes you think of death. The carnage at the end seems inevitable, fated - Denmark's sickness could be purged only with blood. Edwards's Hamlet dies not fainting in Horatio's arms but on his feet, surprised by the quickness with which he falters. This production is tough and exciting to the end.

Hamlet, by William Shakespeare. Directed by Christopher Henley. Set, Jason Adams; lighting, David R. Zemmels; sound, David Crandall; costumes, Richard Mancini; fight choreography, Brad Waller; marionettes, Bob Brown Productions. With T.J. Edwards, Brian Hemmingsen, Megan Morgan, Alan Jirikowic, Nanna Ingvarsson, Jason Adams, Richard Mancini. Michael Judge, David Marsh, Jason Hawkins, Brian Desmond, Miyuki Williams, Tim Carlin, Jim Stone, Rick Hammerly, Carol Monda. At the Washington Shakespeare Company, Gunston Arts Center, Arlington, through June 9.

Cite this article

See more articles from The Washington Post

`Passion' Tops Tony Nods ; Panel Struggles to Find Shows to Nominate

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
May 17, 1994
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

The 1994 Tony nominees were officially announced today after an unusually long deliberation. Leading in the number of nominations were "Passion," the controversial new work by Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, with 10; the revival of the 1933 musical "She Loves Me," with nine; and the arriviste Disney "Beauty and the Beast," also with nine.

The nominating committee wrangled for almost three hours longer than is customary, so the nominations, traditionally announced at 1:30 p.m., were not released until 4:30. According to a statement by the League of American Theatres and Producers and the American Theatre Wing, which produced the awards, "the 1994 rules and regulations require the nominating committee to select four nominees in each category. In three categories, the Tony nominating committee unanimously requested a reduction in the number of nominees. In two of those categories, that request was deniedby the Tony Administration Subcommittee."

The only category that finally emerged with just three nominations was Best Original Score, with awards suggested for "Passion," "Cyrano - the Musical" and Disney's "Beauty and the Beast."

The biggest surprise in the nominations is that Neil Simon's "Laughter on the 23rd Floor," which received generally glowing reviews, was shut out.

Arthur Miller's "Broken Glass" received a Best Play nomination, as did the Pulitzer Prize-winning epic "The Kentucky Cycle" (co-produced by the Kennedy Center); Anna Deavere Smith's one-woman show about the Los Angeles riots, "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992"; and, as expected, "Perestroika," the second half of Tony Kushner's "Angels in America" (the first half, "Millennium Approaches," won Best Play last year).

Aside from "Passion," Best Musical nominations went to "A Grand Night for Singing," "Cyrano" and "Beauty and the Beast." The winners will be announced June 12 at the Gershwin Theater in ceremonies that will be televised by CBS.

The nominees:

Play: "Angels in America: Perestroika" by Tony Kushner; "Broken Glass" by Arthur Miller; "The Kentucky Cycle" by Robert Schenkkan; "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992" by Anna Deavere Smith.

Musical: "A Grand Night for Singing"; "Beauty and the Beast"; "Cyrano - the Musical"; "Passion."

Actor, Play: Brian Bedford, "Timon of Athens"; Christopher Plummer, "No Man's Land"; Stephen Spinella, "Angels in America: Perestroika"; Sam Waterston, "Abe Lincoln in Illinois."

Actress, Play: Nancy Marchand, "Black Comedy"; Diana Rigg, "Medea"; Joan Rivers, "Sally Marr ... and her escorts"; Anna Deavere Smith, "Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992."

Actor, Musical: Boyd Gaines, "She Loves Me"; Victor Garber, "Damn Yankees"; Terrence Mann, "Beauty and the Beast"; Jere Shea, "Passion."

Actress, Musical: Susan Egan, "Beauty and the Beast"; Dee Hoty, "The Best Little Whorehouse Goes Public"; Judy Kuhn, "She Loves Me"; Donna Murphy, "Passion."

Book, Musical: Walter Bobbie, "A Grand Night for Singing"; Linda Woolverton, "Beauty and the Beast"; Koen Van Dijk, "Cyrano - the Musical"; James Lapine, "Passion."

Score, Musical: Alan Menken, Howard Ashman and Tim Rice, "Beauty and the Beast"; Ad Van Dijk, Koen Van Dijk, Peter Reeves and Sheldon Harnick, "Cyrano - the Musical"; Stephen Sondheim, "Passion."

Director, Play: Stephen Daldry, "An Inspector Calls"; Gerald Gutierrez, "Abe Lincoln in Illinois"; Michael Langham, "Timon of Athens"; George C. Wolfe, "Angels in America: Perestroika."

Director, Musical: Scott Ellis, "She Loves Me"; Nicholas Hytner, "Carousel"; James Lapine, "Passion"; Robert Jess Roth, "Beauty and the Beast."

Featured Actor, Play: Larry Bryggman, "Picnic"; David Marshall Grant, "Angels in America: Perestroika"; Gregory Itzin, "The Kentucky Cycle"; Jeffrey Wright, "Angels in America: Perestroika."

Featured Actress, Play: Jane Adams, "An Inspector Calls"; Debra Monk, "Picnic"; Jeanne Paulsen, "The Kentucky Cycle"; Anne Pitoniak, "Picnic."

Featured Actor, Musical: Tom Aldredge, "Passion"; Gary Beach, "Beauty and the Beast"; Jarrod Emick, "Damn Yankees"; Jonathan Freeman, "She Loves Me."

Featured Actress, Musical: Marcia Lewis, "Grease"; Sally Mayes, "She Loves Me"; Marin Mazzie, "Passion"; Audra Ann McDonald, "Carousel."

Revival, Play: "Abe Lincoln in Illinois"; "An Inspector Calls"; "Medea"; "Timon of Athens."

Revival, Musical: "Carousel"; "Damn Yankees"; "Grease"; "She Loves Me."

Scenic Design: Bob Crowley, "Carousel"; Peter J. Davison, "Medea"; Ian MacNeil, "An Inspector Calls"; Tony Walton, "She Loves Me."

Costume Design: David Charles and Jane Greenwood, "She Loves Me"; Jane Greenwood, "Passion"; Ann Hould-Ward, "Beauty and the Beast"; Yan Tax, "Cyrano - the Musical."

Lighting Design: Beverly Emmons, "Passion"; Jules Fisher, "Angels in America: Perestroika"; Rick Fisher, "An Inspector Calls"; Natasha Katz, "Beauty and the Beast."

Choreography: Jeff Calhoun, "Grease"; Sir Kenneth MacMillan, "Carousel"; Rob Marshall, "Damn Yankees"; Rob Marshall, "She Loves Me."

Special award for continued excellence by a regional theater: McCarter Theatre of Princeton, N.J.

Special award for lifetime achievement in the theater (new this year): Jessica Tandy and Hume Cronyn.

See more articles from The Washington Post

Arena's `Stand-Up Tragedy' Tops Helen Hayes Awards; Luis Ramos, Pat Carroll Named Outstanding Actors

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
May 7, 1991
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

The small theaters were pretty much overwhelmed at the awards-giving last night at the seventh annual Helen Hayes Awards ceremony at the National Theatre. Arena Stage, which led the nominations with 28, also led the awards with nine, including Outstanding Production, Outstanding Director and Outstanding Lead Actor. All three of these awards, plus Outstanding Sound, went to "Stand-Up Tragedy," the rap-flavored, despairing account of a teacher's failure with a gifted student, making it the evening's most honored production.

The Folger came in a distant second with three awards. The remaining five were split among the Woolly Mammoth Theatre with two (Outstanding Resident Musical and Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical) and the Studio, Washington Stage Guild and Source with one each: Outstanding Supporting Actor, the Charles MacArthur Award for Outstanding New Play and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical respectively.

In the technical fields, the smaller theaters were shut out: Arena and the Folger split the awards for set, sound, costumes and lights between them. Besides the award to Martin Pakledinaz for his costumes for "Mary Stuart" and to Howell Binkley for his lights for "Richard III," the Folger received only one other: Outstanding Lead Actress went to Pat Carroll for her well-received Falstaff in "The Merry Wives of Windsor." The Shakespeare Theatre had garnered two Outstanding Lead Actor nominations for Avery Brooks in "Othello" and Stacy Keach in "Richard III," but the judges passed over them in favor of Luis Ramos in Arena's production of "Stand-Up Tragedy."

Pat Carroll was once again the emcee for the awards ceremony, which got underway late because of the downpour. Resplendent in fuchsia, she carried a cane because of a knee problem. "This isn't a prop," she told the 1,700 people at the theater; "I use this." She took it apart and showed sections holding Scotch, bourbon, rye and gin. In the first musical number of the evening, "The Time Warp" from "The Rocky Horror Show," Carroll was dragged into the midst of a great many people dancing around in underwear and despite the bum knee showed great skill in doing the "pelvic thrust."

Awards namesake Helen Hayes, in a long glittering blue dress, was escorted to a box by Washington Post critic emeritus Richard Coe. She later presented the Charles MacArthur Award for Best New Play to local playwright Oni Faida Lampley for "Mixed Babies," which was produced by the Washington Stage Guild. The honor is named for her late husband, who wrote "The Front Page," among other plays. "I'm happy, ready to burst right now," Hayes said.

Studio Theatre Artistic Director Joy Zinoman and Folger Artistic Director Michael Kahn teamed up to present the design awards. Zinoman, in a slinky gold-trimmed black dress slit up the left side to reveal lots of leg, walked on stage first. Said Kahn, "I'm glad I followed the dress." ("I rented it," Zinoman confided later. "I'd rather wear bluejeans, but you've got to look good, especially when you're up there next to Michael Kahn.")

Kahn was droll throughout the presentations, giving Zinoman stage directions during her recitation of a brief history of Washington theater. And when he accepted the award for outstanding costumes for "Mary Stuart," a Folger production, he said, "I'm sure {Pakledinaz} would like to thank me."

Among the other honors last night, Arena won awards for Outstanding Production, "Stand-Up Tragedy"; Outstanding Director, Max Mayer for "Stand-Up Tragedy"; Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical, David Garrison in "Merrily We Roll Along" (he split the award with Scott Morgan of Source Theatre's "Children With Stones") and Outstanding Supporting Actor to Jarlath Conroy for "Juno and the Paycock."

Woolly Mammoth received the Outstanding Resident Musical award for "The Rocky Horror Show," and the award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Musical went to one of the "Rocky Horror" rompers, Nanna Ingvarsson. Outstanding Supporting Actress went to Robin Baxter for her role in Studio Theatre's production of "West Memphis Mojo."

When Baxter came onstage to accept her award, the left half of her face sported a beard; the right side was surrounded by a blond Madonna-esque coif. She was made up for a number to be performed later from "The Rocky Horror Show." "I'm sure you're wondering why I look this way," she told the audience. "I always do. This is what happens when you cross a hairdresser with an actress."

In the Non-Resident Production category, Arena again led the field with two awards to "From the Mississippi Delta": Outstanding Non-Resident Production and, to Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Outstanding Lead Actress. Outstanding Lead Actor went to J. Mark McVey for "Les Miserables" and Outstanding Supporting Performer to Mark Baker for "Grand Hotel." Trevor Nunn, generally acknowledged to be one of the half-dozen greatest directors in the English-speaking world, and John Caird, who co-directed "Les Miserables," lost to Bill Rauch, who took the Outstanding Director, Non-Resident Production award for "The Video Store Owner's Significant Other," a Cornerstone Theater Company production brought in by the now defunct American Playwrights Theatre. When Rauch accepted his award, he accidentally bumped it against the lectern and it fell apart.

A special Helen Hayes award was given to Arena Stage Producing Director Zelda Fichandler, Juilliard-bound after this season. The Washington Post Award for Distinguished Community Service went to the African Continuum Theater Coalition and was accepted by coalition Executive Director John L. Moore III.

Theaters that were nominated but received no awards were Smallbeer Theatre, Harlequin Dinner Theatre, the Round House Theatre and the No-Neck Monsters Theatre Company.

After the awards ceremony, well over a thousand people gathered to celebrate in the glittery J.W. Marriott ballroom.

"I looked at these names I was up against" - Stacy Keach, Robert Prosky, Avery Brooks, et. al - "these men that I've watched on video," gasped "Stand-Up Tragedy's" Luis Ramos. "It might hit me next week when I'm lying in bed eating popcorn - like whoa!"

Similarly taken aback was "Mixed Babies" playwright Lampley. Whirling away under the mirrored balls, she exclaimed, "I simply had no idea this would happen! But I'm absolutely thrilled."

Recipients of the 1991 Helen Hayes Awards:

Outstanding Resident Production: "Stand-Up Tragedy," Arena Stage.

Outstanding Resident Musical: "The Rocky Horror Show," Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company.

Outstanding Lead Actress: Pat Carroll, "The Merry Wives of Windsor," Shakespeare Theatre at the Folger.

Outstanding Lead Actor: Luis Ramos, "Stand-Up Tragedy," Arena Stage.

Outstanding Supporting Actress: Robin Baxter, "West Memphis Mojo," Studio Theatre

Outstanding Supporting Actor: Jarlath Conroy, "Juno and the Paycock," Arena.

Outstanding Lead Actress/Resident Musical: Nanna Ingvarsson, "The Rocky Horror Show," Woolly Mammoth.

Outstanding Lead Actor in a Musical (tie): David Garrison, "Merrily We Roll Along," Arena, and Scott Morgan, "Children With Stones," Source Theatre Company.

The Charles MacArthur Award for Best New Play: "Mixed Babies" by Oni Faida Lampley, Washington Stage Guild.

Outstanding Sound Design: Susan R. White, "Stand-Up Tragedy," Arena.

Outstanding Set Design: F. Hallinan Flood, "Juno and the Paycock," Arena.

Outstanding Costume Design: Martin Pakledinaz, "Mary Stuart," Folger.

Outstanding Lighting Design: Howell Binkley, "Richard III," Folger

Outstanding Non-Resident Production: "From the Mississippi Delta," Northlight Theatre at Arena Stage.

Outstanding Lead Actress, Non-Resident Production: Cheryl Lynn Bruce, "From the Mississippi Delta," Northlight at Arena.

Outstanding Director, Non-Resident Production: Bill Rauch, "The Video Store's Significant Other," Cornerstone Theater Company at American Playwrights Theatre.

Outstanding Lead Actor, Non-Resident Production: J. Mark McVey, "Les Miserables," National Theatre.

Outstanding Supporting Performer, Non-Resident Production: Mark Baker, "Grand Hotel," Kennedy Center.

Special correspondent Pamela Sommers contributed to this report.

See more articles from The Washington Post

Theater; Ayckbourn, At Full Farce

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
July 19, 1994
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

John Going has directed "A Small Family Business," which opened this weekend at the Olney Theatre, in a broad cartoony style. As a result, Alan Ayckbourn's satirical comedy about corruption gets some laughs but loses its darkness and bite.

John Neville-Andrews plays Jack McCracken, an upright businessman who takes over the management of his father-in-law's firm. The company - which designs and manufactures furniture - is very much a family affair, with Jack's brother, Cliff (Nick Olcott), and Cliff's randy wife, Anita (Pamela Lewis), plus Jack's brothers-in-law, the prissy Desmond (Thomas Carson) and the dim Roy (Neal Moran), all involved. Jack takes the helm full of righteous fervor and good intentions and quickly crashes onto the rocks of his relatives' slyness and greed.

The play is constructed like a classic farce, with Jack becoming increasingly desperate as the patch of moral ground he's staked out grows smaller and smaller. Every move he makes to set things right only reveals a previously unexpected level of wrongdoing. With each step down Jack vows that this is the last compromise, only to find himself up against another wall almost as soon as he turns around.

The sharpness in the comedy comes from Ayckbourn's bleak view of human nature, and the most cutting observations are of Jack's behavior, as he slowly, without really noticing, learns to lie to himself to protect his interests. By the end, he's as compromised as the people he's been condemning but continues to think of himself as a decent fellow with the family's best interests at heart.

The sting of this ending is marred in this production by a visual joke illustrating that Jack is quite aware of his corruption: Instead of being self-deceiving, he's learned to play hardball and play it well. This works all right as an ending - it's just cute instead of incisive.

In general, the production tends toward cuteness. Most of the cast has been encouraged to "act funny," and they goose up the characters with mannerisms and broad gestures, as if it were up to them to insert laughs into the play, rather than get laughs from it. Neville-Andrews keeps his head while all about are losing theirs, and for a while this works, since Jack is the odd man out ethically. But as Jack makes peace with his baser impulses, Neville-Andrews's naturalness jars with the cavorting around him.

Brigid Cleary, sounding uncannily like Prunella Scales (Basil Fawlty's wife in "Fawlty Towers"), is more character than caricature as Jack's wife, and Lucy Symons and Laura Wells are fine as his daughters. Playing five brothers, Dom Lonardo brings a light comic touch to each.

This production is enjoyable enough; it's just not up to the script.

A Small Family Business by Alan Ayckbourn. Directed by John Going. Set, James Wolk; lights, Daniel MacLean Wagner; costumes, Rosemary Pardee; sound, Neil McFadden. With Tom Quinn, Catherine Flye, Rena Cherry Brown, Munson Hicks. At the Olney Theatre through Aug. 7.

Cite this article

Head Yale Rep

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
January 11, 1991
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Stan Wojewodski Jr., the artistic director of Center Stage in Baltimore, will succeed Lloyd Richards as artistic director of the Yale Repertory Theatre and dean of the prestigious Yale School of Drama, both Center Stage and Yale University announced yesterday. Wojewodski, who has been with Center Stage for 15 years, will take over the position from Richards on July 1. Richards has held the post for 12 years, two years longer than is customary for a Yale dean to serve. Wojewodski's initial term will run until 1996.

Wojewodski came to Center Stage in 1975 after completing his graduate studies at Catholic University. He has been artistic director since 1977. He came on just as Center Stage moved into its present quarters on Calvert Street, and he immediately began introducing more risky and modern material into what had been a repertory consisting mostly of classics and chestnuts. For the first time, the works of such writers as Peter Handke and Jean-Claude Grumberg, hardly boffo box office, were performed. Wojewodski also made a commitment to new playwrights such as Russell Davis and Eric Overmeyer. Next month he will direct the premiere of Overmeyer's "The Heliotrope Bouquet by Scott Joplin & Louis Chauvin" in Center Stage's new "black box" theater.
Since Robert Brustein founded it 25 years ago, the Yale Rep, in New Haven, Conn., has established itself as one of the outstanding nonprofit theaters in the country. During Richards's tenure it hosted premieres by such writers as Athol Fugard and August Wilson.

Wojewodski will be only the third person to hold the Yale position. Brustein, whose departure was acrimonious, is currently artistic director of the American Repertory Theatre and a Harvard English professor. He said yesterday he considers Wojewodski's appointment "a superb choice" and is "very impressed that Yale has chosen someone from the nonprofit theater."

The search committee for Richards's successor was formed in January 1990. Garland Wright, artistic director of the Guthrie Theatre in Minneapolis and a former artistic associate at Arena Stage, is said to have been a serious contender for the position. Wright had no comment yesterday.

Wojewodski, 42, said he looks forward to "the challenge of integrating the work of a theater with that of a drama school." In a sense, he's been preparing for this for years: "Certain people, when they go to graduate school, begin to evaluate what it was like, for better or worse. I guess I'm one of those."

He prefers not to speculate on why Yale settled on him: "I'm not willing to stretch my modesty that far ... or deflate my ego that much." Though he says that leaving Center Stage is a "very difficult" decision, he feels proud that he and Managing Director Peter W. Culman have made Center Stage a "very important center for ongoing work in the theater."

A search committee for Wojewodski's successor has been assembled but has not met formally.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

See more articles from The Washington Post

Theater; `Secret Garden': Unfertile Territory

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
December 28, 1992
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Wrapped in layers and layers of Victorian-era fancy paper, "The Secret Garden," which opened last night at the Kennedy Center Opera House, is an empty box underneath the trappings. Based on the classic children's book of the same name, this musical adaptation jettisons what story there was and replaces it with some underdeveloped melodrama and lots of pretty stagecraft.

Frances Hodgson Burnett's novel tells the story of spoiled little Mary who, orphaned and sent to live with her reclusive uncle Archibald on the Yorkshire moors, grows up. In the process, she brings life to all around her - including the aforementioned uncle, her invalid cousin and the garden of the title. It's not as bad as "Pollyanna," but it's without conflict and rather simplistic: fresh air seems to fix everything. (Burnett's other classic, the much-maligned "Little Lord Fauntleroy," is a much better book.) But at least the book had the love of landscape going for it, and Burnett's Mary is an amusingly sour little hellion who more or less out-tantrums her cousin from his bed and into the healthy outdoors.

Librettist and book-writer Marsha Norman, of " 'night, Mother" fame, has jettisoned the grow-strong-on-the-moors pastoral elements of the book and emphasized instead the indoors: Mary's uncle's house is a combination Gothic manor and haunted dollhouse, and its sickly, hidden heart is Mary's cousin Colin, whose birth killed his mother. The house is chock-full-o'-ghosts, not only Colin's mother and Mary's parents (who died in India of cholera) but several people I couldn't identify, who apparently died in India also and have come a long way to haunt a house.

In the book, it's Mary's uncle's heart that must be softened toward his son; Norman has provided an extra uncle - a wicked one - who schemes to keep Colin ill so that he can inherit the estate. Or something. This gives the plot the teeniest bit of momentum - a sort of hop - but mostly it just sits still while ghosts come and go and the Victorian magic-box set shifts around decoratively. Lucy Simon's score is sprightly, but it can't move the static script and those tons of scenery.

Not a great deal happens. Obviously, if a crippled boy is introduced in the first act, he must walk before the final curtain. (This cliche, so old it should be dead, still has some rotting life: It's the core of the new Steve Martin movie "Leap of Faith." Won't someone just shoot it and put us out of its misery?) And if there's a secret garden, Mary must find the way into it - which she does with astonishing ease, as the key just turns up on a topiary boxwood. Mary isn't even allowed the dramatic power of bringing Archibald back to the estate he has fled; though she writes him a letter, it's his wife's ghost who has the scene - and song - that persuade him to return.

Gothic paraphernalia is piled on. There seem to be about eight thunderstorms. And someone in the house mysteriously cries at night. When Mary goes tracking these cries, the story echoes "Jane Eyre," but there are no dreadful secrets here, possibly because there is no sex. Mary and Colin are the Pure Children who free the adults from their woes.

On the night I saw the production, Melody Kay and Sean Considine (who alternate with Demaree Alexander and Chad Hutchison) were a fine Mary and Colin. Considine, especially, shows a sophisticated sense of inflection, announcing with a mixture of self-pity and pride, "I'm going to die." As Archibald's wife's ghost, Anne Runolfsson has a lovely, delicate soprano, and Roger Bart is likable in the sticky role of Dickon, who talks to birds and is a friend to the Earth. Kevin McGuire is a rather sweet Uncle Archibald. The problems with this aren't in the cast.

"The Secret Garden" is pretty much an all-woman show: Besides Norman and Simon, the director is Susan H. Schulman and the set designer is Tony-winning Heidi Landesman (who also produced). They've come up with a flower-bedecked, overdecorated, sweet-emotioned, no-problems-love-can't-solve show that's like a nightmare of old-fashioned womanliness, feminine as all hell.

The Secret Garden, book and lyrics by Marsha Norman; music by Lucy Simon. Director, Susan H. Schulman; set, Heidi Landesman; costumes, Theoni V. Aldridge; lights, Tharon Musser; choreography, Michael Lichtefeld; musical direction, Constantine Kitsopoulos. With Anne Runolfsson, Melody Kay, Demaree Alexander, Sean Considine, Chad Hutchison, Kevin McGuire, Douglas Sills, Tracey Ann More, Roger Bart. At the Kennedy Center Opera House through Jan. 31.

rena's Bumbling Elephant

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
September 16, 1994
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

The valiant efforts of veteran actresses Tana Hicken and Halo Wines can't jolt any energy into Terrence McNally's "A Perfect Ganesh," which opened last night at Arena Stage. It's questionable whether the shapeless, preachy script can ever be very satisfying, but certainly at Arena it comes across as lackluster, with a sourly petulant undercurrent. Wines and Hicken play Margaret Civil and Katharine Brynne, two middle-class matrons who head off to India for reasons they can't quite articulate, though Brynne, whose son has been murdered, admits that she hopes to find a way to heal. Unbeknown to them, they are guided by the elephant-headed Indian god Ganesha, who appears in many guises along their journey, helping them to move toward spiritual peace. By the end, Katharine has asked her slain gay son, whom she never loved, to forgive her, and Margaret has come to terms with having let her 4-year-old son squirm away from her and run to his death in traffic.

McNally's script is full of the condescending - one would have hoped outdated - reverence of the American intellectual for the Mysterious East. "You Indians are so ... content," Katharine observes at one point. "You seem to possess some inner calm or competence that we don't." The Japanese as well as the Indians in the play are objectified as exotic, wisdom-stuffed Others - an efficient way to patronize a culture while professing to admire it.

All 27 male characters are played by one actor, Andrew Weems. He appears variously as the ghost of Katharine's son (bloodily made up to look as if he shot himself, even though he was beaten to death); a number of citizens of India; a grinning Dutch tourist (he's quite funny here); a gay doctor dying with quiet, heroic stoicism; and sundry others.

Meanwhile Jeffery V. Thompson's Ganesh (the actor wears a wonderful elephant head designed by Marina Draghici) also assumes several guises, including a kind and insightful Japanese husband and wife, a tour guide, a child and a chambermaid. Robbed of his face, Thompson demonstrates what sensitive and expressive hands he has. He's surprisingly touching as the women he plays, particularly in the moment when the Japanese lady speaks with quiet regret of never having had children.

Wines and Hicken are both terrific actresses, and they work hard here. But they can't convince you that the women are old or good friends, or make the characters' achievement of peace anything but murky. As written, Katharine and Margaret bitch archly back and forth, then occasionally stop and exclaim how much they love each other. The relationship doesn't make any sense, and Hicken and Wines and director Laurence Maslon are defeated by it.

For reasons that are dramatically unclear, McNally specifies at least twice that the gay son's murderers are young African American men. The woman driving the car that hit Margaret's son is also African American. She comes to the funeral, sits in the back and sings "Swing Low, Sweet Chariot," and all the uptight Episcopal white people are incredibly moved. McNally may not mean for this sort of stuff to be offensive, but that's the way it comes across.

Katharine's murdered son, Walter, is, at least in ghost form, self-pitying and snotty. He's so unpleasant that it's hard to be sorry he's dead. It's all Mother's fault, of course. Under its supposedly compassionate surface, the play is an indictment of mothers - both women are presented as essentially responsible for their sons' deaths, though they may not have actually struck the killing blows (that was done by those handy African Americans).

Andrew Wood Boughton has designed a wide, bare set backed on three sides by tall white curtains; the effect is a little like a hospital room. Various set pieces - including an airplane wing - glide on and off. The individual pieces are amusing, but they don't come and go with swiftness or grace, so they contribute to the dragged-out feeling of the evening.

Toward the play's end, Katharine has a revelation: "Nothing is right, nothing is wrong. ... Accept! Be!" This seems to have something to do with the son whose sexuality she re- jected, but it could as easily include his murderers, or the existence of the AIDS virus, or any number of other things McNally seems to be angry about.

The play's final message appears to be: Things are what they are; outrage and action are a waste of time. Maybe that's why it unfolds with such lethargic drift.

A Perfect Ganesh by Terrence McNally. Directed by Laurence Maslon. Lighting, Nancy Schertler; costumes, Marina Draghici; sound, Timothy Thompson. At Arena's Kreeger Theater through Oct. 30.

Cite this article

See more articles from The Washington Post

Theater; `Etta Jenks': A Woman Porned

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
September 16, 1994
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

"Etta Jenks," at Fourth Wall Productions, is set in the rancid world of porn filmmaking, complete with prostitution, drug addiction, S & M gear and snuff movies. It's a rough milieu, all right, but playwright Marlane Meyer doesn't have much to say about it, and the production, though often visually inventive, isn't powerful or raw. The only reason to do this kind of show is to rub the atmosphere into the audience like salt into a wound, but this production has no threat or danger. It's not ugly enough, actually.

Etta (Lucy Symons) comes to Los Angeles dreaming of a film career but, having neither talent nor brains, drifts into the porn industry. The character really is exceptionally stupid - so much so that it's hard to take much interest in her until about two-thirds of the way through the evening, when the script turns into a mildly diverting murder mystery. Symons slinks through the role engagingly but can't make any sense of it, particularly in the later scenes when Etta inexplicably proves capable of putting two thoughts together consecutively.

There are indications that Meyer meant to write some sort of feminist, anti-capitalist screed. At one point, in solidarity with a snuff victim, Etta announces: "I am `other women.' " One of the scummy producers explains his product by saying, "You can't begrudge the market." Another laments, "Where are we when women decide to get even?" And, given a chance to marry, Etta equates a house and children with prison. Much better to be an independent businesswoman, apparently, even if it means hanging out with the scum of the Earth and having to fall on your back occasionally.

Director Rick Hammerly has come up with some striking effects on Mick Murray's barrenly drab set. There is a particularly disturbing one in which a producer watches a snuff film play offstage, the light from the screen shifting over his face, while he explains his entrepreneurial philosophy. But Hammerly has chosen to bridge the play's short, abrupt scenes with blackouts, and though he covers these with inventive sound effects, the play still stops dead every time the stage goes black and has to lurch back to its feet when the lights come up, stagger back toward full speed, then stop again for another blackout. With a script as fragmented as this one, the effect is pretty deadly.

John Emmert plays the nastiest of the porn producers. He's almost elegant in his sleaziness, but he doesn't bring much force to the character. Margaret Makinde is Etta's friend Sheri, way, way too gorgeous to be stuck in this low-rent business. Lisa Lias is edgy and effective in a couple of small roles.

And Steve Wilhite is scary, pathetic and appallingly funny - all the things you wish the script was - in the roles of a junkie hustler and a coolly philosophical hit man. He and John Bukovec as his partner turn a murder sequence in a motel room into something as creepily threatening as a Pinter scene.

Etta Jenks, by Marlane Meyer. Directed by Rick Hammerly. Sound, Neil McFadden; lights, Daniel Schrader and Alexandra Copeland; costumes, Susan Anderson. With John Dow, Elizabeth Pierotti, Christopher Wilson. At Fourth Wall Productions, Georgetown University Hall of Nations, through Oct. 2. For tickets call 202-483-9307.

See more articles from The Washington Post

A Biting, Lusty `Food Chain'

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
June 28, 1994
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

In "The Food Chain," which opened Sunday night at Woolly Mammoth Theatre, Rob Leo Roy, as the hapless Otto Woodnick, is encased in a fat suit nearly as large as he is. Rolling on his ex-lover's bed like a walrus out of water, Otto pleads for reconciliation, seductively recalling old times: "You'd scream with such rage you'd turn purple. It can be that way again!"

Nicky Silver is back at Woolly in double-threat form as both playwright and director, and "The Food Chain" - mean, smart and hilarious - is his best play yet. It doesn't have the emotional intensity or brutality of his "Fat Men in Skirts" and "Free Will and Wanton Lust," but it's satisfying in a way they're not, built to barrel down the laugh track and then explode when it hits human misery.

Otto is hopelessly in love with male model Serge (Christopher Lane), who dotes on the laconic Ford (James Whalen), who is married to the neurotic Amanda (Kate Fleming), who opens the play with a long phone dialogue/monologue to a crisis hot line volunteer named Bea (Cam Magee). Amanda is upset because Ford, to whom she has been married for three weeks, has been missing for two. She's sure it's her fault: "I was too aggressive. Or too passive. Or too passive-aggressive."

Bea is not the most sympathetic recipient of these confessions; mostly she's preoccupied with a former caller who actually dared to commit suicide while on the phone with her: "I tell you - I felt very betrayed."

The first act belongs to Amanda - Bea has some good lines but is mostly an audience - and Fleming dominates it with style. Looking svelte in red hair with bangs, she starts out calmly enough, patient with Bea's interruptions, but ends a shrieking loon, all but foaming at the mouth with rejection and self-hatred.

At this point, Silver switches moods on a dime, and Fleming becomes touching, throaty, disturbingly sad, making comedy and tragedy lie down together in the bed she shares with Ford.

Act 2 introduces us to Otto, throwing himself at Serge in sweaty desperation. "Tell me, as a friend," he gasps, "what's wrong with me?" "You're insane!" Serge replies, scrambling out of his way. A small point to Otto, who is full of plans to revive the relationship: "I'm on a new diet - I have a Slim Fast shake with every meal!"

In the past several years, Roy has been growing more and more expansive as a comic actor. Maybe this fat suit finally gave him the sheer physical size he needed to go all the way over the top with a role.

This is a heroically insane performance, full of madness and longing, beyond sense, beyond shame, way beyond taste. As full-throttle performances can be, it's a little frightening. Flailing to get off the floor, scarfing Oreos and swigging Yoo-Hoo, his hair sweat-plastered to his head, Roy makes your skin creep even as he keeps you laughing - he makes Otto a monster of comic humiliation.

As Serge, Lane is required only to look gorgeous, a task he manages easily, but he turns out to be a spry comic performer as well. Poor Serge cannot understand how he has come to be abandoned by Ford. As he explains to Amanda, "I'm very good-looking, and I'm not used to being on this end of things" - "this end of things" being the bottom of what Silver depicts as a romantic/sexual food chain. "If you're attractive, you own it all, you rule the world!" Amanda cries in Act 1, and nothing in the play proves her wrong.

Refusing to accept the limitations of his flesh, Otto is comic and heroic. Like some of Moliere's heroes, he approaches tragic status because his desires are not only absurd and because his will is Promethean. He's at war with reality, and who in the audience can't sympathize with that?

Magee gets her laughs as Bea, and Whalen manages to be extremely funny in a near-wordless part. James Kronzer has designed another of his amazing two-apartments-on-one-stage sets, full of crazy, rich colors like hot pink and aqua, purple and brilliant green. The set's a beautiful box to contain the characters' hysteria, just as Silver's play is a frame to enclose their desperation, lust and pain. "The Food Chain" is a brilliant little machine of a farce that runs on hot blood.

The Food Chain, by Nicky Silver. Directed by Nicky Silver. Set, James Kronzer; lights, Martha Mountain; costumes, Howard Vincent Kurtz; sound, Gil Thompson. At the Woolly Mammoth Theatre through July 17.


See more articles from The Washington Post

Theater; Sondheim's Challenging `Company'

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
October 26, 1993
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

The bravura of director Eric D. Schaeffer and the talents of choreographer Karma Camp give Signature Theatre's production of "Company," which opened last night, its energy. When it's a matter of staging, of presentation, of theatrical zowie, this production is effective. But the cast members and their voices are generally weak, and things lag when you need characterization or stylish delivery from the individual performers.

A ground-breaker when it premiered in 1970, the musical still packs a punch, mostly because of the surprising angry force of so many of the numbers. Stephen Sondheim's lyrics are witty, acrid, world-weary and flavored with disgust, and his music is brilliant in its irony, disillusionment and cruelty: It's easy to see why this is the work that made his reputation. "Company" has an elegant, detached tone, but its heart is fierce.

Sondheim and his book writer, George Furth, dissected the lives of educated, upscale New Yorkers, probing into upper-middle class civilization and its discontents. The central figure (he's not quite a character), Bobby, is the third wheel who keeps his married friends' partnerships on track. They keep advising him to marry, but his experiences give him a mordant outlook and he continually resists their advice.

As he proved with "Sweeney Todd" and "Assassins," Schaeffer has a real feel for Sondheim's work. But he doesn't quite have the tools he needs to work with here. As the pivotal Bobby, Buzz Mauro, who was a terrific John Wilkes Booth in "Assassins," seems lost - he's not a natural straight man, which the under-written part practically demands. His voice is pleasant enough but not quite up to Sondheim, who punishes the human voice to coax new beauties out of it.

Without a center, the loosely structured story (audacious in its day, a break with the linear books of the Rodgers and Hammerstein tradition) eddies around aimlessly. None of the supporting players is in a position to carry the story, and none of the cast stands out enough to pull your interest, though Megan Lawrence, with her big, joyous voice, really delivers "Another Hundred People," and Judy Simmons has a nice growly presence as the tough old broad Joanne.

In a piece from 1970, no one onstage is going to wonder whether perhaps Bobby isn't interested in marriage because he's gay. Modern audiences may notice that his reluctance is never really well defined, and that the women are ferociously caricatured as harpies and airheads. The original director, Harold Prince, pressured Sondheim into providing a somewhat positive song about love, "Being Alive," for the finale, but the effect is artificial and strained. The show doesn't really have a resolution; it just sort of peters out, as if no one involved knew quite how to end it.

Camp is a past mistress of providing stylish choreography for non- dancers. When she and Schaeffer and lighting designer John Burchett get together on the big numbers - "Company," "What Would We Do Without You?" - the results are often dazzling. But "Company" is a chamber piece, not a knock-you-dead show; it's full of quiet or intimate moments, which are exactly the moments that aren't particularly effective here.

Schaeffer has made a decision to present "Company" as a period piece, and everyone wears really hideous '70s clothes: cutout jumpsuits, pale blue and green polyester leisure suits, suede lace- up boots. One character gets a laugh when he rises from his seat on the floor and reveals horrendous wooden-soled platform shoes. Actually, the clothes being satirized here don't belong to the late '60s, when Sondheim was creating the musical and he and Prince were preparing it for the stage: They hail from a few years later. And it's a cheap shot mocking these people for bad taste imposed on them by the director and costume designer. (The original production's costumes were unself-consciously '60s, unattractive today but not comments on the foolishness of the characters.)

Sondheim's shots aren't cheap, though, and they hit right between the eyes. Even though the lyrics - "Neighbors you annoy together/ children you destroy together ... keep marriage intact" - are savagely witty, the real force is in the coldly brilliant music, with its rather frightening shimmer of heartlessness. Furth's book plays like a fallen souffle next to these ruthless art songs, so atonal and unsettling.

It's interesting to compare another "period" musical of the time, "Hair," with its lively, crowd-pleasing, rock- and pop-derived songs, with "Company," which is so defiantly inward, so arrogantly indifferent to pleasing, so dry and metallically cool. Sondheim, who has worked with such acclaim and success in the popular medium of the musical, is in some ways less a descendant of, say, Gershwin than of Brecht. They share the ugly, affrontive understanding that "art is not nice."

Company, music and lyrics by Stephen Sondheim. Book by George Furth. Directed by Eric D. Schaeffer. Choreography, Karma Camp; musical direction, Jon Kalbfleisch; set, Lou Stancari; costumes, Debi Tesser; lights, John Burchett. With Buzz Mauro, Donna Lillard Migliaccio, Judy Simmons, Megan Lawrence, Nancy Dolliver. At Signature Theatre through Nov. 27.

Cite this article
Pick a style below, and copy the text for your bibliography.

*
MLA
*
Chicago
*
APA



See more articles from The Washington Post

Theater ; `Dancing at Lughnasa': Wistful Thinking

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
November 12, 1993
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Brian Friel's sad, haunting "Dancing at Lughnasa" is being given a sad, haunting and lovely production at Arena Stage. Under Kyle Donnelly's direction, the Tony Award-winning drama, which opened last night, is beautiful, shadowy, wounding.

Neither play nor production has much dramatic force. That's not the point. This is a gentle, evanescent theater experience, a memory play that has some of memory's fuzzy edges. Michael (Denis O'Hare) is telling us about one summer in the life of his mother and his four spinster aunts, the summer of 1936, when their limited but settled lives quietly fell apart. Michael wanders into the action of the past, more observer than participant: Though the actor speaks the 7- year-old Michael's lines, he remains his adult self, and the others onstage speak to a Michael we can't see, responding to the remembering, adult Michael's lines as if the invisible child in front of them had spoken.

Lughnasa is one of the old pagan holidays of Ireland, the one that in pre-Christian times celebrated the harvest. For the five unwed Mundy sisters (Michael is, as they say, a "love child"), the August days bring on a sensual restlessness, an intimation of the pleasures of the world that have passed them by. Up in the hills at night, young men and women secretly celebrate Lughnasa with drinking and dancing. The one Mundy brother, Father Jack (Richard Bauer), has returned home from his long missionary stay in Africa with more respect and affection for the gods of Uganda than the one of the Catholic Church. A radio - a new and exciting possession in the rural Ireland of the day - brings dance music into the Mundy cottage. A mysterious, alternative life to the one they have lived stirs around the sisters - but it is too late for them to partake of it.

A poignant sense of waste is the primary emotion generated by Friel's story. His characterizations aren't particularly complex: There's the authoritarian, repressed eldest sister; the retarded girl who longs for love and gets sex; the homely, hearty one; the one with a secret sorrow; and Michael's mother, who has her few moments of happiness. The whiff of paganism that tickles the sisters' nostrils is romantic - earthy, liberating, fulfilled. This is the usual educated Westerner's longing for the more passionate life of "them" - those "others" with no annoying Ten Commandments to ruin their fun. The attitude comes across less patronizingly here than it usually does because of Friel's light, melancholy touch - the pagan desires of the Mundy women are half-dreams, previously unawakened pieces of their imaginations stirring briefly under the summer sun.

Linda Buchanan has designed an iconographic set: a cottage, a yard, lots of tall, wild grass, and a backdrop that looks like a crayon version of a van Gogh sky. Under Rita Pietraszek's lights, that sky carries the suppressed passions of the play, shifting dark and light with a fury and freedom denied the play's characters. Donnelly's work is most impressive when it's most pictorial - when the people stand in the landscape lost in their private thoughts, like figures in a surrealist painting.

The cast is fine, though some stand out more than others. Tana Hicken as the eldest sister does her usual strong work, and Bauer brings welcome elements of humor to Father Jack. As Rose, the retarded sister, Kate Goehring is sometimes spookily effective, sometimes a little too much the "poetic" mad girl. When she unleashes her long legs in a passionate dance, Pamela Nyberg spills an explosive sexuality into the goings-on that is sorely needed - for a play about the missed pleasures of the sensual life, this production of "Lughnasa" is slightly dry, as if there weren't much under that repression except wistful loneliness.

O'Hare is a wonderful Michael, wry, intelligent, continually surprised at the complexity of the emotions that wash over him. He leaves Michael emotionally open - nothing is resolved in this act of memory, the events remain messy, painful. There's no question as to why Michael is telling us this story - it's still tormentingly alive in him. "Dancing at Lughnasa" is a play of questions, not answers - as complex and distant as that swirling backdrop sky.

Dancing at Lughnasa,

by Brian Friel. Directed by Kyle Donnelly. Costumes, Paul Tazewell; choreography, Jim Corti; sound, Rob Milburn. With Kate Buddeke, Jenny Bacon, Patrick Clear. At Arena Stage through Jan. 2.

See more articles from The Washington Post

`State of the Union': Run For the Funny; Powerful Players Turn Out For Arena Stage Benefit

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
June 3, 1997
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Last night, once again, the annual Arena Stage benefit for the Living Stage Theatre Company gave politicians and journalists the opportunity to strut and fret their hour upon the stage. The show was Lindsay and Crouse's "State of the Union," adapted and directed by Nick Olcott, whose experienced comic touch was obvious: This is by far the smoothest of the celebrity-cast staged readings the Living Stage benefit has produced.

"State of the Union" is a sweetly cornball show about Grant Matthews, a guy too honest to run for president who runs for president, which of course makes him less and less honest. In the end, his wise, stuffed-full-of-integrity wife saves him from losing his soul. Grant was played by Casey Biggs -- who did the honors as Hildy Johnson at last year's "Front Page" -- and Catherine Mann was his wife. Fred Grandy played a cynical political kingmaker, Dina Merrill was a sophisticated publishing tycoon named Kay, and onetime Washington Post writer Sally Quinn was a journalist turned political

adviser. (As her replacement at her day job, Post vice president Ben Bradlee had a one-line walk-on.) Among Grant's tempters were Charles Rangel, playing against type as a pro-business pol; Billy Tauzin as his pro-labor opposite number; Connie Morella as a cynical anti-communist; Pat Roberts as a senator (clever casting); Richard Lugar as a judge and Donna Shalala as his Southern wife; Barney Frank as a voice-of-the-people barber; Roger Wicker as a butler named Swenson; John Boehner as an enthusiastic bellhop; and Susan Molinari as an Irish maid complete with accent. Nina Totenberg, Amo Houghton and Carrie Meek did duty as a pack of labor leaders, and Totenberg also sang a rewritten version of "Nice Work if You Can Get It" with Grandy (who put a nice tremolo into his delivery). The so-called Capitol Four -- Kenny Hulshof, Mike Pappas, Joseph R. Pitts and John Thune -- opened the evening with an a cappella version of the national anthem. Biggs and Frank sang a rewritten "There's No Business Like Show Business": "Even when the polls show you're losing the race/ The smile stays frozen on your face." And swinging renditions of old favorites like "Sweet Georgia Brown" were provided by Amo and the Swing Voters, otherwise known as Amo Houghton, Tom Artin, Leonard Gaskin, Cercie Miller, Ed Polcer and Mark Shane. Natural-born hams Kweisi Mfume and Robert Reich were unfortunately missing this year. But Molinari mugged like a pro; Frank was a cut-up as the barber; Tauzin showed a talent for comic delivery; Rangel's gravelly voice proved a natural for the stage; and the irrepressible Shalala, in a red hat, gave her all to lines such as "I haven't enjoyed myself so much since Huey Long died!" The evening at Arena's Kreeger Theater was characterized by good sportsmanship, as all the participants flung themselves into the roles, even when those roles were sometimes jokes on them. ("Some people just don't know how to get out of this business {politics}," Molinari pointedly told Grandy.) The best sport was Biggs, the only one who could actually be said to be acting, whose energy and skill carried the show through its rough spots. Perhaps his high point was a moment of invention when everyone else onstage fell oddly still, looking at one another and the scripts in their hands: "Will someone have something to drink?" he asked brightly, and during the laugh the miscreant (who shall remain unnamed here) found his place in the script and everyone went on with the show.

See more articles from The Washington Post

Tears Of a Clan; `Raised in Captivity': Cry, Cry Again

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
June 3, 1997
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

"Why am I being punished?" a character cries.

"Why is anyone?" comes the snappish response.

Nicky Silver, master of comic angst, is back with "Raised in Captivity," which opened Saturday at the Woolly Mammoth Theatre. As always with Silver, it's suffer, suffer, suffer, quip, quip, quip, suffer, suffer, suffer, quip, quip, quip. This is no smiling-through-tears writer, though; his characters quip not to keep from crying but to keep themselves from committing homicide on the nearest handy target. Still, in spite of a crackerjack production directed by Howard Shalwitz, "Raised in Captivity" isn't Silver at his best. It has his wit, insanity and willingness to plunge to extremes, but it also has his weakness for linking various comic diatribes and scenes into a play. In the past, Silver has sometimes pulled the rabbit out of the hat at the very last minute: "The Food Chain" comes together suddenly at the end in a hilariously unexpected way. But "Raised in Captivity," for all its moments of anarchic brilliance, meanders and wavers and finally just drains away. The terrific cast is led by Nancy Robinette in not one but two roles: the ghostly mother of Bernadette and Sebastian (Naomi Jacobson and Steven Dawn), the twins who are the play's protagonists, and Sebastian's guilt-ridden therapist, Dr. MacMahon, who decides to start feeling better about herself by sticking a screwdriver into her eyes. Meanwhile, Sebastian, unable to feel emotion since the death of his lover, Phil, 11 years ago, enters into a correspondence with a man jailed for murder (Christopher Borg). Bernadette's dentist husband, Kip (Mitchell Hebert), becomes a painter, and she has a baby. Everyone somehow ends up in the same house. Then, having put this combustible group together, Silver runs out of steam. Guilt is the emotional motor of the play. Silver tips us to his themes with the names of the novels the characters mention: "The Executioner's Song," "Helter Skelter," "Crime and Punishment," books about horrible murders. But no one in the play has done anything approaching murder. When asked what his sins are, Sebastian replies, "I live, I breathe, I come into rooms and leave them." It never becomes clear why everyone feels so bad and is carrying on so much. Robinette is hellishly divine as the sincere, annoying, sad, way-crazy psychiatrist and also as the flinty mother-ghost. Jacobson gives a zero-to-60-in-one-second comic performance as the frustrated Bernadette. (In one sequence, sitting in a red armchair, she practically re-creates the whole film of "The Exorcist.") Dawn always brings a haunted air to a part, and it takes a few minutes to realize that in fact Sebastian is relatively normal; he finds his comic rhythm quickly and exposes the character as painfully, cruelly sane. To this high-strung group, Hebert brings a sort of Zenlike comic timing, sailing his own peaceful, self-obsessed way as those around him go to pieces. Robin Stapley, who did the sordidly elegant costumes for "Quills," has designed a quirky, intriguing set with references to Magritte. Natasa Djukic's costumes, which all seem (deliberately) a little wrong on the characters, add to the production's atmosphere of despairing comedy. Shalwitz brings his customary high-precision skills to the production, keeping things hopping, skidding and bursting, and he's great with the actors. But the play keeps sagging out from under him. There are places -- Sebastian's soliloquy about a clown, the long scene in which Bernadette is posing for her husband's painting, a sequence involving Sebastian and a hustler (also Borg) -- where the proceedings simply go flat. In his other plays, Silver redeemed his overwriting with a fervid urgency -- we couldn't dismiss him; he was shaking us by the lapels. Here, he just goes on too much. Raised in Captivity, by Nicky Silver. Lights, Daniel Schrader; sound, Neil McFadden; props, Linda Evans. At Woolly Mammoth through June 22. Call 202-393-3939.

Cite this article

See more articles from The Washington Post

`The Harvey Milk Show': A Wasted Opportunity

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
May 13, 1997
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Steven Cupo, best known here for his slinky performance last season as the emcee in "Cabaret," is very good in the lead of "The Harvey Milk Show" at Source Theatre, but it's all in vain.

Dan Pruitt and Patrick Hutchinson's musical account of Milk's political career -- which ended in 1978 with his assassination by Dan White -- opened last weekend, and except for Cupo, some of the singers and the usual interesting set by Tony Cisek, it's a lame piece of work.

Milk was a can-do pol who never shrank from acknowledging his homosexuality. White, an ex-cop who had served as a city commissioner with Milk, was given a slap-on-the-wrist sentence that enraged and galvanized the gay community nationwide. White left a miserable legacy -- not only a double murder (of Milk and San Francisco Mayor George Moscone), but the now-infamous "Twinkie defense" argued in his behalf, and his own suicide upon his release from jail. From the point of view of dramatic mystery, he's the most compelling figure in the story, but here he's depicted as an all-but-retarded dolt, though Stephen Lejnar somehow manages to give him some dignity. I suppose it's too much to expect White to be treated with any complexity in a musical about Milk, but Pruitt and Hutchinson don't even do justice to Milk, one of the more fascinating political figures this country has produced. "Harvey Milk's" Harvey Milk has his acting-up moments, but basically he's an earnest guy with a heart of gold, a hero for all the oppressed, a good little martyr. The show never bothers to let us know exactly what Milk's agenda was, or how well he fulfilled it. He's just presented as a nice guy. His real enemy, who uses White as a stooge, is a slimy guy in a suit called Mr. Jones (Christopher Flint), who oozes around the stage dripping homophobic venom -- a symbol, one gathers, of all the foul, gay-hating cretins in San Francisco. But what really sinks "The Harvey Milk Show" is that it's not the Harvey Milk show but the Jamey show. Jamey (Kit Halliday) is a runaway street hustler from East Texas who is taken in by Harvey and melts into a puddle of alcoholic self-pity at his death. Jamey is well sung and nicely enough acted by Halliday, but the character's a drag. The show begins with Jamey's trying to pick up someone in a gay bar, follows the story of his attempt to get his father to speak to him, and shows how an evil society crushes him by killing his lover. The authors take this bathos as the most serious tragedy, and we're treated to scene after scene about dull Jamey while the character of Milk languishes, unexplored. Perhaps the high point of Jamey's story is when he turns on his sweet, loving sister and drives her away because she's straight and can never understand! The self-righteousness of the show is jaw-dropping. At one point a character says that if Moscone alone had been shot, White would have gotten a harsh sentence. There is no way of knowing that, obviously, but what we can know is that in the two stage treatments of Milk's story -- this musical and Emily Mann's "Execution of Justice" -- Moscone is a barely mentioned afterthought. In this diatribe about the rights of all people, the dead straight mayor simply doesn't matter. This all might be bearable if Hutchinson could write music, but the songs are weak and derivative. Director Ron O'Leary and choreographer Blase Mills haven't helped matters by staging an attack by thugs on Jamey as some sort of berserk Gay-Bashing Dream Ballet. Self-adoration, self-pity and tastelessness -- "The Harvey Milk Show" achieves that arty Holy Grail "Something to Offend Everyone," though possibly not in the way the creators intended. The Harvey Milk Show, by Dan Pruitt and Patrick Hutchinson. Directed by Ron O'Leary. Music direction, George Fulginiti-Shakar; lighting, Dan Covey; sound, Mark K. Anduss; costumes, Annie Kennedy; props, Libby Dechman. Also featuring Lisa Marie Cline, Bernie Alston, Jim Perine, Tracie Nicole Thomas, Jeff Lofton, Ron Curameng, Ryan Duncan, Eddie Stockton, Jason Gilbert, Deanna Harris. At Source Theatre through June 1. Call 202-462-1073.

See more articles from The Washington Post

`Proposals': Tender Trap

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
October 3, 1997
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

Twelve years ago, Neil Simon began "Biloxi Blues" with a fart joke. "Proposals," which opened last night at the Kennedy Center, starts with a ghost.

The difference between those two openings sums up everything that's new about Simon's latest play, an elegiac comedy in which he expands his dramatic palette to include such emotions as melancholy, tenderness and forgiveness. "Proposals" has all of his old energy but little of his desperation. It isn't a great play, exactly, but it's deeply felt, and the writer doesn't flinch from those feelings with easy laughs. For the first time, Simon's control is easy, assured, nonchalantly graceful -- masterly.

There are jokes, of course. Loads of them. One of the best comes early, when the ghost, a black woman named Clemma (L. Scott Caldwell) who is recalling a family for whom she worked forty-some years ago, remarks dryly, "At the time, I was a `Negro.' Well, I could have been `colored,' I don't know for sure." Clemma addresses us from the forested glade in which the Hines's summer cottage sits, a site that set designer John Lee Beatty has rendered as mysteriously shadowy and lovely, an enchanted space. Simon frankly idealizes the past; this 1950s, the decade when the playwright was in his twenties, is a place of memory, a time-out-of-time. Toward the end of the play, Simon invokes his hero Chekhov, but the theatrical model here is from a much older writer. This forest is Shakespearean, filled with mismatched lovers and edged with intimations of mortality. Burt Hines (Dick Latessa) is spending, as we understand from Clemma, his last summer at the cottage; in the autumn, a heart attack will kill him. He is concerned about his daughter Josie (Suzanne Cryer), who doesn't seem to be getting her life together very well: She's estranged from her mother, Burt's ex-wife Annie (Kelly Bishop), and engaged to a man who isn't really her type. The last problem is taken care of almost immediately, as Josie enters at a run, having just broken her engagement to Kenny (Reg Rogers) and left him in the woods. Kenny emerges shortly, and it's clear that Josie has made the right decision. Bitter, funny, childish, hideously articulate, Kenny is beguiling and annoying in equal parts. Rogers finds all the dank unpleasantness underlying the surface wit. He gives the character a whiff of sourness. Kenny is funny but he's not fun. Unlike earlier Simon plays, the character's one-liners aren't just cleverness provided by the playwright, they're little acidic eruptions of Kenny's angry misery. Josie's man troubles only get worse: It turns out that Vinnie Bavasi (Peter Rini), another inappropriate young man she met in Miami, is coming up uninvited. She perks up a little when her flame from the previous summer, golf pro and would-be novelist Ray (Matt Letscher), drops over, but he's only come to deliver his best friend Kenny's suicide note. The two have a fight over Kenny's supposed virtues that's the best thing in the play -- it's such a ferocious quarrel that you know they have to be in love. The concerned Burt has summoned Annie from her second marriage in Paris, and Clemma has heard from her seven-years-absent husband, Lewis (Mel Winkler). Naturally, they too choose this day to show up, along with Ray's new girlfriend Sammii (Katie Finneran). Simon engagingly plays into the obviousness of the coincidence and makes it seem magical, as if these meetings were arranged not just by the playwright but by fate. Journeys end in lovers meeting. The gathering comes in Act I; the sorting out in Act II. "Proposals" is on a pre-Broadway road tour and this shows most strongly in the second act, where Simon's ease dries up and the writing gets clumsy, as if he hasn't yet figured out how to solve all the puzzles he's set up. The first act is mercifully (not totally -- this is an old-fashioned play) light on scenes where the characters explain themselves to one another, but the second act has one after another. Ray and Josie, so convincing when they fight, seem artificial and improbable when they talk things out at length. Poor Caldwell gets stuck with a scene in which Clemma has to set Josie straight about life so that the girl can make her peace with her mother -- it's painfully unconvincing and isn't even necessary, since Simon has already set up Josie's reconciliation with Annie through Burt's illness. Clemma and Lewis are the most subtly written and affecting characters. This is owing in no small part to the actors, who are quietly terrific, never giving in to the temptation to overplay for a laugh. But it's also there in the writing, in the respect and sympathy Simon shows for the couple's weariness, decency and resilience. Still, his respect for them doesn't keep him from making them funny. (Clemma has most of the best lines.) The most glaring problem in the play, in both acts, is Vinnie, who is deliberately written as a near-offensive Italian joke: overdressed, overly talkative, undereducated, possibly criminal. Simon does this so that he can turn the tables on the audience and show that Vinnie is the most chivalrous man in the play, but he has fatally overwritten his set-up. Vinnie is like a crass caricature of Simon's writing at its very worst; he's used for cheap laughs, as if Simon didn't quite trust the rest of his play and felt he'd better have some laff-riot insurance. Throughout the play, Simon exhibits a surprising uncertainty about whether he's done his job as a dramatist. He keeps giving us more than we need: more conversation, more set-up, more jokes, shtick. But you don't get the feeling, as you do in so much of his work, that the racket of his compulsive wisecracking is drowning out his play. He overwrites in places, but the characters' humor comes out of their sense of themselves as lost, limited, mistaken. There's always been an undramatized anger beneath Simon's quips; this is the first time that anger has been mournful, turned inward, a believable source of what can best be described as gentle gallows humor. With the exception of Rini, who has been pushed or allowed to play as broadly as a circus clown, the actors have been directed by Joe Mantello with a delicacy that brings out all the script's emotional colors. (Typical of his touch is a poignant moment when Clemma, refusing to face the just-returned Lewis, says, "Don't you dare tell me I" -- here she turns and, seeing her husband for the first time in seven long years, falters -- "got . . . older.") Mantello's best work is with the talented, hangdog Rogers: Together they make Kenny the Malvolio of the play, the guy who sullenly, almost poisonously, refuses all offers of reconciliation. Simon doesn't suddenly "fix" Kenny's life either with a few well-chosen laugh lines. The character is referred to at the end of the play as "okay," but by then he's offstage, and the audience's last impression is of his truculent misery. Kenny, who's too smart and arrogant to accept life as it is, isn't just one of the play's clowns, he's its fool. "Proposals" is about life closing in on people, about their learning how silly they've been and how little they're going to get, and the joke on them -- and on the audience that identifies with them -- is how disconcertingly well they survive both of these revelations. There are a lot of laughs in "Proposals." The last one, silent but dominating, is Simon's. Proposals by Neil Simon. Directed by Joe Mantello. Lights, Brian MacDevitt; costumes, Jane Greenwood; sound, Tom Clark; incidental music, Stephen Flaherty. At the Eisenhower Theater, Kennedy Center, through Oct. 26. Call 202-467-4600.

See more articles from The Washington Post

The Year Of a White Othello

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
September 7, 1997
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

To paraphrase P.G. Wodehouse on the subject of Christmas, the theater season is almost at our throats again. The question, as always, is: Which productions will we enjoy being shaken by, and which will be dull bullies? Here are some of the packages under the tree:

Diversity Lives -- at the Shakespeare Theatre, where Patrick Stewart (Capt. Picard of "Star Trek: the Next Generation") plays a white Othello in an all-black society. This one will either be brilliant or a major embarrassment; there is no middle ground.

Emily Dickinson Lives -- at Round House Theatre, where the brilliant Tana Hicken will perform the one-woman show "The Belle of Amherst." Hicken would be worth watching even if she were reading the operating rules for the latest Windows program.

Diversity Diversifies -- at Woolly Mammoth, as Brian Freeman, who made outrageous comedy out of being black and gay with the group Pomo Afro Homos, launches his two-oppressed-social-groups show "Civil Sex."

Diversity With Attitude -- at the National, as the young dance genius Savion Glover performs in his and George C. Wolfe's "Bring In 'da Noise, Bring In 'da Funk," a confrontational look at the history of African American music and performance.

A Surprise Package -- at Arena Stage, an as-yet-untitled work about the presidency by brilliant chameleon/journalist Anna Deavere Smith ("Twilight, Los Angeles: 1992").

Flirting With Danger -- at Fraudulent Productions, which is staging "The Fall of the House of Usher," a story that has never been successfully adapted to any medium. The folks at Fraudulent run a tiny theater and they have no money, but they are unafraid.

Dancing With Danger -- at Arena, as Douglas C. Wager, whose "Long Day's Journey Into Night" was a stunner, tackles yet another, admittedly milder, O'Neill, "A Touch of the Poet."

Dueling Vanyas -- at the Round House and Arena. First out of the gate is the Round House "Uncle Vanya," directed by Nick Olcott, who has previously distinguished himself in comedy; second is the Arena Stage version, directed by Zelda Fichandler, whose '80s production of another Chekhov play, "Three Sisters," was long on respect for the author and short on humor.

Sex and Blood -- at Le Neon, which is staging Oscar Wilde's "Salome," an account of the biblical story that he originally wrote in French, and that scandalized Victorian society with its necrophiliac final moment.

Sex and Teenagers -- at the Folger Shakespeare Library, as Joe Banno, who last season did a wild and witty production of Shakespeare's impossible-to-do "Cymbeline" for the Washington Shakespeare Company, directs "Romeo and Juliet." It's famously difficult to stage this great romantic play successfully, but that's the kind of thing that Banno thrives on.

Sex and Religion -- at (where else?) Woolly Mammoth, which is producing the late Dennis Potter's "Brimstone and Treacle," which caused an uproar when it was first staged in London because of its mixture of carnality and Christianity.

Forget Sex, Go for Power -- at the Studio Theatre, where Sarah Marshall will reprise her acclaimed '80s performance as a tyrannical schoolteacher in the social fable "Miss Margarida's Way."

No Sex Please, We're British Children -- at Olney, which is doing Sir James Barrie's "Peter Pan," a chaste classic that nonetheless has elements of yearning, loss and shame usually found only in adult dramas.

We're British but Nonetheless Fun -- at Interact Theatre, which comes up with a sequel to its popular "At the Old Bull & Bush" with "A Dickens of a Christmas at the Old Bull & Bush" at Arena's Old Vat Room.

We're British and Hilarious -- at Olney, which is presenting "Noises Off," Michael Frayn's remarkable farce, which at its height recalls the magical slapstick of silent films.

See more articles from The Washington Post

`Slava Snowshow': Clown of Thorns

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
November 13, 1997
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

The Russian clown Slava Polunin walks onstage sporting the traditional white face and red nose and hair flying wildly out from a bald pate. A second glance shows that though the white face is makeup and the nose is rubber, the baldness and thinning flyaway hair is that of the middle-aged performer himself. This combination of the artificial and the personal, make-believe and creeping mortality, provide the tension in "Slava Snowshow," which opened last night at the Kennedy Center -- a show that is much more meditation than laff riot.

Publicity has compared Polunin to Chaplin, but in spirit he's more like the mournful, beautiful Buster Keaton, a comic stoic in a chaotic world. "Slava Snowshow" has none of Chaplin's bounce and rudeness. Its melancholy humor and oddness are deeply Central European, more like one of Jan Svankmajer's strange animated films than anything Americans traditionally associate with clowning.

All this is to say that audiences will find here qualities that don't usually accompany clowning: otherworldliness, beauty, enigma, dread, a touch of the sinister. The production isn't absurdist, exactly; it's more like the well from which absurdism is drawn, the underground source of Beckett and Kafka. It begins with a stunning red light glowing warmly around a large trash can. Fade to black. Enter Polunin. The emphasis on the trash can is never explained -- indeed, the can is hardly used -- but it's the right beginning for the show, which is about feeling thrown away, a piece of detritus blown around on the surface of life. Polunin wears a baggy yellow jumpsuit and big fuzzy red shoes, but his movements are precise, even delicate. He can shift emotions just by varying the way he holds his hand, and he has one of the most expressive butts this side of MTV. In short -- and here he is rather Chaplinlike -- he's an altogether wonderful creature who, for reasons beyond him, finds himself adrift and alone. Well, not entirely alone. Periodically he is joined by Angela de Castro, made up as a peculiar, stumpy, sexless figure wearing a winged hat rather like a nun's and a pair of long, furry, green slap shoes. Though seemingly humble, this apparition is not altogether comforting. Polunin seems as wary of it as we are, even though all it mostly does is follow him around. His suspicions prove justified when, after he enters stuck with arrows to do a parody of "The Dying Swan," de Castro is revealed with a bow and arrow. The first act is evocative but extremely nonlinear. It has overall a sad, whispery quality that occasionally darkens into something more disturbing. At one point a doll (Elena Ouchakova), wrapped in clear plastic like a rose, lies stiffly on a little couch. Then a monstrously tall, humpbacked thing, its face hidden under a large hat, limps on one leg and a pair of crutches onto the stage and stares down at her. We have no idea what it is thinking or intends, but the moment is creepily unpleasant, and even though the thing lurches off like a walking tripod, leaving the doll unmolested, the unease doesn't really dissipate. The second act is more accessible, a journey into pathos. Polunin does remarkable things with the old pretending-one-of-your-hands-belongs-tosomeone-else routine as he embraces a coat hanging on a hatrack while the sound effects tell us we're on a railway station platform. The intimacy and tenderness of his gestures call up the image of a child and mother as well as a man and his lover. His reluctance to part from this figure that we can see perfectly well is just a coat is both ridiculous and poignant. Prior to this, the background has consisted of a series of flats painted dark blue and scattered with stars and a few crescent moons. But now these flats begin to turn their hidden sides toward us, and we enter a desolate snowscape. Through the vast, lonely whiteness Polunin trudges resolutely, pulling a small toy train whose cars are little cottages, lit cheerily from within and spouting hospitable smoke from their chimneys. But these symbols of human warmth are too small and few to make any difference. Soon, both Polunin and the audience are overwhelmed by snow. Not to fear. There is a tacked-on, upbeat ending in which, as it did in another context at the end of the first act, the audience gets a chance to play like children. The eagerness and wonder with which they reach out to participate is the most affecting thing in the whole show -- which, from Polunin's point of view, may have been the point. Slava Snowshow, created by Slava Polunin. Directed by Victor Kramer. Designed by Victor Plotnikov. Sound, Rastjam Dubinnikov; lights, Douglas Kuhrt, from the original lighting by Dimitri Sirovatsky. With Sergei Chachelev. At the Kennedy Center Terrace Theater through Nov. 23. Call 202-467-4600.

Cite this article

See more articles from The Washington Post

What's All the Fuss?; Talent (& Money) Still Rule

Article from:
The Washington Post
Article date:
December 26, 1993
Author:
Lloyd Rose
More results for:
"lloyd rose"

A specter is haunting the chattering classes - the specter of political correctness.

Thetheater, in particular, is said to be in the strangling grip of PC. Sometimes it is. The present Arena offering of "A Community Carol" posits a racially harmonious community of blacks, whites, Asians and Hispanics; makes Mrs. Cratchit - not her husband - Scrooge's secretary (though, of course, male secretaries are rare today - doesn't pay well enough); objects to homelessness, poverty and selfishness. How sweet it all is. And, yes, it does seem a little denatured - as if the uglier part of what it means to be human had been left out.

But "A Community Carol" is a local project. Out in the larger world, where financial success is the measure of what actually appeals to audiences, PC appears to be pretty toothless. Take, just for example, David Mamet's "Oleanna" and Robert Schenkkan's "The Kentucky Cycle." Mamet's play - in which a beleaguered professor belts a PC-spouting coed - was a hit, with productions springing up everywhere (the English one was directed by no less a star than Harold Pinter). "The Kentucky Cycle," which fingers every supposedly PC note - evil white males, noble black folk, strong but victimized women, rapacious and corrupt Big Business, war as an occupation for psychopaths, religion as nothing but hypocrisy and an excuse for oppression - couldn't find an audience.

An objection may be made that critics had a lot to do with this. Certainly "Oleanna" got good reviews and "The Kentucky Cycle" middling to poor ones. This probably has something to do with the fact that Mamet can write better than Schenkkan. But if artistry is then able to overcome the supposedly all-powerful and insidious pressures - one is tempted to say, the nameless horrors - of PC, then what's all the fuss about?

"Angels in America" - an epic that is a hit - is sometimes muttered about as PC. "All those gay plays" - e.g., "Angels," "Lips Together, Teeth Apart," "As Is," "Twilight of the Golds," "Jeffrey" and so on - are apparently produced, and often succeed, only because it's politically correct to have gay people onstage as lead characters rather than supporting comics or villains. Aren't they all just a little too "good"? it is asked, and isn't their sexuality played down? It's true that with a few exceptions, so-called "gay plays," many of which deal with AIDS, have no sex in them - but neither do any other plays written by Americans, with the possible exception of those by Tennessee Williams. Sex has never been politically correct on our stage; even heterosexuality is a no-no.

Sex can be talked about, it can occur offstage, it can even be simulated onstage - but the dramatic emphasis is never on the characters' sexuality, only on their humanity, which presumably we, the squeamish and judgmental audience, share. This sort of repression didn't start with political correctness. And as for the characters being presented as without blemish, one has only to point to cowardly little Louis in "Angels," the child abuser in Mart Crowley's "For Reasons That Remain Unclear," or the angry, grating autobiographical hero of Larry Kramer's "The Normal Heart."

Yes, gay writers are often sentimental about the leftist political agenda, but this too didn't start with the current PC trend. It started with the characters in Clifford Odets's l935 "Waiting for Lefty" raising their fists, turning to the audience and yelling "Strike! Strike! Strike!" Odets's heir, Arthur Miller, is considered by many to be America's greatest living playwright.

In African American theater, where one would expect the PC version of reality to present cliched images of pure, oppressed black people, one of the biggest and most acclaimed shows of the past two years has been "Jelly's Last Jam." Written and directed by George C. Wolfe, the musical has been pointed to by liberal critics as a show by a black author that dares to tackle racism. But "Jelly's Last Jam" is much less radical than that old chestnut "A Raisin in the Sun," which came right out and accused white people of keeping blacks down. The critically acclaimed "Jam" deals with Jelly Roll Morton's supposedly negative feelings about his own race. Black-on-black racism: a subject that isn't going to offend the white theater-goer who's paid $50 for a ticket and expects to be entertained. Wolfe, who now heads the Public Theatre in New York, had his first success with "The Colored Museum," a series of sketches that satirized - you guessed it - black people.

So who exactly is this audience that is imposing its neo- Stalinist will on the theatergoers of America? Mamet has been quoted as saying with pride that "Oleanna" caused a real furor in Cambridge, Mass., home of Harvard. Cambridge! - where it is possible to stand in line at the box office of the American Repertory Theater and overhear the couple ahead of you solemnly discussing their persecution by the CIA. Does Mamet seriously think it's a tribute to him that "Oleanna" upset this audience? They're probably still worrying about whether television will rot their brains (How would you tell?).

The most severe censorship I've seen in the theater since I left high school took place on the Tony Awards show last year. "Falsettos," the musical about a married man and his gay lover, was nominated for several awards, and its opening number was performed. The show famously begins with a male voice singing from the still- dark stage the word "Homosexuals!" On the televised Tony show, this became the phrase "Screwy families!" The change wasn't made by the network brass or the show's producers. It was made by James Lapine and William Finn, the creators of "Falsettos." They didn't want to offend middle America.

That's political correctness.

No comments: