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I saw Pippin last night at the Music Box Theatre on 45th Street. The show is beyond spectacular, and I don’t enjoy musicals for the most part. (I am not a great fan of Matilda currently up for a 2013 Tony for Original Musical). I was familiar with Pippin‘s score and book, though I didn’t see the 1970s stage version which made Ben Vereen a household name and which had the medieval template stamped all over it.
Well, this revival is one for the ages. Director Diane Paulus (Artistic Director of the American Rep. Theatre at Harvard, 2012 winner of Tony-revival the Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess) along with Chet Walker (Choreographer) Gypsy Snider (Circus Creation) and others have evolved a breathtaking production. Phenomenal. The circus metaphor is pure genius (Is not the journey of life/career/war/hedonism/finding self a circus of distractions until one arrives at the end of oneself as Pippin eventually does?).
The performers are stunning, beautiful, iconic and truly magical which we have been told they would be by the Leading Player flawlessly performed by Patina Miller. I told her last night (Friday, May 18) she IS beautiful and magnificent, and if she doesn’t win the Tony (Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Musical) I will have to kill someone. Her performance is eternally memorable. She is almost maniacally God-like in her construction of events, with a tinge of malevolence and sinister allure. She reminded me of the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret…caught up in the action, but strangely aloof, a player and a puppet master, all the while smiling and drawing us in closer, closer closer to and away from ourselves. While waiting for Playbill autographs, an enthusiastic audience member characterized her as “mesmerizing.” Yep! Was it Peter O’Toole who said, when a performer is onstage, “You should not be able to take your eyes off him/her?Well, that about sums up Patina Miller in the role of Leading Player. You have to see her. You just have to while she is still in the role. Please!!!!!
The show is two acts. The time flies. The dialogue, possibly through ad libbing morphs by the cast and tweaks by Paulus had moments of genius modernization and cultural reference. For example the Leading Player to justify the “Intermission,” quips a break is needed because the attention span of the audience is “shorter these days,” a reference to social media, computers, etc. and 80 minute plays with no intermissions. Andrea Martin in her superb, jaw dropping (She looks fabulous.) show stopping “No Time At All,” nudges Baby Boomers about looking great while reminding us how important it is to stay young as the time is passing. Martin received applause that did not stop until after a full five minutes. She is sixty-six (My fellow audience member quickly Googled this. It was just as Martin ad libbed in the show.) But folks, she looks like she’s in her 30s with a shape to match. She strips to her Gina Lollobrigida Trapeze outfit right before she is transported high in the air to a trapeze by her acrobatic, lithe partner who is sexy, strong, supple, marvelous. OMG. The two of them together did their act which reaffirmed the vitality of her agelessness, supported by the spinning, whirling, balancing, leaping, somersaulting, catapulting, gyrating Manson Trio (look them up, folks) and singers and dancers. It was a piece of heaven and an inspiration to all of us that we need to get back to the gym and into the Yoga and Pilates immediately and my God, jettison that last 10 pounds. Woo ooooo! And if Andrea Martin doesn’t win the Tony (Best Performance by an Featured Actress in a Musical) I’ll have to kill someone. (That makes two deaths.)
Along with the innovation of the circus metaphor, was the change in the conclusion/finale. The Leading Player keeps the actors steady and in focus in the play within a play structure conducting and orchestrating the flow of events and retelling of the story. An innovation comes after Pippin elects to not “Be Extraordinary,” (jumping into fire) but to be human in his desires and loves. The players leave the actors alone on stage and the lights are dimmed. There is no dialogue, only action. The son Theo (played by Andrew Cekala or Ashton Woerz) picks up Pippin’s cane or armor or whatever and you know that the cycle will repeat itself. Theo will take up where his step-father has left off. Every generation must seek and find its own place, must strike out its own path, must become extraordinary. If not the father, then the son. The circle and cycle begins again and the center circus ring opens and an audience will be waiting to watch another time, another place, another magical historical hero or villain like Pippin. The show must go on. As the Brits say, “Brilliant!”
Pippin is played beautifully by UK actor Matthew James Thomas who looks like he has been mentored by Hugh Jackman, for certainly, he is a young version (gorgeous, adorable, fit, with a voice and appropriate athletic presence). Thomas is so supple in his integration with the sheer physicality of being a part of the acrobatics at times, yet is believable as the rather naive and bumbling, disingenuous Pippin on the journey toward inner light and revelation of love and self awareness. This Pippin is matchless, ready for anything, living in the moment. During the shop stopping number by Martin, Thomas went with the flow, graceful, relaxed, in the moment (a reference by the Leading Player and granny-Martin) smiling at the five minute audience applause, appreciative for Martin. And somehow, Thomas never broke character. Now, in himself he was the character Pippin, played by an actor-performer of the circus troupe, as the actor Thomas. A bit of Pirandello thrown in for free in complete spontaneity and LIVE THEATRE MOMENT that can NEVER BE DUPLICATED. I absolutely loved it and so did the audience. I mean we were DOWN WITH HIM and MARTIN and the cast. A Wow moment. Later, signing programs, Thomas told us that he could tell the audience loved it. He said, “It was a good audience, tonight!” smiling at me. You mean there are BAD AUDIENCES? Ha! You bet…dull, asleep, who’ve eaten too much, overweight and from the burbs. And they come for the matinees and snore as their listening devices go off. HELP!!!
(Side Note about Thomas’ comment) There is an electrical charge and rhythm that flows between a ready audience and the actors. Both feed off each other and both look for that telepathic connection and vibrant, spiritual merging. Audience and actors bask in those connective moments. Both adore it. It’s what makes live theatre so great and so matchlessly eternal. And when it doesn’t happen? Live theatre becomes deadly and vacuous, rather like a computer screen that’s gone black and won’t light up IRRESPECTIVE of how much you press than “ON” butten. FRIGHTENING!!!! Last night, the connections were popping. We saw and heard and felt and transmitted to the actors and they were pumped. I don’t think I’ll ever go on a Wednesday night to a live show again. I cannot be dragged to a Wednesday matinee, ever.
Terence Mann looks like he is enjoying the play. The audience didn’t want it to end, and it’s apparent he’s having fun and felt us loving him. He was wonderful as Pippin’s father, Charlemagne. I don’t know if he will win the Tony for Best Performance for a Featured Actor in a Musical. He should. However, I didn’t see Keith Carradine in Hands on a Hardbody. I did see Gabriel Ebert in Matilda the Musical. Unfortunately, I saw him in the second show on a Wednesday night, not a particularly good time to see a show. He was pushing; his performance was not Mann’s. Probably Keith Carradine will win the Tony for this category. I may have to hurt someone if Mann doesn’t win the Tony. Two deaths and an injury. Hmmm.
If you’re coming to town, get tickets. Don’t wait. This cast will be around for a while, but after the Tony wins, the production is nominated for 10 Tonys, they won’t stay much longer. The validation will bring new opportunities. So please! Do yourself a favor. See a fabulous musical. Then come back and tell me you did yourself good. Pippin. Who knew musical theatre could be that good?
The Drama Desk Awards like the Lucille Lortel awards are given annually. Unlike the Lortels which honor Off Broadway productions (over 100 this year, musicals, dramas, solo performances) The Drama Desks are the only major New York theater honors for which productions on Broadway, Off-Broadway and Off-Off Broadway compete against each other in the same category. Because of the fierce competition, the Drama Desks are to be coveted because they are voted on by media people only and without any vested interests in the results. Though the Tonys are seen globally, they represent highly commercial theatre, which in effect is controlled by the entertainment industrial complex, fueled by corporates. That is why the commercial spots during the Tonys are pricey and the event is all showmanship, glitz and bling for a home audience as they trail in the shadow of the Oscars. For recognition of innovative, experimental, original theatre, the Lucille Lortels and the Obie’s represent Off and Off Off Broadway, but the Drama Desks represent the best of all of NYC theatre.
A few of my predictions for the Lucille Lortels came about. Below are photos from the event.
Ruben Santiago-Hudson (photo left thanking the cast) deservedly won for his phenomenal direction of The Piano Lesson. Annie Funke (pictured right with Gyllenhaal in the background) was marvelous in If There Is I Haven’t Found It Yet and I was thrilled she was honored for her outstanding work. I had predicted both of these. I was surprised that the voting committee didn’t select Jake Gyllenhaal. I thought his performance was excellent and Off Broadway would give him a win in encouragement for the risk he took and because his presence and stature creates a vitality and interest for the smaller venue. Interestingly, the committee went with the fabulous performance of Chuck Cooper in The Piano Lesson, a well deserved win. I thought he didn’t have a chance, but in this instance, the committee members were just. His performance was moving and indeed incredible, and yes, I can agree that of the two performances, his was absolutely memorable.
Chuck Cooper (photo left above acceptance speech. Gyllenhaal photo right, at the pre-show photo session) was so ecstatic that he won for Outstanding Featured Actor for The Piano Lesson he basked in the applause and chuckled that, “He might be there a while, because there was no clock.” The show was not televised at NYU’s Skirball Center nor was it streamed, so advertisements and time factor didn’t really intrude. He thanked director “Ruben, a force of nature,” and August Wilson, the Bard of Pittsburgh and the 10 plays that he left (The Piano Lesson won the 1990 Pulitzer for Drama). Aasif Mandi, Master of Ceremonies along with Maura Tierney, (Aasif was nominated for his performance as Outstanding Lead Actor in Disgraced) joked after Chuck Cooper left that Cooper was still thanking people and carrying on backstage about how grateful he was.
I had predicted that The Piano Lesson would win the Lortel for Outstanding Revival and I was gratified to see the committee and I agreed about its being the best of the revivals. Though Vanessa Redgrave didn’t win for Outstanding Lead Actress for The Revisionist (I thought she was wonderful.) I wasn’t disappointed because the brilliant Roslyn Ruff won for The Piano Lesson.
Vanessa Redgrave graciously answered questions right before taking her seat for the award ceremony. She arrived right on time, quickly moving through the pre-show photo shoot. She did stop to chat with nominees’ family and friends.
The only actor from The Piano Lesson who was nominated but who didn’t win for Outstanding Lead Actor was Brandon J. Dirden. I thought he would, but the committee gave the award to Shuler Hensley for playing the morbidly obese, gay, geeky (online tutor) recluse in The Whale. How could that role not be empathetic and soulfully written? Having not seen his performance, I cannot weigh in (sorry for the pun) but I thought Dirden was unparalleled and I imagine he had a greater challenge because he created an empathy for his character that was NOT built in and padded as it was with Hensley’s character which seems to have every underdog trait piled into it to elicit the sympathy one would have for a run over pet. If that part were a female, lesbian, morbidly obese, geeky (online tutor) recluse, I doubt that the character would have been as empathetic to audiences. A morbidly obese, lesbian, geeky (online tutor) female recluse not hidden from the view of the male/female audience? Hardly. Self-righteous, judgmental females would have found her disgusting. A male can get away with so much (gay, morbid obesity) that a female in our culture simply cannot. Do I sound biased? I am. See why HERE. Dirden carried the play with magnificence; his role was the most complex, the richest and most nuanced. Hensley’s role was in the stereotype, a cake walk for an excellent actor. I am not taking anything away from Hensley by suggesting this…just highlighting the impossibility of equating two highly varied roles for the same award; an absurdity.
Off Broadway musicals were a varied range. My friends enjoyed Murder Ballad, but Dogfight beat it out in the competition. Audience supporters were thrilled and the clips for the show did look awesome. I am sorry I missed both, and neither are nominated for Drama Desk Awards which include Lucille Lortel nominees The Other Josh Cohn and Giant one of which may take the Drama Desk. Though the field for the Drama Desk includes Broadway and totals two more musicals, a win for the Public Theatre’s Giant or Here Lies Love, touted by critics and friends alike is good. Those productions are up against Matilda which is a commercial audience favorite, but whose music might not be as lyrical, innovative or clever. Hands on a Hardbody which was unable to produce enough ticket sales to sustain the show which will probably be a total loss to investors never got up the steam to chug it through initial box office doldrums. A Drama Desk win would vindicate the production, though it isn’t likely.
Drama Desks Mirroring Lucille Lortels?
The offerings and categories are different among the Drama Desks and Lucille Lortels. My favorite for Outstanding Revival is still The Piano Lesson, though I loved the Broadway revivals of Golden Boy and Trip to Bountiful. I did not see Albee’s Whose Afraid of Virginia Woolf; actor friends loved it. Shuler Hensley for The Whale is up against Tom Hanks for Lucky Guy, Nathan Lane for The Nance and other Outstanding Actor nominees (highly praised Tracey Letts for Albee’s Whose Afraid of Virginia Wolf). CLICK HERE FOR COMPLETE LIST OF DRAMA DESK NOMINEES. I did see Tom Hanks and Nathan Lane’s performances. I didn’t like Lucky Guy, CLICK HERE FOR REVIEW, but Hanks was amazing in a role that goes counter to his usual roles; I liked The Nance, but Nathan Lane is a natural and the role is typical for him, yet he is nuanced and marvelous. It’s a crap shoot, folks. I loved them both. Hanks and Lane. Someone put them in a play together!
I would love to see either an Outstanding Actress win for Cicely Tyson, A Trip to Bountiful (She is a tour de force.) or Vanessa Redgrave for The Revisionist. And for Outstanding Featured Actor my favorite is Tony Shalhoub (Golden Boy) who was so beautiful, loving, sweet and poignant as the father (He reminded me of my own). Chuck Cooper (Piano Lesson) was wonderful and a favorite over two other actors I did see, The Big Knife’s Richard Kind and Brian F. O’Byrne for If There is I Haven’t Found it Yet. The fact that they’ve been nominated is a win, surely, though the Drama Desk is lovely on a mantle piece and an affirmation to continue or retire.
A few words about the Drama Desk’s Outstanding Solo Performance. I reviewed Hold These Truths in the fall. I have been honored to see the evolution of this brilliant play written by Jeanne Sakata and the incredible performance by Joel de la Fuente (CLICK HERE FOR REVIEW) who portrays the journey of Gordon Hirabayashi, civil rights hero. Hirabayashi was one of three American citizens who defied the order for Japanese internment to the desolate camps in the American west during World War II. It was an infamous time when first generation American-Japanese citizens were swept up with naturalized Japanese – American citizens, and forced into the American version of racist concentration camps after they hurriedly gave up or sold their possessions and lost their homes. Joel de la Fuente’s performance does not only portray the young and old Gordon, it includes the portrayal of individuals along the pathways of Gordon’s life: his parents, his girlfriend/wife, friends, officers, judges, et. al. It is a veritable one man show of many characters and in the retelling you are uplifted to understanding the greatness of perseverance and the beauty and the loneliness of the struggle for human freedom and dignity.
Joel de la Fuente’s is an intensely American performance. Hold These Truths is an intensely American play about a time of infamy in our recent history. He deserves the Drama Desk. I hope he wins it because, though Bette Midler was exciting and LOL funny as Sue Mengers in I’ll Eat You Last, and Taylor Holland was marvelous in Ann, a role she wrote and originated, Joel’s work is genius in recreating not one individual, but many. The necessity of capturing the unique individuals to tell Gordon’s story would be a tremendous challenge for any actor. de la Fuente honors Gordon Hirabayashi’s courage (He passed in January of 2012. Obama granted him The Presidential Medal of Freedom posthumously on May 29, 2012.) and makes the period and the people live in our hearts and minds. The performance is unforgettable. As much as I appreciated Taylor Holland’s seminal work about the former Texas governor, Ann Richards, so much more was the vitality of Joel de la Fuente’s delineation of people, history and events from the 1930s to the 1980s in Jeanne Sakata’s amazing play, Hold These Truths.
Tonight Off Broadway receives its day in the sun. Some of the finest theater resides Off Broadway in smaller houses whose productions are less costly to mount. If a big name is attached to an Off Broadway production, all the better. This year, Vanessa Redgrave, Jesse Eisenberg, Jack Gyllenhaal and America Ferrera, renown for nominations and/or wins for sterling performances in other entertainment mediums acted in productions in the Village or in theaters away from Broadway central. We are blessed that they have given their support to these smaller venues, their name recognition helping to draw investors to risk their money on productions we might never have seen performed anywhere.
Though I was not able to see many of the productions, amongst the ones I did see, I do have my favorites. Will they win a Lortel Award? Well, they do have my vote. For Outstanding Play, amongst the picks three women playwrights offered their brilliance to the five nominated plays which you can find online: HERE. My vote was between Bethany, produced by the Women’s Project Theater and written by Laura Marks and Detroit produced by Playwrights Horizons and written by Lisa D’Amour. If either play receives the Lortel Award, I’ll be thrilled.
I did not see any of the musical productions, though I was tempted to and may still see Murder Ballad, which I heard friends rave about. I just couldn’t fit the production in my schedule. As for Outstanding Revival, I have two favorites, Signature Theatre productions: My Children My Africa written by Athol Fugard and The Piano Lesson written by August Wilson. Both were directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson and I had the opportunity to go to the talk backs for both shows with Santiago-Hudson and the cast which were fascinating. However, I particularly thought The Piano Lesson was one of the finest, most alive, thrilling productions of August Wilson’s plays that I have seen in the last few years, even more phenomenal than Fences with Denzel Washington which I loved. So for me, The Piano Lesson blows away the rest of the competition and should win the Lortel for Outstanding Revival and Direction. Ruben Santiago-Hudson worked wonders in marshaling and inspiring his actors, Brandon J. Dirden (up for Outstanding Lead Actor) and Chuck Cooper (Outstanding Featured Actor) and Roslyn Ruff (Outstanding Lead Actress) to come alive onstage. I was drained and uplifted by their performances and the unforgettable production. Marvelous.
For Outstanding Lead Actress, I did see four of the performanes. Nominated are Quincy Tyler Bernstine for Neva, America Ferrera for Bethany, Vanessa Redgrave for The Revisionist, Roslyn Ruff for The Piano Lesson and Sharon Washington for Wild With Happy. I must say that it is very difficult to make any basis of comparison and all the actresses were exceptional. I thought Quincy Tyler Bernstine’s portrayal as Chekov’s wife was ironic, tempestuous, feeling and humorous. Roslyn Ruff was anointed in her portrayal; her exorcism of the demons which plague the family electrifying, acute, spiritual. Hers was the pivotal role around which all the other characters weave and she commanded turning with grace and subtly.
However, my favorite performance was Vanessa Redgrave’s for the old Polish woman harboring a secret which she attempts to keep even from herself, in The Revisionist. Given my proclivity for annoyance with Rattlestick Theater Company who mounted the production, I was not easily persuaded into enjoying the play’s brilliance, depth, and austere themes. Redgrave and Eisenberg were wonderful together, a great union there. I was particularly touched by Redgrave at the end as she so completely conveyed the gravitational pull of her character away from human love and connection: her necessity to remain alive and paradoxically remain numb and emotionally dead danced in a somber interplay, something only a truly accomplished and talented actress could execute without undermining the truth of her being onstage. Redgrave’s sensitivity was amazing and she conveyed this great pain-filled void of her character with great beauty. The result was Greek Drama: catharsis and empathy. An “Ahhhh.” moment.
A few words about If There is I Haven’t Found it Yet. I was happy that Jake Gyllenhaal performed in live theatre taking a tremendous risk to stretch his acting gifts. His presence and the lower cost of the venue brought many younger audience members to see the production and though it is a debatable concept, in this instance, many of these twenty-somethings probably would not have come to see the production otherwise. It is unfortunate and fortunate that he is competing with Chuck Cooper in The Piano Lesson. Both were so creative and so unique and alive and felt. They are both favorites of mine. I do think that Gyllenhaal will receive the award because his stature coming from film might be considered a vital and necessary promotional spur to bring publicity and celebrity to Off Broadway.
It is a time when the artists, actors, directors in the NYC theatre community long for repertory companies, long for sure venues to mount experimental, innovative productions, long for alternatives to the grind of finding investors and being told, “No it can’t be done!” Over the last decades the Philistines have forced belt tightening in the extreme. Only love and obsession for live theater drives this artistic community to commit to creating the unique theatrical experiences. Their hunger for money does not, not that the lure of riches ever drove brilliant artists and art. Yet, it is an exciting time. It is a time when shifting paradigms and mega social media and the internet threaten the way things have been done for decades. Thus, the Philistines are being attacked on all sides, and I do think if the young are able to capitalize on this, theatre WILL OUT because those from the old paradigm are confused and disconcerted at the loss of market share. They will be forced to listen to innovators and youthful-minded integrators to compromise and use the new medium to massage theatre into a new era.
Will the arbiters of old entertainment media learn how to embrace new trends in the new paradigm? (For example, using social media during performances to promote and create interest about the productions. No folks. It isn’t distracting if you are not in the first three rows. That is a myth perpetuated supposedly to keep control of revenue, when it actually prevents revenue. And where are productions’ Twitter/Tweet and FB teams?) I don’t know. I do know that this concept rules investors: celebrity names give credibility to live theatre and bring revenue (the costs also drive the younger crowd away and hamper revenue) by drawing a larger audience. (This is debatable. The greatness of a production is what draws. Well placed and thought out social media strategy can help, but it hasn’t been used to any well meaning extent.) We will probably see more of this (currently Tom Hanks is in Lucky Guy) until traditional, old paradigm threads into new paradigm and the shift is made.
The Signature Theatre has received the funding to take a modicum of risk in its selection of performers by highlighting established and upcoming playwrights. They select playwrights (some living) in residence (Hwang, Albee, Katori Hall, Fugard) and directors like Ruben Santiago-Hudson have followed through with their verve and creative energy to put on interesting and brilliant productions. That is what we need more of. We also need to see more renown film actors taking risks Off Broadway, like Gyllenhaal, though of course, for them, the work is tantamount to doing pro bono. For that reason, I think Gyllenhaal will win, though I do think that Cooper was astounding. However, this is Off Broadway. You never know.
Finally, I do know that Annie Funke will win for Outstanding Featured Actress in If There is I haven’t Found it Yet. She played the obese teenage family member set adrift in familial landscape of oblivion and negligence, where all except her uncle (Gyllenhaal) are drowning. (see my review) Her performance was without parallel. If she doesn’t get the Lortel, I’ll be pissed. Will keep you posted as to whether my favorites and those of the voting members of the Off Broadway League jive.
I saw The Testament of Mary starring Fiona Shaw a few weeks ago. It was the opening night of the previews and as I walked up to the theater, there was a huge commotion on the opposite side of the street. Members of a branch/sect of the Catholic Church were protesting the production. It reminded me of the protests for Martin Scorsese’s film, The Last Temptation of Christ which was in theaters for a brief period and then scuttled away in shame, quickly forgotten.
That was a travesty. The Last Temptation of Christ is a brilliant film, stirring and iconic in its imagery, thought provoking and incredibly spiritual. What other film about Christ so aptly deals with the realm of carnality in Jesus Christ’s human side? The fleshly, carnal nature is something the Catholic Church seems to have a huge problem with and as a result, certainly should have encouraged their membership to see the film and learn HOW TO THWART FLESHLY TEMPTATION. They were too afraid what the film might reveal to them, apparently, and like ostrich’s, put their heads in the sands of protest and the studio and distributors backed down, so the church prevailed and didn’t see the film. Ironically, in the years that followed, more of their membership and clergy committed acts of carnality and submitted to fleshly desires. If they had seen the film, it may have been an expurgating and healing experience.
With these thoughts in mind, I took pictures of the protesters and wondered if the same fate would befall The Testament of Mary, as it did Last Temptation, a brief run, sparse audience, excoriation, hell and condemnation.
After seeing the production, I thought the run might be longer. This is 2013. The Catholic Church’s credibility is plummeting into the abyss, self-damned with the exposure of its abusive clergy, nuns, et.al. and the wide swath of deceitful cover-ups of the abuse.
The play doesn’t have a wide release like a film and can’t be widely protested; this is New York City, and the play could draw an amazingly tolerant, urbane, thinking audience, albeit it is not a fluffy, touristd musical. Turns out for whatever reason, most likely money, the production which has been nominated for a number of awards, including a Tony for best play and a few other lesser categories, the play is shuttering on May 5th, in four days. I urge you to see it, especially if you are a person of faith, Catholic, an atheist and/or an agnostic.
A bit of comparison between the Scorsese film and this production, because thematically, they are similar. Both uplift faith and in no way deny the deity of Christ and the spiritual purpose of Mary. What they do reveal is the tremendous humanity and fleshly temptations of Christ and Mary, Jesus’ mother. Both represent the scriptures to a fault. How the Catholic Church could protest such revelation of the humanity of Mary and Jesus is beyond my comprehension. It is with the humanity that we inevitably identify. God? He is far from us. Only through Christ, Mary, Paul and the other very human disciples do we comprehend how to grow into a more loving, compassionate and empathetic nature. If they did it through faith, belief and prayer and forgiveness of self and others, then perhaps we can begin to relate and improve our lives and the lives of those we touch. As they were subject to failure and temptation, even to doubt, then we can relate our very humble existence to theirs. Both the play and the film highlight their humility, above all, very much in keeping with scripture.
Colim Toibin’s The Testament of Mary at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre stars Fiona Shaw and is directed by Deborah Warner. Based on Toibin’s novella of the same name, The Testament of Mary tells the unheard story of Mary, the mother of Jesus, who is being guarded and protected in the city of Ephesus after her son’s Crucifixion. The one-woman performance will have played 27 previews and 16 performances when it closes May 5th.
Before the play begins, Mary dressed in an iconic blue drape is behind a glass case, the very picture of the mother of God depicted in paintings. Under glass, she is the somber woman deified for all time. Mary under glass recalls tacky lawn ornaments. As the figure of Mary with plastic flowers Shaw poses and prays reverently, an emblem of the religion removed from humanity. While Shaw is behind the glass case, the audience, if they like, can go up on stage and view her and walk around. Also, present on stage is a chained up (so he won’t fly away) turkey buzzard, a predatory bird referred to later in Mary’s testament about the events leading up to the crucifixion. She refers to seeing a bird of prey gouge out the eyes of a rabbit and then eviscerate the animal, killing it in blood and gore. In context, it is what is done to Jesus, her son, which she laments and wishes had not happened.
The play begins after Shaw comes out from under the glass and becomes the human Mary. She takes away the bird of prey and begins her story of what happened to her, to her son and her ultimate lament that she wished it had not, a very contrary view, not to the Bible, necessarily, but certainly to the Catholic portrayal of Mary as the iconic wonder woman who birthed God.
Throughout the testimony, we do not see or hear the exultant Mary happy her son is the savior, an all-knowing Mary who understands flawlessly and effortlessly without a smidgeon of doubt her son’s purpose. This is a human Mary, filled with doubt. As she recounts the story in flashback, she laments as she tells us she had seen the “writing on the wall” when Lazarus was raised from the dead. She knew the envy and jealousy of the religious leaders. She knew they would go after Him because of the miracles He performed. This human Mary is fearful for her son because He is too loving, too kind, to wise, too beautiful, too knowledgeable and too just. And she intuits that He will be killed for it all especially because of His fan club and followers’ love.
The rabbit eviscerated in gore is her son eviscerated and left bloody. She doesn’t hail the blood of Christ as that of the lamb slain for the world that the religions (Christian) rejoice about. She rues his blood shed. He is first and last her beloved human son. All the more poignant is the scripture of Jesus when he looks down upon Mary from the cross, saying, “Mother, behold your son.” For Mary, it is a great sorrow that her innocent son went to His death, for what? Not even Pilot wanted Him dead, and in fact was warned by his wife not to “kill that innocent man.” How much more a mother suffers when her son is destroyed for what she knows is jealousy and envy. She knows the price that her son will have to pay to heal, cleanse, comfort, make water into wine, and especially to raise from the dead. She knows that the religious leaders will punish him and exact a blood penalty. She shares what motivates her son and what motivates the religious leaders who put burdens on the people that they themselves cannot relieve. She knows her son is the “real thing,” and that they, motivated by greed, money and power will destroy him. Her son’s death is not salvation; for her it is torture.
Can Mary the “mother of God” be allowed to speak as a human mother when she is portrayed by some religious leaders (Catholicism) as even greater than Jesus? Is it fair that she be human, that she show fear and run away like Peter who denied Christ? Is this not blasphemous? And yet in the scripture, she mourns and grieves her son as the women and disciples did. The production is not contrary to the scripture, even with regard to the resurrection of Christ.
So what’s the fuss? Fiona Shaw is absolutely brilliant, touching, painful, monumental in her portrayal. The play taken from the scripture is electrifying. Mary was indeed human and she is divine. We are human and have the potential to achieve great goodness, perhaps even divinity counting a few miraculous prayers answered. What the play intentions through the beauty of Shaw’s cry of humanity is that the divine be brought into our reach and that we identify and become ennobled by this understanding. That we too, given the concept of world salvation by a son, would rather have the son with us…forget the world. Let it rot. All the more the sacrifice, was Christ’s to have been paid at such a great cost: the suffering of a mother who, knowing who her son is and understanding what He can accomplish must lose him to brutality, jealously, all the sins of the world? No wonder Mary’s lament; no wonder she disputes God’s purpose. No wonder she questions and wishes a reversal of events. Wouldn’t we? And isn’t that the point?
But as in The Last Temptation of Christ, there is no going back. Christ defeated temptation. His work was finished on the cross and He fulfilled God’s purpose. And likewise, Mary may rant, she is human, but her rant too is finished. And though she is an icon, Mary lives and prays in Spirit. Nothing can be taken from her nor is it in this production. The beauty is in the addition of her wonderful humanity in the paradox of divinity. There is hope for us yet.
I wish I could agree that Alan Cumming’s decision to reinvent Macbeth was a bold and brilliant move that succeeded. I cannot, though I thought that Cumming’s performance of certain characters, in part, was interesting and affecting, if I suspended all my powers of logic. But isn’t that what insanity is? A suspension of logic? Mine? The character’s? Or the actor’s?
Cumming’s Macbeth, currently at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre, takes place in an insane asylum and Macbeth is wacked. I do wonder, though. Why use the construct of Shakespeare’s Macbeth to reveal multiple personalities or a tormented, guilt-ridden mind? Why not just create a play about a character who believes himself to be a tyrant, a Macbeth, and provide some logical outer sandwich to house the multiple personalities, i.e. Macbeth, Lady Macbeth,et.al. in an insane actor’s mind? That way as the insane actor reenacts Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, etc., again and again, we can perhaps retain some semblance of logic, especially if it is added that the actor has a deep rooted miasma that has set him off never to return (a bad drug trip?) to coherence again.
In this production of Macbeth, here is the rub. If you wish to see Alan Cumming perform Macbeth, then by all means go and enjoy his performance of the characters in this one man show (with the exception of an attendant and doctor). You won’t mind that this rendition whose conceit blares and pivots one note (insanity) lacks logic, suspense, depth and coherence. It will be OK because you are seeing Alan Cumming fulminate, rage and wither. You will not being seeing a production of Macbeth, the Scottish play.
Cumming’s overarching conceit that Macbeth is insane houses the characters and plot. Explanations beyond to the why, wherefore, place and time before his arrival at this stark, sterile, green hospital room are absent. Because there are two “evidence” bags which are used to put in some clothing, we are left to our assumptions: Macbeth is attempting to expiate his guilt by playing all the characters. However, the point where the action intervenes with the characterizations is a muddle. Our confounded logic is swamped by the conceit. Is our confusion supposed to be wiped clean because Macbeth is insane and none of this is supposed to make any sense?
Cumming portrays all the characters, Lady Macbeth, King Duncan, Malcolm, Macduff, Lady Macduff, Banquo, Fleance and the criminals who kill Banquo. He enacts the play events through the dialogue alone, no physical action except those related to a suicidal, guilt-ridden mental patient: the killings unfold, the witches prophecy. Cumming plays all the parts and this is supposed to be happening in Macbeth’s mind, though there are things in the action Macbeth could not have known. Again, we must provide our own logic and are left to surmise he was told what happened and that’s how he is able to perform the dialogue related to Lady Macduff’s and her children’s deaths, though Macbeth was not present to kill them. Suspension of disbelief is imperative to get through these sections of dialogue in the play. And there are a number of them.
The dialogue has been truncated, silently interrupted by attendants who administer medication when the main character’s (Macbeth?) menagerie of beings plagues him toward horrid, guilt-ridden misery or when they act up to threaten his life causing him to let his own blood. Remember, all of this is happening in Macbeth’s mind as he performs the parts. The extraneous action begins at the beginning of the play, when the insane asylum conceit is set. Macbeth is brought in; he disrobes from his suit which goes in an evidence bag, then he dons patient clothing, all in a frightened, subservient manner. We wonder…is this Macbeth? Or is it someone who poses as Macbeth? Setting the conceit takes around 10 minutes. And when TV screens come on picturing Cumming who speaks the dialogue of the various witches, we know this guy is nuts. But that’s all we know. Who he is and how he got there? No matter. This is Alan Cumming’s Macbeth. That should be enough. Hardly!
The conceit is so ill drawn, the interpretation depends upon the audience’s good will to know the play thoroughly beforehand. I do know it having taught the play for a number of years and having seen it performed a number of times. Would it have been better if I didn’t know what to expect? It would have been much worse, I fear, for I did appreciate Cumming’s speaking with a Scottish accent, resonating Shakespeare’s wonderful imagery and language. I know the characters well; I knew the upcoming lines and happily recognized one of the two logical segments of the play when the doctor tells Macbeth that a cure for what ails Lady Macbeth is beyond him. In Cumming’s rendition, that made sense. Yeah! And yet…
I do think that regardless of my familiarity I would have grappled with providing a logic for the conceit. I assumed that insane Macbeth committed his crimes, was arrested and brought in and his conscience, in a feast of guilt, punishes him into reenacting the characters and events again and again in the asylum. Though this maximizes a few lines in the play, for example Lady Macbeth’s guilt at killing Duncan (All the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand.) it does little to reveal the arc of Macbeth’s monstrous evil and his dangerous fascism in creating a security state that wipes out all potential enemies in ripe paranoia and bloodshed, and that drives away all who might have been wooed to his side. In other words, the conceit transforms the play’s immediacy, Shakespeare’s characterizations and weighty themes. It bends all to the will of Alan Cumming. Interesting twist, a fascist actor manipulating us to accept an illogical, muddled rendition of a brilliant play and brainwashing us that his rendition is magnificent and makes sense. Hardly!
Cumming’s Macbeth characterization is that of a feeling, pitiful, miserable creature. His Lady Macbeth is a manipulative plot conveyance. His Duncan is a foppish, foolish, laughable Brit whom we feel little remorse for. His Banquo is whimsically unmemorable, and the witches are creatures who jump to and fro recollecting the past. All the characters and the relationships between them have been reduced to surface shadows lacking meaning beyond their resurrection by a heated brain. The witches have lost their power; they’ve no function. They do not spur Macbeth to ambition. Nor do they mislead and misguide him to the abyss of evil, a belief of the age of King James I. All action in this production bends toward the multiple personalities rearing their heads. And that’s it. We wait for them to show up and see how Cumming will portray them. Little of their human truth comes to the fore, though Cumming is in the moment with whatever being is present. (Wait. I think I might have it. The enactment is Macbeth’s attempt to reveal he is not guilty in all this?) Hardly, because then, why would he attempt to drown himself which he tries in a tub in the last segment of the production? A guilty, tormented soul attempts suicide to stop the pain, does it not? None of this is reminiscent of the paranoid, tyrannical enraged Shakespeare’s Macbeth who would rather kill everyone on the planet and be alone than admit his own guilt.
Sadly, Cumming’s raw emotion is unconnected to anything universal and therefore, unconnected to us. That’s insane, is it not? We don’t know from where the character’s insanity comes; it does not come from the action of the play. There is no action other than that which hinges on Cumming’s performance of these multiple personalities, or beings or people or what you will. Does this production elucidate Shakespeare’s Macbeth? Can the play be elucidated? Of course; there are many who are not familiar with the play, though they know about tyrants, killers and power grabbers spurred by ambition. Ours is a terrible time of many simulacrums of Macbeth. Well, our time and this production were not in the same realm. I found the production to be self-serving and self-aggrandizing. Only in this way was Cumming’s Macbeth a shadow likeness of the character in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.
This is a meta problem of the production. The richness of Shakespeare’s Macbeth is its unraveling of a soul as it becomes engorged and steeped in evil. The temptation to accept evil as Macbeth does and allow it to envelope one’s being is a story for all time and for all leaders. It is the story of tyrants from Hitler to Stalin to Idi Amin. It encompasses apartheid and its aftermath; it encompasses the current global leadership whether it reflects those who are at the heads of banking cabals that drove the mortgage debacle causing massive human suffering, to CEOs of hedge funds who made trillions while impoverishing and destroying global economies. Such tyranny never is one note. It is layered, dark and infinite. It is not insanity. It is evil.
There is such a thing as evil and it must not be confused with insanity. This production melds the two conditions when both are completely disparate. One is a mental condition. The other a soul condition, beyond a doctors’ care and treatment. Evil defies ethics, morality and the common good. You cannot give someone a medication, a shot, to eradicate or abate evil. No doctor can administer any drug for what ails Lady Macbeth and Macbeth. How does one minister to a soul engorged with the power of darkness? Yet the production insists on portraying Macbeth as insane while it removes any ethics of the nature of evil and wickedness. The center of the conceit does not hold and collapses in on itself by not dealing with the play’s main tenet. Soul sickness, spiritual wickedness. But the production did not deal with spiritual evil. All supernatural and paranormal elements are absent (the witches don’t exist…they like most of the other characters are in Macbeth’s mind.) Only the ghost of Banquo shows up as a real person, huge and tall wearing a Hannibal Lecter mask, no explanation inferred for the who and how. This material Banquo-Hannibal Lector is one more pounding of the hammer that Macbeth is insane and this isn’t supposed to make any sense. I wondered during the production, with the absence of any reference to evil, does this heighten the significance of evil and wickedness? It is the one element lacking and through its lack must we infer it is very real? Sigh. I’m still trying to make sense of the production which truly, I wanted to like, but found to be obscure and convoluted.
The legacy of Macbeth’s (Shakespeare’s) augmenting wickedness and paranoia shows a diminishing guilt and remorse until any semblance of goodness in him is wiped out. For Macbeth there is no turning back. That is the greatness of Shakespeare’s characterization. At the end Macbeth is without compunction; there is nothing to stop him from killing off his countrymen and the pitiable Lady Macduff and her children. When Macbeth sees how corrupted Lady Macbeth’s soul has become with the bloodthirsty killing of King Duncan that a reverse stigmata appears on her hands in her imagination, the stench of infinite wickedness, even that does not deter him. Lady Macbeth is beyond the power of redemption; she is beyond the power of second chances; she is beyond the power of forgiveness and self-forgiveness. And so is her soul mate, Macbeth. Macbeth knows this when the doctor tells him her illness is beyond the doctor’s remedies. Yet where she can no longer act, as she is insane, Macbeth very rationally and methodically continues his evil actions to preserve his power and his kingdom. His wife’s abyss of guilt does not give him pause. This wicked tyrant will never seek redemption for he has done no wrong; his actions are not evil; he is not guilty. As Shakespeare’s tragic villains go, he is the darkest and most wicked for he feels no remorse. When the witches prophecies come to pass it enrages Macbeth, it does not stop him. He persists as he completely is given over to the powers of darkness. The witches have indeed won his soul as emissaries of the devil.
Goodness triumphs through Macduff and Malcolm and we are relieved that there is justice in the world as we are saddened to see a potentially goodly soul at the outset so overcome with wickedness through vaulted ambition, acceptance of evil and the relinquishing of any goodness or light within. Macbeth’s tragedy is a human one. He has made a Faustian bargain by leaping to the witches’ seductive prophecies when he knows they could be tempting him to the flood of darkness. How many times have we selected a wrong course knowing it was wrong but thinking we could get by anyway? If we have power, then comes the cover up of wrongdoing and on and on until up is down, black is white, fair is foul and evil is whitewashed to appear good. So with Macbeth, so with all tyrants and evil doers who aver that they have done any wrong.
When leaders create wars and state that they are for the good of the country, when they jail whistleblowers who expose their lies yet call the whistleblowers traitors, when they create economic devastation and then say they are powerless to do anything because the financial systems causing the debacle are “Too Big To Fail,” THEN ” fair is foul and foul is fair,” the incantation the witches state at the play’s beginning. Indeed, what spirits hover in the fog and filthy air? And what rough beast is slouching toward Bethlehem to be born? Certainly not the insane. Mark this beast for what is is. The spirit of evil. And when leaders are possessed with wickedness, then woe to the populace that must suffer them. They long for a Malcolm or a Macduff to bring deliverance.
Are these themes of Macbeth not good enough for our time? Is the play Macbeth not weighty enough to have been enacted so that Shakespeare’s characters and exciting plot could speak to us today? Could we not understand, we who are troubled by ambitious leaders and corporations who feast on augmenting their power and who exploit the populace? Are our lives not diminished by those forces, systems and industrial complexes which are tyrannical, covetous and fascist, like Macbeth? Surely, we thirst to understand the arc of evil begetting evil as it hungers for more power and covers up dark deeds to appear righteous!
Well, in this production, insanity has become the favorite substitute for wickedness. Ironic, for ours is a time when books and films are populated with spiritual powers of darkness represented by the paranormal and supernatural: werewolves, vampires, the living dead, dragons, the witches in the Harry Potter series, ghosts, evil spirits, trolls, et. al.
As for this Lincoln Center production of Macbeth? Not for me. I’ll take the good old fashioned Scottish play that no one dares to call by name.
FIRST RESPONSE EARLIER TODAY AT 9:00 AM (There is a happy ending. See UPDATES below.)
For me and a friend who went to see the The Revisionist, starring Vanessa Redgrave and Jesse Eisenberg this past Saturday, the occasion was a nightmare. I had seen Redgrave live on Broadway and elsewhere a number of times as had my friend, Emily. Brit theater snobs, we happily anticipated seeing Redgrave’s performance remembering with enthusiasm her Driving Miss Daisy with James Earl Jones on Broadway. How could this be a bum night? Impossible, right? “Ha!” (said with bitterness).
Well, thanks to the production company and the gods of chaos and disorder, not only did our anticipation turn out to be a botched abortion, the occasion left me with the nightmare portent of fascist attitudes and a longing NEVER TO DO BUSINESS WITH THE RATTLESTICK THEATER COMPANY OR ANYONE CONNECTED WITH THE PRODUCTION AGAIN, INCLUDING THE PERFORMERS, DIRECTOR KIP FAGAN, ETC.
I don’t say this lightly. I’m an avid theater goer and supporter, albeit not a huge patron of the arts with thousands or millions of dollars in donations. I am little person, one of the tendrils in the nervous system of the average New York City theater going community. Typically, I spend thousands on live theater each year. And as a little person, I bristle like a porcupine when tossed to the trash heap, an inconsequential serf. Ms Redgrave, for years an avowed communist, should be able to understand and empathize. Maybe not.
The city via the Midtown Tunnel is 20 minutes away from my friend’s house. I picked her up at 6:30 pm and speeded merrily down Woodhaven to L.I.E. with over an hour and 15 minutes to spare. The drive should have taken us 1/2 hour to the theater. Then THE EVIL showed up after the rise in the road, stunning us with a garish display of red brake lights that snaked for miles of incredible delays on the L.I.E. There was nowhere to get off. And it wasn’t an accident which would have been a temporary hold up. No. The tunnel was closed off inbound to one lane. I hadn’t seen such a traffic problem on the L.I.E. since before I moved to NYC permanently 30 years ago.
There we sat with no way out. I was frantic, nearing hysteria, my insides, worms. All I could squeak out was, “This is really bad, really bad.” Emily attempted to reassure me. What good was it to heighten the drama with more histrionics? There was nothing we could do short of press the ejector seat button, plunge through the opening roof and with our jet packs roaring and blazing zoom to the theater.
Of all days, we had to be stuck in traffic, missing all alerts the tunnel was closed! This was the fastest route, according to my Australian cousin who had used his GPS to figure it out two years ago when he and Anna visited….13 minutes from Kew Gardens to 34th street. Not this day. It took us over an hour to get through the Midtown tunnel. The normal passage downtown was blocked and we had to spend another 10 minutes to get to Lexington heading downtown and finally over to 7th Ave. downtown. The theater is the Cherry Lane on Commerce. We arrived nearby at a garage at around 8:00 pm, SHOWTIME.
Then we got lost. What more could go wrong? Emily and I reassured each other, “Well, we have 10 minutes grace period before the show begins,” as per the usual MO of NYC theater. We asked directions; the results were somewhat helpful, and finally using my iPhone, we found the theater. Whew!!!! Emily again was calming and reassuring us, “We’re here!” It was 8:11 PM. We had made it The Revisionist was just beginning.
Then came the blow. KABOOM! “NO LATE SEATING,” said the demonic looking box office agent in a defensive upper register. My jawline crashed to the pavement. ”NO LATE SEATING!” I got it but I didn’t believe this could be happening after the ride in from hell. I was in shock. What did that mean? At Brooklyn Academy of Music, The Harvey Theater, it meant that you had to wait until they were good and ready to seat you. You watched the show on the monitors until they let you in. Same on Broadway and Off Broadway. “NO LATE SEATING,” meant we seat you AT OUR CONVENIENCE.
Not so for The Revisionist. NO LATE SEATING MEANT, “Screw your late ass. You’re closed out, late fool!” NO LATE SEATING MEANT, “Amscray. Get out! Leave! Todaloo!” It meant, “You are locked out from seeing this show…forever.” NO LATE SEATING MEANT, “You lost your money. You might as well have thrown it down the toilet.” NO LATE SEATING MEANT, “It’s your fault you were late and F%#K YOU!” NO LATE SEATING MEANT, “We’re not sorry. If you’re one minute late, it’s your fault and you can’t get in even if you are President Obama, The Queen of England or Edward Albee.” (Somehow, I don’t think this applies for them. I know it applies for the little people who can least afford to throw money into the toilet with or without poop in it.)
Is it on the print out? Yes, this is listed on the print out, but the print isn’t very large and since this phrase is used in other theaters, the given is that you are seated after a time of their convenience. I have been late maybe once in hundreds of performances including Broadway, Off Broadway theater, philharmonic, opera, dance, etc. This was the first time in my decades of life that I had the pleasure of experiencing, NO LATE SEATING when it meant, ” You’re finished!” “Go home, chump!” “We’ve got your money, sucka!” “Don’t even think about a refund!”
To add to the indignity, the monitor showing the performance was not only inaudible and unintelligible, but the lights were so bright, the screen was washed out and a blur. If Emily and I wanted to view the performance in the lobby, we would have had to have dog hearing and overexposure goggles to make out the uber blurry images of a tallish women and scrunching kid to her right and their etherealized movements. And there was no where to sit. There was no attempt to accommodate the faintest possibility that something might have happened beyond a patron’s control to make them late.
This was so counter to NYC theater operations, which do treat you humanely. Here, the fascists were clearly stating the message. You committed the sin of all sins, lateness. There is no second chance and to punish you forever, (The performances are sold out, by the way.) it will not be possible to even see a glimmer of anything on the defunct TV monitor. The message again? TUFF! IT’S YOUR FAULT. THERE’S NO RECOURSE. I and Emily paid $91.50 each to be thwarted at every turn. There is a devil and it is called The Revisionist and Rattlestick Theater.
We went back to the garage. We had parked less than an hour. The cost? It was $26.00. With all the complaints about Broadway being pricey, I’LL TAKE BROADWAY. I get my money’s worth! There aren’t these dictums on high from production company popes. Discount parking is available and there are good restaurants in the theater district.
Never until this experience did I understand how a company through arrogance and ineptitude can be so self-destructive. When money is given for a performance, there is a warrant. Despite the stated terms and conditions, it should be understood that theater and any live performance depends upon the good will of the individuals who come to see it. NO ONE. I DO NOT CARE WHO THEY ARE SHOULD BE ALLOWED THE PRESUMPTION OF THIS PRODUCTION COMPANY. Accommodation should be made when money is paid out by the purchaser and every effort is made to satisfy the company’s requests. Smaller venues than the Cherry Lane with cheaper seats have been more accommodating. Of course, Broadway and Off Broadway are accommodating. This production company? The treatment we received was egregious.
I do not blame the Cherry Lane. The production company rented out the space from them so the Cherry Lane is not the decision maker. I think, but I’m not certain, that the production company is responsible. I paid the money to them; they should at the least have made sure there was a working monitor if extenuating circumstances occurred and people were late. The constipated box office attendant who was not schooled in how to gracefully handle our situation and who kept on blabbing about, “I can’t do anything. I can’t do anything,” was an annoyance. At the very least he could have pretended like he listened, directed us to the monitor (though I can’t imagine why) and said two mollifying words, “I’M SORRY.” Indeed, his guilty response made me feel as if he knew the rote lines he had to tell us were egregious and he found them loathsome to say. In fear of this guilt, he couldn’t even hold the production company line and try to make the situation better. He worsened it.
Everyone involved with this production collectively is responsible for not making a better arrangement. A small print notice on a sheet will not cut it in the arts. It is abjectly beneath artists, creators and intellectuals to be so inflexible, arrogant and punitive. Actually, that is what grieves me the most. Artists, above all the individuals on this planet, should not behave with a dismissive, corporate, lizard mentality. Sometimes, there are extenuating circumstances. Things do happen and people may be late. Accommodate. If the artists are as great as they think they are, focus is a skill and distraction will not throw them off their roles to accommodate a late seating. Are they going to repudiate coughing and sneezing as distractions? I’ve been at performances (Frost/Nixon) when some hacking seal coughs are actually worse than seating late comers. If there is an emergency during a performance (James McAvoy during a recent Macbeth performance helped out an audience member who was sick and then picked up the character of Macbeth seamlessly. Kelsey Grammer did the same when a sound board blew. Countless other actors have done the same, my God, a testament to their brilliance.) what are the cast going to do? Just “Go on with the show,” and let the person die in the audience? Infantile, arrogant, inexperienced, not worthy of the craft.
Kelsey Grammer embraced the beauty of live theater. After the performance of La Cage Aux Folles, when I complimented him for his brilliance entertaining the audience when the sound board blew then picking up the character like there was no break, he said, “That’s what’s great about live performances. Anything can happen.” I reiterated that a brilliant performer like Grammer is ready for anything. Great actors should not be thrown by coughing, sneezing, farting, collapsing audience members, or late seaters, etc. With live theater they should be able to go with the flow.
Late seating should have been NO BIG DEAL for Redgrave and Eisenberg. If individuals have paid big money (for Off Off Broadway) to see a production and they have taken the time and effort to travel to the Village which is far from convenient, then it is a mere courtesy to accommodate them for a seating at a point in the play when there is a pause or lull. And if there isn’t, then the play is not well written or true to life with natural silences and pauses, and the art is a contrivance as is the arrogant assumption that the audience is expected to bow to these “greats,” like Lilliputs. Sorry. Performers, productions and theater companies should behave better than this and those in NYC mostly do. The Revisionist is a rotten exception. I will not support the performers, the production company or this theater group in the future. I’ve had enough of corporate arrogance and lizard brain behavior. Artists are supposed to create art to DRUB THE PHILISTINES. The Revisionist policies exemplified the epitome of commercial and supercilious attitudes. As for a wrecked monitor in this day and age? Pleeeassse. Keep mine and Emily’s money. Use it to buy some new used equipment.
UPDATE: I contacted Theatermania’s Ovation Tix about the matter. They are contacting the theater. So at this point, action will fall directly on the production company, The Revisionist, and the theater if they do not refund our money. The show is sold out. There is no way we will see it. I will not go to another venue if it is produced there unless our money is refunded. Let happen what must. I’ve already blamed myself a million times, to no avail. I do not share in this completely alone. At least Theatermania is trying to mediate so I will use Ovation Tix again.
UPDATE 2: Theatermania made an arrangement with the theater and production company. REPRIEVE!!! There are second chances, thank goodness. We have been allowed to see the show, a matinee, on April 27th AT 2:00 PM. Two seats have been reserved for Emily and me. NOW, I JUST CAN’T BLOW IT A SECOND TIME!!! I WON’T. Thanks, hugs and kisses to everyone involved. My faith in the production company has been restored as has my faith in the performers and artists. Whew!!! Yeah!!! Maybe I’ll spend the night in the city to make sure I’ll get there on time. Never want to go through this again!!!!!
Tom Hanks is a phenomenal human being and actor. Many would be proud to have him as a friend. Helping Nora Ephron mount her play, Lucky Guy, is a tribute to her and to him. They are to be credited and although it has not been made crystal clear, most likely they discussed and worked on the play at length before she was struck down by her illness. For the most part, I write reviews that are supportive of the arts. I understand that every attempt made at producing and promoting a production whether on or off Broadway is a labor of love that engenders a very long process over hurdles, obstacles, nay-sayers and grouchy money lenders and enthusiastic investors. I acknowledge and appreciate. the courage, brilliance and perseverance it takes to present an artistic endeavor which could fall or succeed depending upon so many variables that sometimes it is impossible to calculate the why, the if and the how.
Lucky Guy will not fall on its face because Tom Hanks’ presence in New York City in a live performance will draw tony crowds willing to pay $400 for premium seats and Hanks’ buddy celebrities who will come to support him through rain, sleet, snow and desert temperatures, and who may have been comped to be seen in the audience. Others living in New York will purchase the “hot” ticket, though they may never have worked or buddied up with Hanks, just to see this renown and beloved movie actor on Broadway. Certainly, the little people and fans will pay big money for the rafter seats to catch a glimpse of Forest Gump, the Oscar winning actor and the producer who has a fine eye for humorous talent exemplified when he backed little known comedian Nia Vardalos by producing a little film with a big heart, My Big Fat Greek Wedding.
The promoters know of Hanks’ draw capability by his track record box office. So if the play is less than sterling, if the plot is convoluted, chopped, contrived, unfocused and completely un-Ephronesque, if the sign offs from McAlary’s family were hushed and pressed, will the audience care? No. They are there to see an exhibition, a show, the glitz and the fun. They are not expecting great writing at this point, and since they are coming for all the other reasons and not to see a marvelous story, they will not be disappointed. They might be rather surprised that the play doesn’t cohere and that it shifts after the intermission toward a completely different focus, but that will not cool them from enjoying the evening. Why? Hanks is true to form. He rises to the occasion. He makes the thin, stereotyped, fictionalized characterization of the brilliant and courageous newspaper reporter Mike McAlary believable, likable and intensely human with yeomen’s help from an exceptional supporting cast, beautifully acted by Courtney B. Vance, Richard Masur, Christopher McDonald, Maura Tierney, Peter Gerety and Deirdre Lovejoy and aptly directed by George C. Wolfe.
Lucky Guy is about the arc of success for Mike McAlary: his influences, his exuberance, his integrity, his passion and the conflicting loves of his life, his wife and his reportage and status as a columnist when he worked for New York City Newsday, The Daily News and The New York Post. Yet Lucky Guy also purports to be about the the men, McAlary’s editors, specifically Mike Daly and Hap Hairston with whom he worked closely and who supposedly knew him best. As an iteration of these newspapermen it also shows snippets of New York City and the three New York tabloids during the 1980s and 1990s.
Ephron took on an ambitious challenge compressing McAlary’s story as a newspaperman, using the narrators-editors and newspaper people and his wife to bridge the enactments of seminal events in McAlary’s life. Whether the abortive conception of McAlary as a man whose star skyrocketed too quickly in bombastic, self-possessed glory that could only result in a plummet, Icarus-like to the earth, or whether the sheer weight of the attempt at compression of the hundreds of moments of a true life story caved in on itself (without using symbolic, representational short cuts of revelation to assist in the telling) the ride became chopped and grinding. At best it was ill conceived and at worst it was a flatliner that catapulted into nowhere land. The dialogue witty and clever at times, reveals Ephron’s turn of phrase and humor. As for the excitement, thrill and edginess of the newspaper business? It was lost in the retelling through the selection of events and perceptions of the editors which decreased the vitality of what were fascinating and complex decades in New York City’s history.
The irony is that the urgency to chronicle the story truncated the spirit of the truth of these individuals, especially McAlary and the editors. This wobbly “truth” webs an obscurity that minimizes their very real conflicts with themselves and each other. This in turn skews the focus and redirects the play in the second act toward hyper-resolution as McAlary wins the Pulitzer Prize for reporting on the Abner Louima case. At this high and low point of his life, Ephron shows his humility in accepting the prize (which strangely appears like a mea culpa speech to his colleagues) and his resignation as his cancer battle overwhelms him. This battle in the play’s unfolding almost appears as a judgment on his life which it shouldn’t. The play lamely concludes with the recognition of the birth and death years of the two editors and McAlary projected on the screen as the men stand before us in a tableau. For a second, I was left feeling like this was a theater of the absurd Pinteresque let down, “That’s all there is folks?” What? Wasn’t this play about McAlary as the focus? Or was it about the editors? Was it about the last choking song of New York’s tabloid newspapers? Clouds swirled around my understanding making me feel that both the playwright and director were unsure about an effective ending and ran out of steam. Incongruency. The play was unable to hold together the line of events that were so urgently chronicled.
As I stared at the dates, I felt a dull thud of “ho hum,” when I should have felt a lightening jolt of recognition that the era of newspaper tabloid reporting had ended with these individuals and would never return again; that greats like McAlary were precious, rare talents, their flaws having enriched their work. The preciousness did not come through in Ephron’s least satisfying endeavor. What did come through was Hanks’ presence and being despite the muddled plot and characterization. Hanks’ acting skills injected every ounce of spiritual strength and humanity into Ephron’s words. Hanks breathed life into a wooden, thinly written Mike McAlary. The cast were true to their best efforts and allowed us to envision what these living individuals might have been like at this time and place. Was the memory of McAlary served by Hanks? Absolutely. But the play was not a vehicle to introduce or remind us of McAlary’s genius. Unfortunately, it muted and veiled the artistry and the power of his legacy, and most likely it did the same for the other individuals who lived and breathed newsprint onstage.
Call it a problem with plot, selection of events and perceptions. Say it was too ambitious a task to try to cover his journalistic career and life during that time. Call it a problem of how the truth of McAlary the man was cobbled together through interviews, newspaper articles and editorials, etc.,and spun. Call it what you will, the play was uneven, misshapen. Hanks has been quoted as saying that the play is a fictionalized account of McAlary. Well, fictionalized would have been vastly more entertaining with great opportunities for extrapolation and flexibility of story telling. The identities and names could have been masked and the story better wrought; it could have been simplified to parable level or made more mythic. Or it could have been made more real, refocused on the relationship between McAlary and his wife which would have been an enhancement. Somehow, their love never resonated as it should have. And this wasn’t the fault of the actors, but rather in the thinly drawn interaction between them.
To accommodate Hanks, McAlary’s age was tweaked. The man died at 41. To say his life was cut short is an understatement. To say that his wife and children were bereft without him is another understatement. To say that he accomplished a tremendous amount in the years he had is another understatement for he wrote novels and screenplays and consulted on films. McAlary was a dynamo, beloved to his wife, relatives and friends, an amazing personality a newspaper man of the old school who adored his work. Indeed he adored life and wanted to live it to the fullest. He did, but his season for living was brief. And this is the tragedy with which all can identify. This is the story, and what a story.
But how do you put this in words and get it all in? You render it as legend; he’s an Odysseus, a hero, a champ, a newspaperman we can love. You create an independent narrator, one not involved as a character, one who has an overarching view who selects the crucial events that brought the man higher on his soul journey. Then you reveal what he has learned and what he has carved for himself out of the roughness of youth into a wisdom borne out of love, loyalty to his passion, trial and suffering. You show the nobility of the time through this narrator’s eyes, revealing the horror that has increased in the decades as a precursor to the new prowling terrorism of war on American soil. Then the focus is clear. Then the years of McAlary’s birth and death make sense in context. Then we understand their value and can say, here was a great newspaperman who captured the era with the dynamism of his reporting and we shall mourn an era that we’ll never see the likes of again.
Lucky Guy is at the Broadhurst Theater.
The legendary blues musician and 15 time Grammy winner B.B. King is a dynamo at 87. If you are a B.B. King fan and have caught his blues act in concert or play his music at home, you know why this beloved Rock and Roll and Blues Hall of Famer has achieved global renown. His blues is easy listening. His musicianship is kinetic. His youthful verve is catching. His bubbling vitality has stirred B.B. King to keep a busy schedule. He tours globally averaging 250 concerts a year and promotes or plays at his B.B. King’s Blues Clubs occasionally in Orlando, Memphis, Nashville, West Palm Beach and Las Vegas (currently closed). All of his moves and his clubs encourage the iconic blues to flow. Visiting artists and musicians play music at B.B. King’s, whether funky and fast or soulful and smooth, LIVE, every night of the week.
In another contribution to stimulating our enjoyment of life, B.B. King’s energy has spilled over into creating his own signature wines. Whether you are a wine lover or B.B. King fan you can savor his wines at his clubs and in select retail stores, wine bars and music clubs nationwide as well as online. You and friends can share a bottle of red paired with the Bourbon Glazed Ribeye at B.B. King’s Orlando or share a bottle of white with the Southern Fried Catfish if you’re visiting family in Memphis and decide to drop in to B.B. King’s for a great evening of music, food and wine. When you enjoy his wines you are embracing this amazing talent who has brought so much to global fans and has given back with joy to artists and musicians.
How did the B.B. King Signature Collection come about? Since B.B. King has performed in 88 countries throughout the world with hundreds of performances given in Europe, he has become acquainted with the relaxing, leisurely and healthful style of meal enjoyment there. One of the most memorable visits was to Spain in 1991 when Seville hosted the original all-star “Guitar Legends” concert series. This series celebrated 27 of the world’s finest guitarists, including B.B. King, over a five day period of completely sold out shows. It is not a coincidence that his signature wine is sourced in the up-and-coming D.O. wine region of Almansa, Spain from the award winning Bodega Santa Cruz winery which has been producing wine for over 60 years.With the efforts of Bodega Santa Cruz winery and the assistance of Votto Vines Importing headquartered in Connecticut, B.B. King’s Signature Collection was established and is being launched nationwide.
The B.B. King Signature Collection is the misty elegance of the blues; it manifests the sine qua non of B.B. King, the legend, the personality, the sustained career excellence. The B.B. King Signature Collection Red 2010 is a Crianza blend made from Garnacha, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon. The B.B. King Signature Collection White 2011 is made only from 100% Verdefo grapes. The wines pair well with various dishes and can be drunk with appetizers to one’s taste as they are food friendly. They are moderately priced and won’t destroy your wine budget for the month and as in European style can be enjoyed as every day drinking wines. The suggested retail price is $13.99 which is perfect for casual enjoyment with friends, larger parties, as well as other dining occasions. You can purchase B.B. King’s Signature Red and Signature White at Vinport.com/bbking.
Just a few details about B.B. King that you should know.When you think of blues, the iconic King of Blues, the man with the golden fingers easily comes to mind. B.B. King has defined blues globally for the last 50 years. His tireless efforts have set the standards for blues. His work ethic and force of will are marvelous to experience given his age and effervescent spirit.
B.B. King began recording in the 1940s and since then has released over 50 albums. His guitar style is memorable, identifiable and amongst the finest in the world. It earned him a #3 spot on the list of Rolling Stone’s “Top Guitarists of All Time.” B.B. King was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1980 and into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. In addition to receiving the Grammys, he was awarded with NARAS’ Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award in 1987. Was he ready to throw in the hat and retire? Saay what? He was just beginning. He opened his clubs and continued to tour increasing his fan base to a new generation of fans who enjoy his music and dig his club scene. He has established his iconic presence with clubs in key cities and now has expanded our enjoyment with the B.B. King Signature Wine Collection. Now, is this man the blues or what?
I don’t think I can easily tire of Sagrantino wines. I am rather unschooled in superlatives and cannot tell you the finest wine ever produced in the last 60-100 years. I’ll leave the sommeliers to that and surely there will be disagreement, pretension (no offense guys and gals) and enough rant to bore the rest of us oenophiles. However, I do know what I like and after being introduced to a little known grape varietal and its wines from the region of Montefalco, Umbria, I’ve tasted enough wines made from the Sagrantino to know that they are a lovely accompaniment to hot appetizers, cheeses, salumi and meat dishes.
So I really enjoyed the Sagrantino wine tasting at Eataly’s La Scuola. I was introduced to different Montefalco wineries producing a variety of the region’s Sagrantino wines and blends, from Rosso to the straight Montefalco Sagrantino D.O.C.G.
Eataly has been featuring Sagrantino wineries since its Umbrian promotion of products in the fall. That was my first introduction to the rare Sagrantino grape and the Arnaldo-Caprai winery. I enjoyed the wines then and at a delicious tasting hosted by Roberto Paris at New York Times 3 starred Il Buco Alimentari & Vineria. As I attended other tastings and dined at other venues, I moved on falling back on my past loves, the better known Tuscan wines, primarily because I couldn’t get a glass of the Sagrantino blend or wine made only with the Sagrantino grape varietal. The restaurants simply didn’t have it on their wine lists, nor could I find it at my neighborhood liquor shop.
This recent wine event at Eataly’s La Scuola was not an official tasting which made it relaxing and enjoyable. As I tasted the rich, blood-red, full bodied Sagrantinos, I was able to mingle, share and talk at length with some of the producers and winery owners. I tasted Sagrantino blends in their roughness of youth and only wines made of Sagrantino in the mellowness of a 5 year aging. Either way, whether I was curious about drinking a red blend of Sagrantino and merlot with every day meals or saving the best, the aged pure Sagrantino wine, for a more special occasion with friends, the wines I tasted were unique and interesting. And there were some surprises.
What is wonderful is that Eataly is offering Sagrantino wines by the glass for $10.00 in all of its restaurants Fridays and Saturdays. That means that if you are near Eataly on Fridays, check out the Sagrantino tastings. If you are dining there ask for a glass of Sagrantino from one of these producers. Though I dined at Manzo on Sunday, I was able to get a glass of the Arnaldo-Caprai Sagrantino Collepiano and when I checked, there are still some bottles for sale.
If you are in New York City and haven’t yet been to Eataly, you are missing a great treat. If you are in town before the end of the month and you stop by, you will be able to enjoy these wines that are gaining global favorable renown. And if you visit Umbria, Perugia and Spoleto for the festival and Montefalco, the town where the Sagrantino grape varietal has made its home for centuries, you will be able to drink the vino locale with relish. Now that you are familiar with wineries in the area, you will be able to visit for tours and tastings of this amazing varietal that nearly went into extinction if not for a dedicated group of growers and producers and families whose generational lifestyle included making really great wines for every occasion.
WINERIES CELEBRATING SANGRANTINO MONTH AT EATALY AND AT THE LA SCUOLA TASTING
A DISCLAIMER: I was not able to feature a few wineries here because I ran out of time. When I travel again to Umbria to visit family, I will make sure to map an itinerary to tour the ones I missed. And I will try to taste their wines this week at Eataly.
You know how you can see one version of a play with one set of actors and another version with different actors and a whole new meaning is presented with different themes and an enhanced understanding? Last month Rosary Hartel O’Neill’s play Plane Love directed by Melissa Attebery and starring David Copeland and Shana Farr presented at the Player’s Club in New York City had that effect on me. The play had a previous showing a year ago at the National Arts Club with a different group of actors and production values. I enjoyed it then and thought the play’s promise, if picked up by other Off Off Broadway producers had the potential to create momentum and drift up the line so that it could create a followership as happens with many Off Off Broadway productions.
A bit about Rosary Hartel O’Neill, the playwright before I discuss the play will elucidate some interesting details. I’ve known Rosary’s work now for over a year and have been privileged to have seen a number of her plays presented in scene studies at the Actor’s Studio. I have seen a few presentations of Plane Love, one at the National Arts Club and the other at The Actor’s Studio. I have read a number of her dynamic plays and absolutely love her The Awakening of Kate Chopin, based on the real life Kate Chopin. (If you have not read Chopin’s groundbreaking The Awakening, regardless of whether you are male or female, it is a compelling story and you will walk away from it shocked, your intellect, your soul lazered.)
O’Neill’s play The Awakening of Kate Chopin reveals how the real Kate Chopin came to write The Awakening. O’Neill strips open the events which are iconic in shaping Chopin’s phenomenal work. After The Awakening was published and universally vilified with criticism nearly likening her to the maw of Satan (Male critics at that time were terrorized by the true tenants of her themes.) Chopin never wrote or published another word again. O’Neill’s play is historical yet modern, it is vibrant and transfixing and it should be added to the repertory of seminal works showing casing men’s and women’s struggles with self-definition as they attempt to step beyond issues of sexual stereotype and fail miserably. Sound familiar? Welcome to the 21st century. Chopin’s character is a modern day Medea with a twist. O’Neill’s play examines the Kate who could write such an incredible story.
Plane Love echoes some of the struggles of love, autonomy in relationships and trust revealed in the play The Awakening of Kate Chopin. But Plane Love has lighter notes, is clever and witty with the deep undercurrents playfully brought to the surface in a successful expiation. Interestingly, it too, has a basis in real life relationships. The characters and situation are styled after a celebrated Hollywood couple, Clark Gable and Carole Lombard who were passionate for each other and fit together in a Plato’s soul love that is rarely duplicated. It was a love that Gable never overcome after Lombard’s death in a plane crash. The couple in Plane Love is also mirrored to some extent to reflect O’Neill’s relationship with her current husband, Bob. Rosary and Bob met on a plane and grew their romance through letters. (In the play they chat via e-mails and IMs. Tweets and Facebook posts are too potentially public. Yes, folks their love chats were private and personal, not to be shared with others in this Anthony Weiner social media culture of “fat finger” clicking mistakes.) Their absences, because of Bob’s extensive travel and Rosary’s living in another part of the country made their joyful hearts bond with the heat of their words and imaginations. Distance love can be a really great spur for passion.
Energetic and vital David Copeland and Shana Farr melded with the ethers of director Melissa Attebery and the result was dynamic and alive. Some script changes were made for the better and the ending was supernally charged and had morphed from the time I had seen it at the National Arts Club and the Actor’s Studio. I will not give a spoiler alert except to say that the changes made the poignancy and connections to today really pop. I was moved and emotionally affected where in the previous versions I was not. The actors subtly and seamlessly developed the relationship between the characters through their power and ability to be eternally present. Exceptional acting talent whispered and nuanced the delicacy of how couples bond, the wheels and woes of emotional stripping and unmasking toward trust, the inevitable hurts and glories and the risks of unifying one soul to another.
This production for me proves that casting excellent talents like Copeland and Farr is essential, good direction is paramount. A fine play will stand despite mediocre direction and a lack of will on the part of all concerned. Nevertheless, the audience will walk away from such live theater feeling something was not quite right, there was a drop of energy, the actors had a bad night or the play had dead spots. And as such, a good play will be forgotten until it is unearthed two decades later and electrically the cast gets it, the director is on fire, there is a unity of spectacle and everything is right. That is when the audience walks away with a sigh of relief, energized in a catharsis of human feeling and the play has a long run or a full run.
This production of Plane Love was in the second category. Look for the playwright, the actors and the director. They are not fading away, and look for Plane Love to gradually get its wings and fly uptown eventually toward wider avenues and brighter lights.