Category Archives: Theatre Reviews

LLOYD WEBBER/RICE: ‘EVITA’  (REVIEW FROM LONDON) ·

By Marit E. Shuman

 Rainbow High or Rainbow Low?

In the revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita, at the Phoenix Theatre in London, panache seems to overtake sincerity in this gilded, but nonetheless, enjoyable production. Title-role: Emma Hatton, no stranger to the West End (her credits include Elphaba in Wicked) or to the world of jazz and blues, seems to rely heavily on the latter in the delivery of her performance.

A vocally taxing role, Evita swoops from dusky, barely audible low notes all the way up to belted passagio, and then some. To quote Patti LuPone, originator of the role of Evita on Broadway, “There’s a couple of notes that aren’t as strong as your top notes or your bottom notes and that’s exactly where the score sits.” Where LuPone punched through the Es, Fs, and Gs, that characterize the vocal line (at the cost of her vocals, to be fair), Hatton backs down and floats them, in a breathy, bluesy manner. This approach adds a layer of sensitivity to Evita, by the addition of more dynamic contrast, but at what cost? Some of the strength, drive, and fearlessness of Eva Perón seem to be lost.

 

Playing opposite Hatton, making his West End debut in the role of Che, is Gian Marco Schiaretti.  Extremely handsome, he moves about the stage with ease and confidence.  Classic Che beard tightly clipped, army reliefs tightly fitted, and vibrato tightly coiled, this “boyband Che” brings charisma to the role, and, when he moves to his higher register and gives up trying to speak-sing, reveals an expressive and powerful voice. Unfortunately, the honesty and gravity of Che, as narrator, are glossed over by all the glitz.

Whereas the roles of Evita and Che seem to be lacking something, in terms of integrity, so too does the music. As is the norm nowadays, with theatres trying to cut costs, the orchestra that Webber’s iconic songs were written for consists of three keyboards–playing the parts of various instruments, such as strings and harps–a couple of trumpets, and a guitar.

All in all, a fun production but fluffy–ephemeral and insubstantial.

© 2017 by Marit E. Shuman.  All rights reserved.

Photos: Pamela Raith

CHARLES LUDLAM: ‘CONQUEST OF THE UNIVERSE  OR WHEN QUEENS COLLIDE’ (REVIEW FROM NEW YORK) ·

By Bob Shuman

Theatregoers looking for an artistic reflection of the age of Harvey Weinstein might sit in on Conquest of the Universe or When Queens Collide, written by Charles Ludlam, a 1967 work from the Theatre of the Ridiculous, now playing at La MaMa until November 19.  Superficially, the comedy is about the takeover of the solar system, a retelling of Christopher Marlowe’s Tamburlaine—there, the conqueror subjugates the Arab world–but elements of Hamlet, Candide, and Titus Andronicus, to name three, are also apparent.  Offering a premonition of today, Ludlam’s unfeeling characters manipulate, objectify, and abuse subordinates in their lust for power and sex. Unlike the sickening Titus Andronicus, however, Ludlam’s pileups of abuses aren’t shocking or alarming–and no one needs to leave the theatre feeling queasy. 

Much like listening to what is coming out about Hollywood and show business, those in the play know offenses are happening, but they’re too self-involved and power hungry to notice.  Shakespeare might think the elements in Conquest of the Universe should add up to tragedy but Ludlam’s characters only see momentary diversions and opportunities for histrionics.  Although this makes the cast difficult to distinguish—actors might play the opposite sex or take multiple parts—perhaps what is most important to emphasize is that, in this world, no one is in real pain–they can no longer feel it and they’re too busy anyway.  Virtually all the assembled components stand in the way of finding what’s human:  loud and garish sets and props (blacklight planets, huge plastic phalluses, and even a seashell worthy of Bette Midler); costumes of neon green, orange, red, silver, and blue; scene structuring with no builds or modulation; as well as the artificiality of the language: “I free mankind from the yoke of reason, which weighs upon it.  Rape and behead them.”

Identification with real, nuanced emotional distress is a point that recently flummoxed Alec Baldwin and made him shut down his twitter account—he couldn’t see that anyone was being hurt in the sex-to play schemes of the entertainment world.  Despite her own protests regarding her rape, Rose McGowan believes, “no one cared.”  Being ignored, but used, is captured in the lively, blaring, attention-grabbing, “anti-moral” Theatre of the Ridiculous–perhaps this is its point–evidenced by what was happening during the time in which it was born: deep discrimination against gays and minorities, the Vietnam War, and to come, the AIDS epidemic. America, in the ‘60s, would probably be seen as rather heartless compared to what is politically correct today—and the Weinstein story is a holdover from years when many felt they had to accept the unacceptable (in fact, felt they had to be tough enough to take it).  Like a 3,000-year-old shark with razor-sharp teeth, dredged up from the bottom of the sea, Weinstein reminds us of what’s inhuman, in a hypercompetitive business, ironically one about feelings.  

Like a three-dimensional Drudge Report, Ludlam’s theatre demonstrates why society is too preoccupied to care.  The playwright offers distractions, from blood-craving stories of the Renaissance to dirty jokes and puns from below Fourteenth Street; from discussion of the conflict in Indo-China (“Life is a war that never ends”) to references to Elmer Fudd and the Three Stooges; from poetry, stylized or lewd, to the tough talk of the city and boroughs.  Conquest of the Universe is an allegory about the Weinstein era, written long before anyone ever heard of him.  Entertaining as it is, the play also shows the significance of Ludlam’s vision and work.  Like a Rorschach, important art can announce itself without being premeditated—it simply describes where we are, now.  At the end of the play, Ludlam explains it is time to stop: a witch says: “Life is but a lying dream.  He only wakes who casts the world aside.”  Previous to this, the author has been temporally prescriptive:  “The vast majority of men as well as women are sexually disturbed. . . .  What is necessary, therefore, is the establishment of a sufficient number of clinics for . . .  treatment.”  Harvey Weinstein’s lawyers might have been listening.  As many know, the tyrannical producer was booked into an Arizona sex addiction clinic–for a week.  

Ridiculous?

As it was, he missed counseling.

© by Bob Shuman.  All rights reserved.  

Visit La MaMa: http://lamama.org/

ABOUT THE ARTISTS:

Charles Ludlam was an American actor, director, and playwright. Ludlam joined John Vaccaro’s Play-House of the Ridiculous, and after a falling out, became one of the founders of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company in New York City in 1967. He taught or staged productions at New York University, Connecticut College for Women, Yale University, and Carnegie Mellon University. He won fellowships from the Guggenheim, Rockefeller and Ford Foundations and grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and the New York State Council on the Arts. He won six Obie Awards, the Rosamund Gilder Award for distinguished achievement in the theater in 1986 and in 2009, Ludlam was inducted posthumously into the American Theater Hall of Fame. He wrote nearly 30 plays, some of which include: Turds in Hell, an adaptation of The Satyricon (1969); Bluebeard (1970), an adaptation of H. G. Wells’s TheIsland of Dr Moreau; Corn (1972); Camille (1973); Der Ring Gott Farblonjet (1977), an adaptation of The Ring Cycle; The Enchanted Pig (1979); Exquisite Torture (1982); The Mystery of Irma Vep (1984); Galas (1983), inspired by the life of Maria Callas; and The Artificial Jungle (1986)

Everett Quinton recently directed Charles Ludlam’s, THE ARTIFICIAL JUNGLE with Theater Breaking Through Barriers.  Everett also directed IN THE BAR OF A TOKYO HOTEL by Tennessee Willliams with Theater 292 and THE WINTER’S TALE by William Shakespeare with Yorick Theater. As an actor Everett recently appeared as Enobarbus and one of five Cleopatras in Shakespeare’s ANTONY AND CLEOPATRA.  Everett also appeared as Paulina and Autolycus in THE WINTER’S TALE, and Idris Seabright in DROP DEAD PERFECT, to name a few. Everett is a long time member of THE RIDICULOUS THEATRICAL COMPANY where he appeared in Charles Ludlam’s CAMILLE, BLUEBEARD AND THE SECRET LIVES OF THE SEXISTS.  Georg Osterman’s DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE and BROTHER TRUCKERS.  As well as his own plays, A TALE OF TWO CITIES, LINDA AND CARMEN.

CONQUEST OF THE UNIVERSE cast includes: Everett Quinton, Géraldine Dulex,
Beth Dodye BassGrant Neale, Jeanne Lauren SmithJohn GutierrezLenys SamáSommer CarbucciaShane Baker, Brian Belovitch & Eugene the Poogene.

Production images by Theo Cote

(from top):  Shane Baker, Beth Dodye Bass and Everett Quinton

production postcard

Shane Baker and Everett Quinton

Ludlam photo: Pig Iron Theatre Company

 

***** IVO VAN HOVE/LEE HALL: ‘NETWORK’ (SV PICK, UK) ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 11/13.)

I am normally wary of people ransacking the movie archive to make plays, but this version of the Oscar-winning Network is an almost total triumph. Lee Hall has kept the best of Paddy Chayefsky’s 1976 script while excising its excesses. Bryan Cranston, best known for the hit series Breaking Bad, brings a wiry magnetism to the role of the TV news anchor, Howard Beale. Ivo van Hoveand his designer, Jan Versweyveld, have also transformed the National Theatre’s normally inflexible Lyttelton stage into an extraordinary blend of television studio and public restaurant.

The most obvious point to make about the Chayefsky script is how uncannily prophetic it seems. It is famously based on the idea of a veteran newsman experiencing a public breakdown. Having first threatened to kill himself on air, he launches a series of on-screen jeremiads, which turn him into a pop Savonarolaand rescue a failing network by achieving astronomical ratings.

As a satire it hits several targets dead centre. It imagines a world where news becomes a branch of show business, where profit margins dictate editorial content and where nation states are subordinate to “a college of corporations”. But Beale’s success lies in articulating public rage and persuading people to open their windows and shout: “I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this any more.” Even if the internet has now replaced network television as the new reality, Chayefsky foresaw how power could be achieved by tapping into popular anger. While preserving the original’s insights, Hall has subtly altered the balance of the story.

Read more

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/nov/13/network-review-bryan-cranston-lyttelton-national-theatre-lee-hall

Photo: The Stage

YAZBEK/MOSES: ‘THE BAND’S VISIT’ (SV PICK, NY) ·

(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/9; via Pam Green.)

Breaking news for Broadway theatergoers, even — or perhaps especially — those who thought they were past the age of infatuation: It is time to fall in love again.

One of the most ravishing musicals you will ever be seduced by opened on Thursday night at the Barrymore Theater. It is called “The Band’s Visit,”and its undeniable allure is not of the hard-charging, brightly blaring sort common to box-office extravaganzas.

Instead, this portrait of a single night in a tiny Israeli desert town confirms a lyric that arrives, like nearly everything in this remarkable show, on a breath of reluctantly romantic hope: “Nothing is as beautiful as something you don’t expect.”

With songs by David Yazbek and a script by Itamar Moses, “The Band’s Visit” is a Broadway rarity seldom found these days outside of the canon of Stephen Sondheim: an honest-to-God musical for grown-ups. It is not a work to be punctuated with rowdy cheers and foot-stomping ovations, despite the uncanny virtuosity of Mr. Yazbek’s benchmark score.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/11/09/theater/the-bands-visit-review-broadway-tony-shalhoub.html?rref=collection%2Fbyline%2Fben-brantley&action=click&contentCollection=undefined&region=stream&module=stream_unit&version=latest&contentPlacement=2&pgtype=collection

DAVID HARROWER: ‘KNIVES IN HENS’ (SV PICK, NY) ·

(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in The New York Times, 11/1; via Pam Green.)

It happens only rarely. But on the occasional random, happy day, you come across a work of art that you’ve never encountered before, even though it’s been around for years. And it feels so absolutely essential to your experience that you think, “But where have you been all my life?”

That was the way I felt seeing David Harrower’s “Knives in Hens,” which opened on Sunday at 59E59 Theaters in a becomingly modest production, directed by Paul Takacs, in a tiny upstairs space. First staged in 1995, but only now receiving its New York premiere, this stark three-character play came early in the career of Mr. Harrower, best known for the incendiary “Blackbird,” seen on Broadway last year.

Though a great admirer of “Blackbird,” I was only dimly aware of “Knives in Hens.” It has been revived several times in London, and only several months ago at the Donmar Warehouse. And each time the play itself (if not always the production) has elicited the kind of marveling, open-mouthed praise that leaves you wary.

(Read more)

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/10/29/theater/knives-in-hens-review-david-harrower.html

Photo: New York Times

EUGENE O’NEILL:  ‘STRANGE INTERLUDE’: 1 ACTOR, IN 8 ROLES, WRESTLES NUANCE ·

(Laura Collins-Hughes’s article appeared in The  New York Times, 10/22; via Pam Green.)

Eugene O’Neill’s soapy saga “Strange Interlude” was nearly six hours long when it opened on Broadway in 1928, and the audience got only one intermission, long enough for an unhurried dinner. Transport Group’s uncut revival, at the Irondale Center in Brooklyn, has a similar running time, but the pace is less punishing: two intermissions and a 30-minute dinner break. After every act or two, the audience gets up and moves to a different set.

Having those moments to pause and peregrinate keeps us nimble for the duration — and I can only imagine how salutary they are for the cast. While there were nine actors in that original production, at Irondale there is just one: the extraordinary David Greenspan, whose performance is such a feat of daring that merely getting through it would have been an accomplishment.

Yet he is masterful. Watching him is like witnessing a recitation, a prayer, a madness, a modern ballet.

Directed by Jack Cummings III, this production is storytelling at its purest. At once faithful and irreverent, it’s an illuminating interpretation that is alert to the script’s inadvertent comedy and delighted to mine it.

O’Neill won his third Pulitzer Prize with “Strange Interlude,” the kind of play that makes you want to go back in time and talk some sense into the people handing out the award. Florid, emotionally overwrought and saddled with a ridiculous plot, it’s proof that not every work by a great artist is great art.

Continue reading the main story

Photo: Playbill

BELARUS FREE THEATRE: BODIES IN PAIN, PROTEST AND RESISTANCE (REVIEW) ·

(Ben Brantley’s article appeared in the New York Times, 10/17.)

No matter what the laws of physics decree, there is untold and explosive energy in resistance. Or such is the evidence of “Burning Doors,” the Belarus Free Theater’s bruising exploration of the dynamics of resistance — the kind that occurs in the intersection of art and politics — at La MaMa.

This galvanizing production, which runs through Oct. 22, finds a host of able-bodied young women and men subjecting themselves to, and transcending, a spectrum of trials and tortures. These include being wrestled repeatedly to the ground, interrogated in a circular infinity of verbal assaults, harnessed to bungee cords while running desperately in place, strung high in nooses and dunked again and again in a bathtub, while trying to recite a poem.

The woman in the bathtub knows whereof she speaks, or gasps. She’s Maria Alyokhina, a member of the Russian punk group Pussy Riot who made international headlines when they were imprisoned for staging an anti-Putin performance (of 40 seconds’ duration) in a Moscow cathedral.

Then again, it seems safe to say that most members of the Belarus troupe, which is banned from performing in its native country, have firsthand knowledge of the repression they’re re-enacting and responding to onstage. (Program biographies include references to arrests and prison terms.)

Only blocks away from La MaMa, at New York University’s Skirball Center, another set of visitors from abroad are channeling recent history into confrontational drama. There’ll you find the Freedom Theater, a storied West Bank-based company that describes itself in the program as “a platform for cultural resistance.”

Continue reading the main story

REVIEW: BRUCE SPRINGSTEEN’S BROADWAY SHOW IS AN INTIMATE TRIUMPH ·

(Andy Greene’s article appeared in Rolling Stone, 10/12; via The New York Times.)

‘Springsteen on Broadway’ takes the audience on a journey through the singer’s life story using many of his most iconic songs

A little over four minutes into Bruce’s Springsteen‘s Broadway show, he stops playing the opening song, “Growin’ Up,” and speaks to the crowd, his voice entirely unamplified. “I have never held an honest job in my entire life,” he says in a near-shout. “I’ve never worked nine to five. I’ve never done any hard labor, and yet is all that I’ve written about.”

With last year’s myth-shattering, deeply evocative memoir Born to Run, Springsteen introduced readers to the real, vulnerable, complex human being behind his larger-than-life persona. Springsteen on Broadway, at the 975-seat Walter Kerr theater, is in many ways a live version of the book, even if reports that he’d be “reading” from it aren’t quite right: Most of the extensive spoken-word segments are brand new or heavily altered from the book versions. It’s clear from the beginning that this is nothing like a typical latter-day Springsteen concert, where set lists can vary wildly from night to night and Bruce often has little to say between songs. There’s no room for his usual athleticism here – Springsteen just shuffles a few feet between a piano on stage left and a microphone at center stage. The intensity is, instead, emotional, as Springsteen digs hard into the bedrock of his life story, and ours: childhood, religion, work, death. The performance is hard to categorize. It’s not a concert; not a typical one-man-show; certainly not a Broadway musical. But it is one of the most compelling and profound shows by a rock musician in recent memory.

(Read more)

http://www.rollingstone.com/music/live-reviews/review-bruce-springsteen-on-broadway-is-a-triumph-w508674

***** MOUKARZEL/KIDD/SHAKESPEARE: ‘HAMNET’ (SV PICK, IRE) ·

 

 

Hamnet
Peacock Theatre, Dublin
★★★★★

Who haunted Shakespeare when he wrote Hamlet? A play so steeped in death, full of demanding fathers, hapless sons and restless ghosts, it was completed just three years after the death of his young son, Hamnet. If the name of the Dane was intended as a memorial, it backfired: Shakespeare’s overwhelming legacy and pitted biography have reduced poor Hamnet to the status of a typo.

“You haven’t heard of me,” apologises the 11-year-old boy who arrives onstage alone with a hoodie and a backpack – although, like any contemporary kid, he knows he shouldn’t talk to strangers.

That we are the strangers is made obvious. The expanse of the backdrop to Andrew Clancy’s design holds, as ‘twere, a mirror up to the stage, a live projection from the rear wall that affords us two images: the boy before us and his video apparition.

(Read more)

https://www.irishtimes.com/culture/stage/hamnet-is-a-child-frozen-in-time-to-devastating-effect-1.3240986

Photo: Dead Centre

*****SONDHEIM/GOLDMAN: ‘FOLLIES’–SHOWBIZ STUNNER RETURNS IN BREATHTAKING STYLE ·

(Michael Billington’s article appeared in the Guardian, 9/6.)

Although it has legions of admirers, Follies has often seemed a problematic show. Stephen Sondheim’s music and lyrics combine emotional pain and witty pastiche with a deftness that James Goldman’s book never quite seems to match. But Dominic Cooke’s superb revival, reverting to the structure of the 1971 original and ditching the optimistic conclusion that marred the 1987 West End production, gives this bleakly festive musical a poetic unity I didn’t realise it possessed.

The paradox is that Cooke achieves unity by stretching, to the limit, the show’s obsession with duality. That idea of doubleness is built into the Sondheim-Goldman concept. We are invited to witness a grand reunion of veteran Follies showgirls in a Broadway theatre on the verge of demolition; in the background we see the ostrich-plumed incarnations of their younger selves. At the same time we are privy to a double marital crisis. Well-heeled New Yorkers Ben and Phyllis are in as much trouble as their old Phoenix-based chums, Buddy and Sally. What brings the crisis to a head is that Sally has a lifelong yen for Ben that has never been resolved.

FOLLIES by Goldman ;
Directed by Dominic Cooke ;
Designed by Vicki Mortimer ;
at the National Theatre, London, UK ;
21 August 2017 ;
Credit : Johan Persson

The intermingling of past and present is an idea many dramatists have used, notably Tom Stoppard in The Invention of Love, where the older AE Housman views the sexual hesitancy of his younger self with a rueful regret. Here, Cooke’s production lends the idea extra poignancy by making this interaction a two-way process: at one point, Zizi Strallen as the young Phyllis seems about to dissolve in tears as she gazes at the dyspeptic solitude of Janie Dee as her older but no wiser self.

(Read more)

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2017/sep/06/follies-review-imelda-staunton-national-theatre-dominic-cooke