Gypsy Waves Goodbye; Becky Shaw Loses Focus; and The Cripple of Inishmaan Stands Tall

heilpernannie parisse and d Gypsy Waves Goodbye; Becky Shaw Loses Focus; and The Cripple of Inishmaan Stands TallIs there any job more weird than an actor’s?

I’m not so sure that all the world’s a stage, actually. Actors are different from you and me. They pretend to be other people via a state of deliberate amnesia.

It’s commonplace to say that actors must speak the lines as if for the first time. The more beguiling mystery about theater is that the secret art of acting is to forget the lines, rather than remember them.

Onstage, the performer must become an amnesiac in search of the miraculously spontaneous. It never fails to astonish me how they do it.

Is there any job more weird than an actor’s?

I’m not so sure that all the world’s a stage, actually. Actors are different from you and me. They pretend to be other people via a state of deliberate amnesia.

It’s commonplace to say that actors must speak the lines as if for the first time. The more beguiling mystery about theater is that the secret art of acting is to forget the lines, rather than remember them.

Onstage, the performer must become an amnesiac in search of the miraculously spontaneous. It never fails to astonish me how they do it. If we mere mortals kept repeating the same scenes from our lives night after night like our own nightmare version of Groundhog Day, we’d shoot ourselves. But actors lap it up (and so do their characters).

All bets are off for the farewell performance of a show, however—particularly of a Broadway musical when emotion and tears are common on both sides of the footlights. At the triumphant, closing performance of Gypsy recently, the house was packed with the usual showqueens; friends and family of the cast; nostalgic fans of the show; and, above all, Luponistas (as Patti LuPone’s devoted followers are known). Ms. LuPone received a thunderous standing ovation the moment she first appeared bustling down the aisle toward the stage as that mythic showbiz monster, Mama Rose. She stopped the show with three words: “Sing out, Louise!”

At such celebratory times, tinged with sadness, saying farewell to a show always becomes a process of remembering. We—the audience—want to pay tribute and offer our thanks. But the performers are no longer speaking the lines or singing the songs as if for the first time. To the contrary, everyone is all too aware that this is touchingly for the last time.

 

DRAMA CRITICS—eunuchs in a whorehouse, Oscar Wilde called us—have grown accustomed to seeing revivals. Or as the lady said when declining an invitation to Hamlet: “I’ve seen it before. He dies in the end.”

I feel sorry, therefore, that I don’t care for the new social comedy Becky Shaw as much as my enthusiastic colleagues. Gina Gionfriddo is one smart writer, and I would sooner join in the acclaim for a fresh voice than not. But I found myself agreeing with the muted half of the audience at the Second Stage Theatre who weren’t convulsed with laughter at the playwright’s worldly cynicism about love and marriage and, among much else, blind dates and white lies. (The other half of the audience, let it be said, had a whale of a time).

If the title of Becky Shaw is meant to remind us of Becky Sharp, anti-heroine of Vanity Fair, it’s a misleading form of name dropping. Thackeray’s Becky is a conniving and successful social climber; Ms. Gionfriddo’s pale version is an aggressive loser. This suicidal, contemporary Becky only appears to manipulate people, sort of. She isn’t, in fact, at the center of Ms. Gionfriddo’s unfocused comedy. Who is? It’s difficult to say. But if anything, Becky Shaw ought to be titled Max.

Max is the antagonistic force and raison d’être of the piece. He’s a wealthy 30-something money manager—remember them?—and he’s played by the excellent David Wilson Barnes in the steely, emotionally repressed manner of Kevin Spacey. Max thinks love sucks (but will reveal himself, in time, to be needy). He’s a nasty piece of work, a charmless pup. Why anyone would wish to spend any time in his perpetually sneering company is one of the mysteries of the play.