The Lyons: Nicky Silver’s pitch-black comedy The Lyons opened off Broadway last October at the Vineyard Theatre, where it promptly became one of the best plays of the fall. Now it’s on Broadway, at the Cort, and it’s one of the best plays of the spring. It is, as I wrote then, “an emotionally complicated and deeply affecting portrait of a dysfunctional family in meltdown, troubled adult children and spiteful parents uniting as Dad prepares to die.” Even if it was snubbed for a best play Tony nomination.
It’s the same production now on Broadway. Mark Brokaw once again directs, Linda Lavin and Dick Latessa are once again the horrid Rita and Ben Lyons and Michael Esper and Kate Jennings Grant are once again their profoundly fucked-up children. The dialogue is hilarious, the character portraits are slowly terrifying, and Ms. Lavin is once again giving a triumphant performance as Rita, the most frighteningly bitter, biting, undermining and narcissistic Jewish mother you’ve ever seen. Ms. Lavin’s great accomplishment is that her character is explicitly all these things—and yet also somehow appealing.
One Man, Two Guvnors: French farce might seem passé this month, but British farce—and arguably the single greatest stage farce, Noises Off, is British farce—is going strong. Technically, the pedants will point out that One Man, Two Guvnors, the side-splitting West End import now at the Music Box, is commedia dell’arte, a modern reinterpretation of the 1746 play The Servant of Two Masters, a classic commedia that relies, as the form did, on stock characters, low comedy and an archetypal gluttonous, stupid, cunning servant.
But One Man plays as farce, with the title servant, Francis, running back and forth between the two masters, or guvnors, he has somehow acquired in the low-class British seaside rest town of Brighton. There are hidden identities, slammed doors, swapped dishes and chase scenes that lack only the Benny Hill theme music.
The adaptation is by Richard Bean, it is directed with a light touch by the National Theater’s Nicholas Hytner, and it stars James Corden, who may be the most naturally funny man I’ve ever seen, an Andy Richter look-alike with a broad face and ingenuous smile that makes you like him even as you know he’s pulling one over on you. Ultimately, he’ll pull one over on them all—and us, too, as we happily, gleefully, watch his farce reach its happy ending.
A Streetcar Named Desire: The most notable detail about this latest revival of A Streetcar Named Desire is also, happily, its least noticeable. Tennessee Williams’s New Orleans-set masterpiece of alienation is at the Broadhurst, played by a mostly black cast, and the change seems not only unobtrusive but even natural. Williams’s language is the slow, drawling rhythms of poor New Orleans, and it’s a perfect fit for the rhythms of black speech, with is strong poor Southern roots.
The last name “Kowalski” has been excised from the play, and some lines that remain pack an extra punch in a cast with this complexion: the haughty Stella, hanging onto her gentility, dismissing her brother-in-law Stanley as an “animal,” “sub-human,” “ape-like,” and Stanley’s contemptuous mention of Stella’s “lily-white fingers.”
Unfortunately, while the concept succeeds, the execution doesn’t. Nicole Ari Parker makes a memorable Blanche, delicate and imperious, initially canny and ultimately tragic, but Daphne Rubin-Vega seems badly miscast as Stella, a snarling battle axe who lacks any chemistry with the husband toward whom she’s supposed to feel allegedly animal lust. And Blair Underwood, as Stanley, is hunky and raging, but he never displays the unfettered magnetism that draws both women inexorably toward him.
Indeed, the result of this scattered production, directed by Emily Mann, is to leave its audience, somewhat inexplicably, chuckling its way through what’s typically thought to be a rather bleak drama. If you’re looking to see a rape get laughs and applause, this Streetcar is for you.
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