The first time Kevin Spacey gave The Observer chills was at the end of The Usual Suspects, the brilliantly tricky 1995 noir in which he played “Verbal” Kint, seemingly a small-time, crippled con man narrating the story of the terrifying crime kingpin Keyser Söze. In the movie’s final, unexpected twist, Kint limps away from the office in which he has been talking, and it slowly becomes clear to the cop still sitting there—and to the audience—that we’ve been duped, that Kint’s story was an invention. Kint, meantime, walks to a waiting car, and as does so, his limp smoothly—terrifyingly—disappears. Read More
The rich are different from you and me—but they still have their problems, which may not be so different at all.
That, both halves of it, is the lesson of Stick Fly, a smart, thoughtful and occasionally problematic new play by Lydia R. Diamond about the bonds and secrets among a wealthy black family at its palatial summer home on Martha’s Vineyard. It opened Thursday night at the Cort Theatre in a production directed by Kenny Leon that is well-acted and handsome but less than perfectly convincing. Read More
The ritual surrounding a performance of Elective Affinities, the David Adjmi play in which the legendary Zoe Caldwell portrays an Upper East Side doyenne receiving you in her palatial Fifth Avenue home and discoursing on the world as she sees it, is so detailed and richly elegant as to render the word “shtick” nearly inapplicable, even gauche. And yet the delight of this experience lies in two things: seeing Ms. Caldwell work in such an intimate setting, and all the shtick. The play itself, really a short monologue, is entertaining but less fulfilling. Read More
Some Enchanted Evenings: An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin Is an Overwhelming Joyous, Intimate Affair
She couldn’t make it any clearer, really: Patti LuPone would prefer that you not cry for her.
And yet on the night The Observer saw An Evening With Patti LuPone and Mandy Patinkin last week, as it reached its emotional climax midway through its second act—Mr. Patinkin singing “Oh, What a Circus,” his big number from Evita, the Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice musical that made them both stars, followed by Ms. LuPone singing that musical’s signature “Don’t Cry for Me Argentina”—we heard sniffles to our right and turned to find our companion, usually a merrily cynical New York writer-type, sobbing, with tears running down her cheeks. “I just can’t take this,” she said, happily. Read More
There are several reasons why one’s jaw might drop—that is, literally fall agape—while one is sitting in a theater.
Sometimes it’s from sheer amazement and delight, as when The Observer sat dumbfounded for a moment after Raúl Esparza’s searing “Being Alive” at the end of Company five years ago. Sometimes it’s caused by a plot twist, like the big second-act revelation in Jon Robin Baitz’s fantastic Other Desert Cities. And sometimes it’s in happy disbelief, as when we watched from the balcony of the St. James as Patti LuPone stopped the show to scold a photographer at her second-to-last performance in Gypsy. Read More
Funny Lady, Mad Man: Venus in Fur in Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre; King Lear at the Public Theater
An argument has been made, most recently and notably by Christopher Hitchens, that women are inherently not funny. It’s not true, of course, but, still, there’s a long history—from Phyllis Diller and her fright wigs to Tina Fey and her layered thrift-store ensembles—of funny women playing down their femininity to best get laughs. Read More
“What are the odds?”
It’s a question that is repeated throughout Sons of the Prophet, a marvelous and moving new play by Stephen Karam that opened Thursday at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre.
The question is asked about the various misfortunes that befall the Douaihy family—pronounced du-WHY-hee—of depressed eastern Pennsylvania, the children of Maronite Catholic immigrants from Lebanon. One son, Joseph, a 29-year-old erstwhile track star, is suffering from mysterious illnesses that may or may not be symptoms of M.S.; his younger brother, Charles, still in high school, was born with one ear; their mother died when they were young and their father dies early in the play of a heart attack after a high-school prank gone awry. “The Douaihys have a habit of dying tragically,” Joseph says at one point. “We’re like the Kennedys without the sex appeal.” Also, both brothers are gay, which is not technically a misfortune but can elicit a similar reaction. Read More
At least twice during his new show, the virtuoso monologist Mike Daisey refers to himself as an actor. Twice more, he calls himself a storyteller. He is of course both things, but the descriptors miss the true impact of what he has accomplished in his powerful piece, The Agony and the Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, which opened Monday night at the Public Theater.
As much as he is a performer, Mr. Daisey is also an investigative journalist, even, in the best sense, a muckraker. In his forthright examination of Mr. Jobs, of the various i-devices Jobs created, and of the Chinese sweatshops where those devices are manufactured, Mr. Daisey opens an Upton Sinclair-like window into the horrors and human cost of producing the shiny electronic gizmos resting silently, and increasingly uncomfortably, in our pockets. Read More
In the mind’s eye, Linda Lavin is perpetually in that moment just after she has delivered a clever and cutting aperçu. She’s driving it home by raising an expensively shaped eyebrow, perhaps cocking her head, perhaps adjusting a ring, and usually jutting her tongue into her left cheek. Ms. Lavin, a star three decades ago as a blue-collar diner waitress, has become the onstage apotheosis of the well-to-do Jewish matron, her perfect I’m-not-saying-I’m-just-saying look putting a muscle-memory shiver of she’s-onto-me recognition into Jewish sons and daughters watching her across the footlights.
In Nicky Silver’s stingingly dark new comedy, The Lyons, which opened at the Vineyard Theatre last night, Ms. Lavin’s yiddishe kop runneth over. Read More
“Jesus was at best a Nazarene folk singer with high metabolism, a velveteen D.J. voice, and pleasant, dilated pupils,” says Sandra Cabot, a Wasp matron in Connecticut, holding a tumbler of single malt as she looks over her elegant dining room before a dinner party. “Don’t get me started on Jesus.” Read More