Strolling up The Avenue one day with Peter O’Toole, I casually inquired about the Macbeth he did in London. The man’s face turned ashen at the very mention of the name, and, without a word, he charged up Fifth Avenue like a maniac, stopping in the middle of the block in front of a potted shrubbery. Once he broke off a twig from the shrubbery, the color came back to his face, and he could converse again. “We call it The Scottish Play,” he informed me with steel-plated politeness. Read More
When one thinks of Bertolt Brecht, one doesn’t typically think of a rollicking good time. But the Foundry Theatre’s take on Brecht’s Good Person of Szechwan, which played at La Mama early this year and opened last night at the Public Theater, is a thoroughly entertaining romp.
That’s thanks to director Lear DeBessonet’s let’s-put-on-a-show low-fi staging and her game cast’s high-spirited deadpan mugging, which combine to make this relatively long evening (about two and three-quarters hours, though the ushers will tell you two and a half) fly by. It’s also thanks to the funny but deeply grounded and tenderly human performance at the center of the show, by the drag performer Taylor Mac, who portrays both the good-hearted young prostitute Shen Te, a woman, and the alter ego she concocts to protect herself, the stern, male cousin Shui Ta. Read More
“Great Caesar’s ghost! How did they ever get in?” is one sexist shock wave you’ll not be feeling at Julius Caesar, which hopped from the Donmar Warehouse in London to St. Ann’s Warehouse in Brooklyn where it will play till Nov. 9. It is manned by a cast of 14 females led by Harriet Walter, who prefers the democratic Ms. over her Crown-appointed title.
Very few people in this country know Dame Harriet, and it’s our loss. Broadway has seen only the tip of the iceberg—a month’s run as Helena in a Royal Shakespearean Company All’s Well that Ends Well in 1983 and a four-month run as Elizabeth I in Friedrich Schiller’s Mary Stuart in 2009. She brought such majestic might to the latter that both she and title-player Janet McTeer continued their regal head-butting as Best Actress Tony nominees. Forty years of classical theater in England went into that portrayal; some of it has been parceled out in TV series (Lady Shackleton in Downton Abbey, Harriet Vane in the Dorothy L. Sayers mysteries) and feature films (Sense and Sensibility, Atonement). Read More
Articulate talk, sophisticated emotions and intelligent restraint are rare commodities in short supply these days. Mike Nichols’s elegant revival of Harold Pinter’s play Betrayal enhances all three virtues. Read More
“Caption,” announces Alison Bechdel, the character, near the end of the first scene in Fun Home. “My dad and I both grew up in the same small Pennsylvania town. And he was gay. And I was gay. And he killed himself. And I became a lesbian cartoonist.” Fun Home, the excellent new musical that opened at the Public Theater last night, is about how they both ended up where they did.
Alison Bechdel, the lesbian cartoonist, published Fun Home, the graphic memoir, to wide acclaim in 2006. The playwright Lisa Kron and composer Jeanine Tesori adapted it for the stage. The musical, enlivened with Ms. Tesori’s sweet, melodic score, and the director Sam Gold’s impressionistic staging, is about Alison, the person and the character, trying to understand herself and, more importantly, her father. It is lovely—not perfect, but deeply affecting, even heartbreaking. Read More
The opening line of what would be his final film, 1985’s The Shooting Party, allowed James Mason the luxury of delivering his own epitaph. “Life,” he declared in that voice that defined class and taste, “is so extraordinarily pleasant for those of us who are fortunate enough to be born in the right place.” In the context of this film, however, that was good-bye to a generation of upper-crusts born in the wrong place: British aristocrats who never came back from the trenches of World War I. Read More
Oh, lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes-Benz, a color TV, a night on the town—or at least a Broadway musical about 20th-century popular music that isn’t awful?
The latest entrant in that category is A Night with Janis Joplin, which opened Thursday night at the Lyceum Theatre. It stars a husky-voiced white soul singer named Mary Bridget Davies as the husky-voiced white soul singer of the title, and it features four sweet-voiced black soul singers as, variously, Etta James, the Chantels, Odetta, Bessie Smith, Nina Simone, Aretha Franklin, backup singers called the Joplinaires and characters named—really—Blues Woman and Blues Singer. (Kacee Clanton plays the Joplin role at some performances.) It also offers a rocking eight-man band, groovy costumes, a set strewn with dozens of lamps, for some reason, and a few bottles of Southern Comfort, and innumerable declarations of what the blues is. (Among them: “a good woman feeling bad,” “a way out of where you are,” “a feeling, a mood, sometimes the Devil himself” and, most curiously, something “Nina Simone and I found in the light in my beautiful sister’s face.”) Along the way, it tells you remarkably little about Janis Joplin. Read More
Terence Rattigan’s 1946 play The Winslow Boy may be a masterpiece, but it poses a challenge for anyone attempting to produce it in New York. “Because this is a very English play, I was slightly worried about how it would work with American audiences,” said director Lindsay Posner. “So it was a great relief to see that everybody’s responding in the same way and in the same places to the piece.” Mr. Posner should know—he did the first production of The Winslow Boy in 20 years in London (at the Old Vic earlier this year) and is now giving the play its first Broadway production since its original Broadway engagement in 1947-48. It bows Oct. 17 at the American Airlines Theater. Read More
It’s surprising, when you think about it, that it has taken this long for Big Fish to become a Broadway musical. The Great White Way is lately, as is so regularly bemoaned, filled with movie-to-stage transfers, and this particular movie—first a novel, by Daniel Wallace, then the Tim Burton film—seems such a good fit. Big Fish is a celebration of the transformative power of inventive storytelling, and the musical is an art form that celebrates, that’s even predicated upon, the transformative powers of stories, singing and dancing. The good news is that this obvious match works. In the hands of some incomparably talented theater artists—most notably Susan Stroman, the director and choreographer, and Norbert Leo Butz, her slyly captivating leading man—Big Fish, which opened Sunday night at the Neil Simon Theatre, leaves you thoroughly, happily hooked. Read More
The middle-aged marrieds who sat in front of me last August in D.C.’s Arena Stage shed 20 years and untold pounds before my eyes, dancing in their seats through A Night with Janis Joplin, a song-strong celebration that passes convincingly for a live concert by the rock ’n’ roll icon who died of a booze and drug overdose 43 years ago this month.
This raw and raucous facsimile, written and directed by Randy Johnson and sanctioned by Ms. Joplin’s siblings, Laura and Michael, bows Oct. 10 at the Lyceum. It represents a remarkable and artful synchronization of a pop-rock legend old beyond her years (Joplin died at age 27) and a character actress young beyond hers (Mary Bridget Davies, 35). Somehow, they meld into perfect harmony. Read More