Wednesday, December 9, 2009


I have long been an admirer of David Mamet, as most people would be who admire rapid-fire dialogue, twists and turns and the ultimate realization that most people have their own agendas, are weighted down with self=interest, and no reluctance to betray. Good is not a given in Mr. Mamet's world, and was nowhere visible at the star-studded opening of Race the other evening, including the after-party.
The play itself concerns a would-be client accused of rape(a believable Richard Thomas, though it's hard to imagine him as violent, or, for that matter overly sexual) of a very small law firm with a very big office-- too large for the play, really, not to mention its two lead-lawyers, James Spader and David Alan Grier, and a young associate, Kerry Washington. The set, stretches the full width of the stage, ostensibly because they had all those law books to show off,) literally overpowers the actors, quietly feral fierce as Mr. Spader always is, and as reasonable a foil for him as the vocally controlled Mr. Grier is. Miss Washington, as the young black associate is uninspired and ultimately disappointing, but perhaps that is the fault of this member of the audience, who was on the alert for perfidy, the bad-faith twist that usually ignites a Mamet piece.
Mr. Thomas, accused of raping a black woman(in a red sequin dress, an important factor in the indictment)comes to them after having exited another law firm, probably one with even more law books and a heavier staff, insisting he is innocent, that it was consentual, that they were lovers. Future sworn testimony in the upcoming trial includes overheard(by a white preacher in the hotel room next door)racist threats to the woman. The outcome of the trial will hinge on the surprise the cagey Mr. Spader-- not too far, if indeed only a tiptoe away from his role on Boston Legal-- has ready for the jury.
A little pat, perhaps, but still highly intelligent as Mr. Mamet usually is and Spader always seems.
But there is a worm in the apple. I will not spoil this for those of you who read reviews before going to the theater and tell you who and how, but it is, unfortunately, not hard to see coming, which is, in itself, a departure for Mamet, who can usually outmaneuver anyone in his plotting. Suffice it to say the play is not up to his customary par.
I was particularly disappointed as I am a longtime fan of Mr. Spader's, having watched his growth from the creepily pretty boy he was to the seductive and vulnerable young widower in 'White Castle,' my particular favorite in his film career, to the authorative, highly sexed and patently brilliant member of TVs most addictive law firm. I would also like to include, among my personal recollections, a time I opened my door in Beverly Glen on Halloween, to reveal his trick or treating for his children, which seemed so out of character for who I thought he was that I had more of a shock than was supplied by Mr. Mamet. So I was sorry that in this, his much-awaited Broadway debut, that he was not given more opportunity to show new facets, besides being allowed to shout. I do not know whether to blame the narrow confines of this appearance on Mamet the playwright or Mamet the director.
Later at the party, I moved among Broadway investors and acolytes and was awarded a close-up view of what seemed a non-stop hustle, as no matter how much money anyone had or seemed to have, they were looking for someone else's. Tt began to appear that maybe Mamet is not so much inventive as a careful observer, in a world where everybody is on the make,you better not trust anyone or you'll get a terrible surprise, and it won't just be in the theater.

Saturday, December 5, 2009

In the Next Room, or the vibrator play

Arguably the worst, most over-rated new play of the season(which is not too young, but there's time for a worse one) is the Lincoln Center production of 'In the Next Room.' Set in the 1880s in the living room (and the next room) of a Victorian furnished home in a spa town, where electrcity has just hit the lamps, behind a beautifully painted curtain that gives us suburbia, this allegedly breakthrough comedy about the big O for women was nothing short of discomfiting. As raucous laughter permeated the theater at the diagnosed hysteric, Mrs. Daldry, being electronically(and very quickly) helped to orgasm, some of us in the audience wondered what diagnosis might be given for the people who found it... well, hysterically funny. A woman I met at the bus stop on Sixth Avenue after the performance, going home, was personally offended that anyone found a woman's orgasm funny.
Pleasure in women has long been a source of uneasiness in men,and to have bruited this amateurish and ultimately overlong and tedious play as some kind of breakthrough is to me, a woman writer who has written openly and, I hope, well, about women's sexuality, ridiculous. Thick pamphlets, well-designed, passed out in the lobby before the play began chronicling the literary and medical history of orgasm, to give the thesis of the play heft and moment, could not make up for the truth that the fabric of the play had neither. And not a real plot, either, yet.
None of the characters is particularly sympathetic, including the wife of the doctor performing the electronic massage under the sheet that induces a 'paroxysm' in the patient, and paroxysms of laughter from (from the sound of it) men in the audience. The wife, played by an indisputably attractive but in my opinion unmoving Laura Benanti, Tony award winner for her performance in Patti LuPone's Gypsy, which I had left at intermission, so frightened was I by Miss Lupone's aggressive attack on the songs(and Herbie) in the first act that I was fearful her Rose's Turn might kill me, so missed Benanti's star turn in the second act, something I rued until last night. Her at once swift and almost catatonic recitation of her lines was characterized by the woman at the bus stop as shallow, to which I shall add 'jejune', a word I have never fully appreciated (or used) till now. Her husband the doctor, played by an unassuming Michael Cerveris who is given the opportunity to strip naked for the final scene, which takes place on a moving stage filled with snow, which must have cost a cold bundle,and is gratuitous, to put it mildly. If they were finally going to have a good fuck, they could have done it on the couch. The black wet nurse, played by Quincy Tyler Bernstine, is given more weight than made any sense, though she looked solemn and sad enough, but certainly gave no clue why she might inspire the overwrought passion of the painter Leo irving, whose hysteria is a mental block, unloosed by electric anal penetration. There was a picture of John Barrymore in the very old, dankly colorful Lyceum theater, so I was hoping his ghost might be fluttering about so he could see someone could finally out-ham him. Mrs. Daldry's husband, played by Thomas Jay Ryan is a cipher. And last, but least, is Annie, the assistant to the doctor who inexplicably erupts with lesbian longings at the good piano playing of Mrs. Daldry. And it is good, to give the poor woman her due.
This was allegedly directed by Lee Waters, but I could detect no sign of a guiding hand, and felt the play, such as it was, would have better benefited from Basil Beckett Burwell, who directed the Christmas pageant at the Cherry Lawn School our sophmore year. I have nothing but admiration for Lincoln Center, and the good things it does. This is not one of them.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009


It is a sign of our times, the end of the world as we knew it, what with vampires besieging the screen, and right wing media guiding our non-course, that the best play on Broadway, the only piece of theater I have seen in eons on the-used-to-be Great White Way, is about to close. I am speaking, sadly, and I am sad about it, of 'Superior DOnuts.'
I was in the minority, (and not on the Pulitzer Committee) about Tracy Letts' much lauded 'Osage County,' considering it Long Days'Journey into Afternoon, Eugene O'Neill turned sideways and upside down, re-shaped into borderline sit-com. So it was with something just short of trepidation, trying for an open mind, that I went to this latest offering of Mr. Letts. When what to my wondering eyes should appear but an actual play, filled with humor and pathos and people you could actually root for, portrayed with admirable restraint by a cast of players who brought their characters to believable life, even if they came from Chicago. Michael McKean infused his role as the pony-tailed,tie-dyed leftover Hippie, Arthur, who'd Canadaed his way out of Vietnam, losing family and pride in the process, with an undercurrent of sorrow that managed to sidestep self-pity, bringing genuine wit to his curtain call. (It is the season of Broadway fights Aids, when performers ask the audience to help, and Mr. McKean said "If you're interested in spending more money, and these days, who isn't?" giving the audience as good a laugh as the playwright.) But there were legitimate laughs a-plenty in the play itself, most of them elicited by the gifted young Jon Micheal Hill, portraying the desperate young black who comes to work in Arthur's old-fashioned coffee shop(Starbucks looms threateningly nearby,) trying to pull himself out of a very deep hole, and lugging a written-by-hand Great American Novel.
Yasen Peyankov is overpowering(the point, I think) as a blowhard Russian who wants to buy Arthur's coffee shop, and the darkly coincidental(one hopes) Robert Maffia(saved by the 'f') plays the bad guy who threatens the sweetly heroic Franco. The supporting cast does just that. All in all, an entertaining and ultimately moving evening.
So it is with a heavy heart, as dentists say when they advise their patients they're retiring, that I hear the play will close. When I leave the theater and look at that once Great White Way, it appears to me with all the overlit dazzle more like an out-take from 'Blade Runner' than an actual place. So maybe what we loved about theater when theater was theater, as this play genuinely is, might be doomed to disappear into lighting effects and comic-strip characters whirling through the air on webs that not only they, but the end of genuine sensibility have spun. Alas.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

You're Gonna Love Me

Having missed the original production of Dreamgirls, being at the time a Californian, it was a genuinely galvanizing experience to return from Venice, where the whole city is theater, and be in the audience at the Apollo, and be thrilled to be a New Yorker. Though the production, in previews, has some technical and timing kinks to work out, it is genuinely dazzling,electronic magic being employed to the max,costumes and watching them be changed into before your very eyes a cue for ooos and aahs, and last, but far from least, a couple of performances that are knockout.
Moya Angela, as Effie, the star turn on the distaff side even if (or probably because she's demoted from lead singer, and tossed aside romanrically, is heart-wrenching and ear-amazing, with pipes as impressive as her big eyes are sad. Syesha Mercado as Deena Jones, the (do we have to pretend we don't know?)Diana Ross character is pretty and likeable, not easy to achieve in that part. (I have friends who rented their home in the tropics to Diana Ross, who went out their beachfront and into the ocean at the height of her fame, met a Swede who actually didn't know who she was, and was so astounded she married him.) Adrienne Warren is adorably little and winning as the youngest in the trio, Lorell. Chaz Lamar Shepherd as Curtis Taylor, Jr., the engine and the turncoat of the Dreams' career, is not very appealing, but that might be the part. Trevon Davis as C.C. White seems a little lost, but it is early in the game.
The big discovery is Chester Gregory, as James 'Thunder'Early, who tears his role apart, hoots, hollers, sings, dances, falls to his knees and then falls up again with seeming effortlessness, so many times I stopped counting, and could probably hang by his nose from the ceiling if called upon to do so. Charismatic and so deliciously sweet, that even the outrageous ego of the part he plays is not enough to make you think he might be other than lovable. Talent is too mild a word.
Watching not just the stage, but the audience, I clocked the reactions of Michael Bennett's lawyer, now the producer of this revival. He was a happy man.

Monday, June 15, 2009


New York creates in you a sense of Urgency, the feeling that you have failed if you are not in the Front Lines of whatever war it is that you are fighting. So it is that even if you have dined at Le Cirque(I have—elegant but overpriced,) with Royals(I have, --at least they said they were) or seen the best new musical( Billy Elliot—greatly overrated, but the boys were good) and the best new play, you have hardly any right to live here. So it was that having recently fought City Hall( and WON!!) I made my way this Sunday at noon and plunked myself on the floor of the lobby of the Bernie Jacobs theater at noon betting(and praying) there would be a cancellation for God of Carnage, the ticket in town that nobody can get.
Suspense! Drama! Will she get in? The woman in front of me got the last standing room so I would not have that option. The man in the ticket booth was wearing a red white and blue tie with a star and wide stripes so I wished him Happy Puerto Rico Day(I had seen the parade forming as I left my building,) but despite appreciation of my appreciation, he couldn’t tell me what my chances were. My heart leapt a little with every person who approached the window but there were no returns(Meg Ryan was there with her face pretty again, and Glenn Close came, surprisingly tiny.) Tick tock. Finally, on the dot of three, he signaled there was one ticket, and that was mine. J1. On the aisle.
Curtain up. The set is an apartment any New Yorker would be proud to live in, set in Brooklyn, which is hot again, tasteful beige stone walls and cornering vases of long-stemmed white tulips from Holland and the Korean grocer, comfortable sofa and chairs in which are seated the two couples meeting to settle a grievance over one of their sons knocking out two of the other’s teeth in a schoolyard brawl. Hostess is Marcia Gay Harden, married to James Gandolfini, who seemed uncomfortable at first—I could not tell whether it was because he was in a play or that situation—but he loosens up as the audience receives him like family—and we know which family. The moment he talks of being in a ‘gang’ at school, roars of laughter greet him, an old friend they were afraid they might not see again. Jeff Daniels is tight-assed excellent as a high-end lawyer issuing dictums on a cell phone to pull a drug company client out of embarrassing possible damage, and Hope Davis is restrainedly civilized till she isn’t anymore, with projectile vomiting on priceless art books a repellent (but crazily laughed at by a desensitized audience) visual joke.
Gradually restraint and politesse vanishes, and it becomes a free-for-all, freest of all for Marcia Gay Harden, who received a Tony as best actress(a wag on the way out said she “ate the scenery,” but I enjoyed her performance which I considered a relieved, released break out from all the caring wives she has played.) Biggest laugh of the play came from the angry throwing of Daniels’ cellphone into the tulips, as the theater rocked with laughing wives who had probably often been tempted to do the same to their husbands’ cells.
. I was seated next to three young people- an older sister maybe in her early twenties, really pretty, a slightly younger brother, and a much younger brother who doubtless was the wrong age for the play, used to watching TV and movies at home, and kept eating cookies from a rattlingly wax-papered box. Unleashed by the violence onstage when his one wax-paper crackle too many obscured the crackle of the dialogue, I am afraid I leaned over and slapped his hand, so he finally stopped.
I felt guilty, of course. But every once in a while, as the actors demonstrated onstage, bad behavior is only a constrained, frayed irritation away.
A friend asked if I would recommend it, and I would in an instant if anyone could get in without the endurance I had to show, both before and with the pesky little kid down the row. But it is the cast, I think, that made the play memorable, and I am not sure the same people will be retutning when it re-opens after a hiatus. If it does, by all means go. But hope they make an annnouncement to unwrap your sweets before the play starts.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

9 to 5

I was not expecting to enjoy 9-5, although in the years since seeing the movie I have come to very much admire Dolly Parton as a songwriter, especially on finding out she had written ‘I Will Always Love You,’ for The Bodyguard, as that was a song I sang in my head to the loves(I thought they were) who didn’t work out, the best torch song ever for misguided women, one of whom I was. But to my surprise, and intermittent delight, the musical stage version of that long ago(how long ago was it?) movie is very much a crowd-pleaser, and for a lot of the show, I was a part of the crowd.
For openers(a big one in an office) they announced some news from the Jimmy Carter era so we would all have our heads in the right time, and not be displaced by the out-of-date(is it really?) male supremacy. Allison Janney is authoritatively winning (as she always is) as the brainiest one of the trio, though her singing voice is by no means up to her acting; still it’s nice she’s there. Megan Hilty is past adorable as the Dolly today stand-in, with a voice that goes up up and away past her deliciousness as the great-breasted ‘Backwoods Barbie’ blonde. Stephanie J. Block in the Jane Fonda role is uncomfortably stiff, as Jane was, too, her penchant for comedy having been left behind, but Block’s voice is terrific. One is moved to wish she would take some acting lessons to bring her stage presence up to the quality of what’s in her throat—perhaps a yoga class or two to make her loosen up enough to seem comfortable in her own skin, and a hottie guide to how to seem sultry when wrapped in black sequins.
The guys, starting with Marc Kudisch as the lecherous, unsympathetic boss is kind of Charles Grodin pressingly comic, and Violet’s husband who dumped her, Dwayne is not worth sorrowing over. But Andy Karl as Joe who yearns for Violet’s appealing older woman is really likeable. Most disappointing is Kathy Fitzgerald as Roz, playing it like a road-company, unfunny, untouching Peggy Cass, making one yearn for a middle-aged woman who could be at once unappealing and hilarious—there have to be a slew of those looking for a job on the Great or sometimes Not-so-Great White Way.
There could have been a more drastic reworking of the movie so the musical hewed less strictly to its lines, especially the hospital scene which seemed extraneous and slowed down the happy momentum. But there was no doubt the audience was having the best time. The show deserves a run for its—and your—money.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

A Godot worth Waiting For

My great friend Kay Boyle, one of the hierarchy of American writers from that age which has passed, when writers were revered and dared to write books like "Being Geniuses Together" as Kay did when she was young and in Paris, highly esteemed Samuel Beckett, whom she actually knew, as she did James Joyce, contributing to my feeling that I had been born at the wrong time. (I had also felt that way about Keats and Shelley, but I was very young then, and would willingly have ended my life in my twenties in exchange for some of those poems.) But Samuel Beckett never did it for me, minimalism and the Theater of the Absurd-- unless it starred Zero Mostel--seeming more alienating than embracing, my thoughts about writers being that they should open their arms to the reader/audience, inviting them in. So any previous renditions of Godot that I have seen have neither moved me nor made me laugh.
But the production of Waiting for Godot now at Studio 54 has finally broken that barrier. To begin with, Nathan Lane, adored by the multitudes has always seemed to me over the top. Here, he is under it. Both respectful to the material and restrained in his performance, he manages to convey what there is of comedy in this bleak parable of human faith in the Invisible(and perhaps non-existent)to a gently charming degree. Bill Irwin is so comfortable in his own skin that he seems not to have bones, rather like Ray Bolger as the Scarecrow in Wizard of Oz, just one big, easy flap of a man, going along with it all, which may be the best, in reality, that any of us can do. John Glover is the one who has captured the kudos, up for a Tony as supporting player, tied round the neck at the end of John Goodman's rope, so sadly convincing that one of my friends thought he was a horse. Goodman, as Pozzo, in a much-heralded return to the stage, is alarmingly convincing as an overstuffed lord of the manor, genuinely scary not because of his insensitivity but because of his size, since many in the audience have become fond of him over the years in accessible and genial roles giving many the feeling they actually knew him, so overweight that one fears for his heart; the scene where he falls to the ground and cannot get up because of his avoirdupois is more wrenching than comic.
All in all, director Anthony Page has done an admirable job. The scenic design, if such it can be called, except for the sorry tree that sprouts a few leaves, like the hope of a Creative Intelligence behind the universe, is comprised mostly of boulders, echoing almost to the color and number of rocks what seemed to me the ordeal of the season, if you don't count 'Impressionism', 'Desire Under the Elms.' But all in all, very much worth the seeing, if you don't really need an answer to the Meaning of It All, or that there might be none.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Not one Bad Follicle

Great Energy and a sense of anticipation are palpable at the Al Hirschfield Theatre where HAIR is playing, almost as if the audience knew in advance that finally, something is going to be as great as the reviews. When the lights started to go down there was an audible intake of breath, and applause: they couldn’t wait, and the excitement was justified. I am probably the only one of my generation who never saw it, or the movie, and knew only the most celebrated songs in its score(“Age of Aquarius,””Easy to be Hard,””Let the Sun Shine In.”) I was writing novels and taking care of babies, so the obscenity of Vietnam never surfaced on my spiritual radar until Lyndon Johnson announced he would not accept or seek, etc. But there was a woman I met at intermission who had wept all during the first act, because her high school class in East Los Angeles didn’t have the connections or the money to avoid the draft, and she didn’t know how many of them had probably died. I didn’t start crying until the second act, when the full power of this musical hit me. For the first half, I just rollicked in the talent and the visible joy of the performers.
The show—and a true show it is, lights and color and costumes and nudity coalescing into an almost dream state, except that everyone and everything is so alive it could only be lucid dreaming—is the most exciting I’ve seen since moving back to New York. For me it was less a revival than a Revival Meeting, everyone, cast and audience alike, got so completely into the spirit, it made me believe. I was in a particularly lucky location, so got kissed, hugged, and my hair played with by members of the cast who come barreling down the aisle as though carrying good news. They are beautiful, gifted, generous and funny, and those among them playing contrarians and stiffs are just as spontaneously funny—when the disapproving very middle class couple went to leave the theatre, the wife(in drag) muttered “Let’s go see ‘West Side Story’,” to bleats of laughter on the part of those who heard(and apparently had seen ‘West Side Story.’)
Will Swenson is more than winning and likeable in the key role of Berger, inoffensive for all he does of a seemingly offensive nature, and endearing when he interacts with the audience(was that really his Mom in the front row?) Bryce Ryness is funny and touching as Woof(twas he who toyed with my hair, and bent down to let me play with his) Gavin Creel is bright and ultimately deeply moving as Claude, who ends up the shorn victim of that war. Cassie Levy is the most visibly vulnerable of the universally pretty and gifted women, and Saycon Sengbloh, a substitute Dionne in the performance I attended has a presence and a voice that could blow you out of the theatre, if it wasn’t so much better being able to stay. When the understudies are that good, you can’t make a mistake to go go go. Loved it loved it loved it. The youthful exuberance and happiness of all involved—not the least the band who can be observed having a great time while playing, makes the point of how much is lost in a war, and the pointlessness of the whole terrible exercise. Up to the minute, really, revival or no. Hurry Hurry hurry, though it’s due to be there through November. Long, even longer may it wave.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Nice Work if you Can Get It

Sherie Rene Scott is a conventionally pretty, unconventionally gifted, phenomenally hardworking and very alive woman who has, apparently, been trapped for several seasons inside 'The Little Mermaid.' In 'EVERYDAY RAPTURE,'this Almost One-Woman show, (two back-up singers, a cutely nerdy teenage boy plant in the audience and a four piece band) she exhibits talents, wit, and irreverence that made Ben Brantley, the theater critic for the New York Times for those of you who are someplace else(Mars, the Moon)swoon in public. Having escaped(not too easily) her Mennonite upbringing in Kansas, like Judy Garland, one of her idols, she isn't there anymore, having lifted herself with energy and grace into the semi-Big Time. She herself cites having played secondary roles in a musical or two(I have seen her in only one, in which she was not particularly memorable nor was the musical) and it was fun for me to get to know her and the probably great range(she sings full throttle, and does a fine Judy Garlandesque 'You Made me Love You' not to a picture of Clark Gable but Jesus, in various renditions-- the paintings not the song.) She is self-deprecating in a way that suggests she does really like herself which was a relief after watching a loved friend belittle herself a little too sincerely in cabaret. So Sherie likes Sherie, and we do, too.
I used to enjoy the Playbills the way they were so you got a little background that wasn't just credits, and you knew what the performers had come from, where they'd studied and with whom, and they could lie sometimes like Brando did saying he was born in Calcutta. As it is, we know from the show itself that her life is an open book with songs and a husband and a three year old son and some truly endearing tricks of magic, the old kind, and she deserves the first lead in a really first rate show. The person I went with was not as impressed as I, saying she liked her better when she was in a role. Well who wouldn't, and where are they? As it is, it was a treat to meet her as herself, which I hope she will be for the rest of her life, with some upstart, flashy, conniving and outrageous characters to hide behind when and if they materialize. In the meantime, Salutes.

Sunday, May 17, 2009


Because I have not suffered enough, I went this Sunday matinee to see the Goodman Theatre production of Eugene O’Neill’s Desire Under the Elms, much praised by reviewers and driving away the audience in droves, so scheduled for an early demise. Having had the good fortune this week to connect with two very bright ladies close to and involved with theatre(am spelling it the Goodman way), one of whom told me she had fallen asleep in the course of viewing it; forewarned, I nonetheless made my way to the cut-rate ticket booths, where almost everything is 50% off except for Hair and God and Carnage, the two things I really want to see, and bought my ticket.
In my youth, which never seemed that long ago until this week, I had some heavy interaction with that property, as I was in love with Tony Perkins, being built up at the time as the new teenage movie Idol, and he was scheduled to do the movie of it with Sophia Loren. I was of course deeply jealous of Sophia Loren as a matter of principle, but had no reason to be with respect to Tony. It was still the era of the Love that Dared Not Speak its Name, certainly not in Hollywood, where a career would be ruined if anyone knew, so I blithely assumed there was no physical interaction between us because he was respecting my young Jewish maidenhood, and was devastated to discover later on I had lost him to Tab Hunter.

But on the set of Desire at Paramount, I had less reason to be jealous of Sophia than Dorothy Jeakins, the costume designer, who constantly praised not just Sophia’s breasts but the tininess of her rib cage, and got to touch Tony all the time, fitting his clothes. So there he was, playing Eben, less tormented that he might be losing the farm than that Sophia would eat him alive, she was so much woman. Anyway that is the old story, but now we must deal with Mr. O’Neill.

One of the bright theatre ladies said she understood the plot was from a Greek myth. I have of late been much involved with Greek myths on several levels, having been, I hoped, inspired to write a play, and remembering I had a mind since there’s a Bryn Mawr reunion coming up, read several plays by Aeschylus, which ain’t easy. This production of Desire begins not with a whimper but a Bang, perhaps meant to be a thunderclap, followed by drums and many terrible sounds as two Neanderthalish men, meant to be the older sons of Ephraim Cabot(played stirringly but by the end who really cares) by Brian Dennehy, drag in what my friend Tyne Daly in a Getty(in LA) production of Agamemnon in which she appeared , fierce and impressive, told me was a sledge, the way old Aeschylus brought in offstage action, in that case a couple of bodies, but in this case was rocks. Rocks everywhere. No sign of elms, but rocks all around, hanging suspended in space, doing everything but getting themselves off. Not so in the case of the young lovers, Ephraim’s new young wife, played by Carla Gugino whom I really admired because she was tiny and did not bring me in mind of Sophia, and Pablo Schreiber, who played the young son, and put me much in mind of Tony when he was young and no one knew he was gay, or, as it later turned out with the help of Victoria Principal, bi-sexual. Tony’s personal tragedy might have challenged O’Neill, as having married a lovely woman, Berry Berenson, and fathering two sons, he was among the first of the highly visible to die of AIDS, and Berry, his gifted, aquamarine-eyed widow was in one of the planes that crashed into the World Trade Center.

But back to this play. The almost constant intrusion of music to lessen the stolid weightiness of the plot put me in mind of Impressionism, the awful play that had just closed next door, where the music, looped in over the silences and poor dialogue like a 40 s movie where they needed to make it seem weighty or moving faster when there was no action, was more than disconcerting. I see that concert is in the middle of that word, which makes me wonder. Anyway, the lust of the two young principles is palpable. Dennehy is fine, albeit diminished in stature during the course of the story so he seems almost to grow shorter by the end of it.

A friend of mine, Susan Dorlen, went to Yale Drama School, where her teacher said ‘The great tragedian of American writers is Eugene O’Neill, and that is the tragedy of the American theater.’ Across the street from ‘Desire’ is ‘August, Osage County,’ which I considered to be ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ turned on its side and made into a comedy. But I’ll tell you, when Abby, the young wife, kills her baby to prove to Eben that she loves him, I could not help thinking about O’Neill, the bastard really knew how to plot.
Or maybe it was the Greeks.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

COMEDY, in the Round, and UNHINGED

Christopher Durang is clearly deranged, and I couldn’t be more pleased. His targets in “WHY TORTURE IS WRONG, and the People who Love Them” at the Public are those decent people despise—“enhanced interrogation” and paranoia, which include the people who have the second and so do the first. Upstairs in the home of the parents of Felicity(Tony award winning Laura Benanti, who has less of an adversary in her (could he be?) terrorist husband, than she did with Patti Lupone playing her mother in “Gypsy”) her father(Richard Poe) is conducting a “shadow government”, Dick Cheney with hair. Her mother, Luella, (Kristine Nielsen) deliciously ditsy and full of actressy surprises, gave me, personally, a passel of laughs, expressing the playwright’s disdain for that with which I most closely identified: “Wicked” and Tom Stoppard’s “Coast of Utopia” (someone she knew committed suicide rather than face the third segment of that marathon , as bleak and pretentious an experience as I have ever had in the theater.)
A happier marathon, apparently, took place at the Circle in the Square, with Alan Ayckbourn’s “The Norman Conquests.” I saw only the evening’s presentation, but the audience that had been there all day sat literally around with delighted expressions on their faces, as if they had spent the time with eccentric but beloved relatives. There is employed in the scenario the device of the “dirty weekend,” which the Brits, in their dualistic approach to sex, much too well brought up to discuss it openly, but secretly delighting in its gamey underside(see Christine Keeler and various shops in Shepherd’s Market) seem to like better than straightforward lust. Nobody managed to get away to have one in the segment I saw, but everyone longed for and almost got there. The three sisters and their various mates all of whom hunger for one of the others are acted with comedic perfection by the ensemble cast, directed to a farcical fare-thee-well by Matthew Warchus. I shall have to go back and see the other two to understand why the patently intelligent audience felt such a sense of kinship and delight with their adopted(for a day) family

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Road Less Traveled

On 45th Street, there were hordes lining up in hope of cancellations for Billy Elliot, which were not to be. Standing room plus, not counting the family of five, the Stoddards, including Maeve, 4, whose first show it was, sitting next to me, filled with anticipation. I, too, was excited to be there. Too excited, as it turned out. The little boy with the lollipop climbed the steps to the stage and stood there waiting for the show to start, a touch that touched my heart. But that was the last I was touched, I who have wept through the overture of the revived South Pacific, Seven Brides for Seven Brothers, the best movie musical ever, and the blind contestant on American Idol being sent home. So it is not that I am not easily moved. Billy Elliot is a masterwork of technical brilliance. “They made it so technical,” said my P.A.,(Personal Angel) a dancer and choreographer who had been to Merce Cunningham’s 90th birthday celebration at BAM last week, where she had wept throughout. But then, because hers is a softer heart than mine, and she is living in these times, she said “How great that this production is giving all those people so many jobs.”
There are 53 people in the company(not counting all those working backstage, wardrobe mistresses, wigmakers, etc) of Billy Elliot, and at times it seems that all of them are onstage at once. Little girl dancers in tutus, and Big Bad British police advancing in a line with heavy transparent shields, and striking miners and Maggie Thatcher. All of it intelligent as the movie was, but none of it as intelligible, cluttered as it seemed and felt, even to my PA, who wished she could have better observed the choreography, except there was too much of it going on at the same time. Even when yesterday’s Billy(there are three of them who alternate, -- we got to see David Alvarez, who is suitably amazing—and there is, I understand, a farm where they are growing more Billy Elliots) takes balletic flight with his older counterpart, it is rigged, quite literally. A hook on his back carries him aloft as if this were Peter Pan. So unnecessary when the music(the actual symphonic recording of Swan Lake) soars, and the dancers could do the same without metallic aids.
That music, by the way, is the last that moved me. I know this is Sir Elton, who was so touched by the story, coming so close to his own—a father who disapproved of the career he chose, as did the father of Lee Hall, the writer of the original movie, and the book and lyrics for the show--- but there is not one memorable song. Haydn Gwynne has her own personal conviction and radiance in the role of the tough ballet teacher who discovers Billy’s gift, but even her energy cannot bring a sense of originality to SHINE, the number that should have done it, saying what it was you had to do as a performer. The ghost of Fred Ebb fluttered through the lyric as it suggested one should razzle-dazzle, wafting me over to ‘Chicago.’ ‘Expressing Yourself’, the guaranteed show-stopper, became just that because of tinsel and glitter, literally, waving in the lights, and a spirited attempt at scene-stealing by Keann Johnson, who, according to my PA “pushed it,” but it worked for me. Still, all that energy did not make it into a song.
But it was an afternoon of uplift, especially for Maeve’s ten year old brother, Aidan, who had seen only one show before, The Radio City Music Hall Christmas show, and thought this was better, although which is more extravagant could be argued. I exited, my heart a little heavy, because I knew without looking that the musical I really loved, Next to Normal, across the street was not doing nearly as well, with, I think, greater originality, genuine emotionality, and true talent at the helm. Oh, well, as Anne Bancroft said, quoting her father, “that’s why there’s chocolate and vanilla.”

Tuesday, April 14, 2009


As noted on an earlier entry to this burgeoning blog, I ran into Jane Fonda the other day while lunching at Michael's,which used to be the Main Haunt of the book business while there was still one. She was with Lynn Nesbitt, the formidable literary agent who represented, among glittering others, my too-early-late lamented buddy Michael Crichton, whose premature and very sad departure leaves the literary world without its annual Crichton blockbuster, except tis said they found another novel on his hard drive. No one was harder driven than Michael, but as he was always miles ahead on gripping events to come, we'll see if this is but a way to milk the cash cow.
But it was lovely seeing the still lovely Ms. Fonda, whose performance in 33 Variations I found to be darkly dazzling, as is, in a blonde way, the lady herself(though she might insist on being referred to as 'woman,' the 'lady' label is undeniable, she so oozes class.) Surprising almost beyond belief is the fact that the play, which is itself quite admirable, is not doing much business. My waiter at Sarabeth's, himself an actor as are most of the waiters in New York, went to a matinee and said the whole balcony was empty. They should, if not clinging to the rafters at leasr be leaning over the front rows of the mezzanine, hyponotized. Besides her excellence in the role there is her luminous bravery, playing a woman who's failing, when Ms. Fonda herself has never failed except for a lapse she is still apologizing and being picketed for, and a couple of marriages. I saw the courageness of the character she played, fighting MS. echoing in a riveting way the personal courage of the actress herself, who seems to never give up, and never give in, continuing to evolve rather than simply go into the shadows with her contemporaries lest her wrinkles show.
I had occasion to almost have a movie with the on-the-brink of middle-age Jane Fonda, with my novel MARRIAGE, about a women who's more successful than her husband, at a time when it wasn't yet all right for a woman to be that (as if it WERE now, yet, ever) without its destroying the husband and the marriage. I regularly lunched then with Linda Obst, who was book-pimping for Fonda, courting me and becoming my new best friend so Jane could option the book, play the role and produce the picture. As it turned out-- she was married to Tom Hayden at the time, and was afraid people would think it was HER story, rather than mine, which it was, my husband having fallen victim to the contempt shown men when their wives outshine them, especially in Hollywood-- she decided not to buy the book. Very sad, as she would have been wonderful and so would the movie never made, as it would have synthesized who and what she was at the time. But such is the way of that West Coast playground, and, if you're sitting down, once the deal was off, I never heard from my New Best Friend Linda Obst again.
But Jane, if I may call her so, having achieved that almost-intimacy, is valiant in 33 Variations as she is in life, so I urge you all to go see it as she stretches her talent to the limits, and grabs the Golden Apple from the tree. The play's good, too, though a bit lofty for today's non-thinkers. As a friend said, Peter Schaffer('Amadeus') would have done better, but then, so would Robby Lantz as the agent. Well worth the price of the ticket which is probably available at discount, Alas.

Saturday, April 11, 2009


So it is that I move into my new role of what I like to think Max Beerbohm might have been forced into should he find himself dropped into this time that marks not only the comfortable end of the world as we knew it, but the vanishing of the written word, at least on paper, and sally forth into the theater with a critical eye.
Last night I attended the revival of BLITHE SPIRIT, Noel Coward's airy and (one must think) not too hard-worked-over sprint into the comedy of the hereafter, wherein a dashing Brit in his country manse, which doubtless was originally played by Sir Noel himself, played here by the handsome Rupert Everett, who has been funnier, as Charles, (what else would Coward have called him?) brings in a local, eccentric(to put it mildly)medium, who conjures up his dead first wife, to the consternation of his second. The medium, Madame Arcadi, to the delight and occasional roars of the audience, is played past the hilt by Angela Lansbury, who, beaded and laden with frou-frou misses not one do-able comic gesture, including a woo-woo wackadoo dance of her own invention to call up the Beyond. Angela Lansbury herself is the magic of the play, and the audience cannot get enough of her, proof as she is, may wonders never cease, that not all the Good die young. She does keep the thing alive, as well as the audience.
Christine Ebersole is appropriately radiant as the dead Elvira, and sings from offstage in her lovely voice a number of Coward songs during scene changes. The odd thing is Irving Berlin's 'Always' the record that is played throughout the show, considering that so many of Coward's songs, especially 'I'll See you Again' would have done just as well, and he could have paid himself the royalties. Just as, could Arcadi have conjured him, he doubtless would have cut some of the laborious second act. Jayne Atkinson does what I assume is her best in the thankless role of the present(for a while, anyway) second wife, and Susan Louise O'Connor skitters comically across the stage at half mast as the maid.
Simon Jones, my neighbor in real-life, is handsomely reassuring as the doctor, but himself doubted the veracity of the set as an English country living room, what with the furniture facing AWAY from the fire. He showed me an exercise tape that Angela made some
years ago("hardly Jane Fonda" he noted) that will be put out on DVD the end of the month, to help keep in shape for a longer life. I would urge everyone of a certain age, or even hoping to get there, to check it out. There is no arguing with a spirit that stays blithe on either side of that curtain.

Friday, April 10, 2009

A Tale of Two Lawrence

It was the best of Lawrence's, and the worst of Lawrence's. Having rejoined the alleged Literary Community, I lunched yesterday at Michael's, which was peopled with the well-connected and the insidious, whom I shall not cite by name, as I have had enough of lawsuits. But also present were Jane Fonda,currently giving a searing performance in 33 Variations, playing a character who almost matches her own personal courage offstge, with dog on herlap(she can take it anywhere as she has a license that it's a therapy dog, which I will have to get for Mimi, who does not enjoy the small dimensions Happy did, and so cannot be concealed in a coat pocket), Gabriel Byrne, who is healing many of us along with his HBO patients on 'In Treatment' simply by watching, and there in the corner, what Ho, Peter O'Toole. He was close to unrecognizable, except for the ghosts of cheekbones past and a very fine nose, until he put on his sunglasses and became indisputably, as his first wife Sian Phillips said in her excellent memoir,"a movie star." I had had the quieting joy of seeing Lawrence of Arabia the other night, and truly they don't make them like that anymore, or Mr. O'Toole either.
Then last night, having lately fallen into a deep infatuation with the glorious work of the young Maggie Smith,(I loved her old, too, in Lady in a Van, too, as I have loved her in everything except the fiasco movie made from a clever script of mine, where I was humiliated for her that she had to be in such a piece of dreck, as rewritten and misdirected by the once gifted Bryan Forbes)I racked up my DVD the Olivier version of 'Othello,'in which she played Desdemona. I had read that Lord O was so outraged by how completely she diminished him, that he vowed never to work with her again. But watching that Laurence huff and puff, charcoaled as he was, overacting so badly that his epileptic seizure seemed no more over the top than any of the rest of his performance, I was forced to turn it off before he could kill Desdemona, as my friend who was watching with me had been droned into sleep by his incantations, more Voodoo than Moor. I will watch Maggie die another time, as she was clearly not a part of the same picture, and is entitled to her own screening.
I knew a few who knew and loved Olivier: my friend Louie Ramsay who was his protege at the National, Danny Kaye, but that was only gossip, and I, myself, with Wuthering Heights, and when I saw him do Shylock in the cancer-riddled flesh in London, where in spite of all his pain he got down on his haunches and danced his rage and hatred, pricked, did he not bleed?-- a shattering performance. But my God he was out of control as Othello, and I can only assume that the director, Stuart Burge, was so overcome at working with the great Sir Laurence (as he was only then, the Lord O came later) that he had not the nerve to tell him to take it down a notch, or 12.
Bu tonight I go to the theater for real, the Angela Lansbury Blithe Spirit, so will make my first Report as a Broadway blogger, about live theater. Everything I have seen thus far has been a great disappointment, from West Side Story, where crucial songs are sung in Spanish, a clever arrogance on the part of Arthur Laurents, but not fair to an audience that doesn't understand as the lyrics are plot advancers, but I can't tell that to my darling friend Tyne Daly as she loves him, to a few failed productions by the best friend I have made since I came to New York so I can't mention them as she is a wonderful woman and I long to be able to root for her, to the American Plan, predictable and overacted enough by Mercedes Ruehl that she could stand toe to toe even with Olivier's Othello. Exceptions to the disappointment were Forbidden Broadway which I loved, making fun as it did of all that is exaggerated affected and execrable about the last few seasons, a reasonably interesting 'Reasons to be Pretty,'something forgettably dreary at 59 E. 59th STreet theater, convenient to me but not so much so that I can endure boredom, 'Next to Normal' which hasn't opened yet but I found brilliant, and a downtown small-theater performance of a new translation of Antigone, 'Fire Throws' because it re-awakened my brain. For the rest, it's all Greek to me.