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.