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.