Wednesday, March 31, 2010


(At the Helen Hayes Theater)

‘Next Fall’ is a good play. Not a great one—though it tries to address a few great issues: Life, Death, and Love, to name a couple. The most powerful scene in the work is one that doesn’t take place—the “next fall” that one of two central gay lovers talks of casually in passing that never takes place, because he will be dead, an effect foreshadowed and tenderly illustrated by the transparent curtain that cloaks the other scenes, the lush colors of autumn leaves, painted on trees in a desolare park.
Several of the scenes take place in a hospital waiting room that we don’t really know is a hospital waiting room at first, just characters waiting for something that we’re not really sure about, anymore than we know exactly who the characters are. But one, it will turn out, is the lover of a man we have not yet met, who has been critically injured in a fall. One is his mother, long absent and an apparent addict, a thick-skinned Southern(only a little, Florida, this is not Williams territory)father who has never really acknowledged or wanted to see his son’s homosexuality, an old male friend who was not a love and whose interactions with the other characters seems specious, and a pleasant, unimportant but funny(not toooooooo) blonde who was, apparently, the owner of a candle shop where one of the gay couple worked, who then apparently became a close friend, but not so close that she logically belonged in that waiting room. This, for me, was the part of the play that was most puzzling, and the audience is invited to put it all together as the pieces fall into place, not in chronological order,like a jigsaw of time.
The big question here is not why we love who we love, but why people don’t give each other more of a break,and prize each interaction more, since life is so evanescent. That crystal sentiment echoes and references a far better play, ‘Our Town’, in which the powerfully handsome and energetic Luke, (Patrick Heusinger) making his first entrance in an apparently flashbacked cocktail party tells his soon-to-be partner (Patrick Breen) that he is playing the Stage Manager, when not working as a waiter.
As appealing as the two partners are, and as okay(which is all they are really) as the other characters are, especially Maddie Corman who milks laughs from non-fat lines as the absent mother returned, Cotter Smith as the beef-brained father, and Connie Ray as the delightful blonde candleshop lady that you don’t know what she’s doing in that waiting room, the mention of the other play churns up a yearning for the real drama and sweetness that is life, that too often eludes us. Especially in the theater.
Good enough for a pallid season, but not good enough if Thornton Wilder were still here. If Only.

Saturday, March 13, 2010


The happiest place to be on Broadway these less-than-cheerful days is the Lyceum theater. Laughter litera;lly roars through the audience, almost, but not quite, drowning out the growls and rants and slurs of the crazily luminous Valerie Harper as Tallulah Bankhead in 'Looped.' This tour-de-force of wit, smut, and brilliant characterization by a television favorite who bursts out of her box, takes place in a sound studio where the notoriously unreliable Bankhead is to re-record one unintelligible line for a film. Unsurprisingly, she is late, contemptuous, alcoholic, irreverent, and, as drawn in this seemingly incidental play, amazingly touching, and, although at the end of her career rope, irresistible.
The action, such as it is, takes place in real time, as the sound engineer, Steve, played by Michael Mulheren, waits in a booth above the set for the notorious diva to arrive and record the line, to be directed by Danny, Brian Hutchinson. Although the two men in the cast appear to be merely pawns for the star to play off, as one suspects actual men were in the star's life, at least one of them has his own story, which she will gainfully and painfully pull out of him.("Everyone has a story," Bankhead insists, and she is right.)
But the evening is really about Tallulah, and, more gloriously, Valerie Harper herself, who infuses every line with an actress-y bravado that makes you wish Bankhead was floating about the premises able to give it her imprimatur. What is most amazing about the fiercely comedic performance is the picture that emerges of a brilliant personality who threw her life away, most especially her chance to prove herself a genuine actress in 'Streetcar Named Desire,' which Tennessee Williams apparently wrote for her, but she turned down. The moment when she speaks a few lines she might have spoken as Blanche DuBois shows a sensitivity and fragility that no one suspected, except perhaps Williams himself. By this time, the spell that Harper has cast over the audience is so complete that yan ou could almost feel them grieving over Bankhead's lost opportunity, the great actress she might have become, instead of the caricature. The wonder of the evening is that Harper's interpretation never seems to descend into caricature, but is instead a wildly comedic re-interpretation of a legendary actress, that, leaving the theater, you feel, in between the happy ache of belly-laughs, you actually spent the evening with.