When Wick and Oil Are Clean

Long before we learn that Ellis (William Apps) has an estranged daughter, a terrible secret, and a real thing about lamps, we know something is off. We see him nervously fussing about his apartment, a sizing sticker still attached to his pants, a hastily forgotten stick of deodorant wedged in the couch cushions. Ellis is sent barreling towards a series of dramatic confessions when his daughter Catherine (Katherine Reis) and her friend Monique (Susan Heyward) arrive on his doorstep, but Ellis’ quiet panic at the outset sets the tone for much of what is to come. Continue reading “When Wick and Oil Are Clean”

Good Words

After an absence of seventeen years, Murray (Richard Stacey) returns home from an unnamed war, hailed by local media for his heroics during a street fight near and inside a children’s hospital.  With his young bride, the Eastern European refugee Baba (Evelyn Hoskins), he has big plans involving his father’s run-down hotel, The Bird of Prey.  But Murray’s modest, nice guy act doesn’t hold among those who know him best: his childhood friend, Brad (Stephen Billington), and his ex-fiancee, now mayor and property dealer, Alice (Elizabeth Boag).  Murray left Alice, who originally dated Brad, under suspicious circumstances at the altar, and Brad’s schoolboy competitiveness leads him to bet Alice’s husband, Derek (Russell Dixon), that he can bed Baba “inside a fortnight.” Continue reading “Good Words”

Missed Connections

“Most of our lives are noise, aren’t they?” asks a character late in Alan Ayckbourn’s Confusions, a sequence of five one-act plays in which people mishear, overhear, and talk past each other.  Telephones and doorbells are left unanswered, operators fail to make connections, and microphones distort rather than amplify voices.  More often than not, conversations are glorified monologues. Continue reading “Missed Connections”

A Dame That Knows the Ropes

It may at first appear inauspicious that Cirque du Soleil has chosen the Lyric Theatre for its Broadway debut, Paramour, where not too long ago Spider-Man spent months filling 42nd Street with a veritable symphony of free-falling actors and their crunching bones.  But the audience will soon be both relieved and disappointed, as the Cirque in Cirque du Soleil is here shrunk to the size of a peanut. Continue reading “A Dame That Knows the Ropes”

The Norwegian and the Swede

Strindberg insisted on several occasions that his misogyny was entirely theoretical, but The Father is such a full-throated expression of hatred that this is hard to believe. Around the time he wrote the play, he prophesized a coming war of the sexes that would lead to a barbarous matriarchy and declared, “I shall fight as long as I have a nerve left in my body.” Six years previously, Ibsen had written the proto-feminist Doll’s House and Strindberg responded by accusing him of “scandalous attacks on the male sex.” The interchange between the two, great naturalist writers was hardly one-sided. When Ibsen returned to Norway after his long exile, he hung a portrait of Strindberg above his desk and claimed, “I am not now able to write a word without that madman staring down at me.” Strindberg, in turn, told a French historian, “The struggle I have been waging against M. Ibsen for ten years has cost me my wife, children, fortune, and career.” Continue reading “The Norwegian and the Swede”

French Quarrels Enough

CHICAGO—Anniversaries are wonderful excuses for obscure or ambitious productions, and the Chicago Shakespeare Theater combines both four hundred years after Shakespeare’s death in Tug of War: Foreign Fire, the first half of a marathon revival that includes Edward IIIHenry VHenry VI Parts 12, and 3, and Richard III.  The main draws here are Edward III, which was likely co-written by Thomas Kyd and is only now becoming part of the official canon, and the three Henry VI plays, which are rarely produced and unfairly maligned by Shakespeare scholars. Continue reading “French Quarrels Enough”

All Friendship Comes with Conditions

The Oscar Wilde (Rupert Everett) of David Hare’s The Judas Kiss is deliberately written against type. The stage directions describe him as “solid, tall and fleshy” and “not at all the pansy of legend.” The signature wit is slightly dulled, though when it surfaces it does so with acidity; here his satire is meant to sting rather than charm. “In England the preacher says prayers on the scaffold,” Wilde tells Bosie (Charlie Rowe), his voice dripping with urbanity, “Then straight after he dines with the hangman.” The wounds behind the jokes are much closer to the surface. Continue reading “All Friendship Comes with Conditions”