And the Audience Laughed at Lester Maddox Too

The first act of Clybourne Park is the other side of A Raisin in the Sun: in 1959, Russ (Frank Wood) and Bev (Christina Kirk), a weary, middle-aged couple, have decided to move out of their neighborhood; their son, Kenneth, was a Korean vet who ended up committing suicide after being accused of war crimes.  The community panics, however, when they find out that a Black couple has bought the home.  Karl (Jeremy Shamos) shows up with his deaf wife Betsy (Annie Parisse) to try to convince them to stay, while their priest Jim (Brendan Griffin) awkwardly employs the help of their Black maid Francine (Crystal A. Dickinson) and her husband Albert (Damon Gupton) to discuss the situation. Continue reading “And the Audience Laughed at Lester Maddox Too”

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Poker Should Not Be Played in a House with Women

A Streetcar Named Desire is one of the few perfect American plays, a mammoth masterpiece that puts most of our theater to shame.  It must be intimidating to launch a revival as each new cast will always play their parts in the shadows of such giants as Karl Malden, Vivien Leigh, and, of course, Marlon Brando.  Still, Emily Mann has directed a fine production currently running at the Broadhurst Theatre, marked by gorgeous, mournful jazz (courtesy of Terence Blanchard) and a mostly top-notch cast. Continue reading “Poker Should Not Be Played in a House with Women”

A Gentile Shylock

Shylock is a Jew.  A bad Jew, perhaps, but a Jew nonetheless.  This is something that is known by virtually every theatergoer on the planet except, apparently, Ike Schambelan, whose new production of The Merchant of Venice presents us with a decidedly assimilated moneylender.  Never mind that this leads to some awkward textual inconsistencies—Shylock complains to Antonio, “[You] spit upon my Jewish gabardine” (he wears a suit) and, “[You] void your rheum upon my beard” (he face is clean shaven)—instead, let us focus on the fact that Shylock, before anything else, is a stubborn, loyal and orthodox member of his tribe, one whose final humiliation is conversion to Christianity.  But Nicholas Viselli, who plays the role, is dressed like a Wall Street executive; his conversion as well as his insistence on receiving his bond is meaningless without his dedication to the Jewish commandments.  (#69: Men must not shave their beards with a razor.)  Fortune has elected him a representative of his people, a defender of their presence in Italy—he demands his pound of flesh for personal as well as collective revenge, to win a victory for the Jews.  But in an outfit no different from his fellow Venetians, he’s just a jerk with a grudge. Continue reading “A Gentile Shylock”

Being Shakespeare

Being Shakespeare is a strange piece, less a play than a lecture with lighting.  For a little under two hours, Simon Cowell gives us a skeletal account of Shakespeare’s life, interspersing its major events with historical background and some of the Bard’s more famous scenes; really, it is a chance for him to play Lear and Hamlet and even Juliet, a collection of greatest hits, like Hugh Jackman on Broadway for the literary crowd.

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A “Post-Feminist” Shrew

When we walk into the theater, there is man playing saloon music on a piano.  A woman passes out bags of peanuts, and Christopher Sly (Matthew Cowles), an old, drunken bum who has been tricked into thinking he is an aristocrat, loudly comments on the action of the play, so much so that the actors occasionally “break character” to quiet him down.  It is a gleefully lowbrow take on the opening of Olivier’s Henry V, but instead of framing it within a performance at the Globe Theater, director Arin Arbus has placed her Taming of the Shrew in the American West.  Though she never makes it clear why she has done this, it works nonetheless.  The biggest complaint about Shrew is its supposed sexism, and by drawing more attention to the fact that it is a play within a play—by continually reminding us that we are watching actors playing actors playing parts—Ms. Arbus forces us to look closer at the irony in Shakespeare’s writing and not accept the taming at face value.

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