Time Takes a Cigarette, Puts It In Your Mouth

Simon Gray’s The Common Pursuit follows the lives and times of five literary men in England.  Each scene jumps ahead about five or six years, beginning in the group’s undergraduate years in Cambridge and concluding about twenty years later.  The scenes are snapshots and in only a few hours, we are given the same sense of breadth we would get from a nineteenth century novel.  And like Pinter’s Betrayal, The Common Pursuit achieves an incredible amount of depth by examining only a few moments in a lifetime.  The play is a great work by a first-rate writer, so it is unfortunate that the current revival by Roundabout yields such mixed results. Continue reading “Time Takes a Cigarette, Puts It In Your Mouth”

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These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends

About halfway through David Adjmi’s 3C, Brad (Jake Silbermann) confesses to his new roommate, Connie (Anna Chlumsky), that he is gay.  She tells him she has “these same feelings,” but she thinks he’s talking about being traumatized in the Vietnam War.  Connie, who compulsively seeks the approval of men but is also terrified of them, was once raped, and thinks she has found a kindred spirit in Brad.  The scene is brilliant—it borrows a standard trope from situation comedies, even hitting some of the same notes and same jokes we would see in an episode of Friends, but is instead covering a tragic subject.  We laugh because Brad and Connie misunderstand each other, and yet Connie is right in identifying with him: they both walk around with a terrible secret that corrupts any chance they have at happiness. Continue reading “These Violent Delights Have Violent Ends”

The Revolution Will Not Be Televised

What a bizarre, wonderful first act.  Derek Ahonen’s new play, The Bad and the Better, opens with a breathless series of intertwined vignettes, each an ironic sendup of hardboiled fiction: there’s the alcoholic detective who hates his wife (William Apps), the secretary who is secretly in love with him (Sarah Lemp), the misogynistic undercover cop (David Nash) and his sweetheart (Cassandra Paras) who turns a blind eye to his philandering.  The city, of course, is being clandestinely run by a whiskey-swilling capitalist (Clyde Baldo) who is trying to get an amiable doofus (David Lanson) elected as the next governor of New York.  Meanwhile, a group of in-fighting anarchists plot the revolution.  Collectively, it plays like an episode of Twin Peaks or a Hal Hartley film, for the irony is not snarky but affectionate—The Bad and the Better basks in all its soapy glory. Continue reading “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised”

Whiplash Girlchild in the Dark

Leopold von Sacher-Masoch’s Venus in Furs is a political treatise disguised as a love story: it follows Severin von Kusiemski, a man who has been sexually and emotionally damaged by a scarring incident involving his aunt and his subsequent intellectualizing of women (for him, a man can either “be the tyrant or the slave.”)  He asks Wanda von Danajew, then, to serve as his tyrant, believing that his love for her will only grow with her cruelty.  Wanda, who loves Severin, decides to cure him of his sickness—let’s call it masochism, the condition that was named after Sacher-Masoch—by performing exactly as he asks her to.  They have a brief, destructive, hypersexual relationship, and Severin emerges more mature and clear-headed.  He concludes, finally, “That woman, as nature has created her and as man is at present educating her, is his enemy.  She can only be his slave or his despot, but never his companion.  This she can become only when she has the same rights as he, and is his equal in education and work.” Continue reading “Whiplash Girlchild in the Dark”

Spell My Name Correctly

Is there anything more delicious than a good play about politics?  Joseph Alsop (John Lithgow) is a nationally syndicated op-ed writer who believes the words “terrorize” and “interrogate” are synonymous with “interview.”  The Columnist follows Alsop for two decades of his forty-year career—from his battles with Joe McCarthy in the early ‘fifties to his cheerleading of the Vietnam War throughout the ‘sixties.  Alsop, a closeted homosexual, has a rocky English marriage with Washington socialite Susan Mary Jay Patten (Margaret Colin) as well as a strained relationship with his brother and sometimes partner Stewart (Boyd Gaines).  Though a lifelong Republican, he worships FDR and Kennedy—and ultimately, his run-ins with popular opinion over escalation in Vietnam lead to his decline in credibility. Continue reading “Spell My Name Correctly”

Is He Up Yet? Strindberg’s Playing with Fire at the New School

August Strindberg’s “cynical life” one-act Playing with Fire is a powder keg of emotional repression: Newt (Nathan James), a rich but unsuccessful painter, has never cared more than passingly for his wife Kerstin (Toccarra Cash).  They remain cordial to each other but turn elsewhere for love and lust.  Knut satisfies himself with cousin Adele (Jaleesa Capri), while Kerstin pines for their old friend Axel (James Edward Becton).  For an hour or so before breakfast is served, the four play at betrayal and toy with the possibility of major life changes, while, for the most part, refraining from treating any of it seriously.  An excess of money allows them the time and the safety of these games without any of the consequences. Continue reading “Is He Up Yet? Strindberg’s Playing with Fire at the New School”

Throwing Away the Peel

When Philip Seymour Hoffman walks onstage, he sits down and takes a long beat before exhaling his first line: “Oh boy, oh boy.”  He says it so quietly, so privately that we would probably miss it if we didn’t know it was coming.  He says it like it’s not meant to be heard by over a thousand members of his audience, but only by Willy Loman and his stirring wife, Linda.  It’s a small but defining moment, and one that sets the tone for Mike Nichols’ revival of Death of a Salesman, a production of unparalleled transformative powers.  It is often remarked that Arthur Miller’s original title for the play was The Inside of His Head—and indeed, the Lomans house is constructed only of frames, as if we were seeing the x-ray of a skull.  But despite this symbolic flourish, and despite Miller’s proclivity for large, barefaced metaphors and glaring literariness (his name, after all, is Low Man), the actors here are never performing in any recognizable sense, they are never anybody but their characters and we are never for a moment self-consciously watching theater.  Even during the curtain call, Andrew Garfield (Biff) is still crying from his final confrontation with his father while Mr. Hoffman stares blankly into the crowd, as if confused by their presence. Continue reading “Throwing Away the Peel”