Everyone I Know Goes Away in the End

Except for the months following Columbine, it is just about the worst time in American history to stage a comedy about school shootings—and while The Amoralists are not known for their timidity, they have rewritten Collision, currently running at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, excising some of the jokes for the sake of decency.  It is hard to determine what exactly has been lost in this process, but the work that has made it to the stage is, much like their last effort, The Bad and the Better, a fascinating mess: funny, smart, narratively and thematically muddled, but endlessly watchable. Continue reading “Everyone I Know Goes Away in the End”


Naked People Have Little or No Influence on Society

In Apartheid-era Sophiatown, Philemon (William Nadylam) returns home early one afternoon to find his wife, Matilda (Nonhlanhla Kheswa), in bed with another man.  Once discovered, the man flees in his underwear, leaving behind a suit.  In a bizarre act of revenge, Philemon forces Matilda to treat the empty suit like a guest in their home—they feed it, speak to it, even take it for walks; the silence about the infidelity, coupled with tangible evidence of its occurrence, picks away at their marriage as, outside, Black South Africans lead lives of dehumanizing segregation. Continue reading “Naked People Have Little or No Influence on Society”

For Many Be Called, But Few Chosen

When you walk into the Drilling Company, a small theater on the Upper West Side, the woman who plays the title role in Miss Julie, Louise Seyffert, shuffles out of her dressing room to check your reservation.  The lobby, marked by a wheezing heater, has a few chairs, a couple of cans of coke, a bottle of wine, and a suggested donation box.  There is no staff—only the three actors in the play.  This is actually appropriate, as August Strindberg stresses in his introduction that “first and foremost, a small stage and a small auditorium” should house Miss Julie, a one-act that avoids an intermission in order to retain verisimilitude. Continue reading “For Many Be Called, But Few Chosen”

Jedem das Seine

Quentin (Kirk Gostkowski) lights a cigarette, ignoring the swarm of people reaching out to him: friends, colleagues, former wives.  He looks a bit like Marcello Mastroianni in 8 ½ (Nina Simone’s craggy rendition of “I Put a Spell on You” sets the tone), except this man is not escaping into fantasy but tormented by memory.  After the Fall, Arthur Miller’s notoriously autobiographical play, follows a successful lawyer as he sorts through his personal history—two marriages, the Red Scare and HUAC, his response to the Holocaust—and decides whether he should marry his newest love, a woman named Holga (Liz Tancredi).  Replaying events in his mind and onstage, a guard tower from Auschwitz always hovering above the action, he accounts the thoughts and feelings that have led him to the present, offering little comfort to himself or to humanity as a whole.  Visiting the concentration camp, he says, “There is something in there that is terribly acceptable,” later adding, “My brothers died here, but my brothers built this place.”  It is a difficult, fascinating play, a messy masterpiece, and one that requires a sharp and audacious cast and crew. Continue reading “Jedem das Seine”

Where’s Higgs?

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is sixty years old and has run for over twenty five thousand performances—though the machine seems to be self-perpetuating, its legendary run inspiring new audiences to attend a work that is horribly dated and only vaguely entertaining.  I make this point to emphasize my confusion at the current revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel that is self-consciously campy but seemingly unaware that the genre has been so for over a half century.  With agonizing consistency, actors drop suspicious lines, jerk hammily at the audience with guilty or malicious faces while the orchestra farts out a trite, implicating musical chord.  But the same thing was happening in London some forty years before the fall of Communism.  Any director or writer who thinks Drood is bringing something fresh to the parlor mystery does not deserve a voice on Broadway. Continue reading “Where’s Higgs?”

Speak the Speech, I Pray You

James DeVita is a smart, amiable, blue-collar guy from Long Island.  He was not a great high school student, and after graduation he decided to work on a boat—the sum total of his ambition up until that point.  But after three years, and after a particularly memorable night watching Ian McKellen in Acting Shakespeare, Mr. DeVita changed his mind.  He wanted to be a blue-collar Long Islander who just happened to “speak poetry,” the Gene Kelly of Shakespeare.  He wanted to make the Bard accessible, immediate, to make the texts come alive for the people he grew up around, like his buddy Sal Galati.  Never mind that he had an accent that could “scrape the paint off doors.” Continue reading “Speak the Speech, I Pray You”

The First Glimmer

In Margaret Edson’s Wit, a John Donne professor is diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer, the point being that a woman who has studied literary death for years is now experiencing the real thing.  Sharr White’s The Other Place works along the same lines: Juliana (Laurie Metcalf) is a brilliant neurologist, but when her life begins to fall apart—her husband, Ian (Daniel Stern) files for divorce, and her daughter (Zoe Perry) refuses to speak with her—we suspect that things aren’t quite what they seem, or at least what they seem to Juliana.  An expert in the field of dementia, she begins to suffer from the very disease she has spent her life trying to cure. Continue reading “The First Glimmer”