Pink Ladies on the House!

“Through These Portals Pass the Nicest People in Newark,” reads as a sign at the entrance of the Jersey Mecca, the saloon that provides the set for Anita Loos’ Happy Birthday.  It’s a reverse of the famous inscription Dante placed before the ninth circle of hell, “Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.”  The Mecca is home to a handful of regulars, like Gabe Darcy (Joe Tippett), a married man who is trying to convince his “monkey,” Bella Lane (Hanna Cheek), that his divorce is on its way, or Tot (Darrie Lawrence) and Emma (Nora Chester), two old drunks who show up hoping to see some drama—Tot’s usual is “a double bourbon with beer as an escort.”  So when Addie Bemis (Mary Bacon)—the teetotaling daughter of a notorious, local alcoholic—walks in one night to meet with a “Mr. Bishop” (Todd Gearhart), everyone takes notice.  What follows is a delightful screwball comedy during which Addie discovers the wonders of drinking and Paul Bishop discovers that his fiancée, Maude Carson (Victoria Mack), isn’t the innocent, baby-voiced marriage material he is looking for.  Entering the bar in the opening scene, she announces, “The rain! Well, it’s wet!” which is about as sophisticated as her conversation will ever get. Continue reading “Pink Ladies on the House!”

Gee Whizz, How Far Will We Go?

In Longview, a man’s truck is like his ten gallon hat.  So it should be no surprise that every year, a group of out-of-luck Texans compete to keep their hands on a truck—whoever removes his or her hand last gets to take the truck home.  Hands on a Hardbody, based on S.R. Bindler’s documentary, is a kind of modern day They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? in which the pursuit of the American Dream becomes a carnivalesque parade of poverty.  But unlike They Shoot Horses, there is no despairing note to this musical: here the dream is tangible, the spectators admiring, and the participants heroes. Continue reading “Gee Whizz, How Far Will We Go?”

Buttoned Up and Constipated

Truman Capote famously said of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road that it “isn’t writing at all—it’s typing,” though the same accusation can now coincidentally be hurled at Richard Greenberg’s stage adaptation of Breakfast at Tiffany’s, which—excepting one significant difference—is a beat-by-beat replication of the novella.  Of course, the iconic film has by this point eclipsed Capote’s story, which featured far more prostitution and a far less conventional romance, so a chance to see his version restored to the popular consciousness should be a cause for celebration.  Should be. Continue reading “Buttoned Up and Constipated”

They Should Have Left Vanya and Sonia and Masha to Chekhov

Parody has roughly the same staying power as the latest YouTube video or a song written by a thirty-year-old about life in middle school.  Highbrow parody, I suppose, can last longer—indeed, Kevin Brewer’s Island; or, to Be Or Not to Be, a recent, wonderful sendup of Shakespearean comedy, could easily sustain decades of revivals.  Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Christopher Durang’s manic, highly praised, and rapid-fire comedy, is an entirely different matter.  “If everyone took antidepressants, Chekhov would have had nothing to write about,” Sonia (Kristine Nielsen) jokes in the opening scene, and this line is about as sophisticated and deep as Mr. Durang will get for the next two and a half hours.  Granted, he occasionally pokes fun at the Russian playwright’s tendency towards expository dialogue, but otherwise you don’t really need to know Chekhov to laugh at the show.  You just need to be familiar with a handful of his titles and the misconception that his works are all mopey and unfunny.  It plays like a Chekhov-themed sitcom or an elitist version of those godawful movies that Jason Friedberg and Aaron Seltzer annually evacuate from the bowels of Hollywood, except with the added offense of having pretensions of cultural superiority.  Call it Not Another Chekhov Spoof. Continue reading “They Should Have Left Vanya and Sonia and Masha to Chekhov”

Backwards and in High Heels

“More guns in people’s pockets means more people dead.”  That’s Texas Governor Ann Richards in Holland Taylor’s new play Ann, and it’s straighter talk than we’re used to from our elected officials—even from our uncensorable vice president, who recently advised America’s women to protect themselves by firing double-barreled shotguns into the air.  The line elicited loud cheers at a recent performance I attended and the moment is characteristic of Ms. Taylor’s endearing one woman show about a Southern Democrat unafraid to speak her mind, even if—God forbid—it costs her votes. Continue reading “Backwards and in High Heels”

This Is Not My Prop Gun

In July 1981, Ruth Elizabeth Davis (Carol Kane), an aging Golden Age Hollywood actress, sneaks into the home of an elderly couple in a seaside village in Maine, hiding out until after she has secured its purchase.  Her plans are slightly altered when Minnie Bodine (Mickey Sumner), a young, naïve girl—the first to admit, in her thick, New England accent, that she’s a bit of a boob—stumbles into the house and slowly befriends her.  Minnie thinks she recognizes Ruth, but isn’t “good with names” and can’t remember any of her pictures, though she is impressed when Ruth produces an Academy Award. Continue reading “This Is Not My Prop Gun”