Sittin’ in the Railway Station, Got a Ticket for My Destination

The emotions are easy and the pleasures simple in Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful—but they are emotions and pleasure nonetheless.  Mrs. Carrie Watts (Cicely Tyson), an elderly woman who seems to feel “Death [standing] in the doorway, clipping his nails,” as Ken Cosgrove would put it, desires to leave the house of her docile son, Ludie (Cuba Gooding Jr.), and his bitchy wife, Jessie Mae (Vanessa Williams), in order to return to her hometown, the ironically named Bountiful.  In Houston, she stays up all night staring out her window and watching cars as they narrowly avoid crashing into each other on the corner.  She sings Christian hymns, much to the chagrin of the beauty parlor and moving picture-obsessed Jessie Mae, while not-so-secretly longing to have dirt once again between her fingers.  One day, pension check in hand, she bolts, and Foote’s drama follows the stubborn but genial Mrs. Watts during her “trip” to her dilapidated childhood house, which is “about to fall into the Brazos river.” Continue reading “Sittin’ in the Railway Station, Got a Ticket for My Destination”

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Tell Us About the Fruit of Thy Womb

There is enough in Colm Tóibín’s novella and subsequent play The Testament of Mary to set a biblical literalist’s head spinning.  It is the story of Mary (Fiona Shaw), the mother of Christ, which she relates after her son’s death.  She has abandoned Judaism and only attends pagan temples, she refers to the apostles as “misfits” and claims that her version of events “does not stretch to whatever limits [they have] ordained.”  She laughs off the Immaculate Conception, calls Jesus’ aphorisms “high flown talk and riddles,” and admits that, during the crucifixion, “my first instinct was to flee and it was also my last instinct” because “the pain was his and not mine”—meaning that the defining image of the pietà is, in this rendering, religious revisionism.  But most importantly (and blasphemously), Mary declares with great conviction, “It was not worth it.” Continue reading “Tell Us About the Fruit of Thy Womb”

Is Jekyll & Hyde the Best Broadway Show of the Season?

“Did anyone laugh?” James Whale asks his gardener, Clayton Boone, in Bill Condon’s Gods and Monsters.  Clayton had just caught Whale’s movie, The Bride of Frankenstein, on TV the night before.  Covering, and afraid of insulting his employer, Clayton lies: “No.”  “Pity,” replies Whale. “People are so earnest nowadays.”  Shocked, Clayton asks, “Why?  Was it supposed to be funny?”  “Of course!” cries Whale.  “I had to make it interesting for myself, you see.  A comedy about death.  The trick is not to ruin it for anyone who isn’t in on the joke.” Continue reading “Is Jekyll & Hyde the Best Broadway Show of the Season?”

Match Me, Charlie

I’ve never been too enthusiastic about Clifford Odets’ dated, left-wing didacticism, and even if The Big Knife leans closer to Sweet Smell of Success than Waiting for Lefty, it waters down the former’s cynicism with the latter’s heavy-handedness.  Towards the end of the play, after identifying himself as a Hamlet, the Hollywood star Charlie Castle (Bobby Cannavale) booms, “Don’t they murder the highest dreams and hopes of a whole great people with the movies they make?  This whole movie thing is a murder of the people.  Only we hit them on the heads, under the hair—nobody sees the mark.”  The obvious joke is irresistible: Odets is hitting us so hard on our heads that we walk out of the theater rubbing our wounds. Continue reading “Match Me, Charlie”

People Hurt Me—So I Hurt Them Back

“It is a curious subject of observation and inquiry,” writes Nathaniel Hawthorne in The Scarlet Letter, “whether hatred and love be not the same thing at bottom.”  This certainly seems to be the case in August Strindberg’s The Dance of Death, a brutal exercise in misanthropy during which an elderly military captain, Edgar (Daniel Davis), trades verbal blows with his wife of twenty-five years, Alice (Laila Robins).  The inseparable pair regularly and casually say things like, “Pleasure?  What’s pleasure?” and, “The day I drop dread—that’s my idea of a good time.”  He’s ending his life stationed on an uneventful island, she’s an actress who gave up her career for marriage—and with the entrance of Gustav (Derek Smith), Alice’s former beau, the two rejoice at a chance to resuscitate their talents: Edgar wages war with his rival while Alice performs a one-woman melodrama; late in the play, riding high on her own histrionics, she tells her new audience member, “I’m an artist, Gustav, a free spirit.  I’m a woman who isn’t afraid to say what she wants to a man who’s afraid of everything—free, free, free!” Continue reading “People Hurt Me—So I Hurt Them Back”

This Little Bastard Is Changing My Life!

“You’re my kidnap victim!” shrieks the hot-blooded Treat (Ben Forster) halfway into Lyle Kessler’s Orphans.  He is addressing Harold (Alec Baldwin), a big-time Chicago gangster who spent the previous scene casually untying the knots around his wrists while chatting with Treat’s younger, retarded brother, Phillip (Tom Sturridge), about Houdini—a “Yiddisha boy … don’t let the Italian flavor fool you.”  For years, Treat has taken care of Phillip by keeping him locked up at home while he commits petty crimes for grocery cash; Treat has convinced Phillip that the latter suffers from a medley of deadly allergies (grass, trees, air), he has convinced him that he could not survive without him in order to avoid admitting that it is in fact the other way around.  Treat, used to being in control, is a semi-functional, anti-social tough guy, unable to confront the fact that his disabled younger brother is in fact far more socially adept, more emotionally stable than he. Continue reading “This Little Bastard Is Changing My Life!”