The Lord of Misrule

Azdak (Christopher Lloyd) is a difficult character.  As played by Mr. Lloyd—with a bright, shining bald head, a Neanderthal’s brow, and Dumbo ears—he looks like a man who got lost, and who was perhaps mauled by several rabid dogs, on his way to the set of The Hills Have Eyes.  Azdak is the backbone, if not the protagonist, of Bertolt Brecht’s The Caucasian Chalk Circle.  After a popular uprising, this scrivener impresses some soldiers with his humor and is appointed judge of his region.  For two years, he accepts bribes freely and yet rarely makes good on them; his time in power is spent on drink, on women, and on irrationally favoring the poor in court over the rich.  He has some affinity with Robin Hood and Jack Falstaff, though his ethical code is almost impossible to locate and his sense of mirth severely limited.  He is remembered after his reign as having presided over a Golden Age, though this is impossible to accept: while his decisions favor the disenfranchised, they are erratic, inconsistent, and occasionally indefensible. Continue reading “The Lord of Misrule”

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We’re All Drinkers

Conor McPheron’s 1997 play The Weir has proven durable and popular, mostly because it’s an easy play to explain and relate to: at its core, it’s about old friends drinking in a pub telling stories. Ghost stories. And at that level, the play—and especially the Irish Repertory Theatre’s revival—is extremely effective. The theatre itself lends an air of intimacy to the production, and the intensity and attention paid to the four ghost monologues is astounding. Continue reading “We’re All Drinkers”

You Might Even End Up Happy

“I had a love/hate relationship with Mr. Ibsen for a long time,” admits director Andre Belgrader, while one of his actors, Wrenn Schmidt, adds, “The first time I read The Master Builder, there was nothing about that play that attracted me to it.”  Though both eventually came around to the author and his work, the initial hesitancy about the material (one that I share, for I have never seen Ibsen work) seeps into the production.  Despite several solid performances and gorgeous scenic design by Santo Loquasto—a simple revolving set with tilted, rectangular scaffolding in the center—The Master Builder plays like typical Ibsen: sterile, stilted, and emotionally anachronistic. Continue reading “You Might Even End Up Happy”

Thou of Thyself Thy Sweet Self Dost Deceive

Setting Macbeth in an insane asylum is not an entirely original idea—after all, Sleep No More has been running just twenty blocks south of the Barrymore Theatre for over two years—but apart from adding an irrelevant, “creepy” aesthetic, I’m sure I don’t know why anyone would do this to Shakespeare’s play.  In its newest incarnation, Alan Cumming is the unfortunate Scot in an (almost) one-man show; surrounded by wordless doctors, this part is so masturbatory that it proves irresistible even to an actor of Mr. Cumming’s caliber.  In one hour and fifty minutes, he strips naked, prances manically around the stage, writhes on his bed like a worm having a seizure, and smears prop blood all over his chest.  It’s the kind of ridiculous performance we may forgive if given to a mirror after a shower, but in front of thousands of people who have actually paid money to see this, it is a baffling and heinous outrage. Continue reading “Thou of Thyself Thy Sweet Self Dost Deceive”

If I Get Busted in New York, the Freest City in the World…

Nathan Lane has one of the most interesting faces in showbusiness: his thick black eyebrows seem to almost always be forming an upside down V, giving the impression of endless mirth, while his Mr. Potato Head shaped face is so elastic his muscles may as well be made of rubber bands.  Which makes him the perfect actor for Chauncey Miles, a flamboyant vaudevillian who, in 1937 New York, finds his career in jeopardy when Mayor LaGuardia attempts to shut down burlesque and, in particular, “Nance” acts, for which Chauncey is a star among the gay underground.  The part allows Mr. Lane to gallivant around the stage, sing risqué songs, make lewd gestures, and milk double entendres for all they’re worth.  He is hysterical, a Groucho Marx with the body of Lou Costello; it’s a supreme comic performance. Continue reading “If I Get Busted in New York, the Freest City in the World…”

Now It Came to Pass

“I’m speaking English?” asks Loyfer (Shane Baker) at the opening of The Megile of Itzik Manger.  Then, looking at an elderly member of the audience, he says, I’m guessing, “From now on—in Yiddish,” for the supertitles had not yet started.  Wearing a purple pinstripe suit and a top hat, and with the ease and charisma … Continue reading Now It Came to Pass

Barrie’s Women

If only there were ten more theaters like the Pearl, New York would be in great shape.  Their most recent production, This Side of Neverland, combines two J.M. Barrie one-acts, “Rosalind” and “The Twelve Pound Look.”  Barrie was one of those authors, like Maurice Sendak, who understood that childhood is far more complicated and melancholy that we often give it credit for, and by now it has become clichéd to apply the subtitle to his most famous play, The Boy Who Would Not Grow Up, to the man himself.  “Rosalind,” about a middle-aged actress, Beatrice (Rachel Botchan), who doubles as a twenty-three-year-old starlet, demonstrates that his anxiety about aging was not limited to Peter Pan.  Struggling with the indifference of writers to women her age, she continues to play the lead role in As You Like It, but when a persistent admirer (Sean McNall) shows up bearing an autographed picture and an aching heart, she confesses her deception.  It should be obvious why Barrie would love As You Like It—which gives us the magical Forest of Arden, where Shakespeare’s heroine can escape from social norms and reinvent herself—but by giving his actress the name of the lead in Much Ado About Nothing, he betrays an interest in feminism that becomes more explicit in the second play. Continue reading “Barrie’s Women”