O Brave New Word

To call Terrence McNally’s delightful And Away We Go a love letter to the theater would be to do it a disservice, since that would be to offer a cliché before a work that is anything but ordinary.  Granted, one could easily imagine how this play could go wrong: set backstage, it travels in time from the Theatre of Dionysus in 458 BCE to the Burbages’ plainly named Theatre in Jacobean England to Versailles in 1789 to the Moscow Arts Theatre in 1896 and finally to the humble Coconut Grove Playhouse in 1956.  Each time, a set of actors, stagehands, and nervous playwrights prepare for the debut of a seminal work: The Oresteia in Greece, The Tempest in London, an unnamed revolutionary play in France, The Seagull in Russia, and finally Waiting for Godot (starring Bert Lahr) in Florida.  Intersecting these momentous events is the story of a contemporary company plagued by money problems and audiences indifferent to the classics, though we see that this condition is nothing but new—working for the stage has always been a dog’s life and little but an insatiable passion for art keeps these poor players going.  What could have easily been gimmicky, then, is in fact a wonderful labor of love. Continue reading “O Brave New Word”

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One of Those Warrior Spirits

Early in How I Learned What I Learned, August Wilson’s one-man autobiography, Wilson (Ruben Santiago-Hudson) turns away from the audience and removes a shirt, revealing another under it which reads I AM AN ACCIDENT THIS DID NOT TURN OUT RIGHT.  When he pivots to face the audience, we see printed on the front: I AM SUPPOSED TO BE WHITE.  “Like my T-shirt?” he asks.  “I got this on eBay.  Got it from a man named Clarence Thomas.”  This moment is typical of How I Learned What I Learned, a pleasing work that is funnier than it needs to be but lighter than it should be. Continue reading “One of Those Warrior Spirits”

The Invisible War Made Visible

The combined horrors of war and rape are nearly impossible for the uninitiated to imagine and One Night…, a new play commissioned by the Cherry Lane Theatre, makes the reality of these ugly words feel as distant as Sumer. Alicia G. (Rutina Wesley) and Horace Lloyd (Grantham Coleman), two veterans of the Iraq war, arrive at a seedy motel, refugees from a homeless shelter fire. Their room is stained, the TV doesn’t work, and the amorous couplings of others filter crystal clear through a vent in the bathroom. The proprietor’s (Cortez Nance Jr.) sinister sweetness does little to soothe their disgust. But there is little time to mope about the room—they’ve got hallucinations to get to! Continue reading “The Invisible War Made Visible”

Simple Faith Is More than Norman Blood

Kind Hearts and Coronets was the best film produced during the golden age of Ealing Studios, a seven year period which resulted in a handful of dark comedy classics, including The Lavender Hill Mob and The Ladykillers.  In Kind Hearts, Dennis Price plays the love child of a disinherited member of an aristocratic family.  When his mother dies and is denied internment in the family vault, he takes revenge on the snobs by killing each person who stands between himself and a dukedom, eight men and women all played by Alec Guinness.  It is all so deliciously British, the perfect movie for a gloomy Sunday afternoon, and it provides the narrative skeleton for A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder, which has Monty Navarro (Bryce Pinkham) dispatching eight D’Ysquiths (Jefferson Mays) to get the Earldom of Highhurst.  Unfortunately, this musical takes only its plot from Kind Hearts and none of the latter’s wit or charm. Continue reading “Simple Faith Is More than Norman Blood”

Tender Mercies

About a year ago, the Pan Pan Theatre Company staged Samuel Beckett’s All That Fall at BAM.  There were no visible actors and audience members sat in foldout chairs while listening to the dialogue and watching a series of light effects.  It didn’t quite work, but it was an interesting attempt to bring a radio play to the stage.  Now, Eileen Atkins and Michael Gambon have mounted another production at 59E59 Theaters.  Again, the fact that we are watching a radio play is foregrounded: old-fashioned microphones are hung from the ceiling, the only prop is a section of a car, and the actors pretend to read from their scripts (though likely they have memorized the text); furthermore, the play is framed by the turning on and off of a read light in the upper corner of the stage. Continue reading “Tender Mercies”

God Bless Us, Every One!

Penny Arcade has the ideal résumé for The Mutilated, a late, bizarre Tennessee Williams play that is dominated by camp.  Throughout her career, she has worked with Andy Warhol, his director Paul Morrissey, and the late experimental filmmaker Jack Smith.  With oversized breasts and a way of reciting lines that is simultaneously so flat and so hammy that it must either be entirely accidental or entirely deliberate, she would fit right in with John Waters’ gang of freaks (her co-star, Mink Stole, is a Waters regular).  Here she plays Celeste, an alcoholic who is willing to lease out any part of her body for a bottle or even just a drink; in the stage directions, Williams writes, “Her age is fifty; her spirit, unconquerable.”  The word unconquerable is key—Ms. Arcade’s acting may be horrible but it is indefatigable.  None of this, however, is meant to read as disdainful or condescending.  Nobody could play Celeste as well as Ms. Arcade. Continue reading “God Bless Us, Every One!”