The Winning Post’s No End

How does one go about faulting the director in a play full of quality acting? Is Leah C. Gardiner heavily complicit in the performances that save The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner from sheer mediocrity? Or did the actors, like the play’s protagonist, rise up against the restrictive desires of their supervisors? Continue reading “The Winning Post’s No End”

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If I Were an ‘Amster

After a week of disappointing plays, leave it to Isabella Rossellini to revivify our love of theater through her obsession with animal reproductive behavior.  “Tonight we’re going to talk about sex, right?  Good,” she begins, entering the stage in a modest black dress and pearls and occasionally donning thick-rimmed orange eyeglasses.  Green Porno, her subsequent lecture (or “conference,” as she calls it), traces her lifelong interest in ethology.  As an actor, she informs us, she has always slid into the skin of her characters, and now she does the same with animals, supplementing her seventy-five minute talk with short films in which she acts out animal sex wearing handmade costumes (Michel Gondry, eat your heart out) and never dropping an earnest, straight-faced tone.  The result is a fascinating tour of this unusual kingdom; peppering her light Italian accent with endearing foreignisms like similtude and scientifical, Ms. Rossellini emotionally anthropomorphizes her subjects, creating such charming notions as sea lion harems, labyrinthine duck vaginas, and transvestite cuddlefish (those “sneaky males”). Continue reading “If I Were an ‘Amster”

A Poor Bare, Forked Animal

I fully expected to love Frank Langella’s King Lear.  After all, aging movie stars may be even better candidates for the role than those versed in Shakespeare.  Saturated for decades in shallow adulation, applauded for their every move, they have far more to fear in losing what Mr. Langella calls our “metaphorical crown[s],” the “props we all use to justify our existence.”  Moreover, with his powerful gravitas, his Nixon jowls, and his cue ball head sparsely decorated with sprouting white hairs, Mr. Langella certainly looks the part.  But there is something essential that he has missed about his king.  “If you’ve lived your life as he has,” he says of Lear, “from the moment of birth, having the crown put on your little head and every wish and every command of yours indulged inyou cannot understand real love.”  It is possible that he misspoke with “real love,” but the Lear Shakespeare wrote overflows with it.  He is crippled by love, and unlike Othello, he loves not wisely but too well.  The fact that his love is narcissistic does nothing to invalidate it, and it is precisely this excess of feeling that makes Edmund (Max Bennett), the man with no feeling, so effective a foil.  “Which of you shall we say doth love us most?” Mr. Langella asks after shuffling onstage, and the question is posed routinely, as if he were a CEO opening a meeting with his board.  Surely, Lear thinks he knows how his daughters will answer, but that does not mean he would be bored in listening to them.  This opening proves indicative of Mr. Langella’s entire performance, which is inexplicably mute and unaffecting, eliciting little response no matter how loud he roars or how heavily he sobs. Continue reading “A Poor Bare, Forked Animal”

Stop—and Look Around

“People are profoundly bad, but irresistibly funny.”  This quotation, from playwright Joe Orton, serves as the epigraph to a revival of his Loot, currently running at the Lucille Lortel Theater.  It is staggeringly misleading.  Applied to a work by, say, Edward Bond, or Tom Stoppard, or Sarah Kane, it would be appropriate.  But Loot is no cynical investigation of human folly, but a broad and rather lame farce that might have been commissioned, and then forgotten, by the BBC in the early ‘sixties.  It’s disposable 3am television, not the pure and rare satire John Lahr gushes over in his introduction to Orton’s work and certainly not the “bloody marvelous” writing about which Harold Pinter eulogized. Continue reading “Stop—and Look Around”

¿Quién Sabe?

At the offices of the George H. Jones Company, platitudes rap out as quickly as the clickety-clack of the typewriters.  “Hot dog!” cries an office boy (Ryan Dinning) in response to nearly everything.  “Haste makes waste,” warns an elderly stenographer (Henny Russell).  And George H. Jones (Michael Cumpsty) himself informs all his employees, “The early bird catches the worm.”  This circus sounds like five unclever Rosalind Russells yapping nonstop, so it is no wonder that one of the secretaries, Helen (Rebecca Hall), feels like she is foundering in a life that has been set before it has begun.  George proposes, she reluctantly accepts in order to flee her hysterical mother (Suzanne Bertish), and a dazzling, life-size dollhouse of a set spins round and round as Helen descends deeper and deeper into what Betty Friedan called “the problem that has no name”: that is, the life of an intelligent woman suffocating in banal housewifery.  A baby, never seen onstage, brings more anxiety instead of love; a lover (Morgan Spector) brings the glimpse of freedom that leads to a breakdown. Continue reading “¿Quién Sabe?”