Let Them Eat Bread

Arnold Bennett, no stranger to the quotidian himself, once accused James Joyce of selecting the “dailiest day” as the subject of his novel Ulysses.  Les Misérables, then, could be said to concern itself with the most epical epic: it is the story of a decades long feud between petty thief Jean Valjean (Ramin Karimloo) and police inspector Javert (Will … Continue reading Let Them Eat Bread

Everybody’s Out of Step But Me

In 1963, Lyndon Baines Johnson (Bryan Cranston) became the first Southern President of the “You-nited States of Am’rica” in one hundred fourteen years—that is, since Virginia’s Zachary Taylor, our twelfth commander-in-chief, who held that position for a total of sixteen months before succumbing to a stomach illness.  As written by Robert Schenkkan and played by Mr. Cranston, LBJ is a Southern boy through and through, a slick operator who speaks largely in metaphors about carpenters and rattlesnakes; spymaster J. Edgar Hoover (Michael McKean) is his “brother” and segregationist Richard Russell (John McMartin) is “Uncle Dick,” even when both consistently threaten to wreck his career.  This LBJ loves fighting, fucking, and telling dirty jokes, and though we only see him doing the first and the last, we can imagine that he is wagging his tongue through all three.  “The whole ‘soft on the military’ bullshit!” he cries after hearing that old Republican attack.  “Christ, Democrats beat Hitler and Tojo, what more do we have to do?”

Continue reading “Everybody’s Out of Step But Me”

We’ll Meet Again

Heléna Altman (Nina Arianda), a young Viennese woman widowed by World War I and still dressed in mourning, finds herself turning to prostitution in order to survive.  An early stage direction reads, in reference to one of her johns, “He fucks her.  Heléna doesn’t cry,” which should give some indication of her frank and somewhat inscrutable emotional state.  David Grimm’s Tales from Red Vienna isn’t, after all, a story of budding romance snapped at its peak.  “Were we in love?” Heléna asks her servant and lifelong confidant Edda (Kathleen Chalfant).  “You were both young an incredibly stupid,” she replies.  “It’s easier for stupid people to be in love.” Continue reading “We’ll Meet Again”

What Measure Ye Mete

Before the play begins, the actors walk onstage to mill around and greet the audience.  Andy Grotelueschen nods his head and beams before bumming a mint from someone in the front row.  “James, my cousin is sitting behind you!” he calls out to a man he recognizes.  “Hi, Becky!” squeaks Jessie Austrian, using her hand to shield her eyes from the lights.  This, of course, is not unlike the way another recent Shakespearean production was framed, with a view of the actors before they inhabit their roles.  And since Measure for Measure is greatly concerned with performing and representing and seeming, it is not wholly inappropriate.  Directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, however, decide to repeat this little entr’acte after intermission, which should indicate the general tone of the production; just as they did with Cymbeline, the Fiasco Theater has decided to take one of the Bard’s darker works and transform it into an ordinary comedy. Continue reading “What Measure Ye Mete”

We Are Each Our Own Devil

“Why, [you’re] the torturer, of course,” Inez (Jolly Abraham) says to Cradeau (Bradford Cover) as she enters Jean-Paul Sartre’s No Exit.  He says that this is “too comic for words,” but of course he is her torturer just as she is his.  Sartre’s underworld, after all, is not comprised of the burning, naked bodies of Memling’s The Last Judgment or the grinning demons of Bouguereau’s Dante and Virgil in Hell.  It is a Borgesian labyrinth of hallways and rooms and endless conversation where one is forced to live with one’s eyes open, where this lucidity is turned both on oneself and on others.  Cradeau, a reporter who collaborated with the German occupiers (No Exit premiered one month before the liberation of France), insists he has been damned for his womanizing and not his cowardice.  Estelle (Sameerah Luqmaan-Harris), a high-class socialite, denies guilt of any kind before finally confessing that she murdered a baby she bore by her lover.  Only Inez, a lesbian postal worker responsible for the death of a man married to the woman she loved, admits that she is right where she belongs.  “I’m rather cruel,” she tells her cellmates.  “I can’t get on without making people suffer.”  It should be no surprise, then, that No Exit is most famous for Cradeau’s declaration, “Hell is other people.” Continue reading “We Are Each Our Own Devil”

Only One Is a Wanderer

The story goes that when A Doll’s House premiered in 1879, it was so controversial that party invitations in Stockholm requested that guests not mention the play.  In fact, the ending was shocking enough that Henrik Ibsen’s German agent forced him to rewrite the final scene before it could play in German theaters.  Unsurprisingly, the polemical side of this work has lost much of its power.  Nora Helmer (Hattie Morahan), a child-like woman trapped in a patronizing marriage to bank manager Torvald (Dominic Rowan), is no longer viewed as a radical woman so much as a proto-feminist, and her escape from Torvald and his love-struck best friend Dr. Rank (Steve Toussaint) plays as the inevitable conclusion of this frightening, claustrophobic drama instead of a scandalous first step on the way to Betty Friedan and Gloria Steinem. Continue reading “Only One Is a Wanderer”

Daughter of Elysium

I experienced a sharp moment of panic in the first few moments of Ode to Joy, which begins with Adele (Kathryn Erbe) screaming and painting phantom brushstrokes across the fourth wall for some time before delivering the play’s first line, “This is the story of how the pain goes away.” My first thought was of the press agent’s last words to me: the play is two hours long. Two more minutes seemed too much to ask. Yet after a brief preamble, playwright Craig Lucas goes from cringe-inducing to finding genuine laughs in a pregnant alcoholic’s suicide. It is a beginning that highlights both the best and worst of what Mr.Lucas’ latest play has to offer. The straight misery is embarrassingly bad but the humor-tinged misery succeeds greatly.

Continue reading “Daughter of Elysium”