Who’s on Forty-Second?

My grandparents spoke Yiddish, especially when they didn’t want their children to understand what they were saying.  My dad speaks some, though his German is better, and I know the same handful of words that a gentile might learn after five years of living in New York City.  There’s no question the language has been disappearing more and more with each successive generation, and that the droves of Jews who would dodge Friday services to attend the Yiddish theater are no longer to be seen on Second Avenue. Continue reading “Who’s on Forty-Second?”

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Just by Looking

Doug Wright has clearly done his research.  His new play Posterity, about the meeting of Henrik Ibsen (John Noble) and Gustav Vigeland (Hamish Linklater), is full of assurance about its subjects.  Based on a true story, the young Vigeland, considered one of Norway’s greatest sculptors (he designed the Nobel Peace Prize medal), is offered an assignment: to make a bust of Ibsen, who appears to be near death.  Though he initially resists—such assignments are beneath him—he agrees in order to ingratiate himself with the Cultural Ministry, who are the only body likely to fund what would become the Viegland Installation, a massive and masterful sculpture installation in Oslo. Continue reading “Just by Looking”

Plumbing the Depths

Matt (Ivan Dolido) is not the type to freely admit that anything in his life is going poorly. He thinks secrets are a sign of adulthood and performing is an important part of life. So if you were to ask him how he’s doing, chances are he would rave about the quality of his painting as of late, the shape he’s in, the freedom he feels. He would be less inclined to mention that his two-year relationship with Anna (Marlowe Holden) has been imperiled by infidelity and that he may or may not be hearing voices from a Lovecraftian race of fish people emanating from his toilet. But in his private moments, his fear and fascination possess him and he is eventually able to go “down there,” to the source of the voices, an ancient, inspiring civilization that leads him to produce a masterful work of art at a potentially lethal cost. Continue reading “Plumbing the Depths”

Brush Clearing

When Louise (Carrie Coon) finds out her mother may be dying, she lies and tells her that she’s marrying her boyfriend Jonathan (William Jackson Harper).  That is, she offers fake information in order to please.  As “I shall please” is the literal meaning of the word “placebo,” Louise has given her mother a placebo wedding.  “Placebo,” as we learn from Jonathan, who is a doctoral candidate in the classics, were also people: professional mourners who, in the Middle Ages, with so much death, were paid to “act like they care.” Continue reading “Brush Clearing”

Lover and Banker, Enchanter and Provider

“Isn’t life disappointing?”  The line comes near the end of Yasujiro Ozu’s Tokyo Story, but it could just as well prove the mantra of every character in Clifford Odets’ Rocket to the Moon, a drama about mid-life compromises and settling for mediocrity.  Ben Stark (Ned Eisenberg), a dentist who once showed more promise than those who have since surpassed him professionally, spends much of his day allowing others to trample over him.  First and foremost is his wife, Belle (Marilyn Matarrese), whose domineering behavior hides the wounds of a marriage gone cold; then there’s his widower father-in-law, Mr. Prince (Jonathan Hadary), who is estranged from his daughter and encourages Ben to pursue an extramarital affair; and finally Dr. Cooper (Larry Bull), an alcoholic who shares Ben’s office but hasn’t paid his half of the rent in months.  Nebbish, dithering, Ben sees a chance to retake control of his life in his new, young secretary, Cleo Singer (Katie McClellan). Continue reading “Lover and Banker, Enchanter and Provider”

Telling Tales

Kafka, of course, is a genre now, just as “experimental” refers to a very specific style instead of an attempt at creating something new.  David Lynch has become an adjective as well, so that his aesthetic of sugary pop music and violent imagery can now be mass produced, like Hello Kitty.  Judgment on a Gray Beach, then, is best described as an experimental/Kafka/David Lynch/Holocaust play.  This means, among other things, that it will feature a Nazi cockroach in drag (Alexis Rivero) singing “Lili Marleen.” Continue reading “Telling Tales”

I’ve Made All That’s Formed You

In 1791, a woman on a slave ship was diagnosed with smallpox.  In order to isolate the disease, she was tied to a chair and thrown overboard.  Of the 142 slaves on the ship, 121 were delivered on arrival.  In economic terms, then, the solution to the potential outbreak was a success, with one minor exception: the captain, the notorious pirate and slave trader James De Wolf (Robert Hogan)—who would eventually become the richest man in Rhode Island—remarked that he regretted the loss of so good a chair. Continue reading “I’ve Made All That’s Formed You”