Ask Not for Whom the Drum Beats

One of Eugene O’Neill’s earliest successes, The Emperor Jones finds its title character ruling an unnamed island in the Caribbean.  Having fled American justice, Brutus Jones (Obi Abili) exploits the superstitions of the local population to squeeze them dry, convincing them he can only be killed by a silver bullet.  When the Cockney trader Henry Smithers (Andy Murray) warns Jones that his reign has come to a premature end, he flees into the forest; at this point, the play turns to expressionism, depicting his failed, phantasmagorical escape. Continue reading “Ask Not for Whom the Drum Beats”


It’s Not My Place, It’s Where I Work

“We’ve been having the same conversation for twenty years,” Tracey (Johanna Day) complains early on in Lynn Nottage’s Sweat.  She and her friends, Cynthia (Michelle Wilson) and Jessie (Alison Wright), have worked in the same factory in Reading, Pennsylvania, since their teens.  Most of their fathers worked at the plant, too. Continue reading “It’s Not My Place, It’s Where I Work”

The Last Helicopter Out of Saigon

In 1983, my mother erupted in sobs during the overture of Madama Butterfly.  Of course, she was pregnant at the time.  I had no such help when I saw Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg’s Miss Saigon, which transplants Puccini’s opera to the end of the Vietnam War, and I must admit that I was significantly less moved.  Overstuffed with prostitutes, refugees, out of wedlock pregnancies, suicides, and lascivious Mormons, and moving at a pace that would make Game of Thrones feel dry and plotless, this show crams far too much material into its two and a half hours.  There is hardly enough space to breathe, let alone feel. Continue reading “The Last Helicopter Out of Saigon”

A Ribbon of Cosmic Light

“Forty years will pass in the course of a few minutes,” Hong (Brian Lee Huynh) says toward the end of The Light Years, a magical new play by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen that is currently running at Playwrights Horizons.  Hong immigrated to the United States to work for the engineer Hillary (Erik Lochtefeld), who has been commissioned by the actor and impresario Steele MacKaye (Rocco Sisto) to build an elaborate, lightbulb-bedecked moon for his play about Christopher Columbus, which will premiere at the four hundredth anniversary of the explorer’s arrival in the United States during the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. Continue reading “A Ribbon of Cosmic Light”

They Grow Up So Fast

The way Adam (James Kautz) remembers it, back in 1992, he was part of a cohesive group of beer-drinking miscreants with high school diplomas. Then everybody changed. Seemingly overnight, his friends became entirely different people. Their collective ambivalence about the future disappeared and each of them broke off into distinctive, driven personalities. Maybe Adam’s friends were just moving on with their lives. Or maybe it was an alien creature whose orgasmic touch somehow morphed them into the adult versions of themselves. Whatever it was, they left him behind, stuck in his hometown with nothing but his daddy issues and his recollections of times past. Continue reading “They Grow Up So Fast”

A Bit Less Tidy Around the Edges

Ten years after the premiere of his play, Midnight in a Clearing with Moon and Stars, Robert (Matthew Broderick) gets together with his cast and crew at their old haunt, the Talk House.  Robert and his star, Tom (Larry Pine), have moved on to a sitcom, Tony and Company.  Producer Bill (Michael Tucker) has become a talent agent, while composer Ted (John Epperson) and wardrobe supervisor Annette (Claudia Shear) have fallen on harder times.  So has the Talk House, whose proprietor, Nellie (Jill Eikenberry), allows the fallen star Dick (Wallace Shawn) to crash upstairs.  Their regular waitress, Jane (Annapurna Sriram), had some brief success as an actress before returning to her old job.  And the theater itself has suffered—only “eleven people still put on plays,” according to Annette. Continue reading “A Bit Less Tidy Around the Edges”

Mad About the Boy

About two thirds of the way through Sunset Boulevard, Joe Gillis (Michael Xavier) exits a swimming pool to reveal the kind of body that requires eight hours a day at the gym.  Mr. Xavier is a good singer and dancer, but this moment captures precisely why he is so miscast as Joe: the screenwriter’s psychosexual relationship with silent film star Norma Desmond (Glenn Close) doesn’t make any sense if he’s a typical kept man, young, athletic, and docile.  Joe is meant to be cynical, over the hill, contemplating a return to Dayton, Ohio.  Thus, he needs Norma just as much as she needs him.  He should look burnt out, hungry enough to feel ambivalent about allowing Norma to take control.  Otherwise, why stay? Continue reading “Mad About the Boy”