For Many Be Called, But Few Chosen

When you walk into the Drilling Company, a small theater on the Upper West Side, the woman who plays the title role in Miss Julie, Louise Seyffert, shuffles out of her dressing room to check your reservation.  The lobby, marked by a wheezing heater, has a few chairs, a couple of cans of coke, a bottle of wine, and a suggested donation box.  There is no staff—only the three actors in the play.  This is actually appropriate, as August Strindberg stresses in his introduction that “first and foremost, a small stage and a small auditorium” should house Miss Julie, a one-act that avoids an intermission in order to retain verisimilitude. Continue reading “For Many Be Called, But Few Chosen”

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Jedem das Seine

Quentin (Kirk Gostkowski) lights a cigarette, ignoring the swarm of people reaching out to him: friends, colleagues, former wives.  He looks a bit like Marcello Mastroianni in 8 ½ (Nina Simone’s craggy rendition of “I Put a Spell on You” sets the tone), except this man is not escaping into fantasy but tormented by memory.  After the Fall, Arthur Miller’s notoriously autobiographical play, follows a successful lawyer as he sorts through his personal history—two marriages, the Red Scare and HUAC, his response to the Holocaust—and decides whether he should marry his newest love, a woman named Holga (Liz Tancredi).  Replaying events in his mind and onstage, a guard tower from Auschwitz always hovering above the action, he accounts the thoughts and feelings that have led him to the present, offering little comfort to himself or to humanity as a whole.  Visiting the concentration camp, he says, “There is something in there that is terribly acceptable,” later adding, “My brothers died here, but my brothers built this place.”  It is a difficult, fascinating play, a messy masterpiece, and one that requires a sharp and audacious cast and crew. Continue reading “Jedem das Seine”

Where’s Higgs?

Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap is sixty years old and has run for over twenty five thousand performances—though the machine seems to be self-perpetuating, its legendary run inspiring new audiences to attend a work that is horribly dated and only vaguely entertaining.  I make this point to emphasize my confusion at the current revival of The Mystery of Edwin Drood, an adaptation of Charles Dickens’ unfinished novel that is self-consciously campy but seemingly unaware that the genre has been so for over a half century.  With agonizing consistency, actors drop suspicious lines, jerk hammily at the audience with guilty or malicious faces while the orchestra farts out a trite, implicating musical chord.  But the same thing was happening in London some forty years before the fall of Communism.  Any director or writer who thinks Drood is bringing something fresh to the parlor mystery does not deserve a voice on Broadway. Continue reading “Where’s Higgs?”

Speak the Speech, I Pray You

James DeVita is a smart, amiable, blue-collar guy from Long Island.  He was not a great high school student, and after graduation he decided to work on a boat—the sum total of his ambition up until that point.  But after three years, and after a particularly memorable night watching Ian McKellen in Acting Shakespeare, Mr. DeVita changed his mind.  He wanted to be a blue-collar Long Islander who just happened to “speak poetry,” the Gene Kelly of Shakespeare.  He wanted to make the Bard accessible, immediate, to make the texts come alive for the people he grew up around, like his buddy Sal Galati.  Never mind that he had an accent that could “scrape the paint off doors.” Continue reading “Speak the Speech, I Pray You”

The First Glimmer

In Margaret Edson’s Wit, a John Donne professor is diagnosed with Stage IV ovarian cancer, the point being that a woman who has studied literary death for years is now experiencing the real thing.  Sharr White’s The Other Place works along the same lines: Juliana (Laurie Metcalf) is a brilliant neurologist, but when her life begins to fall apart—her husband, Ian (Daniel Stern) files for divorce, and her daughter (Zoe Perry) refuses to speak with her—we suspect that things aren’t quite what they seem, or at least what they seem to Juliana.  An expert in the field of dementia, she begins to suffer from the very disease she has spent her life trying to cure. Continue reading “The First Glimmer”

The Top Ten Plays of 2012

This was a year of reinterpretation: only four of the plays on this list are new, and of those four, one is a rewriting of a classic American play, another a take on a ‘seventies American sitcom, and a third a celebration of a great (but dead) British playwright.  In fact, only Tribes, which clocks in at Number 10, is wholly “new.”  Still, these are ideal revivals, featuring smart directors and first-rate casts.  Some, like ‘Tis Pity, are radically reimagined, and others, like Death of a Salesman, stylistically evoke the original productions; all are emotionally and intellectually faithful to the source material.  Unfortunately, due to unconscionable actions on the part of the copyright holders of Three’s Company3C, one of the year’s best, will likely never be seen again. Continue reading “The Top Ten Plays of 2012”

What Was He Doing—Down in the Reeds By the River?

About halfway through Amy Herzog’s The Great God Pan, an elderly babysitter, Polly (Joyce Van Patten), says to one of her former children, Jamie (Jeremy Strong), “Look at you.  You’re so old.  You have wrinkles here and here.”  “It’s not polite to point out a gentleman’s wrinkles,” Jamie replies, somewhat good-naturedly.  It’s a small, almost disposable moment, but epitomizes the entire play.  Ms. Herzog is obsessed with bodies—with how they change, with how we will them to change, and with how damage done to them, long healed, can come back to emotionally drown us. Continue reading “What Was He Doing—Down in the Reeds By the River?”