Back in the town of Bnei Brak

Gilad Shalit has returned home.  He is plumped up, safe, and writing about sports.  But the questions raised by his capture and release linger, so it is appropriate for the Diverse City Theater Co. to revive Lee Blessing’s Two Rooms, a 1988 play about the kidnapping of an American professor in Beirut.  As Michael (Curran Connor) remains locked in a small room, his wife, Lainie (Bree Michael Warner), juggles a government bureaucrat (Dawn Evans) and a sensationalist reporter (Victor Lirio) and is sometimes visited by her husband in her dreams.  In an act of symbolic solidarity, she “cleanses” his office, getting rid of every item except a modest carpet; both she and Michael, then, are trapped by their surroundings.  At one point, she fondly recalls his eyes—all women love eyes, she says smilingly—but for most of the first act Michael is blindfolded.  Mr. Shalit is not the only victim of terrorism evoked by this production.  Occasionally, photos are projected behind the actors, a familiar black rectangle cutting through the center of them, obscuring some of their content.  To borrow a phrase from Art Spiegelman, these characters are living in the shadow of no towers. Continue reading “Back in the town of Bnei Brak”

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If in the First Act You Have Hung a Pistol On the Wall…

In the winter of 1932, Hitler discovered one of his trusted colonels in the company of a thirteen-year-old boy.  He removed all but one bullet from a 9mm Luger, handed it to the man and left the room, expecting him to do the honorable thing.  But the colonel valued his own life more than Hitler’s.  He ran out of his room stark naked, pointed the pistol at the future dictator’s head, and fired—but the gun jammed and history bore the brunt of the mechanical failure. Continue reading “If in the First Act You Have Hung a Pistol On the Wall…”

This Is the Way the World Ends?

John Kander and Fred Ebb’s Cabaret is set inside a seedy Berlin bar, the Kit Kat Klub, where, for a while, “Life is beautiful.”  It is a place where you can “Leave your troubles outside,” but the rise of the Nazi party interrupts this paradise and eventually seeps its way into the Klub, particularly in a memorable moment when the emcee, dancing with a girl in a gorilla costume, concludes his pleading love song, “If You Could See Her,” by hissing to his audience, “If you could see her through my eyes, she wouldn’t look Jewish at all.” Continue reading “This Is the Way the World Ends?”

The Best Circus Ever Heard Of

Gore Vidal’s The Best Man may have been a scathing indictment of American politics when it premiered in 1960, but compared to today’s climate it just feels cute.  In Philadelphia, two presidential candidates vie for their party’s nomination: the erudite and earnest if indecisive and personally flawed Secretary of State Bill Russell (John Larroquette) and Senator Joseph Cantwell (John Stamos), a ruthless powermonger with an impeccable private life.  Their differences, so clear, are even marked in the pictures hanging in their hotel rooms: Russell has two framed portraits of Washington and Lincoln—boring but correct—while Cantwell has a print of the patriotic but historically inaccurate Washington Crossing the Delaware.  In the middle of these candidates is Former President Arthur Hockstader (James Earl Jones), a straight-shooting, self-identified hick in the model of William Jennings Bryan who has yet to announce his endorsement. Continue reading “The Best Circus Ever Heard Of”

The Importance of Giving a Shit

Oscar Wilde is the master of one-liners, many of which are so seductive that they can mislead a poorly directed production into ignoring virtually everything else.  This is one of the many faults of the current revival of An Ideal Husband at the Connelly Theater, which is full of perfectly boring actors who offer us crisp English accents and who pause for the expected laughs and do little else of interest.  The whole show reeks of mediocre community theater, where you’re just impressed that everybody has learned all those lines.  Which isn’t exactly the case here—for the first half of the performance I attended, Amanda Jones (Mrs. Cheveley) hardly got through four sentences without flubbing one, and in the second half, Stuart Williams (Viscount Goring) took her place; he not only struggled to get the words right, but made the humiliating decision of starting lines all over again after realizing halfway through that he had them wrong.  It’s a stultifying, passionless affair, with a cast that regurgitates what has been written down without any sense of feeling.  This isn’t acting, it’s remembering—and pretty lousy remembering at that.  An elderly lady sitting in front of me snoozed through all four acts, occasionally waking up for just enough time to nod and smile appreciatively before falling back asleep.  It strikes me that she brought only slightly less effort to this play than its somnambulant cast and crew. Continue reading “The Importance of Giving a Shit”