Being Shakespeare

Being Shakespeare is a strange piece, less a play than a lecture with lighting.  For a little under two hours, Simon Cowell gives us a skeletal account of Shakespeare’s life, interspersing its major events with historical background and some of the Bard’s more famous scenes; really, it is a chance for him to play Lear and Hamlet and even Juliet, a collection of greatest hits, like Hugh Jackman on Broadway for the literary crowd.

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A “Post-Feminist” Shrew

When we walk into the theater, there is man playing saloon music on a piano.  A woman passes out bags of peanuts, and Christopher Sly (Matthew Cowles), an old, drunken bum who has been tricked into thinking he is an aristocrat, loudly comments on the action of the play, so much so that the actors occasionally “break character” to quiet him down.  It is a gleefully lowbrow take on the opening of Olivier’s Henry V, but instead of framing it within a performance at the Globe Theater, director Arin Arbus has placed her Taming of the Shrew in the American West.  Though she never makes it clear why she has done this, it works nonetheless.  The biggest complaint about Shrew is its supposed sexism, and by drawing more attention to the fact that it is a play within a play—by continually reminding us that we are watching actors playing actors playing parts—Ms. Arbus forces us to look closer at the irony in Shakespeare’s writing and not accept the taming at face value.

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Quite Personal and Quite Loud

Harold Pinter said, “There are two silences.  One when no word is spoken.  The other when … a torrent of language is being employed.  This speech is speaking of a language locked beneath it.”  Nina Raine has taken this sentiment to heart in her new play Tribes, which centers on the ferocious, suffocating love between a pair of brothers, Billy (Russell Harvard), who is deaf, and Daniel (Will Brill), a schizophrenic who has more and more trouble drowning out the voices in his head.  The family is rounded out by their father Christopher (Jeff Perry), an acerbic professor-turned-critic and their mother Beth (Mare Winningham), a woman who writes genre fiction in a house full of genuine and pseudo-intellectuals—even their sister Ruth (Gayle Rankin) has an ostensibly creative career (she sings opera in English).

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What Makes You Free?

It is 1942 and in Poland, Jews are marching into the gas chambers.  But in Yonkers, they are ostensibly dealing with family problems.  When Eddie (Dominic Comperatore) finds himself terribly in debt after the death of his wife, he drops his two sons Arty (Russell Posner) and Jay (Matthew Gumley) off with their uncompromising German grandmother (Cynthia Harris).  They are joined by Aunt Bella (Finnerty Steeves), a thirty-five-year-old child and Uncle Louie (Alec Beard), a low-level gangster who acts like he heads Murder, Inc.

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‘Tis Your Brother

Declan Donnellan has directed theater, opera, ballet, and film, all of which come into play in his dynamic revival of John Ford’s ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore, a wonderful production that has been choreographed and timed down to the last second.  By making the appropriate cuts to the original text, he has streamlined the play so that it focuses only on its central relationship, the love affair between Giovanni (Jack Gordon) and his sister Annabella (Lydia Wilson); it is a Romeo and Juliet in which “the problem is no longer that the lovers are from different families, the problem is now that they’re from the same one.

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More Melancholy Than Ten Hamlets is Pretty Damn Melancholy

Early in A Moon for the Misbegotten, Josie Hogan (Kim Marten-Cotten) describes the love of her life, Jim Tyrone (Andrew May), as “like a dead man walking slow behind his own coffin.”  This march towards the inevitable seems to make up the entire play, which follows characters who are obsessed with helping each other and end up helping no one.  Jim, the Hogans’ landlord and an old Broadway ham, slowly drinks himself to death instead of wedding Josie, while her wily father Phil (Dan Daily) tries to play puppet master and orchestrate the marriage that would benefit all three.  As Eugene O’Neill’s swan song, A Moon for the Misbegotten unifies the writer’s most important artistic concerns while also incorporating some of his bad habits—at nearly three and a half hours, we wish this whiskey-soaked night could be a little more succinct.

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