ON THE AISLE with Larry - November 2017
Lawrence Harbison, our very own critic, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on TIME AND THE CONWAYS, SQUEAMISH, TINY BEAUTIFUL THINGS, ILLYRIA, THE HOME PLACE, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, THE PORTUGESE KID, THE LAST MATCH and SHADOWLANDS.
J.B. Priestley’s Time and the Conways, last seen on Broadway in the late 1930s, is being given a splendid revival by Roundabout at the American Airlines Theatre, directed by Rebecca Taichman, starring Elizabeth McGovern as the matriarch of a well-to-do British family. Preistley employed what was then a novel structure. The first act takes place in 1919 at a birthday party for one of Mrs. Conway’s daughters. As a charades game goes on offstage, we meet her three daughters and two sons, all full of hope for their assured future success. The Great War is finally over, after all, and hope springs eternal for everyone. The second act takes place 19 years later, and nobody’s life has turned out well. To top it off, Mrs. Conway’s solicitor reveals that her money is gone. Then we return to the birthday party in the third act, back to everyone’s rosy optimism, which takes on a terrible poignancy as we know what will happen to the Conways.
Taichman’s cast is superb. This one is a don’t-miss.
I also enjoyed Aaron Mark’s Squeamish, at the Samuel Beckett Theatre, wherein Alison Fraser plays a therapist who finds herself drawn to vampirism. The problem, though, is that the entire play is about what happened to the character in the past, which would be hard to sustain without a performance as riveting as Fraser’s, who here reveals quite a dramatic range, after years of mostly playing in musicals.
Tiny Beautiful Things, at the Public Theater is an adaptation by Nia Vardolos of Cheryl Strayed’s collection of online exchanges between her nom-de-plume, “Sugar,” and people who emailed her asking for advice. Vardalos plays Sugar, and three actors play many of the people whose plaintive queries appeared online. Thomas Kail’s direction is understated yet subtle, and Vardalos, who you will remember from “My Big Fat Greek Wedding,” is delightful. She’s one of those actresses who could read the phone book and charm you.
Richard Nelson’s Illyria, also at the Public Theater is about the early days of the New York Shakespeare Festival, when it was by no means assured that it would ever last more than a couple of seasons. It takes place before, during and after a production of Twelfth Night, which Joseph Papp directed after firing Stuart Vaughan in a flap about who to cast as Olivia. Also in the play are Merle Debuskey (Papp’s press agent), Bernie Gersten (who was to become the Festival’s business manager), the young Colleen Dewhurst and others. There is almost no plot, but it’s fascinating to watch and hear these young versions of people who went on to great success as they try to figure out how to keep Papp’s dream afloat.
I know a lot about what they were talking about, so I got all the references to offstage characters such as Robert Moses, “T” (T. Edward Hambleton, who was the money behind the Phoenix Theatre, and George C. Scott, who was at the time (and, indeed much later) a falling down drunk, but a genius when he was sober. I think, though, that if all this is new to you, a lot of it will pass in one ear and out the other. Also, Nelson has directed the play and much of it is “conversational’ – meaning so low in volume that even I, sitting in the second row, missed a lot of it. Also, it runs almost two hours without an interval.
If you are fascinated with this period in our theatre history, particularly as it pertains to Joseph Papp and the gang, I think you will have a good time. If you’re not, you’ll probably find Illyria a tough slogon.
The Home Place, by the late Brian Friel, originally staged in Ireland in 2005 currently at Irish Rep, has not, as far as I have been able to determine, ever been presented here, which surprises me because it’s by one of the world great dramatists from the 1960s through this, his last play. Like all of Friel’s plays, it takes place in the fictional Irish town of Ballybeg in County Donegal. The year is 1978. The central character, a local squire named Christopher Gore, in whose house the play takes place, receives a visit from his cousin Richard, an anthropologist whose science presages that of the Nazis. He is studying racial characteristics by measuring people’s physical characteristics, hoping to prove that the Irish are inferior to the English, and he wants to do so with the local population. Also in the mix is his housekeeper, Rachel whom he wants to marry – but so does his son, and a local troublemaker named Con who rives to take on the “scientist,” and who might have been involved in a gruesome murder which occurred before the play began.
While not top-drawer Friel, The Home Place is nonetheless an enjoyable drama, subtly structured, and Irish Rep Artistic Director Charlotte Moore’s direction is superb. Her cast is excellent. It is difficult for me to pick out any faves, but if I had to I would put my finger on John Windsor Cunningham as Christopher and Rachel Pickup as Margaret.
I enjoyed this play thoroughly. While I wouldn’t label it a don’t-miss, it is still well worth a visit to Irish Rep.
Read the entire review at www.smithandkraus.com. ... See MoreSee Less
A NEW TITLE - "Moliere's Don Juan"
This book invites the reader to consider the history of Moliere’s much-censored and oft-bowdlerized play “Don Juan,” and to imagine, through this version of its text, its original fire. Moliere’s wildly controversial script enjoyed exactly one performance before the censors and lobbyists started pulling it apart. This version supposes what could or might have been head that night, and means to bring modern audiences into the hour of the play’s premiere-the high stakes for all involved, and the alarming effect the text and its ideas clearly had on those present. It includes a brief history of the play’s suppression and early published editions, by Joan DeJean, an indefatigable scholar of Moliere, “Don Juan” and French culture. It also includes a brief history of Moliere’s political and theatrical milieu. ... See MoreSee Less