On the Aisle with Larry – October 2018

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 The Ferryman, Girl from the North Country, The Nap, Summer and Black Light.

Three imports from London, all hits last season, have opened in New York, Jez Butterworth’s The Ferryman (at the Jacobs Theatre), Richard Bean’s The Nap (at the Friedman) and Conor MacPherson’s Girl from the North Country (at the Public Theater).  Butterworth, an Englishman, has spun a tale about the Northern Irish troubles; MacPherson, an Irishman, has set his play in Depression-era Duluth Minnesota.  The Nap I can only describe as a dark farce, which sounds like an oxymoron but it isn’t.  The Ferryman features the London cast, whereas the actors in Girl from the North Country are Americans. The cast of The Nap is mix-and-match., though mostly American.

The Ferryman takes place in 1981, during the hunger strike led by Bobby Sands, and focuses on a farmer and former IRA soldier named Quinn Carney whose brother Seamus disappeared 10 years ago but whose body has just been discovered in a bog – with a bullet hole to the head. Quinn has a large family, which includes a depressed wife, an aunt who goes in and out of  dementia, another aunt who’s an anti-English radical whose brother was murdered by the English, several children and Seamus’ wife Caitlin, who for 10 years has held out the hope that her husband will return and to whom Quinn is strongly attracted (the feeling is mutual), and Caitlin’s son Oisin. A leader of the Irish Republican Army, the sinister Mr. Muldoon, wants Quinn to shut up about who might have murdered Seamus. If he doesn’t, he’ll wind up just like his brother. 

The Ferryman clocks in at over 3 hours, but it never drags as so much is going on. There are 22 actors, one baby, one live goose and one live rabbit.  Beautifully-directed by Sam Mendes, it features a uniformly outstanding cast headed by Paddy Considine as Quinn and Laura Donnelly as Caitlin.

The Ferryman is one of the greatest plays of this century, and not to be missed.

I also enjoyed Girl from the North Country, though not as much as I did The Ferryman.  It’s set in a boarding house, and is about the denizens therein.  Songs by Bob Dylan are incorporated throughout.  They are beautifully orchestrated by Simon Hale; but they seem rather arbitrary. Play stops, insert song, play resumes. It’s been wonderfully directed by the playwright, though, and there are terrific performances by the likes of Stephen Bogardus, Mare Willingham and David Pittu, though I didn’t get Willingham’s character.  She’s the wife of the guy who runs the boarding house (Bogardus), who alternates between lucidity and catatonia.

You might enjoy this if you love Bob Dylan’s songs; but for me the play itself seemed rather flat.

You can’t describe The Nap as “flat.”  It’s about a champion snooker player (snooker is a variant on pool, very popular in Britain) named Dylan Spokes who gets, well, snookered by a one-armed con artist named Waxy Bush, a formerly male gangster who’s had a sex change operation and is now a woman.  Waxy has accomplices, include two bogus cops, Dylan’s own mother and a slick con man who poses as Mom’s Irish boyfriend.  The con involves a bet Wazy has made for Dylan to lose in the fourth frame of the championship match.  Dylan takes snooker very seriously and refuses – until Waxy threatens his mom.  We see Dylan on a screen in the fourth frame, against a guy who, it turns out, is an actual snooker champion.

Alexandra Billings, an actual transgender performer, is sensational as Waxy and Ben Schnetzer is wonderful as Dylan.  There is also strong supporting work from Thomas Jay Ryan (one of Waxy’s accomplices) John Ellison Conleee (as Dylan’s ne’er-do-well Dad, Johanna Day (as his mum) and the beauteous Heather Lind, heretofore best known for playing Shakespeare in Central Park, as part of the con who poses as a female detective who used to be a pole dancer.

The costumes by Kaye Voyce are amusingly spot-on, and the direction by Daniel Sullivan is absolutely delightful.

I promise you a very good time at The Nap.

I finally caught up with Summer, the bio-musical about disco diva Donna Summer, conceived and directed by Des McAnuff  at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, a holdover from last season which lost out in the Tony Roulette but which has managed to hold on anyway.  This is an amazing achievement, but I’m not surprised as the show shines with disco glitz without ever being tacky and is wonderfully performed by three actresses, Storm Lever, Ariana DeBose and LaChanze, who portray Summer at various stages of her life.

I wasn’t much of a disco fan in its era, but I have to admit the music is infectious and all of Summer’s hits are here, such as “Heaven Knows,” “On the Radio,”  “Bad Girls,” “She Works Hard for the Money,” and “Bad Girls.”

The direction is first-rate, as is the choreography by Sergio Trujillo.

Even if you are not a disco fan, I think you will enjoy Summer.

Speaking of divas, there’s another one lighting up the stage at the Greenwich House Theatre in Black Light, featuring a transvestite performer named Jomana Jones, book and songs by Daniel Alexander Jones who, it turns out, is the one and only Jomana Jones.  Jones’ telling of “Jomana’s” story is very compelling, as is his performance, backed up by two wonderful singers, Trevor Bachman and Vuyo Sotashe, who are just about the gayest gay boys you’ll ever see.

I expected the audience to be mostly gay men, but on the night I attended there were a lot of straight people, couples mostly, who seemed to really enjoy themselves.  Black Light is not for everyone, but if you are in the mood for Something Completely Different, you couldn’t do better than to hie yourself down to the Greenwich House Theatre.

 

THE FERRYMAN. Jacobs Theatre, 242 West 45th Street

            Tickets: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

GIRL FROM THE NORTH COUNTRY.  Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street

            Tickets: www.publictheater.org/tickets

THE NAP. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street

            Tickets: www.telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

SUMMER. Lunt-Fontanne Theatre, 205 West 46th Street

            Tickets: www.ticketmaster.com or 800-653-8000

BLACK LIGHT. Greenwich House Theatre, 27 Barrow Street

            Tickets: www.ovationtix.com or 866-811-4111

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