Show-Business!!Posted: May 2, 2012
I’ve seen a lot of theater in the last month. Here’s how it went:
I enjoyed the first act immensely. The acting is really phenomenal, the staging is beautiful and the writing is just almost teetering on the edge of what’s happening, which causes a great tension about plot. The second act was, well, how do I make this sound like a criticism–it was…enjoyable. There seems to be a new crop of plays budding up in the last five or six years, that are ostensibly “about” something, but to me feel ultimately as if they’re just there to make a good time for the audience. Clybourne Park, for all it’s efforts to talk about class and race and gentrification, mostly kept touching on it rather than leaping toward it head on. There is a fantastic speech in the second act–about a neighborhood’s value being difficult to….narrow down–but the other characters plow right ahead and say all the jokes, and to me this feels like the playwright is defeating himself by ultimately making an entertaining evening in the theater. I want to be destroyed by a play, transformed and left renewed. Is that too much to ask? And there is a sentimental plot device that ends the play which is, frankly, cheap and overdone and I felt embarrassed for everyone who let it go on. It’s a rich, lively, very-well-acted show that will leave you with lots to talk about, but is it actually going to move outside of conversations….I don’t know. I guess I’m in the minority: a person who likes difficult plays about difficult subjects and likes to feel bad after the curtain goes down.
A Streetcar Named Desire
Lord, help these actors who just can’t do it. Someone in the same row wondered aloud if perhaps “they” had “added some scenes.” That’s because the show feels so very very long and the rhythm is so very very static that I started to wonder if the play itself was truly as great as history has sworn it to be. The set is lovely, and seems cheap in a way that I like, in a way that feels real. The Tony-nominated costumes are great, there is some lovely jazz by Terence Blanchard in between scenes, but overall the actors are trying very hard to get it and they don’t. Nicole Ari Parker is working so hard to be a good Blanche, but she just can’t get there–I’m surprised they cast someone with so little stage experience. Nothing in the production feels like it’s making it across the finish line. This is perhaps the first production of Streetcar in which the audience is so glad Stanley rapes her, for at least we can move on already. Blair Underwood is, well, fine, doing what he’s doing, which feels a bit like he’s performing masculinity rather than being Stanley. Either that or he’s been given strange direction, and been allowed to move around as much as he pleases–good grief, Mr. Underwood, is knocking the furniture around the only thing you can think of to get the power in the scene? Everybody knows that powerful men are very, very still.
This is one of those plays, you know, where the family hates each other and acts like children and says horrible things that are funny but also horrible? But it’s also really, really good. The play covers that familiar territory, and in that way there’s not much “new” to be had, but the actors are phenomenal and the writing is fast and smart and has wonderful moments of beautiful, beautiful language. Linda Lavin is doing that Jewish mother thing that is SO OVERDONE and yet SO REAL AND NEW EACH TIME. She’s fucking great in it. She’s so cold and so decided, it’s like watching a destroyed person–but in the opposite way that Blanche DuBois might react–she is defiant, steely, resolved. I always feel like Michael Esper is over-doing it, he fidgets and blinks and harrumphs, but dammit you want to take care of him, especially in this play. Dick Latessa does a bit of acting in the second act that is so light, so easy, so unencumbered, and the language he’s given to act with is just so damn beautiful. Go, go, go.
Don’t Dress for Dinner
Don’t go see Don’t Dress for Dinner.
Leap of Faith
It’s very, very bad. Everyone is trying hard to make this bad material work. Raul Esparza, who I have seen do incredible things in plays and musicals is…kind of…speeding his way through this one. Or…kind of…doing his asshole schtick which was so delicate and put to good use in Company and Speed the Plow, here it’s just…sort of not that fun to watch. The songs aren’t good, the book is very, very bad. And they’re doing this odd whole-show-in-flashback thing where we’re inside the St. James theater and there are flatscreen TVs that are sort of half-assededly conceived and then Mr. Esparza takes us back to how we found ourselves in the theater…but they never get back to that idea, and the story ends back in Kansas, in the flashback, I think. The one redeeming moment of this offense is Mr. Esparza’s 11 o’clock number, “Jonas’s Soliliquy” I think it was called, when he is left alone on the end of the stage to summon the best of what he can do. Save your money and watch this.