Ah, well: despite my best intentions, among my last blast of season end reviews—the straight plays—I’ll have to include this round-up of reviews in brief, owing to some serious (but positive) changes and additional duties attending my musical theatre teaching gig and a need to balance the time I have. There’s no particular reason why these, and not others from this edition, have gotten the “compression treatment”; these were just the reviews left to write when I had to give in to being on the clock. So, with apologies for any thwarted expectations, let me do a quick rundown while all these shows are still cooking, current and relevant.
revival of Born Yesterday: Doug
Hughes’ direction of this classic American comedy by Garson Kanin restores it to the freshness and
excitement—even the social relevance—it must have had when it
opened in 1946—in contrast to the leaden revival of 1989. Not that the
play has profound truths to reveal about nobility vs. corruption in American
government—at the core, it’s still a romantic comedy—but the
iconography of its central triumvirate is as alive as it’s ever been in the
hands of the ideally cast Jim Belushi, Robert Sean Leonard and
especially Nina Arianda who, for the second time in as many seasons, proves herself a star of the first magnitude.
Jerusalem by Jez Butterworth, directed by Ian Rickson is an overlong, structurally flabby contemporary Bacchae, about a roguish trailer-park squatter. But it somehow manages to stay coherent and oddly fascinating, in the manner of watching ritual play out, which may be intentional; it is no small advantage that it is often upriariously funny; and its primary draw (and source of most of the laughs) is the “Dionysus” at its center, Mark Rylance (late of Boeing-Boeing and La Bête), who blows off any suspicion that he may be a one-trick comic pony with a tour de force that eradicates all traces of his stumbling bumpkin for a roaring modern Blackbeard. When the phrase “legendary performance” is used properly, it means what Rylance is delivering here.
The Intelligent Homosexual’s Guide to Capitalism and Socialism With a Key to the Scriptures is an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink title for an everything-but-the-kitchen-sink play by Tony Kushner. It’s a family saga that takes place over the course of three days in June 2007. Everyone in it has a secret (about a lover, or a past choice) and everyone in it argues noisily. The hub at the center is patriarch Gus Marcantonio (Michael Cristoffer), who wants to kill himself partly because progressive Alzheimer’s is eating at him and partially because his wife, and the glory days of social revolution are gone, leaving him rudderless. His grown children, who have their own battles amongst themselves grow more agitated in the effort to stop him following through, because he clearly has his reasons and his convictions that will not be swayed. The politics of the characters aside, it can be argued on a personal level that “capitalism” refers to the disposition of the family house in Brooklyn, “socialism” refers to the notion that a romantic configuration with multiple partners (a triangle featuring the play’s three male homosexual characters prominent among several triangles) can achieve any kind of mutual parity, and as for the scriptures…hell if I know. The Bible doesn’t come up a lot and religion is not among those things hotly debated. I could explain all this in detail, but in the end it would be a summary of windbagging, which Mr. Kushner’s play indulges in far too much. It’s not that it’s dull—he remains, happily, too sharp a writer not to at least hold your attention with some interesting characters and brisk, witty dialogue—it’s that in the end you’re just not sure what the hell you took the ride for. There’s a sense of weighted importance—as there was to Angels in America—but that one had at its center a genuine national crisis, a historical villain, metaphysics made manifest and things at stake that were unequivocally real as opposed to uncertain and ideological.Under the direction of Michael Greif, a committed, passionate and excellent cast give Mr. Kushner everything he could desire in terms of getting the message across (the company includes Stephen Spinella, Linda Emond, Steven Pasquale, and Brenda Wehle among others), and that contributes to making TIHGTCASWAKTTS agreeable, even worthwhile time spent. But in the end, the size of its impact on you falls far short of the size of the event. You can feel (legitimately) grateful for the ambition of it; but that doesn’t mitigate the disappointment.
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