AISLE SAY New York

Mid-June in Brief

ANOTHER PART OF THE FOREST
by Lillian Hellman
Directed by Dan Wakerman
Pecadillo Theatre Company
St Mark's Theatre, 46th Street

WHITE'S LIES
by Ben Andron
Directed by Bob Cline
Starring Tuc Watkins, Peter Scolari, Betty Buckley
and Christy Carlson Romano
New World Stages, 50th Street
Official Website

PETER PAN
A Musical based on the Play by J.M. Barrie
Lyrics by Carolyn Leigh
Additional Lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green
Music by Mark Charlap
Additional Music by Jule Styne
Directed by Mark S. Hoebee
Paper Mill Playhouse
Millburn, NJ

ORDER
by Christopher Stetson Boal
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Oberon Theatre Ensemble
at Theatre Row

Reviewed by David Spencer

 

Given that the Pecadillo Theater Company is an off-off Broadway outfit, their production of Lillian Hellman’s prequel to The Little Foxes, entitled Another Part of the Forest, is presented with surprising polish and a cast of equally surprising, Broadway-level octane, under the direction of Dan Wakerman. It seems Ms. Hellman meant to explore some of the reasons why the Hubbard clan became the ruthless bunch of The Little Foxes, but there’s not too much revelation here, other than the fact that the patriarch, Marcus (Sherman Howard), holds the purse-strings that control everyone in town—a power not acquired by honest means—and that he has browbeaten matriarch Lavinia (Elizabeth Norment) to a state of such emotional debilitation that she waits eagerly for her birthday, because he has promised that on that day…he will talk to her. One can’t help but be, ahh, shaped by such a parental “dynamic,” but when we meet the offspring they’re already fully grown young men and women, and a rather unsympathetically nasty bunch too, with sister Regina (Stephanie Wright Thompson) well in training for the super-bitch she’ll be in the next play.

                  The only drawback—and it is, alas, a serious one—is that due to set design, lack of sound design, or some other factor, it’s incredibly difficult to hear clearly. Since I don’t ever recall this as a problem before at St. Mark’s Theatre on 46th Street, where the show is playing, it has to be production-specific—at least to the degree that the production team hasn’t “solved” their playing space.

 

In an era (and economy) in which self-production can no longer carry the stigma it once had, White’s Lies has the smells and “tells” of vanity production “old school.” That said, I’ve seen lots worse; at least playwright Ben Andron understands the mechanics of farce and the cadences of quippery well enough to deliver an entry-level, graduate thesis quality script—he seems an able but not-yet-developed beginner, rather than a poseur—but there’s still no denying that the play is a tawdry little entry of the no-depth sitcom variety. In it, a philandering lawyer (Tuc Watkins) is told by his mother (Betty Buckley) that she’s dying of cancer and only wishes he might finally settle down with a good woman so that he might give her a grandchild before she dies. Before you can wonder whether the emotional blackmail is worse than our questionable hero’s receiving the news with more distaste than sympathy, he’s off on a scheme, aided by his law partner and best friend (Peter Scolari), to make his mom think she’s getting her wish. The above the title star casting and below the title support casting (which includes former teen TV star Christy Carlson Romano) is about as good as this kind of venture can hope for, and they manage to find and deliver whatever funny there is without over-selling it to over-compensate for the funny there isn’t; managing also to overcome generally wan direction by Bob Cline. and indeed there are those audience members who don’t bring their highest standards to the party; if you don’t mind going to the theatre to find yourself in Three’s Company mode, this may well be a summer diversion for you. And who’s to say playwright Andron isn’t accomplishing exactly what he set out to do? News reports say he has been flown out to the West Coast to discuss developing White’s Lies as a sitcom pilot. He wouldn’t be the first to pull off the trick: Michael Jacobs parlayed his terrible, sitcom-like Broadway comedy Cheaters into the seed of a genuine TV sitcom empire—and returned to Broadway with a far superior play, Impressionism, in 2009. Just don’t plonk down your dough without knowing exactly what you’re paying for.

 

At the Paper Mill Playhouse, there's a fairly traditional revival of the family musical Peter Pan, that's really very good, if a few short kliks shy of across-the-board excellence (the lapse is primarily due to mildly cluttered Pirate Ship staging in the third act of director Mark Hoebee's otherwise fairly clean production. The classic songs (among them "I'm Flying", "Never Neverland" and the Captain Hook Waltz), juvenilia, sly-winks-for-the-adults, emotional moments and silly/inspired stage magic work as well as ever, winning over the audience handily. On a personal note, Nancy Anderson doesn't quite supplant my own favorite Peter Pan—believe it or not, Cathy Rigby—but objectively and taken on her own terms, you couldn't ask for a spryer, better sung or more charming eternal boy. And even evil has its charm in the gleeful villainy of Douglas Sills' Captain Hook, a somewhat subtler, more bemused approach than usual, in which he's been given a little room to seemingly ad lib, or in any event interpolate in-character rehearsal quips—which is not to say he doesn't dutifully ham it up where required too. Add Jessica Lee Goldyn as an astonishingly agile and sexy Indian chief Tiger Lily (don't worry, parents, she's not playing it sexy; this is where "something for the grown-ups" comes in), plus energetic, intricate and infectious choreography by Patti Columbo, and you can't go far wrong.

 

Finally, there's Order by Christopher Stetson Boal, directed by Austin Pendleton produced by the Oberon Theatre Ensemble at the Theatre Row complex on 42nd Street. I know both gentlemen too well to write in detail here—it would be tantamount to publishing the personal notes discussed and exchanged among us—but I think I can safely say that Chris’s nasty little play (and I mean that in the best sense, as it giddily dark) about a milquetoast and the demon who encourages him to step up to the plate and claim his manhood, has the lean, compelling narrative thrust of a graphic novel; and Austin’s direction is delivered in bold strokes to match, on a set that’s little more than a bare stage with a few props and pieces. This is a hard one about which to propose whether or not you’ll like it—it’s just too idiosyncratic—but I daresay it won’t leave you feeling apathetic. And personally I had a swell time.

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