Some of What Happened
During the Holidays
in Brief

by Clifford Odets
Directed by Bartlet Sher
Featuring Seth Numrich, Danny Mastrogiorgio,
Danny Burstein, Tony Shalhoub, Yvonne Strahovski
A Production of Lincoln Center Theater
at the Belasco Theatre

by Terrence McNally
Directed by Walter Bobbie
Featuring Lee Pace, Bebe Neuwirth,
F. Murray Abraham, Ethan Phillips
Manhattan Theatre Club
at City Center, West 55th Street
Official Webpage

by Amy Herzog
Directed by Carolyn Cantor
Playwrights Horizons
on 42nd Street

Reviewed by David Spencer

Golden Boy, still running at the Belasco, is the infrequently produced Clifford Odets warhorse about a young Italian American who could easily make his mark as a violin virtuoso—but prefers instead to make his mark, and leave his marks, by forsaking classical music and using his hands as fists to become a champion boxer. The unlikely scenario makes for an oddly sturdy cautionary tale about “The American Dream”—the one that can only be achieved by eschewing constructive achievement for power that exists only as an end to itself, and thus can only destroy anything that stands in its way. Until, as the morality tale would naturally have it, it too succumbs to its own soulless existence.

            Director Bartlet Sher’s big production is not shy about diving into the big patois of 30s New York and the melodramatic conventions that attended big plays about social issues. The only thing that might make it more authentic is if the set and, impossibly, the cast, were visible only in greyscale.

            Speaking of the cast, they’ve stepped right out of the stylistic time capsule and each strikes a pitch perfect note: Seth Numrich as the fighter, Danny Mastrogiorgio as his manager, Danny Burstein as his trainer, Tony Shalhoub as his immigrant father, Yvonne Strahovski as “the girl”—and a dozen or so others. It’s a grand old three-act punch-up, this one.


Golden Age was Terrence McNally’s behind-the-scenes glimpse at the world of classic opera before it was classic, when it was just popular contemporary entertainment. He sets this in Paris, 1935 on the opening night of I Puritani, the last opera of the still-young but ailing Vincenzo Bellini (Lee Pace). Unfortunately, the gifted Mr. McNally, famously an opera enthusiast, in a clear desire to share and perhaps spread that enthusiasm, has fallen into (and I say this with deep respect, no derision whatsoever, because I empathize) the fanboy trap of romanticizing. There’s very little, or only passing, interpersonal conflict involved because ultimately everyone on an opening night wants the same thing—for the opera to be a success (it will or it won’t, the battle is with passive, impersonal fate); which means McNally has to rely on your fascination with minutiae, which necessitates dialogue that overexplains the world; and thus having the characters articulate things that people who do this sort of thing every day would take for granted. Plus, this is a play for actors who are not required to be singers, which gives McNally little and limited access to actual vocal music as a tool—and indeed to performers who can believably be the singers they’re meant to be (cute little Ethan Phillips [remember Neelix on Star Trek: Voyager?] as a powerful bass? There’s more credibility in talking about Lou Costello’s high notes). The play is so concerned with authenticity that you’re aware mostly of the concern. And the MTC production wasn’t helped by being directed with a kind of oldschool biopic propriety (surprisingly by Walter Bobbie) and having certain key roles not very well cast—particularly Bellini; Lee Pace's performance felt labored and uneasy, and not because the character is nervous and ill. (There was, I'll add, lovely work done by Bebe Neuwirth as visiting opera diva Maria Malibran; and an unexpectedly, but appropriately calm cameo by F. Murray Abraham as visiting veteran composer Gioacchino Rossini, late in the play). My heart goes out to Mr. McNally on this one, because the love he put into it is so apparent.


The Great God Pan asks the question, can your life be screwed up by a repressed memory of a “sidebar” event that did not color your entire upbringing; especially if you’ve lived your life with not even a casual connection to a sense of repression? That’s what’s faced by main character Frank (Keith Nobbs) when childhood buddy Jamie (Jeremy Strong), about to sue his father for abuse, reaches out to him, hoping for corroborating testimony. The frustration for me in Amy Herzog’s play was that she never comes close to answering the question. I understand dramatizing the ambiguity and avoiding clear-cut answers, but if a play like this doesn’t commit anywhere then it lacks a meaningful point of view. Frank’s failures in life and relationships are no different from any normal person’s failures, they exist side-by-side with his successes, and indeed, when things get worse, it’s after this new possibility has been introduced into his matrix. So on top of the thesis question, there’s chicken-or-the-egg ambiguity. Ms. Herzog is a gifted writer—she maintains interest—but thematically the play never truly builds on its premise, only piles on the enigma.

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