I am here to entertain! the thespian says, and we sit transported in a darkened house while he performs for us.
Politics matters, of course, since it definitely affects our daily lives–especially as recent current events have revealed. You may understand when I say that I have felt undone by politics these past couple of years.
And yet, here I go, voluntarily, to see The Parisian Woman, a tale of the DC Beltway playing at the Hudson Theatre through March 11th.
Initially, there were two things driving me to see this drama by Beau Willimon, the president of the Writers Guild of America East. The Parisian Woman stars Uma Thurman in her Broadway debut. Additionally, it is just the third production at the newly refurbished Hudson, following 1984 and Sundays in The Park with George. (By the by, both of these had star turns, the former Olivia Wilde and the latter starring Jake Gyllenhaal.)
So, what did the production, directed by Pam McKinnon, and also featuring Josh Lucas, Blair Brown, Phillipa Soo and Marton Csokas say to my hyper-poiliticized self about the atmosphere of power and influence in 2016?
Intrigues, gossip, clandestine activities, affairs, rumors all churn up Washington’s social life in The Parisian Woman. Chloe (Thurman) is looking for powerful friends to help her husband Tom (Josh Lucas) further his ambitions. She has none of her own, it seems, so she lives through those she loves. Peter (Marton Csokas) is her lover but not among the people for whom she really cares.
Thurman and Csokas give overly theatrical performances, though in their defense I will say that the material is a hard sell. The script is rough; I think of it as Noel Coward on Red Bull®. Lucas’s Tom is charming if excessively idealized. Blair Brown as one of Chloe’s power circle, Jeanette, is natural and straightforward; her acting like her character has a certain spunk. Phillipa Soo as Jeanette’s daughter Rebecca holds the stage with an easy poise.
Rebecca also gets to wear the one most singularly impressive and stunning gown (costumes designed by Jane Greenwood.) Chloe’s many outfits are attractive in the understated way of a very expensive wardrobe. The men are chic in suits except in one scene where Tom bears his six-pack, (We can assume that the latter is not courtesy of Ms. Greenwood, although her work in the show is very appealing.) The elegant sets (by Derek McLane) move in a clever fashion and feature a kind of newsfeed which is monochromatic Mondrienesque.
Polemics–even when the politics echo my own– are not inherently dramatic
Willimon’s text is stiff with an elegance manqué. Actually, both ends of the register get short shrift– The Parisian Woman is neither vulgar nor haute. The play aims so hard to be insiderish that it fails to qualify as #resist(ance). This blend of fiction with fact in Willimon’s play, could be called a “faction” drama. Many in the audience at the performance I attended seem to have come there as fans of Beau Willimon’s streaming series, House of Cards, another foray into the inner workings of the life political.
I am not saying that we should not take the excursion, just that Willimon’s The Parisian Woman is not an entirely convincing trip down this path.
For tickets and information, please visit The Parisian Woman website, or the Hudson Theatre box office at 141 West 44th Street.
Take a look at my SidewalkSuperBlog to see what I found of interest inside the new old Hudson Theatre.
Don’t disparage the chance to watch theater or hear music while enjoying a meal. It has the old time charm of the big band era. Thinking of dining while being entertained reminds me of ball gowns and tuxedos– in short it simply sounds elegant. Even the vulgar were properly attired in those days.
In our loosey goosey environs, the chances are that you are decked out in an elegant pair of shorts with a tucked in shirt. You order a burger, rather than prime rib, and beer rather than bubbly.
The show, too, may be less burlesque, drama, lounge act and cabaret than it might be one of those guess- who-dunnits from the murder mystery circuit. Don’t get me wrong, there is room for an amusing evening in which we wonder which of our neighbors stuck a knife in a sidekick’s back while we ate our fries! It just is not as highbrow or as uplifting as theater can sometimes be. The dramatics and dramatization may be broader than on Broadway, too.
As for the dress code for the audience, well, I haven’t worn a gown to a show in a long time, if ever. I look to the costume designer to dress the actors in an inspirational way. I can aspire to high-falutin’, ya know.
We often expect uplift from our theater experiences. Playwrights are not always willing to give us exactly what we want. In these dystopian times, they are responding with different messages for us to digest.
Scott Organ’s new play, The Thing With Feathers, at the Barrow Group beginning January 13th (and running through February 10th), offers up a famous quote about hope for the title of his mystery play. Expect the story to unravel in unexpected ways when an underage teen is seduced by an older man on the internet.
The unexpected happens in Mankind, a new play by Robert O’Hara (who also directs) at Playwrights Horizons from December 15th through January 18th. The world of this drama has mistreated women so badly that they no longer exist. The play stars two time Tony nominee André De Shields, along with Anson Mount, Bobby Moreno, Stephen Schnetzer, Ariel Shafir and David Ryan Smith. Playwrights Horizons commissioned O’Hara, who has won two Obie Awards–one for Bootycandy which also played at PH– and also directs his play, to create this provocative drama for the 2017-18 season.
You could say that the genesis of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Carousel is a story about a young woman devoted to an explosive and abusive man. Michael Weller was inspired by the same Ferenc Molnár story to create Jericho, performed by The Attic Theater Company at Wild Project, from January 18th to February 10th. Weller’s version of Lilliom is set in Coney Island during the despair and hopelessness of the depression.
It often feels as if the ’60s were a more hope-filled era, this despite the assassinations that changed the landscape of hope. Malcolm X, a radical and polarizing figure, was one of the many strugglers we lost in those days. His activism is remembered in The Acting Company’s X: Or, Betty Shabazz v. The Nation, which returns after a staging in 2017, to a full off-Broadway run from January 14th to February 18th to the Theatre at St. Clement’s. Marcus Gardley’s play, starring Obie-winner Roslyn Ruff, will be performed to coincide with Black History Month.
It’s hard to pinpoint just what makes a “hot ticket;” it could be a star turn, or 11 Tonys or just the quirky charm of the story. Whatever it is, you might want to share it with friends or family this holiday season.
In mid-January when the Divine Miss M cedes the role of Dolly Gallagher Levi to the sterling Miss Bernadette Peters, tickets for this Broadway revival might become a tad more accessible. This in no way disparages Bernadette Peters’ enormous talent and wattage. Bette Midler just has a star shine all her own. A je ne sais quoi, let’s say, that sends tickets to see her in Hello, Dolly!! into the stratosphere. (Regular price tickets ranging from $189 may still be found at Telecharge, so check on availability, but there are premium seats for nearly $1000 and “secondary market” tickets for a lot more.)
Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s American history lesson enthralls. It’s still at the Richard Rodgers on West 46th Street, and it’s on tour across the country. It may be its impressive Tony showing that is part of the draw. Lottery tickets go for just $10 per, but, like any lottery, it’s a gamble. Speaking of gambles, the Hamilton website warns against buying from resellers to avoid receiving fraudulent tickets, so use the regular channels for purchasing this sizzling ticket. In fact these tickets are so blistering hot that it might be next December before the family enjoys the show.
Another and different kind of civics lesson can be found at The Band’s Visit. This musical was created from the Cannes prize-winning Israeli film; you can watch the movie on Showtime cable on Wednesday 12/13 and Tuesday 12/19 at 7:30pm, by the way.
This modest musical is enjoying a very successful and prestigious Broadway transfer from its 2016 run at the Atlantic Theatre. (Tickets are hot enough that the producers are not offering any discounts, by the way. We have not checked in at the day of TDF kiosk.) The Band’s Visit has heart and warmth, and a promise of the possibility of peace in the middle east.
Reflecting on another facet of history, Junk at the L.C. Beaumont Theater, offers much less hopefulness than The Band’s Visit. The heat factor in Junk comes from its ripped off the front page view of the financial crisis of the 1980s. This is just the ticket if you want to reflect on America’s obsession with money. I found it worrisone when someone in the audience wanted to clarify who had “ratted” on the main character. Ayad Akhtar takes us back to the “greed is great” days in which malfeasance is the benchmark. His lead character “creates wealth” by creating debt. The “Junk” of his title refers, of course, to junk bonds, a vehicle by which you, the consumer, lend a corporation more money than its worth. Wall Street types will be drawn to the humor and pace of this drama. The rest of us will appreciate the concise lesson it offers in high finance and unbridled ambition. At its core, Junk, staged as a Greek tragedy, is just that, showcasing characters filled with hubris and arrogant conceit.
Visit a Broadway show over the holidays, if you can, with your nearest and dearest.
Riots are inherently frightening incidents.
The New Group’s presentation of Seth Zvi Rosenfeld’s Downtown Race Riot, based on true events and running through December 23rd at the Pershing Square Signature Center, resonates with menace.
It’s us against them, even for Marcel “Massive” Baptiste (Moise Morancy), a kid born in Haiti, who feels it’s his neighborhood he’s defending from other blacks and ‘Ricans who come to the Park near his Greenwich Village home.
The boys Massive considers his friends are old-school, insular Italians, like his tagger buddy Jay 114 (Daniel Sovich) and Tommy-Sick (Cristian DeMeo), whom his best friend Jimmy– aka Pnut– Shannon (David Levi) does not fully trust. Pnut does not share Massive’s community zeal, and his mother, Mary Shannon ( Chloë Sevigny) advocates for peace and love. Molly, strung out and living on welfare, maintains a kind of hippie sensibility. Her children, especially Pnut, look out for her. Mary’s daughter, Joyce (Sadie Scott) wants out of the life she sees around her and has a good chance to make it out.
Jay 114 and Tommy-Sick are among those who organized the riot meant to drive outsiders out of their stomping ground.
Rounding out the cast of characters is Mary’s lawyer, Bob Gilman (Josh Pais. who is perfectly twitchy in this small role). Bob is there to help Mary out with one of the many schemes she dreams up to make the family rich.
The acting in this ensemble, under Scott Elliott’s direction, is excellent and natural. There is a leisurely pace to the piece that belies its undercurrent of tension. In its unhurried progression, Downtown Race Riot takes its time to develop the characters. Derek McLane has designed an expansive and sprawling set for Downtown Race Riot; the scene is Mary’s Section 8 home.
Don’t look for uplift in Downtown Race Riot. This is not the genteel world of a Henry James pastiche.
For more information and tickets, please visit Downtown Race Riot
There is a short street in the East Village which goes two-ways but is at its heart a one-way street. 425 Lafayette Street, formerly the Astor Library, was saved from demolition, and gained landmark status, when Joseph Papp turned it into The Public Theater.
A part of the theater’s mission statement says “THE PUBLIC is theater of, by, and for the people. Artist-driven, radically inclusive, and fundamentally democratic, The Public continues the work of its visionary founder Joe Papp as a civic institution engaging, both on-stage and off, with some of the most important ideas and social issues of today.” The Public began life in 1954 as the New York Shakespeare Festival, but moved into 425 Lafayette in 1967. Fittingly, the opening production was the innovative and “radically inclusive” Hair, a musical that has had many revivals over time, including the one in 2011 at the St James Theatre in Times Square.
In honor of the 50 year anniversary of the Public, Lafayette at Astor Place will be co-named Joseph Papp Way on December 1 at 8:30a.m. The Public’s Artistic Director, Oskar Eustis will be at the ceremony along with Tom Finkelpearl, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs, Rosie Mendez, District 2 City Councilwoman, and Gail Papp, Public Theater Board Member. Gail Papp will unveil the commemorative sign, while Eustis will make a few remarks on the occasion.
The recent history of The Public has given us the 11 Tony winning Hamilton, which transferred to the Richard Rodgers Theatre in 2015. This year, John Leguizamo brought his downtown show, Latin History for Morons, to Broadway’s Studio 54. In addition to its free Shakespeare in the Park programs, The Public is also a recipient of countless awards and honors for its productions, which are represented not only on Broadway but on stages across the country and worldwide.
“Joe Papp changed the life of New Yorkers forever, creating a beloved institution devoted to making the life of our culture inclusive,” said Artistic Director Oskar Eustis. “It is thrilling that the city of New York will recognize him forever by co-naming this street for him.”