Posted in adaptation, classic, Classic Stage Company, Conor McPherson, dark drama, domestic drama, drama, naturalistic, psychological drama, Shariffa Ali, Shariffa Chilemo Ali, Strindberg, Strindberg adaptation, Victoria Clark, Yael Farber

Cruel and fierce

Photo © Joan Marcus
Patrice Johnson Chevannes as Christine and James Udom, as John

Sometimes it’s the setting, the social fabric of a place, that reflects the context of a work. August Strindberg set his plays in his native Sweden; these settings are often remote and austere; Strindberg’s characters are motivated by a psychology both familiar and alienating, sometimes even chilling. 

Photo © Joan Marcus
Patrice Johnson Chevannes as Christine, Elise Kibler as Julie and James Udom, as John

Women scared Strindberg, it would seem. By today’s standards, his psychological viewpoint is positively regressive. His Julie is neurotic and a hysteric. Her wildness drove her fiancé away.

Yaël Farber roughly covers the same plot points. Her titular Mies Julie (Elise Kibler) is a wild child, distraught and adrift since her intended left her. She turns to John (James Udom), a servant in her father’s house for the strength she needs to exorcise her demons. Their love is fierce and cruel, and motivated by a dynamic different, but not alien to Strindberg’s.

Farber has placed Strindberg’s Miss Julie in a new context  by setting her adaptation in the veldt. South Africa and its racial divide make a poignant if stereotyped backdrop for Farber’s Mies Julie.

The story is sensationalized, with lurid brutality and explicit sex. To be honest, I do not recall the Strindberg original well enough to judge, but there is nothing subtle in this heavy handed adaptation.

As I do recall, in the Strindberg version, Christine represented another betrayal; she was Jean’s girlfriend whom he abandoned for Julie. Here, Christine (Patrice Johnson Chevannes) is John’s mother who raised Mies Julie. Farber, and her director, Shariffa Ali, have also added an element of the supernatural in the figure of Ukhokho (Vinie Burrows), an ancestor whom only Christine sees.

Mies Julie, directed by Shariffa Ali plays in repertory with Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Strindberg’s Dance of Death, directed by Victoria Clark at Classic Stage Company through March 10th.

Posted in classic, Classic Stage Company, Conor McPherson, dark comedy drama, domestic drama, family drama, in repertory, Shariffa Ali, Shariffa Chilemo Ali, Strindberg, Strindberg adaptation, Victoria Clark, Yael Farber

Torment


Love may be the antidote to death, or it may be its side dish.

Photo © Joan Marcus Christopher Innvar as Kurt, Cassie Beck as Alice and Richard Topol as Edgar

For Edgar (Richard Topol) and Alice (Cassie Beck) in Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Strindberg’s Dance of Death, directed by Victoria Clark, it is the cruellest of emotions.

The couple, on the verge of their 25th anniversary, have never stopped torturing each other.

Photo © Joan Marcus Cassie Beck as Alice and Richard Topol as Edgar


Alice invites her hapless, if not so innocent, cousin Kurt (Christopher Innvar) to visit in their remote island home. He is readily drawn into their lies and deceptions, deceits and insinuatons.

Watching Alice and Edgar in
their exquisite mutual torment is like the proverbial trainwreck: you are horrified yet cannot look away.

The acting of all three principles is so seamless that the escalations of the hurt are palpable, subtly-defined and well-choreographed. We are enthralled by the fiendish wiles and messy tangle in Edgar and Alice’s marriage, and riveted by Kurt’s engagement with them. Victoria Clark directs with a deft, light hand that allows us to see under the surface.

Strindberg is seldom on stage. If you have not seen him, let Conor McPherson introduce you to him. Dance of Death is a must-see production.

Conor McPherson’s adaptation of Strindberg’s Dance of Death, durected by Victoria Clark, plays in repertory with Yael Farber’s Mies Julie
directed by Shariffa Ali at Classic Stage Company through March 10th.

Posted in #Roundabout, domestic drama, drama, family drama, philosophy, Roundabout Theatre Company

Time, space, continuum

Our lives, no matter how long their time spans, are all just one continuous moment.

If this premise had been posited before the party that is the first scene of Time and the Conways, at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre through November 26th, how much more endurable the charades the family played would have been!

Time and the Conways rattles on, not unagreeably because as it does it gains depth and perspective. J.B. Priestley’s play, written in 1937 has a timelessness. It endures for us under the direction of Rebecca Taichman, who might have given it a brisker flow.

Gabriel Ebert, Anna Baryshnikov, and Anna Camp were standouts in an excellent ensemble. Paloma Young’s lovely costumes are as true for 1919 as for 1937. The set design, by Neil Patel, is both solid and ethereal in keeping with the tone of Priestley’s story.

Please pardon the spoilers unspooled in our description and review below. 

Alan Conway (Gabriel Ebert) is the soul of this family. His sister Kay (Charlotte Parry) is its brittle intelligence.Carol (Anna Baryshnikov) carries the family’s heart. Hazel (Anna Camp), in contrast to her brothers Alan, and Robin (Matthew James Thomas), the family’s ambition. Robin, Mrs. Conway’s (Elizabeth McGovern) favorite child, is a self-destructive wastrel. The giggly girl who marries him, Joan Helford (Cara Ricketts) is deceived into thinking there is more to him by his swagger.

The self-important tyrant Hazel marries, Ernest Beevers (Steven Boyer) is obscenely mean-spirited. Madge Conway (Brooke Bloom) is the polemical sister, idealistic and down-to-earth at once. Her thwarted interest in Gerald Thornton (Alfredo Narcisco) may have soured her and etched her practical preferences.

For tickets to Time and the Conways, please visit the Roundabout website.

Posted in domestic drama, drama, family comedy drama, family drama, historical drama, historical musical drama, musicals and dramas, new dramatists

Mirror, mirror on the wall?

Theater reflects who we are in broad strokes and microcosms. Our identity as a people can be seen in the diversity on our stages.

The ProfaneMarch 17, 2017 – April 30, 2017 Peter Jay Sharp Theater Written by Zayd Dohrn Directed by Kip Fagan World Premiere 2016 Horton Foote Prize winner
Lanna Joffrey & Francis Benhamou in The Profane by Zayd Dohrn, at Playwrights Horizons through May 7th. Photo by Joan Marcus.

This year we’ve been introduced to many American families.  The Profane brings us two Muslim-American families in a powerful version of the old theme of star-crossed love. Zayd Dohrn’s play depicts conflicts between secularism and adherence to religious traditions. It also reveals how practitioners on either path are ultimately assimilated into America. It is who we are, a nation of many different faiths and backgrounds.

If I Forget presents a similar dilemma of identity for a Jewish-American family, for whom the crisis centers on an allegiance to Israel.

 

Bella: An American Tall TaleMay 19, 2017 – July 02, 2017 Mainstage Theater Book, Music, and Lyrics by Kirsten Childs Directed by Robert O'Hara  Choreographed by Camille A. Brown
Members of The Company of Bella: An American Tall Tale. Photo by Joan Marcus

Bella: An American Tall Tale casts a look backward at the role of African-Americans have held in our culture. Unsung contributions loom large in this musical celebration from playwright Kristen Childs. (Bella… plays at PHnyc through July 2nd.)

Napoli, Brooklyn shows an Italian-American family at a time of social flux with the matriarch admonishing herself to speak English even in her talks with God. (This Roundabout production at the Laura Pels Theatre runs through September 3rd.)

 

Sweat Studio 54

Sweat, Lynn Nottage’s take on the working classes, gives us another glimpse at what defines America. The Pulitzer Prize winning drama, which closes today at Studio 54, focused on laborers in a Pennsylvania factory; united by work, but still divided by race. America still has not found its post-racial moment; perhaps now more than in the previous nearly dozen years, it is less likely to reach that ideal.

Posted in domestic drama, drama, drama based on real events, family drama, new dramatists, Uncategorized

Home cooking

Napoli, BrooklynThe 1960s were a turning-point for and in American society.

Meghan Kennedy sets her compelling family drama
Napoli, Brooklyn, at Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre through September 3rd, in an Italian-American home in the midst of this
turbulent era.

Social change strikes close to home in Park Slope, Brooklyn, where the three Muscolino girls (Jordyn DiNatale, Lilli Kay, and Elise Kibler) and their mother Luda (Alyssa Bresnahan) are each experiencing the stirring of a new civic order in her own way.

Napoli, BrooklynThe girls’ father and Luda’s husband, Nic (Michael Rispoli) is a brutish man with old country views and a strong right hand which he often raises to threaten one or the other of his children. Luda, meanwhile, takes occassional refuge in an innocent flirtation with Mr. Duffy (Erik Lochtefeld), the family’s butcher. The youngest girl, Francesca, (DiNatale) and Mr. Duffy’s daughter, Connie (Juliet Brett ) are planning an escape to France. Tina Muscolino (Kay) works in a factory to help support her family; there she befriends a black co-worker, Celia Jones (Shirine Babb), who encourages her to get the schooling she has missed. Old-fashioned ways of dealing with the world die hard and so Vita Muscolino (Kibler) pays for being protective of her sisters by being sent away to a convent.

Napoli, BrooklynThe compact, utilitarian set designed by Eugene Lee points us to each of the locales of the story. Jane Greenwood’s period costume design fits each character’s characteristics perfectly.

Expertly acted, under Gordon Edelstein’s solid direction, Napoli, Brooklyn is an absorbing play.

For tickets and information about Napoli, Brooklyn, please go to the Roundabout website.

Posted in adaptation, domestic drama, drama, dysfunction, Ibsen adaptation

Nora’s home

LACOMBE_17024_BE2A9901_B
Laurie Metcalf, Jayne Houdyshell, Condola Rashad and Chris Cooper in a scene from A Doll’s House, Part 2 (c) Brigitte Lacombe

In his dramas, Henrik Ibsen seldom sugarcoats his messages. His plays offer cures for the human condition, but they are served in bitter pills. His Enemy of the People, for instance, (see our reviews of both the recent Broadway production and David Harrower’s off-Broadway adaptation, Public Enemy) is about populism with more than a hint of dystopia. A personal favorite among Ibsen’s works, The Master Builder is a difficult play about monomania, among other things.

Ibsen’s characters are generally entrapped by circumstances from which they must extricate themselves.

Nora’s story is perhaps Ibsen’s best-known and most often interpreted (and sometimes reimagined) work.

LACOMBE_17024_5O9A0733_A
Laurie Metcalf and Condola Rashad in a scene from A Doll’s House, Part 2 (c) Brigitte Lacombe

In Lucas Hnath’s reconstruction, A Doll’s House, Part 2, at the Golden Theatre through July 23rd, Nora’s liberation is full-circle. The slamming of a door can be a bridges-burning, you can’t go home again moment. Ibsen’s Nora probably meant it that way. Hnath’s Nora has ample reasons to knock on it until it opens up again. If A Doll’s House, Part 2 is a sequel, the prequel is Ibsen’s. The questions he raises remain unanswered and mysterious. Victorian puritanism, Ibsen’s foil, bolsters Nora’s soap box.

Feminism is a frequent theme of Ibsen’s. Like A Doll’s House, and Lysistrata, for instance, this is a feminist play. Unlike A Doll’s House, Hnath’s …Part 2 hones in on the perspective of each of the principals involved. Each person in the Helmer household has a different reason to open or shut the door. Hnath is not offering an explication of Ibsen’s story. His is a totally new play.

LACOMBE_17024_5O9A0617_D
Chris Cooper and Laurie Metcalf in a scene fromA Doll’s House, Part 2 (c) Brigitte Lacombe

Sam Gold directs a star-studded Broadway cast, with Laurie Metcalf as Nora. Chris Cooper is Torvald, the husband Nora walked out on years ago and Condola Rashad plays Emmy, her now grown-up daughter. In a post-modern mode,  the Helmers’ daughter is played with not even a nod by a black actress. This is not the only prolepsis in …Part 2, which uses very contemporary ways of expression to tell Nora’s stoty. The redoubtable Jayne Houdyshell is the housekeeper, Anne Marie, who has held the family together in Nora’s absence, and who has as much to lose as anyone in the house.

The lighting design for A Doll’s House, Part 2 by Jennifer Tipton (a freqent collaborator of Paul Taylor, among other dancemakers) has received a Tony nod. Sam Gold, the play, the costume designer, and the entire cast are also all recipients of 2017 Tony nominations.

Make no mistake, while David Zinn’s costumes are brilliantly and beautifully period (Ibsen’s that is), the language and breadth of ideas is decidely anachronistic. That is to say, Hnath’s dialogue is furiously funny and utterly contemporary.

For more information and tickets for A Doll’s House, Part 2, please visit
http://dollshousepart2.com/.

Post script, dateline May 29, 2017: Also check out the review posted at The Wright Wreport, aka Vevlynspen.com of A Doll’s House, Part 2.

Posted in domestic drama, drama, family drama, revival, Tennessee Williams

Unicorns

Handle with care

Memories are amongst our most personal possessions.

The Glass Menagerie
Finn Wittrock and Madison Ferris in The Glass MenageriePhoto by Julieta Cervantes

The Glass Menagerie, at the Belasco through July 2nd, is Tennessee Williams look backwards with love and regret. His reminiscences could also be said to have the brittleness of glass ornaments.

Amanda Wingfield (Sally Field) lives in fantastical remembrance. Her son, Tom (Joe Mantello) spins a web of care and concern. His sister Laura (Madison Ferris) and a Gentleman Caller, Jim O’Connor (Finn Wittrock) are fragile figments of  Tom’s and Amanda’s collective and conflicting recollection.

Mother Love

 

The Glass Menagerie
Joe Mantello and Sally Field in a scene from The Glass Menagerie Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

Not all overprotective mothers who have delusional expectations for their children are of one kind. We’ve seen Amanda intrepreted in any number of revivals.

Sally Field’s rendition is tender-tough. She has just enough steel to bend when disappointed, and a sense of downtrodden grandeur befitting the role.

The Glass Menagerie is a wondrous articulation of poetry written in prose. As its narrator, Mantello plays Tom as straightforward and unsentimental. He is down-to-earth and practical but not unfeeling.

Unadorned

The Glass Menagerie
Madison Ferris and Sally Field in The Glass MenageriePhoto by Julieta Cervantes

Under Sam Gold’s direction, The Glass Menagerie is presented in bare bones style. Except for a pink ballgown in which Amanda flirts with the Gentleman Calling on her daughter, the actors are for all intents and purposes in rehearsal clothes (costumes courtesy of Wojciech Dziedzic). The minimalism extends to the sets (by Andrew Lieberman) and the lighting (designed by Adam Silverman).

This is one of my favorite of Williams’ masterpieces, but this production is not among my favorites. That is not to say that the cast are not at ease in their characters’ skins; they are convincing and comfortable, showing affection for each other, as the memories unfurl. Like the setting, however, it just all feels too plain, simple and no-frills.

Theirs is an interesting interpretation, of course, and it could be concluded that the simplicity of the decor and costumes, and perhaps even the candle-lit scenes, may force us to concentrate on the words.

My take leans towards the view that rather than underscoring the beauty of the language, the lack of stage embellishments undercuts Williams’ intent.

For more information and tickets, please visit http://glassmenagerieonbroadway.com