Posted in #critique, #dystopia, #pointofview, #whatdoyouthink, ambition, Beau Willimon, Blair Brown, blog at wordpress.com, Derek McLane, drama, fictionalization_of_real_events, history, Hudson Theatre, intrigue, Jane Greenwood, Josh Lucas, Marton Csokas, one act play, Pam MacKinnon, Phillipa Soo

Matters political

5389Politics 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.

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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.

5189Initially, 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?

5393Intrigues, 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.

Posted in ambition, anticipation, aspiration, avant garde, based on a true story or event, based on a true story or event and historical documents, based on true events, chronicle, drama based on real events, expectations, fictionalization_of_real_events, historical drama, history, land of opportunity, play, Playwrights Horizons, storytelling, The Debate Society, theater, theater folk

Wonders never cease

The Light YearsPlaywrights Horizons February 17, 2017 – April 02, 2017
Brian Lee Huynh. Photo © Joan Marcus

The 1893 Chicago World’s Fair, properly named the World Columbian Exposition in honor of the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the Americas, hosted 46 countries and over 25million visitors.

The 690 acres it occupied was a city of industry that represented and presented progress to the world: Juicy Fruit gum, Cream of Wheat and Pabst Blue Ribbon were introduced at the Expo.

A Ferris Wheel, a moving walkway, an electric kitchen that included an automatic dishwasher and printing press for Braille were also innovations first seen at the 1893 Fair.The Colunbian Exposition was also home to a sprawl of original architecture.

The Light YearsPlaywrights Horizons February 17, 2017 – April 02, 2017
Rocco Sisto, Aya Cash and Erik Lochtefeld. Photo © Joan Marcus

In The Light Years, co-written by Hannah Bos and Paul Thureen and directed by Oliver Butler of The Debate Society, this and the subsequent Chicago World’s Fair of 1933 provide the background for a very unusual play. The Light Years  is presented with The Debate Society at Playwrights Horizons where it is playing through April 2nd.

Steele MacKaye (a wonderfully bombastic Rocco Sisto), envisioned an ingenius theater to celebrate the arts at this grand historic event. His 12,000-seat Spectatorium, was designed by the now forgotten theatrical impresario to harness the mechanical and electrical marvels of the time.

The Light YearsPlaywrights Horizons February 17, 2017 – April 02, 2017
Aya Cash, Erik Lochtefeld and Brian Lee Huynh Photo © Joan Marcus

The Light Years is, in part, a love story, highlighted by technology and wonder and spun over 40-years. In it, we are transported to more innocent times, when novelty could inspire and awe was not an unsophisticated or naive response.

In 1893, the story centers on the progress of building and wiring MacKaye’s theater.

Hillary (Erik Lochtefeld in a star turn) and his assistant, Hong Sling (the charismatic Brian Lee Huynh) are the electricians in charge of making the Spectatorium shine. Hillary’s wife, Adeline (the appealing Aya Cash) is a very modern woman, cheerfully pedalling both iced tea and a bicycle.

The Light YearsPlaywrights Horizons February 17, 2017 – April 02, 2017
Aya Cash, Ken Barnett and Graydon Peter Yosowitz. Photo © Joan Marcus

When the scene shifts to 1933, it’s Ruthy (Aya Cash, again) who has to keep her family afloat, flipping pancakes and inspiriting her husband Lou (Ken Barnett, in an excellent awe-shucks mode) through the writing of musical ditties for this Fair’s many commercial enterprises. Their son, Charlie (the already accomplished young Graydon Peter Yosowitz) is smitten with the sensations the Fair promises.

The scenic design by Laura Jellinek and costumes design by  Michael Krass rise beautifully to the majesty of the occasion.

Every part of the theater space is treated to a bit of the performance. There are lights and things that go poof as well as narratives to explicate the drama. The ensemble engage, entertain and instruct.

The Light Years uses some of the devices Steele MacKaye introduced to turn this small-scale production into a grand spectacle.

For more information and tickets, please visit @PHnyc website.

 

 

 

Posted in #pointofview, 11 Tony Award winning musical, activists, aspiration, award winning, based on a true story or event, based on a true story or event and historical documents, based on true events, DC politics, economics, famous, fictionalization_of_real_events, Hamilton, long running Broadway musical, musical theater, musical theatre, musicals and dramas, Pulitzer Prize winning musical, riff, Tony winner

A Safe Place…

Tickets to Hamilton may (probably not) be available this holiday season thanks to a non-controversy P-E Trump fracked up from a non-incident at the theater. (As it turns out, Trumpistas did not relinquish their tickets en masse, and the show is sold out in all the cities across America in which it is playing.)

When VP-E Mike Pence attended a performance recently, cast member Brandon Victor Dixon used the curtain call to petition his elected official on behalf of the other half of our country. P-E DJT took offense, and a sort of boycott was born.

For the record, VP-E MP said he was not offended: “And I nudged my kids and reminded them, that’s what freedom sounds like,” Pence said, according to news reports from CNN to the NY Daily News.

The play, which won 11 Tonys last year, has been a hot ticket since it started its Broadway transfer in the summer of 2015.

Hamilton is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s paean to America, in which the Founding Fathers (and some Mothers) are portrayed by a racially diverse cast, and issues of states’ rights and federalism are rapped.

As with everything emanating from this inclusive show, the Hamilton curtain call was a model of restraint.Witness what was said below:

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Posted in based on a true story or event, drama, fictionalization_of_real_events

Injustice for All: guest review by Mari S. Gold

(c) Monique_Carboni April Matthis, Craig muMs Grant, Cassie Beck, Dan Butler, Aaron Roman Weiner
(c) Monique_Carboni
April Matthis, Craig muMs Grant, Cassie Beck, Dan Butler, Aaron Roman Weiner in a scene from Lucy Thurber’s “The Insurgents”

ExtendedEvery character in The Insurgents, a new play by Lucy Thurber at The Bank Street Theater in a Labyrinth Theater Company production through March 8th, is or has been disenfranchised. Sally Wright, played by Cassie Beck, has lost her athletic scholarship and returns to a dead-end, no hope town in the rural Northeast, joining her father, a drinker and womanizer and her brother who can’t get anything right. She begins carrying a shotgun and spends her time reading about Harriet Tubman, Nat Turner, John Brown and Timothy McVeigh, all characters who fought a particular version of inequality. Throughout the play, the historic characters come to life, played by actors who double as Sally’s family and her coach.

(c) Monique_Carboni Cassie Beck in Lucy Thurber's "The Insurgents"
(c) Monique_Carboni
Cassie Beck in Lucy Thurber’s “The Insurgents”

“I didn’t want to write about the people who wanted to get away,” Thurber said; “I wanted to write about people who…wanted to stay where they came from and are having an impossible time doing that.” That’s where her characters are as the play takes place during the “Toolbelt Recession” of 2008 when millions of construction as well as ancillary blue collar workers lost their jobs.

Beck, in a convincingly natural performance, begins by breaking the forth wall, talking to the audience about her rifle to explain she knows her way around a gun. She doesn’t fire it but several times I thought her anger had reached a point where she might. April Matthis as Harriet Tubman/Coach, has a light, sweet singing voice and a pointed sense of humor as Coach while Craig ‘Mums’ Grant handles Nat Turner/Jonathan, a New England local, in a measured way that shows his despair–and Turner’s– because of frightening injustices because of the color of his skin. Dan Butler plays John Brown/Peter (Sally’s dad) and Aaron Roman Weiner is Timothy McVeigh/Jimmy, (Sally’s brother.) Weiner is most convincing as McVeigh, a decorated war hero whose take on economics is, as Thurber points out, very close to what many average Americans would agree with, especially if they didn’t know whose opinions were being expressed. The line between terrorism and fighting against perceived injustice is pretty thin.

Aaron Roman Weiner, Cassie Beck in a scene from "The Insurgents" (c) Monique_Carboni
Aaron Roman Weiner, Cassie Beck in a scene from “The Insurgents”
(c) Monique_Carboni
Insurgents06(c)Monique_Carboni
April Matthis in a scene from Lucy Thurber’s “The Insurgents” (c) Monique_Carboni

Music, including Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Long As I Can See the Light (in which the audience is encouraged to join at the end); Billie Holliday’s anti-lynching song Strange Fruit and Sweet Home Alabama, is woven neatly into the story helping underscore unpleasant realities. The closing sing-along aims for but doesn’t quite realize catharsis.

The set, mostly the kitchen of Sally’s home, is the work of Raul Abrego who gets the shabby, undistinguished look right. Costume designer Jessica Ford provides the cast with easy transformations from historic times to the present and vocal arranger Ben Wexler handles the music effectively. However, the entire play is a polemic against injustice and every now and again seems like overkill–and about ten minutes too long. Defiance is necessary, Thurber is saying; life is–and has been– uncertain and far too many people run into dead ends. A little trimming and she might have made her point even more strongly.

For more information about The Insurgents, and to get tickets, please visit labtheater.org.