Posted in Act One, Andrea Martin, James Lapine, Lincoln Center Theater, Moss Hart, Santino Fontana, theater about theater, Tony nominee, Tony Shalhoub

Let’s begin with "Act One"

Tony Shalhoub as Moss Hart, Andrea Martin as Aunt Kate and Santino Fontana as Moss Hart in LCT’s “Act One,” adapted by James Lapine from the memoir by Moss Hart. Photo by Joan Marcus.

Each of us is the hero of our own story. In “Act One,” Moss Hart may have mythologized his ascent in the theater. Cut him some slack, his memoir has been an inspiration to generations of aspiring theater-folk. James Lapine, who also directs, has turned Hart’s book into a thoroughly theatrical event. 

“Act One,” at Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater through June 15th, everything as it should be. From the brilliant multi-layered set by Beowulf Boritt to the superb ensemble and smart direction, “Act One” sings with aspiration and 
success.

Tony Shalhoub as George S. Kaufman and Santino Fontana as Moss Hart in a scene from “Act One.”
Photo by Joan Marcus
As James Lapine’s “Act One” opens, Moss Hart (Tony Shalhoub) looks back on his life and career. His Aunt Kate (Andrea  Martin) comes home from the theater and argues with Moss’s father, Barnett (Shalhoub again) over money, while Moss’s mother Lillie (Mimi Lieber) placates their borders.  Aunt Kate and young Moss (Matthew Schechter, who later also plays Moss’s younger brother Bernie) hatch a plan for Moss to skip school and join her at Thursday matinees. Schooling is a moot issue, since by the time Moss is sixteen, he is apprenticed to a furrier, a job he hates. Instead Moss (now played by Santiino Fontana) makes his own way to Broadway and the work for which he yearns. clerking for theatrical booking agent Augustus Pitou (Will LeBow.)
Chuck Cooper as Max Siegel (one of several roles he undertakes) and Bob Stillman as Sam Harris (he also plays other parts) and Company in a scene from “Act One.” Photo by Joan Marcus.

Hart’s first play, written in 1925, when Hart was just 21, to help fill Pitou’s road circuit, “The Beloved Bandit” flopped in Chicago. In the meantime, Hart was directing small theater companies all over the New York area,  from the Borscht Belt to New Jersey. By 1930, “Once In A Lifetime,” co-written with George S. Kaufman (Shalhoub), and Hart’s first theatrical success, opened on Broadway, after many fits and starts out of town. Hart and Kaufman would continue to work together on many a show after this original collaboration. 

Andrea Martin– like Tony Shalhoub, who is a nominee as Best Leading Actor in a Play for his work here– adeptly handles three parts. She is Aunt Kate, eccentric theater producer Frieda Fishbein, and Kaufman’s wife Beatrice. Shalhoub and Martin each give distinct and nuanced lives to each of their characters. In this cast, you risk looking like a slouch if you only have one role to play. Santino Fontana does just that, and he’s outstanding as Hart at his youthful prime. 

“Act One” is a perfectly beautiful production.

To learn more about “Act One,” please visit www.lct.org.

  

Posted in Boxing, Clifford Odets, disapproving fathers, family drama, fathers and sons, Godlen Boy, Lincoln Center Theater, The Belasco Theatre, Tony Shalhoub

Odets "Golden Boy" Pulls No Punches

Certainly there were many precedents, like The Jazz Singer,  of disappointed fathers whose sons were determined to pervert their pure talent for commercial success. Clifford Odets, however, had a hand in turning the dilemma of choosing fame over art into a cliché.

Seth Numrich as Joe and Yvonne Strahovski as Lorna in “Golden Boy.” Photo by Paul Kolnik 

In “Golden Boy,” at the Belasco Theatre again for its 75th anniversary, staged by Lincoln Center Theaters, and running through January 20th, a boy forsakes music for the excitement of the boxing ring.

In the 1930s, and for many years thereafter, boxers exerted celebrity. The limelight, not fiddling under a street lamp for tips, is what Joe Bonaparte (Seth Numrich) seeks. The day when Joe decides to put on boxing gloves, his father (Tony Shalhoub) spends a small fortune on a violin for his 21st birthday.

If Joe needs convincing on the path to the fight game, he gets it from Lorna Moon (Yvonne Strahovski), the hard-boiled dame who falls for his sweetness while pushing him toward brutality.

Yvonne Strahovski as Lorna Moon and Danny Mastrogiorgio as Tom Moody. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Tom Moody (Danny Mastrogiorgio), perhaps sensing their rivalry for Lorna’s affections, doesn’t much like the kid he’s managing. Tom dubs Joe “the cock-eyed wonder” to the press and fans.

Anthony Crivello as Eddie Fuseli with Seth Numrich as Joe Bonaparte. Danny Bustein as Tokio in background.
Photo by Paul Kolnik.

The gangster, Eddie Fuseli (Anthony Crivello), on the other hand, like Joe’s trainer, Tokio (Danny Burstein), is captivated by Joe. Fuseli buys a piece of the rising star, and then showers him with gifts of clothing. After a while, Joe begins to dress like his mentor. He takes on the trappings of oppulence, flashy clothes and a fast car. The one woman Joe wants is engaged to Tom Moody. The hubbub of Joe’s life is very different from the quiet and peace he felt when he was a champion violin-player as a boy.

Tony Shalhoub as Mr. Bonaparte, Seth Numrich as Joe and Danny Burstein as his trainer, Tokio. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Given Joe’s outsized resentments and grandiosity, it’s not hard to sympathize with his detractors, like Moody, or Roxy Gottlieb (Ned Eisenberg), the other member of the syndicate backing him. The press too don’t like Joe. Even Joe says, “I don’t like myself, past, present and future.”    Joe is a discontented soul, out to “show ’em all.”

Everything about the LCT production of “Golden Boy” is true to the period it represents, from the brilliant costumes by Catherine Zuber, to the dialect. In fact, as an example of the latter, Yvonne Strahovski, an Austrailian import making her LCT and Broadway debuts, is pitch-perfect as “the tramp from New Jersey.”

Overseeing the harmonious presentation, director Bartlett Sher shows his sensitivity and appreciation for Odets’s work in all facets of “Golden Boy.”

Among the well-directed cast, Michael Aronov stands out as Siggie, Joe’s brother-in-law, whose ambitions are homier and more down-to-earth that that of the “Golden Boy.” Seth Numrich gives a nuanced performance that keeps him in balance between Joe’s insecurity and his bravado. Danny Mastrogiorgio’s Tom Moody is so completely natural it’s as if he’s living the part. Credit Tony Shalhoub for his restraint in underplaying Mr. Bonaparte whom he embues with a resolute strength and sadness.

In fact, there are very few missteps in this “Golden Boy.” The only quibble brings us back to the beginning, that the story is by now so familiar that it mostly lacks dramatic surprise. And if it has become an mundane theme, we can lay some of that blame on Clifford Odets.

For more information about “Golden Boy,” please visit www.lct.org