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

Smarter than the average bear…

Incognito Manhattan Theatre Club - Stage 1 By Nick Payne, Directed by Doug Hughes

Brain matter, preserved or degenerating, makes for interesting study.

Nick Payne’s Incognito, at Manhattan Theatre Club’s City Center Stage I through July 10th, analyzes and dissects, as it were, the ideas of individality/personality and cognition/memory, along with many other entertaining propositions.

Much of the plot of Incognito hinges on the theft of Einstein’s brain and goes full circle, with 4 actors portraying 21 characters in rapid and fluid succession. The story has basis in fact: Dr. Thomas Harvey (Morgan Spector) actually did take the brain with the intent to see what genius looks like, and kept it with him for the next 40 years; it appears he did not find out much in the course of his “studies,” but you will find out a great deal from Payne’s fascinating play.

Questions of sexual identity, loss and recollection are all touched upon in the course of the exciting and novel short theatrical piece. It’s as if a science-philosophy lecture came to life on the stage.

The ensemble work is beautifully orchestrated in Doug Hughes direction of Geneva Carr, Charlie Cox, Morgan Spector and Heather Lind.

Incognito is clever, unexpected and dramatic. It maybe the most interesting and unusual piece of theater you witness for a long while.

Please visit MTC’s site to learn more about and get tickets for Incognito.

Posted in drama, family drama

Father’s Day

Not being able to trust one’s senses is disorienting.

The Father starring Frank Langella as André, with Kathryn Erbe as Anne. Brian Avers as Pierre and Charles Borland as Man. Pictured Hannah Cabell as Laura with Langella. Also featuring Kathleen McNenny as Woman Florian Zeller Playwright and Translated by Christopher Hampton; Directed by Doug Hughes

It could be said that Florian Zeller’s new play, The Father, at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through June 12th, is about a man whose disorientation is the reason he can’t trust his senses.

Andre (Frank Langella) rages against his diminishing capacities. He recalls and imagines things that have not happened and cannot remember those that have.

Zeller’s conceit is to immerse the viewer in Andre’s dissonances. Characters, whom we may not recognize, appear, furniture and paintings disappear. (The elegant set is by Scott Pask.)

Strobe lights flicker between scenes. (Jim Steinmeyer is the illusion consultant and Donald Holder is responsible for the lighting and its effects.) Christopher Hampton’s translation makes excellent use of the ellipses, leaving thoughts suggested and unsaid.

Frank Langella as André and Kathryn Erbe as Anne in a scene from Florian Zeller’s The Father. Photo © Joan Marcus

Andre bullies his daughter, Anne (Kathryn Erbe) and bellows at home aides. He can be charming and flirtatious, as he is with one aide, Laura (Hannah Cabell), to whom he takes a liking.  Andre is enfeebled by his growing dementia, but his leonine command is not weakened. There is no sentimentality in The Father, a clear-eyed portrait of a man accustomed to having his way as he loses his grip.

 

Anne knows that her father is a difficult man, and while she is saddened by the state he’s in, she is also tense and angry. Erbe conveys these emotions with complete equanimity. Andre’s collapse is watched over by Anne, her boyfriend Pierre (Brian Avers), an unnamed Man (Charles Borland) and Woman (Kathleen McNenny). Most of the people surrounding and supporting Andre are calm against the storm of his tantrums.

The Father is a very good play, but Langella’s performance makes it a great one. In one moment, his Andre is endearing, in the next unsettled, then intimidating. Andre, likely projecting his own tendency to browbeat, feels menaced by Pierre and by the Man.

Doug Hughes has directed this flawless cast so that we, the audience, internalize the emotions that Andre feels in The Father. Langella’s striking portrayal could so easily slip into overwrought melodrama, but Langella keeps Andre genuine and real.

Langella may be due for another Tony for this strong sinuous performance. Don’t let the strength of this central character distract from the excellent cast assembled here.

To learn more about Florian Zeller’s The Father, visit thefatherbroadway.com/

 

Posted in love story, Musical drama, musical theater

When Anna Met the King

K6-80_King caption
Photo by Paul Kolnik from a scene of “The King and I,” at the Beaumiont Theater, starring Kelli O’Hara and Ken Watanabe.

There was a real-life Anna who taught in the  court of Siam in the 1860s.  Rodgers and Hammerstein tackled her story only after seeing the 1946 film version of Margaret Landon’s novel, Anna and the King of Siam, which they felt created cohesion from Landon’s fictional account. Landon, in her turn, had written her book based on Anna Leonowens’ own memoirs of her time as governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam.

The backstory, while interesting, does not begin  to do justice to the musical Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein fashioned from it. The King and I soars with humanity.

Kelli O'Hara and company, "Getting to Know You," in a scene from "The King and I." Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Kelli O’Hara and company, “Getting to Know You,” in a scene from “The King and I.” Photo by Paul Kolnik.

We know the technical capabilities at Lincoln Center Theater’s Beaumont, from shows like War Horse, Act One, and of course, South Pacific. These all used special effects and large moving props in striking ways

Sometimes a production exceeds all expectations as The King and I, playing through January 3, 2016, does in so many ways.

Lincoln Center Theater, following the success it had with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s South Pacific, has staged a wow-inspiring The King and I. Bartlett Sher’s direction is a tribute to the beauty of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s vision.

The scenery, by Michael Yeargen, is splendid.  It is oppulent, staying cleverly away from being gaudy, so that its elegance is of the understated variety. Props move, sometimes on their own, sometimes they are hand-carried. Scenes change seamlessly and fluidly.

Ruthie Annn Miles and Kelli O'Hara in Lincoln Center's production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's"The King and I," directed by Bartlett Sher. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Ruthie Annn Miles and Kelli O’Hara in Lincoln Center’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s”The King and I,” directed by Bartlett Sher. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

As highly-anticipated as Kelli O’Hara’s appearance as Anna was, she rose well beyond. O’Hara is a skillful actress with a lovely operatic voice. She is a major talent, who has been nominated for five Tonys. This year should see her sixth nomination, and a win!

Standing out in the extremely capable ensemble are both Ruthie Ann Miles as Lady Thiang, the first wife in the King’s (Ken Watanabe) seraglio and Ashley Park as Tuptim, a present to the King from the King of Burma.

Ashley Park and Conrad Ricamora in Lincoln Center's production of Rodgers and Hammerstein's"The King and I," directed by Bartlett Sher. Photo by Paul Kolnik.
Ashley Park and Conrad Ricamora in Lincoln Center’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s”The King and I,” directed by Bartlett Sher. Photo by Paul Kolnik.

Park, like O’Hara, also has a splendid operatic voice, and her duets with Conrad Ricamura as her lover Lun Tha in “We Kiss in a Shadow” and “I Have Dreamed” are show-stopping.

The music and lyrics in The King and I carry progressive messages about appreciating cultural differences. The King and I is also about going beyond those differences to find an understanding. The King and his young heir, Chulalongkorn (Jon Viktor Corpuz) each have to find their own way in fulfilling their responsibilities as monarchs and men, as each sings in “A Puzzlement.”

The easy friendship between Anna’s boy Louis (Jake Lucas) and the young Prince seems to foreshadow the coming of a more modern Siam.

The wonderful staging includes a nearly 30 piece orchestra, led by the remarkable Ted Sperling. Costumes by Catherine Zuber are exquisite and stately.

For more information about The King and I, please visit their webiste.