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 #critique, dark drama, drama, historical drama, Marlowe, political drama, Shakespeare, tragedy

“Tragedy, tonight!”

1William_Shakespeare.
A portrait of William Shakespeare, Christopher Marlowe‘s better known contemporary.

Politics and drama are disparaged, especially by those who feel the sting of the tragedies presented.

Sometimes, even if the message is on point, the admixture has an oddly inappropriate tastelessness.

Nonetheless, as I  have often said, it is the role of art to clarify matters and comment on our foibles and the errors of our ways.

We are often led astray on the roads of life, so we should be grateful to plays, playwrights and the traditions of our theatrical history for helping to put us back on track.

Here is a plot I propose:

Tamburlaine in triplicate or triptych: played alternately by North Korean President Kim Jong-un, Vladimir Putin and the US President, with Benjamin Netanyahu coming in as a pinch hitter.

In the movie version of the shenanigans surrounding the recent election– the movie from my youth– the big guy is carted away in cuffs. Also, the good people of Montana go to the homes of every single Jewish family that was targeted by Richard Spencer’s crew to make sure they are protected. This is so because in 1950’s America Americans played by the rules, were patriotic and did the right thing.

June 25th addendum: The toddler in big boy pants whose got DC as his playpen may be onto something. He doesn’t care for poor folks (note to those who helped elect him–be careful what you wish for is a real thing). Is there a reality show called Lifestyles of the Poor and Unknown?

Posted in 2017 Tony Nominations, DC politics, drama, drama based on real events, historical drama, historical musical drama, historically-based musical, Ibsen, Ibsen adaptation, Kristen Childs, Playwright, Musical drama, political drama, politically inspired, politics, Shakespeare, Shakespeare in the Park, The Tony Awards, Tony, Tony Awards

Tidbits, tall tales, and short truths

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From The Wheelhouse Theatre’s production of An Enemy of the People, playing through June 24th. Photo by Jeremy Daniel.

Theatricality is a fraught concept. It can just be dramatic and thought-provoking, or it can be over-the-top, dramatic and thought-provoking. Kristen Childs has written a musical that is theatrical to the nth degree. Bella: An American Tall Tale also gives us a little slice of African-American history mixed in with the fable.

In other theatrical news, not as dramatic, I believe that Cynthia Nixon and Laurie Metcalf ruined my perfect record of being wrong on the Tonys. Ah well, maybe next year.
 
Politics and theater are getting a bad rep. Actually politics and their practitioners have had a reputation for honesty meaning any means that is necessary, aka I’ll lie if I have to, and theater has always been a forum for exposing truths. Ms. Nixon stirred the political pot a tiny bit in her acceptance speech at the 2017 Tony Awards Ceremonies. Now, it is the mixing of politics into theater that has caused quite the controversy (see what is happening with The Public’s Julius Caesar for instance.) It is unwarranted. Art is meant to comment on our realities.
At any rate, one of those realities, Lost and Guided, a play by Irene Kapustina about Syrian refuges in their own words, is on view at Conrad Fischer and The Angle Project, at Under St Marks (94 St. Marks Place, from August 3 through 27th. For tickets, click here.
A similar but perhaps more intitmate project is The Play Company’s Oh My Sweet Land another look at the Syrian refuge crisis. The play is due to launch this fall in private homes and communal spaces where people have been invited to host this  multi-sensory experience. Those wishing to participate by providing a venue can do so by filling out the questionnaire here. Nadine Malouf stars, perhaps in your own kitchen, in Oh My Sweet Land, a play developed by Amir Nizar Zuabi with German-Syrian actor Corinne Jaber.
Shakespeare wrote plays reflecting timely events, for his time and all times. This may explain why The Public is in such hot water over their production of Julius Caesar. The brouhaha, perhaps like the staging, is way out of proportion. In Measure for Measure, Shakespeare also explores issues to do with power and justice. Theatre for a New Audience is presenting a new modernized staging by Simon Godwin from June 17th through July 16th. Tickets for this show which will be held at Polansky Shakespeare Center in Brooklyn are available at TFANA’s website.
Henrik Ibsen had his own take on both the personal and the political. For instnace, Ibsen’s drama, An Enemy of the People is a play about populism and its discontents.
An Enemy of the People comes to us from the Wheelhouse Theater Company under the direction of Jeff Wise, at the Gene Frankel Theater, beginning June 9th and running through June 24th is conceived as a meditation on the “tyranny of the majority.”
Following on the success of Ibsen’s feminist tale as revisited by Lucas Hnath in A Doll’s House, Part 2, see the US Premiere of Victoria Benedictsson’s 1887 Swedish original, The Enchantment in a  new English translation and adaptation by Tommy Lexen. Ducdame Ensemble introduces us to the woman behind Ibsen’s Nora; Benedictsson, who wrote under the pen name Ernst Ahlgren, was not only Ibsen’s inspiration but also Strindberg’s for Miss Julie. The Enchantment opens at HERE on July 6th, with previews beginning June 28th.
Dystopia is the normal atmosphere of an Ibsen play. It is poignantly a main event in the classic 1984. George Orwell’s novel in which Big Brother government controls its citizens has been turned into a play by the same name. The play by Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan was first performed in 2013 at England’s Nottingham Playhoouse.
1984 , a place where mind control involves convincing us that up is down, “freedom is slavery,” is now at Broadway’s newly renovated Hudson Theatre, with an opening on June 22nd, and starring Olivia Wilde and Tom Sturridge.
Posted in 59E59, dark comedy drama, musical

Don’t Renew My Passport

BY MARI S. GOLD

Under a hanging scimitar, a wall projection reads 1981. This sets the stage for Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, at 59E59 Theaters through October 25th.

As a call to prayer issues, a handsome, bearded Arabic man in a white thobe and red-and-white checked keffyieh enters. He claps. The prayer stops and contemporary music begins while he breaks into a “penguin dance,” legs akimbo. He’s grinning, having a wonderful time and the audience loves him.

L-R: Christopher Michael McLamb and Joey LePage in Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, produced by Monk Parrots at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Maria Baranova
L-R: Christopher Michael McLamb and Joey LePage in Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, produced by Monk Parrots at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Maria Baranova

Enter American ex-pats Tina Murphy-Brown and her husband, Hank, drawn to Saudi Arabia by financial rewards promised by Aramco. Tina, who invokes God a lot, isn’t sure how she’ll cope with being covered from head to toe and not eating pork but, like her husband, wants to get out of the oil hell hole of Pasadena, Texas.

Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a “dark musical comedy” about barriers raised by gender and culture, developed by Monk Parrots, a NYC-based experimental theater company.

L-R: Christopher Michael McLamb, Jessie Dean, Sarah Grace Sanders, Ruthy Froch, Joey LePage, John Gasper and John Smiley in Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, produced by Monk Parrots at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Maria Baranova
L-R: Christopher Michael McLamb, Jessie Dean, Sarah Grace Sanders, Ruthy Froch, Joey LePage, John Gasper and John Smiley in Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, produced by Monk Parrots at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Maria Baranova

Most of the music is highly forgettable and, in many cases unintelligible, odd as the theater is very small and the actors use mics. The exception is Jessica Dean, who does a fine job as Tina, singing about her love of air conditioning and citing scripture. Joey LePage may have been cast as Hank for his buff physique; he lacks affect, even in the slightly disgusting episode when brown motor oil is poured over his briefs-clad body. Randy, the Brown’s stillborn son, is played by the talented John Gasper, wearing a baggy union suit and white facial makeup with tufts of hair sprouting from his otherwise bald head.  His role is confusing, including when he strangles himself, but so was much of the production that reminded me of TV’s long-gone Laugh-In, laden with talented people reveling in unrelated jokes, skits and musical numbers.

L-R: John Smiley, Sarah Grace Sanders and Joey LePage in Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, produced by Monk Parrots at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Maria Baranova
L-R: John Smiley, Sarah Grace Sanders and Joey LePage in Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, produced by Monk Parrots at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Maria Baranova

Act Two, (another too-fast wall projection sets it in 1991), has a far grimmer tone as relationships fray and the Gulf War begins.  I thought the drunken neighbor and his sexy wife had returned to the U.S but there they are, she in bikini bottom and a half-burqua; later–for a reason I couldn’t grasp– bound and gagged by her husband in a Spiderman costume. Abdullah’s daughter, Zillah, (Ruthy Froch), wears a burqua while she tells jokes and sings until at the very end she abruptly appears in a tight sequined dress and belts “I am dark energy; I do not dilute even as my universe expands.” Huh?

The set is made of plastic cutouts with flopping hands that seemed more Halloween than Saudi.  There are a few effective numbers, mostly those performed by The Descendants of Abraham, a trio played by whichever company members are not already onstage, in superb camel costumes by designer Alison Heryer.

For more information on Welcome to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, please visit www.59e59.org.