Posted in dark drama, drama, dysfunction, family drama

Cunning and rapacious

Myth-making is an oddly populist activity. Plain men (and women) creating tall tales about themselves or their ilk, such as Paul Bunyon or Johnny Appleseed, are boosted to greater prominence by the imagination.

Little Foxes

The Hubbards in Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes, at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre extended through July 2nd, are rich but simple folks who aggrandize themselves with their own form of mythologizing.

Ben Hubbard (Michael McKean), the elder of the cold-blooded tribe, is especially deft at inventing the stories of his family’s success against adversity. His younger brother, Oscar (Darren Goldstein) is equally vicious but hapless.

Little Foxes

It’s their sister, Regina Giddens (Cynthia Nixon at the performance we saw; Laura Linney at alternate performances) who is the most ferocious and cruel-hearted romancer. She has lied to her brothers about the money her husband, Horace (Richard Thomas) will put up for their venture with Mr. Marshall (David Alford) of Chicago; she has spun an account of a future of glory in society for herself when they are all rich.

Oscar’s wife, Birdie (Laura Linney, alternating with Cynthia Little FoxesNixon for this gem of a part), speaks her own narrative of sweetness and betrayal. She tells her story to Regina and Oscar’s daughter Alexandra (Francesca Carpanni) who can still be saved from the family curse of greed. Like Birdie, Addie (Caroline Stefanie Clay), the housekeeper at the Giddens’ home, has genuine concern for Alexandra. It is also Horace’s desire to protect his daughter from her mother and her uncles. He understands the evil they can cause. Alexandra, on the other hand, is not as fragile as her aunt Birdie; she has some of her mother’s steel mixed with her father’s kind heart.

Nixon is demonic as Regina. Linney is brittle as the delicate and damaged Birdie, who dislikes her son Leo (Michael Benz) even more than her husband. Rounding out the cast is Cal (Charles Turner); like Addie, Birdie and Horace, Cal  cares for the few people in the household who are kind and decent.

Daniel Sullivan’s direction of The Little Foxes allows the plot to develop with style and at leisure. The costumes (by Jane Greenwood) are excellent; the gown Regina wears, for instance, is superbly elegant. Scott Pask’s scenery is sumptuous, drawing applause at curtain-up.

This classic tale of conniving avarice is beautifully ugly. Everything about this production of The Little Foxes is done to perfection.

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

PS: We had seen a couple of earlier versions of Hellman’s dark drama, one of which was wonderfully abstract in its staging. That one was directed by Ivo Von Hove at New York Theater Workshop, and is worth noting for its pedigree. This Broadway production is worth seeing for its faithful adherence to Hellman’s vision and text, and the excellence of its execution of this Hubbard family history. There is no better reason to see The Little Foxes at MTC than the sheer perfection of this production.

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 drama

Down and out on “Airline Highway”

Airline Highway Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Cast List: Carolyn Braver K. Todd Freeman Scott Jaeck Ken Marks Caroline Neff Tim Edward Rhoze Judith Roberts Joe Tippett Julie White Todd d'Amour Shannon Eagen Venida Evans Joe Forbrich Leslie Hendrix Sekou Laidlow Toni Martin Production Credits: Joe Mantello (Direction) Scott Pask (Scenic Design) David Zinn (Costume Design) Japhy Weideman (Lighting Design) Fitz Patton (Original Music and Sound Design) Other Credits: Written by: Lisa D'Amour

Sometimes it’s those who have the least to celebrate who are most inclined to show gratitude and party.

The denizens of the Hummingbird Motel on Airline Highway, the title of Lisa D’Amour’s vibrant new play at MTC’s Friedman Theatre through June 7th, are such a community.

The parking lot on Airline Highway is about to be the scene for Miss Ruby’s (Judith Roberts) funeral. Miss Ruby is still alive, however, but she is revered and her request to be eulogized while she can still hear the kind words of the mourners seems perfectly reasonable.

The inhabitants of the Hummingbird are Airline HighwaySamuel J. Friedman Theatremarginal to New Orleans. They don’t live in the Quarter. They joke about never having been to the Jazz Festival. They eke out what little living they can by doing odd jobs, like Terry (Tim Edward Rhoze), or dancing in strip clubs, like Krista (the heartbreaking Caroline Neff), or hooking, like Tanya (Julie White.) Wayne (Scott Jacek) makes his way managing the Motel.

Airline Highway Samuel J. Friedman TheatreThe set (by Scott Pask), the ragtag two story front porch of the Motel and the lot on the roadfront, fills the stage. A parked car doubles as a buffet table on which Tanya, with the help of Sissy Na Na (the mesmerizing K. Todd Freeman), organizes the festivities.

The only one of the Humm ingbird occupants seeking to escape is Baitboy (Joe Tippett.) Technically, he already has. He moved to Atlanta with a woman he picked up when he worked one of the clubs; she has a lot of money, a business, and a large house. Baitboy, a nom-de-guerre from his old life, is known in Atlanta  as Greg; Greg brings his girlfriend’s daughter, Zoe (Carolyn Braver) to New Orleans where she wants to “research” the Hummingbird folk. Greg abandoned Krista when he left. She, despite encouragement that she reinvent herself from Sissy Na Na, can’t keep the lies she tells about how well she’s doing straight.

Airline Highway Samuel J. Friedman TheatreAirline Highway, like the Hummingbird family, has a big sloppy heart. Structurally, it suffers from having too many wonderful narrators. Structurally, it is also saved by its characters’ stories.  Airline Highway repects them.  by not treating them as colorful sub-cultural symbols..

The demi-monde Airline Highway depicts is operatic and grand. There is a free-wheeling quality to the play, and Joe Mantello’s direction of the superb Steppenwolf cast is excellent. Freeman and White both have well-earned nominated as Best Featured for their performances. David Zinn has the Best Costume Design nomination, and Japhy Weideman is nominated for Best Lighting Design,

For more information, please visit http://airlinehighwaybroadway.com/