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 Talealso gives us a little slice of African-American history mixed in with the fable.
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 Peoplecomes 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.
It’s an annual event that has critics and ordinary theater goers in a tizzy. The Tony Award nominations are in, and this year’s contest (the 71st) will be televised o n Sunday June 11th on CBS. It is at this ceremony that the results of all that Tony voting will be revealed. “And the winner is…” is a nerve-racking pronouncement. Equally irksome, and this is true year-to-year, are the actual nominations meted out with such parsimony.
All theater should be celebrated, yet the Tony committee chooses to withhold even a nod from some productions. Why? oh why? (BTW, a line from My Sister Eileen, the musical version of which, Wonderful Town, starring Rosalind Russell won the 1953 Tony.)
Nevermind, we just have to face what is coming at us like a freight train, and dig in for some knotty predictions. Horse races are not my thing, and my track record, as it were, for guessing who will get which prize is extremely poor.
Rinse and repeat
The smart money this 2017 season is on Groundhog Day, a musical I have not seen. Reports –from critics, and friends alike– (one a fan of Andy Karl who went to a performance during his absence due to injury, said it was still terrific)– are that this is the one to beat.
May I propose that in honor of Andrew Call’s valiant subbing in for Andy Karl, we add this minor adjustment to the proceedings: “And the Tony for best understudy in a leading role goes to….” (A category on the women’s side once taken by Barbra Streisand.)
The contestants as we know them
War Paint, another musical I skipped this season, has not one but two leading ladies vying for the Best. Truthfully, both Christine Ebersole and Patti LuPone are winners, although not necessarily this year. Ebersole has two Tonys as the Lead in 42nd Street(2001) and in Grey Gardens (2007); LuPone’s Tonys include a win for Evita (way back when, and wonderful; 1980) and for her Mama Rose in Gypsy (2008.) Both of these admirable divas have also had more than their fair share of nominations over the years.
Let me also admit to not having seen the other nominees for Best Musical, which are the wonderfully named Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812, the hyper-modern Dear Evan Hansen and charmingly off-beat Come From Away. As an outsider, as it were, I will make no further assumptions here. We really liked Bandstand, and it has had only limited recognition from the Tony folk. We were sure this first-time Broadway effort by veteran musicians Rob Taylor and Richard Oberacker deserved at least to be named.
The play’s the thing
On the straight play side is where we have slightly better traction, although only slightly so. Of the nominees for Best Play, we have seen (and loved) A Doll’s House Part 2. We have also seen the nominated revivals,The Little Foxesand Jitney, both in very fine productions; the revival of The Price was not among the plays mentioned. For what it’s worth, we are rooting for …Part 2, and for Little Foxes.
While on the subject of …Foxes, Tony could have given Cynthia Nixon (whom as it happens we saw in the lead) and Laura Linney (who split her lead and featured roles with Nixon) co-nominations in the Best Lead Actress category. Instead, Nixon gets the nod as Best Featured Actress, and Linney is in the running for the Best Lead.
We have seen three of the nominated actress in both the Lead and Featured category., and this is a tough call. Sally Field has had her “they really like me” moment, and in fact was a very credible Amanda in my favorite Williams’ play; if I say I really really liked her, it is not to mock but to admire. Since I cannot speak to Linney’s interpretation of the steely Regina Giddens, and I can say that Laurie Metcalf was (as usual) fabulous as the re-imagined Nora in …Part 2, I will send a nod her way. This is in part based on only partial facts and in part based on a long-term admiration for her work. The entire cast in ..Part 2has been nominated, and I would rally for each of them; the caveat is that this conclusion is also based on limited evidence.
The Men in question
We’ve seen five of the shows in which a male actor was nominated for a 2017 Tony Award. Two of them were leads. Denis Arndt gave an impressive, nuanced performance in the two-handed Heisenberg, (so named, I think, because of some relativity principal the play explored) opposite Mary-Louise Parker. Chris Cooper, Torvald in …Part 2 is definitely a worthy candidate; he is both hot and cold. Still, even with that, don’t feel like I know enough about the Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role in a Play. For the Best Featured Actor, Richard Thomas is an estimable Horace Giddens in the revival of Lillian Hellman’s The Little Foxes. We definitely felt that Danny DeVito stole The Price from under his co-stars. John Douglas Thompson also shined in the excellent revival of August Wilson’s Jitney. From this vantage, I’m certainly unwilling to pick just one. Now, it is I who is proving tiresome. Oh, well.
May we suggest that you watch the ceremony, hosted by the multi-talented Kevin Spacey, on CBS on June 11th at 8pm. Cheer for the performances and productions you’ve seen; enjoy the fine show that Tony always provides; place your bets, and….
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.
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.
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 Nixon 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 Foxesallows 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 Foxesis done to perfection.
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.