By William Wolf
NIKOLAI AND THE OTHERS Send This Review to a Friend
Richard Nelson has written an imaginative play of exceptional interest. He puts together real people, noted Russian émigrés, and gives us portraits of their personalities and activities. Although in writing “Nikolai and the Others” he has taken liberty with dates and location, Nelson has used his creative ability to zero in on their importance and entanglements. Under David Cromer’s direction, a large, effective cast brings these notables to life in this intriguing Lincoln Center Theater Production.
The setting is a farmhouse near Westport, Conn., the time a weekend in the spring of 1948. Some audience patience is required at the outset as we are gradually introduced to the various characters under inspection. The Playbill program is a valuable guide to who’s who, as is an author’s statement insert. Marsha Ginsberg has designed a shell of a farmhouse, which opens up to show its interior, although moving the set-up can be a bit cumbersome. The drama builds more by relationship involvements than by intense plotting.
The Nikolai of the title is “Nicky” Nabokov (Stephen Kunken), a composer and cousin of the writer Vladimir Nabokov. Nikolai’s career has gone into decline as he has become a fixer of problems with the C.I.A., and close to Charles “Chip” Bohlen, who was formerly a State Department official, is a fluent Russian speaker and key in trying to spread American culture and freedom values in the Cold War.
A political background hovers in the context of that Cold War period, later revealed to be a time when the C.I. A. was secretly funding ostensibly free-standing cultural programs. (As a journalist, I covered one such gathering in Paris with a panel consisting of important American writers, only later to be unmasked as a C.I.A.-funded operation.)
Among the others gathered for the weekend are Igor Stravinsky (John Glover), composer; his wife Vera (Blair Brown); stage and film actor Vladimir Sokoloff (John Procaccino), friend of the Stravinskys; Lisa Sokoloff (Betsy Aidem), Vladimir’s wife and Vera Stravinsky’s best friend; George Balanchine (Michael Cerveris), already a well-known choreographer; Maria Tallchief (Natalia Alonso), Balanchine’s wife and dancer; Kolya (Alan Schmuckler), Balanchine’s rehearsal pianist, and Serge Koussevitsky (Michael Rosen), conductor.
Among the various others is Sergey Sudeikin (Alvin Epstein), artist and renowned set designer who was formerly married to Vera Stravinsky. He is seriously ill and preparations are under way to honor him during the weekend.
What emerges from the collection of émigrés under author Nelson’s inspection is a portrait of transplanted artists trying to make it in America while still retaining affection for, and roots in, their homeland despite the political upheavals against which they must operate. On one side is the Communist dictatorship in the Soviet Union, and in America there is the increasing pressure of the Red-scare and congressional investigations.
The commitment to artistry is depicted when space is cleared in the farmhouse for a rehearsal and demonstration of the ballet “Orpheus,” a collaborative effort between Balanchine and Stravinsky. As those gathered watch with interest, there is an exquisite dance excerpt presented with Tallchief (Alonso) and dancer Nicholas Magallenes (Michael Rosen), as directed and guided by Balanchine. It is an important centerpiece in the play.
The story swirls around the artistic decline of Nikolai, the scorn heaped upon him and his resulting self-doubts, as he is embroiled in the political problems, and there is a nasty
confrontation between him and Bohlen, depicted as arrogant and manipulative.
The play becomes increasingly impressive as it goes along, at least for those who appreciate such a work in contrast with a more simplistic piece of theater. Credit Nelson with having come up with a drama that is original and absorbing, all the more so as a result of its elaborate casting and skillful staging. At the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 West 65th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed May 21, 2013.
NATASHA, PIERRE AND THE GREAT COMET OF 1812 Send This Review to a Friend
The environment in which this show is staged is paramount for the Ars Nova production of “Natasha, Pierre and the Great Comet of 1812,” a musical riff on part of Leo Tolstoy’s “War and Peace.” Previously done in a smaller space, the extravaganza now unfurls inside a huge tent in the meat packing district. Before one even sees the show, one is impressed by what has been constructed. Inside the tent, there is a posh-looking restaurant with artistically decorated walls, massive overhead theatrical lighting and assorted platforms and byways from which the musicians and actors entertain us. Servers dressed Russian-style deliver dinner starting an hour before what might loosely be called curtain time, and dinner is included in the price of admission.
My server was a nice looking chap who spoke with a distinctly Russian accent. “Are you and actor or a waiter?” I inquired. “You’ll never know,” he replied, accent intact.
The musical swirls from amidst the audience from one end of the restaurant to the other, with the musicians perched in different locations. Cast members pop up everywhere, often coming close to where people are seated so you get extra opportunities to see tearful eyes and emotional expressions close-up. Occasionally there is interaction, even a kiss on the cheek.
I wonder what this musical would look like performed on a regular stage, but that is quite beside the point. The charm lies in this being environmental theater at its height,
but fortunately one can be seated while the action engulfs us, not the other way around of having to march from room to room.
As far as the ingredients are concerned, Dave Malloy’s score is the strongest asset of the show. It bears listening to repeatedly, as it combines classical style with an upbeat contemporary flavor, always offering plenty of oomph, and on various occasions also offering exquisite solo numbers expressing love, angst, longing and sadness. Malloy also wrote the lyrics and did the orchestration, and if that were not enough, he in addition plays the key role of aristocratic Pierre. Direction and musical staging is by Rachel Chavkin, choreography by Sam Pinkleton.
Phillipa Soo makes a beautiful and compelling Natasha, who loves her fiancé Andrey, away at war. She has the best numbers and makes the most of them with an impressive voice and involving emotion. Trouble arrives in the person of Anatole, a handsome officer, effectively portrayed by Lucas Steele, but a seducer without a conscience. Natasha falls for him and his promises with cruel results.
Other cast members have their moments in the spotlight, and the musical has some particularly inventive and striking scenes. A visit to the opera, where Moscow society parades, is presented with special creativity. Malloy has the knack of sketching various concepts and plot points economically, and that makes so much of this tour de force visually exciting.
If you want to see theater that is so totally different from anything else playing today, go to see this production. I wonder what Tolstoy would have made of it all. At Kazino, 13th Street at Washington Street. Phone: 877-704-2821. Reviewed May 13, 2013.
ON YOUR TOES (ENCORES!) Send This Review to a Friend
Exhilarating dancing, mixing ballet, jazz and tap, dominated the concert revival of the 1936 “On Your Toes,” staged by New York City Center Encores! (May 8-12, 2013).
It was worth attending if only to see the staging of George Balanchine’s ”Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” as filtered through the choreography of director Warren Carlyle. But the highly entertaining production glistened with assorted other goodies that made it a prime accomplishment in the ever-popular Encores! series.
Ballet star Irina Dvorovenko, making her musical theater debut, was a delightful major attraction. Playing the Russian ballerina Vera Baronova, who ventures into a popular show, Dvorovenko demonstrated her acting as well as dancing prowess. Her entrances and haughty exits were triumphs in themselves. But it was her dancing, of course, that provided the thrills.
To see her great leg extensions in her high kicks was alone worth the price of admission.
Her body movements in the “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” number demonstrated the ease with which she could move into the Broadway-style world exemplified by this historically important show with music by Richard Rodgers, lyrics by Lorenz Hart and a workable if corny book by Hart and George Abbott. It is to be hoped that Dvorovenko, who has announced her impending retirement from the American Ballet Theater, will on occasion find some new venues in which to show her versatility so generously displayed in the Encores! staging.
Although “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue” is the most fabled early Balanchine creation, the title second act number from “On Your Toes” was also a delight with its mix of ballet and tap. The exuberant company stopped the show with that extravaganza at the performance I attended.
As for the other stars, Shonn Wiley as Junior Dolan, the professor with the hidden past of having been a kid dancer in a famous family vaudeville act, excelled. He was hilarious when an emergency resulted in his stepping in as a slave in a send-up of Russian classical ballet. But when he partnered Dvorovenko in “Slaughter on Tenth Avenue,” he rose to the occasion, looking good as well as helping the ballet star to shine.
Plot-wise, Wiley as Dolan is the romantic lead in love with his pert student Frankie Frayne, played with much appeal by Kelli Barrett, who has a strong show-biz voice. Their heartfelt duet of “There’s a Small Hotel” demonstrated why that number is so durable, even though most people have probably forgotten where it originated.
All Christine Baranski has to do is walk on stage to get applause. As the well-heeled arts patron Peggy Porterfield, she looked great in her snazzy outfit (Amy Clark was costume consultant), and made the most of some juicy lines and numbers. As for the first, when a bewildered Dolan asked whether one could love two women at the same time and still be a good man, she gave the strategic pause, and then replied, “If he’s very good.” (Huge applause). As for the second category, she delivered two zingy numbers, “The Heart is Quicker Than the Eye,” sung with Wiley, and “Too Good for the Average Man,” with Walter Bobbie, who gave a highly amusing performance as the egotistical Russian impresario Sergei Alexandrovitch.
One can never recount Encore! performances without paying tribute to the first-rate Encores! Orchestra, this time under the baton of guest music director Rob Fisher.
At New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street. Reviewed May 13, 2013.
BUNTY BERMAN PRESENTS... Send This Review to a Friend
Bollywood films get an affectionate send-up in this musical charmer presented by The New Group, with book and lyrics by Ayub Khan Din, who also wrote the music with Paul Bogaev. Although the show doesn’t reach great heights, it is amiable and delightful enough to provide enjoyment, thanks in no small measure to a spirited cast.
As it turns out, Din is not only the author, but is now playing the title role of film producer Bunty Berman, having stepped in after the previous Bunty had to withdraw as a result of an accident. Din does very well as the harried Bunty, trying to make a typical Bollywood film without having sufficient funds and needing to enlist help from an unscrupulous mobster.
The plot is corny, but so are the plots of the Bollywood films being satirized. What keeps this one enjoyable is the combination of amusing dances (choreography by Josh Prince), eye-catching costumes (by William Ivey Long) and amusing songs, whether comic or romantic. I especially like Gayton Scott as Dolly, the secretary who is in love with Bunty and waits for him to notice her feelings. She sings her emotions appealingly.
Sorab Wadia is over-the-top funny as the Bollywood leading man Raj, who has seen better days but still thinks he is an irresistible charmer until he realizes he has to give way to youth. The new generation is represented by Nick Choksi who as Saleem at first just serves tea, but you know early-on that he will be the one with a road to stardom and winning the affection of Lipica Shah as Shambervi, the pretty star.
Derek McLane has provided a workable set, abetted by Wendall K. Harrington’s projection design, and Scott Elliott has directed with an on-target feel for the Bollywood aesthetic. A scene-stealer is the appearance of a large, fake elephant’s rear-end.
The musical made me recall a conversation I head on an airplane flight while sitting beside Indira Gandhi when she was Minister of Culture before she became India’s Prime Minister. At the time, in the 1960s, actors could not even kiss on screen. She promised that the restrictions would have to change. And they have indeed eased over the years.
But it is still the combination of dance and song that expresses emotion the most, and
”Bunty Berman Presents…” does best in that department when summoning the spirit of the Bollywood phenomenon. At the Acorn, Theatre Row, 410 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed May 12, 2013.
PIPPIN Send This Review to a Friend
The smartest thing about the revival of “Pippin” is setting it in a circus framework that enables dazzling acrobatics from a winsome supporting cast. The doings on stage are frequently breathtaking, and the acrobats also act as chorus guys and dolls, who can move sexily to the choreography by Chet Walker in the style of Bob Fosse, who brightened the 1973 original. Stephen Schwartz’s music and lyrics still resonate spiritedly, although Roger O. Hirson’s book slows matters in second act exposition. But any letdown is rescued by the dynamic performances.
In the spinning of the tale, Patina Miller is a knockout as the Leading Player who narrates and supervises the action. It is the role previously played by Ben Vereen. Miller sings powerfully and she is great to look at, with a figure that moves sexily. Matthew James Thomas is a perfect Pippin, the king’s son who sets out on a Candide-like course to find his way in life and give meaning to it. Thomas sings heartily and wins sympathy as he passes through his assorted exploits marked by offbeat humor.
The fourth wall is often broken with addressing the audience directly. There’s also the biggest showstopper I’ve seen lately. Andrea Martin as Pippin’s grandmother steals the show and leaves the audience clapping for more. By now it is no secret that she winds up on a trapeze. (Is the insurance paid up?) Not only that, but she sings while dangling in the grip of an acrobat. Martin is a master at milking a crowd, and boy does she show her wiles here.
There are other standouts, including Terrence Mann as Charlemagne, the king, and Charlotte d’Amboise as his queen, Fastrada, who can sing and dance with oomph.
Rachel Bay Jones is a sly, low-key charmer as the widow Catherine, who sets her sites on Pippin and embodies the aspect of life that can provide fulfillment. Resonating in the book is the revived spirit of the original that stressed the need to do something worthwhile to seek a better world. That’s as pertinent now as it was in the turbulent 1970s.
But the dominant quality of this revival is the explosive acrobatic feats of skill with swings, hoops, flips and assorted stunts, all accomplished by a stunning array of performers in the huge circus-tent setting designed by Scott Pask. Gypsy Snider of the Canadian circus troupe Les 7 doigts de la main is credited with eye-popping circus creation, and Diane Paulus deserves plaudits for vigorous direction that injects new life into the musical.
Every time the trademark moves of Bob Fosse become apparent in the dances, one may feel a rush of nostalgia. Those steps are unmistakably reminiscent of his style, and this entourage knows how to recreate the subtleties of his moving body parts choreography.
The new “Pippin” comes across as a big, audience-friendly Broadway extravaganza. And even though there is some second act book sagging, I could see it again just for the performance of Andrea Martin and the acrobatics. At The Music Box, 239 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed May 2, 2013.
THE BROADWAY MUSICALS OF 1972 Send This Review to a Friend
My usual review for this series may set off by paying attention to some of the stars meriting special recognition. However, this time on the occasion of “The Broadway Musicals of 1972,” presented by The Town Hall (April 29, 2013), I think it is the moment for applauding the Broadway By the Year Chorus, an impressive group that for this show has contributed more than ever before, especially in its spirited singing of numbers from “Grease” (writen by Warren Casey and Jim Jacobs). The chorus singers have emerged from the Broadway Rising Stars concerts, and they are attractive, talented performers who should not go unnamed.
So here they are—members of the Broadway By Tthe Year Chorus: Graham Bailey, Oakley Boycott, Max Chernin, Jenna Dallacco, Kristin Dausch, Brad Giovanine, Mary Lane Haskell, Rebecca LChance, Jeanette Minson, Bridget Ori, Paul Pontrelli, Jeff Raab, Ricky Alan Saunders, Amanda Savan, Ryan Scoble, Hannah Solow, Carlton Terrence Taylor Jr and Nichole Turner.
Scott Siegel, the likable creator, writer and host of the series, has become an ever-enterprising entrepreneur who, one might say, always has a lot of balls in the air.
This time he made it literal—appearing on stage at one point juggling three balls.
He didn’t drop any of them. Otherwise, apart from being hoisted in the air by the chorus in one number, he was at his customary lectern, informing us of the chosen year’s events apart from the shows selected. Did you know that in 1972 a woman fell from an air accident six miles to the ground and lived?
Getting to the highlights of this production, a thrilling moment of nostalgia was the appearance of Carole Demas, from the original cast of “Grease” in the role of Sandy, to poignantly sing “It’s Raining on Prom Night.” She looked great and was in fine voice, delivering the number with passion and strength and earning enthusiastic audience applause.
This turned out to be an appealing production in many respects, even though 1972 was not a year abounding in hits. But good songs were there to reprise in addition to ones from the high profile “Pippin” (Stephen Schwartz), and “Grease.” Perky Patti Murin set a high standard singing “There Are Worse Things I Could Do,” also from “Grease,” with a strong, pleasing voice. She also excelled opening the second act with “Freddy My Love” from “Grease,” abetted by Mary Lane Haskell, Amanda Savan and Rebecca LaChance, whom she shooed away as competition for Freddy’s affection. She also scored singing “With You” from “Pippin,” 1972’s leading hit that is now being revived on Broadway.
Carolee Carmello, a Broadway veteran who sings powerfully, impressively delivered “Alone Together” from “That’s Entertainment” (Howard Dietz and Arthur Schwartz), as she did “All of My Life” from “Ambassador” (Hal Hackady and Don Gohman). She also joined in a duet with Patrick Page to have fun with “Miserable With You” from “That’s Entertainment.”
Speaking of Page, who played De Guiche on Broadway in “Cyrano De Bergerac” and Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in “Spider-Man Turn Off The Dark,” he has a rich voice, particularly evidenced in his performance, along with the chorus, of “No Time At All” from “Pippin.”
Bob Stillman is a very special singer with a gorgeous voice. “His renditions of “So Little Time” from the shows “Don’t Bother Me, I Can’t Cope” (Micki Grant), “Home” from “Via Galactica” (Christopher Gore and Galt McDermot) and “Stars of Glory" from “The Selling of the President” (Jack O’Brien and Bob James) were highlights.
Comedy and choreography are increasing ingredients in the series. “Penniless Bums” from “Sugar” (Bob Merrill and Jule Styne) featured sly Christopher Fitzgerald and nimble Danny Gardner cutting up, with Gardner, an excellent dancer, providing the choreography. Gardner also did the choreography for “Dance the Dark Away” (“Via Galactica”), which he performed with Brent McBeth and Derek Roland. Gardner’s own charming and amusing solo number that he choreographed was “How High Can a Little Bird Fly?” from “That’s Entertainment.”
“Pippin” is a show with inspired music, and it yielded the opportunity for Christopher Fitzgerald to do a stalwart job singing “Extraordinary.” The rich vein of “That’s Entertainment” was also mined by Bob Stillman captivatingly singing “Farewell, My Lovely.”
Once again the “Broadway by the Year” series has come through with a hefty helping of entertainment. This show was directed by Mindy Cooper, with musical direction and arrangements by Ross Patterson, who was familiarly at the piano with his “Little Big Band.” Scott Coulter directed the Broadway By The Year Chorus, which was choreographed by Vibecke Dahl. All elements were smoothly integrated. by their combined expertise. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Phone: Ticketmaster at 800-982-2787. Reviewed April 30, 2013. (Coming on June 3: The Broadway Musicals of 1988.)
THE TRIP TO BOUNTIFUL (2013) Send This Review to a Friend
The transition in Horton Foote’s play to an African-American family works with admirable smoothness in this poignant revival of “The Trip to Bountiful,” mainly due to its superb cast. While all of the main performers are effective, the star of the company is
Cicely Tyson, who at the age of 88 is bringing the character of Mrs. Carrie Watts exquisitely to life in a performance that is both entertaining and emotionally wrenching.
It is a joy to see Tyson at this stage in her career taking a difficult role and triumphing by making the part distinctly her own no matter who has played it before.
Living an uneasy life in Houston, Texas, with her son and daughter-in-law, Carrie has a dream that keeps her afloat—the deep desire to return before she dies to her old home in Bountiful, a town that barely exists anymore. She has been thwarted in previous efforts to run away, but she remains determined. Bountiful becomes symbolic of all that is beautiful, and one might take it for a stand-in to heaven. It is surely a stand-in for memories of a thwarted love she experienced in her youth and a state of grace that Carrie wants to achieve before leaving this earth. It also represents freedom from the constraints of dealing with the confines of her living arrangements and being under the rule of her son and daughter-in-law. Tyson’s performance is rapturous at every turn, whether exhibiting her feistiness and wily efforts to conceal her intentions, her free spirit and her pleasure in achieving her goal against the odds she faces.
Vanessa Williams, stunning in appearance as always, is excellent as her disgruntled, haranguing daughter-in-law Jessie Mae, who dominates her nice-guy husband, who in turn does his best to be agreeable while laboring in a job that doesn’t pay enough and trying to work up the nerve to ask for a raise. Jessie Mae and Carrie inevitably clash, as she schemes to get Carrie’s pension check, and Carrie schemes to keep it hidden. There is much humor in their hostilities and the proximity necessitated by their cramped living quarters.
Cuba Gooding Jr is letter-perfect as Ludie as he struggles to navigate being a devoted son, a loving husband with genuine affection for his difficult, self-centered wife, who loves him in her way, and a peacemaker between Jessie Mae and his mom. Foote was deft at writing complex characters and it shows in these three performances. There is a point late in the play when Ludie stands up to his wife, and at the performance I attended, the audience applauded. In another example of audience reaction, when Carrie sang a hymn, Tyson was so exuberant that some in the audience began to sing with her.
Plaudits are also due Condola Rashad as the young woman Thelma, who meets Carrie while she is running away to get to Bountiful. Her acting here is lovely and open as she extends friendliness and sympathy, yet does so with measured warmth while still maintaining a proper demeanor and not turning the role into gushiness. It is a beautiful, balanced performance that makes the audience like her a lot.
As the sheriff who has the responsibility of looking after Carrie in Harrison until her son Ludie and Jessie Mae come to retrieve the runaway, Tom Wopat is also excellent, sympathizing with his charge while having a job to do. He is also likable as he allows himself to be persuaded by Carrie to drive her to her destination. Other members of the cast handle respective chores nicely.
Jeff Cowie’s scenic design effectively provides the Watts home, a bus section, a bus station and Carrie’s old ramshackle house. There is also a starlit night (lighting design by Rui Rita) and a lovely country sky to give the right feeling to Bountiful. Michael Wilson’s direction succeeds in keeping the focus on the characters as written by Foote and performed by the cast without detracting frills, thus giving the play the fluidity and feeling inherent in the author’s vision. Above all, there is Ms. Tyson’s acting achievement, which would be special for anyone, let alone an actress of Tyson’s age—88 years young. At the Stephen Sondheim Theatre, 124 West 43rd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 28, 2013.
THE TESTAMENT OF MARY Send This Review to a Friend
The superb Irish actress Fiona Shaw surely deserves a best solo performance award for her breathtaking depiction of Jesus’s mother in the fascinating, compelling play by Colm Toíbín. The set-up is a recounting by Mary of the crucifixion of her son, with the accent on the horror and painful death that took place. The theater piece provides, through a mother’s eyes, the debunking of the religious movement that grew up after the terrible event.
Shaw is first seen sitting in a glass enclosure. Before the performance, members of the audience are invited to go on stage and look at her in addition to artifacts on display,
an invitation that large numbers accepted at the performance I attended until they were directed back to their seats just before the play began.
Shaw is clothed in casual garb, and there is no effort to make the stage look like a period setting. There is a ladder at the side of the stage, which, at one point, Shaw seizes to make it a stand-in for the cross carried as she recalls the struggle her son had in dragging it to his death. Her description of driving in the nails is harrowing and a dramatization of how cruel executions can be.
As astutely directed by Deborah Warner, Shaw as Mary moves about the stage frequently, bringing added life to the play, with lighting and sound contributing importantly to the avoidance of static qualities that can befall a one-person show.
The Mary we meet is a down-to-earth mother, not the holy Mary of religious doctrine. She has no sympathy for those she describes as gathered around Jesus. As for the virgin birth, this Mary, by her expression and tone, dismisses any such notion in reference to her pregnancy. At one crucial point in the drama, she talks of a dream she has had of her son rising, implying that others were to make more of what was just a mother’s dream.
This is a fierce, impassioned portrayal, which dazzles an audience, regardless of how one might feel about its debunking quality. Shaw, veering from intimate recollections to storming the stage with outbursts of pain and anger, is totally captivating. In the aftermath of the crucifixion, Mary takes off her clothes and cleanses herself in a pool of water, emerging dripping. Whether the nude scene is a gimmick or dramatic accenting of her raw emotion, Shaw carries it off with dignity that adds to the mastery of her dynamic characterization.
For once the standing ovation at curtain call is deserved, not the obligatory sort that audiences seem compelled to give perfunctorily and unselectively to so many performances these days. Even I got up. At the Walter Kerr Theatre, 219 West 48th Street. Telecharge.com. Reviewed April 26, 2013.
ORPHANS Send This Review to a Friend
Any three actors charged with interpreting Lyle Kessler’s play “Orphans” must as an ensemble create the mystique of the challenging work and leave us moved and pondering the play’s meaning. In this revival, Alec Baldwin, Ben Foster and Tom Sturridge, under the direction of Daniel Sullivan, have accomplished what’s necessary.
If you are familiar with the play, you will know the outline of the plot. Two orphaned brothers live in a ramshackle dwelling in North Philadelphia. The dominant brother, Treat (Foster), a petty thief, methodically tries to keep his mentally challenged sibling, Phillip (Sturridge), in a state of ignorance and virtual imprisonment, both protectively and to maintain his control. Treat has instilled in Phillip a fear of going outside lest a terrible allergy strike him
One day Treat kidnaps a gangster who is drunk. Harold (Baldwin), also orphaned, is brought back to the house in his helpless state and is tied to a chair. In the course of the play, Harold, not only frees himself but turns the tables and becomes the all-knowing mentor to the brothers. In another reversal, Phillip gains a fresh sense of freedom.
In this production Sturridge steals the show as Phillip, no easy task with Baldwin in the cast. Sturridge athletically leaps about the house—over furniture and up the staircase-- like a chimp, and mixes surface dim-wittedness with personality appeal to the extent that he is very likable even while we laugh at him. His simple-mindedness—he longs for a pair of yellow shoes—and his being virtually illiterate make his moments of discovery all the more striking and enjoyable.
Treat also discovers pleasures under Harold’s mentoring, but he gets increasingly desperate at the loss of his previous control. Meanwhile, Harold uses Treat to run criminal errands, with Harold all the while knowing that gangsters are looking for him.
The play thrives on its built-in humor, which this cast certainly brings out, but there is also the gnawing suspense of how all will end, and when it does we are left with a vivid image and the need to ponder the symbolism.
“Orphans” is another work about power struggles that have been associated with Harold Pinter, and if one looks to cinema, “The Servant,” directed by Joseph Losey from a screenplay by Pinter. By now “Orphans” has become a theater artifact, and it is good to see it back on Broadway for a new look. At the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 25, 2013.
I'LL EAT YOU LAST Send This Review to a Friend
Bette Midler combines her show business know-how with her portrayal of the late agent Sue Mengers, depicted as a flamboyant character that Midler can readily inhabit. The result of “I’ll Eat You Last,” cleverly written by John Logan, often elicits loud, deserved audience laughter. A curtain sign before the show starts warns: "This play contains profanity, smoking, alcohol consumption, drug use and gossip.” Well, there is plenty of profanity, plus a good deal of juicy gossip, and Mengers puffs away,
The year is 1981. One major challenge exists with the direction by Joe Mantello. Save for the ending, Midler does the whole show sitting on a sofa. Mengers is welcoming us into her Beverly Hills living room, designed by Scott Pask to look luxurious. In a one-person show, it helps to move around a bit. The only breaks occur twice when Mengers invites someone ostensibly from the audience to come on stage, fetch her a cigarette and light it, and then, after he is shooed away, recalled later to pour the lady a drink.
The fun comes mainly from the bitchy remarks and wisecracks Mengers spews with machine-gun delivery about recognizable stars whom she has represented and honchos with whom she has negotiated, underlined by typical trickery on both sides. She also dispenses professional advice on being an agent, and is profanely funny citing what an agent should not say to Diana Ross when ushering her along on the red carpet.
And so it goes—Mengers chatting away to the audience, talking on the phone, and mugging hilariously with assorted body movements. Bitchy remarks abound in her stream of gossip and denunciations of those she loathes. The personality of Midler is such, that despite the appropriate character get-up, it is hard to watch her without thinking there is still a trace of Midler. That’s probably unfair, as Midler most certainly establishes Mengers as a flesh-and-blood character, a woman who shoots from the hip, boasts about her prowess in the field, yet waits nervously for a phone call from Barbra Streisand with a repressed sense of desperation. Power can’t last forever.
I never knew Mengers, but as entertainingly demonstrated in this savvy performance, she was a determined, wily intensely competitive gal who built a lucrative practice and a reputation as a Hollywood rep of stars in a field customarily dominated by men. Midler gets the feel for this portrait just right in a consistently funny show. At the Booth Theatre, 222 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 25th, 2013.