STRAIGHT TALK ON SOME STRAIGHT PLAYS
By Jeannie Lieberman
While my fellow critics are falling and fawning all over themselves to impress with their elite insights into Broadway's current illustrious fare here's how I see it:
Credit: Simon Annand
Moon for the Misbegotten
Misbegotten Moon over the top or Long Nights Journey into Day
There is no doubt that Kevin Spacey, one of America's treasured actors, now glorying as the American Artistic Director of England's venerable Old Vic, (which he has successfully reinvigorated), could not resist temptation to jump back onto the stage to show off - after all isn't that what actors do? And so he has chosen for himself the plumb role of Broadway wastrel Jim Tyrone in Eugene O'Neill's tale of an inconsolable alcoholic to whom women are either saints or sluts- whose love for his mother, destroyed by her death, drove him further into drink and away from any normal relationships with women. Add to that the swindling nature of a poor farmer and his daughter, who may or may not have a shady past, both scheming to keep the farm, while playing with people's hearts.
But so many of elements of this London production seem wrong. We are not privileged to be aware of Eve Best's reputation as a starring actress - and so, if the script calls for a "a great cow of a woman" with great paw like hands and whose ample breast (referred to as the best breasts in town) is a source of solace for Tyrone, could one not expect a more maternal type as indicated (remember Colleen Dewhurst) than this scrawny, beyond plain scrappy girl?
Also hard to believe is that the sportive Spacey, in his tightly buttoned three piece suit and tie, despite the apparent heat, who cavorts with painted tarts of Broadway, could possibly be attracted to the straw haired unkempt, ragged and filthy (one can be poor without being dirty) girl. She still looks the same even when dressed up for their ill-fated date. Yet, in his drink muddled brain, she is his saint, but isn't cleanliness next to saintliness? And the house - right out of Dogpatch!
Spacey's schizoid performance knows no bounds with lightning changes from from wisecracking dandyman to red-faced bawling baby. His occasionally embarrassing, shameless scenery chewing becomes tedious and suggests the play should have been renamed Long Night's Journey into Day!
Vanessa Redgrave as Joan Didion
(photo credit: Brigitte Lacombe)
The Year of Living Dangerously Joan Didion has turned her 2005 National Book Award-winning memoir about the year she lost her husband, novelist John Gregory Dunne, to a massive coronary, while her daughter Quintana was also in a coma from septic shock, into a stage play for one actress. The intermission-less play goes beyond the scope of the book as Didion's daughter died some months after the manuscript was published and the story has a new ending. The most dramatic moment comes right at the beginning when Ms Redgrave, chosen specifically for the role, tells the audience "It will happen to you. That is what I am here to tell you." And Ms Redgrave recites her long monologue meticulously. I approached the evening fearful of and resistant to reliving the painful deaths of my past. Yet it is that impeccable delivery that thwarts emotion and, in a huge effort to stay involved (and awake) I soon found myself straining to empathize, to conjure up some like scenes through which to relate to the somewhat clinical detachment of the raconteur. Perhaps any performance would have been anticlimactic after the widely read and lauded book. I kept an eye on my brother who has just lost his wife to see if the play impacted on him differently but, alas, it kept him similarly (if mercifully) detached and the Year of Living ...seems like a long year indeed!
Credit: Joan Marcus
Prelude to a Kiss There is an unavoidable "icky" quality here than I could not overcome in Craig Lucas' weird fairy tale about switched psycho-sexual identities. With Lucas' little care for a proper set up, a bland young man, Peter (Alan Tudyk), and Rita (Annie Parisse), a quirky barmaid with irritating idiosyncrasies, meet "cute" at a party and fall inexplicably (to me) in love. Zipping right along to their wedding day, a somewhat wizened old man wanders in and plants a kiss on the young bride (there's the "ick" factor). Presto, the old man (John Mahoney) changes identities with the bride. Peter hasn't a clue (and neither does the audience) 'til the Caribbean honeymoon, when Rita acts very uncharacteristically. Rita runs back to her parents and Peter somehow ends up keeping house with the old man who now displays all the qualities he once loved in Rita, that is, except, of course, for the corporeal. What should be an interesting premise flounders in part because neither of the pair seem engaging enough to elicit our compassion. Forgive me for being somewhat John Simon-esque - the critic notorious for pouncing mercilessly on the physical qualities of the performers - but the heroine - a girl in the flower of her youth - looks anorexic - and the flat chested, bony, poor postured, curve-less girl without much personality hardly seems worth the pursuit of either man. Those around me, and others unfamiliar with the story (which was a film as well as an off Broadway production), had no clue at the end what really happened. That phenomenon of soul switching at the titular kiss (yuk) could have been accompanied with some visual/aural effect - flash of light - crash of sound - but with nothing to underscore this transforming event the premise went unnoticed... as should the play.
PLAYS WITH PUNCH
An unexpected boost by shock jock Don Imus makes Eric Bogosian's play, inspired by the real life murder of radio host Alan Berg by neo-Nazis in a radio studio in Cleveland, Ohio in the 1950s, timely as ever. Even those, like myself, who loathe the genre of rudeness, insensitivity, and self-righteous attitudinizing laced with general hatred, will find Liev Schreiber's delivery nothing short of spell binding. Peopled with behind the scenes staff and an opportunistic boss to alleviate his almost nonstop rant, Schreiber sustains a level of cocaine-fuelled intensity. while barely hinting at the tortured soul within. that will leave you breathless. There 's a Tony nomination here. Don't miss it!
Longacre Theatre, 220 W. 48th Street : (212) 239 - 6200
Although you can see where this play is going from its title, Brit playwright R.C. Sheriff's 1928 anti-war play is a trip well taken. Spanning three tense days during the last months of World War I in a crude officers' dugout in France, with German trenches just a few hundred yards away, a tight knit group of former and new friends learn that a German attack is expected in a few days, meaning almost certain death. This powerful statement of personal heroism, honor, blind devotion to each other and the meaninglessness of war could not be more timely. The play's finale is so gripping it will stay with you long after you leave the theater.
Belasco Theatre, 111 West 44th St (212) 239-6200
Jeanne Lieberman is the editor of Theaterscene.net