Theater Review

Suddenly Last Summer with Sudden Comedy Moments

White Horse Theater Company
Tennessee Williams: Suddenly Last Summer
Hudson Guild Theater
September 16 - October 2, 2011

Suddenly Last Summer is considered to be Tennessee Williams's most poetic play. Williams's carefully crafted words are heard primarily in two long monologues within the play, around which the action takes place. The 1959 film version is a staple of Turner Classic Movies, and I was curious to attend a version based on the original stage script, apparently mounted in honor of the hundredth anniversary of Williams's birth.

Feels Like She’s Losing This Song…

Follies
Marquis Theatre, NYC

As far as musical theatre goes, there are few shows as epic as Stephen Sondheim’s masterpiece Follies. Originally opening at the Winter Garden in 1971, since its closing it has created a cult of dedicated followers who eagerly attend every revival hoping to catch a glimmer of fading ecstasy. The current production at the Marquis may not be able to scale such overwhelming expectations, but it certainly makes a respectable and entertaining attempt.

Jan Maxwell plays a sexy Phyllis of great power and seething restraint, pulling off the unlikely trick of making "Could I Leave You?" the show stopper that "Losing My Mind" would normally be.

Legendary Sondheim Musical Revived

Stephen Sondheim: Follies
Marquis Theatre, NYC

Among musical theater enthusiasts, there are few musicals as revered and discussed as Follies, the legendary 1971 musical featuring a magnificent Stephen Sondheim score and a book by James Goldman. The original production ran for only 522 performances, and audiences did not always respond, but it is regarded by its fans as an opulent, brilliant, and never-to-be-duplicated production of a groundbreaking musical. I saw that original, and I have always felt I may have been a bit too young to fully appreciate it. Since then, among others, I have seen the 1987 London production, a well-regarded mounting at the Paper Mill Playhouse in New Jersey, a scaled-down Broadway revival ten years ago, and a concert version that was part of the Encores series several years ago. Fans of the show flock to each new production, always hoping that this will be the “perfect Follies” we have long awaited. All the versions I have seen had their attributes and their standout performances, and all have had elements open for legitimate debate and criticism. Has any musical ever inspired as much passion, differing opinions, and intrigue as Follies?

War Horse a Thrilling Ride

War Horse
Lincoln Center, NYC

The acclaimed production of War Horse is a triumph of theatricality with its stunning mix of a brilliant production, strong staging, and amazing puppetry. If there has been a criticism of War Horse, it has been that the writing does not measure up to the production itself. That is a fair point – War Horse is not a literary masterpiece. But it really doesn’t matter. The story is involving enough, and the overall show is so well constructed with such awe-inspiring theatricality, that you don’t need a Tom Stoppard or Edward Albee-type script to make for a powerful evening of theater.

It still hasn’t found what it’s looking for....

Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark
Foxwoods Theatre, NYC

Between the confused book that’s there and the music that you wish weren't, it's difficult to say who failed Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark more: Julie Taymor or Bono and The Edge. Considering the combined track records of these entertainment heavyweights, it is shocking that they should get together only to deliver an overpriced, finely polished turd dressed up as a musical, but after years of delays and an unprecedented seven months of previews, the result cannot match the hype that has surrounded it. Fast forward to the action sequences, because there’s nothing else to see here.

Taymor, an undisputed master of theatrical design and ingenuity, has proven that she is better utilized when limited to the fields she knows. Among her many failings as the piece's book writer (including the introduction of a new villain with the lame name Swiss Miss), she misguidedly foists a figure out of Greek mythology, Arachne, into this comic book world, and while this provides an excuse to create some stunning moments of aerial acrobatics, it demonstrates both her deficient understanding of the genre and a lack of respect for dedicated fans of the series.

John Leguizamo as John Leguizamo

Ghetto Klown
Lyceum Theatre, NYC

Going to see a one-man show is always a dicey venture, as the details of one’s personal life are bound to hold much more weight for the person who lived them than the one who has to listen to them. While Ghetto Klown, John Leguizamo’s latest one-man show, does not disrupt that trend, Leguiszamo manages to keep it entertaining. Those fond of him and interested in the story of his life will most likely feel he pays the bill for this on-stage therapy session, generously giving energy, humor, and sincerity for his time on the couch.

Theater of the Sublime: Another Tennessee Hustler

We've been slightly battered over the past decades into believing that if a Tennessee Williams play wasn't already part of our beloved theatrical canon, it was a lesser work. In recent years, though, thanks to daring companies such as The New Group and Tectonic Theater Project, we've learned the problem was a conglomeration of lesser critics (e.g. John Simon), not so much a lesser genius.

Proving the point is Moises Kaufman's brilliant adaptation and direction of a neglected Williams short story, which had been turned into an unproduced screenplay and then forgotten. "One Arm," which was released in a collection of short stories back in 1967, has been kept in print ever since by New Directions Publishing under the exquisite leadership of one Barbara Epler.

Thoughts About the Tony Awards: The Musicals

It has been a good season for musicals on Broadway. The Book of Mormon is a huge hit, and several other new shows seem poised for nice runs. Nine new musicals opened featuring original scores, as compared to just two last year. We have also had two praised and successful musical revivals. A lot of these musicals proved to be entertaining and crowd-pleasing. How will all this play out on June 12, when the annual Tony Awards are presented?

It is not going out on a limb to predict that The Book of Mormon (pictured) will have a good night. It is almost a sure bet that Mormon will win not only Best Musical, but several other awards. That said, given the strength of the season, there are some competitive races with many worthy nominees.

Mayday, Indeed!

Mayday! Mayday!

Written and Directed by Dale Walkonen
A Staged Reading

Mayday! Mayday! is an extraordinary and brilliant play, written and directed by Dale Walkonen. A bold statement -- yes! As I enumerate the reasons for such a blunt proclamation, you may get the impression that I am joking, because the play is centered on what might be considered a preposterous array of both global and personal issues, which in other hands would result in a mélange of overblown oration and artificiality. Ms. Walkonen takes on, in turn, early 20th Century feminism, environmentalism, war profiteering, capitalistic manipulation, government censorship, covert and overt propaganda, pacifism, the challenges of the young coming into adulthood, national origin prejudice, the squalor of the Manhattan slums, and then some.

Who's Your Mommy?

Questions My Mother Can’t Answer
Performed and Written by Andrea Caban
soloNOVA Arts Festival
May 23, 2011

Getting slammed to the pavement by a New York taxi is as fine an occasion as any for the start of a "vision quest." Just such an incident jars Andrea Caban to begin the journey. The Native American vision quest can be defined as: "the learning and initiation process of the apprentice under the guidance of elders." Both women and men engaged in such quests. For Andrea, the comprehensive trauma of her accident and its repercussions leave her with "time out of joint," an uneasy bewilderment, and a kind of universal aversion. Her customary daily life is decidedly "off," and she wishes to regain what she calls her "flow." Thus commences Andrea Caban’s excellent and ultimately profound solo play Questions My Mother Can’t Answer.