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03/11/15 6:18am
Image courtesy of Lionsgate

Cymbeline
Directed by Michael Almereyda
Opens March 13 at the Quad

Shakespeare’s Cymbeline isn’t performed too often in the theater now due to its convoluted plot, and so for his charmingly hybridized film version director Michael Almereyda streamlines the play and uses it as a basis for a fresh, sophisticated, visually inventive work that sets Shakespeare’s characters down in a laidback land of motorcycle gangs and corrupt cops. The DIY aesthetic here uses elements of 80s flash, 90s emo, and more free-floating influences, all wrapped up in a truly bitchin’ score by David Ludwig and Bryan Senti that smoothly grooves from one musical genre to the next, all-inclusively.

Anyone who has suffered through clunky modern-day Shakespeare films like Ralph Fiennes’s Coriolanus (2011) should delight in Almereyda’s poetic fluidity, which is so all-embracing that it can handle the very different acting styles of his eclectic cast. As Cymbeline, who is a head of a motorcycle gang here, Ed Harris reads the verse so authoritatively and clearly that he could probably do a full-scale traditional production of this play, and so Almereyda uses his commanding presence as an anchor. On the other end of the spectrum, Dakota Johnson’s naturalistic Imogen would be entirely out of place in a theatrical context but plays touchingly within the rapidly changing styles of the film. Ethan Hawke’s villainous Iachimo bridges that gap between stage and screen, keeping one foot in both traditions.

Most of the monologues in the play are done as voice-overs, including the famous speech “Fear no more the heat o’ the sun,” which is sung on the soundtrack, and this works quite well. You might wonder why, in a world of iPhones and iPads, everyone is so obsessed with Imogen’s “honor” and “chastity,” and the concluding scene wraps up the plot so conveniently that it can only seem absurd, but Almereyda has such respect and interest in this material that he makes it only lightly absurd, and he purifies it all with a piquant, feminist final shot. Though there is nothing as startling here as the scene in Almereyda’s 2000 film of Hamlet where Ophelia (Julia Stiles) freaks out at the Guggenheim, this unexpected Cymbeline is a model of free Shakespearian adaptation.

02/25/15 9:52am

WT01(c)Richard_Termine

The Winter’s Tale
The Pearl Theatre Company,
555 West 42nd Street

One of the later Shakespeare plays, The Winter’s Tale, is a drama-comedy experiment that features drastic shifts in tone. In the first half of the play, the jealous king Leontes punishes his queen Hermione, who takes her suffering with very admirable stoicism. “There’s some ill planet reigns,” she coolly tells Leontes and her court when he has made his accusation of infidelity against her. “I must be patient till the heavens look with an aspect more favorable.” Leontes orders a loyal retainer named Antigonus to cast their baby daughter into the wilderness, and at this point comes the famous stage direction for Antigonus: “Exit, pursued by a bear.” This mini-Othello drama gives way to an outright farcical second half and then winds up with a strange and maybe supernatural ending, where all seems to have been forgiven.
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02/11/15 8:49am
Photos by James Eden

For those who know Molly Pope’s delightfully old-school presence in cabaret venues, her background will come as no surprise. “I grew up drenched in the Great American Songbook and Turner Classic Movies,” says Pope. “The old timey-ness was bred in me since birth, so when I started singing as a teenager this big brassy mid-century sound came out. I went to NYU for drama, where I took Dan Safer’s class on solo performance. That class turned out to be super-important for how I wound up creating my own work and developing this neo-retro cabaret persona. I am inspired by Elaine Stritch, Bobby Short, Charles Busch, 30 Rock, The Bee Gees, Bill Claxton, The Judy Garland Show, Dostoyevsky, Carol Burnett and, most of all, Sarah Vaughan.” (more…)

01/28/15 1:47pm
Photos courtesy of  Jim R Moore/Vaudevisuals

Everybody Gets Cake!
59E59 Theaters
59 E. 59th Street

The comedy troupe Parallel Exit has been making theater since their first show together in 1997, White/Noise/Jump. They did live-action silent film in Velocity (1999) and This Way That Way (2005), and for their new show Everybody Get’s Cake! the troupe has hired the estimable silent film accompanist Ben Model to do a piano score for their antics, which amount to a series of black-out sketches that sometimes feel like the old TV show Laugh-In on an off night. A very off night. (more…)

01/14/15 12:27pm
Photo courtesy of Roadside Attractions

 

Mommy
Directed by Xavier Dolan
Opens January 23

 

Canadian directorial wunderkind Xavier Dolan started out small and personal with his first two excellent movies, I Killed My Mother (2009) and Heartbeats (2010), but he signaled his ambition with Laurence Anyways (2012), a 168-minute epic that followed the travails of a male-to-female transsexual and her female lover. That movie was missing Dolan’s own clarifying presence as an actor, and for all its length Laurence Anyways seemed to have scenes missing, as if Dolan kept following his rococo visual impulses but couldn’t keep clear focus on the central relationship. And that problem has only intensified in Mommy, which runs 139 minutes but only deals with three main characters, none of them in depth.

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01/14/15 8:55am
Photo By Simon Hayter

 

Winners and Losers
Soho Rep. 46 Walker Street

 

Was Marilyn Monroe a winner or a loser? How about Sylvia Plath? These are some of the questions that come up in Winners and Losers, a curious sort of game show (or grudge match) that grew out of improvisations between Marcus Youssef and James Long, long-time friends and Canadian theater artists. They ask the “winner or loser?” question about people and also countries (Mexico, Canada) and even appliances like microwaves. But just what they mean by the subjective words “winner” and “loser” is slippery, or imprecise. They never really define these words for themselves or for us, and so they wander all over the place verbally.

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01/05/15 9:15am
Photo by Jeremy Daniel

Pocatello
Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd Street

Samuel D. Hunter’s new play Pocatello begins with a hubbub of overlapping conversation at an Olive Garden-like restaurant run by Eddie (T. R. Knight), who has invited his brother, Nick (Brian Hutchison), and his mother, Doris (Brenda Wehle), for a family week event. Though it never leaves this restaurant, Hunter’s play is a landscape that stretches out and then contracts and then stretches out again, accommodating the needs and feelings of ten closely drawn characters all at once and then narrowing down to their one-on-one interactions. Hunter adds so much insightful detail about each of his people that they feel thick with life and possibility, and the actors dig into their roles like they’re feasting on a huge Thanksgiving dinner. (more…)

12/17/14 1:34pm

Albums2

Best Actor Adrian Lester

Adrian Lester pulled out all the stops as the 19th-century theater actor Ira Aldridge in Lolita Chakrabarti’s Red Velvet, a powerful and detailed examination of the racism Aldridge faced and the way he chose to deal with it. Lester offered a three-dimensional portrait of a man who was ahead of his time.

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12/17/14 1:22pm

Albums

Choreographer Austin McCormick founded his theater troupe, Company XIV, in 2006, gathering together dancers, singers, musicians, and stylists to create inviting and enveloping erotic worlds on stage. The troupe’s Nutcracker Rouge, a neo-burlesque and very adult take on the traditional Tchaikovsky ballet, was a memorably sexy success last year when it played at the Minetta Lane Theatre, and now it is returning in a new version just in time for Christmas and New Years.

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12/03/14 4:00am
Photo by Hannah Woodard

 

A Delicate Balance
Jonathan Golden Theatre
252 West 45th Street

Anyone who was privileged to see the phenomenal 1996 revival of Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance with Rosemary Harris, George Grizzard, and Elaine Stritch knows that the next major New York staging of this play has a difficult act to follow. I will never forget how fast the curtain rose on that production to reveal Harris’s Agnes speaking her first hyper-articulate lines at a peak of inner tension masked by WASP control. Nor will I ever forget Stritch’s formidable booziness as Agnes’s parasitic sister Claire, or Grizzard’s climactic scene where the lies upon which his character Tobias has built his whole life dissolve.

The surprise of this current production of Albee’s masterpiece of existential dread in a drawing room is how ideally cast it is and how the actors find all kinds of original ways to play their juicy but difficult roles. Glenn Close chooses to play Agnes as a woman whose sanity is almost at the breaking point, an apt and exciting approach that gives new meaning to her first lines about going mad, which other actresses have played far more theoretically. Lindsay Duncan’s Claire is provokingly raffish, whispering where Stritch barked, retiring to the sidelines where Stritch hauled a natural spotlight wherever she went. Best of all is Martha Plimpton, who takes the play’s most unappealing but necessary part, the unhappy daughter Julia, and makes her into a bratty but sexy, worthwhile person who is clearly on the road to becoming just like her drunken Aunt Claire. And John Lithgow makes for a properly befuddled and ineffectual Tobias, at least at first.

A Delicate Balance is about many things, but its main theme is the test of love and friendship that comes about when Harry (Bob Balaban) and Edna (Claire Higgins), the supposed best friends of Agnes and Tobias, knock on their door uninvited and try to move in. Why? Because they are frightened and they don’t know why. Claire and Julia see the couple as rivals for space in the house; Agnes sees them as carriers of disease; and poor Tobias doesn’t know what to think. He finally tells Harry they can stay, but Harry turns him down. This is a devastating climax, and if it doesn’t work then the whole play collapses. Unfortunately, Lithgow doesn’t quite have the emotion for it yet. He has made the choice to stalk around the stage and bluster out his feelings, and it isn’t working for him.

This is a bright and superlative production in practically all ways except the most important one, but as I say, I’m sure Lithgow will get it soon (the emotion should eventually come to him if he just stands still and says the lines). A Delicate Balance is maybe the finest play by our finest living dramatist, and to see it so imaginatively acted and directed (by Pam MacKinnon) is a
real tonic.