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theater reviews

Theater Reviews: Marry Me a Little, Paris Commune, Hamlet, and Ten Chimneys

If you’re not there already, hie thee to the PRELUDE.12 festival at the Martin E. Segal Theatre Center at the CUNY Graduate Center, which promises “a feast of provoking, ravishing, bizarre, complicated and blithely entertaining work — enough to delight the most voracious performance-lover.” If this were 1999, I’d call it a theater Sundance, a preview of cutting-edge work and status-quo-annihilating thrills to come. Today, I’d reverse that: Sundance should aspire to Prelude-level ambition and courage.

A few other things (Short runs! Act now! Grab a date!) worth noting:

Marry Me a Little
Somewhere in loftland — probably Bushwick, by the look of the Ikea hand-me-downs — two lonely young singles pass a long, loveless Saturday night in separate romantic wallows, singing deep cuts from the Stephen Sondheim canon. Hey, it could happen! Not every hipster mopes to School of Seven Bells. The Keen Company's retooled version of Marry Me a Little, Craig Lucas and Norman Rene's 1980 trunk-song revue, feels like boomer nostalgia cross-bred with Instagrammed non-stalgia. (Word is that Lucas and Sondheim have both been on hand for the remodeling.) The result is a weirdly charming mini-mutant of a show, thanks to a sweet, sincere — if somewhat vocally tentative — cast (Sweeney Todd's Lauren Molina and Lysistrata Jones's Jason Tam). The Clurman’s actually a bit too broad and arid for the intimacy of Jonathan Silverman’s live-in concept, but that just means you’ll be leaning forward in your seat.

Marry Me a Little is playing at the Clurman Theatre, Theatre Row through Oct 21.

Paris Commune
We’ve all heard the people sing, many times, but do you want to hear them singing the songs they actually, like, sang? You do. Paris Commune has been kicking around in workshop form since 2008, and the Civilians (“the center for investigative theater” that gave us the sublime Barclays Center docu-musical In the Footprint) have finally given it a New York debut at BAM’s Next Wave Festival. Pitched somewhere between the guileless you-are-there tone of Footprint and the daffy historical burlesque of Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson (both by Paris composer-curator Michael Friedman), this wistfully, tunefully scholarly collage of the 1871 collectivist takeover of the City of Light and its bloody, brutal suppression is a prime specimen of the Civs’ technique: Theater in conversation with (not in denial of) a near-journalistic reality while in full acknowledgement of its own biases, blarney, and conventions.

It’s musical theater for the This American Life set — and, as such, it’s merrily pedantic, proudly if not uncritically left-slanted, and yes, a little full of itself. (Toward the end, as things go bad for the Communards, there are moments when you can almost see Wee Gavroche dragging himself up the bathos-stained barricade. Director Steve Cosson roots his shows in the record, and here he makes subtle points about just who is most out of touch with human nature, the reds or the bourgeoisie, but he’s also not afraid of a little Occupy propaganda.) Paris Commune isn’t the Civs tightest show — personally, I prefer them on current topics not quite so picked-over — but the troupe succeeds in transforming the plight of the Communards, crushed between faithless ideologues and ruthless capital, from historical hiccup to modern chamber-tragedy.

Paris Commune is playing at BAM’s brand-new Fishman Center through Oct 7. It’s sold out, but you never know. And given the righteous and deserved lefty love for this troupe, you can bet the barricades will rise again.

Hamlet
Forgotten what a young Hamlet looks like? That’s understandable: Most of the mainstream, big-ticket productions seen in America have starred 40-year-old celebrities in midlife crisis mode (Olivier, Branagh, Gibson, Law). Without realizing it, I’d come to think of Hamlet (traditionally estimated to be about 30) as a Will Ferrell character, over 40 and still living with his parents. (In which case, Claudius seems well within his rights sending him to England for a character-building beheading.) But here comes tender dandelion-spore Michael Benz — who looks like a Glee day-player but Bards like an old soul — to remind us of the Sweet Prince’s youth, confusion, and twitchy, acting-out puerility. This stripped down, period-perfect production from the Shakespeare’s Globe company is only in town for a few days, but you can catch Benz’s miniature Dane in movie theaters soon.  

Hamlet is playing at the Michael Schimmel Center at Pace through Oct 7.

Ten Chimneys
Early in Ten Chimneys, Jeffrey Hatcher’s cleverly mild, mildly clever what-if dramedy, famed prewar husband-and-wife acting team Alfred Lunt (a sweetly miscast Byron Jennings) and Lynn Fontanne (Carolyn McCormick, a swirling Hirschfeld illustration of herself) unfold the secrets of the theater, among them: How a hat is worn (yet quickly doffed) onstage to lend bonus credibility to a fake-looking “outdoor” set. They deliver this information in front of a fake-looking outdoor set, a gingerbread-house simulacrum of the Alfred’s rural Wisconsin family home. The Lunts rehearsed many Broadway plays at Ten Chimneys but not The Seagull, which they performed on Broadway in 1932, with newcomer Uta Hagen (Julia Bray) as Nina. Hagen rather mysteriously left the production midway through its tour, and Hatcher takes that as his cue to imagine-up the summer of (relatively muted) debauchery that may have led up to this, conjuring up oh-so-Chekhovian reticulations of passion, jealousy, smothered dreams, and unavenged personal defeats. But where anvils of seriocomic disaster hang over Chekhov, over this fairy-tale imagin-actment dangle marshmallows. Jennings and McCormick are married in real life, and this might have something to do with the production’s cozy, passion-project vibe: Nothing too, too terrible is ever in danger of coming to pass. Toward the end, we hear a story of one actor biting another, after a perceived breach-of-trust. It’s a cute, secondhand tale, fully domesticated, like everything in Ten Chimneys: We feel warmly entertained and fairly safe in the conviction that nothing here, even the occasional sharp little puppy nip, will leave a mark.   

Ten Chimneys is playing at the Theater at St. Clements through Oct 27.

Photo: David Gersten