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  • Posted 10/23/14 at 10:00 PM

Theater Review: The Believable Gut-Punch of Disgraced

It’s a good thing that the playwright Ayad Akhtar is Muslim, because if any non-Muslim wrote Disgraced — and you could almost imagine someone like Bruce Norris wanting to — the response from both left and right would be furious. As it is, the intense 80-minute drama, which seems to ask whether there is something inherent in Islam that predisposes believers to violence, incites furious responses anyway; at the preview I attended, a member of the audience, echoing one character’s description of the Muslim protagonist, shouted, “He is a fucking animal!” But even the non-shouters looked pretty stunned by the play’s brutal climax. I was, too, despite having seen it before, in a much more intimate staging produced by Lincoln Center Theater at the Claire Tow in 2012. This bigger, more glamorous Broadway version exposes more faults and infelicities, but also strips away one’s liberal pieties more effectively. Perhaps Disgraced won the 2013 Pulitzer Prize not so much for drama as for bravery. 

Gridding out the distribution of privilege. »

Watch Meryl Streep Sing in Into the Woods

Come for the beanstalk, stay for Meryl Streep singing. Finally! What we've all been waiting for: a bit of Meryl singing "Stay With Me," the emotional mother-daugther ballad from Into the Woods. If you're a fan of Mamma Mia! (the movie), it's a wonderful return to form. The singing starts at 2:30.

  • Posted 10/23/14 at 9:00 AM
  • Theater

Theater Review: Brooklyn Superhero Supply, in The Fortress of Solitude

There’s a moment three-quarters of the way through the first act of The Fortress of Solitude, a new musical based on the Jonathan Lethem novel, when all of the show’s developing threads combine and resolve in a marvelous sequence called “Take Me to the Bridge.” By this point we have met the major characters, especially Dylan Ebdus, a white boy living in what is now upscale Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, but was then, in 1975, just ramshackle Gowanus. His mother having abandoned him to find herself in California, Dylan exists in a kind of frozen sadness with his withdrawn father, an unsuccessful painter, and in a kind of terrified awe of his neighbors, most of whom are black and much cooler than he. 

Two Brooklyn boys, two Brooklyn stories. »

Vincent Kartheiser on Playing Billy Wilder Onstage and Closing Out Mad Men

Now that Mad Men has wrapped filming the second half of its final season, Vincent Kartheiser has time for pursuits that allow him to keep his natural hairline. Starting this week, he'll swap Pete Campbell's deliciously Waspy accent for an Austrian one: He's playing Billy Wilder in the new Billy & Ray — about the director's time making the noir classic Double Indemnity with Raymond Chandler — Off Broadway at the Vineyard Theater (Garry Marshall directs). Kartheiser spoke to Vulture about his leotard-wearing, theater-kid past and the end of the road for Pete Campbell. (You can listen to a portion of the interview over at The Frame, Southern California Public Radio's new arts and entertainment show.)

"So in this situation, he’s the friendly nice person, and I’m the dick. Is that what you’re saying?" »

  • Posted 10/20/14 at 10:00 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: The Lost Weekend (or at Least Evening) That Is Billy & Ray

Plays about writing are bores or lies or both. The drama of the process, entirely internal and largely concerned with semicolons, can’t be staged, so a different drama has to be manufactured. Usually this involves clichéd obstacles and a sort of deus ex typewriter for the climax, justifying yet somehow invalidating everything that came before. You could argue that the vicissitudes of writing movies instead of prose — the collaborators, the studios, the test audiences, the Hays Office — offer a dramatist many ways around the problem, which is why there’s a mini-genre of comedies about screenplays. Indeed, those things did help Ron Hutchinson’s Moonlight and Magnolias, which in 2004 hitched a ride on the back of Gone With the Wind, telling the story of its emergency plot transplant at the hands of David O. Selznick, Victor Fleming, and Ben Hecht. The resultant play wasn’t awful; for that we had to wait until Billy & Ray, the new supposed comedy at the Vineyard about the writing of the 1944 classic Double Indemnity. All the same tools produce a unique mess, and the best thing I can say for it is that it should make a good deterrent.

"The playwright has the excuse of being a relative novice." »

  • Posted 10/17/14 at 5:10 PM

Theater Review: Puppets à la Russe, in Basil Twist’s The Rite of Spring

Basil Twist has been famous for stretching the boundaries of puppetry at least since his 1998 water-tank ballet of Berlioz’s Symphonie Fantastique. For Twist, the aim of the boundary-stretching seems at first to be abstraction; Symphonie’s leading roles were played by feathers, glitter, dyes, and bubbles. Likewise, in The Rite of Spring, a stunning three-part program set to Stravinsky, there are no goofy-faced sock people or mouthy marionettes. In the curtain-raiser, the four-minute Feu d’artifice (Fireworks), a large Futurist painting comes to life, with twirling disks and pyramidal prisms that unfold and shut like mouths or books. No characters, no tale.

"The audience responds as if to an animated narrative." »

  • Posted 10/16/14 at 10:00 PM

Theater Review: On the Town Can Still Cook, Too

On the Town is a heartbreakingly youthful work: both about youth and by youth. Watching its three sailors pursue a lifetime of adventure while on 24-hour shore leave in New York, New York, you can’t help sensing the shadows of the three giddy pals who knocked the show together in 1944. The whole project took just six months from idea to opening. How, in that time, did Betty Comden and Adolph Green manage to fashion a feasible Broadway libretto from the ballet Fancy Free, which had premiered (with music by Leonard Bernstein and choreography by Jerome Robbins) just that spring? How did Bernstein manage, between conducting gigs, to provide the entirely new score he insisted upon? These are the kinds of challenges only fledglings take on; at opening night that December, Green was barely 30, Comden and Bernstein (and Robbins) not even. Who could imagine that their freshman lark would prove so enduring? And yet here it is, 70 years later, in its third Broadway revival, as big and breakneck and beautiful as ever.

An orchestra of 28 works wonders. »

  • Posted 10/15/14 at 11:00 AM

Theater Review: Found Is ‘a Delight’

Slackers don’t usually get very far in musicals. From Oklahoma! to Gypsy and beyond, American-style can-do-ism is built into the form; it’s hard to mumble a showstopper. And yet here is Found, the touching and clever new musical at the Atlantic, about a bunch of 20-somethings with nearly flatline ambitions. You would think that its authors — Eli Bolin (music and lyrics) and Hunter Bell and Lee Overtree (book) — would have found it nearly impossible to scale theatrical songs to such characters. But when Davy, their protagonist, gets fired first thing from his barely-a-job writing listings for a Chicago alt-weekly and the scope of his world shrinks to the diameter of a joint, they find the perfect expression of his downsize dreams in an "I Want" song called “Weird Day.” “I want do something that I love,” he sings, “and do it with people that I love.” Found is the American musical’s first emotionally satisfying case for thinking small — and perhaps therefore the first emotionally satisfying musical for the post-bust generation.

"A wild notion for a musical to pursue." »

  • Posted 10/9/14 at 10:00 PM

Terrence McNally's It’s Only a Play Is Only Okay

The playwright Terrence McNally, who turns 76 next month, is not only prolific but prolific in many genres. His catalogue, spanning 51 years, includes Broadway comedies like The Ritz and dramas like Master Class, the books for five Broadway musicals, and dozens of uncategorizable works, like Corpus Christi and A Perfect Ganesh, that began their lives off Broadway and beyond. Some have been sublime, some duds, most in between; their reception, too, has run the gamut. (He’s received four Tony awards but also this hideous Time review of And Things That Go Bump in the Night in 1965: “One of those off-bleat stupefactions that make the modern stage look like the queerest wing of a nuthouse.”) So when he writes about the theater, as he does in It’s Only a Play — an Off Broadway comedy from 1986 that has just made it to Broadway in a revised edition — he knows what he’s writing about. That’s the great pleasure of it, and perhaps the great problem.

"Jokes so inside they seem positively colonoscopic." »

  • Posted 10/8/14 at 3:44 PM

Theater Review: Shakespeare’s Sonnets Turns Sourest

Funny thing about the avant-garde: Each new wave looks a lot like the last one. So it will come as no surprise to those who have seen a previous Robert Wilson work that his latest New York offering is crammed with his clichés: whiteface, slow-motion gliding, silhouettes, stylized hand gestures, video screens, fluorescent light, floating objects, rude noises, gibberish, wacky wigs, and impenetrable symbolism. What is a bit unexpected is that these familiar and often-amusing techniques are here applied to existing material that resists them so utterly. Resists and succumbs — for Shakespeare’s Sonnets, in which 25 of the 154 sonnets Shakespeare first published in 1609 are set to a musical score by Rufus Wainwright and deconstructed by Wilson’s staging for the Berliner Ensemble, finally overwhelms its source. And to what end? The strongest argument this BAM Next Wave Festival offering makes is for extending copyright protections to at least 405 years. 

Nothing like the sun. »

  • Posted 10/7/14 at 1:16 AM

Here’s Your First Look at Michael C. Hall As Hedwig

The first photos of Michael C. Hall as Hedwig in Broadway’s Hedwig and the Angry Inch — a role he takes over from Andrew Rannells on October 16 — were released on Monday, and they're a glorious sight to behold. If you still can't stop thinking of Hall as Dexter Morgan, some teal eye shadow and a whole lot of sparkles may help change that:

  • Posted 10/5/14 at 10:00 PM

Onstage, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time Is a Different Animal

If there’s any justice, the superb stage adaptation of The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time will be as big a hit on Broadway this year as the original novel, by Mark Haddon, was when it was published in 2003. That doesn’t mean they are equivalent experiences. Although minutely faithful to the plot and language of the book, the play is, naturally, a different beast. What’s more surprising, and deeply rewarding, is that it makes a different point.

The story starts the same way: In a backyard in Swindon, England, Christopher Boone, a boy of 15 years (and three months and two days), discovers the body of a neighbor’s dog with a garden fork stuck through it. Autistic but highly gifted in math and logic, Christopher sets out like his hero Sherlock Holmes to solve the whodunit. His investigation is quickly thwarted by his father, who warns him to keep his nose out of other people’s ­business. But this is the kind of phrase — a ­metaphor — that Christopher cannot ­understand. His view of the world is ­inalterably literal. When a person says he is “going to seriously lose my shit” he is mystified, even though he has seen his father do it more than once while trying to manage his son. His mother, for reasons I cannot go into here, is also seriously lost.

There is more movement in The Curious Incident than in many a musical. »

  • Posted 10/1/14 at 8:00 PM
  • Theater

Theater Review: In Tail! Spin!, the Straight Lines Are the Funniest

Tail! Spin! describes itself as a political comedy, and though it features politicians and is often very funny, I’m not sure the phrase really applies. “Political comedy” suggests something that’s fundamentally about government and ultimately happy, neither of which is the case in Mario Correa’s cleverly constructed sound-bite mash-up of recent sex scandals. You might wonder whether fact-based political comedy can even exist now, when governance is little more than psychopathology, and the whole thing is just plain sad.

"Astonishingly stupid sex stories and their pathetic attempts at exculpation." »

  • Posted 9/30/14 at 10:00 PM

Theater Review: Tom Stoppard’s Indian Ink Still Leaves Marks

If everything a great playwright wrote were top-drawer, the drawer probably wouldn’t open. That’s one reason the Roundabout’s fine mounting of Indian Ink — which is second-tier Tom Stoppard but excellent by almost any other standard — is so welcome. It allows us to see more deeply into the interior of his best works, which get further with many of the same techniques and hide them better. 

Curiously absent from New York until now. »

Theater Review: James Earl Jones Helps Keep You Can’t Take It With You Funny

Most contemporary stage comedies are aggressively joke-based. In effect, the playwright demands that theatergoers bend to the rhythm of his punch lines and cough up laughs on cue. It can be a satisfying if rarely a surprising experience, like watching sitcoms in public. In any case such comedies have all but snuffed out the older, milder kind that flourished on Broadway in the first half of the last century with a minimum of mandatory yocks; few written before 1960 seem revivable, at least to commercial producers. It is therefore not just a treat but also a lesson in humor to find a 76-year-old play like You Can’t Take It With You still springing off the page and tearing through an audience. It may be a chestnut, but when staged and cast as smartly as this Broadway revival, a chestnut goes down like marron glacé. 

"Before the play argues, it beckons." »

Wolf Hall Is Coming to Broadway

In addition to being adapted into a miniseries by BBC 2 — starring none other than Sergeant Nicholas Brody — Hilary Mantel’s award-winning epics Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, about the court of Henry VII, are now headed to Broadway. According to the New York Times, the Royal Shakespeare Company adaptations of Wolf Hall: Parts 1 & 2, which received rave reviews during their run in the U.K., will begin Broadway previews on March 20, 2015, and open on April 9, 2015. The double bill lasts for over five and a half hours and can be seen separately or together with a dinner break in between.

  • Posted 9/25/14 at 9:30 AM
  • Theater

On the Scene at the Flub-Filled First Night of Lindsay Lohan’s Stage Debut

Lindsay Lohan forgot her lines in her first-ever theater performance last night. That’s the headline gleefully reported all over the web today, and it’s accurate.

But what hasn’t been so widely reported is that Lohan wasn’t the first to make a mistake during the opening night of David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow at London’s Playhouse Theater. Richard Schiff, who has far more experience, called out, “Give me the line, please,” within minutes of starting the play. British actor Nigel Lindsay was the only person in the three-actor play to get through the entire performance without an audible prompt, and even he seemed to struggle at times to remember what came next.

"The second act, dominated by a complicated speech by Karen, was an undeniable mess." »

Lindsay Lohan Forgot Her Lines During the First Performance of Speed-the-Plow

Aspiring comeback kid Lindsay Lohan suffered some first-night jitters during Wednesday's London debut of David Mamet’s film-industry satire Speed-the-Plow, forgetting her lines on more than one occasion and reportedly eliciting "titters" from the West End audience. Colette Fahy and Bella Brennan described the mishap in MailOnline, writing: "While not an unmitigated disaster, the 28-year-old actress didn't appear to know her lines off by heart, reading some from a book while being fed others from the side of stage and her one main passionate speech only succeeded in causing the audience to burst into laughter, according to onlookers.”

Read More  »

  • Posted 9/23/14 at 8:30 AM
  • Tv

Watch Emma Thompson Sing ‘Worst Pies in London’ As Mrs. Lovett in Sweeney Todd

Earlier this year, Emma Thompson made her first stage appearance in a quarter century during a five-night performance of Sweeney Todd at Lincoln Center, where she played the murderous meat-pie maker Mrs. Lovett. It was such a hit that she'll be reprising the role on the London stage next year. Until then, however, here's a sneak peek of what it will look like — Live From Lincoln Center will air Sweeney Todd on PBS this Friday, September 26.

  • Posted 9/22/14 at 10:16 PM

Theater Reviews: Scenes From a Marriage and The Money Shot

You can’t accuse the Belgian director Ivo van Hove of picking fights with weaklings. His productions of Hedda Gabler, The Little Foxes, and A Streetcar Named Desire, all at New York Theatre Workshop, have sometimes sucker-punched those venerable plays but in the end did no harm. I realize that’s not a high bar to set, but I have not usually been a fan of van Hove’s garish intrusions, which too often literalized sexual and aggressive drives in ways that made nonsense of the repressive worlds from which they arose. So I thought I was in for more of the same when NYTW announced that it would be producing a version of Ingmar Bergman’s Scenes From a Marriage that van Hove had conceived and directed for his company, Toneelgroep Amsterdam. All anyone was talking about was the staging — and perhaps a part of the director’s motivation for erecting elaborate superstructures around his favorite texts is to draw attention to his own creativity. But what of Bergman’s? Scenes From a Marriage, shown in six episodes on Sweden television in 1973 and then released as a shorter theatrical film, is a major statement from a major artist on a major human dilemma. Was it to be reduced to an avant-garde plaything, a lazy Susan of stage gimcrackery?

Yes and no. 

The staging serves the material but does not overwhelm it. »

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