Christopher Plummer shines in the Broadway revival of the 1955 courtroom drama Inherit the Wind. The play by Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee is a somewhat fictionalized recounting of the 1925 Scopes “Monkey Trial” in Tennessee, where a substitute high school biology teacher was indicted and tried for teaching Darwin’s theories of evolution in his classroom.
Vanessa Redgrave and Joan Didion, the names conjure up vastly different images and styles, yet the two have come together for a Broadway production that is considered by many to be the theatrical event of the season. Under David Hare’s seasoned direction the great Redgrave, a Academy Award and Tony Award winning actress, returns to Broadway in a one character play The Year of Magical Thinking based on Didion’s haunting memoir of the same name.
Grace O’Malley, the heroine of “The Pirate Queen”, is a warrior, chieftain, mother and an abused wife who befriends Queen Elizabeth I, saving Ireland from British subjugation. It’s all in a day’s work for this superwoman. Yes, you guessed it, a lot of soap, a pinch of history and some rehashed tuners from Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schonberg’s “Les Miserables” and you have their latest Broadway musical.
Curtains, the new musical by composer John Kander and the late lyricist Fred Ebb features one of the final scores by the legendary songwriting team that gave us Cabaret, and Chicago, and if the musical with a book by Rupert Holmes has none of the edge of those classics, the backstage murder mystery is nonetheless a lighthearted homage to the golden age of musical theater. The show directed by Scott Ellis is a non stop entertainment, but the energetic performances of the talented cast give the evening an added panache that the musical lacks.
The Broadway revival of Prelude to a Kiss, the romantic comedy by Craig Lucas now being presented by Roundabout Theatre Company under Daniel Sullivan’s direction is quite pleasant. The play, a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 1990, made its world premiere Off-Broadway at the Circle Repertory turning Alec Baldwin into a star opposite Mary-Louise Parker and subsequently moved to Broadway where Timothy Hutton replaced Mr. Baldwin. In 1992 Mr. Lucas adapted the play into a successful feature film with Meg Ryan and Alec Baldwin that many people still remember fondly.
Charles Busch has fashioned a gleeful love letter to the theater with his seriocomic new play, Our Leading Lady, set backstage at the Ford Theater in Washington D.C. on the days surrounding April 14, 1865, the day President Lincoln was assassinated by the actor John Wilkes Booth while watching a performance of Our American Cousin. The play a blend of fact and fiction focuses on a scheming actress Laura Keene, who was on stage that eventful night becoming a footnote in history. From his inspired idea, the talented Mr. Busch has crafted a two act smorgasbord of laughs that bogs down in the somewhat heavy handed second act. Director Lynne Meadow has mined his vision for all its campy comedy, but the play, although vastly entertaining, feels stretched and not always sure of its footing.
In R.C. Sherriff’s war drama Journey’s End the men wait in trenches about 70 yards behind the enemy line with only a modest dugout for respite between their shifts. They are caught in limbo, but they carry on as best they can, knowing the waiting will ultimately end in battle and possibly death. The British director David Grindley has crafted a beautifully paced experiential retelling of the play that will haunt you for days, possibly even weeks, after you have seen it. Be warned this is not escapist theater, but a grim depiction of three days in these soldier’s lives as they prepare for the moment when the waiting will end.
The Labyrinth Theater Company is stirring up a little bohemian magic at the Public Theater where a delightful production of Bob Glaudini’s Jack Goes Boating directed by Peter DuBois is making its world premiere. The top notch cast is headed by Philip Seymour Hoffman in his first New York stage appearance since winning the Oscar “gold” for Capote. Not much happens in terms of excitement but what does transpire is lively, heartwarming, and poignant. Here is a slice of New York City life told from the struggling journeyman’s point of view.
“Get me a gun”, Barry Champlain the late night talk show host of TALK RADIO demands, using an expletive never heard in this medium. As Champlain, Liev Schreiber makes a commanding and physically riveting presence…his legs twitching with angst, the veins in his forehead pulsing with anger.
To witness one of the most powerful theatrical productions in the entire city, walk a few blocks West of Times Square on 42nd Street to the Signature Theatre Company and pay $15 for a ticket to King Hedley II, the final installment of the Signature’s 2006/2007 tribute to the late playwright August Wilson. Earlier this season the Signature scored impressively with their staging of Wilson’s Seven Guitars and Two Trains Running. The company had long planned a Wilson season, but when the Pulitzer Prize winning playwright died on October 2, 2005 that season took on greater significance.
The Lincoln Center Theater production of Dying City, a new play by Christopher Shinn directed by James Macdonald is an engaging 90 minute journey into the troubled souls of three people impacted by the war in Iraq. The little play with much to say was originally produced in London last spring at the Royal Court Theatre and has been beautifully staged here at the Mitzi E. Newhouse.
The journey has concluded with Salvage, the third part of Tom Stoppard’s ambitious trilogy The Cost of Utopia which opened at the Vivian Beaumont Theater. The visually stunning Lincoln Center production is an impressive achievement covering decades of time, cram packed with ideas and philosophies and peopled with a multitude of characters. Directed by previous Stoppard collaborator Jack O’Brien, the richly evocative evening is stylishly dazzling, but despite all its accomplishments the epic drama chronicling the life of a group of 19th century Russian intellectuals longing for the revolution is ultimately less than compelling theatre.
Shipwreck, the second installment of Tom Stoppard’s trilogy The Cost of Utopia, is an impressive achievement; however the visually stunning production directed by Jack O’Brien is more dramatically engaging than the playwright’s unfolding storylines told by an enormous cast of over 40 actors. O’Brien and his design team have created many astonishing images that have trumped Stoppard’s epic drama of 19th century Russian intellectuals during the repressive reign of Tsar Nicholas. Indeed the dramatic design elements are the real stars of the evening upstaging not only the actors, but the play as well. Set designers Bob Crowley and Scott Pask have provided diversely arresting images including: the Place de la Concorde, before, during and after the French revolution; a marvelous chandelier that hangs over many of the salon scenes commenting on the lavish lifestyle of the main characters; and many incandescent backdrops. Kenneth Posner’s imaginative lighting enhances the visual components to such a degree that several of the scenes have an awe inspiring effect. The intensity of the visuals will linger in your mind long after you have forgotten much of the evening’s philosophical debates.
Voyage now being presented at Lincoln Center, is the first part of Tom Stoppard’s ambitious project, The Coast of Utopia that premiered four years ago in London. Coast is a trilogy of plays chronicling the life of a group of 19th century Russian intellectuals longing for the revolution, and the magnificent Lincoln Center staging directed by previous Stoppard collaborator Jack O’Brien is visually stunning. However, the play over-brimming with smart ideas and detailed characters, although stimulating, ultimately fails to move.
The trilogy follows six young idealistic noblemen, who meet as students at the University of Moscow during the repressive reign of Tsar Nichols and forge lasting friendships that will propel them though their challenging lifetime, and guide their struggles with the events that will eventually bring Russia into the modern age. Voyage, the initial installment of Stoppard’s heady concept, begins with the image of Premukhino, a country estate in 1833 Russia, where we hear the first ruminations of the coming revolution. Part two, Shipwreck, will take us to Moscow and 1848 Paris, the epicenter of change in the world.
The press release hails Sealed for Freshness, the new Tupperware comedy written and directed by Doug Stone as “a hilarious journey of self discovery.” Don’t be taken in as there is nothing even remotely hilarious about this tasteless tale. Everything about the evening including the script, the set, the costumes and most definitely the direction is decidedly tacky. Sure you will laugh at the absurdity that anything about the play resembles a journey of self discovery, and you will roll your eyes in horror all the while laughing. No doubt there is an audience for this sort of exaggerated gross humor that pokes fun at five totally unconscious women and their attempts to spice up their lives with a Tupperware party, but I doubt that audience spends much time in a real live theatre.