JANUARY THEATER IN NEW YORK
When it comes to openings, January is one of the slower months. Still, there’s a lot to catch up on or sample anew. Here’s what I’ve seen lately, some of which have closed.
In a word, authentic describes Druid’s impeccable revival of Martin McDonagh’s brilliant THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENANE at BAM. Authenticity, too, applies to the thick Irish accents, which are foreign to this American ear, but, as with Shakespeare, the rhythms of language prevail. There’s nothing incomprehensible about the wicked and violent tension between stay-at-home caregiver daughter and iron-willed, bellyaching mother played with perfect timing by Aisling O’Sullivan and Aaron Monaghan. Director Garry Hynes lets the treachery hang about like the smell of burnt-out peat: revenge can’t cleanse the air of the acrid past A masterpiece of modern Irish drama.
The run of THE BAND’S VISIT at The Atlantic was too brief, but I caught one of its last performances. David Yazbek’s score fit perfectly to the tale of an Egyptian Army band accidentally stranded overnight in a small desert town in Israel. The direction of the resourceful David Cromer is a wonder. Nothing seems to be happening, and the story seems, sweet but slight, but by the end of this gem of a 90-minute musical, so much about being human is revealed. The cast is perfect: Tony Shaloub as the Egyptian military captain and conductor and Katrina Link as the Sabra local bar proprietress are captivating leads, but the ensemble rules. Of the thirteen songs, there’s a crop that are instantly memorable. Link’s rendition of “Something Different” is powerful, John Cariani’s “Iztak” beautifully wistful, but the sweetest melody is “Haled’s Song of Love” performed by charismatic newcomer Ari’el Satchel. If you’ve ever traveled through the byways of the Negev, Scott Pask’s scenic design puts you back there.
Seeing THE FRONT PAGE at The Broadhurst in a star-studded, full Broadway production, faithful conceptually and textually to Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur’s original three-act, 26-character play was gratifying, if only because they don’t write them like this anymore and they don’t stage them like this anymore. Hats off to John Slattery as veteran gumshoe reporter Hildy Johnson who’s on tirelessly for over 2 and half hours. Versatile director Jack O’Brien keeps the rapid-fire dialogue and pell-mell pace comprehensible (I’ve seen productions of this when it’s not) but it’s really not entertaining until late in the second act when Walter Burns, Hilda’s editor and sidekick, played by Nathan Lane shows up. Lane does Nathan Lane, milking the audience for laughs, which he’s past-master of. Jefferson Mays as fuss-budget reporter Bessinger had most of the laughs before Lane showed up.
A most pleasant evening was spent at GOREY: THE SECRET LIVES OF EDWARD GOREY, presented by Life Jacket Theatre Co.at the Sheen Center. Travis Russ, writer and director, charmingly presents an interpretive drama, about the prolific and darkly whimsical genius illustrator through three actors, representing and commenting on stages of Gorey’s life as Harvard student, struggling artist and adult near the end of his life. Russ acknowledges Gorey’s breakout book “The Unstrung Harp” but eschews the public record for the deeply, secretly personal: Gorey’s infatuation with George Balanchine and his unrequited sexual infatuation with Frank O’Hara. Gory laments about the weekend he spent as O’Hara’s guest on Fire Island: “Frank had lots of friends. I had none” and so he lived - alone - with his cats, his collections, his make-believe characters, his endless imagination. The bittersweet of Gore’s loneliness lingers long after the performance. Kudos to actors Andrew Dawson, Phil Gillen and Aidan Sank for making the multi-dimensional and enigmatic genius so congruent, so real.
Off-Off- Broadway at the TBG Theatre playwright Stuart Fail directs his world premier of CONSIDER THE LILIES about the fraught relationship between an aging, alcoholic, bisexual painter (played by Austin Pendleton), beset with self-inflicted commercial failure, and his (presumably) straight, younger agent who harbors demons of his own. Fail flirts with a lot of subtextual plot possibilities, but it all left me puzzled or disinterested. Still, Pendleton amuses as always and newcomer Peter Collier, who appears as a wise-ass, aspiring, and punkish young artist in the second act, emitted genuine sparks.
itted genuine spark.