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Archive for the ‘Sam’s Theater Reviews’ Category

Theater Review: Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones Drive an Angrier Miss Daisy
Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones and Daisy and Hoke in Alfred Uhry play, revived at the Golden Theatre

by Sam Juliano

     What evolved from an innocuous enough beginning on an off-Broadway stage, has now achieved the ultimate validation in a production at the Golden Theatre that has attracted two of the last remaining acting icons in a production that has pleased both the audiences and the critics.  To assert that Driving Miss Daisy, written by southern playright Alfred Uhry, is anything more than what it is -a slight chamber drama with some some surprising character chemistry forged by a funny and often affecting clash of wills, would not only serve to overstate the work’s intent, but also to strip bare the fascinating underpinnings that make the metamorphosis of an unlikely relationship so believable and so stirring. (more…)

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Divine Sister Back

by Sam Juliano

     Since early September there’s been an off-Broadway comedy named The Divine Sister packing them in at the SoHo Playhouse, a cozy little theatre south of Houston Street, a few blocks north of the Holland Tunnel.  On an especially frigid Friday evening in the Big Apple, the show’s venerated creator, dragmaster Charles Busch acknowledged the spirited audience at the closing curtain with an air of delight and a clear sense of appreciation.  Throughout the campy homage to Hollywood’s archetypal reverent ladies, Busch offers up his own special kind of irreverance in lampooning the melodramatic movies that feature these symbols of purity and rigid discipline.  In addition to the films named in the film’s press kits and posters, one can also feel the spectre of Doubt, Agnes of God, His Girl Friday  and The Miracle of Our Lady of Fatima, while one nun bears a remarkable physical (and emotional) resemblence to Sister Margaretta in The Sound of Music.  There’s even a heady sub-plot that recalls Powell and Pressberger’s Black Narcissus.  There’s a further reference to the beloved musical film with Sister Acacius’ mishearing of Mother Superior’s question, “What is it you can’t face?”  Busch theatrically portrays the plucky Mother Superior of St. Veronica’s, a down-at-the-heels Roman Catholic school (and convent) in need of a new home in 1966 Pittsburgh.   The Mother’s ethics are questionable, and she harbors some secrets, but she’s shown here as one who’s heart in the right place. (more…)

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Original cast of ‘Hair’ since displaced for the latter part of the run

 by Sam Juliano

     A pregnant hippie takes a toke on a joint and proclaims: “As Mary Magdalene once said, ‘Jesus, I’m getting stoned!’  In the free-spirited, wildly anarchic and gleefully interactive Hair, which is winding down its successful run at the historic Hirschfeld Theatre on 45th Street, one is reminded of a number of theatrical properties that dotted the cultural landscape in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar are closest to Hair in spirit and form, but Hair stands alone in the sense that it is loosely based on one consideration: whether or not “Claude” will allow himself to be drafted.  Claude spends most of his time hanging out with his friends in the park.  These are kids who have no qualms burning their draft cards, but Claude is still influenced by his middle-class upbringing as can be evidenced by flashback sequences featuring his parents in cartoon incarnations.  Of course Claude’s fate ultimately delivers an overwhelming final blow to theatregoers, before the rafters of the theatre are shaken by an all-out lovefest that includes audience members, chapping and cheering to the soulful strains of “Let the Sunshine In.”  Director Diane Paulus’ spirited revival of the beloved musical, which won the Tony for Best Revival in 2009 ably delineates Claude’s inner conflict with conscience and upbringing, and this deft and necessary simplification of Gerome Ragni and James Rado’s sprawling book serves as the work’s most profound emotional underpinning.

     But most theatregoers who best appreciate Hair are those who were brought up during the time time of cultural upheaval, peace marches and that were staged at peak of the hippie movement and the doctrination of Woodstock and the anti-war crusade.  The same baby boomer set were apt to appreciate, if not become ravenously attuned to the songs (by Galt MacDermott, and the aforementioned Ragni and Rado) that were popularized on AM radio and on vinyl, and these include the Fifth Dimension’s Number 1 hit “Aquarius/Let the Sunshine In,” Oliver’s “Good Morning Starshine,” Three Dog Night’s “Easy to be Hard” and the Cowsills’ “Hair” which reached Number 2 on the pop charts.  Fortunately, these songs are not acid-infused, but in a popular vein, with soaring lyrical harmonies.  At the heart of Hair are these infectious, irresistible songs. (more…)

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Stage cap from Sebastian Barry's 'White Woman Street' at the Irish Repetory Theatre

by Sam Juliano

     Irish playwright Sebastian Barry has a gift for language.  But in his “western” White Woman Street, which is presently winding down it’s run at the Irish Repetory Theatre, this propensity makes for a bizarre marriage of poetry and monologues.  The result is an overload of talk, with incoherent sentences and long passages that are ill-fitted to the stage.  Granted, the production’s director Charlotte Moore is more concerned with impressionistic notions, and a meditation on myths and memories, than any kind of historical documentation, and in that sense the show hits it’s mark, even in the narratively lugubrious first half.  But this is basically what Barry’s theatre is all about, and his detractors have long maintained that his poetic style is ill-suited to the theatrical form.  Theatre goers with a taste beyond standard dialogue, however, are in for a treat.

     Had Barry been truly interested in a revisionist western, he might have opted to set White Woman Street in a period and place more archetypal than 1916 Ohio, especially with the employment of dialogue that addresses issues like Indian oppression and cultural displacement.  Coincidentally, the rock musical, Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson, written by Alex Timbers and Michael Friedman, still running at the Public Theatre, deals with the same issues, and even with distinct satirical underpinnings, there’s a stronger resonance.  Barry’s intent is clearly symbolic, as it’s clear enough that his early 20th Century Buckeye state setting is meant to mirror the Easter Uprising  in Ireland, and aging Trooper O’Hara’s dream of returning home.  In fact, by shifting his focus to America, Barry employs symbols that establish the same type of need to reconnect with the past and establish domestic stability.  But it’s difficult to negotiate the disjointed progression, story incoherence, and loquatiousness of the characters.  And the thick Irish brogues don’t quite match up with the actors, recalling Puccini’s opera La Fanciulla del West, where cowboys spoke in Italian. (more…)

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Opening scene from play 'Restoration' written by and starring Claudia Shear (on left)

by Sam Juliano

     Michelangelo’s David is the unlikely centerpiece of a surprisingly mirthful stage work, Restoration,  written by Cynthia Shear, who also plays the lead: an Italian-born, American bred art restorer who lands the job of a lifetime scrubbbing down the famed sculpture.  Housed at the Galleria dell’ Accademia in Florence, the 17 foot plaster obelisk is replicated on stage sitting beneath a covering and scaffolding that recalls Mario Caveradossi’s art studio in Tosca, complete with Renaissance murals and ornate archways.  But Ms. Shear is more interested in the comic possibilities in this seemingly austere project which suggests at the very least that a woman can rejuvenate her life and vocational fortune by traveling abroad. 

     After an interview, in which “Giulia” admits to being “weird, aggressive and picky” as well as having experienced some “success” as a teacher of art history and as a “restorer of rich people’s frames” she catches the big break with the help of one of her former professor, (played here by veteran Alan Mandel in a scene-stealing John Gielgud-styled turn as a proud snob) who refuses to allow one of his former students to be forever doomed to inactivity, wants her to open up more, advising her drily that “self-pity is the personality equivalent of chewing with your mouth open” in one of the play’s best lines.  Giulia admits it is surely “her last chance.”  (more…)

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by Sam Juliano

     He is often referred to as the most accomplished living lyricist in the musical theatre.  Some consider him much more than that.  Many feel his stature is perfectly conveyed in the lyrics of one of his newest songs:

    ‘You have something to believe in/something to appropriate, emulate, overrate/ Might as well be Stephen, or to use his nickname: God!”

     Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday sparked a wave of celebrations including a new Broadway revue at the Studio 54 in Manhattan appropriately named Sondheim on Sondheim, which is actually part revue, part video documentary and the glorious talking head complicity of Mr. Sondheim himself, who speaks to the audience on a large moving panel onstage relating amusing anecdotes about the writing process, and imparting a plethora of biographical information that underscores his ascendency in the musical ranks.  Conceived and directed by longtime collaborator James Lapine, who worked with Sondheim on Sunday in the Park With George, Into the Woods and Passion, the show presents a non-chronological look at the great composer’s career, making good on Sondheim’s promise to “jump around a bit” and include what mattered most to him (and his public) over the decades.  (more…)

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 Owen Teale and Tom Burke in BAM’s production of Strindberg’s ‘The Creditors’ playing at Harvey Theatre (directed by Alan Rickman)

by Sam Juliano

     One could rightfully draw parallels between Swedish playwright August Strindberg and filmmaker Ingmar Bergman, as in their work we find high octane and remarkable levels of insight into human nature, mental anguish, and an acute understanding of the feminine psyche. Bergman’s Scenes from a Marriage, in particular, echoed the master dramatist, with it’s naked and no-holds-barred examination of marital discord and deep-rooted issues of domination and manipulation.  Yet Strindberg taps into his own failed marriages to inform consideration of these issues with some first-hand experience, and The Creditors  ultimately stands as a savage tragicomedy that in actuality is a joke on all three of its participants.  Nearing the end of  a four week run at the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s Harvey Theatre, the short play is generally regarded as Strindberg’s greatest work (Miss Julie and Comrades push close) and the one with the most pared down, and economical examination of its blackly comic depiction of gender warfare.  Hence, the play attracted the attention of Scottish playwright David Grieg, who penned the adaptation from its Scandinavian source, as a taut ninety-minute vehicle that exposed delicate sensibilities, and some volcanic familial confrontations that are incredibly modern.  Greig stated in an interview: “It seemed to me it was beautifully structured, funny but also an intense fight between two men and a woman in real time.  Strindberg’s a primal, vital, raging spirit.  He dosen’t have protective armor.  He dosen’t come across as a writer with a conscious mind trying to construct an argument.  He can’t stop himself just throwing his unconscious at the stage in all its nakedness.” (more…)

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