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  • AmericanTheaterWeb Original News & Reviews

  • Use the calendar above to find ATW News & Reviews for a specific day, or use the list to the right to go to a specific review or article. The site's updated 3-4 times a day generally. For you convenience, links below will take you to ATWTopNews (a quick listing of links to some of the day's top stories) and to ATWClips (the complete digest of the day's news from ATW).

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ATW Review - Speed-the-Plow - A New Player Vibrantly Recharges Successful Revival

When people look back on the 2008-2009 Broadway season and chronicle its highs and lows, playwright David Mamet and the fortunes of the revivals of his plays Speed-the-Plow and American Buffalo will undoubtedly figure prominently. Last fall "Plow" opened to glowing reviews while "Buffalo" played just a brief run. Then, Jeremy Piven, one of the stars of "Plow" made an unexpected and much discussed exit from "Plow," jeopardizing producers' investments and the show's continued health. Well, although the season is far from over, and no one can say for sure what the future will bring, the final installment in the saga of Mamet this season may have been written last night with Academy Award-winner William H. Macy's official and exhilarating opening in "Plow."

With the addition of Macy to the ensemble that also includes Raul Esparza and Elisabeth Moss, director Neil Pepe's staging of the play seems to be newly minted, and for anyone who saw the show when it opened last October, a return visit seems almost required. For theatergoers who have not taken the show about a pair of viperous film executives and the young woman who finds herself embroiled in their lives, it's probably never been a better time to catch the show.

Macy plays Bobby Gould, the new head of production at a major Hollywood movie studio. Esparza plays Charlie Fox, a long-time associate of Bobby's, who comes to his old friend with news that a big star is ready to come to their studio to make a prison buddy flick. The two men instantly see dollar signs and make a meeting with Bobby's boss to announce their plans for what they believe will be a surefire hit. Unfortunately, when Bobby decides that he'll try to seduce Karen (Moss), the temp who's working for him, by asking her to do the courtesy read on a novel about radiation and the end of the world, a wrench gets thrown into the plans the two guys have made. Karen likes the book and ultimately convinces Bobby that he should make a film based on it rather than the schlock fare he's planned with Charlie.

Macy, whose face and body language both seem to indicate that he's a man who's been through the Hollywood wringer and that he's genuinely earned his new position of authority, gives the production a decided gravitas. It's easy to believe that all of Karen's high ideals about spirituality and finding something meaningful could affect Bobby so deeply. Macy, who co-founded with Mamet the Atlantic Theater Company where Pepe serves as artistic director, certainly knows his way around the playwright's rapid-fire dialogue, and throughout he delivers the text with aplomb. So too does Esparza, whose performance has beautifully modulated to match his new co-star's while simultaneously retaining its feral intensity and razor-sharp comic edge.

Watching these two actors play opposite one another is a treat – albeit a dark one. It's also demonstrates how extraordinarily rich Mamet's script is. Whereas Piven and Esparza seemed to be contemporaries of one another, there is, on some level, a sense that with the new casting Charlie is Bobby's chronological junior, which marvelously colors the men's friendship and the twists of the play.

Moss's performance, too, has deepened with time and with her new castmate. It's great fun to watch her and Macy perform the intricate verbal pas de deux that forms the center of the play, and as the piece reaches its climax, Moss fascinates as Karen calibrates her relationship to both Bobby and Charlie.

For all theatergoers, "Plow" remains ripping good theater, and for those who saw "Plow" in late 2008, a return visit has an additional benefit: it's an exciting lesson in the alchemy of live theater.

---- Andy Propst


Speed-the-Plow plays at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (243 West 47th Street). Performances are Tuesday at 7pm; Wednesday at 2 and 8pm; Thursday and Friday at 8pm; Saturday at 2 and 8pm; and Sunday at 3pm. Tickets are $49.50 - $110.50 and can be purchased by calling 212-239-6200 or by visiting www.telecharge.com. Further information is available online at: www.SpeedThePlowOnBroadway.com

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ATW Review - Hedda Gabler - An Uneven Return Visit to Ibsen's Doomed Heroine

A prelude, accompanied by creepily disjointed music from rock star P.J. Harvey, tells audiences a lot about the Hedda Gabler (Mary-Louise Parker) they're about to see at Roundabout Theatre Company's American Airlines Theatre. Hedda rises from a chaise that's far upstage; clearly she's taken to sleeping in this drawing room (an almost cavernous scenic design from Hildegard Bechtler). Hedda prowls the room as the music plays, ripping dustcovers off the few pieces of furniture that are in the room, and rearranging them with agitated intensity that borders on the maniacal. Ultimately, she plunks out a few notes on the upright piano that's in the room before returning to the antechamber where the chaise sits, and shuts the mammoth doors to the space. Cleary, Hedda, just returned from her honeymoon with seemingly promising academic Jorgen Tesman (Michael Cerveris), is not a happy woman.

Hedda's unhappiness, and the extents to which it will drive her, is, of course the crux of Henrik Ibsen's drama, which has received numerous high profile stagings in New York in the past few years. Among them have been Ivo Van Hove's production which brought the 19th century play firmly into the 21st century and a production from Sydney that featured Cate Blanchett as a regal, period Hedda. For this new Broadway outing, which uses a new, colloquial adaptation by Christopher Shinn, Parker delivers a Hedda which often fascinates, but unfortunately, neither it, nor director Ian Rickson's production ever truly satisfies.

The uniqueness of the piece's opening extends to many of the performances, which can be remarkably idiosyncratic. For example, Peter Stormare's portrayal of the old family friend Judge Brack borders on the Dickensian. He oozes oily licentiousness and sort of slinks around the stage, lusting after Hedda. Ana Reeder, who plays Thea, a school-chum of Hedda's (and perhaps an old flame of Tesman's), gives a similarly one-note performance filled with fluttery nervousness in a role that she's tackled once before and with more modulation – in Van Hove's production. Paul Sparks, playing the once-dissolute Ejlert Løborg, the man whom the unhappily married Thea loves and whom Tesman both mistrusts and envies, delivers solidly in the second half of the play, but initially, seems not only tentative, but curiously backwater (hints of a Southern accent are heard throughout).

Løborg, of course, is also an old flame of Hedda's and it's her continued fascination with him (and vice versa) which create the crux of the play. If she can't find happiness or satisfaction with Tesman in the home for which his aunt Juliane (a fine turn from Helen Carey) has paid dearly, well, she'll attempt to rekindle something with Løborg. Unfortunately, the relationship has been combustible (at best) and once she realizes that he not only cares for Thea, but also poses a threat to Tesman's career, what had been fiery turns truly destructive.

Hedda and Løborg's passion for one another is made explicit in Rickson's staging: not only do they share a prolonged kiss, but Løborg also reaches up under her long dress during their embrace. Like Stormare's almost melodramatic turn as the Judge and even certain choices from costume designer Ann Roth, which contrast Hedda's elegance with other characters' folksy or more homespun ways, Hedda and Løborg's coupling seems to distrust theatergoers, making explicit what is generally intuited or left to the imagination.

A few such moments can be found in this "Hedda." Throughout Cerveris delivers a richly complex portrayal of Tesman, blending neediness with jealousy, amorousness and a certain myopia. Similarly, Parker, who can garner a laugh with some of her deadpan line deliveries, communicates Hedda's strict upbringing when she crosses the stage, her hands clasped behind her back like a dutiful schoolgirl. And then, there are the moments when she's onstage alone, and prowls the stage like a caged animal, while Harvey's music plays. It's during these moments, and thanks to the composer's intriguingly intricate choices, that one wonders if the music is a metaphor for Hedda's thoughts, an aural indication of the sort of mental racing associated with manic-depressiveness or bipolar disorder. It's hard not to wish that more of this interpretation might have been explored in this "Hedda."

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---- Andy Propst


Hedda Gabler plays at the American Airlines Theatre (227 West 42nd Street). Performances are Tuesday through Saturday evening at 8pm; matinees are Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm. Tickets are $66.50 - $111.50 and can be purchased by calling 212-719-1300 or online at www.RoundaboutTheatre.org.

 

ATW Review - Freshwater - A Bucolic Romp With Some Victorian Artists Courtesy of Virginia Woolf

A chorus of overzealous birds, crickets and frogs greets audiences as they enter the Women's Project for Anne Bogart's staging of Virginia Woolf's Freshwater. This cacophony (just one aspect of designer Darron L. West's effective soundscape for the production) is an apt prelude to what follows, a raucous, absurd dash through the world of some Victorian literary and artistic giants.

Woolf wrote Freshwater as a lark, something that could be performed by her family and friends. There are two versions of the play. One was written in 1923 and she later revised the piece in 1935. Here, audiences will find an amalgam of the two and the piece centers on photographer Julia Margaret Cameron (an ebullient and antic Ellen Lauren) and her husband, philosopher Charles Henry Hay Cameron (imbued with naughty eccentricities by Tom Nellis). They're hoping to embark on a journey to India, but before they leave, a pair of coffins needs to be delivered to their home, where painter George Frederick Watts (given a sort of discombobulated flair by Barney O'Hanlon) and his very young bride, Ellen Terry (a captivating Kelly Maurer) are seemingly in residence. Also staying at the house is Alfred Lord Tennyson (played with preening lunacy by Stephen Duff Webber).

To describe what happens in Freshwater is a little like trying to hold onto a wave. Ultimately, the essential arc of the play focuses on Ellen's infatuation with Lt. John Craig (a wonderfully elegant and deliciously forthright Gian Murray Gianino), who has made advances to her after he and his horse leapt over her while she was picking flowers. Otherwise, the house (which scenic designer James Schuette renders as a large windowed room where the walls are painted with bright strokes of green, making it look like the inhabitants are playing inside a child's conception of a great lawn) and the play are exemplars of controlled pandemonium. Watts attempt to paint Ellen as the Greek incarnation of "Modesty." Julia, after seeing Ellen on Tennyson's lap, decides that the young woman needs to be photographed as his muse. The esteemed poet, who has yet to be made a Lord, recites from his work, and, Charles, when not doddering around the peripheries, extols the moonlight he hopes to see in India.

If one thinks about the sort of familial chaos that runs through Kaufman and Hart's You Can't Take It With You, and then imagines that play being written by French absurdist Eugene Ionesco, the sense and feel of Freshwater can almost be realized. Of course, Woolf is also having a grand time skewering some of her neighbors, a relative and her artistic forebears in the process.

Bogart's production, a collaboration between Women's Project and her own SITI Company, brings this minor work by the literary giant surprisingly, and satisfyingly, to life for contemporary audiences. As the actors bound through the piece, scampering up and down ladders and in and out of the large French windows at the back of the stage, it's not always necessary to know the specifics about the targets of Woolf's satire. One simply knows that an artist from a younger generation is having a great deal of fun at the expense of an older one. Fussiness is being eschewed and the younger characters – i.e. Ellen and Lt. Craig – know that something new must be created, even if they're not sure what, and just in case theatergoers don't know that they've just watched an artist have some fun with his or her predecessors, the soundscape comes into play at the end of the production with a blare of rock music. Bogart and her fine company have enjoyed layering their own playfulness onto Woolf's and nothing here should be taken that seriously, simply enjoyed.

---- Andy Propst


Freshwater plays at Women's Project (424 West 55th Street). Performances are Tuesday and Wednesday at 7pm; Thursday through Saturday at 8pm and Sunday at 3 and 7pm. Tickets are $42.00 and can be purchased by calling 212-239-6200 or by visiting www.Telecharge.com. Further information is also available online at www.WomensProject.org

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ATW Review - Coming Home - Seeds of Hope Rooted in Love

When misfortune and despair uproot a woman’s dreams, she plants new seeds of hope where family, home and love have been harvested before in Athol Fugard’s Coming Home, receiving its world premier at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, CT.

In this new work, the South African playwright revisits characters from Valley Song, a play set during Apartheid. In "Song," teenage Veronica Jonkers dreams of leaving her grandfather, Oupa, and his pumpkin farm to seek fame as a singer in Cape Town.

Now, it’s ten years later. Oupa has died and a homeless Veronica (Roslyn Duff), hiding the fact that she has AIDS, returns to her roots to provide a future for her son Mannetjie (played at different ages by Mel Eichler and Namumba Santos). It's a future that includes convincing her childhood friend and grandfather’s farming partner, Alfred Witbooi (Colman Domingo), to marry her so that he can care for Mannetjie when she’s gone.

Alfred, though naïve and not as intrinsically smart (Veronica used to help him cheat to get through school), is nevertheless kind and welcoming. He helps Veronica adjust while trying to befriend Mannetjie, who, intellectually superior, dreams of becoming a writer and feels Alfred has nothing to teach him. Veronica’s insistence that her son and husband find a way to get along, combined with their love for the dying woman, finally make it possible for them to reach beyond their own pain and help each other.

Very little of the plot’s action takes place on stage, as Fugard uses a “storytelling” technique where the characters relive past experiences or share memories. There's also a flashback with Oupa (Lou Ferguson) and Veronica and later, he chats with Mannetjie. In most instances, this sort of dramaturgy would not be enough to create dramatic tension, potentially killing our interest, but Fugard creates such engaging and vivid characters that the exposition nurtures them. Watering the plot with some good humor throughout also keeps its depressing nature and subject matter from choking it like weeds.

Domingo is superb as the sweet, caring, unsure Alfred. He finds the perfect balance between humor and pathos and his body language, expressing a fear of AIDS while wanting to reach out to his friend, is powerful. Ruff imbues Veronica with strength and courage in adversity as well as with a joie de vivre that is more infectious than the disease people are afraid they can catch from her. Ruff’s portrayal of Veronica in the throws of her illness is disturbingly realistic. Eichler and Ferguson give strong performances and Santos, as the littlest Mannetjie, is particularly adorable.

Set designer Eugene Lee, who traveled with director Gordon Edelstein to South Africa in preparation for this production, recreates the harshness and beauty of the setting with a thatch-roof squat house and windmill set off and given dimension by backdrops of blown up photographs from his trip. He and lighting designer Stephen Strawbridge change the dwelling’s paint color in a nifty before-your-eyes effect to help depict the passage of time. Sound designer Corrine Livingston incorporates South African music between scenes as well as some natural sounds.

---- Lauren Yarger


Coming Home plays at Long Wharf Theatre Mainstage (222 Sargent Drive, New Haven, CT) through Feb. 8. Performances are Tuesdays at 7 pm, Wednesdays at 2 and 7 pm, Thursdays and Fridays at 8 pm, Saturdays at 3 and 8 pm, and Sundays at 2 and 7pm. Tickets are $32-$62 with special discounts available and are available by calling 203-787-4282 or online at www.longwharf.org.

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ATW Review - Terre Haute - Conversations Between Unlikely Fellow Spirits

There's a stranger than fiction quality to the correspondence between essayist, novelist and playwright Gore Vidal and Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. What on earth could a man who has attempted, repeatedly, to change the world with words have in common with a man whose only recourse for protest is murderous violence? Noted author Edmund White attempts to answer this question in the ultimately disappointing Terre Haute, a play that focuses on James (Peter Eyre), a writer not unlike Vidal, who travels from his home in Paris to Terre Haute IN to visit Harrison (Nick Westrate), a man sentenced to the death penalty for having bombed a building in Oklahoma City.

What begins as an unlikely meeting of minds in White's play soon turns homoerotic as the two men talk in the prison (scenic designer Hannah Clark provides an effective design for the glass-cased cell in which Harrison is confined for the interviews). Although James does not approve of Harrison's methods for expressing his opposition to the U.S. government and particularly such events as the raid on the Branch Davidian compound in Waco, TX, James does feel that Harrison's opinions have merit. The fact that erudite and traveled James and the less-educated Harrison might have anything in common makes for fascinating drama, and when they're discussing politics and Harrison's views, White's play crackles.

Unfortunately, as the play, directed with sensitivity and an eye for detail by George Perrin, progresses, James' attraction to Harrison and Harrison's curiosity about his interviewer's sexuality increasingly becomes part of their conversations, first leading to an explosive confrontation and later a literal and metaphorical baring of Harrison's soul.

Both Eyre and Westrate turn in terrific performances in Terre Haute, both delivering nuanced portraits. What's most interesting about the actors' work is that they make it abundantly clear why these two men are intellectual and emotional soul mates of sorts, men who have chosen to live their solitary lives by their own rules.

Was the correspondence between Vidal and McVeigh influenced by the former's gayness or the latter's curiosity about it? Like playwright White, I've not read the letters, so I couldn't answer the question. I suppose that questions of sex may have played some part in it, but like the most successful parts of Terre Haute, my bet is that the answer lies somewhere else, a place that's a little less sensational.

---- Andy Propst


Terre Haute continues through February 15 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street). Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 8:15pm; Saturday at 2:15 and 8:15pm and Sunday at 3:15pm. Tickets are $35.00 and can be purchased by calling 212-279-4200. Further information is available online at www.59e59.org.

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