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What's Up For Today?

New York Cool - Ask Miss Wendy

 

New York City - Theatre

Bruce Norris's
Clybourne Park
Sunday N/A
Monday @ 8:00pm
Tuesday @ 8:00pm
Wednesday @ 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Thursday @ 8:00pm
Friday @ 8:00pm
Saturday 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Walter Kerr Theater

Directed By: Pam MacKinnon

Starring: Crystal A. Dickinson, Brendan Griffin, Damon Gupton, Christina Kirk, Annie Parisse, Jeremy Shamos & Frank Wood

There is cause for celebration. The play is not dead on Broadway. Earlier in the season Jon Robin Baitz’s terrific Other Desert Cities opened and has settled in for a healthy run. Now, at season’s end, we get the Pulitzer Prize winning Clybourne Park—which, ironically, almost didn’t make it to the great white way.

First produced in NYC at Playwrights Horizons in 2010, Bruce Norris’ gem won the Olivier in London and has been produced several times regionally. And after a number of bumpy paths, the play has found a home at the Walter Kerr Theater. Let’s hope it’s a nice long lease.

Bruce Norris’s ‘dramedy’ dares to take on race and examine it from every angle without being obvious or didactic. Nicely structure with Act One set in 1959 and Act Two, in 2009, we soon see what we already know—the more things change, the more they stay the same.

The play takes place in one particular house in a segregated, middle-class neighborhood in Chicago.

Norris’ stroke of genius is that he’s using the same place and a character borrowed from Lorraine Hansberry’s groundbreaking play, A Raisin in the Sun.

Perry Como’s vocal of "Catch a Falling Star," perfectly opens Clybourne Park as we meet Bev and Russ (Christine Kirk & Frank Wood), two broken people trying to make sense of the senseless suicide of their soldier son. They have a black maid, Francine (Crystal A. Dickinson) who is married to Albert (Damon Gupton). Both sets of couples have their own way of bickering.

Bev and Russ are selling their home…to an African-American family. Enter good-deed-doer Karl (Jeremy Shamos, playing the Raisin cross-over) and his deaf wife, Betsy (Annie Parisse). Karl is there to make certain the house is not sold to ‘colored people.’ Toss in a young minister (Brendan Griffin) and you have the makings of an explosive situation where notions of class, race and real estate are debated while we watch people’s true natures being revealed—often by what they don’t say or do.

Act Two fast-forwards fifty years and each actor plays a mirror-like contemporary—some more obvious than others. Now, a new millennium black couple takes issue with a white couple wanting to make changes to the home—ergo the neighborhood.

The set, by Daniel Ostling is just about perfect and everyone in the ensemble delivers wonderful and complex performances. Dickinson is the crowd-pleaser character full of conviction and defiance (what the Viola Davis character was lacking in The Help). Shamos is unafraid to go where he needs to go and that is admirable. Kirk is that wonder, annoying, hilarious and poignant—all at the same time. Wood has the funniest line and delivery, directed at the deaf Betsy in Act One.

Norris weaves story and character parallels effortlessly to slowly reveal certain thematic complexities—like probing the notion that no matter how hard we would like to

 

rid ourselves of inherent racism, a part is always there lingering and sometimes we overcompensate—which can come off as patronizing and can reveal deeper prejudices.

Tickets: $60.00 - $127.00 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250
telecharge.com

Walter Kerr Theater | 219 West 48th Street




Peter Quilter's
End of the Rainbow
Sunday @ 3:00pm
Monday N/A
Tuesday @ 7:00pm
Wednesday @ 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Thursday @ 7:00pm
Friday @ 8:00pm
Saturday @2:00pm & 8:00pm
Belasco Theater

 

Directed by Terry Johnson

Starring: Tracie Bennett, Tom Pelphrey and Michael Cumpsty

Every once in a while a stage performance captivates in a way that actually stirs the soul and allows us inside the psyche of a character—so deep in fact that it’s quite painful at times to observe—but is, ultimately, transcendent.

Patti LuPone’s Mamma Rose was one. Meryl Streep’s Mother Courage, another. Tracie Bennett joins the pantheon with her tour de force portrayal of Judy Garland in the surprisingly well-conceived play, End of the Rainbow. Trust me, this immersion must be seen to be believed.

Bennett’s performance goes so far beyond impersonation--and into areas of true embodiment-- it’s astonishing. Here is Garland, sassy, profane, mean, hungry, sweet, manipulative, tarty, manic, sad, egomaniacal, vulnerable--warts galore—and Bennett fearlessly dives off the steep bio-trappings-laden-cliff to bring us a full figured human who happens to have been a celebrity all her life—one with tremendous talent and equally tremendous flaws and idiosyncrasies. An adored star that needs mental lubrication (via booze and dope) to survive.

A larger-than-life figure like Judy Garland warrants a bold interpretation and Bennett isn’t afraid to marry the clichés, use them and then shatter them.

Peter Quilter’s play takes place in London in 1968 where Garland is on the comeback trail, yet again, performing in a nightclub called Talk of the Town. She has just married her fifth and last husband, Mickey Deans (a dead-on Tom Pelphrey) who was either a gold digging cad or a misunderstood dolt, depending on where your lean is as an audience member—although the former is given more validity.

Garland’s trusted accompanist, Anthony (a thoughtful Michael Cumpsty) is the third main character and represents her paradoxical gay followers—worshipping her and wishing her well while reveling a bit in her many personal battles.

The script gives us every possible Garland meltdown as well as some pertinent bio info along the way (like how she was given pills regularly as a teen working for MGM) that never feel too contrived, mostly because of Bennett’s searing, honest deliveries.

We are privy to her love/loathe relationship with Deans and her near-Machiavellian manipulation techniques when it comes to getting exactly what she wants.

And, then, we experience her in concert. Quilter and director Terry Johnson have peppered the piece with two handfuls of Garland classics from an exquisite rendition of “The Man That Got Away, “ from A Star is Born, to a bizarre and dazzling drug-infused “Come Rain or Come Shine,” shining a bright beam of light on her contradictory nature.

I was quite apprehensive going into End of the Rainbow fearing yet another caricature-version of this titanic icon. But the play and, most especially, the star give the audience a glimpse into this tormented, brilliant talent who remains one of the most influential performers of the 20th century. See it for that and to witness one of the finest stage performances of the last decade.

Ticket Price: $31.50 - $126.50(212) 239-6200, telecharge.com.

Belasco Theater | 111 West 44th Street | Manhattan


 

 



Matt Charman's
Regrets
Through April 29, 2012
City Center Stage

 

Cast: Alexis Bledel, Curt Bouril, Ansel Elgort, Brian Hutchison, Adriane Lenox, Lucas Caleb Rooney and Richard Topol

Directed by Carolyn Cantor

Reviewed by Frank J. Avella

Regrets, the new play by rising young British playwright Matt Charman, has it's heart in the right place and I especially appreciated an exchange near the end of the piece that flies in the face of the normal answer to a too-oft-asked, now notorious question from the 1950s. The show features a few terrific performances and an admirably realistic set. And shining a light on McCarthyism via how it affected every day folk is refreshing as well since we usually get stories about artists and other public figures whose lives were destroyed by the Red Scare here in the US of A.

There is plenty at stake in Regrets. The chief problem is the way what is at stake is handled feels archaic and obvious.

The setting is 1954 and the work actually has the feel of a play written in the 1950s. I'm not certain if this is intentional on the author’s part (I would guess it must be). If so, then that would explain the archetype Hollywood characters he has created and the Act One plot reveal that doesn't illicit shock as much as a piqued curiosity.

Had the revelation gone a bit further into a direction I felt was obvious, Act Two might have been a lot more electrifying. It certainly would have been more compelling.

But like the 1950s dramas it emulates, Regrets sticks to its straightforward and simplistic narrative right up to the (surprisingly) moving and (unsurprisingly) predictable ending.

The play opens, in 1954, on a Nevada desert ranch patronized by men intent on getting a ‘quickie’ divorce. The bare-bones retreat is run by the cantankerous Mrs. Duke (Adriane Lenox) who takes no sass and has specific rules that must be obeyed.

Currently in residence: the weak and whiney Alvin (Richard Topol) who looks much older than he is; the quick-tempered brute Gerald (a solid Lucas Caleb Rooney) and the literary and wise Ben ((Brian Hutchison) who is the moral anchor of the story (of course).

Into this mix of familiar types walks a stunning young man, hair perfectly coiffed as if he just stepped off some Hollywood magazine cover (or an underground journal sold to men who desire men). His name is Caleb (newcomer Ansel Elgort) and he’s journeyed from Hollywood (of course) where he works in pictures--behind the scenes. In the first few scenes, where Caleb barely speak any dialogue, he reminded me of what Blanche DuBoise’s “Boy” might have looked like. Caleb appears way too young to be seeking a divorce—unless there’s some nefarious reason behind his need.

Two more characters eventually enter the scene; one fulfilling a plot necessity and the other, a throwback hooker (Alexis Bledel)—well I have no idea why she was there except to make certain the audience didn’t make gay assumptions about the male characters.

We get some of the men’s stories and Caleb’s tale is eventually explained. And it all ends very tidy—despite how messy it really it should be.

Adriane Lenox (so good in her brief turn in Doubt) steals each and every moment she is a part of without exertion. Mrs. Duke, in the hands of a lesser actress, could have easily taken the route of anachronistic martyr or period stereotype. She gives us a real, damaged black woman simply trying to survive in a white man's world before it was even possible to do so without giving up some of your soul.

In his professional stage debut, Ansel Elgort is more than just a pretty face. He allows us a window into Caleb's pain, confusion and frustration. Elgort actually does more than the writing asks as I found myself wondering what other hidden secrets this boy was carrying around.

The performance I found least affecting and quite lackluster was Brian Hutchison's. I simply didn't give a damn about the character so his big Act Two moment didn’t feel organic.

Carolyn Cantor directs in manipulative TV-style (not necessarily a bad thing for this particular project).

Ultimately, I found Regrets a worthwhile if safe play about a time in our history that deserves deeper probing and a less-than-pat approach.

Tickets $80 (212) 581-1212
www.nycitycenter.org

City Center Stage 1 | 131 West 55th Street | Manhattan
(212) 581-1212, nycitycenter.org.

 




 

 

 


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