All the Way
Tues & Thurs at 7PM
Wed at 2PM & 8PM
FRI at 8PM
Sat at 2PM & 8PM
Sun at 3PM
The Neil Simon Theatre
Directed by Bill
With: Bryan Cranston,
Betsy Aidem, Michael McKeon, Rob Campbell, Brandon
J. Dirden, James Eckhouse, John McMartin, Robert
Petkoff, Roslyn Ruff.
At the Neil Simon
Theater, 250 W. 52nd Street, NYC.
Reviewed by Frank
Lincoln worked so well because the focus
was on a particularly important time in the ill-fated
leader’s presidency—the fight to get
the 13th Amendment—that would end slavery--passed.
Brilliantly written by Tony Kushner, the film
never spoon-fed the audience—quite the contrary,
it presented ideas and expected the viewer to
come already somewhat knowledgeable and do their
new play, All the Way, parallel’s
Lincoln in the way that it, too, deals with a
particularly urgent time in history--one that
also focused on civil rights. The play is smart
but appears to have been written with a mass audience
in mind. And, as opposed to Spielberg’s
opus, the drama does a bit too much spoon-feeding.
And while it purports to present LBJ, warts and
all, it takes some major liberties with history
in trying to give him all the credit for passing
the Civil Rights Act of 1964—one of the
most important bill’s in the last century.
While it was, indeed,
Johnson who fought to get the bill passed, it
was Kennedy who laid much of the groundwork for
the bill and, according to many sources, had every
intention of pushing it forward in his second
term. In addition, the Eisenhower administration
had done their share of work as well. All
the Way gives Kennedy no credit whatsoever
for doing most of the leg work. Schenkkan’s
play makes it seem like the idea was all Johnson’s
and he deserves all the credit. Revisionism, much?
The Kennedy assassination
did change the climate of the nation so much that
Johnson would be able to take advantage of the
unrest to drive the bill home.
All the Way
opens right after that fateful day in Dallas and
takes an epic, sympathetic look at the next year
of Lyndon Baines Johnson’s presidency. And
for almost three hours, the audience is treated
to an involving, if subjective, history lesson
that bleeds into riveting every time Bryan Cranston
speaks which, happily, is often.
not personal…it’s just politics,”
reads the T-shirt being sold in the lobby. It’s
a line Johnson relays with deliberate ease. The
man was a master manipulator who always remembered
who was with him and who was against him.
LBJ grouse, sweet talk, slyly grin and scowl,
sometimes doing all of the above in a moment’s
glance, is a treat. The actor is indomitable and
presents us with a complex Johnson--a man rich
with spitfire and megalomania but also true heart
and, yes, grit. He may be uncertain at times but
he covers it up with the most assured veneer.
Along the journey
to pass the bill, Johnson must lock horns with
many a significant figure including: the Reverend
Martin Luther King (Brandon J. Dirden, embodying
the man’s spirit and doing a keen impression
as well), racist Alabama governor George Wallace
(a potent Rob Campbell) and FBI leader J. Edgar
Hoover (a sinister Michael McKeon).
(Robert Petkoff, the best featured performance)
is Johnson’s whipping boy for most of the
play and allows himself to be abused and played
because, well, it’s the only way for him
to get what he wants—the Vice Presidency.
Presented as a bit of a clown, Petkoff gives the
character true nuance and in a truly powerful
scene, the man must come to terms with being accused
of caring more about his political career than
the lives of African-Americans.
The most underwritten
characters are the females, specifically Lady
Bird Johnson. Besty Aidem does her best with what
she is given, but it’s a shame that the
most important person in LBJ’s life couldn’t
have been fleshed out beyond existing solely for
Power, and keeping
it once you have it, is a major theme in All
the Way. As LBJ finds his groove, paranoia
begins to set in—just as it did 2000 years
earlier with each new Roman Emperor. Who can you
trust? Hoover is wire-tapping everyone. Dr. King
is warning that his people may resort to violence.
The southern leaders are threatening to walk out
of the convention. McNamara wants to resign. And
Wallace is inciting his racist constituents for
As All the
Way (title taken from the campaign slogan:
“All the way with LBJ.”) reaches its
climax, LBJ may have a true and deserved triumph
on his hands but the war in Vietnam is about to
take over his soul and decimate it. The look on
Cranston’s LBJ as he celebrates his victory
says all you need to know about the toll his coveted
power is taking on the man.
of the Civil Rights Act (50th anniversary this
July) has great significance today since gay rights
and, specifically, gay marriage rights are currently
under fire from many conservative (religious)
groups—the majority from the South.
wink-wink line in the play: “The Republican
party is never going to be a friend of the South.”
The irony is obvious. The South fought the end
of slavery. The South fought civil rights. The
South is fighting gay marriage. The South is highly
devout. The South is pro-gun. The South is anti-education.
Perhaps secession wasn’t such a bad idea
after all. (That was my polemicized two cents,
Tickets at allthewaybroadway.com
Or call 877-250-2929
Simon Theatre | 250 West 52nd Street, NYC
The Bridges of Madison
Sunday @ 3:00pm
Tuesday @ 7:00pm
Wednesday @ 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Thursday @ 7:00pm
Saturday @ 2:00pm & 8:00pm
Gerald Shoenfeld Theatre
Book by Marsha
Music & Lyrics
by Jason Robert Brown
Based on the novel
by Robert James Waller.
Directed by Bartlett
Based on the Focus
Features/Vulcan Productions Film Written and Directed
by Todd Haynes.
O’Hara, Steven Pasquale, Hunter Foster,
Michael X. Martin, Cass Morgan, Derek Klena, Caitlin
Kinnunen, Whitney Bashor.
At the Gerald
Reviewed by Frank
Last year, in my
review of Playwrights Horizons ambitious but uneven
show, Far From Heaven, that happened
to star Kelli O’Hara and Steven Pasquale,
I wrote, “give Kelli O’Hara the musical
she deserves.” Less than a year later, I
got my wish. And Broadway audiences who are smart
should rush out to see The Bridges of Madison
County so they can experience a titanic creative
team that deliver an almost perfect musical event.
I confess I have
never read the best-selling, highly divisive chick
novel by Robert James Waller, but I am a great
fan of Clint Eastwood’s 1995 film version.
Whereas he may have been too old to play Robert
(he was 65), he still brought a gravitas to the
role that most 30-40something actors back then
couldn’t and his direction was loving and
thoughtful. Plus he cast Meryl Streep as Francesca
who was simply sublime, despite the fact that
she isn’t an ounce Italian.
In the stage adaptation,
we have two actors who are more age appropriate,
in the opposite direction, (both are in their
mid-30s) but look younger!
The soapy plot
centers on a romance blossoming between two unlikely
O’Hara) is an immigrant farmer’s wife
who married a good man so she could get away from
her family in Naples (and live that American dream
that turned out to be more of a nightmare for
many who made the journey). She and her husband
(Hunter Foster) have made a life in his homestate
of Iowa and have two teen children, whom she loves
dearly. She loves her husband, too, but has never
quite been in love with him.
Geographic photojournalist Robert Kinkaid (Steven
Pasquale) who has been dispatched to Madison County
to photograph the area bridges. Robert is a nomad
who has never been able to, nor has he wanted
to, have a lasting relationship.
The two meet and
there is an instant connection, a passion—the
kind of sparks that people write pulp novels about.
What the Broadway
Bridges team manages to do with this
dangerously hammy and sentimental plot is to funnel
out the most human elements and probe the realities
of both character’s motivations, situations,
And what they’ve
come up with is probably the best Broadway musical
of this millennium—certainly the best score.
The gifted Jason
Robert Brown (Parade, The Last Five
Years) has penned the loveliest, lushest,
most memorable songs—one after the other
taking us on a journey of yearning, fear, joy
and, ultimately, capitulation. “Falling
Into You”, in particular is a rich, soaring,
duet that simply transports theatregoers to that
place that chicks and gays live to go to, but
also forces straight guys to wake up and fight
those nagging goosebumps.
book mostly transcends soap opera, especially
when it concentrates on Francesca and Robert,
and cuts to the core of what it is like to feel
the kind of passion that makes people do anything
for one another.
I wish the focus
had remained more on our lovers. I get that this
small town watches and gossips and, ultimately,
cares for one another, I just wish the show didn’t
feel the need to constantly interrupt the love
story with repetitive but misguided comic relief.
I liked the idea of the ensemble sitting onstage
surrounding the set, but did they have to speak
so much—and not really saying anything new
That aside, the
supporting cast rocks with Derek Klena a standout
as the son who desires more from life than to
be forced to run his father’s farm.
plays Robert’s ex-gal and has one stirring,
exquisite song, “Another Life.” This
scene is a great example of Barlett Sher’s
inspired cinematic staging, giving the audience
plenty of subtext along the way.
Hunter Foster nails
the 60s American attitude most rural men had (my
father was a second generation American who married
an Italian immigrant and Foster so reminded me
is the right combination of sexy and elusive—a
man who has gotten comfortable with ‘keeping
to himself.” Pasquale does a masterful job
of allowing us inside his heart and head so we
can watch him watch himself fall in love and marvel
at his own reaction. Pasquale’s extraordinary
vocals on, “It All Fades Away,” puts
him at the top of the Mount Olympus musical theatre
directs with a fluid, confident hand.
The sets (by Michael
Yeargan) and costumes (by Catherine Zuber) are
evocative and period perfect. The lighting design
(by Donald Holder) dazzles.
Have I forgotten anything? Anyone?
Oh, yes. Kelli
O’Hara. What can I say about her?
That just watching
her walk downstage as she enters in the opening
moments had me enthralled?
the type of artist that poems are written for
That she won me
over, as a non-Italian playing an Italian so believably
that I had forgotten it was one of my biggest
That her rendition
of the song, “Almost Real,” had me
That her Francesca
is so devastatingly haunted by the life unlived
that I wanted to run up on that stage and push
her towards Robert.
Oh, and wait, yes,
one more thing: that if she doesn’t finally
win her FIRST Tony Award this year, the Tony voters
should be collectively flogged.
I am so over the
moon about this musical! And that hasn’t
happened in quite a long time.
Tickets $59 - $141
- by phone call (212) 239-6200 theatermania.com
Schoenfeld Theatre | 236 W 45th
St, New York, NY 10036
Heathers: The Musical
Sunday @ 3PM & 7:30PM
Monday @ 8PM
Wednesday @ 8PM
Thursday @ 8PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2:30Pm & 8PM
New World Stages
Book, Music &
Lyrics by Kevin Murphy & Laurence O’Keefe
Based on the original
motion picture screenplay by Daniel Waters.
Directed by Andy
Wilbert Weed, Ryan McCartan, Jessica Keenan Wynn,
Ellen McLemore, Alice lee, Katie Ladner, Evan
Todd, Jon Eidson, Anthony Crivello, Daniel Cooney.
Reviewed by Frank
film Heathers, released in 1988 and written
by Daniel Waters, was daring for its time and
is now heralded as the granddaddy of dark, satiric
high school comedies that begat Mean Girls,
Clueless, Jawbreaker, Election…
The Winona Ryder/Christian
Slater starrer was a box office flop but with
the help of VHS (and then DVD) it quickly established
itself as a cult classic.
Now some of the
creatives behind Reefer Madness: The Musical
and Bat Boy: The Musical have decided
Heathers should also be a musical. Of
course, nowadays EVERY film seems destined to
become a stage show (can’t wait for Schindler’s
List: The Musical!).
And you know what?
It’s definitely a fun night out—especially
if you’ve had a cocktail or two. And at
least Heathers: The Musical pokes fun
at itself and some of the obligatory movie-scene
recreations. Most are done with a gigantic wink
to the audience as opposed to Rocky: The Musical,
where they simply rehash the movie lines and moments
in ridiculously reverential fashion. Wow, he’s
For those of you
unfamiliar with the original film—why the
hell are you going??? Most of my audience, loaded
with gays, fortysomethings and New Jersey, seemed
to have lines from the movie memorized.
Okay, fine. Quick
synopsis. Squeaky-clean geek Veronica Sawyer (Barrett
Wilbert Weed) finds herself being accepted by
the most popular girls in high school, the Heathers
(Jessica Keenan Wynn, Elle McLemore and Alice
Lee), your basic beautiful, bitchy bullies. This
means she needs to start ignoring her (really
uninteresting) overweight friend Martha (Katie
Ladner). Conflicted about what she’s becoming,
Veronica meets and falls for bad boy J.D. Dean
(Ryan McCartan), who has his own sociopathic ways
of dealing with the Heathers as well as two idiot
jocks (Evan Todd and Jon Eidson).
The stage show
stays pretty faithful to the film (which, in the
final quarter proves unfortunate because it’s
where the movie and, now musical, could have used
a refreshing rewrite). The book writers do bring
back the dead in Act Two—a nice and welcome
change—since these villains are such fun.
Kevin Murphy &
Laurence O’Keefe (who wrote the book, music
and lyrics) have composed some wonderful songs--the
spirited opener, “Beautiful,” where
so much of the needed exposition is established,
“Blue” a funny, vulgar ditty and,
most especially, “Seventeen,” the
shows best song.
In addition, they’ve
turned one of the film’s most famous lines
into a hilarious number: “My Dead Gay Son.”
But there are also
bubble-gummy throwaways to trudge through like
“Candy Store” and “Big Fun.”
O’Keefe was also responsible for the forgettable
Legally Blonde: The Musical, so there’s
boasts a spunky and delightful cast with Weed
doing a fantastic job and brooding, hot McCartan,
making quite an impression as well. All three
Heathers steal their moments—sometimes simultaneously—with
Chenowithian McLemore slightly edging out the
Director Andy Fickman
keeps the zaniness moving at just the right pace.
He knows the audience this show will attract and
he smartly delivers just the right amount of lunacy.
Tickets by phone
call (212) 239-6200
New World Stages
| 340 West 50th Street, NYC.
Sunday @ 3PM
Tuesday @ 7PM
Wednesday @ 2Pm & 8PM
Thursday @ 7PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2Pm & 8PM
The Imperial Theatre, 249 West 45th Street, NYC.
Book by Alain
Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg
Music by Claude-Michel
Lyrics by Herbert
text by Alain Boublil and Jean-Marc Natel, original
adaption by Trevor Nunn and John Caird and additional
material by James Fenton.
Based on the novel
by Victor Hugo.
Directed by Laurence
Connor and James Powell
Karimloo as Jean Valjean, Will Swenson as Javert,
Caissie Levy as Fantine, Nikki M. James as Eponine,
Andy Mientus as Marius, Charlotte Maltby as Cosette,
Kyle Scatliffe as Enjolras, Cliff Saunders &
Keala Settle as the Thenadiers and Joshua Colley
Reviewed by Frank
In the last quarter
century, Les Miserables has become a
musical phenomenon that has ingrained itself into
our culture. Based on Victor Hugo’s sprawling
19th-century, faith-based novel about redemption,
the original Broadway production opened in March
1987 (after it’s successful English-language
premiere in London in 1985) and ran until May
2003. A slightly altered version then opened on
Broadway in November 2006 and ran for a little
over a year.
premiere there have been concerts, regional productions,
community theatre and high school shows and translated
versions all over the world. And last year, of
course, it was adapted into an Oscar-winning film,
directed by Tom Hooper—which was inspired
by this newly re-imagined version that’s
been on tour and now bows on Broadway.
Is there such a
thing as Les Miz burn-out? Depends. Are
you a fan? Can you sing along with the lyrics?
Does “I Dreamed a Dream” still move
you or do you have nightmare visions of Susan
Boyle? Do you cry when Eponine dies or do you
wonder why no one around her is getting help or
attempting CPR? Do you rise to your feet when
Valjean is done with “Bring Him Home,”
or does the thunderous theatre applause wake you
from the deep sleep that song has put you in?
Macintosh is quite savvy. He knows the fans will
come out in full force if he provides a polished
and worthy production and he also knows a new
generation of tourists and suburbanites might
just bite when Wicked and The Lion
King tickets prove impossible to acquire.
I have to say I
was looking forward to this revival like I look
forward to visiting my dentist. I attended the
original Broadway production six times (three
in the first three months of the run—via
And I did enjoy
the film version despite the extreme close-ups,
the bombast and the overdone sentimentality. Hugh
Jackman’s performance was stellar but his
voice had a shrillness to it. And I grew tired
of watching buzzcut Anne Hathaway win every accolade
in the land for her tortured Fantine. We get it,
Anne, you lost a lot of weight and cut your hair.
I dreamed a dream Amy Adams won Best Supporting
Actress last year!
So there I was
seated in the Imperial Theatre (where I saw the
original all those years ago) and when the orchestra
began with those oh-so-familiar opening bars,
I swallowed hard and winced. And almost immediately
I was swept away by a terrific production that,
for the most part, delivers all the right goosebumps
while streamlining some of the deadening aspects
of the piece.
This Les Miz
feels a bit less grim—it feels that way
only because the directors, Laurence Connor and
James Powell have smartly stripped the show of
some of its unrelenting seriousness and solemnity.
The songs are sung a tad faster (for the ADHD
gen perhaps, but it works) and there is less sympathy
milking. Instead we are allowed to feel more empathy.
The large turning
set has been replaced with a scaled down but more
effective cinematic set, with potent backdrops
And although the
orchestra is also smaller, the music has never
But the two major
boons to this surprisingly spirited and welcome
revival happen to be the stars.
In his Broadway
debut, Ramin Karimloo is a powerhouse Jean Valjean.
When I saw Colm Wilkinson in 1987, I was blown
away and could not imagine anyone else playing
the part. Karimloo redefines the role and gives
Valjean an invigorating defiance. And his stunning
rendition of “Bring Him Home” (a song
I never warmed to) not only brought the house
down, it became an anthem about self-sacrifice
as well as transference—something I didn’t
see before. Karimloo has been doing theatre on
the West End for a while now (particularly in
Webber musicals). Here’s hoping he makes
New York his second home.
Will Swenson (Hair,
Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) is an
exciting, driven Javert, but also the most conflicted
I have seen. Swenson excels playing dippy, sweet
dudes. Here he wears his moral superiority so
tight-fitted, it’s a wonder he doesn’t
explode. Swenson’s shining moment is the
astonishingly sung “Stars,” but it’s
in his last scene that he lets us inside his paradoxical
These two provide
real magic and for the first time I sensed a definite
homoerotic tension between Javert and Valjean.
Karimloo and Swenson and have a palpable chemistry
and it isn’t just one of antagonism. Of
course this is also the first time both leads
have been cast with two dashing, young men who
exude sex appeal.
And that led me
to speculate about their characters backgrounds.
I’m not certain about the novel but in the
stage text neither has a spouse (or girlfriend
for that matter). Valjean dedicates his life to
being mayor and raising Cosette and helping young
boys…hmmm… And Javert’s life
seems to be devoted to…well, Valjean—who
dramatically tears his shirt open during the prologue—adding
beefcake into the mix. And their scenes together
sizzled with the kind of intensity…the kind
of repression…okay, I’ll stop, but
I didn’t imagine it.
The featured cast
members aren’t quite in the same league.
Cassie Levy is
technically a good singer but I was unmoved by
her Fantine and did not miss her once she departed.
Andy Mientus does
his best to escape the dullness of Marius, but
it’s a losing battle (no pun intended).
He does, however, provide a deeply felt “Empty
Chairs at Empty Tables.”
Nikki M. James
(Eponine) and Charlotte Maltby (Cosette) both
have some lovely moments.
The ensemble does
boast a slew of delightfully energized “lovely
ladies” and a spunky Joshua Colley as Gavroche.
all of her moments and having a scenery (and cake)
chewing, campy time of it is Keala Settle as Mrs.
Thenardier. Along with thundering loon Cliff Saunders
as her hubby they invigorate “Master of
the House,” and transform two creepy villains
into absolute crowd pleasers.
Go see this Les
Miz—if only to experience two titanic musical
theatre actors take their rightful place among
the (Broadway) stars.
The Imperial Theatre
| 249 West 45th Street, NYC.
Hand to God
Opened February 18, 2014
Closes March 20, 2014
Lucille Lortel Theatre
Directed by Moritz
Boyer, Marc Kudisch, Geneva Carr, Michael Oberholtzer
& Sarah Stiles.
Presented by MCC
Reviewed by Frank
been a fan of puppets, unless you count Miss Piggy
and Kermit, and even those two I grew tired of
after the second Muppet Movie. So, consequently,
I’ve never seen the much celebrated Avenue
But if Robert Askins’
sidesplittingly funny, biting, yet moving play,
Hand to God is any indication of how
puppets have evolved (and some may say devolved),
then sign me up for the next show!
Having bowed at
Ensemble Studio Theatre in 2011 to great acclaim
(and an Obie for master puppeteer and actor, Steven
Boyer), MCC has smartly decided to stage the show
with some of the original cast intact.
The setting is
a Lutheran Church classroom in Cypress, Texas
where a seemingly devout widow, Margery (Geneva
Carr) is cheerleading three fairly odd and apathetic
teens into taking part in a puppet show that will
celebrate Jesus. Among the kids is Margery’s
troubled son Jason (Steven Boyer), a geeky but
sweet Jessica (Sarah Stiles) and the tall, lumbering
Timothy (Michael Oberholtzer) whose hormones are
raging…specifically for…Margery. Rounding
out the cast is Pastor Greg (Marc Kudisch) who
is also smitten with Margery—that vixen!
Things take a turn
for the outlandish when Jason’s puppet,
Tyrone, begins to take over and spew forth a barrage
of profanity-laced truisms at Jessica and, soon,
at everyone else in his life, including his repressed
and truly messed up mother—who decides she
wants a piece of 15-year-old Timothy and, abandoning
all her inhibitions and (probably put-on) religious
beliefs, has all kinds of wicked sex with the
farcical Act One begets a more melodramatic and
messier second act where Margery must confront
what she’s become and Jason must confront
Tyrone (his inner demons) as well as his parental
Askins writes funny
one-liners: “You are so far in the closet,
you’re in Narnia,” is one of the few
I can reprint without using expletives. And I
appreciated the absurd levels of insanity in the
first act much more than the serious moments of
Act Two that felt forced and overwritten. Still,
the battle between Jason and Tyrone for his soul—an
exorcism of sorts—was simply a marvel to
behold. Chaos fused with psychoanalytic clarity—some
of Askins best writing for certain.
Moritz Von Stuelpnagel
directs this killer cast by getting out of their
way and simply keeping the action moving—for
the most part. His choreographing of the puppet
sex is simply a marvel to behold (I’m assuming
it was Stuelpnagel since there is no ‘puppet
The magnetic Oberholtzer
has a blast playing the awkward and lanky Timothy.
His talk is nasty. His walk is “dirty.”
He’s every teen boy after the filter has
But the show belongs
to Boyer who is just astounding. Balancing the
shy, innocent and damaged Jason with the demonic,
devious and dastardly Tyrone, Boyer keeps us enraptured
right up until the final, fitting, moment.
To order tickets
by phone call (866) 811-4111
Theatre | 121 Christopher St, New York, NY 10014
Frederick Weller and Tyne
Daly in Mothers and Sons
Mothers and Sons
Sunday @ 3PM
Tuesday @ 7PM
Wednesday @ 2Pm & 7PM
Thursday @ 7PM
Friday @ 8PM
Saturday @ 2Pm & 8PM
The Golden Theatre
Daly, Frederick Weller, Bobby Steggert & Grayson
Directed by Sheryl
Reviewed by Frank J. Avella
gay when he came to New York,” insists Katharine
Gerard (Tyne Daly), disputing any idea that her
son could have possibly been born that way, in
the new play, Mothers and Sons, by gifted
dramatist Terrence McNally. Does she really believe
this? Does she need to? Does she want to understand?
Andre has been
dead for twenty years, a casualty of AIDS, and
Katharine has decided to visit (more like descend
on) the Central Park West apartment of his former
lover/boyfriend/partner (the play pokes fun at
these “insubstantial, inadequate”
bygone terms), Cal (Frederick Weller), who is
expectedly nonplused by her arrival, since they
haven’t seen or spoken to one another for
twenty years—since Andre’s memorial.
Cal is now happily
married to Will (Bobby Steggert), who happens
to be fifteen years his junior and they have a
six-year-old son, Bud (Grayson Taylor). Will is
a fairly secure writer who’s had a few short
stories published in the New Yorker.
One of the key
differences between the two men (and between these
particular generations of gay men) is summed up
by the fact that Cal “never expected to
be a father,” and Will, “never expected
not to be one.”
the only contrast that is made in this 90-minute
drama filled with stinging dialogue, thought-provoking
insights and character catharses—what we’ve
come to expect from the best of McNally. But there
is also a real attempt made to bridge the gap
between two radically different schools of thought.
Katharine is, as
the expression goes, old school and cannot fathom
the acceptance of two men living together as husband
and husband. But what she really can’t conceive
is why her son had to die. And why Cal gets to
move on with someone else and be happy—and
in such a traditionally heterosexual manner.
Cal is stuck somewhere
between the two generations. He has lived through
intolerance and is gobsmacked by how far along
things have come. And he’s allowed himself
to love again after eight years of mourning Andre—never
forgetting him or the pain and suffering they
both went through—some of it brought on
Sons is an intense drama about two damaged
survivors who try to come to terms with their
own guilt and self-hatred. The play also ambitiously
chronicles the AIDS scourge and what it wrought
on an entire generation of promising young men
as well as those they left behind and how a new
generation can live because of the sacrifices
made by those who fought for treatment and a cure.
Just a few years ago, the notion of being able
to marry was so out of the realm of possibility
for gays and today it’s an expectation.
Cal just kick Katharine out? Well, firstly because
he knows she doesn’t really want to leave,
that she’s there for a reason. And that
they are bonded by a commonality that no one else
has. While going through a box of photos/mementos
of Andre, Cal tells her to take what she wants
since, “we’re the only two people
in the world they mean anything to.” What
a devastating but true statement that cuts to
the core the ephemeral nature of life.
The AIDS crisis
united a decimated community that was being vilified
by the religious right and dismissed by the government.
And while McNally’s “mothers and sons”
are of a particular social status and ethnicity,
he writes the world he knows and that makes this
work, in particular, universal since he focuses
on the evolution of acceptance. He also asks some
hard questions about blame and accountability.
has borrowed his two leads from his PBS film from
1990, Andre’s Mother-- expanded
from an 8-minute short play he wrote in 1988--and
advances the time of Andre’s death to 1994—for
symmetry and to be able to be as current as possible.
Sada Thompson played the title character in her
inimitable prickly fashion.
Tyne Daly transcends
all the stereotypes and gives us a performance
for the ages. Her Katharine (spelled atypically
like the late great Ms. Hepburn) cannot be placed
into any easy descriptive category. Certainly
she’s angry and has been carrying that rage
for decades. But she’s also confused, curious,
desperate, lonely, needy and searching. She’s
every mother who has ever been defined solely
as a mother. She’s every woman who’s
craved independence, validation and her own identity.
From her first determined facial expression as
the lights come up wearing her fur coat and standing
perfectly postured to her last moments where she’s
shown Cal more of herself than she has ever shown
anyone, this magnificent actress is a powerhouse
of paradoxes. I could not take my eyes off of
her for the play’s duration for fear I would
miss another nuance, another cutting look, another
deliberate glance of confusion, another body movement
reveal, another key to this frustrating, fascinating
monster created by a society built on prejudice
and judgment. Daly makes it vital for viewers
to care for Katharine and realize just how conflicted
performance is extraordinary. He’s called
on to spew a lot of the play’s polemic points
and yet there is never a false moment. We fully
understand why Andre loved him and why Katharine
is so jealous of that fact. This is an actor who
I remember adoring in the film Stonewall in
1995. I have seen him give some terrific performances
in a couple of LaBute plays. Here he is simply
superbly captures the new gay man with all his
entitlements and annoyances. One second you want
to hit him (the overly politically correct way
he raises his child), the next second, hug him
(the way he cares so much about Cal’s feelings).
Steggert’s Will is the personification of
the assimilated gay male—wanting to live
just like heterosexuals (this brings up a can
of Pandora worms I will not open right now.)
Sheryl Kaller (Next
Fall) directs the piece with a pressing concision.
Sons had me thinking about its characters,
situations and themes long after I left the performance.
If that isn’t the mark of great theatre
then I don’t know what is.
Tickets by phone call (212) 239-6200
The Golden Theatre
| 252 W. 45th Street, NYC.
Tues & Wed at 7PM
Thurs, Fri, at 8PM
Sat at 2PM & 8PM
Sun at 2:30PM and 7:30PM
Through Sunday, March 23, 2014
Playwrights Horizons Mainstage
Directed by Rebecca
Hecht, Dominic Fumusa, Emma Galvin, Daniel Jenkins,
Patrick Kerr, Michael Cyril Creighton, Clea Alsip
Presented by Playwrights
Reviewed by Frank
yet beguiling central character in the opening
scene of Sarah Ruhl’s new play, Stage
Kiss, arrives late for an audition and then,
being the committed actress she is, asks if she
can kiss the quite-effeminate male reader. “I
don’t want to traumatize you,” she
deadpans. A few moments later, fully committed
to her choices, she attacks the poor guy but not
before requesting a synopsis of the plot, which
the Director happily provides. The outrageous
melodrama he outlines (from a 1930s flop on Broadway)
contains the line: “And seeing your old
love has reversed your disease and you are becoming
healthier and healthier,” funny to hear
but quite prophetic. Ruhl cleverly slips a lot
of foreshadowing into her new, oddball, romantic
comedy—an entertaining evening marred only
by a misguided denoument that might be satisfying
to some but that I found wholly incongruous with
the rest of the play.
The Actress (who
is referred to in the script as “She”),
played magnificently by the great Jessica Hecht,
is cast in the play and on the first day of rehearsals
discovers that her leading man (a smolderingly
good Dominic Fumusa) happens to be an old flame.
The former lovers are initially apprehensive and
angry as old wounds surface, but after a few stage
kisses and gleeful reminiscences, both actors
rekindle what they once had, even though She has
a husband and young daughter and He is semi-committed
to a twentysomething schoolteacher.
(the first one, as there is a second one in Act
Two) is about a dying woman who wishes to reunite
with her one great love. Parallels abound.
Fumusa is ridiculously
youthful looking despite the fact that he’s
in his 40s and he plays his part with great “aplomb.”
It’s a delight whenever he and Hecht spar.
the 30s drama in an acting style that Helen Sinclair
(Dianne Weist’s Bullets Over Broadway
character) would be proud of, delightfully overdoing
Hollywood 30s style. And she finds that balance
between her character making choices and wondering
what the hell she is doing!
Ruhl pokes a lot
of fun at the rehearsal process and certain directors
who seem to have no clear vision of what they
want. The Director here, played with neurotic
clumsiness by Patrick Kerr, responds to Hecht’s
character’s desire for feedback by saying,
“We can calibrate the style after the first
There are many
amusing moments and great lines in this Noises
Off-lite farce but it does not have the depth
of Ruhl’s extraordinary work, The Clean
House. And, as I mentioned earlier, the finale
feels contrived as we are expected to be happy
about a two people reuniting when we were never
invested in that particular couple to begin with.
Ticket Central at (212) 279–4200
Mainstage Theater | 416 West 42nd Street