Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.

Alix Cohen

Neil Simon’s Memoirs: Rewrites and The Play Goes On


If you’re unfamiliar with the name Neil Simon, it seems clear you’ve regularly attended neither theater nor film, have an aversion to natural human comedy, or are very young. The author has written over 30 plays, almost an equal number of screenplays, and a handful of librettos. Simon received more combined Oscar and Tony nominations than any other writer. His melding of comedy with compassionate drama and situation with characters we feel we know – often heroes in their own small worlds – allows us to laugh even when highly affected.

This is a big book. It combines Simon’s 1996 Rewrites and his 1999 The Play Goes On with an introduction by Nathan Lane and an afterward by wife, Elaine Joyce. Don’t let the bulk throw you. It’s easy, enjoyable reading. For those of us long aware of the artist, references to most work embroiders memories and illuminates well known collaborators. The volume is not a resume. Simon is candid about fallibility and fear, personal life inspiring his oeuvre and vice versa. That he states he kept neither journals nor diaries makes detail impressive.

“If character is fate, as the Greeks tell us, then it was my fate to become a playwright. Destiny seems preordained by the gods. Fate comes to those who continue on the path they started on when all other possible roads were closed to them.”

Marvin Neil Simon (1927-) grew up during the Great Depression regularly abandoned by his father, raised by an overwrought mother who inadvertently taught him to refuse assistance, advice, and comforting. “I have driven myself to the hospital rather than put someone out…” He admits this cut him off from many organic feelings. I would amend the statement by suggesting the difficulty may have applied to his private life, not the author’s prose.

Directly after High School and The Army Air Force Reserve, Simon and his older brother Danny got jobs writing comedy for radio and television. (See: Brighton Beach Memoirs, Biloxi Blues, Broadway Bound, and later, Lost in Yonkers for which he won The Pulitzer Prize.) The two eventually joined a brilliant staff concocting Sid Caesar’s iconic Your Show of Shows. Carl Reiner, Howie Morris and Woody Allen, who stated that Danny Simon taught him everything he knows about comedy, were peers. (See Laughter on the 23rd Floor)

Simon’s first plays were Come Blow Your Horn, Barefoot in the Park – the last directed by Mike Nichols about whom he writes with keen-eyed ardor, and the Tony Award-winning The Odd Couple which turned out to be an annuity encompassing film and television. The studio wanted Bing Crosby and Bob Hope to play his characters on film. Instead, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau inhabited the roles. The memoirist writes about both actors with wit and esteem. We hear about producers, directors, actors, agents… There’s neither difficulty nor dirt here. Curiously Simon elaborates on trials in personal rather than professional relationships, the opposite of most autobiographies.

Plays and screenplays (including some adaptations) flowed out of him. The author often juggled two or three projects simultaneously. “Neil the writer had time for only one thing: he wrote…more and more he would take over Neil the person’s time…” Despite incredible success and remarkable early facility “I could almost always tell what wouldn’t work in front of an audience. This is not to say I could tell what would work…,” he remained insecure and strangely guilty. Guilt, a state that contributed to breakdowns and drove him to intermittent analysis, comes up again and again.

Does self reproach stem from a childhood about which he was impotent? Did Simon feel ideas came too easily; that he was unworthy of accolades? Were serial consequences of not paying attention to personal relationships the root of his remorse? Armchair conjecturing.

Neil Simon was married five times. Joan Baim created a stable home life for which he was grateful and about which he was surprised, bore two daughters, and tragically died of cancer. Actress Marsha Mason brought light back into his life, understood and participated in common craft, and is deemed incredibly patient. (See: Chapter II.) Actress Diane Lander, whom he wed twice, eventually adopting her daughter, was fired from a Neiman Marcus job for talking to him. “I have to make it up to you,” Simon entreated. “Dinner isn’t enough. I have to buy you a small restaurant…” (There are endless wonderful quips.) Simon is descriptive, yet discreet. He takes the blame for every nuptial failure.

Falling in love with and wedding actress Elaine Joyce, after both felt finished with marriage, offers a happy ending. “For me, I hope there will be additional satisfactions besides my work…I feel now that while I have fewer years to live, I have more time in which to live them.”

BTW, according to Neil Simon, it was his brother Danny who nicknamed him “Doc” during playtime with a doctor’s kit. Neil was three years-old.

“I had a gift, albeit a simple one-but then fortunately I was not the one who God chose to lead His people out of Egypt.”

Neil Simon’s Memoirs: Rewrites and The Play Goes On
Simon and Schuster

Meteor Shower – Fireworks Above and Below


Steve Martin’s plays – Picasso at the Lapin Agile and, with Edie Brickell, the musical Bright Star – don’t deep dive into character or message. (Bright Star appeared to try.) His work will never be compared to Neil Simon who has natural facility for making comedy and pathos go hand in hand. Martin’s original screenplays fare better on this front- remember Roxanne?

Meteor Shower is a diverting piece about the vulnerability of marriage. The clever, timely, gimlet-eyed satire evokes broad smiles and moderate laughs. Its author embraces ba-dump-dump vaudeville humor as much as social comment. Being analytical, he underpins the plot with a psychological device of which we’re mercifully unaware till nearly the end.

It’s August 1993 in Ojai, California. The Perseid Meteor Shower is about to blaze across the sky like cannon fire. Corky (Amy Schumer, audience applause) in a perky Debbie Reynolds ponytail and her sweet husband Norm (Jeremy Shamos) are preparing to entertain sexpot Laura (Laura Benanti) and grandstanding husband Gerald (Keegan-Michael Key- audience applause) for the first time. Only Norm has briefly met the pair.

When amiable chat veers to conceivably hurt feelings, Corky and Norm break action to hold hands, look into each other’s eyes and intone psychobabble learned in therapy. “I really appreciate your attitude on this…I respect what you’re saying…” Everything is upfront with these two. The methodology works for them.

Laura and Gerald, on the other hand, are not what they seem. We glean early on that the couple’s recreation is upending their hosts’ marriage – sexually and sentimentally, apparently for sheer entertainment. They withhold basic information, insult with incisive abandon, and set out to seduce Corky and Norm.

Like many plays in current vogue, this one juggles chronology. Scenes are played out of order, so we often observe what happened and then what preceded. An alternative ending may or may not be true. Parts seem more important than the whole.

Honesty is as virulent as falsehood. Martin works in cannibalism, kleptomania, hard drug use, ignominious near-death, very funny seduction, vulgarity, and a couple of memorable, loosey goosey solo dances. Don’t even ask me about the eggplants. (I don’t have a clue.) You’ll have a good time but may be hungry again after an hour.

Amy Schumer plays a character with which she’s highly familiar, breaking out of the generic, through no fault of her own, only in the second part. Her timing is impeccable.

Laura Benanti effectively showcases both more unabashed allure and wacky physicality that we’ve seen from the actress.

Keegan-Michael Key aptly sucks the air out of the room with over the top cockiness that will keep your brows in constant parachute position. His determined focus just barely keeps Gerald from becoming a sitcom character, but he’s funny.

Jeremy Shamos is darling. The actor inhabits everyman innocence as skillfully as he navigates deadpan, heat-seeking-missile attack. At one point he breaks up another cast member with audacious silliness. A pleasure to watch.

Director Jerry Zaks creates infectious fun with this one. Recent commissions haven’t offered nearly this kind of opportunity for off the wall visuals and spot-on timing. Bravo.

Natasha Katz’s Lighting Design conjures marvelous meteors and explosions.
Costumes by Ann Roth are wonderfully specific to character.
Beowulf Boritt’s modrin Set Design moves fluidly between living room and patio.

Photo by Matthew Murphy
Keegan-Michael Key, Jeremy Stamos, Amy Schumer, Laura Benanti

Meteor Shower by Steve Martin
Directed by Jerry Zaks
Booth Theatre
222 West 45th Street
Through January 21, 2018

From All of Us to All of You: Seasonal Songs and Disney Too


After 21 shows in 12 days (whew!) to benefit a worthy outreach program, Urban Stages traditionally ends its annual Winter Rhythms Festival with a show called From All of Us to All of You: Seasonal Songs and Disney Too. One might think holiday songs would be presented with Disney numbers centered on love, brotherhood and friendship. Instead, subject matter is unnecessarily all over the map. Piano, unless noted, Daryl Kojak.

Stephen Hanks opens the evening with its Jiminy Cricket title song and a bit of lighthearted, ersatz dance. (Piano Mathew Martin Ward.) Later, he presents a spirited “Have Nagilia.” In a more original vein, Karen Gross delivers Tom Toce’s wry, crossover “Shalom Santa” as the daughter of “a lapsed Catholic and a cultural Jew.” Gross imbues the lyric with vexation and irony, but vocally pushes a bit too hard.

Stephen Hanks, Sandra Bargman, Billie Roe

Stephen Sondheim’s beautiful “I Remember” (Evening Primrose) is ably rendered by Sandra Bargman who wraps herself in melancholic longing, palpably excavating each vision. The vocalist seems to have slipped the word Christmas into her lyric.  Billie Roe performs a version of “Poor Unfortunate Souls” with impeccably wicked characterization. Attributable to the witch in Little Mermaid, the song couldn’t be further from anything seasonal. (Piano Mathew Martin Ward.)

Sarah Rice introduces a lovely, lilting medley from Bedknobs and Boomsticks and Snow White quoting songwriter Robert Sherman’s* modus operandi: “to help children be good, productive people and to have hope,” establishing something of a reason for inclusion. Rice’s familiar timbre and skilled soprano do the songs justice. (Piano and effectively echoing backup vocal Matthew Martin Ward.)

Sarah Rice, Joshua Lance Dixon, Gabrielle Stravelli

Charlotte Patton imbues “He’s A Tramp” (Lady and The Tramp) with easy swing and low key flirt. Carly Ozard’s “Perfect Isn’t Easy” (Oliver and Company) displays a big warm voice and contralto bark. Gabrielle Stravelli’s “If I Were a Bell”/ “Jingle Bells” mash-up is a musical stretch, but adroitly rendered by the excellent performer.

Also featuring: Renn Woods’ laudably controlled gospel/R & B (deft piano Michael Raye), Joshua Lance Dixon’s sympathetic “Proud of Your Boy” (Aladdin), Jeff Macauley who still needs to take it down, enthusiastic, Hechter Ubarry, over expressive tenor Blake Zolfo, Marieann Meringolo’s reverent “Do You Hear What I Hear?”, Daryl Kojak’s jazz instrumental of “Silent Night”, Rosemary Loar straddling American Songbook and Jazz, Rob Davis with a classic medley that should’ve ended the evening.

Mary Sue Daniel’s’ “I’m  Flying,” from television’s 1960 Peter Pan rather than the Disney version (!?) destroys every bit of soaring exuberance with an inexplicable interpretation oblivious to lyrics or context.

Photos by Maryann Lopinto

*Most classic Disney songs were written by brothers Robert Sherman and Richard Sherman

2017 Urban Stages Winter Rhythms Festival presents
From All of Us to All of You: Seasonal Songs and Disney Too
Producer/Host- Stephen Hanks
Musical Director- Daryl Kojak
December 23, 2017
Urban Stages   
259 West 30th Street 

Farinelli And The King – The Healing Power of Art


All hail the King! Mark Rylance, arguably the best actor in theater today, is once again lighting up the Broadway stage aided and abetted by a skilled company from Shakespeare’s Globe. Farinelli And The King, based on and embroidering the interaction of real persons, marks the auspicious play writing debut of Rylance’s wife, Claire Van Kampen – lecturer, performer, composer, arranger. It’s engaging, surprising, thoughtful, and humorous.

King Philippe V, the grandson of King Louis XIV who built Versailles, was believed to have what we now conjecture to have been bipolar disorder. Despite overt signs of madness, mood swings, and incapacitation, he managed, without being assassinated or deposed, to sit on the Spanish throne twice, before and after a brief reign by eldest son, Louis, who died of smallpox. Rather amazing. The King often let his second wife, Isabella Farnese, speak for him. Van Kampen depicts her as devoted.

Sam Crane, Melody Grove, Huss Garbiya, Edward Peel, Mark Rylance

Philippe (Mark Rylance) is wheeled in on a chaise wearing wonderfully elaborate nightclothes. His palm holds a small goldfish bowl, the other hand a fishing rod with its hook in the water. “I see you are ignoring my bait,” he conversationally says to a fish who later identifies himself as Alphonso. We hear an amusing, one sided conversation. The king doesn’t know where he is or whether it’s day or night. When Isabella (Melody Grove whose Queen palpably believes in Philippe) urges him to bed, he thinks she’s invading his dream. Stage business including use of the bowl, candles (fire!) and a handkerchief is telling.  Sense of both the man and his marriage is established.

Royal Minister, Don Sebastian De La Cuadra (the splendid Edward Peel), tries in vain to get his sovereign to attend a Council Meeting. Philippe is sure he’s being plotted against (not entirely untrue), accuses Isabella of a child-bearing affair (unlikely), and speaks to inanimate objects. His pixilation is more fun if one doesn’t expect him to run a country. Rylance stops, starts, reverses, and enchants, propelled by his character’s darting attention span.

Huss Garbiya, Mark Rylance, Melody Grove

Every time De La Cuadra suggests abdication, the Queen adamantly defends her husband, minimizing his illness. It’s suggested she take a trip so the court might perhaps pursue stronger treatment – though Dr. Cervi (Huss Garbiya) appears sympathetic. (It was, I think, too early for lobotomy.)

In London, Isabella is transported during a concert by Farinelli, the most famous castrato of his time. (The dual role is played by actor Sam Crane who doesn’t seem to know what to do with his facial expression as his doppelganger sings, but is otherwise excellent, and countertenor, Iestyn Davies, who, does, in fact, transport.) She resolves, by offering funds to struggling impresario John Rich (a thoroughly credible Colin Hurley) that Farinelli accompany her to Spain as a healing gift to the King. Though others disdained her theory, the real Dr. Cervi put credence in music therapy.

In our own time, Dr. Oliver Sachs was one of the most fervent proponents that “music occupies more areas of our brain than language does… It can animate people with Parkinson’s disease who cannot otherwise move, give words to stroke patients who cannot otherwise speak, and calm and organize people whose memories are ravaged by Alzheimer’s or amnesia…”

Sam Crane, Iestyn Davies

Farinelli was the stage name of Carlo Maria Michelangelo Nicola Broschi, castrated at ten in order to support his family and promote the musical compositions of his brother. The vocalist had a range from the A below middle C to the D two octaves above middle C. It’s said control was extraordinary, intonation ethereal; that he was intelligent and modest.

A conversation with the parenthetically lucid Philippe is revealing and empathetic. “We’re both made kings against our will.” Like many conspicuously famous people, both these men think of their public selves as separate beings.

The artist was in fact invited to Spain by Isabella, treated beautifully, and named chamber musician to the King. History notes he stayed in the country through the reign of the next appreciative, and healthy ruler, while the Queen, finding herself exiled, turned on him for not absenting himself. Farinelli retired to Bologna and never sang in public again.

Sam Crane

In Van Kampen’s version of the story, the castrato develops an unusually close relationship with his patron. His singing helps generate long periods of “normalcy” provoking a radical, charmingly portrayed change in living circumstances, and decidedly poetic turn. Philippe, Isabella, and Farnielli hear the stars sing.

The completely unexpected beginning of Act II eschews its fourth wall. Usually irritating rather than enhancing, the device is made to work to the play’s advantage. Watching Philippe take in Farinelli’s music and/or observe audience reaction is like hitching a ride on exaltation.

The play’s ending reflects but doesn’t depict reality. Here, however, it makes perfect dramatic sense. An extraordinary journey has been shared.

Mark Rylance is masterful. His habitation of another’s life affects every expression and gesture. Posture and walk follow suit. The tenor of his voice changes as does its impeccably tailored delivery. Here there are things muttered under breath, phrases that erupt, wistful imaginings, paranoia, pronouncements, tenderness and revelations. This King seems benign, perpetually frustrating, but often endearing, much less self destructive than its role model. Another immutable performance.

Mark Rylance

Director John Dove gives us a voyeur experience. Every character has presence. Flow is organic. Use of the stage from below its floor to above its sightline is highly imaginative. Moments of great humor appear with a wink. Watch for small exchanges between the two Farinellis. Utilizing two figures to play the castrato works both metaphorically and literally. Integration of music is seamless.

Designer Jonathan Fensom has created a royal, black and gold, pillared habitation with heavy, red draping. Furniture is aptly occasional.  That the ostensibly hand painted ceiling angles past an ornate proscenium and the stage is filled with dozens and dozens of actually burning candles conjures time and place. A forest is manifest as it might have been in staging of the time with an elaborately painted scrim and separately cut out tree parts. Costumes are beautifully detailed and aesthetically pleasing.

Hair and Wigs by Campbell Young Associates are perfection.

Lighting Designer Paul Russell is deferential to onstage candles fostering innumerable subtleties.

Music Arrangements are adroitly crafted by Claire Van Kampen.

Note to Van Kampen: Use phrase Ric, the Knife (instead of Mack the Knife) stuck out inappropriately.

If I were you, I wouldn’t sit on the stage (one can) where proximity might seem special but angles will impede.

Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Sam Crane, Mark Rylance

Shakespeare’s Globe production of
Farinelli And The King by Claire Van Kampen
Directed by John Dove
Belasco Theatre   
111 West 44th Street
Through March 25, 2018

A Regular Little Houdini – Captivating


When Houdini opened his 1905 European tour in Newport, Wales, Alan, who stands before us about to offer his spectacle in the same theater, was ten. He wasn’t allowed to see the show, but fixed on the escape artist’s exploits and treated the “Houdini Book of Magic” like a Bible. (Chapters are intermittently demonstrated with sleight-of-hand and advice from the performer’s ghost.) Alan would’ve left school to pursue his passion had his dad allowed.

It was during this booking that Houdini legendarily managed to get out of a locked jail cell, retrieve his clothes in an adjacent, secured cell, dress, and exit the building just as a Chief Constable was smugly announcing to press they’d release him in three days. The protagonist’s tall-tale-worthy Gami (grandfather) is Chief here. Internal inquiry into the Newport Police creates “an ax to grind.”

Eight years later, the now world famous performer returned executing another “amazement,” Alan’s term for what he couldn’t call a trick. “Everything he does takes months of hours of practice and huge levels of skill and to call it a “trick”… well it’s a bit unfair I think.” This time the boy was front and center, in fact, unwittingly, a participant. His angry Gami wasn’t far behind.

Newport born and bred playwright Daniel Llewelyn-Williams has crafted this engaging piece by stitching together real events, some experienced by his recently deceased father, with fictional embellishment. The piece is written in evocative, local syntax. Two appearances by Houdini bookend.

A brief history of Newport (unnecessary), is followed by Alan’s family life, his training and aspirations as a magician and “escapeologist” – even the great Chinese Water Torture Cell was practiced in a 4’diameter pipe. A near fatal attempt by the boy to emulate Houdini on the landmark Transporter Bridge over Bristol Channel is relived before our eyes.“…You can see right through it, looks like it needs a good meal it does…”  The tragedy that took place at town docks while building the world’s largest sealock is lucidly observed. (The key word is observed. This section would be more effective with emotion evoked by his father being one of the victims.)

Real events are illuminated in the program. I recommend reading it afterwards so as to take the journey without supposition.

Llewelyn-Williams inhabits Alan from ten to fourteen, his gruff, loving father, his Gami, Yiddish-accented Houdini, and townspeople. Each character has his own completely distinct voice and physical attitude. Transition is fluid. When relating the story he talks TO not AT the audience, focusing on individuals, drawing us in.

Firsthand incidents are made palpable by the artist’s focus and power of suggestion. From childhood excitement with locks “Pick, pick, pick, pick, pick, pick… Click!..OH! IT SAID CLICK! …” to near death experience to a surprising encounter with his hero, one feels almost present in real time. We see him see – often painfully, and feel with the character. Llewelyn-Williams wisely takes his time, provoking our own imaginations.

Director Josh Richards exercises finesse. Expressive gesture feels organic. Nothing comes from nowhere. The small stage is utilized with variety and verisimilitude. Pacing is pitch perfect. This was clearly a symbiotic collaboration.                                   Easily fixable: the first time Houdini appears onstage/to Alan, it’s not clear who he is.

A skilled, entertaining, and imaginative play, foreign in context, but humanistically familiar.

Photos by Sheri Bankes

Flying Bridge Theatre Limited presets
A Regular Little Houdini
Written and Performed by Daniel Llewelyn-Williams
Directed by Joshua Richards
Through December 31, 2017
59E59 Theaters

Pride And Prejudice – Jubilantly Funny


The purpose of a man is to love a woman,/And the purpose of a woman is to love a man,/So come on baby let’s start today, come on baby let’s play/The game of love, love, la la la la la love… sings the multi-talented, white-gowned and breech-clad cast moving with happy synchronicity. (Wayne Fontana – “Game of Love”) Yes, you’re in the right theater.

Playwright Kate Hamill, frustrated by “the dearth of complex-female centered characters and story lines …” is mining classic literature possessing that which she finds currently lacking. Pride And Prejudice, which comes to New York from The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, follows rollicking productions of Sense and Sensibility and Vanity Fair. Hamill reinterprets with irreverent glee, one foot in the appropriate era, the other is contemporary time, never eschewing pivotal plot.

Amelia Pedlow, John Tufts, Chris Thorn, Nance Williamson, Kate Hamill, and Kimberly Chatterjee

For those few of you unfamiliar with Austen’s novel, one might say it’s about the blood sport of husband hunting in Georgian England. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (Chris Thorn and Nance Williamson, both warmly believable) have four daughters to advantageously marry off: 14 year-old, motor mouth Lydia – here with a tendency to get drunk (Kimberly Chatterjee who overdoes the childishness of this role); pretty, genteel Jane (Amelia Pedlow, superb in every way); ugly, put-upon Mary (hilariously embodied by a Goth John Tufts) who coughs so persistently, Mr. Bennet finally exclaims, “Have consumption and be done with it!” And our heroine Lizzy              (Kate Hamill), who sees courtship as a facile game that can achieve only unfulfilling liaisons.

Mrs. Bennet is clumsily aggressive while Mr. Bennet, not uncaringly just wants to be left alone to read his paper while his girls find their way. When the estate next door is let by rich, eligible, here, puppy-like Mr. Bingley (Tufts-another bull’s-eye) -he pants and fetches a ball thrown by Darcy  and his snobbish sister Caroline (the mercurial Mark Bedard whose finesse can’t be overrated), mom goes to work. The cherry on top might be Bingley’s houseguest, Mr. Darcy (Jason O’Connell, inhabiting farce and drama with equal plummy skill) who has double his friend’s income. Two daughters offloaded for the price of one!

Mark Bedard, John Tufts, Jason O’Connell

Long story somewhat short – Lizzy is offended by Darcy’s manner (he enters to the storm trooper theme from Star Wars) and a lie told by cad Mr. Wickham (Bedard, with silky bravado) while Darcy is put off by her lack of station. Multiple good deeds fix this and despite palpable (oh the suffering!), respective unwillingness, they fall in love.

Meanwhile Bingley adores Jane from whom he’s parted and reunited by Darcy. Lydia, who appears to be ensnared by Mr. Wickham, in fact, ensnares him. And prissy cousin, Clergyman Collins (Bedard in tick-enhanced, nasal glory,) who will inherit their home because the Bennett’s have no sons, fixes on neighboring Charlotte (Thorn playing it beautifully straight) when rejected by Lizzy.

Chris Thorn, Kate Hamill, Amelia Pedlow, and Mark Bedard

Despite the machinations of Collin’s patroness Lady Catherine DeBourgh (Chatterjee, an admirably imperious portrayal), everyone except Mary finds a mate. In one inventive histrionic fit, Mary gestures to Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” (Turandot), gliding up the aisle, arm outstretched like an Edward Gorey character, muttering “keep applauding, this is a long exit.” The actor then runs around the theater backstage – clump, clump, clump and returns to the stage whipping on Bingley’s cravat. Our audience is beside itself.

Call-out military drills, line dancing, frugs, waltzes (Ellenore Scott’s Choreography is buoyant) and any number of oddly apt 1950s songs keep the production at full musical tilt without swallowing up its story. The aisle is skillfully employed. Actors play guitar and piano. “Bits” involving uncooperative chairs (Bedard) and a tangled coat (O”Connell) are silent film worthy. The company, who developed character idiosyncrasies during early development, are adroit with high-low humor. It’s a pleasure to observe the appreciative camaraderie of those not participating in a scene as they watch their peers cavort.

Kimberly Chatterjee and Amelia Pedlow

With all this, intermittent gravitas reminds us emotions are present below the froth. Sometimes it’s a moment of acknowledgment, others, as in Lizzy and Darcy’s later confrontations, galvanize sympathy.

I’m afraid that, like her appearance in Vanity Fair, Hamill embodies her character with less insight and more ham than that with which her fellows manifest theirs. Perhaps the director thinks an author is untouchable. While mostly redeemed by      Act II (she can clearly act), the first part finds her tantrum-LOUD, dissonant, and thoroughly unappealing in the part of a young woman who may have a biting tongue and progressive ideas but is, in every outward way, attractive and ladylike. This is not to say Lizzy can’t be funny, but that Hamill’s performance looks like trenchant vaudeville while the others are executing farce.

Kate Hamill and Jason O’Connell

Director Amanda Dehnert helms this screwball scenario with a sure hand (excepting Ms. Hamill and Lydia’s repeatedly jumping on Wickham-really?!). In turn artfully goofy, arch, and exuberant, the production shows an excellent editorial eye. What could often be chaos emerges as well calibrated romp, in almost constant movement, but never messy. Costume/character changes are cleverly mined for humor. Pace is brisk, but knows when to pause.

With laughter at a premium these days, Pride and Prejudice arrives a welcome catharsis. Go! Have fun!

John McDermott’s minimal Set utilizes choice elements to place us.                        Tracy Christensen’s Costumes are splendid. The facility with which these are changed enhances antic goings on.

Photos by James Leynse
Opening: The Company


Primary Stages presents
Pride And Prejudice by Kate Hamill
Based on the novel by Jane Austen
Directed by Amanda Dehnert
The Cherry Lane Theatre 
38 Commerce Street
Through January 6, 2018

Our Favorite Things – Shana Farr and Steve Ross


Monday night, the National Arts Club hosted Shana Farr and Steve Ross in a unique concert spotlighting Christmas and some of the collaborators’ other best loved things. The unique evening offered original arrangements of familiar holiday songs, wry, unexpected novelty numbers, love, romance, hope, faith, and affectionate nods to Cole Porter, Alan Jay Lerner and Manhattan. It was warm, amusing, uplifting and stylish.

A Viennese-waltz-like “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of The Year” segues, with Ross’s “Oh!” into “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow” –he’s flirty! And then Farr’s melodically gliding “Sleigh Ride.” Ross tells us “Snow” was written on a hot Los Angeles day. Heat apparently inspires Christmas songs. Irving Berlin is said to have penned “White Christmas” at La Quinta Hotel in Arizona, probably we’re told, in the middle of the night. (He was an insomniac.) “Take this down,” Berlin commanded his secretary. “I’ve just written the best song anyone’s every written.” Accompaniment is both harmonious and fresh.

In the satiric vein, Midwestern-bred Farr performs “Department Stores Mean Christmas to Me.” “…They had to get that frankincense from somewhere!” arrives ingénue-sincere. (David Cameron Anderson/Steve Landau) “I did sit on Santa’s lap outside (J.C.) Penny’s” she admits. And, in duet, Fred Silver’s immortal “The Twelve Days After Christmas”: The third day after Christmas, my Mother caught the croup/I had to use the three French Hens to make some chicken soup/The four calling birds were a big mistake for their language was obscene/The five golden rings were completely fake and they turned my fingers green…

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “My Favorite Things” wafts light and lilting (Farr) in tandem with John Wallowitch’s uber-droll “Three Penny Things” (Ross). The latter is just what it sounds like, a charming, family-friendly lyric riding Kurt Weill’s foreboding music. Ross’s ersatz chermin interpretation: “…schnitzel mit noodles…ven the dog bites ven the bee sinks…” is tongue-in-cheek perfect.

Citing the centenary of Alan Jay Lerner, Farr offers “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” as if breathing in tune and Ross sings a tender “The Heather On the Hill” whose melody emerges like an embrace by graceful arms.

More recent material is represented by Larry Kirchner’s “Winter in Manhattan”- Farr imbues its lyric with deep affection, Ross’s soulful, rather elegant “Manhattan Moon”  (Richard Crosby/Steve Ross), and “It’s Almost Christmas Eve” (Rosie Casey/Ken Hirsch/Steve Ross/Frederick Chopin), a Norman Rockwell painting of friends, and family evoking gratitude.

The traditional “Three Ships”: I saw three ships come sailing in/On Christmas Day, on Christmas Day;/I saw three ships come sailing in/On Christmas Day in the morning…replete with pianistic chimes and- reverence, is lovely. Farr’s acoustic “Oh Holy Night” carries gravitas further. The artist annually sings in a one-room Missouri church at which her grandparents still worship. Tonight she might just as well be wearing a long white choir robe bathed in shafts of light coming through a stained glass window. A powerful and humble rendition.

Farr’s “My Heart Belongs to Daddy” and “Santa Baby” are less successful for lack of engaging sexual innuendo. Ross’s inevitable Cole Porter numbers though swell, don’t really fit.

To close, we all sing “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas.” The room is warmer than when we entered, dispositions have softened, spirits have risen. A sophisticated evening presented with talent, class, mutual regard, and genuine feeling for the season.

Photos by Bruce Allan

The National Arts Club – since 1898
Our Mission is to Stimulate, Foster & Promote public interest in the Arts & Educate the American people in the fine arts.
15 Gramercy Park South

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