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.
John McKinney’s play is ½ Noel Coward’s Blithe Spirit, ¼ Woody Allen’s Play It Again Sam and ¼ that of the playwright. Still, it zips along with contemporary spin offering ample whimsy, romance, a dash of darkness, and some clever literary dialogue. It’s not without entertainment value, has an attractive cast, and is likely very marketable.
Dana Watkins and Elizabeth Inghram
Aspiring writer Jeremy (Dana Watkins) lost his beloved wife Kate (Elizabeth Inghram) in a car crash three years ago…or at least her corporeal form. She regularly visits him (first in dreams, later waking) engaging in playful banter and apparently sex. A depressed hermit since her passing, he’s unable to work on his psychological/ fantasy novella and has no inclination to do much of anything else. As long as she’s “there…”
Impelled by good hearted, thoroughly dissipate brother Eddie (Christian Ryan) to get back out in the world, Jeremy joins an acting class. Assigned partner Chrissy (Charlotte Stoiber) is gung-ho about their doing a scene from Anton Chekhov’s Seagull, an author Jeremy abhors. Like many young actresses, she’s always wanted to play the ingénue Nina. Jeremy would be Boris Trigorin, a much older, famous writer with whom Nina becomes entangled. Enter the dandified spectre of Chekhov (Rik Walter) to advise and provoke. (Humphry Bogart – and later Sigmund Freud in the Woody Allen.)
Christian Ryan and Dana Watkins
Later, Kate will parallel Chekhov’s jealous Irina Arkadina, longtime lover of Trigorin. (In Blithe Spirit, dead wife Elvira is pitted against live love interest/wife Ruth.) Jeremy is confused and torn. Things come to a head too dramatically with too little incitement somewhat out of sync with the rest of the play.
Dana Watkins and Rik Walter
Dana Williams’s Jeremy often looks as innocently embarrassed as a Frank Capra character, especially where sexual innuendo is concerned. The playwright seems to have one foot in each of two eras. Williams is, however, all of a piece and sweetly appealing.
As Eddie, Christian Ryan plays indolent hedonist with low key gusto. He’s slick, wryly self aware, and palpably high with every word and move. Able performance, fun to watch.
Director Leslie Kincaid Burby employs the length and breadth of her stage with great naturalism. Playfulness and seduction are completely credible. Crissy’s squealing could be toned down – she’s a bit too adolescent. Her Seagull preparation, however, is priceless. Kate is lovely at the start, but grows increasingly irritating and obviously false as the play progresses. Charm would have made what occurs easier to swallow. Chekhov’s accent may be Hollywood Russian, but it works in context. The actor’s bearing and phrasing are grand.
Christina Giannini’s Costumes for Kate are uniformly awful. A succession of white dresses is old fashioned and unflattering, supposedly erotic apparel looks like a Rockette, her really cheap-looking Russian ensemble appears to feature a bath rug as cape and aluminum foil hat… Contemporary clothes are fine as is Chekhov’s suit.
Scott Aronow’s Scenic Design offers a winning, impressionistic dreamscape reminiscent of Chagall and apartment walls (with alas, little personality) that smoothly revolve between here and the afterlife.
Photos by Arin Sang-urai
Opening: Elizabeth Inghram, Dana Watkins, Charlotte Stoiber
The Chekhov Dreamsby John McKinney
Directed by Leslie Kincaid Burby
The Beckett Theater
410 West 42nd Street
Through February 17, 2018
Anton Chekhov’s The Present, written when he was 18, didn’t see the light until twenty years after his death. Uncut, this first dramatic effort might’ve run five hours. The youthfully excessive play has also been respectively adapted by Michael Frayn and David Hare. Andrew Upton’s version sets the scenario not in the late 1800s but rather the 1990s when political reactions seem out of whack. Costume, idiom, and hard rock music (the Clash) orient us. The piece still needs editing, but its core is whizz-bang theater and acting is a treat.
On Anna’s (Cate Blanchett) 40th birthday, the attractive widow gathers friends and family at a country dacha (house) to which she hasn’t been in the decade since her much older husband, the General, died. While the deceased is called “an awful fucking tyrant,” Anna was very much in love.
Chris Ryan, Richard Roxburgh, Susan Prior, Marshall Napier, Martin Jacobs-on bench, Cate Blanchett, taking photo Toby Schmitz
Today, she’s palpably unsettled – inattentive to a chess game, flitting from chair to chair, smoking (why saddle many in the cast with this?), setting up expectation long before anything happens. Though the air smells of storm, one doesn’t expect the literally explosive, eye-popping Act II that makes Margo Channing’s outburst from All About Eve seem like mere tantrum.
Gathered are: naïve 38 year-old stepson Sergei (Chris Ryan) and his new wife, idealistic doctor Sophia (Jacqueline McKenzie), childhood friend Nikolai (Toby Schmitz) and his much younger manbait girlfriend Maria (Anna Bamford), their ex-tutor, self denigrating womanizer Mikhail (Richard Roxburgh), his long suffering, yet loving wife Sasha (Susan Prior), and Nikolai and Sasha’s amiably drunk father, Ivan (Marshall Napier), neighbor and friend of the General.
Two rich, businessmen suitors – Yegor (David Downer) with pompous son Dimitri (Brandon McClelland) and Alexi (Martin Jacobs) plus his punk DJ son Kirill (Eamon Farren) – are also present. Anna, we’re told much later, is playing the men off against one another in an attempt to rescue herself from abject poverty with a second marriage. (This is not apparent.) Oh, and a security man named Osip (Andrew Buchanan) who’s a convenient device.
Toby Schmitz, Richard Roxburgh, Chris Ryan
Most of our players are suffering from Chekhov’s signature, existential distress. All are poorly paired. “Everybody says they’re in love, but who can really lay claim to it. Marriage after I fell in love, is one long renovation.” (Mikhail) Many yearn to be with someone else at the table. Some have been. Others make that happen during a night of clandestine, inebriated bed hopping. Advice is asked of the wrong people. Marriages and relationships are both wrenched apart abandoned with a shrug. One and one-half new liaisons are formed. There’s a detonator, a gun, and fireworks.
Jacqueline McKenzie, Chris Ryan
Except for the surplus of Acts I and III, both of which could be successfully cut, Andrew Upton’s literate interpretation is intriguing and often crackling. Contemporary humor is ably injected. Characters are illuminated.
In her Broadway debut, Cate Blanchett is a joy to watch, though the dragging first act could make anyone appear aimless. Distracted or seething, she’s possessed by Anna’s at first repressed turmoil. The actress is never less than present. Without the need to telegraph, we see things flicker across her face and inform gestures. Blanchett’s rip roaring Valkyrie turn is one of the most memorable I’ve seen.
A well matched Richard Roxburgh inhabits Mikhail as restless husband, lusty predator and agonized swain. Magnetic appeal to women is easily credible. Combustive passion seems as organic as irresponsibility and self flagellation. The character is layered, yet cut from whole cloth. A virtuoso performance.
Cate Blanchett, Richard Boxburgh
The rest of the company is excellent. Standouts are Chris Ryan (Sergei) in a physically nerve-wracked portrayal, Eamon Farren’s sublimely cocky Kirill, and Marshall Napier’s rummy Ivan.
Most of Director John Crowley’s work is appealingly naturalistic. To move that many people around with believability and variation is a sizeable task. The show stopping party scene’s a bacchanalian marvel. Small moments, like Anna’s sitting with her feet in Sergei’s lap, pumping them to elicit a foot rub; her handling of guns; both Ivan and Mikhail’s realistic drunk scenes; Sasha’s forgiveness speech, … captivate.
There are also omissions. Anna doesn’t even acknowledge the gift of a gold bracelet from a suitor she’s trying to win, for example. And a blatantly fake fight between Mikhail and Osip which draws orange blood. (Thomas Schall, US Fight Director)
Alice Babidge’s Costumes are mostly right on, though Anna’s dress is patently unflattering. The designer’s Sets are a bit too minimal, 20th century for my taste. Stefan Gregory (Sound Design) and Nick Schlieper (Lighting Design) skillfully add unexpected dimension.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Opening: Richard Roxburgh, Chris Ryan, Jacqueline McKenzie, Anna Bamford, Toby Schmitz, Marshall Napier, Eamon Farren, Brandon McClelland, Martin Jacobs, Cate Blanchett
The Sydney Theatre Production of The Present After Anton Chekhov’s Platonov By Andrew Upton Directed by John Crowley Ethel Barrymore Theatre 243 West 47th Street
Sonya (Dearbhla Molloy) aka Sofia Alexandrovna Serebryakov and Andrey (Dermot Crowley) aka Andrei Sergeyevich Prozorov met as strangers last night in an all but deserted Moscow café. (It’s the 1920s.) When he returns this evening, he’s delighted to find her at the same table, albeit buried in paperwork. Andrey cordially reintroduces himself. Sonya remembers. They had talked of chilblains cures (both being of an age), his talented family, and the difficulties of living alone. She’s a spinster, he’s a widower.
Apparently a practical woman, Sonya’s clothes are plain, dun colored, and warm, her grey hair pulled back. She’s come to the city to settle her Uncle Vanya’s much in debt estate (yes, that Uncle Vanya.) “With all the dogged determination an indecisive man could muster…” he ran it into the ground and then died.
The balding Andrey wears white tie and tails (somewhat the worse for wear) and carries a violin case. A widower, he travels to the capital for intermittent work, leaving behind sisters Olga and Irina; a third sister, Masha had killed herself over unrequited love. (Those Three Sisters.) Andrey has come from rehearsal of La Bohème at the opera house. A speech about hard chairs and the musician’s solution is adroit.
Familiarity with Anton Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya and The Three Sisters is not a prerequisite. Though recall adds dimension, back stories are clear. As Andrey eats his meager cabbage soup and Sonya drinks her glass of tea, the sympathetic travelers talk about their lives. Bit by bit, eventually sharing a bottle of vodka she has sequestered in her bag, they both reveal little fictions offered to the other in order to appear finer and more stable. Warmth is palpable, but circumstances – complicate.
Brian Friel has written an immensely delicate piece. The first time one hears the name Vanya, it’s difficult not to wonder whether the play is an exercise, something the playwright might’ve created to amuse himself. By virtue of its unfussy truth and superb performances, however, the writing captures and holds attention.
I can’t imagine a more balanced pair of actors. Both are exquisite listeners. Both seem completely natural. Every tone and gesture is colored by the character’s history, reserved feelings, and unspoken thoughts. Molloy and Crowley seem completely invested in a real time experience. A treat!
Director Joe Dowling has a light touch with serious subjects and skill with slow revelation. His characters are flesh and blood.Pacing is perfect.
John Lee Beatty’s Set Design offers the solid weight of old world Russia, once elegant, now faded. Fabio Toblini’s Costume Design arrives as if respectively lived in.
It should be noted that the downstairs W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre has been renovated and enlarged much to its benefit and ours.
Photos by Carol Rosegg Irish Repertory Theatre presents Afterplay by Brian Friel Directed by Joe Dowling Featuring Dermot Crowley & Dearbhla Molloy Irish Repertory Theatre 132 West 22nd Street Through November 6, 2016
STUPID FU**KING BIRD is billed as being “sort of” adapted from Chekhov’s The Seagull. “Sort of” is right. If unfamiliar with the original, there’s a synopsis in the program. You can skip it, but there’s amusement in seeing how, in playwright Aaron Posner’s inventive, updated version, the inmates take over the asylum. Don’t take that literally. Though the histrionic Conrad Akardina is, from the start, on the brink of cracking, and who knows into what fresh hell his actress girlfriend Nina finally travels, these are ostensibly regular folks. Well, not regular – they’re artists.
“The play will begin when someone says “Stupid Fucking bird!” declares Conrad (Christopher Sears) who ostensibly authored what we’re about to see. Several audience members respond. (We’re regularly questioned and addressed.) His cast comes through the single door in a stage-long wall that says STUPID FU**KING BIRD. Everyone wears casual contemporary clothing. There are folding chairs.
We’re gathered to see the premiere of a site specific performance event called “Here We Are,” which Conrad takes VERY seriously. Beautiful Nina (Marianna McClellan), for whom he bears tortured love, will act. The young woman says she loves Conrad but there’s no deep attraction.
In attendance are: Mash (Joey Parsons), a ukulele toting nihilist besotted with Conrad; sweet Charlie Brownish Dev (Joe Paulik), Conrad’s best friend, who’s “ridiculously” in love with Mash; the playwright’s imperious actress mother, Emma (Bianca Amato); her famous partner, the writer Doyle Trigorin (Erik Lochtefeld); and her frustrated doctor-brother, Eugene Sorn (Dan Daily). It’s a fevered caucus race that never arrives, rather like Alice in Wonderland.
Marianna McClennan and Christopher Sears
The event=monologue is kind of Dadaist. “This is real,” Nina intones holding up a paper that says REAL. Then, “This is true,” holding up one that says TRUE. (There’s more.) Emma sarcastically heckles, insisting the play is an attack on her (as, she feels, is everything). Conrad stops the show and runs off wounded. Mash is upset, Dev and Eugene rather liked the piece, Emma is incredulous at her son’s oversensitivity, Doyle applies The 100 Years Test: Will anyone care in 100 years?
Nina has had a mad crush on Doyle (through his stories) since she was 12. To say sparks fly between the middle aged, sensitive-chick magnet and this hyper romantic, unblushingly forward young woman, would be minimizing everything that follows. (The actors emanate heat.)
Joey Parsons and Joe Paulik
Muddled, Conrad thinks a primal gesture will appeal to Nina and shoots a seagull she admired, laying it bloodily at her feet. It doesn’t work. You probably remember the young man then raises the gun to himself. “The only thing worse than trying to kill yourself and failing, is having to talk to your mom about it.”
There’s a terrific, lucid rant about the need for new play writing forms, a tirade describing the deplorable state of the world which concludes: all we really care about is having someone to snuggle up to at night, and one about the difference between the act of creating and fame – including the best use of breasts in a metaphor I’ve ever heard – that might constructively be discussed in philosophy 101.
In one left field parenthesis, each character has sex with him/herself and a chair. Thespians wrestle to the ground and chase one another around the theater for possession of a microphone to proclaim what they want. Conrad sincerely asks the audience for advice – answers are inadvertently priceless. Eugene confesses his fatalistic yearning to an empty kitchen. Nina and Emma strip to the waist. (Spoiler alert: one gets fervently laid.) Mash sings fraught, Nellie McKay-like uke songs. Almost everyone lets go with screaming arguments, solitary tantrums, and/or abject pleading.
Marianna McClennan and Erik Lochtefeld
Then…Mash and Dev evolve unexpectedly. Nina chases her dream coming up lost and possibly mad. Emma attacks Doyle with an eloquent, passionate, vicious speech on which she risks everything. Conrad has a play produced – this one! And, well, you probably know what happens to him. The playwright even tells us before we go.
STUPID FU**KING BIRD straddles genres like a hotheaded bull rider. It takes a little time to kick in, time during which you may wonder to what self indulgent, intractable turmoil you’ve bought tickets. At some insidious point, however, there’s a gotcha! moment and you start having a very good time. It could be edited, but take the ride. Much of this sprawling brouhaha is smart, poignant, or astringently funny. Playwright Aaron Posner’s got his mojo on.
Christopher Sears and Bianca Amato
Direction by Davis McCallum is inspired.
As Conrad, Christopher Sears’s manic energy is unremitting. Pain is visceral. He inhabits the role. Marianna McClellan (Nina) exudes sensuality and innocence. She’s catnip. Bianca Amato (Emma) is a Lucretia Borgia character. The sharpness of her speeches could draw blood. Erik Lochtefeld (Doyle) is completely believable in his habitual acceptance of adulation. What passes between him and Nina is palpable.
Sandra Goldmark’s Scenic Design morphs from graphic invective to a platformed kitchen, never losing sight of the theater’s skeleton and all it’s what’s-real implications.
Dan Daily, Joey Parsons, Christopher Sears, Bianca Amato, Erik Lochtefeld, and Marianna McClellan
Photos by Russ Roland Opening: The Company
STUPID FU**KING BIRD “sort of” adapted from Chekhov’s The Seagull By Aaron Posner Directed by Davis McCallum
The Pearl Theatre Company
555 West 42nd Street
Through May 8, 2016