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.

Campbell Young Associates

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

American Psycho-The Musical: Disco Grand Guignol


It’s the excessive 1980s. Drugs are rampant, sex is like shaking hands. A part of the population can arguably be called dissipate. Patrick Batemen (Benjamin Walker) is a compulsive, materialistic narcissist, honing himself and judging others against high, pricey standards. Product names and designer labels are so specific, one wonders whether companies are paying for “placement.” These define the Wall Street trader and his world and are, today, recognized by the audience with self-satisfaction.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Benjamin Walker and the Company

Patrick is also a serial killer, gleefully employing increasingly grisly methods. Though none of the provided production photos show blood, you may never see more spurt, splash, and cover costumes on a Broadway stage. (An expert Russian dry cleaner is accustomed to washing away this customer’s sins.) In fact, this well chiseled specimen spends much of the second act smeared with it, wearing only his white briefs. (Smearing induces gasps.) Executions are stylized, not the kind of genuinely repulsive images presented by Quentin Tarantino. It’s the amorality that makes one wince.

Surrounding the protagonist are his office mates, including misogynistic best friend,Timothy Price, who has one of those nasal, central casting, snob voices (Theo Stockman, epitomizing the timeless preppie), Luis Caruthers – gay, passing, and something of a geek (an effectively cloying Jordan Dean), and inadvertent adversary Paul Owen, whose supercilious one-upmanship borders on poetic justice (a dark, nimble Drew Moerlin.) Men are hard-bodied, competitive, well heeled, horny, and usually high.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Benjamin Walker, Alex Michael Stoll, Dave Thomas Brown, Theo Stockman and Jordan Dean

Women importantly in Patrick’s orbit are ersatz girlfriend/arm candy, Evelyn Williams (Helen Yorke – persuasively shallow and deadpan funny), piece-on-the-side, Courtney Lawrence (Morgan Weed with shades of Tinsey and Kate), and besotted, nice girl secretary, Jean, who thinks “shy men are romantic” (a credibly snow blind Jennifer Damiano.) Every woman but Jean is a Barbie doll, a Pildes-toned, big-haired, mercenary fashionista.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Anna Eilinsfeld, Ericka Hunter, Heléne Yorke, Morgan Weed, Krystina Alabado, and Holly James

As Patrick’s life feels increasingly empty, rage erupts, bodies mount. Like many sociopaths, he finds himself wanting to be caught in order to be stopped. (This is not a case of desiring fame.) Cue Detective Donald Kimball (Keith Randolph Smith, who also pungently plays a homeless man.)

American Psycho might be considered documentary, satire, an example of social bloodlust- currently including vampires, zombies, and a gun culture we haven’t experienced since cowboys ran the west, or a portrait of dehumanization. Sound like fun?

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Morgan Weed, Alex Michael Stoll, Benjamin Walker, Dave Thomas Brown, Jordan Dean and Heléne Yorke

What it has going for it is a TERRIFIC design team: Scenic Design-Es Devlin; Costume Design-Katrina Lindsay (remember those shoulders?!); Hair, Wigs and Make-Up-Campbell Young Associates; Lighting Design-Justin Townsend; Immensely creative Sound Design- Dan Moses Schreier; and palpably unnerving Video Design-Finn Ross who manage to recreate the over-stimulated, nihilistic, self-absorbed times. Sound and visuals are inspired.

WILDLY CREATIVE STAGING by Director Rupert Goold features such as a clear plastic, floor to ceiling splatter curtain between the audience and acts of mayhem, Patrick’s running up the aisle shooting (faux) hundred dollar bills from an air gun, a row of tanning Hampton denizens on vertical chaises, a midday threesome that includes an enormous, pink, stuffed animal…Derision and energy are kept UP. The wisdom to play horror and wit straight serves the piece. Scenes succeed one another with fluency and precision.

Photo: Jeremy Daniel

Jennifer Damiano

Lynne Page’s Choreography lands somewhere between robotic voguing and hip hop reflecting the 80s to a T.

Music, which incorporates some actual tunes from Tears for Fears, Phil Collins, and Huey Lewis and the News, is otherwise unmemorable, as are most of the lyrics. (Duncan Sheik) Throbbing, electronic pop carries us through on rhythm. Orchestrations are good.

The show’s Book, by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa, is dark, quick, and filled with delicious detail. His portrait of Patrick, however, aided and abetted by acting and direction, is one of a sweet, needy, confused man who just happens to enjoy slashing and sawing. Though we watch successive murders, sparks of deep psychosis don’t otherwise appear even when the protagonist intermittently confesses (only to be ignored.) The character is simply not frightening. Those hoping for something like Friday the Thirteenth will be disappointed. (Patrick has rented this film 39 times.) Nor, alas, is he hot. It’s no surprise that Jean wants to take care of this version.

The attractive Benjamin Walker, who made such an impression in, ironically, Bloody, Bloody Andrew Jackson, sings and moves charismatically, but seems restrained by the dictates of this portrayal.

Note: I neither read Bret Easton Ellis’s controversial 1991 book, nor got through much of the subsequent film. Aside from reputation, the piece was new to me.

Photos by Jeremy Daniel
Opening: Benjamin Walker

American Psycho-The Musical
Book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa
Music and Lyrics by Duncan Sheik
Based on the novel by Bret Easton Ellis
Directed by Rupert Goold
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre
236 West 45th Street