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.
The main reason to see this reworked 2013 play is, if curious, Uma Thurman. This is not to say the actress is brilliant, or that veterans Josh Lucas and Blair Brown don’t outshine her, but rather that she rises admirably to her first stage appearance and is, as always, a pleasure to look at. It can’t hurt that Chloe fits the succession of confident, calculating beauties with which Thurman established her reputation. This particular role might’ve been written for her; the character’s awareness of power and sexuality is pervasive.
Una Thurman, Blair Brown, Phillipa Soo
Chloe (Uma Thurman) is the Washington, D.C. leisure class wife of Tom (the always excellent Josh Lucas), a successful tax lawyer with seemingly sudden aspirations towards judgeship on the court of appeals. Though most of his clients are Republicans, Tom and Chloe remain quietly liberal. They have – spoiler alert – an open marriage.
Peter, a British banker friend of the couple is Chloe’s latest besotted lover. The completely credible Marton Csokas manages to make jealous apoplexy touching. We see Chloe’s boredom. Bristling at Peter’s increasing possessiveness, she’s withdrawing. Despite successive dalliances, it’s clear Chloe and Tom love and understand one another. His learning about Peter hardly ruffles conversation.
Uma Thurman, Blair Brown
A second affair is kept secret for several reasons, not the least of which is plot device. Later, it becomes instrumental in securing what the couple respectively desires most – mid life purpose, Chloe’s in her mate’s career, his, ostensibly in affecting social justice (one wonders about his commitment). To the author’s credit, there are several well placed surprises.
Also enmeshed in Tom and Chloe’s ambitions are Republican politico/hostess Jeanette (Blair Brown), incipient head of the Federal Reserve and her Harvard Law educated daughter Rebecca (a sympathetic Phillipa Soo), who has her own Democratic, governmental trajectory. Brown has a helluva time with her portrayal of the kind of old school conservative dame who’s under the delusion that our president will eventually tow party line. A two-handed dramatic scene towards the end of the play is a highpoint.
Phillipa Soo, Uma Thurman
Willimon has written a small piece featuring mechanisms of control in politics as usual. Derogatory jokes about our so-called government could be better integrated, but then this isn’t about Democrats vs Republicans.
Director Pam McKinnon keeps her characters naturally moving and Thurman seductive lolling around Derek McLane’s tasteful, upper crust Set. Actors listen; timing is good.
Jane Greenwood’s Costumes flatter the men more than Thurman, though everything looks character specific.
Photos by Matthew Murphy Opening: Uma Thurman, Josh Lucas, Marton Csokas
The Parisian Woman by Beau Willimon Directed by Pam McKinnon Hudson Theatre 141 West 44th Street
Every now and then one encounters a production so well conceived and executed that it seems as if creatives share a single imagination. The densely written, highly literate Whirligig is only actor/playwright Hamish Linklater’s second effort, yet it arrives with the gusto and definition of a practiced hand. Its intricately woven story is akin to a good Sherlock Holmes caper with successive revelations. The message is clear, while individuals wisely eschew simplicity.
Alcoholic actor Michael (Norbert Leo Butz) and his ex-wife, manic depressive Kristina (Dolly Wells) have come together after 7 years, shattered by the imminent death of their 23 year-old daughter Julie (Grace Van Patten). Insidious drug addiction has lead to disease that could have been halted if those around her had been paying attention.
Dad is uber-articulate and charming when not angry drunk. Julie, once one of those bright pretty, young women with endless potential, shares his dark sense of humor. She’s a daddy’s girl. Kristina, though tightly wound, is oddly more grounded than either, despite her (now presumably medicated) illness. She provided no example when needed.
Opening at the girl’s hospital bed, we zigzag through time connecting seemingly peripheral people to culpability they share. Almost everyone on stage could have helped if not prevented her death. These include:
Patrick (Noah Bean), Julie’s attentive doctor, looks after after his maladjusted, housemate brother Derrick (Jonny Orsini) in addition to patients. Each is upset at the fatality for secret and surprising personal reasons. Greg (Alex Hurt) runs the local tavern (a job Patrick had before him). His wife, Trish (Zosia Mamet) was Julie’s best friend and deepest influence growing up. An unspecified breach separated the young women.
The last participating character, Mr. Cormeny (Jon DeVries), was a teacher to all the young people now in their twenties. He holds up a bar stool eloquently pontificating. Cormeny might be considered superfluous, but is effectively employed to reveal plot tidbits, character reflection, and to ask questions for the audience. Butz and DeVries deliver two of the most realistic, nuanced inebriates I’ve seen onstage- no small feat. Michael’s been on the wagon. Julie’s illness sent him back to the bottle. This familiar watering hole acts as alternate arena for exorcism/disclosure.
Characters are well drawn and skillfully manifest. Only Patrick is less distinct, perhaps because his involvement is the most surprising and Linklater doesn’t want us to take notice. Noah Bean (Patrick) does a yeoman like job in the single a role without vigorous dramatic turn.
Alex Hurt’s Greg is thoroughly straight arrow and believable. Jonny Orsini (Derrick) is slightly over the top when explosive, but later, appealingly tenuous and sympathetic. Jon DeVries makes the most of Mr. Cormeny creating Linklater’s Shakespearean outsider with humor, shading, and focus. Dolly Wells shows us the loosey goosey, accepting Kristina of early marriage and a taut, self recriminating mother with equal conviction.
Grace Van Patten is an artist who understands subtlety. Julie might’ve appeared an innocuous young woman caught up in her parents’ failings. Instead we see an evolution: coltish love and sweetness, stubborn, self destructive aggression, brief reaching out, and exhausted resignation. There’s a moment when, having played herself in the past, the actress puts back on her hospital gown and we observe her deflate before getting back under covers.
Zosia Mamet’s Trish takes a little getting used to and, as written, engenders less empathy. We see a tough, curt girl and then barely changed, sullen woman so different from her BFF one is repelled but gleans post adolescent attraction. An early conversation with Kristina before the former leaves and one later when she assures her friend’s mother “Drugs are fun, it’s not your fault” bring out the best in the actress. (Why, one might ask the playwright, did Greg marry her?)
In my book, Norbert Leo Butz can do anything. The actor is equally at home as the leading man in a singing/dancing Broadway musical or inhabiting a complex persona. Butz discloses on-stage identity with masterful timing and wonderful physical touches. Prowess is delivering not just a sexy dance with the adored Kristina, but the way his hands absently touch her during dialogue; not only meandering soused exposition that rises as if occurring in real time, but a moment when he makes a beak of a party hat and pecks at a drink. Every theatrical gesture, joke, fall and cry is believable.
Director Scott Elliott has done an inspired job of controlling both visual and emotional ebb and flow. Timing is pristine. The company is cohesive and focused. Everyone listens. ‘A difficult and successfully realized production to which attention should be paid.
Derek McLane’s immensely evocative, revolving set is integral to the play’s inherent meaning and fluency. Large, horizontal tree branches, especially one onto which people climb and sit, work wonderfully. I admit to not understanding a back wall of high, intermittently lit windows in a suburban neighborhood.
Terrific lighting by Jeff Croiter allows scenes to overlap creating psychological bridges. We are, in fact, led.
Photos by Monique Carboni
Opening: Grace Van Patten; Zosia Mamet
Jonny Orsini, Noah Bean
Dolly Wells, Norbert Leo Butz
Norbert Leo Butz, Alex Hurt, Jon DeVries
Zosia Mamet, Jonny Orsini
The New Group presents The Whirligig by Hamish Linklater
Directed by Scott Elliott
Pershing Square Signature Center 480 West 42nd Street
Through June 18, 2017
Beauregard/Beau (Harvey Fierstein) is a 62 year-old, New Orleans born saloon pianist living in a London flat that indicates he’s made money in his time. An honest, sensitive, gay man, he suffered tragic losses in the U.S. during the height of violence against homosexuals and burgeoning AIDs, fled to Paris, and finally nested where he is.
Our hero is comfortably stuck in the past. Having spent many years as accompanist for Mabel Mercer (whose recordings aptly punctuate the piece), taste runs to American Songbook and classical music. His well appointed, two-story living room is floor to ceiling books (with no apparent ladder access – the single omission of a terrific looking set by Derek McLane). Though the Internet is a foreign country, while curiously checking out a hook-up site (his nom de plume is Autumn Leaf), Beau has succumbed to being pursued by 28 year-old Rufus (Gabriel Ebert), who enters in his shorts.
Gabriel Ebert and Harvey Fierstein
Assuming Rufus is a one night stand, Beau is surprised to find a thoughtful, affectionate person besotted with the past and suspiciously enamored of him. “Look at you. You’re so young! I feel like a priest!” The stranger saw Beau perform at a local club, asked around and Googled him. Questions about Mercer (answered in palpable fits and starts) and the older man’s friendship with James Baldwin elicit increasingly open stories about Beau’s personal history – at first in passing, then formally videotaped by Rufus. “You’re turning me into Grey Gardens!”
Gabriel Ebert and Harvey Fierstein
The young man seems to romanticize history. “Those days that you so fancy, everyone was miserable and drunk…drowning in self contempt,” Beau protests underestimating his lover. A relationship ensues. Rufus moves in. Except for periods when his “lowercase bipolar” swings make things difficult, the couple is happy. Five years pass. Rufus proposes a Civil Ceremony. (There was no gay marriage.) “The British are the only people in the world who think partnerships can be civil!” Beau quips. Age difference (at the least) keeps him from trusting commitment.
Things necessarily shift. A tattooed performance artist named Harry (Christopher Sears) enters the picture. (Wait till you see what he later does with a Mercer classic.) With minimum fireworks, love morphs and endures in ways both warm and practical. No, it’s not a sexual triangle. You’ll end up liking all three men.
Gabriel Ebert and Christopher Sears
Playwright Martin Sherman has beautifully written the – necessarily compressed – evolution of a relationship over the course of 13 years. Detailed personal histories sound as utterly authentic as documented politics, so-called social norms, and Harvey Fierstein’s “Southern mixed with Brooklyn” accent. The smart piece will elicit laughter and a few possible tears. If anyone’s a romantic here, it’s Sherman. What a pleasure and relief it is! (A final scene feels like the epilogue. I don’t know why this bothers me, but it does.)
Director Sean Mathias is immensely deft. Painful, intimate recollections and reflex sarcasm are given their due. Timing is pitch-perfect. Emotional weather changes are not telegraphed. The use of in-one curtain speeches (storytelling) works well. Fierstein’s brief moment at the piano contributes. Well chosen Mercer tunes color to best advantage. (Superb sound design by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen)
The multifaceted Harvey Fierstein has never been better. It’s as if Beau was conceived to showcase the cynicism, wit and vulnerable heart with which we associate the actor’s past roles while painting a rich character around touchstones. This one’s no wilting lily. From the expression on his face when asked how he stays fit to wrenching, steeled description of tragedy to visceral, if fearful gratitude, he’s simply marvelous.
Gabriel Ebert makes Rufus sympathetic and touchy-feely affectionate, yet doesn’t appear cloying. The way the actor casually drapes his long body on furniture keeps sex in the air without discussion. His character’s breakdown is disturbing, but not overplayed.
Christopher Sears (Harry) offers a brazen performance within the performance and is otherwise comfortably naturalistic.
Peter Kaczorowski’s Lighting Design adds particular nuance to mood changes and focus.
Photos by Joan Marcus Opening: Gabriel Ebert and Harvey Fierstein
Gently Down the Stream by Martin Sherman Directed by Sean Mathias The Public Theater 425 Lafayette Street Through May 21, 2017
49: 8- the ransom for a life is costly, no payment is ever enough–
Fifty year-old Victor Franz (Mark Ruffalo) is a cop. Entering what used to be his home, dispensing with jacket and firearm, he removes sheets from fine old furniture, picks up paraphernalia- a long oar, a fencing sword, tries the old radio and wind-up phonograph- on which we hear a 1920s laugh track. Above him, Derek McLane’s wonderful set suspends heavy, period furniture as if it were decorative molding on steroids.
Slowly, Victor circumnavigates the crowded, dusty room reacting to memories. One can almost see him think. The place has sat empty since the death of his father, a man whom he cared for and supported, sacrificing personal aspirations. Were it not for the building being torn down, all we see might remain in perpetual stasis.
The amount of time given to perusal is generous, effective, and rather brave. We feel the weight of history and Victor’s attachment. There’s isn’t a cough or rustle in the theater.
Jessica Hecht, Mark Ruffalo
Victor’s wife Esther (Jessica Hecht) joins him. She finds the apartment depressing, but feels it necessary to goose her husband both into getting the absolute best price from a furniture dealer on the way, and keeping the money, rather than splitting it with his estranged brother, Walter (Tony Shaloub), a well heeled doctor. This is a housewife suffering from empty nest syndrome, one who didn’t bargain for as small and mediocre life as she feels she’s enduring. “Everything was always temporary with us. You should’ve gotten out during the war.” Victor had planned to be a scientist.
In what seems the to-date highlight of his career, Danny DeVito veritably inhabits Solomon, the 90 year-old, semi-retired furniture dealer whose name Victor got from the phone book. Esther is suspicious. “I’m registered, I’m licensed, I’m even vaccinated,” he retorts with good humor as the men bid her goodbye.
Solomon is a gregarious salesman. Everything elicits a story, an explanation, a defense, an excuse. He talks about relative value, unpopular eras, oversized scale of gracious pieces, their aura of permanence. “A man gets married, sits at this table; he knows he’s gotta stay married.” Victor has trouble pinning the agent down to an offer. The arrangement is all or nothing. Itemization implies otherwise. Still, he has a soft spot for the old man and can’t help but being amused by knowledgeable spin, not to mention tidbits about Solomon’s own colorful life.
Mark Ruffalo, Danny DiVito
At one point, the dealer takes a hard boiled egg out of his briefcase and eats it. It’s sheer vaudeville. He answers Victor slightly spitting egg, chokes a bit, and swigs from a silver flask, never breaking stride. Ruffalo looks at DiVito with deep appreciation. It brings to mind The Carol Burnett Show, whose production team actually allowed the company to crack each other up on camera. Here, things are kept in appropriate check, though laughter feels imminent. Both actors are marvelous.
Just as cash is changing hands, Walter unexpectedly arrives suspending the sale. Victor practically backs away. He can’t let go of the difficult, deeply resented past in which Walter seems to have shaped his brother’s future. Facts and motivation conflict. Denial spurts like errant geysers, precursor to eruption.
The Price is heady and dense. Playwright Arthur Miller explores the complex, fallible nature of his beautifully drawn characters (humanity) and long term consequences of decisions that seemed axiomatic when made. Though not without humor, the drama seriously addresses one’s relationship with one’s self, others subject to fallout. A context that might easily evoke judgment abstains.
Danny DiVito, Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shaloub
The whiz bang company unfailingly balance one another. Tony Shaloub (Walter) is so forceful and charismatic when quick-changing tacks, uncertainty about his intentions never abates. Jessica Hecht’s portrayal of Esther makes the backbone of her marriage believable even after play-long discontent, prodding, and even threats.
Mark Ruffalo’s naturalistic performance is immensely nuanced. Small gestures and expressions speak volumes. The actor fully occupies his character even in silence. We’re made to feel Victor’s wrenching internal battle which encompasses not only the pivotal earlier decision, but taking a stand that must powerfully affect life going forward. That which Ruffalo holds in is as palpably potent as his outbursts.
Danny DiVito’s Solomon captivates. Walking a fine line between amusing attributes and credibility, DiVito never grows too broad. Miller gives us a familiar type, but the actor brings him to quirky and specific life. Comic timing is impeccable.
Director Terry Kinney does a masterful job in regulating the ebb and flow of emotion. Everyone has his/her own reaction timing. Small business and use of the staging area seem character instinctive. Kinney’s opening is inspired. Periodic use of room elements – visualize Danny DiVito stuck holding an oar five times his height – is wry, yet never inappropriate.
Derek McLane’s excellent set pairs adjacent water towers and an expanse of backdrop sky with the terrifically appointed room.
This is an extremely satisfying production of a superb play.
Photos by Joan Marcus Opening: Mark Ruffalo, Tony Shaloub
Roundabout Theatre Company presents Arthur Miller’s The Price
Directed by Terry Kinney
American Airlines Theater
227 West 42nd Street
You’re invited to a soiree at The Talk House – think Players Club – a ten year reunion of those originally involved with the play Midnight in the Clearing With Moon and Stars. Though critically unsuccessful, the production was a good experience for all involved. What appears to be colored water and penny candy are offered on trays. (When the play formally begins, party-goers avail themselves of a veritable cornucopia of tantalizing appetizers. You’ll salivate.) The company mingles with entering audience. Feel free to talk to the actors.
Catch-up conversation sounds like anything one might hear at theater hang-outs like Bar Centrale – the decline of real craft, its ersatz replacement, memories of what brought this group together, and allusions to what each is doing now. Much of this is banal. You might find yourself drifting off. Intermittent references to such as a play called The Elephant Does Forget with a “memorable dialysis scene” attempt to keep this part of the scenario from flatlining.
Matthew Broderick, Annapurna Sriram, Michael Tucker, John Epperson
Robert (Matthew Broderick), the playwright, has moved on to a television series called Tony and Company he could author with one hand behind his back. His star, Tom (Larry Pine), also the lead in Midnight, disparages the show. (Television is primary entertainment.) Bill (Michael Tucker) has morphed into a discouraged agent. Ted (John Epperson – Lypsinka in other incarnation) now writes advertising – jingles, we presume – as he intermittently tickles the corner ivories. Costumer, Annette (playwright/actress Claudia Shear), struggles as a bespoke seamstress.
Running Talk House is the palpably maternal Nellie (Jill Eikenberry), who one infers was once an actress, and young Jane (Annapurna Sriram) who left to try her luck on the boards, but returned tail between her legs. Our last character is Dick (Wallace Shawn) now an alcoholic, a “pitiful hanger-on” who’s been charitably taken in by the club, but seems beyond repair.
Michael Tucker, Claudia Shear, Larry Pine, Jill Eikenberry
Time passes slowly, though in amiable enough company. When dystopia enters on cat feet one barely notices at first. Desperate for incomes, several attendees are unquestioningly committing government sanctioned murder = “targeting” on the side. Shrug. Only Bill seems to find anything immoral or unusual in this ordinarily undiscussed, status quo, and his objections pass.
We’re reminded, as if everyday news were insufficient, that a fascist government works from lists, that it’s vigilant of those who might do “harm”, i.e. anyone who might object to singular rule, anyone different; that horrific “methods” are often ignored or rationalized as people acclimate. It’s them or us. Who is who?
Unfortunately, Shawn has a tendency to overwrite. The pith is both buried by endless uninteresting chat and dissipated by the number of sketched characters involved. Though Robert briefly shows unexpectedly conservative colors (Broderick might’ve credibly made a feast of this were he given more to reveal) and Jane is more angry at her lack of professional success than that to which she’s been reduced, most of those present are not very engaging. Annette, partly due to the wonderful Shear and Nellie to Eikenberry’s authenticity, are sympathetic.
Matthew Broderick, Annapurna Sriram
Undoubtedly meant to show the insidious nature of grim historical past and conceivably hovering future, the end result evokes nothing more than a shudder of recognition. While one applauds the playwright’s alert, it’s difficult not to be disappointed with its minimal effect.
There’s not a weak link in this excellent, iconoclastic cast which includes writers and performers one might otherwise never see on the same stage.
Scott Elliott directs with naturalness and imagination. People drift from Derek McLane’s well defined parlor set to an unseen kitchen area and back, helping us focus on those who remain. Everyone seems credible and comfortable. Stage business is fine. Use of music is appealing.
Photos by Monique Carboni Opening: John Epperson, Matthew Broderick, Jill Eikenberry, Annapurna Sriram, Larry Pine, Claudia Shear
The New Group presents Evening At The Talk House by Wallace Shawn Directed by Scott Elliott The Pershing Square Signature Center 480 West 42nd Street Through March 12, 2017
Poor, harried, abused Sam, otherwise an actor, is the only reservationist who showed up for his shift at New York’s current “it” restaurant. You know the one – where reservations open on a single day each third month, clients are color coded in accordance with importance, many assuming they rate higher than ersatz reality dictates, and the price of a meal equates with rent on a studio apartment. It’s early December. They’re booked into March.
When Fully Committed was first presented at The Vineyard Theater in 1999, foodie culture wasn’t nearly as popular as it is today. We didn’t have endless preparation and competition television shows. Celebrity chefs, rarely known outside cuisine circles, were celebrated for cooking, not personality or product lines. Exorbitant restaurants were old school exceptions.
Playwright Becky Mode has somewhat updated her piece, changing celebrity names and calling out the venue’s specialty as “molecular gastronomy.” No, she didn’t make it up. In the film The Hundred Foot Journey, a young chef executes just that at a haute Parisian establishment. In fact, Mode’s “Smoked cuttlefish risotto in a cloud of dry ice infused with pipe tobacco” is an unnecessary stretch when you see the real thing. While much has changed, however, more remains the same.
When Mrs. Vandevere insists on a table, Sam consults business manager Oscar: “Samuel, Her husband makes a lot of money. Google him. I think he invented Botox.”
Sam juggles three phones, a desk model with a headset and multiple lines, an appropriately red wall phone – the hotline to Chef, and his own cell which has to be placed on top of a pipe while standing on a chair in order to get decent reception. On this, he speaks with his craggy, Midwestern father who wants him home for Christmas (he may have to work) and fellow performer Jerry, meanly lording auditions over his “friend.” Sam’s agent naturally calls him “sweetie” and says to concentrate on “small victories.” (Please tell me this is dated.)
Mrs. Winslow, coming in from the Midwest presses “Are you sure you don’t have anything darlin’? We are two teeny tiny people…” Then, later, “Ever hear of a little thing called Yelp?…”
There are over 40 characters. Tyler Feguson plays every part, on both ends of the phone line. Though he tends to repeat hand gestures and Jean Claude’s accent sounds like Danny Kaye or Jonathan Winters, most voices are broadly different and turn on a dime. Nothing is simply resolved. Three and four supplicants are handled simultaneously between imperious calls by Chef or Jean-Claude. The funniest ones add physicality. A woman screaming at her kids walks into something and bangs her knee. Sam puts her on hold. When he picks up her line again, he limps.
Bryce from Gwyneth Paltrow’s office wants a table for 15 Saturday night at 8:00, a legume tasting menu with a laundry list of stipulations and, as Gwyneth doesn’t really like the lighting, will send someone in to change the sconce bulbs near her table.
A photographer from Bon Appétit sits in the entry hall all day in revenge for a poor quote by the magazine. No one informs Sam of the staff meal – he’s starving. An 85 year-old wants to know why they don’t honor the AARP discount. The Maitre’d has no idea who Alan Greenspan is. It turns out Sam’s immediate superior is at a job interview elsewhere…The beleaguered reservationist is unfailingly polite to callers while visibly fraying. He never sits still.
Carolann Rosenstein-Fishburn insists on speaking to Maitre’d Jean-Claude or Chef directly. Clearly old money, she’s accustomed to cowed acquiescence and persists ever more stridently. It turns out her guest is Andre Bishop, Artistic Director of Lincoln Center where Sam has, wonder of wonders, a callback. An opportune deal is brokered. In fact, at the end, exhausted and dehydrated, the underdog manages to leave his lit-up phone with something to which he can look forward.
I myself took reservations at two very posh restaurants in my callow youth. Everything co-creator Mark Setlock depicts is accurate. Much worse, in fact, is omitted.
Jesse Tyler Ferguson is mostly fast and amusing.
Director Jason Moore is particularly good with physical comedy. He uses the set to best advantage.
Derek McLane’s Set is terrific, but swallows up the performance which should not be in a house this size. (No fault of the designer) Intimacy is part of what it has going for it. I liked the piece better the first time, but if you haven’t Fully Committed or are a fan of the Modern Family actor, it’s fun.
Photos by Joan Marcus
Fully Committed by Becky Mode Based on characters created by Becky Mode and Mark Setlock Featuring Jesse Tyler Ferguson Directed by Jason Moore Lyceum Theatre 149 West 45th Street Through July 24, 2016