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.
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
You need no special affection for country/rockabilly to be seduced by this rollicking shindig of a tall tale. It happens almost without one’s awareness. Director Alex Timbers’s inspired revival of the 1975 Mississippi whopper is so high spirited, so full of infectious numbers, inventive sight-gags, and artfully exaggerated performances, you’d have to have sold your sense of humor to the devil to remain untouched. “Once upon a time, there was a fairytale kingdom…” Yeehaw!
Upright citizen Jamie Lockhart, (heartthrob Steven Pasquale of Bloody Bloody AndrewJackson and The Bridges of Madison County) comes across Little Harp (Andrew Durand, a pitch perfect scalawag) robbing rich plantation owner Clement Musgrove (a genial Lance Roberts) under the watchful direction of his brother, Big Harp (Evan Harrington), whose live severed head he carts around in a trunk. Got all that? Two heads are better than one… When Jamie sends Little Harp packing, the victim tries to give him gold, but is refused despite Musgrove’s assurance there’s a lot more where that came from.
The gregarious Musgrove invites Jamie to meet his second wife Salome (Leslie Kritzer- imagine Carol Burnett on steroids playing a nymphomaniac, wicked stepmother) and beautiful, supposedly docile daughter Rosamund (Ahna O’Reilly with a pithier-than ingénue voice and spunky presence). Every boastful reference to wealth is greeted with more than usual interest. Jamie, it seems, his face masked in berry juice, moonlights as The Bandit of the Woods.
Salome hires the light-brained, bumbling Goat (a wonderfully sweet and funny Greg Hindreth) to kill her stepdaughter. “I will slap your butt into your shoulder blades if you come back without…” The Bandit encounters a restless, bored Rosamund in the forest and steals her clothes, sending her home naked, frustrated, untouched. She sneaks out that night to find her romantic outlaw. Comes a boy, he walks so steady/comes a girl, she seems so ready…When Jamie arrives for dinner, Rosamund makes herself awful in order to discourage him.
Steven Pasquale, Ahna O’Reilly
The Bandit plans to marry Musgrove’s ugly daughter and keep the woman who’s come to him-assuming she plays a bit hard to get and doesn’t do too much cleaning. Rosamund, rejecting her father’s upright choice, pines for a real relationship with the stranger, but who is he? Goat pursues his assignment in order to secure a promised suckling pig. Salome has the hots for Jamie, but the Bandit will do. Little Harp wants a woman and there seems to be one available for bartering. Musgrove will give anything and go anywhere to secure his daughter’s happiness.
Evan Harrington, Steven Pasquale, Leslie Kritzer, Lance Roberts, Nadia Quinn
Having watched Director Alex Timbers ply his imagination in Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson and Peter and the Starcatcher, one expects the unconventional as well as the grounded. Salome likes to behead pigs and repeatedly falls on her face with a loud calump! When Rosamund and The Bandit go deep in the forest, “You comin’ with me? I don’t like to be followed,” they fluidly climb over, under, through, and between obstacles presented by the unobtrusive cast. Goat is not so successful, branches seem to come out to meet him. Pace is lively. Even filled with people, staging never appears sloppy.
Country western music is, for the most part, rowdy and fun; one ballad haunts. Musicians are very fine.
Steven Pasquale, Ahna O’Reilly
Pasquale is a born swashbuckler (by any name). His muscular form and resonant vocals embody the perfect hero. That the actor can also evoke humor – here from his character’s habits, chauvinism, and ego, makes him doubly entertaining.
Nadia Quinn who briefly plays Goat’s Mother deserves a call-out for her very cool personification of an ornery Raven.
The play is based on a 1942 Eudora Welty novella which transplanted a Brothers Grimm story to the Nachez Trace, (a forest trail from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee), embracing the bravado of American fables. Alfred Uhry’s book and lyrics manage to do this without fully eschewing romantic visions of good and evil. His knee-slapping directness would, however, appall fairies.
Choreographer Connor Gallagher presents dance that do-se-does with synchronized movement, utilizing the small stage with buoyancy and skill.
Above our heads, rough wood support beams, diagonal cabin walls, a taxidermy deer head and an enormous wild turkey hang beside mason jars holding candles. (Jake DeGroot Jeff Croiter, who later give us an unorthodox starry sky.) When the “curtain” parts, Donyale Werle’s inventive Set looks as if artist Joseph Cornell got drunk on moonshine and haphazardly decorated The Grand Ole Opry. Terrific.
Emily Rebholz’s Costumes mix western sagas with a bit of tease, and a smidgen of whimsy. Darron L. West/Charles Coes’ s Sound Design not only delivers the textured music of a five piece bluegrass band (and vocals), but engineers a terrific series of evocative sound effects.
Photos by Joan Marcus Opening: Greg Hildreth, Steven Pasquale, Leslie Kritzer and the Company
Roundabout Theatre Company presents The Robber Bridegroom Book & Lyrics by Alfred Uhry Music by Robert Waldman Based on the novella by Eudora Welty Directed by Alex Timbers The Laura Pels Theatre 111 West 46th Street
By now you know that Disaster! is a cliché soaked parody of 1970s disaster movies. Familiarity with these will undoubtedly spotlight “in” jokes like a nun parodying Helen Reddy’s character in Airport 1975, but is not necessary for comprehension. Little is. Either you have nostalgic affection for the genre and, equally important, pop and soul music of the era, or you don’t.
Exaggerated songs are actually placed so appropriately, it seems they might’ve been written for this kitschy piece. “Hot Stuff” (The Rolling Stones), for example, manages to apply to women, a geological survey, and what should be coming out of a kitchen serving cold buffet for lack of fire doors.
Roger Bart and Kerry Butler
Tony (Roger Bart, disappointingly subdued) is the con man owner of The Barracuda Casino and Dining Discotheque, moored to a city pier to escape gambling restrictions. He’s greased palms, cutting safety corners at every juncture.Think lounge lizard in a blue tux. Tony’s maybe girl, Jackie, a ditsy, shapely, faux Tina Louise, is headlining the club on the off chance he’ll marry her. (Rachel York, whose wide-eyed focus holds nicely-oh, and she can sing.) Her identical twins, the whining Ben and Lisa (both characterless Baylee Littrell) are along for the ride.
Marianne (the reliably fine Kerry Butler), an events reporter for The Times, is on the trail of corruption that built the Barracuda. When she discovers one of the waiters is Chad, a failed puzzle designer she left at the altar in favor of her career, regrets on both sides are obvious. (Adam Pascal,’attractive voice, appropriate camp attitude.) You knew there had to be thwarted romance, right? “I Can’t Live” if livin’ Is without you (Harry Nilsson)
Adam Pascal and Kerry Butler
Shirley (Faith Prince) and her husband Maury (Kevin Chamberlin) wearing some of the most purposefully ghastly outfits you may ever see onstage (Wiliam Ivey Long with a glint in his eye) are out for a night of late-in-marriage fun. The troupers would be well matched if Chamberlin were given more to do. As it is, Prince has two terrific turns. Secretly dying, Shirley’s presumptive symptoms emerge as uncontrollable tics, pelvic tilts, and foul language of which Ms. Prince makes the most. Even with a scarf stuffed in her mouth, she’s funny. Later, leading surviving passengers in a tap dance of Morse Code, she communicates escape information to those trapped below. (Clever idea)
Kevin Chamberlin, Faith Prince, and Kerry Butler
The axis of this mash-up turns on two pivotal characters. The first, Disaster Expert, Professor Ted Scheider (Seth Rudetsky, clearly having a good time), is a single minded scientist who, having discovered the pier is drilled into a fault line, predicts an imminent “geological event.” Chased around the ship by Tony, the straight man attempts to warn oblivious guests of oncoming cataclysm. At one point, costumed by sympathetic Jackie, he ends up on the stage with her singing backup to “Mocking Bird” in exactly the parroting arrangement by Carly Simon with which we’re familiar.
The second, is the pièce de résistance of the evening, Jennifer Simard as Sister Mary Downy. Worthy of a Tony nomination, Simard, guitar slung across her small frame, breaks up the audience with each and every deadpan remark. It seems the sister “had” a gambling addiction.
While Marianne, Chad and the Professor express what they want with “Feelings”(Morris Albert/Louis “Loulou” Gaste), Downy’s quiet contribution is “Baby needs a new pair of shoes.” When Shirley sees her struggling and asks whether the nun is ok, she remarks “I’m more than ok, I’m bathed in the love of the Lord” without an iota of expression or enthusiasm.
Simard’s tour de force (and that of Director Jack Plotnick) is a siren dance to the TH220 Slot Machine (about which she knows every intimate detail), missing only the seven veils – it’s hysterical. Every physical and emotional muscle of this thespian finesses comedy with originality and pitch perfect timing.
Needless to say, there’s an earthquake, a capsizing, and a tidal wave. Token characters are wounded, dismembered or die. (Nothing like blood and mayhem to cheer on a contemporary audience.) As women’s clothing diminishes, couples come together. Marianne and Chad will try again. Tony eventually gets his comeuppance. But you knew all this.
Were it not for Lighting by Jeff Croiter, Sound Design by Mark Menard, a whole lotta expensive smoke, and the veteran featured players, you might think you were watching a show cobbled together at a college. Tobin Ost’s Sets are cheap looking; the tank of piranha puppets show a visible arm, rising sea water is fabric held on two sides, sharks clinging to Tony up to his elbows clearly come from Toys R Us, sections of-what? wall? fall from above hung by obvious cables. (Conversely, an outrageous number of large, carnivorous, stuffed rats works wonderfully.)
Director Jack Plotnick gets his tone right but does less well with crowd scenes. Small moments, like Marianne’s flipping her mane before carefully ripping her skirt to bind Chad’s wound, or the Professor’s navigating a beam like Philippe Petit, are often more satisfying than big ones.
Also on board is ex-disco diva Levora Verona (Lacretta Nicole) who never seems to make a place for herself.
The extravagant lampoon is partly awful and partly very funny. If you can get through the first to the second…
Photos by Jeremy Daniel Photography Opening: Catherine Ricafort, Roger Bart, Baylee Littrell, Seth Rudetsky, Rachel York,Kevin Chamberlin, Olivia Philip
Disaster! By Seth Rudetsky and Jack Plotnick Additional Material by Drew Geraci Directed by Jason Plotnick Nederlander Theater 208 West 41st Street