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.

Mark Rylance

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

The BFG – A Whizzpopping Good Time


It stands for “Big Friendly Giant,” and though he’s older than history can tell, this is the only name he has. The redundant nomenclature is care of an insomniac orphan who sees something she isn’t meant to see and that changes her life — and the world. On the surface The BFG is a simple yarn for children. However it also presents opportunities for audiences of all ages to look at their positions in the world and decide whether or not things are as they should be. That this very British movie should come out at a time when Britain is facing some real, potentially history-changing turmoil is clearly a coincidence, but a serendipitous one.

Based on Roald Dahl’s book of the same name, The BFG the movie follows the tale of a little girl named Sophie, played by 12-year-old newcomer Ruby Barnhill. Sophie’s parents died when she was even younger, leaving her in the care of a negligent caretaker, Mrs. Clonkers. Very little time is spent addressing the nature of Clonker’s shortcomings, though we see Sophie locking up the house at night, making sure the clocks are on time, and telling off the loud drunkards who stumble out of the nearby pub at 3 a.m. It is during such an exchange that she notices an overturned trash bin, and then the giant hand that sets it right.


Though she doesn‘t know it yet, the hand belongs to the only non-cannibalistic giant in the world. Still, she’s seen too much, so that hand comes through the open dormitory doors and snatches Sophie from her bed — blanket, book and all — and whisks her away. Sophie is carried hundreds of miles from London, but after a bumpy start and a couple of failed escape attempts, the little girl and the big, gentle, elderly looking chap develop an understanding and friendship that bridges the gap between their sizes.

Her new friend collects good dreams from “dream country” that he delivers to sleeping children. It’s a lifestyle we soon see is endangered by the nine other inhabitants of “giant country,” a dreadful, quarrelsome group of child-eaters who are much bigger and much stronger than the BFG. (This group’s leader is Fleshlumpeater, played with great baritone menace by Jemaine Clement.) They just want to find the children and chow down. What the BFG eats instead will bring a knowing smile to those well versed in the Dahl lexicon.

Sophie witnesses the bullying the BFG endures, the lack of privacy and respect for his work, the utter disregard the other giants show for him and declares that something must be done. There is a lot to be said about bullying in this scene. There’s the question of how you handle it when you’re so much smaller and so very outnumbered. There’s the idea that no matter what you should try to stand up for yourself, or at least protect yourself. There’s the notion that the good guy will always be outnumbered and outmuscled, and the insistence that even then one can triumph over adversity with a little cleverness and cunning.


What follows is a child’s take on international cooperation, the triumph of good against evil, punishment of the chronically wicked, and the delightful effects of fizzy drinks.

The first half of the film is quite slow and, despite several attempts to grab the viewer with perspective tricks, lacks the energy one would expect in a Steven Spielberg movie. The trudging pacing is offset somewhat by the gorgeous, luscious scenery and attention to detail with respect to the titular character. The BFG, played by Oscar winner and Shakespearean actor extraordinaire Mark Rylance, bears many of Rylance’s features. From his sloping eyebrows to his sort of tight-lipped half-mumble, character artists have created an expressive and mostly realistic-looking figure. In close-up you can see pores in his skin, micro-wrinkles, wild hairs growing out of seemingly unexpected places for what is, for all intents and purposes, a high-level cartoon.

Where the filmmakers have succeeded in creating a distinct look and feel, that slow half made me question how members of the young target audience would sit through it. Kids won’t necessarily be captivated by the technological expertise. They want a good, entertaining story. And this is one; it just takes some time to get there.


A series of thoroughly silly scenes set in Buckingham palace kick things up to a really enjoyable pace. Laden with flatulence humor and sight gags, these scenes will no doubt tickle younger viewers’ funny bones and keep them giggling. These same scenes also make some interesting statements about acceptance, inclusion, trust and open-mindedness — something that perhaps we don’t see enough of these days. Penelope Wilton and Rafe Spall make a charming comedic duo as queen and footman, and no doubt kids will find the royal corgis utterly hilarious.

As with so many of Dahl’s stories, the ending is a mixed bag of dark and light, and it doesn’t deny the truth or strength of a child’s feelings and loyalty. It’s a mostly happy end, just tinged with sadness, but that may be more evident to the parents than their children. All in all, it’s a fine translation of a beloved classic and a beautiful look into a world of pure imagination.

The BFG opens nationwide July 1, 2016.

Photos courtesy of Walt Disney Films.