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.

Scott Elliott

The Whirligig– Splendid Theater


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

Evening At The Talk House – Don’t Look Now, But…


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