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 purpose of a man is to love a woman,/And the purpose of a woman is to love a man,/So come on baby let’s start today, come on baby let’s play/The game of love, love, la la la la la love… sings the multi-talented, white-gowned and breech-clad cast moving with happy synchronicity. (Wayne Fontana – “Game of Love”) Yes, you’re in the right theater.
Playwright Kate Hamill, frustrated by “the dearth of complex-female centered characters and story lines …” is mining classic literature possessing that which she finds currently lacking. Pride And Prejudice, which comes to New York from The Hudson Valley Shakespeare Festival, follows rollicking productions of Sense and Sensibility and Vanity Fair. Hamill reinterprets with irreverent glee, one foot in the appropriate era, the other is contemporary time, never eschewing pivotal plot.
Amelia Pedlow, John Tufts, Chris Thorn, Nance Williamson, Kate Hamill, and Kimberly Chatterjee
For those few of you unfamiliar with Austen’s novel, one might say it’s about the blood sport of husband hunting in Georgian England. Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (Chris Thorn and Nance Williamson, both warmly believable) have four daughters to advantageously marry off: 14 year-old, motor mouth Lydia – here with a tendency to get drunk (Kimberly Chatterjee who overdoes the childishness of this role); pretty, genteel Jane (Amelia Pedlow, superb in every way); ugly, put-upon Mary (hilariously embodied by a Goth John Tufts) who coughs so persistently, Mr. Bennet finally exclaims, “Have consumption and be done with it!” And our heroine Lizzy (Kate Hamill), who sees courtship as a facile game that can achieve only unfulfilling liaisons.
Mrs. Bennet is clumsily aggressive while Mr. Bennet, not uncaringly just wants to be left alone to read his paper while his girls find their way. When the estate next door is let by rich, eligible, here, puppy-like Mr. Bingley (Tufts-another bull’s-eye) -he pants and fetches a ball thrown by Darcy and his snobbish sister Caroline (the mercurial Mark Bedard whose finesse can’t be overrated), mom goes to work. The cherry on top might be Bingley’s houseguest, Mr. Darcy (Jason O’Connell, inhabiting farce and drama with equal plummy skill) who has double his friend’s income. Two daughters offloaded for the price of one!
Mark Bedard, John Tufts, Jason O’Connell
Long story somewhat short – Lizzy is offended by Darcy’s manner (he enters to the storm trooper theme from Star Wars) and a lie told by cad Mr. Wickham (Bedard, with silky bravado) while Darcy is put off by her lack of station. Multiple good deeds fix this and despite palpable (oh the suffering!), respective unwillingness, they fall in love.
Meanwhile Bingley adores Jane from whom he’s parted and reunited by Darcy. Lydia, who appears to be ensnared by Mr. Wickham, in fact, ensnares him. And prissy cousin, Clergyman Collins (Bedard in tick-enhanced, nasal glory,) who will inherit their home because the Bennett’s have no sons, fixes on neighboring Charlotte (Thorn playing it beautifully straight) when rejected by Lizzy.
Chris Thorn, Kate Hamill, Amelia Pedlow, and Mark Bedard
Despite the machinations of Collin’s patroness Lady Catherine DeBourgh (Chatterjee, an admirably imperious portrayal), everyone except Mary finds a mate. In one inventive histrionic fit, Mary gestures to Puccini’s “Nessun Dorma” (Turandot), gliding up the aisle, arm outstretched like an Edward Gorey character, muttering “keep applauding, this is a long exit.” The actor then runs around the theater backstage – clump, clump, clump and returns to the stage whipping on Bingley’s cravat. Our audience is beside itself.
Call-out military drills, line dancing, frugs, waltzes (Ellenore Scott’s Choreography is buoyant) and any number of oddly apt 1950s songs keep the production at full musical tilt without swallowing up its story. The aisle is skillfully employed. Actors play guitar and piano. “Bits” involving uncooperative chairs (Bedard) and a tangled coat (O”Connell) are silent film worthy. The company, who developed character idiosyncrasies during early development, are adroit with high-low humor. It’s a pleasure to observe the appreciative camaraderie of those not participating in a scene as they watch their peers cavort.
Kimberly Chatterjee and Amelia Pedlow
With all this, intermittent gravitas reminds us emotions are present below the froth. Sometimes it’s a moment of acknowledgment, others, as in Lizzy and Darcy’s later confrontations, galvanize sympathy.
I’m afraid that, like her appearance in Vanity Fair, Hamill embodies her character with less insight and more ham than that with which her fellows manifest theirs. Perhaps the director thinks an author is untouchable. While mostly redeemed by Act II (she can clearly act), the first part finds her tantrum-LOUD, dissonant, and thoroughly unappealing in the part of a young woman who may have a biting tongue and progressive ideas but is, in every outward way, attractive and ladylike. This is not to say Lizzy can’t be funny, but that Hamill’s performance looks like trenchant vaudeville while the others are executing farce.
Kate Hamill and Jason O’Connell
Director Amanda Dehnert helms this screwball scenario with a sure hand (excepting Ms. Hamill and Lydia’s repeatedly jumping on Wickham-really?!). In turn artfully goofy, arch, and exuberant, the production shows an excellent editorial eye. What could often be chaos emerges as well calibrated romp, in almost constant movement, but never messy. Costume/character changes are cleverly mined for humor. Pace is brisk, but knows when to pause.
With laughter at a premium these days, Pride and Prejudice arrives a welcome catharsis. Go! Have fun!
John McDermott’s minimal Set utilizes choice elements to place us. Tracy Christensen’s Costumes are splendid. The facility with which these are changed enhances antic goings on.
Photos by James Leynse Opening: The Company
Primary Stages presents Pride And Prejudice by Kate Hamill Based on the novel by Jane Austen Directed by Amanda Dehnert The Cherry Lane Theatre 38 Commerce Street Through January 6, 2018 Ovationtix
Twenty-two years ago, Glenn Close won the best actress Tony Award as silent screen star Norma Desmond. She’s back and better. That’s pretty much all you need to know about this pared down production which comes to us from a successful run in London. The piece itself was never substantial. Unlike Hello Dolly or Gypsy repeated year after year as actresses yearn to execute star turns, both music (Andrew Lloyd Webber) and lyrics (Don Black/Christopher Hampton) here are pedestrian. It should be noted, however, that songs will probably never sound better as performed by a 40! piece orchestra and engineered by Sound Designer Mick Potter.
Glenn Close, Michael Xavier
Transitioning from Billy Wilder’s 1950 film, Sunset Boulevard also lost the pith of the noir aura which, in its initial form, was as morbid as Nathanael West’s 1939 The Day of the Locust. Whereas William Holden’s young screenwriter Joe Gillis was already bitter and cynical, musical theater actors have played him increasingly more innocent and/or compassionate.
The line culminates in Michael Xavier’s portrayal. A good singer and actor (not to mention eye candy), Xavier is made to sympathize with Gillis’s benefactor to such a degree, we lose the repulsion and self loathing, mercenary attitude prevalent in the original. The former is completely defanged by referring to Norma as 50 years old when, in fact, she’s supposed to be 40-50 years his senior. (Kisses should elicit shudders and don’t.) The latter appears as an afterthought. I lay these issues at the feet of Director Lonny Price, though Close may have demanded the age change.
The Company at Schwab’s
With the show’s orchestra taking up most of a sizable stage, Lonny Price must shift his characters around and above with both visual adroitness and attention to story location. He does so. An overlong party scene of youthful movie hopefuls is graphically upbeat, aided and abetted by Choreographer Stephen Mear’s exuberant moves.
For those of you living under a rock, the synopsis: chased by collectors who will shortly repossess his car, Gillis accidentally wanders onto the grounds of once celebrated, silent screen star Norma Desmond. With the conniving and protection of butler Max von Mayerling (Fred Johanson, who seems more like a cardboard Munster than an ominous obsessive), the former toast of Hollywood lives in a gilded fantasy of return to her public.
Michael Xavier, Siobhan Dillon
When Gillis learns Norma’s written a massive script in which she expects to play 16 year-old Salome, he signs on to doctor it and shortly ends up living on premises, coddled, gifted, owned. An inadvertent side romance with attractive wannabe writer, Betty Schaeffer (the very fine, fresh, and credible Siobhan Dillon) comes to naught as Norma finds out and takes violent action.
The role of proud, desperate, unbalanced Norma is less camp than frequent embodiment in Glenn Close’s well practiced hands. Older and perhaps more understanding of the diva’s emotions, Close gives us a terrified woman fighting for life as she knows it. She’s persuasively obtuse, imperious, raging, joyful – oh, the expression on her face watching Norma’s film or dancing with Ellis!, and mentally unmoored. Though vocals can be thin or off key, the performer never loses focus or verisimilitude. The audience, having raised Close to a pantheon of appreciated survivors, greets every big number with extensive applause. Three separate bows evoke cheers and stomping.
James Noone’s imaginative set utilizes metalwork scaffolding, balconies and stairs to great effect, though performers get a taxing workout. A vertical daisy chain of chandeliers is marvelous as is a floating cadaver. To my mind, the Schwab’s (Drugstore) sign is way too small to allot significance. Mark Henderson’s Lighting Design offers far more nuance than mere gridwork might inspire.
Tracy Christensen does an able job with Costumes which live visually well together and appear period apt. Anthony Powell’s Costume Design for Glenn Close is both wonderfully over the top and flattering without seeming high camp – until the last scene when dressing for an early film purposefully reflects madness. Charlotte Hayward has alas toned down Norma’s exaggerated Make-up.
Photos by Joan Marcus Opening: Glenn Close
Glenn Close inSunset Boulevard
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Book & Lyrics by Don Black & Christopher Hampton
Directed by Lonny Price
47th and Broadway
Playwright Oliver Goldsmith overcame ugliness, lack of breeding, and alcoholic behavior (or sidestepped it) to become a successful writer for the 18th Century stage. Eschewing the then popular “sentimental, i.e. high-minded comedy,” Goldsmith added laughter and impropriety to the mix.
The TACT Company offers a lighthearted rendition of this classic replete with some genial audience contact between acts, occasional dissolution of the fourth wall, a couple of rousing tavern songs, and cleverly inclusive use of the entire theater, not just the stage. It’s fun.
John Rothman and Cynthia Darlow
Mr. and Mrs. Hardcastle (the appealing John Rothman and Cynthia Darlow, whom one could drop into Masterpiece Theater tomorrow) live on an estate outside of London. While he’s content to oversee land, she longs for the city or at least some diversion. The couple are parents to lazy, spendthrift, dissipated son, Tony (Richard Thierot, who never gels as a character) whom his mother worships and his stepfather disdains, and well bred daughter Kate (the too contemporary Mairin Lee, whose attempt at a barmaid’s accent is patently false ), just coming of age.
In an effort to find Kate a suitable husband, Mr. Hardcastle has invited his friend’s pedigreed, scholar son, Charles Marlow (Jeremy Beck) to the house so that the young people can be introduced. Charles has something of a Jekyll and Hyde personality. He’s a polished Lothario with lower class women but so tongue-tied in the face of a lady, the young man can’t bear to raise his eyes. Traveling with Charles is his BFF George Hastings (the completely credible, seemingly upper class Tony Roach), who has come to the area in hopes of convincing Mrs. Hardcastle’s niece, Constance Neville (an irritatingly affected Justine Salata), to elope. (She lives with the family.)
Jeremy Beck, Tony Roach, Richard Thierot
When Tony tricks the suitors into thinking Hardcastle’s home is an inn, presumptions create a house of cards, ripe for knockdown. Selectively kept secrets and additional trickery compound events as both pairs attempt to, well, couple.
The find here is Jeremy Beck (Charles Marlow). This actor delivers a whole person, from believable difference in his approach to feminine mystique – when he literally shakes with fear, one feels empathetic rather than critical of technique, while seduction scenes are elegant- to eventually sincere ardor; from the character’s arrogant, patrician behavior to shame and defeat. Beck is the real deal.
Cynthia Darlow and Richard Thierlot
Scott Alan Evans’s adaptation is smart, witty, and economic. His direction, especially use of the aisles, arrives lively and well mannered. Accents, however, are all over the place.
While Brett Banakis’s minimal set design works admirably to create atmosphere, Tracy Christensen’s costumes are wrongheaded. That some characters wear a semblance of complete period ensembles and others mix jeans and a plaid shirt with lace sewn at the cuffs serves well enough. There is, however, no viable reason why the young women should not be wearing long skirts like Mrs. Hardcastle. Elastic and fabric can be cheap. High, modern heels are also jarring as is the use of a kitchen apron.
Also featuring James Prendergast as Sir Charles Marlow, Charles’ father, and the Landlord.
Photos by Marielle Solan
Opening: Tony Roach, Jeremy Beck, Justine Salata, Mairin Lee