Bits on plays seen recently in New York

by Lynn on November 25, 2013

in The Passionate Playgoer

Bits on Plays I saw in New York Recently:


At the Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center Theater, New York City. Written by William Shakespeare. Directed by Jack O’Brien. Set by Scott Pask. Custumes by Catherine Zuber. Lighting by Japhy Weideman. Original music and sound by Mark Bennett. Starring: Bianca Amato, Anne-Marie Duff, Richard Easton, Malcolm Gets, John Glover, Ethan Hawke, Brian D’Arcy James, Byron Jennings.

One of the most visually startling, arresting lighting and set designs of this play I have ever seen. It is a cohesion of light, sound and space creating a sense of foreboding. Jack O’Brien’s concept it ‘out there’, brave and bold. The witches are played by men and they shift into other parts, as if they are affecting the whole action, not just messing with Macbeth’s head. There is a sexual charge between Ethan Hawke’s Macbeth and Anne-Marie Duff’s Lady Macbeth. The acting unfortunately is uneven lead by Ethan Hawke. He is obviously committed to acting on the stage as well as film, I just wish he was better. He tends to swallow words and his line readings as Macbeth gets deeper into mental instability, become more erratic as the inflections waver wildly. Daniel Sinjata is a macho Macduff, but his handling of the scene when he finds out his family is dead is overblown when real anguish is in order.

On the plus side, Anne-Marie Duff as Lady Macbeth is lithe, sensuous, cunningly calculating, charming and ultimately damaged. As Banquo, Brian d’Arcy James is watchful, courtly, and menacing as the ghost. The witches of Byron Jennings, Malcolm Gets and John Glover are eerie, creepy and compelling. Plays to early January.


At the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, LincolnCenter, Theater, New York City. Written by Bruce Norris. Directed by Anna D. Shapiro. Set by Todd Rosenthal. Costumes by Jennifer von Mayhauser. Lighting by James F. Ingalls. Sound by John Gromada. Starring: Vaness Aspillaga, Mia Barron, Jeff Goldblum, Laurie Metcalf, Misha Seo.

It starts off as a science presentation of a kid in Junior High School, looking at the sexual activities of animals. How a male is bigger in some species than the female going all the way to the other end where the male is a total irrelevance except when it comes to insemination. She gives examples, first of animals, and then as mammals of the two legged kind.

Bill has been a bad boy. He is married politician but is implicated with a hooker who somehow got into an altercation with him, hit her head on the bed board and is in a coma. His first entrance is with his shell-shocked wife by his side as he makes a statement about the situation. It’s awkward. He takes off his glasses; stops reading the statement and says that he can’t see what the problem is. He’s apologized for his mistake so what is the big deal and why does he have to go through this whole procedure. Every single Torontonian will roar with laughter at that—echoes of home. Then Bill resigns his position.

In the first Act of Bruce Norris’s witty, complex, smart play we look at the situation from the point of view of his furious, wounded, humiliated wife, Judy. He has done this before. His oldest daughter—a spoiled, entitled brat, loathes him; the youngest daughter doesn’t say much, except when she’s introducing the various animal examples of her science presentation, Bill says less than that. But he does look uncomfortable.

The second Act is from Bill’s point of view. He loves chatting up the ladies. He’s full of himself and comes on to any lady he fancies and there are a lot. But his downfall takes its toll. He has lost his job; he is thrown out of the house; he is humiliated without being able to defend himself. When he does he’s attacked.

It’s a fascinating look at two sides of a story, so that we can make up our minds about the truth. Bill is a liar and I think it’s a small weakness of the play that Judy doesn’t call him on it. For the most part the play is sharp; insightful and perceptive.

Anna D. Shapiro’s direction is nuanced, gripping and certainly shows the tingling tension between Judy and Bill. The acting of Laurie Metcalf as Judy, is like watching a wounded animal gather the strength and fury to get back at this man who has humiliated her for their whole life with his extra-curricular antics. And Jeff Goldblum, with his sad-sack face, yet elegant smoothness is both a cad and a defeated man. We don’t totally hate him. It’s to the credit of the writing and the production that we don’t.

The Glass Menagerie

At the Booth Theatre, New   York City. Written by Tennessee Williams. Directed by John Tiffany. Designed by Bob Crowley. Lighting by Natasha Katz. Music by Nico Muhly, Sounds by Clive Goodwin. Starring: Cherry Jones, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Zachary Quinto, Brian J. Smith.

Revelatory. Director John Tiffany has rethought this quintessential Tennessee Williams play but still is true to the tone and spirit of it. He has created a memory that floats. The playing area is composed of two octagonal shapes floating in black liquid that reflects the future and past to the three characters of the Wingfield family—Amanda, Tom and Laura. The fire escape, which provides no escape, shoots up to the flies, leading no where really. The love between Amanda and her children is fierce. She deeply cares of them and wants them both settled. She is no monster.  Cherry Jones as Amanda is giving a towering performance, in a career full of tower performances. It’s a performance of grit, hope, disappointment, tenacity, love and humanity. As Tom, Zachary Quinto is restless, playful, and ultimately haunted, by his sister who he disserted. As Laura, Celia Keenan-Bolger is fragile but there is a streak of steel in her that is so arresting. And Brian J. Smith is simply the best Gentleman Caller that I have ever seen. In this performance we see a man unsettled by disappointment but not defeated by it. He has anger. He has a resolve. He is heading towards a disastrous marriage and the loving way that John Tiffany has directed this gift of a production, you realize that Laura and Jim, the Gentleman Call could easily fall and love and make it work.

This production turns on its ear any preconceived notions you have had about this play. Plays to February.

All That Fall (A Radio Play)

At 59E59th Street Theatre. Written by Samuel Beckett. Directed by Trevor Nunn. Designed by Cherry Truluck. Lighting by Phil Hewitt. Sound by Paul Groothuis. Starring: Eileen Atkins, Ruairi Conaghan, Catherine Cusack, Trevor Cooper, Michael Gambon, Frank Grimes.

A radio play done with sound effects in a live stage production. Mr. Rooney is going to the station to fetch her old, doddery, blind husband. There are adventures on the way, such as trying to get the equally old and frail Mrs. Rooney into a motor car and then out again. When she gets to the station the train is late. Unheard of. When her husband finally arrives on the train he can’t tell her why it was late. We find out later in a subtle piece of information. Was Mr. Rooney the cause?

The cast carry their scripts. There are sound effects of them shuffling along the road, as the readers shuffle along the road. The cast is lead by the incomparable Eileen Atkins as Mrs. Rooney, who can look old and frail like no body’s business. Her sagging face is like so much wax dripping down a candle.  As Mr. Rooney, Michael Gambon is that kind of lurching, dishevelled, deep throated, cantankerous old man who is both an annoyance and a comfort.

Interestingly for all its artifice—script in hand but memorized, the cast is in period costumes of the time. Interesting. It plays only to Dec. 5.

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