By William Wolf

SOFT POWER  Send This Review to a Friend

“Soft Power” deserves to be a hard ticket. Unlike any show I’ve seen, this musical comedy, with play and lyrics by David Henry Hwang and music and additional lyrics by Jeanine Tesori, is a fun-filled, satirical romp. Yes, it is often also somewhat of a wild mix with structural problems. But how many amusing shows have you seen looking at our country from a Chinese point of view? And how many have you seen with Hillary Clinton portrayed in song and dance and in a romantic affair with someone other than Bill--a Chinese theater producer?

The imaginative production at the Public Theater stems from the Center Theatre Group in Los Angeles and premiered at the Ahmanson Theatre in May of last year. “Soft Power” is choreographed by Sam Pinkleton and directed by Leigh Silverman, and in the current staging has a 22-piece orchestra dramatically spread out above the set (imaginative scenic design by Clint Ramos).

Here’s the set-up. Part of the script is based on the real-life stabbing and recovery of author Hwang, sympathetically played by Francis Jue. But the main thrust involves Chinese producer Xue Xing (Conrad Ricamora) as a visitor to New York who wants to recruit Hwang to write a major musical to be staged in Shanghai. They argue over the plot in terms of whether a husband stays true to his commitment, as Xing says is the custom in China, or leaves for the woman he really loves.

Ultimately, the time frame moves into the future with a musical in China looking back nostalgically on how things were in the United States of our era. Throughout the production, elaborate set pieces are hilarious to watch and there is spoofing of so-called American democracy. For example, our elections are ridiculed with attempts to explain how the Electoral College works.

There’s a splashy scene set in McDonald’s as the height of night life luxury. Some of the satire uses the formula for “The King and I” as a touchtone, not only with a spirited dance imitation, but with Hillary Clinton, exuberantly and often hilariously played by Alyse Alan Louis, being taught to speak Xing’s name properly.

The injection of Hillary in “Soft Power” is an entertainment plus. She sings, she dances, she strips to a sexy outfit, and we see her passionately kissing Xing. (I’d like to see Hillary and Bill in the audience for this one.) Compliments are due Louis for her effervescent performance as Hillary, who is depicted as sure to be elected. The loss feeds into the ribbing of the Electoral College system, as well as the tragic absurdity of the Trump minority-vote victory.

The show is loaded with humorous touches, such as Xing admiring what he calls Manhattan’s Golden Gate Bridge, shown majestically in the scenic design. The plot also at one point involves a thwarted plan for a U.S. China war.

The entire look of the show is refreshing, enhanced by the extensive Chinese-American casting. The lyrics are often clever, and the music fits nicely with the overall concept. Although there is awkward repetition of the attack on Hwang in the plot structure, one can easily forgive such problems and simply revel in the spirit and originality of “Soft Power.” One might even want to see and enjoy it again. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Phone: 212-967-7555. Reviewed October 16, 2019.

LINDA VISTA  Send This Review to a Friend

Tracy Letts in his play “Linda Vista,” a Steppenwolf Production presented by Second Stage in association with Center Theatre Group, writes many funny lines. But humor aside, the work rests on his main character Dick Wheeler, broadly and colorfully portrayed by Ian Barford. At the age of 50, Wheeler castigates himself as an unworthy loser in life. The trouble with the play is that he is right.

Despite the laugh lines he dispenses, his behavior with women renders him obnoxious. He thinks more about himself than the women he beds, with zero regard for their feelings. Rather than hope that he changes, one may look for him to get his comeuppance.

However, the playwright knows how to reach for our attention. There are explicit sex scenes with full nudity, one very bizarre encounter in which the woman, after riding atop Wheeler and wanting him to achieve orgasm, moves away in the bed and wants to pleasure herself and not even let Wheeler touch her.

We first see Wheeler before the play even starts as he and his friend Paul (Jim True-Frost) are walking back and forth brining luggage and assorted boxes into Wheeler’s new digs, an apartment in a neighborhood called Linda Vista in San Diego. Once the play begins, we get to know the guys as they natter about their lives and engage in droll sex talk.

Wheeler has worked as a photographer in Chicago, but now only repairs cameras in a local shop. He is in the midst of a protracted divorce, and has no interest in seeing his teenage son, or his ex to be. He doesn’t consider himself worthy of or ready for a serious relationship.

Paul and his wife Margaret (Sally Murphy) arrange for Wheeler to meet Jules (Cora Vander Broek. She’s a very nice person who doesn’t deserve to be hurt. We see them have sex—the bizarre encounter described above. It turns out that Jules falls for Wheeler, and for a while he thinks she could be the one for him, but how that works out demonstrates the cruelty with which he can behave.

There is also Minnie (Chantal Thuy), whom Wheeler allows to stay in his apartment when she has no place to go. You don’t have to be clairvoyant to know what happens. One more woman in Letts’ set-up is Anita (Caroline Neff), a smart-talking and earthy employee in the store where Wheeler works and with whom he hasn’t yet had sex.

My problem was an increasing feeling of boredom with Wheeler, as well as being repelled by some of his actions. The more Wheeler berates himself, the more I agree with him. At one point when he is reduced to tears and begging, instead of earning pity as a guy in emotional trouble, he is getting what he deserves.

Others may disagree in light of Barford’s outsized performance reflecting his acting skill and in the author’s apparent affection for the character. All of the cast members, including the shop owner, Michael (Troy West), are well-acted. Also Todd Rosenthal’s scenic design stands out, including a revolving set that accommodates rooms in the apartment and other locations, and a colorful picture of the San Diego waterfront extending above for the width of the stage. Dexter Bullard’s direction emphasizes the eroticism in the sex scenes, effectively highlights the confrontations and also achieves good timing for the laugh lines.

But instead of Wheeler becoming a tragic figure, he emerges as a hapless louse with little hope for his redemption in the future, even though Letts makes it look at the end as if there might be happier days ahead. At the Hayes Theater, 240 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-246-4422. Reviewed October 17, 2019.

THE ROSE TATTOO  Send This Review to a Friend

In Tennessee Williams’ plays, whatever their quality, one can always count on poetic expression and sensitivity. One can’t find those qualities in Roundabout Theatre Company’s over-the-top revival of Williams’ 1951 work. Marisa Tomei gives a dynamic performance as the widowed seamstress Serafina Delle Rose, but it borders on caricature, which prevents one for developing sympathy for her. To be sure, there are comic elements in Williams’ vision, but the play is more than that. Even while generating laughter, Serafina needs to be taken seriously and that potential is not realized this time around.

The year is 1950 and the setting is a village somewhere along the Gulf Coast between New Orleans and Mobile. Serafina is of Sicilian heritage, as are the inhabitants we meet in this particular locale. The set designed by Mark Wendland for the very wide stage is primarily the bare bones of a house, with Lucy Mackinnon’s projection design providing a vast ocean front background with rippling waves. Prominent is the Serafina’s little shrine of the Virgin Mary, which she worships and talks to, expressing her thoughts, questions and anxieties.

Serafina’s life collapses when women in black (sort of a Greek chorus, only Sicilian), bring her news of her truck driver’s death in an accident. Serafina delighted in her husband’s virile body, which had a rose tattoo, and his death leaves her bereft and minus their sex. They had a daughter, Rosa (Ella Rubin), whom Serafina is trying to keep virginal. Serafina stores her husband’s ashes in a white urn on a shelf.

Alas, Serafina is awakened by the appearance of another truck driver, Alvaro Mangiacavallo, fortuitously also a Sicilian, whose name embarrassingly means eat a horse. His body, reminding her of her husband’s, sensually attracts her. Alvero is given to tearful breakdowns but in a simple way is a force that ignites a new passion in Serafina. As colorfully played by Emun Elliott with a heavy accent, he is outrageously larger-than-life. Alvaro and Sarafina alternately fight and get close, maneuver in talky affection and hostility, and as one might expect, eventually couple with attempted secrecy. But the town quickly knows thanks to the observance of the local gossip monger, who is superstitiously regarded as bad news because she only has one-eye.

There are lots of characters we see in the course of the play-- children running around, various locals, a young sailor, Jack (Burke Swanson), with whom Serafina’s daughter Rosa has become romantically involved. There is Tina Benko as Estelle Hohengarten, who, as it turns out, was having an affair with Serafina’s husband. There are fewer performers in this staging than in the 1951 production, and most notably, the role of the priest has been cut.

Under Trip Cullman’s direction, the play is done at a high pitch, with Serafina consistently explosive—a time bomb waiting to go off—and her supernatural feelings fervently articulated. One can get caught up in Tomei’s turbulent performance enhanced with a Sicilian accent but without feeling that she is more than an exaggeration. (In the 1955 movie version, Serafina was played by the great Italian actress Anna Magnani.) But credit Tomei with giving a bravura performance along the lines of director Cullman’s interpretation. At the American Airlines Theatre, 227 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-719-1300. Reviewed October 18, 2019

DUBLIN CAROL  Send This Review to a Friend

Conor McPherson’s “Dublin Carol,” revived by the Irish Repertory Theatre, is a solemn character study offering an actor a poignant role, and the excellent Jeffrey Bean is certainly up to the task.

It is Christmas Eve in 1999, and the setting, designed by Charlie Corcoran, is the office in a funeral parlor on the Northside of Dublin. John, who manages the home, has spent year as an alcoholic, and although he has cut down, the struggle remains.

He is a sad specimen of a man, who is estranged from his wife, daughter and son. We see him as an example of loneliness as he deals with Christmas decorations, hardly in the holiday spirit. At the start of the play he talks with young Mark (Cillian Hegarty), who is working as his assistant.

A crisis brews when John’s daughter, Mary (Sarah Street), arrives, says her mother is dying and insists that he visit his wife. It is an impassioned plea, which John resists.

Will he oblige? For the rest of the play we watch John try to cope with the request, as well as the booze, and the playwright shrewdly draws us into this sad world and we can ponder what the outcome will be. Bowing to his daughter’s plea would be an act of redemption for John as well as an act of generosity. But is he emotionally capable of doing it?

Director Ciarán O’Reilly carefully builds the atmosphere with a leisurely pace as Bean skillfully makes us care about what John will decide. “Dublin Carol” is not a play to send you home in a cheerful mood, but you will leave with an appreciation for McPherson’s stature as a playwright and for Bean’s acting, as well as the other two performances by Street and Hegarty. At the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-727-2737. Reviewed October 17, 2919.

THE DECLINE AND FALL OF THE ENTIRE WORLD AS SEEN THROUGH THE EYES OF COLE PORTER  Send This Review to a Friend

After all has been said and sung in the York Theatre’s revival of the long-titled “The Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen Through the Eyes of Cole Porter,” the four delightful cast members finish with a medley of Porter songs not included earlier. The medley provides fresh astonishment at how many songs the amazingly prolific Porter wrote. The finale was the icing on the cake in the two-act potpourri performed with ultra-charming finesse.

The show (October 12-20) is part of the York's “Musicals in Mufti” series, which this time around is honoring Porter (1891-1964). The first concert version was “Fifty Million Frenchmen” (September 28-October 6—See Search for review), and the third coming up is “Panama Hattie” (Oct. 26-November 3).

“The Decline and Fall…” is a revival of the musical originally created and directed by Ben Bagley (1933-1998) that was staged off-Broadway in 1965, a year after Porter’s death. It starred Kaye Ballard. As Charles Wright reports in the York’s program notes: “The rest of the opening night cast consisted of Carmen Alvarez, William Hickey, and Elmarie Wendel. In the course of the revue’s 273-performance run, various performers cycled in and out, and Bagley tweaked the material to suit newcomers’ strengths. The show also had long engagements in San Francisco and Washington, D. C., with Tammy Grimes headlining the national tour.”

The York’s staging in its customary Mufti concert form has been directed with plenty of show biz pizzazz by Pamela Hunt, with music direction by Eric Svejcar, who also sizzles at the piano as a one-man orchestra.

Lee Roy Reams, who has a long theater career, suavely serves as narrator, reading from a script and at times taking over as a performer, excelling in “I’m a Gigolo” from “Wake up and Dream” (1929), “Little Skipper from Heaven” (1936 “Red, Hot and Blue!”), “Thank You So Much, Mrs. Lowsborough-Goodby” (cut from the 1934 “Anything Goes”) and other songs as well, solo and in combination. One can especially appreciate Reams when he slips into his hilarious Sophie Tucker demeanor. Reams clearly has the Porter sophistication nailed down.

A dynamic force in the revue is provided by Danny Gardner, who is the very definition of a song and dance man. He sings with charm and dances with skill and charisma, whether it’s tap, soft shoe or ballroom, and he has choreographed his own steps as well as the various dance routines. Gardner starts off the revue dynamically with “I’ve a Shooting Box in Scotland” (1917 “See America First”), and the personality and pace he establishes doesn’t let up throughout.

“The Decline and Fall…” is blessed with two terrific actresses, Lauren Molina and Diane Phelan, each with her own strengths and both with superb and rangy voices. What’s interesting is that being of a generation far removed from the Porter era, they are nonetheless able to tune into what made Porter’s songs especially witty and urbane, with his whimsical way of looking at the world and society.

Molina establishes her comic ability early with the 1927 “Hot House Rose.” She does a knockout rendition of “I Loved Him (But He Didn’t Love Me”)” from 1929 “Wake Up and Dream” and scores again with the wistful “The Tale of the Oyster” (1929 “Fifty Million Frenchmen"). Molina is able to be funny in one moment, romantic in another, often concluding with a high-pitched sustained note, and she oozes likability.

Phelan has a leading lady musical quality that shines in multiple ways. She excels with the punchy “I Happen to Like New York” (1930 “The New Yorkers”), the sadly romantic “After You, Who?” (1932 “Gay Divorce”) or the playful “When I Was Little Cuckoo” (1944 “Seven Lively Arts”). She has a thrilling soprano voice and delivers numbers with commanding stage presence.

There is graceful teamwork throughout under Hunt’s direction, as the four shift into various positions and move about with their sliding music stands. I counted 29 Porter songs spread over the two acts, and that’s not including the medley finale.

Behind all of Porter’s productivity was the very human side of what he had to endure. As Wright says in his program note: “Porter’s life was profoundly affected by a horseback riding accident in his mid-forties. For the rest of his days, he endured numerous surgeries and frequent physical setbacks (including eventual amputation of his right leg). He died at 73, leaving a legacy of witty, often effervescent songs that belied the constant pain of his final decades.”

Thanks to the York Theatre we have the opportunity to savor a hefty helping from that legacy with this revived revue so deftly and elegantly performed. At Theater at Saint Peter’s, 54th Street East of Lexington Avenue. Phone: 212-935-5820. Reviewed October 14, 2019.

KINGFISHERS CATCH FIRE  Send This Review to a Friend

The stage set is just a small filthy jail cell in the intimate downstairs Studio Theatre of the Irish Repertory Theatre. There are only two characters in Robin Glendinning’s extraordinary play based on a true story. Yet in the course of an hour and fifty minutes, including intermission, there are brilliant performances by two actors with dialogue that explores wide universal subjects, including war, mass killing, guilt, religion, humanitarianism and the possibility or impossibility of redemption or forgiveness.

“Kingfishers Catch Fire,” tautly and intelligently directed by Kent Paul, takes place in 1948 in an Italian prison. Haskell King plays real-life character Herbert Kappler, a Nazi military officer sentenced to incarceration for life for his role in the massacre of 335 people on March 24, 1944, in the Ardeatine Caves near Rome in retaliation for the killing of 33 German soldiers by partisan resistance fighters the previous day.

Kappler is bitter because others involved received less harsh sentences, and he still feels that he had no choice but to follow orders and is filled with self-justification even though he carries with him the haunting images of the massacre and the pitiful state of the victims. But it is clear that he is mainly concerned with his own plight now and he spews hatred.

Visiting Kappler is real-life Monsignor Hugh O’Flaherty, convincingly played by Sean Gromley. an Irish priest known for enlisting a group of priests, nuns and others to rescue more than 6500 people from the Nazis. He is checking up on Kappler’s conditions in prison, a humanitarian mission that he sees himself performing in the name of God. He encounters Kappler’s fury in his bitter rejection of God, society and authority, and in the second act, when the priest makes return visit, even though he had left earlier with the intension of severing ties, he brings the prisoner a photograph of the son Kappler and his wife had adopted, only to have Kappler tear the photo to pieces.

The aforementioned themes come to the fore in the sharp confrontations and brittle, steamy discussions between Kappler and Monsignor O’Flaherty. We also learn that the priest has become disillusioned and unhappy because he has been denied his desire to serve in Africa.

As the play unfolds we are primed to wonder whether Kappler will soften and bend to the priest’s dutiful efforts to extend his religious and humanitarian assistance. We can also ponder whether this mass murderer deserves any compassion on the basis of his having to follow orders. The play ends in a dramatic and poignant scene that pulls together much of what has gone before in the relationship between the two men.

Regardless of how one feels about the issues, there has been the thrill of watching two powerful actors in well-written roles bring the characters they play vividly to life. (To find out what eventually happened to Kappler, you can consult a program note.) At the Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 West 22nd Street. Phone: 212-727-2737. Reviewed October 12, 2019.

SLAVE PLAY  Send This Review to a Friend

After its off-Broadway run, the much-discussed and provocative “Slave Play” by Jeremy O. Harris is now on Broadway, and I find it impossible to discuss it properly without telling what goes on in the course of it. If you haven’t seen “Slave Play” and want to approach it without knowing the big revelation that takes place in its midst, read no further until after you have seen it.

Everything that occurs is symbolic of the viewpoint that black-white relations are spiked with baggage from the history of slavery, and racist power struggles exist today, as exemplified by what goes on with the interracial couples sharply depicted. (The play is two hours long without an intermission.)

What gives the treatise an extra kick is that much is very funny even though the aim is serious. There is also extremely explicit sex talk, with simulated sexual action for the audience to take in, as well as some male frontal nudity. As I am a believer that anything goes, I take all of that in stride, but some audience members may be jolted.

Even more challenging is the mix of humor with black-white prejudices, as the author, in quest of making his points, finding laughs when black women and men pretend to be slaves. This is not for those who can’t tune in to such setups without being offended. “Slave Play,” candidly directed by Robert O’Hara, is uninhibitedly free-wheeling.

There is a heavily mirrored set (scenic design by Clint Ramos), with mirrored doors that open for the cast members to enter and exit through, and the set passes for a plantation. Initially we see three often-hilarious but also biting dramatizations. There is a white overseer (Paul Alexander Nolan ) with a whip dominating a black woman slave (Joaquina Kalukango) whom he taunts, although he is uncomfortable in his duty. The woman has perfected a frenetic and funny movement of her derriere, and there is a sexual air to the situation as she is demeaned by being ordered to eat a cantaloupe comically substituted for watermelon off the supposedly clean floor.

In another scene, the play's funniest, the repressed but horny white mistress of the plantation, hilariously performed by Annie McNamara, takes advantage of her husband’s absence to seduce in her bedroom a black house servant (Sullivan Jones), who plays the fiddle and makes up what is supposed to sound like slave music at her demand. Then she lets her inhibitions run free and carries out a fantasy of getting inside him with a large black dildo she says has been passed down to her by her mother.

A third couple, a black field slave (Ato Blankson-Wood) bosses a white servant (James Cusati-Moyer), and the situation turns into a homosexual escapade, with the white man on his knees licking the other’s boots that are symbolic of what he would be licking instead.

Then comes the moment of truth. We learn that the three couples are real interracial couples who have been acting out scenes as part of a group therapy session run by two lesbian, psychologists, one white (Irene Sofia Lucio), one black (Chalia La Tour), who are having their own problems, illustrated by competitiveness and occasional nasty looks at each other. The women are over the top pouring out clichés and excess enthusiasm for their mission, obviously being satirized by the author in a take on absurd therapeutic ideas.

The explosions that occur in real life to the three in-therapy couples as a result of what they felt going through their concocted sexual scenes make clear that feelings based on race inequality have been suppressed and are seething within their relationships. After a while the session gets to seem overlong, and although there is humor in the anger that bursts forth, there is also some tedium that sets in.

Where does all of this go? We get a dose of ultra-candid post-therapy depiction and are left to contemplate the meaning of it all. On reflection, I don’t think the play is a deep as it tries to be, but the main points about still-simmering racial animosity are hammered home in an unusual way by the witty author abetted by a first-rate, versatile and very brave cast. At the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-947-8844. Reviewed October 10, 2019.

HEROES OF THE FOURTH TURNING  Send This Review to a Friend

Playwright Will Arbery has a lot on his mind as expressed in his play “Heroes of the Fourth Turning,” presented by Playwrights Horizons. He deals with Catholicism, right-wing conservatism, attitudes toward abortion, illness, education, sexual desire, and even Trump in his cavalcade of conversation. Sometimes the talk hits home dramatically, but too often the conflicting ideas seem as if they would lend themselves better to expression in an essay rather than by characters in a play.

The production, which runs about two hours without an intermission, is set in a town of 7,000 in western Wyoming. The timing is very specific—August 19, 2017, two days before a solar eclipse and one week after the Charlottesville riot. It is the night of the inauguration of Gina (Michelle Pawk) as president of conservative Transfiguration College of Wyoming, an institution which the author has said is much like the college where his parents teach. In a program note Arbery details how he was raised by Catholic conservative academics. That is the kind of base from which the play’s action evolves, with the characters gathered at the home of Justin (Jeb Kreager)--whom we first meet when he shoots a deer from his backyard--to celebrate Gina’s new position, as they were her students at the college. The stage is consistently dimly lit (scenic design by Laura Jelinek, lighting design by Isabella Byrd).

The play’s most sympathetic character, at least from my viewpoint, is Gina’s daughter Emily (Julia McDermott), who is weak, needs assistance as she walks with a cane and has an illness that is not identified for us. Although she has worked for a right-to-life organization, her good friend is an abortion rights activist and she resents her mother’s ultra-conservative attitudes and those of others. She has a big scene in which she cries out against her physical condition and place in the world, and she asserts herself by not leaving the gathering with her mother.

Teresa (Zoë Winters) is a fast-talking and nasty conservative who rails against liberals. Kevin (John Zdrojeski) is a psychological mess who weeps in self-pity and bemoans the fact that he can’t get a girl and his penis has not seen use.

The conversations that rage through the night are intense and require special audience attention to sort out what everyone is saying and to grasp the author’s ideas that are piled into the dialogue that represents the assorted views of the characters. The overall thrust is that of right-wing ideology, not the author’s, but that of those he is examining.

The cast members, under the direction of Danya Taymor, act superbly in giving their all to interpret the thinking of those whom they portray. The problem, as cited above, is that there is far too much talk and not enough drama. The play comes across as one big bull session of ideas more conducive to the printed page than life on a stage. At the Mainstage of Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewed October 8, 2019.

FIFTY MILLION FRENCHMEN  Send This Review to a Friend

Cole Porter is being celebrated with three concert-style productions of his musicals by the York Theatre Company in its Musicals in Mufti Series. The first in the trio is “Fifty Million Frenchmen” (September 28-October 6), originally on Broadway in 1929, with music and lyrics by Porter and book by Herbert Fields. This reduced version in revival is the 1991 adaptation by Tommy Krasker and Evans Haile.

The book is absurdly silly, but the songs have the witty touch Porter has been known for, the most familiar being “You Do Something to Me.” As usual, the York has assembled a cast capable of doing justice to the musical numbers and extracting whatever possible from the absurd plot involving American tourists in Paris, romance, a bet, a planned party, financial problems and whatever can be crowded into the potpourri.

The show is pared down to a cast of 11, two pianos and a banjo. Pared down is an understatement. Charles Wright, in his very helpful program background article writes: “‘Frenchmen’ was a gargantuan production, capitalized at more than a quarter of a million dollars (meg-abucks for Broadway at the time). The ensemble consisted of 75 singers and dancers (not counting any of the 23 speaking parts), plus specialty acts that had little if anything to do with the musical’s zany plot.”

What helps considerably to set the mood is the nice idea of projecting background scenes of Paris as the show moves along, thanks to scenic consultant James Morgan and production designer Chelsie McPhilimy.

The plot involves Peter Forbes (Andy Kelso) falling for visiting American Looloo Carroll (Evy Ortiz) and betting his friend Billy Baxter (Cole Burden) that he can get her to agree to marry him within a month. Looloo is in Paris with her tourist parents, Gladys and Emmitt Carroll (Karen Murphy and Ray DeMattis). Looloo’s mother has other ideas than a marriage to Peter—a marriage to a count. But, pun intended, don’t count Peter out. There are other romances in the works—Billy and Violet Hildegarde (Kristy Cates) and Michael Cummins (David Michael Bevis) and the outspoken Joyce Wheeler (Madeline Trumble.)

The pleasure in this staging lies in the rendition of the songs. Peter and Looloo sing “You Do Something to Me.” Looloo solos with “I’m in Love” and Peter sings “You Don’t Know Paree.” Gladys, Looloo’s mom, grabs her own spotlight effectively singing “The Queen of Terre Haute.” Violet amuses singing Porter’s very clever “The Tale of the Oyster.” The waiter (Sam Balzac) gets a solo, “Somebody’s Going to Throw a Big Party,” and he and Louis Pernasse (Wade McCollum), the haughty hotel manager, team with “It Isn’t Done.” There are more characters and many more numbers, including a turn by May De Vere (Ashley Blancher), a Parisian singer who puts pizzazz into “I’m Unlucky at Gambling.”

“Fifty Million Frenchmen” has an odd history. In 1931 Warner Brothers turned it into a film, but not with the music, and in 1934 there was a short film with the music. The York once again has done a service by bringing fresh attention to Porter’s work. The next two Porter salutes in the Musicals in Mufti series are “The Decline and Fall of the Entire World as Seen Through The Eyes of Cole Porter (October 12-20) and “Panama Hattie” (October 28-November 3). At the York Theatre at Saint Peter's, 619 Lexington Avenue (at 54th Street). Phone: 212-935-5820. Reviewed September 30, 2019.

THE HEIGHT OF THE STORM  Send This Review to a Friend

Any time you can see two stars with the skills of Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins, the opportunity is worth seizing. That even holds true for the so-so French play by Florian Zeller (“La Mère” and “Le Père”) that has come to Broadway in a Manhattan Theatre Club presentation translated by Christopher Hampton. Pryce and Atkins are the main reasons for having a look at the production and they fulfill expectations.

With direction by Jonathan Kent, we are taken in the present into a country home near Paris (scenic design by Anthony Ward) and we see Pryce as André, agitated and in a state of advancing dementia. His daughter Anne (Amanda Drew) is trying to convince him that the large house must be sold as he cannot live there alone.

Alone? We see him with his wife Madeleine (Atkins) in family gatherings around a table. But the author is toying with us. We get a hint that Madeleine is really dead, and at another point it would seem that André has died. How much of what we see is in memory?

In the course of the drama we meet Elise (Lisa O’Hare), the couple’s other daughter, and Lucy Cohu as a woman visitor who upsets André, as she was in a former relationship with him. The dialogue is often entertaining as well as emotional, but the audience is titillated into trying to figure out what’s what and what is really of the moment and not ghostly.

Everything builds to a strong finale in which Madeleine and André are seen on stage together and expressing loving tenderness and devotion, and then, in a coup de theatre, Madeleine fades away at the very last moment leaving André alone in a spotlight.

Much of the portrait André will be especially meaningful for those who have dealt with dementia of family members, as the play raises issues of what happens when individuals can no longer cope and steps must be taken to care for them. It also embraces the problem of how deaths must be faced. While the author’s concepts are complex and mysterious and make demands on an audience, it may be best to stop straining to figure things out and just enjoy the superb performances by the stars. At the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 West 47th Street. Reviewed September 28 , 2019.

  

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