By William Wolf
ARTHUR MILLER'S A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE Send This Review to a Friend
If Arthur Miller wanted his characters to go barefoot, he would have provided such a stage direction. The title for this imported Young Vic production is a misnomer. It should be “Arthur Miller’s and Ivo van Hove’s A View from the Bridge,” for the Belgian director van Hove has hijacked Miller’s play to turn it into his own brand presumably designed to show how brilliant he is, including having the actors inexplicably walking around shoeless.
There are certainly moving moments in this version, given Miller’s haunting tale of jealousy and trauma, but van Hove has staged a showy production that replaces subtlety and depth with flash. He appears to have envisioned Miller’s play as a mix of opera and Greek tragedy. Miller too was aware of theatrical history, as with his Greek-chorus type narrator in the play, but van Hove has heightened the drama with bursts of loud, ultra-significant music and often steady sound beats meant to intensify.
He has added other stage foolishness, apart from the bare feet, with the 17-year-old niece Catherine leaping into her uncle Eddie’s arms and wrapping her legs around him like a young child. At the violent climax the characters huddle as as if in a mass wrestling match, a visual muddle instead of clarity. But, you see, this director is fond of punctuating with concepts more serving to his attempt to be different than to the play.
This production is mounted with audience members on either side of the stage—nothing wrong with that-- as well as in front of it. A roof is raised as a curtain to reveal the rectangular playing area, much like a boxing ring. There is virtually no scenery. The effect strips away Miller’s reality and creates a showcase for characters to move and emote as if they are specimens to be studied rather than flesh and blood people in their actual environment.
But there is some fine acting. Mark Strong, as longshoreman Eddie Carbone living in the Red Hook section of Brooklyn, gives a powerful, if not especially nuanced performance, as the uncle who, with his wife Beatrice, has raised her niece Catherine, played by Phoebe Fox, rigidly and protectively and harbors sexual feelings toward her. Nicola Walker as Beatrice struggles with the marital relationship. Michael Gould firmly plays Alfieri, lawyer and narrator.
Trouble escalates when Beatrice’s two Sicilian relatives arrive as illegal immigrants and are given shelter with the Carbones. One is the attractive, blond Rodolpho (Russell Tovey), the other the tougher Marco (Michael Zegen). Catherine falls madly for Rodolpho, and it is difficult to see the transformation from the child-like teenager to her sexual frenzy. She decides to burst from the strict confines of her uncle to freedom and marriage with Rodolpho. Does he want to marry her for immigration status?
Eddie goes crazy with anger, wanting to keep Catherine under his control, and at one point he suddenly kisses her on the mouth with passion. He also kisses Rodolpho in an effort to tab Rodolpho as probably gay.
Eddie informs immigration authorities that Rodolpho and Marco are illegal and Marco vows to seek revenge. The situation is clearly headed for tragedy, with van Hove pulling out the stops in his effort to stage the play unconventionally.
There are those in London who extravagantly praised this interpretation, and it is getting its partisans in New York as well. I much preferred the 2010 revival of “A View from the Bridge” as staged by Gregory Mosher, which was more faithful to Miller and better expressed the themes in Miller’s writing. (See Search to locate my review.) But there will always be those who applaud something different, bare feet and all. At the Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-139-6200.
MISERY Send This Review to a Friend
William Goldman’s suspense play based on the novel by Stephen King is a divertissement that does what examples of the genre are supposed to do. We are thrust into a situation fraught with danger, leading to a climax in which the person in trouble finds a way to escape, usually with a burst of violence. “Misery,” efficiently directed by Will Frears, is true to form, but slight, rescued by an entertaining, showy performance by Laurie Metcalf as a nut case. Bruce Willis is another attraction, and although his role isn’t particularly demanding, he does what he has to do skillfully.
Another star of the show is the scenic design by David Korins. On entering the theater we see a snow-surrounded house, with snowflakes drifting down. During the course of the play the set revolves to show various rooms, all perfectly in tune with the sort of home this is supposed to be, located just outside Silver Creek, Colorado, in the winter of 1987.
In short order we learn that Bruce Willis is Paul Sheldon, a renowned author of “Misery” crime series books, and has been rescued after an auto accident by Annie Wilkes, a nurse played by Laurie Metcalf. She has been idolizing him and now is delighted to be tending to him in his bed-ridden state with broken legs. When out of bed he can only move in a wheelchair. Sheldon has with him the manuscript of a book on which he is working, a departure from the “Misery” brand. Against his wishes, Annie reads it and doesn’t like it. Too much of the F word. She wants the manuscript burned.
When Annie tells Sheldon he’ll be “very happy here,” it is clear that she intends to keep her literary idol with her forever. She is ready to use violence if needed, and we see a brutal example. Sheldon pecks away on his typewriter on a new book while trying to figure out how to break free. Meanwhile, Leon Addison Brown as Buster, a lawman shows up to inquire of Annie if she knows anything about Sheldon, who is missed. That’s a mistake.
Some amusing dialogue and Annie’s erratic behavior provide nervous laughter. But at a climactic moment the play resorts to a shamefully hoary, supposed surprise. Then, when it seems to be over and the curtain comes down, there is an epilogue. How satisfied or unsatisfied audience members will be will depend on individual susceptibility to this level of entertainment. “Misery” is not a knockout but well done for what it is. At the Broadhurst Theatre, 225 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed November 19, 2015.
ALLEGIANCE Send This Review to a Friend
A majestic and moving musical, “Allegiance” addresses one of the most shameful episodes in American history by focusing on a Japanese-American family. In 1941, after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor and the breakout of war, Japanese-Americans were rounded up and put into internment camps. President Roosevelt ordered it, and the Supreme Court shamefully upheld this violation of human rights.
In a prologue taking place in 2001 in San Francisco, George Takei, widely known for playing Mr. Sulu in “Star Trek,” appears as the elder Sammy Kimura reflecting on what happened in his youth when he and his family were interned, The musical soon moves back in time to the fateful 1941.
The score, with music and lyrics by Jay Kuo, calls for strong singing, which is amply supplied by Lea Salonga and Telly Leung, as sister and brother, Kei and Sammy. Integrated with the book by Marc Acito, Kuo and Lorenzo Thione, the songs are very expressive of the trauma that the internment has brought and the various responses.
Differences occur dramatically. Sammy, gung-ho about proving he is a loyal American, tries to enlist as a soldier, but “Japs” are rejected. Later, when the policy changes, he is able to join the army and he goes off to brutal battle in which many of his buddies are killed. Kei has fallen in love with Sammy’s friend, Frankie Suzuki, played with passion by Michael K. Lee, who believes it his duty to resist, and that leaves an angry rift with them on the part of Sammy, who bitterly considers them traitors.
The spectacle of people being ordered from their homes and allowed to take only few belongings is heartbreaking, and the musical explores the pain inflicted and the difficult conditions in the Wyoming camp, where the soldiers in charge are abusive. Hannah, a kind nurse, played engagingly by Katie Rose Clarke, falls in love with Sammy.
“Allegiance” is strikingly mounted under the direction of Stafford Arima, with music supervision, arrangements and orchestrations by Lynne Shankel and choreography by Andrew Palermo. At times the staging is elaborate, as with a battle sequence. The scenic design is by Donyale Werle, with Darrel Maloney having contributed projection design. Many other hands have helped give the production its impressive look in the face of the challenge of having to cover the sweep of family history as well as the trajectory of the war.
“Allegiance” is a big show, but its success lies in the intimate ways in which it examines its characters and in their connecting emotionally with the audience. At the Longacre Theatre, 220 West 48th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed November 13, 2015.
BEFORE YOUR VERY EYES Send This Review to a Friend
Certainly “Before Your Very Eyes” is one of the most unusual plays to grace a stage at the Public Theater. Created by Gob Squad, the play features young people behind a glass panel and on video screens in an effort to suggest the life cycle. The audience is thus kept at a distance, as if those acting behind the glass are to be viewed as specimens, seen from teen years unto death.
No director is listed. Instead there are the credits of performance coach, Bridget Kelso Anthony; video system design, Gob Squad and Shawn Duan, and production stage manager, Michael Alifanz. There are two acting units that alternate. Team A was in action on the night I attended.
The youths in that contingent include Mikai Anthony, Eloise Celine, Margalit Duclayan, Jasper Newell, Maeve Press, Matthew Quirk and Aja Nicole Webber. The seven are seen cavorting behind the glass before the play begins, and they appear to be a hell-raising lot.
The voice of Rigley Riley brings the seemingly random activity to a halt and directs the cast to obey a series of commands, to which the actors respond in various ways. There is a large screen on each side of the stage, onto which the cast members are projected individually, sometimes pre-filmed, sometimes in current action, and there is smooth interaction as the performers pass between screen and stage.
Through the skill of the cast, the impression of aging is given, until by the end of the intermission-less 70 minutes the youngsters have donned grayish wigs and lie down in death in various positions. There are some end statements reflecting on the lives they have led, and then finis, until they assemble in front of the glass wall for a well-earned curtain call. There is something macabre about young people looking toward death.
How effective is all of this? There is more depth to the idea than in the execution. Despite the élan of the group putting on the show, we don’t learn very much about the individuals to become very involved in the simulated trajectory of their lives. Enjoying some of the antics, yes, and one admires the talent on display. But the separation between audience and cast gets to seem unnatural, and one can grow impatient and wonder, is this all there is? At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Reviewed November 24, 2015.
KING CHARLES III Send This Review to a Friend
The most sophisticated and intelligent play of the season thus far has arrived on Broadway from London. The Almeida Theatre production, “King Charles III,” a play by Mike Bartlett, is witty and entertaining as it speculates on future British history involving the Royal Family, politics and conniving. It also shakes up the best actor award race by virtue of a powerful starring performance by Tim Piggot-Smith.
The playwright has set his imagination to work, and the result is a drama that takes on the aura of a Shakespearean history play, with clever references in modern terms, and even dialogue in iambic pentameter and couplets, which the talented cast members deliver with such fluency that one has to stop and realize this nod to the Bard. The play is also sprinkled with effective soliloquies.
The story being spun and set in the future has the earmarks of the kind of machinations that took place in the history of Britain and inspired Shakespeare. Then it was off with heads. In “King Charles III” everybody lives, but the results are traumatic. Tom Scutt’s set design within which the action unfolds consists of centuries-old-looking walls that denote history, which gives the play the proper visual flavor even before it begins.
The premise is that Queen Elizabeth has died, and Charles has become the reigning monarch. The crisis that unfolds occurs when parliament has passed a law that King Charles (Pigott-Smith) finds imperils press freedom. Convinced that the legislation would be disastrous, he questionably uses his royal power to dissolve parliament, which sets off a storm and ignites protests in a divided country. It also creates a rift in his family.
One of the pleasures is to see the various real-life figures portrayed, including Prince William (Oliver Chris), Kate (Lydia Wilson), Prince Harry (Richard Goulding), Camilla (Margot Leicester) and the ghost of Princess Diana (Sally Scott). Harry is at first portrayed as a gadabout, showing up with Jess (Tafline Steen), an art student whom he just met and who has won his heart.
A conspiracy develops between Kate, who announces in a soliloquy that as a woman she wants a greater role in life, and William, who has decided that he will compel his father to resign and will then replace him as king, with Kate his queen. Harry, who has shown himself to be a more serious fellow than at first depicted, has become closer to his father but goes along with what is in effect a palace coup, as do key political players.
Pigott-Smith acts brilliantly as Charles, a man of regal bearing and firm will at first, later appalled at what William is demanding and determined not to resign, but then, realizing that all is against him, fears being alone. Camilla assures him that she will always be with him, but the loss of his sons prompts his exasperation, agony and becoming a broken man, which may remind you of King Lear. A towering figure is brought down, and Pigott-Smith wrings every bit of emotion out of the situation.
Director Rupert Goold has staged it all with gravity, and there are ceremonial moments that suggest the importance of royalty in British life. Those who would like to see an end to the monarchy may have one sort of reaction. Some may enjoy some of the satirical jabs in the dialogue and portrayals. I have to admit that when the king dissolves parliament, despite my faithfulness to democracy, I had a momentary thought that wouldn’t it might be nice if our present congress could be declared null and void. Just whimsy, of course.
Anglophiles will be specially interested in “Charles III,” as might be expected, but this production is for everyone who enjoys taut drama, excellent acting, biting humor and a sense of history and potential history-in-the-making. There is also the game-playing factor of seeing which characters in Shakespeare’s plays are suggested by those in “King Charles III." At the Music Box, 239 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed November 5, 2015.
ON YOUR FEET! THE STORY OF EMILIO & GLORIA ESTEFAN Send This Review to a Friend
The Marquis Theatre is jumping to the beat of singing and dancing in capturing the life stories of Emilio and Gloria Estefan and their hit songs. A vigorous, colorful production, with the rhythmic Latin tone set when we see the show’s band front and center at the outset. The production, directed by Jerry Mitchell and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, is a sure-fire crowd delight. True, the book by Alexandder Dinelaris gets heavy-handed at times, but such moments are dwarfed by the power of the music and the colorful staging.
The chorus works hard, as do the principals. Ana Villafane is nothing short of terrific as the Cuban-American Gloria both in the singing and acting department. She is a powerhouse in action when performing songs made famous by Gloria, Emilio and Miami Sound Machine. Think “Conga.” The music frames the story of Gloria and her eventual husband Emilio, enjoyably portrayed by Josh Segarra, who began their musical collaboration and struggled before soaring to success.
The story covers the tragic accident that happened on a bus trip, when Gloria was so severely injured that it looked as if she might never perform again. But the road to rehabilitation led to her triumphant return, dramatized effectively in the show.
There are so many highlights in this huge helping of entertainment. One is a diminutive boy who appears in various numbers and shakes his body to the music with such zinging appeal that the audience goes wild over him. On the night I saw the show, the role was performed by Kevin Tellez. I thus didn’t see Eduardo Hernandez in the part, but it would be hard to believe that he could be any more sensational then young Tellez.
Andrea Burns turns in a strong performance as Gloria’s mother, who doesn’t want her daughter pursuing her music career. A welcome and repeated scene stealer is Alma Cuervo as Gloria’s feisty grandmother, Consuelo.
There are moments when characters parade in the aisles, which brings them closer to the smiling-faced audience members. On stage, the performers delight over and over again and you can see which ones delighted the most by the sound of applause when they take their curtain calls. The drama may something be a bit of a slog, as well as sometimes moving, but this is a show that communicates mainly through its music and dance and on that score it always soars. At the Marquis Theatre, Broadway between 45th ad 46th Streets. Reviewed November 13, 2015.
THÉRÈSE RAQUIN Send This Review to a Friend
The Roundabout Theatre Company production of “Thérêse Raquin,” written by Helen Edmundson based on the renowned novel by Émile Zola, starts slowly, as does the performance by Keira Knightley, making her Broadway debut in the title role. But by the time the unsettling drama builds to its climactic scenes, the staging as well as Knightley’s acting, leaves a strong impression.
This is a very dark, disturbing play. Set in 1868 and taking place in a French village along the river Seine and in Paris, it tells a grim tale of a woman who marries a decent but boring man, falls in love with another and joins her lover in a plot to murder the husband. Eventually, the crime gets the better of them as they fall out amid recriminations that propel the story into further tragedy.
Under the direction of Evan Cabnet, the production is mostly designed in appropriately dark tones. Set designer Beowulf Boritt has provided a river of water, where a boating trip enables Laurent, the lover (Matt Ryan), to drown the husband, Camile Raquin (Gabriel Ebert). The pretense is that it was an accident.
A key player in the drama is Judith Light as Madame Raquin, the victim’s mother, who is fond of Thérèse, whom she has raised. After mourning her son at his grave site, she subsequently is pleased when Laurent and Thérèse are married. Then the tension escalates, and when Madame Raquin overhears a conversation in which the murder is revealed, she has a stroke. Much of the tension in the play results from seeing her sitting there unable to speak while the emotional sparks are flying about her.
The leads and supporting players all do very well with their roles, and in her explosive scenes Knightley reveals herself to be impressively capable on stage, where she needs to raise the volume in contrast to the more subdued film requirements in her screen stardom.
There are various ways to deal with the Zola Novel. Broadway saw a musical version “Thou Shalt Not” and many will recall the similarity between the river drowning scene with what Theodore Dreiser did in “An American Tragedy,” based on a real American case, and with what Charlie Chaplin did with comedy in “Monsieur Verdoux."
This new Zola adaptation is bleak and grim, which fits its subject but avoids any effort to add audience-appeal sparkle. The acting and the plot tell the very nasty story without let-up. At Studio 54, 254 West 54th Street. Phone 212-719-1300. Reviewed November 4, 2015.
CLEVER LITTLE LIES Send This Review to a Friend
Joe DiPietro’s play “Clever Little Lies” clicks delightfully when it stresses comedy. The laughs come often and loud as the cast members get into a tangle of complications and the expert four performers show they know how to master humor and mayhem. But when the play turns the corner and gets serious the results strain credibility even though the performances remain at their high quality level.
We meet father Bill and son Billy (Greg Mullavey and George Merrick) in a tennis club locker room after dad has given his son a trouncing on the court. Their conversation is droll, and then Billy breaks down and confesses to dad that, although married and with a new baby, he is having a hot affair that he thinks is the real thing for the real him. Mullavey’s acting is a gem as he tries to talk sense into his wayward boy and is taken aback by Billy’s description of the oral sex fulfillment he lacks at home. It’s all great father and son stuff.
Billy gets his father to vow that he won’t say a word to mom, but we know the bond will be broken as dad notes that his wife has a way of prying things out of him. Then when we meet Alice we understand why. She’s played by Marlo Thomas, a main attraction of the production, and Thomas wows us with demonstrating Alice’s manipulative wiles. Her speeches and maneuvers are hilarious and marked by her excellent veteran timing.
We also get to meet Billy's wife, Jane, played understatedly by Kate Wetherhead until she provides an emotional outburst. (We never meet Billy’s physical trainer tootsie.) There is some superb staging under David Saint’s direction, including smart set design and projections. In one sequence Billy and Jane are riding in a car, while behind them are projected road scenes that give the impression that their car is in motion. Projected New York scenes also add to the flavor, and scenic designer Yoshi Tanokura also provides a handsome apartment living room set for the family confrontations.
I can’t be a substitute playwright and suggest where the comedy should go, given the messy problems that are set-up. But as often happens when comedies turn the corner into seriousness, the high drama opted for by the playwright is at odds and isn’t very convincing no matter how good the actors are.
But as long as the laughs were coming I was having a good time. Mullavey gets and holds facial expressions that are hilarious without his twitching a muscle. Thomas proves that she can still act with great appeal, and Merrick and Wetherhead hold their own impressively. Others may differ and happily swallow the drama as well. At the Westside Theatre, 407 West 43rd Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed November 6, 2015.
SYLVIA Send This Review to a Friend
If I were ever to adopt a pet I would definitely choose Annaleigh Ashford. She makes a great, loving and amusing almost human dog in “Sylvia,” the revival of A.R. Gurney’s play that is thin but very funny and with something to say about a man having trouble being connected in life but finding satisfaction in connecting with a pooch. When he discovers Sylvia in the Central Park and brings her home to his Manhattan apartment, he is joyful, although his wife can’t stand her. Through it all Ashford is a delight.
Whether Sylvia is wiggling her butt along the floor to satisfy an itch, snuggling up to her master, lasciviously diving into the crotch of the wife’s woman visitor or running off to have sex with another dog, Ashford gives a charming, often hilarious performance. Sylvia is very verbal, quoting literature, making acidic remarks and working her wiles. She’s also very jealous of attention her master bestows elsewhere, and she solicits our sympathy when things go wrong for her.
That brings us to the performance by Matthew Broderick as Greg, whose life grows increasingly centered on his new-found pet and companion. Some pick on Broderick and accuse him of giving the same performance no matter the role. But I have found that he expertly does what the parts for which he is cast require. In this case, his calm demeanor is perfect for Greg. He is low-key, with excellent, unadorned line delivery, as if all of his feelings for Sylvia are thoroughly logical. Gurney’s writing sets the tone. Even with Greg’s exasperated wife, Kate, played perfectly by Julie White, he talks about Sylvia with amazement that Kate also wouldn’t want to have her as part of their family. White’s performance builds carefully with necessary tonal changes as the plot develops.
The play may be a stretch, but is rescued by the considerable comedy that surfaces, both in dialogue and action. There is also the very amusing performance in three roles by Robert Sella—as Tom, a fellow dog owner, as Phyllis, the woman friend with the crotch that Syvlia covets and a bewildered psychiatrist.
Under Daniel Sullivan’s direction, the comedy is stressed more than what the play has to say about Greg and his connection problems, or about potential bestiality (Greg thinks Sylvia’s butt is nice). I believe that preferable to striving for depth that might make the work seem pretentious. This production guarantees laughs, and certainly Ashford’s performance is one of the most colorful of the current season. You may want to take Sylvia home with you. At the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed November 1, 2015.
ROTHSCHILD & SONS Send This Review to a Friend
“The Rothschilds,” a quality musical about the famous financial family that emerged from the Frankfurt ghetto in the late 18th century to become powerful bankers, with music By Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick and book by Sherman Yellen, appeared on Broadway in 1970 and in an off-Broadway production in 1990. Bock is gone, but Harnick and Yellen, with cooperation by the Bock estate, have now turned the show into “Rothschild & Sons,” with the emphasis on Rothschild and the five sons who helped build the financial empire in Europe.
The adaptation, presented by The York Theatre Company, in association with Arnold Mittelman and the National Jewish Theater Foundation, makes sense with honing the show into the new approach, and the musical acquires more dramatic focus and eliminates some of the less potent threads. New songs have been added, while some of the others have been dropped. It remains a forceful exploration of how the Rothschilds battled anti-Jewish discrimination.
This story now concentrates on the sons following in their father’s footsteps and gaining what he always wanted, a declaration removing the stigma from Jews, a feat attained by financial power and manipulative risks. Money talks, and the Rothschilds are depicted forcing concessions by banking maneuvers that are a threat to the powers that be, and the sons getting what they and their father wanted.
Robert Cuccioli is vibrant and impressive as Meyer Rothschild, head of the family. Leading a strong cast interpreting the revamped musical, Cuccioli brings acting and singing power to the role. The total effect is to make one appreciate anew the special quality of the work, and the ability to turn high finance into a viable musical.
Jeffrey B. Moss, who with Mittelman, nurtured the project’s development, directed “Rothschild & Sons,” which at this point comes across as somewhat of a concert version, but indicates its potential of emerging as a full production with a fresh life. At the York Theatre, 619 Lexington Avenue at 54th Street. Phone: 212-935-5820. Reviewed October 20, 2015.