By William Wolf
A DELICATE BALANCE Send This Review to a Friend
Edward Albee’s “A Delicate Balance” deals with fears within a disturbed family and fears invading from without. In this revival, sharply directed by talented Pam MacKinnon, a first-rate cast brings the play to a boil after laying the groundwork for its explosive confrontations.
Various casts have had a crack at deciphering what Albee was up to, and this one is an effective ensemble that offers special appeal and a reason for seeing the production. Albee’s plays are always a challenge, as they demand attention to his rhythms and are laced with acerbic dialogue and sometimes metaphysical ideas. Albee has often tended to entice audiences to ponder his meanings, resulting in stimulating discussions.
Glenn Close and John Lithgow play Agnes and Tobias, an upscale wife and husband living with regrets and fears in an appropriately upscale home, as elegantly designed by Santo Loquasto. They are haunted by the untimely death of their son, sleep in separate bedrooms and sex appears to be a thing of the past. For a good way Tobias’s main function is mixing drinks in this heavily imbibing household.
But in the play’s climactic moments Lithgow, astute actor that he is, tears loose as Tobias to reveal how much emotion he is capable of when long-simmering feelings and concerns rush to the surface. It is a performance that keeps building to a peak and makes for a standout turn worthy of award consideration.
As for her character, Close is slyly convincing as the matriarch who manages to look in control, and Albee has given the character some zinger lines that break through her veneer. She has one speech in which she amusingly, and somewhat bitterly, wonders what it would be like if she had been a man. She also speaks of death, and while she pours out her unhappiness, she at one point expresses some tenderness toward Tobias in memory of what their relationship may once have held. But basically, Agnes is a dissatisfied wife and mother with a sharp tongue. Close is especially good in handling a long, revealing statement of her take on the life she has been living. Agnes also suspects Tobias of having had an affair, and while we wonder if there might have been one with his sister-in-law, the issue is never resolved.
Staying with them is Agnes’s sister Claire, played by the superb actress Lindsay Duncan. She loves to drink and is adept at spewing Albee’s brittle dialogue. Her nasty edge carries its share of humor, as well as enlivens the drama. (Albee can be quite funny even when dealing with serious issues.) Martha Plimpton is especially outstanding as Julia, the daughter of Agnes and Tobias. She comes home after the break-up of the most recent of her four marriages accumulated even though she is only 36 years old. Julia explodes with anger when, expecting to have what was her room, she finds it occupied by two family friends, Harry and Edna. She wants them to leave and at one point brandishes a gun.
It is Harry and Edna who symbolize what Albee would appear to be driving at in the play. Skillfully played by Bob Balaban and Clare Higgins, they have arrived at the house uninvited, presuming on the friendship with Tobias and Agnes, with the intention of staying with them because of an unexplained, terrifying fear of being where they are. By bringing this fear into the already shaken family, they are regarded as coming with a plague that can be infectious. Harry and Edna have enough fears of their own, but it is difficult to say no to their friends. At one point it looks as if they may leave, but it is only to fetch and bring back their belongings.
A key issue is whether to tell Harry and Edna to stay or go. Tobias has a split reaction. Although he doesn’t want them to stay, at first he hypocritically urges them to remain. The concept of fear being contagious hovers over the last act of the three-act play, and it is here that Albee injects the crisis that appears more metaphorical than realistic.
Every member of the cast gets a chance to excel at particular moments, and there is a good ensemble quality about the performances as clear views of the characters are delineated. The play won the 1967 Pulitzer Prize for drama, and although it nevertheless may not be Albee’s best, it still reflects his talent for creating characters who in the right hands, as they certainly are here, can command our attention and make the work worth seeing and thinking about again. At the Golden Theatre, 252 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed November 23, 2014.
SIDE SHOW Send This Review to a Friend
I enjoyed the 1997 original and I enjoyed the current revision. “Side Show” is a provocatively staged musical with a tough subject that comes through entertainingly without seriously compromising the tragic circumstances of its heroines. The work, with book and Lyrics by Bill Russell and music by Henry Krieger and additional book material by Bill Condon, who directs, is based on the lives of Daisy and Violet Hilton. The twins, who went through life joined at the hip, as they were born in 1908, are portrayed this time around by Emily Padgett (Daisy) and Erin Davie (Violet), who are charming and affecting when they are singing and also when they are expressing themselves in the context of what they must go through.
The show captures much of the ways in which they were exploited, notably in a freak show. They were elevated into vaudeville entertainers, but also later appeared in Tod Browning’s 1932 film “Freaks.” The musical poignantly covers their efforts at romance, and has the courage not to end happily, but nevertheless allows the sisters to symbolically separate as they sing the moving “I Will Never Leave You,” each with her own personality.
The lives of the Hilton twins reportedly were much more grueling than depicted in “Side Show,” as revealed in a documentary, “Bound By Flesh.” After their fame and romantic liaisons, their fortunes declined. They ended up working in a grocery store. In 1969 Daisy and Violet were found dead from flu in their home. Daisy died first, and Violet died four days later.
The sisters learned to exploit their opportunities, but there was always the “freak” element defining their lives as they remained known as the “Siamese twins,” now a politically incorrect designation.
But this is a musical, after all, and it would be self-destructive to make the show overly grim. Padgett and Davie elicit such warmth and high spirits contrasted with what they cope with in life that they are a pleasure to welcome as Broadway stars. Both are divine.
A large supporting ensemble makes a strong impression as the freaks on display, thanks not only to the actors but to behind-the-scenes experts, including Dave Elsey and Lou Elsey, special make-up effects design; Chares G. LaPointe, wig and hair design; Cookie Jordan, make-up design; Paul Tazwell, costume design and Paul Kieve, illusion design.
David St. Louis is outstanding as Jake, who plays an African cannibal in the freak show, then assists in the sisters’ upward career moves and secretly harbors love for Violet. He finally bursts out with his feelings with ardent words and singing “You Should Be Loved.” He has a thrilling voice and his impassioned number is a high point.
Ryan Silverman as Terry and Matthew Hydzik as Buddy are effective as the men who free the twins from their early servitude in the freak show and establish their careers on the vaudeville circuit. There is an especially amusing number, “One Plus One Equals Three,” with the twins in bed with Buddy, a satirical treatment referencing all of the interest in how co-joined twins might manage sex.
A serious standout number is “Who Will Love Me As I Am?” a beautiful ballad expressing what Daisy and Violet are feeling.
“Side Show” packs power that reaches our emotions but also meets the challenge of spiritedly entertaining us. Potential audiences need to know that they should not be put off by not wanting to see a show that might be too downbeat. Here is a musical that while serious, is to be highly recommended as a lively Broadway treat, especially for the co-joined star performances. At the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed November 20, 2014.
ALLEGRO Send This Review to a Friend
The Classic Stage Company has done a service in reviving the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical “Allegro” in a new version directed and designed by creative John Doyle. The result is a charmer, especially with, as is Doyle’s specialty, cast members playing instruments in providing the Richard Rodgers music as well as singing the lyrics and playing the assorted characters of Oscar Hammerstein II’s book. “Allegro” was poorly received when it appeared in 1947, but it has had its advocates. This pared production provides a birds-eye view of the work.
The story involves the childhood to adulthood trajectory of Joseph Taylor Jr., played engagingly by Claybourne Elder, who gets away with depicting the younger years convincingly. We watch him grow up and become a doctor, following in the footsteps of his noted father (Malcolm Gets). The story has its moral issue. Joseph would rather do good and savor hometown pleasures than be rich and successful in bustling Chicago.
Joe marries Jenny (Elizabeth A. Davis), the sweetheart from his childhood, and her ambitions point him in the direction he doesn’t wish to go. Much more attuned to him is a nurse , played by Jane Pfitsch. The book has down-home quality inherently favorable to the simple, decent life of solid values.
But it isn’t the book that resonates most in this revival. It is the score and the talent of the cast putting over the songs and playing the instruments. Under Doyle’s direction, the cast members at times look like itinerant musicians, as they roam about the small stage area with seeming ease.
The show has an engaging flow to it in its present form, eschewing more ambitious staging for the low-key intimacy achieved. Others cast in various roles include Alma Cuervo, Maggie Lakis, Paul Lincoln, Megan Loomis, Randy Redd, Ed Romanoff and Jessica Tyler Wright. The effect achieved is that of a well-tuned ensemble.
“The Gentleman is a Dope” remains the best known song, but there is lots of appealing music well-sung by the cast. It can’t be easy to find performers also expert on their chosen instruments. But here is a success story with justice is done in part by Mary-Mitchell Campbell via her musical direction and orchestrations building on the original orchestrations by Robert Russell Bennett and original choral arrangements by Crane Calder. Original dance arrangements were by Trude Rittman. At the Classic Stage Company (CSC), 136 East 13th Street. Phone: 212-352-3101 or 866-811-4111. Reviewed November 21, 2014.
THE BAND WAGON Send This Review to a Friend
The silliest thing to have done in seeing the New York City Center Encores! Special Event production of “The Band Wagon” was to compare it to the film, which was in a class by itself. Film and theater are two different mediums. Fred Astaire did it on stage in 1931 and later was an icon in the screen version. What a stage revival needed was a powerful singer in the leading male role and Brian Stokes Mitchell absolutely filled the bill grandly in the elaborate concert version (November 8 -16, 2014).
Those who saw the production at City Center were treated to a highly entertaining, smartly staged show offering sheer pleasure, thanks to the music by Arthur Schwartz, lyrics by Howard Dietz, book by Douglas Carter Beane based on the screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green and the handiwork of all concerned. Direction and choreography was by Kathleen Marshall, with Todd Ellison as Guest Music Director of the Encores! Orchestra, pared for the occasion but nonetheless strong. The overture touching on some of the terrific songs established the right mood at the outset.
Mitchell was appealing in the role of Tony Hunter, a movie star whose reputation has faded and who comes to Broadway in the hope of re-burnishing his reputation. The intended show, initially imagined in a “Faust” mode under the direction of Jeffrey Cordova, colorfully and often hilariously played by Tony Sheldon, is a mess. Paul Byrd, an egotistical choreographer acted accordingly by Michael Berresse, wants to give the musical called “The Band Wagon” a creatively dark edge. His girlfriend, Gabrielle Gerard, portrayed by Laura Osnes, is to have the female lead, and will, of course, fall for Tony, who ultimately will return the favor.
All of the aforementioned were in good form, and the show was given a great boost by Tracey Ullman as lyricist Lily Martin and Michael McKean as composer Lester Martin, a warring couple, with Ullman handling plenty of wisecracks in the Comden-Green manner, in addition to some deft singing solo in “I Still Look at You That Way” and teaming with McKean on “Something to Remember You By” and “Sweet Music.”
Mitchell was a delight to hear singing “When You’re Far Away from New York Town,” aided by the Ensemble, “By Myself,” “A Rainy Day” with charming Laura Osnes, and “I Guess I’ll Have to Change My Plan” with Tony Sheldon,” as well as in combination cast numbers, such as “A Shine on Your Shoes” and the memorable “That’s Entertainment.” And as a bonus, Mitchell got to do a bit of tap dancing, no Astaire, but with his own flair.
One of the most enjoyable numbers was “Triplets,” a favorite from the film with the stars signing while dressed as babies. The feat could be pulled off with the magic of cinema, but on stage there was the extra challenge of making it look real, and it worked with fresh hilarity as Mitchell, Osnes and Sheldon teamed to do the honors. Other major songs that lent themselves to pleasurable treatment included “You and the Night and the Music,” “I Love Louisa,” “New Sun in the Sky,” “Louisiana Hayride” and “Dancing in the Dark.”
The talented women in the ensemble were strikingly dressed (William Ivy Long was Costume Consultant) and the sparse but effective scenery (Derek McLane was Scenic Consultant) made me wonder why intrinsically substantial shows sometimes need elaborate, ultra expensive sets other than to make audiences feel they are getting value for the high prices they are paying. At New York City Center, 131 West 55th Street, 212-581-1212. Reviewed November 18, 2014.
THE RIVER Send This Review to a Friend
Hugh Jackman is the main attraction of Jez Butterworth’s play “The River,” a production of Britain’s Royal Court Theatre. His co-star is enigma. The drama, set remotely in a cabin along a river good for fishing, invites you to ponder its meaning, if indeed there is a deeper one, and Ian Rickson has slyly directed it accordingly.
On the one hand you can take it metaphorically or mysteriously, or you can simply regard it as a moody tale of a handsome guy who has no trouble getting a succession of women but can’t make up his mind enough to forge a commitment.
As a glance at the program will tell you, there are two women, and they are very effectively portrayed, which helps keep us glued to the action. We meet the first one, listed only as The Woman (Jackman is listed only as The Man), and she is a high-spirited character played by Cush Jumbo. We meet the second, listed as The Other Woman, played by a cozier Laura Donnelly. There are also references to an unusual photograph.
The playwright doesn’t build bridges between the women. They appear following one another without explanation, and you can ponder whether or not they are meant to be the same woman if you masochistically want to play a mental game with Butterworth, who has a surprise in the play’s final moments. And can all the palaver about fishing be a metaphor?
Whatever you may think during the play or after it is over, Jackman still remains the attraction. He looks handsome and well-built, as usual, this time as a personable countrified loner who enjoys his fishing hobby. He is restrained in his behavior, and at one point we see him in a prolonged scene slicing food for his cooking. (He reportedly wounded himself twice in the course of his acting duties.) Anything further that I might write would be a spoiler.
The loud applause rewarding Jackman at the end of the performance I attended indicated that he is the primary reason for those who bought tickets. At the Circle in the Square, 50th Street, between Broadway and 8th Avenue. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed November 17, 2014.
LOST LAKE Send This Review to a Friend
Here is another case in which the quality of the acting surpasses the quality of a play. In “Lost Lake,” a Manhattan Theatre Club offering, John Hawkes and Tracie Thoms invest their characters with more impact than the David Auburn’s play achieves in overall effect.
Hogan (Hawkes) is the greatest mess. He lives in a lakeside cabin that is as run-down as he is. His life has been shattered, turning him in to a loner who scrapes by on whatever meager finances he can muster, honestly or dishonestly. Hawkes makes him a fast-talking character, who is sometimes amusing in the ways in which he gets by, but the sadness of his existence is underscored by the estrangement between him and his daughter in New York.
Into his world comes Veronica (Thoms), a widow who has answered an ad with a view toward renting the cabin for herself and her children for a week of vacation. As we gradually learn, her life is also a mess, although she is a far more together person than he is. She works as a nurse, but she lied in her application and the revelation has shattered her career. But she has strengths that can enable her to work as an aide and one feels she will make it in life somehow.
Hogan has a brother from whom he is alienated but who can also help if Hogan would swallow his pride and let him instead of stealing from him. Although Veronica is angered by Hogan’s failure to provide the repairs promised, she is a kindly soul who would like to help him, even after the vacation is over. He has inner goodness and he would like to help her in a way she cannot accept. Daniel Sullivan’s direction is tight enough to keep a strong focus on the two and their intimate, often volatile conversations, and it is a tribute to the staging and the fact that Hogan is white and Veronica African-American does not enter into the relationship.
Both actors are excellent in delineating their characters. But after the play was inconclusively over, I was left with the feeling of having enjoyed the performances but wasn’t really very impressed by play in which Hogan and Veronica live. At City Center Stage I, 131 West 55th Street. Phone: 212-581-1212. Reviewed November 18, 2014.
THE OLDEST BOY Send This Review to a Friend
As a non-believer of any religion, I find the whole idea of a selected little boy becoming the chosen one to be enshrined as a future Buddhist leader an absurdity, but my attitude toward believers is to each his or her own. That said, taken on its terms, “The Oldest Boy,” sensitively written by Sarah Ruhl with occasional dabs of humor and presented by the Lincoln Center Theater, is an exquisitely staged and beautifully acted production.
The crux of the drama is a mother’s anguish and conflict over having her three-year-old son Tenzin, indentified as a reincarnation of a Buddhist teacher, taken from her and sent to a monastery in India to fulfill his destiny. The mother, played poignantly by the appealing Celia Keenan-Bolger, is married to a Buddhist, portrayed stoically by James Yaegashi, and is preparing to convert. But there is obviously a large gap between her intentions and her anxieties. When a monk and a lama (Jon Norman Schneider and James Saito) arrive at the home of the parents, who live in an American city with a lerge Tibetan community, to carry out their mission, the crisis begins.
The charm of the play is enhanced by the production, smoothly directed by Rebecca Taichman with an assist from Matt Acheson’s puppetry and a set design by Mimi Lien. The chosen boy is depicted in the form of a puppet, manipulated by two puppeteers and voiced in an adult tone by Ernest Abuba. It is all very creative, including when the action moves to India. Within a long rectangular, lovely lit (lighting by Japhy Weideman) background panel we sometimes see movement of characters against a landscape. The effect is impressive.
At the monastery we see the boy puppet resisting having his head shaved bald but pacified by being allowed to operating a toy airplane. The mother is pregnant again, and she hopes that this time it is a girl, ineligible to be similarly taken from her. She wants the baby to be born back in the United States, but It doesn’t take a mind-reader to expect that she will go into labor suddenly in India.
There is an overall magical aura achieved in telling this story. How you respond may well be defined by your attitudes toward such a saga. But rest assured, all involved have done a most effective job in fleshing out Ruhl’s play. At the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, 150 West 65th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed November 14, 2014.
THE BELLE OF AMHERST Send This Review to a Friend
From the moment she comes on stage to address the audience to the moment she leaves at the end of the play Joely Richardson convinces us that she is Emily Dickinson. It is a brilliant tour de force solo performance by an extraordinary and accomplished actress, who makes this revival of William Luce’s play “The Belle of Amherst” special.
The author weaves Dickinson’s poetry into the script. And Richardson as Dickinson interjects her poetic thoughts as if they come deep from within and in a conversational manner. The format is her telling about her life to the audience, and she establishes intimacy, whether baring her feelings or reeling off a recipe for a cake that she likes to bake.
The time is 1883 and the portrait of Dickinson at the age of 53 is one of a woman who is famously reclusive, preferring to spend time in the family Amherst home (effectively designed by Antje Ellermann), and rarely leaving it. She is known in the area for her hide-out ways and also for wearing white (costume design by William Ivey Long). Dickinson appears plain yet often delightfully animated in her self-revelations that, although a recluse, she is now sharing with viewers in a theatrical conceit.
She talks candidly of her frustrations. There is the disappointment when she finds that poems she would like to have published are turned down. (Only a minimal amount of her voluminous poetry was published while she was alive.) Dickinson never married and there is a very poignant section in which she laments relationships that touched her heart and her yearning to be loved but did not blossom.
Under the direction of Steve Cosson, the play takes on vibrancy. Dickinson moves about the house with ease –nothing seems forced—and Richardson has the knack of making the character so very real throughout. When Dickinson is expecting a visitor, she rehearses the conversation as she hopefully and fearfully envisions it, and one can almost feel as if there is another person in the room. At one point she tries out different inflections on what she intends to say, and there is something endearing about how deeply she wants to make the right impression. Dickinson expresses her love of literature and refers frequently to those who inspired her. At one time she wryly holds up a book that had been criticized but was written--punch line- by Walt Whitman.
On the one hand we get a very intelligent and spirited Emily, but we also are privy to the sadness she feels in the face of deaths, such as the perishing of a favorite nephew when he was just a boy. She refers frequently to her sister, Lavinia, who is still living at home, as well sas other family ties. But always there is the picture of a woman who stands alone in the world and deep in her thoughts and attitudes, with the ability to put such thoughts into poetic words and visions that resulted in her being so well regarded in literary history even though she unfortunately received so little recognition in her lifetime. Scholars may ponder how accurate this portrait is. As theater it is enthralling. At the Westside Theatre/Upstairs, 407 West 43rd Street. Phone 212-239-6200. Reviewed November 12, 2014.
STICKS AND BONES Send This Review to a Friend
David Rabe’s “Sticks and Bones” was searing when it appeared in 1971 as a lacerating comment on the Vietnam War, and in The New Group’s revival it retains that gripping quality and makes one see fresh relevance as a result of more recent slaughter. The play, the staging of which is the first in The New Group’s 20th anniversary season, is a dark vision, sometimes with gallows humor and at other moments chillingly upsetting. It is a family portrait meant to symbolize America’s disconnect from appalling events. The direction by Scott Elliott gets to the heart of the travesty.
Rabe sets up husband and wife with the names Ozzie and Harriet, a clear reference to the bland television couple meant to pass as a typical American family. But this Ozzie, frenetically played by Bill Pullman, is in the throes of mentally coming apart, and Harriet, manically played by Holly Hunter, thinks serving a snack solves every upset. The young son at home, Rick (Raviv Ullman) is ever-chipper with terse, glib responses as he goes his way with his own disconnect from his parents.
This so called normalcy is thrown into crisis when son David (Ben Schnetzer) is brought home from Vietnam, where he has lost his eyesight and endured the terrors of war about which his parents have been oblivious. David is so angry and emotionally alienated that he doesn’t even want to be home. Rabe’s imagination is at work in going beyond reality by enacting David’s memory of the Vietnamese woman whom he loved but left behind. His thoughts of her appear in the person of Zung, portrayed in silence by Nadia Gan. She walks about the house and lies with David in his upstairs bedroom as his sole comfort. His parents think his condition can be explained by having dallied with whom they consider a whore, not because he was sent to fight a useless war.
They desire to help David by inviting a clergyman, Father Donald, to talk to him. Richard Chamberain gives an excellent performance as the priest, who speaks in platitudes and rants against evil, for which David rewards him by attacking him with his cane. There is also an explosive scene in which David violently turns against his mother.
Rabe builds toward a nasty ending that is bound to jar an audience as well as cement the bitter, unforgiving satire of the so-called normal family next door in contrast to what had been going on in the world beyond, and a demonstration of the lengths to which such a family could go to keep their lives intact. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street.
Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewed November 7, 2014.
FATHER COMES HOME FROM THE WARS (PARTS 1, 2 & 3) Send This Review to a Friend
Suzan-Lori Parks is a very special playwright who has garnered important awards, including a Pulitzer Prize for “Topdog/Underdog.” Her new “Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts 1,2 & 3),” a presentation by The Public Theater in association with American Repertory Theater, elevates her work even further. It is a saga that demonstrates her skill in blending realism and imagination applied to the important subject of slavery in an American Civil War setting with strong emotional effect. The psychological as well as physical aspects of slavery and the longing for freedom are explored with depth and originality.
The three-part drama, with a nod to the classics by following a Ulysses-like journey of its central character, takes nearly three hours (including an intermission) to unfold, and it is a tribute to Parks that she is able to keep the play riveting. One looks at the characters, not at a watch, as the author tells her compelling story under the fine interpretive direction by Jo Bonney, all on a no-frills set designed by Neil Patel.
In Part 1, titled “A Measure of a Man,” we meet a group of slaves who talk about their lives and the conditions under which they maneuver to survive. The main focus is on Hero, as is the case throughout, and he is magnetically played by Sterling K. Brown. His owner, a colonel in the rebel army, wants to take him to war with him as his battlefield slave. Hero’s owner has promised that one day he will set him free, and he has a sense of loyalty to his “boss-master.” With the promise of freedom dangling, Hero goes to war, leaving behind his wife Penny (Jenny Jules). Also left is Homer (Jeremie Harris), who is in love with Penny. Homer, who hobbles about, had his foot cut off as punishment for trying to escape. Hero informed on him and was ordered by the slave owner to do the crippling deed.
Part 2, titled “A Battle in the Wilderness,” is particularly poignant. The obnoxious colonel, played by an effective Ken Marks, pontificates about his life and crows how happy he is to have been born white. He orders Hero about, charging him with looking after Smith, a captured Union army soldier held in a cage. In the colonel’s temporary absence Hero and Smith get to converse intimately, and Hero learns something shocking about the prisoner. (Experience the surprise yourself when seeing the play.) Louis Cancelmi is deeply moving in his portrayal of Smith, who inspires Hero to perform an act of compassion. Yet Hero also remains ethically loyal to his master in expectation of the freedom promise being fulfilled.
In Part 3, titled “The Union of My Confederate Parts,” slaves wait for darkness to continue their escape plans. Penny longs for the return of Hero, now referred to as Ulysses in the playbill. Homer, in love with Penny, begs her to escape with him. There is a belief that Hero has been killed, as has the master. Suddenly Parks springs on us a wonderfully entertaining sequence that stretches our imagination—the return of Odyssey, Hero’s talking Dog, who has been on the battlefields.
Jacob Ming-Trent is a show-stealer as Dog, roly-poly in a furry wrap, bounding about with unbridled enthusiasm as he recounts the story of what has happened, much to the impatience of those who want him to get to the bottom line. Is Hero alive or dead? Penny in particular presses him to get to the point. Parks has given Dog some great lines in his drawn-out speech.
When the surviving Hero, returns home, the welcome is shattered by an assortment of revelations. Hero never gets to read the proclamation he has copied—the freeing of slaves—so the slaves will follow through ironically on escape plans even though declared free. Hero has some shattering news of his own that he casually dispenses. All Mr. Nice Guy he isn’t. And he gets news that Homer has slept with Penny, who is pregnant. Emotions are churned by the fresh complications, and as an example of how involving the play is at this point, a few audience members behind me gasped aloud at the shock of a key disclosure.
Before the play begins, during intermission, and at the end Steven Bargonetti sings informally from a side of the stage, as if he were a one-man Greek chorus. Cast members include Russell G. Jones, Julian Rozzell Jr., Tonye Patano and Peter Jay Fernandez. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Reviewed Novemeber 1, 2014.