By William Wolf
THE SOUND AND THE FURY Send This Review to a Friend
My advice to anyone going to see the Elevator Repair Service’s return of its stage production of a section of William Faulkner’s 1929 novel “The Sound and the Fury” would be to read Faulkner first. Otherwise, one may be lost in the shuffle and find it difficult to follow what is unfolding. Of course, one could argue that a theater work should stand on its own without one having to do research to fully grasp the piece. One could also argue that it might just be preferable to read Faulkner in the first place.
The Elevator Repair Service, with its reputation for experimentation, has taken the first part of the Faulkner work titled “April Seventh, 1928” and adapted it for the stage, with its cast members giving their all in the elaborate interpretation, most playing multiple roles. The drama is set in Mississippi during the years 1898-1928, mostly in an unpretentious all-purpose living room designed by David Zinn.
There are parts of Faulkner’s dialogue projected above and characters read the conversations punctuated by “he said” and “she said,” giving the impression of carefully following the writing.
The key to understanding the play is to realize that it is told from the viewpoint of severely retarded Benjy Compson (Susie Sokol), who observes life about him skewered and bewildering for his underdeveloped mind. With so much whirling about, it is not always easy to keep realizing that events are unfolding from Benjy’s distorted perspective.
Various members of Compson family and their African-American servants have their lives dramatized, and sometimes characters break into fast-paced dancing. The result is a very busy tapestry played out flamboyantly in two hours and fifteen minutes without an intermission.
A sadness pervades the spectacle, occasionally relieved by humor reflecting the dysfunctional lives under inspection. But the work challenges audiences to keep up with it and make sense out of all of the performances and Benjy’s bouts with frustration and hysteria. Not everyone will think it worth spending so much intellectual energy in trying to follow everything instead of just curling up on a sofa and reading the source material. But for those who enjoy such a challenge and don’t find it an interminable slog, the Elevator Repair Service obliges big time.
This is the company that gave the world “Gatz,” the six-hour plus reading of “The Great Gatsby.” Credit the enthusiasm of company members, in addition to Sokol as Benjy, for bringing “The Sound and the Fury” to stage life, including Daphne Gaines, Rosie Goldensohn, Maggie Hoffman, Mike Iveson, Vin Knight, Aaron Landsman, Randolph Curtis Rand, Greig Sargeant, Kaneza Schaal, Pete Simpson, Lucy Taylor, Tory Vazquez and Ben Williams. Director John Collins has whipped it all into shape, confusion intact. At the Public Theater, 425 Lafayette Street. Phone: 212-967-7555. Reviewed May 22, 2015.
WHAT I DID LAST SUMMER Send This Review to a Friend
Clever staging can make all the difference. Director Jim Simpson’s mounting of the Signature Theatre’s revival of A. R. Gurney’s “What I Did Last Summer” gives the 1983 play visual cachet and manages to bring us closer to the characters. At the outset typed stage directions are projected on a wide, white wall, thereby bringing us swiftly into the mentality of the playwright. At the side of the stage, drummer Dan Weiner begins a rhythmic beat that is kept up throughout, with occasional use of the drums for sound effects. The look and sounds of the production are refreshing.
One can assume that Gurney has resurrected at least some personal memories to enliven his characters, who are depicted in the war-time summer of 1945 on the Canadian side of Lake Erie, where the Higgins family resides in a vacation home. The plot combines coming of age with adult angst to entertaining effect. This is not an extremely deep play, but there is enough of a ring of truth to its characters to keep one involved and appreciative of the excellent performances. Characters addressing the audience at points to proclaim their own special relevance to the drama help make them all the more human. In this production style is almost as important as substance.
Noah Galvin has a special challenge playing Charlie, 14, who is going through a host of growing pains. He is rebellious, giving his mother Grace (Carolyn McCormick) a hard time. Charlie is filled with anger and frustrations, and behaves furiously at times in an expression of worrying about what is expected of him versus what he might want if left unpressured.
Kate McGonigle portrays his older sister, Elsie, who is at an awkward age at which she questions her looks and also gives her mother a rough time, sidestepping household chores and thoroughly involved in her lack of self-assurance. Charlie and Elsie each want to be the play’s center.
Others in the growing up category include Pico Alexander as Charlie’s friend Ted, and Juliet Brett as Bonny, a cute teenager who would like to get closer to Charlie but is naïve and unsure of herself, worried about what she should and should not do in the context of the the social mores within which her life is unfolding.
For me, at least, Grace is the most interesting character, all the more so because of the sharp performance by McCormick, always an excellent actress. She sympathetically nails the character of a woman whose husband has been off fighting the war in the Pacific arena, who is lonely and who is struggling with trying to raise her son and daughter at crisis ages in their lives. She has her emotional needs, overlooked in the press of her daily obligations. She also wants the play to be about her, and a large part of it is, including a revelation about a past friendship and what she has been up to in secret.
Grace’s life is illuminated as a key thread in the play develops. The local area has its focus of shame in a character known as the pig woman, about whom sexual rumors have spread. She is Anna Trumbull, partly of Native American heritage, broadly played by Kristine Nielsen. She lives in isolation on her farm, and she has nursed ideas of being an artist and teacher. When Charlie applies for a job as a handyman with her as part of his rebellious attitude, she becomes taken with him, sees real or imagined artistic potential, and begins to dominate his life in an aspect of the play that is quite strained, but enlived by Nielsen’s flamboyant acting.
There is a showdown when Grace visits Anna to get her to release her hold on Charlie, and we learn about a past acquaintanceship between Grace and Anna and a secret Grace did not realize Anna knew. The plotting gets heavy, but ultimately the characters command and retain interest, in great measure as a result of the impressive, appealing acting. At the Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 West 42nd Street. Phone: 212-244-7529. Reviewed May 20, 2015.
TUESDAYS AT TESCO'S Send This Review to a Friend
Noted British actor Simon Callow is the prime attraction of French playwright Emmanuel Darley’s poignant play “Tuesday at Tesco’s,” part of the current Brits Off Broadway festival at 59E59 Theaters. The basically solo drama, aided by musician Conor Mitchell, has been adapted and translated by Matthew Hurt and Sarah Vermande.
Callow plays Pauline, who used to be Paul, and regularly visits her widowed father, Andrew, to look after him, do the household chores as her mother once did and escort him weekly to a Tesco supermarket. But the hitch is that her father is seemingly ashamed of having a son who lives as the woman she knows she is. But her dad still considers her Paul. The drama spins from Callow as Pauline, recounting for us her experiences.
The emotional thrust of the play involves Pauline desperately trying to gain respect of her father, as well as being accepted for who she is by others, who tend to stare at her. The play’s most touching moment is when Pauline describes the situation in which one day an elegant woman meets her and Andrew and without hesitation addresses Pauline, as she remembers the occasion:
“Hello, Pauline, so it’s you-- you’re Andrew’s daughter aren’t you?” She subsequently says, thoughts running together, “It’s nice to get to meet you at last, Andrew’s been saying for so long.”
Pauline continues to describe the meeting, the friendliness, the recognition and the reaction of Andrew, and it is as if a whole world of acceptance opens at that moment, especially with the knowledge that her father had talked to the woman about his daughter.
Callow, with his strong male facial features, hardly makes the most delicate looking woman, but I suppose that’s part of the point in his visually strained transformation into Pauline, abetted by Robin Don’s costume design, with Quinny Sacks credited as movement director.
Callow breaks into dance now and then, which relieves the necessity of constant dialogue as Pauline maintains perspective recounting life’s experiences, defining that life and the difficulties carrying off her persona. Although Callow still looks masculine despite makeup, dress, a womanly wig and movement to seem as feminine as possible, he achieves the character of Pauline through his remarkable acting.
It is a tour de force, but a sad journey in the quest for acceptance, with a shattering surprise ending. The play could be trimmed some, but Callow leaves an indelible impression in the demanding role. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewed May 21, 2015.
ONE HAND CLAPPING Send This Review to a Friend
As one enters the theater one sees sitting quietly on stage actress Eve Burley, looking chic and beautiful, and soon clad in a mink coat that she dons. She is there for a long time. Then suddenly she begins the play and what emerges in her rapid-fire narrative dialogue that rushes at us is the tone of an ordinary housewife who has been living in a council flat. As Janet Shirley, Burley launches into “my story and whether you believe it or not is your business and not mine.”
So begins “One Hand Clapping,” adapted for the stage and directed by Lucia Cox from the 1961 novel that Anthony Burgess wrote under the nom de plume Joseph Kell. The production is part of the 2015 Brits Off Broadway festival at 59E59 Theaters.
The play turns out to be a lacerating dark comedy that strikes at an assortment of targets related to the skewered culture and consumerism that Burgess saw characterizing life in Britain at the time, and Cox is solidly on that critical wavelength. Janet is married to Howard Shirley, played somberly by Oliver Devoti, who has a photographic memory, making him made for the kind of pop quiz shows broadcast and offering riches to the winners. Howard goes on such a program, hosted with smarmy broadness by Adam Urey as affable Laddie O’Neill. Howard, of course, succeeds.
Urey subsequently doubles as the ardent Redvers Glass, a friend who gets hot for Janet, who returns the favor. Meanwhile, the story is sprinkled with a variety of observations about the lives the Shirleys lead, and Howard gets increasingly obsessed with wanting to protest against the lack of real values that he sees pervasively corrupting society. He is, in fact, going around the bend with his stoic personal crusade.
Howard arrives at the decision that he and Janet have had everything there has been to live for, so, in protest, they should leave the world. He has planned to the last detail how they are to commit suicide.
As we have already learned from the marvelously spirited performance by Burley as Janet, the good wife is not ready to go quietly into the night, and the play takes a delightfully macabre turn.
“One Hand Clapping” is neatly presented on the tiny stage, and as it moves along, one can get increasingly taken with the performances, all three very good, but that of the highly attractive and skillful Burley exceptionally so. Meriel Pym’s simple but effective stage design and just the right costumes hit the mark, including the clever use of television sets. This edition of the British Off Broadway invasion is most welcome. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewed May 14, 2015.
BROADWAY BY THE YEAR 1966-1990 Send This Review to a Friend
What were the Broadway shows like during the 25 years covered (1966-1990) in the latest Broadway by the Year series presented by The Town Hall on May 11? They were an extremely eclectic lot, as reflected in a broad assortment of songs performed by a broad assortment of participating talent. Scott Siegel, creator/writer/director of the series, cited the changing pattern of musicals, and one could see this starting with “Sweet Charity” in 1966 and concluding with “Buddy--The Buddy Holly Story” in 1990, which might be characterized in the category that has come to be known as jukebox musicals.
Once again the array of talent in the survey was extraordinary. With songs from every year and choice performers to interpret them, I naturally enjoyed some turns more than others (no slights intended). Here are some of the highlights from my perspective:
A coup was getting Lorraine Serabian, who sang the role of The Leader in the 1968 Broadway production of “Zorba.” Having just seen Marin Mazzie do the part the night before, I was especially interested in what Serabian could do with “Life Is.” She proved to be terrific and in powerful voice after all those years, and the audience interrupted to applaud her vigorously during the number.
Kevin Earley turned on his vocal force to sing “Molasses to Rum” from the 1969 musical “1776,” a song blasting the north for hypocrisy in view of its facilitating the slave trade. Any time Carole J. Bufford sings is an occasion. This time she slipped into the mood for “Grease” (1972), turning up the volume and adopting the perfect style of that period hit to sing “There Are Worse Things I Could Do.”
Patrick Page came on stage with a fake nose, posing sideways to give the audience best views and then sang—you guessed it—“Cyrano’s Nose” from the 1973 “Cyrano.” The rush of fast-paced lyrics was a challenge, but Page met it in grand, entertaining style, then, taking his bow, he pulled off the fake proboscis and tossed it into the audience.
William Blake has an exceptionally beautiful voice, and he gave us an example singing “Home” from “The Wiz” (1975). Gabrielle Stravelli did a touching rendition of “Time Heals Everything” from the underrated “Mack & Mabel” (1974), and to close the first act, sang with expert dancer Noah Racey strutting his stuff with his own choreography for a spirited “Keepin’ Out of Mischief Now’” from the 1978 “Ain’t Misbehavin’.”
In the second act, Mary Lane Haskill turned up the heat signing “Lullaby of Broadway,” included in producer David Merrick’s 1980 hit “42nd Street.” Bobby Steggert possesses one of the most appealing voices of contemporary performers plus the dramatic ability to unassumingly give meaning to lyrics, and it was sheer joy to hear him do justice to “Not a Day Goes By,” from the 1981 “Merrily We Roll Along.”
Danny Gardner, who like Racey, is an exceptional tap dancer and choreographer, teamed with Brent McBeth and Drew Humphrey for a song-and dance number that Gardner choreographed—“Nice Work If You Can Get It” from “My One and Only” (1983).
“The Look of Love” from “Leader of the Pack” (1985) is one of those high volume numbers that typify a particular trend of the time, and Mary Testa rose to the occasion, varying from soft patches to soaring belting.
It is always pleasurable when Ross Patterson, musical director of the series, and his Little Big Band get a spotlight of their own so we can just listen to them playing (Patterson at the piano, Tom Hubbard on bass and Jamie Eblen on drums). On this occasion the group performed “Stop in the Name of Love” from “Uptown…It’s Hot” (1986), and the result was gratifying. Earlier, a major audience pleaser was Patterson’s talented and adorable young son Mercer, commanding the spotlight to sing “Mama, a Rainbow” from “Minnie’s Boys” (1970). Mercer took repeated bows in response to persistent applause and amusingly didn’t seem to want to leave the stage.
“Bring Him Home” remains one of the loveliest, most moving songs from the enduring hit “Les Miserables” (1987) and Bob Stillman thrillingly achieved the number’s beauty and nuances. “Chess” (1988) was a show that didn’t succeed on Broadway, although it was a hit in London. “Nobody’s Side” from that show was sung by Jessica Hendy and The Broadway by the Year Chorus.
The concert finished strong with Danny Gardner, Sean Harkness and the entire company joining in “Oh, Boy!” from “Buddy--The Buddy Holly Story.” Seeing everybody onstage at once underscored the array of excellent talent contributing to the evening, including Jenny Powers, Jason Gotay, Jamison Stern, Julie Reyburn, Daniel Everidge, Michele Ragusa, Alex Birnie, Christopher Johnstone and all the members of the Chorus--Paula Buresh, Madeline Hamlet, Mary Lane Haskell, Emily Iaquinta, Ryan Scoble, Courtney Simmons and Matt Weinstein, with Scott Coulter as the Chorus director.
The event’s choreographer was Holly Cruz, with Rick Hinkson as assistant director and Joe Burke as production assistant. At The Town Hall, 123 West 43rd Street. Reviewed May 13, 2015.
ZORBA! (ENCORES!) Send This Review to a Friend
There was “Zorba the Greek,” the 1964 film that starred Anthony Quinn. There was the 1968 Broadway “Zorba” with Herschel Bernardi in the title role, and then came the 1983 Broadway revival with Anthony Quinn reprising his film role for the stage. Many remember the infectious film score written by Mikis Theodorakis when they think of “Zorba,” but the Broadway productions, with a book by Joseph Stein, based, as the film was, on the 1952 novel by Nikos Kazantzakis, had music by John Kander and lyrics by Fred Ebb. Got all that?
It is the Kander and Ebb achievement that New York City Center Encores! lovingly gave us (May 7-10, 2015), affording a fresh opportunity to judge their work in this elaborate concert adaptation by John Weidman, closer to a full-scale production. It is very impressive how Kander managed to tap in musically to Greek-oriented folk style, his score and Ebb’s lyrics creating authenticity to the story and the required Greek atmosphere.
With Anna Louizos as scenic consultant, the visual tone was set at the outset. A large tree of the kind one would see on Crete, scene of the action, plus a cross marking a grave on a hill in the background, combined to cleverly suggest the locale, even with The Encores! Orchestra under the musical direction of Rob Berman in full view as it did justice to Kander’s music. Josh Rhodes’s choreography didn’t go for clichés but attempted a fresh vision of Greek dancing, and director Walter Bobbie succeeded in making the tale flow easily without punching it up with excess.
All of which brings us to the cast. John Turturro played Zorba, the larger than life Greek who strikes up a friendship with Niko (a sympathetic Santino Fontana), who has inherited a mine and learns from the controling Zorba how to come out from his shell and try to live life at its fullest. Turturro was saddled with the memory of Quinn, but while he lacks the physical dynamic of Quinn, he is a superb actor and he gave a colorful, profound, entertaining and moving rendition of the role, which he made thoroughly his own as he dominated the show the way in which the character is supposed to do.
(Herschel Bernardi, who played both Tevye in “Fiddler on the Roof” and Zorba, once quipped that his career consisted of two motions, extending his arms upward and snapping his fingers (Tevye) as he danced, and as Zorba arms downward and snapping his fingers.)
There were also other attractions in the casting. Marin Mazzie, strong of voice and stature, brought power to the role of The Leader, who frames the story with narrative in song and backing by island folk as a chorus. A sure show-stealer was Zoë Wanamaker as Hortense, the amusingly pretentious French landlady who lives on her flaunted memories of youthful romances and who falls for the charms of Zorba even though he has no intention of marrying her. Whether acting or singing “Only Love” and “Happy Birthday,” Wanamaker brought out the spirit and tragedy of her character to great satisfaction.
Elizabeth A. Davis played The Widow, whom Niko comes to love but who becomes the object of vicious cruelty, with Zorba unable to save her. Among the show’s production highlights was the nutty number “No Boom Boom,” featuring the four admirals Hotense boasts of in her romantic past. We were also treated to a fabulously sexy belly dance by Sultana Taj, who set Zorba’s ever-ready libido aflame with her sensual movements and quivering in a night spot. I’d love to watch her in action again.
The philosophical thrust of the show has its corn, but such sentiments as “Life is what you do while waiting to die” did not seem silly because of the seriousness and panache brought to the staging. “Zorba!” emerged worthy in the long line of musicals that City Center Encores! regularly brings to life anew with its faithful efforts to find the strengths the works that it revives. At City Center, 131 West 55th Street. Reviewed May 11, 2015.
COOL HAND LUKE Send This Review to a Friend
You may have seen the 1967 movie “Cool Hand Luke” that starred Paul Newman as a rebellious convict in a Southern chain gang. I looked up my review at the time and while praising the gritty tale of mistreatment of prisoners, I also found that the result was also somewhat slick and removed from reality.
There is nothing removed from reality about this Godlight Theatre Company staging, based on the original source, Donn Pearce’s novel, adapted by Emma Reeves into a play unompromisingly directed by Joe Tantalo. The stage is alive with convict sweat, cruelty by brutal overseers, prisoner relationships, the need for a hero and the effort of Luke Jackson to flaunt his dignity and individualism in a situation where that will not be tolerated.
The story comes through with full passion as a result of its superb cast and excellent staging in a small space. The effect is constantly as gripping as it is sad and unsettling.
Lawrence Jansen as the central character, Luke Jackson, gives a performance that ranks high among recent dramatic achievements by a leading actor. His speeches referring to his regret at all the killing that he had to do as a soldier in the past reveal Luke’s inner sensitivity and disillusionment while his bravado communicates his determination not to be broken as he does time for a minor crime of taking money from parking meters. He gains the respect of other prisoners, but he gets increasingly in trouble for his escapes when he is captured and returned to be beaten and thrust into solitary, known as “the box.”
The play juxtaposes the human spirit versus the cruelty of a prison system with sadistic personnel who enjoy breaking someone in their charge. Even without selective punishment, the men work hard digging ditches until they look ready to drop. All of this is realistically and almost ritualistically conveyed in this imaginative staging without an intermission.
The entire cast is top notch, including Kristina Doelling as Luke’s mother. The result is a memorable adaptation of Donn Pearc’s novel into compelling theater. At 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th Street. Phone: 212-279-4200. Reviewed May 8, 2015.
SOMETHING ROTTEN! Send This Review to a Friend
Wacky fun can be found in the exuberantly staged spoof on Shakespeare’s time—and our own—delivered by the hell-raising cast of “Something Rotten!” The show, with a book by Karey Kirkpatrick and John O’Farrell, and music and lyrics by Wayne Kirkpatrick and Karey Kirkpatrick, takes off from the idea that in his day Shakespeare would have been like a pop star, and two aspiring playwright brothers would have had to battle to emerge from the Bard’s shadow. There was one way to do it, create a musical, unheard of at the time, but fashioned like the musicals we see today.
There you have the basic idea, paving the way for show-stopping numbers, an avalanche of puns, broad characters, men wearing giant codpieces, nutty situations, dance routines and even attractive chorines in Shakespearean costumes. The show offers laughs galore, even when the material soars shamelessly over the top. You have to hand it to the show’s creators, cast members and director/choreographer Casey Nicholaw for putting across all the comedy that erupts with such high spirits and self-confidence.
Brian d’Arcy James, at the funniest I have ever seen him, is cast as playwright Nick Bottom, and John Cariani is also funny in a nervous, laid-back way as Nick’s sidekick brother, both of whom are trying to come up with an idea for a play. Fortunately there is Nostradamus (uproarious Brad Oscar), who predicts future plays that Shakespeare will write as well as the future art form of musicals. Nostradamus envisions Shakeaspeare writing “Omelette,” which gives rise to the musical number “Make an Omelette,” with the chorus dressed as omelettes (great costumes throughout by Gregg Barnes). When the Bard’s master play turns out to be “Hamlet,” Nostradamus boasts that he was almost right.
Another boon to the show is Christian Borle, as an egomaniacal Shakespeare, living up to his rock-star-like image and always laugh-inducing, including when he disguises himself lavishly as an actor applying for a job in order to spy on what the Bottom brothers are concocting. Heidi Blickenstaff is loudly amusing as Nick Bottom’s wife, Bea, who has an independent streak and insists on working in various guises and jobs to pay the bills, and who amusingly belts a big number, “Right Hand Man” with Nick. He, by the way, puts over a terrific number, “God, I Hate Shakespeare.”
Michael James Scott is lively with song and dance as he opens the show in the role of a minstrel who sets the scene. Kate Reinders provides the love interest as Portia, gaga over smitten Nigel, both charming in their duet, “I Love the Way.” Gerry Vichi gets laughs as a theater buff named Shylock, and Brooks Ashmanskas hams it up delightfully as puritanical Brother Jeremiah, who condemns the sexuality he sees everywhere, but his put-downs have a habit of turning out to be phallic double-entendres.
A rollicking first act number that on the night I attended stopped the show for a lengthy ovation is “A Musical,” a lavish production number extolling the glories of making a musical—Shakespearean times meet Broadway. The ensemble gets gloriously into the act along with Nick and Nostradamus.
You have to have a taste for witty foolishness to enjoy a show like this, but plenty of us do, thereby assuring that lots of theatergoers are going to have a good time laughing at performances of “Something Rotten!” At the St. James Theatre, 246 West 44th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 30, 2015.
THE VISIT Send This Review to a Friend
I wondered skeptically whether “The Visit,” the dark, cynical play by Friedrich Dürrenmatt could make a good musical. Now we have the answer. John Kander (music), Fred Ebb (lyrics) and Terrence McNally (book) have converted the tale of revenge and opportunism into an enthralling and mesmerizing work of musical theater, one of the last Kander-Ebb collaborations and another creative achievement for them.
I said that “An American in Paris” this season is on a level of its own, which is true with respect to musicals as sheer entertainment. “The Visit” is on a level of its own for musicals with dramatic impact. It retains the themes of the play, yet expands upon them with sardonic songs and lyrics expressing the essence of the work.
The show gains immeasurably from the performance by Chita Rivera. She earns every bit of the applause at her show-stopping entrance and the subsequent standing ovation that here really means something in this era when audiences stand up for just about everything. At 82, Rivera still has commanding presence and timing, and she summons it all in her characterization of a fabulously rich woman who comes back to the town that did her wrong and the former lover who jilted her. She has concocted a mission of revenge, hinted at by the coffin her aides wheel onto the scene along with her luggage.
The location is Brachen, an old world town that is bankrupt, as are its inhabitants. It is peculiar that nobody seems to notice the coffin at first, as per the direction of John Doyle. The townspeople are all around it, and not taking notice seems strange. It is, of course, there for a purpose.
Rivera as Claire Zachanassian is prepared to offer the town a huge sum of money, billions, that will enable it to prosper, plus separate money to each townsperson. The catch: They must kill her ex-lover Anton Schell, given a superb performance by Roger Rees as a man caught in the middle.
At first the locals say the idea is preposterous. But we know, of course, that greed will win out over their statements of principle, and Anton, now married, even will be expected to cooperate loyally in his own destruction.
Despite Claire’s bitterness, it is clear that she still harbors affection for Anton, who denied that he was the father of her child. A trial took place, marked by false testimony and accusations of her being of loose morals and having sex with other men. Having been poor, abandoned and degraded, Claire departed. She gained her money by marrying a series of wealthy men. She discloses that she has already bought up property surrounding Brachen, and the town is in her stranglehold.
It is intriguing that old sparks are kindled even in the shadow of Anton’s impending death at her command. But a macabre atmosphere envelops the stage. Claire’s two oddly dressed blind assistants sing in soprano voice. They bore false witness at the trial, and she retaliated by having them castrated, then making them her loyal aides. The duo (Matthew Deming and Chris Newcomer) sing “Eunuch’s Testimony.”
The score reflects the cynicism in the plot. In a catchy number called “Yellow Shoes,” the townsfolk sing joyfully while flaunting the yellow shoes they have bought on credit, given the assumption that they will soon be wealthy.
Another number, “Happy Ending,” sarcastically communicates the ultimate resolution in response to Claire’s deal. One nifty directorial touch is having Claire and Anton as they were when young and in love ever-present and enacted gracefully by Michelle Veintimilla as Claire and John Riddle as Anton.
Once she arrives on the scene Claire never ceases to be a commanding presence. She moves about leaning on a cane (not needed in the curtain call) and exudes her dialogue like the grand dame she has become, always with the assurance that she has the upper hand. Her singing voice may be somewhat rough at this point, but it suits her character perfectly, as illustrated with her numbers “Winter” and “Love and Love Alone.”
It is a pleasure to see Rivera making the most of her demanding role, and one must also commend Rees. Director Doyle makes everything flow smoothly, meaningfully and powerfully, and the musical moves along without intermission. Scott Pask’s gray-toned set looks like a giant web enveloping all, thus helping to establish the proper mood. Ann-Hould-Ward’s costumes do likewise.
“The Visit” is an important achievement deserving of being considered for awards. At the Lyceum Theatre, 149 West 45th Street. Phone: 212-239-6200. Reviewed April 29, 2015.
NIRBHAYA Send This Review to a Friend
A haunting pageant-like atmosphere characterizes “Nirbhaya,” written and directed by Yaël Farber to mark the 2012 horrible gang-rape and murder of a young woman in India. Rare artistry is achieved by having actresses in the play recount their own experiences of abuse, thereby summoning sympathy and anger for what women in India and elsewhere suffer in ongoing oppression.
It was the death of Jyoti Singh Pandey, who came to be known as Nirbhaya, which means fearless in Hindi, that aroused protests in India and inspired Farber to create her unusual work, which was a hit at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and has now come to the Lynn Redgrave Theater.
One enters the theater that is darkened with a haze of smoke hovering over the stage. In taking our seats, we had to excuse ourselves to pass a woman on the aisle sitting barefoot and silently as if meditating. It turned out that she was one of the six actresses who rise from the audience and walk to the stage to begin the play. Ankur Vikal is the lone male in the cast.
Seats signifying those on the bus, which the victim rode and was the scene of the vicious attack, occupy the stage. Under Farber’s direction, the actresses stream back and forth in rhythmic motion, adding to the impression of a communal ritual as events of that terrible December night are remembered. Japjit Kaur, who moves silently and ethereally amid the others, embodies the victim. The effect is to artistically elevate the story of Pandey to a universal level.
But before the play concludes, the reality will be harshly recalled as the attack is chillingly dramatized. The play’s power, even going beyond the gang-rape and torture leading to Pandey’s death, stems from each actress coming forward in the spotlight to tell of her own horrific experience. Most moving is that of Sneha Jawale, whose face bears the scars left after her husband set her afire.
The fate of Pandey could have been captured in documentary form. However, Farber and the cast has found a way of creating art out of the event by its method of presentation, yet always conveying the horror of what occurred, while also making the audience aware that loss of Pandey’s life is a single example of what women endure when they are viewed as inferior beings meant to be pawed, dominated, raped and even killed. “Nirbhaya” is a powerful achievement as both a work of theater art and a call to action. I imagine that the late Lynn Redgrave would have been proud to know that it would be performed in a theater named after her. At the Lynn Redgrave Theater, 45 Bleecker Street. Phone: 866-811-4111. Reviewed April 28, 2015.