a.k.a. "The Oscar Messenger"

Archive for March, 2017

“The Price” on Bway Saved by Danny De Vito & Jessica Hecht

There is definitely a Tony Award in Danny DeVito’s future. This super-feisty 72-year-old(same age as Bette Middler in “Hello Dolly.” But more on that later) is making his Broadway debut in what is arguably Arthur Miller’s worst play, “The Price.” It’s as dusty as the old sheets covering the antique furniture, which is soon to be dispensed with. The dust from these items, including a harp, are what make the audience in the front row sneeze, when Mark Ruffalo’s put-upon cop enters and pulls the sheets off them, scattering their dust everywhere. It’s his parents un-used and abandoned apartment in a tumbling down building, which is an apt metaphor for this tumbling-down play.

Dust is what has settled on this barely-a-play at all. Dated it certainly is and it’s infuriatingly so. Because DeVito’s wise ole, funny ole furniture appraiser in Act One named Solomon, (yes, I said he was wise) disappears in Act Two, as so does our involvement in the play because everybody else in this star-studded cast of only four famous actors, just can’t hold our attention.The Price 1

And it’s not totally their faults. Jessica Hecht as Ruffalo’s clothes-conscious wife, gives a delicious performance, but is shunted to the side for most of the action, which concerns the clash of the two Frantz brothers, played by Ruffalo and Tony Shaloub.

I don’t think I’ve ever been so embarrassed for two such famous actors in my life. But it’s not their faults. They are giving “The Price”s Act II their alls, but there is no writing beneath them to support their Herculean efforts to try to create something out of nothing. There is just not much there there, as Gertrude Stein once said about Hollywood.

Shaloub’s ass-hat doctor is the villain of the piece. Rich, successful, and supposedly friendless, he is recovering from a nervous breakdown which no one seems to have noticed.

And Ruffalo, poor guy, still seems to be learning his lines, as a last minute replacement for the exiting actor who quit during rehearsals and got out while the getting was good, I guess. So we’re stuck with a suffering and soldiering-on Ruffalo, who is playing the poor sap who gets stuck holding the family bag as it were, and who hasn’t spoken to his brother Shaloub in 16 years. This should be a monumental clash of the titans. The privileged v. the working class, and you KNOW that’s what Miller was probably aiming at, but he misses it by a lonnnnnng mile. Reams and reams and REAMS of dialogue with the two brother going at it hammer and tongs. But the text just isn’t there beneath. It’s sheer verbosity.

And you’re just dying for Danny DeVito to come back and enliven things. Or for Jessica Hecht to have more to do, but it just doesn’t happen.If only Act Two was as dramatic as the above picture ^. It isn’t.

#the Price, # Mark Ruffalo, # Danny DeVito, # Jessica Hecht

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Best New Play on Bway “Significant Other”

“Significant Other” is a VERY significant play. In fact, it’s the best play I’ve seen so far this year ON BROADWAY. It’s significant, too, that it’s on Broadway. A play like this, about this topic, is something that has never been articulated on Broadway, and certainly not from the gay character’s point of view. It’s a drama. It’s not JUST a comedy, although that’s how they’re selling it, but young gay playwright Joshua Harmon has some very important points that he wants to make, and he makes them quite strongly. He’s not pulling his punches.

Nor is his ace director Trip Cullman, who is simply one of the best young directors of his generation. And yes, it’s the Millennial generation. That’s what this play is about, purportedly. It’s 20-something cast thinks nothing of living on their cell phone and their iPhones and their computers and texting, texting, texting. Instead of really just talking to each other. But they DO talk. They have to communicate with each other. This is a play after all, and we want to see them interact with each other, and they do and it gets quite ugly and violent, by the end.

But the feelings that are being articulated here are so important, I didn’t mind how harrowing “Significant Other” gets.  These things needed to be said, and playwright Harmon and director Cullman say them VERY well.“Significant Other” is a play about a young gay Jewish man named Jordan Berman, who surrounds himself with a bevy of girls, who he thinks are this friends. And as the play goes on and one by one each them leaves him to get married, until he’s left utterly alone, and we are as devastated by this climatic state of things as he is.

Gideon Glick as our soon-to-be-hapless hero will probably be nominated for Best Actor in a play as he turns from super-schlub to super-mensch. He is called upon to play a wide variety of comedy, and camp, but by the end he just breaks your heart with a violence that is quite unforgettable.

Because what “Significant Other” is about, really, is about loneliness, the only kind of loneliness many gay men will ever know. When his last BFF shatteringly leaves him, he is facing a life that is going to be lived without his (he thought) heterosexual besties. You can’t help but hate the three young women who are played so well here, the aptly named Sas Goldberg,(no, that’s her real first name), Rebecca Naomi Jones, and especially by the overweight girl, who he thought would NEVER get married, and leave him, too, Lindsay Mendes(in a beautiful, powerful performance).

The climax of the play articulates what I’ve never seen even mentioned in any gay play on Broadway or Off. Glick tears into the shocked Ms. Mendes in a tirade against heterosexual women and the institution of marriage. He realizes that this is never going to happen to him, and the love and life she has found is something that he, as a gay man, is never going to experience.

This play feels like it was written before Gay Marriage was on the table as a viable option, if that’s what you’re looking for, but it seems Gideon isn’t, not really. Not yet. He wants to hang on to his immaturity as long as possible that his life is just going to be one Bachelorette party after the other.

Of course, for balance, the trio of female characters also express their various dissatisfaction(s) with their marital states, but Gideon is just left bereft by what he sees as their betrayal of his kindness and good humor and generosity towards these women.  They are exploiting his good nature, he expresses in a vitriolic scene with Ms. Mendes that could lead them both to the Tony ceremony in June. And of course, Mr. Harmon and Mr. Cullman, too.

And lighting designer Kate Voyce has to be commended, also, for her astute use of multiple chandeliers overhanging the urban interiors below. Y’know, the kind of chandeliers that just scream “WEDDING.”  The institution of marriage and its’ concomitant inevitable promise of happy endings for everyone, is not the case here in “Significant Other.” It ultimately questions loneliness and leaves the gregarious Gideon Glick’s character Jordan Berman with it as his seemingly unavoidable option. And that is its’ power and greatness. Bravo to all involved in bringing this superb production to Broadway.

#Significant Other, #Gideon Glick, # Joshua Harmon, #Trip Cullman, # Broadway, # Best Play of the Year, # Tony Awards, #homosexuality

 

Sally Fields Simply Dreadful in “Glass Menagerie” on Bway,

Sally Fields just can’t shake “The Flying Nun.” In this quite dreadful, misguided production now on Broadway at the Belasco, Fields was so light-weight, I thought she was going to fly out over the audience at any moment. And this time her disabled daughter Laura, played by a real-life, novice actress with muscular dystrophy in a wheel chair, makes Amanda Wingfield’s dreams of her Laura getting a date with the Gentleman Caller, go from being pathetic to simply delusional., if not cringe-worthy. Coming out onstage, helping Laura out of the wheel chair (they enter from the audience), Fields is as spry and young looking as a Dallas cheerleader, or a Broadway chorine. Yes, she’s had THAT much work done. And she also seems to be making her Broadway debut along with her disabled daughter. It is not a match made in heaven.  I wanted to hurl. Something.

The one good thing that director Sam Gold did was take out the intermission, which I didn’t miss. The other two good things were his casting of the great Joe Mantello, as the restless Tom, Amanda’s son, and movie star  Finn Wintrock as the VERY handsome Gentleman Caller. In fact, he just about steals the show. He’s so good, I could go on and on about him for the rest of this review, but I do have to mention that this simply awful production was like a knife in my heart, because I once really loved this play. But no more.

I remember reading a contemporary review to “Glass Menagerie”s original production by Mary McCarthy in 1944, and she just tore it to pieces. I especially remember the words “smelling of dime store pretensions like a cheap perfume.” I was horrified and disquieted by her acidic attacks.  The great Laurette Taylor, everyone who saw it, says, except Ms. McCarthy, was transcendent as Amanda, considered one of Tennessee Willliams great creations. Second only to his Blanche Du Bois in “Streetcar Named Desire.”

But seeing this stripped-down-for-no-reason revival, one wonders how Williams ever launched his major career as an American playwright with THIS play. If Williams was alive, it would’ve destroyed him, and his reputation. Williams is always about the women in this plays. And here, because they are so weak, and Joe Mantello and Finn Wintrock are so strong, it is a lob-sided, hard- to- look-at mess.

Done like this, it appears to be every bit as small and pretentious as Mary McCarthy said it was.

So Williams owes a great debt to the late Laurette Taylor who must’ve been INCREDIBLE as Amanda. Contemporary photos reveal her to be quite care-worn and middle-aged. She looked perfectly like a downtrodden house-wife. She was not the glamorous sit-com girl Sally Fields brings with her, intentionally or not. Also she’s acting for the camera, not the stage. If there was a movie or TV camera THIS CLOSE, there might be perceived to be a performance going on .And that grating voice! A consummate character actress like Jayne Howdyshell would be terrific in this part.

Joe Mantello, to his credit, does bring out the gay sub-text as the all-set-to-wander Tom. When he says he’s out all night at the movies, we know just where he’s probably been and it’s not feature films. His one scene with Finn Wintrock as the Gentleman Caller, seems like he’s trying to pick him up FOR HIMSELF and not for Laura, and Wintrock is so dazzling, you feel that this moment is just right, as you sense his friendly, but bewildered discomfort. But he’s enough of yes, a gentleman, to overcome this awkward moment with Tom and come to dinner anyway. But it leaves you with the feeling that he DID accept Tom’s dinner invitation because, maybe, he wanted to know more about TOM, and not be subjected to Sally Field’s embarrassing over-arching Southern Belle-manque and the frighteningly deformed sister-in-the-wheel chair….You feel sorry for this  ost gentlemanly of Gentleman Caller and for  Finn Wintrock. His over-hearted friendliness has led him to be an unsuspected dupe.

This is the third production of “Glass Menagerie” on Broadway that has infuriated me. Jessica Lange was inexplicably hidden behind shower curtains. Cherry Jones was simply mis-cast and unseemly lesbianic in the extreme, and now we have this third mess….It makes me think Mary McCarthy was right.

I do have to say that Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura to Cherry Jones over-sexed Amanda deserved the Drama Desk Award and Tony Nomination she won a few years back. She was shy and fragile and utterly appealing and JUST right. Tennessee would’ve LOVED her. As I told her when she appeared on my show having won that year’s Drama Desk Award fro Best Supporting Actress.

Tennessee Williams used to refer to Laurette Taylor in letters he wrote at the time as “the old bag.” Nobody would ever say Sally Fields was an old bag. She’s more like a creation of Louis Vuitton.

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