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Posts tagged ‘Darko Tresnjak’

Newcomer Andrew Burnap’s Astonishing Debut in “Troilus & Cressida”

Troilus and Cressida 1Andrew Burnap 1“Troilus and Cressida” is considered one of  Shakespeare’s Problem Plays. It’s hardly ever done. It’s wildly uneven, and it’s always nigh to impossible to tell the Greeks from the Trojans. It’s clear that there’s a war on, but who’s who and which is which is always mightily confusing.

Director Dan Sullivan has perhaps rectified all that with his testosterone fueled-production in Central Park this summer. He’s cast one of the strongest male casts I’ve ever seen containing some of the best young Shakespearean actors around today. Main among them is newcomer Andrew Burnap in the usually forgettable title role. But Burnap burns up the stage as he holds his own against as formidable a male cast as I’ve ever seen in Shakespeare in the Park, New York’s annual, pastoral summer ritual. Founded by the late Joe Papp to be free to all New Yorkers, the Park never disappoints, though most times the productions certainly do. But not this time.Shakespeara in the Park 1

I’m happy to say that “Troilus and Cressida” is one of the best Shakespeare’s I’ve ever seen in the Park.

But back to Andrew Burnap. A recent graduate of the Yale School of Drama, he’s stepped right out of school and right into stardom, following in the footsteps of former Yale-ees Meryl Streep and Lupita Nyong’o who just soared immediately upon graduation. His beautiful, brave, heart-broken, angry, and eventually murderous Troilus is everything a dream role for a young actor should be. And blond, blue-eyed, dashing Burnap is living the dream. In a part, I’ve never really even noticed before, he makes it seem a greater role than it’s ever been.

Troilus and Cressida are sort of Romeo and Juliet gone wrong.  The Trojan War  breaks them apart early and nearly kills them.

I saw Helen Mirren as a young girl, maybe even a teenager, make her debut at the Royal Shakespeare Company back in the ’60s as Cressida.Helen Mirren Young Her debut, her first scene, she got rolled out of a Persian carpet completely nude. And thus began her great career. She was utterly heart-breaking in the scene where she emerges ravaged from the rival army’s camp where she has been raped repeatedly. She was shattered, bruised, barely able to speak, unforgettable. The actress here, Ismenia Mendes, just can’t cut it. You barely can tell she’s been gang-raped, and you don’t care much either.

But you do care about Andrew Burnap/Troilus’s reaction to his love being so defiled. He goes madly to war against his enemies, main among them the superb young Shakespearean actor Zach Appelman, as Diomedes, another part no one ever remembers. Appelman, you may remember, was the diamond brilliant Hamlet in Hartford, just this past winter for Darko Tresnjak.

Troilus and Cressida 3In the first act, Diomedes has very little to do, except to flex his muscles and show his six-pack lifting barbells and strutting shirtless (as do many others of this studly, sweating, stunning cast) in the 100 degree heat New York is now experiencing. But in Act 2, he gets to come into his own, as he battles Burnap. Appelman is a Yale graduate, too, btw.  As pictured above and below, you can see how intense their final confrontation is.Troilus and Cressida 4

I also must mention the tremendously strong ensemble feel that this T & C production had and I wasn’t surprised when I checked my program later that there were 10 (!) count’em TEN graduates of the equally superb NYU Grad Acting program! Which boasts its’ own  terrific, classically trained actors, main among them Corey Stoll. Stoll was so memorable as Ernest Heminngway in Woody Allen’s ” Midnight in Paris.” Here the completely bald Stoll is oiliness personified as the only man in a suit in this play, the slippery, Ulysseus, whom Stoll plays as   a corrupt ad exec, who arranges Cressida’s gang rape and many other nefarious things.Corey Stoll 1

I also had the privilege of seeing Understudy Keilyn Durrell Jones go on as the muscle-bound Achilles. He was just so loopily love-struck by his male amour Patroclus (Tom Pecinka), he licks his face like a huge puppy dog.Keilyn The Millionaire Jones

Yes, this is also the gay-est play Shakespeare ever wrote and director Sullivan does not hesitate to show the mighty Achilles, gathering his beloved up in his hugely muscled arms and whisking the giggling Patroclus off to their love-tent.

A male cast this awesome, and striking, who speak the Bard’s lines as magnificently as they make love AND war, makes one re-consider “Troilus and Cressida” as a much better play than it ever seemed before.

#Troilus and Cressida # Shakespeare # Trojan War #Andrew Burnap #Zach Appelman #Shakespeare in the Park #Corey Stoll #Achilles #Helen Mirren # Royal Shakespeare Company #Helen Mirren nude #Ulysses #Dan Sullivan # Problem Play # Central Park #Hamlet # Hartford Stage Company # Darko Tresnjak # Keilyn The Billionaire Jones#Achilles

 

Bryce Pinkham Returns to “Gentleman’s Guide…” on Bway and Stops the Show!

Bryce Pinkham 1What a thrill to report that “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” last year’s quadruple TONY winner has leading man Bryce Pinkham back on board as the dastardly(not really) Monte Novarro! And the show itself is as fresh as a daisy, and Bryce stopped the show cold with the infamous “Trio” number! No! Really! The audience which was packing the Walter Kerr that night couldn’t stop cheering and clapping! Talk about the Roar of the Crowd! He and his two delicious, new leading ladies joined him in mirth, slamming doors, and song and the crowd went wild! How exciting was that! And the show is nearing the two-year-old point in October, AND it’s recouped all its’ investment! No mean feat on Broadway these days!

Scarlett Strallen is the all-too-pink, absolutely delightful Sibella, and as Pinkham sang the magnificent love song to her with superlatives hitting the High C’s “You’re deceitful! You’re delectable!” Ms. Strallen seemed to justify and personify every trilled adjective.

Catherine Walker was right up there vocally and humourously as a more mature Phoebe D’yasquith, all in blue, and decorous as well as decorative as she and Stallen BOTH presue Pinkham in that slammingly funny “Trio.”

They were a delight to watch and applaud and cheer and the  howling audience surely did!

And of course, Jefferson Mays playing something like 8 or 9 D’yquiths, all of whom, but one, or is it two? I’m losing count as the body count of despicable D’ysquiths soars, as does Mays’ legendary, unbelievable performance(s) in ALLLLL those roles  It’s still a  dizzying comic tour-de-force as he, Pinkham, Stallen and Walker keep you laughing even though I’ve seen the show THREE times now, and have worn out the Original Cast CD playing it over and over and over.

Under the equally legendary Darko Tresnjak’s STILL perfectly pitched direction, not a moment of hilarity is missed. My sides literally ached from laughing!

Just when you think you’ve seen the ultimate D’ysquith slaughter( by our hero Monty Navarro/Pinkham) there’s another hysterical murder. The bees persuing Henry D’Ysquith (yes, Mays AGAIN!) this time around are all depicted as a golden-yellow swarm on the upstage back projection by the excellent Aaron Rhyne. They seem to be eating  Mays alive as he writhes in bee-stung agony upside down!

Then of course there the hilarious, plus-sized, busomy Lady Hyacinth D’Ysquith, the most despicable, globe-trotting do-gooder that makes you never want to donate to a charity again.

I guess my favorite D’Ysqithian death is when in the course of about five minutes, or less, Lady Salome D’Ysquith Pumphrey is despatched as she plays Hedda Gabler’s famous climax, Monty having put a real bullet in her stage gun. I couldn’t stop laughing! Or was it screaming at this point?

And one had to wonder all over again at the stamina, nuance, and mischief that Bryce Pinkham displays throughout. A master comedian as well as a nearly operatic singer with a tenor voice that can only be described as plangent as his magnificent voice soars above the mayhem and murder in Steven Lutvak’s and Robert L. Freeman’s wonderfully apt songs.

My favorite being Bryce’s “I Am Standing Here With Poison in My Pocket”. It’s an ice-skating murder.

Don’t try to figure it out! Just go and enjoy the incredible “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” again and again. As Darko Tresnjak prepares a National Tour and I can easily see it being done all over the world! And running forever and ever. Congratulations once again to all concerned!

 

 

Elizabeth Williamson, new Associate Artistic Director, Hartford Stage

It is my great pleasure, dear readers, dear cineastes, dear lovers of theatre to introduce you to the very exciting and dynamic Elizabeth Williamson, the newly appointed associate artistic director of the Hartford Stage. Elizabeth has studied in London under Mark Wing-Davey, who is now the Head of NYU’s great Grad Acting program, and also at L’Ecole Jacques le Coq theatre in Paris, as well as being the Dramaturg at the Hartford Stage under the direction of Darko Tresnjak.

Elizabeth was the dramaturg and very involved with the development of Matthew Lopez’ new play “Reverberation” which I liked so much when I saw it in Hartford earlier this year. Her parents were both poets and she has a very bright future in the American Theater in front of her.

Tony Award Winning Director Darko Tresnjak

Just back from a wonderful trip to Hartford, Conn. and the great Hartford Stage Company. Under the Artistic Direction of Tony-Award-Winner Darko Tresnjak, the Hartford Stage has had a dazzling year.

“A Gentleman’s Guide to Love & Murder” won the Tony for Best Musical and started there. They did a stunning production of “Hamlet” starring the youngest “Hamlet” I’ve ever seen Zach Appelman. And their world premiere of Matthew Lopez’ “Reverberation” about queer bashing just knocked my  theater-going socks off.

Darko is currently in rehearsal for his revival of “Kiss Me Kate” which opens in Hartford on May 14 and plays til June 14. After which it goes to San Diego to the scenic Old Globe theater there. The same journey that “Gentleman’s Guide” took on its’ way to Broadway. Will “Kiss Me Kate” follow the same path?

This is part one of a two part interview with the trail-blazing Darko. Enjoy!

Darko Tresnjak’s Excellent, Whip-Smart “Hamlet” in Hartford

Hamlet 2

I can’t stop raving about Darko Tresnjak’s rip-roaring, whip-smart production of Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” now at the Hartford Stage. Following up on his Tony-award-winning Broadway triumph for Best Musical, “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”, where he himself won a Tony for Best Director, and Clint Eastwood announcing his win just said in that distinctive, rumbling voice of his “Darko”, Tresnjak immediately became iconic.

He is also the artistic director of the Hartford Stage Company, a venerable regional theater that he has notably injected new life into, coupled with the renewal of downtown Hartford, it is definitely a trip worth the making. But you’ve got to do it quick because this most excellent “Hamlet” is only running til this coming Sunday, Nov.16.

It’s selling out and you can see why. I wish New Yorkers could see just how vital and vivid this “Hamlet” is.

Tresnjak has decided to do this Shakespeare straight, no-frills in an accurately Elizabethan production, eye-poppingly costumed by Fabio Toblini with a stunningly simple but provocative set by Darko Tresnjak himself!

The Hartford’s thrust stage is in the form of an illuminated cross, strikingly and eerily lit from below by lighting designer Matthew Richards. The actors are literally walking on footlights.

One of the great banes of regional theater has always been its’ inability to attract the best of the best actors available to appear out-of-town, but this is not the case at all with this stunning “Hamlet.” It could be on Broadway. Or certainly in Central Park. Everyone everywhere deserves to see this excellent “Hamlet.” The citizens of Hartford are very lucky indeed.

Of course, “Hamlet” is only as a great as the Hamlet himself and Zach Appelman, whose career I have been following since the Yale School of Drama, is its’ unforgettable hero.

Still in his 20s’, he’s the youngest Hamlet I’ve ever seen, but that works like gang-busters, because the gloomy Dane’s rash and violent impetuosity is much more suited to a brash, hot-headed youth.

Appelman enters and holds the stage, as only someone with buckets of charisma could, with his hands clasped, as if in prayer. Whilst the gaudy, bawdy court around him is celebrating, he is lost in grief.

Appelman has a lazer-like focus on the text and speaks it beautifully, making the role absolutely his. His has a tremendous, elastic athleticism, making his climatic sword and dagger fight with Laertes ( the wonderful Anthony Roach) something remarkable and frightening at the same time. How many actors can wield a sword and Shakespeare’s verse with equal, spine-tingling skill? He nearly chokes his mother (Kate Forbes) to death in the famous closet scene as he also kills Polonius(a super Edward James Hyland).

Appelman also gets laughs out of Hamlet. Spunky and jaunty as well as clinically depressed by his uncle’s murder of his father, he is particularly witty as his takes the piss out of old Polonius. Veteran Edward James Hyland is also one of the best, funniest old court geezers I have ever seen, too.

Appelman switches from the sublime to the ridiculous with the ease of an Olivier. Have we ever seen a FUNNY Hamlet? The superb Appelman is not playing it for laughs, but finding the sly humor in the young, melancholy prince. You see that MAYBE he might have had a chance at happiness had all these tragic events not happened to him. And every laugh that Appelman and Hyland get are earned laughter springing from their apt characterizations.

Tresnjak really his knows his Shakespeare and it’s a joy to behold that he has a cast that is up to his challenges. Brittany Vicars is an appropriately ethereal, fragile Ophelia and Floyd King and Curtis Billings are a riot as the comical grave-diggers. In fact, Tresnjak has left in parts of their scene that are usually cut, which I was delighted to hear for the first time anywhere. Usually there is just ONE grave-digger, but in this longer scene, we actually hear their comical discussion of Ophelia’s suicide. If there was ever any question of what the river did to her and what she did to the river, the grave-diggers settle it once and for all.

And I would be remiss if I didn’t mention Tresnjak’s use of five students from the nearby Hartford-based colleges.Who knew that Harford was so culturally rich? I have to mention Conor M. Hammill, who excels as not only Francisco and Voltemand, but also a memorable Fortinbras,the Polish prince who ends the play. Who ever remembers Fortinbras? Well, you will this time. And Adam Montgomery is also very, very good as the flighty courtier Osric and a terrific player Queen. They both are currently still in school and what an education they are getting working with and holding their own against some of the best actors currently on this planet.

I can’t recommend this production of “Hamlet” highly enough! The trip is worth the trip.

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TONY Awards Predictions! Part One

TONY Awards Predictions! Part One

Dear readers, dear cineastes, dear lovers of theatre, it’s FINALLY that time of year again! The Tony Awards are upon us! Tomorrow night at 8pm on CBS! Can’t hardly wait!

And who’s going to win? Well, in a very competitive year, some awards have turned into slam dunks already on the awards circuit, and some, a few, well, maybe only one, are up in the air.

The undecided winner is going to be a real nail-biter, because it’s also the last award of the night. A very LONNNNG night for the nervous nominees.

And that of course would be Best Musical. The one Tony award that really carries real box-office clout. And that is a down to a photo finish between “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder” which has the leading number of nominations with 10.

And it’s main and very threatening competitor is “Beautiful: The Carole King Musical.”

If we were to go, like we Oscarologists always do, by the precursor awards, IOW, the other relevant awards that occur BEFORE the Tonys themselves, I would have to say it going to be “A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder”. It won the Outer Critics Circle Award and also the prestigious Drama Desk Award. And it lead the Drama Desks with seven wins just this past Sunday.

So it’s all over in the category. Isn’t it? Well, no.

The OCC and the DD as they are abbreviated are voted on solely by press and critics. And a few years back, the Tonys dumped nearly all their critical, review-writing journalistic members. And now their membership of nearly 800, consists mainly of Broadway producers. And their mind-set is very, very different from that of the critics, who they rightly or wrongly consider their adversaries.

And pundits keep mentioning that frightening one hundred or so stat that represents the road producers. They are the members who are scattered across the country and whose houses host Broadway shows that are touring the country.

The received wisdom is that they might favor a show that would be easier to tour. Hence the rise of “Beautiful:The Carole King Musical” in pundit consideration. It is a great show. And you are ALREADY humming the music BEFORE you go in, because they are all the great songs that one of America’s greatest song-writers, Carole King wtote.

We grew up on these songs. Well, I did anyway, and I love them all. It’s perhaps the greatest juke-box musical ever written. Or it’s right up their with “Jersey Boys,” the most successful juke-box musical of all time that is soon to be a Clint Eastwood directed film, opening in two weeks.

So, will familiarity trump orginality? “A Gentleman’s Guide…” is a totally original work, although iit is based, somewhat, on the great Alec Guiness movie “Kind Hearts and Coronets.” I love that movie. And I love “A Gentleman’s Guide…” I voted for it. And think the Tony voters are going to honor it, too.

It may even sweep. I think, like at the Drama Desk Awards, it will win Best Director of a Musical, the wildly inventive Darko Tresnjak, who also incidentally won the Drama Desk Award.

I had the honor of interviewing Mr. Tresnjak, and also his collaborators in ” Love and Murder” Steven Lutvak, who won Best Lyrics at the Drama Desk. Along with his co-lyricist Robert L. Freedman. In Parts Two and Three of my Tony predictions on this blog, I’m going to post the interviews I just did with all three at the various Drama Desk festivities. Stay tuned!

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