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Posts tagged ‘“Hughie”’

Jayne Houdyshell Triumphs in Bways’ “The Humans”!

The Humans 1Jayne Houdyshell Humans 1Jayne Houdyshell, an actress I’ve always found astonishing, reaches the peak of her long career in Broadway’s newest and most unlikely hit, “The Humans.” Houdyshell had a two decades long career in regional theater and was “discovered” in mid-life as the mother that couldn’t stop criticizing her lesbian daughter in Lisa Kron’s break-through play “Well” that started at the Public Theater and moved uptown to Broadway. And Broadway has pretty much been her home ever since.

Houdyshell is the kind of actress playwrights dream of and though she has won tons of awards( the Drama Desk gave her a career achievement award a few years back), I can’t remember her having a leading part like the one she has now, and in a hit play to boot. “The Humans” is powered by her powerhouse performance as Deidre Blake, again a mother, but this time an Irish Catholic mother to end all mothers. Deidre is caught between a rock and a hard place as she tries to hold her unwieldy family together as they embark on a tumultuous Thanksgiving gathering in her daughter’s duplex in Chinatown.

It’s one of the best plays of the year. Playwright Stephen Karam has written what all of the American theater has been longing for. A great new American play. Set today, it’s totally current and absolutely vital, and unflinching in its’ detail of the lives we New Yorkers, we humans, live .

With horror film and Internet references galore, Karam and the titanically talented director Joe Mantello ingratiate “The Humans” into your soul and invite you to be a member of this troubled family. They hook you into sitting down to Thanksgiving dinner with the at-first-glance very bland Blakes, and there you are experiencing something that you’d never thought you’d be experiencing, a top-level, quality evening in the theater, by some one who’s now going to be considered one of America’s important young playwrights.

What a joy this is to discover so much talent in one place, at one time, doing the thing it should be doing, bringing us the best in theater! Which is what Broadway is supposed to be doing. After all, shouldn’t that be going on all the time on the Great White Way? And so seldom is.”The Humans” is so good, it’s shocking.

And to have the majestic Jayne Houdyshell at the top of the bill, guiding this ship into port, as it were, with a superb ensemble who are all excellently cast and doing what sounds easy, but is really almost impossible, make you believe that they are the Blake family and you’re a friend, who they’ve also invited over for Thanksgiving dinner. But little did you know what you’re in for! Folding chairs, card tables and paper plates and cups. And not a turkey in sight! Only health foods!

Reed Birney is perfect matched as Deidre’s troubled husband Blake. Lauren Klein, is simply amazing and amazingly simple, as Deidre’s wheel-chair bound, dementia-ridden mother “Momo”, Cassie Beck & Sarah Steele as their struggling daughters, one gay and one straight, and Arian Moayed as the genial, still not married, but living together sort-of son-in-law.

Cassie Beck The Humans

Cassie Beck, in particular, (above) as the frazzled lesbian lawyer daughter,Aimee, who is going through a difficult break-up with her lover. And  it is to “The Humans” great credit that the Blake family treat this as something to be compassionate about and otherwise her sexuality is totally accepted in a refreshingly matter of fact way.

And the set! Once again I’ve seen astounding theater set design in one week! First “Hughie”s haunting green-lit majestic, ruined hotel and now David Zinn’s Chinatown duplex that is not as grand as it sounds, and as is just as knock-about and seems about to fall down as the Times Square hotel of the 1920’s in “Hughie.”

You just can FEEL this place shake,as it quavers under the  supersonic,crashing thuds that periodically drop on it from the (un-seen) floor above (sound design by Fitz Patton.) It’s a ground-floor apartment attached to the basement by a spiral stair-case that’s in, as Reed Birney’s father describes it, “A flood zone.”

At one point Birney’s character quips, noting his daughters’ obsession with health foods, “If you’re so miserable, why do you want to live forever?” “The Humans” is so good it will restore your faith in the American theater and make you want to live forever, too, so you can see it over and over and over again. What a joyful surprise this play, Jayne Houdyshell and this production are!

“Hughie” First Big Disaster of Bway Season. Not Surprised It’s Closing Early.

Hughie“Hughie” is the first big disaster of the Broadway season, closing early it will have lost its’ entire 3 million dollar investment. One wonders what they spent the money on? The set? Well the set was grand! Set and costume design by Christopher Oram, and kudos to him for one of the best, most evocative renderings of a Time Square hotel in sad, ghostly decline that I have ever seen. Oram is ably abetted in his decaying spookiness, by lighting designer Neil Austin. Can’t remember such a good use of green lighting and green neon to boot.

I wish I could say the same about actor Forest Whitaker’s embarassing, one-note performance. He wandered about the stage, and that was about all he did. Whitaker, Academy Award winner for “The Last King of Scotland,” seemingly has never appeared onstage before. And knowing that, I wondered about the wisdom, and hubris, of attacking what is basically a one-man show, as his Broadway debut.

And the one-act play of Eugene O’Neill’s is as barely there as Whitaker’s vaporous performance. O’Neill is not helping him at all and there’s no drama whatsoever. Flat, flat, flat.Erie Smith(Whittaker) is a small time gambler, down on his luck, and the late former night clerk, Hughie, was his only friend.

And poor Frank Wood, as the NEW night clerk of the decrepit hotel, is trapped there, seeming to fall visibly asleep, as he is stuck listening to Erie Smith’s(Whitaker) ENDLESS monologue of his late friend Hughie, who was the night clerk before Wood’s character got the job. I ended up feeling sorry for night clerks.

But that’s because Wood an esteemed Tony-winning stage actor is very, very good in the little he has to do. And you keep wishing the play was more about HIM. And the characters he’s seen in his life. He admits to being a lifetime night clerk. And the weariness and boredom of his job is palpable. Because he’s had to listen to one loser spilling his guts to him after another, midnight after midnight.

Basically, Erie Smith is a bore. And he bored me and obviously, he’s boring audiences, because they are not coming. And it’s closing early. That doesn’t happen much anymore on Broadway. Investors are so careful, if not parsimonious with what they sink their cash into that shows are previewed and tried out to death. Guess this one wasn’t.

It was barely an hour, but it felt like years. Stick to films, Forest. He’s a great film actor, but onstage, he’s a bore.

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