Friday, April 29, 2016

Flashing Back to an Unexpected Review

As I try to regain my energy and cash flow in order to see more shows (yet still keep in mind that I want to be able to afford to fly to Italy in November), I've been laying low and staying in for the last few days.  Sorry for the radio silence.  I'm hoping that some Tony voter friends will need a guest when they start seeing Tony-nominated shows next week. Fingers crossed.  Plus, ballet season starts really soon - hurrah!  But as I was looking through my old reviews for something to flash back to today, there were quite a few to choose from.  I selected this one because I can't believe it was ten years ago!  And it reminds me to never count people out.  I will admit to rolling my eyes when I see a movie is to star the actress mentioned below and this review was a good reminder that there was one night that I kinda sorta appreciated her, ha ha...

4/29/06:  I was going to go home last night and watch my Netflix copy of Grey Gardens.  I was all set to go home, then a pal from the office asked if I wanted to have dinner.  His treat.  Well, who am I to turn down a free dinner?  The pal had one Drama Desk ticket to see a show and didn't want to sit around the office and listen to the annoying new girl blather loudly on the phone all night.  

So we had a perfectly pleasant dinner and I walked him to his theater, then I started to plow through the crowds to get to the subway.  I'm just getting ready to cross 46th Street, when I feel my cell phone vibrating.  I answer it.  It's my office pal.  The box office gave him two tickets--do I want to join him?  Sure, I yell, and run back to the theater.  Where, even though I have eaten dinner already, I see Three Days of Rain.  For free.  Whee!

As I ran over to the theater, I ate four Rolaids.  Just in case.  You remember my thing about eating before theater.  Luckily, our seats were on the aisle, in case I would have to make a speedy exit.  Of course, I didn't have to.  But if we had been sitting in the middle of a row, I’m sure I would have.  It's all psychological.  I think.

The show:  it's pretty good, all things considered.  I really like the script.  It's just a delicate elegant play, filled with smart and witty dialogue, and damaged realistic characters.  I do think maybe it's been directed too carefully, and too small, in order to help a certain someone.  But I don't think it ruined the play, by any means.

I'm not a Julia Roberts fan.  Nowhere near.  I have scoffed at her deciding to just jump on Broadway.  But, I have to say, there could be something there.  YES, her voice is flat. YES, she has no idea what to do with her hands.  YES, sometimes her reactions are so small that you just know she's playing them to the close-up camera in her mind.  BUT she's listening.  She's reacting.  She knows what she's saying and what the other actors are saying.  She has a rapport with the other actors.  And she is feeling something.  I think that with some coaching and stronger direction she could become a relatively decent stage actress. She has a gravitas and a stillness at her center that is interesting to see, especially in this era of showboat-y acting and directing.  Having seen another film actress do Uta Hagen-acting exercises on stage that had NOTHING to do with that Neil Simon play, I was rather pleased to see Julia reacting to Richard Greenberg's words.  So, there you have it. I begrudgingly appreciate her doing this show so that people will see it who never would have otherwise.  I will criticize, however, her lame Southern accent in the second act.  Hello.  She's actually from Georgia and that's the best she could do?!  Cut it.  It's theater.  Tell me she's Southern and I'll believe it!  But not with that crappy accent!

photo credit: Joan Marcus
Having said all that, of course she is totally shown up by the men.  Paul Rudd is heartbreakingly gaunt, haggard and manic in the first act, and completely emotionally closed off in the second.  Good, good work.  Maybe a tiny bit too manic in the first act, but he may be overcompensating for Julia's underplaying.  It didn't really bother me, because the character is such a screw-up.  I'm telling you, though, the real star of this production is Bradley Cooper.  Of course, I'm predisposed to love him because he played a beloved character on a beloved tv show of mine, but he is really really good!  He has two monologues in the first act that are spot on.  And hysterical.  In the first act, he's this sunny fun-loving tv hunk, and in the second act, he plays the supposed "genius" everyone talked about in the first act, but there's this selfish egotism that goes along with it that's really sharp and ugly and terrifically played.

In a season that has made me sit through Festen, Barefoot in the Park, and The Music Teacher, pretentious twaddle all (in my humble opinion), it was surprising to me to enjoy a Julia Roberts vehicle.  But good on her for not playing it as a Julia Roberts vehicle. She's showing us a Richard Greenberg play.  Hooray.

Friday, April 22, 2016

Brief Flashback to 2010

I'm sort of relieved to be taking a little break from seeing stuff.  I was starting to experience brain overload, especially because I've also been especially busy at work.  I just hit the wall.  I actually took a day off from work yesterday, which I rarely do. Anyway, when looking at past reviews to maybe post a flashback today, I was happy to land on this one.  Sorry to name drop, but dear Bob Anderson was a great friend and mentor to me at work.  Imagine being a young(ish) girl, new on the job, meeting her theater heroes, and getting the chance to chat with a celebrated writer.  He was always available to talk to me about theater history, playwriting, or life in general.  He was so elegant, charming and funny.  To brag even more, he once said if he were 50 years younger, he would've asked me out.  Of course I replied that if he were 50 years younger, I would've been too old for him, at which he laughed heartily.  I'll never forget the day he sat in my office for at least a couple of hours, telling me about the Christmases he spent in Paris and all the places he thought I should check out when I went. I stood in a coat check line with him once and we wrote a ten-minute play together (why oh why didn't my iPhone exist then?!?!  I would've transcribed it immediately and won every contest in the world with it!  I can't remember any of it, only the excitement of standing there and writing it with him).  When he passed away in 2009, I was bereft and was fortunate to be allowed to attend his memorial service.  How gratified I was to hear person after person talk about his kindness and generosity.  And when the Keen Company announced they would be doing a revival of one of his plays the next year, I obviously had to get a ticket.  What follows below is my brief review.  Thank you, Robert Anderson, for all you gave a starstuck girl who only wanted to learn from the best...

movie poster

4/22/10:  Hi, all! I got an inexpensive TDF ticket to the Keen Company’s production of Robert Anderson’s I Never Sang For My Father last night.  I was in the front row!  Yikes!  It was a little too close for me, but I enjoyed myself all the same.  I thought about moving back at intermission but decided against it.  I decided I liked being so close to the action. The theater was also awfully hot, but it didn’t ruin my evening, thankfully.  But you should maybe dress in layers...

The play is over 40 years old, but that doesn’t mean its themes of family and frustration don’t still hit home.  There was one moment that produced an audible sound from many audience members.  Maybe in these times of truly extended families, with many baby boomers taking care of their aged parents, this play is even more timely than ever.

That doesn’t mean it doesn’t have a few creaky spots.  It does.  There are some fairly ponderous lines, given very ponderous line readings, but they are few and far between. Mainly, this is a well-cast, well-directed and straightforward revival of a classic American play.

photo credit: Suzi Sadler
Matt Servitto (who I think went to my alma mater right before I did) played the son, Gene, and he did an excellent job of playing a man desperately looking for a connection. Marsha Mason was lovely as his mother—she was a warm and funny presence, yet you could see she was completely realistic about how things are.  She played wonderfully well off Servitto.  The scene where she’s delicately asking about his sex life was charming.  I also thought Keir Dullea was terrific as the father—my heart was really breaking for these two men who just could not give each other what they thought they needed.  It’s a fine line to play a character who is unlikable, yet be likable, and I think Dullea did a good job of that.  The scene between the two men near the end, when there’s a tiny sliver of unbending that doesn’t last, was shatteringly sad.  I always respond really strongly to sadness caused by parents, since my parents have done nothing but try to make me happy my whole life, and this experience was no different.  My heart was honestly breaking.

I definitely give this production a thumbs-up.  I also liked the big band music during the pre-show and intermission.  I’m sure there are discounted tickets to be had, if you’re so inclined, which you should be.  Just don't wear a heavy sweater…

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Thoughts on Tuck Everlasting

I don't know why the novel Tuck Everlasting isn't on my list of "loved it as a kid/continue reading as an adult" books.  That list is pretty long, but I guess Tuck just passed me by.  I know the plot, though, and I did go see the rather cheesy 2002 movie (gosh, that was a long time ago!).  But when it was announced that a new Broadway musical was coming, and that the musical would be written by the team who brought us Burnt Park Boys, which was one of my favorite musicals of the last few years, so all signs pointed to 'yes' that I would be going. The show doesn't open for another week or so, so I'll only offer a few thoughts.

Happily, the producers offered a discount for $19.75 tickets, honoring the year the book was published.  I was very happy to pick up one of those discounted tickets - I could even pick out my own seat!  Bonus!  I was in the mezzanine, in the sixth row, on the aisle.  It was very interesting - my row and all the rows behind me, in all three sections, were full. The seats in front of us were not.  My seat neighbors and I guessed that perhaps the price break happened in the row in front of us.  You would think someone on the production team would go upstairs and see how those higher priced tickets were going unsold. Wouldn't it be better to sell the tickets at a discount, to enthusiastic fans, rather than letting them go empty?  But what do I know?

Anyway, the musical.  I had a lovely time at Tuck Everlasting.  Do I think it's the best thing since sliced bread?  Probably not.  It's maybe a little too slight for that.  But it's a very well-crafted, lovingly-produced, beautifully-performed show that, if all things go as they should, it will be a nice alternative for families who are tired of Disney shows.  The songs are very smart and tuneful, with fantastic lyrics - maybe the best lyrics I've heard from a young writer in a long time.  They were really beautifully set onto the music and expressed plot, character and mood, all at the same time.  But I guess I shouldn't have been surprised, because I really liked the lyrics in Burnt Part Boys, too.

Do you already know the plot?  It IS a really well-known book, but I guess I could relay a bit of it (so here come some spoilers) - young Winnie Foster is a smart, funny, adventurous, lonely girl who recently lost her father. Her overprotective and grieving mother refuses to let Winnie leave the house, so, naturally, Winnie runs away. She runs into the woods where she meets a sunny young man, Jesse Tuck.  They have fun climbing trees together and enjoying each other's company, but when Jesse tries to introduce Winnie to his mother and older brother, they react with fear and indecision.  They decide to 'abduct' Winnie and take her to their cabin until they can figure out what to do.  The Tucks have a secret, you see, and Winnie's presence will force them to confront that secret head on.  How Winnie changes this family, and how she changes herself, is much of what Tuck Everlasting is about.  It's also about the ephemeral - how fleeting life is and how you have to grab love and life where you find it, as long as you can.  These are all very moving ideas and they're presented very movingly throughout the musical.

The performers are fantastic - Michael Park has been a longtime favorite of mine and he is terrific as Jesse's father, kind and loving, who can see the long- and short-term in the choices and decisions he makes.  Carolee Carmello, who can do no wrong as far as I'm concerned, is fantastic as Jesse's mother - she has an incredible song in the show, "My Most Beautiful Day," that is so simple and so elegantly moving, I was swept away.  Her warmth and empathy just filled the world.  All of the actors are great, actually (does anyone twinkle more than Andrew Keenan-Bolger?; I always love Fred Applegate; and young Michael Wartella impressed me greatly), but I will single out two others.

Terrence Mann is a quirky, creepy, funny, nasty, wild ride of a character as the Man in the Yellow Suit.  You can't take your eyes off him when he's on stage (and not just because he's wearing a bright yellow suit) - he is so invested and you can always see his wheels turning. He is the villain of the piece, but he's inserted so much oddball humanity into the character that you just can't help be engaged by him.

photo credit: Greg Mooney
Finally, Sarah Charles Lewis plays Winnie and, oh my.  That little girl carries this show on her shoulders with class, gumption and style.  She can sing terrifically and act just as well. Without a compelling Winnie, Tuck Everlasting couldn't succeed, because you have to have her to root for to find your way into the dilemma of the story. Lewis is a real find and I look forward to watching her mature as a performer in the years to come.

The physical production is also lovely - the tree where the 'magical spring' resides is enchanting, and the lights, costume and sound are all first-rate.  The story may be a tad slight, but it is getting a first class production all the same.  Did the songs start to sound similar by the end?  Maybe.  Did I understand, or even like, the ensemble dancing as spirits?  Probably not.  But the beautiful circle of life ballet at the end of the evening was so stirring and so moving, that I threw away my quibbles.  It was what dance can do - take a thought and express it without words, often with more breadth than words could show. So, I left the production on a weepy high, which is pretty much all I ask for some nights.  I do think Tuck Everlasting is worth seeing - discounts are out there, so you should take advantage of them and show this young writing team that they're worth supporting.

Monday, April 18, 2016

What a Weekend!

...and the fun ain't over yet!  Talk to me on Thursday, when I plan on getting drunk during all the free time I will suddenly have.  I guess I didn't check my calendar very well, because I have been entirely too busy.  I was afraid I wouldn't be able to give all the stuff I watched its proper attention because of tiredness, but I think I'm holding up pretty well. We'll see what happens when I see the last show of my current crazy series on Wednesday night...

Last Thursday, I saw a new children's musical written by some dear friends - Wringer.  It was performed at City Center in their smaller space.  I don't know the original book, but it seems to be quite popular in the Young Adult literature genre and won a lot of prizes when it was published.  Wringer tells the story of Palmer, an awkward ten-year-old who can't own up to his true feelings - not to his father, the other boys at school, or the kindred spirit who moves into the house next door.  Not until he forms an unlikely friendship with an unlikely friend does Palmer realize there's strength in being yourself and standing up for what's right.

It's a touching story, with some very sad and rather scary moments,
and it makes a fine musical.  My friends have written a very tuneful score, and one that's smart and doesn't talk down to kids.  The libretto is funny and real and gets some mature ideas in there. The actors were all quite good and it was an enjoyable evening.  I will say that although the direction was pretty seamless, I was a tad disgruntled that almost all of the action played to the center of the house and not the two sides (that space has audience on three sides). So that meant, because I was in one of the side sections, I missed some of the delicious lyrics - and so did some of the kids who were sitting on the sides.  The kids in the center section had a great time, though, so hopefully the next time the show is done, the whole space will be accounted for.

Friday night, I saw another casual friend's show, Death for Five Voices, presented at the Sheen Center by Prospect Theater Company.  I was interested in seeing the show for several reasons, not only because I know and enjoy the composer/lyricist's work.  The musical had a tryout in Italy, and I always enjoy a connection to Italy.  Plus, the musical is based on a true story about a sixteenth century composer.  I enjoy music from the Renaissance, though I admit I had never heard about this particular composer at all.  But all signs pointed to my enjoying the piece.

I thought the music and lyrics were sublime, truly.  Some of that choral music is some of the most gorgeous I've heard in years.  The first act closer, "Ever Closer," was spellbinding.  The performers were expert singers and interpreters of songs. Unfortunately, I didn't find much of the acting to be on par with the singing.  But that's ok.  The show was well-staged and well-designed and I look forward to hearing about its development.  And that truly breathtaking music was worth the price of admission.  I would be up for buying a cast album STAT and I would even be up for seeing the show again. 

Saturday, I made another trek to Theater for the New City to see one of the closing performances of Charles Busch's Cleopatra.  The show was even faster and funnier than when I saw it a few weeks ago - I even noticed a riotous section that I hadn't noticed before.  As always, Charles was in terrific form and the audience was along for the ride from the very beginning.  I especially enjoyed the arc he has put in the play for Cleopatra, who starts off as a tough-talking teenager and who matures into a romantic queen for the ages.  With gorgeous wigs.  :)  The musical sequences were terrific and Tony Sheldon mined every single bit of everything out of his three characterizations.  He's truly one of my favorite performers and I hope I get to see him more often.  I went with two handsome pals and we had a spectacular time - they introduced me to a new restaurant AND a new patisserie, so a grand time was had by all.  

To finish, last night, a friend and co-worker had a song presented at Carnegie Hall as part of their Distinguished Concerts International New York series.  The Maine Festival Chorus, which seemed to have over 200 singers, performed eight diverse songs, and my friend's was one of the best!  It was a mournful, beautiful song about a lost friend.  I cried knowing my friend was having a Carnegie Hall debut and I cried over the song.  It was a cry fest.  I admit to sneaking out and not staying for the second act since my week was long and in fact is still going strong, so I missed the tango portion of the evening, but it was thrilling to sit in the second row and experience something few people get to experience.  Hopefully, everything I have coming up can live up to and exceed my expectations...

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Thoughts on Dear Evan Hansen

It has been frequently documented here that I have little to no objectivity when it comes to work written by friends.  I think I'm constitutionally incapable of serious criticism or lack of enjoyment. I suppose if someone I know wrote something REALLY terrible, I might notice, but...who knows?  Besides, my friends would never write anything really terrible. Anyway, here are some thoughts on the new Off-Broadway musical, Dear Evan Hansen, written by dear gents I already love.  It doesn't open until early May, so I probably wouldn't have been so critical this early in the process anyway.

Dear Evan Hansen is a very sweet, but very sad, and ultimately very touching musical about an isolated teenager in crisis, who begins his senior year of high school with little expectation that anything will change for him.  But change does come, due to unexpected tragic circumstances that overwhelm him and cause him to make disastrously wrong choices that paradoxically bring him happiness for a time.

How's that for vague?  I'm trying to avoid spoilers here.  The musical has previously been produced in D.C., and, for once, I did take a look at the previous production's reviews. I'm kind of glad I did, because the inciting incident of Dear Evan Hansen is a bit disturbing, at least as far as I'm concerned, and if I hadn't known about it in advance, I might have had a harder time becoming engaged.  Because I knew what would happen, I could just let it happen and get involved in the story.  Other people may not enjoy knowing what happens beforehand.  I get that.  I'm just putting it out there.

The music is spectacular, in my humble opinion.  The songs just throb with feeling and are all so well-crafted to give us emotion and character and story. They're really well done. I'm looking at the song list now and find it hard to choose just one as a standout.  Though I guess "So Big/So Small," sung by Evan and his mother near the end of the show, just broke my heart with its simplicity and perfection.  But the whole score is first-rate and I seriously cannot wait to get a cast album.

The show is very funny in spots, with a quirky and original-sounding libretto.  The story definitely went places I didn't expect.  Even with all the sadness and hopelessness occasionally explored, there is a heart and a sense of humor present that keeps everything in balance.  I liked the way the show was directed - there was an ease and flow about things.  There is a lot of online action in the show (chat rooms, websites, Facebook posts and such) and it is very well delineated as to when people were really together or connecting online.  The characters are drawn with honesty and all of the acting is achingly good - each actor conveys so many emotions, it's simply heartbreaking.  

I cried a lot during Dear Evan Hansen, not only because I love its creators and I am so proud of them, and not only because the story was so moving, but also because I have a teenage nephew and I worry sometimes that this electronic world and virtual realities can be so isolating at times.  There's so much anonymous rage and hate floating out there that a young mind might get overwhelmed, confused and despairing.  I worry about my nephew, and his whole generation, that they'll never be able to connect with other people face to face because of all the computer/tv/video screens, and the thought that he might get desperate enough to do some of the things depicted in the show made me cry, too.  So it was a rather meta experience.  But it's definitely a meta experience I'd like to have again, because I'd love to hear that score again and I'd love to relish those performances again. The house was full last night, but you should try to get a ticket to Dear Evan Hansen.  I'm thinking this production won't be the last we'll see of it in New York, but it's always better to get in early.  

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Five! Golden! Rings!

(I couldn't think of a 'five' song as a clever title, so that's what I came up with.  I need to up my clever game.)

I can't believe the momentous year 2011 is five years ago. It truly seems like yesterday. But five years ago: surgeries. Five years ago: fire (maybe I should do a blog post about the ongoing issues with my leaky ceiling in my apartment).  Five years ago: started blogging. Who knew so much could be tied into one silly little year?  

Random musing:  did I ever mention how my reviewing came about?  A long time ago, maybe ten years ago already, a group of pals and I took the test to be on the game show Who Wants to Be a Millionaire. Everyone in my group received their 'maybe next year' postcards within a few days.  I didn't.  So, every day, I would send a group e-mail out about what WAS in my mail.  It was a silly little e-mail chain, but it was also fun to share what was going on with my friends. I never did get that postcard, but that e-mail chain sort of morphed into a theater review e-mail chain because I was seeing so many shows (a former co-worker was a theater award nominator and I was his fortunate frequent guest - in 2006, I saw 47 shows in six months.  That was a lot).  Random musing over.

The 'five years' designation seems significant somehow.  They say that people are declared cancer-free after five years of all-clear appointments.  OK, I'll take that.  Also, the world has changed a lot since 2011 - it somehow seems meaner, more small-minded.  I think this election year is sucking the life right out of me.  Though great strides have been made, I constantly feel as if we're on the abyss of taking two steps forward/ten steps back.  

OH!  It suddenly dawns on me, hey, there's the musical The Last Five Years. Maybe there are some lyrics in there.  Hmmmmm.  I'll get back to you on that.  "I'm Still Hurting" comes to mind, but that's a little maudlin, even for me.

Over the last five years, I've seen over 300 plays/musicals. Jesus, Mary and Joseph. That's a lot.  No wonder I don't have any money.  Or savings.  Or other hobbies.  I've written over 590 posts that have been viewed over 34,255 times. New countries on my view list include Mozambique and Pakistan (what?!).  This is all just crazy to me.  I joined Twitter and sometimes promote my blog on other social platforms, which is nuts in and of itself. These blog numbers are something I never could have imagined that day in 2011 when I thought to myself: "I bet my friends are sick of hearing me complain.  I'll complain on the internet where no one will hear me."  After all, in space, no one can hear you scream. Or so I've heard.

My all-time list of most-read posts stays about the same from year to year, though this year there's a new entry into my top five and it tickles me:

  • ABT - Sleeping Beauty, 7/7/11, 354 views
  • ABT Fall Season - GUEST BLOGGER ALERT, 11/13/13, 323 views
  • Review - The Rascals, 5/1/13, 276 views
  • Post-Italy-trip-report thoughts, 5/12/12, 180 views
  • My 22 Minutes as a cable tv/game show star, 7/6/13, 163 views

I thought my list of most-read posts of 2015 was interesting; happy to see a little more than just ballet here:

  • Happy Birthday, Mr. S!!, 3/22/15, 110 views
  • Adventures With My Parents, 9/15/15, 99 views
  • ABT 2015 - Swan Lake, 6/25/15, 90 views
  • Review - King Liz, 7/31/15, 81 views
  • Review - Guards at the Taj, 5/29/15, 80 views 

Blogging goals - I need to get the courage to really blog about important things.  Things that matter to a single gal of a certain age.  We'll see on that.  The other day, I was going to reply to a friend's Tweet, but I was paralyzed with fear that crazy people would begin harassing me, so I stopped myself.  That's dumb.  I also hope to do more traveling, which will probably cut down on other posts, but my travel blog posts do seem to be popular-ish. And I do so love to get out of town.

Happy Five Years, everyone!  Here's to the next!  To finish this post, I think I'll randomly link to a little-read blog post that I kinda like. Ummmmmmm, let's link THIS ONE.  That will bring this post full-circle.  And hopefully, now THAT post will make my most-read list for next year.  : )

Monday, April 11, 2016

Thoughts on Mr. Wolf (in Cleveland) and other various vacation notes

I was home last week for a little celebrating - my nephew turned sixteen (YIKES) and my parents always get a little cake for me, too.  It was a nice week, pretty relaxing, though busy.  It seemed like every day had something that needed to get done, even though I was most looking forward to couch-surfing.  I spent some nice time with my nephew, got to play with the new baby of the family and bonded with my mom.  I wasn't so fond of the snow, though.  When I packed, the weather channel said the weather would be reasonably warm.  When I got home, not so much.  A suitcase full of inappropriate clothes was what I ended up with.  In many of my photos, I'm wearing the same one turtleneck sweater I packed - thank heavens I thought ahead at least that much.  I'll put some random photos from my week below the post...

I was originally planning on going to a friend's production at a local community theater, but when I saw an announcement on Facebook that Rajiv Joseph's new play, Mr. Wolf, would be playing at the Cleveland Play House, I immediately begged my sister to take me. Although I have a driver's license and know how to drive, no one seems to want to lend me their car (hmmmmm), so I'm always at the mercy of other drivers.  Thankfully, my sister had a night free for us to head up to Cleveland, which is about an hour away from my parents' house.  She invited her new husband to tag along, so we first went to dinner, then on to enjoy the show.

As you may remember, I am a big fan of Rajiv Joseph's work.  His Guards at the Taj, reviewed HERE, was maybe my favorite theater experience of last year.  In that review, should you check it out, I also include links to more of Rajiv's work, including his Pulitzer- finalist play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo.  I guess I'm predisposed to enjoy his work - no one writes like he does and I always appreciate his scope and ambition.  He's always striving for something and I can appreciate that.  He generally likes to play with time and space and language, with helpings of faith and friendship.  Big ideas.  These are all topics I love to watch being explored and I was happy to explore them again while watching Mr. Wolf.  As I talk about the play, I guess there will be spoilers, of a sort.  You have been warned.

As the play begins, we see a young girl drawing on a chalkboard, putting together what looks like series of atoms. She seems serious and contemplative and totally focused on her thoughts.  In walks an older gentleman, carrying some shopping bags.  He sits down and the young girl begins to ruminate on infinity and the universe, all while walking around and around on an oval hooked rug in the middle of the floor.  It seems to be a conversation they've had before, yet it also seems new and fresh.  Though the time seems to be in the present, the language is a bit heightened, and maybe a bit stilted, as ideas are pouring forth.  You can feel a certain unease in the room, even though the man and girl seem comfortable with each other.

photo credit: Roger Mastroianni
Gradually, we begin to understand that something absolutely momentous is approaching - the older man, Mr. Wolf, is trying to prepare the girl for her leaving.  He talks about the "world" coming for her, and the girl, Theresa, resists.  She says she wants to stay, that this is her home.  But Mr. Wolf understands that she has to go and he makes the scary pronouncement that he is going to kill himself because he doesn't want to be taken alive. He asks Theresa for her permission to kill himself, because he wants her to know and understand what he's doing.  She resists, but finally gives it, and prepares to leave.  This first scene is odd, and maybe a bit surreal, as the set floats out of sight and all we see are stars and the night sky.

The second scene takes place in a time a bit before the first scene - it's between two grieving single parents, both of whom are looking for their abducted children.  They're in a room where perhaps a gathering of other parents like them has just left.  The man, Michael, refuses to give in to despair and maintains a proactive methodology of trying to find his daughter. He's prickly and blunt, with a determination that seems to border on a mania.  The woman, Julie, is trying to find something to hang onto.  She's softer, gentler, yet filled with anguish.  There is a tentative reaching out between the two and I began to wonder where we were going.

photo credit: Roger Mastroianni
Gradually, we discover that Theresa is Michael's daughter, who has finally been found after twelve years.  Mr. Wolf abducted her when she was three, and Michael has been searching, futilely, ever since.  His ex-wife, Theresa's mother, gave Theresa up for dead, divorced Michael and left the country, though she did offer a one million dollar reward to anyone who could provide information about Theresa's whereabouts.  Once Theresa is found, her mother, Hana, comes back.  We first meet her in a scene with Julie, who is now Michael's wife.  Their house is spare, out of fashion, with the only real decorations being photographs of their lost children.  So now the stage is set for four lost souls, trying to find a connection to each other and to the world.

photo credit: Roger Mastroianni
Mr. Wolf had decided to find a child who was pure, who would be a prophet, who could figure out the mysteries of the universe and thereby become closer to God.  As we struggle to understand the motivations of this seemingly normal man, who is obviously NOT normal, we're constantly torn apart, much like the characters are.  We learn more and more about Mr. Wolf and the life Theresa led with him and we're filled with more and more sadness and fear that she may never be the same again.  As Theresa struggles to deal with the life she now must live, she keeps meeting adult authority figures who she thinks is Mr. Wolf (all played by the same actor).  She is using her ideas of infinity to explain everything that she doesn't understand.  She is always asking questions and keeping her family off-kilter as they try to connect with her.  The play fairly throbs with ideas and pain and loss and forgiveness. And ambiguity.  Even at the end, we're not really sure what's going to happen, though a faint thread of redemption and hope seems to be taking shape as the play closes.

The physical production was fantastic - the theater seems like a small space, but it was used beautifully to find all the expansiveness in the story.  The lighting and the music helped to create so many moods and layers of moods.  The direction was smooth and clear and the acting was spectacular.  All of the actors found so much humanity in their characters, and all of their choices were completely understandable, even when reprehensible.  Well, all of Mr. Wolf's choices were not completely understandable, evil can't be understood, really.  But John de Lancie found a way in to make Mr. Wolf at least human and a tad sympathetic, even while you learned more and more about what he'd done over the years.

I was incredibly moved by Mr. Wolf; the characters wants and needs were so recognizable to me, even though I have never and will never experience tragedy in that same way.  But I could relate to huge loss.  I could relate to wanting something so much, it becomes impossible to express it.  Or enjoy it, if it actually comes to pass.  I could relate to wanting a connection.  I was audibly sobbing by the end, so much so that I had to cover my mouth and wait a few minutes before leaving my seat.  I was happy to see Rajiv after the show so I could tell him how much I enjoyed the play, though I was sobbing through talking with him, too.

Full disclosure: the two gents behind me talked through most of the evening.  There were coughing fits during the quieter moments.  My sister and her husband also did not enjoy the play.  Apparently, this was the first play he had ever seen, so maybe Mr. Wolf was a little ambitious for a first play.  But that's ok.  He was a good sport about it.  And I acknowledge that every play doesn't hit everyone.  But, boy, did it hit me.  Hard.  Like most of Rajiv's work, it just built and built into something so moving and profound, I was suddenly hit with waves of emotion that I couldn't control.  And you can't teach that.  I admire Rajiv and his writing so much - I can't wait to see, and experience, what comes next.  I hope Mr. Wolf finds its way to New York so I can see it again!  If you're in Cleveland, you should get to the Cleveland Play House to experience Mr. Wolf.  I doubt you'll soon forget it.


Friday, April 1, 2016

April First Flashback!

I'm getting ready to head home for a little break, and to celebrate my nephew who will be sixteen and that will make me feel old.  To leave a little something something behind, I present an April 1 flashback.  I thought about a jokey April Fools post, but changed my mind.  I vividly remember seeing the show discussed below, both Off- and on Broadway. Once, I saw the Broadway production from the front row and let me tell you - it was incredible to be so close to the sheer theatricality.  This show was never less than thrilling to me.  I was heartbroken it didn't win every award known to us and I can only hope, over time, it will take its place in the upper tiers of the American musical theater canon...

4/1/10:  I’m on a break from new database training, so I thought I’d jot down a few thoughts from seeing the Kander and Ebb musical, The Scottsboro Boys, at the Vineyard last night.  This show seems to be one of those shows that people really love or really dislike intensely.  And I landed towards ‘really love'...

The program states ‘this is a fictional play based on real event.’  I gather they’ve taken some liberties, but the basic premise of the story of these unjustly accused boys remains. The show is framed with a minstrel show performance.  John Collum plays the Interlocutor, our seemingly benign master of ceremonies.  Two other performers play stock minstrel performers, Mr. Bones and Mr. Tambo.  They play various characters throughout the evening, including most of the white characters.  Using the minstrel show device really points up the ugliness of the racism of the time.  It forces us to acknowledge it.  The show is provocative, yet has the Kander and Ebb ‘razzle dazzle’ touch.  Most of the time, the dichotomy is very effective.  There is a hideously horrible, yet fascinating, tap number that represents one boy’s fears of the electric chair.  The song where the prosecutor sings about ‘Jew money’ is terrifying, in a great theatrical way, and staged gorgeously.  

photo credit: Carol Rosegg
This isn’t an easy musical to watch—the blatant racism and excoriation of white Southern authority is squirm-inducing at times, which seems to be the point.  But the songs are never less than interesting (some are quite terrific), the staging and choreography is good, the set and lighting is spot on, and the performances are all fantastic.  My heart was breaking for these boys, though the minstrel show takes you out (purposefully, I think) and makes it hard to stay emotionally engaged.  Even though I struggled throughout some of the show to stay with it, I have to say the last twenty minutes or so are some of the most shattering theatrical moments I’ve ever seen in my life.  I was weeping, loudly sobbing, throughout the last number.  It was fabulously harrowing, if you know what I mean.  A theatrical moment I’ll remember forever.  Then, there’s a coda that should’ve been apparent from the beginning, but I missed it, so I almost completely lost control when it happened.  SOOOO moving to me.  I’m crying right now thinking about it.

I give this show a big thumbs up, though I will acknowledge I know quite a few people who hated it and there were a few walk-outs last night, even though the show is running with no intermission.  In fact, it’s running nearly two hours, so it could maybe be trimmed a bit, especially in the scenes leading into the finale.  It meanders a bit there, though once it gets to the finish, I was jolted upright.  They apparently want to move this to Broadway—I don’t know.  It’s so dark and odd and unique, I’m not sure how it will fare.  But more power to them.  If it goes to Broadway, I'll for sure go see it again.