Friday, April 27, 2007

"I Am My Own Wife" - Commendable But

But I thought my socks and white pearls (which ushers handed out) would be knocked off and I would be pressuring all of my readers to rush to Hartford Stage (through May 13) to see this Pulitzer/Tony Award winner; but, I'm not.

I recognize that author Doug Wright is a dynamite researcher, that Charlotte von Mahlsdorf (who lived as a woman even if she was born a man) is intriguing, that James Lecesne is a versatile, splendid actor......and the plot is based upon reality.

Lecesne plays multiple, multiple, multiple roles as he or is it she appears solo on stage for nearly two hours. Most of the time he embodies Charlotte. Also: Doug Wright, various Nazi characters, agents, officers, and so forth.

She loved beautiful, antique furniture -- and gramophones. Kris Stone's staging is imaginative and visionary. The theatergoer feels as if he's looking deep into a tunnel or valley. The eye ventures toward the rear of the large performance space. Charlotte's home is museum-like and glimpses of possessions are just perfect.

von Mahlsdorf survived repressive Nazi and Communist regimes while she lived in East Germany. Wright's play asks Lecesne to take on a variety of accents (flat American, Texas, Germanic, etc.) Lecesne is remarkably adept.

The plot presents questions: Did she spy on or kill anyone? Is von Mahlsdorf (her white pearls) and her story entirely credible? Many more.

Unfortunately, dramatic impact is lacking. Charlotte is fascinating but the play is neither gripping nor compelling. Lescesne is masterful as he develops the protagonist and everyone else but I felt as if I were watching a non-riveting if excellent presentation.

That is frustrating. Why is this so? How can "I Am My Own Wife" be intellectually engaging but monotone in other modes? It is revealing as a history piece, thanks to Wright; and beautifully framed, thanks to Stone's scenographic touches. Marcus Doshi's lighting design is enhancing.

All of that said, "I Am My Own Wife" enriches but does not fully satisfy. Point a finger at Jeremy Cohen, the director? You might try that but Lecesne moves with precision and Cohen, no doubt, was catalytic as he coaxed the actor. Thus, this is a valuable play, but.....
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Wednesday, April 11, 2007

"Spamalot" or "You Won't Succeed on Broadway if You Don't Have Any Jews"

Which brings us to Mike Nichols, director of the smash hit, now running at Hartford's Bushnell Theater through April 22. Nichols, whose birth name was Michael Igor Peschkowsky, qualifies as the requisite Jew, I suppose. He also headlined with Eliane May in nightclubs, on The Ed Sullivan Show, on radio - and so forth. Besides, Nichols has directed films such as "The Graduate," "Silkwood," "Carnal Knowledge," and "Angels in America." He knows: theater, film, comedy, and people - in any given order. This time, he has (you choose) modified, adapted, or ripped off the movie "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" and transformed it into a laugh-a-minute Broadway musical. Sure it's familiar and it certainly is a hoot and a half.

Combine Nichols with book/lyrics by Eric Idle and music by Idle and John Du Prez, toss in Casey Nicholaw's nifty choreography, smart sets and costumes by Tim Hatley, a first rate touring company of actors and you have a pretty cool evening of musical theater. It's a tad familiar and that will probably irritate a minority of theatergoers. Python devotees will feel lifted to heaven while those looking for two plus hours of levity will appreciate obvious humor, inclusive of bathroom-style lowbrow comedy.

Ostensibly, a friendly group of Knights seek the Grail, sort of, and for most of the first act it's possible to track the plot of "Spamalot." Early highlight numbers include "I Am Not Dead Yet," "Find Your Grail," and "Run Away," set amid a French Castle. Challenge: Figure out what the large, wooden rabbit is all about.

The second portion of the play begins with the uplifting "Always Look on the Bright Side of Life," presented by Patsy, the servant (actor Jeff Dumas), King Arthur (Michael Siberry) and various oddball knights. Midway through the scene (here comes my reference), catch the many verses of "You Won't Succeed on Broadway" if you don't have any _____.

The villainous rabbit is really a white hand puppet -- and quite a sketch at that.

An unsuspecting viewer is escorted to the stage to participate as she receives an award.

And so on....

Pia Glenn is suitably statuesque and strong of voice as she sings an appropriate number, "The Diva's Lament." As The Lady of the Lake, her lines and appearances are limited.

Dumas is excellent with his three roles. And, Siberry makes for a credible (within the prespective of lack of credibility) Arthur. Robert Petkoff is outstanding as Sir Robin.

It's tough not to have a fine time with "Spamalot" even if this is not highly original, inventive work. There are obvious debts to "West Side Story," "Fiddler," and "The Producers." "Spamelot" is oftentimes amusing but, as a musical theater piece, cannot hold a candle to any of the aforementioned shows. That's okay: the current touring version diverts, charms, and entertains.
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Saturday, April 07, 2007

"Lulu" - A Lulu

"Lulu" is audacious, eclectic, highly-charged, visually arresting, fast-paced, and enormously theatrical. The play, running at Yale Repertory Theatre through April 21, showcases performance talents of an energetic group of actors and the terrific director, Mark Lamos. It is also a disturbing work and one that, in all honesty, I would not recommend for the come-and-go theatre viewer.

Genesis of the eventual production: Reference "Monster Tragedy" (1894), "Earth Spirit" (1895), "Pandora's Box" (1903), and the silent film version of "Pandora's Box" (1928). And more. Now, Frank Wedekind (whose "Spring Awakening" is an NYC hit) has written a new version, Carl R. Mueller has translated German into English language, and Lamos and Drew Lichtenberg have adapted it for Yale Rep.

Lulu (startling Brienin Bryant) appears bare-breasted, early on, and in mid-air (thanks to a swing). She is lusted after, desirable, so enticing, and voracious. Men pursue her whatever her name at a given moment: Eve, Katja, Nellie, Mignon. The artist Walter Schwarz (Louis Cancelmi) paints her. Her husband Dr. Goll (Joe Vincent), very much her senior, wants the work. She dupes Dr. Schon (John Bedford Lloyd) into marrying her. Her next mariage (I think I have this in order) is with the physician's son, Alwa (Charles Socarides). These two go off to Paris but lose their wealth. Schigolch (Jordan Charney) is borderline evil. At last Jack (Cancelmi) kills Lulu. During various interludes actor Michael Braun plays an Animal Trainer; this, one gathers, is adjacent to the metaphor of "Lulu" as a dark, twisted circus of life's odd, edgy, menacing side.

Lamos, whose tenure as artistic at Hartford Stage, was nothing short of remarkable, had a tendency to lower scenic objects from the rafters. This technique works well at Yale Rep and the settings by Rumiko Ishii lend cosummate flair to the proceedings. Fake blood turn you on? See the show.

"Lulu," then, scores on a multitude of production elements, inclusive of Christina Bullard's eye-opening costumes. This is a visual extravaganza, one which features many a treat.

It's difficult to take an eye off Bryant, who is fetching and versatile. "Lulu" includes more than a tad of male nudity, especially during the opening sequence.

Lamos, ever the orchestrator, pushes pace throughout with positive results.

The literal definition of lulu? Extraordinary human. I recall my childhood when my parents would remark, upon occasion, "That's a lulu!" They were speaking of the absolutely outrageous. Such a phrase matches well with the spirit and actualization at Yale Rep.
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