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He Said, She Said: ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’

May 11th, 2017 Comments off
Laurie Metcalf in 'A Doll's House, Part 2.' (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe via The Broadway Blog.)

Laurie Metcalf in ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2.’ (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe via The Broadway Blog.)

It begins with a knock. And a chuckle. The knock is onstage. The chuckle, from audience members familiar with Henrik Ibsen’s A Doll’s House, one of the most significant plays of the 19th century. The play questioned marriage norms and a woman’s role in society, and at the end, its female protagonist, Nora, leaves her husband and famously walks out the door — leaving her husband, her children, and life as she knows it, behind. That knock is a sure sign that something is amiss.

A Doll’s House, Part 2 picks up 15 years later and Nora has come home. Well, not home, exactly, for she’s made quite a life for herself as a writer working under a pseudonym. If home is where the heart is, then it’s not here, for Nora seems perfectly happy—sometimes giddy, in fact — with the new life she’s created for herself.

Except there’s one major problem. Nora’s real name has been found out, and there’s someone out to ruin her, for her writings have inspired other women to leave their husbands and this particular fellow — a judge — isn’t too keen on that. It gets better. Or worse, as the case may be. Nora’s husband, Torvald, never filed divorce papers, so all of Nora’s endeavors have technically been illegal. So the gauntlet has been thrown down. Either she gets Torvald to agree to a divorce or she likely faces incarceration. And then there’s the small issue of her children she’s left behind.

The cast of 'A Doll's House, Part 2.' (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe via The Broadway Blog.)

The cast of ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2.’ (Photo: Brigitte Lacombe via The Broadway Blog.)

Nimbly written by Lucas Hnath and exquisitely directed by Sam Gold, A Doll’s House, Part 2 is a tour de force for its ensemble of actors, each of which has earned a Tony nomination for his or her performance. At its core is Laurie Metcalf as Nora, who relishes Hnath’s script for every juicy word and smartly juxtaposes period conventions and modernisms.

Metcalf’s counterpoints include the hilarious Jane Houdyshell as Anne Marie, the family nanny who sacrificed her own life to pick up the pieces after Nora’s departure and essentially raised her children. Her foul-mouthed character is terrific ammunition for what’s in store.

Eventually, Torvald (Chris Cooper) comes home, and the former couple has at it in a series of verbal boxing matches that sling blame, hurts, and truths. If you’ve ever been in a long-term relationship, you might cringe at the familiarity of arguments. Cooper is, perhaps, more subtle than his onstage counterparts. He’s made a career in film and television, and while you can see the cogs turning, it’s not quite as dynamic a performance as his female co-stars.

This includes Condola Rashad as Emmy, Nora and Torvald’s daughter. Simultaneously sweet-natured yet with a sharp tongue that she inherited from her mother despite her lack of presence, Emmy hatches yet another plan to possibly preserve everyone’s futures, but Nora is reluctant to latch on, saying one of many resonating passages throughout the play:

…20, 30 years from now
the world isn’t going to be the kind of place I say it’s going to be unless
I’m the one to make it that way –

Gold directs A Doll’s House, Part 2 with the precision of a surgeon, gifting the ensemble with a physical and emotional roadmap that is nothing short of electric. The production design, including scenic design by Miriam Buether, costume design by David Zinn, and lighting design by Jennifer Tipton, supports this vision.

Torvald eventually returns, having taken action of his own, but once again, Nora stands on her own two feet, deciding to bear the consequences, finally saying:

The world didn’t change as much as I thought it would,
but I know that someday everything will be different, and everyone will be free — freer than they are now.
… I just hope I live to see it

Don’t we all.

A Doll’s House, Part 2
Golden Theatre
252 West 45th Street, NYC
Through July 23

A special midnight performance of A Doll’s House, Part 2 is scheduled for Thursday, May 18, with proceeds benefitting The Actors Fund.

 

 

The Family Ties That Bind: ‘The Glass Menagerie’

March 10th, 2017 Comments off
Sally Field and Joe Mantello in 'The Glass Menagerie' (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Sally Field and Joe Mantello in ‘The Glass Menagerie’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

I have no doubt that Sam Gold’s stark, contemporary interpretation of Tennessee Williams’ masterwork, The Glass Menagerie, will polarize audiences and critics alike. The current Broadway revival, which opened last night at the Belasco Theatre, is a muscular, often anachronistic work. “The play is memory,” says the son, Tom (Joe Mantello), “Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic.” If you believe those words at face value, as I did, you will discover a production that bristles with familial uncomfortability. That pushes your boundaries beyond the suspension of disbelief. And that, ultimately, breaks your heart as the ties that bind unravel before your eyes.

Set in an alley in St. Louis, “Now and in the Past,” The Glass Menagerie reveals the layered dysfunction in the Wingfield household, helmed by matriarch Amanda (Sally Field) and her two children, Tom (Joe Mantello) and Laura (Madison Ferris). A gentleman caller, Jim O’Connor (Finn Wittrock) later appears, but it is the unseen fifth character of the father, “a telephone man who fell in love with long distances,” who looms over the proceedings like an emotional grim reaper.

Madison Ferris, Sally Field, and Joe Mantello in 'The Glass Menagerie.' (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Madison Ferris, Sally Field, and Joe Mantello in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Williams’ construct is quite simple, really. During the day, Tom is trapped in a warehouse job at Continental Shoemakers while his wanderlust slowly simmers away. At home, his recluse sister plays with her glass menagerie as his mother tries to pine and manipulate her way toward an idealistic vision for a charmed life for herself and her two wayward adult children. When Tom invites his colleague, Jim, home for dinner, Amanda sets a social entrapment in the hopes that the young man will find Laura suitable for the taking. Well, you know what they say about the best-laid plans…

As narrator and son, Mantello is wiry, perhaps more middle-aged neurotic New Yorker than down-on-his-luck warehouse worker. Putting “type” aside, it makes no difference. Mantello bites into Williams’ language with a ferocity that some might remember from his Tony award-nominated performance in Angels in America. Mantello has no fear of unhinging Tom’s squelched life. And it helps that he has a terrific sparring partner in Sally Field.

Last seen on Broadway in Edward Albee’s 2002 The Goat, or Who is Sylvia?, most of Field’s body of the work has been on the screen, both big and small. The two-time Academy Award winner and three-time Emmy Award winning actress as spanned half a century. Once again, the actress delivers a watershed moment, the culmination of more of a decade of yearning to return to the role, which she played at a Tennessee Williams Festival at the Kennedy Center in 2004. Gold guides her through a fluid vacillation between aging southern belle and contemporary matriarch.

Finn Wittrock and Madison Ferris in 'The Glass Menagerie.' (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Finn Wittrock and Madison Ferris in ‘The Glass Menagerie.’ (Photo: Julieta Cervantes via The Broadway Blog.)

Making her Broadway debut, Ferris is tasked with perhaps the play’s most challenging role. Laura, often portrayed as waif-like with a non-discriminant limp or another physical challenge, is lost in the world of her menagerie. Drifting in and out of life’s social demands, it is easy to shroud her as a victim. But Ferris, who was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy in her teens but hasn’t let that stop her from pursuing a theater degree from Muhlenberg College and moving to New York City, often as difficult to navigate as Williams’ masterwork. This conflict of strength and vulnerability sheds new light on Laura, who seems almost flippant at her mother’s eccentric pursuit of a gentleman caller. But Ferris tends to, at times, vacantly drift, nearly consumed by Mantello and Field’s master class.

But when Wittrock arrives as her gentleman caller, Ferris lights up. And who wouldn’t? He embodies an easy, All-American façade, but don’t be fooled by his good looks. Wittrock mines Jim for all he’s worth, clutching to a gem given by the playwright, who pegs Jim as a man in pursuit of upward mobility. Jim is taking a night course in public speaking, and Wittrock joyfully nudges this character detail to the forefront with a bellowing voice.

Stripped down to its bare walls, scenic designer Andrew Lieberman and lighting designer Adam Silverman create a barren theatrical landscape at the Belasco. But there is plenty to feast on in this eighth Broadway production of The Glass Menagerie.

The Glass Menagerie
Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th Street, NYC
Through July 2

Breaking: Sally Field to Star in ‘The Glass Menagerie’ on Broadway

June 6th, 2016 Comments off
Sally Field (Photo: Ga Fullner / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Sally Field (Photo: Ga Fullner / Shutterstock.com via The Broadway Blog.)

Producer Scott Rudin announced today that two-time Academy Award winner Sally Field and two-time Tony Award winner Joe Mantello will return to the Broadway stage next season to star in Tennessee Williams’s most cherished play, The Glass Menagerie. Tony Award winner Sam Gold will direct the production, which will also star Finn Wittrock and Madison Ferris, who will be making her Broadway debut in the role of Laura Wingfield. The Glass Menagerie will begin performances at Broadway’s Golden Theatre on Tuesday, February 14, 2017, with an official opening night set for Thursday, March 23, 2017.

“To say this is a dream come true is an understatement,” Ms. Field said. “Working with the best of the best, from Sam Gold to Joe Mantello to Scott Rudin, on one of the greatest plays ever written is beyond thrilling. Right now I can barely breathe. Hopefully that’ll pass.”

Mr. Gold first directed this production of The Glass Menagerie with an entirely Dutch cast at Toneelgroep Amsterdam (Ivo van Hove, Artistic Director) in an engagement that garnered rave reviews and massive international attention.

Mr. Gold said, “The experience I had doing this play in Amsterdam was life-changing, and the fact that we’ve managed to put together this cast to do it on Broadway is the most perfect outcome I could have imagined. Like any sane person, I’ve been hoping for Sally Field to carve out some time to do a play again. When I saw her Mary Todd Lincoln, I started dreaming of her as Amanda Wingfield. As for Joe Mantello, seeing that original production of Angels in America, in which he starred, was a great source of inspiration for me at the time. Because Joe is such a wonderful director, he has had very little time to act. I’m incredibly lucky that he has agreed to come back to the stage to play Tom.”

The Glass Menagerie is the play that brought a brilliant young writer named Tennessee Williams to national attention, and, in his own words, “changed my life irrevocably” when it first premiered on Broadway in 1945. More than seventy years later, Williams’s most personal work for the stage continues to captivate and overwhelm audiences around the world.  

Review: ‘The Flick’ at Barrow Street Theatre

May 19th, 2015 Comments off
Aaron Clifton Moten, Louisa Krause, and Matthew Maher in "The Flick" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Aaron Clifton Moten, Louisa Krause, and Matthew Maher in “The Flick” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

There is a powerful character that you won’t see in The Flick—the script. Set in Worcester, Massachusetts, Annie Baker’s Pulitzer Prize-winning, three-person play (with a few brief appearances from a fourth) follows a motley group of movie theater employees as they interact on the job. Her 124-page exercise in hyperrealism reads like a movie script, with extensive stage directions, pauses, sentence interruptions, and so on. Of course, as a reviewer, I had the privilege of asking for it to try to make sense of Baker’s subtle exercise in humanity, but the average audience member must simply settle in for the three-plus hours and trust that he or she will be carried on an emotional journey worth the investment. Most will feel the pay-off from Sam Gold’s delicate direction and supreme performances by the cast—all of who return to the production after its original run last year at Playwrights Horizons.

Avery (Aaron Clifton Moten), a 20-year-old African American, arrives at the run-down film house for his first day on the job. He’s trained by Sam (Matthew Maher), a beleaguered 35-year-old stuck in a dead-end job with minor ambitions to hopefully run the projector, currently overseen by Rose (Louisa Krause)—a sexually magnetic 20-something who dresses in black and dyes the tips of her hair green. Sam and Rose are Caucasian, and that racial divide will come into play as a well-placed plot point later in the action. But this isn’t an obvious morality play as much as three exceptionally well honed character studies.

Avery is an avid movie buff with a keen ability to connect any combination of actors via six degrees (or less) of separation. It sparks an interesting comparison to those familiar with John Guare’s Six Degrees of Separation, the 1990 play that also examined race, class, and relationships. Sam repeatedly challenges Avery’s film knowledge as the two become friends over time… or are they just work buddies? It’s hard to tell and anyone who has had a survival job can attest to the fleeting relationships one forms simply to stay connected to the outside world while muddling through mundane tasks that pay the bills.

Louisa Krause and Matthew Maher in "The Flick" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

Louisa Krause and Matthew Maher in “The Flick” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog.)

It is Rose’s wavering moral compass that stirs the pot, first to set a precedent for deception, then to point fingers at those who suffer the consequences. She is the subject of Sam’s unrequited affection, and the instigator of something a bit tawdrier with Avery. So the trio goes about their business for months on end, and though the script may skip calendar chunks, the onstage action unfolds in real time with such detailed specificity that I occasionally wanted to scream, “Can you just sweep that popcorn a bit faster?” The answer, of course, is yes, but the revelation is that these three are lost souls, caught in life’s repetitive rotation without much of a clue as to how to set a different course.

Spouting a speech impediment and referencing a worsening rash as the play wears on, Mr. Maher as Sam is an unconventional leading man. Yet the character’s lovability quotient holds steady despite unlovable actions (or inactions), and it is this unbecoming but recognizable mediocrity that makes him that much more believable. Mr. Moten captures Avery’s lost boy soul with haunting accuracy, and if you’ve ever been around someone overmedicated for depression you might see some frighteningly truthful resemblances. Ms. Krause delivers perhaps the most dynamic shifts as a young woman discovering the power and potential abuse of her own sexuality. At times androgynous and at others wildly feminine, she casts a palpable, flippant energy that can shift on a dime.

Director Sam Gold keeps things grounded with the help of an appropriately dingy set by David Zinn and sensorial elements by Jane Cox (lighting design) and Bray Poor (sound design.) But this is Annie Baker’s story to tell. And that she does, one deliberate word and stage direction at a time.

The Flick
Barrow Street Theatre
27 Barrow Street
Through August 30

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at roodeloo

Review: Fun Home

May 4th, 2015 Comments off
"Fun Home" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

“Fun Home” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

Home is where the heart is. But sometimes that heart can ache from a life burdened with secrets and lies. That same heart can also beat strong when love, compassion, and empathy flows through its chambers. Fun Home, the new Broadway musical with music by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Lisa Kron, is full of heart in every capacity — a humorous and occasionally harrowing journey that touches upon our creative yearnings and the emotional baggage we carry and occasionally let go of.

funhomeBased on the graphic novel by Alison Bechdel, Fun Home is the autobiographical journey of graphic novelist Alison Bechdel as she grows up in a funeral home helmed by her closeted father, discovers her own sexuality during college, and eventually comes to terms with his suicide. Tesori and Kron’s brilliant construct allows for us to share the journey with Alison through three stages of her life: as a young child (played by Obie winner Sydney Lucas), middle Alison (Emily Skeggs) and adult Alison (Beth Malone). Director Sam Gold seamlessly shepherds the action around David Zinn’s set, which includes a carefully curated collection of “fun home” antiques as well as other specific elements in Alison’s life. Originally presented at The Public Theatre on a proscenium stage, Fun Home benefits greatly from Circle in the Square’s in-the-round setting, which enables Gold to further immerse older Alison into the action.

Tesori’s music is a driving force and carries the same emotional highs and lows as previous works such as Violet and Caroline, or Change. But she’s a chameleon and also imbues the score with 70s riffs that echo The Partridge Family and The Jackson Five. Kron’s book is just as keen, balancing humor with pathos as Alison retraces her life before the audience’s eyes.

"Fun Home" (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

“Fun Home” (photo: Joan Marcus via The Broadway Blog).

Alison, in each of her three incarnations, builds a story of hope and forgiveness. As the youngest of the trio, Ms. Lucas is haunting in her natural and untainted demeanor. She is a child discovering her love of drawing and creative expression yet emotionally tethered to her father’s fleeting approval. As the college student, Ms. Skeggs is beautifully gangly and awkward, yet fiery with her newly discovered sexual desires. And providing a calm yet solemn through line, Ms. Malone is not only narrator, but also a mirror of the experiences unfolding before her. Rounding out the cast are exceptional performances from Judy Kuhn as Alison’s mother, and a Tony-nominated performance by Michael Cerveris, whose tortured inner conflict is riveting and will likely resonate with anyone who has struggled with his or her own sexual identity.

Fun Home was a 2014 Pulitzer Prize for Drama finalist and it’s easy to see why. The musical, which so truthfully delves into the specifics of Bechdel’s life, also touches upon universal themes about creativity and truth. As her father falls deep into a life of deception as a means to cover up his repressed homosexuality, he inadvertently smothers her artistic expression in an unconscious attempt to control what cannot be controlled, both within him as well as others.

In Julia Cameron’s principles of The Artist’s Way, the author writes that “there is an underlying, in-dwelling creative force infusing all of life—including ourselves.” The fact that real-life Bechdel was able to transcend her father’s creative suffocation is a triumph and testament to the human spirit and a destiny that she felt compelled to follow. Fun Home pays homage to her journey with a captivating theatrical sensibility you won’t want to miss.

Fun Home
Circle in the Square
235 West 50th Street
Open ended run.

Matthew Wexler is The Broadway Blog’s editor. Follow him on TwitterFacebook and Instagram at roodeloo

Review: “The Realistic Joneses” Move Into the Neighborhood

April 7th, 2014 Comments off

Contributor Lindsay B. Davis takes a look at 21st century suburbia with the help of playwright Will Eno and the superb cast of  The Realistic Joneses.

Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall and Tracy Letts in "The Realistic Joneses" (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Toni Collette, Michael C. Hall and Tracy Letts in “The Realistic Joneses” (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Characters in The Realistic Joneses, Will Eno’s absurdist new dramedy at the Lyceum Theatre, spend a great deal of time looking up. Whether at the constellations, fireworks, or a hot air balloon, the choreography of their gazes work like Pinter pauses, helping to define the rhythm of this swiftly moving piece by emerging at specific times, in this case when one must gather thoughts, avert the close gaze of a counterpart or find comfort in the safety of living somewhere nestled in the mountains.

I am often struck by how content I am to watch certain actors do very little and in this case, the talent – a gifted, four-person ensemble cast featuring veterans Toni Collette (Muriel’s Wedding, Hostages, The Wild Party), Tracy Letts (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, Homeland), Marisa Tomei (My Cousin Vinny, The Wrestler, Top Girls, Salome) and Michael C. Hall (Dexter, Six Feet Under, Cabaret, Chicago) – can look up all day and I would watch. Beyond that, they leverage virtuosity into simplicity, lifting Eno’s crafty dialogue and vignette-like structure into laughs and poignant emotional punches.

Toni Collette in "The Realistic Joneses" (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Toni Collette in “The Realistic Joneses” (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

We meet the first set of Joneses, Jennifer (Collette) and Bob (Letts), chitchatting in their backyard surrounded by tall pines and the silence of suburbia (beautifully realized by scenic designer David Zinn.) “What are your fears?” asks Jennifer, who wants to dive deep, much to Bob’s chagrin. Letts flexes comedic muscles from the get-go, his rather salty, hefty deliveries calling out the obvious without condescension. To Bob’s relief, the conversation can’t plunge into terribly deep emotional valleys because it is interrupted by the arrival of a second set of Joneses, the upbeat Pony (Tomei) and John (Hall), who have just to moved into a house down the road and arrive as if fresh off the bus from a day at camp. Besides a shared last name, the couples don’t appear to have much in common. Pony is jovial and neurotic while Jennifer is weighted and direct. John is bemused and delighted to make their acquaintance, while Bob can’t wait to go to sleep.

After the requisite getting-to-know-you’s (Bob works for the Department of Transportation, Jennifer makes her living as a bookkeeper, Pony works for an online greeting card company and John does something with heating and A/C installations) things start getting real. Why do Bob and Jennifer prefer living in this town with a good school district? “Because,” Jen says, “Bob hates stupid children.” When Pony and John are leaving, the latter says, “This was fun. Not fun, some other word.” And after their new neighbors go home for the night, Jennifer says to Bob, “It was nice watching you with people.”

Marisa Tomei in "The Realistic Joneses" (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

Marisa Tomei in “The Realistic Joneses” (photo: Joan Marcus) via The Broadway Blog.

What follows are eleven more scenes in which a plot lightly unfolds as if from the hand of a Blackjack dealer flipping cards. One by one, a series of reveals, we learn of illness (both men have a similar and rare disease called HLS, which Jennifer explains is congenital and Pony is relieved can’t be caught), medical treatments, attractions to each other’s spouses, deep anxieties that manifest as comedic neurosis (again, Pony, “I feel like I should go to med school or get my hair cut”) and all the Joneses varied attempts to find peace through such outlets as prayer, meditation and medication. But, to quote two tourists I overhead while exiting the theater—

“What the heck was that just about?”

“I don’t know!”

—this is not a play that is most appealing for reasons of story. Rather, it is one that draws you in because its characters are beholden to language, using it to observe, avoid and engage, heavily relying upon it to connect, but ultimately looking for things in themselves and from each other that cannot be put into words.

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