Friday, October 21, 2011

Relatively Speaking @ Brooks Atkinson Theatre

Relatively speaking, three wrongs do not make a right.  This phrase still stands true for the new Broadway piece, Relatively Speaking, currently playing at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre.  Made up of three One-Act comedies from playwright greats Ethan Coen, Elaine May, and Woody Allen, Relatively Speaking looks to explore the themes of the underdog; unfortunately, this underdog did not rise to the occasion.  Featuring a large ensemble that just never appeared to jell, technical elements that felt ignored, and simple direction that had the characters never fully being able to develop, Relatively Speaking has an interesting concept that simply never gets fully realized.
Opening up the play is “Talking Cure” by playwright Ethan Coen (films No Country for Old Men and True Grit).  With a similar twist to the Robert De Niro Analyze This series, “Talking Cure” looks at the relationship between a patient and his therapist.  After a recent blow up at his job, the patient is placed under medical watch and assigned a doctor who has a few problems of his own to sort out.  Before long, however, it becomes clear that the patient’s problems stem back to before birth as his parents turn out to be a bitter quarreling couple who have lost the love in their lives.  While the piece had its overall moments, Coen could have dug a lot deeper into his characters problems, lives, and souls.  The acting duo was Danny Hoch (television’s Nurse Jackie) as the patient and Jason Kravits (The Drowsy Chaperone) as the doctor.  While the two worked well together and the material did not give them very much to work with, both actors played their respective parts very stereotypically – the patient goes from gangster to graduate as the doctor goes in the reverse direction.  Thus, the audience was left feeling a bit worried at the conclusion of piece one.
Piece two is “George is Dead” by playwright Elaine May (films The Birdcage and Primary Colors).  When one puts a woman who feels everything and a woman who feels nothing in the same room, there is guaranteed drama and craziness.  Carla has major mommy issues and is on the verge of divorce number two.  The last thing that she needed was empty headed Doreen knocking on her door to confess that her husband, George, has just died.  With a strange dynamic between the two women that causes constant mixed feelings, the audience almost feels the need to pick what corner they wish to stand on – Carla (played by Lisa Emery – The Women) or Doreen.  The obvious answer is Doreen, mainly because the charter is played by the talented Marlo Thomas (television’s That Girl) who steals not only this piece, but the other two pieces as well.  Thomas took hold of her character, made strong choices, and simply owned the stage.  She took the audience on a journey and captivated their hearts.  The only problem was that the piece unfortunately had to come to an end in order for and intermission to take place.  Thomas is to be commended for giving a beautiful performance despite the lack of support from the cast around her.  “George is Dead,” much like “Talking Cure,” leaves the audience hoping that one of the masters of comedy, Woody Allen, will be the savior of this play.
“Honeymoon Hotel,” by playwright Woody Allen (films Annie Hall and Midnight in Paris), is a quick, funny piece that is one hundred percent over acted – bring what could have been a brilliant one-act down to an average piece of theatre.  What appears to be an average night for a happy-go-lucky bride and groom soon turns into a family crisis.  Affair after affair is revealed, a rabbi keeps handing out eulogies, and a wise pizza man puts all to rest.  The usual Allen humor, antics, and mishap are all intertwined in a wonderfully written script.  The problem, however, lies in the acting.  While the supporting cast, featuring Caroline Aaron (film Edward Scissorhands) as the bitter wife and Julie Kavner (voice of Marge on The Simpsons) as the sharp witted mother-in-law, was strong, the two leads were way too over the top and corny.  Steve Guttenberg (film Three Men and a Baby) and Ari Graynor (Little Dog Laughed) played opposite one another as the love birds with a very big surprise to share.  The direction both actors took was very characterized and untrue to real life.  This then forced the others around them to be over the top even when it was not called for in the script.  This over all cheese fest left the audience felling a bit unsure as to why they paid to see an Allen one-act get fluffed to the point of bursting.
Staging and presenting a play made up of three one-acts is not an easy feet; unfortunately, this piece needed some more love and attention.  In the hands of actor great John Turturro (films Mr. Deeds and Transformers series), Relatively Speaking fell flat – missing the Broadway WOW factor that a show usually comes with.  Standard blocking left three pieces with little movement; therefore, it never really allowed advances in character or plot development.  It just left the pieces feeling unattended and abandoned.  To add to this, sloppy lighting design by Kenneth Posner (Catch Me If You Can) and poor sound design by Carl Casella (Baby It’s You!) left the audience feeling a bit cheated.  Strange angles of lights left awkward dark patches and shadows while awkward microphone placement allowed for dropped lines and annoying static.  To make up for this, scenic designer Santo Loquasto (Fences) designed three gorgeous sets for this production.  Each set had a fully developed concept and view bring the ideas and words of the playwrights off of the pages and onto the stage.  While the scenic elements were pleasant, it was not enough to bring this play into the world of truly stunning theatre.
Relatively Speaking can be commended for its attempted to bring the Off-Off-Broadway scene to the mainstream theatre world.  However, with a worn out theme, plots that never really lifted off the ground, and overall dull technical elements, Relatively Speaking is not the next big Broadway hit.
Review By: Ryan Oliveti

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Mountaintop @ Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre

April 3, 1968.  Memphis, Tennessee. The Lorraine Motel – Room 306.  The date and setting for the new powerful drama that re-imagines the final night of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s life.  The Mountaintop is the spell binding and deeply emotional new piece by playwright Katori Hall that leaves the audience shocked, laughing, tearing up, and inspired.  Featuring the talents of Samuel L. Jackson and Angela Bassett, this piece of theatre features strong acting, tremendous writing, and stunning direction.  The Mountaintop is one of those plays that will have the audience leaving the theatre changed forever.
A few hours after delivering the famous “Mountaintop” speech, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. checked into room 306 at the Lorraine Motel.  The event that followed changed the face of the world forever – the civil rights movement took on a whole new front.  Many people have often wondered how one of the world’s greatest leaders lived his final hours.  The Mountaintop takes a look at these last few hours.  Opening with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. coming in from the harsh rain, this piece quickly takes off exploring the idea that MLK was an average man, too.  He had faced some of the same problems as the rest of the world – body pains, smelly feet, the need to smoke, the desire for a cup of coffee in order to pull an all-nighter, and much more.  It is not much later that MLK has his cup of coffee delivered by Camae, a maid who is currently working her first shift at the Lorraine Motel.  Before long, it becomes apparent that MLK does not want to be alone, and Camae is more than willing to share her opinion with the preacher.  Exploring the common themes of faith, death, life, and belonging, The Mountaintop takes a whole new look on these themes and the common perception of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
It is too often that stars are brought to the Great White Way to sell seats, regardless of whether this star fits the bill; however, this is definitely not one of those times.  Most reviews coming out today, and in the future, will more than likely be praising Angela Bassett – and rightfully so; this review, unlike the majority, would like to start with Samuel L. Jackson, who delivers the performance of his life.  Portraying one of the most famous men in history, that many still worship and admire, is no easy feat.   Jackson, known for his smooth moves in such films as Iron Man 2, Snakes on a Plane, and Pulp Fiction, transforms into MLK – the way he moves, talks, and reacts.  Jackson took “the preacher” off of the high pedestal and made him a man.  A man who is smart.  A man who has flaws.  A man who has his faith.  A family man.  A transformation that truly took the audiences breath away.  What little breath the audience might have had left was taken up by Jackson’s leading lady, Angela Bassett of film’s What’s Love Got to Do with It and television’s ER.  The wise cracking, self-loving, instigator of a maid is given a heart and plenty of soul with Bassett behind the wheel.  Delivering one of the most passionate performances Broadway has seen in a long time, Bassett enters the scene full of passion and keeps the drive going for the entirety of the ninety minute run time.  Bassett makes this character of fiction seem so real that it is hard to imagine Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s final hours existing without her.  When these two dynamites join forces, souls are left on the stage each and every performance creating one of the best theatrical events a theatre go-er could ask for.
Bringing this epic night to life was a creative team that worked diligently to make sure that every detail of that famous night was created perfectly.  Starting with the atmosphere, scenic designer David Gallo (Memphis, Xanadu) brought room 306 to the New York stage fabric by fabric and piece of furniture by piece of furniture.  Gallo actually visited the real Lorraine Motel in order to have Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. fully realized for The Mountaintop.  Giving the characters a wardrobe right from the 1960s is costume designer Constanza Romero (Fences).  Dressing MLK in the classic blue suit and tie and Camae in a vibrant yellow maid outfit, Romero draws the line between the two worlds of the praised and the help.  Shedding some light on the scene is designer Brian MacDevitt (the upcoming Chinglish).  Exploring the dull lights of a 1960s motel room fused with the bustling life of the outside world that is about to be changed forever, MacDevitt creates a wonderful tone for this piece.  Handling the whole package with care is director Kenny Leon (A Raisin in the Sun).  With a piece that crosses the line and addresses such topics as religion and race using a national icon, Leon drives the piece with a loving hand giving it the flow and grace that it deserves.  Katori Hall’s words are crafted so diligently and tended to so well allowing The Mountaintop to become one of the next great classics.
Every once and a while a show comes along that makes you stop and think – The Mountaintop is that piece.  Smart, powerful, and deeply moving, this new production takes the theatre world by storm.  When Jackson and Basset come together to tell Katori Hall’s story, the audience cannot help but join Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. on the mountaintop.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Man and Boy @ American Airlines Theatre

          Adding another classic to their astound company, Roundabout Theatre Company puts Terence Rattigan’s Man and Boy on the Great White Way. With elaborate characters and a twisting plot line, this piece delivers laughs, tension, and an ending that will leave you saying, “Did that just happen?” Lead by legendary Frank Langella, the cast of Man and Boy delivers an emotional journey that supplies quality, truly Broadway at its best. No doubt, a completely satisfying experience.

          At the peak of the Great Depression, cutthroat financier Gregor Antonescu’s (Frank Langella) business is at an extreme low and is at risk of failing. In order to avoid the press and public, Gregor tracks down his estranged son Basil (Adam Driver) with the hopes of using his little Greenwich Village apartment as a place to make company saving deals.

          You know how you can tell a show has good acting in it? You are not thinking about the acting. When the audience is completely entranced by a show they don’t often take notice of the technical bells and whistles that go into an actor’s performance. Yet, is this a bad thing? After all, the main job of an actor is to tell a story. Man and Boy featured its actor/characters in pairs; each one the yin to the others yang. The dependence and need established between the characters added an intricately dynamic ribbon throughout the production. Adam Driver (Basil Anthony) played the distraught son of the great Wall Street tycoon, Gregor Antonescu. With one of the most intricate back stories, Driver delivers the emotionally battered and beaten son beautifully. Basil Anthony left his father and the world he knew after a falling out between the two. Starting out with a strong hatred for his father and their past, Basil goes on an emotional roller coaster and takes the audience along for the ride. After Ms. Penn (Kull) exits, we see Basil slowly crumble and fall back into the habit of idolizing his famous father leading him to feel remorse towards leaving him. Driver displays an ease within his role and adds the creative behavioral gesture of a stammer whenever he is talking of Antonescu. He produces a strong energy in each entrance and exit leaving the atmosphere richer with each line of text. As stated earlier, each character is presented as part of a pair - some characters are involved in more than one and each relationship radiates a different light. The push and pull of the play revolves around the tension each character creates. The atmosphere of the production thrives on the existence of such contrasting characters. The most intriguing relationship was that of Basil Anthony (Driver) and Mr. Gregor Antonescu, played by the astounding Frank Langella. What the audience is exposed to is a broken relationship between father and son. Most eminent in certain moments, Langella and Driver worked well together producing both chemistry and tension in enormous amounts. What intrigues the audience most is how Basil and Gregor relate to each other. To Gregor, Basil is his own conscience. Gregor operates his business as successfully as he does because he has no feeling of remorse. To have Basil in his presence is to have a constant threat to his way of life. Basil feels as though his father misunderstands him, views him as weak. Although he expresses hatred towards his father, Basil still worships Gregor in a way. Towards the end of the play Basil is the only one who shows Mr. Antonescu true loyalty. Gregor is aware of the fact that his son idolizes him & feels that this only justifies how weak and easily mislead his son is. Throughout the play Gregor views his son as a tactic (probably a view he has of most people he come into contact with) and uses him as he sees fit. It becomes clear through all their interactions that Gregor’s biggest disappointment in his son is that he refuses to see who the real Gregor Antonescu is. The moment right before intermission Basil tells Gregor that he is nothing. As the play goes on the audience starts to realize that this statement is not only completely true, but the hardest truth to accept. Frank Langella graces Broadway as Wall Street giant Gregor Antonescu. Antonescu is facing the possible demise of his empire and turns to the only escape route he has left, his estranged son. Gregor exploits all those in his surroundings for his business and is left alone. He faces continuous abandonment from his inner ring and pushes away the only person who stuck around, his son. Langella’s manner, air, and rich vocal abilities add a majestic air to the character. The confident air with which Antonescu holds himself seems to be a natural step for Langella. He had an ease on the stage which made the emotional downfall which Antonescu descends that much more believable. Sven, played by Michael Siberry, was not only the rock, but the hard place as well. Acting as a puppet master in some cases Sven possessed an unspoken control or power over the other characters. He was an expert in getting his way, always believing he was doing the right thing. It was intriguing to see Sven presented as in Gregor’s control and then slowly come to the realization that Sven was consulted before Gregor even took a breath. We see that Sven becomes the only continuous source of power in the entire show. Siberry actively produces an energetic atmosphere which is impressive because the character of Sven is a strong and silent, get to the point type of guy. His strong posture, movement and vocal tension helped bring the character to new levels. Virginia Kull, who opened the show as the Carol Penn (Basil Anthony’s girlfriend), established a strong “yin and yang” relationship between Basil and herself. The two were very intimate with each other which not only clarified their relationship, but also added credit to their dependence on each other. She seemed to be the anchor in the relationship. Basil is strong with her by his side and crumbles when she leaves. Kull’s voice quality was full and displayed realistic emotion throughout her time on stage. As stated before, the character relationships in this production revolve mostly around partnerships. Everyone is a pair. The two who conveyed this message the most are Mark Herries (Zach Greiner) and David Beeston (Brian Hucthinson). Mr. Herries and his accountant Mr. Beeston bring Antonescu’s criminal activities to light. Although the two enter together, they leave at separate times and in two different emotional states. Mr. Herries accusations are reliant upon Mr. Beeston’s numbers. Yet Gregor Antonescu is a force to be reckoned with, breaking down Mr. Beeston’s logic. Once Beeston is questioning himself, Herries’s cool fa├žade begins to fade. Greiner and Hucthinson emit good chemistry and incredibly in sync comedic timing. The regal character of Countess Antonescu just brought the ugly, disloyal side of Mr. Antonescu’s life to light. We see the first act of betrayal in the Countess. She insists on being treated as Gregor’s wife, but in his time of need she turns her back on him. Francesca Faridany displayed quick timing and clear intentions displaying the Countess as not only shallow, but even brought a sympathetic air to her character, invoking pity from the audience.

          The technical perfection was just the cherry on top of an already incredible show. The original music and sound design by John Gromada set the perfect atmosphere, with train rumbles consistently passing through. Gromada created and maintained an outside world which could be forgotten even for a minute. The light design by Kevin Adams established the lower class feel of Basil’s apartment, by using interesting shadow to make the clear assumption that there isn’t any really any kind of quality lighting. The set design by Derek McLane put the audience smack dab in the middle of a crappy Greenwich Village apartment, while still keeping to the time. It’s not often when you find the most effective moment of a play overlapping Intermission. As part of an overall creative directing process, the moment before Intermission was the moment the audience returned to afterwards. Viewing this as a risk that paid off, the choreography off this particular moment pulled the audience back into the world of the production in an original and effective way. Although the production in its entirety was enthralling, there were moments in the staging of the production that were bothersome. In this production every moment leads to something important or is important in itself. Which is why is was incredibly irritating when an actor would come on stage and deliver an important moment with his back to the audience. It not only made it incredibly hard to understand what was happening, but also demeaned the importance of the moment. (In reference to the missing wall on the set) It was incredibly irritating to see actor’s interact with an object that was not there. Although the set design was beautiful and the missing wall not only produced an unique touch to the overall look of the set, but also symbolized the crumbling world that the characters seem to be functioning in, to see actors interact with it broke the willing suspension of disbelief.

          Will the reunion of father and son help them reconcile? Or will the father use his son to save himself and then toss him aside? Well don’t wait to get a ticket and find your way over to the American Airlines Theatre for a theatre experience of a lifetime, that will leave you guessing who is the Man and who is the Boy.

Review By: Morgan Mack

Guest Writter: Morgan Mack