Sunday, April 05, 2009

A parade of stars

Must be that celebrity actors lost a lot of moolah like the rest of us in the crisis, since everybody and their mother is currently starring in a play on Broadway. Broadway is now officially star-studded, which is not the same as great. But we are proudly star-struck and having the good fortune of getting really cheap tickets through TDF, we have seen our share of star wattage in the last couple of weeks.
Charles Isherwood in his fun summary in the NYT, really nails the ones I've seen.

Exit the King is a silly, misguided vanity project for Geoffrey Rush. It really is a terrible comedown when someone whose enormous talent one admires happens to be a megalomaniac ham and so it is with Mr. Rush.
Exit the King by Eugene Ionesco is getting a terrible revival courtesy of Mr. Rush. I didn't know the play, but I could tell from the text that it wasn't meant to resemble a carnival. The production is, as Mr. Isherwood points out, awash in vulgarity and icky crowd-pleasing. This is a pity, because the only reason we went was to see Susan Sarandon play the queen. The woman is so classy and so cool (and possibly so mortified to be on stage in this dud) that she refuses to follow the hamming and she looks gorgeous, and regal. The NY audience rightly adores her and she gets a loving and well deserved round of applause upon appearing (I hate when people do that, but in her case it is sincere and lovely). The rest is uncomfortably silly, transparently vain and not very interesting.
I have a feeling that a lot of absurdist theater tends to become quaint with age (through no fault of its own, but through corny crowd-pleasing productions that just sap any bite out of the poor plays).
Thus, I shudder to think of the coming production of Waiting for Godot with Nathan Lane, Bill Irwin and John Goodman. Shudder to think. I was lucky to have seen a fantastic production of the Gate Theater of Dublin, which emphasized the beauty and tenderness and humor of the text, if not the darkness. However, if I can get it through TDF, I just might go, because I love John Goodman.

You must know, dear readers, that I have had a succession of famous British actor boyfriends. Unbeknownst to them, I have had long, splendid relationships with Daniel Day Lewis, Ralph Fiennes, Daniel Craig (with him it's an on and off thing) and Clive Owen (my current beau). One of my first, if not the very first, was Jeremy Irons (please everybody see Moonlighting and Reversal of Fortune). I will go see this man performing inside a sack of potatoes, which would probably be better than Impressionism, which is truly a terrible play.
The production works hard to make it a classy evening, with tasteful projections of Impressionist paintings, although the play is bland, middlebrow pretentious, designed to make ignorant people feel cultured. But there is Mr. Irons, being extremely charming, acting as if it's all a walk in the park, and Joan Allen, a very good actress that gives a terrible one note performance that is quite astonishing in how unlikable and shrill it is. There is absolutely no chemistry between the two leads, and at the end when one finds out there is supposed to be a romance between the two, it actually comes as a shock, so gratuituous and incredible it seems. The only person who saves this evening is the wonderful Andre De Shields, who basically takes up the dead space and feels it with the power and energy and dimension it lacks.

But for absolutely mesmerizing acting of the very first caliber, Mary Stuart, with the formidable Janet McTeer and the amazing Harriet Walter, is the ticket to see. They may not be famous stars, but they are incredible, and the play is no embarrassment.
Donmar Warehouse has dusted off a grand new production of this 18th Century play by Friedrich Schiller, super well directed by Phyllida Lloyd. It makes sense in this day and age because it is about the abuse of power, unfair incarceration, false evidence, populism, authoritarianism/tyranny etc. You could substitute Elizabeth's court for the Bush administration and you wouldn't be far off the mark (except that Elizabeth I was formidably smart).
The two lead actresses, Janet McTeer, in the title role, and the amazing Harriet Walter as Elizabeth I, are worth sitting through the very long-winded speeches. They are fabulous. I thought Ms. McTeer was a bit of a ham, but given the enormity of her talent, she has every right to knock herself out. It's hambone, but of the highest quality. And she has some magnificent moments, as in her gleeful, vengeful rage after her tete a tete with Elizabeth, when she boasts of having won the argument. Something to Behold.
Harriet Walter plays Elizabeth as a smart, cold, narcissistic, but ultimately vulnerable woman. The contrast between the two women, one almost ecstatic in her faith and religiosity, the other bound by rules and pragmatism, is magnificent. Anybody who is a student of acting right now should run to see them and learn from two actresses at the height of their technical and creative powers.
The production is minimalistic (leaving the space to all those wooords) and it has some breathtaking theatrical effects, like an actual downpour that makes you gasp in wonder.
At the beginning I was afraid I was going to be bored out of my wits, because the scenes are long and some speeches seem endless. All the actors are wonderful (particularly Brian Murray, John Benjamin Hickey, who reminded me of Donald Rumsfeld, and Nicholas Woodeson). The one terrible lox here is Chandler Williams who plays Mortimer. He is the only one who seems to be straight out of a high school production. Unfortunately, he has some very long speeches.

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