Thursday, June 17, 2010

Let the New Theater Season Begin!

With the 2009-2010 Tony Awards behind us, it’s time start taking a look at the new season. Here is a rundown of two new shows, and a report on a one-time event, a concert version of Lerner and Loewe’s lovely, lovely musical, Brigadoon.

Let’s begin with Little Doc by Don Klores, now on view at the Rattlestick Playwrights Theater.

To give you an idea of the sensibility of the play, it’s helpful to recall that Klores is best known as an independent filmmaker with a penchant for exploring what lies beneath the scabs of life. Perhaps his best-known film is “Crazy Love,” the impossible-to-fathom but nonetheless true story of Linda Riss and Burton Pugach, who married some 15 years after he arranged to have liquid lye thrown into her face when she attempted to break off their relationship. Scabs, indeed!

With this new work, Little Doc, Klores examines what happens when a group of ‘60s stoners have evolved into ‘70s druggies and dealers. The events unfold during a gathering of these long-time friends, now a collective of cons, hustlers and misfits, for whom casual marijuana use and free love have shifted into high gear, and cocaine and various injectables shore up their lives and serve as their source of income. The plot hinges on the revelation that one of them has shortchanged their supplier by $50,000, and it is the fallout from that little oversight that carries the play to its predictable, if still sad, conclusion.

The play itself is well performed, especially by Adam Driver in the title role. Driver seems to be channeling a young Jeff Goldblum, which is not a bad thing, and the cast as a whole works well together. But as was the case with “Crazy Love,” Little Doc leaves us feeling a little queasy, uncomfortably eavesdropping on conversations that are so none of our business. You need to decide for yourself if these are folks you would like to spend an evening with.

Speaking of disturbing characters, chances are you would not care to party with the characters in Order, a new play on view at the Kirk Theater on Theater Row. Order, by Christopher Boal, is an offbeat dark comedy about the mental instability that lurks just beneath the surface of what we foolishly call normalcy. The central character is a gentle man, a walking “kick me” sign, who is bullied by his boss and his psychotherapist, and who is a disappointment to his wife. Our hero finds redemption and discovers his inner Hannibal Lecter with the assistance of a demon named “Bathug.”

The “ick” factor may be stronger in Order than in Little Doc (hint: did you pick up on the Hannibal Lecter reference?), but I enjoyed it more because of its over-the-top approach—a little bit Martin McDonagh, a little bit “Little Shop of Horrors,” and perhaps just a dab of H. P. Lovecraft.

The actors, members of the Off-Off Broadway Oberon Theatre Ensemble, do splendid work under the direction of Austin Pendleton, himself a multi-talented actor, director, and playwright. They and the audience are in good, if blood-stained, hands.

I would hate to end this blog entry on a gory note, however, so let’s talk about Brigadoon, with its sublime score by Lerner and Loewe, presented at the Shubert Theater in a concert version as a one-time benefit performance for the Irish Repertory Theatre.

As with any benefit, there were some opening speeches and words of appreciation to sit through. Actors Matthew Broderick and Jonathan Cake were on hand to provide the introductory remarks, which included an explanation as to why the Irish Rep, which specializes in plays by Irish and Irish-American playwrights, had chosen to present a musical that takes place in Scotland. Answer: “The Irish are Scots who learned how to swim!”

But finally the talking ended, and the musicians began to play, and it soon became apparent that the best thing for me to do was to close my eyes and just let the beautiful music sweep over me.

If you are familiar with the score of Brigadoon only from the 1947 cast album, it would be worth your efforts to track down other recordings. Indeed, please let me know if you have any recommendations. While I normally prefer the original versions of shows, in this case, it does not do justice to the score; the singing is overblown and annoyingly operatic in style; songs are left out or truncated; and lyrics are altered. The score also includes some lovely orchestral passages that do not exist on the original cast album.

For me, then, this concert version was an eye opener. Melissa Errico and Jason Danieley, in particular, were in exquisite voice in the lead roles, and it was fun to listen as Christine Ebersole tried on a Scottish accent to sing "My Mother's Weddin' Day." Also nice to see Len Cariou, even if he did sing only a few notes. But the evening truly belonged to composer Frederick Loewe and lyricist Alan Jay Lerner, for whom this was a most fitting tribute. It was nice that Lerner’s daughters were in the audience to once again enjoy their father’s most beautiful musical.

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