Tuesday, May 12, 2009


So the big theatre season is over. Here are some notes on some of the shows we saw over the past few months. More will follow---

MARY STUART – a new translation of the Schiller classic about Mary, Queen of Scots and Elizabeth I. A big deal Brit-production, with two imported British actresses in the leads: the sublime Janet McTeer as Mary, and Harriet French as Elizabeth. All in all, a pretty good show for the leading ladies who do their best with the roles, but there was just no getting past the “so what?” factor for me. This story has been told and told and told again, and usually better elsewhere. Ultimately, there just wasn’t enough here to make me feel any of the sympathy that Schiller wants me to feel for either Mary or Elizabeth. I never for a moment thought that French’s Elizabeth would lose a single wink of sleep after sending Mary to the chopping block, and McTeer’s Mary, while fascinating and a joy to watch, never made me forget that the dear lady was, in fact, getting exactly what she deserved.

EXIT THE KING – Ionesco on Broadway, with Oscar winners Geoffrey Rush and Susan Sarandon. Rush stars as King Berenger the First, who is told by one of this queens (Sarandon) that he has exactly 90 minutes to live. He basically then lives out each of the assorted possible stages of dying, but this is no dramatization of Kubler-Ross. Rush makes Berenger’s shuffling off of this mortal coil a terribly funny and deeply moving experience, an all-out bravura display of every acting trick in the book, and it all works. Sarandon seems rather oddly miscast at first, but her choices get clearer as the play continues and it has to be said that Rush’s big final moments wouldn’t work without her. I’m very glad I saw this. Not to detract from this production at all, but I’d like to see another production, one that didn’t go quite so far over the top.

WAITING FOR GODOT – probably the show I was most excited about seeing this season. A revival of Beckett’s classic starring Nathan Lane and Bill Irwin, with John Glover and John Goodman. We wound up seeing this twice, as the first performance we saw felt very off-kilter. The first act was very bumpy indeed, with John Goodman in particular just seeming terribly lost. Then the second act went speedily and hilariously and movingly, it was almost as if the cast had all had a good strong cup of coffee at the intermission, or the director went backstage and kicked some ass or something. We saw it again a few weeks later, and were delighted. Goodman’s Pozzo was a treat to watch, all showy bluster but still able to navigate the stranger moments with real aplomb. No one has ever made such great theatre out of simply sitting down upon a stool. Nathan Lane’s Estragon was fine, as usual landing the laughs with ease but letting the really painful moments get away from him. I don’t think he’s in the same category as the great Bill Irwin, whose Vladimir is hilarious and heartbreaking without breaking a sweat. He accomplishes more by taking off his hat and putting it back on than most actors could ever think about doing given a dozen lifetimes. His mournful song at the start of Act Two, which Irwin has chosen to sadly sing to a down-tempo version of The Merry Go Round Broke Down, is one of the more haunting moments of the year.



Michael said...

As someone who has seen roughly five Broadway shows on Broadway (as opposed to touring companies), I'm glad to see Janet McTeer back. We saw her in A Doll's House a few years ago, for which I believe she won a Tony, and she was fabulous, even if at times, especially toward the end, it seemed as if she was working a little too hard. I'm hoping to get a long weekend free to fly out and see Hair soon.

Anonymous said...

So what did you think of HAIR?! I thought it was pretty damn great.

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