Monday, May 31, 2010
James was born dirt-poor but, through his own efforts, succeeded in reaching the pinnacle of the theatrical profession. As a one-time fine Shakespearean actor, he still treasures the memory of Edwin Booth's admiration for his work three decades earlier. But despite his love of the stage, his life-long financial insecurity prompted him to make a Mephistophelean bargain, trading the opportunity to continue to exercise his talents on the classic stage for the more lucrative life of a popular actor. While the life he opted for provided him with far greater income than he otherwise could have earned as a Shakespearean actor and enabled him to acquire considerable land of his own, it no longer seems worth it. Indeed, today he can't even quite recall what it was that he thought all that money might buy that could have been worth more to him than his love of the theatre. Not that that prevents him from remaining a skinflint, preferring to sit in the dark than to spend money on electricity. carefully monitoring the amount of his liquor consumed by his family, even balancing the value of his son's life against the cost of high quality medical care.
Mary, once deeply religious and with exceptional musical talent, educated in a convent, and torn between the dual dreams of a life as a nun and that of a concert pianist, was so caught up in her love for James that she abandoned all to become his wife. That choice worked out even worse for her than James' choice did for him. She has never known a true home, having spent her life with James on the road in dressing rooms and cheap hotels. She has borne three sons, watching her first-born grow to become a lazy, hedonistic, alcoholic lout; losing her second son (and blaming herself for his death); and seeing her youngest boy so sickly as to make her question whether he might not have been better off, had he never been born. And along the way, she became addicted to morphine which has led her to withdraw into a world of fantasy.
Jamie, James first-born son, is a deep disappointment to his father (his mother, Mary, is in general denial where her sons are concerned). Jamie has thrown away his own theatrical talent, content to sponge off his father and spend his time whoring and in drunken revelry. His love-hate relationship with his younger brother, the consumptive Edmund, is tinged with schaadenfreude. And Edmund, a sensitive, alienated, nihilistic poet, now suffering from consumption and at death's door, confronted with his father's partial abandonment, his mother's insanity, and his brother's evil destructiveness, is a truly lost boy.
The interplay among the four family members, lightened just a bit by Cathleen (Julie Jesnick), a junior member of their household staff, has the makings of a challenging theatrical experience in the hands of a talented cast. And this cast is certainly up to the challenge. Bill Fairbairn as James Tyrone does a commendable job in expressing his inextricably tangled emotions of love, anger, fear, regret, hate, and sorrow over his own lost opportunities, his wife's mental state, his disappointment in his older son, and his younger son's illness. And Seth Duerr, the founder and artistic director of The York Shakespeare Company, who both directed this production and plays the role of Jamie very effectively, can take pride in both achievements.
Alexander Harvey was exceptionally convincing as Edmund, reflecting the tortured angst of youth, a child's love for a mother who is drifting away from him into her own insane world, a boy's recognition of his father's true nature, the belated understanding of his relationship with his brother, and the devastating awareness of his own imminent mortality. But it is Rebecca Street, who made her debut with The York Shakespeare Company in this production, who deserves to be singled our for special praise. Her multi-leveled portrayal of Mary reflects her despair over her loss of faith, her state of denial over her younger son's illness and older son's debauchery, her simultaneously undying love for her husband coupled with her anger at his alcoholism, parsimony and failure to attend to her need for a stable home, her suffering from unmitigated guilt over the loss of her second child, and her drifting in and out of addictive and non-addictive states, sanity and insanity. Hers is a commanding performance and this is a production well worth seeing.
Saturday, May 29, 2010
And that is a shame because this production of The Glass House by the Resonance Ensemble deals with basically the same theme as does Red - and does as outstanding a job in doing so. Not to take anything away from Alfred Molina's extraordinary over-the-top portrayal of Mark Rothko but I, for one, actually found Harris Yulin's intentionally much more understated portrayal of Mies van de Rohe to be much more satisfying.
I also very much enjoyed the more complex interrelationships of the four principal characters in The Glass House: Mies van de Rohe (Harris Yulin), Philip Johnson (David Bishins), Edith Farnsworth (Janet Zarish) and Lora Marx (Gina Nagy Burns). They were all excellent, with Mr. Yulin, as I've already suggested, deserving of being singled out for special praise.
The play deals with several classic themes. First and foremost, of course, there is the issue of the degree to which an artist's ideals may trump those of his patron: in Red it was Rothko vs. The Four Seasons Restaurant (which commissioned Rothko to paint murals for its walls) while in The Glass House it was van de Rohe vs Edith Farnsworth (who hired van der Mohe to build her, as a country retreat, the glass house of the play's title). Then there is the issue of van der Mohe's sexual fidelity: the interplay between his long time mistress, Ms Marx, and his recent lover, Ms Farnsworth, plays out dramatically. And finally there is the matter of the relationship between van der Rohe and Johnson which cannot help but remind one of the relationship between Howard Roark and Peter Keating in The Fountainhead by Ayn Rand.
The Glass House is being produced in repertory by the Resonance Ensemble with The Master Builder by Henrik Ibsen. I haven't seen the Resonance production of The Master Builder and so I can't comment on that. But I can tell you that The Glass House is definitely worth seeing.
Wednesday, May 26, 2010
Having said all that, however, this play vastly disappointed me on two levels: first, because it is not really a play at all but rather a Christian apologia consisting of several long soliloquies by Mr. McLean, interrupted intermittently by Ms Wight's sounds and gyrations. There is little dramatic interaction and it comes off as a theatrical exercise (well done, to be sure, but still just an exercise) rather than a fully developed play.
I guess I really should not have been surprised by that: the show was, after all, produced by the Fellowship for the Performing Arts, a non-profit organization whose avowed purpose is to "produce theatre from a Christian worldview" and Mr. McLean does list among his credits his recordings of The Bible in three translations, John Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, Martin Luther's Here I Stand, St. Augustine's Conversion, and Jonathan Edwards' Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God. And that is what this production came off as to me: as more of a performance of another Christian polemic rather than a theatrical event.
But the second reason that the play disappointed me did come as a great surprise. Here I refer to the fact that I found the substance of the play itself, what Mr. Lewis actually had to say, rather superficial, glib and sophomoric. From a man described in the program as "one of the intellectual giants of the 20th century and arguably the most influential Christian writer of his day" I really expected much more.
Sunday, May 16, 2010
For any way you slice it (no pun intended), Napoleon surely would have been treated more kindly as a member of the group in The Irish Curse than he was in the play I saw today: The Man of Destiny by George Bernard Shaw presented as a Wild Project production by the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble in Manhattan. This play of Shaw's is infrequently performed and I think I understand why. It is really not up to the level of most of Shaw's work. Of course, saying that one of Shaw's plays is not on a par with the rest isn't to say that it's bad. Shaw was such a literary genius that even his weaker works were considerably better than most playwrights' best. But I do not think that The Man of Destiny can be considered in a class with the main body of his work.
The story line in The Man of Destiny is rather simple. Napoleon (Josh Tyson) is awaiting the receipt of a packet of letters that should contain information enabling him to improve his military chances against the Austrian army with whom he is at war. The letters are stolen by a man who turns out to have been a woman in drag (A Lady, played by Amy Fitts) and Napoleon must retrieve them. Some typical Shavian banter ensues between Napoleon and A Lady, and Shaw takes every opportunity to ridicule and mock both the English and the French. There is also, of course, a bumbling junior officer (The Lieutenant, played by Brian A. Costello) and a subservient innkeeper (Giuseppe, played by Craid Smith). All pretty standard stuff.
Of course, it may also be that this was just a poor productions of an otherwise estimable play and that the primary reasons for its having been disappointing rest with its director and cast. I can't say for sure because I have never seen a different production of this play. To be sure, I was not very impressed with the individual performances in this production (with the exception of that of Craig Smith) but I also must admit that I have seen other performances by the Phoenix Theatre Ensemble which have impressed me. In particular, No Exit by Jean Paul Sartre which I saw last year at the Phoenix Theatre comes to mind as having been a memorable production. (But, come to think of it, the only actor who was in that and also in The Man of Destiny was the talented Craig Smith who did a commendable job in both productions, so perhaps the cast and/or the direction of The Man of Destiny contributed to the shortcomings of this production as much as did the playwright himself.)
In any event, today is the last day of this play's run at the Phoenix theatre so if you haven't seen it yet, you won't be able to. But don't let that bother you: you're not really missing anything.
Saturday, May 15, 2010
The Irish Curse, playing at the Soho Playhouse at 15 Vandam Street in Manhattan through May 30, is a delightful comedy with a poignant core. It deals with the lives of five men suffering from "the Irish curse", an imagined genetic disability disproportionately affecting Irishmen: tiny penises variously described as being no larger than a bottle cap, baby corn or a cocktail weiner. The interplay among the men - at times angry and sarcastic but ultimately warm and supportive - provides wonderful theater and a load of laughs.
Martin Casella has written a sharp, insightful and very funny play. The five characters - Joseph, a divorced single father with two daughters; Rick, a young sports enthusiast in an apparently good heterosexual relationship; Stephen, a gay undercover cop; Keiran, a recently engaged young immigrant roofer; and Father Shaunessy - are all well drawn and immensely endearing. Whatever one's own situation, one can readily identify and empathize with them all.
All five actors' performances were spot on. In the performance I attended, Stephen's role, normally played by Austin Peck, was played by his understudy, Patrick James Lynch, so I cannot comment on how Mr. Peck would have played the role. But I must say that Mr. Lynch was outstanding and it is difficult to see how Mr. Peck could have done any better job than the one turned in by Mr. Lynch. Brian Leahy (Rick), Roderick Hill (Keiran) and Scott Jaeck (Father Shaunessy) were equally good but my highest praise must be reserved for Dan Butler (Joseph) whose dynamic performance was absolutely explosive.
This is a play well worth seeing, probably one of the best off Broadway shows around today, and I urge you to make every effort to see it before it closes.
Monday, May 10, 2010
Day 1: FRIDAY, 2/26/10: NEW YORK
We were scheduled to fly out of JFK on EgyptAir at 6:30 PM, arriving in Cairo the following day at 12:15 PM Cairo time. Unfortunately, New York had just been hit by the biggest storm of the season with more than 16 inches of snow falling in Manhattan and we were uncertain whether we’d be able to get out at all. The airports remained open but hundreds of flights had been canceled or delayed. As it turned out, we were extraordinarily lucky: our flight not only was not canceled but it took off on time and actually arrived in
Day 2: SATURDAY, 2/27/10: CAIRO
We had arranged our entire trip through Homeric Tours which prides itself on providing a quality of services equivalent to that of Abercrombie & Kent, but without charging Abercrombie & Kent's premium prices and, based on our experiences on this trip, they succeed in doing so. Nour, Homeric Tours’ Cairo representative, met us at the
The Ramses Hilton is a large modern four star hotel located directly across the street from the Hilton shopping mall. It has adequate but not outstanding dining facilities but there were a number of restaurants in the mall that represented attractive dining alternatives. In any event, the hotel was more than satisfactory for our needs since we planned to spend very little time in the hotel itself.
Since the hotel was within walking distance of the
A couple of hours later, we wended our way back to the hotel where we grabbed a bite at the Garden Café in the hotel, returned to our room and awaited Nour's return.. Around , Nour picked us up at the hotel and transported us by private car to the Sound and Light Show at the Pyramids. The show was a bit hokey but some views of the pyramids lit up at night were truly impressive. After the show, Nour brought us back to our hotel.
We were exhausted and our bodies didn’t know whether it was time for breakfast, lunch or dinner so we just ate a couple of candy bars from the mini-bar and crashed.
Day 3: SUNDAY, 2/28/10: CAIRO/LUXOR
The flight from Cairo to Luxor was uneventful (which is just the way we like our flights to be) and we arrived in
While we were settling into our room, our
We had dinner at the hotel and sacked out.
Day 4: MONDAY, 3/1/10: LUXOR
(Interestingly, Ahmed 2 was but one of our several guides who made a point of insisting to us that no slave labor had been involved in the building of the pyramids and that the pyramids had been constructed entirely by skilled Egyptian workers who had been well paid for their labors. We were quite surprised by this contention since Muslims believe not only in the Koran but also in the Old and New Testaments. They consider Abraham, Noah, Moses and Jesus to have been prophets who preceded Mohammed and we found it difficult to understand how they could square their belief in the story of Exodus [in which the Jews were slaves in Egypt in the time of the pharaohs until they were rescued by Moses] with their denial of slave labor being used in the building of the pyramids. And yet while the Egyptians we met reluctantly did admit that the Jews may have been "mistreated" [one of our guides' actual words!] or perhaps even enslaved in the time of the pharaohs, they refused to admit that their slave labor was utilized in the building of the pyramids.)
But back to Dendarah Dendarah is reputed to be one of the best preserved ruins, if not the best, in all of
And so to bed.
Day 5: TUESDAY, 3/2/10: LUXOR/NILE CRUISE
Following breakfast at the hotel, we checked out and were met in the lobby by Ahmed 1 who transported us by private car to our cruise ship, the Movenpick Radamis 2, where we were settled into our cabin for our four-nights
We were served a large buffet lunch on board the ship and, following lunch, we were escorted off the ship by Hamouda, our English-speaking Egyptologist/tour guide, together with a group of about 20 other English-speaking passengers, for guided tours of the Temples of Karnak and the
The tours from the ship were the only group (i.e. non-private) tours we engaged in but the ship’s guide, Hamouda, was wonderful and we were not disappointed. The Temples of Karnak were overwhelming and were my favorite site visited on our entire
We returned to the ship for a buffet dinner on board and remained overnight on board the ship in
Day 6: WEDNESDAY, 3/3/10: NILE CRUISE
Following breakfast on board, we were again escorted off the ship by Hamouda, this time for guided tours of the Valley of the Kings, the Valley of the Queens, The Temple of Queen Hatshepsut at El Deir El-Bahari and the Colossi Memnon statues, all on the West Bank.
We were returned to the ship by , at which time the ship began to sail to Edfu. While sailing to Edfu, we had lunch on board and then drifted up to the top deck where we had afternoon tea. We had dinner on board and remained overnight on board in Edfu.
Day 7: THURSDAY, 3/4/10: NILE CRUISE
After breakfast on board, Hamouda escorted us to visit the
Day 8: FRIDAY, 3/5/10: NILE CRUISE
Following breakfast on board, we visited the
We slept overnight on our ship in
Following our last breakfast on board, we checked out and were met on board the ship by Mayada, the next in the series of excellent private guides provided to us by Homeric Tours. It was Mayada who would escort us to
We drove with Mayada to the
We flew to
Following our tour of the
When we arrived in the
Day 10; SUNDAY, 3/7/10: CAIRO/MEMPHIS
After breakfast, Nour arrived to introduce us to our guide for the day, a very competent and personable woman named Iman. We began our tour by driving with her to
Day 11: MONDAY, 3/8/10: CAIRO/ALEXANDRIA
Nour arrived after breakfast to introduce us to one of his associates who accompanied us by private car to
We were taken to an excellent Egyptian lunch at the Fish Market restaurant overlooking the
Day 12: TUESDAY, 3/9/10: CAIRO/NEW YORK
After breakfast, we were picked up by Nour at our hotel and driven to the airport for our return flight to