Thursday, November 20, 2014

ASYMMETRIC by Mac Rogers Premieres at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Kate Middleton and Sean Williams in ASYMMETRIC.  Photo by Travis McHale.
If Showtime’s Homeland, FX’s Tyrant, Sundance’s The Honorable Woman, CBS’s Madam Secretary, and USA’s Covert Affairs all failed to provide you with your needed fix of televised international espionage shows, there’s still time for you to go to 59E59 Theaters in midtown Manhattan to catch a performance of Mac Rogers’s Asymmetric in its New York premiere live on stage.  Directed by Jordana Williams, Asymmetric is a very well-written and tightly constructed espionage drama, rife with twists and surprises, with a modicum of gratuitous omphaloskepsis thrown in to boot.

Josh Ruskin (Sean Williams) is a washed-up one-time successful spymaster whose former wife, Sunny Black (Kate Middleton), a highly effective spy in her own right, now stands accused of selling secrets involving a futuristic drone program to the enemy.  When Josh is brought out of retirement by Zack (Seth Shelden), who currently heads the top secret unit, The Fifth Floor, originally built and run by Josh, to interrogate Sunny, all hell breaks loose.

All sorts of unexpected questions are raised – and the answers are often even more unexpected than were the questions.  Why did Sunny leave Josh in the first place?  Is it possible that Sunny, ostensibly a true patriot, really could be guilty of treason – and, if so, why?  How does the drone program work and who might gain from its disclosure?  How does Ford (Bob Maitner), Zack’s callously sadistic and quite insubordinate subordinate fit into the equation?  When, if ever, is the killing of innocents or civilians – or anyone else, for that matter – really justified?  And how will all the play’s loose ends be tied up – if, indeed, they will? 

The play’s title refers directly to the “asymmetry” that exists in wars between established states and terrorist organizations.  World War I and World War II, both wars between established non-rogue states, were relatively “symmetric” in that both sides were similarly armed and accepted similar rules of engagement: truces were honored; attempts were made (admittedly not always successfully) to avoid the destruction of hospitals, schools and churches; suicide bombing was the exception (think hari-kari dive bombers in World War II) rather than the rule; and the torture of prisoners, even if it did sometimes occur, at least was understood by all to be a war crime.  But wars between ISIS or Al Qaeda or Hamas or Hezbollah (all terrorist organizations) or rogue states such as Iran or North Korea, and the rest of the civilized world (e.g., the US, Great Britain, France, Israel, et al) are quite “asymmetric”: terrorist organizations and rogue states know no boundaries, using children and civilians as human shields or engaging in the beheadings of innocents.  And under those circumstances, the civilized world, whether rightly or wrongly, sometimes finds itself forsaking its own moral principles in an effort to redress that “asymmetry.”

But while that is my understanding of the direct significance of the play’s title, I believe that the playwright actually had much more in mind.  I think that he was referring as well to the “asymmetry” that exists in many other human relationships: the relative intensity of the feelings that Josh and Sunny had for one another; the conflict between Zack and Ford; and that between Ford and Josh, as well.  It is a tribute to the playwright (and to the play’s entire cast) that all of these “asymmetries” have been brought so effectively to the surface and have been so well integrated in this production. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Alan Alda and Candice Bergen Star in A. R. Gurney's LOVE LETTERS on Broadway

Alan Alda in LOVE LETTERS.
Photo by Carol Rosegg
Candice Bergen in LOVE LETTERS.
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Love Letters, arguably A. R. Gurney’s best play, premiered at the New York Public Library in 1988 before moving to the Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven.  From there it moved on to the off-Broadway Promenade Theatre in New York, and thence to the Edison Theatre on Broadway.  Over the next quarter century, this terrific two-hander was staged at venues throughout the nation, featuring a pantheon of super nova stars in the roles of Melissa Gardner and Andrew Makepeace Ladd III, two wealthy WASPs whose lifetime devotion to one another, expressed through their extraordinary correspondence from the age of six until the very end of their days, nearly 50 years later, transcended time and space.  Since 1988, Melissa’s role has been played by actresses ranging from Kathleen Turner to Julie Harris; from Dana Ivey to Marsha Mason; from Frances Sternhagen to Coleen Dewhurst; and from Lynn Redgrave to Stockard Channing.  And Andrew’s role has been played by actors as disparate as George Segal and Christopher Walken; Jason Robards and Cliff Robertson; Fritz Weaver and William Hurt; Robert Wagner and Mel Gibson.

Now this remarkable  two-hander has returned to Broadway at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre on West 47th Street with various combinations of illustrious actors in the featured roles: Mia Farrow and Brian Dennehy; Carol Burnett and Brian Dennehy; Angelica Huston and Stacy Keach; Diana Rigg and Martin Sheen; and Candice Bergen and Alan Alda.  We just saw a production featuring Ms Bergen and Mr. Alda and while we are not in a position to comment on how well any of the other actors might have portrayed those roles, it is difficult to imagine how they could have been any better.  Sitting side by side at a table and reading from their lifetime’s correspondence, both Ms Bergen and Mr. Alda performed magnificently, maturing before our eyes from callow innocent children into complex, tortured adults.   These are memorable performances not to be missed, both comedic and touchingly evocative, and we urge you to see them.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

James Joyce and Samuel Beckett Portrayed in OUT OF THEIR MINDS

L-R: Tony Greenleaf, Roxann Kraemer, Enka Salazar, and Greg Horton in OUT OF THEIR MINDS.  Photo by Jonathan Slaff.
If (like me) you are a fan of James Joyce and/or Samuel Beckett, then Out of Their Minds by David Willinger, currently premiering at New Media Repertory Company on East 80th Street on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, is definitely not to be missed.  This is a wonderful play, sharply written and cleverly evocative of much of Beckett’s future work (ranging from Waiting for Godot to Footfalls and Endgame), and beautifully performed by four very talented actors.

The entire play takes place in the Joyce home in Paris in the 1920s and 1930s where James Joyce (brilliantly brought to life by Tony Greenleaf) is gradually going blind, while enjoying a modicum of success from the publication of Ulysses, and struggling to write Finnegan’s Wake.  He shares his home with his wife Nora (effectively played by Roxann Kraemer as the sanest member of the household) and his highly neurotic and possibly schizophrenic daughter Lucia (Erika Salazar).  They are joined early on by Samuel Beckett (whose awe of Joyce and personal insecurities are deftly captured in his portrayal by Greg Horton), who arrives at the Joyce home to serve as Joyce’s secretary and all around gofer.

The play is presented as a “tragic tale of thwarted love” between Beckett and Lucia and in a way it is that but it is really very much more: it is also a depiction of the dysfunction of the Joyce household, the extreme narcissism and self-centeredness that affected all of its members to the point of insanity, and the very mundane events which provided the raw material from which some of the greatest literature and theatrical works of the Twentieth Century emerged.  Or, as Lucia expresses it to Beckett:

You’re a genius Mr. Beckett.  You shall revolutionize the entire world theatre.  You shall enshrine a brand-new quality as the chief of all aesthetic virtues in the modern theatre – a uniquely Irish virtue – Boredom!  Boredom revealing and boredom transcendent.  Boredom that reveals us to ourselves.  And in it we glimpse our paltry dignity.  Our pathetic dignity.  You shall!”

The play is only running through November 16.  Try not to miss it.