Cyprus Avenue

Cyprus Avenue by David Ireland

The Public Theater / directed by Vicky Featherstone

Seen on July 26, 2018

Thumbs-up: Stephen Rea’s fascinating performance was by far the best thing about this production. His nuanced contributions to an appalling character were impressive, and he truly shouldered the entire show. As for the play, I enjoyed it when it got really funny and/or really dark, which would likely amount to a third of it.

Thumbs-down: This is a play with a quite interesting starting point and an exciting approach to hyperbole, yet it fails big time in terms of structure, cohesion, and clarity of ideas. It forfeits almost all its political and social resonance because it relentlessly underlines the fact that Eric is a true lunatic not (only) because of his political and religious beliefs, but because he’s just messed up as a human being in countless ways. Much of this play would have made more sense, and been more powerful, if Eric’s sanity had remained an open question for most of the time. In addition, the rest of the cast was surprisingly bad. And the bizarre character of Slim, and what he’s doing in this play, can hardly be justified dramaturgically. In short, the play—and its direction—could have been improved considerably.

Score: 3.5/5

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The Boys in the Band

The Boys in the Band by Mart Crowley

Booth Theatre / directed by Joe Mantello

Seen on July 25, 2018

Thumbs-up: A production that was supreme in all its aspects: unvaryingly strong performances by all of the actors, David Zinn’s fabulous scenic and costume design, Hugh Vanstone’s elegant and dynamic lighting, and Joe Mantello’s intelligent direction (especially in blocking!). As with Mantello’s Three Tall Women, the show had a distinct ambiance of its own, which it gladly embraced without overindulgence. The strongest actors were Jim Parsons, Zachary Quinto (simply phenomenal), Matt Bomer, and Robin de Jesus. Finally, the greatest achievement of the production, which is a cumulative effect of all these factors, lay in its contemporary feel despite its explicitly historical setting. Though the story was clearly taking place in 1968, I bet it was intended that we forget, or at least not be hypersensitive to, this central fact and process the play’s many complex questions within a more contemporary framework. Most of it, after all, is still very real.

Thumbs-down: Brian Hutchison, though not bad, seemed to be the weak link of this breathtaking ensemble. He could have brought a greater depth to his character, who is one of the most interesting in the play. Also, that one time when the play’s temporal realism stopped and Michael started drinking under the spotlight did not really fit into the whole, as it didn’t signify anything crucial about the narrative or the play’s structure (it wasn’t much of a reversal). In other words, the singularity of that moment was not justified within the larger scheme of things.

Score: 5/5

The Damned

The Damned / based on Luchino Visconti, Nicola Badalucco, and Enrico Medioli’s work

A Comédie Française Production Presented in Collaboration with Park Avenue Armory / directed by Ivo van Hove

Seen on July 23, 2018

Thumbs-up: Possibly the most shattering and transcendent theatrical experience I’ve ever had. Absolute perfection and ingenuity. There’s way too much to praise.

Score: 5/5 (+)

NINAGAWA Macbeth

NINAGAWA Macbeth by William Shakespeare, translated by Yushi Odashima

Lincoln Center’s Mostly Mozart Festival / directed by Yukio Ninagawa

Seen on July 22, 2018

Thumbs-up: The extraordinary, breathtaking aesthetic sensibility of the entire production. Exquisite tableaus, impressive choreography, and refreshingly novel gestures in an otherwise familiar play. Much of this credit should go to all components of the design: scenic, lighting, sound, and costume. One of the few theatrical productions that I’ve seen in which every single design element was not only strong but in perfect harmony with the others. Though the markedly different style of Japanese acting made it hard for me to assess the quality of the performances, it was all too clear that Masachika Ichimura (Macbeth), Yuko Tanaka (Lady Macbeth), and Keita Oishi (Macduff) were on top of their games. I loved the production’s particular attention to the deep love and affinity between the Macbeths, as well as how the second half deliberately slowed down and became more reflective in tone.

Thumbs-down: It wasn’t very clear to me how the production’s framing with the two old women was supposed to function, and what meaning, if any, it was supposed to convey. Similarly, the recurrent use of the partition screen as a scenic unit seemed to carry certain connotations about the play’s divides between internal/external, imaginary/real, and private/public; yet I was unable to trace this into a unified whole.

Notes: The stunning beauty of this production threw into high relief the inherent poetry of Shakespeare’s play and simultaneously turned it into a spectacle of epic proportions. Ninagawa’s direction can be summed up as exhaustive, lyrical, and deeply atmospheric. It will be virtually impossible to think of Macbeth in the future without a mental reference to Ninagawa’s aesthetic.

Score: 4.5/5

Straight White Men

Straight White Men by Young Jean Lee

2NDSTAGE – The Helen Hayes Theater / directed by Anna D. Shapiro

Seen on July 20, 2018

Thumbs-up: Though all the actors had their golden moments, Josh Charles was the one with the greatest command over and consistency in his character. Todd Rosenthal’s thoughtful scenic design and Donald Holder’s elegant lighting contributed much to the metatheatrical world that the production was particularly striving after. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, Young Jean Lee’s play is already very tight and smart, and getting to see it in performance was a pleasure in and of itself.

Thumbs-down: This was by no means a flawless production, as much as I wanted it to be. None of the actors did true justice to the nuances of their characters, and at their worst they were indistinguishable from sitcom players aiming (and waiting) for a laugh track. This is not to say that they were always like this, as they were each quite powerful at certain instances. Paul Schneider’s performance especially lacked the edge that his character demands (and depends upon)—an edge of passivity and indifference, but an edge nonetheless. Perhaps because he was thrust into this production at the last minute, Stephen Payne seemed weirdly mechanical and “out of it.” And though he was often impressive, Armie Hammer, too, fell into a disappointing flatness from time to time. I believe much of this can be traced back to considerable blindspots in Shapiro’s directing.

My greatest problem with this production, however, has to do with the changes made to the nature and function of what was formerly the Stagehands-in-Charge. The revised opening remarks by the two People in Charge explicitly veered in the direction of a lecture in social awareness and respect, and got into too many personal details for no substantive reason. In the original text, their presence is significant (and needed) precisely because they run the show and stage-manage it. Here, we already had an actual run crew who did the work, and the People in Charge just watched it without much of a contribution. Who were they? In what sense was this their show? We know, and they imply, that they are actors: so, what are their characters? In short, this was one big dramaturgical blunder.

Notes: Despite its several imperfections, this production did a decent job of breathing life into Young Jean Lee’s subtly thought-provoking play. The whole did stand on its own, and the center held, but it would have been better if it all were firmer.

Score: 4/5

The House That Will Not Stand

The House That Will Not Stand by Marcus Gardley

New York Theatre Workshop / directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz

Seen on July 17, 2018

Thumbs-up: A beautifully written play, at once narratively engaging and deeply poetic, receives a masterful treatment in the hands of a capable director and a breathtaking cast. Virtually everything about this production was superb, and so much of the play’s underlying energies were impressively let free and cultivated. Adam Rigg’s elegant scenic design, Yi Zhao’s attentive lighting, and Raja Feather Kelly’s seamless choreography made this whole even more delectable. From the pre-show (with its great selection of music) to the play’s final moment, my experience was that of an enchanted spectator.

Score: 5/5

Borders

Borders by Henry Naylor

Next Door @ New York Theatre Workshop / co-directed by Louise Scaaning and Michael Cabot

Seen on July 16, 2018

Thumbs-up: The last five minutes of the play, when the two stories start to intersect, certainly comprised its strongest aspect, and I believe that the script and/or the production could have dwelled there more. Though her acting tried to reconcile multiple registers and tonalities (and alas, failed), Avital Lvova did have some outstanding moments, particularly in the second half of the show. The dynamic use of the stools was also smart.

Thumbs-down: The vast majority of the play deals with very obvious “messages” (for so they are) and sets store by characters and situations that border on the stereotypical despite their indisputable reality. Especially the first third of the play could have been more engaging and architectural (the way it starts to be in its last third). Most of the problems with both of the performances can be attributed to weaknesses in direction, despite (or perhaps because of) the involvement of two directors. Chief among them is that the tonal and stylistic variations of the text did not translate into acting and thereby got heavily obscured.

Notes: Even though the play never met the affective and thematic aspirations it so clearly sets for itself, its final gesture was still powerful and threw somewhat of a redeeming light on the work as a whole.

Score: 3.5/5