Theater After The Tony Awards: My June Reviews: Harvey, Uncle Vanya, This Is Fiction, Clubbed Thumb Festival
June 21, 2012 Leave a comment
New York theater doesn’t close up shop after the Tony Awards each year. There actually may be more to see, what with the various theater festivals. In any case here are my reviews of some of the shows that have opened in June
What many theatergoers know and don’t love about “Harvey” is that this comedy about a 6’3 1/2” invisible rabbit won the Pulitzer Prize for Drama in 1945, beating out Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.” What people love about it is Jimmy Stewart, who starred in it both on Broadway and in Hollywood.
A revival of Mary Chase’s play therefore has to overcome both resentment and perfection. As central character Elwood P. Dowd himself might say, it is easy to take a liking to the Roundabout Theater Company’s production of “Harvey” at Studio 54, thanks to Scott Ellis’ well-paced direction and a splendid 11-member cast headed by Jim Parsons, the star of the TV series “The Big Bang Theory,” and full of audience favorites such as Carol Kane and Jessica Hecht and one of the actors from “Mad Men.”
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at Soho Rep: Michael Shannon and Merritt Weaver
When Annie Baker, playwright of the exquisite “Circle Mirror Transformation” and her frequent collaborator, super-star director Sam Gold (“Seminar,” “Look Back in Anger”) decided to take on Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” — which they have done now in an inventive and uncomfortable production at Soho Rep that is a very hot ticket — it was to solve an intriguing problem: Why is it that the play about the loves, hates, frustrations and disappointments of an interconnected group of Russians in a 19th century country estate is so riveting to read but difficult to watch?
The concept of the production is fresh; Annie Baker’s adaptation is clear. But the actors are playing characters who sulk, whine, and shuffle around as if their life has lost meaning for nearly three hours, sometimes in near-darkness, alleviated only occasionally by some nice singing and guitar-playing. Chekhov’s much-vaunted comedy largely gets lost with this treatment, especially when audience members’ attention focuses increasingly not on the characters’ misery but on their own discomfort
Photo by Jason White
“This Is Fiction”
Right outside the Cherry Lane Theater, on the evening when I was seeing the modest four-character play “This Is Fiction,” some half dozen cranes, two dozen extras and twice as many crew were transforming the street from summer into winter, adding bucket after bucket of fake snow for a scene in a movie remake of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” starring Ben Stiller.
One need only witness such extravagance in the service of entertainment to realize how thoroughly fiction can crowd out reality. The interplay between the two is an intriguing subject, one that “This Is Fiction,” by its title and through the company’s promotional material, promises to explore. But this first full-length play by Megan Hart barely gets to its supposed subject.
More than halfway through the enigmatic “Luther,” the second entry in Clubbed Thumb’s Summerworks 2012 festival, I thought I finally discovered the solution to the puzzle that is Ethan Lipton’s play: “Luther’s a dog!” I said to myself. Well, maybe not….Many moments in Luther” read like a subtle send-up of contemporary urban middle-class mores. These moments would be a lot funnier if the audience were not so disoriented.
When Clowns Play Hamlet: It is an exaggeration to say that H.M. Koutoukas invented Off-Off Broadway, though at first glance that claim seems much closer to the truth than the thought that “When Clowns Play Hamlet,” his 48-year-old play being posthumously revived at La MaMa ETC, is an intriguing mash-up of a Shakespearean tragedy and a circus act. It seems neither intriguing nor a mash-up—nor, for that matter, a circus act, even though all three actors are dressed in clown makeup. There is no mention of the Bard or any immediately evident parallels to the Prince of Denmark.
Yet Koutoukas, who died two years ago at age 72, did write some 200 plays for the Caffé Cino and La MaMa and mentored everybody from Harvey Fierstein to the creative team behind “Hair,” so if any single person can be given credit for birthing the Off-Off movement, he might be it. And there may be something more to the play’s title than some of his similarly mischievous efforts, such as “Too Late for Yogurt” or “Medea in the Laundromat.”