The Short Goodbye: Torpedo'ed
by the TONYs -- Arcadia and Born Yesterday
In and around the wonderful run of Shaw's "You Never Can Tell"
which closed on 6/19, my wife and I rediscovered the joy of Tuesday nights for theatre. She became an ace at snaffling
up prime seats at a discount at the magic hour when the consierges turn in their unsold allotments. We got to see Jerusalem,
Arcadia and Born Yesterday this way, and I also got to see friends and colleagues doing wonderful work, especially Judy Rosenblatt's
star turn as Peggy Guggenheim in "Woman before a Glass".
Seeing Jerusalem was a treat because the buzz
about Mark Rylance's performance was deafening and the show also garned much talk all around me. The performance was
as promised an amazing tour de force, undoubtedly one of the greatest I've ever seen on the stage. Too say anything
about it is to say too little. The play however, gorgeously designed as it was, left me feeling very empty. I
am mindful that many others, for whom I have huge respect in some instances, disagree. I found the characters precious
in their quirks that were meant to pull the heartstrings and engage me with people with whom I wouldn't want to share a room.
Outside of Rylance, I found many performances one note and uninteresting, and I thought the magnificent set created
problems for the director which were never mastered. Most of the characters were rigidly cast downstage on the far right
or left of Rylance and it made conversation look stagey and awkward and created some 4th wall obligations which were indifferently
met. I was not unhappy that the TONY judges acknowledged Rylance but otherwise ignored the show.
I have not yet
gotten to see either "The Book of Mormon" or "The Normal Heart". By all reports either would be
an unforgettable evening of theatre and neither is likely to be purchaseable without a hefty bribe in the foreseeable future.
I'll let you know if that changes.
It is a problem for Broadway when the TONY nominated musical and straight play
worlds are so utterly dominated by one entrant in each category. It must be wonderful for the people involved and their
friends, family and entourages, but it creates a demand for which there is no possible supply in any reasonable timeframe
for two sold out hits, and when its leavings are divided among all the other worthy nominees there isn't enough left to keep
most of them afloat.
I went to see Arcadia with The Lincoln Center Theater's 1995 production disturbingly fresh in my
memory. I'm usually better than that at making myself hear and see a revival is if for the first time, or at least letting
go of it after seeing the first few moments of the current production. It didn't work here. I still feel as though this
is my favorite Stoppard -- it's was every bit as cleaver and eclectically erudite as I'd recalled -- but production felt strident
and lifeless. I found myself returning to my memories scene after scene. Moments certainly worked and some performances
and pairings did as well. On the whole, I was very disatisfied. Having failed to win in either of its nominated
categories (and having failed to garner nominations in the design categories where it might have been expected to shine),
Arcadia closed last Sunday along with our Shaw.
A similar sense of deja vu beclouded me when we saw Born Yesterday
earlier this week: George Cukor's iconic 1950 movie with Broderick Crawford, William Holden and the incomparable Judy Holiday.
Tale of Two Shaw's: You Never Can Tell (T. Schreiber Studio) and The Minister's Wife (Lincoln Center Theatre)
You Never Can Tell
I am writing this early on the morning of May 7th,
having just survived a 7 hour first technical rehearsal. For those not in this industry, we are talking about a grueling
experience that is not intended to advance the cause of the actors at all, but rather belongs to the designer's and technicians
who are laboring to realize the images that passed through the director's mind when he conceived his production. From
the actors' standpoint it is utterly non-creative and yet from the audience's it is at the core of the experience they will
have. I cannot imagine what a playwright goes through sitting in the darkened house watching this deconstruction of
his sacred text; I cannot believe it would be any more fun for him than for the actors trying to bring his words to life.
But I know that of all the playwright's I've ever done, none would have understood the neccesity of getting it right
more than Shaw.
cannot begin to tell you what it means to me to be doing a Shaw play once again. I know what sophistry it is to say
this, yet I must in candor confess that to me of all the thousands of British men and women who have martialed the English
language and sent it into battle on the stage, there is Shakespeare, Shaw and Pinter, and after them all the others. Since
I returned to acting in 2004, I've had the chance to revisit Shakespeare and Pinter, but this is the first Shavian role I've
played since my very first post-college experience as Roebuck Ramsden in Christopher Martin's brilliant production of Man
and Superman at the CSC. As I sat in Shaw was the only playwright who was the subject of a dedicated course I took
as an undergraduate, with a magnificent Shavian scholar, the late Dan H. Laurence.
Most of Shaw's plays have an old philistine in them: Alfred
Doolittle in Pygmalion, Hector Hushabye in Heartbreak House, Andrew Undershaft in Major Barbara, and
of course Ramsden. That I wound up playing an old man at the
age of 22 was no surprise to me. I'd been cast as old men all through college and indeed in high school, ever since I played
Creon in Medea in the 10th grade. I must admit that as I sat in the dressing room tonight and stared into the mirror
I was both a little shocked and a little gratified to note that the furrows, creases and hollows I'd painted on my face were
now exactly where I'd imagined they would be and that now no painting would be required.
Part of the genius that allowed Shaw to be so prolific was
that his characters were cut out with cookie cutters. Three main archetypes appear again and again throughout all of
his plays: The philistines, the idealists, and the realists. Shaw relished them all and endowed them all with
great life. The philistines were the lucky recipients of some his best and funniest comedy, but the moral was always
embedded in the struggle of the idealists to become realists. In most cases he loved and admired the idealists, but
the salvation of the world was always in the hands of realists, and the world was never in better hands than when a woman
idealist (Shaw was a profound feminist and believed that the future of human kind was almost exclusively in their hands) crossed
over to the light of realism. That is exactly what happens
in You Never Can Tell when the young realist Valentine helps the idealistic Gloria Clandon (played superbly in our production by Lowell Byers and
Jessica Osborne) to see the light only to come to realize that she is not his creation but an equal whose powers in many ways
far outstrip his own. Those of you who saw the two much acclaimed sold-out T. Schreiber productions earlier this season,
Lanford Wilson's Balm in Gilead and David Storey's The Changing Room will have seen Lowell in vastly different
if equally wonderful performances. Peter Judd who was also singled out by critics for his terrific performance in The
Changing Room may also have seen him as Firs in last season's production of The Cherry Orchard, as Coffin in 2009's
The Night of the Iguana and as Grandpa in 2007's You Can't Take it With You. Our production is directed by Robert
Verlaque and should be a real treat. I hope you will be able to make it.
THE OLD ORDER CHANGETH
make room on this page, I’ve been forced to archive the older items. If anyone cares to catch up on my comments on performing
Goldberg in Terry Schreiber's production of Pinter's “The Birthday Party” (February, 2005), reactions to the Birmingham
Rep performance of “The Birthday Party” in Cambridge, England and my visit with Sir Harold Pinter (April, 2005),
my comments about Sam Shepard’s "Fool for Love” (December, 2005), appearing in new plays by newer playwrights
(September, 2006), appearing in Austin Pendleton's production of Arthur Miller's "The American Clock" (November,
2006), On Playing Major Roles in Feature Films (February, 2007), BFA Playwriting Showcase (May, 2009), The Norman Conquests
(May, 2009), or Under the Radar: Undergraduate Student Films (November, 2009) please Click here to Email me a request.