On the Aisle with Larry
Lawrence Harbison, our very own critic, brings you up to date with what’s hot and what’s not in New York. In this column, Larry reports on Betrayal, Only Yesterday, Caesar and Cleopatra, American Moor, Sea Wall/A Life, Get on Your Knees and L.O.V.E.R.
I was unfamiliar with the work of British director Jamie Lloyd, whose production of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal at the Bernard Jacobs Theatre I saw last week. Based on this production, I have to say that Lloyd has vaulted to the very top of the list of innovative directors. Although the acting is realistic, his production is not. All three principal actors are onstage throughout. There is no set – just 3 chairs – and she employs a slow-moving turntable for much of the play. The effect is to focus on the story in a way I have never seen before.
For those of you who don’t know the play, it’s the tale of an adulterous affair between a man named Jerry and Emma, the wife of his best friend, Robert. When it begins, the affair has been over for two years and the couple has not seen each other since. It goes back in time, and the final scene is when the affair begins.
All three actors are splendid. The chemistry between Charlie Cox, as Jerry, and Zawe Ashton, as Emma, is intense. Tom Hiddleston’s performance as Robert is very poignant, particularly so as he has known about the affair for a long time but continues to consider Jerry his best friend.
This is a magnificent tour do force production, and not to be missed.
I wish you could have seen Bob Stevens’ Only Yesterday at 59E59 but, alas, it has closed. The main characters were none other than John Lennon and Paul McCartney who, while the Beatles are on tour, have to wait out a hurricane in Key West. With little to do, they discuss songs they might write, play some covers, such as “Roll Over, Beethoven” and “Rock and Roll Music,” and talk about their lives, as hordes of teenaged girls have gathered outside the motel they’re stuck in to scream. One of them, a bird named Shirley, has managed to crawl into the air duck, where she’s stuck, so the lads banter with Shirley and actually play a couple of songs for her. One of these, “How Do You Do It,” was not released by the Beatles in 1964, when this play takes place but by Gerry and the Pacemakers, so I thought it an odd choice. I also thought it odd that they changed a lyric in “Roll Over, Beethoven.” Other than these minor quibbles, this was a wonderful production, with superb performances by Christopher Sears as John and Tommy Crawford as Paul, as well as a nice turn by Olivia Swayze as the teen in the air duct.
Although I have read it, I have never seen a production of Shaw’s Caesar and Cleopatra, so I booked the Gingold Theatrical Group’s production at the Theatre Row Theatre. I still haven’t seen Shaw’s play. What I saw was a pared-down adaptation by director David Staller, though this is not stated in the program, which identifies the play as Caesar & Cleopatra (sic), reducing Shaw’s large cast to 7 actors, all of whom are costumed in white, so there is no visual differentiation between the Romans and the Egyptians. The play is supposed to take place in Cleopatra’s palace, which is represented by what appears to be wooden construction scaffolding. I won’t mention the names of the actors. It's not their fault.
There are inventive directors like the aforementioned Jamie Lloyd, and then there are inept ones like David Staller. Great that he digs Shaw, but if you can’t do his plays without mauling the text – don’t do them.
The premise of American Moor at the Cherry Lane Theatre (now closed), written by and starring Keith Hamilton Cobb, was that an African American actor is auditioning for the role of Othello, for a white director who sits in the audience. His audition goes on for an hour and a half, during which he exhibits various kinds of hostile behavior, mostly having to do with being a black man in a white’s man’s world. Had Cobb dropped the audition premise and done just the rant he might have been annoying but at least he might have been credible; but no, he insists this is an audition. Nobody would hire an actor with a chip on his shoulder the size of the iceberg which sank the Titanic.
Sea Wall/A Life, at the Hudson Theatre, which has also closed, was two lengthy narrative monologues. In the first, Sea Wall by Simon Stephens, Tom Sturridge tells the tale of his daughter’s death. In A Life by Nick Payne, it’s Jake Gyllenhaal’s turn to tell us a story, this one about the birth of his daughter simultaneous with the death of his father. As both characters were pretty much hapless wimps, I got more and more annoyed by them. These are portraits of contemporary masculinity? Puh-lease …
I caught one of the final performances of comedienne Jacqueline Novak’s stand-up act, Get on Your Knees, which was mostly about blowjobs. Really. I swear to God. The women sitting around me were yukking it up. Most of the men (myself included) sat there stone-faced. Novak spends most of the show pacing back and forth with a rather nervous energy, which I guess gives it some visual variety, but which I found rather trying.
L.O.V.E.R. at the Signature Center, written by and starring Lois Robbins, is also an autobiographical one-woman show about sexual awakening, though it deals with a lot more than just sex. Robbins deals with her on again-off again relationships with various men before finally finding the Right One. She is delightful, funny and sometime poignant. Most of the audience at the performance I attended were middle-aged women and they seemed to identify with Robbins’ trials and tribulations; but I don’t think L.O.V.E.R. is only for men, because I enjoyed it, too.
In my next column, I’ll give you my thoughts on Moulin Rouge, and The Height of the Storm, all of which are still running.
Betrayal. Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, 242 W. 45th St.
Tickets: www.telecharge.com or 800-447-7400
Only Yesterday. 59E59. Alas, closed.
Caesar and Cleopatra. Theatre Row Theatre, 410 W. 42nd St.
American Moor. Cherry Lane Theatre, 38 Commerce St. Closed
Sea Wall/A Life. Hudson Theatre, 141 W. 44th St. Closed
Get on Your Knees. Lucille Lortel Theatre, 121 Christopher St.
L.O.V.E.R.Pershing Square Signature Center, 480 W. 42nd St.
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-- George F. Will
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-- Theodore Roosevelt