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 OHIO STATE MURDERS.
While you wait patiently for Adrienne Kennedy’s Ohio State Murders, at the James Earl Jones Theatre (formerly, the Cort) to begin, you listen to a recorded interview with Ms. Kennedy in which she talks in a distinctive cadence about her life. This seemed to be unnecessary; but then the lights came up on Audra McDonald and she began to speak, sounding exactly like the playwright. She has a gift that way. Remember her Tony Award performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, in which she channeled the style of the great singer? I guess the director, Kenny Leon, felt the need to let the audience know why Audra is talking that way.
As for the play itself, it’s essentially a 70-minute monologue wherein the character, Suzanne tells us of the murder of her infant daughter, born while she was a student at Ohio State University. In other words, this is a narrated whodunit. Along the way, we learn a lot about racism at OSU in the 1950s. McDonald is riveting, but great acting can’t save writing which just isn’t much in terms of playwriting.
The play was staged originally at Yale Rep in the early 1990s. Now, 30 years later, it’s being presented in New York—on Broadway, no less, by a horde of producers, who must have bet that Audra McDonald would attract enough of an audience to make this viable commercially. They guessed wrong—the play is closing on 12 February.
OHIO STATE MURDERS. James Earl Jones Theatre, 138 W. 48thSt.
Tickets: www.telecharge.com, 212-239-6200
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, and comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who actually does strive to do the deeds; who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement; and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who know neither victory nor defeat.”
"It requires a certain largeness of spirit to give generous appreciation to large achievements. A society with a crabbed spirit and a cynical urge to discount and devalue will find that one day, when it needs to draw upon the reservoirs of excellence, the reservoirs have run dry."
—George F. Will