The Real Thing

The Real Thing

If you went to high school with me, then you know I fell in love with Ewan McGregor when I was 17-years-old, saw “Moulin Rouge” for the first time, and my young mind exploded. You also know that I had a Seth Green phase earlier in high school, but let’s move past that for the moment. After I proceeded to watch as many of Ewan’s films as I could the following year, I eagerly awaited the moment to see him in a live play (since I tried and subsequently failed to see him in Guys and Dolls when I was studying abroad in England). So yes, I admit, Ewan was the primary reason I wanted to attend the newest revival of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Thing.

Henry (Ewan McGregor) is a playwright. His current play is about a woman who cheats on her husband, starring his wife Charlotte (Cynthia Nixon) and an actor named Max (Josh Hamilton). In real life, Max is married to Annie (Maggie Gyllenhaal). When we learn that Henry and Annie are actually having an affair, art begins to imitate life. Or is it the other way around?

Sadly, this production left me wanting in many ways. I wasn’t invested in these characters, emotionally or intellectually. They don’t need to be sympathetic (which they aren’t) for me to be invested, but I still have to want to go on a journey with them. Instead I felt left behind. This was in part due to the story itself being confusing at times (intentionally), and it can be hard to follow because the language is so dense. But that aside, I couldn’t connect to the style itself. It was very presentational and plotted out. Rather than discovering on the line, all of the words seemed planned. If a character had a big speech, it was performed like he or she had memorized it and had reached the appropriate time to recite it. It did not feel spontaneous.

Matt and I were discussing that maybe this was because of the slightly heightened, highly intellectual language, but on the other hand, Shakespeare is heightened and poetic. Even if you don’t catch all of the metaphors, subtext, and meanings in the first hear-through, you are still with the characters. You’re discovering things together, in the moment, no matter the density of the words. For example, when I saw the revival of Stoppard’s Arcadia a few years back, I went in blind, and while I was desperately confused at times (lots of math talk in that play), I still felt like I was there with the characters, going through something with them, trying to figure it out together.

The Real Thing won a Tony Award for Best Play in 1982 and Best Revival of a Play in 2000. It took home the Drama Desk, and the leads won Tony Awards in both productions. I mean, it makes sense! Stoppard is one of our most popular playwrights, known for his intense, philosophical, beautiful dialogue and topics. And I love all four of these actors in their other works. I think the root may be a direction/style choice. I’m curious what the previous productions did differently that made them so successful.

This play is about love, marriage, and in/fidelity. It’s about the feelings that are left unsaid, acting the opposite, playing it cool. We find out rather quickly that the first scene is a performance, a play within a play, but come the second scene in “reality,” it still feels like a performance. This might have been the point, as it partly represents the lack of honesty being shared among the characters, but then again, there needs to be a contrast. There are only a couple of moments with that kind of truth sprinkled in (Ewan has a touching moment alone onstage in the second act that I appreciated). I don’t mean that the characters need to show this truth to each other, but the vulnerability could be shared with us. Someone should be honest with the audience and make that connection, if only for a moment, because we want, we need the real thing.

The Real Thing
Written by Tom Stoppard, Directed by Sam Gold
American Airlines Theatre, Closing January 4, 2015
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Maggie Gyllenhaal and Ewan McGregor

Video Friday

In addition to his dreamy face, Steven Pasquale also has one of the dreamiest voices. And yet The Bridges of Madison County was his first musical on Broadway. How is this possible?! I’ve loved his voice ever since 2007 when my friend Rowan first introduced me to A Man of No Importance, which ran Off-Broadway at Lincoln Center in 2002. Row had been cast as the same role as Pasquale (Robbie), and together we listened to his big number, “The Streets of Dublin.”

Sadly, Bridges didn’t stick around long, but thanks to YouTube and, we have plenty of footage. His tone, his support, his vibrato. I can’t. Here is Steven singing his big 11 o’clock number, “It All Fades Away,” from the Tony-winning score by Jason Robert Brown. Swoon away.

If you only want to hear the money notes, skip to 2:55. Oh, and while we’re on the topic, you also have to see the below. I still can’t watch it without laughing.

Scenes From a Marriage

Scenes From a Marriage

What a fascinating, innovative, different type of play experience. Of course, I’d expect no less from an Ivo van Hove production. The Flemish director often revisits New York Theatre Workshop to reinvent plays as we’ve come to know them. When I saw Hedda Gabler starring Elizabeth Marvel in 2004, it completely changed my view of theatre. He’s also directed A Streetcar Named Desire, The Misanthrope, and The Little Foxes there. Ivo strips plays down to the characters’ most primitive instincts and then heightens them all over again, leaving you with a very different approach than the original you had come to expect. Scenes From a Marriage is his newest project, based on the 1973 Ingmar Bergman TV mini-series.

As the title hints, we bear witness to different scenes from the same marriage. During Act I, the stage is split into three separate sections. When you arrive for the show, you’re given a colored wristband determining which room you enter first. Within the three rooms are three different sets of actors playing the same couple, Johan and Marianne, at different stages of their marriage, from its more promising beginnings to later struggles. In the first room, timeline-wise, are Alex Hurt and Susannah Flood, 10 years into their marriage. A half hour later you move into the next room to see Dallas Roberts and Roslyn Ruff playing the same couple later on, and lastly are Arliss Howard and Tina Benko working through the remains at the end. Meanwhile, the scene(s) you already watched are replaying beyond the thin walls. You can hear the fights, ones you’re familiar with and ones you have yet to hear – the echoes of past and future battles that resonate throughout the story.

The majority of the second act is absolutely thrilling. The theatre is transformed into one large open space, and as the six actors enter (together this time), the audience begins to prep itself for the roller coaster ride they expect is coming. The scene begins as the characters alternate lines, and soon the three pairs begin doing the same scene at once, overlapping and moving about the entire space. Three different interpretations, three different deliveries, all happening at the same time. It requires active listening from both the audience and the actors. I sat on the edge of my seat, eyes darting back and forth, catching key phrases here and there, and latching on for dear life. Hearing the same scene layered on top of itself made the words more vibrant and charged.

Despite this intense engagement, I did struggle with the latter half of Act II as my attention wavered (there were dips in Act I as well). I should note here that the play is three and a half hours long (including a 30-minute intermission). It doesn’t feel that long, but certain scenes weren’t as engrossing for me. Although this may have been because they were such a stark contrast to the times when there was so much going on. It was an odd thing bouncing back and forth between being overly engaged to not totally present. The play is well acted, but I was most partial to Susannah Flood’s performance as Marianne 1. She is moving, spontaneous, and a joy to watch.

To sum up, if you’re interested in seeing a piece of theatre that will challenge you to listen and work your brain, I do recommend Scenes From a Marriage. If nothing else, it’s always a good idea to be introduced to Ivo van Hove’s approach to theatre.

Scenes From a Marriage
Written by Ingmar Bergman, English Version by Emily Mann, Directed by Ivo van Hove
New York Theatre Workshop, Closing October 26th
Photo Credit: Sara Krulwich
Pictured: Tina Benko, Dallas Roberts, Roslyn Ruff, Alex Hurt, Arliss Howard, and Susannah Flood

You Can’t Take It With You

You Can't Take It With You

What. A. Ball. I knew I would have a good time at You Can’t Take It With You, but I didn’t know I would have that good a time. And what a great way to be introduced! I had never seen the play, the movie, nor the short-lived 80s sitcom (of which you have to watch the trailer). Who knew such an old-school play could feel so new and contemporary? And I mean, olllld. This play, written by Moss Hart and George S. Kaufman, originally opened on Broadway in 1936 and won the Pulitzer in 1937 (click here for a little more history). It has since had several revivals, and I firmly believe Broadway will welcome back this most recent production with open arms.

I love this kind of screwball comedy. It doesn’t quite fall into the farce category, but it is still a full-fledged comedy packed with slapstick, visual gags, witty humor, and hilarious situations. What I like is that the humor is not relying fully on misunderstandings and mix-ups (except, albeit, for one big one); rather it generates from the quirkiest, happiest family you’ll ever meet.

The Sycamores live together in New York. All of them. Mom, Dad, Grandpa, daughters Alice and Essie, and Essie’s husband Ed. Plus the maid, her boyfriend, the dance teacher who is always there, and the delivery guy who never left. It’s actually a surprise to see such a big cast up on stage, and it’s wonderful, especially with this group of performers, but I’ll come back to that. Let’s return to the plot. Alice has fallen in love with Anthony Kirby, son of Mr. Kirby, president of Kirby and Co. down on Wall Street. The Kirbys are, to put it lightly, a little more straight-laced than the Sycamores, and Alice worries that the two families meeting might ruin any future she could have with Tony. When the Kirbys come over for dinner on the wrong night and the Sycamores are going about their evening in true Sycamore fashion, things go awry very quickly (much to our delight).

It’s hard to describe the Sycamore family in words; so much of what makes them hilarious and “out there” is visual. The walls of their house alone give you an idea of what these people are like. But despite how “crazy” they may or may not be, there is so much love in this family. They are genuinely happy to be together and to be going about their business. And with a cast like this, you’ve never been in better hands.

Now comes the time in my review when I stop everything to talk about Annaleigh Ashford. If she does not get a Tony nomination for her performance, I will picket Broadway. I have loved her since the days of Legally Blonde. From Dogfight to her Tony-nominated performance in Kinky Boots, and now that I’m an avid viewer of “Masters of Sex,” I can’t get enough of her these days. Now she’s playing Essie in a show packed with stars and winning performances all around, and she still practically steals the show. I, for one, in the big group scenes, couldn’t help but watch whatever the heck she was up to. Her grasp of physical comedy is amazing, and her line deliveries are like no other.

Okay, I think I got my gushing out of my system. Other standouts include Will Brill as her husband (just wait until you see his physicality); they make an hysterical pair. Kristine Nielson, as you know, is another favorite of mine (she plays Penny, the mother). Then there’s Reg Rogers as Essie’s Russian dance teacher, who always gets me; Julie Halston who stops the show by walking up the stairs; Rose Byrne making a great debut; and I haven’t even mentioned James Earl Jones or the rest of the brilliant cast.

I’m telling you now, readers: get thee to the Longacre for a joyous couple of hours packed with belly laughs and smiles that leave your face exhausted. Just do yourself a favor, and go spend an evening with the Sycamores. You won’t be sorry.

You Can’t Take It With You
Written by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, Directed by Scott Ellis
Longacre Theatre, Closing January 4, 2015
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Annaleigh Ashford and Reg Rogers

Video of the Week

This video was recently added to YouTube, and I accidentally stumbled on it with a squeal of delight. I’d been looking for footage from this production of Company for ages. This is the 1995 cast starring Boyd Gaines as Robert. This clip is the song “Getting Married Today,” pattered by one of my favorite performers, Veanne Cox. You likely know Veanne even if you don’t recognize her name. She’s one of those actors that you’ve seen around, if not on Broadway in Caroline, or Change or La Cage aux Folles, then on TV in Louie or the Brandy Cinderella, or films like You’ve Got Mail.

Veanne was nominated for a Tony for her performance as Amy. I’ve seen this song done so many different ways, and I really dig Veanne’s approach. She’s not just going for the laughs as so many do. The laughs come naturally because of how sincerely desperate she is. Her frantic, matter-of-fact delivery is relatable, sad, and hilarious all wrapped into one.

Here’s Veanne Cox in Company performing “Getting Married Today” alongside Danny Burstein and Patricia Ben Peterson.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

I liked this play a lot. It wasn’t necessarily life-changing, and I wouldn’t necessarily insist that you need to pay full price for a ticket, but I would say that if you have the opportunity to go, take advantage of it for a unique theatrical experience.

For the people out there who have not read the book (or the people who have and simply forgot everything about it like me), The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time came out in 2003, written by British novelist Mark Haddon. It’s about a 15-year-old boy named Christopher Boone. Christopher is extremely gifted in math, logic, and all things science, but he struggles socially. He doesn’t like when people touch him. He is easily overstimulated and screams until he is able to calm down. He has a complicated relationship with his dad and maybe an even more difficult relationship with his mother before she passed away two years earlier. The story begins with a neighbor’s dog being murdered. And à la John Coffey in The Green Mile, Christopher is found cradling the dead dog and is immediately accused. He makes it his mission to find out who did it and starts detective work even though he doesn’t like talking to strangers. But as he starts to dig, other mysteries begin to unravel as well, forever changing his life as he knows it.

The production (a transfer from the National Theatre in London) is very innovative and smart. It’s well-directed, and the design is arguably the best part. The creative team has done an excellent job of making the audience feel – or at the very least, understand – how Christopher feels day-to-day. In one scene, he explains that he “sees everything.” You know how Raymond counts the toothpicks in a split second? Like that, Christopher registers every single thing around him. Therefore, if he’s in a crowded place like a train station, it’s an unreal amount of stimulation that overwhelms and cripples him until he is able to find a rhythm to the madness. This then guides him back to his own personal equilibrium. So, through a slick scenic design, charged music, flashing lights, and incredibly well-used projections, the stage transforms into what’s going on in his brain during these moments. It can be very unnerving at times (in the best way possible). With such an effective design and moving choreography, the creators have set up a great storytelling convention for us to go directly into this kid’s mind. Now that I think about it, even in the calmer sections, the design is still how Christopher sees the world – like a grid, finding whatever sense he can in his surroundings. For example, he builds a train set throughout Act 1, literally taking the different pieces out of the walls around him. Everything is compartmentalized, organized, and clean…until it’s not, and he panics. Christopher is wonderfully played by Alex Sharp, a 25-year-old recent graduate of Juilliard (and by recent, I mean this past May). You’re looking at a future Tony nominee, folks.

Now this isn’t exactly a heads-up per se, but I feel like I should note again that this production came over from the West End, and you can definitely tell. This is British theatre at its core. It’s hard to explain what I mean by that. Basically, the style is different – the way of storytelling, the pacing, etc. Quite often, it can be tricky for plays to make the jump across the pond for these very reasons. Sometimes, American audiences have a difficult time adjusting to the style shift. I’m very curious to see what the critics will think. I personally like that it’s structurally different and that the storytelling makes you work, although the pacing was often a problem. I was bored at times, and it’s a little long. Granted, I saw it in the middle of previews, so this may change (they even had to hold for a few minutes during Act 2 due to technical difficulties. Ohhh previews.).

So my bottom line? It’s a striking design and a very, very technical show, but what’s lovely – and crucial – is that amidst all the flash and spectacle, Curious doesn’t lose its heart.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time
Written by Simon Stephens, Based on the novel by Mark Haddon, Directed by Marianne Elliott
Barrymore Theatre, Open-ended
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Alex Sharp

Video of the Week

Okay, a disclaimer about this song: I found out about it from a Smash promo. You should know, I have very mixed feelings about that show. I actually stopped watching after the third episode so I wasn’t even a viewer by the time Jeremy Jordan made his entrance as Jimmy on season two. But I remember catching wind of this tune and looking into it immediately. Written by Joe Iconis, it has a great hook, haunting lyrics, and an ending that gives me chills every time.

Here is “Broadway, Here I Come!” performed by the man with the ultimate pipes, Jeremy Jordan (the song starts at 1:37).


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