No Man’s Land

No Man's Land

I try so hard with Harold Pinter. I loved studying him in school. I even wrote a “Pinteresque” one-act with my friend Sandy entitled The Bells for a class during senior year of high school (for a brief excerpt, see the end of this review). Pinter’s writing can be so funny and thought-provoking, but when I see productions, I don’t end up being as riveted as I had hoped. I understand his significance and place in theatre history, but the plays simply don’t do anything for my soul. I want to stress that this is not to say No Man’s Land is not a good production; it’s just not my taste. So please don’t let this review stop you from going to see it. The show has received rave reviews and rightly so. I think I’m just realizing that while I may appreciate Pinter, I don’t necessarily enjoy his plays.

No Man’s Land might be the one to see though, especially when you’ve got A-list actors like Ian McKellen and Sir Patrick Stewart sharing the stage. It’s pretty grand being in the same room with both of them. Their presence alone is effective. They can hold a room with no words at all, and the cast is nicely rounded out by the younger fellows, Billy Crudup and Shuler Hensley. But don’t expect to go, sit back, and let them do all the work – Pinter expects you to pay attention. There is so much subtext and double-meaning and subtlety to sift through in his language it can take up to 15 seconds to catch on to the fact that a joke was just made.

This production is currently playing at the Cort Theatre in rep with Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. The similarities between the plays are clear: there is a sense of isolation for these characters and feeling trapped in both pieces. And the audience must work hard to understand the given circumstances. In No Man’s Land, we wonder what these men’s relationships are. Where are we? Why are we here? What should we take away from this experience? Whatever you do, don’t expect clear answers. You might finish Act One with an idea about who these folks are and their relationship to each other, but then Act Two turns any semblance of an idea you once had on its head. All of a sudden you have to adapt to entirely new information. And then, for me anyway, the “plot” basically falls off any kind of trackable course. You can try your best to make it make sense, searching for linear storylines and/or relationships, but I think you’ll just end up more confused. As director Sean Mathias explains, “Pinter isn’t saying what he necessarily means or meaning what you might like to believe. Like Godot, No Man’s Land is a game of memory, of time elapsed and elapsing; dealing with things abstracted, ideas and not realities.” 

If you’re interested in seeing iconic actors and an iconic playwright then definitely check it out, or if you’d prefer, you can wait for Godot with me. Personally, I am more excited for Beckett’s classic, although my younger self would never have believed that statement, given that the first time I saw the play I was so angry with how much time I’d wasted waiting for this jack-ass Godot. But – that was before I studied the play with the brilliant Dr. Coppa at Muhlenberg College. You know, perhaps that’s what I need to fully understand and enjoy Pinter’s work, too. I just need to go back to class. 

Update 4/26/16: This production is transferring to London this summer. You can find more information here.

No Man’s Land
Written by Harold Pinter, Directed by Sean Mathias
Cort Theatre through March 30th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart

And now, what you’ve all been waiting for…an (incredibly brief) excerpt from The Bells:

Cecil:   Did you change your hair?
Raine:  What?
Cecil:   Your hair- is it different?
Raine:  No.
Cecil:   You seem different. Are you sure?
Raine:  Yes…I did…nothing to my hair.


Richard III

Richard III

Have I mentioned Mark Rylance is amazing?

On January 2nd during snowstorm Hercules, I sat in the Belasco Theatre once more to see Twelfth Night‘s counterpart, Richard III – the other all-male Shakespeare production playing in rep until February 16th. For my Twelfth Night review and more details of Mark Rylance’s brilliance, click here.

What’s fantastic about Rylance’s Richard III is the way he draws in the audience, the way he shares his secrets with us. He confides in us from the opening moments, and we therefore root for him. We cheer him on throughout his bloody tirades, and we laugh with him as he manipulates everyone around him. We feel smarter and superior alongside him because we are “in the know.” We root for him until he no longer roots for himself. As Richard loses his swagger and falls into a kind of guilty despair (or insanity), we are left wondering what happened to the man who once strutted across the stage with such confidence and vigor. The other noticeable trait of this Richard is his sincerity with his fellow characters. In this brief New York Magazine interview, Rylance talks about not playing the obvious evil or falsehood that is largely associated with Richard but rather being as genuine as possible when in the company of others. Why make the other characters fools? Instead they can fully trust this man right up until he betrays them. What it comes down to is that you should go see anything Mark Rylance does. Anything.

That said, I will say that this production didn’t strike me the way Twelfth Night did. I found myself conscious of the staging/blocking in a way that never even crossed my mind during the ever-flowing Twelfth. And Richard may be five minutes shorter, but it felt longer. It drags more than I’d like, and I was so angry with myself for being bored. Note: this mostly happened whenever Rylance left the stage.

I also wanted much more from Lady Anne (the actor doubles as Sebastian). He felt very one-note to me, particular during his big scene with Richard. Now, this is an epically hard scene, and anyone who has ever played the role, whether in acting class or a full production, knows the challenges it brings. Anne is grieving at her father-in-law’s funeral when she is approached by Richard who killed both her father-in-law and her husband. Over the course of a five-minute scene, Dick convinces her to marry him (!). It’s insane to play. She has to journey through so many emotions to get to this point: hatred, disgust, betrayal, desperation, surrender, love, [insert additional acting choice here]. But this Anne yelled for most of the scene, and I was quite disappointed.

Samuel Barnett as Queen Elizabeth, on the other hand, once again impressed me. I very much enjoyed his Viola in Twelfth, and I loved seeing him play a statuesque queen this time around. There is an extremely challenging scene in Act II between Elizabeth and Richard, and it was so fantastic. The verbal swordplay and push and pull between these two actors was simply enticing. Elizabeth is an excellent match for Richard, perhaps the only real match to his wit, and Richard knows it. In their final exchange, Elizabeth stole the power back, and upon her exit, the audience cheered for her. And ohhh man, the look we got from Richard was unreal. He stared out at us with eyes of daggers, and it was clear we were no longer his friends. In fact, we may be next on his list.

Richard III
Written by William Shakespeare, Directed by Tim Carroll
Belasco Theatre through February 16th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Mark Rylance

Twelfth Night

Twelfth Night
I’m honestly tempted to have this review simply state: what an effin’ blast…but I have too many other things to say.

This is how it’s done people. What a delight this production is. Brought over from Shakespeare’s Globe, Twelfth Night is in rep with Richard III through February. Both productions are being presented in the original Elizabethan style. There is on-stage seating resembling the levels of the Globe, period costumes and corsets, and most noticeably, an all-male cast. And although I haven’t seen Richard yet (review to come in January), I have a hunch that if it’s anything like Twelfth Night, neither is to be missed this Broadway season.

My good friend Courtney was my theatre pal for the evening. Oh! Would you look at that? She also happens to have a kick-ass blog! Anyway, we haven’t stopped talking about the show. The actors are excellent across the board and are a hoot to watch because it’s clear they’re having so much fun. And after sitting through Macbeth a few weeks ago listening to actors who don’t have a handle on the language, what a pleasure it is to hear Shakespeare’s words spoken the way they were meant to be spoken. Every single person up on that stage knows what they are doing, and as a result, every single word is brought to life. The poetry pours out of the lines, and there is a sense of great clarity surrounding each scene. Guys, even Ben Brantley and I agree: “They let the language lead them to the characters. Because they know what they’re saying — and where what they’re saying comes from — we do, too.” If I had to pick from his entire canon, I would say Twelfth Night is my favorite Shakespeare play. I’ve seen three different productions (including Shakespeare in the Park and the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon), plus the film, and even so, I still heard lines in new ways. I got to discover the comedy and wit of this piece all over again.

And don’t even get me started on Mark Rylance. This man, I mean, I can barely talk about it. Ever since I first laid eyes on his work in the farce Boeing Boeing, for which he won a Tony Award and gave THIS brilliant acceptance speech, I have not missed a show of his in New York. He starred in Le Bête and Jerusalem (for which he won his second Tony), and now he is back for these two Shakespeare plays. I look forward to seeing his Richard in January; in Twelfth, he takes on the beautiful, somber yet sassy Olivia.

Watching Mark Rylance is the equivalent of taking an acting class (read a great Q&A here). Never have I seen an actor discover on the line more. For you non-theatre folk out there, in Shakespeare, actors are encouraged to discover/have the new thought/get the idea/change tactics as they speak (“on the line”). However, many actors react and then speak when in fact the words are there to help them. Every word that comes out of Rylance’s mouth is a true discovery. It is so clear that you can catch shifts within him from syllable to syllable. Each moment is a surprise for him and therefore us. Okay, okay, I’ll stop gushing now. Go see him.

What more is there to say really? I could bore you with details or recap the story, but I don’t think it’s necessary. What counts is that Courtney and I were equally blown away (along with everyone else I’ve talked to). The direction is effortless and the acting organic. The characters and inner-relationships are incredibly well-developed. And it may have a running time of 2 hours and 50 minutes, but it never feels like it.

Oh, and those of you out there afraid of Shakespeare plays for fear that you won’t understand, this is the one to see. Billy would be proud.

Twelfe Night, Or What You Will
Written by William Shakespeare, Directed by Tim Carroll
Belasco Theatre through February 16th
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus
Pictured: Samuel Barnett and Mark Rylance