In considering how to approach this review of Our Time, a Collage of Records from Williams, directed by Omar Sangare, Professor of Theatre, I came to the conclusion that it was imperative to concentrate not only on the title of the production, which seems neutral enough at first glance, but how it was described in the official announcement. As a co-production of the Williams Theatre Department and “Sondheim@90@Williams,” to honor the 90th birthday of Stephen Sondheim as an illustrious member of Williams Class of 1950[1. for which the Williams Music Department also organized a day-and-a-half symposium about the composer and his work], Our Time was presented “in celebration” of this birthday. That final phrase might lead us to expect a revue of Mr. Sondheim’s most-loved tunes with a new, student-generated book encasing them, but Our Time was nothing of the sort.
Wagner’s Ring Cycle, aka Der Ring des Nibelungen, is a complicated, four-opera series dealing with the struggles to acquire a ring that provides the power to dominate the world. Characters including a human hero, demigod woman, King of the Gods, nasty dwarf and many others are part of the action. The entire opus lasts fifteen hours and has been the source of numerous parodies.
It is both a sign of my respect and admiration for Mr. McLean's work and a bracing perspective that I should be singing the Fellowship's praises from a production I found problematic. Paradise Lost, described as "a fast-paced, witty and accessible modern retelling of John Milton’s classic story of humanity’s fall from grace written by Tom Dulack." One should also note the ambiguous phrase "inspired by John Milton." All the excellences of a Fellowship production were in full evidence—an impressive set, balancing cost-effective, but handsome material elements with gorgeous projections, and a superb cast who brought each turn, each phrase of the script into full life under Michael Parva's expert direction.
The play is a study in contrasts with the blindingly white stage vs. ripping, visceral emotions, a Medea for our time in which Jason is Lucas, who makes designer pharmaceuticals, and Medea is Anna, once a physician and successful head of the lab where both worked. Anna has been driven mad by rage, sparked by her husband’s infidelity. Rage and instability take over until she ends up destroying herself and everyone around her.
The thing about Confidence (and The Speech)—playing now at the Lion on Theater Row by way of Charlotte’s Off-Broadway, a North Carolina production group that dramatizes “authentic female experiences” as well as questions of “social injustice and inequality”—is that while the play hews seamlessly close to the company’s plainly outspoken mission, it does so without ever losing its cheerful sense of theatricality. That is to say, Confidence, by Susan Lambert Hatem, is, by turns, boisterous, feverish, audacious, and utterly playful. It is nifty and important at the same time, which is to say it’s the absolute best kind of theater.
Broadway Close Up
Merkin Hall at Kaufman Music Center
December 9, 2019
Behind the Scenes of Broadway
One of the many delights of Transformations, the final concert of this year’s Broadway Close Up series, was to hear …
In the updated, powerfully heroic and human, exquisitely mournful version of Tony Kushner’s A Bright Room Called Day, now at The Public Theater, finding a determinable, moored center is not always an easy thing to do. For one thing, the play itself, first produced in 1985, has been fiercely summoned to the present. “Things are so bad people want to do this play!” says Xillah (an endearing Jonathon Hadary), who acts as a sort of stand-in for the play’s author and who exists in the here and now, in 2019. Then there’s his counterpart, Zillah, who, according to Xillah, was the reason the original production was not entirely successful, or as she herself tells us, “I’m this author-surrogate interruptive-oppositional someone-or-other to whom the playwright neglected to give even a trace of a backstory…” Zillah (a charming Crystal-Lucas Perry) and Xilla hover over Bright Room, debating the characters’ choices and behaviors, and creating a palpable and fluid (sometimes teary, sometimes bloody) through line from the Berlin of 1931 and 1932, where the main action of the play is set, to our own country’s current, riven, portentous moment. When he first wrote Bright Room, Kushner saw parallels between the government of Ronald Reagan and Hitler’s storming of Germany’s Weimar Republic. Now, as the Public’s artistic director Oskar Eustis, who also directed Bright Room, puts it in his Playbill note, the “warnings that seemed apocalyptic in 1985 now look remarkably prescient.” Or as Zillah, nee Kushner, says, the “NAZIS ARE IN THE FUCKING STREETS.”
It may not be typical to come out of a Pinter play and have Sam Shepard on your mind. But it was Shepard—the recently deceased chronicler of a mythical but still resonant American West, whose plays used a violent poetry and choreography to tell dark, personal stories that seemed somehow to include everyone: cowboys and city people, fathers and their sons, and anybody who has ever loved not wisely but with foreboding, explosive consequences—I invoked to my companion as we exited the Jacobs Theater on 45th Street, where we had just been fortunate to witness director Jamie Lloyd’s new, bareboned revival of Pinter’s 1978 classic Betrayal.