Review: `Everett Beekin’

Review: `Noises Off’

Corrections or additions?

This article by Simon Saltzman

was prepared for the December 19, 2001 edition

of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

2001: The Attack on Broadway

The events of the last quarter of 2001 not only defined

the year for the nation but also for Broadway. Looking beyond the

immediate aftermath of September 11, when the theaters were dark,

Broadway has, despite the economic downturn, rebounded. It currently

reports only a five percent drop in attendance from last year’s record

box office.

Thus, as the year comes to a close, we have much to be thankful for.

While it is true that tourism is down by more than 50 percent, a

recent

study by the League of American Theaters and Producers indicates that

there has been a comparable increase of 50 percent in the number of

New Yorkers and New York area residents at the theaters. In fact,

the bridge and tunnel crowd has increased by an impressive 16 percent.

Another figure to encourage last-minute ticket buyers is that 50

percent

of all Broadway tickets were being purchased within a week of

attendance.

Going by past precedent, theatergoing has always increased during

times of depression and recession. Unfortunately, Off-Broadway shows

and the smaller theater companies below 14th Street have had a much

harder time attracting audiences. Nevertheless, based on my recent

visits to theaters, large and small, uptown and downtown, it is

obvious

that people want to be together, to attend live theater together.

So what gift could be better than a gift of Broadway for the holidays?

One way to give is through a gift certificate for tickets to a

Broadway

show via the Internet. Each certificate costs $105 and can be used

for as many tickets as can be bought for that price. The certificates

can be sent to you or the recipient by e-mail or by regular mail.

To order, go to www.broadway.com

Among shows currently running on and off Broadway that I can recommend

many can be found discounted, (25 to 50 percent off), to be used only

on the day of purchase, at the TKTS booth at Duffy Square (46th Street

and Broadway). Matinee tickets go on sale at noon, and evening tickets

at 3 p.m.

So if you can’t get tickets to "The Lion King," don’t forget

the other long running Disney musical "Beauty and the Beast"

for pleasurable holiday entertainment. You also can’t go wrong with

the splendid revivals of "42nd Street," "Chicago,"

"Kiss Me Kate," and "The Music Man." Families with

teenagers and above will not be disappointed with the gloriously

danced

"Contact," the still gripping "Cabaret," and the rock

music charged "Rent" and "Rocky Horror Show." "The

Full Monty" continues to give its many voyeurs a charge.

Straight plays that offer a fair share of laughs include "Noises

Off," and "The Tale of the Allergist’s Wife." Solid

rewarding

dramas include two classic dramas "Hedda Gabber" and

"Dance

of Death," plus the 2001 Pulitzer Prize-winner, "Proof."

Among my personal favorites (don’t be put off by the title) is

"Urinetown,"

a riotously funny satire. There’s also the wickedly hilarious and

successful show "The Producers." On the night I saw "The

Producers," there was an empty seat between me and a woman in

the next seat. She turned to me apologetically to say, "I know.

It’s a shame, but my husband couldn’t make it." I asked her why

she didn’t bring a friend. She answered, "She decided to go to

a funeral instead." I asked who’s funeral. Her answer: "My

husband’s."

Recommended Off-Broadway shows include, the Irish Repertory’s "The

Streets of New York," a delightful family musical based on the

19th-century play by Dion Bousicault; the long-running performance

piece "Blue Man Group," and the sound and rhythm-propelled

"Stomp;" the dynamic "Elaine Stritch: At Liberty,"

and Mary Zimmerman’s magical staging of Ovid’s

"Metamorphoses."

A stunning production of "Othello," at the Public Theater

and a memorable musical by "Rent" composer Jonathan Larson,

"Tick tick Boom!," are also must-sees. Happy Holidays.

Top Of Page
Review: `Everett Beekin’

If there are skeletons to be found in a family’s closet

you can count on Richard Greenberg to exhume them. Two of his many

excellent plays, the Pulitzer Prize-nominated "Three Days of

Rain,"

and "Safe as Houses" (that had its world premiere at the

McCarter

Theater in March 1998), are notable for their generation-bridging

tremors and traumas.

With the new "Everett Beekin," Greenberg shows a concern for

the fate of a Jewish family living on the Lower East Side of Manhattan

in the 1940s. If Greenberg makes them amusing to listen to and watch

as they move from point A to point B., we are left wondering why their

lives should matter to us, and why the point and purpose of everything

they say and do seems so obscure and strangely elusive.

This family saga is hampered by not revealing anything that is either

dramatically provocative or tantalizing. A cleverly glib, fast-paced

and rather short first act introduces us to grim and grousing widow

(Marsh Jean Kurtz); her two oldest and always squabbling married

daughters,

Sophie (Robin Bartlett) and Anna (Bebe Neuwirth); Jimmy (Kevin Isola),

an unwelcome Gentile suitor, and Miri (Jennifer Carpenter) his sickly

fiancee, the third and youngest sister. Sophie’s husband Jack (Jeff

Allin) is also present for a spell but is a man of few words.

Act II jumps forward 50 years to the present. The scene is a beach

in Orange County, California. Here we see Anna’s now grownup daughters

Celia (Bartlett) and Nell (Neuwirth) carrying on a family trait of

bickering. It is on the night before Nell’s daughter Laurel’s

(Carpenter)

wedding that the connection that ties the long dead Aunt Miri’s suitor

Jimmy to Nell’s lover Bee (Allin), who is also Laurel’s naive fiance

Ev’s (Isola) father is discovered. All this is not nearly as complex

or convoluted in the unfolding. But during the course and even at

the end of the play you may wonder why it all matters and why we

should

care.

Greenberg captures most effectively the spirit and flavor of Jewish

home life in the opening scene as well as air-headed flavor of

youthful

California-speak. Kurtz (who also plays a waitress in Act II) is

terrific

in Act I, as she redirects the hate she has for her husband toward

Jimmy just because he is a Gentile. Bartlett is effective as the more

cynical Sophie in Act I and the more embittered and jaded Celia in

the present. As Anna, Neuwirth is compliant yet sassy. This, in

contrast

to being amusingly affected, as the well-heeled Nell. Isola get points

as the determined young suitor in Act I, whose plan is to take the

ailing Miri (Jennifer Carpenter) with him to Orange County, California

and get married. Jimmy has big plans to go into a pharmaceutical

business

partnership with (the unseen) Everett Beekin. While harboring no hate,

the gently sparring Sophie and Anna are keen on exercising their

doubts

and their curiosity with this appealing goy.

There is a flippant and funny side to the friendly war between Sophie,

who has been unable to conceive and Anna who is three months pregnant

and their belief that the bedridden Miri is not sick but avoiding

them. Ma, whose idiosyncrasies include washing and drying all money

that comes into her hands, gives her hands another workout when she

physically assaults Jimmy in a rather farcical manner.

The sisters do their best to be supportive of the firmly committed

Jimmy. There is a touch of soap opera in evidence here to the extent

that the relationships and the events being tied together are

convoluted

but are also vague and even made rather inconsequential with time.

It is to Greenberg’s credit that we stay curious about the characters

hoping that they will all somehow make us care and possibly ponder

how the fickle finger of fate directed and determined the paths their

lives would take. It doesn’t quite happen that way. Except for the

excellent acting by everyone and Evan Yionoulis’ savvy direction,

the prescribed course seems both over contrived and under explored

making the resolve unsatisfying. Set designer Christopher Barreca’s

1940s kitchen has the cooked-in look while his Pacific Ocean setting

has a nicely abstracted living near it look. Kudos to Teresa

Snider-Stein’s

costumes that jump the decades from frumpy to fantastic with flair

to spare. Two stars. Maybe you should have stayed home.

— Simon Saltzman

Everett Beekin, Mitzi Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center,

66th & Broadway For tickets call 212-362-7600. Runs through January

6.

Top Of Page
Review: `Noises Off’

There is comedy and chaos aplenty on the stage of the

Grand Theater in Weston-super-Mare, England. It is in Michael Frayn’s

meticulously crafted farce "Noises Off" that we are

transported

across the sea for a look in at the rehearsal of a sex farce called

"Nothing On." Here a second-rate (to give them more credit

than they deserve) troupe of actors is attempting, during a final

frantic dress rehearsal, to tie up the loose ends (too many to list

here) before curtain time. Helping them do just that is Lloyd Dallas

(played with a hilariously tortured countenance by Peter Gallagher).

That you may have seen this classic antic-filled comedy before is

not necessarily to have seen it at its best. Jeremy Sams’ staging,

that had a great success earlier this year in London, is a welcome

addition to the Broadway line-up. Forgive me if I feel it still isn’t

the uproarious entertainment that its premise suggests. However, we

can only put some of the blame for any lapses of fun on this mostly

expert company of farceurs.

If you do survive the test of a rather tedious first act, comical

rewards do eventually appear. The play’s plodding exposition is

purposely

designed to prepare us for the remaining two acts (now mercifully

played without an additional intermission).

In Act II, the play’s action moves on to the company’s next stop on

its provincial tour, viewed from a backstage perspective. Animosities,

hurt feelings, misunderstandings, and a general disregard for their

performing art become, for Frayn’s inane characters, a zany excuse

for a silent-movie-style charade of pratfalls, booby traps, and

cleverly

executed sight gags that spill over directly to the performance in

progress. As you might expect, innumerable bedroom, closet, and other

extraneous doors — all with either faulty knobs, latches, or

hinges

— are the attention-grabbing elements in designer Robert Jones’

ingeniously made-for-travelling set. But you’ll want to keep both

eyes fixed on the inevitable appearance and disappearance of naughty

lingerie and fallen trousers, the split-second entrances and exits,

as well as missed cues and misplaced props.

Not to be upstaged is an increasingly menacing plate of sardines,

a treacherous cactus plant, and an almost animated telephone receiver,

that have all been called into service. The fun of this type of farce

is to watch the ingenuity of a company hell bent on a kamikaze course,

while we, the audience, having almost memorized by this time the one-

and two-syllable script, respond predictably to the utter confusion.

Out to get each other short of murder most foul, the troupe in Act

III is about to give a Wednesday matinee during the last leg of its

tour. As members of the audience at the Municipal Theater,

Stockton-on-Ties,

we finally get to see a "regular" performance of "Nothing

On," as it hurtles toward self-destruction.

As was evidenced in the recent Royal National Theatre production,

Sams’ direction makes as much (non)sense out of the seemingly, but

obviously not, senseless script, as can be expected. From my

perspective,

his detailed staging is only compromised by one less than stellar

performance. As Dotty Otley, the troupe’s producer who is concurrently

playing the role of a maid and having an affair with the juvenile

lead, Patti Lupone is, while visibly a bundle of insecurities and

audience-pandering posing, is also for the most part unintelligible.

Tackling their backstage flings with more rib-tickling flair are

Thomas

McCarthy as Garry Lejeune, Dotty’s romantic interest, who can’t

complete

a thought or a sentence; Katie Finneran, as Brooke Ashton, the

director’s

ditsy girlfriend, who drops her dress as frequently as her contact

lenses; and Robin Weigert, as Poppy Norton-Taylor, the harried stage

manager and director’s ex-love interest. T.R. Knight is particularly

endearing as Tim Algood, the terminally nonplused, put-upon assistant

stage manager cum understudy.

Alternately hitting and missing their full comic potential are Edward

Hibbert, as the dimwitted Frederick Fellow, who keeps insisting on

plausible motivations for his character; Faith Prince, as Belinda

Blair, the company troublemaker (like it needed one); and Richard

Easton, the alcoholic old trouper, who wanders through the action

with dazed senile assurance. If in the end, the show’s set appears

sturdier than the farce it supports, "Noises Off" is well

propelled by enough silly goings on to help you carry on. Two stars.

Maybe you

should have stayed home.

— Simon Saltzman

Noises Off, Brooks Atkinson Theater, New York. $40 to

$75. Ticketmaster, 800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.


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