Corrections or additions?
This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the March 3, 2004
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
New York Review: ‘Valhalla’
In Paul Rudnick’s often hilarious, if more often deliberately batty,
new comedy "Valhalla," both Ludwig (Peter Frechette), the (so-called)
Mad King of Bavaria and James (Sean Dugan), an equally out-of-control
Texan in the mid-1930s, have a lot in common. They both share an
insatiable lust for all things bright and beautiful and, for starters,
a crystal swan.
"I must have it," says James, who feels obliged to take what he wants,
be it objet d’art or sexual object. As for Ludwig, if he doesn’t have
it already, he’s prepared to build it.
Both Ludwig and James, whom we first meet when they are each 10 years
old, are given equal attention and value as they mature (to use the
term loosely) into manhood (even more loosely) through the course of
the play. Their mutually excessive and recklessly indulgent lives may
be happening a century apart but they get to share a stage that
provides no boundaries of taste, time, or temperament.
The sinfully funny Rudnick, author of such comedic flights of fancy
for the stage as "I Hate Hamlet," "Jeffrey," "The Most Fabulous Story
Ever Told," and screenplays for "In and Out" and the
soon-to-be-released "Stepford Wives," has gone willfully over the top
to support Ludwig’s opening words – "I’m out of my mind" – a fact that
the good citizens of 19th century Bavaria are rather slow or more
likely reluctant to recognize. Ludwig began his rule at the age of 18
and was removed after 20 years for reasons that are more gleefully
revealed by Rudnick than by the history books.
Like Ludwig, whose chief folly, as observed through his encounters of
the queerest kind, is rampant self-indulgence and a disdain for
society’s rules and restraints, James similarly is inclined to flaunt
his alienation, but also to validate his life of thievery and lust, in
particular his pursuit and eventual seduction of Henry Lee Stafford
(Scott Barrow), his closeted boyhood friend. James also manages to
humiliate on numerous occasions the conspicuously loopy if
incredulously loyal females in his life.
The rest of the cast hardly takes a back seat to Frechette’s
feverishly strung out Ludwig and Dugan’s incorrigible James. Candy
Buckley’s sardonic and wacky turns as the mother of both James and
Ludwig, and as a Jewish tour guide at Ludwig’s castle are in league
with the caricaturing ascribed to Samantha Soulle, as the dippy and
deluded Sally, James’ much maligned and betrayed girlfriend, and as a
string of wannabe consorts, one of whom is played with grotesque
aplomb by a mustached Jack Willis, who also doubles in supporting
For a while one may not know where the play is going, as the
adventures of Ludwig and James alternate and overlap, vying for the
honor to top the other in non-conformity and outrageousness. The
dialogue is mostly comprised of jokes and their setups. Funny, rude
and ribald as the jokes are, they seem to drive the plot more than the
The queen (telling Ludwig about his grandfather) "ran off with Lola
and the nation was outraged. He refused to give her up, he spent
millions, and finally – he was forced to do something horrible.
Something unthinkable. Something that no king, of any country, should
ever do." Ludwig: "His own laundry? The plot, if one can call it that,
has as much to do with Rudnick’s fling with flamboyance, at the
expense of a real story, as it does with either Ludwig or James’ quest
for self-fulfillment, at the expense of society and their sanity, what
there is left of it.
The thread of James and Henry Lee’s on-again, off-again romance
reaches a poignant climax at Ludwig’s castle where, as soldiers, in
the midst of (use your imagination) opulence (Thomas Lynch’s scenic
designs are inclined toward minimalism); they cannot contain or
restrain their passion. Alas, Ludwig’s affair with the humpback
princess isn’t as hot as his passion for either Wagnerian opera or for
building his extravagant break the bank of Bavaria castles.
It is up to master costume designer William Ivey Long to supply the
visual extravagance, much of which is created for comic effect.
Christopher Ashley’s direction is to be commended for its ability to
juggle and support the non-stop inanities and keep the wobbly
structure of the play from crumbling before our eyes. While we might
appreciate Rudnick giving a platform for his love of wild abandon,
there comes the moment when we have the right to ask, Where is he
leading us? Astray, of course. So follow, directly, without stopping,
to the New York Theater Workshop. HHH
– Simon Saltzman
Valhalla, New York Theater Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, New York.
$60. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.
The key: HHHH Don’t miss; HHH You won’t feel cheated; HH Maybe you
should have stayed home; H Don’t blame us.
Aida H Palace, Broadway & 47, 212-307-4747.
Avenue Q HHHH Golden, 252 West 45. New musical moves up from
Beauty and the Beast, Lunt-Fontanne, Broadway & 46. Ticketmaster.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof HH Music Box, 239 West 45. Stars Ashley Judd,
Jason Patric, Ned Beatty.
Chicago HHHH Ambassador, 219 West 49.
Drowning Crow, Biltmore, 261 West 47. By Regina Taylor.
Fiddler on the Roof, Minskoff, 200 West 45.
42nd Street HHHH Ford Center, 213 West 42.
Golda’s Balcony HHH Helen Hayes, 240 West 44. Tovah Feldshuh.
Gypsy HH Shubert, 225 West 44. Bernadette Peters. Scheduled to ends
February 28, more ticket sales and concessions from "everyone working
on the show," will keep the show running.
Hairspray HHH Neil Simon, 250 West 52. Ticketmaster. Winner of eight
I Am My Own Wife HHH Lyceum Theater, 149 West 45. Jefferson Mays in
Doug Wright drama.
King Lear, Vivian Beaumont, 150 West 65, Lincoln Center. Directed by
Little Shop of Horrors HHH Virginia, 245 West 52.
Mama Mia! HHH Winter Garden, 1634 Broadway. The Abba hit musical.
Movin’ Out HHH Richard Rodgers, 226 West 46, 212-307-4100. Tony winner
for Twyla Tharp and Billy Joel.
Rent HHHH Nederlander, 208 West 41. Ticketmaster. By Jonathan Larson.
The Boy From Oz HH Imperial, 249 West 45. Stars Hugh Jackman.
The Lion King HHHH New Amsterdam, Broadway & 42, 212-307-4747.
The Phantom of the Opera HHH Majestic, 247 West 44.
The Producers HHHH St. James, 246 West 44. Winner of 12 Tonys. Matthew
Broderick and Nathan Lane: 212-563-2929.
Thoroughly Modern Millie HH Marquis, Broadway & 46. Ticketmaster.
Twentieth Century, Roundabout at American Airlines, 227 West 42,
212-719-1300. Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche. Previews.
Wicked HHH Gershwin, 222 West 51. Ticketmaster. Updated Oz musical
stars Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel.
Wonderful Town HHH Al Hirschfeld, 302 West 45.
A Stoop on Orchard Street, Mazer, 197 East Broadway, 866-468-7619.
Addicted, Zipper, 336 West 37. Mark Lundholm comedy. Extended.
Aunt Dan and Lemon HHH Theatre Row, 410 West 42. By Wallace Shawn. To
Big Bill, Mitzi Newhouse, Lincoln Center. A.R. Gurney directed by Mark
Lamos. To May 16.
Blue Man Group HHHH Astor Place, 434 Lafayette, 212-254-4370.
Bridge & Tunnel, 45 Bleecker Theater. Ticketmaster. Sarah Jones’
Bug, Barrow Street Theater at 7 Avenue. New play by Tracy Letts.
Cookin’, Minetta Lane, 18 Minetta Lane, 212-420-8000.
De La Guarda H Daryl Roth, 20 Union Square East. Extended.Eden, Irish
Repertory, 132 West 22. To March 21.
Embedded, Public, 425 Lafayette. Written and directed by Tim Robbins.
Fame, Little Shubert, 442 West 42.
Forbidden Broadway, Douglas Fairbanks, 432 West 42.
Frozen, MCCC Theater at 136 East 13. Swoosie Kurt.
I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change HH, Westside, 407 West 43.
Johnny Guitar, Century Center, 111 East 15. Based on the Joan Crawford
King Cowboy Rufus Rules the Universe, Ontological-Hysteric Theater at
St. Mark’s Church, 131 East 10 Street, 212-533-4650.
Menopause, the Musical, Playhouse 91, 316 East 91, 212-831-2000.
Ministry of Progress, Jane Street, 113 Jane. Rock musical. Previews.
Our Sinatra, Birdland, 315 West 44. To March 21.
Roulette HH John Houseman, 450 West 42.
Sea of Tranquility, Atlantic, 336 West 20.
Small Tragedy, Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42. To March 28.
Stomp HHHH Orpheum, Second Avenue at 8. Ticketmaster.
The Exonerated, 45 Bleeker. Ticketmaster. 2003 Drama Desk Award.
Closes March 7.
The Stendhal Syndrome HHH Primary Stages at 59 East 59. By Terrence
Wintertime, Second Stage, 307 West 43. Charles Mee, as seen at
– Simon Saltzman
Unless otherwise noted, all Broadway and Off-Broadway reservations can
be made through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.
Other ticket outlets: Ticket Central, 212-279-4200; Ticketmaster,
800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.
For current information on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music, and
dance call NYC/On Stage at 212-768-1818, a 24-hour performing arts
hotline operated by the Theater Development Fund. The TKTS same-day,
half-price ticket booth at Times Square (Broadway & 47) is open daily,
3 p.m. to 8 p.m. for evening performances; 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for
Wednesday and Saturday matinees; and 11 a.m. to closing for Sunday
matinees. Cash or Travelers Checks only; no credit cards. Visit TKTS
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