`Enchanted April’

New York review: `The Daughter-In-Law’

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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the August 6, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

New York Reviews: `Henry V’

There has always been something special about being

able to see the Belvedere Castle looming in the distance from your

seat in the Delacorte Theater in Central Park. It is an especially

appropriate sight when seeing one of Shakespeare’s history plays.

Director Mark Wing-Davey’s stirring, politically savvy staging of

"Henry V" for the Public Theater Shakespeare in the Park (through

August 9) allows us to process, as expected, English history at its

most perilously imperialistic as well as our own country’s current

mission.

It is easy to understand how Laurence Olivier’s film adaptation was

admired for its patriotic zeal during the height of World War II,

and equally extolled more recently in Kenneth Branagh’s film version

for the playing up Henry as an impetuous imperialist. The inherent

ironies and the true meanings (if any exist) behind the double standard

speechifying seem to peak and ebb depending less on interpretations

than with the audience in attendance.

Find topical relevance as you may, but you might want to just sit

back and enjoy Wing Davey’s basically unthreatening (to either the

left or right wing) vision that finds a way to embrace as many centuries

as it does fashions and trends. Despite its three-hour length, you

won’t find a finer American actor to keep you enthralled than Liev

Schreiber, in the title role. It takes an actor of Schreiber’s resources,

most specifically his ability to speak the language with conviction,

to present to us a Henry who is not only a lovable liar and fraud

but a duplicitous schemer and savior, as well.

Of course, it is almost impossible to watch this play and not see

our own country and its president reflected in the course of the action.

The play, in which the success of a reckless young king, who, trying

to follow in the footsteps of his father, is eager to assure his court

of his ability to lead, will undoubtedly be seen by some as a parallel

to Bush and his administrative team. Forget the play’s eerie reminder

of how Henry may not even be the legitimate heir, the opening scene,

in which the king, keenly aware of the pressing and troublesome religious,

social and economic issues at hand, shrewdly uses war against France

as a diversionary tactic, are especially prescient.

But Wing-Davey’s approach is neither heavy-handed nor does it appear

to take a stand on whether Henry was as divinely inspired as Saint

Joan or merely buoyed his own vainglorious self-determination. If

Shakespeare purposely doesn’t make it crystal clear, why should Wing-Davey

or for that matter Schreiber, who in this case gives a performance

that resonates as a brilliantly balanced contradiction of rhetorical

bluster and self-effacing heroism.

The visually arresting setting, where in an instant a bloody battlefield

becomes a swimming pool for the condescending French at leisure, is

mostly, however, row upon row of gilt chairs, often overturned and

in piles, through the invention of designer Mark Wendland.

There are many fine performances on both sides of the breech, including

Ryan Shively, as the impudent Dauphin and Bronson Pinchot, as the

comical camp follower Pistol. The risque French lesson between coy

Princess Katherine (Nicole Leach) and Alice (Mercedes Herrero), her

lady-in-waiting, is charming. Herrero also doubles humorously as Pistol’s

lusty wife Mistress Quickly. But it isn’t the comical humor that lingers

on in "Henry V," but rather the incongruous humors of this

by-war-possessed king. HHH

— Simon Saltzman

Henry V through August 9. Free Shakespeare in Central

Park. Free tickets may be picked up beginning at 1 p.m. only on the

day of performance at the Delacorte Theater in Central Park, or at

the Public Theater, at 425 Lafayette Street. Call 212-539-8750.

Top Of Page
`Enchanted April’

You have to hand it to young playwright Matthew Barber

for having the brass to write a new play that gives every indication

that it was written in 1922. Notwithstanding the fact that he has

affectionately adapted the 1922 novel of the same name by Elizabeth

von Arnim, which was previously adapted into two films: an insignificant

one in 1935 with Ann Harding and again more sumptuously in 1992 with

Joan Plowwright and Miranda Richardson, the playwright, who is making

his Broadway debut, has brought back what was known for years as the

ladies’ Wednesday matinee play.

This is not to say that gentlemen will not enjoy the bittersweet sentiments

and uplifting resolution that give sum and substance to the lives

of four Englishwomen who are renewed and refreshed by a springtime

sojourn to an Italian castle. Bedecked with wisteria blossoms, bathed

in sunlight, and hosted by the castle’s charming owner and the ever

present grousing maid, the Tuscany setting of Act II is as enchanting

as is the premise and the performances.

But first there is the dark and dreary London with which we and the

play’s heroines have to contend. By chance, Lotty Wilton (Jayne Atkinson)

and Rose Arnott (Molly Ringwald) read and respond with similar interest

to same advertisement. Though they do not know each other socially,

they belong to the same women’s club and see each other at church.

But, they are agreed, after a little commiserating, that getting away

from their respective husbands would not be a bad thing. As Lotty’s

husband Mellerish (Michael Cumpsty) is an arrogant condescending solicitor,

and Rose’s husband Frederick (Daniel Gerroll) is a writer of historical

romance novels and a bit of a scoundrel, they establish a bond that

is soon shared by the arrival of two more women co-renters.

There is the haughty Mrs. Graves (Elizabeth Ashley), whose overbearing

stiff-necked countenance is at once a hoot, and Lady Caroline (Dagmara

Dominczyk), a bored playgirl, who we find out has been carrying on

a flirtation with one of husbands. Yes, the husbands do find their

way to the retreat. But this doesn’t happen before the genuinely solicitous

and attractive landlord Antony Wilding (Michael Hayden), who is delighted

to be able to rent his old family home, has had a chance to shower

Lotty and Rose with many niceties, including those provided with humorous

dispatch by the barely agreeable housekeeper Constanza (Patricia Conolly).

A constant flow of humor is derived from the inability of the women

to speak any Italian and the housekeeper’s inability to speak any

English. Dealing with the bossy Mrs. Graves provides some amusing

moments, as much of a challenge at the start of the play as does the

unexpected arrival of Mellerish and Frederick at the end. Atkinson

is quite touching, as the pivotal emotional center of the play. I

thought Ringwald was a delight. Jane Adams (whom I have not seen)

is now playing her role.

As expected, Ashley presides with haute grandeur over the proceedings.

Cumpsty shows his comic mettle and exposes more than that in a hilarious

scene involving a broken hot water heater. Gerroll is excellent as

the rover who discovers that his passion is really closer to home

than he thought. And it’s as much fun to watch the especially winning

Hayden become an increasingly romanticized object as it is to see

the atypically cast Conolly becomes increasingly endearing. "Enchanted

April," has all the ingredients of a restorative. Whether or not

you are in the market for it, you have to decide. I had a lovely time.

HHH

— Simon Saltzman

Enchanted April, Belasco Theater, 111 West 44th Street,

New York. $45 to $80.

Top Of Page
New York review: `The Daughter-In-Law’

The Daughter-in-Law" by D.H. Lawrence could be called

the classic trunk play. It remained unknown to all but sleuths of

dramatic literature until 1965 when the first complete edition of

Lawrence’s plays first saw light of publication. Most trunk plays

are not very good. This one is surprisingly good, if not great.

Londoners have already had the privilege of seeing this play that

Lawrence wrote in 1913 when he was still a schoolteacher in Croydon.

It was probably written just prior to his most famous novel, "Sons

and Lovers." It is a treat to see a rediscovered play that confronts

similar social issues as the novel. It has been given an attentive,

respectful production by the Mint Theater, under the caring direction

of Martin L. Platt. Platt deserves high praise, as does the excellent

company. The play is clearly motivated by the sociological underpinnings

that existed during the time of a major coal miners strike. But more

specifically, the play deals with the emotional and economic turmoil

within a mining family in a small Nottinghamshire mining town, similar

to the region where Lawrence grew up.

It had to be a chore for the actors to master, as well

as they do, the play’s dense Eastwood dialect that amazingly becomes

easier to understand as the play progresses (a program glossary is

of great help). Because of the fine acting, the extent to which the

psychological frailties of the characters are revealed, and the up-front

juicy scandal that gets things rolling, it is easy to prick up our

ears to it. Because Lawrence’s dramatic writing skill is so wonderfully

in evidence, we are as fascinated by the play’s unfamiliar vocabulary

as we are by the tension created by the two Mrs. Gascoynes. There

is a dominating mother in one home, and in the other home, an atypically

(for the time and place) educated and independent young wife.

One Mrs. G (Mikel Sarah Lambert), a miner’s widow whose silver-cord

nurturing has produced two sons with deep psychological problems,

more easily characterized by her youngest Joe (Peter Russo) as deeply

Oedipal. Minnie (Angela Reed), the other Mrs. G, has more middle-class

expectations, as she has been employed as a governess before her recent

marriage to the older son, Luther (Gareth Saxe). Her class and good

breeding are clearly exemplified by the simple neatness and prettiness

that marks her home, as well as by her tolerance and patience. She

must try to cope with Luther’s sullen, non-communicative crude ways.

The plot thickens when it is revealed by a neighbor, Mrs. Purdy (Jodie

Lynne McClintock), that her daughter is going to have Luther’s baby.

It may sound like the old corned beef and cabbage plot, but it is

stuffed with the kind of gritty, insightful writing that Lawrence

is known for. Lambert is terrific at hiding her (s)mothering behind

her protective instincts and her not-quite contained opinion of her

new daughter-in-law. Russo gives a poignant account of an emotionally

crippled grown man.

The play gets much of its juice from the fierce and troubling confrontations

between the manly but immature Luther, and the tender but resilient

Minnie. As the neighbor, McClintock puts the right "nobody’s fool"

edge on her long-winded visits. Credit the time and place atmospherics

to designers Bill Clarke (sets) and Jeff Nellis (lighting) and Holly

Poe Durbin (costumes). But I’ll give most of the credit for the "chuntering,

blortin, and bletherin" (taken from the glossary in program) to

Lawrence. HHH

— Simon Saltzman

The Daughter-in-Law Mint Theater, 311 West 43rd Street,

New York, 212-315-0231. $30.


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