#h#A Spanish Play#/h#
French playwright Yasmina Reza has her plays translated into English when they are performed in the U.S. by American actors. Frankly I don’t know why her most recent play to be imported, “A Spanish Play,” wasn’t performed in Spanish by French actors for all the difference it would make. I also don’t know why any language should be assigned to this tedious play about actors within a play within a play, Reza’s apparent homage to Pirandello.
However, director John Turturro (also a fine actor) has to be praised for obtaining the services of the creme de la creme of American actors — Larry Pine, Zoe Caldwell, Denis O’Hare, Linda Emond, and Katherine Borowtiz — to go through the prescribed motions and emotions, speak interminable and incredulous dialogue and otherwise demonstrate how nobly and notably they are committed to their assignments. That they are consigned to play characters who are not particularly interesting, provocative, or amusing gives them a challenge that they somehow address with consummate skill.
While the actors get to inhabit a very large almost empty space (courtesy of designer Ricardo Hernandez), the audience sits cramped in bleacher-like seats with virtually no leg room within the Classic Stage Company’s theater. Reza is apparently popular and acclaimed internationally these days. Two of her previous plays — “Art” and “Life X 3,” received some good reviews and had nice runs on Broadway and Off Broadway, also with starry casts.
American playwright David Ives recently translated Feydeau’s “A Flea in Her Ear” for Chicago Shakespeare Theater and won a Jefferson Prince Prize for New Work. We can surmise that Ives did a good job translating Reza’s French text into English, despite its sounding dull and mechanical. Ives must have felt the play was worth his time, if not necessarily ours. In this play, Reza draws a fine line between the characters the actors are playing and the actors themselves.
In “A Spanish Play,” the characters are all actors, actually a family of Spanish actors, well, almost all family, when we realize that they are stepping in and out of their roles as actors in the play even as they appear as the characters within the play. That one of the actors plays a character playing a role in “The Bulgarian Play” should make it all the more interesting, at least for the actors. To be fair, Reza’s idea is intriguing, if the execution is severely flawed.
However, before the play begins, there is a marvelous slide show in which decades of the most famous players of stage and screen are flashed in front of us. It is exhilarating. Then what happens? The slide show ends and the play begins. Who would not relish and bask in the return to the stage of four-time Tony winner Zoe Caldwell, who last delighted us in 1995 as La Divina Callas in “Master Class”? Just to see her preside over the play as Pilar, a grand Spanish actress who tries to keep the peace between her two volatile and competitive daughters, Aurelia (Emond), and Nuria (Borowitz), has its isolated rewards.
In the play within the play, Pilar is having an autumnal affair with the mellow and comforting real estate manager Fernan (Pine). Aurelia is in a state of pique because she can’t decide which of two equally atrocious dresses to wear to an awards show accompanied by an American film star (unseen). Nuria is also distressed for not having the higher profile career of her sister although she is appearing in “The Bulgarian Play.” We get a mercifully short scene from that one, as well. Nuria is mostly distressed, however, at the behavior of Mariano (O’Hare) her alcoholic husband, a math teacher who is, nevertheless, happily getting smashed as he chews up the scenery to our delight. Actually there is no scenery to speak of. Nevertheless, the always astonishing O’Hare knows what he is doing.
“The Spanish Play” premiered in Paris, where I understand Reza is not as revered as she is elsewhere, including several other European countries and in Canada, where this play has already been performed I presume by some really excellent actors. The real question is: Did any of their audiences have leg room? H
“A Spanish Play,” through Sunday, March 4, Classic Stage Company, 136 E. 13th Street. $70 to $75. 212-352-3101.
#h#The Voysey Inheritance#/h#
One of the more bracing pleasures of the Off-Broadway season is the revival of British playwright Harley Granville Barker’s 1905 play “The Voysey Inheritance,” about a well-to-do family of investment bankers who are suddenly facing ruin as a result of their unscrupulous and unethical business practices accumulating over generations.
The play focuses on those family members who are both primarily as well as unwittingly involved and have to carry on. The prospect of financial ruin and social disgrace is at hand. This is the core of this engrossing play, as masterfully adapted by David Mamet. Whether credit should be divided equally between Barker’s timeless theme and Mamet’s respectful regard for it, it is hard to say, in light of Mamet’s meticulous tinkering, the play barely shows its age. The production, under David Warren’s skilled direction, is a gem and has been elegantly staged at the Atlantic Theater Company (Mamet’s home base). Without a weak link in a cast led by Michael Stuhlbarg and Fritz Weaver, this rarely produced play exceeds all expectations.
The talented designer Derek McLane has also contributed to this highly dramatic and enjoyable experience by creating a luxurious and evocative library setting, the elegant furnishings and heavy velvet draperies competing for attention with the numerous portraits of prominent Voyseys that adorn the walls. One can almost feel how the actors are responding to the richness and detail of the costumes that designer Gregory Gale has provided to insure that they (we) don’t forget how money speaks.
It comes as a shock to Edward Voysey (Stuhlbarg) to learn that the financial records of the family’s London-based firm, Voysey and Son, are far from accurate, indeed, purposely mismanaged. The firm led by the family patriarch, Mr. Voysey (Weaver), has been funneling his client’s money and securities into the family’s own accounts for years. With the discovery, Edward finds it a moral imperative to break the news to the apparently in the dark family members and to let them know that they cannot go on living in the style to which they have become accustomed. Their lives will not only be greatly changed but also the principal partners may very well be charged and subject to arrest unless some serious corrections are made.
In paring down the play to two acts, cutting out some minor characters, but also respectfully re-writing some of Barker’s fussy dialogue, Mamet essentially pulls the play into the 21st century without losing any of its Victorian moorings. And who cannot think of Enron and other corporations as Voysey and Sons appears destined to implode. And who will not be amused and stunned by one of the embezzled clients, a long-time family friend (wonderfully played by a red-faced Peter Maloney), as he considers a draw-dropping option when he is told what happened to his money.
The play is so chock full of the unexpected that you will be hard pressed to figure out anything in advance. Weaver is a standout as the aristocratic and autocratic Mr. Voysey, who, it appears, has been merely carrying on a family tradition of embezzlement and entitlement. Stuhlbarg is terrific in the role of the ethical, rigorously motivated Michael, who takes it upon himself to right the firm’s wrongs. The play spins wonderfully around the rest of this rather large and by-greed-motivated family, including the unruffled and notably deaf matriarch, Mrs. Voysey (Judith Roberts). Banking with the Voyseys may not have been a good idea, but investing your time in this fine play will pay dividends. 4 stars.
“The Voysey Inheritance,” through Sunday, March 25, Atlantic Theater Company, 336 West 20th Street. $55. 212-691-5919, ext. 1092.