`Eyes for Consuela’

">`Hedwig and the

">Off-Broadway

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Off Broadway

This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on

March 18, 1998. All rights reserved.

Of all the different time periods, contexts and stagings

into which William Shakespeare’s "Romeo and Juliet" has been

shoehorned over the years, the latest one, set in a private boys’ school

and retitled "R & J," is one that is genuinely perceptive

and persuasive. And unlike some productions that reek of mushy

sentimentality,

this one is extremely bracing. Yes, this is an all-male version, but

under Joe Calarco’s crisp direction, it is also as passionately acted

and as tragically and poignantly considered as any more traditional

staging.

The play opens with four prep-school students going through the highly

regimented mechanics of their daily class routine in an obviously

oppressive academic environment. Having bonded together in their joint

love of Shakespeare’s verse, they meet secretly to read aloud the

text of the play.

At first more playful than artful, they cautiously allow the characters

to take hold of them. It isn’t long before the boys find themselves

boisterously empowered, fueled by testosterone, and completely enthused

by their ability to become absorbed by the tragic drama, especially

the various psychosexual currents that connect Shakespeare’s characters.

The actors — Sean Dugan, Danny Gurwin, Greg Shamie, and Daniel

J. Shore — offer quite an exciting show as they expand their voices,

embrace various physical identities, and create a time and a place

with nothing more than some old chests and a long scarf.

Yes, there is the undeniable tremor of the homoerotic in the deepening

encounters between "R & J." Calarco’s slightly altered text

affords the boys time to reveal and mask their true natures. Just

as the boys are audaciously disposed toward all their male and female

counterparts, keeping them distinct and unique, we are genuinely moved

by the boys’ collective flair for the dramatic. Another marvel of

the play is how cleverly the actors keep the play’s many characters

distinct and even more remarkably unique. Then it’s back to class.

What fun! HHH

R & J, John Houseman Studio, 450 West 42nd Street, 212-345-2220.

$40; $20 for students.

Top Of Page
`Eyes for Consuela’

Sam Shepard has given us far from his best with "Eyes

for Consuela." Yet there are glimmerings of his characteristic

inclinations toward allegory in this adaptation of a short story called

"The Blue Bouquet" by the Mexican poet Octavio Paz. Unfolding

like a dream — or rather a nightmare — the play is concerned

with the capture of an American man by a Mexican bandit. Accosted

during a walk in the woods, the American is told by the knife-wielding

Mexican that it is his blue eyes that he wants to cut out and take

as a gift to his girlfriend. Pretty grim stuff, except for the fact

that the sheer fantastic surrealism of the situation puts to rest,

if not to the test, any consideration that this is to be taken literally.

As the presumably dead girl (Tanya Gingerich) pays ethereal visits

to the Mexican boardinghouse where the American is apparently being

held against his will, the American seems more metaphysically than

actually held hostage here. And the dramatic conceits seem no less

tantalizing because of their obviousness. Imposing himself upon the

American in his own room, the bandit stays the night and assumes the

posture of a moralizing, though terrorizing, guru.

Having come to this remote village to reflect upon his failed marriage,

the American is aggressively provoked by the lovesick, tequila-intoxicated

Mexican into a spiritual awakening. The transformation comes when

the American realizes that he has to lose his eyesight in order to

face the truth of his life. This isn’t exactly a revelation to those

of us who can hear. Nevertheless, Shepard’s scheme to show the unwillingness

of Americans to see their shortcomings, and the determination of Mexicans

to empower themselves as victims, is curiously, but still dubiously,

symbolized.

Just as Shepard isn’t disposed to being more clever and intriguing

in his writing, director Terry Kinney does not capture the weirdness

that might make this simplistic fable more formidable. The play begins

hauntingly, but soon veers off into moralizing hysteria. David Strathairn

overacts as the American, and Daniel Faraldo, as the Mexican, wavers

between devilishness and distraction. Santo Loquasto’s lush primitive

set is simply super. HH

Eyes For Consuela, Manhattan Theater Club, 131 West 55,

212-581-1212. To April 12.

Visiting Mr. Green,

And Eli Wallach

Television viewers who also enjoy a non-threatening,

feel-good play will be comforted and amused by "Visiting Mr. Green."

Playwright Jeff Baron has a knack for the kind of formula situation

comedy that was once a Broadway staple, and also on prime-time television

in the 1950s. Who’s to complain if the predictable and ever so endearing

plot has just the right amounts of rueful sentiment, rancid schmaltz,

cutting jabs, and quaint jokes. And what’s not to like about a play

that has the wonderful Eli Wallach in the title role. He plays a

curmudgeonly

octogenarian who is resigned to being lonely and despondent since

the recent death of his wife.

However, Green is the recent victim of a minor car accident and must

endure court-prescribed visits from Ross Gardner (David Alan Basche),

the young driver who struck him. Except for the fact that Green and

Ross are both Jewish, he and the young man, whose job it is to shop

and clean for Green, have little in common, and never more emphatically

than when Ross confesses to Green that he is gay. These two, although

generations apart, each have things to teach the other. The play works

through the sheer force of its big heart and its small intentions.

There is as much fun watching Green resist Ross’s good intentions

as there is in watching Ross prepare Green to take on life again and

renew his relationship with his estranged daughter. Lonny Price’s

direction and David Shire’s incidental music are appropriately attentive.

HH

Visiting Mr. Green, Union Square Theater, 100 East 17.

$45. Ticketmaster, 212-307-4100.

Top Of Page
`Hedwig and the

Angry Inch’

Hedwig and the Angry Inch" is an unusual, frankly

bizarre, theatrical concoction. It is a drag show, rock concert, and

sad/funny dramatic narrative all rolled into a dazzling musical discourse

on exhibitionism. Show and tell may be at the fore of John Cameron

Mitchell’s glittering personification of Hedwig, a German-born transvestite

who has a new-found career relating the events of his/her incredible

life in the framework of an Americanized singspiel. Hedwig’s ribald

and raunchy confessional, basically a yearning to find the missing

self as exemplified in Plato’s "Symposium," is echoed in the

arresting musical angst of "Cheater," the super back-up band

that Hedwig calls "The Angry Inch." It is significant that

Hedwig’s angry inch refers to the results of a botched sex-change

operation.

The terrific rock songs are by Stephen Trask, who wrote both the words

and music. They are easier to understand than the much too convoluted

and confusing tale that Hedwig spins about her childhood, failed romantic

escapades, indefinite status as a female rock star, and present search

for identity, fame and love. Mitchell is a knockout in the

high-wide-and-blonde

Farrah Fawcett-ed hair-do, faint and fabulous Dietrich-like accent

and fringed country western couture. Peter Askin’s direction makes

the show more impressive for its expressed superficiality than for

its expository context. Nevertheless, you won’t soon forget Hedwig

or the Angry Inch. HHH

Hedwig and the Angry Inch, the (new) Jane Street Theater

(located in the spooky Riverview Hotel), 113 Jane Street at the West

Side Highway, 212-239-6200. (This is the historic hotel that in 1912

housed the surviving crew of the Titanic.) $35.

Top Of Page
Off-Broadway

Bargains

Thanks to reader Morris Rubenfeld, who works at a Research

Park-based advertising firm, for this extra information on the A.R.T.

Passport to Off-Broadway discount coupon service listed in last week’s

issue. You can request the coupon and play book by phoning toll-free:

800-610-0713. You can also request coupons through the website at

sidewalk.com. For other A.R.T. services call 212-989-5257 or

write to 131 Varick Street, Room 904, New York, NY 10013.


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