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This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the November 28,
2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
On Broadway: `Thou Shalt Not’
It would be easy to dismiss "Thou Shalt Not"
as a musical theater fiasco were it not for the occasional fine song,
some haunting imagery, and the many fine performances that crop up
in this strangely compelling musical, the creation of a group of very
talented, if misguided, artists. The collaborators are Susan Stroman,
the lauded choreographer and director of "The Producers,"
"Contact," and the revival of "The Music Man," Harry
Connick Jr., the pop composer and singer who is making his Broadway
debut with a jazz-influenced score (he also wrote the lyrics), and
book writer David Thompson (his adaptation of "A Christmas
is seen each year at McCarter).
Perhaps the task of adapting Emile Zola’s 19th-century novel
Raquin," proved too daunting a task for Thompson, who has updated
the rather lurid and grim events of the classic love triangle from
mid-19th-century Paris to mid-20th-century New Orleans, shortly after
the end of World War II.
At any event, one has to admire somewhat Thompson film-noir approach
to the story, told in flashback by the anti-hero Laurent to some after
hours bar habitues. A musician and drifter, Laurent has taken a gig
at a New Orleans cafe, run by Madame Raquin, the mother of his old
friend Camille, a sickly pianist. While there, he has an affair with
Camille’s wife, Therese. Fueled by their passion, they conspire to
kill Camille. They do just that during the Mardis Gras celebration.
Madame Raquin, who has devoted her life to doting on her son, has
a stroke, leaving her speechless, when she hears the news of the
Before that, as the house-chanteuse, she gets to sing two swinging
songs "My Little World," and "I’ve Got My Eye on You."
When guilt overcomes Therese, she can no longer stand either the sight
of Laurent or the sight of Camille’s specter that soon begins to
her around. Oh, yes with the best song (Sinatra would be singing it
today if he were still alive) in the show — "Oh! Ain’t That
By the time that Therese and Laurent come to their predictably tragic
ends, the musical has tried valiantly to create a seedy and depraved
film-noir atmosphere. It is helped to a degree by Thomas Lynch’s
watercolor settings and William Ivy Long’s frighteningly ’40s
Stroman has taken pains to address Laurent and Therese’s steamy sexual
encounters with a torrid love scene in which the lovers are put in
sensual motion on a revolving bed. It may make them dizzy but it
for me. Otherwise the choreography slips into more conventional
as at a typically high spirited New Orleans funeral bash and a
obligatory mask and costume Mardi Gras celebration. Except for a few
songs, including the title one, Connick’s score barely takes on the
challenge demanded by the story.
As fate would have it, I saw the Broadway debut of lead standby David
New, as Laurent, in the role usually played by Craig Bierko, who was
out with an injury he incurred on opening night. New convinced me
he was a perfect choice for the charismatic, moody, and emotionally
disintegrating murderer. Although a graceful dancer, Kate Levering
was hard pressed to insinuate the darker more primal feelings that
motivate Therese. Until and after she is silent, Debra Monk gives
the most emotionally direct and sustained performance as Madame
Despite the spine-tingling efforts of Norbert Leo Butz, as Camille,
to show us how a dead man can bring a show to life, "Thou Shalt
Not" (a Lincoln Center production) remains glumly and resolutely
in musical purgatory. Two stars. Maybe you should have stayed home.
— Simon Saltzman
New York. Tickets $55 to $85. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or
To January 6.
You can’t hope to see any better world-class British
actors than Ian McKellen and Helen Mirren, as the stars of August
Strindberg’s seminal, yet rarely staged, classic "The Dance of
Death." And given that the production has been directed by another
lauded Britisher, Sean Mathias (represented on Broadway by
and "Indiscretions"), the result has to be awesome.
That is if we assume that these three have an inside track on the
depths, the nuances, and subtleties within Strindberg’s acidic 1900
comedy/drama of love and hate. And just to bring a responsive balance
to the endeavor, we not only have a beautifully resonating adaptation
by the excellent American playwright Richard Greenberg, but also the
presence of esteemed American actor David Strathairn in a major
Well, let’s just say that this is a rewarding, if thoroughly draining,
dramatic workout for them and for us.
But why then does the play sort of grind along, artfully displaying
a generous amount of great acting, but unable to bring us deeply into
what has the potential to be an emotionally wrenching depiction of
hate as a weapon, love as a mask, and death as the only redemption.
Acknowledged as the forerunner and possibly the inspiration for Edward
Albee’s equally brilliant 20th-century rotten-marriage play,
Afraid of Virginia Woolf," "The Dance of Death" doesn’t
hide, as "Woolf" does, behind delusions, false accusations,
recriminations, and lies. As "Dance of Death" attempts to
reveal the ravenous, insidious, and murderous demands that a married
couple makes upon each other, we are pulled into the fray by the sheer
force of its players. It is to Strindberg’s credit that no matter
what hateful speech or destructive act is perpetrated by either Edgar
(McKellan), an army captain, or his wife Alice (Mirren), we are always
aware how their often funny assaults on each other are forever testing
the ever-shifting boundaries of their relationship.
While Edgar is presumably in charge of a gloomy fortress
that is their home, on an island off the coast of Sweden, the mistrust
and disgust he has for everyone else on the island is mysteriously
but relentlessly directed toward Alice. She, in return, torments him
in equal measure. Cruel to their maid, who leaves at the beginning
of the play, and apt to destroy whomever dares to enter their surreal
and sacred playground, Edgar and Alice are soon about victimizing,
by emotional seduction, their only visitor, Alice’s recently divorced
cousin Kurt (Strathhairn).
Both McKellan and Mirren appear to have ingested all the venom in
the text and quite a bit of the tragi-comical motivation. Perhaps
I would have been happier had I seen a glimmer of what lies below
their violently expressed hatred. Notwithstanding their carefully
honed, incendiary performances, one is apt to feel little or no
for either of them. I wonder now what exactly did Strindberg want
us see of ourselves in these two, who take such pleasure in devouring
each other and anyone who comes into their web of cruelty. Hard
to hold his own against two actors who show no mercy, Strathairn
yet courageously disintegrates in despair and then disappears.
After holding each other in contempt for 25 years, Edgar does
arrive at a spiritual epiphany in the face of impending death. Alice,
meanwhile, is seen painfully, but ironically fulfilled by their sour
marriage and his dependence, a real-life situation that presumably
exceeds in dramatic scope and range any role this character played
when she was an actress. Just as the play leaves us gaping into an
abyss that yet offers a glimmer of hope and forgiveness, the
of designer Santo Loquasto’s dark, dank, and slightly listing set
appears to be clouded with lethal gases. Two stars. Maybe you should
have stayed home.
— Simon Saltzman
New York. $51 to $71. To January 13. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or
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