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This review by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the
May 2, 2001 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `Claudia Lazlo’
Almost the official playwright-in-residence at the
George Street Playhouse, Arthur Laurents is fortunate indeed to have
established a productive working relationship with artistic director
David Saint. Saint directed both Laurents’ "Jolson Sings
and the musical "Do I Hear A Waltz" that boasted a libretto
by Laurents. Although Laurents served as director and adapter of the
slight and inconsequential "Venecia," produced earlier this
season with Chita Rivera, he returns more formidably as a playwright
with "Claudia Lazlo," directed, of course, by Saint. Their
artistic bond is palpable, more so than the half-amusing, half-tedious
dramatic assault of a play that owes a large debt to Pirandello.
Just as in the master Italian playwright’s "Six Characters in
Search of an Author," the characters/actors in a regional theater
company lead independent lives. But during a rehearsal of a
and disturbing play they are drawn into finding more truths about
themselves in the characters they are playing than they are willing
to recognize as their own reality. The theme is profound enough: that
no matter how complex and baffling are the characters in a fiction,
the glib and affectedly pasted together personalities we see on stage
can not compete with the deeper and truer psychological complexities
and underpinnings of our own lives, no matter how incomplete and
The play’s conceit is, of necessity, tantalizing. In "Claudia
Lazlo," the actors attempt to understand and reveal what is true
about their characters through improvisation. The technique is simple
enough, but in this instance it triggers and releases deep-seated
emotions, fears and biases that complicates the creative process set
in motion, as well as destroying the actors’ working relationships.
The play is shrewdly structured so that the actors are indeed
close in personality and persuasions to the characters they are
Under David Saint’s carefully designed direction, the cast moves
and deftly from who they are to whom they are playing.
It doesn’t take long for one reality to seep into another. It isn’t
a task for us to keep up. A fine cast rises to the occasion a little
better than the play, which, when all is said and done, doesn’t have
much at stake for the actors, those they are playing, or the audience,
although there is much to be said about the questions Laurents is
asking. One of which he describes in the playbill notes: "Are
you allowed unprincipled behavior, or behavior the rest of us are
not allowed, because you are an artist?"
Laurents says the life and career of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf; the famous
opera singer, an artist as well as a Nazi, inspired him. As a Nazi
she wasn’t allowed to sing after the war because she was in the allied
zone. It was only after she married an English impresario, a Jew,
that she was allowed to sing and come to America.
While I harbor a special affection for Laurent’s screenplay for
Way We Were," and for his skill as a librettist ("West Side
Story," "Gypsy") and playwright ("The Time of the
Cuckoo" "A Clearing in the Woods"), "Claudia
seems little more than a fanciful dalliance. Amusing and challenging
in fits and starts, it is ultimately too bemused. Laurents has set
his new play-with-a-play after World War II. It focuses on the dilemma
of Madeline Gray (Cigdem Onat), a diva of the dramatic stage who has
been cast to play the role of Claudia Lazlo (also played by Onat),
an opera diva with a Nazi past. When she begins to sense that her
own life is suddenly entwined with that of her character, the
and her feelings become the object of much confusion and unrest among
Cigdem Onat, a native of Turkey and a former member of the National
Theatre in Ankara, was most recently seen in the Lincoln Center
revival of "The Time of the Cuckoo." In the title role(s),
Onat, at once a graceful, attractive and dominating presence, plays
both divas divinely. There are interesting and critical comparisons
made between Claudia, her unapologetic defense of her past, and with
the difficult, temperamental, and arguably anti-Semitic Madeline,
who is also challenged not only by her past actions but by her current
ones, particularly a tendency to control the rehearsals, as well as
the young good-looking director.
Jonathan Walker is excellent as Lucas, the director who is not above
patronizing his diva while having an open affair with Caitlin
(played impudently by Dana Brooke), the play’s feisty Jewish ingenue,
who has a hard time dealing with her role as Kim, a foxy little
feigning the hots for Lazlo.
Reed Birney, last seen at George Street in "The Council of
plays Freddie, the play’s artfully coy stage manager, understudy,
and Madeline’s ex-lover, as well as a belligerent and blustery Capt.
DiNicola who openly despises Lazlo. The Obie Award-winning Jonathan
Hadary has built a fine reputation on and Off-Broadway and appeared
auspiciously at George Street in "Jolson Sings Again." He
milks every bit of humor and hubris out of his roles as Jonathan
a wary and unforgiving actor prone to self-serving outbursts and as
the calculating Lt. Martin Feingold of the U.S. Army cum acting
of the Salzburg Opera.
Set designer Ricardo Hernandez provides just enough modest furnishings
to suggest the stage of a regional theater. Mercifully, Laurents
considerably more than what the actor Jonathan asks after everyone
has vented and sufficiently served the great god Thespis: "Jesus,
are we done with this crap?" Not as long as there are playwrights.
— Simon Saltzman
New Brunswick, 732-246-7717. $24 to $40. Performances through May
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