Corrections or additions?
This article by Simon Saltzman was prepared for the March 17, 2004
issue of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Review: `The Stendhal Syndrome"
When gazing upon a work of art produces a state of dizziness and of
feeling faint, it is referred to as the Stendhal Syndrome, named after
the 19th-century French author ("The Red and the Black") who
apparently was one of the first to connect this reaction to esthetic
Don’t expect to have such a dramatic response when seeing this pair of
one-act plays by Terrence McNally, presented under the umbrella title
"The Stendhal Syndrome." However, you are obliged to see the effect
that Michelangelo’s "David" has on three American tourists, as they
consider their own unique experience with the aid of a patient and
passionate guide played by Isabella Rossellini, in her American stage
In the first play – "Full Frontal Nudity" – one’s gaze is more apt to
focus on Ms Rossellini’s extraordinary beauty than on the base of the
imposing sculpture. (David’s form must be imagined, except for some
photographs projected on designer Michael McGarty’s elegant museum
hall setting.) Yet there are some enlightening things to learn about
how different people respond to a work of art. Two of the three
tourists – Lana (Jennifer Mudge) and Leo (Yul Vazquez) – are commonly
crass and generally resistant to appreciating anything they cannot
immediately relate to on the most primitive level. Theirs is the
obligatory consideration and conversation regarding David’s penis.
It doesn’t come as a surprise to us that their reaction, as heard
through their spoken thoughts as much as through their words to each
other, becomes a lesson in how uneducated and culturally and
artistically challenged people are often slow to open up but also, if
allowed, are unwittingly motivated to become receptive. The third
tourist, Hector (Michael Countryman), is an intellectual whose
admiration is compromised by his annoyance with the inane and
discursive chatter of the Lana and Leo. Hector, who is also mourning
recent deaths in the family, may be condescending to Lana and Leo, who
are having a playful flirtation. But Hector also may be ripe for a
change in the presence of greatness.
Although Rossellini’s stage skills are still rudimentary, she shows in
subtle and truthful ways that she has many of the instincts and
mannerisms that propelled her mother Ingrid Bergman to excellence on
stage and in films. One can only imagine what kind of stage actress
Rossellini would be now if she had started out a little earlier.
Rossellini has only a peripheral role in the second play – "Prelude &
Liebestod" – in which she plays the compromised wife of the play’s
centerpiece, an illustrious, egomaniacal symphony orchestra leader
(think Leonard Bernstein). In the same handsome set that now has
become the stage of a concert hall (the sculpture base is now replaced
by a podium), Rossellini has only to make her entrance in a ravishing
evening gown and take her seat in a stage box to take our breath away.
It remains, however, for Richard Thomas, as the conductor, to take and
hold our soon undivided attention as he proceeds to conduct the hell
out of Wagner’s "Prelude and Liebestod" from "Tristan and Isolde," not
once but twice. I won’t reveal the reason that it’s played twice.
Thomas, who has had a fine stage and screen career, but is probably
most familiar for his role of John-Boy in the long-running (and
oft-repeated) TV series "The Waltons," is both outrageously funny and
unabashedly larger than life, as the baton-wielding, wildly
gesticulating, stuck on himself (couldn’t help another hint) maestro.
While his mind takes an uncensored, free-associating, homo-erotic,
hedonistic journey, the conductor in him takes full and unconditional
glory in his powers, both sexual and musical.
With one eye on his wife and the other on the handsome young man (Yul
Vazquez) in the opposite box, he indulges himself during the course of
the music (played in its entirety) with carnal thoughts of the most
graphic kind (be forewarned, but also be amused) that not only put
down Wagner, when necessary, but also his adversarial and sublimely
derisive concert master (Michael Countryman), and the lovely but
nonplused, soprano (Jennifer Mudge), who, while also at his mercy, are
allowed their own choice words. If the first play is about people
challenged with facing a work of art, the second beautifully
corresponds by showing us people already immersed and inspired by art.
McNally, a winner of four Tony Awards, (" Ragtime," "Master Class,"
"Love! Valour! Compassion!" and "The Full Monty"), wrote "Full Frontal
Nudity" in 2002 and has revised his 1992 "Prelude and Liebestod." Both
of these plays, under the firm directorial baton of Leonard Foglia,
are eminently well matched and provide a sparkling and occasionally
startling evening of theater. Adding to the sensory pleasure is the
new theater itself, now the home of Primary Stages. It is an intimate
stadium-style theater refreshingly located on 59th Street on
Manhattan’s East Side. HHH
– Simon Saltzman
The Stendhal Syndrome, ("Full Frontal Nudity" and "Prelude &
Liebestod"), Primary Stages at 59 East 59th Street, New York, through
March 27. For tickets ($60) call 212-279-4200 or visit
The key: HHHH Don’t miss; HHH You won’t feel cheated; HH Maybe you
should have stayed home; H Don’t blame us.
Aida H Palace, Broadway & 47, 212-307-4747.
Avenue Q HHHH Golden, 252 West 45. New musical moves up from
Barbara Cook’s Broadway, Vivian Beaumont, 150 West 65. Previews begin
Beauty and the Beast, Lunt-Fontanne, Broadway & 46. Ticketmaster.
Chicago HHHH Ambassador, 219 West 49.
Drowning Crow HH Biltmore, 261 West 47. By Regina Taylor.
Fiddler on the Roof HH Minskoff, 200 West 45.
42nd Street HHHH Ford Center, 213 West 42.
Golda’s Balcony HHH Helen Hayes, 240 West 44. Tovah Feldshuh.
Gypsy HH Shubert, 225 West 44. Bernadette Peters. Scheduled to ends
February 28, more ticket sales and concessions from "everyone working
on the show," will keep the show running.
Hairspray HHH Neil Simon, 250 West 52. Ticketmaster. Winner of eight
Tony Awards including Best Musical, best actress and actor, and best
I Am My Own Wife HHH Lyceum Theater, 149 West 45. Jefferson Mays in
Doug Wright drama.
King Lear, Vivian Beaumont, 150 West 65, Lincoln Center. Directed by
Little Shop of Horrors HHH Virginia, 245 West 52.
Mama Mia! HHH Winter Garden, 1634 Broadway. The Abba hit musical.
Match, Plymouth, 236 West 45. Frank Langella and Melora Walters.
Movin’ Out HHH Richard Rodgers, 226 West 46, 212-307-4100. Tony winner
for Twyla Tharp and Billy Joel.
Rent HHHH Nederlander, 208 West 41. Ticketmaster. By Jonathan Larson.
Sly Fox, Ethel Barrymore, 243 West 47. New comedy by Larry Gelbart.
The Boy From Oz HH Imperial, 249 West 45. Stars Hugh Jackman.
The Lion King HHHH New Amsterdam, Broadway & 42, 212-307-4747.
The Phantom of the Opera HHH Majestic, 247 West 44.
The Producers HHHH St. James, 246 West 44. Winner of 12 Tonys. Matthew
Broderick and Nathan Lane are back. Pricey premium tickets:
Thoroughly Modern Millie HH Marquis, Broadway & 46. Ticketmaster.
Twentieth Century, Roundabout at American Airlines, 227 West 42,
212-719-1300. Alec Baldwin and Anne Heche. Previews.
Wicked HHH Gershwin, 222 West 51. Ticketmaster. Updated Oz musical
stars Kristin Chenoweth and Idina Menzel.
Wonderful Town HHH Al Hirschfeld, 302 West 45.
A Stoop on Orchard Street, Mazer, 197 East Broadway, 866-468-7619.
Addicted, Zipper, 336 West 37. Mark Lundholm comedy. Extended.
Aunt Dan and Lemon HHH Theatre Row, 410 West 42. By Wallace Shawn. To
Beautiful Child, Vineyard, 108 East 15, 212-353-0303.
Big Bill HHH Mitzi Newhouse, Lincoln Center. A.R. Gurney directed by
Mark Lamos. To May 16.
Blue Man Group HHHH Astor Place, 434 Lafayette, 212-254-4370.
Bridge & Tunnel, 45 Bleecker Theater. Ticketmaster. Sarah Jones’
Cookin’, Minetta Lane, 18 Minetta Lane, 212-420-8000.
Double Infidelity, Pearl Theater, 80 St. Mark’s Place, 212-598-9802.
Ears on a Beatle, DR2 Theater, 103 East 15. Previews begin March 16.
Eden, Irish Repertory, 132 West 22. To March 21.
Embedded, Public, 425 Lafayette. Written and directed by Tim Robbins.
From Door to Door, Westside, 407 West 43. Previews.
Frozen, MCCC Theater at 136 East 13. Swoosie Kurtz.
Great Men of Gospel, New Federal Theater, 466 Grand, 212-353-1176.
Written and directed by Elizabeth Van Dyke.
Intimate Apparel, Roundabout at Laura Pels, 111 West 46. Previews.
Johnny Guitar, Century Center, 111 East 15. Musical based on Crawford
King Cowboy Rufus Rules the Universe, Ontological-Hysteric Theater at
St. Mark’s Church, 131 East 10 Street, 212-533-4650. To April 18.
Magic Hands Freddy, Soho Playhouse, 15 Vandam.
Menopause, the Musical, Playhouse 91, 316 East 91, 212-831-2000.
Ministry of Progress, Jane Street, 113 Jane. Rock musical.
More, Union Square Theater, 100 East 17. New comedy by Judith Ivey.
Mrs Farnsworth, Flea Theater, 41 White Street. John Lithgow and
Sarah, Sarah, City Center Stage, 151 West 55. Previews.
Sea of Tranquility HH Atlantic, 336 West 20.
Silent Laughter, Lamb’s, 130 West 44.
Small Tragedy, Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42.
Stomp HHHH Orpheum, Second Avenue at 8. Ticketmaster.
The Moonlight Room, Beckett, 410 West 42. New by Princeton alumnus
Valhalla HHH New York Theater Workshop, 79 East 4. New from Paul
Well, Public, 425 Lafayette. New from Lisa Kron. Previews.
Wintertime, Second Stage, 307 West 43. As seen at McCarter.
– Simon Saltzman
Unless otherwise noted, all Broadway and Off-Broadway reservations can
be made through Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200. Other
ticket outlets: Ticket Central, 212-279-4200; Ticketmaster,
800-755-4000 or 212-307-4100.
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