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These reviews were published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 7, 1999. All rights reserved.
Even a full-time theater critic has a difficult time
keeping pace with the fast flow of Off-Broadway shows. Particularly
frustrating is the limited runs of so many extraordinary shows, many
of which have no more than a two or three-week lifespan. There is
also a growing number of Off-Broadway subscription companies that
offer four or more plays a season, offering few plays the opportunity
to break out of a limited run.
Each season it becomes more evident that Off-Broadway is the principal
nurturing and proving ground for much that we deem as the best theater.
There is no question that Off-Broadway is where you find the plays
written by the most adventurous writers. With all due respect to Broadway’s
attention-grabbing musicals and plays, there is currently an enviable
collection of serious, exiting, and entertaining plays Off-Broadway.
Perhaps in a better, more receptive world, the marquees of Broadway
theaters would be ablaze heralding the provocative new play by Harold
Pinter ("Ashes to Ashes"), the double-your-pleasure comedy
by Pulitzer Prize winner Paula Vogel ("The Mineola Twins"),
and the hilarious farce by Paul Rudnick ("The Most Fabulous Story
Ever Told"). But Broadway’s loss is Off-Broadway’s gain. It may
also be your gain if you take advantage of the discounted tickets
being offered to many Off-Broadway shows, now through April 30.
Before you spend your money, call 800-610-0713 or check out "Passport
to Off-Broadway" at www.newyork.sidewalk.com/offbroadway.
There you can see the list of plays, view season schedules, links
to websites, and special promotions, including restaurants. Discount
coupons are made available for up to 200 shows with savings up to
50 percent. Discounts vary from show to show, but the actual price
is indicated in the listing. Below are a few new and worthwhile shows
that are on extended runs.
`Ashes to Ashes’
To pronounce any play by Harold Pinter enigmatic, perplexing,
and disturbing is redundant. In "Ashes to Ashes," those obligatory
adjectives seem to be more superficially exercised and politically
generated than usual by the author of such mysterious and illusive
dramas as "The Birthday Party," "The Homecoming,"
and "Old Times." This may be partly due to the expectedly
terse, but exemplary, style that Pinter uses to tell the story.
For all of 40 minutes — hardly enough time to properly sink one’s
teeth into the discomforting, and of course perplexing, situation
— we listen and hope to understand what’s going on. We are attentive
to the deftly articulated inquiries of Devlin (David Strathairn) a
patient, seemingly rational husband, and then to the indirect, deeply
troubled, elliptical responses of Rebecca (Lindsay Duncan), his wife.
Although he has the less interesting role, Strathairn is academically
precise as the stolid English university professor who, with painstaking
analytical detachment, leads Rebecca to talk dispassionately about
the deeply disturbing things that haunt her.
Your eyes will probably not move far from the chilling look of despair
on Lindsay’s face, who as the otherwise sheltered country wife, retreats
and emerges from a nightmarish world. She hesitantly relates the intimacies
of a former sexual affair she may or may not have had with a sadist,
and describes in detail a series of holocaust-recalled atrocities
that seem to be indelibly rooted in her consciousness.
Although it is made clear that Rebecca is too young to have been part
of the holocaust, she makes us consider how some people who, even
though they have always been sheltered and protected, are inscrutably
connected to the suffering of others and forever traumatized by unspeakable
acts of cruelty. There is even pronounced drama in the steep rake
of designer Tony Walton’s handsome living room setting with a view
of the garden. Karel Reisz’s meticulous unhurried direction for the
Roundabout Theater Company keeps the faith for Pinter, his long-time
friend. A Pinter expert leads a post-performance discussion with the
cast about Pinter and the play. HH
Ticketmaster. To May 9.
`The Mineola Twins’
Written years before author Paula Vogel won acclaim
for her insightful play about pedophilia, "How I Learned to Drive,"
the delightful "The Mineola Twins" has earned its New York
showcase. Unlike the former play, "The Mineola Twins" is a
less structured and definitely more comical consideration of the social
ills that transverse the great political and cultural divide in America.
Giving partisans of the left and right both equal time and equal what
for, is an estimable goal, and Vogel’s use of feuding and rivaling
twins as co-protagonists over the decades is one of the comedy’s cleverest
Even cleverer is the casting of the wonderful Swoozie Kurtz as both
of the sisters, each of whom chooses opposing paths to fulfillment.
Kurtz, in what may be the most dazzling performance(s) of her career,
sets a new standard for quick changes of wigs and costumes (a laugh-getting
parade of modish Americana designed by Jess Goldstein) and instant
personality changes from good girl to bad girl. From wholesome teenage
bobbysoxer to town slut, from apple pie maker to drug taker, from
pro-choice activist to right-to-lifer, Kurtz swings the pendulum with
a mixture of hilarity and poignancy.
Beginning in the 1950s, and following the lives of the conservative
Myrna and the rebellious Myra through four decades of vacillating
values and changing mores, "The Mineola Twins" is happily
experienced more for its madcap style than its moralizing lessons.
Although the comedy plays like a revue of vaudeville skits and shtick,
Joe Mantello’s excellent direction makes it all seem as patently cohesive
as it is blatantly cartoonish. There is a witty Sunday funny pages
look to designer Robert Brill and Scott Pask’s settings. A fine supporting
cast is also called upon to double up and also switch genders. This
only quadruples our pleasure. HHH
To May 30. 212-719-1300.
`Most Fabulous Story’
There are a few playwrights who are so funny that it
takes a while to realize that it is their ability to keep us laughing
that makes us continue to listen. That we may learn something in the
bargain is a bonus. Such a writer is Paul Rudnick ("Jeffrey"),
whose flair for the perverse, outrageous, and the most politically
incorrect humor is applauded with "The Most Fabulous Story Ever
Once you decide that the Old Testament, starting with the events in
the Garden of Eden, is fair game for deconstruction, then be prepared
for the Sunday school lesson of your life. After we grant Rudnick
his radical theory on the creation of the world, as it is stirringly
invoked by an authoritative and omnipotent stage manager, we are fully
prepared for the full frontal assault of flesh, fantasy, and fabulous
farce. There could be no better director for Rudnick’s theology course
than long-time collaborator Christopher Ashley.
The comedy’s compassionate philosophical twists and turns quickly
appease what appears as blasphemy. This is not a comedy for purists;
but for those who can suspend their hang-ups and prejudices, there
is a laugh a minute watching the first stirrings of life, the investigation
of sexual impulses, and the awkward declarations of love. All this
evolves as Adam discovers Steve in one part of the garden while unbeknownst
to them Jane has already met Mabel on the other side. There’s a lot
of bitching and baiting when the two couples eventually run into each
other. As much as they enjoy their same-sex coupling — that is,
until the inevitable happens and Jane gets pregnant — there is
at stake all that humorously disconcerting discoursing on the will
and nature of God and what is right and natural.
Centuries later in New York City, but not before a couple of side-splitting
side trips aboard Noah’s Ark and to ancient Egyptian where Adam asks
the Pharaoh, "If you’re really God, why are you wearing so much
eye makeup?" Adam and Steve, Jane and Mabel are still confounded
by their eternally frustrating and interlocking relationships, and
yet another birth.
Much of the play’s joy comes from a supporting cast that play a multitude
of amusing oddball friends and acquaintances through the ages. They
bounce in and out of the play, which ends spectacularly at a Christmas
Eve house party, and provide solid laughs, cries, and food for thought.
Rudnick’s seemingly endless stream of bon mots assures us that his
lovable characters will never bore us, even as they continue to ask
each other the most profound questions about God and faith. This as
they attempt to find ways to deal with the challenges of their daily
life. Although there have been cast changes since I first saw the
play at the New York Theater Workshop, let’s assume the play and the
players have kept the faith. HHH
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