`Alice In Bed’

`The Syringa Tree’

Ticket Numbers

Corrections or additions?

This review was prepared for the December 20, 2000 edition of

U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.

Simon Saltzman: Off-Broadway

You don’t have to be a baseball fan to make you want

to cheer for "Cobb," Lee Blessing’s riveting play about the

controversial slugger, who became as famous for hitting the ball as

he was for hitting anyone who crossed him. Despite Cobb’s remark

"I

was too real for myth," Blessing has taken into account the

various

legends that have surfaced about this great but petulant, player,

who also became baseball’s first millionaire, and devised not one

but three ways to present him. The author of "A Walk in the

Woods"

has come up with a clever devise to have three actors play Cobb at

different stages in his life. That they appear simultaneously,

confronting

and challenging each other about what they remember and what they

want people to remember, is what gives this play its heft.

You could call this the three faces of Cobb. The enigmatic egotist

appears most petulant as the aggressive young ballplayer (Michael

Mabe), who is known for energizing and bringing stature to what had

been a sedate all-American sport. Enter the wealthy middle-aged

businessman

who never tired of making more money (Michael Sabatino). Last is the

cantankerous and opinionated old dying Cobb, who, in a state of

perpetual

purgatory (Michael Cullen), is challenged by his former selves. It

is in Cobb’s restless own consciousness that the action takes place.

Here, we see him retrace his life, attempt to re-write history to

suit himself, justifying his racism, and steal the truth as easily

as he stole bases. There is even a breathless re-enactment of a game.

Equally stubborn and feisty, all three are vexed and haunted by the

occasioning appearance of Negro League player Oscar Charleston (Clark

Jackson), known as the black Cobb, who continually reminds them of

his lost opportunities. Under Joe Brancato’s diamond bright direction,

the three excellent well-cast for their roles actors may be portraying

"the most hated man in baseball," but you’ll love each one

of them while there on the mound. Hope all you want to for extra

innings,

but it’s all over when it’s over. Three stars.

Cobb, Lucille Lortel Theater, 121 Christopher Street,

New York. $45. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.

Top Of Page
`Alice In Bed’

Throughout novelist Susan Sontag’s only play (published

in 1993), Alice James, sister of novelist Henry James and philosopher

William James, is, for the most part, in bed. That accounts for the

title "Alice in Bed." And what a scary bed it is — like

a plastic cocoon. When you see this contraption that is set within

an enclosing cage of movable metal pulleys, you may think you’ve

entered

Dr. Frankenstein’s bedchamber of horrors.

An intellectual equal of her brothers, Alice, nevertheless, became

a recluse when she found herself unable to thrive in the shadow of

her brothers, and in the male-dominated social climate of the 19th

century. From this sick bed, Alice, a ghostly white light illuminating

her drawn anemic face, constructs and deconstructs in her mind at

will a loosely contained world of overlapping ideas, people and

events,

both real and fantastical, Alice communicates with family members

and others. She does this as freely with fictional as with historical

characters, all of whom come and go via video projections.

Except for her immediate family, characters like poet Emily Dickinson,

19th-century revolutionary feminist Margaret Fuller, Myrtha, the queen

of the Wilis in "Giselle," and Kundry, the siren of

"Parsifal,"

all appear as visitors at what is given to be a hallucinatory tea

party. Talking either to them or sometimes through them, Alice, in

her dream-like state, is in charge. In this regard, the play owes

more to Samuel Beckett than it does to Lewis Carroll. This provides

a tour de force opportunity for Joan MacIntosh, whose unsettling,

often piercing, voice makes a persuasive case for Alice’s bleak,

world-weary

existence. But what are we to make of Alice’s sudden change into a

temporarily curious and vital woman when an illiterate, but

compassionate

burglar (Jorre Vandenbussche) breaks her nightmare by entering her

room near the end of the play. Except for the burglar, all the other

characters are all seen as projected video images.

Whether the purported illness that kept Alice confined was not yet

diagnosable or treatable, or whether it was psychosomatically induced

remains in question to this day. What is not in question is the

Sontag’s

intriguing yet disorienting use of Alice’s imagination to create a

"dramatic fantasy" that may either place you in its hypnotic

spell or put you to sleep.

At times it is difficult to understand what exactly is going on in

Alice’s mind, or even what it is we are supposed to feel about this

woman whose relationship with her illustrious family is undoubtedly

more precisely defined in her diary and letters. Luckily, the program

includes extensive biographical data on just about everyone that

crosses

Alice’s mind. Be advised to read it.

So what are we to make of Dutch director Ivo van Hoves’ weird

sights-and-sounds

intoxicated staging, and designer Jan Versweyveld’s possibly

drug-induced

landscape? One can view this heady 75-minute play as just another

eccentric pretentious portrait of an anguished depressed suicidal

woman whose talents were wasted. However, it could also be a rush

for those who see Alice’s tragic life as a wake-up call to the rest

of us to get up, get dressed, toot that horn, and hit the road.

Although

encouraged by her father, Alice did not commit suicide. She died of

breast cancer at the age of 43. Three stars.

Alice in Bed New York Theater Workshop, 79 East 4th

Street,

New York, 212-460-5475. $45.

Top Of Page
`The Syringa Tree’

Stories that illuminate the turbulent relationship

between

white and black people of South Africa during its painful period of

apartheid will be continue to be told as long as racism and inhumanity

exists. As seen through the eyes of a young girl, "The Syringa

Tree" is a forthright and passionate autobiographical dramatic

memoir. The fortunes of a white family and the fate of the black

family

that worked for them are dramatized in a most unusual way. What makes

it unusual is that the playwright Pamela Gein, who has dedicated this

play to her parents, is also acting all the roles, black and white,

young and old. You may rightly assume that Gein, under the astute

guidance of director Larry Moss, wears both hats effectively. Her

deftly told story resonates with a rich interplay of memorable

characters.

We marvel at the innocence of a very young child happily and

traditionally

left in the care and company of black servants, and raised alongside

their children. We also become privy to the maturing and the gnawing

questions of a young girl, as she begins to understand and experience

the unsettling changes going on around her. The poignant and tragic

events that bond and separate her from the black people she loved

and grew up are all dramatized subjectively and effectively. Gein,

navigates seamlessly from one touching character to another giving

each one clearly defined characteristics. The beauty of the play is

the way we get to know the people who were part of the landscape of

South Africa in the 1960s. Whether talking to a childhood friend,

the racist neighbors or to her compassionate to all people physician

father, and gentle mother, Gein personifies the wonder of childhood

innocence. In this most touching way, the chaos in a ferociously

changed

social and political world is explored and revealed. Three stars.

The Syringa Tree, Playhouse 91, 316 East 91 Street, New

York, 212-307-4100. $47.50.

Top Of Page
Ticket Numbers

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.

For current information on Broadway and Off-Broadway shows, music,

and dance call NYC/On Stage at 212-768-1818, a 24-hour performing

arts hotline operated by the Theater Development Fund.


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