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
was too real for myth," Blessing has taken into account the
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
has come up with a clever devise to have three actors play Cobb at
different stages in his life. That they appear simultaneously,
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
who never tired of making more money (Michael Sabatino). Last is the
cantankerous and opinionated old dying Cobb, who, in a state of
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
but it’s all over when it’s over. Three stars.
New York. $45. Tele-Charge at 800-432-7250 or 212-239-6200.
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
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
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
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,
existence. But what are we to make of Alice’s sudden change into a
temporarily curious and vital woman when an illiterate, but
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
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
Alice’s mind. Be advised to read it.
So what are we to make of Dutch director Ivo van Hoves’ weird
intoxicated staging, and designer Jan Versweyveld’s possibly
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.
encouraged by her father, Alice did not commit suicide. She died of
breast cancer at the age of 43. Three stars.
New York, 212-460-5475. $45.
Stories that illuminate the turbulent relationship
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
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
We marvel at the innocence of a very young child happily and
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
social and political world is explored and revealed. Three stars.
York, 212-307-4100. $47.50.
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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