Shopping and . . . Such

Never the Sinner

Richard II & Richard III

Pride’s Crossing

Bargain Tickets

Corrections or additions?

This review by Simon Saltzman was published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on March 11,

1998. All rights reserved.

Simon Saltzman: Off-Broadway

Give or take the two or three obligatory snob hits

from Britain that invade our shores each spring, and the one or possibly

two home-grown straight plays that are usually seen in a struggle

for survival, Broadway remains primarily about musicals, new and revived.

It isn’t that there is anything particularly wrong with the sound

of music (or the show of the same name), it’s just that the sound

of pure unaccompanied talking can also be music to the ears.

Traditionally, adventurous theatergoers head Off-Broadway where they

can and want to experience the kinds of provocative and challenging

theater that hinges on the edge of popular sentiment and taste. Don’t

be amazed to discover that the hottest ticket Off-Broadway, "Shopping

and Fucking," also comes from Britain. Nevertheless Off-Broadway

this spring is virtually bursting at the seams with many fine and

entertaining plays, and the price is right. To be sure, there is something

for everyone in the shows listed below. Just be aware that tastes

vary and my own can even startle me at times.

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Shopping and . . . Such

There is no doubt that Mark Ravenhill made Londoners

take notice of his first play "Shopping and Fucking." Notwithstanding

the third word in the title that most newspapers choose not to print,

the play is hardly the jaw-dropping shocker it was purported to be.

Nevertheless, for those who want to have a rude awakening to a crass

sex and drugs-dominated "money market" world, you might find

this play, if not fulsome, then surprisingly forthright. Given the

pseudo-graphic display and expose of morally corrupted London youth,

Ravenhill’s characters are principally grungy metaphors to show how

the human body and spirit, when viewed and treated as commodities,

can be merchandised and demoralized by a profit-driven, commercially

oriented society. While I contend that the play’s pursuit of gross

unpleasantness (including vomiting) is often merely solicitous, and

that its proclivity for unromantic carnal behavior demonstrates the

playwright’s somewhat skewed vision of a degraded society, the play’s

message is not to be censored.

That the author’s uncompromisingly bold, cynically polarizing politicizing

is hardly disguised or obliterated is a credit to the play’s co-directors,

Gemma Bodinetz and Max Stafford-Clark. And with no pun intended, all

of the actors appear to put everything they have into their roles

as the usable and dispensable dregs and druggies. Mark (Philip Seymour

Hoffman), a former stockbroker cum sexual compulsive, now a recovering

heroin-addict, has taken in Robbie (Justin Theroux) and Lulu (Jennifer

Dundas Lowe), a pair of derelict urchins. Although Robbie has become

Mark’s sometime lover, he is also intimate with Lulu. The unholy menage-a-trios

is further degraded when Mark brings home Gary (Torquil Campbell),

a 14-year-old hustler. What can be better understood than explained

is the web of dependency that binds Lulu to Brian (Matthew Sussman),

a slimy sadistic drug-dealing wheeler-dealer. Well, nobody promised

TV. HH

Shopping and Fucking, New York Theater Workshop, 79 East

4 Street, 212-460-5475. $35. To March 29.

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Never the Sinner

If there is nothing more to be said about or learned

from the sensational 1924 Chicago murders and trial of Nathan Leopold

and Richard Loeb, then playwright John Logan’s "Never the Sinner"

recapitulates many of the events that surrounded the lurid case with

clarity and skill.

Going into the minds and the mindset of thrill-killers Leopold (Jason

Bowcutt) and Loeb (Michael Solomon) is not an easy task, but Logan

does a good job of fragmenting their neurotic relationship through

a series of short, arresting scenes. Moving back and forth in time,

the play carefully constructs the time and the place (the song "After

You’ve Gone" is hauntingly used as a motif) as well as the temperaments

of these Nietszche-obsessed youths. It is for defense attorney Clarence

Darrow (Robert Hogan), with his clever, unsophisticated manner, to

be the humanitarian advocate here. Not to be underestimated are the

stubbornly convincing arguments of the prosecutor (Glenn Pannell).

As compelling as is the reconstruction of this "perfect crime,"

the arrest, defense, and trial of the accused, and the crime’s aftermath,

the play, under the direction of Ethan McSweeney, is so meticulously

staged as to come across as stolid and unmoving. Nevertheless, the

key performances by Bowcutt and Solomon are demonically real, and

the events — really demonic. HH

Never the Sinner, John Houseman Theater, 450 West 42,

212-239-6200. $45.

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Richard II & Richard III

A treat is in store for ardent Shakespeare devotees

who clamor for the history plays. The rarely staged "Richard II"

is talky, lacks romance, and is virtually humorless. Yet the convoluted

intrigue that widens the schism between the house of York and Lancaster

can be riveting. "The Tragedy of Richard III," the final play

in Shakespeare’s Wars of the Roses tetrology that ends the 63-year

family feud, can be relentless in its machinations. The rotating productions

of the two plays, presented by the Theatre for a New Audience, are,

when seen together, riveting and relentless. Under Ron Daniels’ direction,

"Richard II" is sedate and stylishly Edwardian in tone and

texture; "Richard III" is more spastic and wild, a mix of

retro flair amid regal formalities.

This is quite an event for those of us who would like to see the two

Richards performed not only in repertory, but also with one company

of artists interpreting both these historical tragedies.

Although he is a devil incarnate, Richard III is also a king who manages

to manipulate a solid three hours of unrelieved murder and mayhem.

He could not be more sinisterly served than he is by Christopher McCann,

who uses some of that quality to more subtle advantage as the crafty

Bolinbroke in "Richard II." To McCann’s credit, he is not

hesitant to make his Richard a heinous, saliva-drooling, leather-fixated

seducer. Using a strap on his twisted leg like a harness, McCann engineers

some clowning as he rears up and gallops his perverse course across

the stage. That is when he isn’t extracting from the bowels of this

loathsome King yet another corroborating facet by which we may ponder

the true nature of this human tower of pure venom.

Equally tour-de-force is Steven Skybell’s impassioned acting of the

delusional and inept Richard II. This, in excellent contrast to his

less emotional, but no less duped Duke of Buckingham in "Richard

III."

Set designer Neil Patel has created two complementary, yet completely

different atmospheres in the playhouse. A large circular window on

the rear dark wood wall is brilliantly lit stained glass, thus symbolizing

the high-minded esthetics of Richard II. For Richard III it becomes

a more abstracted and hellish vision of lights and shadows. Both are

opened and used on occasion for scenes in the Tower of London and

for other effective royal posturing.

Richard II and Richard III, Playhouse at St. Clement’s,

212-279-4200. $37.50 for single tickets; $75 for both plays; $19 student

rush. To April 5.

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Pride’s Crossing

Sustained applause and three cheers for playwright Tina

Howe whose disarming and beautifully written play "Pride’s Crossing"

is far and away the play to be most cherished in the entire Off-Broadway

season. Many bravas to actor’s actor Cherry Jones (Tony-winner for

"The Heiress") who brings a transcending illumination to the

play and to its central character. That is the fictional and fabulous

Mabel Tidings Bigelow, a stout-hearted New England blue-blood who

swam the channel in 1928, but couldn’t give in to her heart and marry

the great love of her life, a Jewish doctor. Howe has reached into

the real and subtle textures of the upper-crust she framed in "Painting

Churches," into the purely romantic dalliances of "Coastal

Disturbances," and into the off-the-wall hokum she fitted into

"One Shoe Off," and come up with the joyously conceived and

lovingly embraced "Pride’s Crossing."

Time means nothing and everything in this jauntily episodic memory

play in which the romantic, self-sufficient, and irresistible matriarch

Bigelow time travels back and forth from the age of 90 back to age

10 and points between, and to social and private events from the fantastically

enhanced to the more formally enshrined. The excellent supporting

cast appear to be having as much a romp playing multiple and cross-gender

roles as we are having just by watching them.

This exquisitely designed production, with sets by Ralph Funicello,

costumes by Robert Morgan and lighting by Kenneth Posner, is directed

with sublime care and tenderness by Jack O’Brien, who directed the

original production at San Diego’s Old Globe Theater. HHHH

Prides’ Crossing, Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center,

150 West 65th Street, 212-239-6200. $50. To April 5.

Top Of Page
Bargain Tickets

Before you rush for tickets to any of the above, try

A.R.T. This is not the new play on Broadway, but the Alliance of Resident

Theaters/New York where discounts worth 10 to 50 percent on dozens

of Off-Broadway plays are yours for the asking. Simply ask for the

Passport to Off-Broadway coupon and play book. Write to A.R.T at 131

Varick Street, Room 904, New York, NY 10013; phone at 212-989-5257;

or fax 212-989-4880 for details. You can also request coupons through

the website at sidewalk.com.


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