Only whipsmart playwright David Henry Hwang could have written Chinglish, the new biting comedy of manners that depicts the gulf between Chinese and American cultures through the misadventures of language in translation.
For Stephen Sondheim’s 1971 Follies, however, the Broadway revival creates the perfect situation to reflect on the musical’s themes of regret, nostalgia, and getting older. With a book by James Goldman and music and lyrics by Sondheim, song and story intertwine to reveal that a show-stopping musical number is the only way these characters can express who they really are.
Jason Nahum, an up and coming actor of considerable talent, opens up about his recent foray into the downtown scene, appearing in Axis Theatre’s Hospital 2011 written and directed by Randy Sharp.
The production focuses its energies on exposing its illusion-making apparatuses to such an extent that the creaks and cranks of its pulleys and the nonchalant all-female run crew become the focal point of the play. When Prospero declares “I abjure this rough magic” in the final act, Shakespeare’s poetry is imbued with an unexpected shade of meaning because theater itself is shown as a failed contrivance bereft of illusory magic.
Without question, the true stars of this musical are the gorgeous chorus girls who glide along the stage with dazzling grace. Choreographer Jerry Mitchell recalls a bygone era creating magic with an array of kick lines and fan dances. The male chorus also displays energetic power, but really, nothing can compare to those smooth gleaming gams. They hypnotize with effortless feminine beauty.
Tenneriello’s first encounter with theatrical experimentation came from her mother who used to perform impersonations after family dinners. “We would bang our silverware on the table calling for ‘imitations’ at the end of the meal. She would disappear and return dressed like one of us in a bathrobe or jacket, and parody us. It was hysterical.”
The play documents “the search” for Stella Burden, a mysterious acting teacher from the 70s, who started an unnamed company, rehearsed A Streetcar Named Desire for many years (without the parts of Stella, Stanley, Blanche or Mitch) only to leave without word for South America. Her actors continued rehearsing the piece for several more years, applying “The Approach” (Stella Burden’s technique) hoping to perfect their performance.
McDormand ‘s stellar performance captures the complexity of her character by combining swift comic timing with nuanced moments of strained vulnerability. One moment during the second scene, she fixes her stare outside a dingy kitchen window to piercingly convey a rising desperation within. With honesty and clarity, Lindsay-Abaire and McDormand come together to create a compelling portrait that doesn’t beg for pity, but commands respect and serious contemplation.
Alone Together will explore emerging trends in theater and what they tell us about who we are as culture. It will also examine the unique individuals who make these productions and the personal struggles that compel them to seek out the public forum for expression.
Given the grandeur of its lofty aspirations, the play inevitably fails on some levels, like the idea of America itself. But the failure is spectacular, memorable and exciting.
Patti LuPone, however, does not stumble. In her mesmerizing performance of the show’s best song “Invisible” the actress masterfully transforms a farcical kangaroo court scene into a powerful portrayal of a woman confronting true misery. One by one, the spectacular bells and whistles of the production disappear to leave an exposed and raw LuPone standing alone on a bare stage. Her monumental voice soars through the theater as she reveals a hauntingly vulnerable soul on the brink of collapse.