Four years ago, Zurich-born, New York-based artist Urs Fischer installed “Untitled (Lamp/Bear),” a twenty-three-foot-tall, nearly twenty-ton cuddly yellow teddy bear wearing a working lamp for a hat on the plaza in front of Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building on Park Ave.; the piece sold at auction that summer for more than $6.8 million. Fischer has now returned to that triumphant location with “Big Clay #4,” a forty-two-and-a-half-foot-tall aluminum sculpture of a piece of squeezed clay, complete with the artist’s fingerprints. When the piece was being installed, a printout of plans left near construction materials on the plaza showed the ultimate sculpture (actually for “Big Clay #3”) in multiple colors, reminiscent of Jeff Koons’s “Play-Doh” from his recent Whitney retrospective. But alas, the colors were just to help identify which section went where; the final sculpture is plain silver, twisted metal rising like the Midtown skyscrapers surrounding it, though not quite as orderly. Fischer, who has worked with such materials as bread, wax, and vegetables, here goes back to the very source, a small lump of clay that he squeezed, scanned, digitally enlarged, and now has cast for all to see but not touch.
Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center Theater
150 West 65th St. between Broadway & Amsterdam Ave.
Tuesday - Saturday through January 3, $97-$172
In December 1977, my parents took the whole family to Broadway to see a revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I, with Yul Brynner returning as King Mongkut of Siam and Constance Towers playing Anna Leonowens, a British schoolteacher hired by the royal leader to teach English and Western culture to his children as he tries to modernize his country, later known as Thailand. It was my introduction to the Broadway musical in person, not a bad way to begin. So it was with fond memories that I entered Lincoln Center’s Vivian Beaumont Theater recently to see this latest revival, and I’m happy to report that everything you’ve heard about it is correct; it’s a memorable experience from start to finish, a delightful staging loaded with charm and elegance. Based on Margaret Landon’s 1944 novel, Anna and the King of Siam, a fictionalized version of actual events, the musical gets under way with a lovely overture; the small orchestra, under the direction of Ted Sperling, is in the pit, visible below long wooden slats stretching out in front of the stage. But at the end of the fanfare, the stage floor extends over the musicians, the curtain opens, and a nearly impossibly large, spectacular ship approaches the audience, carrying Anna (six-time Tony nominee Kelli O’Hara) and her young son, Louis (Jake Lucas), as they pull into Bangkok. Captain Orton (Murphy Guyer) warns Anna not to anger Kralahome (Paul Nakauchi), the king’s prime minister, but the widow immediately shows that she is not afraid of anything, speaking her mind when she learns that she and Louis will be staying at the palace instead of the separate house she was promised. And upon meeting the king (Ken Watanabe), who has a vast number of wives and children, she quickly demonstrates that she is a strong, fearless woman, not about to tolerate treatment as a second-class citizen. In addition to giving lessons to the kids, including the crown prince, Chulalongkorn (Jon Viktor Corpuz), Anna is soon teaching the king a thing or two as well as he seeks to make tiny Siam a major player in the modern world. Meanwhile, the newest member of his harem, Tuptim (Ashley Park), a gift from the king of Burma, is secretly in love with Lun Tha (Conrad Ricamora), a clandestine romance that could get them both killed.
Director Bartlett Sher, who helmed Lincoln Center’s celebrated 2008 production of South Pacific — which earned seven Tonys, including Best Director of a Musical and Best Revival of a Musical, as well as a nomination for O’Hara’s featured performance as Nellie Forbush — has done another sparkling job with The King and I, inviting the audience to bask in the glow of Richard Rodgers’s glorious music and Oscar Hammerstein III’s exquisite book and lyrics. Once the ship departs, Michael Yeargan’s sets are much more spare yet graceful, allowing Catherine Zuber’s sumptuous costumes to shine. The songs are, well, as wonderful as ever, from “I Whistle a Happy Tune,” “Hello, Young Lovers,” and “Shall We Dance?” to “Getting to Know You,” “A Puzzlement,” and, natch, “Something Wonderful.” “The March of Siamese Children,” in which the king’s progeny from his favorite wives bow to him, one at a time, then greet Anna, as their mothers watch closely, hoping their children don’t do anything to hurt their status, is particularly effective, not only in its stellar execution but in displaying the old-fashioned ways of the king, which he must overcome if Siam is to thrive internationally. The issue of slavery is raised quite specifically in the second-act ballet “The Small House of Uncle Thomas,” a special presentation, based on Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, for an important British diplomat (Edward Baker-Duly) who is interested in Anna. The show manages to sidestep issues of colonialism and ethnocentricity as Anna criticizes many of Siam’s traditions and her relationship with the king grows more intimate.
O’Hara (The Light in the Piazza, Nice Work If You Can Get It) is enchanting as Anna, a role previously played by the likes of Celeste Holm, Hayley Mills, Faith Prince, Maureen McGovern, and Marie Osmond, giving her a fierce, determined edge while letting her vocal cords soar. (Irene Dunne played Anna in John Cromwell’s 1946 film, Anna and the King of Siam, which also starred Rex Harrison as the king and Lee J. Cobb as Kralahome.) Watanabe (Letters from Iwo Jima, Inception) is a certifiable triumph in a role that might be associated with one actor more than any other role — Brynner played the part more than 4,600 times onstage over the course of thirty-four years, winning two Tonys, while also earning an Oscar for the 1956 film and starring in the 1972 television series Anna and the King with Samantha Eggar. Bare-chested and with a shaven head, Watanabe is utterly engaging as the king, his choppy English adding a nice touch to his depiction of the complex ruler, whether declaring that life is a puzzlement, gleefully exclaiming, “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera,” or sweeping across the floor with Anna. (Just for the record, among the other actors who have portrayed the king in various incarnations, both musical and not, are Farley Granger, Lou Diamond Phillips, Zachary Scott, Herbert Lom, Darren McGavin, and Rudolf Nureyev.) Christopher Gattelli’s choreography, based on Jerome Robbins’s original, keeps things flowing beautifully, accompanying Robert Russell Bennett’s lush orchestrations. The original production won all five of the Tony Awards it was nominated for back in 1952 — Brynner as Best Featured Actor, Gertrude Lawrence for Best Leading Actress as Anna, Best Costume Design, Best Scenic Design, and Best Musical — while the revival I saw as a kid earned Drama Desk nominations for Brynner, Angela Lansbury as Anna, and Outstanding Musical. Lincoln Center’s revival is another runaway hit, garnering nine Tony nominations and two Drama Desk nods. It’s an absolute treat getting to know The King and I all over again.
KWAIDAN (Masaki Kobayashi, 1964)
Museum of the Moving Image
35th Ave. at 36th St., Astoria
Sunday, May 24, $12, 6:00
Series runs through May 24
The Museum of the Moving Image series “Portraying the Human Condition: The Films of Masaki Kobayashi and Tatsuya Nakadai” comes to a sensational conclusion on May 24 with a 2:00 screening of Harakiri, with the eighty-two-year-old Nakadai on hand to discuss the work, and then, at 6:00, a presentation of the mesmerizing Kwaidan. In the latter film, based on folkloric tales by Lafcadio Hearn, aka Koizumi Yakumo, Kobayashi (The Human Condition, Samurai Rebellion) paints four marvelous ghost stories, each one with a unique look and feel. In “The Black Hair,” a samurai (Rentaro Mikuni) regrets his choice of leaving his true love for societal advancement. Yuki (Keiko Kishi) is a harbinger of doom for a woodcutter (Nakadai) in “The Woman of the Snow.” Hoichi (Katsuo Nakamura) must have his entire body covered in prayer in “Hoichi, the Earless.” And Kannai (Kanemon Nakamura) finds a creepy face staring back at him in “In a Cup of Tea.” The four films subtly, and not so subtly, explore such concepts as greed and envy, love and loss, and the art of storytelling itself. Winner of the Special Jury Prize at Cannes, Kwaidan is one of the greatest ghost story films ever made, a quartet of chilling existential tales that will get under your skin and into your brain. The score was composed by Tōru Takemitsu, who said of the film, “I wanted to create an atmosphere of terror.” He succeeded.
Who: Honorees Michelle Coffey, Icema Gibbs, Paul Januszewski, Juliana May, Cathy Nolan, Martha Sherman, Rebecca Trent, Jimmy Van Bramer, and Mac Wellman
What: Tenth annual Taste of LIC, presented by the Chocolate Factory
Where: Gantry Plaza State Park, 49th Ave. at the East River
When: Tuesday, June 2, $65-$400, 6:30
Why: Taste of LIC celebrates the growth of the Long Island Community, and for its tenth year it will be honoring ten leaders (one posthumously) in Gantry Plaza State Park, where more than fifty restaurants will be providing food and drink, including Alewife NYC, Alobar, Antidote Chocolate, Astor Bake Shop, Bear Bar & Restaurant, Beija Flor, Bella Via Restaurant, Casa Enrique, the Creek & the Cave, Crescent Grill, Dominie’s Hoek, M. Wells, Manducatis Rustica, Manetta’s Ristorante, the Pie Lady, Sage General Store, Skinny’s Cantina, Southern Wheels Eats, Sweetleaf, Tournesol, and Zenon Taverna. There will also be raffle prizes from more than one hundred LIC businesses, with proceeds benefiting the Chocolate Factory, as well as a live performance by Jon Kinzel, with New York City Council majority leader Jimmy Van Bramer serving as master of ceremonies.
BANDITI A ORGOSOLO (BANDITS OF ORGOSOLO) (Vittorio De Seta, 1961)
Film Society of Lincoln Center, Walter Reade Theater
144 West 65th St. between Eighth Ave. & Broadway
Saturday, May 23, 7:00
Festival runs May 22-31
“The souls of these men are still primitive. What is right according to their law is not right according to that of the modern world,” an unseen narrator explains at the beginning of Vittorio De Seta’s sadly overlooked debut feature, Banditi a Orgosolo, about shepherds scraping to get by in a vast mountainous region of Sardinia. In the black-and-white post-neorealist film, Michele (Michele Cossu) and his young brother, Peppeddu (Peppeddu Cuccu), tend to their flock of sheep, for which Michele still owes money. After a trio of former shepherds turned bandits shows up, Michele is visited by the police; not wanting to get involved, he lies to the carbinieri, insisting he has not seen anyone else. A firefight ensues between the police and the bandits, leaving one cop dead, and Michele and Peppeddu are on the lam, hunted by the police while desperately trying to hold on to their flock as they make their way through what Michele refers to as “bad places.” Winner of the New Cinema Award at the 1961 Venice Film Festival, Banditi a Orgosolo is a dark, bleak tale, shot by De Seta in nearly infinite gradations of black and white, Valentino Bucchi’s ominous score lurking in the background. Cossu, a nonprofessional actor from the region, portrays Michele with a stark earnestness and a clear understanding of the futility of his character’s situation. A former documentarian, De Seta (The Uninvited, Lettere dal Sahara), who wrote the screenplay with Vera Gherarducci, doesn’t make any epic proclamations about society’s ills, instead letting the story about changing times and abject poverty in Sardinia unfold at an often agonizing snail’s pace. The shepherds and their small villages, representative of the old ways, are being left behind, even as the state takes the place of centuries-old oppressors, doing what it can to keep them down and destitute.
Banditi a Orgosolo is getting a rare screening on May 23 at 7:00 as part of the Film Society of Lincoln Center series “Titanus: A Family Chronicle of Italian Cinema,” a ten-day, twenty-three-film retrospective honoring the Italian production company founded by Gustavo Lombardo in 1904 and later run by his son, Goffredo, and grandson, Guido, that remained active until 1964 (although it continues to occasionally release work). The festival displays the wide range of Titanus’s output, including Michelangelo Antonioni’s Le Amiche, Dario Argento’s The Bird with Crystal Plumage, Ermanno Olmi’s The Fiancés, Francesco Rosi’s The Magliari, Elio Petri’s Numbered Days, Federico Fellini’s The Swindle, Steno’s Totò Diabolicus, and Vittorio De Sica’s Two Women, but not Luchino Visconti’s The Leopard; the tremendous cost of filming Giuseppe di Lampedusa’s epochal novel played a major role in the company’s downward fortune.
Who: Rangers alumni and fans
What: Outdoor viewing party
Where: Bryant Park, between Fifth & Sixth Aves. and 40th & 42nd Sts.
When: Wednesday, May 20, free, 4:00
Why: Rangerstown moves to Bryant Park for all-important Game 3 of the NHL conference finals between the Broadway Blueshirts and the Tampa Bay Lightning. Starting at 4:00, fans can take part in hockey clinics, ice-skate, meet Rangers alums, get their face painted in True Blue, and win prizes. At 8:00, the game will be broadcast on the big screen, as the Rangers try to recover from their disappointing outing in Game 2. They’ll have to step up their game, particularly Martin St. Louis and Rick Nash, crash the net, use their speed, and stay out of the penalty box if they want to get the lead back in the series. Of course, these are the Rangers, where nothing comes easy.
The Godlight Theatre Company follows up its spare, Drama Desk–nominated staging of James Dickey’s Deliverance with another testosterone-fueled tale, Donn Pearce’s Cool Hand Luke. As with all of Godlight’s productions — which also include One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, In the Heat of the Night, Slaughterhouse-Five, Fahrenheit 451, and The Third Man — this latest work is based on the original novel, not the popular film, in this case Pearce’s 1965 book rather than Stuart Rosenberg’s 1967 movie, which starred Paul Newman and an all-star ensemble and earned four Oscar nominations. (Warning: The classic line “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate” is from the movie, so it is not in the play.) Lawrence Jansen stars as Luke Jackson, a smartass war hero with what would now be called PTSD who is serving time for having cut the heads off of parking meters. “Luke had the devil in him,” fellow inmate Dragline (Mike Jansen) explains in a short prologue. “Luke done some kinda deal somewheres along the line. Don’t know what. Thar’s no telling. But Luke was jes’ natcherly mad at God.” Luke becomes part of a roadside chain gang with Dragline, Curly (Lars Drew), Society Red (Brett Warnke), and Rabbit (Jarrod Zayas), who are closely watched by Boss Kean (Jason Bragg Stanley), collaborator Carr (Ken King), and the evil Boss Godfrey (Nick Paglino), who has it in for Luke from the start. But through it all, Luke keeps on smiling, as he faces off against Boss Godfrey, tries to eat fifty hard-boiled eggs in one hour, and won’t take the advice of his mother (Kristina Doelling) to put his faith in the lord. “Ain’t you scared a’ dyin’ and goin’ to hell?” Dragline asks him. “Dyin’? It’s livin’ I’m scared of,” Luke responds.
Once again, the staging is the star in this Godlight production. The story, adapted by Emma Reeves (Anne of Green Gables, Little Women), unfolds with no props or scenery in a tiny black box at 59E59, where the characters are cordoned off on the right and left by an angled row of lights on the floor, with Luke and Boss Godfrey almost always in the center, Luke in the front, Godfrey in the back, the latter watching everything from behind his dark sunglasses. Director Joe Tantalo (A Clockwork Orange, 1984), the artistic director of Godlight for more than twenty years, announces scene changes with sharp flashes of light, courtesy of set and lighting designer Maruti Evans, accompanied by the crack of a rifle loading. (The sound design is by Ien Denio.) Cool Hand Luke is filled with religious imagery, with Luke envisioned as a Christ-like figure and a saint, Boss Godfrey as the devil, the other prisoners potential disciples. In a scene from Luke’s past, he seeks help from a woman named Mary (Julia Torres, who also curiously sings a spiritual at the beginning and end of the play), while Doelling portrays a prostitute in addition to Luke’s mother, furthering biblical references. The show lacks the dramatic conflict inherent in previous Godlight shows; it is significantly more slight, a series of episodes in search of a fluent narrative as a whole. But the strong acting and expert, unique staging will keep you chained to your seats.