This Week in New York Insider's Guide to Arts & Culture in New York City Since 2001

NETWORK

(photo by Jan Versweyveld, 2018)

Bryan Cranston takes on iconic role of madman Howard Beale in stage version of Network (photo by Jan Versweyveld, 2018)

Belasco Theatre
111 West 44th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Saturday through March 17, $49 - $399
networkbroadway.com

When it was released in 1976, Sidney Lumet’s Network instantly shocked audiences as it unmasked the approaching intersection of the corporatization of entertainment and news in the media, featuring a brilliant, prescient script by Bronx native Paddy Chayefsky that skewered the television industry and Americans’ obsession with “the tube.” It revealed a world dominated by ratings-hungry white men in suits, with two exceptional white female characters boldly asserting their own personal and professional power and independence at the height of the women’s liberation movement. Four decades later, the story is as relevant and shocking as ever in Ivo van Hove’s riveting yet dizzying stage production, which opened last night at the Belasco.

The film was nominated for ten Oscars, winning acting awards for the late Peter Finch, Faye Dunaway, and Beatrice Straight and Best Original Screenplay for Chayefsky, who wrote such other gems as Marty, The Hospital, The Americanization of Emily, and Altered States before passing away in 1981 at the age of fifty-eight. Despite Bryan Cranston’s mesmerizing lead performance and all of van Hove’s live-streaming technical wizardry — which can be breathtaking and exhilarating as well as overwhelming, distracting, anachronistic, and confusing — it’s Chayefsky’s words that steal the show, adapted here by Lee Hall like they are gospel, which in many ways they are. In the published version of the play, which debuted at London’s National Theatre in November 2017, Hall describes his adaptation as “keyhole surgery,” writing, “Hopefully my interventions are invisible to the untrained eye.” The only significant changes involve the treatment of terrorists by the media, which Hall and van Hove tone down here, and the addition of a coda following the climactic finale. (Hall was given access to Chayefsky’s archives, so he has noted that any and all changes were based on or inspired by the author’s notes, letters, drafts, etc.)

(photo by Jan Versweyveld, 2018)

Howard Beale (Bryan Cranston) is downtrodden as Max Schumacher (Tony Goldwyn) looks distraught in Ivo van Hove’s high-tech Broadway version of Network (photo by Jan Versweyveld, 2018)

Olivier, Emmy, and Tony winner Cranston (Breaking Bad, All the Way) takes on the iconic role of Howard Beale, portrayed so memorably by Finch in the film. Cranston immerses himself in the role with a careful abandon; he pays tribute to Finch while making the part his own, much as Hall and van Hove treat the movie. After twenty-five years with Union Broadcasting Systems, Beale is being put out to pasture because of low ratings. But he surprises everyone when he announces during a broadcast that he is going to commit suicide live on television the next week. His best friend and longtime colleague, news division president Max Schumacher (Tony Goldwyn), puts him back on the air quickly so he can apologize and restore his dignity, but Beale instead calls “bullshit” on the state of the world, sending everyone into a tizzy — except ruthlessly ambitious programming head Diana Christensen (Tatiana Maslany), who jumps on the unique opportunity and soon convinces executive producer Harry Hunter (Julian Elijah Martinez), network executive Nelson Chaney (Frank Wood), and network head Frank Hackett (Joshua Boone) to give Beale his own show, making him a kind of angry prophet of the airwaves, speaking for and to the common person. The contemporary of industry legends Walter Cronkite, Eric Sevareid, and Edward R. Murrow becomes a ranting and raving populist hero, although Schumacher believes Beale is being turned into a fool, but there’s little he can to do stop the momentum, which eventually falls apart all by itself.

The use of live video, something van Hove has done in such previous productions as The Damned at Park Avenue Armory and Kings of War at BAM, creates an ever-moving swirl of activity, akin to surfing the internet, except the equipment itself is very modern, digital in an analog era that featured big, bulky cameras. (The director did not employ that style in his 2016 Arthur Miller back-to-back Broadway adaptations of A View from the Bridge and The Crucible.) Depending on where you are sitting, the cameras, operated by technicians Gina Daniels, Nicholas Guest, Jeena Yi, and Joe Paulik, may also occasionally block your view. The footage is projected onto a large screen at the back, often turning Beale into a giant, his image repeating into the distance. Period news reports about Patty Hearst and old commercials — with Roy Scheider in a Folgers ad and Cranston himself pitching Preparation H — fly by on a wall of screens on one side, but don’t get too caught up in them or you’ll miss the magnificent dialogue. The set, by van Hove’s partner, Jan Versweyveld, includes a bar and nightclub-like tables and couches at stage left (where audience members who pay $299 to $399 enjoy dinner and drinks curated by former White House pastry chef Bill Yosses while watching the show and even interacting with the characters) and the glassed-in control room at stage right, where various executives, some of the tech crew, and the announcer (Henry Stram) can always be seen, as if everyone is both under surveillance and doing the surveilling.

(photo by Jan Versweyveld, 2018)

Diana Christensen (Tatiana Maslany) and Harry Hunter (Julian Elijah Martinez) can’t believe what they’re seeing in Network (photo by Jan Versweyveld, 2018)

When Beale implores his television audience to open their windows and scream, “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore,” van Hove shows numerous people doing only the latter; instead of photographing men and women yelling out their windows, a procession of YouTube-like selfie videos follow, seeming out of time and place. The live video even extends outdoors when Max and Diana go for a stroll, but the scene takes you out of the play as passersby gawk at Goldwyn (Scandal, Ghost) and Emmy winner Maslany (Orphan Black, Mary Page Marlowe), who never quite catch the fire and passion of William Holden and Dunaway in the film, a critical relationship that literally puts the news and entertainment divisions in bed together. Goldwyn is otherwise solidly effective as Beale’s determined protector, and the pivotal showdown between Max and his wife, Louise (Alyssa Bresnahan), hits the right notes; however, Bresnahan looks so much like Dunaway that you can’t help but wonder if she should have played Diana. (Coincidentally, Dunaway just announced she will be returning to Broadway next year, portraying Katharine Hepburn in Tea at Five.) In a fine casting touch, Barzin Akhavan plays both Jack Snowden, the young anchor in line to replace Beale, and the warm-up guy for Beale’s circuslike show, a newsman transformed into carnival barker.

(photo by Jan Versweyveld, 2018)

News division president Max Schumacher (Tony Goldwyn) and programming head Diana Christensen (Tatiana Maslany) bring their work home with them in Network) (photo by Jan Versweyveld, 2018)

But it’s Chayefsky’s sparkling language that reigns supreme all these years later; Beale’s pronouncements ring as true now as they did in 1976. Take this speech, for example: “I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. Everybody’s out of work or scared of losing their job, the dollar buys a nickel’s worth, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter, punks are running wild in the streets, and there’s nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do and there’s no end to it. We know the air’s unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat and we sit and watch our teevees while some local newscaster tells us today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that’s the way it’s supposed to be. We all know things are bad. Worse than bad. They’re crazy. It’s like everything’s going crazy. So we don’t go out anymore. We sit in the house and slowly the world we live in gets smaller and all we ask is, please, at least leave us alone in our own living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my teevee and my hair dryer and my steel belted radials, and I won’t say anything, just leave us alone. Well, I’m not going to leave you alone. I want you to get mad.” When he mentions Russia, the audience laughs, but Hall isn’t making a cheap joke about current events; the reference is in the film.

In another Beale rant, it’s as if Chayefsky saw the coming of smartphones, the internet, and social media: “Because less than three percent of you people read books. Because less than fifteen percent read newspapers. Because the only truth you know is what you get on your television. There is a whole and entire generation right now who never knew anything that didn’t come out of this tube. This tube is gospel. This tube is the ultimate revelation. This tube can make or break presidents, popes, and prime ministers. This tube is the most awesome goddam force in the whole godless world! And woe is us if it ever falls into the hands of the wrong people.”

When Jensen makes his remarkably foresighted proclamation to Beale about power, international commerce, and “the primal forces of nature,” devilishly delivered by Wyman (Catch Me If You Can, A Tale of Two Cities), van Hove puts Jensen above everyone else on a heavenly platform, as if he’s a godlike figure who is the only one who understands what is really happening in the world — in 1976 as well as in 2018. Be sure to get to the Belasco early, as the actors are already traversing the stage, preparing for the evening news, as the audience enters the theater, and stay in your seats after the curtain call, as there’s a bonus that brings the visionary satire right up to the present moment, although that point has already frighteningly shone through over and over again.

THE WAVERLY GALLERY

(photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

A family faces a matriarch experiencing dementia in Kenneth Lonergan’s The Waverly Gallery (photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

Golden Theatre
252 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 27, $49 - $149
thewaverlygalleryonbroadway.com

Elaine May gives a career-topping performance as an octogenarian suffering from dementia in the Broadway debut of Kenneth Lonergan’s Pulitzer Prize finalist, the sensitive, bittersweet memory play The Waverly Gallery. Running through January 27 at the Golden Theatre — the same venue where May and her longtime comedy partner, Mike Nichols, staged An Evening with Mike Nichols and Elaine May in October 1960 — The Waverly Gallery takes place between 1989 and 1991 in a small, inconsequential Greenwich Village art gallery operated by eighty-five-year-old Gladys Green (May) and the Upper West Side apartment where Green’s daughter, Ellen Fine (Joan Allen), lives with her second husband, Howard Fine (David Cromer), and their dog. Ellen’s son, Daniel Reed (Lucas Hedges), often comes over for dinner, along with Gladys. “I want to tell you what happened to my grandmother, Gladys Green, near the end of her life,” Daniel tells the audience early on in the first of a series of direct addresses looking back at the past. “I lived in her building — where I still live — in Greenwich Village, during the last couple of years when she was there. . . . For twenty-eight years she ran a tiny gallery on Waverly Place, around the corner from where we lived. And without being too depressing about it, she didn’t always have the best stuff in there. But some of it was pretty good. . . . It’s not that I didn't like her. I did. It’s just that once you went in there, it was kind of tough getting out again. So I was pretty stingy with the visits.”

(photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

Art gallery owner Gladys (Elaine May) speaks with her daughter, Ellen (Joan Allen), as painter Don (Michael Cera) looks on in Broadway debut of Kenneth Lonergan play (photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

One day a somewhat egotistical artist from Massachusetts, Don Bowman (Michael Cera), walks into the gallery, which is connected to a hotel undergoing renovations, with his portfolio, and Gladys decides not only to give him a show but also to let him sleep in the back room, as he claims to have no money. Ellen, who becomes easily exasperated with her mother, and Howard, who practically yells at Gladys when he talks to her, thinking she is deafer than she is, are suspicious of Don’s motives as he insinuates himself into Gladys’s life. But when the hotel owner tells the family that he is taking back the gallery to turn it into a breakfast café, Ellen, Howard, and Daniel have to figure out a way to tell Gladys, whose Alzheimer’s is getting worse.

The play opens with Gladys saying, “I never knew anything was the matter.” Although she was specifically referring to Ellen’s first marriage falling apart, she could just as well be talking about her own life. Her memory lapses, hearing problems, and inability to truly understand what is going on around her are harrowing to watch, yet Lonergan, the writer-director of such award-winning films as You Can Count on Me and Manchester by the Sea and such hit plays as This Is Our Youth and Lobby Hero, injects plenty of humor into the strife. “We’re liberal Upper West Side atheistic Jewish intellectuals — and we really like German choral music,” Daniel tells Don. A dinner scene in which Ellen and Howard futz with Gladys’s hearing aid has a slapstick touch. And Gladys’s forgetfulness can be charming and funny — until it’s not. The eighty-six-year-old May, a National Medal of Arts winner who wrote, directed, and starred in A New Leaf and worked with the likes of Nichols, Warren Beatty, and Neil Simon in such films as The Birdcage, The Heartbreak Kid, and, yes, Ishtar, imbues Gladys with such honesty and sincerity that it’s heart-wrenching watching her decline.

(photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

Lucas Hedges, Elaine May, Joan Allen, David Cromer, and Michael Cera star in The Waverly Gallery (photo by Brigitte Lacombe)

In her first Broadway show, Drama Desk- and Obie-winning director Lila Neugebauer, who is building an impressive résumé with such works as Edward Albee’s At Home at the Zoo, Annie Baker’s The Antipodes, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s Everybody, and Sarah DeLappe’s The Wolves, superbly balances the humor and heartbreak, never letting melodrama take over and instead including numerous moments in which the audience feels appropriately uncomfortable going from laughing to tearing up as David Zinn’s sets alternate between New York City apartments to the quaint belowground art gallery. Grammy winner and Oscar nominee May, Tony winner and Emmy and Oscar nominee Allen (Burn This, The Contender), Tony-winning actor and director Cromer (The Band’s Visit, Tribes), Oscar nominee Hedges (Manchester by the Sea, Yen), and Tony nominee Cera (Arrested Development, Juno), in his third consecutive Lonergan play on Broadway, form a stellar ensemble, capturing the essence of an extended family facing a tragic situation. (The 1999 original cast featured a widely hailed Eileen Heckart as Gladys, Maureen Anderman as Ellen, Mark Blum as Howard, Josh Hamilton as Daniel, and Anthony Arkin as Don; Anderman is now May’s understudy on Broadway.) “Honey? Do you think the Village has changed much in the last five years?” Gladys asks Daniel, who responds, “Yes! It’s been changing for a lot longer than that!” But what hasn’t changed nearly enough is the brutal impact of Alzheimer’s disease on sufferers and their families, so aptly on display in this perceptive and humane production.

THE LIFESPAN OF A FACT

(photo by Peter Cunningham)

Author John D’Agata (Bobby Cannavale) gets more than a little frustrated with intern Jim Fingal (Daniel Radcliffe) in The Lifespan of a Fact (photo by Peter Cunningham)

Studio 54
254 West 54th St.
Through January 13, $49-$179
212-719-1300
www.lifespanofafact.com

In another part of my life, I have worked in book, newspaper, and magazine publishing, where I am regularly involved in fact checking, corresponding with freelancers, editors, and authors, trying to carefully balance artistic license and the absolute truth, if such a thing exists. So I have a particular interest in The Lifespan of a Fact, the new play by Jeremy Kareken, David Murrell, and Gordon Farrell continuing at Studio 54 through January 13. Inspired by a true story, the eighty-five-minute show centers around an essay written by John D’Agata (Bobby Cannavale) for a magazine run by Emily Penrose (Cherry Jones), who has hired intern Jim Fingal (Daniel Radcliffe) to fact check the piece, which is about the suicide of sixteen-year-old Levi Presley in Las Vegas. A recent Harvard grad, Fingal is excited about showing Penrose what he can do, assuring her that he is the right person for the job, which is on a very tight deadline. “Check all the details, make sure they’re correct,” she tells him. “John’s been known to take his little liberties, so if there’s a place mentioned, make sure it’s spelled correctly. If there’s a person mentioned, confirm they exist. We need to make a good faith effort — confirm every detail.” She also tells him not to “be roughshod,” as D’Agata is a great writer and the piece is an extremely beautiful and important essay about humanity. But what begins as a small dispute between the nerdy Fingal and the tough D’Agata over how many strip clubs there are in Vegas turns into a major battle over language, journalism, and veracity.

Daniel Radcliffe is a nerdy intern trying to do his job in The Lifespan of a Fact (photo by Peter Cunningham)

Daniel Radcliffe is a nerdy intern trying to do his job in The Lifespan of a Fact (photo by Peter Cunningham)

Objecting to Fingal’s queries, D’Agata advises him, “I take liberties with things that deepen the central truth of the piece. Don’t get bogged down in the details, keep your eye on the big picture. Except don’t, because that’s my job.” But when Fingal does get bogged down on the details, questioning just about every single thing mentioned in the essay, he flies out to Vegas to perform what he believes to be due diligence. “If you say an event occurred, readers need to trust that it occurred,” Fingal insists to D’Agata. “This piece rests on the weight of a lot of details; it’s problematic for you to wash your hands of their accuracy.” D’Agata defends himself, explaining, “Things don’t rest on weights. Weights rest on things. I’m not washing my hands of anything. I’m saying there’s a world of facts to choose from. The wrong facts get in the way of the story.” To which Fingal snidely responds, “The ‘wrong’ facts?! And that means what exactly?” Soon Penrose becomes the referee in a furious fight between the two men, each of whom is making legitimate points as the deadline approaches.

Breezily directed by Tony nominee and Obie winner Leigh Silverman (Violet, Go Back to Where You Are), the play features dynamic performances by three-time Drama Desk nominee Radcliffe (Privacy, The Cripple of Inishmaan), two-time Tony winner Jones (The Glass Menagerie, Doubt), and two-time Tony nominee Cannavale (The Hairy Ape, The Motherf**ker with the Hat), an outstanding trio of actors who play off one another with endless charm even as the plot heats up and moves from Penrose’s office to D’Agata’s Vegas home. (The sets are by Tony winner Mimi Lien, with distracting projections by Lucy Mackinnon and original music by Palmer Hefferan.) Watching the annotation of the essay is fascinating; you can actually read the final, published article here, in the aptly titled Believer magazine.

(photo by Peter Cunningham)

Daniel Radcliffe, Cherry Jones, and Bobby Cannavale star in new Broadway play about the importance of facts (photo by Peter Cunningham)

Over the years, I have often found myself between a copy editor and a line editor, the former catching a factual error, the latter stetting it (letting it stand as is) for one reason or another. The Lifespan of a Fact gets right to the heart of the matter with intelligence and wit, although it takes it to an extreme, complete with some very funny slapstick comedy. The play itself has taken many liberties with the story; Fingal and D’Agata are real, while Penrose is not, and many of the situations and the timeline have been altered for dramatic impact, which is okay with Fingal and D’Agata, who wrote about their experience in their 2012 book, The Lifespan of a Fact. The show arrives on Broadway at an opportune moment in American history, when facts are challenged on social media and the president screams about fake news when he doesn’t like what is written about him in the press. But The Lifespan of a Fact wisely avoids getting political, instead concentrating on how three very different people with distinct objectives approach the truth, understanding that what’s most critical in this case is trying to find out why a teenager jumped from the top of a hotel in a place called Sin City. “Readers care how events play out on a deeper level. They care about the meaning behind the confluence of the events,” John says. “But events didn’t conflue the way you said,” Jim replies. “Conflue is not a word,” John responds. In today’s day and age, does it even matter who among the three characters might be the most right and what qualifies as a necessary fact?

KING KONG

(photo by Matthew Murphy)

King Kong is none too happy with Broadway musical about him (photo by Matthew Murphy)

The Broadway Theatre
1681 Broadway at 53rd St.
Tuesday - Saturday through April 14, $69 - $175
kingkongbroadway.com

It isn’t beauty that kills the beast in the Broadway bust King Kong; it’s the music, lyrics, and story that lack the charm to soothe this savage breast, to paraphrase William Congreve. I don’t revel in taking yet more shots at the already brutally attacked musical, but I have little choice than to fire more artillery in the direction of the Broadway Theatre, where this travesty opened on November 8. King Kong himself, the eighth wonder of the world, is spectacular; designed by Sonny Tilders and Roger Kirk, lit by Peter Mumford, voiced by Jon Hoche, and operated by ten men and women, the one-ton, twenty-foot-high mechanical creature is just about everything you’d want from the beast. Unfortunately, the rest of the show is a hot mess. The songs by Marius de Vries and Eddie Perfect lack any kind of nuance (sample lyric: “Another arrow shoots Ann Darrow through the chest / But every ‘no’ only brings me closer to ‘yes’ / New York socked me with a body shot / But I’m not staying down / I’ll fight like hell / So ring that bell / Look who’s coming out swinging in the opening round.”) The direction and choreography by Drew McOnie is often head-scratchingly absurd, with several ensemble pieces seemingly there just to take up time and space. And Jack Thorne’s book puts too much of the focus on the Darrow character, resulting in yet another tired musical about a poor country girl desperate to make it big on the Great White Way.

(photo by Matthew Murphy)

Ann Darrow (Christiani Pitts), Carl Denham (Eric William Morris), and Lumpy (Erik Lochtefeld) are off on a cinematic adventure in King Kong (photo by Matthew Murphy)

Just as Darrow (Christiani Pitts) is about to give up on her dream, she is discovered by filmmaker Carl Denham (Eric William Morris), who whisks her off on an adventure on board the SS Wanderer, accompanied by his right-hand man, Lumpy (Erik Lochtefeld). Captain Englehorn (Rory Donovan) wants to know where they’re going, but Denham is not about to say — until Skull Island appears before them. There they encounter King Kong, who falls for Darrow before being captured and brought to New York City, where things don’t go too well for him, or for us. The beast itself is breathtaking, especially when Peter England’s projections make it look like Kong is running through the jungle or the streets of the city and when he makes his way to the front of the stage, carefully scanning the audience while asserting his strength and power. But the watered-down version of the story and too many stultifying scenes — you might just get seasick during a stormy voyage, and what’s with those green things climbing through green laser beams? — zap all the energy out of this classic tale. “What an ugly beast the ape, and how like us,” Roman statesman Marcus Tullius Cicero said in the first century BCE. In King Kong, virtually the only thing that isn’t ugly is the beast.

BERNHARDT/HAMLET

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Janet McTeer stars as Sarah Bernhardt in new play by Theresa Rebeck (photo by Joan Marcus)

American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 18, $59-$159
212-719-1300
www.roundabouttheatre.org

When turn-of-the-twentieth-century theater superstar Sarah Bernhardt played the Melancholy Dane in Hamlet at the Adelphi in London, actress and writer Elizabeth Robins wrote in her December 1900 review: “Madame Bernhardt’s assumption of masculinity is so cleverly carried out that one loses sight of Hamlet in one’s admiration for the tour de force of the actress. This is not to say that she gives us a man, but rather Sarah Bernhardt playing, with amazing skill, a spirited boy; doing it with an impetuosity, a youthfulness, almost childish.” Much the same can be said of Tony-winning actress Janet McTeer, who plays Bernhardt playing Hamlet in Theresa Rebeck’s uneven though often exciting Bernhardt/Hamlet, a celebration not only of Bernhardt but of the collaborative process of theater. The Roundabout production, continuing at the American Airlines Theatre through November 18, is set in 1897 Paris, where Bernhardt has decided to play the male part and is rehearsing with Constant Coquelin (Dylan Baker), François (Triney Sandoval), Raoul (Aaron Costa Ganis), and Lysette (Brittany Bradford). Bernhardt’s lover, the married Edmond Rostand (Jason Butler Harner), is not fond of her decision. “You want to be a man,” he tells her. “I do not want to be a man,” she replies. “You crave a man’s power,” he accuses her. “No man has more power than I do,” she says. “Shakespeare does,” he retorts. But she has the last word, proclaiming, “I will not go back to playing flowers for you fools. Not because I am too old. But because I was never a flower, and no matter how much you loved how beautifully I might play the ingenue, it was always beneath me. It is beneath all women.”

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Edmond Rostand (Jason Butler Harner) watches Constant Coquelin (Dylan Baker) perform in Bernhardt/Hamlet at the American Airlines Theatre (photo by Joan Marcus)

Bernhardt demands that Rostand rewrite Hamlet specifically for her, but soon he is working on another play, Cyrano de Bergerac, which also gets her juices flowing. The same cannot be said for Rostand’s rightly jealous wife, Rosamond (Ito Aghayere); Bernhardt’s teenage son, Maurice (Nick Westrate); and acerbic critic Louis (Tony Carlin), wielding his poisoned pen with undeserved power. Meanwhile, Czech artist Alphonse Mucha (Matthew Saldivar) hovers around, creating the poster for the controversial show; in Shakespeare’s time, men might have played all the parts, but in the late Victorian/Edwardian era, a woman portraying the title character in the Bard’s greatest work is practically theater — and gender — treason. “And now we come to your tragedy,” Edmond says to Sarah, who responds, “I am not a tragic figure.” Edmond explains, “You are Sarah Bernhardt. But Sarah Bernhardt is a woman. And people do not want to see a woman play Hamlet.” To which Sarah argues, “I do not play him as a woman! I play him as myself.

Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel (Present Laughter, Hand to God), Bernhardt/Hamlet works best when it sticks to its title, when McTeer plays Sarah Bernhardt playing Hamlet. A lot of the rest is detritus that only gets in the way. McTeer (Mary Stuart, God of Carnage) is a joy to watch as her character, complete with crazy hairstyle, questions Hamlet’s motives as well as Shakespeare’s, romping around Beowulf Borrit’s handsome sets, which include an outdoor Paris café, the Adelphi stage, and Bernhardt’s elegant dressing room. Rebeck’s (Seminar, Downstairs) plot meanders; it feels like she tries to squeeze too much in and doesn’t trust that the audience will get the shock factor of Bernhardt’s ambition, especially in this modern era in which so much casting is gender (and race) blind. For example, in 2016, McTeer starred as Petruchio in Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female adaptation of The Taming of the Shrew at the Delacorte. But then McTeer proclaims, “Oh what a rogue and peasant slave am I! / Is it not monstrous that this player here, / But in a fiction, in a dream of passion, / Could force his soul,” and all is right again.

THE NAP

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer) is none too happy with what his mother (Johanna Day) has gotten him into in The Nap (photo by Joan Marcus)

Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 11, $79-$199
thenapbroadway.com

You don’t have to know the slightest bit about snooker to have a jolly good time at The Nap, the rousing London transfer making its American premiere at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre through November 11. Written by Olivier Award nominee Richard Bean, who wrote the uproarious hit One Man, Two Guvnors, which exploded the career of a young James Corden, The Nap is a tense and very funny crime thriller built around the highly contested world of snooker, the nineteenth-century cue sport similar to pocket billiards and pool. Twenty-three-year-old Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer) is on the rise, preparing for a big-time match. He’s practicing in the British Legion basement in Sheffield with his grumpy, not-too-bright father, the numbers-challenged and ersatz snooker historian Bobby (John Ellison Conlee). Dylan is an easygoing fellow who believes in self-actualization. “It’s the highest possible state of human happiness, when your mind and body come together in, like, a beautiful symphony,” he tells his father, a former amateur snooker player who doesn’t get it at all, responding, “Do you want an orange? Got a bag full.” They are unexpectedly visited by Mohammad Butt (Bhavesh Patel), who identifies himself as an integrity officer for the International Centre for Sport Security, and Eleanor Lavery (Heather Lind), of the National Crime Agency.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

Dylan Spokes (Ben Schnetzer) gets a little too cozy with crime investigator Eleanor Lavery (Heather Lind) in Richard Bean’s The Nap (photo by Joan Marcus)

They claim that Dylan is involved in match fixing and global illegal betting, a charge he adamantly denies. “I am not vulnerable. I honour my game,” he declares. “Snooker is the result of a century of human negotiation. A celebration of cooperation and civilisation. It doesn’t exist other than in the hearts of players and fans.” After Mo and Eleanor leave, Dylan and Bobby are first joined by Dylan’s oh-so-stylish, fast-talking manager, Tony DanLino (Max Gordon Moore), then by Dylan’s wacky mother, Stella (Johanna Day), and her new boyfriend, Danny Killeen (Thomas Jay Ryan), a boring driving instructor. It turns out that Stella, Bobby’s ex, needs money, and she wants Dylan to get it for her — by going against his principles and throwing a frame. It turns out that Dylan has financial issues he wasn’t aware of; he’s in deeper than he ever realized, and the only way out is to listen to transgender gangster Waxy Bush (Alexandra Billings), who has a way with words. “Dylan, let me give you some advice,” she says. “Life, for us vertebrates, is a series of disappointments and appointments. The key to happiness is to forget your disappointments and remember your appointments; in fact, write them down, preferably in a dairy.” As Dylan’s matches with Abdul Fattah and Baghawi Quereshi (both played by former snooker champion Ahmed Aly Elsayed) approach, he has to decide where his loyalties lie and what he is willing to risk, and for whom.

(photo by Joan Marcus)

The Nap features a pair of very tense, live snooker matches with champion Ahmed Aly Elsayed (photo by Joan Marcus)

The title of the show is a snooker term referring to the smoothness of the table, which Dylan explains to Eleanor early on. “Playing with the nap, the ball will run straight with the natural line,” he says. “Playing against the nap, the ball can deviate and drift off line. I play straight. I honour the god of snooker, and he, or let’s be fair, she, looks after me.” Bean (The Heretic, Harvest) and Tony-winning director Daniel Sullivan (The Little Foxes, Proof) honour the god of the stage in this triumphant comedy while not being afraid to deviate and drift off line. Snooker might be an individual sport, but theater requires significant collaboration, and The Nap demonstrates that in all facets. The ensemble, which also includes Ethan Hova as Seth and a snooker referee, is terrific, with a particular shout-out to American actor Ryan (Dance Nation, The Amateurs), one of the city’s most underrated and understated treasures. David Rockwell’s sets rotate from the dank legion basement to a historic hotel room, from a country hideout to a championship snooker match, complete with riotously funny voice-over commentary that is partially improvised. The snooker matches themselves are tense and exciting, occurring live onstage. But once again, it doesn’t matter what you think about sports and gambling, as Bean has plenty to say about dysfunctional families, straight and LGBTQ romance, the criminal element, and vegetarianism. The Nap is a champion on all counts, clearing the table, knocking every ball into the right pocket.

PRETTY WOMAN: THE MUSICAL

(photo by Matthew Murphy 2018)

Andy Karl and Samantha Barks have some pretty big shoes to fill in Pretty Woman (photo by Matthew Murphy 2018)

Nederlander Theatre
208 West 41st St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through June 8, $99-$275
877-250-2929
prettywomanthemusical.com

The very enjoyable Broadway musical adaptation of Garry Marshall’s 1990 Cinderella story, Pretty Woman, is more about finding one’s place in the world, both geographically and psychologically, than merely the tale of a hooker with a heart of gold finding her Prince Charming. And speaking of place, Samantha Barks, who plays Vivian, the role that made Julia Roberts a star in the movie, has found where she belongs, center stage on Broadway, delivering an inspiring, Tony-worthy performance. The story is fairly straightforward: Vivian Ward (Barks), a broke prostitute, meets a wealthy financier, Edward Lewis (Andy Karl taking on the Richard Gere part), who treats her to the high life in order to pull off a major deal. As their public deception proceeds, both wonder whether something more is going on as they each search for somewhere to call home. (She lives in a walk-up rat trap, while he resides in a posh hotel.) “Tell me, what’s your dream? / I know you’ve got one / It’s like a map to your life / You’ll be lost until you’ve caught one,” sings a shabbily dressed Happy Man (Eric Anderson) on the seedier side of Hollywood Blvd., where he offers free maps to help people find their way.

(photo by Matthew Murphy 2018)

Eric Anderson does double duty as the Happy Man and Mr. Thompson in Broadway adaptation of hit movie (photo by Matthew Murphy 2018)

“Don’t you want to get out of here?” Vivian asks her friend, fellow prostitute Kit De Luca (Orfeh, Karl’s real-life wife), who replies, “Get out of where? Where do you want to go?” A moment later Vivian sings, “I look around and what I see / Is I don’t belong here, this isn’t me. . . . I know where I’d choose to go / If I could disappear / Anywhere but here / Anywhere but here.” When Vivian meets Edward, he has taken a few wrong turns and does not know how to get back to his hotel. She asks him to pay ten dollars for her help and he says, “You can’t charge me for directions.” She smartly replies, “I can do anything I want to, baby. I ain’t lost.” But of course, they both are lost. “I can take you anywhere / ’Cause anything’s possible,” the Happy Man says as he dramatically changes into a regal concierge outfit and the set transforms into the exclusive Beverly Wilshire Hotel, where Edward lives on the top floor, even though he’s afraid of heights. Edward is working with his shifty lawyer, Phillip Stuckey (Jason Danieley), attempting a hostile takeover of a ship-building company owned by James Morse (Kingsley Leggs); it’s no accident that Edward has no real care for the business itself, which specializes in making vessels that take people to other places primarily for pleasure. As Vivian blossoms à la Eliza Doolittle, she and Edward grow very close, but they have a deal with an end date; at the start they were both in it for the money, but soon they’re thinking about the future in a different way.

(photo by Matthew Murphy 2018)

Samantha Barks busts out in rip-roaring performance in Pretty Woman (photo by Matthew Murphy 2018)

One of my regular theater companions refused to join me, concerned that the show would be offensive, that it would celebrate outdated, antifeminist views about women as decorative possessions, to the point that a woman realizes survival means selling herself — and her love — like a product. But the book, by Garry Marshall and the film’s screenwriter, J. F. Lawton, and the music and lyrics, by Bryan Adams (yes, the Canadian pop star) and Jim Vallance, often put Vivian in charge, or at least have her and Edward on equal footing, although it occasionally teeters on the edge. “Don’t want this feelin’ to go away / When I think about where I was yesterday / It’s so amazing — I can’t believe / That a billionaire would care about a girl like me / I’ve got money to spend / I’ve got champagne on ice / There’s a smile on my face / I’m getting’ treated real nice,” she sings like a classic golddigger before reevaluating what she wants out of life. Barks (Les Misérables, Chicago) and three-time Tony nominee Karl (Groundhog Day, Rocky) have an instant chemistry together, with solid support from Tony nominee Orfeh (Legally Blonde, Footloose) and Anderson (Waitress, Kinky Boots), who nearly steals the show as both the Happy Man and Mr. Thompson. (Keep a watch out for Tommy Bracco, who purloins some moments of his own as Giulio, the hotel bellman.) David Rockwell’s set design rockets between wealth and poverty, while Gregg Barnes’s costumes, particularly for Barks, are fab. Gleefully directed and choreographed by Tony winner Jerry Mitchell (Kinky Boots, Legally Blonde), Pretty Woman turns out to be a rather pleasant surprise — led by a breakout performance by Barks.