Music Box Theatre
239 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 31, $37 - $159
In the 2006 film The Queen, writer Peter Morgan and director Stephen Frears imagine what went on behind closed doors as Queen Elizabeth II (an Oscar-winning Helen Mirren) and Prime Minister Tony Blair (Michael Sheen) debate how to publicly handle the tragic death of Princess Diana. In the 2015 Broadway drama The Audience, writer Morgan and director Stephen Daldry re-create private weekly meetings Queen Elizabeth II (a Tony-winning Mirren) has had with prime ministers going back to Winston Churchill, imagining what they talked about in the sitting room. Both of those productions looked back at the past; in the Olivier Award-winning drama King Charles III, writer Mike Bartlett and director Rupert Goold delve into the near future, imagining an England in which the queen has just died and her son, Prince Charles (Tim Pigott-Smith), finally ascends to the throne. “I never thought I’d see her pass away,” Kate Middleton (Lydia Wilson) says, to which Charles drolly replies, “I felt the same.” Charles almost immediately flouts tradition when, at his first weekly audience with Prime Minister Tristram Evans (Adam James), he refuses to merely listen to what Evans has to say but instead decides to use his royal authority to seriously question the efficacy of a bill that would severely limit freedom of the press. Evans is especially upset at Charles’s response given what happened to Princess Diana. “I would have thought of all the victims you’d feel the strongest something must be done,” Evans boldly declares. “As a man, a father, husband, yes I do. But that’s not who we are when sat with you,” Charles answers. “In here, not just am I defender of the faith but in addition I protect this country’s unique force and way of life.” Charles also chooses to meet with opposition leader Mark Stevens (Anthony Calf) on a weekly basis as well, causing the two men to cross the aisle and strategize together, since every bill must be signed by the king in order to become the law of the land, and Charles is opting to use this ceremonial right to keep the monarchy relevant. Meanwhile, the wild Prince Harry (Richard Goulding) has fallen for Jess (Tafline Steen), a young radical he met at a nightclub. It all makes Charles’s longtime press secretary, the rather stoic and old-fashioned James Reiss (Miles Richardson), more than a bit frustrated. “What am I?” Charles wonders now that he is king.
King Charles III arrived at the Music Box Theatre from across the pond with much fanfare (befitting royalty), but it turns out to be rather dry and ordinary, with a stiff upper lip that often gets in the way. As a tribute to old-time England, much of the dialogue is recited in blank verse, with Charles occasionally delivering brief soliloquies to the audience, but the Shakespearean elements (there are ghosts as well, among references to Macbeth and Hamlet) feel out of place, even on Tom Scutt’s medieval-style set, a castle room circled by fading portraits of previous kings. Perhaps part of the problem is that we are too familiar with the characters involved, which also include Camilla Parker Bowles (Margot Leicester); none of the actors completely capture who they are portraying, and the story is overly simplistic, particularly in its depiction of Charles’s sons, who have been real-life tabloid fodder since birth. Bartlett (Cock, Bull) and Goold (American Psycho, Macbeth) keep things too direct, not letting their imaginations go far enough, and they offer nothing new to the main argument over questions of personal and professional privacy when it comes to matters of the press. And Charles’s choice over whether to sign the bill is not exactly Paul Scofield’s Sir Thomas More searching his conscience over whether to sign the Oath of Supremacy to Robert Shaw’s King Henry VIII in A Man for All Seasons, but what is? The most interesting character is Jess, perhaps because she is fictional; maybe Bartlett and Goold would have fared better had they turned this into a roman a clef instead. Pigott-Smith (Educating Rita, Enron) is at his best when Charles is trying to figure out just where his responsibilities now lay, to both the royal family and England itself, but the story ultimately lets him down. King Charles III was an intriguing idea, but the execution, much like the real Prince Charles’s public persona, turns out to be rather dull and unsurprising.
138 West 48th St. between Sixth & Seventh Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 24, $32 - $147
Some men, when they reach their midlife crisis, get a fancy car, while others have a fling with a younger woman. In A. R. Gurney’s light and fluffy Sylvia, Greg (Matthew Broderick) decides on something a little different: He dedicates his life to a stray dog he finds in Central Park. The only problem is, Greg’s wife, Kate (Julie White), wants nothing to do with the pooch, which is named Sylvia (and played by the very human and extremely adorable Annaleigh Ashford). The empty nesters have two kids in college and have moved into the city from the suburbs, but while Greg grows increasingly frustrated with his job, Kate is finally flourishing as an English teacher with a predilection for Shakespeare after putting her career on hold to raise the children. Greg has been skipping out on his job, angry at his boss who has promoted him to trading currencies. “I told him to put me in something real,” Greg tells Kate, who replies, “Real? What’s real?” “Sylvia’s real, aren’t you, Sylvia?” Greg says. “I sure try to be,” Sylvia eagerly responds, leaping into Greg’s arms. Later, Kate admonishes, “I’ll tell you what’s real, Greg. The mortgage on this apartment is real. The kids’ tuitions are very, very real.” The conceit in the play — and it doesn’t always work smoothly, becoming particularly confusing when other characters, all played with panache by Robert Sella, show up — is that Sylvia can talk. She tells Greg how much she loves him, asks if she can jump on the couch or go out for a walk, and verbally expresses the familiar needs and habits of a dog. The communication is presented in clever ways: Her barks when there’s someone at the door or when the phone rings come out as “Hey! Hey! Hey!” instead of “Ruff! Ruff! Ruff!” (In an inspired moment the night we saw it, a cell phone went off during the show, and Ashford, sitting on a bench with Broderick, looked into the crowd and let out an improvised “Hey! Hey! Hey!” that had the audience, and Broderick, in stitches.) But the closer Greg and Sylvia grow, the more concerned Kate becomes. “I’m worried, Greg. I’m worried about your job, I’m worried about you, I’m worried about us,” she says. “I’m worried about Sylvia at the moment,” he responds. It makes for a rather different kind of love triangle.
Greg soon meets Tom (Sella), a fellow dog walker who warns Greg of the dangers of anthropomorphizing Sylvia. “Always remember that your dog is simply a dog. Always keep reminding yourself of that fact,” Tom tells him. “Not a person. Just a dog. Force yourself to think it.” But Greg is well aware of what he’s doing, insisting he knows the difference between human and animal. “Maybe it’s just the anxieties of middle age. Or the sense of disillusionment which goes with late twentieth-century capitalism,” he says to Sylvia, who answers, “I wish I could contribute something here, but I just plain can’t.” Is Sylvia a replacement for something missing in Greg’s life? Is she a stand-in for a would-be lover, or another child? Or is she really just a dog to him, an energetic young canine who worships the ground he walks on and considers him a god? That’s the heart of what Gurney is getting at, and he keeps us wondering till the very end.
The main set, by David Rockwell (On the 20th Century, Hairspray), is a beautiful green section of Central Park, with the neighborhood skyline behind it. Greg and Kate’s apartment descends from above and glides in from the sides. Ann Roth (The Nance, The Book of Mormon) has a ball with Sylvia’s costumes, while Greg Pliska adds a trite, sitcom-like score. Tony-winning director Daniel Sullivan (Lost Lake, Orphans) keeps it all moving at a dog’s pace, from fast and furious, as when Sylvia runs down the aisles to commune with Tom’s dog, Bowser, to slow and easy, as when Greg seeks peace and comfort from her. Gurney (The Dining Room, The Cocktail Hour) has experienced a resurgence of late, with a three-play residency at the Signature Theatre (including the Drama Desk-winning revival of The Wayside Motor Inn) and the Broadway revival of Love Letters, but the Broadway bow (wow) of Sylvia might just be the pick of the litter; it’s certainly the most fun. Tony winners White (The Little Dog Laughed, Airline Highway) and Broderick (The Producers, It’s Only a Play) work well off each other as the middle-aged married couple, both filled with nervousness about the next stage of their life together, although White doesn’t quite get to strut her stuff (and the Shakespeare quotes told directly to the audience are completely unnecessary), while Broderick’s stiff-shouldered monotone remains steady throughout. Drama Desk winner Sella (Stuff Happens) excels as the aforementioned Tom, a gender-fluid therapist, and a friend of Kate’s from Vassar, but Tony winner Ashford (You Can’t Take It with You, Kinky Boots) is clearly Best in Show in a role originated off Broadway in 1995 by Broderick’s then soon-to-be wife, Sarah Jessica Parker (with Charles Kimbrough as Greg and Blythe Danner as Kate). Every so often Gurney tries to get deep, but it’s the lighthearted moments that make Sylvia a warm and cuddly charmer, a tasty kibble treat.
254 West 54th St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 3, $47-$137
There’s fire and ice in Helen Edmundson’s new adaptation of Émile Zola’s 1867 serial novel and 1873 play, Thérèse Raquin, which opened last night at Studio 54. On the edge between gothic melodrama and nineteenth-century realism, Zola tells a familiar story, evoking Poe, Dostoevsky, Dreiser, Shakespeare, and Balzac as well as such films as Roman Polanski’s Knife in the Water, René Clément’s Purple Noon, and Billy Wilder’s Double Indemnity. (Zola’s novel has also been turned into numerous films, miniseries, musicals, an opera, and other stage productions, in various languages.) In 1868 France, poor orphan Thérèse Raquin (Keira Knightley) has spent years like Cinderella, taken in by her aunt, Madame Raquin (Judith Light), and her cousin, Camille (Gabriel Ebert), after her North African mother died and her French sailor father disappeared at sea. More a maid than a member of the family, Thérèse aches for something more. She sits by the river, watching the water flow and the swans fly by, but where she sees freedom, Camille, a pathetically weak and spoiled momma’s boy, sees nothing but “the same water as yesterday.” Madame Raquin and Camille don’t even allow Thérèse to open the windows, whether in their small village or after they move to Paris, where Camille seeks success in the modern city, away from the ancestral countryside. Thérèse lives a trapped life wherever they are, especially after she is forced to marry the sniggering Camille, but from the moment she meets the virile, handsome, artistic Laurent (Matt Ryan), she sees a way out. In fact, when he first enters the Raquin home, she is staring out the window; it is as if he has entered straight out of her daydreams. Thérèse and Laurent soon begin a passionate sexual affair. “My God. You were born for this,” Laurent proclaims with wonder during their initial tryst. “We will live between these sheets, within this room, behind this door,” Thérèse declares. “We will live.” But Camille stands in their way, and they are soon planning the perfect murder.
Commissioned for Roundabout’s fiftieth anniversary season, Thérèse Raquin is a bleak but compelling melodrama. Beowulf Boritt’s sets, which include a side-by-side dining room/bedroom, a riverfront with real water, a small artist’s garret that dangles from above, and an abstract painted backdrop, are as dark and dank as Jane Greenwood’s period costumes, which favor black, brown, and gray. Royal Shakespeare Company veteran Ryan (Constantine, Small Change) and two-time Oscar nominee Knightley (Pride and Prejudice, The Imitation Game) have electric chemistry; in her Broadway debut, Knightley transforms from a mousy, silent wallflower into a libidinous woman who is almost afraid of her sudden, deep desires, often acting primarily with her mesmerizing eyes. Tony winner Ebert (Matilda the Musical, 4,000 Miles) has fun playing the fanciful dullard Camille, while two-time Tony winner Light (Other Desert Cities, The Assembled Parties) shows once more that she is one of Broadway’s most dependable actors as the somewhat clueless mother who elegantly devolves throughout the play. Rounding out the cast is Jeff Still as Monsieur Grivet, an efficiency expert who makes sure the dinner table is always in its exact proper place, David Patrick Kelly as retired superintendent Michaud, who can still sniff out trouble, and Mary Wiseman as Suzanne, Michaud’s buxom niece, who is as flighty as Thérèse is at first gloomy. Edmundson’s (The Heresy of Love, The Clearing) script jumps around too much and doesn’t fully explore the various subplots and minor characters, especially regarding a brutal local murder, and Evan Cabnet’s (A Kid Like Jake, The Performers) direction is, like Monsieur Grivet, efficient, if not inspiring. But Ryan and Knightley make quite the ravenous couple, sending the audience through a roller coaster of emotions as they seek true happiness — or at least sexual fulfillment — at any tawdry cost. “In Thérèse Raquin my aim has been to study temperaments and not characters,” Zola wrote in the preface to the second edition of his novel. “That is the whole point of the book. I have chosen people completely dominated by their nerves and blood, without free will, drawn into each action of their lives by the inexorable laws of their physical nature. Thérèse and Laurent are human animals, nothing more.” Knightley and Ryan embody that human-animal nature with fervor to spare in this gripping production.
Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 West 47th St. between Broadway & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through December 13, $75-$150
In the published script for Fool for Love, Sam Shepard explains, “This play is to be performed relentlessly, without a break.” And as with many of Shepard’s plays, it is indeed relentless. In a seedy motel room on the edge of the Mojave Desert, Eddie (Sam Rockwell), a former rodeo cowboy, reclines in a shaky chair against the back wall, while May (Nina Arianda), a tall blonde, is hunched statue-like on the end of the bed, her face covered by her long hair, looking toward the ground. At the front of the stage near the corner, an older man (Gordon Joseph Weiss) sits back in a sturdy chair, hands grasping the armrests like the slick hipster from the Maxell commercials. The Old Man and May remain stock-still as Eddie begins talking and makes his way over to May, showing a slight limp. “I’m not goin’ anywhere. See? I’m right here. I’m not gone,” he tells her, and she eventually reaches out and grabs his leg, holding on for dear life. That sequence sets the stage for this seventy-five-minute one-act play about two people who both attract and repel each other, for reasons that become more clear with a surprise revelation about halfway through. May and Eddie have known each other since high school, and they have been on-and-off lovers ever since. “You’re just guilty. Gutless and guilty,” she says shortly before promising to kill both Eddie and the Countess, a woman he might be seeing. “I’m gonna torture her first, though. Not you. I’m just gonna let you have it. Probably in the midst of a kiss. Right when you think everything’s been healed up. Right in the moment when you’re sure you’ve got me buffaloed. That’s when you’ll die.” The ever-confident Eddie is sure that May will ultimately choose to come away with him, despite May’s claims that she has started a new life, dating a normal man, Martin (Tom Pelphrey). Every once in a while, the Old Man chimes in briefly, like a Greek chorus all by himself. “I wanna show you somethin’. Somethin’ real, okay? Somethin’ actual,” he says to Eddie, referring to a nonexistent picture on the wall. A moment later, after the Old Man has settled back in his chair, once again soundless and immobile, May tells Eddie how much she can’t stand him. “No matter how much I’d like not to hate you, I hate you even more. It grows. I can’t even see you now. All I can see is a picture of you. You and her.” We only see what we want to see, remember what we want to remember, mixing fiction and reality in our memories, much like theater itself. For Eddie and May, there’s one thing they can never forget. “You know we’re connected, May,” Eddie says. “We’ll always be connected. That was decided a long time ago.” To Shepard, destiny is a bitch.
Nominated for a Pulitzer Prize, Fool for Love is part of the series of plays, including the Family Trilogy, that Shepard wrote between 1978 and 1985, consisting of Curse of the Starving Class, Pulitzer winner Buried Child, Pulitzer nominee True West, and A Lie of the Mind. Partly inspired by his relationship with Jessica Lange, Fool for Love is a treat for actors; previous versions have featured such Eddie-May pairings as Ed Harris and Kathy Baker, Ian Charleson and Julie Walters, Martin Henderson and Juliette Lewis, Bruce Willis and Denise Simone, and, in the 1985 Robert Altman film, Shepard and Kim Basinger (with Harry Dean Stanton as the Old Man and Randy Quaid as Martin). The original 1983 production was directed by Shepard, who includes extremely specific stage cues in his script. For the play’s Broadway debut, Daniel Aukin (Bad Jews, 4,000 Miles) takes the reins. Tony winner Arianda (Venus in Fur, Born Yesterday) and Rockwell (A Behanding in Spokane, Moon) have a fiery energy together, but their back-and-forth rapport gets repetitive, and you can feel the hands of Shepard (and Aukin) manipulating your emotions too much, especially when Rockwell puts his lasso to interesting use, bringing a little S&M into the proceedings. The story bounces between the physical and the metaphysical, occasionally getting caught within both at the same time. Pelphrey (Guiding Light, As the World Turns) plays Martin with just the right amount of cluelessness, and Weiss is terrifically perverse as the Old Man; while the rest of the action is going on, you can’t help but cast glances over at him sitting in the darkness. Shepard is a man’s man, and Fool for Love is very much a masculine tale; May might get in her digs, but Eddie is really calling the shots as he cleans his rifle and swigs tequila straight from the bottle. Love ain’t easy, and destiny is a bitch, Shepard is telling us. Damn straight.
252 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through January 10, $57 - $141
Life is like a game of cards in D. L. Coburn’s Pulitzer Prize-winning The Gin Game, back at its original Broadway home, the Golden Theatre, in a lovely revival starring James Earl Jones and Cicely Tyson. But it’s also a whole lot more complicated than that. Weller Martin (Jones) and Fonsia Dorsey (Tyson) have both recently moved into a nursing home to live out their final years. “Is there something wrong with you — if you don’t mind my asking,” Fonsia says. “Oh my, I should say so,” Weller replies. “I have one of the most advanced cases of old age in the history of medical science. The mortality rate’s incredible.” Over numerous games of gin on the ramshackle back porch, Weller, who fancies himself a card sharp, and Fonsia, who claims to not have played in a long time, slowly and carefully reveal details about their lives and their families, none of whom come to visit them. They are two old, lonely people brought together by circumstance; as they play gin, the other residents are inside, taking advantage of more of what the nursing home has to offer. “I don’t understand all this ‘entertainment,’” Weller says. “I’m talking about this constant need to entertain us. Sometimes I get the idea that they feel like if they don’t have a choir up there, or if they don’t have a goddamn magician up there doing tricks or something, then we’re all going to drop dead right in front of their eyes. En masse.” Weller is a big, blustery man whose cynicism and deep-seated anger seep into his card playing, especially when he continues losing games to the God-fearing, slim, and demure Fonsia, who doesn’t take kindly to his language. “You know, I never heard my father say a curse word in his life,” she explains, to which Weller responds, “Obviously you never played gin with him.”
Coburn’s first play, The Gin Game sums up the whole of two people’s lives in clever, if at times sentimental and overly metaphorical, ways, while avoiding any easy, pat answers. At one point, Weller is not willing to accept that Fonsia’s success is just beginner’s luck. “I didn’t realize there was that much strategy to it,” she says. “There most certainly is. Anyone who tells you that gin is nothing but luck doesn’t know what the game is all about,” he says, referring to life as well. Riccardo Hernandez’s set is littered with broken-down sinks and refrigerators, old walkers and wheelchairs, but Weller and Fonsia are not ready for the garbage heap quite yet. Director Leonard Foglia (On Golden Pond, Master Class) sure-handedly makes a play that is mostly made up of games of cards mesmerizing and exciting, letting his stars do their stuff. (To see the cheat sheet Coburn created so the performers can keep track of the games, go here.) The two actors, who first worked together on Broadway nearly fifty years ago, in Roscoe Lee Browne’s 1966 show A Hand Is on the Gate, are sensational. The eighty-four-year-old Jones (You Can’t Take It with You, Gore Vidal’s The Best Man), who has won two Tonys, three Emmys, a Grammy, and a lifetime achievement Oscar, adds a complex sadness to Weller’s pomposity, his deep, mellifluous voice raising and lowering like a choreographed dance, while the ninety-year-old Tyson (The Trip to Bountiful, Sounder), who has won a Tony and three Emmys along with an Oscar nomination, is utterly charming and delightful as Fonsia, who turns out to be much stronger than she first appears. Both characters, despite their age, do some growing up during the course of the two-hour play, which has been previously performed by such pairs as Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, E. G. Marshall and Maureen Stapleton, and Charles Durning and Julie Harris and won Tonys in 1977 for Best Play and in 1997 for Best Revival. (There is also a 2003 television adaptation starring Dick Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore.) The night I saw the show, both Jones and Tyson each had a moment when they accidentally dropped something. As they bent down to pick the items up, you could feel a tension build in the audience, wondering whether the actors would be able to do so without a problem. We should have had no such fears; it appears that there’s almost nothing this dynamic duo can’t accomplish.
America would be in much better shape if every member of Congress went to see Deaf West Theatre’s thrilling revival of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s Spring Awakening. The musical, which won eight Tony Awards in its initial 2006 Broadway run, deals with homosexuality, guns, teen pregnancy, child abuse, suicide, premarital sex, disabilities, masturbation, education, religion, the arts, and more. At its heart, it’s a story about the eternal generation gap, focusing on the miscommunication between adults and children, which is as critical today as it was in 1891, when German author Frank Wedekind wrote the original play on which it’s based. But this time around, director Michael Arden and choreographer Spencer Liff have made the mediocre songs and Shakespeare-does-YA story secondary to a spectacular staging that will take your breath away over and over again. Arden has paired each deaf member of the cast with a hearing actor to speak or sing their lines; both performers use sign language as well, their bodies moving in a very different, very beautiful kind of dance. Sometimes the dual performers are on opposite sides of the stage, and sometimes they follow each other around, as if linked together by an invisible chain. Lines that are not vocalized or signed are projected onto a blackboard or the back wall; cues for the deaf actors consist of physical touches from their hearing doppelganger, musical vibrations, multicolored lighting, offstage closed-captioned monitors, and the use of props, such as the opening of a letter. It all works as seamlessly as in the most heavily choreographed musical, so much so you’re likely to not even realize there’s not much actual dancing in the show, which is somewhat different from Deaf West’s previous Broadway production, 2003’s Big River.
The show takes place in 1891 Germany, a time when deaf people were discriminated against and sign language was banned in classrooms. Sandra Mae Frank stars as Wendla Bergmann, an adolescent girl who asks her mother, Frau Bergmann (Camryn Manheim), how babies are made. Frau Bergmann’s fear of telling her daughter the truth sets everything in motion, as parents and teachers battle their children and students, the lack of communication between the young and old serving as the major theme of the play. The bright and charming Melchior Gabor (Austin P. McKenzie) challenges his teacher, Herr Sonnenstich (Patrick Page), over the concept of “critical commentary on textual conjecture,” Moritz Stiefel (Daniel D. Durant) has sexual dreams he doesn’t understand, the geeky Georg (Alex Wyse) has the hots for his piano teacher, and the girls don’t want what happened to the bruised and battered Ilse (Krysta Rodriguez) to happen to Martha (Treshelle Edmond) and cause her to run away too. “When I have children, I’ll let them be free. And they’ll grow strong and tall,” Anna — portrayed by Ali Stroker, the first wheelchair-bound actor to ever play a part on Broadway, even more impressive because it’s a role that doesn’t call for it — says, to which Thea (Amelia Hensley) responds, “Free? But how will we know what to do if our parents don’t tell us?” Only Frau Gabor (Marlee Matlin), Melchior’s mother, is willing to give the kids the freedom to grow. “Surely, you boys are now of an age to decide for yourselves what is good for you and what is not,” she tells her son and Moritz. But Melchior makes their dire situation clear when leading everyone in the showstopper, “Totally Fucked,” declaring, “There’s a moment you know you’re fucked / Not an inch more room to self-destruct.”
The set is like an industrial warehouse, with several metal staircases leading to a second level where the adults often look down on the children, watching them in shame and embarrassment. The impeccable casting features Emmy winner Manheim, who studied sign language in college and used the skill on The Practice; Oscar winner Matlin (Children of a Lesser God), the grand dame of deaf actors, in her Broadway debut; and Page (Casa Valentina, Cyrano de Bergerac), whose deep, booming voice echoes throughout the Brooks Atkinson Theatre, reminding everyone of the power, and bombastic nature, of vocalized speech. As the show opens, Frank, a short brunette, looks into a glassless mirror; on the other side is Katie Boeck, a tall blonde with a guitar, who will follow Frank around for the rest of the show as they portray Wendla as a team, Boeck supplying the voice of the character while also playing music. Their relationship is a beauty to behold, as if every one of us, whether we’re deaf or hearing, has two parts that form our own whole. In a later scene, a deaf actor’s voice partner becomes more than just a talking, singing shadow, making for an unforgettable, magical moment that is what live theater is all about. Wedekind’s stories work amazingly well with music; in addition to Spring Awakening, German composer Alban Berg turned his Lulu plays, Earth Spirit and Pandora’s Box, into the opera Lulu, which is being performed at the Met in November and December in a new production directed by South African multimedia artist William Kentridge. So now, how do we get Congress to see Spring Awakening?
American Airlines Theatre
227 West 42nd St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through November 29, $67-$137
As the Roundabout’s Broadway revival of Harold Pinter’s Old Times opens, Deeley (Clive Owen) is man-spread on a fashionably modern chair, Kate (Kelly Reilly) lies on a matching couch, and Anna (Eve Best) stands between them, facing a large, rectangular block of ice, her back to the audience at the American Airlines Theatre. It looks as if something happened the night before, something no one wants to remember. “Dark,” Kate says to Deeley. Indeed, Old Times is dark. And this being Pinter, don’t expect there to be much light shed on exactly what might have happened the night before, or at all, during this seventy-minute journey into a never-defined past or present. Early on, Kate confesses to Deeley, her husband, that Anna was her best and only friend, that they once lived together, but she also admits, “I hardly remember her. I’ve almost forgotten her.” Meanwhile, Anna raves about the two women’s relationship in great detail, with verve and excitement, but she adds, “There are some things one remembers even though they may never have happened. There are things I remember which may never have happened but as I recall them so they take place.” They all discuss having seen Carol Reed’s IRA noir masterpiece, Odd Man Out, and at one time or another in the play, each of the characters becomes the “odd man out” as the other two bond by telling old stories, singing American classics, or debating a possible previous meeting. “Some people throw a stone into a river to see if the water’s too cold for jumping,” Anna says, continuing, “others, a few others, will always wait for the ripples before they will jump.” There are plenty of ripples in Old Times, which has a backdrop of ever-widening concentric circles that evoke the ripples in a lake, or the rays of a pitiless sun. Christine Jones’s (American Idiot, The Green Bird) set also features black clumps of dried lava (“I live on a volcanic island,” Anna says), a sharp counterpoint to the huge block of ice and the mural of rippling water or blazing sun, echoing the characters’ ability to go from hot to cold and back again in an instant.
It’s been forty-four years since Old Times was last seen on Broadway, in its Great White Way debut with Robert Shaw, Rosemary Harris, and Mary Ure, and the Roundabout previously revived it in 1984 with Anthony Hopkins, Jane Alexander, and Marsha Mason. It is considered one of Pinter’s middle-period memory plays, which also include 1974’s No Man’s Land and 1978’s Betrayal, each of which has been revived on Broadway the last two years, the former a huge hit, the latter a major disappointment. Douglas Hodge, who has appeared in and directed many of Pinter’s works over the past two decades, makes his Broadway directorial debut here with a sure hand, keeping things appropriately mystifying, obscure, and utterly compelling, although the strobe lights and the onetime rotation of the stage seem unnecessary. Owen (A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Closer) and Reilly (After Miss Julie, Russian Dolls) make strong impressions in their Broadway bows, he giving Deeley more than a little smarm, she imbuing Kate with an uncomforting yet sublime mystery, but Best, who was nominated for a Tony in 2008 for her performance as Ruth in Pinter’s The Homecoming, is an absolute whirlwind, dominating the stage in her gorgeous, sexy white pantsuit, making confident declarations with a commanding physicality. She mesmerizes even with a casual swipe of the floor with her bare foot. There are various theories exploring what Old Times is really about; perhaps Kate and Anna are two parts of the same person, or maybe one of the women has killed the other, or maybe they’re all dead, lingering in a kind of way station. Pinter never said, so we’ll never be sure. But we do know that there may be no one better at evoking the prismatic nature of time and memory and the brilliant refractions of human relationships than the iconoclastic British playwright.