252 West 45th St. between Broadway & Eighth Ave.
Tuesday - Sunday through February 22, $60 - $155
It seems that everyone wants to live with Agnes (Glenn Close) and Tobias (John Lithgow) in their elegant New England suburban home, but it’s hard to understand why in Edward Albee’s Pulitzer Prize–winning A Delicate Balance, running at the Golden Theatre through February 22. Tobias is a calm, retired businessman who likes to sit in his chair and read while sipping fancy cocktails. Agnes is a stern, cold woman who believes that “there is a balance to be maintained . . . and I must be the fulcrum.” They sleep in separate bedrooms and, while civil to each other, don’t seem to be particularly close anymore. Agnes’s wild and unpredictable sister, Claire (Lindsay Duncan), is already living with them. Tobias and Agnes’s thirty-six-year-old daughter, Julia (Martha Plimpton), has just left her fourth husband and is on her way to move back in with her parents yet again. But before Julia arrives, Tobias and Agnes’s best friends, Harry (Bob Balaban) and Edna (Clare Higgins), show up unannounced, claiming that they are too frightened to remain in their own house, quickly heading upstairs and locking themselves in Julia’s room. So when the bitter Julia returns home to find that her room is spoken for, the already none-too-happy woman gets even more upset. But since Tobias and Agnes both try to avoid confrontation, not much gets resolved in this growing household, even as secrets are being whispered and certain emotions are reaching the boiling point. It’s not quite as explosive as Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf, but it’s no barrel of laughs either. “Do we dislike happiness?” Agnes asks. Apparently, yes.
Director Pam Mackinnon, who helmed the recent smash Broadway revival of Woolf as well as Bruce Norris’s Pulitzer Prize–winning Clybourne Park, lets the anger simmer before it erupts as the play examines themes of loss and fear. Agnes, who is questioning her sanity, is afraid of facing certain truths about her husband and her life, Tobias is frightened that Agnes will find out about his long-ago indiscretion, Claire is scared of being sober and responsible, and Julia is still terrified of growing up. Harry and Edna never reveal precisely what it was that drove them from their home, but they appear to be afraid of not being afraid. Albee, who also won Pulitzers for Seascape and Three Tall Women, captures suburban angst and WASP culture with his incisive, biting dialogue, which was written with very specific performance notes; in addition, most of the characters were based on relatives of his. The play has quite a history; the original Broadway production in 1966, starring Hume Cronyn (Tobias), Jessica Tandy (Agnes), Rosemary Murphy (Claire), Henderson Forsythe (Harry), Carmen Matthews (Edna), and Marian Seldes (Julia), won the Pulitzer and was nominated for a Tony. Thirty years later, the first Broadway revival won the Tony with another stellar cast: George Grizzard (Tobias), Rosemary Harris (Agnes), Elaine Stritch (Claire), John Carter (Harry), Elizabeth Wilson (Edna), and Mary Beth Hurt (Julia). And Tony Richardson’s 1973 film featured Paul Scofield (Tobias), Katharine Hepburn (Agnes), Kate Reid (Claire), Joseph Cotten (Harry), Betsy Blair (Edna), and Lee Remick (Julia). Nearly fifty years after its Broadway debut, A Delicate Balance still feels fresh and alive, poignant and relevant. In 1996, Albee wrote in an introduction to a newly published edition of the work, “The play does not seem to have ‘dated’; rather, its points seem clearer now to more people than they were in its first lovely production. Now, in its lovely new production (I will not say ‘revival’; the thing was not dead — unseen, unheard perhaps, but lurking), it seems to be exactly the same experience. No time has passed; the characters have not aged or become strange. . . . I have become odder with time, I suppose, but A Delicate Balance, bless it, does not seem to have changed much — aged nicely, perhaps.” It has aged nicely indeed, in yet another lovely production.
During its brief five-year existence, the New York Shakespeare Exchange has already put its unique spin on such Bard works as Pericles, Othello, Romeo & Juliet, Hamlet, and the sonnets in such experimental productions as The One Man (Two Man (Not Quite)) Hamlet, The Life and Death of King John, and “The Sonnet Project,” in addition to the ShakesBEER pub crawl. The company now turns its attentions to one of Shakespeare’s most violent tragedies, Titus Andronicus, a bloody tale of power and lust. The show begins with a fantastical dance of stabbings as the actors kill one another on the circuslike set that features a glittering light-up bull’s-eye in the back. But soon the story gets under way, as Roman general Titus Andronicus (Brendan Averett) returns a hero from the wars and is acclaimed as emperor, an honor he instead bestows on Saturninus (Vince Gatton), son of the recently deceased emperor. Saturninus at first chooses Lavinia (Kate Lydic), Titus’s daughter, to be his queen, but she runs off with her true love, Bassianus (Adam Kezele), Saturninus’s younger brother. The new emperor then decides to marry Tamora, the captured queen of the Goths, whose sons, Demetrius (Nathaniel P. Claridad) and Chiron (Ethan Itzkow), and lover, Aaron (Warren Jackson), are cooking up some vicious plans of their own. Jealousy, revenge, deceit, and dishonor follow, involving rape, murder, behandings, and beheadings.
Helmed by New York Shakespeare Exchange founding artistic director Ross Williams, Titus Andronicus can be a bit rocky, with actors stepping on one another’s lines and some minor gaffes with the set — perhaps they should have gotten a few performances under their belt before inviting critics — but Averett (The Killer, Julie Taymor’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream) is a strong, determined, yet vulnerable Titus, Terence MacSweeny is a stand-out as his stalwart brother Marcus, and Egolf is a fine foil as femme fatale Tamora. (A few of the other actors don’t fare so well.) Kerry Kastin is a kind of singular Greek chorus all by herself as the Clown, playing multiple roles and continually coming back from the dead. One of the play’s most intriguing conceits is the use of a feed chute through which corn tumbles whenever someone is killed — which happens a lot, the rat-a-tat sound taking the place of spurting blood. But don’t worry; there’s blood to be spilled as well. Part of the SubletSeries@HERE, Titus Andronicus could use a little more seasoning, but it’s nonetheless an involving, stripped-down version of a famously difficult, rarely presented play.
We’ve been fans of Japanese multidisciplinary artist Miwa Yanagi since her summer 2007 exhibit at the Chelsea Art Museum, consisting of three photographic series that featured highly cinematic compositions and videos. So it comes as no surprise that the Kobe-born Yanagi is also now creating theatrical works and performance art projects. The North American premiere of Yanagi’s latest piece, Zero Hour: Tokyo Rose’s Last Tape, will take place January 29-31 at Japan Society as part of the institution’s “Stories from the War” series, being held in recognition of the seventieth anniversary of the end of World War II. Conceived, written, and directed by Yanagi, who also designed the sets and costumes, Zero Hour follows one of the many women known as Tokyo Rose, who broadcast propaganda for the Japanese Imperial Army. The production, which will be performed in English and Japanese (with English subtitles) by Yohei Matsukado, Hinako Arao, Megumi Matsumoto, Ami Kobayashi, Sogo Nishimura, Aki, and Sachi Masuda, with video projection by Tadashi Mitani, lighting design by Akane Ikebe, sound design by Yasutaka Kobayakawa, and choreography by Megumi Matsumoto. The January 29 show will be followed by a meet-the-artists reception. “Stories from the War” continues through August with Michiko Godai in Yokohama Rosa April 25-26, New and Traditional Noh: Holy Mother in Nagasaki and Kiyotsune May 14-16, Meet the Author lectures by Julie Otsuka and Hayden Herrera, and the Globus Film Series “The Most Beautiful: The War Films of Shirley Yamaguchi & Setsuko Hara.”
208 West 41st St. between Seventh & Eighth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through May 31, $69-$152
Perhaps what happens in Hollywood should stay in Hollywood. Musical adaptations of Hollywood dramas continue to flood Broadway, despite the lack of success experienced by such recent fare as The Bridges of Madison County, Big Fish, and Rocky. And now, before we can even think about Doctor Zhivago, An American in Paris, and Finding Neverland, we’ve been pummeled by Honeymoon in Vegas, which arrives on the East Coast smothered in glitz and glamor but ultimately coming up snake eyes. Writer-director Andrew Bergman, who has written and directed The Freshman and Striptease and written or cowritten The In-Laws and Fletch, has transformed his 1992 film into a Broadway musical that draws to an inside straight and falls desperately short. Rob McClure (Chaplin) stars as Jack Singer, a wimpy New Yorker in love with the beautiful Betsy Nolan (Brynn O’Malley); she is ready to get married, but he is terrified by a deathbed curse delivered by his mother, Bea (Nancy Opel), who has forbade him from ever taking a bride, claiming that no woman can love him like she did. Bea, ten years dead by this point, keeps popping up at crucial junctures, like in the middle of Tiffany’s when he’s about to buy a ring for Betsy. Betsy gives Jack an ultimatum, so he suddenly tells Betsy that they should fly immediately to Las Vegas and get married, no matter what his mother demanded. Off they go to Sin City, where Jack, a natural gambler, gets suckered into a poker game organized by the smooth-talking Tommy Korman (Tony Danza), a high-rolling mobster who thinks Betsy is a dead ringer for his late wife. When Jack can’t pay the fifty-eight grand he loses in the game, Tommy says he’ll call it even if he can borrow Betsy for the weekend. Furious at what Jack did, Betsy agrees to the deal, leaving Jack to either fight for her or give her up forever. Of course, it wouldn’t be much of a story if Jack just let her walk away, so he is soon off to Hawaii to win back his true love.
Bergman’s 1992 film featured established stars Nicolas Cage as Jack, James Caan as Tommy, Sarah Jessica Parker as Betsy, and Anne Bancroft as Jack’s mother. O’Malley, as the blond Betsty, is the breakout star of the Broadway musical, showing a natural talent for romantic comedy while also displaying a fine voice in such numbers as “Anywhere But Here” and “I’ve Been Thinking.” McClure does an admirable job as Jack, his highlight coming early on in “I Love Betsy.” The eminently likable Danza blows hot and cold, delivering on the mournful ballad “Out of the Sun” and the clever “Come to an Agreement,” but he stands around too much when he’s not involved in the immediate action, and a tap-dancing number was wholly unnecessary. The less said about Opel (Urinetown, Cinderella) in the thankless role of the mother the better. And yes, the Flying Elvises are in the building, but prepare to cringe. Brian C. Hemesath’s costumes are flashy, particularly in the Vegas nightclub scenes, while Denis Jones’s choreography is relatively flat and lifeless. The music and lyrics, by popular and critical darling Jason Robert Brown (The Bridges of Madison County, Parade, The Last Five Years), are, for the most part, surprisingly standard and uninteresting. (“Jump jump / jumpity jump”?) Another surprise was that there was no standing ovation at the end, since audiences seem to jump jump jumpity jump to their feet after most splashy musicals these days, no matter the quality. But maybe they could tell too that this Honeymoon in Vegas is in need of a Haitian divorce.
Who: The Irish Repertory Theatre
What: Staged reading of Joseph Dougherty’s Chester Bailey
Where: DR2 Theatre, 103 East 15th St. between Park Ave. South & Irving Pl., 212-727-2737
When:Friday, January 30, free (advance reservations strongly suggested), 3:00
Why: The Irish Rep Reading Series continues with Tony nominee Reed Birney (I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard, Casa Valentina) and Noah Robbins (Punk Rock, Brighton Beach Memoirs) reading WWII-set drama by Emmy-nominated writer and producer Joseph Dougherty (Thirtysomething, Saving Grace, Digby), directed by Emmy and Tony nominee Ron Lagomarsino (Digby, Driving Miss Daisy, Pretty Little Liars); Irish Rep literary manager Kara Manning explains that the series “gives playwrights, both emerging and more established, the invaluable opportunity to develop their new work in a supportive, safe environment and will also introduce some Irish playwrights, especially those who might not yet have the New York recognition they merit, to an American audience.”
Irish Repertory Theatre
103 East 15th St. between Irving Pl. & Park Ave.
Tuesday – Sunday through February 8, $70
During renovation of its permanent home on West Twenty-Second St., the Irish Repertory Theatre has moved into the cozy DR2 Theatre in Union Square, presenting a cozy revival of Hugh Leonard’s cozy Tony-winning 1978 play, Da. It’s May 1968, and Charlie (Irish Rep producing director Ciarán O’Reilly) has returned to the cluttered family home in Dublin following the death of his father, who he called Da (Paul O’Brien). While cleaning up the house, he is visited by his childhood friend Oliver (the curiously coiffed John Keating), who starts dredging up memories for Charlie. As soon as Oliver leaves, Charlie, a playwright, is then visited by his late father, a gardener who seems not quite ready for the afterlife, instead hanging around, sitting in his chair, and preparing for tea. “I’ve a cupful,” Charlie says. “It’s empty,” Da responds. “It’s full,” the son declares, setting the stage for the two to confront disagreements they had as father and son. As the memories flood forth, Charlie watches his younger self (Adam Petherbridge) flirt with local girl Mary Tate (Nicola Murphy) and get a job with the strict, straightforward Drumm (Sean Gormley); his beloved mother, Maggie Tynan (Fiana Toibin), is back as well. “I’d forgotten what she looked like,” the older Charlie says wistfully. He watches scenes from his and his family’s life play out right in front of him but can’t do anything about it, wondering if he made the right choices. But at the center of it all is Charlie’s relationship with Da, who often embarrassed him, particularly when it came to girls, Hitler, and his mother. “Say nothing. Ignore him,” Charlie tells his younger self at the beginning of the second act as his father is relating an old story. But it’s too late to change things now.
Irish Rep artistic director Charlotte Moore guides the production with a gentle hand as the characters move between the past and the present on James Morgan’s comfy living room/kitchen set. It takes a while to warm to O’Brien and O’Reilly as father and son, because they appear to be too close in age, but once things get going, the characters all fall into step. O’Reilly is pensive and reflective as Charlie, who does not want to look back at what was and what could have been. O’Brien is somewhat rough at first but soon settles down in a role made famous by Barnard Hughes in the original Tony-winning Broadway production in 1978, which featured Brian Murray as Charlie, Sylvia O’Brien as Charlie’s mother, and Mia Dillon as Mary Tate. (Matt Clark’s 1988 film starred Hughes as Da, Martin Sheen as Charlie, and William Hickey as Drumm.) Da is a lovely little play, a tenderhearted story of the ties that bind family together — and that can lead to a painful loss of innocence.
Atlantic Stage 2
330 West 16th St. between Eighth & Ninth Aves.
Tuesday - Sunday through March 1, $20-$45
Theater critics are taking quite a beating these days. In Terrence McNally’s It’s Only a Play, F. Murray Abraham portrays a snarky critic who wants to feel included at an opening-night part for a new Broadway show. In Alejandro G. Iñárritu’s Oscar-nominated Birdman, Lindsay Duncan plays a vicious New York Times critic who can’t wait to eviscerate a former Hollywood star’s (Michael Keaton) big debut on the Great White Way. And now in Halley Feiffer’s I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard, a playwright father (Reed Birney) and his actor daughter (Betty Gilpin) skewer critics right from the start. “They are a sick cadre of pathetic, sniveling, tiny men with micropenises and no imaginations who write out of their asses and who love to tear you down because in truth they know that you are doing exactly what they could never do — that you are doing the only thing they have ever wanted to do — and they are fucking jealous,” David, winner of a Pulitzer and two Tonys for such plays as Gavalt! and Four Questions, lashes out. “You know that, don’t you? How jealous they are? They’re boiling with envy. They want a piece of you. They want in. They wanna get inside you! They wanna climb right in!” That mini-soliloquy, which of course contains more than a morsel of truth, is part of a kind of vitriolic halftime locker-room pep talk David is giving to Ella, who has been passed over for the role of Nina in The Seagull, losing out to a sexy ingénue who, David argues, uses her assets to get what she wants. (Ellas is cast as Masha instead.) Smoking and drinking with a passion, David rips apart theater as a whole, not just critics, barely leaving room for Ella to sycophantically scream back at him such words of shock and agreement (and ecstasy) as “Whoa!” “Wow!” “Right!” “Yes!” and “Oh god!” It’s not a pleasant conversation to listen in on — and one can only hope it’s not based on fact, as Feiffer is an actress (The House of Blue Leaves, The Substance of Fire) as well as a playwright (How to Make Friends and Then Kill Them) and the daughter of Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and writer Jules Feiffer.
I’m Gonna Pray for You So Hard takes place on Mark Wendland’s cluttered Upper West Side apartment set, which runs three rooms deep instead of across, creating a narrow, claustrophobic space that barely contains the fiery emotions streaming out of David and Ella. The second scene is far shorter than the first, almost more of a coda, taking place on the floor instead of the stage, as the set is now the black box theater itself, a transition that is wholly successful. But Birney (Casa Valentina, Circle Mirror Transformations), one of New York’s most deservedly busiest actors — he’s also starring in Feiffer and Ryan Spahn’s upcoming web series What’s Your Emergency? — and Gilpin (Heartless, Nurse Jackie) make for a rather odd couple, forming an unsettling and hard-to-believe father-daughter dynamic that is often difficult to watch. But then Feiffer and director Trip Cullman (Punk Rock, Murder Ballad) tear it all apart in a brash, brutal finale that is actually a disappointing cop-out. I’m Gonna Pray So Hard for You is a relentlessly nasty and bitter play, and although often that works, in this case, by the end, you’ll be praying for someone, anyone, to just lighten up.