While the end of summer proved to be a dry spell for anything new on the NY stage, the beginning of autumn proved to be a deluge. For better or worse, here are some of the current offerings I’ve seen.
My first “Cyrano de Bergerac” was not the classic Jose Ferrer movie, nor do I remember reading it in college. But in 1985, an exquisite production came into town, courtesy of the Royal Shakespeare Company (the RSC), and I decided I needed to see a production of the classic play for the first time. I couldn’t have chosen a better production with which to begin. This “Cyrano” was sumptuous to behold, a joy to immerse oneself into, and for me, looking back, still the best “Cyrano de Bergerac” I’ve ever had the joy to behold. It was directed by Terry Hands, with a beautiful translation by Anthony Burgess, and as Cyrano, Sir Derek Jacobi, at his swashbuckling, heartbreaking best. Sinead Cusack was the perfect Roxanne, his cousin and his beloved, and the whole venture was done with such love and care and detail, it is imbedded in my catacombs of the best theatrical memories I’ve had. I’ve since seen the great Anthony Sher in an anniversary production in London, again directed by Mr. Hands, and 7 years ago, Kevin Kline and Jennifer Garner in a less memorable yet still moving production on Broadway. And now, courtesy of Roundabout Theatre Company, there is a new production of the Edmund Rostand play, directed by up and coming, soon to be great Jamie Lloyd, whose work I’ve seen in London recently, starring Douglas Hodge, who won a Tony a few years ago for “La Cage Aux Folles”, and co-starring Clemence Poesy, Patrick Page and Kyle Soller. And much to my sadness, it stinks. Hodge plays Cyrano as a bully and a street thug, not a poet or philosopher, and without an ounce of panache, which is the whole point of his being. Miss Poesy plays Roxanne as if she was portraying Miranda from “Sex And The City”, and the lovesick Christian, Soller comes across as a surfer dude working part-time at a Renaissance fair. Their is no chemistry whatsoever on that stage, and if there is no chemistry between Cyrano and Roxanne, or between Roxanne and Christian, there is no play. The new translation by Ranjit Bolt is a travesty, and there was certainly no need to jettison the far superior translation by Mr. Burgess. The whole enterprise has an air of hopelessness to it, and I left the theatre depressed and despondent over what they’d done to one of my favorite plays. This one is better left unseen.
Then we have the 50th anniversary production of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?”, courtesy of Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, playing at the Booth Theatre. My first exposure to the play was in college, when I was asked to play bookish and seemingly meek George in a production at Fairleigh Dickinson. I remember it being one of the hardest things I’d ever done, but, what a joy was that experience. We rehearsed a standard 5 week, 5 day a week rehearsal period, and I ended up with a great respect for this iconic American play. Since then, I’ve seen the late great Colleen Dewhurst as Martha opposite Ben Gazzara as George, I’ve seen the ferocious Kathleen Turner opposite Bill Irwin as George, and now we have Chicago based actor and playwright Tracy Letts as George opposite actress Amy Morton as Martha. And I wanted to love this production, I absolutely did. But sadly, this is the tamest “Virginia Woolf” I’ve yet to experience, even though Tracy Letts is stunning as George and surprisingly, an unknown Madison Dirks as Nick nearly walks off with the play in a role not meant to as ferocious or savage as Dirks plays him. It is neatly directed by Pam MacKinnon, and the physical production is quite handsome, but here the problem is the miscasting of Amy Morton, who is not the monstrous earth mother Martha is supposed to be, not a man-eater but an aging cougar, who doesn’t seem to know what to do with her prey once she’s overcome it. Looking like a middle-aged Lauren Bacall but without the fangs, Morton doesn’t have the taste for blood in her that Martha should, and so the balance of the play is thrown, making the play seem dated and quaint, instead of the nasty bloodbath is is written to be. As a consequence, this production plays like a tv movie, missing most of the bile and bite a great production of this great play should have. But when Mr. Letts and Mr. Dirks go at it, you see the potential this production could have had. I have to mention Carrie Coon’s outrageous Honey as well, yet this is the first Honey I’ve seen shrink into the background like the wallflower she’s thought to be. The men score well in this “Virginia Woolf”, but this a nasty, bloody four hander, and without a growling, ferocious Martha, the blood never coagulates.
The better news? At Manhattan Theatre Club, there is a superb production of Ibsen’s “Enemy Of The People”, a play I’ve always loved but have never seen staged. Doug Hughes’ production moves like a runaway locomotive, and the cast couldn’t be better. Boyd Gaines as Dr. Stockman, begins the play as a naive, crusading do-gooder, trying to warn his town of the pollution infesting the waters of its money making spa, slowly awakening to the realization that money over powers everything and the rich will always hold the reigns. As his brother, the mayor, who crushes Stockman’s attempts to expose the state of the waters, Richard Thomas glides in and out like a silky Count Dracula, and their confrontations are supercharged. This one to see.