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JOHN MAINIERI’S THEATRE ROUNDUP – PART DEUX

This is the time of year when borderline, struggling shows tend to fold their tents and call it quits, but this winter there are notable pieces holding their own at the box office, and many of the things to see right now are Off-Broadway. There is, however, one notable exception. And that exception is Manhattan Theater Club’s glorious production of Brian Friel’s “Translations”, just opened on Broadway.

Translations” has had two previous productions in NYC-the first was in the early 80’s off-broadway at MTC, the last was a large overstuffed production on Broadway filled with actors completely wrong for their roles. This time, under the brilliant direction of Garry Hynes, the play works beautifully with an ensemble mix of Irish, British and American actors who absolutely nail it.

The story is simple. Set in 1833, the action takes place in County Donegal, where the British have suddenly arrived to begin the process of reclassifying the Irish territory, renaming towns and landmarks and rivers, for their own purposes. The locals aren’t thrilled, but there’s little they can do but watch as these strangers take over. And, of course, there’s the language barrier. Neither side understands the other. Needless to say, it all makes for grand comedy and ultimately, bitter tragedy, and the audience is transported to a time and place where for two hours or so, a different world is on view, one where we all ultimately recognize ourselves.It is the best Broadway has to offer at the moment, and it’s a production without a false moment in it. Ms. Hynes is one of our greatest directors and she’s a welcome presence back on Broadway.

Off-Broadway, there’s a hundred year old play on view in Chelsea at The Atlantic Theater Company, called
“The Voysey Inheritance” by Harley Granville-Baker. The new translation is by David Mamet, and without tweaking anything major within, Mr. Mamet has succeeded in making this play extremely topical. It’s a story of a family patriarch who’s been robbing the family business blind, behind the backs of his unwitting family and his clients, until one of his sons dsiscovers the subterfuge and confronts him. Anyone familiar with the ABC television series “Brothers and Sisters” will realize that the series creator John Robin Baitz owes a great deal to this wonderful old play. The children are left to clean up the mess left by the duplicitous parent.

In the case of “Voysey”, there are two major reasons to see it, and that reason is the actors of different generations who play father and son. The 81 year old actor Fritz Weaver is a joy to watch as the elder Voysey, the great young character actor Michael Stuhlbarg more than matches him as son Edward. These two make this play crackle, and consequently, you don’t feel like you’re watching some old chestnut, you feel like you’re in the here and now. Worth seeing, and currently extended through the end of March.

Also off-Broadway, actor Peter Weller, he of “Robocop” fame, is making a welcome return to the stage in a new play called “Frank’s Home”, in which he plays the architect Frank Lloyd Wright. This is no affectionate tribute to the man-no, this play presents Wright as quite the angry bastard, at times pompous and proud, and totally dismissive of his children, but totally, at all times, as he puts it-“American and moral”. Weller is an imposing figure on stage, indeed, he commands it, especially in a brilliant monologue late in the play, when he describes a particular problem with one of his clients and the house he built for her. A difficult play, but well worth catching for Mr. Weller, and his co-star, Harris Yulin.

There are other things in the offing for the coming months- Frank Langella will be playing Richard Nixon this Spring in the play “Frost/Nixon” on Broadway, Kevin Kline is tackling “King Lear” off-Broadway at The Public and Kevin Spacey is coming soon with a new production of “A Moon For The Misbegotten”. In the meantime, there’s plenty to keep you satiated this Winter!!