I think this will finally catch me up on reviews, but first, I must give a shout-out to the two Tennessee treasures I saw this week at Radio City Music Hall. Dolly Parton is as exquisite as ever, and hearing Al Gore speak was, well, a reminder of how things should have been the last seven and a half years. At any rate, I'm going to try something a bit new with the reviews -- a final rating based on how strongly I'd recommend seeing or avoiding a production. The scale: "a must-see," "recommended," "not for everyone," "for diehard fans only" and "stay far, far away." As examples: In the reviews in the preceeding post, both "Gypsy" and "Sunday" would have been must-sees and "The Country Girl" an unfortunate "for diehard fans only."
Warning: Viewers of MTC's revival of Caryl Churchill's opus on the havoc capitalism ravages on the feminine mystique, might go through several stages: confusion, denial, acceptance and disappointment -- if they last long enough. I haven't seen a mass exodus of audience members as I did during my preview performance since that Earth, Wind and Fire musical nightmare. And it's a pity, because "Top Girls" actually is a brilliant work that had me thinking about it for days. So whose fault is it? The audience? Or this production, directed by James Macdonald? Upon reflection, I'd have to say a little bit of both. The first scene, in which a recently promoted career gal Marlene (Elizabeth Marvel), in fantasy, toasts her success with a bevy of semi-historical and literary figures, is meaty but confusing with continuous crosstalk and initial vagueness to whom these characters actually are. Yes, this three-hour marathon requires a little work in return from the audience, and many were more interested in catching the early train out of Penn Station. Still, while the cast, particularly Marvel and Marisa Tomei, are mostly stellar, Macdonald makes some confusing choices, largely switching around the traditional double-casting between the first-act characters and the real-life people in Marlene's life. Verdict: Not for everyone.
More history lesson than theatrical work, George Stevens Jr.'s maiden voyage into writing for the stage could have been deadly dull in the wrong hands. Fortunately, he tagged Laurence Fishburne to bring the story of former Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall to life. There's not much of a conceit around the piece: Marshall walks into a vague lecture hall-type setting and tells his life story from beginning to end. That's it. But it's an interesting and worthwhile story, and Fishburne tells it well. Perhaps its time to retire that old canard about an actor who can make reading the phone book exciting. Fishburne does it for what's almost a Wikipedia entry, although fortunately, Stevens peppers it with enough anecdotes to elevate it above that level. In front of me, when I saw, was a mesmerized boy of about 14 or so. Perhaps that's a stronger commendation than I could ever give on here. Verdict: Recommended.
A Catered Affair
This catered affair should have come with strong coffee. "A Catered Affair," Harvey Fierstein's new musical about a struggling Bronx momma determined to give her daughter the wedding of her dreams whether she wants it or not, is marvelously acted but so low-key that it can at times be coma-inducing. Faith Prince, as the mother Aggie, is heart-wrenching and doing her best work in years, and Tom Wopat, as her unassuming husband, provides one of the few truly cathartic moments with his song, "I Stayed." Oddly enough, Fierstein's own character, "confirmed bachelor" Uncle Winston, is the most awkwardly written, cloaked in anachronistic righteous indignation about his own aloof placing in the family unit. Verdict: Not for everyone.