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February 2, 2007

TT: Famous father, furious family

It’s Friday! Yes! Today I wrap up a more than usually hectic week on the job (about which more below) with a Wall Street Journal drama column in which I review the New York premiere of Frank’s Home and file the last of three reports about my recent trip to Washington, D.C., this time discussing the Classical Theatre of Harlem’s King Lear:

Frank Lloyd Wright, like so many great artists, was a lousy family man. This amply documented fact inspired Richard Nelson’s “Frank’s Home,” a play about the master architect who designed the Guggenheim Museum, invented the carport and conducted a love life complicated enough to fuel a miniseries or two.

Mr. Nelson’s play, first seen earlier this season at Chicago’s Goodman Theatre in a production now being presented in New York by Playwrights Horizons, is partly a domestic drama and partly a meditation on the meaning and significance of art. The second part is better than the first. I see more than my share of plays about uncaring parents and their resentful children, and while “Frank’s Home” covers that oft-trod ground plausibly enough, I didn’t find Mr. Nelson’s rendering of the old, old story to be especially original or memorable. Far more interesting are the scenes in which Wright (Peter Weller) talks about his work, seeking to persuade his angry son (Jay Whittaker) that its quality redeems his failings as a father and husband…

The nation’s capital is playing host to a city-wide, season-long Shakespeare orgy. “Shakespeare in Washington,” which runs through June, consists of 100-plus presentations by 60 arts organizations—drama companies, dance troupes, opera houses, symphony orchestras, museums—celebrating the life and work of the greatest of all English-speaking playwrights. I dipped my toe into the stream by paying a visit to the Folger Shakespeare Library, where the Classical Theatre of Harlem, about which I’ve been hearing terrific buzz, is midway through a six-week run of “King Lear.” The company proved to be every bit as good as its reputation, and its “Lear,” previously seen in New York and Miami, is a highly impressive piece of work.

Alfred Preisser’s production is set in ancient Mesopotamia, and the program contains some fancy talk about how he conceives of the play as “a fairy tale in which Lear’s family is analogous to the universe.” Ignore it, please: Mr. Preisser’s “Lear” is a straightforward, colorfully costumed staging full of high-flying rhetoric and flamboyant physicality…

No free link, so do do that voodoo that you do so well, or get smart and go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, a sound decision that will give you instant access to my column and the rest of the Journal’s Friday arts package. (If you’re already a subscriber, the column is here.)

P.S. I ran into Mr. My Stupid Dog at the production of Into the Woods that I reviewed in last Friday's Journal. To read his thoughts on the same show, go here.

Posted February 2, 2007 12:00 PM

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