Equus (Broadhurst, 235 W. 44, closes Feb. 8). A masterpiece it’s not, but Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play about a mentally disturbed stableboy and the psychatrist who has second thoughts about curing him is a spectacular piece of theater-for-its-own-sake, impressive enough that it’s easy to overlook the creakiness of the play’s intellectual underpinnings. This is the first Broadway revival of Equus, for which Daniel Radcliffe presumably deserves credit. Not surprisingly, the presence of Harry Potter in the cast has captured the imagination of the mass media–especially since he strips to the buff and runs around the stage in the next-to-last scene–but Radcliffe turns out to be a damned fine actor, while Richard Griffiths, lately of The History Boys, is as good as it gets (TT).
Archives for September 2008
The Soprano Summit in 1975 and More (Arbors). No, not that kind of soprano. This two-CD set contains fifteen previously unissued concert recordings by Soprano Summit, the celebrated jazz combo that featured Kenny Davern and Bob Wilber on soprano saxophone and clarinet. Soprano Summit was one of the finest traditional jazz groups of the Seventies–maybe ever–and these piping-hot performances show why it made so lasting an impression. (Marty Grosz’s wonderfully old-fashioned rhythm guitar is especially prominent in the mix.) If this CD doesn’t make you smile, get your face fixed. Also included are nine additional live tracks separately featuring Davern and Wilber in the company of Dick Wellstood and Ruby Braff (TT).
“Stuff a cold and starve a cold are but two ways. They are the two practices, both always in full blast. Yet you must take the advice of the one school as if there was no other.”
Henry David Thoreau, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers
…I have a cold and am feeling miserable. See you tomorrow, maybe.
“I grew up in Berkeley. Which instilled me both with an uninformed liberal bias and with enormous skepticism of uninformed liberal biases. Berkeley taught me that tolerance can be a kind of fascism.”
Itamar Moses, “Writer in a Jar: Moses on Moses” (Salt, Nov. 9, 2005)
The Hustler was Paul Newman’s best and most serious movie–one of the few, in fact, that was fully worthy of his talents. Be that as it may, I prefer to remember Newman not as Fast Eddie Felson, the self-hating wizard of the poolroom, but as Cool Hand Luke, a loser of a distinctly different sort. That is the way I suspect most of us will be remembering him today:
John Sayles, I hear, is working on the script for an HBO miniseries about the life of Louis Armstrong.
I, as you know, am putting the finishing touches on a major primary-source biography of Armstrong that will be published next fall by Harcourt. It is, in the words of a music-business insider who knew Armstrong well, “the best book ever written about a musical personality.” (No names yet, but you’ll be impressed.)
I’m also a great fan of Sayles’ films, as I explained in an essay called “Pictures of Words” that’s collected in A Terry Teachout Reader:
The only American writer-director I can think of whose work is at all like Sayles’ is Whit Stillman, and the comparison says a lot about both men, since their films don’t seem at first glance to have much in common….But Sayles, like Stillman, is unafraid to plant his camera firmly in one spot, point it at his characters, and let them talk. He knows that two people talking can be every bit as dramatic–and as visually rich–as two people trying to kill one another with digitally enhanced light sabers.
Might this be a match made in heaven? Very possibly–except that I don’t know how to get in touch with Sayles. Hence this posting.
If you know John Sayles, or know someone who knows him and can bring us together, or are in a position to make my interest in meeting him widely known, would you please do something about it? Write to me, or him, or whoever, or post something on your blog, or send up a flare.
Right away, please.
In today’s Wall Street Journal column I review two excellent shows, the Broadway revival of Equus and the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire. Here’s an excerpt.
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Whatever happened to Peter Shaffer? It’s been nine years since a play by the author of “Amadeus” was last produced on Broadway, and it took Harry Potter to get his name back up in lights. “Equus,” which was the play to see in 1974, returned to New York last night in a big-budget revival that has already wowed the London critics. Would it have made it here without Daniel Radcliffe? No. Does that matter? No. For this is not a tawdry exercise in stunt casting: Mr. Radcliffe gives a self-effacing yet strong performance that serves the play, not his fans.
Though Mr. Radcliffe has no previous stage experience, he more than holds his own opposite Richard Griffiths, the real star of “Equus,” who is known to “Harry Potter” buffs as Uncle Vernon and to theatergoers as the tortured schoolmaster of “The History Boys.” Here Mr. Griffiths plays Martin Dysart, a child psychiatrist charged with the task of curing Alan Strang (Mr. Radcliffe), a stableboy who blinded six horses for no apparent reason. On the surface the play is an upside-down mystery in which the doctor tries to figure out what made his troubled patient–who turns out to have been sexually attracted to the horses he assaulted–do what he did. At the same time, though, Dysart simultaneously reveals himself to the audience as a middle-aged man suffering from “professional menopause” and trapped in a loveless marriage, and it is his own journey of self-discovery, not Alan’s, that lies at the play’s heart.
Mr. Griffiths’ role was played on Broadway in the ’70s by Anthony Hopkins, Richard Burton and Anthony Perkins. Unlike them, he is a character actor, albeit one of the first rank, and that is how he plays Dysart, as a fat, shambling, unkempt eccentric who is incapable of leading the more emotionally abundant life of his dreams….
I’ve always had trouble with Tennessee Williams’ “A Streetcar Named Desire,” in which poetic fantasy and rough-edged naturalism are uneasily yoked. That is, of course, the point of the play: Blanche DuBois, Williams’ fanciful heroine, is driven mad by her refusal to accept the coarse truth of her own desires. But it is impossible to strike a stable balance between the two aspects of “Streetcar,” and until now I’d never seen a staging that didn’t swerve too far in the direction of overemotional extravagance. Not so the new production being mounted by the Shakespeare Theatre of New Jersey, in which Bonnie J. Monte, the company’s artistic director, keeps it real from start to finish, aided by the breathtakingly fine acting of Laila Robins, the best Blanche I’ve ever seen….
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Read the whole thing here. (You can also see my first Journal video review, a piece on Equus that I taped earlier this week.)
Tony Kushner, the author of Angels in America, will be the recipient of the first Steinberg Distinguished Playwright Award, a $200,000 cash prize awarded by the Harold and Mimi Steinberg Charitable Trust to “an American playwright whose body of work has made significant contributions to the American theater.” Question: why? What’s the point of giving a six-figure prize whose purpose is to support “the growth and development of outstanding playwrights…and encourage them to remain in their chosen field” to a man who has already knocked down a Pulitzer, an Emmy, and two Tonys?
Yep, it’s “Sightings” time, and in Saturday’s Wall Street Journal you’ll find me in high dudgeon over what the Steinberg Trust hath wrought–but not because I don’t care for Tony Kushner’s plays, just as he doesn’t care for my reviews. I have better reasons, and you can find out what they are by picking up a copy of tomorrow’s Journal and turning to my column.
UPDATE: Read the whole thing here.
“Everything we feel is made of Time. All the beauties of life are shaped by it.”
Peter Shaffer, The Royal Hunt of the Sun