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February 19, 2010

TT: Five angry men

My playgoing travels are just about over for the current season--Broadway beckons--but I managed to work in two more out-of-town openings in this week's Wall Street Journal drama column, Florida Stage's Sins of the Mother in Manalapan and Shakespeare & Company's Les Liaisons Dangereuses in Lenox, Massachusetts. Here's an excerpt.

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Israel Horovitz was a fixture on the New York theater scene throughout the '60s and '70s. In recent years, though, he's shifted his base of operations northward to the Gloucester Stage Company, the Massachusetts troupe for which the prolific playwright-director has penned a cycle of 14 plays set in and around his adopted home. "Sins of the Mother," an all-male four-hander first seen in its entirety in Gloucester last summer, is now being performed by Florida Stage in a production directed by the author. It's an unpretentious yet memorable piece of work, a concise, sharp-edged snapshot of working-class life that packs the dramatic punch of "A View from the Bridge" or "August: Osage County." The cast is ideal, the staging ferociously right. This is a show with no weak links, one that in a better-regulated world would now be playing on Broadway.

KJP_6005%20Small.jpg"Sins of the Mother" is the kind of play that hinges on a series of genuinely startling revelations, so I'll say only that four of the five characters (Brian Claudio Smith plays an ungimmicky double role) are New England stevedores trapped in a dying trade. They return to the waterfront each week to pick up their unemployment checks and talk about days gone by--and few of their memories are happy. Before long their tough-guy banter gives way to real, raw anger, and suddenly the surface of the play splits open and you tumble into a world driven by resentment and the long-simmering desire for vengeance....

Few stage versions of great novels are more effective than Christopher Hampton's 1986 adaptation of "Les Liaisons Dangereuses," Choderlos de Laclos' 1782 tale of a sadistic pair of pleasure-seeking French aristocrats who step into a bottomless pit of humiliation that they dug for somebody else. The Roundabout Theatre Company's 2008 Broadway revival was dismayingly unstylish, so it's a pleasure to report that Shakespeare & Company is performing it with terrific skill and intelligence in the Berkshires. In Tina Packer's staging, "Les Liaisons Dangereuses" is played as a witty farce for most of its length--but one that ends in heartbreak, catastrophe and bloodshed. This twist adds immeasurably to the production's force. Even if you already know what's going to happen to the Marquise de Merteuil (Elizabeth Aspenlieder) and her cold-hearted chum the Vicomte de Valmont (Josh Aaron McCabe) at play's end, you'll still be shocked when the trap is finally sprung....

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted February 19, 2010 12:00 AM

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