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April 22, 2014

The kid is alright

With the Broadway season thundering to a close, The Wall Street Journal has given me an extra column this week to cover all of the shows that are opening in time for the Tony Awards eligibility deadline. In today's paper I review the Broadway premieres of The Cripple of Inishmaan, Violet, and The Velocity of Autumn. Here's an excerpt.

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Granted that it's always a pleasure to see one of Martin McDonagh's plays performed on Broadway, why mount "The Cripple of Inishmaan" there just five years after the Atlantic Theater Company imported a flawless all-Irish staging by Galway's Druid Theatre that should have moved uptown but didn't? As the millennials say, because Daniel Radcliffe. In the absence of the presence of the former Harry Potter, this production of Mr. McDonagh's bitingly black 1996 comedy about the not-so-small cruelties of village life would never have transferred from London's West End to the Cort Theatre, no matter how good it might be--and it's very good. But so, too, is Mr. Radcliffe. He is, in fact, that rarest of birds, a child movie star who decided to turn himself into an adult stage actor, worked at his craft with modesty and dead-serious determination and has become an accomplished performer...

_68254703_cripple2.jpgIf you don't know "The Cripple of Inishmann," you won't have any doubts about Michael Grandage's production, in which Mr. Radcliffe plays a severely handicapped teenage boy who can no longer stomach the good-humored but thoughtless teasing of his neighbors (it says everything about them that they all casually refer to him as "Cripple Billy") and so removes himself to Hollywood to seek success in what the Irish call "fillums." Mr. Radcliffe is so far inside his character that it actually took the audience a few tantalizing seconds to realize who he was when he made his first entrance on Saturday night....

If, on the other hand, you were fortunate enough to watch the Druids at work, you'll see at once what's missing this time around. Mr. McDonagh's play is also a take-no-prisoners satire on the sentimental clichés of stage-Irishness, and Mr. Grandage, instead of emphasizing them ("Oi have me drunkard mammy to look after") in order to make them self-evidently ludicrous, has mostly chosen to play them straight...

The Roundabout Theatre Company has revived "Violet," the 1997 Brian Crawley-Jeanine Tesori musical about a North Carolina girl with an axe-scarred face (Sutton Foster) who rides a Greyhound bus to Oklahoma in the hope of being made beautiful by an Oral Roberts-type televangelist. It's a sweet, unpretentious little show that doesn't really belong on Broadway, but the wondrous Ms. Foster pours the whole of her soul into it, and her performance is radiant and true in all ways but one: She is the opposite of plain.

1.165821.jpgYes, the animating premise is that Violet's inner beauty makes her outwardly lovely for those with eyes to see, but one grows tired of seeing pretty people cast in stage and screen roles that require them to pretend to be unattractive--especially when the script specifies, as is the case here, that the character's disfigurement be invisible to the audience. Why not find an ordinary-looking but charismatic performer who can act beautiful?...

Eric Coble breaks the U.S. record for clichés per minute in "The Velocity of Autumn," his new cranky-codger two-character comedy. Near-senile old lady? Check. Estranged gay son with unfinished emotional business? Check. Hackneyed plot? Check. (Mom wants to go on living in her Brooklyn house, but the kids want to put her in a nursing home, so she barricades the front door, brandishes a Molotov cocktail and tells them to bring it on.) Tap-the-tendon punch lines interspersed with ephiphanic moments of pseudo-poetry? Check, check and octuple check....

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Read the whole thing here.

Posted April 22, 2014 11:00 AM

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