More than a sermon

In today’s Wall Street Journal drama column I review a new play, Sarah Treem’s When We Were Young and Unafraid, and a revival, Barrington Stage’s Kiss Me, Kate. Here’s an excerpt.

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Sarah Treem is the very model of a modern millennial playwright. She makes her living as a TV scriptwriter and showrunner (“House of Cards,” “In Treatment”) and salves her soul after hours by writing plays that, in her phrase, “put ideas on stage.” Sure enough, her latest effort, “When We Were Young and Unafraid,” a play about a shelter for battered women, is nothing if not idea-driven, and the familiar ideas are all straight out of the feminist playbook. That way lies predictability, which is the death of drama. On the other hand, her characters are—with one exception—fully recognizable human beings capable of saying and doing the unexpected, and the cast, led by Zoe Kazan and Cherry Jones and directed by Pam MacKinnon, performs “When We Were Young” with gratifying skill. The resulting tension makes for a show that is sometimes predictable but never dull….

BqazUG1IMAAbXmQMs. Kazan, the most gifted stage actor of her generation, gives another of the richly involving performances that we’ve come to take for granted from her, playing a pitifully awkward girl-woman who knows no other way to relate to men than to have sex with them…

“Kiss Me, Kate” belongs close to the top of any short list of great Broadway musicals, yet it doesn’t get performed nearly as often as it should. Fortunately, it’s now being done extremely well by Massachusetts’ Barrington Stage Company, whose 2013 revival of “On the Town” is Broadway-bound. That fact speaks well for the company’s ability to mount a full-scale musical-comedy production. So does this “Kiss Me, Kate,” directed by Joe Calarco, which is as good as any revival of the show that I’ve seen in the past decade….

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To read my review of When We Were Young and Unafraid, go here.

To read my review of Kiss Me, Kate, go here.

The trailer for Kiss Me, Kate:

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All over but the shouting

tn-500_satchmocurtwm20147556You only have four more chances to see the off-Broadway production of Satchmo at the Waldorf, my one-person-three-character play about Louis Armstrong, Joe Glaser, and Miles Davis, in which John Douglas Thompson is giving what pretty much everybody seems to agree is the performance of a lifetime (though maybe I should say performances, since it’s a triple role!).

John will be on stage at the Westside Theatre tonight at eight, Saturday at two-thirty and eight, and Sunday at three. I’m returning to New York from the road specifically to see John’s last show on Sunday afternoon.

To order tickets or for more information, go here. Don’t dally—we expect one or more of the final performances to sell out.

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Almanac: John P. Marquand on the critic who creates

INK BOTTLE“He was thinking that he was caught there in a sort of justice of his own contriving. He was thinking that he knew too much. There was no way of stilling the analytical sense which he had developed from examining other people’s work, and now that part of his mind was examining his own work remorselessly. It was an exquisite sort of retribution. He could see exactly what that other part of him, the submerged creative side of him, had been trying to do. The self-revelation of it was painful, but he had to face it. It was not that it was bad—he found himself wishing that it might have been frankly bad. Instead there was a veneer of accomplishment about it, a perfunctory sort of smartness, which made it worse. There was a veneer over the dialogue, a certain specious cleverness, but there was no conviction or emotion. The play he was reading had the plausibility and the coldness of a mechanical toy pirouetting on the sidewalk at Christmas time.”

John P. Marquand, So Little Time

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