It’s Friday, meaning that my drama column is in The Wall Street Journal. This week I reported on two shows, Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days and City Center’s four-performance concert version of A Tree Grows in Brooklyn.
The first I liked, with one major qualification:
“I know it’s supposed to be tragic, but there are lots of gags…I’m not sure, but the writer’s no phony.” So said Bert Lahr to his agent after reading “Waiting for Godot.” Six months later, Samuel Beckett’s avant-garde play opened on Broadway with the Cowardly Lion starring opposite E.G. Marshall, giving what by all accounts was the performance of a lifetime. (The production was recorded by Columbia in 1956, but has yet to be reissued on CD.) Now Lea DeLaria, another rubbery-faced comedian-singer who is best known to New York audiences as the high-voltage Hildy of the Public Theater’s 1998 production of “On the Town,” is starring in the Worth Street Theater Company’s Off Broadway revival of Beckett’s “Happy Days”…
Ms. DeLaria and Jeff Cohen, the director of this revival, have placed much (though by no means all) of their emphasis on the humor of “Happy Days,” an approach that plays to Ms. DeLaria’s formidable strengths. A superbly vital and aggressive comedian, she fills the theater with energy, and does it standing still. If the results aren’t always convincing, it’s because the cooks have overegged the pudding: Ms. DeLaria puts a fresh comic spin on each line, sometimes on each phrase, and Beckett’s carefully chosen words are too often buried under a hectic avalanche of twitches, tics and takes. Still, it’s a performance we’re seeing, not a reading, and if Ms. DeLaria is occasionally irritating, she’s never, ever dull….
I wanted to like A Tree Grows in Brooklyn more than I did, but the show was the problem:
Alas, “A Tree Grows in Brooklyn” is a soft grape that’s been squeezed too hard. In turning her 496-page novel into a two-hour musical-comedy book, Betty Smith and George Abbott threw out the richness of detail that made it so memorable, and spooned sugar over Smith’s unexpectedly tough-minded portrayal of a misguided marriage gone sour. The score is similarly lacking in bite, though it contains two good songs, “Make the Man Love Me” and “He Had Refinement.” Better luck next time….
No link. Plan A: go buy a copy of today’s Journal. Plan B: go here and follow orders.