Here’s how busy I am: I almost forgot to post the weekly teaser for my Friday Wall Street Journal drama column. Yikes! Fortunately, I came to my senses at half past midnight, possibly because I’d been listening to a live recording by Arturo Toscanini and the NBC Symphony of Sibelius’ Fourth Symphony, an experience not altogether dissimilar to having a bucket of ice water dumped over your head on a really hot day.
Now that I’m reconnected with my cerebral cortex, please allow me to draw your attention to my reviews of A Streetcar Named Desire and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, both of which are definitely worth seeing, albeit for very different reasons:
Most of the people I know who’ve seen (or heard about) the Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival of “A Streetcar Named Desire,” which opened Tuesday at Studio 54, agree that John C. Reilly, who plays Stanley Kowalski, should have played Mitch instead. Nor do I beg to differ: Mr. Reilly is one of the best actors around, but he looks and sounds like a natural-born nice guy, just the kind of fellow who in real life might well make the mistake of falling for a loosely screwed dame like Blanche DuBois. That’s Mitch all over, whereas Stanley is trouble on a stick, a walking, talking phallus who’s as likely to knock a girl down and rape her as give her a lecture on the vices and versas of the Napoleonic Code. A Stanley who lacks the hard edge of sexual threat can’t be right, no matter what else he has to offer.
Mr. Reilly, with his smiling eyes and bulbous clown nose, is all wrong as Stanley. But because he’s also a smart, thoughtful artist with lots and lots to offer, he finds things in the part that previous actors, Marlon Brando included, have hitherto failed to suggest. Do you remember, for instance, what Stanley does for a living? No? Well, he’s a traveling salesman–and Mr. Reilly brilliantly conveys his glad-handing, back-slapping side, an aspect of his character that’s easy to overlook. He’s also desperately, even abjectly in love with Stella (played to prize-winning perfection by Amy Ryan), and Mr. Reilly nails that, too. Never do you doubt that he’d do anything to hold onto his similarly obsessed wife. If this be miscasting, then Mr. Reilly, for all his inescapable limitations, makes the most of it….
I don’t have any kids of my own, but I think I know a good time when I see one, and “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” now playing at the Hilton Theatre, has fun written all over it. For openers, there’s that car, a $1.4 million racer that, uh, flies. (I know, I know, it isn’t really flying, but the illusion of flight contrived by designer Anthony Ward is jaw-droppingly persuasive.) There’s also a flying villain, fancy sets, two confetti drops, and–not least–a high-octane cast led by Ra