Yes, yes, I know, it’s Friday, but the past week (almost past, anyway) was way more than I could handle, which is why I’m just now getting around to posting the weekly Wall Street Journal drama-column teaser. Sorry about that.
In today’s column I report on three shows, two in Chicago and one in New York. The Chicago shows are Stephen Lang’s Beyond Glory, now playing at the Goodman Theatre, and Barbara Gaines’ new staging of The Merchant of Venice, now playing at Chicago Shakespeare Theater:
“Beyond Glory” has toured the U.S. in the past year, but it hasn’t come anywhere near New York. It ought to. Broadway and Off Broadway have seen some hugely impressive one-person performances in the past couple of seasons, foremost among them Jefferson Mays in “I Am My Own Wife,” Heather Raffo in “Nine Parts of Desire” and Sir Anthony Sher in “Primo.” This show is that good….
Adapted by Mr. Lang from the book by Larry Smith, it consists of eight first-person monologues by recipients of the Medal of Honor, given for “gallantry and intrepidity…above and beyond the call of duty.” You can’t get much more military than that. But Mr. Lang’s one-man play is no simple-minded piece of flag-waving. It is an unsparingly direct portrait of men at war, pushed into narrow corners and faced with hard choices. It is also one of the richest, most complex pieces of acting I’ve seen in my theatergoing life….
Ms. Gaines’ “Merchant” grapples head-on with the chief problem the play poses for today’s audiences, which is that Shakespeare’s portrayal of Shylock is widely felt to be openly (if not merely) anti-Semitic. It does so by underlining every reference to Shylock’s Jewishness, to the point where the incessant repetition of the word “Jew” shrieks as shrilly as fingernails on a chalkboard. Not that the man himself is spared: Mike Nussbaum plays Shylock as a smug semi-gentleman in a three-piece suit whose elegant cut cannot conceal his raging bloodlust. Yet the more savagely he is treated by the other characters–to the point of being beaten and spat upon in a dark alley–the more intelligible his hateful longings start to seem….
I also saw Playwrights Horizons’ production of James Lapine’s Fran’s Bed, starring Mia Farrow:
Like most of Mr. Lapine’s work, “Fran’s Bed” is more than a little bit glib, but it isn’t heartless, and he tucks a thought-provoking twist that took me completely by surprise into the very last scene. As for the acting, it’s first-rate: Ms. Farrow is focused and exact, and Heather Burns and Julia Stiles, who play her daughters, are perfectly sisterly….
No link. To read the whole thing, of which there’s plenty more, pick up a copy of today’s Wall Street Journal, or go here to subscribe to the Online Journal. A few quick keystrokes will give you immediate access to the paper’s complete contents, which include lots of arts coverage and other cool stuff.