I’m still in Washington, D.C., attending a meeting of the National Council on the Arts, but the Wall Street Journal drama column continues as always. Today I report on shows in Minneapolis (the Guthrie Theater’s production of Brian Friel’s The Home Place) and on Broadway (Cyrano de Bergerac). The verdict is mixed:
“The Home Place,” first performed in Dublin two years ago, is the latest of Mr. Friel’s increasingly subtle and penetrating variations on a theme that has preoccupied him for much of the last half-century. It is the story of a man torn between two countries and two identities, alienated from his native land but ill at ease in the place where he has chosen to live. That place is, of course, Ballybeg, the fictional Irish town that is to Mr. Friel what Yoknapatawpha County was to William Faulkner. The year is 1878, and the poor peasants of Ballybeg are fast losing patience with the wealthy Anglo-Irish landlords who rule them, even one as sympathetic as Christopher Gore (Simon Jones), a kindly widower whose only sin is that his English ancestors chose to seek their fortunes in Ireland. He loves his adopted home in a superficial but well-meaning way, and he also loves Margaret (Sarah Agnew), the much younger Irishwoman who keeps his house and runs his life. All Christopher wants is to live out his days in peace–but the angry young men of Ballybeg are about to bring him and his kind not peace, but a sword.
Part of Mr. Friel’s genius (and I use that word deliberately) lies in his near-miraculous ability to treat Ireland’s tangled political life as a means, not an end. His end is art, not propaganda, and his study is the human heart in all its fearsome complexity….
If you’re wondering what a 110-year-old French verse play is doing on Broadway, I can tell you in two words: Jennifer Garner. The star of “Alias,” “13 Going on 30” and “Dude, Where’s My Car?” has now made her stage debut opposite Kevin Kline in “Cyrano de Bergerac.” Alas, Ms. Garner is no Claire Danes, though she does do better than Julia Roberts in “Three Days of Rain” (which isn’t saying much). I admire her nerve, but her performance is vocally monotonous and just as narrowly limited in every other way….
As per always, go buy a paper to read the whole thing, or go here to subscribe to the Online Journal, a smart move for art lovers in all financial categories. (If you’re already a subscriber to the Online Journal, the column is here.)