I’ve just returned from seeing Barbara Gaines’s haunted, haunting Richard III at Chicago Shakespeare, and will have more to say about it Monday. For now I’ll just say: Go, go, go. There are four performances this weekend, and it’s not to be missed. I’ll elaborate on this advice next week. (The show runs through November 22.)
Archives for October 23, 2009
I saw three shows last weekend, one fabulous and two lousy: The Emperor Jones, Memphis, and After Miss Julie. All are reviewed in today’s Wall Street Journal. Here’s an excerpt.
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Eugene O’Neill is the most problematic of major American playwrights, not because he wasn’t important–nobody doubts that–but because his plays, like Theodore Dreiser’s novels, are out of step with modern taste in all sorts of awkward ways. Take “The Emperor Jones,” the 1920 one-act play in which a black Pullman porter takes over an impoverished West Indies island with the help of a Cockney crook. It’s one of O’Neill’s most significant works, yet few companies dare to perform it nowadays, for the title role is written in yassuh-boss period dialect and the word “nigger” is flung around with alarming abandon. Not surprisingly, “The Emperor Jones” hasn’t been seen on Broadway since 1927, and Off-Broadway productions are scarcely less rare. In order to get away with reviving it in 1993, the avant-garde Wooster Group cast Brutus Jones as a white woman in blackface, which wowed the cognoscenti but did less well by the play. Now the Irish Repertory Theatre, an Off-Broadway troupe that never fails to deliver the goods, is putting on an uncensored production that is smart, forceful, fiercely involving and wholly successful.
Ciarán O’Reilly has paid O’Neill the compliment of staging “The Emperor Jones” with unapologetic directness, presenting Jones (John Douglas Thompson) as a charismatic dictator who in a just world might well have made better use of his gifts….
I’m not so sure that O’Neill’s play still works as a poetic statement about the thin ice on which Western civilization rests, but it definitely works as a tour de force for a first-rate black actor, and Mr. Thompson is all that and then some. I first saw him on stage in Shakespeare & Company’s 2008 production of “Othello,” in which he spoke Shakespeare’s verse with bewitching elegance. In “The Emperor Jones” he shows us another kind of giant, utterly venal yet irresistibly sympathetic….
I’ve seen dumber musicals than “Memphis,” but not many and not by much. This noisy piece of claptrap, which has been rattling around the regional circuit for the past six years, turns the real-life story of Dewey Phillips, a Memphis disc jockey who fell in love with rhythm and blues in the ’50s, into a ludicrous fantasy about a white DJ named Huey (Chad Kimball) who puts a black singer named Felicia (Montego Glover) on the radio, thereby driving the local racists crazy. Big surprise: All the black characters are noble hipsters and all the white characters (except for Huey) are redneck squares….
August Strindberg’s “Miss Julie,” written in 1888 and last seen on Broadway for three nights in 1962, is now being performed there again–after a fashion. In “After Miss Julie,” Patrick Marber’s 1995 rewrite, Strindberg’s once-scandalous, still-disturbing play about an arrogant young countess (Sienna Miller) who sleeps with her father’s footman (Jonny Lee Miller) is transplanted from 19th-century Sweden to England in 1945. The action unfolds on the fateful night that the Brits voted Winston Churchill out of office and opted for the promise of socialism, which tells you just about everything you need to know about “After Miss Julie,” whose real subject is contemporary class warfare in England….
As for Ms. Miller, a model turned second-tier movie star, all she does is stalk around the stage striking vampy poses and looking really, really skinny….
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Read the whole thing here.
To listen to an aircheck of a 1952 broadcast by Dewey Phillips, go here.
“Nothing really wrong with him–only anno domini, but that’s the most fatal complaint of all, in the end.”
James Hilton, Goodbye, Mr. Chips