“It’s not a knock on performers to point out that they tend not to write well about anything else. To become a first-rate actor or musician requires a ruthless single-mindedness that leaves little time for secondary pursuits…”
Archives for September 28, 2012
My Wall Street Journal drama column is about two New York productions, an off-Broadway revival of Brian Friel’s Lovers and the New York premiere of a new English-language version of Henrik Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People. Here’s an excerpt.
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If life were fair, Brian Friel, the foremost living playwright in the English-speaking world, would have won a Nobel Prize long ago. Instead he labors in comparative obscurity, loved and respected by all who care about theater but mostly unknown to the American public at large….
The good news is that two of Mr. Friel’s best plays are being done Off Broadway this fall. Not only will the Irish Rep be putting on “The Freedom of the City” in October, but TACT/The Actors Company Theatre, which covered itself in glory with its revival last season of Neil Simon’s “Lost in Yonkers,” is now presenting the very first professional staging of “Lovers” to be seen in New York since the play received its Broadway premiere in 1968.
“Lovers” is a double bill of dark romantic comedies that take the grimmest possible view of love and its discontents. In “Winners,” we meet Mag and Joe (Justine Salata and Cameron Scoggins), a starry-eyed teenage couple whose fast-approaching marriage is about to be short-circuited by the uncaring hand of fate. “Losers,” by contrast, is a bitter little farce about a pair of middle-aged lovers (Kati Brazda and James Riordan) whose romance runs aground on the cold, hard shoal of Irish Catholicism at its most priggish.
Part of Mr. Friel’s genius lies in the seamlessness with which he integrates more or less straightforward realism and narrator-driven presentationalism. “Winners” is a prime example of his technique at its most supple. In between glimpses of the young lovers at play, we hear from a two-person Greek chorus (played by Ms. Brazda and Mr. Riordan) who describe the life of their village in the dispassionate, “Dragnet”-like tones of a police report….
Drew Barr has directed “Lovers” with the deceptive simplicity of a fable. The impact of his staging is heightened by Brett J. Banakis’ uncomplicated set, a wall covered with shabby wallpaper that slashes diagonally across the stage like a scar….
Rebecca Lenkiewicz’s “new version” of “An Enemy of the People” is yet another attempt to update Henrik Ibsen’s smug 1882 satire about a visionary doctor (Boyd Gaines) who becomes a pariah when he makes a discovery that threatens to gut the economy of the hypocritical small town in which he lives. (Yes, the doctor is a self-portrait of the playwright as genius.) Unlike Arthur Miller, whose squashily high-minded 1950 adaptation is the form in which “An Enemy of the People” is best known to American audiences, Ms. Lenkiewicz has made no attempt to paper over the play’s contemptuous anti-populism. She has, however, cut the script ruthlessly, modernized Ibsen’s language with four-letter words and ramped up the humor (such as it is) to the point of cartoonishness….
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Read the whole thing here.
A trailer for Lovers:
In today’s Wall Street Journal “Sightings” column, I use the publication of The Richard Burton Diaries as an occasion to reflect on performers who write–and what they write about. Here’s an excerpt.
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If you read the excerpts from Richard Burton’s diaries that were serialized earlier this month in London’s Daily Telegraph, you learned that he enjoyed sleeping with Elizabeth Taylor and appears to have regarded most of his other colleagues with fathomless contempt: “Marlon [Brando] has yet to learn to speak….I love Larry [Olivier] but he really is a shallow little man with a mediocre intelligence but a splendid salesman….Why do the audience look at Paul Scofield and not me? He walks like a pimp, he’s got a patently false voice.” One might well suppose that he had no interests other than gossip, money, drink and sex.
In fact, there’s quite a bit more to “The Richard Burton Diaries” than that. Among other things, Mr. Burton turns out to have been an exceedingly literate man who had shrewd opinions about the many books that he read. Here, for instance, is what he thought of Anthony Powell’s “A Dance to the Music of Time”: “He gives the impression of a deliberately distant artist. His canvas is large but he stands a long way off and paints with a remote brush only in the corners and only miniatures.”
Would that Mr. Burton had felt moved to express himself on such matters at greater length. The thought definitely crossed his mind. In a 1970 diary entry, he actually confesses to having once “contemplat[ed] retirement from acting and writing instead–not for a living, not for money….I wanted to write because I sought for some kind of permanence, a cover-bound shot at immortality and not a rapidly dating film and acting [career] to match.” Had he done so, he could have become one of the handful of performing artists who’ve written interestingly about something other than themselves.
It’s not a knock on performers to point out that they tend not to write well about anything else. To become a first-rate actor or musician requires a ruthless single-mindedness that leaves little time for secondary pursuits….
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Read the whole thing here.
“However devoutly a girl may worship the man of her choice, there always comes a time when she feels an irresistible urge to haul off and let him have it in the neck.”
P.G. Wodehouse, Joy in the Morning