(This is the latest in a series of arts-related videos that appear in this space each Monday, Wednesday, and Friday)
Archives for October 2016
“Yes, I am very lucky, but I have a little theory about this. I have noticed through experience and observation that providence, nature, God, or what I would call the power of creation seems to favor human beings who accept and love life unconditionally, and I am certainly one who does with all my heart.”
Arthur Rubinstein, My Young Years
The Wall Street Journal has given me an extra column this week in which to report on the opening of the new Broadway revival of The Front Page. Here’s an excerpt from my review, which appeared on line last Friday.
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“The Front Page” is one of those “classic” American plays that is more talked about than performed. Nowadays it’s far better known as in its second film version, Howard Hawks’ “His Girl Friday,” in which the 1928 Ben Hecht-Charles MacArthur farce about a newspaper reporter and his exasperated boss was given a fresh spin in 1940 by turning the reporter into a woman. While “The Front Page” works fabulously well in that form, the play is a comic masterpiece in its own unromantic, hard-charging right, and the only reason why it isn’t mounted more often is that it calls for a huge cast—the original production fielded two dozen actors—which makes it prohibitively expensive to produce.
Why, then, has “The Front Page” now turned up on Broadway in a big-budget production directed by Jack O’Brien? Two words: Nathan Lane. Mr. Lane is one of the last remaining Broadway stars whose name on a marquée is guaranteed to sell tickets, and it was a stroke of commercial genius to cast him as Walter Burns, the scheming editor who’ll do anything to keep Hildy Johnson (John Slattery) on the job. So it’s a grievous disappointment to report that this much-anticipated revival is slack and lackluster, a case study in how to get a good play wrong….
The pacing is on the slow side and some of the performances are surfacey and undervitalized in a way you wouldn’t normally expect from the actors in question (John Goodman, who plays the hapless police chief, barely comes across at all). And while several other actors, Jefferson Mays, Robert Morse and Lewis J. Stadlen in particular, blast the bull’s-eye right out of the target, the cast as a whole feels like a random collection of talented performers, not a true ensemble.
As for Mr. Slattery, lately of “Mad Men,” his Hildy is a disaster, blandly likable but devoid of charisma….
Funny though it is, “The Front Page” is also a savagely honest portrait of shoe-leather journalism in Chicago in the Roaring Twenties, and it is this honesty that gives the play the enduring power that led David Mamet to rank it alongside “Our Town,” “A Streetcar Named Desire” and “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” as one of the finest American plays of the 20th century (rightly, in my opinion). Most of the characters are reporters who will do absolutely anything to absolutely anybody to get a story, and it doesn’t faze them in the least when their machinations cause one of their desperate victims (Sherie Rene Scott) to jump out a window before their indifferent eyes. When I saw “The Front Page” staged in the round by Chicago’s TimeLine Theatre Company in 2011, I was never in any doubt of the reporters’ fundamental brutality, and the juxtaposition of their uncaring cynicism with the explosive comic dynamism of the plot made a fist-in-the-gut impression. Not here: Mr. O’Brien’s “Front Page” is played for laughs, not truth, and that’s why it falls so flat….
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Read the whole thing here.
A scene from the 1931 film version of The Front Page, directed by Lewis Milestone and starring Adolphe Menjou as Walter Burns and Pat O’Brian as Hildy Johnson:
The trailer for TimeLine Theatre Company’s 2011 revival of The Front Page:
It’s quiet in Smalltown, so much so that half-audible, half-remembered sounds are constantly catching my ear:
• The hollow, rattly clunk of the back door of my mother’s house. (Nobody ever comes in through the front door.)
• The rumble of the furnace fan each time it starts up.
• The faint ticking and buzzing of the electric clock in my bedroom.
• The lonely, distant wail of the freight-train whistle that blows at bedtime….
Read the whole thing here.
“I have no answer to the great civic questions raised by the behavior of Furtwängler or the other artists I have named. Splendid artists all, they compromised their civic virtue in order to accomplish their art. Those who remained were compromised by their remaining, and those who left were compromised by their leaving. What resistance they offered as human beings to the evil around them must be credited to them; in no case of which I know can it be said that physical survival with full honor was possible under the worst forms of totalitarianism, for the very act of surviving was itself a compromise with evil. The ultimate triumph of totalitarianism, I suppose it can be said, is that under its sway only a martyred death can be truly moral.”
Samuel Lipman, “Furtwängler and the Nazis” (Commentary, March 1993)
In today’s Wall Street Journal I review two Roundabout Theatre Company productions, the U.S. premiere of Mike Bartlett’s Love, Love, Love and a Broadway revival of The Cherry Orchard. Here’s an excerpt.
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The baby boomers are starting, at long last, to march off history’s stage, fervently congratulating themselves on their immortal specialness as they reluctantly quit the scene. My guess, though, is that their theatrical obituary, which will be penned by their resentful children, won’t be a warm one. Mike Bartlett, a 36-year-old British playwright who has attracted much attention on both sides of the Atlantic with “Cock” and “King Charles III,” tried his hand at writing the first draft in 2010 with “Love, Love, Love,” a serious comedy about inter-generational conflict that has nothing good to say about his parents’ generation. “Love, Love, Love” is now making its American debut courtesy of the Roundabout Theatre Company, which is presenting the play in the Laura Pels Theater, its off-Broadway house, in a production directed by Michael Mayer (“Spring Awakening”). It’s a major event: Mr. Bartlett has given us what looks on first viewing like the best stage comedy to come along since Tom Stoppard’s “The Real Thing”…
The three acts of “Love, Love, Love,” respectively set in 1967, 1990 and 2011, play like John Osborne rewritten by Neil Simon: The laughs are piled high atop one another, but they’re bracingly angry. In the first act, Sandra (Amy Ryan), a self-consciously free middle-class spirit who does her thing regardless of consequences, comes to the apartment of Henry (Alex Hurt), her working-class boyfriend, to sleep with him. Then she gets a look at Kenneth (Richard Armitage), his feckless roommate and younger brother, and decides on the spot to bed him instead—in part, I suspect, because he’s more upwardly mobile. (Kenneth landed a scholarship to Oxford, while the hard-working Henry is holding down a solid but dull job.) A quarter-century later, they’re married, monied and the parents of Rose and Jamie (Zoe Kazan and Ben Rosenfield), whose welfare they disregard when they decide on a whim to get divorced. By 2011, Kenneth and Sandra are doing just fine, but their children’s lives have been smashed by their selfishness….
“Love, Love, Love” is, in short, a morality play, but one so well made and pulverizingly funny that it hardly ever feels preachy….
Simon Godwin’s Roundabout Theatre Company revival of “The Cherry Orchard” is the most pointless production of a Chekhov play I’ve ever seen, a stylistic mélange whose ill-fitting parts give the impression of having been hammered together out of three or four different jigsaw puzzles. While the production, like the play itself, is nominally set at the dawn of the 20th century, Mr. Godwin’s clattery, hectic staging suggests an exceptionally unsubtle Chekhov-our-contemporary modern-dress version. Stephen Karam’s workmanlike new adaptation recasts the play in an unpoetic English that is scabbed over with up-to-the-second slang (“Get out!”) and given a vulgarizing shot of progressive politics…
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To read my review of Love, Love, Love, go here.
To read my review of The Cherry Orchard, go here.
A scene from Love, Love, Love, starring Zoe Kazan and Amy Ryan: