Thursday, March 27, 2008

Crimes of the Heart (Roundabout Theatre Company)

BOTTOM LINE: It's a chick flick on stage, so dudes might not be interested. A good choice for a girls' night out.

Crimes of the Heart is a Pulitzer Prize winning play that was written in the early '80s and turned into an Oscar winning film in 1986. The story has a very "American" feel; this is probably supported by the fact that it's set in the deep South and everyone speaks with thick Mississippi accents. Here's the story: three sisters with a dysfunctional past come together when the youngest sister shoots her husband. Requisite drama ensues because wild-child middle sister, Meg, doesn't see eye to eye with eldest sister, Lenny, and also because unstable upbringings make for good conflict later in life. It's a dark comedy but not nearly as depressing as it sounds.

Crimes of the Heart has all the components that make for good girly escapism: the three main characters are females aged 24-30; it's somewhat relatable with ample family drama and sibling rivalry; there are love interests and a tryst, and the two guys in the play are hunky enough. Luckily though, Crimes is written with such insight and nuance that it substantiates a story line fit for a soap opera. It never feels frivolous.

The cast is really good, especially Sarah Paulson, Lily Rabe and Jennifer Dundas as the three sisters. A dynamic pace is instantly set between these three and they work hard to keep it up throughout the play. They are all seasoned actors and it's apparent they know what they're doing. Technically speaking the production is great, as most work at Roundabout is. The set is perfectly appropriate for a home in rural Mississippi in 1974 and though the script is wordy at times, the direction keeps it all gently moving along. It should be noted that this revival of Crimes of the Heart was directed by Kathleen Turner in her directorial debut.

The original production of Crimes of the Heart opened in 1981. I have to assume the story was more provocative then than it happens to be today. It certainly still holds because it's set in 1974 and it's a very human story, but I feel like audiences today are much more desensitized than they were a couple of decades ago. The conflict in the plot is no doubt dramatic, but it's much more palatable than many of the dysfunctional black comedies that have recently been produced. This doesn't negate the narrative, it just helps to ground it in the time frame in which it's set.

If you are under 35, check out Crimes of the Heart for only $20 as part of Roundabout's Hiptix program; it's a steal for this caliber of theatre. Visit hiptix.com for more information. If you're paying full price for a ticket, make sure you're in it for an enjoyable and easily digestible story, rather than anything poignant or esoteric.

(Crimes of the Heart plays until April 20 at Laura Pels Theatre, Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 West 46th Street. Tickets are available at roundabouttheatre.com and by calling 212.719.1300. Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30pm; Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday at 2pm.)

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Adding Machine (Minetta Lane Theatre)


BOTTOM LINE: A beautiful and well-conceived macabre musical...nontraditional for sure, but imaginative and quirky. For those who embrace artsy, interpretive theatre.

Adding Machine is a new musical playing off-Broadway that comes to New York from Chicago. It's a musical adaption of Elmer Rice's play from 1923 about an accountant named Mr. Zero who lives a completely mundane and generic life and finds himself going insane from the mediocrity of his existence. Sound relatable? Zero completely loses it when he is let go from his job; since the invention of the adding machine, there isn't a need for his work by hand. Zero is a wonderful anti-hero; he is not a sympathetic man, but he inadvertently solicits compassion since his life is just so sad.

I am extremely impressed with the conception of this story. The production's main color palate is gray and black, reiterating the desolate feel of these mediocre lives. The costumes are also gray and loose, not giving any character too much definition. Even the direction feels desperate; there's a heaviness to the movement of these people. And true to the trend of new 21st century musical theatre, Adding Machine uses video projection in its set design.

Adding Machine is respectful of the era in which it takes place and the production itself has a very '20s feel. Even the music is evocative of the time; it's almost vaudevillian, but much darker and more tragic. Daisy, Mr. Zero's co-worker and unrequited love, sings a song about her love for Zero that evokes Chicago without the Fosse. Musically speaking, Adding Machine is remarkable. It's almost an operetta. In the 90 minute intermission-less production there wasn't a single time that the audience applauded, simply because there wasn't a break in which to applaud. The music and story roll together beautifully throughout the entire production. The cast is only 9 people and the orchestra only 3, but the sound produced by these people feels totally full and whole. It's amazing what sounds the intricate harmonies can produce.

Even though I really enjoyed Adding Machine, it is definitely not a musical for the masses. Adding Machine is weird and not in a campy, Rocky Horror way; it's weird in an avant-garde, twisted way. You probably have to have a predisposition for creepy storytelling and also a tolerance for artistic quirks you might not understand. Check it out if you're into new musical theatre or inventive new ways to tell classic stories.

(Adding Machine plays at the Minetta Lane Theatre, in the West Village at 18 Minetta Lane. Performances are Tuesday through Friday at 8pm, Saturday at 3pm and 8pm, and Sunday at 3pm. For tickets call 212.307.4100 or 212.420.8000.)

Sunday, March 9, 2008

In Bruges (the movie)

BOTTOM LINE: It's a movie written and directed by Tony nominated playwright Martin McDonagh and it's brilliant; it's just as good his stage plays. Also, I am excited to say I have a newfound respect for Colin Farrell.

I love Martin McDonagh's work. The Pillowman and The Lieutenant of Inishmore are two of my favorite plays of all time. McDonagh's ability to tell a story and give it substance and humor is unparalleled, especially because he mostly writes about ridiculous characters in inane situations...with lots and lots of violence and name-calling. In Bruges is no exception.

Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) are hit-men who, after a botched job in London, flee to Bruges, Belgium to hide out. They are to wait there until further instructions from their boss back home in England. Bruges is apparently a pretty lame town with a few tourists and little to do. After arriving, Ray says "if I'd have grown up on a farm...and was retarded...Bruges might impress me, but I didn't, so it doesn't." It's an underlying theme as the plot unfolds and both Ray and Ken begin to question what's right and important in their lives. Sounds existential, but it's much funnier and bloodier than all that.

McDonagh's use of violence and bad words is Quentin Tarantino-esque, but with much more comedy infused through the characters. And that's McDonagh's trick; he turns the lowest, least sympathetic characters into people you'd want to invite over for dinner. Colin Farrell is the perfect Ray. He is a completely insensitive hit-man who, through the course of the movie insults midgets, black people, Belgians, retarded people, Americans, and fat people...to their faces. But there's an ownership of these remarks on Ray's part that is kind of charming, and Colin Farrell brings out a twisted naivet├ę underneath it all. I had previously considered Farrell to be a one-dimension actor with multi-dimensional eyebrows; now, I've come to appreciate him as a talented guy. But I digress. In Bruges is an enjoyable ride that employs witty banter and smart humor in the quintessential McDonagh style. It's a compelling story that's both absurd and endearing.

In Bruges is a wonderful script and is comparable to McDonagh's stage plays, although it's necessary for the set to be the city of Bruges, and therefore works much better on screen than it would have on stage. The cast is perfect and also includes Ralph Fiennes, Zeljko Ivanek and Jordan Prentice.

Check out In Bruges while it's still playing in theatres and enjoy some ridiculously inspired storytelling. And then check out his first film Six Shooter which won him the 2006 Oscar for Best Short Film...it's a must-see for any McDonagh fan.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

BEST BETS MARCH 2008







BEST BETS MARCH 2008:
Our top picks for your all of your theatre needs...

To take a date: In The Heights
(A romantic musical with some hot, Latin choreography)

To take your parents: August: Osage County
(Takes this spot for the second month; family disfunction has never been funnier)

For a laugh: The 39 Steps
(A fun, goofy, wonderfully British ride)

For a good story: Liberty City
(A compelling story of the fight for civil liberties in South Florida in the late '70s)

Cheap but awesome: Too Much Light Makes The Baby Go Blind
(The NeoFuturists perform 30 plays in 30 minutes for less than 50 cents a play)

Quick, before it closes: Liberty City
(Theatre like this doesn't come around that often...and unfortunately doesn't always stick around that long)

Check back April 1st for a new and updated Best Bets list!