Monday, June 26, 2017

1984

1984
Hudson Theatre
June 25, 2017

Photo courtesy of 1984
Powerful!  Alarming!  Brilliant!  The Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan adaptation of George Orwell’s 1984 can be described with those three words.  Powerful in its structure and use of technology to engage the senses, stimulate the intellect, and evoke emotion.  Alarming it its multiple levels of truth and relevance.  Brilliant in its scope of vision and precise interpretation. 

Sitting in the theatre waiting for the show to begin, there is sound, a presence, an electrical presence.  The huge speakers are visible, obviously working.  Does anyone notice the sound?  Can they be listening? 

Photo courtesy of 1984
The lights come up on Winston Smith (played by Tom Sturridge) writing in a journal for verification, so the future will know, so he will remember.  The year is 1984, or so he thinks.  He catches the eye of Julia (played by Olivia Wilde) who he concludes must be Thought Police.  They meet in secret.  He trusts her.  They decide to join the resistance against the party and the watchful eye of Big Brother.  Who to trust is never fully known, and the truth is always in question.

Photo courtesy of 1984
Tom Sturridge and Olivia Wilde have a strong connection and chemistry.  Ms. Wilde implements numerous tactics as her character assesses the trustworthiness of Winston Smith.  Through these actions, the extent of her character’s intelligence, cunning, and emotional depth is constructed right before our eyes.  Mr. Sturridge is relentless and unwavering in his character’s belief and understanding of truth.  Reed Birney plays O’Brien, the man these two characters meet in their quest.  Mr. Birney’s portrayal of O’Brien is commanding and cold.  The encounter and subsequent journey of these characters is gripping, surprising, and unnerving. 

Reed Birney, Olivia Wilde, & Tom Sturridge
Photo courtesy of 1984
One scene stands out in particular.  O’Brien is questioning Winston and Julie to test their loyalty.   Winston quickly answers yes to all questions to verify his level of sacrifice.  He will willingly agree to throw acid in the face of a child and give up his life for his belief in truth.  Is our hero a terrorist?  Suddenly Winston’s unwavering beliefs become questionable.  What is right?  Who is good?  From this point on, everything becomes uncertain.

When pressed, O’Brien explains to Winston that Big Brother is not a person who watches, but the paranoid belief implanted by the party to make you feel as if your own words, actions, and memories are questionable.  Big Brother is you.  The party can be destroyed by simply not participating in it.  On the train on the way home from the theatre I saw the poster, “If you see something, say something.”  This campaign ensures our safety.  We see it every day.  We believe in it.    

Photo courtesy of 1984
Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan have taken George Orwell’s futuristic dystopian warning even more forward in time in order for it to hit a direct bullseye in the present.  This production makes us question.  George Orwell would be proud.  I want to see it again!

Domenick Danza

1984 is playing at the newly renovated Hudson Theatre in 44th Street.  The renovation is refreshing, spacious and open.  Be sure to check it out!  


Sunday, June 18, 2017

The Traveling Lady

The Traveling Lady
La Femme Theatre Productions
Cherry Lane Theatre
June 17, 2017

Photo courtesy of
La Femme Theatre Productions
La Femme Theatre Productions is currently presenting Horton Foote’s The Traveling Lady at Cherry Lane Theatre.  Director Austin Pendleton successfully captures the pace and tone of Mr. Foote’s “small Texas town” in 1950.  The cast authentically portrays heartfelt camaraderie, Bible belt values, and compassion that is appropriate for the characters and time period.  The scenic and lighting design by Harry Feiner create an atmosphere that is warm, comfortable, and inviting.

Georgette Thomas (played by Jean Lichty) arrives at a new town with her six year old daughter, Margaret Rose (played by Korine Tetlow).  They are there to meet her husband Henry (played by PJ Sosko), who is being released from the penitentiary.  Slim Murray (played by Larry Bull) and his sister Clara Breedlove (played by Angelina Fiordellisi) take them in while Henry tries to secure a house for them.  When Henry reverts to his troublesome behavior, the journey for Georgette and Margaret Rose takes an unexpected detour.

Lynn Cohen, Karen Ziemba, & Angelina Fiordellisi
Photo courtesy of La Femme Theatre Productions
The women of this small Texas town have long time solidarity.  Except for the aging Mrs. Mavis (played by Lynn Cohen), who holds a few secrets, they know everything about one another and the comings and goings of all their neighbors.  Lynn Cohen, Angelina Fiordellisi, Karen Ziemba, and Jill Tanner create true believable relationships between these women, which sets the tone for the whole play.  Jean Lichty genuinely portrays the stranger coming into this group with warmth and sincerity.  The chemistry between her character (Georgette) and Larry Bull’s character (Slim) is subtle and clear.  Their connection keeps the action of the play flowing forward.  PS Sosko is energetic and honest as Henry Thomas.  His character is fallible and empathetic.
  
Photo courtesy of Cherry Lane Theatre
If you are a fan of Horton Foote, you will definitely enjoy this production.  It will capture your heart and take you back to simpler times.  The Traveling Lady is playing at Cherry Lane Theatre through July 16.


Domenick Danza

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?
National Theatre Live in the UK
Brooklyn Academy of Music
June 10, 2017

Photo courtesy of National Theatre Live from the UK
Brooklyn Academy of Music is presenting a series of National Theatre Live from the UK screenings.  The latest, Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?, was live from the Harold Pinter Theatre in London.  The screening included background information on the work of Edward Albee as well as a discussion about the set and costume design of the production.  This series is an excellent opportunity to experience gripping, high quality, live theatre from across the pond.

Imelda Staunton & Conleth Hill
Photo courtesy of National Theatre Live from the UK
Martha (played by Imelda Staunton), daughter of a university president, and her husband George (played by Conleth Hill), a history professor, invite a young couple (played by Luke Treadaway and Imogene Poots) for a night cap after a university gathering.  As the drinking gets out of hand, everyone’s dark secrets come out in the open.  It is a devastating evening of truth or dare, especially when the distortion of games and facts begin to disentangle.  

Imelda Staunton as Martha
Photo courtesy of National Theatre Live from the UK
Imelda Staunton is on fire as Martha.  She bursts in at the opening of the play, only to continually escalate as the journey continues.  She is equally matched with Conleth Hill as George.  Together they take the audience on a roller coaster ride fueled by frustration, passion, disappointment and anger.  Luke Treadaway is a little stiff as Nick, yet he successfully portrays the character’s determined ambition.  Just when you think he is victorious, he breaks.  His quiet agenda swiftly crumbles.  Imogene Poots is well cast as Honey.  When her fa├žade quickly fades, the depth of her fragility and emptiness is frighteningly exposed.

Luke Treadaway & Imogene Poots
Photos courtesy of National Theatre Live from the UK
Directed by James Macdonald, this production is sharp, biting, and unnerving.  His clear breakdown of beats in Edward Albee’s phenomenal writing gradually builds the tension while allowing opportunities for the audience to process the action.  The wild outbursts of emotion are genuinely grounded in the truth of the characters, and the heightened reactions are visceral and honest.  The balance of reality and game in the lives of the main characters is revealed in the ending.  The layers of this dark secret are essentially traced back to previous scenes where it was gradually peeled away.

BAM is presenting the following National Theatre Live productions:
Angels in America, Parts I & II - Starring Andrew Garfield, Denise Gough, Nathan Lane, James McArdle, and Russell Tovey
-          Angels in America Part I:  The Millennium Approaches
Thursday, July 20, 7:00 PM
-          Angels in America Part II:  Perestroika
Thursday, July 27, 7:00 PM

Photo courtesy of National Theatre Live
Tickets are modestly priced.  Based on this presentation of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf?, I highly recommend checking them out.


Domenick Danza

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Venus

Venus
Signature Theatre
The Pershing Square Signature Center
June 3, 2017

Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
Suzan-Lori Parks’ Venus is a stunning testament to Miss Saartjie Baartman, and a stark and clear depiction of the abusive mistreatment of her alter ego Venus Hottentot.  This Signature Theater production is truly spectacular.  Director Lear Debessonet finds the power and meaning of the words, rhythm, and structure of Ms. Park’s writing.  Costume Design by Emilio Sosa combined with Wig, Hair, and Make-up Design by J. Jared Janas brings a crisp visual whimsy that magnifies the cruelty of society’s ignorance and behavior during that time period.  Matt Saunders utilizes shape and image in his Scenic Design to merge dark expansive space with realistic setting.

The year is 1810.  Miss Saartjie Baartman (played by Zainab Jah) is lured from her home in Africa with the promise of “making a mint” as an exotic performer in London.  She is abandoned and left to perform in a side show run by The Mother-Showman (played by Randy Danson), who quickly learns that men will pay extra to fondle her shapely body.  She is named Venus Hottentot, and soon becomes sought after by men in every city and town visited by the side show.  She is purchased by The Baron Docteur (played by John Ellison Conlee), and taken to Paris where he can study her anatomy.  His love for Venus overwhelms to him, yet this does not deter him from continuing his study and objectification of her as a biological species.

Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
From the first moment of the play we experience the character of Ms. Baartman as a loving and caring young woman.  The treatment of her as a non-human object is blatant and appalling.  Zainab Jah is warm, personable, and naive in this character.  She stands out from the rest of the cast due to the stylistic way they are all costumed and characterized.  Your eyes are constantly drawn to her while your heart follows her journey.  Kevin Mambo plays The Negro Resurrectionist.  This character serves as narrator, historic fact keeper, and personal story teller for Venus.  In one moment he is re-counting the cold, stark detail of this true story, then in the next he is connecting on a deep, genuine level to the injustice and abuse.  His performance allows the audience to historically and objectively take in the events and then process them on a human, emotional level.

Photo courtesy of Signature Theatre
Signature Theatre production of Venus is a gem!  Miss Parks' script is amazing.  She tells the story with biting humor and stark emotion.  The cast is a strong ensemble who shines in each individual moment they are given.  Unfortunately, the production closes on June 4. 


Domenick Danza