curtain call

VOLUME 3, ISSUE 334 | August 19 – 25, 2004

Curtain Calls

BOMBAY DREAMS The cartoonish plot follows the exploits of Akaash, an “untouchable” from the slums as he tries to break into the Bollywood film industry. Only by becoming a rich movie star can he buy the land on which his family and friends live. He meets a documentary filmmaker slumming to do research and gets a part on a TV show that he turns into an opportunity to be a movie star. And before you can say “Mickey and Judy,” Akaash becomes India’s biggest star. But we all know that even stars have their trials, and Akaash brings on his own by turning his back on the people who made him—particularly the eunuch Sweetie and his grandmother—at his big opening. This is the show’s tension, especially when a plan emerges to tear down the slums where Akaash and Rani grew up. The Broadway Theatre, 1681 Broadway at 53rd St., 212 239 6200. (C. Byrne)

BOY In “Boy,” each anguished character has a personal story that could surely use a rewrite. Then there’s the Boy, who doesn’t seem to have a name, unless you count “Pothead,” the nickname his buddies called him back home in Iowa. This broken Boy, who may in fact be a master manipulator, denies that he’s gay so many times it’s hard to believe him. In toying with the notion of plot structure and faulty endings, this admirably complex work scrambles scenes out of chronological order. As the story progresses, more unexpected connections emerge. Bonds are tested, secrets are exposed, feelings are trampled. Primary Stages, 354 W 45th St., 212 279 4200. (D. Kennerley)

BRIDGE & TUNNEL Creating a show-within-a show, the supremely gifted performance artist Sarah Jones’s latest play is based on a poetry slam in South Queens. In this archly provocative play, Sarah Jones, who is of African, European, and Caribbean descent, plays 14 characters from myriad ethnic backgrounds who recite their poetry or perform soliloquies onstage. Without a trace of sentimentality, the play shows the travails of assimilation and racial intolerance in America, as well as revealing common traits some folks would rather ignore. Jones does not hesitate to play the “green card” to drive home her messages in monologues gleaned from months of interviews with immigrants, many of whom are undocumented, and her own meticulous observations of New Yorkers on the subway. The 45 Bleecker St. Theater, 212 253 9983. (D. Kennerley)

BUG Tracy Letts’ new play opens with a desolate Agnes, drinking, smoking, and being bored, in a seedy Oklahoma motel room, where the entire story is set. Agnes, whose ex-husband is in jail and whose son is kidnapped, ekes out a living as a bartender. What money she has is spent on cocaine and liquor. Her lesbian friend R.C. comes over one night with Peter, a drifter, who at first is short on words, but winds up staying. Agnes, after all, is lonely. Agnes’ husband, Jerry, is released from jail and shows up. Agnes and Peter become lovers and she discovers that he believes bugs are eating him and are part of a vast government conspiracy to control humans. Agnes eventually becomes psychotic and delusional herself. Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St., 212 239 6200. (C. Byrne)

FIDDLER ON THE ROOF David Leveaux delivers a cool and distant “Fiddler” that is neat and tidy and runs no risk of offending anyone. To me, the dramatic tension of “Fiddler” has always been between Tevye and God. Tevye is a proud man of strong faith, steeped in tradition, who is forced to reexamine himself, his life, and his beliefs as the world is changing around him. Nothing in his life––that has found such comfort in tradition––has prepared him for the world he is encountering and he is frightened and unprepared. So, he turns to God, as he and his ancestors have always done. From the pogrom that sounds like the dropping of a bunch of dinner plates to a Tevye who is a pushover, this production never offends, but it never catches fire either. Minskoff Theatre, 200 W. 45 St., 212 307 4100. (C. Byrne)

FROM DOOR TO DOOR James Sherman’s new play is a warmly lyrical family drama played out through the experiences and interactions of three generations of Jewish women. It’s also an exploration of how culture and religion shape an individual’s experiences, at times creating neuroses. The play begins in 1939 but the experiences of the women reach back further, such as Bessie, the oldest character, who remembers escaping the pogroms of the late 19th century in Russia and coming to New York where she raised her daughter Mary. Mary in turned raised a daughter, Deborah, and the action of the play takes place in different times with each woman appearing both as mother and daughter at different times. Westside Theatre, 407 W. 43 St., 212 239 6200. (C. Byrne)

INTIMATE APPAREL Viola Davis plays Esther, a black seamstress in 1905, who makes intimate apparel for women and whose talent and sense of beauty have given her a level of freedom within the culture and an ability to move between the strata of society in ways that were not common then. Ironically, while Esther may know intimate apparel, she aches for human intimacy. For all her sense of beauty, though, Esther is illiterate, and when she receives a letter from a friend of a friend, an epistolary courtship ensues with Esther relying on her educated clients to pour out her heart. Laura Pels Theatre, 111 W. 46th St. 212 719 1300. (C. Byrne).

JUMPERS George Moore, a philosophy professor, is preparing a speech on God and morality, which he is dictating to his secretary in the office of his apartment. Meanwhile, in the other room, his wife Dorothy (also known as Dottie), a musical comedy star, is having a nervous breakdown because a lunar landing gone wrong has forced her to question what she believed to be true about life. Archie’s slickness triumphs over George’s intellect, an unhappy conclusion only mitigated by the hope, at the play’s end, that Dottie, left hanging on a papier maché moon, finds no solace in the answers of either man. Brooks Atkinson Theatre 256 W. 47th St., 212 307 4100 (C. Byrne)

A RAISIN IN THE SUN The story concerns the Younger family, who share a tenement apartment in Chicago. As the play opens, they are about to receive $10,000 in insurance money from the death of the father of the family. Walter Lee wants the money to invest in a liquor store. His sister Beneatha wants the money to pay for medical school. The mother, Lena, wants to buy a house and move out, and Walter Lee’s wife, Ruth, supports that move. Walter Lee is a chauffer and Lena and Ruth are domestic workers—all of them barely getting by—so the money is a promise of change and a new kind of economic freedom they have never known, a realization of the dreams that never before seemed attainable. Ruth takes part of the money and buys a home in a white section of town. She gives the rest to Walter Lee who promises not to put it into the liquor store, only to do so anyway and have a partner run off with it. But the family sticks to their plan to move, determined to make a go of it, despite the efforts of the homeowner’s organization in their new neighborhood to buy the house and dissuade them from integrating their community. It is Lena, the matriarch, who makes the decision that no matter the hardships, the dream of their own home is one that they will not defer—and in making that choice a new world of possibility is opened for all the characters. The Royale Theatre 242 W. 45 St. 212 239 6200. (C. Byrne)

BUG Tracy Letts’ new play opens with a desolate Agnes, drinking, smoking, and being bored, in a seedy Oklahoma motel room, where the entire story is set. Agnes, whose ex-husband is in jail and whose son is kidnapped, ekes out a living as a bartender. What money she has is spent on cocaine and liquor. Her lesbian friend R.C. comes over one night with Peter, a drifter, who at first is short on words, but winds up staying. Agnes, after all, is lonely. Agnes’ husband, Jerry, is released from jail and shows up. Agnes and Peter become lovers and she discovers that he believes bugs are eating him and are part of a vast government conspiracy to control humans. Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow St., 212 239 6200. (C. Byrne)

CAROLINE OR CHANGE Tonya Pinkins gives a superb portrayal of Caroline, a black maid in a Jewish household in the early 1960s in a Louisiana still in the cultural throes of Jim Crow. Caroline intrigues not merely as an individual woman but because she represents a generation on the cusp of change, as do the rest of the characters in the piece. The central plot point on which the entire play turns is the relationship between Caroline and the son of her employers, Noah Gellman. Noah’s stepmother, Rose, has told Caroline that she can keep any change Noah leaves in his pants when he tosses them in the laundry, a bad habit Rose is trying to break. Caroline’s relationship with Noah is thrown into stark relief when the boy leaves the $20 Chanukah present he has gotten from his grandfather in his pocket. It is such a small moment, but it changes their relationship forever and imposes a distance between the two that is never really mended. Eugene O’Neill Theatre, 230 W. 49th St., 212 239 6200. (C. Byrne)

CORPORATE ROCK There was a time when Off-Off Broadway was a hotbed of politically motivated, risk-taking theatrics. Sadly, economics and shifting tastes have rendered Off-Off-Broadway much less volatile than it was in its heyday. All of which is why it’s a delight to see the Gorilla Theater’s new production of “Corporate Rock,” a twisted, acerbic, and stinging indictment—and not just focused on the contemporary recording industry. William Bennett has gone after what in his opinion (and it’s hard to disagree) is an even more abstract and important target—Rolling Stone magazine, that arbiter of taste for the generation of consumers who don’t want to make up their own minds. Blue Heron Arts Group, 123 E. 24th St., 212 868 4444. (C. Byrne)

THE DAY EMILY MARRIED This play by Horton Foote of Greenwich Village and Wharton, Texas, whose works, beautiful from the first, get more and more beautiful and more and more wrenching as the years pass. The Lyd of the Primary Stages production that opened August 3 is the inimitable Estelle Parsons; daughter Emily is in the sensitive, capable hands of Hallie Foote, Horton’s daughter; Lyd’s husband Lee, Emily’s father, is played by William Biff McGuire; and Richard Murray, the good-looking rat who marries Emily—the second good-looking rat to marry Emily—is portrayed by James Colby. Rounding out the cast are Terri Keane, Delores Mitchell and Pamela Payton-Wright. The director is Michael Wilson, who wouldn’t be doing what he does if it weren’t for something Horton Foote said to him once upon a time. The present playgoer a couple of years ago, upon seeing “The Carpetbaggers Children,” a drama of three sisters paralleling (but in no way imitating) Chekhov’s three sisters, observed, that Horton Foote always writes from reality—reality transmuted, transformed. 59E59 Theaters, 59 East 59th St., 212 279 4200. (J. Tallmer)

THE FROGS This new Stephen Sondheim, Nathan Lane, Susan Stroman musical at the Vivian Beaumont uses the frog as a metaphor for unthinking passivity and the incapacity for independent thought is just one of the abundant joys in this incisively intelligent, profoundly moving and over-the-top hilarious show. The show is daring, passionate political theater wrapped in the trappings of musical comedy and classic spectacle. From beginning to end, it very nearly overwhelms the audience with its size and energy, brilliantly combining shtick, circus, romance, polemics and lots of lovely girls. Lane significantly expanded Burt Shevelove’s 1974 book, staying true to the essence of the play but adding gags that play to a modern audience and exploit current political themes. What is also retained from the original is an echo of the structure of the Attic drama of Aristophanes, which freely combined slapstick, satire and intellectual argument, leading up to catharsis and resolution. Vivian Beaumont Theatre, Lincoln Center, 212 239 6200. (C. Byrne)

FROZEN How do we find relief from the terrible tragedies life throws at us? No matter how many self-help books one reads, no matter how many therapies are available, the only way through is to keep living. But what happens when the tragedy is so monumental that living seems impossible? When one gets frozen in a moment? The play is about how three characters respond to the molestation and murder of Rhona, a little girl—the little girl’s mother Nancy, a social scientist, Agnetha, writing a paper on serial killing, and the killer himself, Ralph. Circle in the Square, 1633 Broadway at 50th St., 212 239 6200 (C. Byrne)

HERE LIES JENNY Who is Jenny, the title character of “Here Lies Jenny,” the high-concept Kurt Weill revue at the Zipper Theater starring Bebe Neuwirth? Is she Pirate Jenny, the trod-upon chambermaid from Weill’s “Three Penny Opera,” who, long abused by her betters, famously bites back? Perhaps she is the campy character from Weill’s “Saga of Jenny” (with lyrics by Ira Gershwin). If the identity of Jenny ultimately remains opaque, one imagines that’s exactly what was intended by this revue’s creators, who, in addition to Neuwirth, include choreographer Ann Reinking and director Roger Rees. Theatergoers wanting to be seduced into an evening of decadent but ultimately heartwarming cabaret will be disappointed. I’m not one of those people, but still I found “Here Lies Jenny” at times more frustrating than rewarding. World-weary, sharp, vulnerable without being soft—a Weill heroine is one tough cookie, and so is Neuwirth. She doesn’t possess a luminous singing voice, essential for this stripped-back staging. Yet as a singer, Neuwirth is never less than good, but she’s only wonderful when she’s dancing Reinking’s minimal but inventive choreography. (C. Schmidt)

LET’S PUT ON A SHOW Mickey Rooney was in Minneapolis, in a hotel there, with his wife Jan. The two of them have an act, “Let’s Put on a Show”—some songs, some words, some laughs, some memories, with which they’ve been touring the country, preparing to bringing it to the sweet little Irish Repertory Theatre, right here on Manhattan’s West 22nd Street, for a month-long run starting Tuesday, August 10. “Do you remember that line?” the moviegoer asked on the telephone from New York, attempting to communicate some of its personal impact. A growled negative comes over the phone from Minneapolis, followed by, “It’s just a line in a movie.” Does Mickey Rooney ever watch any of his Andy Hardy movies these days? Brusquely: “No, no.” Irish Repertory Theatre, 132 W. 22nd St. Through Sep. 12. 212 727 2737. (J. Tallmer)

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