Reading Room

VOLUME 3, ISSUE 304 | January 22 – 28, 2004

Curtain Call


This is such a wonderful evening of theater that even though it deals with such somber subjects as physical and emotional decay, the alienation of the spirit, and life’s incessant wearing upon the soul, one leaves the theater uplifted and enthusiastic. Part of this is because both playwrights––Samuel Beckett and Edward Albee—are so accomplished at exploring the dark and fearful corners of the heart that most of us have created entire lives to avoid. They grab despair by the throat and have the courage to create real and challenging catharsis in the structure of their plays, however absurdist the situations. On top of that, to see two such astonishingly wonderful actors as Seldes and Murray… Well, it doesn’t get much better than this. Century Center for the Performing Arts, 111E. 15th St., 212 239 6200. (C. Byrne)



The world premiere musical by composer Jeanine Tesori and gay playwright Tony Kushner is full of pulsating ideas, inventive conceits and politically-minded rants. “Caroline’s” creators nonetheless forgot one very important thing: to tell a story. The script focuses on Noah Gellman (Harrison Chad), a sensitive eight-year-old Jewish boy imbued with an uncanny maturity, as he carries on an odd love-hate friendship with Caroline (Tonya Pinkins), his family’s frosty 39-year-old black maid. The sorrowful Caroline has the weight of the world on her shoulders. Only in the play’s final moments, when Caroline realizes she must adapt to her new world or risk being lost within it, does the play finally expose its affecting message of despair and expectation. The Public Theater, 425 Lafayette St., 212 260 2400. (E. Piepenburg).


Henry IV

The current production of “Henry IV” is about as near perfect a production of Shakespeare as one could imagine in our time, and is no less remarkable for the seamless cutting together of two long plays (“Henry IV,” Parts 1 & 2) to create one play. Though the production comes in at nearly four hours, I was on the edge of my seat for almost the entire time. Dakin Matthews, who did the adaptation, has been able to maintain the martial lyricism of the play, the most important subplots, the political machinations of the world, and the bittersweet comedy of Falstaff and his cronies without seeming to short change any element of the show. Director Jack O’Brien and his company present a “ripping tale” about court intrigue replete with cutthroat politics and foreign war. Do whatever you can to see the show before its January closing. This production, by its sheer brilliance, quite nearly eclipses anything else you might see right now. Vivian Beaumont Theater, Lincoln Center, 212 239 6299. (C. Byrne).



An editor, better actors, tighter direction, improved discipline, a non-derivative title, and a re-written script are but a few of the things that you would expect Anthony J. Wilkinson’s chaotic comedy, “My Big Gay Italian Wedding,” to need if it’s to be considered anything other than a bomb. With that out of the way, did I mention the show is a hoot? How can a show that’s so poorly written and staged be so much fun? Blame it on meatballs. “My Big Gay Italian Wedding” traffics in the kind of broadly-drawn, but spot-on and genuinely funny ethnic humor that fueled the popularity of such films as “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” and “Mambo Italiano.” In Wilkinson’s play, there are enough Italian jokes about pasta and meatballs and gay priests and more than enough gay gags about oral sex, angry lesbians, and drag queens to keep the public relations offices of both GLAAD and the American Italian Defense Association busy for months. That’s not a criticism. The Actor’s Playhouse, 100 Seventh Ave., 212 239 6200. (E. Piepenburg)


Road House

The show, a sloppy blend of rambunctious theatricality and cheeky comedy, is described in production notes as “a deconstructed” version of the film. Patrick Swayze starred as a renowned bouncer named Dalton, who is hired to clean up a small-town dive bar, called the Double Deuce, only to get caught up in dirty local politics and, of course, fall in love. The threadbare story is hard to follow, a misstep that caused numerous moments of silence from an often bored-looking audience. But narrative doesn’t matter much in this self-described “fightsical,” a label that appropriately describes a show that flatly rejects the label camp. Barrow Street Theatre. Barrow Street Theatre, Greenwich House, 27 Barrow St. at 7th Ave., 212 868 4444 (E. Piepenburg)



Despite its problems—and there are a few—“Taboo” is absolutely worth seeing. Visually dynamic, thought-provoking, the show is an amalgam of a typical, even sentimental, musical with a contemporary entertainment medium—the music video. The chaotic world Boy George and the club kids called “The New Romantics” was partially a response to the repressive, decidedly un-artistic England of Margaret Thatcher. Plymouth Theater, 236 W. 45th St., 212 239 6200. (C. Byrne).



Whatever your ultimate feeling about “Wicked,” the new Stephen Schwartz musical that bills itself as the “untold story of the witches of Oz” and is based on a 1995 cult novel of the same name, you will be neither bored nor angry. Given the current state of all things Broadway, that’s not a bad thing. You will be impressed by much of the company and the songs. But you may also end up feeling slightly disappointed, or confused, with a nagging feeling that you really need to see the show again to understand why a musical that has so much that could make it great never fulfills its promise. The Gershwin Theatre, 222 W. 51st St., 212 307 4100. (C. Byrne)



A big juicy kiss to New York City, this delightfully retro musical, featuring a score by Leonard Bernstein and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, is corny, good-hearted, and oh-so shiny, just the way they used to make ‘em. Al Hirschfeld Theatre, 302 W. 45th St., 212 239 5258. (E. Piepenburg).

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