Monday, May 23, 2011

QUICK and NOT SO QUICK TAKES By Beverly Creasey

It’s a theaterphile’s dream: A weekend of back to back shows, and almost all of them divine. One Friday, two Saturday and two Sunday! Phew!

Zeitgeist Stage Company’s AT HOME AT THE ZOO (through May 28th) pairs Albee’s recent prequel (HOMELIFE) with his shattering, seminal work, THE ZOO STORY. His HOMELIFE sets the stage for the harrowing encounter to come in THE ZOO STORY. Peter (Peter Brown) has an ordered home life which his wife (Christine Power) feels lacks passion. He tunes her out as he reads proofs of textbooks his company will publish. The two bicker politely, even elegantly until his wife has had enough. Director David J. Miller builds the tension flawlessly. Brown gives a stunning performance of compressed control and repressed anxiety. Power manages brilliantly to convey quiet desperation as it leaks its way to the surface. After this upsetting confrontation, Peter decides to take a walk in the park to relax and read on his favorite bench.

And he thought the contretemps at home was disturbing! He couldn’t have imagined what was to come in the person of Jerry (director David J. Miller in a tour de force!) in THE ZOO STORY. Miller plays him as a calculating madman, someone who has mayhem planned out in a rehearsed scenario, just waiting for the right opportunity. (If Albee had written THE ZOO STORY now, Jerry’s plans would be on his blog.) Poor Peter is in the right place at the wrong time. Naemah A. White-Peppers’ production is a juggernaut. Don’t miss it. P.S. Wednesdays are $7 days. Who could resist?

I think my favorite British Theatre Company is the all male Propeller. I know. I know. There aren’t enough opportunities for women in the theater. I agree wholeheartedly. But once you see Propeller in motion, you might just agree. Their THE TAMING OF THE SHREW a few seasons back was a revelation about the appalling treatment of women in the world, in Shakespeare’s time and still to this day. Believe it or not, having a man (playing Kate) as the object of Petruccio’s gross maltreatment made it more noticeable. Too many correctly sexed productions negate the abuse by making it comical. (Dare I say, all the productions of SHREW in my recent memory have done.) It’s one of those experiences which flies in the face of conventional wisdom but having a man (even though you accept he’s a woman) face such cruelty makes you sit up and take notice.

Propeller is currently visiting the Huntington Theatre through June 19th. Thank you, Huntington and The Touring Partnership! Now you can experience them without crossing the pond or finding out where their next stop in the colonies will be. I saw their rollicking, outrageous, incomparable THE COMEDY OF ERRORS last evening and haven’t stopped laughing yet (and don’t plan to until I see their RICHARD III next weekend, if then). As artistic director Edward Hall says in the program, “One comedy and one tragedy. But which is which?...”)

Never has the story been so clear. Never have the twins and their servants been so understood. Never has there been such silliness. It’s simply too delicious to spoil with description. If you see one Shakespeare play in your lifetime, let it be THE COMEDY OF ERRORS or forever regret that you didn’t.

I saw Turtle Lane’s THE DROWSY CHAPERONE this weekend, as well, and it’s well worth the engagement even if you saw SpeakEasy’s version of the wedding that almost wasn’t. The dueling productions (the mind boggles) are playing at the same time but TLP’s ends this coming weekend. They’re both wonderful for different reasons! Please see my full reviews of the two productions for specifics.

Not as successful is The Nora Theatre Company’s new musical, SILVER SPOON, a work in progress with a bittersweet book by Amy Merrill about love and activism in the ‘60s and music by rabble rouser Si Kahn (playing through June 19th). The music itself is gorgeous, sounding for the most part like traditional olde English folk melodies (when it isn’t pastiche).

Kahn’s lyrics, likewise, are plenty clever but they don’t fit the olde English music (which is beautifully performed by Rodney Allan Bush’s classical quartet). Where is the feel of the ‘50s folk music and 60’s rock ‘n roll which fueled the anti-war (and anti-oppression) movements of that era? Can you think of Vietnam or Caesar Chavez or the civil rights movement without thinking of Pete Seeger or Bob Dylan or James Weldon Johnson? It’s like HAIR or RENT without the rock.

That said, director Daniel Gidron keeps the story hopping with nifty turns by Rena Baskin and Peter Edmund Haydu as the older generation who have to get out of the way, to paraphrase Dylan, if they “can’t lend a hand” and by Kara Manson and Edward T. Joy as the younger generation who are a-changin’ the times. Joy’s performance is reason alone to see SILVER SPOON. He’s charismatic, talented like nobody’s business and he makes the Brooklyn social reformer totally irresistible. (How Manson’s blueblood can tear herself away from him is beyond me.) His “We Will Hold the Line” will have you out looking for a cause to march for.

It’s a work in progress so you have to expect that some elements work better than others. Kudos to Nora Theatre for taking on a new musical. How many theaters would risk it?