Friday, December 9, 2011

Long week in review (11/15-11/20/2011): The Divine Sister / Idiots in concert / The Lyons / Once / Other Desert Cities / Hadestown

The theater week started (normally) in Boston on Tuesday, when I went with Lisa and hubby (I suppose I should just start calling him Arthur, yeah?) to see Charles Busch's The Divine Sister at SpeakEasy Stage in Boston. I never saw the show when it was in New York, and I think that's really, really fine. It's just really not my kind of humor (though I had a blast at Silence! The Musical!, which has a similar feel, I guess). The performances were excellent, especially Varla Jean Merman (aka Jeffrey Roberson), and the cast certainly didn't hold anything back in this insane slapstick comedy with music. It was quite a brilliant performance for what it was, I suppose. Not my favorite, but not a waste of an evening, and I like trying new things.

Then Lisa and I decided we were tired of acting like adults, so we ran off to New York Thursday night after work. We got to Rockwood Music Hall in time to catch the midnight set from the as-yet-unnamed punk trio of (ex-Idiots) Michael Esper, Johnny Gallagher, and Gerard Canonico. We got a nice seat upstairs and I drank a lot a whiskey. Lovely.

Friday we saw Esper again, this time at the Vineyard Theatre for our second viewing of The Lyons. Linda Lavin as the mother was just as excellent the second time around. Kate Jennings Bryant as the alcoholic sister was just as terrible. Dick Latessa as the obscenity-spewing dying patriarch was good but greatly overshadowed by Lavin--well, everyone was. I can see why she chose to do this off-Broadway role instead of reprising her role in the Broadway transfer of either Follies or Other Desert Cities. A role like Mrs. Lyons is a hard one to find. I feel extraordinarily lucky to have seen her performance even once, much less twice. The play itself is ... hilarious, sad, and very problematic. There's a weird scene with Mr. Lyons in the second act that is just SO unnecessary. The same with the sister's scene at the top of that act. Just, terrible really. It was hard to tell whether Bryant was truly awful (overall, but in that scene in particular), or if the playwright (Nicky Silver) spent all his talent on writing the parents and just ran out of steam when faced with the dialogue for the other roles. Overall, the first act is really good (daughter excepted), and the second act is a mess. As always, Esper cries beautifully. (Isn't it time for this man to be in a comedy? Or, even better, a traditional musical comedy? Please?)

Saturday Lisa saw Venus in Fur, which she then RAVED about, before abandoning me to head back to Boston. (I'm seeing Venus this weekend--front row for Hugh Dancy, w00t!) While she was there, I headed to the New York Theatre Workshop for my first viewing of Once. (I'll be seeing it a total of four times before it closes off-Broadway and will then probably park myself at the Bernard Jacobs theater next year.) I bought tickets to three performances as soon as subscriber tickets were available and have since gotten tickets to the closing, which is conveniently on a Sunday evening during a long weekend. I am in love with pretty much everything about this show, as I knew I would be. A show that adds the creative team behind Black Watch to the music of Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova was a pretty safe bet for me. Sure, it's cheesy at times, but in a way that I find charming overall. And the music and visuals are breathtaking. I love the entire cast (even with the accent wonkiness). Kudos to Steve Kazee for making me feel even a bit sorry for him--given how attractive and talented he is, it's not so easy to be convincing as a sad sack. Major props to Cristin Milioti for approaching Irglova's stunning vocals and being completely charming in a role that's a bit too twee.

(I don't know if there are any left, since the show is getting good reviews and has already announced its Broadway transfer, but they were offering $20 tickets for all Sunday evening performances. They were available to purchase in advance at the box office--cash only, max 4 per person.)

Then I saw Other Desert Cities, minus Stockard Channing, who was out with an injury. The audience was understandably upset to be missing the show's star. I like Channing and was a bit disappointed, but I didn't mind seeing an understudy. I feel like I certainly get a better sense for the strength of a play itself when left in the hands of a less overwhelming presence. (Indeed, would The Lyons be as enjoyable without Lavin's masterful delivery and the extra oomph she provided even--often especially--in silent moments?) The cast is excellent, including understudy Lauren Klein, but the rhythm of the show was definitely off. And it did sound as though Jon Robin Baitz had written specifically for Channing's voice. I liked the play well enough and would like to see Channing in that role (because Pal Joey should NOT be the only time I see her on stage), so maybe I'll go back when Justin Kirk takes over Thomas Sadoski's role. For me, though, Judith Light made the show.

To wrap up the weekend, I got to see Anais Mitchell's BRILLIANT folk opera, Hadestown, again, this time as a regular concert at Le Poisson Rouge. As most of the audience were diehard fans, Mitchell skipped the exposition and just plowed ahead with the songs, with guest musicians including Ani DiFranco as Persephone and Boston music god Tim Gearan as Hades. I am so in love with this show. If I were rich, I'd bankroll a production of it myself. And I'd convince the Once team to write the book/direct/choreograph/design it. THIS NEEDS TO HAPPEN.

After Hadestown, the enormous band/cast came down off the stage and led the audience in some protest/pro-union songs. She then invited everyone to follow her out to Washington Square Park to support the OWS campers there. Here's a very up-tempo version of Hadestown from the park:

And here's the end of my favorite choreographed moment in Once:

Elizabeth A. Davis and Cristin Milioti
Photo by Joan Marcus

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