Spring Theater Round-Up #1

That Championship Season

This starry revival of the 1972 Pulitzer Prize-winning drama seemed like it would be one of the major events of the season.  The tale of four former high school basketball stars and their coach who gather for a reunion that ultimately leads to the disintegration of their relationships seems ripe for dramatic mining.  The big draw of this revival is the testosterone-laden A-list cast led by Brian Cox as the grandiose Coach and featuring Kiefer Southerland, Jim Gaffigan, Chris Noth, and Jason Patric.

Patric, along with director Gregory Mosher, were instrumental in bringing this revival back to Broadway.  Patric is the son of the playwright, the late Jason Miller.

All the ingredients seem to be in place for a gripping night of theater.  Unfortunately, the players seem to be acting in different productions, never coming together to form a uniformed ensemble.  As a result, it shows the dated aspects of the play.  It also proves to be a very boring evening as each character is a standard archetype with a secret or problem.  There’s the chauvinistic millionaire (Noth) who is sleeping with another character’s wife.  The meek school principal (Southerland) with a cynical drunk of a brother (Patric).  And an unpopular (and unfunny) mayor played by Gaffigan.  Only Brian Cox attempts to inject some life into the piece, but as the rest of the company is sorely lacking in fiery portrayals, he comes off as a little hammy.

The Whipping Man

Matthew Lopez’s off-Broadway drama provides a glimpse into the lives of three characters at the tail-end of the Civil War.  In a ravaged Southern estate, two liberated slaves tend to the wounds of a former master who’s returned from the war.  The opening scene, with it’s graphic depiction of an amputation, is alternately breathtaking and nausea-inducing.

But what sets this play about from a regular Civil War drama is the portrait of slaves who adopt the religions of their owners as their own.  In this case, former slaves Simon (powerfully portrayed by André Braugher) and John (André Holland) were taught in the Jewish faith by the DeLeon family, whose son Caleb has returned to the estate.  The twists and turns of the plot all build to a Passover seder, lead to thrilling effect by Braugher, where secrets are revealed that tear the three men apart.

Doug Hughes brilliantly directs the piece that also has a marvelous set design by veteran designer John Lee Beatty.

Cactus Flower

Some plays gain relevance over time.  Some are just relics from the past.  Cactus Flower will always be remembered for its film adaptation which won Goldie Hawn her Academy Award.

This off-Broadway revival seems more like a regional theater production than a first-rate New York production.  Maybe that’s not saying much for regional theaters.  Let me take that back! If Daddycatcher saw this on vacation in a little summer town as a way to beat the heat for a little bit, then he’d probably would have forgiven it’s amateurish qualities.

Maxwell Caulfied, so hot in Grease 2, is a leading man trapped in a character actor’s role.  He is ultimately defeated by the material as is the rest of the cast.  Don’t rush to see it.  It closes on April 24th.

Hello Again

The Transport Group’s site-specific revival of Michael John LaChiusa’s musical Hello Again provided a red-hot respite from the unusually long winter that plagued New York City.

An adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s controversial 1897 play La Ronde, LaChiusa creates a world of passion, sex, and longing as he tracks 10 affairs through 10 different decades.  The play starts with The Whore seducing The Soldier at the turn of the century; The Solider looking to bed The Nurse before he ships out to World War II in the 1940’s;  The Nurse teaching The College Boy a biology lesson in the 1960’s; The College Boy coercing The Young Wife to go down on him in a 1930’s movie theater; The Young Wife remembering a past affair while having sex with The Husband in their suburban 1950’s home; The Husband enticing The Young (male) Thing with a romp before their cruise ship (the Titanic!) sinks; The Young Thing providing “inspiration” to The Writer in a 1970’s gay disco; The Writer who would do and write anything for The Actress in the 1920’s; The Actress who must come to terms with the end of her fling with The Senator in the 1980’s; and finally in the present where The Senator dials a phone sex operator to talk with The Whore.

The cast performs the material around a bed in a midtown loft and uses the round tables the audience sits at as playing areas.  It was not unusual to see a bare rear end up close as the actors performed simulated sex acts on the round tables.  But it is when they sing that the actors bare their souls.  Each performer brought a sense of longing to their portrayals.  Yes, each scene ends with a sexual act, but these characters are looking for connection with a fellow soul.

The yearning can be felt in the show’s most popular song, “Tom,” sung by Alexandra Silber as The Young Wife.  Notable performances also include Jonathan Hammond as The Writer, Elizabeth Stanley as The Nurse, and Bob Stillman as The Husband.  Plus, it is nice to view cuties Max von Esson and Robert Lenzi dancing shirtless on top of your table.

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