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Sunday, October 30, 2016

Love, Love, Love (Roundabout Theatre Company)




By Harry Forbes

Mike Bartlett’s 2010 play, which had an acclaimed production at the Royal Court in London in 2012, may, in essence, be a scathing indictment of the baby boomer generation, but it also happens to be one of the most amusing shows in town.

In three acts, the playwright – last represented on Broadway earlier this year with the excellent “King Charles III” – wittily charts the relationship of Kenneth (Richard Armitage) and Sandra (Amy Ryan) over the course of 40 years.

When we first meet them in 1967, he’s an Oxford-bound slacker who steals her away from his dullish brother (Alex Hurt) at whose flat he’s been shamelessly crashing, while she’s a drugged-up free-spirit who sets her cap on Kenneth as soon as they meet. In the second act, 23 years later, they’re a bickering couple living an affluent upper middle-class life in Reading, but utterly self-absorbed, barely taking the time to listen to their teenage children, aspiring violinist Rose (Zoe Kazan) and emotionally troubled Jamie (Ben Rosenfield). In the last act, Kenneth and Sandra are amicably divorced, but the children are a mess, financially insecure and aimless. The parents are oblivious to the roles they have played in shaping their offspring.

Performances are razor sharp, and the cast ages believably over the time span. Ryan is particularly brilliant, delivering Sandra’s funny and thoughtlessly callous lines for maximum effect. Armitage captures Kenneth’s narcissism and self-absorption to a tee. Their children are no less sharply characterized, Rosenfield embodying the unhappy layabout, and Kazan transforming from vulnerable teen to embittered 37 year old who ultimately accuses her parents of ruining them.

In fact, when finally Rose outlines her parents’ destructive behavior, it was disconcerting to hear several audience members at my performance continuing to laugh oblivious that the mood had suddenly changed, another sad indication that many of today’s sitcom weaned audiences just can’t seem to make the leap from funny to tragic.

Derek McLane has designed three wonderfully varied settings which, along with Susan Hilferty’s costumes and David Lander’s lighting, tell you in an instant all you need to know about these characters' lives.

Director Michael Mayer brings out the humor and underlying pathos of Barlett’s clever script in a masterfully paced production.

Laura Pels Theatre at the The Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre, 111 W 46th Street; 212-719-1300 or roundabouttheatre.org)

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Heisenberg (Manhattan Theatre Club)





By Harry Forbes

No, this is not the story of the German theoretical physicist who figured so prominently in Michael Frayn’s 1998 play “Copenhagen,” but rather a theatrical two-hander about two wildly mismatched people – a loopy, talkative oddball 40ish American woman and a taciturn 70-something Irish butcher -- who meet on a London train station platform after she impulsively plants a kiss on his neck.

Aspects of the story of this unlikely, illogical and random pairing do metaphorically reflect the physicist’s uncertainty principle. But otherwise, any overt reference to quantum physics is happily absent.

At 80 minutes, this is a totally engrossing love story – alternately humorous and sad – with two superlative performances. Mary-Louise Parker is at the top of her game as the gregarious, vulgar, compulsively lying but somehow endearing Georgie, and Arndt, resolute and stolid, is equally impressive in a more impassive way as the lonely Alex whose only love ended decades earlier when his fiancĂ©e walked out on him, and who continues to mourn the sister he lost as a child.

It would be wrong to reveal more of the plot as each moment of the play brings new and subtle revelations about Alex and Georgie and their lives. And we’re kept forever guessing as to whether Georgie is a stalking schemer or genuinely smitten with the older man.

The play is the work of Britain’s Simon Stephens who so finely adapted “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.” Much of the touching humanity in that work can be found here as well.

I didn’t see “Heisenberg” in its Off-Broadway run last year, but small-scale though the play is, and spare in Mark Wendland’s scenic design -- a couple of chairs and tables is about the extent of it -- the addition here of upstage audience bleachers narrows the Friedman Theatre’s playing area, and creates the requisite sense of intimacy. So, too, Austin Smith’s lighting and David Van Tieghem’s sound design contribute to keeping a focused playing area.

Director Mark Brokaw – last represented on Broadway with “Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella” -- directs his actors with exquisite sensitivity and keeps the humorous and serious elements always in perfect balance.

(Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th St.; Telecharge.com or 212-239-6200)

Holiday Inn (Roundabout Theatre Company)




By Harry Forbes

Here’s a surprisingly delightful retread of the 1942 Fred Astaire/Bing Crosby musical, outfitted with a smart book (by director Gordon Greenberg and Chad Hodge), a generous number of songs from the Irving Berlin songbook (not all from the movie), clever dance routines by Denis Jones, and a thoroughly engaging cast.

The plot follows that of the film, more or less. Song and dance team Jim (Bryce Pinkham) and Ted (Corbin Bleu) split when the latter takes off with Jim’s fiancĂ© Lila (Megan Sikora), and Jim, weary of show business, buys a farm in Connecticut.

In short order, Jim meets and falls for sweet Linda (Lora Lee Gayor), an elementary school teacher who had once had showbiz aspirations and was the original owner of the farm which is now laden with debt.

With the help of Linda’s pal Louise (Jenifer Foote at my performance, subbing for Megan Lawrence), they hit on the idea of turning the multi-bedroom farm house into a hotel and showplace, operating only during the holidays since most of Jim’s showbiz buddies have Broadway shows the rest of the time.

When Ted returns at the end of the first act, he once again threatens to come between Jim and his latest love, as he sees in Linda the ideal dance partner for his upcoming Hollywood debut. Conflict ensues.

I normally disdain songs shoehorned in from other shows, and this time, the creators have raided actual book shows like “Call Me Madam” and “Miss Liberty” along with utilizing more predictable chestnuts like “Steppin’ Out With My Baby” and “Blue Skies.” But the original film had itself recycled earlier Berlin songs, so I suppose this is fair game. And Larry Blank’s very spiffy orchestrations and Sam Davis and Bruce Pomohac’s polished vocal and dance arrangements are so fresh that these tunes really do shine anew in this context.

Pinkham, who goes from strength to strength with each new show, makes a fine leading man. His ballads “Be Careful, It’s My Heart” and, of course, the film’s most enduring song, “White Christmas,” are very nicely delivered in his own style without a trace of Crosby mannerisms. And the brassy orchestrations tone down for those more intimate moments. Bleu is no slouch in the vocal department either, and his dancing is quite impressive, be it the playful “You’re Easy to Dance With” and, most spectacularly, the “Song of Freedom” number accompanied by firecrackers. The latter is the big show-stopper of the second act.

The first act winner is “Shaking the Blues Away,” given an excitingly novel approach with some awesome rope jumping dancing, courtesy of choreographer Jones.

Gayer is a lovely heroine, delivering “Nothing More to Say” and “Let’s Start the New Year Right” beautifully. Sikora does her cheap blonde routine well enough, and Foote provides the wise-cracking comic relief with aplomb.

Anna Louizos’ sets and Alejo Vietti’s costumes are appropriately colorful and stylish.

Greenberg directs at a lively pace, and there were no dull patches, while music director Andy Einhorn leads his forces with pizzazz.

Audience buzz after the show was uniformly positive.  

(Studio 54, 254 West 54 Street; 212-719-1300 or www.roundabouttheatre.org)