Thursday, June 07, 2007

Kindly Accept Substitutes: Tony Edition

The season's in the rearview, so it's going to be nothing but lunatic ramblings about Inge Borkh, catblogging, and the occasional theater review for a while. And what better time for theater reviews? This Sunday is a total nervous breakdown for some of us: miss the last Sopranos and risk reading spoilers before seeing it, or miss an hour of the Tony awards? I find awards shows to be sort of like sporting events in that the idea of watching them anything but live is weirdly disappointing---don't you? So it's Tony Vs. Tony, for better or worse. As it happens, I've done a bit of theater-going lately. (You remember theater. It's the one where people speak their lines instead of singing them.)

A visit from the folks a few weeks ago, for instance, led to the requisite D'Annato family TKTS marathon. Aright, not a marathon like the time we spent all day at Long Day's Journey and then--no, I'm serious--went to Take Me Out. Let me take this opportunity to recommend not going to Take Me Out with your family, if it's ever an option, unless you're weirdly comfortable with your family. Anyhow, this time it was one play a day, chosen by the elder D'Annati: first Inherit the Wind, then A Moon for the Misbegotten.

The former, ok, is simply a rotten play. Morally neatly schematic, not particularly clever in its use of language, and at this juncture, in this setting, it's just a bunch of New York liberal back-patting. Not that I have a huge problem with that, per se, but it's not what I want in a night at the theater.

Brian Dennehy was surprisingly dull (or not surprising to me since I know next to nothing about him and had the vague idea he had been in a famous action movie, but everyone seemed to be throwing up from excitement about his participation) in a role that--again, at this point in history, in this place--amounts to so much moustache-twirling. Christopher Plummer was on the other hand kind of a treat, oh and hey the guy who played the not even 1 dimensional role of the teacher was someone I met at a Golden Globes party once. Get me! Fancy me! The gal who played his um, gal, was an actress of the school whose main drama is generated by the urgency of the question "what on earth do I do with my HANDS?"

Maybe the best thing going for the production is the old timey gospel ensemble (think Carter Family, I guess--not quite so country, but there's a zither and all) that pops up at the beginning of the show and at intermission, lending a sort of flavor the rest of the proceedings didn't so much have. The set, by the probably deservedly ubiquitous Santo Loquasto, was big and detailed and somber and unfortunately featured rows of seating for a chunk of audience. Yeah, onstage. If I may partially inappropriately quote a John Guare line that sometimes pops into my head, Silver Beaver: Why??*

Oh, and if I may spoilerize what I had assumed was a directorial clunker until [see comments], the thing ended with Plummer packing up his books, taking a long, meaningful look at Dennehy's bible and another at the teacher's volume of Darwin, then putting them, side by side into his bag. Just before the scene went dim, I'm pretty sure I heard the ghost of Clarence Darrow and that of William Jennings Bryan singing a sarcastic verse or two of "Ebony and Ivory."

Now, Moon. I am fundamentally not set up to appreciate the plays of Eugene O'Neill. I know Catholics and Jews are supposed to have a good deal in common, but our neuroses come in somewhat different flavors, and watching this or even Long, Long, Long Day's Journey into Night, I just can't quite grasp what much of the fuss is about. On some level, please understand, my ideal playwright is Chekhov. So O'Neill just feels so damned bloated. Anyway, it is what it is, and obviously the deficiency is mine rather than that of a canonical playwright. As with certain operas I don't adore, I can at least enjoy the performance and leave the text for others to love.

So it was a jolly enough time, in its fashion (as I believe one character says, putting me inevitably in mind of Cole Porter) though not without its issues. Mama D'annato termed it "a little too loud," and I can't argue--some of this surely could have been done with a lower incidence of shouting. The complaint that is being most widely made (and the charge leveled by Papa D'Annato) is that the script spends a good long time hammering home the fact that Josie is, in so many words, a big fat horrible ugly unattractive ten-foot-pole-requiring...I think they call her a cow a few times. Not subtle, and you know for what it's worth, it's not that hard to google O'Neill and see for yourself that he was not exactly the stuff porn is made of. There, I've gone and done the work for you, see up top and try not to let your libido run amok. Anyway Eve Best is strikingly distinctive I guess, but basically conventially pretty and not particularly big. Put it this way: if I were bisexual and stuck on an island with Eugene O'Neill and Eve Best, I'm pretty sure I know who I'd want under my palm tree at night. Didn't matter much because she gave this extraordinarily energetic, provocative, brutally physical performance. There was that rare and cherished appearance of spontanaeity to it I assume we all wait for.

Kevin Spacey was by no means her equal, but perhaps he was devoting his energy to keeping his wrist level, haw haw. He was fine at times and overly fussy at times. I guess I'm just not that keen on him, and the role is a beast anyway, full-on nervous breakdowns to be had. His desperation was the more tiring for the want of nuance, though. O'Neill without some serious actorial invention is awfully emphatic.

The strangest thing is they had all this slide guitar in the fairly obtrusive score and fluffy clouds and sort of deeply blue lighting, and despite the fact that I found the set pretty excellent, it kept bugging me that they seemed to have located Connecticut next to Arizona.

And tomorrow or the next day I'll try and blab about Spring Awakening, and Who I Want to Win What.

*Mr. Guare, it is safe to say, would have clutched his head in consternation over the working water pump in the Moon set. But I'm not him, and I thought it was neat.


La Cieca said...

I seem to recall the same bit of business (with the Bible and the Darwin book) performed by Spencer Tracy at the end of the "Inherit the Wind" film. So maybe it's a stage direction in the script?

Maury D'annato said...

I did wonder about that. Doug Hughes is now entitled to box my ears.

jondrytay said...

I saw 'Moon' at the Old Vic, and I think Spacey's performance was one of the most incredible stage performances it's ever been my privilege to see. Best was OK, but she just doesn't have the voice for a part like that- she got unpleasantly hooty at times of high emotion. Kind of like a bad countertenor having a crack at 'Che Faro'.

Anonymous said...

I seem to remember Tracy sort of slamming the two books together, in an attempt to wake up the audience, perhaps. Also, he and Fredric March upstaged each other like mad, which is still the best part of the movie ( March working his paper fan, Tracy picking his nose). Gene Kelly is hilariously miscast as the H.L. Mencken character, but then, who wouldn't be?

Anonymous said...

^^ nice blog!! ^@^

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