A show that skewers show business strikes a slippery bargain with its audience, and it can backfire. While we may smile knowingly at its insights into backstage chicanery and producerial cynicism, and enjoy its winking parodies of other, implicitly lesser shows, a piece of entertainment intended to make us think critically about the value of entertainment itself risks having its own judgments turned back on itself.
November 24, 2014
Father Jim O’Brien, an Irish priest in the northern English shipbuilding town of Wallsend, is supposed to preach on the passage about the “salt of the earth” in Matthew’s Gospel, but he has got something else on his mind. Setting the Scripture aside, he directly addresses his flock: working men and their families, who yearn for the return of meaningful paid employment to their all-but-closed-down burgh.
October 6, 2014
In the late 1950s, Broadway and Off Broadway theater had become a bit grim. The major hits of the era presented a rather pessimistic view of life, especially of the family: the home as prison (“A Raisin in the Sun,” “The Miracle Worker”), monster parents (“Gypsy”) and rebellious adolescents (“West Side Story”). Even musicals fell into this pattern. But on May 3, 1960, a modest little musical called The Fantasticks opened Off Broadway at a tiny theater...
A bearded, haunted man scrambles into the black box theater wearing a soot-colored hoodie, jeans with fist-sized holes at both knees, and a slim backpack, while red siren lights flash and tense cop-show music blares. He crouches behind trash cans to elude an unseen pursuer. When the threat appears to pass, he spots a posted decree from “the Emperor” warning “followers of The Way” that they’ll be detained as “traitors to the state.” Tearing it down, annoyed, he chalks a simple “ichthys” fish...
June 23-30, 2014
When a playwright puts a character with a prominent disability or a disfiguration at the center of his or her work, it can seem like a craven shortcut to an audience’s empathy, not to mention a sure magnet for actors hoping to add an award statuette to the mantle.
April 14, 2014
When a character gives a speech in a play—whether it is a soul-searching soliloquy, a public testimony or a bona fide bit of chest-thumping oratory—it functions somewhat like a song in a musical. It takes us out of the realm of ordinary dialogue, to a place either inside a person’s deepest thoughts or hovering somewhere slightly above the action, commenting on it.
January 20-27, 2014
Tennessee Williams’s The Glass Menagerie first appeared on Broadway in 1945, beginning what would be a wave of great American plays about troubled families. Arthur Miller’s “All My Sons” and “Death of a Salesman,” William Inge’s “Picnic,” Eugene O’Neill’s “Long Day’s Journey into Night” and Williams’s own “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof”—all treated their audiences to portrayals of the family homes as prisons, the parents as monsters and the young people...
February 10, 2014
It has four main characters, little set to speak of and even less in the way of stage action: “Nothing happens, twice,” as one critic wrote of an early production, is not an unjust plot summary. So how does Samuel Beckett’s bleak 1953 tragicomedy Waiting for Godot manage to seem so capacious, so rich, so—occasionally, at least—rip-roaringly fun?
January 6-13, 2014
New York found itself awash in Shakespeare this season, and the best of it, it is only fair to report, has traversed the Atlantic from the playwright’s homeland: a shuddering, immersive “Julius Caesar” set in a women’s prison, imported from London’s Donmar Warehouse to St. Ann’ s Warehouse in Brooklyn in late October, and a pair of Broadway hits still running in repertory, “Richard III” and “Twelfth Night,” that come to us from Shakespeare’s Globe, also in...
November 25, 2013
In November 1931, America’s drama critic, Elizabeth Jordan, began her review of Eugene O’Neill’s play, “Mourning Becomes Electra,” with the following pointed sentences:
We were seated in the Guild Theater, following Eugene O’Neill’s latest and most passionate denunciation of life and living, “Mourning Becomes Electra.” To his notion, seemingly, we should all be dead. There were those in the audience who...