May 2 – Cock is the provocative, titillating, and completely misleading title to Mike Bartlett’s play, which won awards when it premiered at the Royal Court Theater in London and is in previews at the Duke Theater on 42nd Street. Talk would be more appropriate. Ninety minutes of talk talk talk talk talk, no particular action. The audience sits on a small plywood five-row arena looking down at circular playing area roughly ten paces across. The actors use no props or costume changes. They stand and talk. We view them as specimens, I suppose, much the same as in director James Macdonald’s production of Caryl Churchill’s A Number at New York Theater Workshop, where the seating was similarly configured. The main character, John, is a twentysomething gay guy (played by Cory Michael Smith) in a relationship with M (Jason Butler Harner) who one day meets a girl (W, played by Amanda Only-Two-Names Quaid) in his neighborhood who talks him into sleeping with her. The play consists of their belabored hashing out of what this means, with some last-minute participation by M’s father F (Cotter Where’s-MY-Middle-Name Smith). Even setting aside the absence of any male genitalia onstage to justify the salacious title (extremely disappointing to the largely gay audience at the preview Allen and I saw), I found the main character’s dilemma both unbelievable and uninteresting. The characters talk in playwright-speak rather than anything that reflects honest or recognizable human sentiment. For instance, W (perhaps we can acknowledge Edward Albee as the inspiration for the character names) lets John know that she’s turned on because she has “a gap-on.” And singing her praises to M, John exclaims, “Her vagina is awesome!” I had a similar reaction to Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride, another award-winning British play about a bisexual love triangle that MCC Theater produced a couple of years ago. I guess these plays must be somebody’s cup of tea, but not mine.
May 3 – My friend Misha Berson, tireless Seattle theater critic, invited me to be her guest to see The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess, which was a mixed bag. In the interests of mounting a production that would be popular with Broadway audiences, director Diane Paulus and playwright Suzan-Lori Parks crunched the running time from four hours to two and a half, chopping down the play by DuBose and Dorothy Heyward that had inspired the opera and reducing the orchestra to 22 pieces in a piano-heavy adaptation by Diedre L. Murray. There are some magic moments and some misfires. I walked away thrilled by Audra McDonald’s raw emotional Bess and David Alan Grier’s high-energy Sportin’ Life, but not much else.
May 4 – Misha also took me to see Once, which I was happy to revisit, third time for me. I love just about everything about this show. (You can read my detailed review on CultureVulture.net.) Steve Kazee is just great in the central role, as are Cristin Miliotti and Anne L. Nathan and David Patrick Kelly, but really the whole ensemble is strong. Seeing a show repeatedly, you can’t help increasing your attention and affection for the supporting roles: Will Connolly’s Andrej, Elizabeth A. Davis’s Reza, Lucas Papaelias’s Svec, and Paul Whitty’s Billy in particular. I was glad Misha liked it as much as I did – she noted that ten years ago, before Spring Awakening, it would be impossible to imagine seeing a show like this on Broadway. One of the things I love most is how quiet it is. It makes the audience lean forward and pay attention, rather than get blasted back in their seats. I’m happy it got so many Tony nominations, and I can’t imagine that it won’t win Best Musical.