Performance diary: THE GLASS MENAGERIE, Keith Hennessy, FELA! and roller derby

June 15, 2010

June 10 – John Lahr’s scorching review of Gordon Edelstein’s production of The Glass Menagerie scared me away. But thanks to a last-minute urging by David Savran, I decided to go anyway, and I’m glad I did. The production, which started at the Long Wharf in New Haven and traveled to the Roundabout’s Laura Pels Theatre (which I will always think of as the American Place Theatre), is high-concept Tennessee Williams. Edelstein sets the play in a hotel room where Tom is holed up with a bottle of whiskey and a manual typewriter composing his “memory play. It starts with him alone reading pages aloud and conjuring the images of his mother and sister, who are first glimpsed behind a scrim and eventually come to inhabit the room with him. It’s kind of ingenious and it works just as well as the traditional staging, where Tom inhabits some kind of poetic/theatrical space when addressing the audience that’s separate from the family-life reality. I didn’t love Patch Darragh’s performance as Tom – he’s a little bland, his Southern accent is atrocious, and he way overdoes Tom’s crush on Jim (the Gentleman Caller). There are things he does pull off, like the scene where he gets as close as he can bear to telling his mother he’s gay, underneath all the talk about “going to the movies every night.”

Now Judith Ivey’s Amanda – loved every minute of her beautifully created, minutely detailed performance. Often actresses don’t quite know how to play all the different colors of Amanda and so settle for a kind of average emotional tone, but Ivey dives right into every one of Amanda’s many moods without needing to create smooth transitions. She’s fake-treacly, she’s desperate, she’s furious, she’s insanely vain, she’s loving, she’s uncontrollably controlling. It’s been clear for some time that Ivey is one of the great stage actors of her generation, someone it’s always worth seeing. Keira Keeley is very good as the turned-in Laura, and Michael Mosley is terrific at capturing the callous after-bite of the Gentleman Caller’s high-octane charm.

June 11 – Keith Hennessy was back in town for a one-night-only performance at the New Museum called “Almost Nothing, Almost Everything,” an hour-long improvisation. Talk about a high-wire act! He sang, he danced, he gave Tarot readings, he changed costumes several times, he talked, he jumped, he stripped guest performer George Stamos down to his underpants, and he managed to pull a number of arresting images out of the air and then let them go. See below.

June 12 – I really wanted Keith to see Fela! and Andy wanted to see it again, so I got us good seats for the Saturday matinee. This show’s been playing for almost nine months, and you’d think they’d be slacking off a little bit by now, but just the opposite – everybody seemed to be working at 125%. It turned out that Sahr Ngaujah’s father was in the audience (he introduced his two fathers, his blood father and his heart father, at the curtain call), which might have had something to do with it. Keith was very impressed, and in my fourth time around I was still dazzled. What keeps me going back? I think it’s the way the show generates gigantic joy that is paradoxically fueled by massive amounts of grief, rage, and mystery. And I heard some things I hadn’t taken in before. I’d forgotten the whole teacher number and was struck hard by this line: “A bad teacher tries to make sense of everything.”

After an early supper on the roofdeck of Trattoria Toscana, we headed over to Hunter College for Gotham Girls Roller Derby. It’s not the sort of thing I’d go to on my own, but having a sporty boyfriend means being exposed to new experiences, and I like that. In advance, I was inclined to avoid roller derby because I associate it with campy costumes and faux showmanship, a la World Wrestling Foundation. At the actual event, I was a little disappointed that it wasn’t more showy. The players all have crazy stage names (Beyonslay, Angela Slamsbury, Anne Frankenstein, and – Andy’s favorite – Em Dash, whose number is – ), but their uniforms are simple and functional, and for the most part they take their sport seriously. I knew nothing about jammers and blockers and still find the scoring and the skills a little elusive, but I came away with a new female sports hero: Bonnie Thunders of the Bronx Gridlock, a skinny blond speed demon who literally skated circles around everybody else on the court. The Bronx team played Manhattan Mayhem, who scored almost 50 points in the first 10 minutes…and then fell apart (there were a couple of injuries so maybe they pulled back) as the Bronx gals whomped them 141-59. The audience was a funny mixture of friends and family with jock-geek fags and dykes.

June 13 – Not much to say about the Tony Awards, except that when Douglas Hodge was named Best Actor in a Musical I wanted Kanye West to run up onstage and say, “We all know who really deserves this award!” And Memphis…really?

June 14 – Adam Baran and Ira Sachs’ really smart Queer Art Film series this month invited witty Wayne Koestenbaum (above left, with his boyfriend Steven Marchetti) to pick the movie, and he selected one I’d never heard of: Tony Richardson’s black-and-white 1966 Mademoiselle with a story by Jean Genet about a repressed schoolteacher (played by Jeanne Moreau at her witchy best) who wreaks havoc on a small-town with a series of perverse crimes that only Genet could dream up. She crushes four bird’s eggs in her hands and dumps the mess back into the nest. She holds a lit cigarette to the end of an apple branch. She stalks an itinerant Italian lumberjack (hot hot hot Ettore Manni) and eventually spends an outrageous night in the woods fucking him and playing S&M games before she has him destroyed. It’s a fascinating film about the sheer exhilarating power of pure unmotivated evil. Fun and sexy.

One Response to “Performance diary: THE GLASS MENAGERIE, Keith Hennessy, FELA! and roller derby”

  1. Steve V. Says:

    I’m glad you decided to see, and review, the Glass Menagerie, Don.
    I almost saw it, but decided to see Sondheim on Sondheim instead.
    I too, was scared away by the early reviews. Oh, well . . .

    Concerning the Tonys, I never thought I’d say this, but I think Michael Riedel was right: by excluding reviewers and journalists this year, the awards were probably skewed to the more commercial productions, like Memphis over Fela. If the same rules had applied in the past, I’m sure Wicked would have won out over Avenue Q.

    Anyway, I’m glad to know that you watched the Tonys, too.
    That makes my watching them a seem slightly less guilty pleasure.

    Meanwhile, please keep bringing us your reviews of shows that will never win a Tony but that deserve to be noticed.

    BYW, you’re far too young to remember Mademoiselle when it first was shown in theaters, but as an undergrad, I was entranced by it (in a movie house in Champaign, Illinois). And if you want a little 40-plus-year-old gossip: at the time Vanessa Redgrave and Tony Richardson divorced in the late ’60’s, it was reported in the Times that she’d been cheating on him with her Camelot co-star, Franco Nero, and he’d been unfaithful to her with his Mademoiselle leading lady, Jeanne Moreau. In retrospect, it all seems a little sad and rather ironic.


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