Culture Vulture: THE ANTIPODES and HELLO, DOLLY!

May 8, 2017

New York theater in a nutshell: spent the weekend seeing the new play by Annie Baker, The Antipodes at Signature Theater, a characteristically intriguing piece by a terrific writer, beautifully staged and acted, and Hello, Dolly!, one of Broadway’s biggest hit musicals of all time and one of the most idiotic. One ticket cost $30, the other $189.

The Antipodes in some ways resembles Circle Mirror Transformation, the play that put Annie Baker on the map, in that it focuses on the manners and rituals of an emerging creative community — only this time we are not in a small-town Vermont drama class but in the writers’ room in the early stage of dreaming up a new series. The grizzled, enigmatic legendary show runner Sandy (the return to the New York stage of Will Patton) likes to start by getting his team to reveal themselves by poring through their personal histories for every last trace of what constitutes a story. Old-timers like Dave (Josh Charles) and Danny (Danny Mastrogiorgio) go straight for the most satisfyingly humiliating tales they can dredge up; new additions (Philip James Brannon, Josh Hamilton, Emily Cass McDonnell, all wonderful) wade more slowly into the self-revelations. Along the way they postulate the origins of storytelling. Time and space go flippy, even though we’re never looking at anything other than a bunch of people around a conference table and a giant stack of LeCroix soft drinks. Lila Neugebauer does a fine job of keeping up completely rooted in the unpredictable unfolding moment. Nicole Rodenburg pretty much steals the show playing what you’re sure is just a walk-on functionary.

Jerry Zaks’s splendid-looking production of Hello, Dolly! (sets and costumes by Santo Loquasto) is efficiently built to give the audience maximum opportunity to worship the presence of Bette Midler in a Broadway musical. It’s amazing how many minutes of stage time are devoted to nothing else. Although loosely based on Thornton Wilder’s play The Matchmaker, the book is a piffle of thin heterosexist romantic pairings that make little sense. Nevertheless, the actors give their all. Kate Baldwin has an especially lustrous voice as Mrs. Molloy singing “Ribbons Down My Back.” Michael McCormick stepped in as Horace Vangelder, the role usually played by David Hyde Pierce — they couldn’t be more different actors but McCormick (a trouper whom I recall fondly from Kiss Me, Kate!) played it as if he does it every day. And Ms. Midler — well, she took this strange little piffle and squeezed out every last drop of silly business and funny faces in her best Lucille Ball clownishness, and the audience ate it up. Some classic Broadway musicals are just dumb fun, and some are just plain dumb. We enjoyed researching the original production via Wikipedia. The show was originally entitled Dolly, A Damned Exasperating Woman and Call on Dolly but Merrick changed the title immediately upon hearing Louis Armstrong’s version of “Hello, Dolly!” The show became one of the most iconic Broadway shows of its era, the latter half of the 1960s, running for 2,844 performances, and was for a time the longest running musical in Broadway history.


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