Posts Tagged ‘a view from the bridge’

Culture Vulture: the year in review

December 30, 2015

Top Theater of 2015:


  1. A View from the Bridge – Ivo van Hove’s intense Broadway revival of Arthur Miller’s, staged within Jan Verseweyveld’s evocative stark set and lighting, an excellent cast headed by Mark Strong, Michael Gould, and Nicola Walker
  2. Between Riverside and Crazy – I’m thankful that Second Stage brought back the Atlantic Theater Company’s production of Stephen Adly Giurgis’s deep, dark well-deserved Pulitzer recipient, full of amazing performances (Stephen McKinley Henderson and Liza Colon-Zayas – pictured below — with Ron Cephas Jones and Victor Almanzar) directed by Austin Pendleton.


  1. An Octoroon – the kind of big, messy, important, risk-taking production that keeps me engaged with theater. Playwright Branden Jacobs-Jenkins had key collaborators in director Sarah Benson, eight brave actors, smart producers (Theatre for a New Audience extended the life of the show that began at Soho Rep), and a design team at the top of their game (especially Mimi Lien, who certainly deserves the MacArthur Foundation fellowship she won this year).
  2. John (Signature Theatre) – Annie Baker’s long astonishing play staged by Sam Gold on Mimi Lien’s hyperrealistic set with four terrific performances: Georgia Engel, Lois Smith, Christopher Abbott, and Hong Chau.

    GhostQuartet3(Ryan Jensen)

  3. Ghost Quartet – a sweet and haunting chamber piece from Dave Malloy (above, plaid shirt), composer of Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812, performed in the cozy setting of the bar at the McKittrick Hotel.
  4. And That’s How The Rent Gets Paid – Jeff Weiss (below) and Ricardo Martinez’s East Village epic revived at the Kitchen featuring a cast of veteran and emerging downtown stars under director Brooke O’Harra’s fine-tuned cat-herding.
    7-14 jeff weiss
  5. iOW@ (Playwrights Horizons) — playwright Jenny Schwartz gave herself an amazing amount of freedom with this piece, one of the most aggressively odd-shaped plays I’ve ever seen in how information is delivered, how characters are introduced, how the story advances, the use of music (gorgeous and scrupulously unpredictable score by Todd Almond), etc. Kudos to director Ken Rus Schmoll and a super-game cast.
  6. Composition…Master-Pieces…Identity (Target Margin Theater) – I don’t know how he does it but David Greenspan again inhabited Gertrude Stein’s prose with effortless genius.
  7. Gloria (Vineyard Theatre) – another fine example of Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’ gift for merging social commentary, shrewd humor, and extraordinary performance opportunities; Evan Cabnet directed the fantastic six-member cast, among whom Jennifer Kim and Ryan Spahn stood out for me.
  8. Hamilton (Public Theatre) – I had my reservations about the most acclaimed musical of the year (the hiphop score is monotonous, the staging is theatrically square, and author Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance struck me as charmless) but there’s no denying that this retelling of early American history by black and Latino performers is smart, conceptually ambitious, and fiendishly well-written.
  9. Steve (New Group) – Mark Gerrard’s smart, hilarious gay comedy about sad stuff, impeccably directed by Cynthia Nixon with a fine cast and a seriously great performance by Matt McGrath.

Honorable Mentions:

Eclipsed (Public Theatre)– Danai Gurira’s original play about the experience of women during Liberia’s civil war with an exceptional all-female ensemble directed by Liesl Tommy

Ada/Ava (3Legged Dog) – unusual, inventive, emotionally absorbing shadow puppet play created by the Chicago-based Manual Cinema

Spring Awakening – DeafWest Theatre’s revelatory revival of Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s musical adaptation of Frank Wedekind’s play with a cast full of impressive Broadway newcomers directed by Michael Arden, noteworthy set by Dane Laffrey.

Grounded (Public Theater) – Julie Taymor brought her theatrical magic to this small honest play starring Anne Hathaway (below) as a disillusioned and war-damaged drone pilot


Preludes (LCT3) – another exceptional eccentric musical event from the team of composer Dave Malloy and director Rachel Chavkin starring Gabriel Ebert (below, with flowers) on another dazzling Mimi Lien set.


Disgraced – Ayad Akhtar’s play superbly directed on Broadway by Kimberly Senior.

Living Here (Foundry Theatre) — Gideon Irving’s one-man musical performed in living rooms all over NYC (including mine)

Raul Esparza in Cymbeline in Central Park

1-8 keith abronsKeith Hennessy’s bear/SKIN in the Abrons Arts Center’s American Realness Festival

Bob Crowley’s sets and costumes and Robert Fairchild’s performance in An American in Paris

Daniel Oreskes, Cameron Scoggins, and Tom Phelan in Taylor Mac’s Hir at Playwrights Horizons with a set by David Zinn that screamed “toxic America”

Other Culture Vulture High Points:

South African photographer Zanele Muholi’s show Isibonelo/Evidence at the Brooklyn Museum

Anna Teresa de Keersmaker’s Partita in the White Light Festival

The new Whitney Museum

Habeas Corpus, Laurie Anderson’s collaboration with Guantanamo Bay detainee Mohammed el Gharani at the Park Avenue Armory

Love and Mercy, Bill Pohlad’s harrowing, arty, moving, thrilling biopic of Brian Wilson with an incredible performance by Paul Dano – my favorite film of the year

Culture Vulture: Best theater of 2010

December 26, 2010


A strong year in theater, I would say. Here’s my pick of a dozen top productions:

1. Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson – Les Freres Corbusier’s smart/stupid rock musical, my first exposure to excellent writer/director Alex Timbers and his fearless crew, including rock-star caliber lead performance by Benjamin Walker. As the subway ads put it, “History just got all sexypants!”

2. The Myopia – David Greenspan in a spectacular solo performance of his own crazy play

Lily Rabe, Al Pacino, and Byron Jennings in "The Merchant of Venice"

3. The Merchant of VeniceDaniel Sullivan’s deep, upsetting staging of Shakespeare’s play in which Al Pacino’s Shylock and Lily Rabe’s Portia were 2 out of 20 strong performances

Scarlett Johansson and Liev Schreiber in "A View from the Bridge"

4. A View from the Bridge – direction by Gregory Mosher, with terrific performances by Liev Schreiber, Jessica Hecht, Scarlett Johansson, Michael Cristofer, and Corey Stoll

Billy Porter, Robin Weigert, and Christian Borle in "Angels in America"

5. Angels in America – Michael Greif’s revival of Tony Kushner’s play with extra-fine performances by Christian Borle, Zachary Quinto, Bill Heck, Robin Bartlett, and Robin Weigert

Danielle Skraastad, Susan Pourfar, Marin Ireland, Miriam F. Glover and Michael Chernus in "In The Wake"

6. In the Wake – Lisa Kron’s play (lynchpin of the Public Theater’s admirable political-theater season) with superlative performances by Michael Chernus and Deidre O’Connell

Alessandro Nivola and Karen Young in "A Lie of the Mind"

7. A Lie of the Mind – Ethan Hawke’s surprisingly beautiful re-imagining of Sam Shepard’s play, with a revelatory central performance by Alessandro Nivola

8. A Disappearing Number – fine smart new work from Complicite directed by Simon McBurney with a dazzling production design by Michael Levine

9. The Kid – the smart and tuneful musical adaptation of Dan Savage’s memoir with a good cast well-directed by Scott Elliott, most notably Christopher Sieber, Susan Blackwell, and Jeannine Frumess

Jeffrey Wright in "A Free Man of Color"

10. A Free Man of Color – John Guare’s ambitious stylized epic staged in high style by George C. Wolfe with a huge cast in which standouts included Jeffrey Wright, mos, and Veanne Cox

11. Another American: Asking and Telling – perfect timing for Marc Wolf (above) to bring back his Anna Deveare Smith-like solo performance surveying the topic of gays in the military

Zoe Kazan, Christopher Walken, and Anthony Mackie in "A Behanding in Spokane"

12. A Behanding in Spokane – Martin McDonagh’s hilarious new play with knockout performances by Christopher Walken and Sam Rockwell and a superbly seedy set by Scott Pask

I’m not quite sure where to put three shows I’d seen before but were still high-water marks for 2010: Fela! (last year’s #1, which I saw twice again this year), Gatz (above, which made my top 10 in 2007), and the Wooster Group’s North Atlantic (the third revival, with a great new cast including Ari Fliakos, Kate Valk, Steve Cuiffo and Zachary Oberzan).

Miscellaneous highlights:

— William Kentridge’s dense and dazzling production of Shostakovich’s The Nose at the Metropolitan Opera and his equally theatrical retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art

— Norm Lewis singing “Being Alive” in Sondheim on Sondheim at the Roundabout

— Christine Jones’ set (above) and Michael Mayer’s direction for American Idiot
— Mark Rylance’s justly acclaimed performance in La Bete

The Pee-Wee Herman Show on Broadway – sheer fun!

— Most Valuable Player (male): Scott Shepherd (above) for North Atlantic and Gatz

— Most Valuable Player (female): Bonnie Thunders, Gotham Girls Roller Derby (above)

From the deep archives: Michael Mayer

April 20, 2010

On the occasion of the Broadway opening of American Idiot, I resurrected an interview I did with director Michael Mayer in 1998 for The Advocate — back before Spring Awakening, when he’d just directed the fantastic revival of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge starring Anthony LaPaglia and Alison Janney.

Michael Mayer is in a quandary. We’re sitting in a Chelsea diner near where he lives with his Jewish doctor boyfriend, and he’s brooding over the morning’s New York Times. On one hand, there’s an article announcing that Triumph of Love, the musical that he’d nurtured since its conception and that became his Broadway debut as director, would be closing after an all-too-brief run. On the other hand, there’s a two-column full-page ad for his revival of Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge quoting the rave reviews it had just received.

Sad as it is to watch a favorite show go down the tubes, just having two shows on Broadway at the same time is enough to establish 37-year-old Mayer as a director to watch. He’s been on a roll since 1993, when his former New York University classmate Tony Kushner invited him to direct a student production of Perestroika, the second part of Kushner’s Pulitzer-winning gay epic Angels in America, at their alma mater. The Broadway producers were sufficiently impressed to hire Mayer to direct the national touring company of Angels the following year, which put him on the map. Since then he’s worked almost nonstop, frequently with prominent gay writers such as Craig Lucas (Missing Persons) and the late Howard Ashman (the revue Hundreds of Hats).

Staging both an intimate vaudevillean musical and a Greek tragedy transposed to ‘50s Brooklyn would be a fun challenge for any director, and Mayer feels his secure gay identity has been an asset to both projects. What interested him about James Magruder’s translation of  Triumph of Love, Pierre Marivaux’s gender-bending 18th-century comedy about a female Don Juan who woos both men and women in pursuit of her true love, was “the cultural flypaper aspect of camp sensibility.” Throwing in Tin Pan Alley references and openly acknowledging the diva worship that surrounds a star like Betty Buckley, Mayer and Magruder were “amusing ourselves, which is what gay people have always done, because who else will do it?”

Meanwhile, Mayer brought a ‘90s bluntness to View, whose main character, consumed by an illicit passion for his niece, projects his sexual confusion onto his wife’s Italian immigrant cousin, whom he brands as queer. “In the ‘50s the audience had no distance from Eddie’s psychological problems,” says Mayer. “You couldn’t acknowledge homophobia because there wasn’t anything else going on in the culture. The difference now is that we’re more visible.”

Growing up in Bethesda, Md., Mayer experienced his share of  “typical suburban homophobia: being called faggot, being shoved every day in the hall, things written on my locker.” Luckily, his parents were supportive. “I mean, hello — when I was 8, I woke up one morning to find the double-album Judy at Carnegie Hall on my pillow.”

Those memories of gay adolescence will come in handy next spring when Mayer directs John C. Russell’s Stupid Kids, “a queer re-telling of Rebel without a Cause featuring two gay teenagers, a boy and a girl, who form a union that is their safe haven in a world that is at best indifferent and at worst really hostile.” Lest anyone pigeonhole him as one kind of director, though, Mayer’s also working with lesbian playwright Paula Vogel (How I Learned to Drive) on a revival of On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.

Performance diary: Suzanne Vega and “The Pride”

February 1, 2010

I continue to be haunted by A View from the Bridge. I think one thing that makes this production so compelling is the strong relationship between Eddie and the lawyer Alfieri. Sometimes that aspect of the play feels overly symbolic, a plot convenience, but as played by Liev Schreiber and Michael Cristofer, there’s a powerful father-son flavor to their connection. Eddie really trusts this guy, looks up to him, speaks his heart, and listens carefully. And Alfieri speaks hard truths to him in a loving way. The more I think about it, the more I admire Cristofer’s performance.

I also admire the way Miller folds in the inevitability that is a key feature of Greek tragedy. It’s Eddie, after all, who spells out for Catherine the clan’s code of ethics toward squealers who drop a dime on undocumented immigrants. It’s no accident that John Lee Beatty’s set features a pay phone that’s visible from the first moment of the play. Miller wrote the play in the midst of the McCarthy era, when turning people in and naming names was not in the slightest bit hypothetical. Today, this aspect of the play conjures the Homeland Security motto, “If you see something, say something.” I’m sure I’m not the only one who finds those subway posters creepy, knowing that such “protective” measures are more often used to divide and persecute the citizenry rather than offer true protection.

January 28 – At the American Songbook series, Suzanne Vega offered what amounted to a retrospective of her career. It certainly made me happy that she opened with three of my favorites: “Marlene on the Wall,” “Small Blue Thing,” and “Caramel.” (The first has generated a persistent, not unpleasant earworm: “Marlene watches from the wall/Her mocking smile says it all/As she records the rise and fall of every man who’s been here/But the only one here now is me/I’m fighting things I cannot see/I think it’s called my destiny/That I am changing changing changing….”) There were songs that I’d forgotten that I loved, like “Left of Center” and “Gypsy” (which she wrote when she was 17! At summer camp! With its extraordinary line about “night is the cathedral”). Stephen and I remember seeing Suzanne Vega at Folk City in 1984 before she even had a record deal (actually, Stephen’s review was instrumental in getting her a record deal), and Andy is way into more recent albums, especially Beauty and Crime. So we all dug the show, especially when the encore was the remix version of “Tom’s Diner.” She had a hot band – a cute and terrific bass played named Michael Visceglia (“Left of Center” was just the two of them) and a fantastic guitarist named Gerry Leonard who was a wizard with pedals and playbacks. A string quartet also accompanied several numbers. Suzanne looked elegant and amazingly youthful, though for some reason she commented a couple of times that she was surprised at how “well-behaved” the audience was. She expected what, catcalls? Flung jockey shorts? Premature requests for “Luka”?

January 30 – Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride, produced by MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel, gives us two versions of a trio named Oliver, Philip, and Sylvia (played by Ben Whishaw, Hugh Dancy, and Andrea Riseborough). In 1958 Oliver is a modestly successful children’s book writer, Sylvia is his somewhat mentally unstable illustrator, and Philip is her realtor husband who has an affair with Oliver that sends him into aversion therapy. In 2008 Oliver is a sexually compulsive magazine writer, Philip is the photographer boyfriend who just left him, and Sylvia is the fag hag who wants to get them back together. As a first play, it’s obviously indebted to Caryl Churchill’s Cloud 9 (which premiered in New York at the same theater, come to think of it), though Campbell intersperses his eras throughout the play. It’s a flashy showcase for actors, directed by Joe Mantello, but I found the play ludicrous, a kind of sensationalistic soap opera.

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