One of the most appealing aspects of Yazmina Reza’s plays is how readily we see ourselves in her characters. Common to her style is a brief (around 90 minutes) focused look at one thing or event. For example, in Art, it is the painting; in Life x 3, there is a mix-up about the date of the dinner party; in God of Carnage, the characters’ meeting is generated by a playground incident in which one couple’s son smacked the other in the face with a stick and knocked out two of his teeth. What is most remarkable about how quickly we recognize them is that they are created French, then gracefully translated into British and American English by Christopher Hampton.
If you don’t live under a rock, you probably know the name “Tracy Turnblad,” or at least recognize Hairspray as more than a product to set your coiffure. Born in the twisted mind of John Waters with the divine Divine as Edna Turnblad, Tracy’s zaftig mama, the 1988 movie became a cult film. In 1998, work began to re-imagine it as a big, splashy Broadway musical. Speaking as a fan of the original, I wish that hadn’t been done, but the result is surprisingly fun. The show’s finale is a big, bold number called “You Can’t Stop the Beat,” and apparently no one can. Since 2002, Hairspray has played around the world. The current production at Washington University’s Edison Theatre is highly entertaining and mostly capably rendered.
Resplendent in top hat, white tie and tails, Chuck Lavazzi brought his intimate cabaret act to the Missouri History Museum for two weekends (this is the second). His performance is part of a series presented by the Museum in collaboration with local theatre companies, in this case, the West End Players Guild (WEPG), whose 2011-12 season the show also kicks off. He came to sing the Golden Oldies, and I’m not talking about the Beatles or even Bing. His material is straight from the Amercian Vaudeville age, and mainly songs from its peak shortly before and during the 1920s.
Much of the time, we regard “insanity” pleas as a cop-out in criminal cases, I think. If you’re not responsible for your actions, then you won’t be punished to the full extent of the law. Claudia Faith Draper (Lara Buck) begs to differ. An attractive woman in her early 30s when Nuts takes place in 1979, she has been remanded to Bellevue Hospital’s psychiatric wing in New York City for evaluation to determine her capacity to stand trial on a charge of first degree manslaughter. It appears that she has been working as a prostitute for some months, and she killed a violent john. She doesn’t deny the crime, but she claims it was self-defense, and she vehemently insists that she is sane. She demands her Constitutional right to a speedy and fair trial on said charge. But, well, it’s complicated.
Stray Dog Theatre literally rocked the house last night. A joyful noise rattled the old abbey as The Who’s “Tommy” blasted through the building with a cornucopia of light, sound, and movement. A high-energy cast tore through just over two hours of the virtually all-music musical, which lived only as a concept album from 1969 until 1992 when it was fully staged in theatrical form. Guitarist Pete Townshend with Kit Lambert conceived and wrote the score and it bore the title “rock opera” that Townshend had coined for an early extended song by the group. Tommy attacked the big questions head-on and helped define the musical idiom of a generation, perhaps even that generation itself. But if you think it’s now a period piece, you would be wrong.
The Addams Family could be a musical put together by a focus group. Of course, considering how long the producers have been working on it (and according to a statement in a press release, they still are) it almost is. How to succeed on Broadway does seem to have certain rules these days, and this musical follows them almost slavishly.
The Hot’l Baltimore is like Stray Rescue for humans. Its title refers to the fact that the “e” in its outdoor sign is burned out, and so are the people who live there. It is a cheap, extended stay facility that once was one of the finest establishments in Baltimore. The transient nature of the residents and life itself are represented by the frequently passing trains, usually late to their destinations, much to the annoyance of one of the “working girls” who is a geography savant. The hotel itself is scheduled for demolition in the near future, which will further displace these lost souls.
So, you’ve been in a live-in relationship with your significant other for four years. Your best friend calls from a work party and tells you that said “other,” has told her husband that you aren’t “beautiful.” Oh, not in so many words, of course. What he actually says is that you look “regular.” He follows it up by indicating he likes you just the way she are. Is this comment, made in the context of comparison to a gorgeous new employee and under the influence of several beers, a deal breaker? If you’re Steph (Rachel Hanks), the “plain” one, the answer is, “yes, it is.”
There is much to appreciate in David Lindsay-Abaire’s Rabbit Hole, and credit for Insight’s thoughtful production needs to go to director Jason Cannon for giving this often-performed domestic tragedy a deliberate and coherent reading. He constructs a through line illuminating the play’s use of parallelism in a dual context that insures that the ending makes sense to the audience. The story thus seems more organic than episodic, as is a danger with this script, and that is a major accomplishment by Cannon. It almost makes sense to me now that it got a Pulitzer Prize, and I can see why a reader would think it’s extraordinary. However, it can be argued (and of course, I’m going to) that it is very difficult to feel emotion that goes beyond admiration when the show is performed.
Victoria Grant (Janna Cardia) is a divorced, unemployed opera singer who is hungry and cold when she wanders into Chez Lui late one night. There she meets Caroll “Toddy” Todd (David Schmittou), a kindly gentleman who stands her to a hot chocolate and brandy (which is for him) over the protestations of the officious manager, Henri Labisse (James Beaman) who sounds like Inspector Clouseau. Labisse reminds Toddy of his outstanding tab, incurring one of his many minor injuries played for laughs. It is Paris, 1934, and several lives are about to change.