Archive for the ‘Rialto Note’ Category

Gotham Diary:
All the Wrong Places
14 December 2012

Friday, December 14th, 2012

We went to the theatre last night, but our evening was dramatic in all the wrong places.

I happen to share Terrence McNally’s belief that Vincenzo Bellini’s opera, I Puritani (1835), is one of the very great music dramas, clearly up to Verdi and Wagner and Strauss, and better than anything by Mozart for the stage that doesn’t have a libretto by Lorenzo da Ponte. At first, the opera sounds merely pretty, “perfect” — as stylized and artificial as opera can be. But the style and artifice are eminently habitable, and, pretty soon, Puritani really does seem to be perfect. The scoring is exceptionally interesting for an Italian opera by anybody, and it’s no wonder that Chopin loved it (Bellini wrote one of the heroine’s arias as a polonaise, as a private joke for the two new friends to share, and Chopin appreciated it) or that Tchaikovsky cribbed from it. It is opera at its lyrical summit, but it also exerts the same compulsions as a great Broadway musical cast album, which makes you want to replay what you’ve just heard, but then you don’t get to the remote in time, and the next number begins, and you want to hear that instead. I’m no fan of Norma, by the way, or of bel canto opera in general. Puritani is the only one of that batch of operas that peaks through the clouds. 

But Mr McNally’s new play, Golden Age — the latest of his homages to Maria Callas — is a disaster despite its great cast. I shall say as little as possible. Golden Age ought to be withdrawn and recomposed in the key of Tom Stoppard. Chock full of wit and enthusiasm, the play nevertheless shows McNally up as a fainthearted dramaturge who goes for jokes. Clever on several different wavelengths (some of which threaten to jam the others), the show bogged down in a backstage set that I couldn’t wait to leave — but I never got to. I felt that I knew what McNally was aiming for, so I wasn’t just bored by the play, such as it was, but also pained by his wide miss. (Mr McNally needs to read Lee Child’s Times piece about suspense. The real problem with Golden Age is that it doesn’t ask any questions.) At the same time, I was completely engaged by the train wreck of it all. Instead of a play, we were treated to the excruciation of a host who keeps postponing dinner until his guests listen to “just one more” song. Bebe Neuwirth was fabulous, but we’d have had to be drinking Jonestown Kool-Aid for her star turn to lift the mess over the bar. (Also, her line about how “love dies” would have had to be erased. She might as well have said, “Playwrights disappoint.”)The applause was the worst. The applause and the desertion at the interval. 

And although I think it’s perfectly all right to take liberties with dates in the service of dramatic interest, in the absence thereof I can only scold Mr McNally for making Gioachino Rossini to be something like twice Bellini’s age, when in fact he was not even ten years older, and would survive Bellini by nearly thirty-five years.

The drama came after. From the theatre, we walked to a nearby restaurant for dinner. It was closed for a very noisy holiday party. So we hailed a cab and headed uptown to another. I wasn’t really paying attention — I haven’t been out much lately — and presently we were in a jam on Third in the Fifties, with cars all tied up trying to get into the right lanes for the bridge and for the FDR. Beyond that, paving, if you please — at 10:45 on a holiday weeknight! Such stupidity! And no police to manage traffic. The comble was a collision: someone cut in front of our taxi. I was already a wild caged animal, crazed by having sat through light after light going nowhere, when another car pulled in front of the taxi and there was a collision. (Apparently; I didn’t feel anything. Who was moving?) The cab driver wanted us to stay as witnesses, of course, but of course I wouldn’t — we’d have been there for another forty minutes at least, waiting for a cop. The massive incompetence all around me put me into a complete panic (nothing frightens me more than small brains in charge of big machines), and I only stopped shaking after I’d had a glass of wine at home. There was nothing about the evening to compensate for those ten minutes of disaster. 

You can imagine how much I’m looking forward to going out again tonight!  

You’ll not hear a bad word about 50 Shades from me. No one made me read it (and I didn’t), and no one has talked to me about it, either, except to say more or less exactly what you said. Fine with me: Random House was so flush that everyone got a $5000 bonus, so that Lauren and Eric will be able to take a honeymoon in Paris and Rome. I’m very forgiving about trash that enriches my near and dear.

Gotham Diary:
Arrogant Hoo-haw
6 June 2012

Wednesday, June 6th, 2012

Let’s start with the attractions. The Manhattan Theatre Club’s production of David Auburn’s play, The Columnist, was very well cast, and the actors never failed to entertain. John Lithgow’s impersonation of Joseph Alsop, one of the most powerful columnists in the history of American journalism, was great fun while also engaging sympathy for an unsympathetic character. Grace Gummer, playing Alsop’s step-daughter (here called Abby), brought all the sharpness of changing times to Alsop’s stuffy house. Margaret Colin (as Susan Mary Alsop, briefly Joe’s wife) and Boyd Gaines (as Stewart Alsop, the younger, far more likeable brother) did the very best with their roles, and then some. Brian Smith evoked an appealing young Russian with a wry sense of humor. In supporting roles, Stephen Kunken (David Halberstam) and Marc Bonan (Philip) were unexceptionable. 

John Lee Beatty’s sets for the outdoor scenes were memorable as well as appealing, capturing the verdant formality of the nation’s capital with textured rectangular abstractions backed by the tops of Washington’s distinctive lampposts.

***

Mr Beatty’s sets for the indoor scenes were of a piece with the play itself: Grade A Undergraduate. The interiors — a library and a living room — did not even remotely suggest one of the most gracious and well-appointed homes in Georgetown; what they did suggest was a shoestring budget. Alsop’s desk was a tiny oval affair, barely the size of a boudoir table, and the wall of books behind it soaked up half of everything the actors had to say. What the actors had to say teetered between standard expository theatre talk — the familiar but stylized intercourse in which playwrights convey loads of background information through what pretends to be a conversation among intimates — and urgent arguments about love and politics that sought to make a connection between the two, all coated with the dulled gleam of formerly conventional manners of speech. It was all pretty fusty.

I never could decide whether David Auburn was trying to tell us that Joe Alsop went all out in support of the Vietnam War as a way of compensating, with masculine bellicosity, for being a rather unloving closeted homosexual; or whether, in the alternative, the message was that even a semi-closeted gay man could put the patriarchal power structure to personal use if he were ballsy enough. Insofar as playwrighting is like ballroom dancing, Mr Auburn was an uncertain leader, wavering between these two approaches to his central character. He ought to have taken greater pains to avoid the first impression altogether, as it was not supported by the facts — the facts presented in the play itself. He ought to have resisted the allure of a blackmail scenario, setting the audience quaking with dread of the dire damage of revelation. Joe Alsop was never afraid of blackmail — it turns out. That’s the big surprise in the climactic scene. Knowing that he’d been photographed in bed with a young man by Russian agents, he took the photographs straight to the American ambassador; he made sure that everyone knew what low and dirty tricks the Russians would stoop to. His timing must have been perfect, because this brazen defiance actually worked. That it did work would have been something meaty for a play to chew on, but not, perhaps, in a climactic scene. In the climax of The Columnist, the audience realizes that it has been had.

The problem with the alternative message is that it leaves a big question untouched: why would anybody, gay or straight, have wanted to support the Vietnam War? How could so many establishment types have been so gung-ho about so profoundly a misinformed project? The answer to that question has nothing to do with blackmail, or sexuality, or whether Joe Alsop could allow himself to be lovingly intimate with anybody. The answer is to be found not between the sheets but behind the desks — the desks at Groton and all the other elite Anglophone academies on both sides of the Atlantic, where no end of arrogant racist sexist WASPy hoo-haw was poured into the ears of privileged boys, deforming generations of bright and powerful men.

That would have been one way to put Joseph Alsop to good dramatic use. An even better one might have focused on Alsop’s marriage to Susan Mary Patten, widowed mother of two. The essence of this might-have-been play was crammed into one awkward scene in The Columnist — awkward because we needed more. Susan Mary thought that she knew what she was doing when she married Alsop; he was clear about his carnal circuitry. But she found that she was wrong. She found that she did not care for life with a man who had no real use for a woman except as social fixtures at the other end of a long dining table of luminaries. She wanted more. I’d have liked to see a play about her. I hope that Margaret Colin gets another, better chance. I also hope that she gets better dresses.

***

O joy! O rapture unforeseen! I just found the lid to Will’s teapot. Less than an inch in diameter, the lid blends in well with the rug in the blue room, and I must have missed it five or six times while poring over the floor in search of it. Then, just now, as I was folding a T shirt, there it was. Ecstasy, really.

I can’t tell whether progress is being made. In the old days, I misplaced things all the time, and was miserable about it, for a while; but, hey, I was always losing things. I managed to live with it. Now, things are different. I do not misplace things. What never? Well, hardly ever — and it’s much harder to take when I do. In the past week, I’ve suffered a streak of numbskull droppings, such as leaving my wallet on a dark bookshelf where I’d never put it if I were conscious. As a rule, though, I’ve gotten very good about knowing where things are. Lately, that includes Will’s toys, of which, suddenly, there are lots.

While Will plays with his toys, I entertain myself by picking up after him. The secret is understanding that healthy boys crave disorder. I am not entirely in on this secret, but I act as though I were. I do not groan when Will overturns a basket or evacuates a box. No, that’s what they’re for! So! Here are four of his five little VWs; where’s the green one? Got it! All the pieces of the stegosaurus jigsaw puzzle accounted for — bravo! I kept on eye on the teapot lid for most our time yesterday, but at some point my vigilance must have slipped. It was the first thing that I looked for this morning, and not being able to find it was disheartening. It was only after I’d put everything away, and even carried what was left of the teaset (everything but the lid) into the kitchen to wash it —

I should explain that, at first, we pretended that the teapot lid wasn’t removable, because, as Will’s mother reasoned, he would only want to fill it with water if he knew that he could. So we put that off as long as possible. But by the time he realized that the lid wasn’t a dummy (even though he needed help pulling it out — tight fit!), he’d moved on. Why fill a teapot with water when you can fill it with raisins? It’s likely that I didn’t see the teapot lid on the floor because I was still training my eyes for stray raisins.  

Gotham Diary:
Bad Old Days
13 April 2012

Friday, April 13th, 2012

The play that we saw last night, Regrets, by Matt Charman, is set in the bad old days of difficult divorce and political witch hunts: the scene is a cabin colony outside of Reno in 1954. It is also set in the bad old days of Arthur Miller and the attempt to breed a domestic species of tragedy, with the elements of drama retuned for vernacular inarticulateness.  We found it dreary and bleak, and we felt that the actors might have given better performances without Carolyn Cantor’s direction, since the show’s sluggish, heavy feel would be most likely attributable to that. The actors playing the three older men, Brian Hutchinson, Richard Topol, and Lucas Caleb Rooney, seemed as stuck in a flypaper of “notes” as their characters were in the maws of unwanted divorce proceedings. Mr Hutchinson’s character was an annoying puzzle: long since divorced, he was now living in his cabin by choice, writing essay questions for the Chicago Board of Examination and nursing Amfortas-like, unexplained wounds of war. He limped painfully, but it seemed that there must be something more to it than that. We never found out what, though. Mr Rooney played a blowhard ex-sarge, his good nature swamped by the violence unleashed in war, who now had trouble holding down jobs as a store detective. The pathos of this character would have been easier to feel if the acting hadn’t been so unvarnished. Mr Topol, playing the owner of a pet shop in Queens, desperately unhappy about having lost his wife’s love, was best able to chisel a distinctive, unpredictable performance from the material at hand. His tootling on the clarinet near the end brought a much-needed balm of human sweetness to the show, shortly before the climax.

Thank heaven for Adriane Lenox, though. Ms Lenox plays the landlady of the colony, a woman tough enough to impose strict rules on her residency-seeking guests but sensible enough to ease up in a crisis. The creator of the role of the mother in Terrence McNally’s Doubt, she is a truly formidable actress who, without much in the way of distinguished physical presence, can take over the stage with the arch of an eyebrow. I would consider it uncommon good luck to see her at least once every season. Alexis Bledel, who makes her stage debut, comes to us from The Gilmore Girls, so perhaps it’s no surprise that she handled herself very well on stage, in the part of the pretty waif who will do anything to get out of Pyramid Lake.

Looking back, I see Ansel Elgort as the star of the show. He is a high school student (at LaGuardia) who happens also to have danced with City Ballet; now he’s trying out drama, and I know that if anything comes of his career I won’t be shy about boasting that I saw his debut. He was compelling as a remorseful idealist, trying to limit the collateral damage caused by associations that could only be unwise in a moment of Orwellian invasiveness. I don’t think that he had one memorable line as such, but this was very much in character; Mr Elgort used every other physical resource to convey the misery of being a loving young man who’d suddenly become dangerous to talk to. Curt Bouril, playing the agent of understated state oppression, gave his character an off-center, Don-Draperish self-assurance that saved it from caricature.

As usual at MTC Stage I, there was no curtain, so my heart had plenty of time to sink before the show even began. Kathleen thought that the set was neat because it reminded her of camp. Exactly. But Rachel Hauck (sets), Ben Stanton (lights), and Ilona Somogyi (costumes) made the best of a hardscrabble situation. Mr Charman is to be commended, I suppose, for infusing stolid Miller drama with the chill of Beckett’s chasms, and for presenting the concoction in a tidy package; I had the sense throughout of a “well-made play.” Yes, but a well-made play about what?

***

Of all the beautiful things to say:

“I have known one or two women as beautiful,” he said of the bride, “one or two women as interesting, one or two women as spiritual, but for the combination of the three I have never known her equal.”

That’s William Rainsford, the reverend who married Edith Minturn and Isaac Newton Phelps Stokes. There is certainly a good deal of this extraordinariness in Sargent’s portrait.

I lost nearly an hour today to a tangent that (in my mind) ran off from Jean Zimmerman’s lovely book, Love, Fiercely. It was about Shadowbrook, the “largest house in America” at the time that Anson Phelps Stokes, Newton’s father, built it in Stockbridge in the early 1890s. I had to see what was left of this monstrosity of stone and Tudor timber, so I began at Google Maps. Then I Googled “Shadowbrook Stockbridge” and came up with the most interesting document, a history of the house that culminated in its destruction by fire in 1956. By that time, it had been a Jesuit novitiate for decades, and the author was an alumnus, one Frank Shea. Shea turned out to be one of the radical Jesuits who embraced the causes of the Sixties and who indeed left the order and the priesthood to marry someone he’d met (at a Newman Club!), and he seems to have died of a heart attack brought on by a kerfuffle concerning his chancery at Antioch College in the mid-Seventies. Here’s the small-world pearl in the story. Having tired of Shadowbrook (or, better, having come to dislike it after losing his leg in a riding accident), Anson Phelps Stokes built another mansion at Noroton, Connecticut, the very building that, growing up, I knew of simply as “Noroton” — the Sacred Heart academy there.

Gotham Diary:
“This Is Where Betty Crocker Shot Herself”
9 December 2011

Friday, December 9th, 2011

In the taxi that carried us home, the driver got off his cell phone. We were still on Sixth Avenue, but about to turn right toward the East Side. “It’s cold,” the driver said, in a robust voice, his accent vaguely South Asian. We didn’t respond right away, so he almost turned in his seat to address us. “It’s cold,” he said, again. We agreed. “Where do you live?” he asked. We wondered to ourselves, “How many people who get into a taxi in the Village somewhere between nine and ten in the evening, and who ask to be taken to 86th and Second (which every driver in the world remembers as “82nd and Second, but that’s another story, even though this one did, too) — how many such people don’t live there,” but all we said was “Here.” “You look like tourists,” the driver said blandly, as though pleased to have made a mistake. “You look like tourists to me.” The only thing that I could think of to say to this was, ‘We’ve lived in the same building for thirty years.” This he found astonishing, although not violently so. The driver was much too friendly, and self-possessed in a childlike way, for violence. Recovering from his strangely friendly assault, I thought of something better than living in the same building for thirty years, much better. “I was born here,” I said. This got more of a reaction. “That’s right,” I said, swelling inside, “right on West 65th Street.” I was so flushed with pride, it was like a treatment at a spa.

***

Paul Rudnick is never coming to my house. Oh no no no no no! If he did, I’m sure that I would hear the “gay voice” that torments a Midwestern housewife in his skit, The Gay Agenda, when her new neighbors, the same-sex couple Bill and Stu, come to return an apple crumble pan (or is it blueberry?). They claim to admire her living room, with its tasteful colonial reproductions and plaid wallpaper, but Mary Abigail (a fantastically funny Harriet Harris) can hear, as if spoken aloud, what they must really be thinking. “This is where Betty Crocker shot herself!” It is the funniest, funniest, funniest moment in the entire history of theatre, or at least that’s what it feels like right now. I’m still laughing the next morning. Later in the evening, in another Rudnick skit, there was a joke that was almost as good, in its unlikely and unexpected comic fit: a matchmaking mother tells her son about a cardiac surgeon whom she has imagined for the purposes of one-upping a rival mom. The surgeon operates exclusively on gay children in third world countries — he’s that gay. “But how does he know they’re gay?” asks the son, of the children. It’s Ms Harris again, and she gives Mark Consuelos (did you see the smile on him?) a Jack Benny look. “Because their hearts are so big.” It’s a terrible joke, really, but that’s why it fits the circumstances so well. The creator of Libby Gelman-Waxner has done himself proud.

There are plenty of laughs in the other pieces that have been gathered together to compose Standing On Ceremony: The Gay Marriage Plays, but they’re different from the laughs that Paul Rudnick incites. They’re the kind of laughs that you have, if you’re very lucky, during a wedding toast or a funeral speech. They’re rueful. They’re rueful for two reasons, or maybe two aspects of the same reason. Marriage isn’t for everyone, but everyone who gets married is just like everyone else who gets married in the same way that all of us are mortal. The frightful desperation of bridezillas everywhere is an annoying attempt to stand out while standing in line. Not to worry, though, because, by the same rueful token, weddings are a kind of blender that produces a slightly different drink for every couple, consisting of the odd mix of family and friends that show up, expecting to have a wonderful time. And almost every happy marriage ends with one spouse burying the other — how’s that for a reward?

Our reward was hearing Richard Thomas (yes, that Richard Thomas; he has grown up to be a pillar of the New York stage) deliver a eulogy to a lover, dead of pancreatic cancer after forty-six years of amiable argument about whether humanity has ceased to evolve. Moisés Kaufman packs a lot of material into the speech — the men met on the day Kennedy was shot; they saw the Twin Towers fall from the doorway of the DMV — and he even offers a deft acknowledgment that gay marriage is not an unmixed blessing, but Mr Thomas works through it all with the diligence of a heartsick left-behind gentleman that the illusion is complete: you may not have known Paul Foster, the deceased, but you’re at his funeral because you know people who knew him, and you mourn him. You mourn this imaginary man, and pity his survivor, as deeply as you would mourn all but your very nearest and dearest — and, who knows, maybe as much as them. And the moral of the story is that even though Paul and the nice man eulogizing him didn’t get married, they were married, and we recognize this at Paul’s funeral. There is no other word for the relationship. And our grief crowns the moral of the evening, which is that humanity has evolved, at least in part, sufficiently to recognize that all good people, regardless of sexual preference, have the right to get married. Perhaps it is marriage that has done the evolving, but that’s not much of a difference.

Craig Bierko, Polly Draper, and Beth “As We Stumble Along” Leavel round out the cast of six. Mr Bierko also delivers a eulogy, but it happens to be a device in Neil LaBute’s little melodrama, Strange Fruit. Ms Draper and Ms Leavel get to play two versions of the same couple in skits by Mo Gaffney and Wendey MacLeod, but they’re also sparring partners in Doug Wright’s On Facebook, an exercise in modern mis-manners that is significantly relieved by Ms Draper’s velvety bass0 profundo. There are ten plays in the Standing on Ceremony suite, nine of which are given on any one night. So we missed Joe Keenan’s This Marriage Is Saved, which is almost enough to make me think of going back.

***

I was born in New York City under shameful circumstances: my mother wasn’t married. And I was whisked off to Westchester before I was even two months old. When people asked me where I was from, I would never say “New York,” because that would have been cheating; I lived in the suburbs. I knew that I’d been born in the city, but the fact meant just about absolutely nothing, because it didn’t change the fact that I was miserable in Bronxville. Well, not actually miserable, maybe, but certainly training to be: I was determined to grow up to be interesting, and that pretty much meant that I was going to have to discover what “interesting” looked like, because there sure wasn’t any in Bronxville. (That was, and from what I can tell still is, the whole point of Bronxville.) It would take a long time for me to grasp that, in my case, anyway, “interesting” isn’t so much what you do or what you say as what you write, and, all resemblances to Santa Claus and Captain Smith aside, I am not a particularly interesting person to be around, unless you want me to show you round the Museum. I read, I write. I set the table for dinner with crystal and silver, and, after dinner, I wash the dishes. But I’m back where I came from, and man, is that great.

I asked the driver how long he’d lived in New York. “Ten years” was the answer. “Ten years is good,” I said. That’s about how long I’ve felt, at some moment almost every day, a deep contentment to find myself walking around on the rock where I was born.

Gotham Diary:
Running Down
7 December 2011

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

Good clocks don’t run down, ticking ever more slowly until their hands stop moving. They either tell the time or they stop. So I’m much more like a bad clock right now, a poorly designed contraption. I am definitely ticking ever more slowly. Every day is a little bit harder to get through than the one before. But only a little. It’s not so bad. It’s just perceptibly worse than normal. For which I’m very grateful — both for the normal, which wouldn’t be normal at all if it weren’t for the Remicade that is going to bring me right back to it next Tuesday, and for the marginal nature of the deterioration. I’m never actually sick. Just “tired.” And the thing that tires me out the most is making plans. The nice thing about today is that I don’t think that I’m going to have to make any plans. My plans are in place. Certainty is its own source of energy.

***

As we walked from the Biltmore to the Brasserie last night, we talked about great performances that we had seen on and off Broadway over the years. Well, we didn’t talk about them; we enumerated them. When I’d said, of the play that we’d just seen, David Ives’s Venus in Fur, that it was “one of those big nights that you put in your Broadway scrapbook,” I was thinking that, maybe, there were four or five other performances to compare with Nina Arianda’s, but by the time dinner was over, we were well past the thirty-mark — we’ve seen Stockard Channing alone on three extremely memorable occasions, in Hapgood, The Lion in Winter, and The Little Foxes; and mentioning Hapgood reminds us of her costar, David Strathairn, in Stranger, with Kyra Sedgwick; and on it goes — and we never did remember Jefferson Mays in I Am My Own Wife. The fact is, we’ve seen a lot of great theatre. We haven’t seen everything; from a true theatregoer’s perspective, we haven’t even seen very much. Our scrapbook doesn’t have to be all that voluminous. But there will definitely be a page for Nina Arianda’s Vanda. Let me say right away that Hugh Dancy, the other member of the cast (he plays a young man called Thomas), was superb as well: he carried Ms Arianda as beautifully as Nureyev carried Fonteyn. But Venus in Fur is about the goddess in the title.

Venus in Fur shimmers from shifting perspectives. There is of course the novel by Sacher-Masoch, that caused a perversion to be branded with the author’s name, and the title of which David Ives borrowed for his play. Somewhat more distant but vastly more resonant, there is Euripides’s terrifying Bacchae. In that play, a foolish king believes himself powerful enough to subdue what he takes to be a disorderl, ecstatic cult, and fails to recognize the presence of the god Dionysus. Dramatic irony is wound to the highest pitch as the god helps the king to disguise himself as one of the madwomen, headed by his own mother, who roam the outlying hills and whose excesses the king insists upon stopping. The disguise is foolish, because the god simply betrays the king to his antagonists; his mother is the first to attack him. What this has to do with Venus in Fur is the latter’s demonstration of the updated folly of a theatre director who believes that he can tame an ambitious actress.

You can see Vanda as an incarnation of Venus, as a goddess who has somehow descended upon a hapless and confused but also somewhat grandiose dramaturge. (The conceit of Thomas’s relation to the drama that he is trying to cast is intriguing, because, as the adapter of a novel who intends to direct a production of his adaptation, Thomas is nonetheless not the playwright.) You can imagine that the thunder and lightning that frame the show signal the presence of a dangerous divinity. Living in New York, however, it’s much easier to imagine Vanda as an intense striver determined to do anything to get a part, even if it means purloining a copy of the entire script, buying an assortment of surprisingly suitable props, and and stalking the director. Not to mention a willingness to deploy no fewer than three fatal instrumentalities. There is no real need to get all supernatural and stuff. But it’s fun to do so, because Venus in Fur is, at heart, a comedy about getting what you asked for.

Nina Arianda is very funny and very agile; she’s frankly acrobatic. But what sears her performance into the mind is her dangerousness. Even when she’s being A jolly ditz, as in the earlier part of Venus in Fur, she is clearly (dramatic irony!) not to be trusted. And when she slips from her late-stage Valley Girl like-lish into the husky, artistocratic tones of the baroness in Thomas’s adaptation, the effect is simultaneously hilarious and menacing. (Barbra Streisand and Nicole Kidman are the only other comediennes I can think of who are as agile at shifting registers faster than the blink of an eye.) But no matter how deeply her performance unsettles you, you walk out of the theatre on clouds, because you know that there are going to be at least three or four utterly memorable evenings ahead. Plays are going to be written for Nina Arianda.

Gotham Diary:
Aruba
10 November 2011

Thursday, November 10th, 2011

Since I’ve never been to the island of Aruba, my System 1, as Daniel Kahneman would call it, is free to invest the name with cognitive associations that have nothing to do with sun and sand. From now on, “Aruba” will trigger memories of the thrilling repudiation of motherhood that newly-widowed Rita Lyons announces to her shocked children toward the end of Nicky Silver’s play, The Lyons. Say “Aruba,” and I will see and hear petite Linda Lavin trumpeting, in that level monotone of hers that can splinter and spark without ever losing its deliberate, awful pace, a liberating post-maternal dismissal that, who knows, better chemistry might have made possible for Medea.  

Among other things, The Lyons is the most satisfying play as a whole that I’ve seen in a very long time. There are lots of great scenes — really, nothing but great scenes — and/but they cohere and lead to a final moment in which everything is resolved. Not for an instant did I think that the writing might have been managed better, and I can’t remember the last time I was entertained with so little personal effort. There’s a terrifying scene in the second act that you know is going to end badly, but your worst fear — that it will end tediously — is brilliantly allayed.

The other remarkable thing about The Lyons is the ferocious consistency of its comic vision. The sheer sweeping funniness of the show, which often banks off toward absurdity but never succumbs to it, dampens the audience’s instinctive need to sympathatise with somebody onstage. Sympathy is strongly discouraged by the playwright, but you’re laughing too hard to mind. This black comedy has a strong human heart, however; not a corpuscle of misanthropy will be found in its bloodstream. The Lyons are a bleak and broken family, but they’re all looking for love and terrified by it at the same time. They’re all hugely alive, even the dying head of the household (Dick Latessa). (There’s hope even for him — in the hell that he’s afraid of, no less.) You may not like any of the Lyons,  but you won’t be alienated by any of them, either, not even by creepy Curtis (Michael Esper). Nicky Silver has found a warm smile of kindness at the end of Edward Albee’s nightmare.

That smile warms the face of Kate Jennings Grant, playing Lyons daughter Lisa. Lisa has just made the profoundly believable discovery — credible both as a truth about human nature and as a bit of wisdom that someone might very well not stumble upon until middle age — that making somebody else happy can make you happy. It doesn’t always; life isn’t that easy. But maybe that’s what her mother ought to have tried to do, instead of trying to love her husband. At least Rita finally has the chance to make herself happy.

Oh, how I hope this show goes to Broadway!

Gotham Diary:
“It’s going to be a big hit.”
3 November 2011

Thursday, November 3rd, 2011

At dinner, after the play, it occurred to me that one explanation for the audience’s oddly tepid response to Zoe Kazan’s We Live Here, which we had just seen, toward the end of its run, at MTC, might be that the playwright forced the material for two rather different plays into a comedy-drama that runs for about two hours with intermission. Regular theatre-goers are all too familiar with the kind of show that begins with an awkward but funny family reunion, steadily leaks laugh lines, and bumps to a stop in soap-opera recriminations. Whatever the name for this dramatic form, Kazan has composed an excellent exemplar; We Live Here is an admirably well-made play, especially for a debut. The characters are intriguing and their secrets, strategically revealed, always turn out to be slightly different from their foreshadowing. But theatregoers have arguably had enough of this sort of thing, and, after all (sad to say), the extraordinary cast featured only one big name. There is much to like in We Live Here, but most of the members of last night’s audience wasn’t in the mood to look for it on their own.

They might have been more enticed, as I say, had Zoe Kazan cleared her work of one of her two stories and expanded the surviving one — and then, gone back and done the opposite. (We might even have had a double show, like Alan Ayckbourn’s House and Garden, performend simultaneously in adjacent theatres, with some but not all of the characters running back and forth between the two productions.) One play would be about the inability of two “happily married parents” to cope with their gifted children, at least one of whom is depressive. This play would expand on the Greek-myths angle that Kazan worked rather well into her textures; it would tell us more about a Harvard classics professor (Mark Blum) who is dumb enough to name his twin daughters Althea (Jessica Collins) and Andromeda, and about his wife (Amy Irving) who, deeply uninterested in scholarship of any kind, thinks the names are cute. This play would be about tempting fate, and fate’s taking up the challenge with a vengeance.

The other play would be about the fraught relations between the daughters, and this play would have more room for the men in their lives, two very different men who never had the chance, in We Live Here, to stand up to one another. Sandy (Jeremy Shamos), Althea’s fiancé, is such a good man that his prospective mother-in-law finds him “a bit gay.” Daniel (Oscar Isaac) is, in contrast, the sexy boy next door who is totally bad news; he comes equipped with that engine of destruction, a motorcycle. Stripped of the parents’ presence, the recognition scene in which Allie learns that Daniel has moved in on her younger sister, Dinah (Betty Gilpin), now “all grown up,” might have been incandescent, and not the occasion for a stagy blackout.

In the alternative (to splitting her play in two), Kazan might have insisted on a, shall we say, more Greek setting, and not the sprawling, many-chambered family home that bore the impress of a recent upgrade from television sitcom to legitimate theatre. Especially not a set so loaded with visual distractions. John Lee Beatty’s work, as usual, we eloquent, but that’s the problem: it constituted a mini-essay on the play, such that there was no need for any acting by people. Aspiration — books aplenty, the tail end of a grand piano, an easel painter’s kit — floated uneasily above middlebrow inattentiveness to detail; the boxes from Crate & Barrel served as more than ostensible wedding presents, and a marionette operation, in which they contrived to open themselves when the bride wasn’t present, would not have been ineffective at scoring the playwright’s main points. (I complained to Kathleen that there was not a single crave-worthy object on the stage; although I did fall into unwilling fascination with a Civil-War era armchair composed of tapestry and carved wood.) And the doors! Aside from the front door (nicely used), there were two sets of interior glass-paned doors and two ponderous pocket doors, one of which was briefly closed, the other of which was presented in half, thrust out toward the audience. I had no idea how six actors could fill such a space, and it turned out that they couldn’t. The best scene — the fiancé, trying to loosen up his sister-in-law-to-be, so that he can paint her portrait, asks Dinah about the things that she likes, and Betty Gilpin delivers a thrilling monologue of despair, desire, and barely-contained madness that howls for full-length dramatic treatment — the best scene takes place in a small corner of the domestic barn, the rest of which is momentarily consigned, by lighting director Ben Stanton, to darkness.  

I’d vote for the divided play, and the one with the parents could keep the complicated set. Amy Irving, reminding me at every turn of Dianne Wiest, was not the monster mom that might have tempted her with histrionic possibilities, but, more effectively, a parent who has come to terms, more or less, with her failures — and she has you wondering if that’s really a good thing. There isn’t time for Mark Blum to do more than deliver, very ably, some telling remarks on Aristotle and hamartia while looking chastened by the gods. There was a good story there, about how the plodding classics scholar caught the vibrant beauty, and how perhaps the relationship, like many Olympian ones, ought perhaps not to have produced offspring. Jerry Shamos did a great job with the thankless nice-guy role, while Oscar Isaac squirmed and jiggled as if sex itself were going to rip out of him, Aliens-style. It was the sisters, however, who owned the show. Where had I seen Jessica Collins before? This hugely distracting question bothered me throughout the first act; it wasn’t until the intermission that I could read that she starred in the ill-fated serial drama, Rubicon. Happily, I could give her second-act flashback into sullen, slutty adolescence, a master turn, my individed attention. Betty Gilpin I was well-prepared to admire; her performance in That Face is one of my most pungent theatrical memories. She did not disappoint, to say the least. At the end, after an eternity of wary circling and fake smiles, she and Ms Collins demonstrated that only the two sisters could put an end to the family curse.

***

For weeks, I’ve been asking the nice people at Crawford Doyle for a copy of Joan Didion’s Blue Nights, and, for weeks, they’ve been telling me that the book hasn’t come out yet. I finally joked that, by the time the book was actually published, I’d have read most of it in reviews. Blue Nights is a slim, somewhat gnomic volume, as you would expect, and I knew that my joke wasn’t the exaggeration that it might be. But it was the review that I read at lunch, yesterday, right before heading over to the bookshop for the now-available memoir, that surprised me with an almost unimaginable anecdote from Didion’s daughter’s childhood, extracted by Mary-Kay Wilmers in the LRB. Here’s the original:

I recall taking her, when she was four or five, up the coast to Oxnard to see Nicholas and Alexandra. On the drive home from Oxnard she referred to the czar and czarina as “Nicky and Sunny,” and said, when asked how she liked the picture, “I think it’s going to be a big hit.”

It turns out that there’s quite a lot of this vaguely Mommie Dearest material in Blue Nights, this time presented by Mommie, and I wonder how long it will be before a hailstorm of denunciation befalls Joan Didion. Premature viewing of a traumatically wound-up family saga cannot be causally linked to the fatal infection (or whatever it was) that killed Quintana Roo Dunne Michael, two years after her marriage, in 2005. But what about the disagnosis of “borderline personality disorder”? I doubt that anything in Blue Nights is going to dim my ardor for the rippling sinews and snapping tendons of Joan Didion’s art. But. “when she was four or five”? 

Gotham Diary:
Much Improved, Thanks
Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

Now, of course, I feel very silly. It turns out that common colds don’t make Remicade infusions unsafe. Every kind of fever and infection does, but not colds. So there was nothing to worry about all along. I was misinformed by an overzealous nurse; the rheumatologist set me straight. It turned out, though, that the Infusion Therapy Unit had me down for an infusion tomorrow. Coming back would have been a bore, but not a very great one; in the event, I didn’t have to — there was a vacancy. So I had the infusion after all and am determined to be Superman by Saturday at the latest.

We had Manhattan Theatre Club Tickets for this evening. We neither of us wanted to go, but we thought we’d better, so we did. (We couldn’t postpone, because the run of the show ends on Sunday.) We didn’t know anything at all about Daniel Goldfarb’s Cradle and All, but it turned out to be an almost perfect theatre piece (but for some journeyman longueurs in the second act). Maria Dizzia and Greg Keller played two couples, one per act, living in adjacent Brooklyn Heights apartments. One couple can’t agree about having a baby; the other’s has kept its parents from getting a good night’s rest for eleven months. The trials endured by the parents when they follow “expert” advice for getting their daughter to sleep on her own were bizarrely, electrically familiar. I had to wonder, though, who, aside from grandparents like me, Mr Goldfarb had in mind as his audience, because if there is one truth that’s not sufficiently universally acknowledged, it’s that new parents don’t go to the theatre.

And I really do believe that it would have killed my daughter and son-in-law to sit through — not a re-enactment, exactly, but, worse, an alternative hell. In other words, things could be different but just as bad. Neither of the parents appeared to be working, for one thing, and still… When, toward the end, the dad pours a glass of wine for himself and one for his wife, and she asks why they didn’t think to do this “five hours ago,” he blithely answers, “We’re Jews.” It brought the house down — that’s the sort of line that’s practically an old family joke for MTC subscribers, even the goyim. At one point, the mom finds a Sophie behind the sofa cushions and explodes with rapture: she has been looking for Sophie for weeks! A few minutes later, the dad has good reason to want the Sophie out of the way, so he tosses her right across the room, and, let me tell you, it is a shocking sight. If you don’t know what kind of an animal Sophie is, or why she’s so popular with today’s little ones, you’re just not cool (but I won’t tell). Which reminds me of the time that Megan mocked me for subscribing to Time Out New York: “You just want people to think you’re young.” Now she would be accusing me of making her produce a grandchild just so that I could catch all the allusions in a smart off-Broadway play.

In case I don’t get round to writing up Cradle and All properly, let me say that the two actors were great. Ms Dizzia is very beautiful, even when she’s not, and Mr Keller reminded me more than once of that whole-deck-of-cards-up-my-sleeve virtuosity of Mark Rylance.

Rialto Note:
Good People, at MTC

Thursday, April 28th, 2011

Our evening of strong theatre and tasty dinner was mussed at the end, when we couldn’t get a taxi. The weather was lovely and it wasn’t late, but every taxi that passed by was taken. An off-duty driver who declined to take us mumbled something about President Obama, who, we would find out later, was in town for the evening. (There ought to be a law banning sitting presidents from the island of Manhattan — and they can stash the United Nations in Queens while they’re at it.) I never did figure out a connection between the president and the dearth of free taxis. By the time Kathleen finally hailed one, we were a block from the subway entrance at 51st and Lex, a long way from the theatre. If I’d known that there was going to be a problem with the taxis, I’d have shepherded us to the N train at 49th Street, and we’d have been home in no time. But there was no indication of a taxi problem, and I was sorely vexed by the stupidity of it all. I didn’t feel entitled to a taxi; what I felt entitled to, as a city dweller, was better information. Standing on a streetcorner waiting for a taxi that is never going to come seems definitionally stupid, and the worst thing about the stupidity of others is that it’s contagious; it annoys me so much that I become stupid, too. 

Stupidity was much on my mind after the performance of David Lindsay-Abaire’s new play, Good People, that we saw at MTC. One aspect of the play — it’s flawed aspect, if you ask me — is the problem that a woman from South Boston, Margaret, can’t hold a job. Without an education, Margaret can’t earn enough to pay someone reliable to look after her daughter, a grown woman in years only, born prematurely with severe impairment. This is a terrible predicament, obviously, but it is not a dramatic one, and not essential to the action. It has been laid over the real story as a kind of insurance, because of course the (affluent) audience will be disturbed (and engaged) by Margaret’s struggle to survive. That no one should be faced with such struggles is as obvious as the evil of the struggle itself. What’s stupid about Margaret’s situation is that she usually loses her job because she doesn’t show up on time. Her car has been repossessed, or her caregiver of the moment is sleeping off a hangover, or whatever. This subjects her to the moronic caprice of managers who swear by time sheets. I don’t think that the playwright wants us to meditate on the stupidity of treating workers — especially ill-paid ones — like pieces of machinery that differ from real machinery in shouldering responsibility for their own good repair. The injustice of it, perhaps. But only a stupid person would hold Margaret’s unpunctuality against her, whatever its causes, provided that Margaret otherwise did her job. It’s stupid (but widespread among the dim bulbs who manage American workers) to regard showing up on time as an important part of any menial job. This a point that doesn’t give a dramatist much to work with. Stupidity always betrays itself by its failure to be interesting. 

Margaret was played by the formidable Frances McDormand, one of the more terrifying actresses working today. With the savage impassivity of an ancient demigod, she can lead from sociable greeting to searing question from which all flinching evasion is impossible. And that is Margaret’s role in Good People: she is a nemesis brought forward to sort out the bourgeois vainglory of an old flame by the name of Mike (Tate Donovan). Mike escaped the South End by dint of scholarships, and he is now a prosperous reproductive endocrinologist, with a wife and daughter and a house in Chestnut Hill. He has fidelity issues, we learn, but there’s something more interesting the matter with him: he can’t let his Southie past go. He has become active with a boys’ club, which is how, after all these years, he gets picked up on Margaret’s radar. Otherwise, he has nothing to do with the old neighborhood itself, but he wears a romanticized version of his youth as a “hoodlum” that clearly gains him traction in the relatively rarefied professional circles in which he actually lives. His wife, Kate (Renée Elise Goldsberry), is the daughter of an eminent African-American doctor in Washington, under whom Mike trained, and she is clearly drawn to him because he had the rough life that ought to have been hers by virtue of skin color. Mike’s hubris compels him to pretend that he is still a Southie beneath the polish. 

Which is why he yields to Margaret’s challenge. Having heard about his boys’ club activities, Margaret is encouraged to visit his office for old-time’s sake and also to ask him for a job. (I am convinced that Mr Lindsay-Abaire could have thought of a less melodramatic but equally urgent pretext for Margaret’s visit; I can think of at least one very good one.) In the  course of their edgy banter — Margaret has pretty much elbowed her way into Mike’s office — it evolves that Kate is going to be throwing Mike a big birthday party in a few days. Desperately bold, Margaret asks if she can come. Perhaps, she says, one of his friends will have an opening. But then again, she adds, perhaps he would be ashamed of her. Mike is too vain to admit this — to acknowledge that he has become someone who would be embarrassed for his old Southie buddies (much less an old girlfriend) to meet his new friends and associates. There is nothing at all generous about the invitation that he eventually extends. 

Nor, for the matter of that, is there anything friendly about Margaret’s acceptance. When, a day or so later, Mike calls to tell her that the party has been canceled because his daughter is sick, she doesn’t believe him; she tells her friends that she has been “disinvited.” She decides to go out to Chestnut Hill (which she has never visited before) anyway. This provides the playwright with the opportunity to write a virtuoso scene for three people, and Mr Lindsay-Abaire rises beautifully to the occasion. A digest of Margaret’s evening with Mike and Kate would yield a catalgue of dramatic peripeties that would make Aristotle hop, and yet the action flows naturally through its arduous twists. (Part of the secret is that the audience is in on all the secrets beforehand.) With only minor changes in accent and tone, this long scene might have climbed to a genuinely tragic dénouement; Mr Donovan and Ms Goldsberry would have been Ms McDormand’s equal in rendering plausible tragedy. I don’t for a minute fault the playwright for declining to pursue that option. It’s enough that he makes its possibility felt. 

For Good People is a comedy at heart — another reason why the out-of-work plot point seems heavy-handed. When she is not barging in on canceled parties, Margaret lives her days in the old neighborhood, hoping to win at Bingo. The other people in her world, aside from the offstage child, are Stevie (Patrick Carroll), the dollar store manager who’s required by his manager to fire her, Jean (Becky Ann Baker), the hotel waitress who bumps into Mike at a boys’ club affair, and Dottie, Margaret’s pepetually soused landlady, a woman with Phyllis Diller hair and a heart of stone. Estelle Parsons almost steals Good People as Dottie; Dottie is rude, vulgar, dim and self-justifying, and Estelle Parsons makes her funny at all of that. (The ghost of Mary Louise Burke’s performances in Fuddy Meers and Kimberly Akimbo lingers in the way the part has been written.) But Ms Baker and Mr Campbell managed not to be eclipsed by the clowning. Frances McDormand finds new depths to deadpan, and her Margaret, a shambolic mess on paper, is a woman to reckon with. 

John Lee Beatty’s versatile set, with its camera-shutter curtain, was beautifully lighted by Pat Collins, and David Zinn’s costumes were just right; they might have been much bleaker. Margaret’s party turnout (especially her inadequately set hair) deserves special mention.

Rialto Note:
Arcadia, at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre

Wednesday, April 20th, 2011

As I watched Tom Riley play the part of Septimus Hodge in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia, a play that’s making its Broadway premieire sixteen years after its off-Broadway debut, I tried to remember what Billy Crudup was like in the role the first time round. Making this exercise doubly difficult was the presence of Mr Crudup himself on the stage, now playing the part of Bernard Nightingale. Septimus Hodge belongs to the “early” part of the action, which begins in 1809 and ends a few years later; Bernard Nightingale is our contemporary. The two time frames do not share the stage much until the action in both thickens toward the doubled climax, but every time Mr Crudup burst upon the scene he scattered his earlier persona into atoms. His long hair and sober, late-Eighteenth Century demeanor were replaced by a trim cut, a slim suit jacket, and spruce jeans, but mostly it was the smirk that did it. Septimu Hodge might smile, and his smile might drip condescension; but he doesn’t smirk. Bernard Nightingale is a smirk, even in disaster. (And how could he not be? Bill Nighy created the role, in 1993.) I knew that I had seen Billy Crudup as Hodge, but I couldn’t bring his Hodge back. 

The recurrence of Billy Crudup in Arcadia, playing a different role — that of a somewhat older man — is arguably the most marvelous things about this production, not because the actor does a fine job (which he most certainly does) but because the recurrence itself points to the deeper meaning of the play. Arcadia is generally thought to be an intellectually demanding play (as are most of Mr Stoppard’s), and there are certainly passages of expository discussion that require the complete attention of an educated mind. But these moments are actually as rare as they are in real life, which Arcadia, for all its artistry and illusion, more closely captures than most dramas. Most of the characters are very intelligent people, and they talk about things that interest them with wit and passion. These exchanges are never as decorative as they might seem, because they always refer to the deeper meaning that I mentioned; but they are not what the play is “about,” either. 

Arcadia, as a poetic place, dates to the High Renaissance, when the baggage of the classical past was heavily recycled for modern purposes. A mountainous region of the Peloponnese peninsula lent its name to a mythological earthly paradise of nymphs, shepherds, and fragrant bowers. When Philip Sidney imagined it as a getaway for blasé courtiers, the rough edges were cleaned up, and unpleasant possibilities were wrapped up in the enigmatic phrase, Et in Arcadia ego. In lieu of a leisurely ramble through Erwin Panofsky’s famous essay on the subject of this inscription, which famously appears on one painting by Guercino and on two by Poussin, we will come straight to the point, which is that the earlier Poussin hangs at Chatsworth House, one of the most stately homes in England and home, until recently, of the playwright’s good friend Deborah Devonshire.

While it would be as silly to argue that Arcadia is “about” Chatsworth as it would be to say that the play is “about” the laws of entropy and thermodynamics, the slippages of historiography, or the art of landscaping, I became convinced that the play really is about breathing the very real “Arcadian” atmosphere that obtains at England’s great estates — especially the ones that have been held on to by the same family for centuries. It is about spending hours in rooms and beneath trees with someone who might be the Duchess of Something-or-other, and wondering what it might have been like to sit next to an earlier bearer of that title  in the very same spot, a century or two ago. Or perhaps to play with a boy called Lord Augustus. In Arcadia, there are two such boys, played by the same actor, one of them long buried in his grave, the other immured in something like autism. Above all, Arcadia is an essay in the fruitfulness of death.

The Coverly family, headed by the Lord Croom of the moment, resides at Sidley Park in Derbyshire (the home of Chatworth and also of Mr Darcy’s fictional Pemberley — a region of rough, “Arcadian” terrain). We never meet a Lord Croom, and a fine essay could be composed on the playwright’s elegant elision of several “characters” — most remarkably, Lord Byron, the play’s McGuffin — but we do meet a Lady Croom and a total of five Coverly children. Lady Croom and two young Coverlys appear in the play’s earlier time frame, set, as I’ve said, in the middle of the Napoleonic brouhaha. The principal action here is anything but: Lady Thomasina Coverly, whom we realize is a natural mathematical genius, teases her suave and handsome tutor, Septimus Hodge, while nursing a crush on him. Not much happens in the course of this period badinage, but from background, lusty Lady Croom, the poetaster Ezra Chater, whom Septimus has apparently cuckholded, a stentorian Naval officer, a landscape architect called Richard Noakes, and a portly butler all emerge to distract the tutor. A climax is reached when Septimus recognizes the enormity of Thomasina’s amateur discoveries. Thanks to the second, later time frame, we know what happens next, and this makes the end of Arcadia immensely poignant, but learning about it from characters posited two centuries later has the effect of muting the sorrow. Thus the play itself dabbles in the practice of history, contrasting events with the traces that they leave to the future. 

In the later time frame, three Coverly children are gathered at Sidley Park, Valentine, Chloë, and Gus. Also on hand are Hannah Jarvis, an unorthodox — non-academic — literary historian, and, presently, Bernard Nightgale, an altogether more conventional (and unbearable) opportunist from Sussex. Bernard is on the scent of a sensational scandal involving a duel fought long ago — during the earlier time frame. Hannah is researching “the hermit of Sidley Park,” a creature who eked out a mysterious, raving living in an ornamental structure designed and built by Noakes back in — you guessed it. Dramatic irony has never been put to such self-expressive use: as Bernard and Hannah and Valentine chatter away about what “must” have happened long ago at Sidley Park, we know what did, because we just saw it happen.

The climax here mirrors that of the earlier frame: Hannah hits on the answer to her question, and knows who the hermit was. And we’re as sure in our gut that she’s right as she is, even though none of us can be sure. Something deep has happened in the grand but spare room, giving out onto the park, on which we’ve been flies on the wall for several hours; something equally deep has happened much later: the excavation of the earlier depth. These moments are almost simultaneous, and their theatrical impact is like nothing else. The passage of time — real and dramatic — is canceled and ratified in the same instant. As if in homage to the Arcadian entertainments of the Renaissance, Mr Stoppard ends the play with two couples of nymphs and shepherds dancing a simple, wordless ballet. 

Arcadia calls for a cast of twelve, half of whom really have to be stars. The new production, directed by David Leveaux, burns with brilliant talent. Tom Riley and Billy Crudup, I’ve already mentioned, are superb as Septimus Hodge and Bernard Nightingale. (Mr Crudup may well have a corner on playing characters whom we like to dislike.) Bel Powley’s Thomasina was endearingly brash; I only wish that the makeup that she wore at the end had not brought Ann Miller to mind. I hope that we’ll get to see more of Lia Williams; she puts her own fine stamp on the role of the earthily impatient Hannah. Raul Esparza disappeared so completely into the diffident Val that I didn’t recognize him until the interval, and Margaret Colin, as Lady Croom, demonstrated that she will make a fine Lady Bracknell someday. (“But surely a hermit who takes a newspaper is not a hermit in whom one can have complete confidence.”) Grace Gummer, the engagingly ingénue daughter of you-know-who, and Noah Robbins held their own as Chloë and Gus Coverly. David Turner was agreeable in the thankless role of Ezra Chater. Byron Jennings, Edward James Hyland, and Glenn Fleshler all sparkled as Noakes, the butler, and the Naval officer, respectively — stock parts that only a playwright of Tom Stoppard’s stature would be permitted to include. Hildegard Bechtler, Donald Holder, and Gregory Gale rose to the challenge of giving Arcadia the sets, lighting, and costumes that a Broadway revival demands; the warm simplicity of their effects invited us all to sojourn for a while in a myth whose power we might have discounted.