Seen Off Broadway:

One of the great revelations of recent seasons has been the emergence of Liev Schreiber as a skilled Shakespearean leading man. That’s why, in the current Public Theatre/Shakespeare in the Park production of Henry V, it’s disconcerting to see him nearly upstaged by director Mark Wing-Davey. No one should have to contend with Wing-Davey’s gimmick-a-minute approach--to wit: the clergy’s argument against France is staged as a kind of medieval Powerpoint presentation; Pistol (Bronson Pinchot) and Nell Quickly become a pair of Brooklyn greasers with Noo Yawk accents, the French King and his court appear in bathing suits; when they turn around, letters on the back of their robes spell out “Vive La Guerre!”

Schreiber seizes the stage in Henry V Photo: Michal Daniel.

But, like Henry rallying the troop on St. Crispin’s Day, Schreiber leads an adept company--including Steven Rattazzi’s lucid Chorus, Daniel Oreskes’s dignified Duke of Exeter, and Peter Gerety’s touching Fluellen—to a series of tactical successes. Best of all, Nicole Leach scores a mini tour-de-force in two roles, as Falstaff’s page and Princess Katherine of France; the scene in which Henry woos Katherine across their language divide, aided by her attendant (the primly hilarious Mercedes Herrero) is a high-comedy gem. The design is well-executed, although there is, arguably, too much of it. Mark Wendland’s setting is dominated by dozens of gold chairs, plus an upstage bridge with a billboard that features, among other things, a giant state portrait of Henry and Katherine. Gabriel Berry’s costumes begin with a period look then switch over to more eclectic territory; some of it is superb (Katherine’s dresses) and some of it is silly (those bathrobes, Pistol’s sleazy tuxedo). David Weiner pulls off some stunning lighting effects, particularly in the battle scenes. The sound design by Acme Sound Partners is a fluid blend of music and effects, although sometimes it overpowers the actors; still, the Acme team has achieved a major upgrade in sound quality at the Delacorte Theatre. That’s a lot to pick at in this production, but it does have certain sweep, an intelligent and well-spoken cast, and a magnetic star. What more do you want for free?

Michael Cunningham’s novel Flesh and Blood follows one Long Island family through five decades of wrenching changes. It begins with the bullying, driven Greek immigrant Constantine Stassos, who gets rich building cheap housing developments, and his unhappy, self-doubting wife Mary. It continues with their three children: Susan, a suburban matron; Billy, a gay schoolteacher; and Zoe, who drifts around the East Village picking up drugs and men. It concludes with Jamal, Zoe’s son by a black lover, and Ben, Susan’s “perfect” son, who is crippled by a violent, inexplicable self-hatred. The novel is highly readable, but Cunningham struggles to keep control of his unwieldy plot; a similar problem plagues Peter Gaitens’ stage adaptation, now at New York Theatre Workshop.

Cherry Jones finds family life is no party in Flesh and Blood Photo: Joan Marcus.

Even with a running time of three and a half hours, it’s all Gaiten can do to get the story on stage; what’s missing are the little details, moments of insight, and bits of narrative connective tissue that you keep interested in these characters. The result is a churning soap opera about a family torn by homosexuality, incest, adultery, AIDS, and various secrets and lies. Even with his extreme fidelity to the book, Gaitens oversimplifies and sanitizes the subplot about Ben and Jamal until it doesn’t really make any sense, which kills the power of the final scenes. In addition, Doug Hughes’ production is not well-cast. John Sierros’ Constantine isn’t the menacing loose cannon of the book; Mary’s gnawing insecurities are obliterated by Cherry Jones’ self-assured portrayal. (You’ll really wonder how these two ever got together.) A deeper problem is the story’s essential banality: do we really need to hear again that the 1950s suburban ideal was not all it was cracked up to be? Do we really need another all-wise drag queen like Cassandra, Zoe’s friend, whose main function is to dispense little nuggets of truth to the others? In spite of its extreme length, the production is reasonably well-paced, and there is good work from Jessica Hecht as Susan, Peter Frechette as Billy’s steadfast lover Harry, and Martha Plimpton, who visibly ages as Zoe succumbs to AIDS. Christine Jones’ unit setting—two walls and a staircase in front of bare trees—is drab and generic and Scott Zielinski’s no-color lighting adds the general pall. David Van Tieghem’s sound design is awfully minimal; more scene-setting cues would have been helpful. On the other hand, Paul Tazewell’s costumes are first-rate, nailing each time period with notable accuracy. Flesh and Blood is an interesting experiment, I guess, but great plays are made of different materials.

Café a Go Go was seen in London under the title A Slice of Saturday Night, where, according to the program, it broke records, had four national tours, plus 300 more productions in nine languages. I have no explanation for this. Yet another nightclub show posing as a musical, Café a Go Go wants to do for the British Invasion what Grease did for 50s rock and roll. But I’m afraid it’s a no-go. The action, set in a London clubs circa 1966, is non-existent; the script consists mostly of raging-hormone jokes. The score hasn’t been composed so much as sampled from period hits--one song features the exact same chord progression found in ”Summer Lovin,” from Grease--but the results are strictly B-side stuff. There’s a song about vomiting, another about premature ejaculation. One number is performed, in its entirety, offstage; I’m still trying to figure that one out.

Cafe a Go Go Photo: Carol Rosegg.

The scenery, lighting, and sound, by Cameron Anderson, Rick Sands, and Janet Kalas, look to be the products of too little time and money. (I felt bad for Kalas who has to contend with the loudest air-conditioner in New York). Brian Giacchetto is billed as costume coordinator, but his work is at least amusing, providing an extensive catalogue of 60s fashion crimes. Be warned that the show includes some participation—you will be urged to get up and dance with the cast. The producers also gave us Tony and Tina’s Weddding; they shouldn’t expect a similar success.--David Barbour


Dirty Pretty Things Photo: Laurie Sparham/Miramax Films.

Seen at the Movies: Stephen Frears’ Dirty Pretty Things is a beautifully made but very strange film about illegal immigrants in London and the lengths they go to change their status. The protagonist is Okwe (an excellent Chiwetel Ejiofor), a Nigerian doctor who in England is confined to work by day as a taxi driver and by night as a hotel desk clerk. At the latter location, he stumbles across a black market operation in human organs, and is able to practice his profession for the first time since leaving his native country. There are a few gruesome sequences involving kidney removals, and the overall air of queasiness is enhanced by DP Chris Menges’ propensity for blue-green light. On the other hand, the movie and its imagery burst with vitality, and the cast comprises an engagingly motley crew, from Audrey Tautou as a Turkish hotel maid to Sergi Lopez as the oily ringleader of the hotel’s illicit operations. Production designer Hugo Luczyc-Wyhowski makes expert use of the unusual London locations, and gives the hotel rooms, which are mostly built sets, the feel of locations, too. Dirty Pretty Things is a little too schematic in its view of exploiters and exploited, but it’s well worth seeing.--John Calhoun

Heard From the Other Coast: Yesterday’s Emmy nominations boasted few surprises, except maybe that the fading West Wing still carries enough clout to rack up 15 nods, second only to Six Feet Under’s 16 nominations. Following are nominees in some of the “creative” categories.

Outstanding Art Direction For A Multi-Camera Series

John Shaffner, Production Designer
Joe Stewart, Art Director
Greg Grande, Set Decorator

Sabrina, The Teenage Witch
Scott Heineman, Production Designer
Julie Kaye Fanton, S.D.S.A. , Set Decorator

That ‘70s Show
Garvin Eddy, Production Designer
Tara Stephenson, Set Decorator

Will & Grace
Glenda Rovello, Art Director
Melinda Ritz, Set Decorator

Outstanding Art Direction For A Single-Camera Series

Scott Chambliss, Production Designer
Cecele De Stefano, Art Director
Karen Manthey, Set Decorator

Sex And The City
Jeremy Conway, Production Designer
Fredda Slavin, Art Director
Stephen Carter, Art Director
Karin Wiesel Holmes, S.D.S.A., Set Decorator

Six Feet Under
Suzuki Ingerslev, Production Designer
Philip Dagort, Art Director
Rusty Lipscomb, S.D.S.A., Set Decorator

The West Wing
Kenneth Hardy, Production Designer
Ellen Totleben, Set Decorator

Without A Trace
Aaron Osborne, Production Designer
Jeannie Gunn, Set Decorator

Oustanding Art Direction For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special

Hitler: The Rise Of Evil
Marek Dobrowski, Production Designer
Martin Martinek, Art Director
Albrecht Konrad, Art Director
Karel Vanasek, Key Set Decorator

Live From Baghdad
Richard Hoover, Production Designer
Matthew C. Jacobs, Art Director
Brian Kasch, Set Decorator

Meredith Willson's The Music Man
Stephen Hendrickson, Production Designer
Edward Bonutto, Art Director
Caroline George-Kohne, Set Decorator

My House In Umbria
Luciana Arrighi, Production Designer
Maria Cristina Onori, Art Director
Alessandra Querzola, Set Decorator

Richard Cunin, Production Designer
Remy Jouvin-Bessiere, Art Director
Real Proulx, Set Decorator

Outstanding Art Direction For A Variety Or Music Program

75th Annual Academy Awards
Roy Christopher, Production Designer
Greg Richman, Art Director
Tamlyn Wright, Art Director
Keaton Walker, Art Director

Cedric The Entertainer Presents
Bruce Ryan, Production Designer
James Yarnell, Art Director
Dwight Jackson, Set Decorator

The 45th Annual Grammy Awards
Bob Keene, Production Designer
Brian Stonestreet, Art Director
Alex Fuller, Art Director
Griff Lambert, Art Director

John Sabato, Production Designer
D. Martyn Bookwalter, Art Director
Daryn Reid Goodall, Set Decorator

Survivor – Thailand
Kelly Van Patter, Production Designer
Jesse Jensen, Art Director

Outstanding Cinematography For A Multi-Camera Series

Everybody Loves Raymond
Mike Berlin, Director of Photography

Ken Lamkin, A.S.C. , Director of Photography

Nick McLean, Cinematographer

Donald A. Morgan, A.S.C. , Director of Photography

My Big Fat Greek Life
Gil Hubbs, Director of Photography

Will & Grace
Tony Askins, A.S.C. , Director of Photography

Outstanding Cinematography For A Single-Camera Series

Michael Bonvillain, Director of Photography

CSI: Miami
Michael D. O'Shea, A.S.C. , Director of Photography

Six Feet Under
Alan Caso, A.S.C. , Director of Photography

The West Wing
Thomas Del Ruth, A.S.C., Director of Photography

Outstanding Cinematography For A Miniseries Or Movie

Door To Door
Jan Kiesser, A.S.C. , Director of Photography

Hunter: Back In Force
John C. Flinn III, A.S.C. , Director of Photography

Hysterical Blindness
Declan Quinn, Director of Photography

Live From Baghdad
Ivan Strasburg, B.S.C. , Director of Photography

Out Of The Ashes
Donald M. Morgan, Director of Photography

Outstanding Costumes For A Series

Laura Goldsmith, Costume Designer

American Dreams
Chrisi Karvonides Dushenko, Costume Designer

Sex And The City
Patricia Field, Costume Designer

Six Feet Under
Jill Ohanneson, Costume Designer

That '70s Show
Melina Root, Costume Designer

Outstanding Costumes For A Miniseries, Movie Or A Special

Hitler: The Rise Of Evil
Maria Schicker, Costume Designer

Meredith Willson's The Music Man
Joseph Porro, Costume Designer

My House In Umbria
Nicoletta Ercole, Costume Designer

Pierre-Jean Larroque, Costume Designer

Tennessee Williams' The Roman Spring Of Mrs. Stone
Dona Granata, Costume Designer

Outstanding Costumes For A Variety Or Music Program

Cher - The Farewell Tour
Bob Mackie, Cher's Costume Designer
Hugh Durrant, Dancers' Costume Designer

Wendy Benbrook, Costume Designer

The First Annual Miss Dog Beauty Pageant
Sharon Day, Costume Designer

Saturday Night Live
Tom Broecker, Costume Designer
Eric Justian Assistant Costume Designer

Outstanding Lighting Direction

75th Annual Academy Awards
Robert A. Dickinson, Lighting Designer
Robert Barnhart, Lighting Director
Andy O'Reilly, Lighting Director

American Idol
Kieran Healy, Lighting Designer
George Harvey, Lighting Director
Matt Ford, Lighting Director
Cher - The Farewell Tour
Robert A. Dickinson, Lighting Designer (TV)
Abby Holmes, Lighting Designer
Kille Knobel, Lighting Director
Bob Barnhart, Lighting Director
Matt Firestone, Lighting Director
Rolling Stones - Licks World Tour, Live From Madison Square Garden
Patrick Woodroffe, Lighting Designer
Robert Barnhart, Lighting Director
Dave Hill, Lighting Director
Jim Straw, Lighting Director
Ethan Weber, Lighting Director