Seen on Broadway:

Pauline Kael once wrote that Vanessa Redgrave has the most expressive hands of any actress, and the proof of that is onstage at the Plymouth Theatre, where Redgrave is playing poor, lost, drug-addicted Mary Tyrone in Robert Falls’ revival of Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey into Night. The actress has worked her hands into arthritic gnarls for the role, yet, even so, she uses them so fluidly and expressively that one is spellbound. There’s a terrifying moment at the end of the first act, when, left alone, she absent-mindedly feigns playing the piano, her twisted fingers beating out rhythms on a tabletop. What initially looks like a nervous habit quickly turns into a sign of slowly-mounting terror, as you realize that Mary is slipping back into the hell of addiction. There are many such moments--in one hair-raising scene, she literally claws the walls of the set, crying, "Mother of God, why am I so lonely?"--but suffice it to say that this is a wildly risky, wholly original performance that pays off magnificently. I’ve seen Mary Tyrone played as a living ghost (Constance Cummings), a depressive (Bethel Leslie), and as one of the furies (Colleen Dewhurst); I’ve never seen the intensive, clinical depiction of a drug addict that Redgrave has created. It’s no disrespect to say that Redgrave’s co-stars, Brian Dennehy, Philip Seymour, and Robert Sean Leonard are giving more conventional performances; thanks to all four, and Fall’s direction, this is the most harrowing Long Day’s Journey I’ve ever seen. Santo Loquasto’s setting turns the Tyrone’s dilapidated Connecticut cottage into a kind of wooden tomb, with soaring walls rising oppressively over the action; his costumes, especially Redgrave’s virginal white dress, feel deeply authentic. Brian MacDevitt’s lighting acts as a kind of evening-long iris effect, tightening relentlessly to create the effect of darkness closing in on the Tyrones. Richard Woodbury’s effectively evokes the fog horn that haunts Mary Tyrone so much. At the end of the day, however, it is Redgrave who gives this production its particular distinction. This is a performance that people will be talking about for years to come.


Long Day's Journey into Night photo: Joan Marcus

The most dramatic event of the season is Gypsy, and I’m not talking about the production itself. The pre-opening gossip, the nasty newspaper columns, the post-opening drama of Bernadette Peters’ absences, have made it the most talked-about show in town. Having finally seen it, I can report that it is an intelligently staged and designed production with an essentially miscast star who nevertheless gives it everything she’s got. As Mama Rose, who drives her children in show business, Peters is a commanding presence at all times, and, even fighting a cold, her delivery of the 11:00 number "Rose’s Turn" is something to experience. Still, there’s something missing in her characterization; she does incisive work in certain scenes, achieving a chilling intensity. But her Mama Rose is never the driving force that the play requires--she’s not the needy, pushy, hilarious, ultimately tragic character that makes Gypsy a wrenching, unforgettable drama. Mama Rose is a true tragic heroine and, in Peters’ hands, she inspires terror but no pity. In addition, Sam Mendes’ production, while thoughtful in many respects, loses a lot of the script’s humor--there are countless instances where actors lose laughs by giving strictly naturalistic readings to Arthur Laurents’ peerless wisecracks. On the plus side, Tammy Blanchard is very touching as Rose’s daughter, Louise, who becomes famous as Gypsy Rose Lee, and the three strippers (Heather Lee, Kate Buddeke, and Julie Halston) who perform "You Gotta Get a Gimmick" are the most hilarious I’ve ever seen; as Electra, Halston gets a seismic laugh even before she opens her mouth. Anthony Ward’s ingenious production design is conceived as a series of small-scale sets on an otherwise empty stage, and there some beautiful, Edward Hopper-style backdrops. His costumes are beautifully detailed as well. Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer do some of their most subtle and restrained lighting work, shaping each musical number with an almost invisible skill. Acme Sound Partners have provided their usual professional job of reinforcement. Gypsy is still Gypsy, and the Jule Styne-Stephen Sondheim score is still the greatest. Seeing it on the Monday after she returned from a week-long illness, Peters received a justly deserved standing ovation; still, as the curtain came down, I don’t think there was a wet eye in the house. --David Barbour


Gypsy photo: Joan Marcus

Seen at the Movies: Why have moviemakers suddenly gone Ross Hunter-crazy? In the aftermath of Todd Haynes’ Douglas Sirk homage Far from Heaven comes Down with Love, a Doris Day-Rock Hudson-inspired sex comedy directed by Bring It On auteur Peyton Reed. Ewan McGregor and Renee Zellweger play the circa-1962 lovers in this delirious throwback; David Hyde Pierce (who else?) takes on the sexually ambiguous Tony Randall sidekick role, while an octogenarian Randall himself turns up in a couple of scenes. The movie is an all-around kitsch fest, though it’s hard to tell if multiplex middle America will be able to make much more sense of it than they did of Far from Heaven.

The difference is that Reed and screenwriters Eve Ahlert and Dennis Drake, unlike Haynes, are not up to anything seriously discursive in Down with Love. They’re just amping up the deluxe trappings of the Day-Hudson vehicles and making their steady stream of innuendo more blatant. It’s the former aspect of the film that really makes it worth seeing. Twentieth Century Fox has revived its old Cinemascope header for the film, and DP Jeff Cronenweth gets into the widescreen, Day-Glo mood with a vengeance. Andrew Laws’ sets are ooh-and-aah-inspiringly demented, from McGregor’s swinging bachelor pad, which comes complete with a button for everything from music to lights to foldout couch, to Zellweger’s pink-and-white bachelorette digs with a cutout Manhattan skyline view. The costumes, by Daniel Orlandi, are suitably hallucinogenic. Zellweger foregoes the stiff Doris Day hairstyle only to compensate with a series of wardrobe ensembles that seem built of equal parts wool and starch. The leading lady, whose naturalistic acting bent leaves her seeming a bit more uncomfortable than the reliably game McGregor, appears to be under constant attack by her standing-at-attention collars and millinery. Be sure to stay put for Down with Love’s closing credits, which feature the stars dueting on a love theme composed by Hairspray maestro Marc Shaiman. --John Calhoun


Down with Love photos: Twentieth Century Fox/Regency Enterprises

Seen Off Broadway: In books like Shadows on the Hudson, Enemies: A Love Story, and Meshugah, Isaac Bashevis Singer explored the fate of Jewish Holocaust survivors facing spiritual and psychological displacement in 1950s New York. Emily Mann has adapted Meshugah to the stage, in a production directed by Loretta Greco for Naked Angels. In the theatre, Meshugah emerges as a heavy-hearted and heavy-handed tale of a love affair shadowed by the past. Ned Eisenberg stars as Aaron Greidinger, a columnist for the Jewish Daily Forward who enters into an affair with Miriam Zalkind, a Polish refugee. At first Aaron is happy with the arrangement, which is, in fact, a ménage à trois with the older Max Aberdam (Ben Hammer). Gradually, however, he is forced to face a series of disturbing revelations about Miriam’s past. The play never really comes to life, another case of literary material that somehow defies dramatization, in spite of often gripping work by Eisenberg and Marvel. Michael Brown’s spare setting is a risky concept: The back wall consists of a series of squares and it’s not until the final moments that you really understand what it’s all about. James Vermeulen’s lighting is nothing short of superb, working cinematically, as a series of close-ups and long shots. Valerie Marcus’ costumes are beautiful period specimens; I was especially impressed by the detail in the men’s suits. Rob Kaplowitz’s sound design includes some oddly cued music (which he also wrote), but includes some impeccably done effects--traffic, restaurants, and a collage of jazz and other sounds at one particularly dramatic moment. Plays based on Singer’s work--like Yentland Teibele and Her Demon--never seem to work; Meshugah is yet another example that Singer’s stories are better left on the page.


Meshugah photo: Bill Strong

Dorothy Parker is rarely recalled as a Broadway dramatist but her 1953 effort, The Ladies of the Corridor, written with Arnaud d’Usseau, was critically admired. Still, it flopped, and it’s easy to see why: This unsparing depiction of the lives of lonely women in a posh Manhattan hotel hits a single note of bitterness. The play focuses on three women in particular: Lulu Ames, a middle-aged widow from Akron who botches an affair with a younger man; Grace, an elderly invalid who blackmails her son into living with her; and Mildred, an alcoholic, separated from her husband and bent on self-destruction. You have to appreciate the author's unsparing honesty and there are some priceless wisecracks, as you would expect. (Jo Ann Cunningham, as a bitchy interior decorator, lands several big laughs with her withering remarks.) Furthermore, a couple of the second-act confrontations are hair-raising, when Lulu desperately tries to holds on to her young lover or when Grace reveals exactly how she plans to bring her son to heel. But at this late date, the play is a little monotonous in its depiction of a lost world; it’s clear from the first scene that nothing will end happily--and nothing does. Chris Jones’ (not to be confused with Christine Jones) hotel lobby setting requires some lengthy adjustments between scenes as the action moves all over the hotel. Dana Sterling’s lighting has a couple of neat effects, especially a window-frame that glows eerily and invitingly to a suicidal tenant. Amy C. Bradshaw’s costumes are amazingly good, given the play’s cast of 14 and what must have been a low budget. There is no sound designer credited, although there is a sound design, in the form of jazz music and Mabel Mercer recordings between scenes. It’s terrific that the Peccadillo Theatre Company resurrects these lost Broadway plays (as the company did with The Shanghai Gesture last October). If not really successful, it is a fascinating historical document and any fan of Parker will have to take it in. --DB


The Ladies of the Corridor photo: Michael Tedesco

Seen & Heard at the Museum: For the past 18 months, the Hall of Ocean Life (or "the whale room" as it is commonly referred to) at the American Museum of Natural History in New York City has been undergoing a massive renovation. The Irma and Paul Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life at the American Museum of Natural History, one of New York's best-known grand spaces and home to the celebrated 94'-long model of a blue whale, reopens to the public on Saturday, May 17. The Hall's classic lines and visually arresting elegance have been restored and reinvigorated with cutting-edge exhibition technology and the latest scientific research on the mysteries of our vast watery planet. The 29,000-sq.-ft. hall has been transformed into a fully immersive marine environment with high-definition video projections, interactive computer stations, hands-on models, and renovated classic dioramas, as well as new displays. The Hall's original skylights have been retrofitted with shimmering blue lighting, which, combined with an undersea soundscape, creates the illusion of the whale floating in a virtual ocean.

The exhibition was designed and executed by the AMNH's department of exhibition, under the direction of David Harvey, vice president for exhibition. The lighting designer was David Clinard, who is the in-house lighting designer for the AMNH; he also worked in conjunction with Chou Lien from Brandston Partnership Inc. The ceiling was originally a skylight that had gotten covered up in the 1930s and has been cleaned up and turned into a 6,000-sq.-ft. light box complete with 56 zones of separately controllable fluorescent lamps. Clinard and Lien designed two circuits of two-lamp fixtures, one white and one covered with Rosco 80 primary blue tubes. In addition to the fluorescents, which can be dimmed via a Lutron Grafik Eye 6000 controller, they used 40 City Theatrical EFX units with ETC 50º Source Four ellipsoidals for a shimmering water effect on the ceiling. They had to use Gerriets Revue rear-projection screen on the back of the frosted glass to aid in spreading the shimmer effect, so that it could be viewed from anywhere in the hall. In the hall, the designers used Lighting Services Inc.'s Uni Track system, each with eight separate dimmed circuits and an emergency feed. The track supports more City Theatrical EFX units with Source Fours and LSI PAR-56 and -64 units for lighting the whale and more LSI units to light displays and the walkways. A Crestron control system will allow the museum to change the looks of the ceiling at various times throughout the day as well as allow events in the space control over the lighting. The lighting design works very effectively in showing off the hall, displays, and the whale in their best light. --Michael S. Eddy


The blue whale model in the new Milstein Family Hall of Ocean Life at New York’s American Museum of Natural History. photo © D. Finnin/AMNH