The Winter’s Tale, Shakespeare’s fairy tale of vengeful parents, rebellious children, wronged wives, Delphic oracles, living statues, and ferocious bears, is a tough nut for directors. The trick is to impose a unified style on this wild mix of plots, subplots, and incredible plot twists. In some ways, Barry Edelstein’s revival at Classic Stage Company has a lot to offer. You have to admire the chicly minimal design, including Narelle Sissons’ more-complex-than-it-looks rendering of an empty space and Jane Cox’s delicately shaded lighting. There are many striking moments, when the entire company appears holding metronomes (a nod to the play’s theme about the healing powers of time) or when a terrifying storm is evoked only through sound effects (by Elizabeth Rhodes) and three unfurled cords of flashing lights. However, Edelstein has apparently left the actors to their own devices, with dismaying results. David Strathairn blusters ineffectively as the jealousy-crazed King Leontes and Barbara Garrick’s flat vocal delivery strips the character of Hermione, Leontes’ wife, of her considerable charm. Mary Lou Rosato carries on extravagantly as Paulina, the lady-in-waiting who holds the keys to the plot’s happy resolution. Teagle F. Bougere, Tom Bloom, and David Costabile make a notably unfunny trio of clowns. There’s more trouble, after intermission, in a series of rustic comedy scenes marked by a jarring, we’ll-try-anything approach that fails to produce any laughter. Characters wander in and out carrying stuffed animals, spouting Viennese accents, wearing fairy wings, belting out tin-ear renditions of Michael Torke’s melodies, all to no effect. Mattie Ullrich’s high-fashion costumes, so stylish in the first act, are desperate and gimmicky here. Even so, there’s a chilling moment at the end, when Leontes and Hermione’s long-dead son makes a final ghostly appearance, casting a shadow across the rather artificially arranged happy ending. Throughout, however, Edelstein’s interesting concept is undermined by the absence of strong emotional support. As Winter’s Tales go, it’s easy on the eyes—and, except for a few isolated moments, easy to forget.

The Winter's Tale photo: Dixie Sheridan

Monsieur Ibrahim and the Flowers of the Koran, produced by The Play Company at the McGinn/Cazale Theatre, marks the New York debut of award-winning French playwright Eric-Emmanuel Schmitt (his Enigma Variations was announced for Broadway starring Donald Sutherland, a couple of seasons back, then went to the West End instead). This new work, which is currently running in Paris, is a brief, cloying monologue by Moise, a young Jewish man who recalls how his unhappy childhood was alleviated by friendship with an Arab grocer. Moise, abandoned by his spectacularly selfish parents, struggles to take care of himself; in contrast, Monsieur Ibrahim is a font of fatherly wisdom, an all-seeing, all-knowing Living Symbol with a wry aphorism for every occasion. Eventually he adopts Moise, who changes his name to Mohammed. There are cutesy encounters with golden-hearted prostitutes, winsome scenes of self-discovery, a poignant trip to the Middle East. At best, this is sentimental; at worst, it’s offensive. Schmitt apparently intended some kind message about brotherhood transcending religions, but his story is too one-sided to have any effect. Ed Vassallo brings stage presence but no particular emotional conviction to the role of Moise/Mohammed. Still, the production design is classy. Neil Patel’s remarkable eye for telling details—a blue tile floor, a distressed wall, and three Moorish lamps—vividly creates Moise’s Paris digs. Lenore Doxsee’s lighting fills out the stage pictures with warmth, color, and depth. Katherine Roth’s single costume is well-chosen and Robert Kaplowitz’s sound is perfectly fine. Don’t expect this production to set off any demand for Schmitt’s plays, however. —David Barbour

Seen at the Movies: The Recruit represents one type of January major-studio offering—high-powered cast (Al Pacino, Colin Farrell), high-concept thriller plot, probably slated for a fall release until somebody actually looked at it. Directed by the capable Roger Donaldson, the movie is not exactly terrible, it’s just lame. It’s all about computer cryptologist Farrell’s recruitment to the CIA by company veteran Pacino, and the intrigue, deceit, etc. that follows. The movie never rises above it’s-all-a-game scenarios, so nothing vital seems at stake. It’s a phone-in performance for Pacino, who acts in his default bluster mode, but half-heartedly. As for Farrell, it’s time for him to stop coasting in rising-star mode and actually get there (better choice of material would help). He’s in danger of becoming the next Matthew McConaughey. DP Stuart Dryburgh, production designer Andrew McAlpine, and costume designer Beatrix Pasztor all do professional jobs, even if no one can disguise the resemblance of the movie’s Washington, DC, setting to Toronto. —John Calhoun

The Recruit photo: Kerry Hayes/Touchstone Pictures

Seen on DVD: Jack Pierce: The Man Behind the Monsters chronicles an odd, fascinating project--a Pasadena multimedia stage production from 2000 about the Universal Studios makeup artist who created the look for the Frankenstein Monster, the Mummy, the Wolfman, the Bride of Frankenstein, and many others. In the production, an actor playing Pierce narrates the story of his life, while other performers act out scenes from the classic movies. Conceived, written, and directed by Scott Essman, the one-time performance appears to have been awkwardly acted and fairly hokey, and the video preservation of it is not of the highest sound or picture quality. —JC

Yet the real news is the loving, largely successful recreation of the makeups and costumes, supervised by Robert Burman and Jennifer McManus. The participation of a number of artists, including Kevin Haney, Ve Neill, Brent Armstrong, James Hall, Todd Tucker, and Marvin Westmore, was elicited to help reconstruct and apply the makeups, though the behind-the-scenes material doesn’t really delve into how closely they followed Pierce’s methods (to the end of his career, for example, he eschewed appliances). One unusual aspect of the production is that actors were chosen who looked nothing like their real-life counterparts, so that even the look of such non-monstrous characters as Frankenstein’s Colin Clive, The Wolfman’s Claude Rains, scene-stealing hysteric Una O’Connor, and Pierce himself are reproduced in the makeup chair. Unfortunately, that helps lend the acting an artificial quality.

The DVD’s extras include a segment from a This Is Your Life tribute to Boris Karloff in 1957, during which Pierce presents the actor with a neck electrode, and a 1962 radio interview with the artist, who was working on the TV show Mr. Ed at the time. After heading the makeup department for 19 years, Pierce had been unceremoniously dismissed in 1947 when the studio regime changed hands. By that point, Universal’s horror output had been consigned to B-picture status, and reduced to Mummy and Frankenstein sequels and silly monster pairings ad nauseum. The revival of the classic movies on television in the 1950s renewed interest in Pierce, and helped inspire the careers of new generations of makeup artists, from Dick Smith to Rick Baker. But it wasn’t until after his death in 1968 that his contributions truly grew to be appreciated. Jack Pierce is scheduled to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in October 2003. The DVD can be ordered at --JC

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