Seen on Broadway:
I’ve never understood why some people feel that The Crucible is a second-class Arthur Miller play. To me, its relentless narrative drive, timeless theme, and incisive psychological insights make it one of the great American plays. The current Broadway revival should be more than enough to sweep away anyone’s objections. In the hands of director Richard Eyre, the action unfolds like a series of hammer blows, as the entire community of Puritan Salem, Massachusetts is drawn into a hell of suspicion and fear, caused by rumors of witchcraft. Leading the excellent cast is Liam Neeson, who gives a performance of almost superhuman intensity, as John Proctor, the prickly farmer whose life is destroyed in the ensuing madness; Laura Linney is also superb as his cold, judgmental wife, as is Brian Murray as the self-important judge who condemns dozens of people to death. There is also very fine work from John Benjamin Hickey, Christopher Evan Welch, and Angela Bettis.
Furthermore, The Crucible should be seen for its stunning scenery and lighting design. Tim Hatley has designed a kind of wooden box that reconfigures itself for each of the play’s four acts, then deconstructs, at the cataclysmic finale. Paul Gallo’s lighting takes advantage of the limitations imposed by the set to create starkly effective looks, using strongly articulated angles and very little color to create an intensely theatrical atmosphere. Hatley also designed the rough-hewn period clothing, and Scott Myers supplied the sound design. The Crucible, of course, was written in the climate of the HUAC investigations into Communism in America but, seeing this performance, one cannot help but think of the horrors caused by the Taliban and other religious fundamentalists closer to home. It’s further proof that The Crucible, in its never-ending timeliness, may be Miller’s most timeless play.
The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia?, is about the old eternal triangle: Man, woman, goat. You read that right. Bill Pullman is the world-famous architect who falls for the quadruped of the title. Mercedes Ruehl, as his rather surprised wife, gets to throw a lot of pottery. Jeffrey Carlson is their gay son, who frets about feeling a momentary sexual attraction to his father. Playwright Edward Albee has been quoted as saying that the play is designed to test the tolerance of the audience. I would like to say that he shattered my tolerance for boredom and incredulity in record time. For the record, this is not the first treatment of bestiality on Broadway (and I don’t mean a certain Disney musical): That credit belongs to something called Leda Had a Little Swan, which closed in previews at the Cort Theatre in 1968.
Anyway, for The Goat, John Arnone designs just the kind of apartment setting that would provide shelter for a top architect, from the African masks, to the carefully lit bookshelves, to the matching Eames chairs. Kenneth Posner’s lighting and Elizabeth Hope Clancy’s costumes are thoroughly professional, as are the few sound cues that Mark Bennett has been asked to provide. As for the talented, beleaguered stars, here’s my suggestions: Close The Goat immediately and reopen in four weeks with a revival of Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, in which Pullman and Ruehl would be ideally cast.
Film fans might be tempted to stop by Off Broadway’s Promenade Theatre to check out Mr. Goldwyn, the new bio-play about Hollywood’s favorite self-invented character. They should resist the temptation. Authors Marsha Lebby and John Lollo examine producer Samuel Goldwyn late in life, as he gambles his career on the expensive musical Hans Christian Andersen at the exact moment that the film industry is reeling from the impact of television. However, as always in this sort of play, the script is little more than a series of canned anecdotes recycling Goldwyn’s foibles and malapropisms. (“Anyone who sees a psychiatrist should have his head examined.”) There’s no real story, just Goldwyn rambling on, complaining about television, the Hollywood red scare, and Farley Granger. As Goldwyn, Alan King bites into the script’s sharper wisecracks with gusto, but can do little to enliven the many dull sequences.
David Gallo’s setting--Goldywn’s book-lined office, backed up by a painted drop depicting the Goldwyn backlot, would be the envy of any movie mogul. Joseph G. Aulisi, who once designed costumes for Neil Simon plays, then moved into film, has come up with a nice period suit for Lauren Klein, who plays Goldwyn’s secretary. Michael Lincoln’s lighting and T. Richard Fitzgerald’s sound are both laudable. The mostly older audience at the matinee I attended seemed to enjoy themselves but, as Goldwyn himself once said, include me out.—David Barbour
Seen at the Movies: Movie audiences who have been snoozing since the end of last year can wake up with a jolt for Alfonso Cuaron's Y tu Mama Tambien. (Those audiences within reach of theatres that will show unrated, foreign-language films, that is.) This Mexican road movie is rough-edged, extremely raunchy, and hilarious, while continually bringing the viewer up short with its consciousness of poverty and mortality. The story is simple: two horny teenage boys, one rich and one from a humbler background, set out in search of the perfect beach with an older married woman, who has her secrets. Flirtations and more ensue, but the underlying gravity keeps the film from seeming like a south-of-the-border version of American Pie. Cuaron, best known for the stylized English-language confections A Little Princess and Great Expectations, goes back to basics with his cinematographer, Emmanuel Lubezki, who lets the characters' sometimes squalid, occasionally threatening surroundings crowd into the handheld frame. Watch out for this raw, vibrant film, but be prepared for its unbridled sexuality and life force.
On a more family-friendly note, Ice Age is the charming new digitally animated feature from Twentieth Century Fox and Blue Sky Studios, which produced the Oscar-winning short Bunny. Its main characters are a woolly mammoth, a bipedal sloth, and a ferocious saber-toothed cat, who are voiced by Ray Romano, John Leguizamo, and Denis Leary. Original it's not—the galootish hero and kooky sidekick combo showed up in last year's Shrek and Monsters, Inc., but are far more ancient than that. But the Blue Sky team, led by director Chris Wedge, has done a beautiful job rendering the furry creatures and the icy expanses of 20,000 years ago with the company's patented raytracing software. And dig those fey rhinos.--John Calhoun
Crucible photo: Joan Marcus