Seen in Brooklyn:
The picture says it all! The current production of Shakespeare's Cymbeline at BAM (through March 17 at the BAM Harvey Theatre) is stripped back to basics. An import from the Globe Theatre on London's South Bank, this production was directed by Mike Alfreds (the "master of play"), and features Mark Rylance, artistic director of The Globe. As Shakespeare may have said, the evening certainly was a merriment: a pure joy, with six actors playing over 30 different roles. Dressed all in white, with no costume changes to indicate their different characters (sometimes more than one in the same scene), the actors never leave the stage for the entire three-and-a-half-hour production. There is no set to speak of, just the bare rough walls of the Harvey, with a range of musical instruments for two onstage musicians. When not speaking, the actors sit around the playing area watching the action.
Jenny Tiramani gets credit as "master of clothing and properties," while Donald Holder is "master of lighting." This award-winning lighting designer of The Lion King had a very different set of constraints here, most notably as the house lights stay up for the entire performance (keeping in mind that Shakespeare's merry men played in broad daylight). Holder's spare rig, exposed over the playing area, used very little color while giving the actors a warm, ambient atmosphere. Considered one of Shakespeare's most difficult plays to stage, I personally found that this stripped-back approach allowed the language to become crystal clear. Apparently my sentiments were not shared by all: Bruce Weber in the New York Times reported that critic John Simon stood up during the first act, pronounced the play "unendurable," and left. Fortunately, John Simon is often a jury of one.--Ellen Lampert-Greaux
Seen on stages around town: The Dazzle, at the Roundabout Theatre, is suggested by the story of Collyer brothers, real-life eccentrics who were found dead in 1946 in their Harlem home, which was filled to bursting with debris of all sorts. Playwright Richard Greenberg, who admits in the program that he knows nothing about the Collyers, has imagined their lives in what must surely be one of the most eccentric plays of the season. In Greenberg's telling, Langley Collyer is a poster boy for obsessive-compulsive disorder, a pianist who can't bear to finish a song and who spends the entire day staring at a leaf. Brother Homer is a former lawyer who gives up his life to take care of Langley. The first act, which focuses on Homer's failed attempt to marry Langley to a socialite, plays like a spoof of an Edith Wharton novel, while the second act is a strange philosophical comedy, not that far from something by Anouilh or Ionesco.
God only knows what it's all about, but it is undeniably entertaining, with Greenberg's brilliant direction, and the stunning performances of Reg Rogers and Peter Frechette, as the main attractions. Allen Moyer's gorgeously detailed interior, with painted ceiling and turn of the century furniture, becomes progressively crowded with junk; the scene changes earn many laughs. Gregory Gale has provided Francie Swift, as Langley's fiancée, with some beautiful gowns, using a muted color palette.Jeff Croiter's lighting is carefully stylized to suggest various times of day; he also lights the onstage mountain of junk with strategically placed mini-units. Robert Murphy's sound design provides appropriate amplification for Lawrence Yuman's piano score and also features some very precisely placed sound effects. The Dazzle is definitely in odd one, but Greenberg is one of the best playwrights in America today, and everything he writes is worth seeing.
One Mo' Time, a big hit Off Broadway in the early 80s, has landed on Broadway. The show, written and directed by Vernel Bagneris, is a sort-of musical, sort-of revue set at the Lyric Theatre, New Orleans, in 1926. The Lyric provided black vaudeville entertainment, and the format here consists of a sassy, up-tempo number followed by a scene of comic backstage squabbling, followed by a sassy up-tempo number, etc. etc. The sort-of book features the members of the company feuding with their white manager and each other. None of this is unpleasant--the performers are fine and the onstage band is pretty sizzling--but there have been so many black music revues that the material feels overly familiar and the lack of a real story casts a pall.
Campbell Baird's meticulously detailed set miraculously crowds a proscenium, bandstand, dressing rooms, and even a bit of the neighborhood onto the Longacre Theatre stage, and John McKernon's lighting design suffuses the stage with hot colors and a parade of pink and purple sunsets. (The two designers, partners in real life, have assisted on many Broadway shows and designed for many theatre and dance companies; they are making their Broadway design debuts here.) Toni-Leslie James' witty costumes are equally colorful and full of amusing 20s details, including diamond patterns, tiaras, fans, etc. Kurt Kellenberger's sound design can be muddy at times, which dilutes the effectiveness of some of the numbers. Overall, One Mo' Time isn't a bad show, but it may be an unnecessary one.
The Last Five Years is a song cycle by Jason Robert Brown that tracks a relationship from first encounter to final separation. The structure is ingenious: His (Norbert Leo Butz) version begins at the beginning and goes forward; her (Sherie Renee Scott) story goes backward. Only once do they share a scene, on their wedding day. There's nothing revelatory here--they're a writer and actress whose ambitions drive them apart--but Brown is a hugely talented songwriter and the stars are both electric presences with superb voices. Beowulf Borritt's set is bound to be controversial--it's dominated by a large patio set up for a wedding and stood on end. Borritt comes up with fascinating concepts but this one may be too domineering for this rather small show. Certainly the set poses problems that have not been solved by the lighting designer, Christine Binder. Borritt also did the costumes and the very clear sound design is by Duncan Edwards. The Last Five Years is probably best enjoyed by hardcore musical fans, but it provides further proof that its author and stars are going places.--David Barbour
Seen at the movies: I'm as fond of George Pal's 1960 movie version of H.G. Wells' The Time Machine as the next person. It's definitely a minor classic—emphasis on the minor (after all, the stars are Rod Taylor, Alan Young, and Yvette Mimieux, not exactly the most glittering personages in the cinematic galaxy). Still, there's more than enough room for another Time Machine, and I was looking forward to the new DreamWorks film, which is directed, in a pleasing twist, by Simon Wells, the author's great-grandson. But while it's not a travesty, this version is unlikely to replace its predecessor in many people's affections.
Guy Pearce in his time machine
The filmmakers give their protagonist (Guy Pearce, whose face has become alarmingly skeletal), now a scientist in 1897 New York, a tragic love story as motivation for going first into the past and then to the future: it's a little threadbare when stacked against Wells' larger social concerns. But during its first part the film moves along easily, with charming evocations of old New York (subbed in Albany) by production designer Oliver Scholl, and an appropriately Victorian design of the title apparatus. The first futuristic stop is 2030, where Orlando Jones appears as an informational hologram in the New York Public Library—very amusing. I also liked the old-fashioned time lapses of the city and then the world changing around the machine as Pearce eventually spins 800,000 years into the future. The effect, supervised by James E. Price and accomplished at Digital Domain, honors the original film and remains a poignant demonstration of human insignificance in the face of global change.
More locks on the Morlock
It's when Pearce arrives in the distant future and hooks up with the dopey Eloi, who live in swallow's nest-like structures on the sides of cliffs (all shot at Warner Bros. Studios) that the movie becomes increasingly ho-hum. True, the first encounter with the underworld-dwelling Morlocks (clad in scary animatronic masks by the Stan Winston Studio) is rather thrilling, and Jeremy Irons, cast as the Uber-Morlock and made up to look like Johnny Winter, is entertaining. But the climax seems rushed and muddled—I'm not one to complain when a movie comes in at an economical 96 minutes, as long as it makes sense. The movie's hard-working costume designers are Deena Appel and Bob Ringwood, and the director of photography is Donald M. McAlpine.--John Calhoun
Heard from London: Lighting designer Mark Henderson took home this year's Olivier Award (the London theatre award) for Best Lighting Design. The award was for two productions, A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Albery in London's West End, and The Playboy of the Western World in the Cottesloe at the Royal National Theatre. For A Midsummer Night's Dream, Henderson says, "We tried to create a mysterious world within a forest clearing, lots of gobos piercing through the haze and through the trees, lots of beams and shafts of moonlight," he explains. "The problem always in the Dream is that Shakespeare has written a comedy at night in a forest, so you have to create the illusion of night and mystery, but keep it bright enough for the comedy to come through. Lez [Brotherston] designed a beautiful set that took gobos and sidelight wonderfully well and with a bit of haze in the air you couldn't really go wrong!" Henderson used a rather simple rig with lots of ETC Source Fours and PAR-64s.
"Happily Playboy wasn't too complex," he continues. "The concept came from the idea that these little Irish cottages are actually very dark inside, the windows are small, and we wanted to feel that it was very bright outside and that filtered into the cottage. The first act was all candle and firelight: very enclosed and claustrophobic and seemingly lit as much as possible from the real sources. By contrast, the following acts were as I say very bright daylight. I used a lot of very low frontlight, very shadowy, keeping the light off the floor and giving the impression that the light was piercing through the small windows and reflecting off the white interior walls."
Like many UK designers, Henderson works on and off the West End. The basic difference, he finds, is the repertory situation, at say The National. "You have to allow for the changeovers to other shows and be able to focus and set your show in the time allocated," he notes, as he hurries back to the drawing board, where he is busy designing the new West End musical, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.--Ellen Lampert-Greaux