Seen In SOHO: Trapped, presented as part of the city-wide ACT FRENCH festival, is a play by French playwright Jose Pliya, who was born in Benin (Africa) and brings an international perspective to his plays. Presented in conjunction with staged readings in English of three additional plays by Pliya, Trapped is the centerpiece of The Pliya Project, a week-long celebration of this extremely interesting playwright.
Presented in French with English sub-titles (technically coordinated by Carole China), Trapped was brought in from Paris with its original company including director Vincent Colin and actresses Sylvie Chenus and Hyam Zaytoun. The play is a verbal dialogue between these two women, who are emotionally "trapped" in a house in a non-specified locale but one that is set in an ethnic war zone (Bosnia, Kosovo, Afghanistan...). The set is a simply a carpet set on the stage of the Ohio Theatre (66 Wooster Street in Soho: www.sohothinktank.org
) with lighting by Denis Desanglois. The technical director/master electrician is Alexandre Dujardin who came in from France with the company to recreate the original lighting.
Trapped is a nice example of a play that has an universal appeal, and with its simple set, small lighting rig, and two-person cast is perfect for an off-Broadway setting such as the Ohio Theatre. Trapped runs through Sunday, with the final staged reading of An Ordinary Family on Saturday afternoon. Worth a visit to Soho.——Ellen Lampert-Gréaux
Seen on Broadway: The first-ever Broadway revival of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple is ideal—that is, if you like your Odd Couples with two Felixes in it. Make that one-and-a-half. Unwisely reusing remnants of his Leo Bloom whine from The Producers, Matthew Broderick gives a strangely becalmed performance in the actual part, and is more effective in the show’s serious moments than in the quintessential neat freak vs. top slob sparring. As Oscar, Nathan Lane is far too fastidious and immaculate a performer to convince as a walking pigpen, and would look a lot more at home in Felix’s ready-for-work period attire than in the rumpled sportswriter sweatshirts that Ann Roth has fashioned for him (and she knows from 60’s styles, given that she designed the costumes for the original 1965 production, which starred a more aptly cast Walter Matthau as Oscar and Art Carney as Felix). As a play, The Odd Couple is worth its weight in gold; the timeless comedy is neatly balanced by a strong undercurrent of middle-age regret, and director Joe Mantello has cast the supporting parts to a T (co-stars Rob Bartlett, as Speed, and Brad Garrett, as Murray, might make an ideal, Mutt-and-Jeff Oscar and Felix somewhere down the line). Audiences contributing to its record-setting $21 million advance, however, may feel a little snookered, given that Tony Randall and Jack Klugman do much the same thing, and better (and for free) every night wherever the undying TV show is rerun.
Taking a bit of a break from his own finicky set designs, John Lee Beatty has no end of fun in the first act, where the horror show that is Oscar’s Upper West Side apartment is unveiled in all its gruesomeness. I particularly loved the wilted Christmas tree, which had long since given up the ghost in the summer sun, and Beatty doesn’t make the mistake of having Oscar’s pad be a complete disaster (there’s a little something there under all that benign neglect for Felix to uncover as Act II gets underway). And I liked how Kenneth Posner’s lighting brightened, subtly, to accommodate the new roommate as his emergency home care program went into effect. In addition, Marc Shaiman has been enticed to contribute a jazzy little score (including, at the very end, a snippet of the TV show theme), giving sound designer Peter Fitzgerald something to play with besides the more prosaic effects of unseen dishes crashing in the kitchen. [Hudson Scenic and Hudson Sound and Light provided the scenery and lighting, and Sound Associates the audio gear. David Brian Brown, I assume, teased the hair of the goofy Pigeon Sisters, who fly into the show in Act II.] There’s nothing at the Brooks Atkinson that a truly odd couple, rather than a matched set, couldn’t fix.
Seen Off Broadway: Shaiman and fellow composer Michael John LaChiusa had a dustup over the summer, arguing over the future direction of the musical, and though both scored some points I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’ll always take a bad musical comedy over a bad musical that suffocates in its own self-importance. LaChiusa has at least one of those (the slow and fatuous Marie Christine) on his resume, but with his latest show, See What I Wanna See, he makes a strong case for himself. It has a contrived premise (contemporizing, in language and mostly in period, three stories by Ryonosuke Akutagawa, including one adapted into the film classic Rashomon) and is as uneven as only a show at the Public can be, with some rough patches. At its best, however, it’s startlingly good, with a fiery performance by Idina Menzel in the Rashomon segment (set in 1950’s New York and revolving around a murder witnessed by parties with their own versions of the truth) and a second act story so movingly acted by Henry Stram (as a disaffected priest planning a mock miracle to unsettle the faithful) I was in tears by the end. [And there are some big laughs, too, from Mary Testa, as the priest’s anti-everything aunt.] Marc Kudisch, too, is in rare form, particularly in the Kabuki-esque tale of a lethal lovers’ quarrel at the top of each act (where Menzel trades her Wicked green for a ghostly whiteface). It’s a musical more to be savored than explained, and LaChiusa has supplied it with some glorious numbers. These include the title song (which Menzel really puts across) and the stirring “Gloryday,” for the third story—indeed, just about everything in the segment is a moving requiem for a blasted city not unlike 9/11-era New York.
The highest compliment I can pay the design team is that they let the music, and our imaginations, fill in the blanks, not that there was all that much choice in the confines of the Anspacher. Thomas Lynch’s spare scenic design is highlighted by the flowing red silk that cascades over the trysting place of the lovers in the Japan-set segment. Its flirtatious, adulterous scarlet is echoed by Menzel’s hot, ready-for-anything dress in the second segment, the work of Elizabeth Caitlin Ward, whose work nimbly skirts the different periods suggested by Lynch’s design, including a Central Park backdrop and the hints of a Japanese rock garden (and were the orchestra members dressed in Oriental garb? I wasn’t sure, but it was nice). Fresh from the riot of In My Life, a show guaranteed to drive a purist like LaChiusa over the edge, LD Christopher Akerlind behaves himself and settles on isolating the characters in slashes of illumination, neatly choreographed in collaboration with first-time director Ted Sperling. Acme Sound Design ensures that not a syllable is missed. [PRG supplied the lights and Masque Sound the audio.] In the spirit of Rashomon, I won’t lie to you: See What I Wanna See isn’t perfect, with some scenes that aren’t quite realized. But the truth is, when the show is firing on all cylinders, it’s pretty damn good.--Robert Cashill