Seen Off Broadway:
has risen from the grave—again. Even though Frankenstein adaptations onstage don’t have a glorious history (the notorious 1980 version was one of the biggest financial calamities in Broadway history), playwright Neal Bell has tried again, at Classic Stage Company, with Monster, based directly on Mary Shelley’s novel. Bell has done well with books onstage before—he did a taut version of Zola’s Therese Raquin, also at CSC—and the good news here is that his fast-paced production gets through the high points of the book in an hour and 45 minutes. The bad news: the dialogue is so overripe that you could slice it up and serve it in a fruit salad. The production also suffers from an extremely wobbly tone—there are many unintended laughs—and a frantic, over-emotive cast.
However, as is so often the case at CSC, the production looks fantastic. Robert Brill’s chilly set, with a glass-covered deck and plastic curtains at the rear, makes for an ideally flexible space, which is constantly transformed by Kenneth Posner’s highly inventive lighting design. Jess Goldstein’s costumes have a clear period outline without overindulging in lots of frou-frou, and Jane Shaw’s sound design is extremely unsettling at times. If Monster doesn’t advance the case for further stage Frankensteins, at least it has a thoroughly professional design.
Cymbeline is possibly Shakespeare’s nuttiest play, a fairy tale whose plot twists could fill a season of soap operas. Among other incomparable moments, the heroine wakes from a drugged sleep to find the headless body of the man who destroyed her reputation—only he’s dressed in the garb of her lover, whom she believes has been brutally murdered. Should I add that she has escaped the kingdom where she is princess to hide out with a family of mountain men, two of whom, unbeknownst to her, are her brothers? Wait—we haven’t gotten to the wicked stepmother, the ghosts, or the war with the Roman Empire. Suffice to say, Cymbeline combines great verse with a trashy plot, and you just have to love it.
My love, however, was severely challenged by the new production at Theatre for a New Audience at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, which reduces the play to a bizarre hodgepodge of thematic elements—the cast is turned into a horde of samurai warriors, lonesome cowboys, and Elizabethan rakes. The red-on-red design scheme is hard on the eyeballs. Every so often, somebody pulls out a microphone and sings a country ballad. This production was acclaimed when seen at Royal Shakespeare Company last year, so maybe I’m a crank. But I spent the better part of three-and-a-half hours struggling to stay awake. Chris Akerlind’s red set, and his lighting scheme, are a little hard to take; every so often, one horizontal line of red neon is lowered: why? Elizabeth Caitlin Ward’s costumes, taken from many periods and styles, are interesting, although they, too, are heavy on the red. The sound design by Peter John Still relies on live percussion effects performed by the cast. I still have happy memories of a Shakespeare in the Park Cymbeline starring Liev Schreiber, which strongly evoked the play’s magic. I think I’ll remember it a lot longer than this one.--David Barbour
Seen on Other Stages: Another play in the Dawn Powell festival, this one by Powell herself--Jig Saw, which she wrote in 1933-4. The play opened on Broadway at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre in April 1934 and ran for only six weeks. The current production, directed by Donna Linderman, associate artistic director of Sightlines Theater Company, is somewhat unsteady at times; several cast members muffed their lines, which kind of killed their wit and supposed spontaneity. Sets were by Eric Selk, who is on a one-year sabbatical from Doane College in Crete, NE, where he is on the theatre faculty. Lighting was by Jiyoun Chang; costumes were by Wanda Raimundi-Ortiz; sound by Michael Hairston.
The main set piece in this production was a painted three-part window of a hotel penthouse; in the opening act, the window's view was of Central Park and the hotel room terrace. The action in Act III takes place on the terrace, so the three paintings were flipped: voila, the window view was of the living room. Costumes were a mixed bag: some pieces, like a brown cut-velvet ensemble for the lead character, Claire, and a violet beaded dress for her daughter, looked sensational, but more 20s than 30s. Other costumes were too obviously modern, especially some of the men's attire. Raimundi-Ortiz did better with the accessories, such as purses and glittery headgear.
For more information about Permanent Visitor: A Festival Celebrating Dawn Powell in New York, go to the Sightlines Theater website, There are plenty of plays and events to come to, and I, your faithful correspondent and Dawn Powell fan, will cover them in future web stories and "Seen & Heard" columns.--Liz French
Heard on the Awards Circuit: The Costume Designers Guild is one of the last groups to name its nominees for 2001 movie honors. For contemporary design, the contenders are Sophie DeRakoff Carbonell, for Legally Blonde; Jeffrey Kurland, for Ocean's Eleven; Amy Stofsky, for Mulholland Drive; and Karen Patch, for The Royal Tenenbaums. Period/fantasy nominations went to Mark Bridges, for Blow; Judianna Makovsky, for Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone; Arianne Phillips, for Hedwig and the Angry Inch; and Colleen Atwood, for Planet of the Apes. Awards will be presented March 16 at the Beverly Hills Hotel.
The Hollywood Makeup Artist and Hair Stylist Guild also named award nominees recently. There are seven feature film categories, with Mulholland Drive, Ali, Moulin Rouge, and Planet of the Apes showing up in more than one. These awards will be presented February 17 at the Beverly Hilton. In addition, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (AMPAS) announced the seven films in contention for one of the top three spots in the Best Makeup category. They are A.I. Artificial Intelligence, A Beautiful Mind, Hannibal, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring, Moulin Rouge, and Planet of the Apes. Nominations will be announced February 12.
AMPAS also announced two honors that will be presented March 2 at the Scientific and Technical Awards dinner, held at the Beverly Wilshire. Steadicam pioneer Edmund M. Di Giulio will receive the Gordon E. Sawyer Award, named for the former Goldwyn Studios sound head and reserved for technological innovators. Also, the American Society of Cinematographers will be given an Award of Commendation for ongoing publication of American Cinematographer Manual, the reference book for directors of photography.--John Calhoun