We gambled on eight not-yet-reviewed plays/musicals as the fall 2019 season kicked off on and near-Broadway. Four were total successes and four not so much.
Linda Vista was the most traditional of the bunch, in structure and production. Totally enjoyable, lots of humor – both intelligent and bawdy – and characters you could discuss and disagree about. A well acted, slow-motion tragedy that was very funny.
The Sound Inside. A simple, spare two-hander, with Mary-Louise Parker as a Yale English professor and the similarly remarkable Will Hochman as her troubled freshman advisee. Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment was the sinister subtext for a compelling psychological drama.
The Inheritance, Part I. Innovative stagecraft, interesting characters and a meaty dissertation on being gay. It took a while to set its hook, but by the end the soap opera had enmeshed me. The stage was empty but the world was full and rich with young men we cared about.
Heroes of the Fourth Turning. A Big Chill of fundamentalist conservatives; very much a play of thought-provoking exposition, with four nicely unbalanced protagonists whose individual stories we pieced together as we grappled with their alien worldview. An intimate production that drew us in while holding us away.
Moulin Rouge. A lot of bombast, not much soul. With its random rifling of the rock library, it came across as a commercial reboot of Phantom of the Opera, which was pretty commercial to begin with. The sets, costumes and dancing were all sensational; I just didn’t care for or about any of the characters or their plights.
Tina. This showed promise up through “I Think It’s Gonna Work Out Fine,” although no ground was being broken. Then our star, Adrienne Warren, fell, quickly followed by the curtain; and when her understory gamely took over the role Tina’s amazing voice was gone. “River Deep, Mountain High” was a disappointment, and the show couldn’t carry less than a star.
The Great Society. A rehash of LBJ’s years as president, touching bases left and right. Brian Cox played LBJ as a one-note character, and there was nothing to be learned from a superficial reenactment of times I lived through. This came across as more an encyclopedia entry than a play.
The Inheritance, Part II. Where Part I was fireworks shooting off in all directions, Part II was a one-dimensional downer, repetitive and maudlin (background music on Broadway, really?). All the points about gay life and the characters’ personalities had been made in the first 3-1/2 hours, and I got tired of the tawdry, the failed loves, the deaths and disappointments, notwithstanding a happy ending that didn’t fit.
Caesar and Cleopatra. Not a new play, and one we jumped on after a favorable review. Like our experience with O’Casey at the Irish Rep last spring, seeing a company devoted to Bernard Shaw was a good balance to the theater of today. This was a history lesson combined with a drama class, and a whole lot of fun.