May 20, 2013

Ann vs. Imelda

For America magazine I've done a combined review of two entertaining and popular shows about iconic women leaders at either end of New York's nonprofit stage spectrum: The Public Theater's Here Lies Love, the dance-party musical about Imelda Marcos (which I already posted briefly about here), and Lincoln Center Theater's Ann, the old-school solo show about Texas guv Ann Richards. The links between the these two women, it turns out, go beyond shoulder pads and immovable hair:
Neither show is entirely successful, even on its own terms; but both are worthy efforts with their share of entertainment value and food for thought, in varying proportions. Both depict women who at first reluctantly, then wholeheartedly, seize the reins of power with all its gratifications and complications and discover their mission (or their self-justifying rationale, as the case may be) only in the doing of it. This is not just a matter of biographical coincidence; in this shared motion from second fiddle to first-chair violin, the lives of both women dramatize a huge generational shift.

Born just four years apart, they were both transitional figures, straddling the pre- and post-feminist generations. They began life assuming, as Ann puts it, that “taking care of my husband and my children was my profession,” but soon enough realized not only that they could do anything men could do but that they were needed at the wheel after feckless male leadership had driven their governments into a ditch. As Imelda (Ruthie Ann Miles) defiantly sings, her decrepit, philandering husband Ferdinand (Jose Llana) cedes her more and more power, “It takes a woman to do a man’s job.
Read the whole thing here. Oh, and there's also a review of Here Lies Love in an unexpected place: HowlRound, which officially dips its toes into review-style, show-specific criticism with W.M. Akers' very fine inaugural effort. W.M. raises some of the same issues I had with the show (basically, that it's too much fun for a show about a brutal dictatorship), but I especially loved this bit about David Byrne:
In the last decade, Byrne has dabbled in conceptual art, producing work like 2008’s Playing the Building, a pleasant-enough art installation in southern Manhattan that probably did not deserve the attention drawn by its creator’s name. In his eagerness to cross genres, Byrne is like a much more talented, much less irritating James Franco. Conceptual art is best left to the professionals, but rock is Byrne's beat, and Here Lies Love is a sparkling reminder of why he became a downtown icon in the first place. His name may get them in the door, but the music will make them stay.
I rather liked Playing the Building, but the overall point sticks. Read that whole thing here.

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