Dec 3, 2004

From "Soup" to "Paint"

Is CATERPILLAR SOUP at the Ruskin Group Theatre a cathartically graphic examination of a former dancer’s confinement to a wheelchair, or an indulgent wallow in disability stories? Back Stage West’s Dany Margolies, a dancer herself, seemed aglow with appreciation for Lyena Strelkoff’s “straightforward, pragmatic, cautionary tale,” which she found “as fluid as any other well-constructed piece” (or is that intended to be faint praise?). The Weekly’s Deborah Klugman acknowledged that “one can’t help but empathize with this beautiful, graceful woman,” but found that her “conversational tone and penchant for confiding numerous sexually intimate particulars cross the line between confidence-sharing and self-absorption." Famed solo showster Paul Linke directs.

Those movement/language/style provocateurs Kronis and Alger are at it again, and if the critics are to be believed, they’re at the top of their indefinable form. DRY CLEANING at the 24th Street Theatre, an espionage-styled retelling of the Orpheus/Eurydice myth, had the Times’ David C. Nichols’ name-checking its references, “from Alphaville to Abbott and Costello” and lauding the “aperture-minded” design (shades of the current Machinal?), stopping short to note that “the muted emotional tone softens the visceral impact” but concluding that the show’s “angular elegance is altogether arresting.” Back Stage West’s Dink O’Neal had no qualifiers in his review of what he called “one of the most fascinating productions in recent memory… jaw-dropping performance art at its finest.” He did have one warning: “Take a few extra moments to bone up on the source material,” lest you emerge at the other end “mentally fogged.”

The Times’ Nichols was quite taken with a new revival of Larry Shue’s THE FOREIGNER (though I’ve already noted one of his review’s seeming overstatements). He seemed quite willing to forgive director Steve Albrezzi’s “spotty pace,” particularly since “the tickling JD Cullum” is playing the title character. The Weekly’s Neal Weaver also lauded Cullum for “wholeheartedly embracing the role’s myriad contradictions,” and for his part found that Albrezzi “keeps the pot boiling so briskly” that “charm prevails” over the script’s inconsistencies.

I’ve already cited the Times’ Mark Swed in his supernatural praise of MACBETH (A MODERN ECSTASY) at REDCAT; bottom line, he found that by paring the Bard’s tragedy to one performer, director Travis Preston and performer Stephen Dillane discover “even greater extravaganzas of emotion.” The Weekly’s Steven Leigh Morris seemed impressed by the effort but ambivalent about the effect, calling the evening “a visceral, cool-headed, even cavalier meditation on the essences and consequences of vaulting ambition.” Director and star come off as “the project’s primary beneficiaries," he wrote, but wondered "whether or not Shakespeare’s play is similarly served.”

Does Paint Your Wagon deserve its relative obscurity? I’ll never forget the way an instructor in a musical theatre workshop I attended used Lerner & Leowe’s misbegotten Gold Rush musical as a negative example—a model of how skilled craftsmen managed to get every single thing wrong with the script, despite managing to pen some fine songs. So it’s not too surprising that even with a rewrite by David Rambo, a new revival of PAINT YOUR WAGON by the Geffen Playhouse at the Brentwood Theatre is getting mixed notices for its book. The Times’ Daryl H. Miller praises just about everything about the production—set, orchestrations, the “rousing men’s chorus number”—but draws a thick line, writing that all this “good work is most decisively undone, however, by the script,” which he slams for some unintentionally funny “howlers” (“at one point, the gold resides in the only rock on the bare stage floor”) and some “hollow” contemporary references to Bush and Janet Jackson. While Miller seems to think there’s still “a rich vein” in the material, the Daily News’ Evan Henerson thinks that perhaps “this Wagon doesn't just need a new coat of paint but a complete overhaul. Or, better yet, concertized stagings.” He enjoyed the “still hummable” score, the “solid performances,” and the “warm and lush” designs of Daniel Ionazzi. but wrote that the “50-minute second act is god awful.”

Oops, look at the time—I must be off to a late-night performance of Ken Roht’s latest “99-cent necromancy,” as David C. Nichols called it in his colorful Times review.

Peace out!

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