Feb 27, 2006

Bloody Hell

Another disagreement. Brantley loves Martin McDonagh's gory new play, while I found it cheap, shallow, and disgusting. To each his own—though I will admit, based on the audience reaction and the buzz about this show, that I expect to be fairly lonely in my objections. UPDATE: The AP's Michael Kuchwara, the Post's Frank Scheck, the News' Howard Kissel, and Talkin' Broadway's Matthew Murray join the ayes. Variety's David Rooney is less impressed.

Feb 24, 2006

Another Place, Another Times Byline

You wouldn't know it from the archives at BackStage.com, but among the charter reviewers for Back Stage West back in its inception in the early to mid-'90s was none other than the NY Times' much-discussed Charles Isherwood (here with another brilliant read). I claim no credit for his subsequent meteoric rise as a critic. But I can note with some pride that joining the ranks of former BSW scribblers who now have a Times byline is former staffer Laura Weinert, in today's paper. Onward and upward!

Feb 23, 2006

A Less Than Perfect Fit

I cannot seem to get on the same page with The Times' critics. Here's my take on the shiny, happy, hollow new Pajama Game, and here's Brantley's rave. UPDATE: All right, so it's a split decision, with a big chorus of critics in the yea column: Barnes at the Post, Rooney at Variety, Gardner at USA Today, Kuchwara at AP, Sommers at the Star-Ledger. More equivocal or downright negative are Kissel at the News, Winer at Newsday, Grode at the Sun, Sheward at Back Stage, Murray at Talkin' Broadway. This is the game we're in.

Feb 22, 2006

Awarded Off

The Observer notices and diagnoses the same trend I observed in my final years at Back Stage West: movie studio ads taking over editorial priorities.

Feb 17, 2006

Williams Envy

At the top of my personal Wish I Could See This File. (Guess I wouldn't mind seeing this, too.)

Feb 16, 2006

Young Love in Hindsight

My review of a pretty smart new production of Barefoot in the Park. UPDATE: A bitchslap from Brantley, a polite shrug from Winer, a brush-off from Rooney. This is a devilishly subjective business, is it not?

Feb 15, 2006

Which Is BackStage?

If VNU is broken up into three divisions to avoid a buyout, as this report has it, which of the three silos would BackStage end up in? The available categories are "Media and Measurement, Marketing Information, and Business Information." Hmmm. Such inviting choices, it's hard to say.

Shanley and Shakespeare

My review of the new Doubt cast is here, and of a new production of All's Well That Ends Well here. Each has the extra distinction of diverging wildly from the Times' take (Brantley and Isherwood, respectively). (Interestingly, Brantley's review reminds me a bit of how I felt about the Pasadena production.)

Feb 13, 2006

Flea's Bite

My review of Yussef El Guindi's cracking good new play, Back of the Throat, is here. UPDATE: The Times is less impressed.

Greek Chic

I didn't much like Will Power's The Seven (review here), but I seem to be alone. MC Isherwood and DJ Blankenship give it mad props.

Do Think Twice

Twyla Tharp's new Bob Dylan dance-ical has gone from my "wild horses" file (as in, couldn't drag me into the theater) to the "train-wreck" fascination category. Wish I could see it, though if McNulty is right, it might not make it to New York. (I can't figure out what Variety's Steven Oxman really thinks of the show from this uncharacteristically deferential, subdued review.)
UPDATE: The Chronicle's Robert Hurwitt likes it better, and likes even more to show us how well he knows those Dylan lyrics. The San Diego Union-Tribune critic, who likes the show even more, knows her dance better than her Dylan, but can't resist a slightly baffling closing pun.

Feb 11, 2006

Arabs and Faux-Arabs

Saw Yussef El Guindi's Back of the Throat at the Flea Theatre on Thursday; I've recommended it, though my Newsday review won't be out until Monday. (El Guindi is profiled in today's Times.) Last night, I saw the ludicrous but enjoyable Kismet at Encores! (review here), and noticed an unlikely patron: Sen. Ted Kennedy, apparently on hand to follow the show's timely exhortation, "You must investigate Baghdad."

Feb 10, 2006

Weekend Reading

In his Right Kind of People review, Brantley displays his knack for memorable if less than appetizing images: "a symphony of flapping gums."

Is there any better, suppler writer about theater than Isherwood? From his new review of Red Light Winter, some favorites: a throwaway image, describing two bachelors who've "recently hit the wall of the big 3-0 at different speeds"; nailing a character as "one of those appalling types who manage to harness the juvenile aggressiveness that was somehow alluring in college to fuel a successful career"; this lovely and unaccountably precise metaphor: "Matt's anxious streams of chatter are gradually smoothed into clear pools." But he's not just a wordsmith, he's as much a pleasure to read in toto.

Over at the other Times, Prof. McNulty clocks in with a slightly supererogatory but inarguable and erudite lecture on Chekhov, and continues to stretch out more comfortably into his lead critic role with this Mamet takedown. F. Kathleen Foley's review of East West's new Sweeney brought back fond memories of the original.

Finally, this beautiful blog entry by the redoubtable Terry Teachout certainly cheered me up, as I recently made yet another turn around that lucky old sun.

Off into a five-show weekend storm, snow and light blogging expected.

Feb 9, 2006

East Side Story

Charles Grodin's new play left me cold.

Niet Vandaag

A choice entry for the You Can't Make This Stuff Up Files (link won't last long).

Feb 8, 2006

The Saddest Headline of 2006...

...so far has to be this. I wish I believed Hillary and Obama could turn it around. I've reflected on this before: I'm a Democrat, a mainline Lutheran, a print journalist, and a theater critic. Could I find any more lost causes to join?

Feb 7, 2006

Warming Up

I say give McNulty time. I found this review of Eve Ensler's literally navel-gazing new show is pretty sharp and amusing.

Hooked on a Feline

I mostly had fun at this Russian dander fiesta, and had even more fun writing about it.

Feb 6, 2006

Feb 3, 2006

The Best Recording of Anything, Ever

All right, that may be a slight exaggeration. But I was riveted and nearly brought to tears as I walked down Sixth Avenue yesterday. The acting, the singing, that infernal accordion, the eerie pizzicato... Easily the best show album I've heard since this or this.

Very South Coast Rep

That's how Rabbit Hole felt to me, and not in a good way. I admire Cynthia Nixon (not for that TV show—I happened to catch her as Harper in Angels in America) and David Lindsay-Abaire (whom I most recently reviewed here). But I found his new drama dry, dull, despondent... well, here's the review. I'm happy to see that joining in my disappointment are Linda Winer and Eric Grode. Taking the opposite view are Ben Brantley, Leonard Jacobs, and Diane Snyder.

Feb 1, 2006

Now Can They Play Wagner?

I think it's a sign of strength that Israeli audiences can laugh at a kick-line swastika. MORE: Another piece, with this great quote:
"Israelis may be able to laugh at 'The Producers,' but it will be a sad laugh. By no means will anyone in Israel take it lightly."

Moral Danger

I have nothing to add to the obituaries for Wendy Wasserstein, as I must confess that I've never seen her work. How I managed to do that in 15-plus years of theater criticism, I'm not sure; my only excuse is that I did most of my journeyman work in L.A., and she's not produced quite as frequently and intently out there as she is here in New York.

The redoubtable Terry Teachout did see a lot of her work, and he didn't think much of it, which occasions a very thoughtful post about criticism and guilt. He freely admits that if he'd gotten to know Wasserstein, he might have felt differently about her work, quoting Orwell on Spender to make a similar point, and says that's why he keeps theater folks "at arm's length." I've done my own dance with this quandary, but nevertheless tried to stay objective.

I loved this quote:
Criticism is a morally dangerous profession, and those who practice it without ever feeling guilty are…well, not very nice.

I'd never quite thought of it in quote those terms, and it certainly sounds a lot more dramatic than it usually feels. But then we wouldn't be in this field if we didn't like a little drama, eh?