Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Play of the Week for March 21, 2008
Some Men Need Help

by John Ford Noonan

Your wife walked out on you, so you drink. But to think about it, she walked out on you because you drink. If you could stop drinking, she’d come back. But you can’t and she won’t; now you’re face down on the kitchen floor dead drunk! CURTAIN UP!

The door bursts open and an ex-Mafioso neighbor, whom you’ve never met, enters hell-bent “to dry you out” and turn your life upside down in order to save the neighborhood (after all it’s Connecticut) and his own marriage. Thus begins John Ford Noonan’s oddball comedy SOME MEN NEED HELP.

This subject matter is not often the fodder for hilarious situations and physical comedy, but Noonan achieves that in this two-hander. The result is an entertaining battle/love fest with two intriguing and honestly real characters.

Hudley T. Singleton, III is a handsome, sexy and youthful businessman who sometimes forgets he’s married. Gaetano Altobelli is a once-athletic Italian-American man in his mid-late forties, the husband of an unhappy wife and the father of an “out of control” teenager whose motives for sobering up Hudley are as screwball as the turn of events themselves.

The rise, fall, and resurrection of their relationship are more than mere male bonding. As they rap, rant, and rage they eventually discover that they both need each other – desperately. They’re just a coupla white guys sitting around laughing, fighting, and caring.

Scenes/Monologues: Great scenework for men in mid-thirties to mid-forties.

Recommended by: William Martin

Some Men Need Help by John Ford Noonan
Samuel French
Acting Edition: $7.50

Call 800 322-0595 to order

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Tuesday, March 18, 2008

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Review by Tony Vellela

Photo: Joan Marcus
Heaven Howard, Skye Jasmine Allen-McBean, Giancarlo Esposito, Marja Harmon, Marissa Chisolm, Clark Jackson,Bethany Butler, Anika Noni Rose, James Earl Jones, Phylicia Rashad, Lisa Arrindell Anderson.

Every great dramatic character older than 25 has a compelling, if sometimes unseen backstory in their fictional life. Every great love story has an unrealized or unrequited element that attracts/repels its participants. In the current revival of Tennessee Williams’ Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, with Debbie Allen directing an all African-American cast, both of those aspects get their place in the spotlight.

Because of the skillful, nuanced and patient performances by James Earl Jones as Big Daddy, Terrence Howard as Brick and Phylicia Rashad as Big Momma, these characters display, reveal or uncover the people they have been in past, as well as who they are when we meet them, on that fateful night when Big Daddy’s fatal cancer diagnosis is brought to light, and his brawling brood scheme and maneuver to inherit the cotton plantation empire he has built. Of the principal roles, only Anika Noni Rose as Maggie and Giancarlo Esposito as Gooper fall back on one-note portrayals.

The ‘Bigs’, Daddy and Momma, are appropriately larger-than-life personas, his as the tireless field hand turned entrepreneur, and hers as the hostess and matriarch serving the needs of such an outsized mate. When you see them, separately, they are gusty, lusty creatures, and one can easily imagine how they were first attracted to each other, falling in love with their mate’s outsized appetites and ambitions. The expression of those characteristics has changed; the magnitude of their force has not. While we often see this side of Big Daddy, it is Rashad’s insight into who that woman was that is a revelation. Brick, their younger, favored son, is a shadow, a former football star and failed sports announcer turned current and successful alcoholic, following the death of his great good friend Skipper. Each of these fine actors allows us to see where their character has come from, so we can better understand the tragedies that flow from this night’s circumstance. Jones’s Big Daddy, after bumming the country starting at the age of ten, was taken in as a field hand by a pair of bachelor land owners, and gradually rose to positions of responsibility, finally inheriting their plantation after they both died. His has been a life spent in the dirt, proudly, and he makes no apologies for who he is or was. Big Momma is now a self-described fat woman who trumpets her opinions even when they are not heard. Rashad shows us a woman who was clearly as lusty a partner as her husband in their early years, and how that robust sensuality from the past has mutated into a motherly role for anyone who permits it. Howard’s Brick suggests in Act One that there is a complex man inside the shell that hobbles on one crutch, following the previous night’s escapade trying to jump hurdles on the midnight high school athletic field, while drunk. In Williams’ emotion-soaked plotting, Brick seems to stand still at the eye of many hurricanes, and if the audience does not become interested in who Brick was, they will never care about what he will become. Paul Newman’s Brick, in the feature film version, delivered that aspect in spades. And here, Howard rejects the usual pattern of actors who take on this role, to present someone embittered and hollow, nearly catatonic. Brick’s immobility is a choice, not just a consequence of drink or other influences. There appears to be an opening into this Brick’s soul, if someone can find it. It relates to his unspoken connection to an in-the-closet teammate who appears to have worshipped him, and to Brick’s guilt at letting that relationship go as far as it did, whether or not it manifested itself physically. Straight men who find themselves in a very close friendship with a gay man often don’t realize that the bond has grown because of the gay man’s forgiveness of the straight man’s weaknesses, and the straight man’s tolerance of the magnified attention he is receiving from a seemingly inappropriate person. Here, Skipper appears to have given Brick the unqualified support he did not get from Maggie, or anyone else. Even a rock star understands false adoration, and Brick could discern a true acceptance of his faults from Skipper. It’s all about two kinds of tolerance, and that, along with cotton, is what Big Daddy points out was the crop that grew at the plantation he worked at – two single men, living together as partners, who taught tolerance to the young farmhand by example. It is the unrealized, unrecognized lesson Brick has learned from his father.

And the unrequired love in this play, and more clearly than usual in this production, is not between Brick and Maggie, or between Brick and Skipper, but between Brick and Big Daddy. These two people, who happen to be father and son, share a mental outlook, an unapologetic love of excess, a crude need for tolerance among people, and a deeply underdeveloped ability to express or receive real love. When they go head-to-head in the exquisitely-crafted Act Two, we see more than a father upbraiding a son for bad behavior, or a son trying to shock a father into a realization that his family is plotting to consume his legacy. We see two people aching to help the other through the toughest crisis of their loves, not out of any expectation for personal gain, but out of love. Much of what Brick is or could be, is who Big Daddy is and was.

Are there flaws in this production ? Indeed, yes. The set design defies logic, and encourages awkward positioning, regardless of how many people are in the room or what they’re doing there. More glaring, though, is the weakness in two performances. Rose is certainly sexual and stageworthy [a Tony winner for ’Caroline, or Change’ ], but her Maggie is closer to a chatty magpie than a smart, savvy social climber. This character’s actions, like Big Momma, are rooted in genuine love and devotion, but Rose’s Maggie appears to be just another variety of schemer. We question this Maggie’s declarations of love. And Esposito’s Gooper, the corporate lawyer older son, appears to have no heart at all, where there should be at least a modicum of justice to Gooper’s argument that he should be the plantation’s future manager. Again, he comes across as only a schemer, without the genuine case to be made that he can hold it all together. We need to understand that Gooper is an overlooked, taken-for-granted adult, having been an overlooked, taken-for-granted child. This is a group of people with HISTORY. Those that criticize the play for being overly long miss this point, that Williams needed enough stage time for these people to untangle all that history. It is the repetition that explains the weariness that both Brick and Big Daddy feel, having built up over many long years. And with Jones, Howard and Rashad, those decades of comfort and conflict come to life.

TONY VELLELA, the veteran theatre correspondent for The Christian Science Monitor, writes and produces the PBS series about theatre, “Character Studies.” His work has also appeared in Parade, Theatre Week, USA Today, Dramatics, Rolling Stone, and several other publications.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
by Tennessee Williams

Directed by Debbie Allen

The Broadhurst Theater>
235 West 44th Street>
New York, NY>

(212) 239-6200

Through June 22

With: Terrence Howard (Brick), Phylicia Rashad (Big Mama), Anika Noni Rose (Maggie), James Earl Jones (Big Daddy), Lisa Arrindell Anderson (Mae), Lou Myers (Reverend Tooker), Count Stovall (Dr. Baugh), Giancarlo Esposito (Gooper) and Gerald Hayes (saxophone player).

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Thursday, March 13, 2008

Play of the Week for March 13, 2008

NEW BOY From the novel by William Sutcliffe; adapted by Russell Labey

Adolescence is hard enough; wanting the new boy to be your friend when he is more attractive in every way adds to the pressure. Fears and longings can be overcome, and friendships can develop - just watch out for the new boy moving faster than you do…. The economical writing in “New Boy” creates vital characterizations in amazingly short time. Rapid, realistic dialogue between two friends reveals what friendship can teach and how it can hurt. And so much revolves around sex! What a surprise! The fascination with sex, conquering the fear of sex, realizing what kind of sex partners are out there – all make these characters grow up fast and keep us entertained. Tight, clear, funny, serious writing makes this play work every time.

Scenes/Monologues: Good scenes for two young men (17-years-old); one long monologue (opening) and a few shorter monologues for the main character (17-year-old); one monologue for woman (about 55-years-old)

Recommended by: Eleanore

New Boy From the novel by William Sutcliffe; adapted by Russell Labey
Paper, $17.95 (import)
Call 800 332-0595 to order

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Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Play of the Week: ALL THIS INTIMACY

All This Intimacy by Rajiv Joseph

In an age when we are all plugged up into this gadget or glued to a chair in front of a screen, searching through an un-physical world to find a connection with any human being, it is hard to imagine that connecting with someone emotionally and physically would be any cause for alarm. It is for thirty year old Ty, unfortunately, as he has managed to get his ex-girlfriend, his married forty-year -old neighbor and his eighteen-year-old student pregnant all in the same week.

Ty is a mildly successful poet who, as an artist, should be in tune with the dealings of the human spirit but can't seem toput that knowledge into practice in his real life. With Ty, Joseph has created a intriguing ambiguity: he is charming, of course, to have seduced these three women seemingly without trying and does have genuine feelings for all three, but he proves himself an asshole in how he deals with the situation he has put them all in. He has a sense of entitlement that only he himself understands.

This play successfully examines relationships between both friends and lovers and tries to dissect how lust can be an enemy to both. Oh, and it is really funny.

Scenes/monologues: Great scenes for 1M/1W and 2M mid-twenties to early thirties; monologues for guys late twenties to early thirties.

Recommended by: Sean-Michael

All This Intimacy by Rajiv Joseph
Samuel French, 2007
Acting Edition, $7.50

To order a copy, please call 800-322-0595 (option 3)

Casting Update

The Drama Book Shop • Show Business Weekly Stage Casting Listings were updated Tuesday, March 11.


Tuesday, March 04, 2008

POW! (Play of the week)

LOOSE ENDS by Michael Weller

Loose Ends follows a relationship over a span of 5 years. When Paul and Susan meet on a beach in Bali they both are young and in search of their identities. For the first time in their lives, a one night stand becomes a relationship of substance. They are both at the point where they are trying to define themselves and the world around them. As they search for a sense of meaning, one way or the other, they are forced to look at how other people fit into their world, and what happens when the people around them start to change. Loose Ends looks at the dynamics of power that exist in every relationship. It brings up the old questions of what is more important, a career or a family? And how can you measure success? More importantly, Loose Ends asks, when is it time to cut free?

Anyone who has been in a relationship of any kind can relate to this play; its questions are universal. I find most of Weller's plays outdated, but Loose Ends stands on its own. It seems to exist independent of any era. Because the play spans Paul & Susan's entire relationship, the audience can't help but care for them at the end of the play. What a pleasure it is to read a slightly older play that is still pertinent, able to speak to a whole new generation today.

Monologues/Scenes: Monologues for men and women. Great scenes for 2M, 2W and 1M / 1W.

Recommeded by: Abi

Loose Ends by Micheal Weller.
Samuel French
Acting Edition: $7.50