Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Intermission Talk: September 24, 2008, by Tony Vellela

Jim Naughton

The Irish Repertory Company's 20th anniversary year will kick off with a bold choice: the gritty yet introspective Henrik Ibsen classic "The Master Builder." The production will use a new translation by Frank McGuinness. What, you ask, is 'Irish' in this choice? The magnetic, enigmatic, charismatic central character Solness will be portrayed by Jim Naughton, who, in the world of Eugene O'Neill, has the map of Ireland all over his face.

As a serious admirer of Ibsen [having visited both the National Theatre in Oslo, formerly known as Christiana, Norway, and the playwright's influential home town at the southern tip of the Norwegian peninsula, Skein], I extended Naughton my good wishes on the project. His response: "I've always liked Ibsen. Frank McGuinness has done a new translation, and has made it possible for these words to come out of an actor's words. And this is a big piece of meat for any actor to chew on." Naughton added that "I've always been drawn to this sort of big, dark drama. It's really where I came from, and how I spent all those years in Williamstown [at the Williamstown Theatre Festival, the Massachusetts annual summer playground for great theatre]. So when I heard that Ciaran [O'Reilly] was directing it, I was on board." O'Reilly's Williamstown experience included an acting stint in another McGuinness translation production, "Someone Who Will Watch Over Me." O'Reilly also served as co-founder, with Charlotte Moore, of Irish Rep, bringing Sean O'Casey's "The Plough and the Stars" to New York audiences.

Ibsen happily returns to Broadway in a new revival of "Hedda Gabler," who we haven't seen since Kate Burton's provocative interpretation in 2001. This time, the disaffected Hedda, an independent woman way way way ahead of her time, comes to life through the theatrical expertise of Mary Louise Parker, compliments of the Roundabout Theatre Company, next January.

Gina Gershon (left) and Gregg Germann (right) in Boeing-Boeing Photo credit: Joan Marcus

Also happily, three other free-spirited women, this time using an air hostess career to make their escapes from a fulltime domestic sit-down, can be seen taking off and landing in the current revival of "Boeing Boeing." And the most compelling of that trio is the versatlie Gina Gershon. Many theatre-lovers recall her early work as one of the founders of Naked Angels. Here, we can see how she has matured and developed into a stunning and captivating actress of many dimensions. While we wait for her to grow into a production of "The Rose Tattoo," will someone organize a revival of Tennessee Williams' "The Night of Iguana," with Gershon as Maxine [and maybe Liev Schreiber as the wayward defrocked Reverend Shannon?].

Also on view in "Boeing Boeing" is Greg Germann, playing the fiance-juggling Bernard, bringing different colors to the role, and showing a sterling ability to balance comedy, sympathy and farce. This show makes it clear that Germann has the chops to create a new Broadway role, and find all the dimensions in some new, great work.

What is NOT new in "Boeing Boeing" is Christine Baranski's two-dimensional evocation of the cartoon comedy character Edna 'E' Mode, from "The Incredibles," a clear imitation of legendary costume designer and Oscar magnet, Edith Head. Baranski has so much to draw from, that it's surprising who she has not drawn from her own creative reservoir to bring the housekeeper Berthe to life. In the 1965 picture, Berthe was played by the indomitable Thelma Ritter. And if you're not familiar with the film work of this unique actor, screen "All About Eve," or "Rear Window," or "The Misfits," a picture that also starred Monroe, Clift, Gable and Eli Wallach. Eli told me once that Thelma Ritter was so good, he considered her in a class by herself. In this production, it's the double G's - Greg Germann and Gina Gershon - who, in the midst of a hectic, dizzying farce, display real class.

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.

Titles mentioned in this post (and please note, even when items appear as "Spcial Order" on our website, they are often in-stock and available--the problem with a shared database):

Frank McGuinness

Someone Who Will Watch Over Me
by Frank Mcguinness
Samuel French, 2005. Acting Edition: $7.50

The Plough and the Stars
by Sean O'Casey
Samuel French Limited. British Acting Edition: $14.95
(Please call 212-944-0595 to order The Plough and the Stars.)

The Rose Tattoo
by Tennessee Williams
Acting Edition: $7.50

The Night of Iguana
by Tennessee Williams

by Marc Camoletti, Adapted by Beverley Cross
Acting Edition (Samuel French): $7.50


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