It's been a losing week in theaters for arguing the preeminence of movies over theater. An anemic stage adaptation by Tom Schulman of his Dead Poets Society screenplay has just opened at the Classic Stage Company, and a by-the-numbers adaptation by Dan Gordon of James L. Brooks's Terms of Endearment screenplay (from the Larry McMurtry novel) has bowed at 59E59 Theaters.
It's not that either is outright bad (a full Dead Poets Society review can be found elsewhere on The Huffington Post), but other than riding in on the coattails of favorite movies of the not too distant past--Terms of Endearment released in 1983, Dead Poets Society in 1989--the reasons for either existing aren't immediately apparent or convincing.
Since comparisons are generally considered odious, none will appear here involving the film's stars. (Shirley MacLaine won an Oscar for ToE, a did Robert DeNiro.) Suffice it to say that Molly Ringwald as the mother Aurora Greenway to Hannah Dunne's daughter Emma Greenway acquit themselves well under Michael Parva's direction. Or well enough.
Terms of Endearment is basically a mother-daughter turn, although there are men in both women's lives. Emma, once she marries Flap Horton (Denver Milord), against Aurora's advice, has to contend with hubby's cheating ways. Aurora, long single, finds new and temporary hot love with next-door neighbor Garrett Breedlove (Jeb Brown).
The Aurora-Emma friction is due to the former's self-love and the latter's pragmatism. In the early sections of the play their discord is often carried out on the phone--and on David L. Arsenault's matter-of-fact set, divided into Aurora's sitting-room on one side, married Emma's kitchen on the other side and a shared, almost queen-sized bed in the middle.
The significant development occurring some years after Aurora has made a stink about becoming a grandmother is Emma's cancer diagnosis and the ensuing familial rapprochement. Few dramatic twists are more powerful at eliciting audience sympathy than a terminal illness, and it works its theatrical pull this time as would be expected.
Ringwald and Dunne rise to the tear-jerking occasion--as do Brown (in an uncanny Robert DeNiro impersonation) and Milord--but the thought remains that the Directors Company production, in association with Invictus Theater Company and Linda Gray, is somehow superfluous.
On leaving My Name is Gideon I'm Probably Going to Die Eventually, my companion uttered one of the most profound comments I've ever heard on theater--and art in general.
"You must be tolerant of talent," he said, perhaps intuiting the slightly negative reaction I was about to express about Gideon Irving's 100-minute-or-so piece. The instant he spoke, I knew what he meant.
More than that, I knew he was right. There's no denying Irving--or more to his liking, Gideon--who has talent radiating from him. He's so gifted that his eagerness to share those gifts keeps him from knowing when to stop: at the 60-minute mark would have been fine.
At the start of his hyperkinetic routine, he explains that ordinarily he goes into his song-dance-instruments-plus shenanigans in people's homes. He claims that, at 29, he's done his act in 504 homes in 6 countries and announces he will next take the performance on the road and on horseback.
For the month, though, he's turned the Rattlestick Theater into what he's calling his home. He--and, presumably carpenters Hannah Cook and Mike Millan, master electrician Cody Richardson and scenic painter Rebecah Noyes--have plastered maps on the walls, stuffed National Geographics into a shelf unit, hung festive red and green and yellow and blue bulbs and piled so much more into the merrily cluttered space. (Is he really able to do as much in other people's houses?)
Loping around his temporary digs in a T-shirt and loose trousers, he sings several songs he's written and also one about the sea apparently by a 5-year-old girl he knows. He accompanies himself on a series of unusual instruments. Throughout, and seemingly on whim, he indulges surprise activities that often rely on audience participation.
Since management has asked reviewers not to describe the surprises I'll comply. I can say that one of the surprises is not so surprising. Andy Kaufman popped it 30 years ago or more. Another, intentionally or not, comes off as a visual pun for a manifestation of male sexual frustration.
But Gideon is a talented man, and, following my friend's dictum, I'm going to be tolerant of a show, whose artistic director is Michael Wolk, that began cheerfully and fresh but slowly transformed into the somewhat irritating.
This reviewer can't cop to disliking stage rapping. I'm a huge Hamilton advocate. I actually regard it as sui generis but also as a signpost to a new direction in musical theater. Several years back, I also greatly enjoyed The Bomb-itty of Errors, a hip-hop version (directed with great aplomb by Andy Goldberg) of William Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors.
And I suppose I ought to commend GQ and JQ (no other names given) who are now giving the Bard's Othello the rap treatment with their lickety-split Othello the Remix, at Westside Theatre/Downstairs. The two Qs, who were heavily connected to The Bomb-itty of Errors, have also directed their new Shakespeare shake-up and act in it along with Jackson Doran and Postell Pringle in the title role.
While DJ Supernova does his frenzied thing upstage on Scott Adam Davis's blaring set, the cast members--all but Pringle doubling--retell the famous tale of the Moor who's prodded to red-hot jealousy by his henchman Iago and comes to believe his young wife Desdemona (she's heard but not seen) is cheating on him with valued subordinate Cassio. So he murders her.
While GQ and JQ stay faithful to the plot, they've updated the tragedy to a recording company today. Among other liberties taken is the substitution of a gaudy neck chain for the handkerchief that causes all the sturm und drang in the original.
The four men barely take a breather while moving about and gesticulating in the now time-honored rapper manner, but something does nag about the modernizing. There's the distinct feeling that those involved want current audiences to appreciate Shakespeare but are concerned that his language has grown to be off-putting. It hasn't, and at no point does the replacement verse reach the supernal level of the real thing.