Monday, October 28, 2019

Weekly Margin 2019, W43: The Inheritance - Part Two, Little Shop of Horrors, Fires in the Mirror, Soft Power, Only Human

This week I saw my 100th show of 2019 with Fires in the Mirror!

10/22/19: The Inheritance - Part Two
What: Part two of Matthew Lopez's two-part epic play adaptation of E. M. Forster's Howards End (Part one seen 10/07/19).
And? As exquisite as Part One. Beautiful, honest, moving, heartbreaking, spirit-lifting. I was near tears for much of the 3+ hours. I was particularly struck this time by the musicality of the performance, by how in tune and in time with each other all the performers are, expertly orchestrated by director Stephen Daldry. Part Two is harder to watch than Part One in some ways, as characters with self-destructive tendencies deteriorate faster and faster, so I will offer that warning. We are warned in the play that "to fall in love is to make an appointment with heartbreak." But heartbreak is never the end of the story and my goodness, what a special experience to have on Broadway this season.

10/23/19: Little Shop of Horrors
What: The latest New York revival of Menken and Ashman's dark musical comedy, at Westside Theatre Upstairs (not to be confused with the current Pasadena Playhouse production).
And? Good clean fun, and a solid production of Little Shop. Nothing revolutionary, but I do appreciate the performers' dedication to finding their own rhythm and delivery to such well-known material. Jonathan Groff's casting definitely feels like Nicole Kidman putting on a putty nose, but if you ignore that, he's delightful and hilarious. Ari Groover, Salome Smith, and Joy Woods as the three urchins are terrific as well, and oh boy is Christian Borle having fun.

Jonathan Groff and Joy Woods as Seymour and Chiffon.
Photo by Emilio Madrid.

10/24/19: Fires in the Mirror
What: Signature revives Anna Deavere Smith's journalistic play about the racial tensions surrounding the Crown Heights riot of 1991, a conflict between the black community and Orthodox Jewish Chabad community after a young black child was struck and killed by a car in a rabbi's motorcade, and a Jewish man from Australia was murdered in retaliation.
And? Such powerful and provoking work, and well acted by Michael Benjamin Washington in the one person showcase originally performed by Smith herself. The larger tragedy, outside of the two horrible deaths, is how clearly all the people Smith interviewed see themselves as the injured party, how outraged they are to be seen and treated only in terms of their demographic, and yet each interviewee keeps referring to the other side only as a general judgement on their demographic, based on the facts as they understand them to be (facts which differ depending on whom we ask). The timing of this revival is particularly apt, as we are seeing--not the rise of, for that would imply it had gone away--a growing volume in anti-black and antisemitic sentiment and violence here in the U.S.

10/25/19: Soft Power
What: The Public Theatre brings to New York a new musical from David Henry Hwang and Jeanine Tesori about a playwright named David Henry Hwang attempting to adapt a Chinese film to a new musical for Shanghai when a random assault sends him into a delirium of imagining an elaborate new musical story, a fantasia of a Chinese film producer who might be able to save America from itself.
And? I keep thinking about it, and I suppose I will continue to think about it as time goes on. Hwang has always been adept at holding a mirror up to Western culture, forcing us to acknowledge our own subconscious judgments and prejudices, and seeing America through that lens is a useful wake-up call. I think if we didn't have the panel discussion between the two acts, the whole thing might veer too tiringly into unfiltered satire and pastiche. And ultimately I think the show does let us off the hook a little more than we deserve, perhaps falling prey to the fact that it is a musical comedy and people generally expect to leave a musical comedy smiling. I am pleased to see that the canon of musical theater for Asian performers continues to expand and to tell different stories, though we've still got a long way to go.

Alyse Alan Louis and Conrad Ricamora as Hillary Clinton and Xue Xing.
Photo by Joan Marcus. 

10/26/19: Only Human
What: A new (and as of this posting, closing today) Off-Broadway musical about Creation, with Gary Busey as God (the Boss) of an 80's style corporate office, managing the shenanigans of his three angels: Jay (his son Jesus), Lou (Lucifer), and Maggie (Mary Magdalene). No, I can't tell you why.
And? Honestly, I don't want to trash this show. Most of what I feel right now is pity. The show is nowhere near ready for an Off-Broadway production, and they rushed it because they got Gary Busey to sign on. The concept needs a lot more baking, and the whole thing could use a healthy dash of wit and sense, and they've gone and blown it. On top of that, they've clearly run out of money. Beyond the fact that they're closing almost immediately after opening (Liz Wollman's recent keynote at the Song, Stage and Screen conference in Leeds examined why shows close and how much it has to do with money already raised to keep the show floating until momentum catches up), the set is so clearly half-finished that it looks like a rehearsal run against a half-built design. And if you want to know how Gary Busey was, he was exactly how you'd expect him to be.

Ben Bogen, Kim Steele, Evan Maltby, Gary Busey (above), Mike Squillante,
and Lili Thomas. Photo by Ahron R. Foster.

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