Monday, April 18, 2022

Weekly Margin 2022, W17: The Skin of Our Teeth, Funny Girl, Hangmen, Suffs

What: Lincoln Center's revival of Thornton Wilder's play about the Antrobus family and their maid Sabina, who are sometimes the first family (Adam, Eve, and offspring) and sometimes a contemporary family and sometimes a family torn apart by war, and sometime ... well, you get the picture. It's Wilder's three-act Pulitzer winner about a family facing an ice age, then an epic flood, then the ravages of war.
And? I still really like this play, but this production did not hold up against my memories of TFANA's thrilling production in 2017. Even with how transcendently wonderful Gabby Beans is as Sabina (and she absolutely is, oh my god), the production as directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz is too messy. Far too often I didn't know where to look, and I didn't know to whom (or what) I should be listening--and I often didn't have a choice because whatever sound was undermining the dialog rendered it so I couldn't properly listen to either the dialog or the distraction. Even something as simple as a slow motion sequence is undermined by the lack of unity in the cast on the actual speed of that slow motion. Adam Rigg's scenic design has some magical moments -- particularly the overgrown garden of Act III, or the working fun slide on the Atlantic City pier in Act II -- but it too sometimes distracts too much from whatever it is I'm supposed to be paying attention to in the story. When I saw the TFANA production, I described it at intermission as "it's about all of us, about everything, about whether we deserve to survive." I can still hear that story if I listen intently to this production, but the answer to the question seems to be increasingly "nah, but maybe next world-ending event around we'll do better."

Julian Robertson, Roslyn Ruff, Paige Gilbert, and the puppeteers as
Henry Antrobus, Mrs. Antrobus, Gladys Antrobus, and the dinosaur and
the wooly mammoth. Photo by Julieta Cervantes.

4/14/22: Funny Girl
What: The long-anticipated revival of the Jule Styne-Bob Merrill-Isobel Lennart biomusical about Fanny Brice's rise to fame and her ill-fated romance with Nicky Arnstein.
And? This show and its star are getting pretty torn up on the message boards, but unfortunately I don't have a lot of positives to sandbag against it. Beanie Feldstein is a talented actress with a sweet voice but she is noticeably uncomfortable onstage--uncomfortable physically, uncomfortable vocally, and uncomfortable comedically. I can hope that as the run goes on she'll attain more ease and find a way to unite the clown of Fanny with the sweet humanity she's already giving her into one coherent character. Ramin Karimloo as Nicky is all things wonderful and heartbreaking, and his chemistry with Feldstein is pretty great. Beyond that, I find Michael Mayer's direction of the show a bit inert. I can't tell how much of my meh reaction is the show or the production.

Leslie Donna Flesner, Afra Hines, Beanie Feldstein, and Ramin Karimloo as
two chorus girls, Fanny Brice, and Nicky Arnstein.
Photo by Matthew Murphy. 

4/16/22: Hangmen
What: The postponed Broadway transfer of Martin McDonagh's dark comedy about a hangman facing the end of his career with the abolition of the death penalty, as well as some possible chickens coming home to roost from that career. [I saw the Atlantic run in 2018, which was meant to transfer to Broadway in Spring 2020]
And? It's still a good play, but a bit of something is lost in the changeover from Mark Addy to David Threlfall in the recasting of the hangman, Harry. However some other recastings are really quite terrific: Andy Nyman as Syd, Alfie Allen as the menacing Mooney, and especially Tracie Bennett as Harry's wife Alice (god I love Tracie Bennett so much, y'all. She's so good, every time). And Anna Fleischle's scenic design, full of surprises, is an absolute dish.

The 2020 cast of Hangmen. Photo by Joan Marcus.

4/16/22: Suffs
What: The Public Theater presents a new history-musical by Shaina Taub, about Alice Paul and the fight for women's suffrage in the U.S.
And? The buzz for this has been so big, and the run is sold out even as it keeps extending, so I went in with very high hopes. And alas. It's not there yet. There's some good stuff in here, I think the core of the story is absolutely worth telling, but it's falling prey to what plagues a lot of bio or historical retellings: "this happened, then this happened, then this" and it's all included because it all happened. But that doesn't make for a compelling story or a coherent character arc or a point of view. Perhaps the true miracle of Hamilton (a clear influence on this show in style, subject, structure, and contemporary lens) is that it took real things that happened and turned them into a compelling story with clearly delineated character arcs. This show is trying to address some of the criticism laid at Hamilton's door (giving voice to Black suffragists as well as pointing out the myopia of white feminism at the heart of Alice Paul's story). And it's lovely to see an inclusive cast--multi-ethnic, a cast of women and nonbinary actors, and proving that Ali Stroker isn't the only musical theater star in a wheelchair.

I like Shaina Taub as a writer and a performer, but there's too much sameness in the score for the show in its current iteration, and I think it needs a strong editor to come in and focus what the actual story of the show is, and what its center is. Right now there are a lot of cool things that work in isolation (including a hilarious Grace McLean as a rubbery-limbed Woodrow Wilson) but the show as a whole sputters more than it soars.

Philippa Soo as Inez Milholland, with Ally Bonino and Shaina Taub as Lucy
Burns and Alice Paul. Photo by Joan Marcus.

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