I couldn’t find an English translation of Henry Becque’s 19th-Century farce La Parisienne, upon which Beau Willimon based “The Parisian Woman,” but it’s a safe assumption that the original did not include references to the U.S. Fourth District Federal Court bench or to Twitter accounts or to “fake news.” (Although that last one…who knows?)
Willimon’s modernist (and presumably loose) adaptation has been revised even since its 2013 premiere at California’s South Coast Repertory, and could possibly be up-dated again next week, depending on the news cycle. Regardless of any further tinkering, it will remain worth seeing, not least for the presence of Uma Thurman, making her Broadway debut as Chloe, the wife of a Washington D.C. tax attorney short-listed for the vacant Fourth District judgeship. Ms. Thurman is on stage throughout all five scenes of the 90-minute one-act, as dominant to the play as Chloe is to the situation. Even just sitting upstage listening to a conversation, Thurman’s Chloe exudes the confident craftiness upon which the story revolves.
Uma Thurman, Josh Lucas (with drink) and Marton Csokas in “The Parisian Woman”
In a modern play about Oscar Wilde, he says “I have spent my life holding language up to the light, making words shimmer.” (Wilde might well have said that.) Then his 1895 play “The Importance of Being Earnest” is referred to as ‘the wittiest play in the English language.’ Nowhere is that shimmering wit more in evidence these weeks than at Two River Theater in Red Bank NJ. Directed by Tony-nominated actor Michael Cumpsty and featuring a cast of Two River newbies (save one), the play, to quote one character’s assessment of another’s quip, is “perfectly phrased.”
An unscripted moment on opening night of Phoenix Productions’ “Seussical” revealed much about how the show was being received. Nearing the end, the Cat in the Hat addresses the audience rhetorically: “And you know what happened next?” he asks. With split-second timing, an anxious voice from the audience, weak in timbre but not in volume, responded for us all: “What happened?” (Spoiler alert: Nothing bad happened.)
A dramatic Cat in the Hat (Dan Peterson) [Photos: Rich Kowalski]
There’s a mind game we used to play in college built around someone finishing the sentence “Life is like a ___” with a concept (film noir, say) or item (a coke bottle is one I recall). That game came to mind as I watched “The Last Match,” which is essentially a 90-minute response to “Life is like a tennis match.” Or vice versa. Granted, not the most challenging of allegories, but Anna Ziegler puts a neat spin on it in her play about a U. S. Open semi-final match between Tim (Wilson Bethel), an aging-out (he’s 34) American superstar, and Sergei (Alex Mickiewicz), a younger up-and-coming Russian phenom.
The play is set at that match and, in flashbacks, at various other locations. The match is played virtually set-by-set, with the running tally appearing on side-wall scoreboards. The players talk to one another, mostly in taunts, and both soliloquize inner thoughts that provide added tension and even influence the back-and-forth scoring. In their on-court stances, serves and returns, both Bethel and Mickiewicz look like actual tennis players; even though it’s in pantomime, it has the feel of watching an actual match.
From left: Zoe Winters, Wilson Bethel, Alex Mickiewicz, Natalia Payne
We like to think we can size up strangers in a first meeting, but we really can’t. Everyone is guarded for a while, with deep feelings and values held in check, at least until the atmosphere is safe.
That’s why I’m always amazed when I go into a new play knowing nothing at all about the characters and come out with insights into their behaviors, desires, fears, motivations, the whole package. In the case of Karen Rizzo’s “Mutual Philanthropy,” it took a mere ninety minutes. As well-acted as it is written, the play’s east coast premiere runs through November 19 at New Jersey Repertory Company in Long Branch.
When struggling sculptor Lee (Joseph Carlson) and his working-to-support-them wife Esther (Vivia Font) are invited to dinner at the lavish home of wealthy investment banker Charles (James Macdonald) and his neglected wife Michelle (Laurel Casillo), it is with the expectation that the hosts plan to purchase Lee’s ‘Reclining Man’ sculpture for a few much-needed thousand bucks. (The couples’ children attend the same grammar school in the gentrifying Los Angeles area neighborhood where they all live – in contrasting digs.)
Esther (Vivia Font) and Charles (James Macdonald) share a quiet moment
Two things to know about George Street Playhouse’s temporary home on the Cook College Campus of Rutgers University: One is that the venue is temporary only in the sense that GSP will be moving back to downtown New Brunswick when the Livingston Avenue performing arts center is completed – in an estimated two years. In the meantime, however, the Cook Campus facility is comfortably sleek and technically up-to-date in all aspects.
The second thing is that the opening production, “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” is a clear winner. Re-vamped by the creators of the 1996 original that ran twelve years off-Broadway (second-longest after “The Fantasticks”), the new version retains a goodly portion of the original with tweaks that make the whole enterprise fresh as the proverbial daisy.
“Love…Perfect…Change” is a series of vignettes, most musical, about relationships. Each scene is independent of the others, but a timeline emerges, starting with a first-date situation and progressing through courtship, marriage, child-rearing, etc. Joe DiPietro’s book and lyrics progress as well. Set to Jimmy Roberts’s engaging tunes, the earliest jokey material matures up to and including the penultimate “Funerals are for Dating” scene, which is an uncanny combination of comedy and poignancy.
From Left: Mitchell Jarvis, Lindsay Nicole Chambers, George Merrick, Karen Burthwright [Photos: T. Charles Erickson]