NEW YORK STORIES – The Shows
There are 3 elements that need to be perfect for me to make a show shine above the rest, the play (content), the performances, and the production. It is very rare when all 3 hit the mark. Out of the 21 productions I saw in NYC only 5 made it to the winner’s circle. 3 plays and 2 musicals.
Here I will highlight the plays.
All three of them were from an off-Broadway stage, I’m not saying that the ones caught on Broadway weren’t any good, they certainly were, but they seemed to be held up by star performances with the play or production lacking.
3000 Miles by Amy Herzog.
This wonderful production has star performances by Mary Louise Wilson and Gabriel Ebert as a 91 yr old grandmother and 21 yr old grandson who seeks refuge at her apartment in the West Village of New York City after losing his best friend on a cross-country bicycle tour. Amy Herzog’s delicate and humorous play explores how these two unlikely outsiders cope with living in today’s world. One would think that the cross generational aspect of the play may bring up fireworks but Herzog doesn’t succumb to cliche instead drawing two fine and unorthodox characters and giving the actors involved roles to shine in. They are ably supported by the 2 women in the boy’s life, his ex-girlfriend (Zoe Winters) and a one night stand (Greta Lee). The superb direction by Daniel Aukin never misses and his creative collaborators – costumes (Kay Voyce), lighting (Jaffy Weideman) and set design (Laura Helpern) are first class. Presented by the Lincoln Centre Theatre on the Mitzi E. Newhouse stage they certainly won the trifecta with this one, it has extended many times and won a joint Obie award for the leading actors as well as for best new American play – well deserved.
Gabriel Ebert & Mary Louise Wilson in their award winning roles
Lonely I’m Not by Paul Weitz
This play was recommended to me by a New Yorker. It was not on my radar but she assured me it was a very good play given a top notch production. The reviews were good and the theatre just around the corner from my apartment. I was given a discount code and at the last minute decided to venture along – 30 minutes and $30 later (a bargain) I was sitting in an excellent seat at the Second Stages theatre. To my delight in walked director Mike Nichols and his beautiful wife Diane Sawyer and they plonked themselves down 2 rows in front of me – distracting at first (did Mike laugh? what did he think of it?) but soon this excellent play grabbed my attention and I was delighted to see a top notch show.
Featuring the stage debut of TV & film actor Topher Grace (That 70’s Show) the play was written by Paul Weitz best known as a film screenwriter (Amercian Pie, About A Boy). A contemporary dysfunctional love story – a riff on the Hollywood rom com. The boy, Porter, was a Wall Street broker who suffered a meltdown and four years later is holed up in his LA apartment. Set up by a friend he goes on a blind date (literally) where he meets the girl, Heather who is blind and a workaholic determined not to let her disability get in the way. So they meet, they date, they fall in love, they fight… The story might have an element of cliché but the finely drawn characters and excellent acting by the whole cast had me enthralled, laughing, crying and on the edge of my seat. Topher Grace (a real surprise) and Olivia Thirlby as his blind girlfriend create totally believable characters and the deft direction by Trip Cullman once again aided by fine collaborators of which particular mention should go to set designer Mark Wendland and projection designer Aaron Rhyne – the production used words, projections and holograms to great effect giving it a contemporary cinematic feel. I left the theatre happy that all 3 criteria had been met and also wondering whether Mike Nichol’s liked it as much as I did and would he direct the film version? here’s hoping 🙂
Olivia Thirlby & Topher Grace perform a rocky romance
A clever set uses words to help tell the story
Cock by Mike Bartlett
An acclaimed English import as far as play and production go but with an American cast. One could imagine that recasting could ruin the trifecta but it sure hasn’t. With a provocative title that is unable to be printed in some New York press it is also known as “The Cock Fighting play”!!
English playwright Mike Bartlett bounced onto the West End scene when this production originated at the famed Royal Court theatre. It is performed on a purpose built setting in which the audience sit on plywood benches with very thin cushions, the show is performed in the round and the meticulous direction by James McDonald choreographs the action as if you were indeed watching a cock fight play out. What are they fighting for? The love and affection of John (Cory Michael Smith) who decides one day that he does not want to live with his boyfriend, known as M (Jason Butler Harner), anymore. He meets a co-worker known as W (Amanda Quaid) and they start up a heterosexual relationship which leads to all sorts of conflicts and confusion. M insists on dinner party showdown in which his father F (Cotter Smith) is in attendance for support.A decision needs to be made and the tension till that final moment is breathtaking. Using no props or settings whatsoever the extremely talented cast perform their roles to perfection in a production of a very profound, funny and moving play. The audience are all in close proximity (check out the setting below) and although at times it can be startling you soon become engrossed in the drama unfolding in front of you. Theatre doesn’t get much better than this. “Cock” is playing an open ended run at the Duke Theatre on 42nd street, go see it if you are in town.
Fighting for love in the ring of life – The fine cast of Cock