An Amusement Column
by Harry Haun
SOME PEOPLE SAY IT WITH FLOWERS: Since Bob Dylan was a no-show at the Sweden Academy in 2016 when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, nobody bothered to save him a table Thursday night when Girl From the North Country bowed at the Belasco—but he had 30 bottles of Heaven’s Door Whiskey delivered to those responsible for him making his Broadway debut at this very late (78) date. The booze came with his best wishes and blessing, since he had caught the show two years ago when it played the Public Theater here and was pleased with the results. (London and Toronto where the show had played earlier was, evidently, too far to go for a mere ego-massage). Considering the award bric-a-brac he’s amassed in his 60-year career–the Presidential Medal of Freedom, plus 11 Grammy Awards–a Tony may be too late and too little, but that’s how it’s leaning.
The Public’s Oskar Eustis was blissed out about the move uptown. “I’m thrilled to have this show on Broadway,” he said. “For me, the criterion is really simple. It’s: ‘Can we keep making the show better, even as we transfer to a commercial venue?’ And I think we did that with this show. It’s even better here than it was downtown.”
The show’s chief architect is Conor McPherson, the Dublin dramatist and director. His objective in sprinkling 21 Dylan songs over his play is to do what Mamma Mia! did for romantic comedy: creative a narrative where a junkbox score of popular, established songs can lay down comfortably. Historically, when McPherson’s dark clouds move across the theatrical landscape—The Weir, The Seafarer, Shining City, The Night Alive, et al—he can work up a prize-winning case of angst and depression with no more than 4-6 characters. This opus requires 13 featured roles and a reinforcement ensemble of 4. All flail and wail around a failing boarding house in Dylan’s hometown (Duluth, Minnesota) in 1934 (7 years before he got there). The Depression, which weighed heavily on the nation from the late ‘20s to the early ’30, had started to lift, but none of these denizens seem to have gotten the memo.
It’s quite a despairing lot, wearing their malady name-tags as conspicuously as the Jagged Little Pill characters who all have individually assigned illnesses: the boarding house proprietor (Jay O. Sanders) with a widowed mistress on the side (Jeannette Bayardelle); his wife (a superb Mare Winningham), zigzagging back and forth between dementia and clarity (not unlike an actress who had recently done too many episodes of The Outsider, the unearthly HBO series which concludes Sunday); their alcoholic son (Colton Ryan) dreaming of becoming a writer; their adopted and pregnant African-American daughter (Kimber Elayne Sprawl) fearing a resurgence of the KKK; a blackmailing Bible salesman (Matt McGrath) given to high-pitched shrieks; his prey, a blustery but busted businessman (Marc Kudisch); his strident wife (Luba Mason), sick of his uncamouflaged philandering; their grown, mentally defective son (Todd Almond) who may have killed some people during their family outings. Acting sporadically as narrator is a morphine-addicted doctor (Robert Joy), who completes everybody’s timeline before he himself croaks on Christmas of 1934.
In strange but palpable way, this is The Play for our coronavirus times. An early frost had settled over the first-nighters, and personal contact seemed, suddenly, a thing of the past. Shubert kingpin Philip Smith waved away the extended hand. Martha Plimpton admitted she was reluctant about shaking hands. Kevin McCollum, who’s produced on Broadway from Avenue Q to next week’s Six, chose to elbow hello.
The evening’s twinkle-and-shine was pretty much confined to the audience’s side of the footlights: Jesse Eisenberg, drumbeating for his new movie, Resistance, in which he plays Marcel Marceau, Nazi Fighter; Jesse Tyler Ferguson, taking a break from rehearsing Take Me Out, with actor-producer hubby Justin Mikita (they’ve started their own Modern Family as fathers); Steve and Maureen Van Zandt, unmistakable as usual; Lois Smith, enjoying a night off from being the lone lady in The Inheritance; Ben Platt, fleeing the gloom at intermission (and he comes from a depressing show!); Michael Park, Ben’s dad in Dear Evan Hansen and now co-producer of Stephen Schwartz’s forthcoming Disney musical, The Prince of Egypt; Kathy Najimy, “looking veryveryprettytonight”; Rosie O’Donnell and spouse, Kelli Carpenter; a scruffy-looking James Franco, wisely blocking a photographer’s shot; Corey Stoll and Nadia Bowers (Mr. and Mrs. Macbeth of late); ; Laura Osnes, “doing concert work right now,” and photographer spouse Nathan Johnson (they met as Princess and Prince in a very early staging of Aladdin); Claire Danes, looking slightly serene after finishing Homeland, with her actor-husband, Hugh Dancy; Dreamgirls composer Henry Krieger; Sophia Anne Caruso, out and about and presumably networking after abruptly bolting from Beetlejuice; Ethan Slater, beaming with SpongeBob SquarePants optimism; Mary-Louise Parker, currently between Broadway traumas (The Sound Inside and How I Learned To Drive—and which one will get her the Tony nomination?); Jane Krakowski, “fresh” from a brush with Larry David on Curb Your Enthusiasm; Michael C. Hall, opting not to do Gnit in Brooklyn March 7-29; James Van Der Beek, putting on a happy face in advance of tackling Dick Van Dyke’s role in Bye Bye Birdie April 23-28 for the Kennedy Center–and that’s not saying anything for Bernadette Peters, Brooke Shields, Brooke Adams and (at parade rest from his Emmy-winning The Amazing Mrs. Maisel) Tony Shaloub, Telly Leung, Brian d’Arcy James, Maryann Plunkett, director Alex Timbers, Anthony Edwards, Wesley Taylor.
WHAT ARE YOU DOING THE REST OF YOUR LIFE?: Interviews with people “of a certain age” provided the patter for the non-linear book of Taking My Turn, the Gary William Friedman–Will Holt–Robert H. Livingston musical which rates a concert reprise March 9 at Feinstein’s/54 Below. Mel Gussow of The New York Times’ described it as “a musical about aging that is irrepressibly young at heart,” and it wound up winning the 1983 Outer Critics Award for Best Lyrics and Music. A seasoned cast made it sing. . . . The senior cast assembled for the current one-night-only event consists of George Dvorsky, Nina Hennessey, James Jackson Jr., Sally Mayes, Martin Vidnovic, Alan Wager, Rema Webb and Karen Ziemba. . . . The delightful Miss Z will spend the next night at York Theater with Liz Callaway cherry-picking their way through 60-plus years of Sheldon Harnick songs. The legendary lyricist will punctuate the evening with anecdotes about the making of She Loves Me, The Rothschilds, Tenderloin, Rex, Fiorello! and, oh yes, Fiddler on the Roof. . . . The happenstance of how Fiddler got its title is a doozy. In the recent documentary on show, Harnick remembered how Jerome Robbins felt a strong affinity between the work of Marc Chagall and the Eastern European peasants in the play. He even showed [Jerry] Bock & Harnick a Chagall painting of a man playing a violin, floating a bit above the roof. It fascinated them, and one of them—Harnick couldn’t recall who—suggested that Fiddler on the Roof ought to be the title of their show. Voila!
WHAT’S IN A NAME? Seven years after debuting at the Humana Festival, Will Eno’s Gnit has found its way to Brooklyn’s Theater for a New Audience. That’s the way he spells and adapts Ibsen’s Peer Gynt. At one point, the title character (played by Joe Cirnutte) shrugs it off as “a typo.” Well, you know Eno. . . . The Neighbors’ Window, a 21-minute short that was a big surprise win at last month’s Academy Awards, stars Maria Dizzia (a.k.a. Mrs. Eno) and Greg Keller as middle-aged marrieds-with-children, who become envious voyeurs when randy twenty-somethings move into the Manhattan high-rise across the street. Despite its brevity, the film packs a startling and poignant wallop: The voyeurs don’t realize till it’s too late they’ve been ogled right back–with a different kind of envy. It’s a trick ending worthy of O. Henry.
THE PRESIDENT AND THE UNPRECEDENTED: That newfound film critic, Donald J. Trump, weighed in heavily and negatively (and, yes, sight unseen) on South Korea’s Parasite, the first foreign-language/subtitled film to win the Academy Award for Best Picture. Neon, the movie’s U.S. distributor, was sympathetic to the President’s problem: “Understandable, he can’t read.” To which, Bette Midler tweeted her raspberry: “I’m more upset that a parasite won the White House.” . . . Trump’s idea of an Oscar-worthy film is exactly 80 years old. “Can we get Gone With the Wind back please?” he pleaded, apparently obviously to the revisionist view that this blockbuster had demeaning stereotypes of Blacks and a romanticized nostalgia of the South and slavery. . . . There may be other attractions at the IFC Center these days, but its marquee, you gotta admit, is pretty unprecedented, Mr. President:
PARASITE – WINNER OF
4 ACADEMY AWARDS:
BEST PICTURE, DIR,
SCREENPLAY, INT’L FILM