Drama involves conflict.
That’s why so many plays rely on husbands, wives and lovers.
As Katharine Hepburn famously said, “Marriage isn’t a word – it’s a sentence.”
Some productions in recent weeks have dealt with wedlock and/or the eternal triangle. So we might as well look at these shows in one fell swoop (and column).
Michael Tucker’s FERN HILL has three heterosexual Baby Boomer couples, all of whom embraced hippie-ish values when younger. Now that they’re at the age when serious health issues will inevitably arrive, they’re mulling over the pros and cons of all living together. Are they destined to finally have that commune that was once the hallmark of the counter-cultural?
Then Jer (played in appropriately flummoxed fashion by Mark Blum) admits to having an affair.
Living together would be far dicier. Would the other four want to cohabitate with a couple that at any moment could burst into a fight or a murder?
If you were writing this play, would you make your audience start to suspect that the affair was with a younger woman — or with one of the four friends? The latter choice would have theatergoers constantly looking at the other characters, waiting for guilt to invade one of their faces before the truth came spilling out.
Whichever choice Michael Tucker made, he did provide a part for his wife Jill (ONWARD VICTORIA) Eikenberry as the cheated-on spouse. You may have heard of that famous religious organization’s campaign slogan “The family that prays together stays together?” Apparently the couple that does plays together stays together, too.
In Tennessee Williams’ THE ROSE TATTOO, Serafina’s husband is killed in an off-stage “accident” before we can meet him. This tragedy makes her a veritable recluse. Even when evidence increasingly grows that he was a philanderer, she copes through denial.
Enter future lover Alvaro. What he does shortly after meeting her is an extraordinarily extreme way of saying he’s sincerely interested in her. (Sweet Charity did the same thing — and lived to regret it.)
But – in a flaw that belongs to Williams – we wonder if a man would do something that would essentially make him a carbon copy of Serafina’s first husband. Wouldn’t he prefer to establish himself as his own man?
Marisa Tomei has the utterly unenviable task of taking on the role that won Maureen Stapleton a Tony and Anna Magnani an Oscar. Cullman has made her too obvious in how overheated she gets by Alvaro (decently portrayed by Emun Elliott).
There IS comedy in this Williams play, which Cullman overdoes and turns into farce. There’s a lot of frosting here, but not nearly enough cake.
Some marriages don’t last till death do they part. In LINDA VISTA, Dick Wheeler (a solid Ian Barford) is going through a divorce right now. How he handles it is funny for a while — and then not at all.
Many have complained that Tracy Letts has created a misogynistic and unforgivable character. Yes, but what Letts might be implying is that when a husband is enduring a split from his wife, he’s not remotely at his best. He makes terrible decisions because he’s so devastated by what’s happened.
LINDA VISTA tells the truth about certain ex-husbands-to-be. They may need plenty of time and introspection to regain the best of what they’ve been. If marriage is a sentence, we all know that after a prisoner is released he has a hard time returning and readjusting to the outside world.
Husbands and wives often become parents; husbands and husbands occasionally do. In Jeff Augustin’s THE NEW ENGLANDERS, Aaron (the really good Patrick Breen) and Samuel (the really REALLY good Teagle F. Bougere) go from having pride in their adopted African-American genius Eisa to utter despair at what she’s become. Like many spouses, each spends time saying “It’s your fault!”
Considering the way Eisa reiterates her sense of entitlement and unwillingness to compromise, calling her The Kid from Hell isn’t strong enough. After she dies, she’ll certainly be consigned to the lower depths of hell.
Too bad, though, that director Saheem Ali has allowed Kara Young’s Eisa to be so over the top. The too-mature performance reveals that Young is a full-fledged adult and not the teen that the play requires.
Duran in THE WRONG MAN has a lover for one night only. She’s Mariana, who’s soon killed by her previous lover; Man in Black is the only name we get for him. Her cavorting with Duran isn’t the main reason he murders Mariana.
He’s able to pin the crime on Duran.
Alfred Hitchcock did a film with the same title. There the wronged man was finally exonerated. But that was 1955, a much simpler time. Now we have a show where The Man in Black is white and Duran is black, so don’t assume you’ll see a happy ending.
Some may complain that this 90-minute intermissionless show gives short shrift to the legal system; it speeds by due process and doesn’t even mention appeals. What Ross Golan may be saying is that black lives don’t much matter to many and that an African-American is deemed guilty even if he strikes his accusers as innocent.
Golan’s music is astounding, and allows for Joshua Henry to deliver many soulful arias (and render them splendidly). His lyrics don’t always rhyme perfectly, but that’s sadly true of most new musicals. At least Golan doesn’t misrhyme nearly as much as his contemporaries.
Is saying that director Thomas Kail is this generation’s answer to Michael Bennett too hyperbolic? The director who’ll always be first and foremost known for HAMILTON knows how to create dazzling stage pictures.
Some will say no, because Kail, unlike Bennett, must rely on the services of a choreographer. What Travis Wall delivers is more musical staging than dance; however, it’s wonderfully pleasing to the eye.
They’ll be conflict even when the spouses don’t split.
Forty-four out of the 45 presidents have been married at least once. In THE GREAT SOCIETY, Lyndon Johnson’s wife who’s chummily known as Lady Bird sits on the sidelines for most of the two-and-a-half-hour play. Finally, though, Robert Schenkkan gets around to the show’s most touching scene where we see a wife doing what she can to help her husband feel better.
After all the other shows, what a pleasure to see a wife soothe her husband and not ruffle him. And that’s the type of sentence with which I want to end this column.