Comedy may be hard, but it seems dark comedy is harder still. After the dour movie starring La Streep, I was happy to get to revisit my beloved MARVIN’S ROOM with the Roundabout’s production starring Lili Taylor, Janeane Garofalo and Celia Weston. I guess I’ll have to hold off on my celebrations until the next revival.
MARVIN’S ROOM, written by Scott McPherson who died at the age of 33 from AIDS, is filled with gallows humor and moments of heartbreaking beauty. This production has mined only half of the laughs and glosses over some of the most touching moments from the play. The director, Anne Kauffman, is aware that it is a comedy, but goes for the broadest jokes as with the overplayed Doctor. Some of the most poignant scenes are barely audible and not given the full weight that they deserve, as in the pivotal scene where Bessie explains to Lee how she benefits from caregiving. Those lines should resonate and devastate, instead, they are just another conversation on an oversized stage. The set is cumbersome and you lose all sense of intimacy so necessary in the tender scenes. The sound design is inadequate to the point where one character is inaudible for half of his lines, further distancing the audience.
I will never forget sitting down at the Minetta Lane Theatre and laughing till I cried at the plight of these Health System Warriors and their struggles to retain their humanity. Even a half-hearted revival won’t dim that memory.
OSLO by J. T. Rogers is about The Oslo Accords and how they brought momentary peace in the Middle East. That’s a very heady subject to choose and with Bartlett Sher‘s adept direction, you have a lovely evening of intrigue and behind the scene machinations that is never boring or preachy. Unfortunately, it also never soars beyond a PBS docudrama with very few thrills and almost no depth. My jaw hit the ground when confronted with the overused “how can we be enemies, our daughters have the same first name” bit. Really? Even the usually wonderful Jennifer Ehle and Jefferson Mays come off blandly as the Norwegian couple who mastermind the Peace Talks. Michael Aronov gives a vigorous, eccentric performance as the one character with any real verve. Mr. Aronov deserved the Tony, OSLO did not.
A DOLL’S HOUSE, PART 2 is a riveting 90 minute look into the flaws of modern emotional connections, all while dressed in Victorian garb. The way that Ibsen showed us the foibles of turn-of-the-century sexual politics, Lucas Hnath gives us insight into the thrust and parry of current relationships. The costumes align the show with the original work, but the racy dialogue lets you know that they are talking about our lives now.
Laurie Metcalf (brilliant) comes blustering in like a contemporary Bella Abzug, until she is challenged and you see the exterior crack. Jayne Houdyshell (delicious) smiles like a crocodile as the resilient and resentful nurse left in charge of the kids that Nora abandoned. Condola Rashad (fascinating) is the self-assured mirror of Nora post door slamming. Chris Cooper (wonderful), is constantly shifting moods in his effort to rein in his emotions. Every single performance is delightfully theatrical and psychologically layered. And did I mention; it’s a REALLY FUNNY COMEDY! Where A DOll’S HOUSE (part 1) is a parable of female awakening, PART 2 shows us why it is so difficult for men and women to get along in today’s self-centered Society.