FIORELLO! Off-Broadway

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The Berkshire Theater Group’s production of FIORELLO!. Photo by Emma Rothenberg-Ware.

**

I love Bock & Harnick’s score to FIORELLO!, the musical about how Fiorello LaGuardia became Mayor of New York.  Set in 1919-1934, the book by Jerome Weidman and George Abbott was written in 1959 with a 1959 mentality, both good and bad.  The idea that politics is just a “song and dance” is such a breath of fresh air given the current nasty political climate, however the dated female tropes of being helpless and emotionally desperate are painful to watch, even in a period setting.

The Berkshire Theater Group has transferred their production of FIORELLO! to the East 13th Street Theater (better known as the home of Classic Stage Company).  The cast is very young.  The show feels like a college production.  The voices are untrained, the acting is uneven, the dialects are a rollercoaster of awkward sounds.  There are some gems; Dan Cassin and Chelsea Cree Groen are adorable as Floyd and Dora, Bob Moss‘ direction is smart and sophisticated, and the concise Set design packs all of the essentials.  Austin Scott Lombardi gives a credible performance as LaGuardia, a role that should be charm personified.  I am afraid this production is only for the die-hard fans of the musical.

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THE CRUCIBLE

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The Playbill labels this ARTHUR MILLER’S THE CRUCIBLE, but there is no doubt in anyone’s mind; this is IVO VAN HOVE‘S THE CRUCIBLE.  After his startling and revelatory production of Arthur Miller’s A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE last season, I am happy to report that Mr. Van Hove has reimagined a classic about mass hysteria and witch hunting into one hell of a scary tale.

This is the same CRUCIBLE that you read in high school.  After a short tryst with the married John Proctor, teen-aged Abigail Williams gathers her friends in the night to dance and cast a magic spell to make him leave his wife.  John and his wife, Elizabeth, are barely speaking so if Abigail had just held out for a few years till she graduated Puritan High, she might have lived happily ever after with her pedophile boyfriend.  Instead, one of her friends suffers a convulsion while dancing and as whispers of witchcraft turn to delirium, all hell breaks loose.

In previous productions, there are no real witches, “witch” is a stand-in for “Communist” or any other type of outsider that spurs xenophobia.  But in this version, we see the supernatural effects of a universe gone crazy due to a forbidden love just as plainly as the pissed look on Elizabeth Proctor’s face.  By showing us the deranged hallucinations, Van Hove is inviting us into the mass delusion.  Suddenly we have no measure for reality, for good or evil, and every character in this show is a reasonable person trying to make sense of an insane situation.

Ciaran Hinds, Jim Norton, Ben Whishaw, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Camp, Jason Butler Harner are some of my favorite actors. They are all in top form and what a delight to watch!  Plus, there are two moments of group movement that are nothing short of inspired.  I can’t wait to see what Mr. Van Hove has planned for us next.  My vote goes to THE TEMPEST… yours?

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BLACKBIRD

la-et-cm-blackbird-play-review-20160311Photo by Brigitte Lacombe

BLACKBIRD could have easily gotten the “movie of the week” treatment, but instead David Harrower is true to his name and gives us a concisely structured, harrowing story of a 27-year-old woman who hunts down the man who sexually abused her when she was 12 years old.  Jeff Daniels as Ray, with his shoulders stooped and his world-weary attitude, tries his darndest to make us think that this is a love story, but just one look at the shattered, emotionally stunted Una played by the amazing Michelle Williams, and we begin to worry for her safety.  Her speech is halting and she is a mess of ticks.  Her performance is just shy of too broad, but she pulls back just in time to break your heart and you realize; this is a fine actress.

Joe Mantello is on a winning streak as a director that has lasted decades.  The opening movement sets the tone perfectly.  Some of the dialogue in the beginning is a little too stilted for my taste, but this show roars through its plot and has something to add to our understanding of the psychology of criminals and victims.  This is no “movie of the week,” indeed.

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