Airline Highway - Manhattan Theatre Club presents Steppenwolf at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre - Broadway - New York City, NY - *** (out of 5 stars)
Written by Lisa D'Amour, Directed by Joe Mantello
Runs until June 14th 2015
Much Ado About Nothing: An Adaptation - Tarragon Theatre - Toronto, ON - **1/2 (out of 5 stars)
Written by William Shakespeare, Directed by Richard Rose, Consulting director Ravi Jain
Runs until May 31st 2015
There are some big parties on stage and there's a lot of fun to be had, but when the party stops, so does the fun.
Airline Highway, the newest play by Lisa D'Amour (Detroit, which critics seemed to love but I did not), looks at those that live in the peripheries of society and survive their days in the motels off the infamous strip of road that goes toward the New Orleans airport. It's an interesting look at the lives of the underprivileged and lowly paid, struggling to make ends meet however they can. As they prepare to throw a celebratory funeral wake/party for the still alive Miss Ruby, the collection of eclectic characters living at the Hummingbird Motel do what they can to throw this party. The return of former resident Bait Boy, who has now gone off to richer pastures, unsettles things in an already shaky network of residents who cling to each other as a default family of vagrants and outcasts.
It's a fascinating premise and D'Amour introduces to a fascinating array of characters, and it's all fun and games until the party actually starts, when things start off well. With a usual fabulous Julie White as prostitute Tanya, the default matriarch of the motel, and an amazing K. Todd Freeman (stunning in Fetch Clay/Make Man) as Sissy Na Na, our resident cross dresser and voice of reason, there is a sweetness in the interactions between the residents of the Hummingbird, despite the crassness they may present. When Bait Boy (the likeable Joe Tippett) returns from his new nicer neighbourhood, but bringing back memories of the crazy party days, it makes his ex Krista (Caroline Neff) feel incompetent. There are numerous interesting threads and characters, especially how Bait Boy managed to get out, and if he has actually changed, but most of the stories are presented as is, and none are fully explored, but that seems to be the intention. A glimpse in this slice of the world and it is a fascinating introduction.
However as things try to go deeper and Miss Ruby finally makes her appearance at the party, the fun slows down and the play drags on without giving the further depth we want to seek from all the interesting characters we were introduced in the first act.
The idea of turning Much Ado into a Bollywood type romp a resetting it to today's Brampton seems like a fun and natural idea, and when the music and Bollywood dancing starts, there's an exuberant spirit and energy coming from the Tarragon Theatre stage. Unfortunately, the play, which has been adapted for the new setting but not cut down, feels oddly long and drawn out with some mixed success in actually laying out the story clearly. The Shakespearean text is also spoken with some mixed success, but Anusree Roy as a version of Beatrice named Thara has a wonderful spark and spunk and despite a thick accent, and is wonderfully hilarious and heartbreaking.
Kawa Ada, as Lord Tata (Don Pedro) makes a star making turn (if he didn't already in Iceland). Charismatic and mesmerizing, his scenes with Roy emanate the emotions that the rest of the production could benefit from.
The handsome Ali Momen and lovely Serena Parmar are adorably cute as Darius and Sita, the Claudio and Hero of Brampton. David Adams makes a great Mayor Ranjit of Brampton (also known as Leonato). Anand Rajaram and John Cleland are particularly hilarious in their Canadian spin on Dogberry and Verges (here as Constables Dan Singh and Verges). There's some great casting and when the show works, it's quite delightful. However no matter how talented the cast, it can't seem to inject the right spirit and pacing when the party stops.
Photos of Airline Highway by Joan Marcus Photo of Much Ado About Nothing by Cylla von Tiedemann
Vance at http://tapeworthy.blogspot.com
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