Monday, December 24, 2007

Is The Play Dead? Not In Osage County - Reviews

August: Osage County - Imperial Theatre - New York
Is He Dead? - Lyceum Theatre - New York
Die Mommie Die - New World Stages - New York

Yes, I'm still writing about my New York trip. I'm a little behind on things okay? And how is your Christmas?

Anyways, the year ends lists are coming out (I should have mine ready by the end of the week) and a ton of them are announcing it as the year the play came back from the dead. So, as the dutiful lemming, I went to see a few plays this past Broadway marathon, in between all the Christmas cheer, and to be honest, there were a few more (The Homecoming, Seafarer, Rock and Roll, Cyrano de Bergerac, Pygmalion, The Ritz) that I wouldn't have minded seeing (not to mention all the Off-Broadway stuff that I really must get to next time), especially after I had already missed Journey's End earlier this year.

Was I bored? No. Was I moved and inspired? No. Was I entertained? Yes. Mostly.

So if anybody has been following Broadway already knows, August: Osage County is the play to see this year, and the play to beat next year at the Tony's. There will be tough competition from what I hear, but it seems like August: Osage County has it pretty much in the bag. It's got themes of alcoholism, incest, dysfunctional family rage, divorce, pedophilia, and even a native American character to shake her head at it all. It's got an amazing cast of mostly unknowns. It's the underdog coming from a smaller theatre (Chicago's famous Stephenwolf Company) and it's basically about a white America family in Oklahoma that has a LOT of shit to deal with. A LOT.

And therein might lie the problem. I'm not white. I don't live in middle America. I feel for middle America. I'm fascinated by it (probably why I love Friday Night Lights), but I guess my family is actually quite normal compared to the Weston's of Osage County, who gather together when the patriarch disappears leaving the drug addicted mother to snarl her comments onto her three grown daughters, each who have their own problems.

So no, August: Osage County wasn't world changing for me, and didn't hit me emotionally like Spring Awakening did. So at this point, I probably sound quite negative about the play, but don't get me wrong. Don't get me wrong at all. The three hour and a half play (yes, it has TWO intermissions) never lets go and its long running time whizzes by after it sucks you into the despair around the Weston family. The great acting will get you hooked and then the stories will slowly seep into you, slowly tugging at you until the play finally ends leaving me actually wanting more (which again, might be the problem since I still felt I required a bigger moment, another moment that would finally move me, but it never really happened, but it did build to an incredibly high level).

The play has been touted essentially as the best new American play in years, with comparison to the classics like Long Days Journey Into Night amongst others, and I can totally see worthiness of the comparisons, but like some of the classics, I think I appreciate it, love it more on an intellectual level, than I love the play as a whole. Still, August: Osage County's playwright Tracy Letts does an impressive job infusing humour and pathos into one family's numerous problems while the cast is just superb, especially Deanna Dunagan as the mean matriarch, Amy Morton as the dutiful daughter dealing with a divorce, Jeff Perry (Thatch on Grey's Anatomy) as her husband and Madeline Marton as pot smoking daughter caught in between.

Meanwhile, as Broadway celebrates its newest playwright, a new play by an old one, a dead one in fact has just opened. Is He Dead? is the new play by Mark Twain. Yes, THAT Mark Twain, of Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain. The play was apparently discovered recently and is being produced for the first time on a proper stage and even though it was written 100 years ago, the humour of seeing a man dressed up as a woman can always be funny. Especially when that man is Tony winning actor Norbert Leo Butz (Rent, Wicked, The Last 5 Years, Dirty Rotten Scoundrels).

Is He Dead? is a fictitious story of real French painter Jean-François Millet as he fakes his own death to drive up the prices of his works. Add in some mixed up romantic interests, an evil lender, some crazy potential buyers and it all adds up to an old fashioned comedy of errors farce that is both fun and funny and a light enjoyable evening at the theatre. All that heavy stuff in August: Osage County? That stays in America and never touches the French world, but there is still love, lust and some Norbert in a dress, and somehow it all works, like a good Shakespearean comedy, only in language I actually understand.

Apparently I was in a real drag mood because we also saw Die Mommie Die on the same day. This time, with Charles Busch in drag as Angela Arden, a has-been star living in Hollywood circa 1960's who plots to rid her ssuccessfulproducer husband (Bob Ari) and instead, becomes the target of her ungrateful daughter (Ashley Morris) and dimwitted gay son (Van Hansis who is famous right now for the Luke and Noah gay love plotline on As The World Turns). Add in a boytoy (Chris Hoch) and a maid (Kristine Nielsen) and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of campy send ups to the film noirs of Hollywood yyesteryear'swith a touch of gayness added to the farce (okay, more like a smothering actually) and you have a perfect vehicle for Charles Busch to camp it up as a gglamorousqueen.

Sadly, the play is less than the sum of its actors, with each actor hilarious taking their parts as if their lives depended on it, eespeciallywith Charles Busch as the lead, but in the end, the play was mildly amusing with some nice plot twists but was not as memorable as the performances themselves.

Unfortunately, I realised that as the masses have seemed to have dictated, I'd rather see a mediocre musical than a mediocre play, as I still seem to have a better and more memorable time when things are put into song and dance. With August: Osage County and Die Mommie Die not living up to the high expectations I had heard about, I haven't gone completely wild over it like I have some musicals (ahem, Spring Awakening, Company, Xanadu) but on the other hand, the news of the plays death was certainly greatly eexaggeratedas all three plays were still enjoyable at the very worst, with all three displaying some fantastic acting in various styles.

I'm going to be implementing a star rating systems (finally) to my theatre reviews based on a 5 star system so I may as well start here:

August: Osage County - **** (4 Stars out of 5)
Is He Dead? - *** (3 Stars out of 5)
Die Mommie Die - **1/2 (2.5 Stars out of 5)

For the Christmas/Winter themed shows (Radio City Christmas Spectacular, Cirque du Soleil's Wintuk and Dr. Seuss' How The Grinch Stole Christmas! The Musical) I saw on the same New York theatre marathon, check here.

(Photo Credits for Is He Dead? and August: Osage County, all by Joan Marcus except full cast of A:OC by Sara Krulwich/NY Times, Die Mommie Die all by Carol Rosegg)

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