Bright Lights on Broadway

There are so many “best things” about being in New York City. Among them is that we are across the street from Lincoln Center and an easy walk to the Theatre District. We have an entire drawer filled with Playbills and ticket stubs from the past four years.

We’ve seen some great performances and some terrible ones. It’s so easy to get misled into a ruinous two hours in a ratty, uncomfortable seat (first-time visitors are often surprised by how run-down many of the Broadway theaters can be). One of our worst memories was from a one-two punch several years back when we were visiting the city over Thanksgiving. We made two mistakes: 1) not getting tickets well ahead of a busy holiday and 2) trusting the hotel concierge to give us a good steer. No one in our family will ever forget the horror that was The Drowsy Chaperone

It was even worse than it looks. (image from

It was even worse than it looks. (image from

After the Chaperone debacle (the best performance in that play was our dear Angie trying to cut out during the second half of the play by claiming her contacts were “killing” her…) I started doing my own research on what to see. I’ve picked some winners (the incandescent and wholly unexpected Arcadia and the crowd-pleasing Once) and regrettably, some losers. Who would think Edie Falco and Ben Stiller could be a losing combo? And yet, there was Edie on the stage floor barking like the dog that John Guare revival was.

Ben Stiller and Edie Falco with some blatant product placement in "House of Blue Leaves". (image from

Ben Stiller and Edie Falco with some blatant product placement in “House of Blue Leaves”. (image from

The Hollywood-Broadway crossover can cut either way. You can end up wondering how Stiller and Falco ever consented to that mess or you can be completely transported by a little-touted off-Broadway wonder like Michael Shannon (Boardwalk Empire, Revolutionary Road) in Mistakes Were Made.

Michael Shannon in "Mistakes Were Made" (image from

Michael Shannon in “Mistakes Were Made” (image from

There are a number of big-name driven vehicles on Broadway right now, playing to varying fates. Everyone knows Macbeth is doomed, but Ethan Hawke’s turn has been cursed in the worst possible ways: unflattering reviews and – insult to injury – the lights literally went out on the play a few nights ago.

Ethan Hawke in the troubled Macbeth at Lincoln Center (NY Post image)

Ethan Hawke in the troubled Macbeth at Lincoln Center (NY Post image)

We luckily dodged that bullet as well as the ill-fated Romeo and Juliet headlined by Orlando Bloom, which is going to close several weeks ahead of schedule.

A tragedy? (image from

A tragedy? (image from

Instead, we bought tickets to Commons of Pensacola which is playing at Manhattan Theatre Club at New York City Center. This means that it’s in the basement, but it is a new and very well-appointed venue. The play is written by actress Amanda Peet and headlined by Blythe Danner and an incredibly svelte Sarah Jessica Parker.

Danner and Parker in Commons of Pensacola (image from

Danner and Parker in Commons of Pensacola (image from

You would never know whether to see it from the reviews. The New York Times loved it and The New York Post hated it. We – for possibly the first time in history – sided with the NYT. Could have done without the flatulence jokes but thought the storyline – following the fortunes of a fallen family whose last name might have been Madoff – was engaging. Among the things in this world that are not fair are 1) how can Amanda Peet be so beautiful and act and write? Also, you would be wrong to dismiss Sarah Jessica Parker based on those awful Sex and the City films. She is canny and affecting in this production. Although it would be worth going just to see her snake around the stage in her green dress.

Amanda Peet, actress and playwright of "Commons of Pensacola" (image from

Amanda Peet, actress and playwright of “Commons of Pensacola” (image from

There are more high-flying celebs and poor reviews over at the Barrymore Theatre on 47th Street where a revival of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal stars husband-wife duo Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz. The New York Times savaged the production, calling it “crude and clunky” and even sniped at it while lavishing praise on the favored pair-up of Pinter’s No Man’s Land and Beckett’s Waiting for Godot. It would seem that the Betrayal camp has run afoul of Ben Brantley and his ilk because when I saw it with a friend the other night, our impression was that it is better than the reviews would have you believe.

Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz in "Betrayal". Yes, the vest is off-putting, but he only wears it in one scene.  (image from

Daniel Craig and Rachel Weisz in “Betrayal”. Yes, the vest is off-putting, but he only wears it in one scene. (image from

Pros and cons of Betrayal: Pro: Daniel Craig, Daniel Craig, Daniel Craig. Whatever “it” is, he has it. He is not conventionally handsome, which is to his credit – he knows how to look like James Bond but don’t forget he was also Perry Smith in Infamous. He moves on the stage with a preternatural, panther-like grace.

Daniel Craig as "in Cold Blood" killer Perry Smith in the 2006 film "Infamous" (image from

Daniel Craig as “in Cold Blood” killer Perry Smith in the 2006 film “Infamous” (image from

Con: Less effective is the lovely Rachel Weisz. Some of that may be that she is not quite up to the task of commanding a Broadway stage. Some of it may be that she is overshadowed by Craig and the fine Rafe Spall (who you might remember from Life of Pi). And some of it might be the inherent arrogance and misogyny in Pinter’s play and psyche. Pinter got away with a lot on account of being a “genius”.

The sets for the play are inventive, effective and look terribly expensive. Lucky for the producers, even though the reviews are bad, the performance was sold out the night I was there. Bernadette Peters thought it was worth seeing; I stood next to her in the lobby before the show started. She is ageless and stunning!

Bernadette Peters. If anything, she is more beautiful up close. (image from

Bernadette Peters. If anything, she is more beautiful up close. (image from

One play the critics seem to agree on is the current production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie with Zachary Quinto (yes, Mr. Spock from the latest Star Trek franchise) and Cherry Jones (President Taylor in 24). There are not enough superlatives to describe how good Quinto is in this play. His soliloquies at the beginning and end of the production are transcendent. The CE was more smitten by Celia Keenan-Bolger’s portrayal of Laura. And yes, Cherry Jones is excellent, but maybe she plays the part of the meddling Amanda Whitfield too well because she drove me a little crazy.

The Glass Menagerie (image from

The Glass Menagerie (image from

Not on Broadway, but off, off, off, we sat next to the brilliant Bobby Cannavale (Glengarry Glen Ross, Nurse Jackie, Blue Jasmine) at dinner at Landmarc Time-Warner the other night. He was doting on his son, Jake, (Charlie Cruz, Cannavale’s character’s son on Nurse Jackie) and current love interest Rose Byrne (Damages). They looked like a normal, albeit much-better-looking-than-the-rest-of-us family and seemed to be having a great time. Someone should cast that threesome in an ensemble piece.

Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne (image from

Bobby Cannavale and Rose Byrne (image from

Last night, Daniel convinced us to trade Broadway for Hollywood and we went to see an IMAX presentation of Catching Fire. I am one of the five remaining people on the planet who have not read the Hunger Games books but I am now an official convert. That movie is AWESOME, a must-see and I would happily agree to be sent to a deadly kill-or-be-killed arena if my ally was Sam Claflin as Finnick.

Sam Claflin as Finnick in Catching Fire (image from

Sam Claflin as Finnick in Catching Fire (image from

Great movie! (image from

Great movie! (image from

One more performance on our schedule: we’ll see the New York City Ballet’s presentation of The Nutcracker tomorrow at Lincoln Center, then back to California where it will not be 33 degrees. Brrrrr! I guess no one ever came to NYC for the weather…

See you on the other side!

About polloplayer

Empty nester searching for meaning of life through the occasional chicken epiphany.
This entry was posted in Music/Art/Literature/Culture, New York city and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Bright Lights on Broadway

  1. Angela Gutsche DiGaetano says:

    MY EYES!!! MY EYES!!!!

  2. dizzyguy says:

    Fun to see recaps of our theater experiences. Even the not so good ones (Drowsy Chaperone was WAY below not-so-good) are important because they help you recognize greatness when you do see it, which is surprisingly often. Michael Shannon’s is probably the role that can never be forgotten. It was pretty much just him, alone onstage, for 90 minutes. The intensity was such that he likely lost several pounds each performance. Summary: We have enjoyed ourselves immensely thanks to the talented actors prowling NYC.

  3. tdevir says:

    Fun reading all your reviews. John & I are going to see Catching Fire in about an hour so was happy to read here that you loved it. Enjoy the NYC Ballet’s Nutcracker- so jealous!
    Looking forward to having you back on the west coast soon! xo

  4. pollo amigo says:

    Thanks for your reviews. Fun to compare them to NYT, The New Yorker, WSJ etc. Some titles alone — Drowsy Chaperone? And casting — Orlando Bloom, world’s oldest teen-aged Romeo? (Back to elfdom for him!) Good fun!

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