Monday, November 26, 2012

Masterslut: Tim Key Soaks in a Bath

I managed to snag a last minute ticket to Tim Key's Masterslut during its London run. Wholly unfamiliar with Key's work (and a little suspicious that based on the title it was not my cup of tea) I ventured in without any context.  I was pleasantly surprised by the show. Somewhere between the absurd poetry, the odes to bathtubs (actual bathtub included), and the audience interaction I found myself falling for Key's wacky charm. Key's performance was quite varied. From film clips, to physical stunts, to his poetry, to the deconstruction of the poetry, it was a substantial 80 minute show.

After my unexplained resistance to Simon Amstell I was wondering if I was a one British comedian type of girl (Daniel Kitson or NO ONE). But it turns out I'm a little more British comedy slutty than I thought (well I already knew I liked Josie Long so I was already kind of cheating on Kitson). Key sets up his pull backs and reveals very skillfully.  He undermines expectations in a delightful way that were both clever and smart.  Speaking of a girl he invited back to his apartment "To be fair, she was more a situation than a girl."  His set-up about the pornographic playing cards that he has laminated his poems to provides a great number of jokes about the unexpected.  For some reason one of his poems really caught my fancy: "Some of the other cubs convinced Kenneth there was a badge...for arson."  

Key has a goofy persona but one that takes himself and his bath-loving endeavors quite seriously.   Baths are as he calls them "nature's womb."  I enjoyed his banter with his technician and driver Dougie. I found the image of Key and Dougie careening around the English countryside with a bathtub in the back of the van trying not to spill any water quite funny.

There was a lot of audience interaction. After Key's stints in his bathtub (yup) he was toweled off by a member of the audience. Key enjoyed the lavish attention furnished by his male towel bearers at
the show I saw.  He interviewed audience members over their bath-time proclivities. There was a part in the show where he has the audience put together a sentence one word at a time by each person in a row.  Our audience group started with the word "strawberry banana". We ended up with a sentence about a person called Strawberry Banana.  Key's improvised response to this was "If Vera Drake had been called Strawberry Banana it would have been a different story." True indeed.

I guess Key doesn't perform much (at all?) in New York so he's one to look out for at the Edinburgh Fringe and on tour in the UK.

Constellations: A Beautiful Trinket in the Cosmos

"You'll still have all our time."

I was disappointed leaving Constellations as I found myself not really experiencing the impact of the work after so many others were singing its praises.  A tourist behind me told me that the reason the play did not work was Sally Hawkins's costumes were not sexy.  "She needs a better costume,"* said this lady unprompted.  Everyone is a critic.  I was clearly not the only person who did not love this new Nick Payne play that transferred from the Royal Court to the West End but the "costume critic lady" and I did not see eye to eye on the reasons for why this play did not work.

The two-hander stars the aforementioned Sally Hawkins as Marianne and Rafe Spall as Roland who meet at a barbecue.  Marianne is a physicist.  Roland is a beekeeper.  Marianne explains to Roland that there is a theory of the quantum multiverse where "every choice, every decision you've ever and never made exists in an unimaginably vast ensemble of parallel universes."  Nick Payne then goes on to show us Marianne and Roland spun through this multiverse.  Repeating scenes with slightly nuanced differences, meeting, meeting again, meeting again.  Spall and Hawkins have the challenging job of finding the variations in each of these incidences and making them unique and specific.  Remarkably they often succeed at finding gestures and vocal intonations to make this work.  Spall imbues each momentary character with great specificity. The repetition might not lead to a strong narrative thrust but Spall in particular shows great range as he reads each scene slightly differently.  Hawkins is, as always, sort of out to drown you with her quirkiness.  I'm dubbing her the high priestess of twee and there are probably those who love her for it and others (like me) that just wish she could dial it down a little.  I struggled to see her as a physicist in any multiverse.

But there were moments in the play where I really fell in love with a character or a scene.  But in the cruel rules of the multiverse these moments were necessarily fleeting.  So as the scenes pile up and the permutations of Marianne and Roland multiply, and their lives twist and turn, I somehow became less engaged.

That said, the design work is remarkable (Tom Scutt on Design, Lee Curran on Lighting, David McSeveney on Sound).  It has a set covered in gorgeous balloons that are lit, glow, pulse, and shine.  The lighting and sound effects cue the audience as we pass between parallel universes.  It's a smart and creative way to communicate what Payne's script calls for and I applaud director Michael Longhurst for it.

It's hard to complain about a production that reflects such thought and care (It tries awfully hard, but I ultimately wonder if that's what in part rubbed me the wrong way) but if in the final analysis all that work adds up to surprisingly little then I cannot hold back my disappointment.   Using physics as a structural device to deliver imagined realities is clever but that's about the extent of Constellations for me: an interesting gimmick that provides layers of repetition which did not enrich the material. We get to see these two characters experience myriad possibilities of life events. Or better yet we see them experience the same life events with slightly different results.  But despite the valiant efforts of Sally Hawkins and Rafe Spall the characters they create exist only in a moment. The necessary transience of the play's structure makes it impossible to connect these scenes or characters. Each moment sits ostensibly isolated from the others. This structure also lends itself to a particular shallowness to the characters. Since each episode does not build upon another, the characters do not seem to grow--or they grow sideways in fits and starts. 

If the multiverse exists and we live in an infinite number of parallel lives, I expect we cannot demand narrative satisfaction from any of those lives because they do not exist in linear form. That may be true to the physics but a loss for dramatic impact on stage. 

And don't get me wrong.  I can enjoy a playwright who chooses to keep the narrative or the conclusions opaque.  The recent Royal Court production of The River by Jez Butterworth existed in a loosely defined fictional space and even without definitive answers I could enjoy the poetry of his writing and the mysteries of the characters.  But I have no doubt Butterworth knows what he was writing and why.  Whereas Payne seemed enamored of his idea but less sure about its trajectory or point.  I was somewhat resistant to the charms of Payne's first play If There Is I Haven't Found It yet currently playing off-Broadway. I don't deny his work feels smarter than average but I'm not convinced it actually is as smart as it feels.  Like his writing wears a fine cloak of intellectualism but just doing a little digging beneath the surface those thought provoking ideas are just a cover for the true gooey core of the work--sentimentality. 

Here, the play's sincerity was lost in trying to pull far too hard at my heart-strings rather than just letting our humanity speak for itself and letting emotion flow from that. 

*For the record I hated the shoes Sally Hawkins wears in the show but that had no bearing on my problems with the play. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Richard III: Power by a Different Name

"If not to heaven, then hand in hand to hell."--Richard III

There has never been a question that Richard III is dastardly, power-hungry and evil.  But Mark Rylance plays him in the recent Globe Theatre to West End transfer as a gentle, sometimes doltish storyteller, who begins by manipulating everyone by his words alone and eventually becomes a man driven mad with power.  Rather than playing to power from the beginning, he demonstrates his power through his canny and the perilous result of power taking control of a man's life.  With Rylance there is never an evil mustache twirling moment.  This Richard is a truly unique creature.  On first blush it is a strange choice.  When has "Now is the winter of our discontent" every gotten a laugh?  Here.  But in Rylance's skilled hands he convinced me.  The text is so driven by monologues and speeches that it seems almost natural he is addressing us with his plans and schemes.  He's manipulating us as well--telling us the story we want to hear.

That Richard is at times comically "playing at" manipulating characters in the play enriches the numerosity of masks he is wearing throughout the play.  Rylance's Richard is exactly what he needs to be in each scene to get what he wants.  With his brother Clarence, he is the loyal brother pledging to do what he can to rescue him--even if we know he wants Clarence dead.  With Lady Anne, he is an admitted murderer of her husband but he inveigles his way into her heart as a suffering romantic who did everything out of his love and desire for her.  The sudden tone shifts or inconsistencies in the text here get smoothed over by Richard acknowledging, to us shamelessly, his constant duplicity.  But that duplicity is delivered with a sense of the character's humanity.  Rylance is often winking to the audience as we become his co-conspirators.  It's a bit like being charmed by a sociopath really.  You feel you are in on the secret joke and then you end up standing there holding a bloody knife not sure how you ended up with this murderer.

Rylance manages to pull this all off because he is respectful of the character.  He's open in a way I found Kevin Spacey to be closed when he performed the same role in the Bridge Project's production.  Rylance invites the audience in to share in his misdeeds.  Spacey took his "shouty" Richard and just kept beating the audience with it.  He was doing such violence to the text and the audience in an assault of sarcasm.  Here Rylance is not sarcastic once.  He's knowing, he's winking but he's honest to the character.  He does not step outside the character of Richard to mock it, even if he may look askance at his own cunning and admire it or acknowledge it.  Spacey never even defined the character of Richard.  Everything he did was with such contempt it seemed he did not know the bounds of his own character's humanity and evil--so that he was just all evil.  And Richard needs some boundaries. 

Here, once Richard starts to lose his mind, Rylance's humanity does slip considerably (there is a scene where he practically gnaws Lady Anne's fingers in a not-sexy, creepy way).  But his humanity existed so we recognize its departure.

Rylance and director Tim Carroll unearth great humor in this play but the seriousness of the struggles of others are not diminished by Richard's comic moments.  In particular I found Liam Brennan to be a wonderful Clarence, doomed brother to Richard, who has little to laugh about or at. And for a small comic turn, I enjoyed Jethro Skinner as the 2nd Murderer.

It need be said that this is an all male production of Richard III.  Johnny Flynn, Samuel Barnett and James Garnon play Lady Anne, Queen Elizabeth, and the Duchess of York respectively.  They are intentionally mannered performance to be sure but no more so than Rylance's Richard and they work here as part of the cohesive fabric of this production.  I liked Johnny Flynn's cool but angry Lady Anne.  The choices they made for both Rylance and Flynn make a scene that is so hard to pull off really work.  Flynn is left with no choice but to succumb to Richard and he plays the confusion and struggle with clarity.  Barnett's Elizabeth maybe gives the most venomous curtsy I have ever seen.  I kind of want a gif of it (Internet will get you get on that!).  I think The Heiress's Jessica Chastain could learn a think or two about venom, curtsies and a raised eyebrow from Barnett.

But all these aspects (including music played on Renaissance era instruments and Shakespearean era costumes) together integrate so well that you leave feeling if you saw Shakespeare performed as Shakespeare was intended to be performed.  And I'm not a strict-constructionist by any means (though my resistance to the recent Wooster Group Hamlet--reviewed pending--might suggest otherwise).  But this was really digging into the original "feel" of Shakespeare: what it might have been like to see this back in the day.

Since I saw the Bridge Project's Richard III this year, it is hard not to compare the two. The only thing I will say I missed from that production was the awesome use of drums--sincerely.  Especially as Richard's madness grew here, I longed for a bigger musical backdrop.  But I guess not having big drums is a small price to pay for great acting and a deep understanding of the purpose of your endeavor.  I'm very much looking forward to this same ensemble's take on Twelfth Night later this week.

And I should note I attended on Press Night and the audience went simply wild during the curtain call.  I have never experienced a British audience react so loudly and with such fervor as I saw that afternoon.  3 curtain calls and a standing ovation.  Even the critics were on their feet.



 


Sunday, November 18, 2012

Mies Julie: A Bloody Affair

"A storm is coming to this farm."  Never have such truer words been spoken because what follows them is a searing, violent, explosive storm that comes to this desolate part of South Africa when the white master's daughter and the black farm worker dancing around their desire and their history consummate their passions.  What befalls these characters, out of love, lust, hate, anger, frustration, politics, the past, or the future, it is a bloody affair which might actually steal the breath from your body and leave you gasping for air.

This production is an adaptation of Strindberg's Miss Julie presented by the Baxter Theatre Centre at the University of Cape Town in association with South African State Theatre.  Yael Farber wrote this adaptation and directs the production now playing at St. Ann's Warehouse.  The production is steeped in the history of South Africa but not some ponderous, academic, or theoretical history.  A living, visceral history with smells, sounds, and sights that will linger with you after the 90 minute show is over.   

In this adaptation, John (Bongile Mantsai) has grown up on this farm in the dry and dusty Karoo.  It is the land where his ancestors are buried and it is his home.  He lives there with his mother Christine (Thoko Ntshinga) who has faithfully cooked for the Boer family who own and run the farm.  Christine raised Julie (Hilda Cronje) the daughter of the master of the farm after her mother killed herself.  Despite the liberation from apartheid 20 years before, nothing seems to have changed on this farm.  The workers have nominal "freedom" only and there is a growing tension between the workers and the master.  The land, the power, and control remain in the hands of the colonial owners.  John spends his day polishing the master's boots while Julie, after a broken engagement, hangs around the farm, scantily clad, provocatively goading John.

Julie is playing with fire--but she wants to be burned.  It seems that her only escape from this life is through a complete annihilation of it.  Somehow she sees herself the Phoenix to be reborn from the ashes.  But as a child really, she has not thought this plan through.  John, by the nature of their dynamic and history must act as the adult and resist her aggressive advances.  John already endures taunts from the other workers because of his closeness to Julie.  They are both victims of their place in this society.  Both crave mothers they never had.  Both want something else for themselves--but it is not a shared dream.  It never could be because of who they are and what they have gone through in their lives.  And there's just the start of the tragedy here. 

There are a number of great things about Farber's adaptation.  One is that it takes Strindberg's framework and finds a contemporary space that suits it and yet even with Strindberg as a basis, it is a powerfully resonant modern production.  It feels very naturally adapted to the South African setting and political circumstance.  I was also drawn to the oscillating manipulation by Julie and by John.  Each have a power over the other and who is in control shifts with each moment.  Therein lies the real drama and Farber captures that tension and the underlying reasons for it with such piercing beauty.

Love or lust gets blurred by the roles society foists upon these characters.  John espouses a life long crush on Julie but he also says "I didn't touch you.  I fucked you."  Therein lies the rub (And by rub, I actually mean full on graphic sex on the kitchen table.  An old lady in the front row kept putting her hand to her mouth in making noises of audible shock.  Let's just say that the penetration scene in Spring Awakening was Disney compared to this one.)  John could be sleeping with a woman who he has always desired but there is no escaping he's also on some level revenge fucking the Boer whose family stole his land to make her bleed.  Sex, power, and history cannot be unwound from each other here.  Julie asks John, "You loved me or just hated yourself?"  John replies, "Same thing."  Cutting and beautiful. 

Even if Julie and John are symbols in this production (and the language of the play occasionally is a little too on the nose--somebody might call someone "the past" and the other person "the future"), the performances never let that get in the way of developing deeper characters.  Cronje can be the entitled, petulant brat or the broken, vulnerable child who is so desperate for love, affection, or escape.  Mantsai is both the acquiescing worker and the dominating, angry man whose own dreams seem to get further and further away from him.  Ntshinga is that voice from another generation who has moved beyond anger into a resigned acceptance that comes with age, experience, and an overabundance of pain.  Farber and her cast hold nothing back.  The raw, messy complicated feelings of South Africa's history come across with every moment in this show.

Farber's direction is smart and sharp.  Small physical gestures become so specific and powerful here.  When John takes the some pose as Julie had with his leg up on the kitchen table, after they've had sex, it means something completely from when Julie struck the same pose earlier.  By their stations, by their sex, by what has passed between them, it comes across as desire by Julie and mocking by John.  This table, where they had sex, is where John is not even allowed to eat when Julie is in the room--he sheepishly scurries away from the table in the beginning of the play and at the end he has dominated it, taken it, but it is still not his. 

The production as a whole is a sensuous experience with sonorous saxophone music, traditional African instruments, hauntings by ancestors, and a heavy cloud of smoke.  There was something beautiful and ghostly about the multitude of workmen's boots lined up at the door.  The red clay tile floor looks as if it has been there for eternity and it is not the first time someone has had to scrub blood off of it.  Rarely has a production unified all creative elements in such a way that everything feels like it is is feeding and nourishing the lifeblood of this story.   It is jarring to walk out the door of the theater, back into the streets of Brooklyn, because inside that room you feel you are in the beating heart of South Africa.




Thursday, November 8, 2012

M. Bitter's November Recommendations

Hurricanes, snowstorms, just waiting on the plague of locusts this month.  I'm headed off to London for some theater this month for my birthday (hope I don't bring any bad weather luck with me).  But if you're looking for some New York theater recommendations for friends and family, this is my monthly report.

Recommended for...

...Out of Towners/Tourists/Once a Year Theater Goers

Glengarry Glen Ross:  Al Pacino might be the biggest name in the cast but I hear Bobby Cannavale steals the show as the leading player Ricky Roma in this, the second most famous play about salesmen.  Pacino plays the struggling old timer, Shelly Levene.  The David Mamet play might be something non-theater folks will know from the 1992 James Foley film staring Al Pacino (as Ricky Roma), Jack Lemmon, and Alec Baldwin.  Expect swearing and machismo.  Prices are quite high for this show with a good deal of the theater being sold as premium seating but you can give standing room tickets a try for a cheaper option.

The Other Josh Cohen:  This is the last weekend!  A must see feel-good, rom-com of sorts.  Affordable tickets are available.  Neil Diamond-style music with catchy tunes and comic lyrics.  My interview with the co-creator and star here

Annie:  See October recommendations.

Newsies:   See October recommendations.  Discount tickets here.




...The More Adventurous, But Not Too Too Weird


The Mystery of Edwin Drood:  An unusual who-done-it murder mystery and musical where the audience gets a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure ending.  Audiences members get to participate in selecting certain actions for the characters and everyone votes on the ending. In the style of a Victorian music hall show, this unfinished Dickens novel comes to life with the likes of Mildly Bitter favorite Will Chase, Stephanie J. Block, Jessie Mueller, Broadway legend Chita Rivera.

The Performers: If you can handle a certain amount of bawdy language, some simulated sexual acts and sexy clothing then you might enjoy this new play by David West Read.  Starring Cheyenne Jackson as porn star Mandrew Rod-dick and Henry Winkler (the Fonz!) as porn legend Chuck Wood, this quick 90 minute play is about relationships, intimacy, and who we want to go home to at the end of the day.  It also stars Ari Graynor, Alicia Silverstone, and Daniel Breaker.  Despite its setting at the Adult Film Awards in Las Vegas it is a lot more sweet than salty.  And it's quite funny.  Cheyenne Jackson is shirtless and pants-less for a lot of the opening scene and that is worth the price of admission.   

Once:  See October recommendations.  Winner of Best Musical.  My review of the Off-Broadway version of this show here.


...Snobs/Theater Aficionados/Those Who Like It Weird

Mies Julie:  Award winning production of the August Strindberg play adapted by a South African theater troupe.  It gained a lot of attention at the recent Edinburgh Fringe Festival.  As St. Ann's Warehouse reopens in its new location in DUMBO, Mies Julie is the work that will launch the new season.  A contemporary setting in post-apartheid South Africa breathes new life into this well known classic play. 

The Whale:  A morbidly obese gay man and the oddball collection of people in his life, The Whale shows off beautiful writing, a strong acting ensemble, smart direction and a huge heart.  My review here.


Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?:  See October recommendations. My review here.  Discount tickets here.

Wooster Group's Hamlet:  See October recommendations.  Extended for a few more performances.  A truly unusual Hamlet that will have you thinking more about the artifice of cinema and theater than Hamlet itself.  Another terrific performance by Scott Shepherd.

Planning Ahead...
And for those advance purchases you might want to be making...

Cat On a Hot Tin Roof will be coming to Broadway in December.  It stars everyone's favorite president Ben Walker (Vampire Hunting Lincoln or Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson) and film star Scarlett Johannson.  Discount tickets are available here.

I'm also really excited for previews to start in January for Rodgers and Hammerstein's Cinderella starring Laura Osnes (Bonnie & Clyde) and Santino Fontana (Sons of the Prophet). 

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Whale: The Weight of Sorrows

"You can't fit a morbidly obese gay peg in a Mormon hole," says Liz, a disgruntled nurse, about her friend Charlie to a Mormon missionary who has come knocking on Charlie's door.  But Samuel D. Hunter's The Whale is not about obesity, Mormonism, or homosexuality, though it deals with all those topics.  It's about how we connect to other people--when truth and lies bring us together or break us apart.  The flawed reality of human interactions. This play often deals in a type of honesty that maybe only comes to the surface when people are truly in crisis. 

Charlie (Shuler Henlsey) has become a shut-in since his partner died.  Charlie's world consists of a sagging sofa where he spends his days teaching expository writing online and eating.  He only leaves the sofa only for exhausting trips down the hall to the bathroom.  His only regular visitor is unhappy Liz (Cassie Beck) who tries to care for him while spending every day berating him.  Unbeknownst to Liz, Charlie has secretly reached out to his teenage daughter Ellie (Reyna de Courcy), who has not seen since she was a toddler.  Charlie invites Ellie into his home.  Ellie is sulky, difficult, hostile and uncontrollable.  Charlie does not seem to mind these negative aspects of her personality.  Just her being in his presence seems to bring him some sort of joy.  One day in the midst of a possible cardiac episode Charlie calls to a Mormon missionary, Elder Thomas (Corey Michael Smith) who has come knocking on his door, to help him.  What calms Charlie in this episode is Elder Thomas reading an essay on Moby Dick. Soon Liz, Elder Thomas, Ellie and Charlie are all wrapped up in each others lives.

Hunter's clever, funny and ultimately bittersweet story is a painful pleasure.  He explores colorful characters, each in the midst of their own personal crisis, and elegantly and effortlessly brings all these stories together.  Like a puzzle, the oddball characters, may be oddly shaped on their own, but fit together here neatly.  Each serve as catalyst for another.  And these interactions, clicking into place, give the play it's fluid momentum.  The literary underpinnings to the play organically enrich the characters and the story without being heavily didactic.  The play is often very funny, but there is laughter through tears and then just tears as Hunter reminds us of the fragility of our humanity.

The writing here is an absolute joy but the strong acting ensemble, the brilliant stage design (by Mimi Lien) and direction (by Davis McCallam) all serve the fantastic material. The filthy room that Charlie lives in seems like a straight-forward livingroom space but as the play moves forward sound and lighting design show the space surrounding the livingroom as something else.  I'd rather not say what and let you discover it on your own.  But suffice to say it is a beautiful illustration of some of the poetic imagery in the play rendered through set design, lighting and sound. 

It was great to see Corey Michael Smith again (Cock), here as a the skittish and earnest Mormon.  Reyna de Courcy is delightful as the irritating, out of control Ellie.  Shuler Hensley wears a massive fatsuit and you feel every labored breath of his performance.  But it's the radiant joy he manages to convey amidst all his pain that is his achievement here.

Right now, The Whale, is in my top 10 shows for 2012.  It's the kind of play that makes you feel hopeful for the future of the American stage.  

Friday, November 2, 2012

Sweet Bird of Youth: Sweaty Delusions

Cappadocia. You should go there. It's çok güzel.
I once tried to learn Turkish and attempted to use it with a Turkish taxi driver during a long drive through Cappadocia.  Like an idiot Turkish baby, my skill by that point in the trip involved saying "very" to describe everything.  Very hot, very dollars (for expensive house), very blessings (for sneezing), very beautiful (for everything else). 

Sweet Bird of Youth is a play I could probably describe in Turkish.  It is just very...very boozy, very gauzy, and often very ridiculous.  It's thick, rich, redolent melodrama.  In the end, I'm not sure that is a good thing.  The play is all atmosphere and histrionics but with minimal momentum.  Feeling the stickiness of a dirty tryst, the sweaty, humidity of a Florida morning and the judgment of moralizing locals I found this production at the Goodman Theatre in Chicago to be a less compelling car crash to watch than I would have expected from the premise. 

Here, Finn Wittrock plays Chance Wayne a drifter and gigolo (!) who brings Alexandra del Lago (Diane Lane) a famous actress to his hometown to pull off some hare-brained schemed he has cooked up.  He wishes to reunite with his childhood sweetheart Heavenly but he was driven from town by her father under mysterious circumstances many years before. 


David Cromer's direction did not clarify the murky material and did not illuminate it either.  Cromer has staged each of the three acts in such a way that they don't feel like the same play.  First, during the bedroom scene it was all about sensuality and texture.  Billowing, translucent curtains, warm breezes, silken pajamas, dream-like memories, images and projections.  Very Tennessee Williams.  The second Act was odd, cold, and mechanical.  With a massive silver wall it felt like we had suddenly gone from Florida to an alien planet full of cavernous spaces.  You reached the beach through a door in the sky.  Absurdism?  I'm not sure.  The third Act was frenzied and confusing with a party that spins out of control.  The turntable set which involved a hotel bar rotated in such a way that it was hard to see the action from time to time and it wasn't clear what motivated such a choice (ok Chance's world is spinning out of control and he is losing his balance and footing).  Despite these extreme oscillations in texture and tone, I don't think Cromer was working against the text here.  The play itself feels uneven and imbalanced, but the staging choices unhelpfully emphasized that.  And at some point it ends up about castration so...what can you do.  Go with it I guess.

Diane Lane and Finn Wittrock hurl themselves into their roles and the trip to Chicago was well-justified in seeing them perform. There is a moment where Diane Lane, hungover, make-up smeared on her face, is clutching Finn Wittrock's chest with her red painted fingernails.  Taking handfuls of taut flesh in her long fingers.  Running her hands up and down his body to confirm its existence and her reality. And for that I thank you David Cromer.  Fantasy and delusion indeed.

Diane Lane manages to magically go from looking ravaged to transcendent before your eyes.  She's beautiful.  We knew that.  But she is both corporeal and otherworldly.  It served the character of Alexandra del Lago well that Lane has this talent where she can suddenly just turn on a light inside herself and glow with radiance.  She pulls you in with unexpected force making it quite clear why Lane is (in life and on stage) someone you don't want to take your eyes off of.  Her del Lago starts out lost but claws her way back and Lane projects that uninhibited inner strength.  I just wish she had been playing Blanche DuBois instead. 

Finn Wittrock (besides looking fantastic in his white silk pajama bottoms) is fully-committed to his character.  He is the personification of youth, beauty, and virility.  He has a dream that borders on fantasy and he thinks this is his moment to capture that dream.  The tragic beauty of his character is that he believes he is fighting to regain his lost promise.  But the truth is he never had that promise and everything about his memory of the past and his vision of the future is delusion.  His one ally, Aunt Nonnie, sits down with him as Chance reminisces about what never was.  She tries to get him to embrace reality but he cannot.  Wittrock has a strained smile on his face and no matter what is said to him or what is done to him he refuses to let that undermine his excitement and happiness for his delusional-dream.  Even when he knows that the dream is crumbling his smile does not waver.  But Wittrock's body starts to betray Chance with energetic tics and trembling hands shoved deep into his pockets.  When he can no longer deny reality he lets loose a primal scream and I feared for Wittrock as a his body and voice shook in the final moments of the play.  He held nothing back and it was terrifying.  It took me a while to feel for Chance but Wittrock's performance grabbed me by the end and would not let go.

Seeing two tremendous actors swim around in this stylized Tennessee Williams swamp of words and images was fascinating but I would have rather seen them dive into better material.  Nevertheless, it was great to see Wittrock fulfill the promise of his terrific supporting turn in Death of a Salesman in a leading role here and there is much cause for celebration to see Diane Lane on the stage after being absent from it for many years.