The Siegel Column

A close look at 3 current important productions: Some Girl(s), Waiting for Godot, and The Field.

Neil LaBute has a problem. He is such a consistently intelligent and entertaining playwright that his work is now no longer being judged against the plays of his contemporaries but rather it is being judged against his own earlier efforts. His current play, Some Girl(s), which recently opened at the Lucille Lortel Theatre under the auspices of the Manhattan Class Company, happens to be a flawed, yet smart and provocative work. It does, in fact, provide a rich and rewarding theatrical experience. It just so happens that it isn?t as good as Fat Girl, This is How it Goes, The Mercy Seat or The Shape of Things. But Neil LaBute has also reached the point in his playwriting career where one can readily say that even a lesser LaBute play is still better than most any other new play in town.

First the problems. The plot is too simple. We have a young, attractive man in his thirties who, before he finally gets married, is on a picaresque journey around the country to eventually meet his four most important former girlfriends, ostensibly to heal old wounds. Not only has this been done before, but the meaningfully named Guy (Eric McCormack) never really ponies up with compelling reasons for meeting each of the women. By the time he meets the second woman of the four, you?re already going to start getting suspicious of him. You?re going to start wondering if he has an ulterior motive. That?s way too early to begin doubting the veracity of your lead character.

And speaking of Guy, he needs to be really charming and extremely likeable. Not only do we have to believe that all four women really cared about him, we have to care about him, too. He may be revealed by play's end as a cruel and callow fellow but it shouldn?t be so easy to see. It?s hard to know if the fault lies with LaBute?s writing, Jo Bonney?s direction, or McCormack?s acting choices. Or some combination of the above. But whatever the cause, the result undermines the play?s emotional punch.

Now the good news. The four actresses in the piece all give excellent performances. And here it is clear that LaBute, Bonney, and the performers all contribute to the quality of the work. Guy?s first meeting is with his high school girlfriend, Sam (Brooke Smith). Guy?s return tears open old wounds and cuts new scars in the play?s most bitterly honest segment. Smith?s performance is breathtaking in its emotional complexity; in her every word and gesture, in the look in her eyes, you can tell that she still loves this man even as she hates him for his unconscious cruelty. Prideful yet pitiful, she is every man or woman who has ever ?settled? for less in life and had it thrown in one?s face. We?ll remember this as one of the great featured performances by an actress this season.

Smith?s three female co-stars are not far behind. Judy Reyes plays Tyler, a beautiful and sexy woman who finally learns not to play with fire. Fran Drescher is Lindsay, the married woman with whom Guy had an affair. When they were found out, he ran. Guy gets more than he bargained for by coming back. And Drescher, sans the nasal accent, gives a strong, credible performance. Then there is Maura Tierney as Bobbi. She just might be the one woman that Guy should not have dumped. Her strength of character comes through in her brutal honesty; she nails him. Tierney?s performance is full of tension and a terse, biting delivery that is extremely satisfying as her character pulls the pieces of the play together.

Some Girl(s) is not just about the treachery that can be found in the battle of the sexes. It has other themes, among them the addictive nature of fame, and the question of who does (or does not) own your life?s story. The piece is also playfully directed by Jo Bonney, particularly in the inspired set changes from one hotel room to the other, the sets designed with a delicious sense of humor by Neil Patel. But it all starts and ends with Neil LaBute who, we?re coming to learn, is among that rare breed of male playwright who, time after time, writes great roles for actresses.

Splish! Splash! Godot is taking a bath

A brilliant production of Samuel Beckett?s Waiting for Godot is presently unfolding at The Classical Theatre of Harlem. The set design by Troy Hourie drives the play, which takes place on the roof of a house that is otherwise entirely under water. Inspired by Katrina? If it wasn?t, it should have been.

Director Christopher McElroen?s concept gives the play water wings and it floats with a new energy. McElroen also helps establish a very real relationship between the show?s two leading characters, Vladimir (called DiDi in the play and performed by Wendell Pierce), and Estragon (called Go Go in the play and performed by J. Kyle Manzay). They are wonderful together. Pierce, in particular, gives a dynamic performance. Chris McKinney and Billy Eugene Jones play Pozzo and Lucky, respectively They are topnotch, as well.

Unlike a fine wine that tastes better when it?s aged, it isn?t Beckett?s play that gets better with time, it?s the audience, as we get older, that will inevitably come to better understand the play and feel its searing comments on the human condition

The Field of dreams

The Irish Rep has no business being this good, year in and year out. Their current production of The Field by John B. Keane is a perfect example of the company?s triumphant over-reaching. A cast of a dozen players bring a place, a people, and a time back to life with this classically constructed piece of theater.

The sheer look of the play is enough to impress. On The Irish Rep?s proverbial postage stamp stage, set designer Charles Corcoran, lighting designer Jason Lyons, and sound designer Zachary Williamson, under the guiding hand of director Ciaran O?Reilly, manage to turn a pub into an open field at night.

If you saw the movie version of The Field starring Richard Harris, you saw a great film and a great performance. But the play is entirely different. The film is told from the point of view of the land auctioneer?s family, not the family wanting to buy the field. The change of perspective makes all the difference in the world. The villain of the piece, The Bull (Marty Maguire), is essentially a bully now, not a tragic figure. What makes the play so compelling is its unyielding nature: it refuses to cough up a happy ending. This is a dark but honest play. It is well-acted, with standout performances by Paddy Croft as the widow who is selling the field, and Orlagh Cassidy as the auctioneer?s all-too-knowing wife.

The Field is timeless in its battle between tradition and progress and its war between fear and freedom.

Barbara and Scott Siegel