The Siegel Column









Theater Hell

James Whitmore gave a career-defining performance in Give 'Em Hell, Harry! a one-man show written by Samuel Gallu about the life of President Harry S. Truman. Whitmore performed it on stage and eventually on film in 1975, receiving both an Oscar and Golden Globe nomination. The current revival of the show at the St. Luke's Theatre stars Bix Barnaba, who looks a lot more like Truman than Whitmore ever did, but so what? Barnaba's performance is as riveting as oatmeal and the production, even for a one-person show, is surprisingly inept; we've never seen so many lighting cues missed and this is a show that is, by comparison to other Off-Broadway offerings, one of the least technically demanding.

There's no doubt that the life of Harry S. Truman has relevance in today's world; this is a President who entered the White House and then left it with his integrity intact. Salty and plain-spoken, he was a common man President who never would have been elected had he not succeeded to the job when, as FDR's Vice President, Roosevelt died in office. He rose to the challenge and became, by the standards of many, one of our greatest modern Presidents. It's a shame this show did not get a better, loftier revival.

Give 'Em Hell, Harry! at St. Luke's Theatre. For ticket and performance information, visit Telecharge.com.

This Dog Has Its Day!

The Barefoot Theatre Company took on a mighty challenge recently in turning Sidney Lumet's famous film Dog Day Afternoon into an Off-Off-Broadway play. The movie, after all, was created as much in the editing room as it was by the performance of its extraordinary cast led by Al Pacino. But damn if they didn't put on a rough and ready version of that script; this was a vibrant and exciting piece of stagecraft that deserves to be remounted in front of a larger audience.

The program says that the play was written and directed by Francisco Solorzano. There is no mention of the original screenplay. Surely Solorzano should be credited with adapting the script, which he did with economy and precision. Even more impressive was his tight, muscular direction of the piece done with a large, talented cast in one intermissionless act. Solorzano also cast himself in the Pacino role of Sonny, throwing himself into it with gleeful zest even if he copied far too many of Pacino's mannerism and tics.

While many in the cast deserve recognition, a particular standout was Amanda Plant who played Sylvia, the bank employee who both narrates the play and has the key relationship with Sonny; she was as real as rain. She was tough, heartbreaking, and always in the moment. Also especially memorable was Jeremy Brena as Sal, Sonny's bank robbing buddy. Simply put, we were mighty impressed with this production.

These Shorts Have Legs

The cleverly titled Summer Shorts 2 at 59E59 Theaters consists of two separate series, each offering four short plays apiece. Both series have their strengths and weaknesses but—happily—both also deliver plenty of entertainment that is either witty or wise or both.

The most interesting of the two plays in the first act of Series A is called The Waters of March and it is an eerily resonate rendition of jazz singer Susannah McCorkle's suicide seven years ago. Written by Leslie Lyles and starring Amy Irving as a sad, unnamed singer who jumps to her death from a high rise apartment building, the story is unmistakably about McCorkle. The title of the piece was a song for which she was known, and she, like the character, was fired from the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel shortly before jumping to her death. Though the short play doesn't pierce the heart of the audience as it should, it does provide Amy Irving with a sophisticated piece of work that also requires her to sing, which she does exceedingly well.

The second act provides a piece that is pretty damned stunning called On The Bench. A play about the Stonewall Riot seen from the vantage point of both history and memory, it tells the touching story of a young gay boy reading a book about the event from a bench in the park across the street from the famous bar. He is joined by an older woman whose brother was there that fateful day. Full of rich character, especially provided by Mary Joy with a perfect New York accent, this piece is full of surprises and enormous emotional heft.

Series B is, overall, slightly more successful than Series A because three of its pieces are working on all cylinders. In the first act, our favorite is a wildly hilarious comedy written by John Augustine called People Speak with a knockout performance by Sherry Anderson and excellent supporting help by Patricia Randell and Nick Westrate. Simply put, Anderson plays a character that is deeply depressed and on the verge of suicide, but her emotional dilemma becomes a source of viciously mundane dark comedy that will leave you howling with laughter. Randall is Anderson's fast-talking boss while Westrate plays a variety of characters with consummate comedy chops. The play may not resolve quite as well as you'd like, but that seems like nit-picking after laughing so hard.

In the second act there is the treat of a mini-musical with a book by Terrence McNally and music and lyrics by Skip Kennon. Called Plasir d'Amour, it's the story of two people who meet at the opera, fall in love at first sight, get married, have a family, grow apart and finally at their daughter's wedding, re-find the spark of their love. It's all done in about twenty minutes or so, mostly in song, and it's charming, winsome and oftentimes elegantly clever. Rita Harvey is the opera singer (and the husband's mistress), Neal Mayer plays a variety of male roles, and the two loveable lovers are played by Stephanie D'Abruzzo and Jonathan Kaplan, both of whom bring humor and humanity to their roles. Well done by all!

The Summer Shorts 2 series of one-acts continues through August 28. Visit http://www.59e59.org for more information.


-- Barbara and Scott Siegel


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