David Mamet's Speed-the-Plow is one of those lucky pieces with the added extra dimension of offering its actors terrific parts. The play itself is a good, solid work of black comedy, but in this revival it's all about the acting in a way it never could be when it was originally produced on Broadway with Madonna on the stage and her screaming fans in the audience. That was theater of an entirely different sort, while the current production offers Raúl Esparza giving a performance that is, in a word, sensational. There are other reasons to see this play: it's smart, riveting, and entertaining. As for the other two stars, Jeremy Piven is a solid foil and Elisabeth Moss is perfectly cast. But you'll come out of the theater simply raving about Esparza.
We would have preferred that the vehicle that finally transformed Esparza from a solid leading man into the top ranks of Broadway actors would have been a musical. Be that as it may, we're glad to see that his electric performance in Speed-the-Plow will also speed Esparza to the point where folks write musicals and plays specifically for him. Certainly Mamet is a good fit for this actor because the playwright tends to specialize in characters that are volatile and intense, two things Esparza does extremely well. We wouldn't be surprised to see Esparza in future Mamet plays, whether they are revivals or new works. But please, somebody get Raúl in a musical!
Speed-the-Plow on Broadway at the Barrymore Theatre, 243 West 47th Street (Between Broadway and 8th Avenue). For performance and ticket information, visit Telecharge.com.
All My Sons: McBurned!
Sure, Katie Holmes is the weakest actor on the stage in All My Sons. But that is hardly the major problem of this revival of Arthur Miller's classic play. Before we go on, it's important to note that a play this well written and with three other outstanding actors in leading roles (John Lithgow, Dianne Wiest and Patrick Wilson) has much value in it even if the show's director, Simon McBurney, has undercut its power with one foolish decision after another. At base, McBurney has attempted to change a naturalistic play of ideas into some sort of imagistic Our Town. It ain't happenin'.
The play's impact comes precisely because the characters are grounded in everyday reality; the more we are reminded that we're watching a play, the more undercut is Arthur Miller's text. And that's exactly what McBurney is doing when he has the actors come on stage at the beginning, John Lithgow introduces the play to the audience and actually gives us the cell-phone announcement. Then, throughout the play, the actors are often in clear view, off-stage, sitting and waiting for their entrances. Everything about the set, the super titles, the staging finally boils down to a basic lack of faith in the material or the audience. Or both. This is, to be sure, one of the most disappointing revivals of the season despite some fine work by Lithgow, Wiest, and Wilson.
All My Sons on Broadway at the Schoenfeld Theatre, 236 West 45th Street (Between Broadway and 8th Avenue). For tickets and performance information, visit Telecharge.com.
Speaking of revivals ...The Fourposter is mighty sweet
The charming, marriage-affirming two-hander, The Fourposter, has been revived by the Keen Company with delightful performances by Todd Weeks and Jessica Dickey and nicely understated direction by Blake Lawrence. Jan de Hartog's gentle piece takes place in a series of bedroom scenes between 1890 and 1913 and it is the kind of sweet, character-driven play we don't see much of any more. Knowing that it was written in 1943 while the author was in hiding from the Nazis in Holland gives this rose-colored memory piece another heart-tugging layer. And for all its apparent simplicity, the play managed to elicit a tear from both of these jaded critics at exactly the same moment of the finale.
It's ironic that this modest little play that's currently in a 99 seat theater on Theatre Row began its public life as a movie starring Rex Harrison and Lili Palmer, then became a Tony Award winning play on Broadway starring Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy, directed by no less a personage than José Ferrer. It then became the basis of the Broadway musical I Do, I Do starring Mary Martin and Robert Preston. Between the Keen Company's much-deserved reputation for quality work and the remarkable pedigree of the play ... not to mention the fact that we think this is a lovely production, you might want to catch The Fourposter before it finishes its run on November 22nd.
The Fourposter Off-Broadway at the Clurman Theater, 410 West 42nd Street )between 9th and 10th Avenues). For tickets and performance information, visit TicketCentral.com.