ADVERTISING AT CURTAINUP
Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
A CurtainUp Review
John Cassavetes' Husbands
Part of January 2010 Under the Radar Festival
By Elyse Sommer
The audience at the Martinson Theater who fell into the hate it category made their opinion quite clear not too long after the actor portraying the priest finished presiding over the funeral of the buddy of the three best friends at the center of this male bonding-midlife angst tragi-comedy. By the time a beer swilling scene results in one of the three emotionally dysfunctional husbands video taped vomiting for what seemed an eternity, quite a few people voted with their feet and quietly made their way to the nearest exit. At least half the audience didn't return after the intermission. If being a critic didn't make me feel committed to staying the course, I would have been sorely tempted to join the exodus. Also keeping me in my seat was that eternal hope that a show with a disappointing first act will take that giant leap into thumbs up territory. While there was no vomiting in the second act, I can't say that if I'd seen this high concept production before posting my essay Making a Case For Really Long Books and Plays, that I would have included it. This even more than the movie is very much a case of three hours being self-indulgently excessive.
Not that this production doesn't have it's moments. The set (the versatile Mirescu is responsible for that as well as the concept and direction) cleverly creates two enclosed spaces leaving the back wall as well as an open area in between and before these rooms on which to project the images by the three onstage cameramen. This is quite effective as we watch the men leave the funeral home (live) and then (on camera) walk on the street outside the theater, hail a taxi qbe climb the steps which leads them back to the live onstage rooms and onto the stage.
The problem with this kind of newfangled staging is that the stagecraft upstages the story and characterizations. And three hours of watching those cameramen follow the various characters' Peter Pan-ish escape from real life and their attempts to get in touch with their real feelings becomes tiresome — and does nothing to improve upon Cassavetes' own rather too static style of moviemaking.
There's also the problem of the actors. The original film's cultish status had much, if not everything, to do with the three emotionally crippled men being played by Cassavetes, Ben Gazarra and Peter Falk. All brilliant, nuanced actors. The actors now on stage (the program lists the cast alphabetically but does not identify them by their roles) are okay, but they're obviously in their twenties and not their forties. While they carouse and womanize energetically enough, they're never much more than moving snapshots.
Ms. Mirescu ramps up her adaption's visual and auditory imagery by having the other characters move around the stage in a way that makes them appear even more semi-crazed than the three main guys. Except for his opening speech, the priest is a silent, lurking figure (without his priest's collar in the second act). Guitarist/composer Anders Nilsson cranks out music that makes some of the atonal performances at the Tanglewood's New Music Festival seem like a Boston Pops Movie Night concert. At one point Nilsson leaves his guitar long enough to have a sexual encounter with one of the hostesses at a casino. The screechy music does give way to Cole Porter's "Dancing in the Dark.", As sung here it would surely make Porter shiver in his grave.
John Cassavetes once said that "The most difficult thing in the world is to reveal yourself, to express what you have to. As an artist, I feel that we must try many things — but above all, we must dare to fail. You must be willing to risk everything to really express it all." Ms. Mirescu and her team certainly can't be accused of not trying many things even if for half the audience, at least at the performance I attended, that meant to fail.
Glancing through the lineup of other Radar Festival productions, the adventurous festival goers is sure to experience some hits as well as misses. Other shows reviewed: Ads. . .Once and For All We're Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up And Listen .) One that has been a big hit with Curtainup critics in its previous incarnations is Chekhov Lizardbrain when it played in Philadelphia and in a previous incarnation Off-Broadway. For a complete lineup of what's what and where see the Public Theater's website: http://www.publictheater.org/
Postscript: We thought readers would be interested in this comment from a reader who also saw the show: I fully agree with your review of the Cassavetes Husbands play at the public-- too long and pretentious. And there were just as many walkouts when we attended. My two friends and I did, like you, stay the course and thought the actors were way too young to play these roles. We had fun trying to figure out that older woman in the silver lame gown. One of us thought she was the dead man's grieving mother but finally agreed that she probably represented a sort of ueber mother of all the men. Except for the one scene with one of the men at the bar to the left of the stage, she seemed to add little except another layer of confusion. -- Margot Friedman, Brooklyn.