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by Elyse Sommer

Macbeth. . .  The Rivals. . . The Mentalists(London). . . Mysteries(London). . . Gagarin Way (London). . . Lobby Hero (London). . . Nightsongs (London). . .  Cannibal Masque. . .  Cirque Orchestra. . . 

Macbeth co-produced by the Japan Society and BAM.
We see real and virtual images in mirrors. In modern society, we're required to see good and bad or real and virtual. I want to emphasize this. ----Director Ukio Ninagawa commenting on the use of many mirrors in his production of the Scottish play

December 4-7, 7:30 pm at BAM in association with Japan Society presents a new staging of Macbeth directed by the legendary Yukio Ninagawa. The production opens amid a brutal battle replete with Macbeth’s bloodstained warriors. Culling from aspects of Japanese culture, history, and traditions, Ninagawa reaches to the core of the tragedy to reveal new meanings and nuances within the Western text. At the Howard Gilman Opera House. For details about BAM
The Rivals. Richard Brinsley Sheridan's The Rivals is the 2nd in the TACT (The Actors Company Theatre) 10th Anniversary season at the company's new home at the French Institute Alliance Français. The 18th-century satire of mistaken identities and romantic near-misses among a dashing captain, an idealistic heiress and the blundering Mrs. Malaprop has enough meaty parts for a full complement of TACT actors. James Murtaugh is Sir Anthony Absolute, Jack Koenig is Captain Absolute, Rob Breckenridge is Faulkland, Kyle Fabel is Acres, Gregory Salatai is Sir Lucius O'Trigger, Scott Schafer is Fag, Jamie Bennett is David/Thomas, Delphi Harrington is Mrs. Malaprop, Margaret Nichols is Lydia Languish, Mary Bacon is Julia, and Eve Michelson o s Lucy. Co-Artistic Director Scott Alan Evans steers them through the assorted mishaps.

Few full productions come up to the high standards set by this most able cast under Evans' direction. Although on book, the actors scarcely look at their scripts, offering performances fully rehearsed and finely performed. Most notable are Scott Schafer's Fag, Delphi Harrington's Mrs. Malaprop and James Murtaugh and Jack Koenig as the elder and youger Absolutes. The concert style staging is without set but it is far more than a reading, featuring as it does costumes by David Toser, lighting by Mary Louise Geiger, and music by Jonathan Faiman. TACT's mission is to bring neglected classics to the stage; after this unrivaled (pun intended) production of Sheridan's comedy, one will not want to miss the next production in Graham Greene's The Potting Shed in January.

Seen on Monday November 18th by
Dave Lohrey. Performances and ticket purchases for the November 24th 2pm and November 25th 7:30 pm performances at Florence Gould Hall/French InstituteAlliance Français 55 East 59th Street. or via Ticketmaster at 212/307-4100. For more information on the rest of the TACT season visit the company web site
. The Mentalists. Richard Bean, who has just co-won the George Devine award 2002 (together with Gary Owen) for his play Under the Whaleback to be produced at the Royal Court next year, has written a new play, The Mentalists, for the National Theatre's Transformation season in their new 90 seater Loft space. The season features new plays, very short runs and unreserved seating at 12 pounds. On a cursory inspection, the season of new writing which has been designed to attract the younger theatregoer seems to be succeeding with a more usual age group. With Mickey Feast and Duncan Preston as Ted and Morrie, two friends in their fifties who arrive at a North London hotel room to make a film to promote Ted's ideas for an Utopian society based on the Behaviourist conditioning theories of the psychologist, Skinner. Ted, a business fleet manager, is strung as tight as a drum, his temperamental desperation surfacing as surely as his inability to supply a credit card which will be honoured to pay for the hotel room. My first impression was that the film Ted was about to make was a party political broadcast on behalf of a fascist organisation. Morrie, on the other hand, the retired hairdresser whose answer to everything is a relaxing scalp massage, is easy going and affable and seems less complicated. With echoes of Pinter, Bean dissects the facades of respectability and normality that the hapless pair have constructed and reveals the emotional poverty of their upbringing in a London orphanage and its permanent scars. The play is laced with a bittersweet, dark humour and Bean pinpoints the ridiculous in our everyday behaviour with a natural ease. Sean Holmes directs in a claustrophobic, tiny space filled by Jonathan Fensom's amorphous, bland hotel bedroom set with its anodyne prints and insubstantial reproduction furniture. Although at times depressing, The Mentalists has wit and promise enough to make it worthwhile seeing more of Richard Bean's work.

On at the Lyttelton Loft Theatre, National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1 until 19th July 2002

A surprise hit in the West End is The Mysteries, a South African multi-racial version of the Chester Mystery plays, the medieval plays put on by townspeople which told the Bible stories from the Old and New Testament. Unlike the York cycle, this version stops at the Resurrection. Last year this played at the dilapidated, makeshift Wilton's Music Hall and so enthralled those that saw it, that remarkably it has made its way to Shaftesbury Avenue. It is told in four languages, two African, Zulu and Xhosa (a clicky language), Afrikaans and English but is easy to comprehend as the stories are well known and the interpretation very expressive. They relate the fall of Lucifer, the Creation, Adam and Eve, Noah's Flood, Cain and Abel, Moses to the birth and life of Christ. There is lively music on improvised instruments from kettle drums to a strange assortment of things found in scrapyards. The dance is energetic and vibrant and the voice uplifting and beautiful, the whole has a roughness and spontaneity. The Crucifixion is one of the most moving I have seen with the sonorous voiced Vumile Nomanyama doubling as God and the Son of God. Originally due to run for a very few weeks, such is the demand that this joyful event has been extended two more months. Box Office: 0870 890 1110 at The Queen's Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue, London W1. Extended to 18th May 2002.
Gagarin Way, a first play from Gregory Burke, was a hit at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2001. It played in the Cottesloe at the National Theatre last autumn and now transfers to the Arts Theatre for a three month run. The play is about a kidnapping of a multinational corporate executive by a pair of incompetent, political activists with anarchist leanings. Burke's writing is streetwise, incisive and bears some of Pinter's hallmarks like the displacement of language, giving incongruous speeches to those engaged in violence and thuggery. In Gagarin Way the "hard man" of the two kidnappers, Eddie (Michael Nardone) discusses at length the relative merits of French philosopher Jean Paul Satre and author Jean Genet. Some of the language is in Dunfermline, lowland Scots vernacular. Gregory Burke, himself a university dropout, lampoons the not overly bright university graduate, Tom (Michael Moreland) who whilst working as a security guard is caught up in the crime. The humour is always black and the play has episodes of extreme violence. There is much discussion about twenty first century global politics. This is not a play for those of a nervous disposition. Although Gagarin Way is doing good business with a younger age group reared on Tarantino's films, I'm not sure who will benefit from clones of this and The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which I liked very much, appearing on the London stage, other than the manufacturers of artificial stage blood.
Box Office: 020 7836 3334 The Arts Theatre, Great Newport Street, London WC1. To 11th May 2002.

Kenneth Lonergan's play Lobby Hero comes to London'Donmar Warehouse American Imports Season with its director Mark Brokaw intact, only the cast have changed. Four British actors take over the parts created off-Broadway. I can do no better than to recommend that you read Curtain Up!'s Editor, Elyse Sommer's review of the play in New York.
The Review) The Donmar is one of London's most intimate spaces, seating around 300, so wherever you sit you can register small changes on the faces of the actors.

I think all four of the cast do very well, the American accents are ok. David Tennant is both hapless and likeable as the aspiring security officer, Jeff. The womanising, all-fixing cop, Bill (Dominic Rowann could give lessons in spin. Charlotte Randle plays Dawn whose police inexperience shows from the first scene. Gary McDonald has a touching depth as William, the most genuine of the four characters but the man who has to choose between family and his personal principles. All in all, a play to be recommended with some wonderful humour and great characterisation. Watching Lobby Hero, I felt that onstage we were seeing some of the brilliant American humour we have in television series like Frasier and Seinfeld and more culturally accessible to the British audience than say, Neil Simon.

Lobby Hero has lighting by Rick Fisher, sound by Fergus O'Hare for Aura. It runs two hours fifteen minutes with one interval Box Office: 020 7369 1732
Booking to 4th May 2002 Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 10th April 2002 performance at The Donmar Warehouse, Earlham Street, London WC2

May 2, 2002 addendum: The Donmar Warehouse production of the play is transferring to the New Ambassadors for an eight-week limited engagement beginning on June 26 -- replacing another American play, The Vagina Monologues
On at the Royal Court until 23rd March is the experimental Nightsongs, written by Norwegian, Jon Fosse and directed by Katie Mitchell. The auditorium at the Royal Court has been completely turned around to create a traverse space for this production. The idea is to keep the play fresh and fluid by incorporating feedback into that day's performance from the previous performance. I'm not sure how you do that with a script the words of which you adhere to. The problem with this process is that while it may be very interesting for the cast and the director, for the audience there is no perception of the experiment. Instead, what we have is yet another play from the Royal Court about depressed, unemployed people with no hope, living in an apartment. Here an unpublished and sensitive writer (Paul Higgins), who gets rejection slips when he can be bothered to send off his manuscripts, is powerless to do anything as he watches his marriage disintegrating. Sophie Okonedo is his wife trapped by her maternity leave in the apartment with her depressed husband. Jonathan Cullen is her lover who turns up to move her and the baby out in the middle of the night. The performances are fine but the text in translation is written in laboured blank verse, an example,
"Well come on then
This is no good
It's madness
Come on"

It is a sad, sad play which even the talented Katie Mitchell cannot lift above the stultifying. Box Office: 020 7565 5000 Jerwood Theatre Downstairs at the Royal Court, Sloane Square London SW1. To 23rd March 2002.
February 22, 2002. Now that I've seen this spectacularly beautiful and original show, I can only say, that this troupe should come to New York at least once a year and for a longer stay. While the dancing and acrobatic skills of the Cirque Eloize troupe is at the core of the 75-minute, intermissionless show, it is also a theater piece.

The delightfully comic Peter Allen (listed in the program as principal actor) provides the nine numbers with a thematic link. Dressed as a member of the string section of the excellent Orchestra of St. Luke's, which is positioned at the rear of the stage, James picks up his violin and joins the soaring dancer-acrobats, at first hesitantly but with increasing joy and abandonment. This combination Peter Pan, Chaplin's Little Tramp and an upbeat Beckettian clown, is a figure representing all our dreams of flying beyond the confines of our earthbound existence. James is the only member of the troupe who speaks, his spare dialogue neatly summing up his journey -- beginning with "ouch" as his awkward attempts to emulate the graceful Eloizeers and climaxing with a triumphant "yes" as he soars and leaps and twirls and becomes the leader instead of the timid follower. As Jano Chiasson's amazing "Flying Tissue" is an Icarus who scales the heights but without crashing, so James' violinist also successfully learns to fly higher and higher and become stronger and stronger.

The emphasis of the show is on talent -- make that bold-faced, capitalized TALENT-- rather than fancy stage craft. The troupe is all in white. The props are simple but all in the service of showing the poetry of the human body -- the fabric "tissue" used as ropes, cables, rings and a double wheel. The musical choices couldn't be more apt; they include selections from Barber, Rimnsky Korsakov, Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff', Sibelius, Stravinsky and Saint-Saens. After watching what might be called a gorgeously illustrated story concert, these leaping and soaring figures will come back to me whenever I hear them in a "regular" orchestra setting or on a CD.

The all too brief run is perfectly timed during school inter-session to give a maximum number of kids a chance to experience the magic of circus acrobatics, dance and theater all in one eye-popping, mind-bending package.

The performances run February 20th to 24th and can be bought at the City Center box office or by phoning 212.581.1212

January 23, 2002. Cannibal Masque. A new theater space and a not-so-new play have been added to the downtown scene. The work of Ronald Ribman, once known as "the bright light of American playwriting", is rarely seen these days. Thanks to the enthusiasm of a 23-year old director and founder of the Citizen Pell Theater Group, Jeff Menaker, the 70-year-old Ribman's The Cannibal Masque is being performed through February 3rd at 45 Below, a new venue in the basement of the 45 Bleeker Theater. The four character Masque is a highly stylized mystery with strong political overtones. It's set in post World War I Germany, a period when things were so bad that many people suffered starvation. Those with good jobs could buy a large, cooked-to-order meal for a pittance, as does one of the character -- a coarse braggart without a grain of compassion for the less fortunate. The circumstance bringing him to a shabby restaurant, and what happens when the pork dinner he's ordered finally arrives resonates strongly with current events. The four actors (Gerard Nazarian, Kevin Orr, Constance Allan, and Christopher Yeatts) perform competently if not outstandingly. Those interested in thought-provoking, atypical theater will want to check out this play. It runs just a little over an hour. Performances are Tues-Sat. at 8pm; plus matinees on Sat & Sun at 3pm. Tickets are $15; $10 for students and seniors. and tickets are $15; $10 for students and seniors. Reservations: 212-592-4532. -- Elyse Sommer
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