Romeo and Juliet, The Glass Menagerie, Natural Affection and The Film Society

Shakespeare’s subverted, Williams is illuminated, Inge is miscast and Baitz is bungled!

Romeo and Juliet   (1 ½ stars)
The Glass Menagerie   (4 stars)
Natural Affection   (1 star)
The Film Society   (2 ½ stars)

I’ve yet to see a decent production of Romeo and Juliet and that includes the dreary new Broadway revival helmed by British director, David Leveaux.  More than any other of the Bard’s works, Romeo and Juliet is a story about youth, passion and impetuousness – all of which are non-existent in Leveaux’s cockamamie, modernist production.  From the flaming curtain rods to Romeo’s motorcycle to the updating of Shakespeare’s text, Leveaux favors style over substance and loses Shakespeare’s love story in the process.  Though too old to play Romeo, Orlando Bloom gives a competent performance and there’s no denying he’s rakishly handsome.  As Juliet, however, Condola Rashad is out of her element and registers as blandly miscast.  There’s not an ounce of the requisite, sizzling chemistry necessary between them and the rest of their supporting cast (including a strong Christian Camargo as Mercutio and Jayne Houdyshell as Juliet’s Nurse) are adrift amidst Leveaux’s meddling.  Hopefully, CSC’s upcoming production of Romeo and Juliet will restore both the passion and the tragedy of this timeless tale of love gone awry.

At this point it hardly matters what anyone says about John Tiffany’s acclaimed revival of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie since it’s been anointed as ‘the must see event’ of the season.  For my part, I certainly agree it’s a wonderful production, but I have several quibbles with Tiffany’s production and they begin with Cherry Jones’ towering performance as Amanda Wingfield.  Yes, Jones is brilliant, and, yes, I’d pay to see her read the phone book.  But her Amanda starts at a loud, fever pitch and has nowhere to go the rest of the play.  Though she is the most gifted actress of her generation there’s also a monotonous quality – in both volume and molasses-drenched accent – that robs Amanda of the layers of vulnerability that are so crucial to her portrayal.  Similarly, Zachary Quinto lays the accent on a little thick, too, and doesn’t necessarily make it clear Tom is gay, as some reviews would lead you to believe.  I also hated all the unnecessary ‘choreography’ and ‘pantomiming’ that goes on courtesy of Tiffany and ‘movement director’ Steven Hoggett.  (Yes, I know it’s a ‘memory play’ but come on!)  In short, I far preferred the Roundabout’s gorgeous, 2010 production at the Laura Pels, directed by Gordon Edelstein and starring Judith Ivey and Patch Darragh.  One aspect of the Tiffany revival that’s not in doubt, however, is the wondrous ‘Gentleman Caller’ scene at the end of the play as performed by the luminous Celia Keenan-Bolger as Laura and the handsome Brian J. Smith as the Caller in question.  It’s a master-class in acting and as perfect a rendering of that scene as will ever be performed.

It’s difficult to assess the worth of Natural Affection, an obscure, late play from William Inge now being revived by The Actors Company Theatre (TACT) because it’s so badly cast and badly directed.   A potboiler about lust, resentment and violence colliding at the dawn of a sexual revolution, neither the cast nor director Jenn Thompson understands what the play is about and are unable to play the text let alone Inge’s critical subtext.  I left at intermission too bored to be bothered.

Slightly better, but similarly misdirected, is Keen Company’s revival of Jon Robin Baitz’s 1989 play The Film Society.  Director Jonathan Silverstein’s clunky staging and the cast’s inconsistent accents hamper Baitz’s complicated story of political change at a South African boys school in 1970.  But as the play’s emotional fulcrum, Euan Morton is terrific and Roberta Maxwell, Gerry Bamman and Richmond Hoxie make nice contributions, too.

Romeo and Juliet plays through January 12 at the Richard Rodgers (226 W 46th St, RomeoAndJulietBroadway.comThe Glass Menagerie plays through January 5 at the Booth (222 W 45th St, TheGlassMenagerieBroadway.comNatural Affection plays through October 26 at the Beckett (410 W 42nd St, www.TACTNYC.org).  The Film Society plays through October 26 at the Clurman (410 W 42nd St, www.KeenCompany.org).

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