Monday, September 25, 2017

A Clockwork Orange--A Pulverizing Adaptation of a Brutal Novel 

By Joseph Cervelli

Oh, that prolonged stare which is both eerily seductive and frightening. I am speaking of the leader of the Droogs, Alex (a mesmerizing Jonno Davies), who may exude sexual prowess but beware of this maniacal young man who is ready to tear you to shreds on a whim. Based on Anthony Burgess’s dystopian novel “A Clockwork Orange” this pulverizing stage production at  New World Stages utilizes dance in both stunning ballet and military style movements. The book was turned into the brilliant Stanley Kubrick film of the same title. 

Alex and his band of equally crazed hoods Dim (Sean Patrick Higgins), Pete (Misha Osherovich) and Georgie (Matt Doyle) along with a few other undesirables along the way with their androgynous looks take to robbing, rape, mutilation with not the slightest compunction of guilt. For them this is their goal in life and standards of society is something that means nothing. They even have invented their own language to offset themselves from others which is spoken throughout this dazzling work directed with incredible self assurance by Alexandra Spencer-Jones.Don’t be put off by the unintelligible dialogue when these cretins are addressing each other for you will easily get the gist of their conversation. 

When not marauding through the streets, they take up residence at the MilkBar where they're drinking something as wholesome as milk is so incongruous with their sordid behavior.  Although you become aware the milk has been spiked with some drugs which add to their violent nature. 

In one scene you see  Alex in a striking pose of full assault standing on what is supposed to be the roof of the house (no credit for set design)  breaking in with his friends and killing a woman. Throughout all this horrific behavior classical musical is being played (his idol is Beethoven) which gives him the sickening inspiration to carry on.  Interspersed with Beethoven is Frankie Goes to Hollywood’s catchy “Relax.” Taken away by the police (each of the male cast plays a multitude of roles)  Alex enters a program of rehabilitation in which he is forced to look at violent images and films to cure him of his destructive behavior. His eyes are kept open so he cannot look away. During this “treatment” he is also listening to Beethoven so eventually any sight of violence or hearing the composer’s music will make him physically ill.
When released he has nowhere to go for his parents don’t want him (his mother is having an affair with their lodger). His fellow Droogs have now become police officers and while they beat him he lies defenceless, since he is unable to involve himself in any type of violence. I shall not divulge any further except to say that the ending of the play follows the book not the film. 

The production is enhanced by the almost film noir style of lighting by James Baggaley. But what makes the play work so well is the amazingly talented cast who exhibit a Bacchanalian energy to every scene they are in. Led by Davies who looks like he was the inspiration for the statue David he is quite unbelievable as he is transformed from this barbarous young man (he is really supposed to be fifteen) to a cowering, frightened individual. His writhing and convulsive movements  on the floor after the so called  treatment he was given is astonishingly real. 

Spencer-Jones has given the play a more homo-erotic style although there is nothing prurient about it and when Alex plants cold kisses on some other men you are never sure if they are male or female characters. It really does not matter for to these characters sex is just that. Love is anathema to all of them. Spencer-Jones has expertly brought to life Burgess’s creation of characters with their lack of remorse and morality. The infusion of dance (no credit is given to a choreographer in the program) only intensifies the play's savage nature which is so stylish that there is an almost obscene beauty. 

You may turn away at a few of the scenes, but the cast will draw you in as you enter a harrowing world that you will not easily forget.  

         Tickets are available at New World Stages 350 West 50th Street or by calling 212.239.6200. As of this date the limited engagement ends January 8.


Thursday, September 14, 2017

For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday

By Joseph Cervelli

Playwright Sarah Ruhl like many writers has her share of admirers and detractors. I tend to fall somewhere in the middle. She never travels along the same track in terms of topic which is definitely an admirable trait. While I loved “”In the Next Room, or the vibrator play” and enjoyed “The Clean House,” I found both “Dead Man’s Cell Phone” and “The Oldest Boy” starting off fine until both faded into oblivion. Sadly, her new work “For Peter Pan on her 70th birthday” at Playwrights Horizons collapses almost from the very beginning which is a shame because somewhere here there is a worthwhile statement to be made about dealing with growing old. 

The play begins promising enough when the always superb Kathleen Chalfant as Ann (if you have a bad play put this gifted actress in it and it helps a great deal) stepping out from the curtain with a program in her hand informing us that she played the part of Pan in Davenport, Iowa, about 40 years earlier.  She  jokes about the funny name of the director and how she really hates to fly. 

From that lighthearted moment we are in a hospital  and her four siblings’ dad (Ron Crawford)  keeping a death watch as he lies in a bed. He soon dies and most of the first part of the intermissionless play takes place while the family has an Irish wake in his home in Davenport. One thing was refreshing is that the family is not--thankfully!--another dysfunctional one. They all seem to like and respect each other even if their feelings of politics among other topics are greatly different. There is talk about Clinton--the time is the 90’s--and then about conservatism vs. liberalism. The most outspoken brother is the oldest, Jim (David Chandler), who is a surgeon; Michael (Keith Reddin) also is a physician; John (Daniel Jenkins) is a college professor plays a good bugle; and the skittish Wendy (Lisa Emery) who seems to be on the verge of tears any given moment. Ann is a college professor. The political talk seems to dissipate before they are discussing growing old and death. Meanwhile the spirit of the father sometimes walks around  and on one occasion drops something  in the home as the offsprings stare at each other in confusion and speculation.  After a while all of this talk becomes unnecessary babble leading nowhere. We really learn nothing about the family or even their dynamics together. 

Then suddenly the play takes a new detour and we are in Neverland. Here things go completely off kilter and becomes quite foolish. Ann becomes Pan and I must say that Chalfant flies around with incredible grace and charm. What becomes unclear is that while all the siblings take their roles as characters in”Peter Pan” you are never quite sure if they are supposed to be adults or children. For at one moment one is exclaiming “There’s the volcano” yet at other times one of them states that he has to leave to attend to his patients. Meanwhile, Pan seems to have her own problems when she discusses her “panic attacks.” 

There are many ways of looking at this play--do we really embrace our childhood enough or are too impatient  to get to become adults overlooking all the little joys? While  we accept the inevitable about growing older is there a way to make it a better existence?  Despite the smooth direction by Les Waters and the dedicated performances--especially Chalfont who always has a unique ability to show an unforced depth in all of her roles, the play remains stagnant never shedding new light on much. 

Tickets are available at Playwrights Horizons 416 West 42nd Street or by calling 212.279.4200. As of this date the limited engagement ends October 1.