Arts In LA
A Play a Day

Former LA critic and current New England correspondent Bob Verini tasked himself with reading a play a day and then commenting on it. Let's check in and see how he's doing.

And let us know what you think, via email or in our Guestbook.

The Other Place
Sharr White

Road Theatre

The Other Place is the Cape Cod house that dementia researcher Juliana and oncologist Ian owned and visited for their entire married lives, the house that daughter Laurel ran away from at age 15 when caught canoodling with an older research assistant. But Sharr White’s title also connotes the land of the mind to which Juliana is retreating, as at 52 she has begun to exhibit the effects of early-onset Alzheimer’s. As awfully as dementia impacts the simple routines of everyday life, as seen in such works as Still Alice and Away From Here, White’s play suggests that even more pain may be derived from the Cuisinarting of one’s memories, that can start smashing barriers between recollection and wish-fulfillment, and between truth and illusion. The plot’s stock in trade is letting hints of dislocation peek through, and threaten, what Juliana (and we) see as “reality,” dragging her (and us) down into an other place. I suppose one could complain of a too-present playwright’s hand in places, but I prefer to go with it and enjoy its strange and rare experience.
March 16, 2018

Angel Street
Patrick Hamilton

With all the recent talk about “gaslighting” I thought I’d revisit the original purveyor of the tactic, Jack Manningham in Patrick Hamilton’s Angel Street. I love Ingrid Bergman and the florid romanticism of George Cukor’s 1944 movie version, but terrifying it ain’t, not compared to the stage play with its intimacy and tight cast: nasty maid Nancy; sturdy cook Elizabeth; implacable Inspector Rough; and the central couple. Mr. M. applies thumbscrews to poor oppressed Bella that Ingrid never had to endure. Not to mention the thrilling moment when the cop leaves his hat on the sofa, remembering to retrieve it a split second before the monstrous killer returns. Invested with the right intensity, Hamilton’s masterpiece would still play like gangbusters. And of course it’ll never be forgotten as long as there are productions of On the Town, in which Chip asks cabbie Hildy to take him to see Tobacco Road: “Hey what for did you stop?”/“That show has closed up shop/The actors washed their feet and called it Angel Street.”
March 13, 2018

On the Waterfront
Budd Schulberg

You might think On the Waterfront—as a novel and a world-famous, Oscar-honored 1954 movie—had exerted enough cultural influence to last Budd Schulberg a lifetime. But as he maintains in his preface, the need to inform the public of unabated mob rule on the Port Authority docks, and to indict the Catholic Diocese for its complicity therein, prompted him to re-tell, with Stan Silverman in 1995, the saga of Terry Malloy: ex-boxer, low-level thug, and (eventually) corruption whistle-blower. The stage version beefs up the role of Father Barry (Karl Malden) to more explicitly dramatize his struggles with the church hierarchy. It also changes the ending significantly (a spoiler I’ll save till the end). But otherwise, it’s the same melodrama millions have come to know and love, minus the documentary realism of the settings and—except in one’s head—the unforgettable line readings of its stars. I daresay many a young thesp salivates at the prospect of dressing down brother Charlie for taking away his chance to be a contender, to be somebody instead of a bum etc., though audience members are likely to be skeptical of finding new values in the familiar lines. I can’t help but think that constructing a sequel might’ve been a more effective vehicle for a waterfront update, than revisiting the original so slavishly.

(Spoiler alert: In the movie, Terry is cruelly beaten by racketeer Johnny Friendly’s goons but walks on his own steam to the work gate, thus signaling that right can prevail. In the stage version, Terry dies of his injuries, the hopeful symbolism transferred to alpha male pigeon Swifty, who survives the massacre of Terry’s brood by a local youth. And Father Barry, who soliloquizes that he doesn’t regret standing up for the working man, gets a one-way ticket to Palookaville.)
March 9, 2018

Clybourne Park
Bruce Norris

At Mark Taper Forum
Photo by Craig Schwartz
Having just reread A Raisin in the Sun, I was moved to revisit Clybourne Park, Bruce Norris’s Pulitzer-winning gloss on/sequel to on the Hansberry play’s backstory and themes. It’s as blisteringly funny as ever, still a stinging indictment of how we talk and think about race. It takes place in the north Chicago single-family home purchased by the Younger family in Hansberry’s 1959 classic. Act 1 dramatizes the all-white neighbors’ panic at integration arriving on their doorstep, while Act 2 leaps ahead 50 years as the now mostly black neighborhood confronts the juggernaut of gentrification by seemingly well-meaning white liberals. The parallel structure is clever enough, but what really impresses is Norris’s dazzling wordplay: In both eras, the gaps among what the struggling characters want to say about race relations, how they say it, and how they actually feel are explored to, really, awe-inspiring effect. The play offers no easy answers to the questions it raises about the ownership of history, or the dilemma of claiming one’s rights without depriving others of theirs. But as I noted six years ago about the L.A. production that went on to Broadway, “it sharpens the viewers’ antennae to the obfuscation in which we timidly traffic when trying to discuss those questions, and that’s a public service right there.”
March 6, 2018

A Free Man of Color
John Guare

Jeffrey Wright
Courtesy Lincoln Center Theater

John Guare painting in epic/fantastical mode in A Free Man of Color, rather than the subtler colors which to me represent his greater gift. (Career best, the screenplay of Atlantic City.) Cribbing plot elements from The Country Wife and Volpone to weave a fable about Jacques Cornet, mixed-race bon viveur/toast of New Orleans circa 1801, Guare weaves in the legacy of slavery, as well as the Louisiana Purchase, Lewis and Clark’s expedition, Toussaint L’Ouverture’s abortive Haitian revolt, power politics between Jefferson, the Spanish Empire and Napoleon, with wicked winks at the present day. Here’s Napoleon’s rant on the topic of Great Britain: “I hate Shakespeare. I hate Chaucer. I hate Richard the Lion Hearted. I hate Henry V. When the future comes, I will hate Big Ben. Queen Victoria. James Bond. Charles Dickens. Florence Nightingale. British Air. Julie Andrews. Mick Jagger. No, I will like him.” Ham on wry but funny, much of the play delivered, like Six Degrees of Separation, in direct address: intellectual vaudeville with questionable focus and emotional grounding.
March 3, 2018

Hercule Poirot’s First Case
Jon Jory

Agatha Christie fans will find much pleasure in Jon Jory’s adaptation of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, retitled for the stage Hercule Poirot’s First Case. It’s pretty fleet—moving among some four dozen locations by means of cards on an easel, “The Hallway,” “The Garden” (I’d opt for projections myself)—and offers up the novel’s characters and dialogue straight, no chaser. The no-frills approach leaves plenty of opportunity for us mystery addicts to try to stay ahead of the Dame and the Belgian, which I admit I rarely can. If Mr. Jory cares to oblige, his bringing all of Poirot’s cases to the playhouse would be just fine with me.
February 28, 2018

The Assembled Parties
Richard Greenberg

Raven Theatre, Chicago
Photo by Dean La Prairie

Richard Greenberg’s The Assembled Parties is a throwback to the prewar era of gentle, witty, civilized Broadway playwrighting. I know I’ve been complaining about not enough Americans writing about political and social issues, but if we must have family plays—and of course we must; the family is a social unit too—they don’t write them better than this. The two acts represent two Christmas parties, assembled in 1980 and then in 2000 among the members of an upper middle class Jewish family, in a sprawling Manhattan flat whose 14 rooms house any number of negotiations, secrets, resentments, and unspoken truths. There’s much more going on, plot-wise and thematically, than a synopsis can reveal, and besides which I don’t want to give away any surprises to anyone who might be moved to pick up this magnificent script and get lost in it. But I will say that one of its singular features is Greenberg’s ability to assign a very specific yet very different and believable voice to each member of the extended family. Aunt Faye gets the kvetching and cynical one-liners while Aunt Julie speaks the poetry. Alienated cousin Shelley is practically monosyllabic while cousin Scott—being groomed for political office one day—is the essence of smooth social discourse. In the midst of them all is friend-from-school Jeff, the outsider who…ach, I’m saying too much. It’s just great. Read it.
February 25, 2018

Let Me Hear You Whisper
Paul Zindel

Of all things, a play is in the news! The Paul Zindel estate is suing everybody in the world connected with “The Shape of Water”—maybe even you if you bought a ticket; check your spam folder—alleging plagiarism of Let Me Hear You Whisper. The superficial similarities are striking: In both, an empathetic, underestimated cleaning lady at a secret research facility bonds through recorded music with a creature in a tank, resolving to try to spirit it out in a rolling hamper when its execution looms. That’s where the two diverge, as Zindel’s purpose is to deliver a general broadside against animal testing and a plea for interspecies respect that would make PETA swoon, whereas Guillermo del Toro has that whole mystical-romance thing going, the thriller element, and the intecession of that Justice League of outcasts. Del Toro, co-writer Vanessa Taylor, and friend and associate producer Daniel Kraus, who is said to have floated the film’s idea seven years ago, all deny ever having read, seen, or even heard of Zindel’s little play, though the complaint alleges Kraus’s brainstorm was coincident with a TV broadcast of Whisper. Ripoff or coincidence? You be the judge, though the U.S. District Court will be as well; I have to say that the legal issues may be more interesting than anything in either Shape or Whisper.
February 22, 2018

The Glass Mendacity
Maureen Morley and Tom Willmorth, with story credit shared with Doug Armstrong and Keith Cooper

Welcome to the world of The Glass Mendacity. “I have no tricks in my pocket,” muses Mitch O’Connor as he smokes a cigarette on a fire escape, “or things up my sleeve, or wires running down my pant legs and back behind the flats where an accomplice is rigging smoke bombs.” He promises to give us truth in the pleasant disguise of illusion, and “already tonight you’ve seen $27.50 disappear before your eyes, so I hope you like illusion.” He takes us back to Belle Reve, the Dubois clan ancestral mansion, for a family battle royale over who will inherit when Big Daddy succumbs to his (cough, cough) spastic colon. Maybe crazy daughter Blanche, who thinks she slept with Napoleon and keeps quoting Hamlet to the annoyance of brutish husband Stanley. Or shy daughter Laura, who doesn’t realize her glass collection is actually ice cubes, and who saw her high school hero play Pirates of Penzance all three times because the brace on her leg got stuck to the auditorium seat. It would suit sultry Maggie the Cat if her husband Brick won the prize, but isn’t that drunken first-born actually a mannequin? Satire is best when it affectionately respects its target while taking advantage of every chance to poke holes in pretentiousness and coincidence, and that’s what this Illegitimate Players (Chicago, Ill.) spoof does beautifully. I think a company could enjoy a windfall if it played this in rep with any of the three Williams classics mashed-up here, the only danger being that it might be impossible to approach the originals with a straight face thereafter. Giving the clever devils their due, it was penned by Maureen Morley and Tom Willmorth, with story credit shared with Doug Armstrong and Keith Cooper.
March 14, 2018

A Delicate Ship
Anna Ziegler

at the Road on Magnolia
Photo by Brian M. Cole

The Road Theatre Company in North Hollywood apparently has only five more performances of A Delicate Ship, and on the strength of the text (and the company, which I know well) I would urge my LA friends not to miss this one. Anna Ziegler impresses me more with each play I read—they’re all so different, yet they share a distinctive poetic sensibility, and the capacity to locate equal portions of drama in the quotidian and the extraordinary. A Delicate Ship provides plenty of both in its dissection of an unexpected Christmas Eve spent among the three legs of a highly fraught romantic triangle, all thirtysomethings variously paralyzed by their past and present. And I do mean dissection, because beyond the surface good humor, some boozy reminiscence, a party game, and a moment of violence (all par for the course when two men are battling for the same woman), Ziegler also tears apart each character through direct address, poetic reverie, soliloquy, and a flash-forward. This strikes me as one of the most Cubist naturalistic plays I’ve ever encountered, and it stirred me the same way the great Cubist masterpieces do when their deconstruction of everyday reality suddenly hits me with what I’ve been missing.
March 13, 2018

Compulsion or The House Behind
Rinne Groff

The little-remembered 1950s controversy over Anne Frank’s diary, its rights and meaning, inspires Rinne Groff’s Compulsion or the House Behind. The word “Compulsion” refers to a well-known novel, film, and play retelling the Leopold and Loeb murders, for which bestselling author Meyer Levin changed all the names but fictionalized little else. Groff follows suit in creating bestselling author “Sid Silver” (amusingly, Levin’s name for the Chicago reporter based on himself, investigating “Artie” and “Judd” on their crime spree). Silver/Levin discovers the diary in a limited printing, obtains a vague offer of rights from patriarch Otto Frank, and not only muscles it into publication but writes a NY Times rave establishing an instant classic. But Broadway producers reject and suppress Levin’s stage adaptation of what has become less holy testimony than hot property, in favor of the now world-renowned version by a non-Jewish, Hollywood writing couple. Obsession, fueled by the conviction that the Franks’ Semitic authenticity has been insidiously soft-pedaled, turns into mania and finally raving paranoia directed at Doubleday, producer Herman Shumlin, Lillian Hellman (who allegedly urged the play’s Gentile-ification), and—in surely one of the worst PR ploys of all time—survivor Otto himself. Silver/Levin’s personal crises are presented vividly while still bringing out the fundamental questions of ownership and moral responsibility. And it’s partly told with marionettes. Neither hero nor villain, victim nor oppressor, Meyer Levin is a fascinating study in ambiguity at which Groff succeeds handsomely.
March 10, 2018

Working for the Mouse
Trevor Allen

I really hoped to enjoy Working for the Mouse, a first-person narrative of summers in service to Disneyland, mostly as Pluto. There are plenty of anecdotes of in-park and backstage happenings, but they don’t add up to a shaped narrative because Trevor Allen’s monologue fails to establish a personal journey or quest to run in parallel with the job stories: The character never changes or learns anything. For that matter, there’s no real point of view on Disneyland and what it means to Trevor, just the peculiar notion of a straight man inexplicably dying to play Peter Pan and hang out with weirdos. As a one-actor tour de force, this strikes me as a far cry from Buyer and Cellar, The Santaland Diaries, and Fully Committed, in each of which the main task is character revelation rather than straightforward reportage.
March 7, 2018

Completely Hollywood (Abridged)
Reed Martin and Austin Tichenor, additional material by Dominic Conti

While my back was turned, looks like the creators of The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (abridged), which I remember as a jolly gloss on themes and characters in the canon, have created a cottage industry satirizing, to date, the Great Books, the Bible, American history, Dickens, and the entirety of Western Civ. On the evidence of Completely Hollywood (Abridged), further encounters with their output won’t be in my future. They present a theatrical Cuisinart of what they deem Hollywood’s 186 Greatest Films—The Wolfman is included, Citizen Kane is not, Gandhi is misspelled—that encompasses the sheer quotation of famous quotes (“Run, Forrest, run!”); tortured puns (“I coulda had class, I coulda been a Pretender”); and a thin storyline in which the three performers have each written a screenplay they want to peddle. I suppose there are opportunities for audience participation, as in this encounter with Oz’s Scarecrow: “Pardon me, but that way’s a very nice way. Or you could go that way. Of course, in Hollywood, ________________.” But it’s mostly Close Encounters of the Tired Kind, as when a chief meets a Kevin Costner type looking for the Fakawi tribe. “We’re the Fakawi.” “I have no idea.” I had hoped to kick off Oscar night with mirth, but neither this script nor Kimmel’s jokes amused me as much as The Onion, which headlined: Academy Honors Retiring Daniel Day-Lewis With Small Farewell Happy Hour In Dolby Theatre Kitchen. With a photo of DDL holding a red plastic cup and chatting with co-workers, two pizzas open on the counter.
March 4, 2018

Lee Hall (based on Paddy Chayefsky)

Bryan Cranston
Courtesy National Theater
Network is one screenplay-to-straight-play transposition that isn’t just acceptable, it’s practically necessary. Why? Because the thrust of Paddy Chayefsky’s prescient argument about the impact of the media is more relevant, in the era of Internet, polar politics and mass anger, than ever; yet aspects of the 1976 film remain stubbornly stuck in that bygone era. So Lee Hall has jettisoned the far-fetched Sybil the Soothsayer, as well as the twitting of terrorists as radical-chic media whores (we see terrorism in a very different light today). At the same time, he’s gone back to Chayefsky’s drafts and notes, and made the commentary even more robust and timely than before. A smash at the National Theatre last fall, Network, its killer Ivo van Hove staging, and its inspired Howard Beale, Bryan Cranston, are sure to hit the States quite soon. Or at least, I’ll be mad as hell if they don’t.
March 1, 2018

But for Whom Charlie
S.N. Behrman

But for Whom Charlie is set among the principals of and applicants to the Seymour Rosenthal Foundation, a literati-support concern established to expiate the sins of the father, a scuzzy movie tycoon. Theme—the conflict between authenticity and artifice in one’s public and private lives—and witty dialogue are far more important to the venerable author of now-forgotten hit boulevard comedies than story. And alas, the meandery narrative works against the play’s freshness date 50+ years on, even though that theme is ever-timely and permeates the work from first to last. Titular Charlie, for instance, the Rosenthal heir’s college buddy, is the foundation administrator whose geniality covers up a viper’s heart. The main antagonist is a wicked stepmother with enough surface charm to pull off multiple random seductions. And the most engaging character is an elderly roué who, riding on the rep of his sole long-ago distinguished novel, specializes in bilking foundations for a living. Interest in people’s disguised selves is even woven into the best passages, like this provocative attack on psychoanalysis by the old phony: “They’re always rooting, these psychiatrists, for antecedent causes for evil conduct. I don’t think there was any antecedent cause for Iago. He was just naturally mean. This search for motives behind bad actions seems to me silly. It is based on the assumption that people are naturally good. It is an untested assumption. The history of the inhuman race contradicts it. Maybe people are just naturally bad. It is virtue that should be explained. That’s where the hidden motive should be sought.” I think those ideas are awesome, but dramatic that speech ain’t, and to my ear it’s stilted spoken aloud. Written for the brand new Repertory Theater of Lincoln Center, “Charlie” barely eked out its 47 subscription performances, a cup of weak tea just when our drama was poised to start serving up the hard stuff.
February 26, 2018

A Raisin in the Sun
Lorraine Hansberry

Claudia McNeil and Sidney Poitier in the 1961 film
Courtesy Columbia Pictures

If you’re anything like me, an encounter with last month’s exceptional PBS American Masters portrait of Lorraine Hansberry (well worth hunting down) will prompt an eager revisit to A Raisin in the Sun. After almost 60 years of film and TV productions and stage revivals, not to mention a torrent of tumultuous events pertaining to race, it really does retain extraordinary surprises and power. I’m struck by the skillful, even elegant way Ms. H. manages, in the course of a narrative about one specific Chicago family’s coping with a financial windfall, to weave in so many different aspects of the African American experience: the hierarchy of classes; affinity or antipathy to one’s roots; generational conflicts; another race’s animus; and the slipperiness of the much-vaunted American Dream. But when you stop to think about it, doesn’t that list of thematic elements actually apply to every American’s narrative, whatever their ethnic or racial background? It reassures me yet again that the universal is best reached through an appeal to the particular. Back in the 1940s, much was made of the transposition of Philip Yordan’s Anna Lucasta, about a lower-class family’s reaction to a daughter’s prostitution, from Polish characters onstage to Black characters on film, with no loss of relevance. In no way would I advocate for an alternative-race Raisin, but it’s a marvelous thing, that such a meaningful clarion call for African Americans can at the same time speak directly to everyone, Black or white.
February 23, 2018
Bill Naughton

Michael Caine
Courtesy Paramount Pictures

My goodness, could there be a more unpalatably retro choice for revival, in this day and age, than Alfie? Bill Naughton’s cheerful Cockney cad who calls his women “birds” and “it,” and casually impregnates them and walks away whether they decide to go to term or abort, established Michael Caine permanently as a charismatic movie star. But although he’s put through emotional wringers along the way, you can’t exactly say that he gets his just deserts, and his elaborate rationalizations certainly seem cringe-worthy at the present moment. Yet don’t Alfies still exist, like, everywhere? And isn’t it worthwhile to have their stories told? This is one of those once-charming, now toxic artifacts that pose a huge conundrum for producers, but I wonder whether the answer is to consign it to the dustbin of history. Anyone have an opinion has to how the 2004 Jude Law reboot turned out?
March 11, 2018

The Letter
William Somerset Maugham

Reading the delicious The Letter, I can’t help but think we’re due for a Maugham revival. Judging by that which is “selling” on TV and in film these days, audiences seem hungry for the kind of vigorous, feet-on-the-ground, balls-out narrative presented in his masterwork Of Human Bondage, as well as dozens of sturdy short stories. He created superb roles for women, perhaps more than anyone else in his era: think of Sadie Thompson, shadiest lady of the South Seas; career-weary Julia Lambert, unforgettably captured by Annette Bening in TitlesBeing Julia; and Constance in The Constant Wife, ultra-modern in her insistence on equal rights in all matters including the sexual. Then, too, his agnostic speculations and dabbling in Eastern mysticism feel very au courant—I know of at least three people in the last year or so who told me The Razor’s Edge changed their lives. As for The Letter, his murderess Leslie Crosbie (“With all my heart, I still love the man I killed”) is rich enough to have earned Oscar nominations twice, for Jeanne Eagels and Bette Davis. I could say a lot more about its erotic mood, suspense, and complex take on racism and colonialism, but I feel the overpowering need to go read a Maugham tale right about now….
March 8, 2018

Five Finger Exercise
Peter Shaffer

The dysfunctional family, theme and variations, occupies Peter Shaffer’s first big hit Five Finger Exercise, which coops up under one roof more types guaranteed to irritate each other than “The Poseidon Adventure. How in the world French-born, Continental-uppity Louise managed to get hitched to stolid old Stanley, a furniture manufacturer of all things, remains a mystery even though pages of dialogue are devoted to explaining it. (He had a handsome figgah but she just never got acclimatée to him, she sighs.) They begat Clive and Pamela, he a moody, snotty mama’s boy who stays out all hours, doubtless running into Tom Wingfield from time to time; she, utterly spoiled and willful. The thumb pressing against these four fingers is young Walter, Pamela’s live-in tutor, a German émigré with his own family problems (sieg heil). But instead of forming a fist, these five digits simply slide into a lacy Freudian glove of dream interpretation and free association. That is to say, bullshit. Oh, why cahn’t we talk, rahlly talk to each other? Zee doctor will see you now. Having made an early bundle, Shaffer thankfully got out of the naturalism business and took up the epic theater where, in perhaps an excess of thrift, he wound up writing the same hit play three times in a row (The Royal Hunt of the Sun, Equus —Dr. Freud, I believe you know Carl Jung?—and Amadeus), differing only in their drag.
March 5, 2018

Rolf Hochhuth

While Gary Oldman airs out his tux in preparation for his (well-deserved) Oscar for Darkest Hour, I figured I’d take in the contrarian view of Churchill espoused by Rolf Hochhuth in Soldiers. Whereas his earlier controversial verse drama The Deputy famously excoriated Pius XII for his kid-glove treatment of Nazi Germany, Soldiers has two passionate chips on its shoulder. It’s quite tough on the P.M.’s abandonment of (and possible involvement in the plane crash death of) Polish head of state Sikorski, whose mission—at whatever risk to the anti-Hitler alliance—was telling the world about the Soviets’ massacre of 4,000 of his officers at Katyn. At the same time, the playwright is livid at Churchill’s not just tolerance, but downright encouragement of saturation bombing of civilians, highlighted in a white-hot debate with the Bishop of Chichester in Act III, the best dramaturgy in the piece. (Churchill: “Two wars have taught me this:/the man who wants to win must be as ruthless/as he whom he must destroy.” Bishop Bell: “You have written that all our actions,/like the moon, have an unseen hemisphere./Think if the night-side of your fame were such/that those who bomb civilians in the future/should use your name as precedent.”) Whatever one’s view of Hochhuth’s theses—and I certainly don’t advise anyone to derive their history or core values from popular media alone—both topics are illustrative of realpolitik at its harshest, and thus deserving of an interested hearing. I do wish, though, that Herr Hochhuth could have invested his cardboard Churchill with more energy and wit. Whatever the Prime Minister was, he was never dull, but you’d never know it by Soldiers.
March 2, 2018

The Nap
Richard Bean

Sheffield's Crucible Theatre
Photo by Mark Douet, courtesy of the Crucible Theatre

“Do you want a prawn sandwich?” “I don’t eat owt w’ a brain.” “They’re prawns, they’re not novelists.” So beginneth The Nap, which refers not to a siesta but to the lay of a snooker table’s fabric. Playing against it, we’re told, “the ball can deviate and drift off line,” which is the way Richard Bean plots: Midway through a farce involving big-time international snooker betting, a police scam, a kidnapping, a transgender gang boss and a drug dealer who can’t mentally work out 20 percent of £100, he tosses in a flashback to the 1857 invention of the game in a British mess in India, hilariously sending up the Raj in a way Monty Python would’ve envied: “Have you tried living like a woman?” “I was a woman on Tuesday, all day.” “Did you pee sitting down?” “Five times.” “What’s it like?!” “Thrilling. It all happens kind of underneath you, so there’s nothing to look at. It’s like listening to a radio play.” Despite the worldwide success of One Man, Two Guvnors, the prolific Bean has never quite taken off in the US. Maybe producers see his orientation as too provincial? Too bad, even a snooker novice would be falling out of his chair in laughter at the likes of this. Anyway, you have to admire a comic imagination that has a character mutter, apropos of nothing, “Old MacDonald was dyslexic/E-I-O-I-E.”
February 27, 2018

The Force of Change
Gary Mitchell

The average British playwright is so engaged with the world, the realities of the present day make their way even into genre pieces. On the surface Gary Mitchell’s The Force of Change is a tight Belfast police procedural in which two suspected Ulster Defence Association paramilitaries—one a big cheese, the other a very small fry—are being separately interrogated. The suspense over whether any hard evidence of terrorist activity will emerge, and whether the little guy will turn on Mr. Big, is palpable enough. But as it happens, the head investigator is a woman up for promotion, and among the passed-over, resentful fellows on her team may be a copper on the take. (His unmasking must be a stunner on the stage, because my jaw dropped upon just reading it.) Even if one isn’t up on all the historical backstory and dizzying acronyms (UDA, RUC, IRA, LVF, not to mention a stolen BMW), the overlay of both nationalist politics and sexual politics brings extra tension to an already suspenseful pulp setup. The jacket copy calls Mitchell “unflinching,” and that feels about right. Whereas, for my money, on this side of the Atlantic our writers are overly obsessed with dysfunctional families and mommy issues and self-expression. It’s not that they’re flinching at the state of the body politic—too many seem just plain oblivious to it.
February 24, 2018
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