Sunday, April 26, 2009

New York, Spring 2009 -- Day 11 "Blithe Spirit" "Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them"

"Blithe Spirit"
To be honest with you, I'm a lot more excited about "Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them," so I'm going to cut to the chase on "Blithe Spirit": Angela Lansbury is wonderful, and it's exciting to see her doing such good work at 84. Rupert Everett is not aging well, and he's still not quite 50. Christine Ebersole is elegant and ethereal. My favorite cast member was Susan Louise O'Connor as Edith, the maid. The play itself is witty at times, but a bit clunky. Production rather lackluster overall.

Now, on to...

"Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them"
Without spoiling your evening, "Why Torture..." is not really about torture. It's about reconciliation. It's about the desire to take back your bad decisions and make things right again. But since it's written by Christopher Durang, it goes at these serious issues in a relatively absurd, outlandish, biting, and frequently brilliant fashion.

The story is simple: Felicity (Laura Benanti) awakes after a night of drinking to find herself married to Zamir (Amir Arison), a man of vague Middle Eastern descent -- but who claims he is Irish. When Zamir turns out to have an extremely volatile temper, no job and no prospects, plus a mysterious past, Felicity decides to annul the marriage. Since Zamir threatens violence at this suggestion, Felicity turns to her parents for help -- especially her arch-conservative father, Leonard (Richard Poe).

Leonard obsessively toes all the Conservative lines: hates immigrants, loves guns, thinks the gays ruined marriage, won't have the U.N. spoken of in a positive way in his home and thinks shouting "Don't you remember 9/11?" atones for any statement of xenophobia, paranoia or incitement to violence. He's like one of the suits in a Tom Tomorrow cartoon: spouting the justifications of the Limbaugh dittoheads with such unashamed fervor that it lays bare the ridiculousness of their positions.

When Dad meets Zamir, you can imagine where his mind leads him. Actually, given the whacked nature of the world Durang has created, you probably can't. Which is exactly why you should see "Why Torture is Wrong and the People Who Love Them" as soon as you can, especially since it is scheduled to close May 10. Go if for no other reason than to see the brilliant comic actress Kristine Nielsen as Felicity's mother, Luella, who has built a wall of denial that would put the Chinese to shame. Go to see John Pankow's Reverend Mike (he married Felicity and Zamir), a Christian who actually champions the true principles of Christ (love, forgiveness, kindness, gentleness), while at the same time being a pornographer. ("God created sex. He watches it, why shouldn't we?") Go for the amazing turntable set that is able to create so many different settings that it is almost like a magic trick.

If I were being critical, I'd say the play is a bit loose in its timing, and starts a little slowly -- but I was laughing too hard and thinking too much to really be critical. This is satire that cuts so cleanly that it takes a while to realize you're up to your ankles in blood.


Neal said...

Rupert Everett is 50 years old -- notwithstanding, I'm not condoning his face work (I think he looks odd) -- so you'll have to cut him a decade's worth more slack.

Based on a quick reading of your reviews of WHY TORTURE IS WRONG ... and 33 VARIATIONS, I'd say we have differing views of what's good and what's bad. Regardless -- congratulations on your theater-going extravaganza.

Tom said...

Thanks for the catch. I've changed the copy. Even at 50 he's still not aging well.

What didn't you like about Torture and 33 Variations? I can see why people could have problems with both, but I'm curious as to what didn't work for you.

Neal said...

My problem with TORTURE is that Durang abandoned his play halfway through the second act and turned what I thought was a comically dark indictment of Bush administration torture policies into a nonsensical and stupid romance. What started out as an audacious work turned into a treacly mess.

While Kaufman filled 33 VARIATIONS with interesting ideas, the play itself was poorly written. Rather than sounding organic or providing impetus to the (wispy) plot, dialogue came across as clunky blocks of information about characters that were never developed and relationships that were never dramatized. I was actually quite shocked that Kaufman would write such an inept play. He's a better director and I hope his production of BENGAL TIGER AT THE BAGHDAD ZOO premiering at the Taper makes it to NYC.

Incidentally, I don't dislike everything I see. Recent good stuff: JOE TURNER'S COME AND GONE, MARY STUART, THE NORMAN CONQUESTS, BLITHE SPIRIT.