Monday, May 26, 2014

New York, Day 11 - "Too Much Sun," "The Realistic Joneses" and "Hedwig and the Angry Inch"

"Too Much Sun"

Too much whining.

"The Realistic Joneses"

There’s a point in this 90-minute, no intermission funfest by Will Eno where one of the characters says to another, “That’s a lot to respond to.”  Which is almost exactly the way I feel about this play.  There is so much going on here, it’s going so many stylistic directions, and there so much action within inaction and logic within chaos that it’s hard to explain why I liked it so much.

I suppose the best reason is because I was laughing almost the entire time.  The cast is absolutely top-drawer (Toni Collette, Marisa Tomei, Michael C. Hall and Tracy Letts), and Eno’s text is both brilliantly absurdist and strictly common-sensical.  Everyone pretty much says what’s on their minds, no one assumes that anyone else will understand what they're saying, even when it’s the most obvious thing in the world.  Questions are answered in ridiculous – but perfectly logical – ways, and the characters are all powered by genuine human emotions: love, lust, caring, affection, suspicion, envy, empathy.

Much of the dialogue is oddly off-kilter, yet somehow in perfect balance. 

“Moving is a pain.  Though staying still is no picnic, either.” 
“I saw you crying and eating a Powerbar and I thought, ‘wow-what a sad, busy person.’”
“What are the chances?  One in…something.  Which I guess is all you need.”

Briefly, the story concerns two couples, both named Jones.  Jennifer and Bob (Collette and Letts) live quietly in the country – until Pony and John (Tomei and Hall) rent the house just down the road and insert themselves into Jennifer and Bob’s lives.  Bob has a rare disease that explains some of his odd behavior.  (Though this raises other questions, such as “what explains everyone else’s odd behavior?” and “how come Bob is the least odd of the four?”)

There’s a very Albee-esqe feeling to this – two odd and intense married couples thrown together under great tension – but it’s still completely original.  And totally compelling.

"Hedwig and the Angry Inch"

There are a few tickets left in Neil Patrick Harris’ run as the titular “internationally ignored song stylist” Hedwig Robinson.  But very few.  And not very good ones.  I suppose it’s possible NPH may extend his time in the show (tickets are on sale until August 17).  Or that someone of similar talent (if such a creature exists) may come in and take up the mantle (wig, actually) of Hedwig and keep the show running for some months to come.  But my guess is if you want to see what is clearly the hottest show on Broadway, you’re going to have to make a significant spend.  And soon.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” got its start way off-Broadway, in 1998, at the Jane Street Theater in a sketchy block of the meatpacking district – which is where I first saw the show, which chronicles the life of an East German boy, Hansel, who is seen sunbathing near the Berlin Wall by an American soldier, who wants to marry him.  Of course, that can only happen if Hansel goes under the knife and becomes a girl - Hedwig.  The surgery doesn’t work out, neither does the marriage, and Hedwig ends up alone in a trailer park in Kansas, where she meets a general’s son and teaches him how to be a rock star.

Though Hedwig wrote the songs, it was her Kansas protégé, Tommy Speck the general’s son who became the star performing them – with the new name Hedwig gave him: Tommy Gnosis.  Hedwig, understandably, is a little miffed at her talent going unrecognized, while Tommy plays stadia around the world.

But that doesn’t stop her from giving her audience (those of us in the Belasco, which she claims she has rented for the night from the producers of a show - “Hurt Locker: The Musical - that closed not just after the first night, but after intermission) every bit of truth and anger and pain and envy and rage she can muster.  Which, as you can imagine given her story, is formidable.

14 years later, the show is still a bit outré.  And even though it’s playing in Broadway’s most beautiful venue, the Belasco, the grime of the Jane Street still peeks through.  Despite the big lights and huge stagecraft elements a Broadway production can offer, “Hedwig” hasn’t lost its punk aesthetic.  This is not the Broadway of “After Midnight” or “Bullets Over Broadway” with tapping chorines and coordinated costumes and dazzling backdrops.  It’s a full-on rock and roll show that tells its story through 11 songs, linked by Hedwig’s reminiscences of “this business we call ‘show.’” (Which she survived by doing “the jobs we call ‘blow.’”)

Neil Patrick Harris is amazing in this role.  His voice, comic timing and – above all – the incredible energy he displays are thrilling.  He is onstage for virtually every second of the show, and rarely stops moving.  If there’s a harder-working man (or woman) currently on Broadway, I can’t bring him/her to mind.  He’s a lock for the Tony.

“Hedwig and the Angry Inch” is a celebration of survival, love and art – and 100 of the most entertaining minutes on Broadway.

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