BY SCOTT HARRAH
This provocative show, based on a true story about “two days in the last years of the life of playwright Tennessee Williams,” is one of the undisputed highlights of the 13th Annual New York International Fringe Festival.
Canadian playwright Daniel MacIvor’s brilliant script, the stellar performances of the three cast members and Tom Gualtieri’s tight direction create a top-notch bio-drama about one of America’s most celebrated, controversial theater icons.
“His Greatness” is not officially about Williams. The Broadway/Hollywood legend’s name and play titles are never mentioned, and the lead character is simply called The Playwright (Peter Goldfarb). However, Daniel MacIvor covers all the notorious territory about Williams’s private life — from his alleged problems with alcohol and drugs to his failed attempts at writing in his later years.
The story takes place in a Vancouver hotel room circa 1980, as The Playwright prepares for the opening of a new, updated version of an old play. “His Greatness” focuses on the complicated symbiotic relationship between the writer and his high-strung, devoted assistant/lover (played with aplomb by Dan Domingues). Troubles abound when a calculating hustler (the superb Michael Busillo) is hired to escort the old man to the gala opening.
Goldfarb is first-rate as The Playwright — playing him as a lovable yet sad person on a path of self-destruction. Dan Domingues is totally incandescent as The Assistant. He brings down the house with his manic mannerisms as he delivers MacIvor’s beautifully written dialogue. When The Playwright complains about pain in his soul, The Assistant quips, “That’s not your soul — it’s your hangover.” The Assistant is the only one who can get The Playwright out of bed and keep him sober enough to get through a radio interview and the opening of the play. Domingues portrays The Assistant as a compassionate but frustrated man who tries desperately to help the egotistical, deluded author overcome his battle with alcoholism and drug addiction so he can maintain both his career and dignity.
“His Greatness” doesn’t solely rely on the sordid aspects of Williams and his personal problems. There’s also great detail on why critics were so fascinated with his female characters, and what he really thought of such theatrical peers as Arthur Miller. Ultimately, however, “His Greatness” is a portrait of a once-great writer’s decline and why so many people turned on him in the end — showing exactly why the real life of Tennessee Williams was every bit as tragic as his plays.
Written, directed and choreographed by Yoshihisa Kuwayama
A 2009 New York International Fringe Festival presentation
A presentation of Samurai Sword Soul, in association with The Present Company
At the Robert Moss Theater, 440 Lafayette Street, third floor
Aug 28, 9:30 p.m.; Aug 29, 4:30 p.m.
For tickets ($15), visit www.fringenyc.org or
BY SCOTT STIFFLER
They drink! They fight! They repeat that process all day and all night!
Occasionally, the good, bad and conflicted Samurai pause long enough to experience fleeting moments of moral and philosophical clarity amidst the relentless bloodshed and power grabs. In the end, only a disembodied spirit and the drunken shell of a former great fighter remain to survey the damage and vow that their swords will only be used improve life rather than reign destruction upon the land.
That’s the fascinatingly complex moral drawn at the end of the simple story to be found in Samurai Sword Soul’s production of “Scattered Lives” — a fine example of minimalist technique made to serve the telling of an epic tale.
The bare, black box stage is filled only with three musicians, a nine-member cast and their swords. They swords aren’t real, though; but the well-constructed props glisten with deadly implications and the resulting sound when blade meets blade, although not that of metal, lets you know in no uncertain terms that a battle is taking place.
The fight choreography, by writer/director Yoshihisa Kuwayama, is relentless, imaginative and effective in its implication of drawn blood and death (of which there is much!).
But along with all the violence you’d expect from a Samauri tale comes a thoughtful plot which sees two warring factions duel to the death and a drunken clown achieve redemption. By the time the rival clan has been permanently dispatched in a climactic battle, only the reformed drunk and the ghost of the good-guy master remain on stage to contemplate the way of the warrior and the responsibility that comes with the power to take a life with relative ease. That’s the unique, unexpected ingredient which makes “Scattered Lives” more than just a series of violent encounters.
Written by David S. Singer
Directed by Diana Basmajian
A 2009 New York International Fringe Festival
production of the Present Company
At The Players Theatre (115 MacDougal Street)
For tickets ($15), visit www.fringenyc.org or call
(866) 468-7619. Visit www.UnionSquaredTheComedy.com
Aug 26, 3:15 p.m.; Aug 27, 10:15 p.m.; Aug 30, 1:15 p.m.
BY SCOTT HARRAH
Everything about David S. Singer’s Fringe Festival production of “Union Squared” reeks of mediocrity — from the half-baked, formulaic “romantic comedy” plot to the one-dimensional characters (all of whom are absurd stereotypes).
This tale of “sex, money and massage therapy” has all the elements of a traditional comedy of errors, but ultimately falls flat due to trite dialogue, silly plot twists, and uneven performances from the cast.
Spoiled Wall Street stockbroker Brad (Levi Sochet) must deal with his meddling Jewish mother, Sophie (Anita Keal), when she informs him he’s going to inherit several million dollars that his late father socked away illegally in a Swiss bank account. Trouble arises when we learn that Brad is cheating on his devoted wife Rachel (Annie Meisels) with sexy blonde massage therapist, Shannon (Carlina Ferrari).
As Sophie, Anita Keal does her best to bring badly needed depth to the character; a warmhearted woman who wants the best for her son — and nothing to do with the money his father made through unethical business practices. The problem is, as written by playwright David S. Singer, Sophie is a mere caricature of every Jewish mother; but not in a positive way. From her endless use of Yiddish words to her exaggerated mannerisms, she comes across as a cartoon rather than a believable lead character.
Levi Sochet is totally miscast in the role of Brad. He has zero chemistry with the rest of the actors, and is far from plausible as a greedy, oversexed, unfaithful husband. It’s a shame that Sochet’s comic timing is so off — because Meisels as Rachel and Ferrari as Brad’s mistress Shannon are far more competent actors. Unfortunately, the playwright has written their characters as oversimplified ethnic clichés. Rachel is a nagging Jewish-American princess wife, and Shannon is an Irish-American with a drinking problem.
Director Diana Basmajian fails to make the cast gel as a cohesive unit. Even with more rehearsal time and better casting, it would likely be impossible to add much to this flimsily-written play. Nothing in the hackneyed narrative is original. Everything about the show — from the opening when Brad learns about his father’s secret Swiss cash stash to the unfolding, unfunny marital infidelities of the couple — is predictable. “Union Squared” tries to be an intelligent adult comedy, but is in fact nothing but an amateurish string of moments about uninteresting people and their supposedly humorous daily lives.