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Shows Worth Seeing:

"The Glorious Ones," Mitzi Newhouse Theater, 2007. Photo: Joan Marcus


The Glorious Ones
By Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty
Based on the novel by Francine Prose
Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater
150 W. 65th St.
Box office: (212) 239-6200


The Glorious Ones is a strange mongrel. One the one hand, this little musical about a 16th-century commedia dell’arte troupe by Lynn Ahrens and Stephen Flaherty (who did Ragtime and Once on This Island) is sentimental fluff, the sort of syrupy, utterly unsurprising tribute to the charm and pluck of theater people that could be loved only by ardent theater buffs and people who own too many cats. On the other hand, it’s a scrappy and charming show with a keen sense of seat-of-their-pants actors’ wiles, vaguely reminiscent of The Fantasticks. It has some lovely songs and seven marvelously idiosyncratic actors, most capable of making their small-scale effects and tricks seem gigantic. Whether you should see this show depends on how much pleasure you can take in affectionately rough, dumb and humble approximations of commedia performance (which are thoroughly unhistorical but who cares?). For me, there’s more than enough compensation. John Kassir’s fabulous locked-door mime and Julyana Solistyo’s terrifically punchy number about learning tricks of the trade from the men, a bawdy gem, are themselves enough reason to sit through the mushy excuse for a plot.



Brian Cox and Rufus Sewell in Tom Stoppard's "Rock 'n' Roll." Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre, NYC, 2007. Photo: Joan Marcus.

Rock 'n' Roll
By Tom Stoppard
Bernard B. Jacobs Theatre
242 W. 45th St.
Box office: (212) 239-6200

On the face of things, Rock ‘n’ Roll could be easily taken for the usual overstuffed Stoppard mélange that tries to wow us with a collision of multiple complicated subjects and ends up dealing with none satisfactorily. There are at least three different plays colliding here: one about secret police excesses and government paranoia in Czechoslovakia after the violent end of the Prague spring; one about a die-hard Communist Cambridge professor pressured to clarify his relationship to Eros; and one about the former Pink Floyd member Syd Barrett, who went into seclusion after a mental breakdown in the late 1960s. Impressively, all of this actually comes together into an emotionally coherent and satisfying whole, partly because one of the stories is clearly personal for Stoppard and partly because of the uses the play makes of rock music. The character Jan (played with unforgettable precision and subtle suggestion by Rufus Sewell) is a brilliant Czech graduate student at Cambridge who decides to return to Prague in 1968 rather than leave like many other intellectuals. His story of having political activism gradually thrust upon him by the actions of brutal authorities is the Czech-born Stoppard’s imaginative speculation on how his life might have gone had he chosen to return to his birthplace as an adult. There are blatant nods to several of Stoppard’s intellectual heroes of the time, especially Vaclav Havel and Pavel Kohout. But the force that ultimately binds all the play’s strands (and achieves deep connections with the audience) is the rock music that Jan loves, which plays loudly and extensively between scenes, is instrumental in transforming him, and ultimately links up with the professorial speculations on Eros. Brian Cox is just the right sort of pontificating powerhouse for the role of Max, the professor. Sinead Cusack, Alice Eve and Nicole Ansari are excellent as the women in his life, who pull him away from his neat mechanistic model of the human psyche. And the director Trevor Nunn does such a fine job of elegantly keeping all these various balls in the air that he should get some sort of award for juggling.



Bobby Cannavale, Alison Pill and Dylan Baker in Theresa Rebeck's "Mauritius," Biltmore Theater, 2007. Photo: Joan Marcus

By Theresa Rebeck
Biltmore Theater
261 W. 47th St.
Box office: (212) 239-6200

The first wave of reviews of Mauritius—Theresa Rebeck’s first play on Broadway—have hammered it for its likeness to David Mamet’s American Buffalo. There are indeed blatant similarities, including the use of choppy, Mametesque language, and Rebeck would have been wise to offer some pre-opening remarks explaining her feelings (homage? antipathy? competitiveness?). Nevertheless, I strongly urge readers to see the play and judge it for themselves. In American Buffalo, a scheme to steal a possibly valuable coin dramatizes the way commerce confuses and poisons friendship and loyalty among a trio of thuggish dimwits. In Mauritius, a messy struggle between two intelligent half-sisters over what to do with a possibly valuable, inherited stamp collection sets in motion a nuanced story about the effects of greed, abandonment, betrayal and opportunism on people with fatefully different self-images. I happen to be a Mamet fan, but I’ve always hated American Buffalo, which presents an unremittingly loathsome picture of thoroughly loathsome people. It’s emotionally monotonous, with a tedious and frustrating plot built entirely around entrapment, extortion and posturing among supposed friends. Rebeck, for her part, never dwells on the loathsome for its own sake. Her tale of scheming and petty crime indulges in muck but also illuminates because her characters are articulate enough to probe questions of authenticity that Mamet merely skimmed. The struggle over the stamps is in part a class conflict, since the sisters were brought up in different circumstances and since Philip, the snobbish expert who must be relied on to authenticate the stamps—played with dead-on weaseliness by Dylan Baker—tosses off earnest speeches about heritage and moral rectitude the way the others fire off profanities. Before you judge Jackie, the younger sister (played by the wonderfully pouty Alison Pill), too harshly for not contacting a lawyer, remember Philip’s sliminess, and consider how little anyone in Jackie’s position would expect from any professional. The first-rate cast also includes F. Murray Abraham, Bobby Cannavale and Katie Finneran, and the direction by Doug Hughes is cogent, swift and focused.




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