Shows Worth Seeing:
The Good Body
By Eve Ensler
222 W. 45th St.
Box office: (212) 239-6200
This smart and funny new solo show is a sequel to
The Vagina Monologues in which the subject has been expanded
from genitals to general body image—the terrorism of fashion,
thinness, all the harmfully narrow standards of female beauty
promulgated by media and ad culture. As in The Vagina Monologues,
Ensler has built the text partly out of wide-ranging interviews
with women around the world, performed with a variety of accents
and senses of humor, but this time there’s also a lot of
storytelling in her own person. Her rage at finding herself obsessed
about her stomach despite being “a radical feminist for
nearly thirty years” is the thread that binds the evening
together and makes it shimmer and burn. We hear from Bernice,
an African-American teenager at a “fat camp,” who
describes the way stores hide large clothing sizes in the back
like porn, yet she also proudly revels in “chunky-dunking
in the pool.” The 80-year-old founding editor of Cosmo,
Helen Gurley Brown, says, “Don’t get things fixed,
Eve. Don’t do it. If you do another thing always breaks
down.” Soon after, Tiffany, a model, tells of marrying her
Pygmalionesque plastic surgeon, who never stops working on her.
There’s much, much more, and the material is powerful, fresh,
and delightfully presented with Ensler’s inimitable blend
of angry graciousness and intelligent charm. Never mind any sniffy
reviews you may have read. Go see this show.
Death and the Ploughman
By Johannes von Saaz
Classic Stage Company
136 E. 13th St.
Box office: (212) 677-4210
Anne Bogart’s staging of this wonderfully bitter and indignant
dialogue from 1401 Bohemia—never meant to be staged, originally—is
a gorgeous study in stark contrasts. The subject matter is deceptively
simple: a common ploughman rages against Death for stealing his
beloved young wife, and Death, having never before heard such
intemperate accusations, defends himself like an offended politician.
The staging plays formal, geometrically mapped-out balletic movement
off against less stylized, sudden seizures, cramps and grimaces.
These choices, oddly enough, come off as both arbitrary and perfectly
chosen, calling to mind both the vulnerability of the body and
the indefatigable aspirations of humans to transcend their rotting
and sinning flesh. This beautifully oblique physicalization of
the play’s theme contrasts with grippingly direct acting
by all three performers. Stephen Webber’s lugubriously unruffled
performance as Death is not to be missed. Nor is Will Bond’s
terrifically ruffled portrayal of the Ploughman. Ellen Lauren
adds an interestingly complex third presence (Bogart’s addition)
by seeming to embody the dead wife but often speaking as a surrogate
for Death—a cruel and disorienting substitution. New Yorkers
will be generally equipped to appreciate this production mainly
as religious-flavored art, but Bogart should take it on the road
to America, where its early-Renaissance theological provocations
might actually offend or awaken a few of the right-thinking righteous.
People Are Wrong!
By Julia Greenberg and Robin Goldwasser
108 E. 15th St.
Box office: (212) 353-0303
There’s something wonderfully peculiar about this endearingly
messy new rock-musical about a yuppie couple who move to the Catskills
to escape urban insanity, only to find rural insanity in the form
of a New Age cult leader whom they hire as their gardener. Instead
of beautifying their property, Xanthus, the gardener, builds a
runway and spaceship that he and his disciples may use to return
to “the 6th dimension.” There are too many absurd
plot twists to summarize. The show—a co-production of the
Vineyard and Target Margin Theater—is loopy in the extreme,
almost completely sung rather than spoken, and also satirical,
though for long stretches you can’t tell what’s being
satirized. Greenberg and Goldwasser have said that People
Are Wrong! began as a bunch of disconnected humorous songs
written by a bunch of friends sitting around a country house with
no narrative initially in mind. The result is a show that, at
its best, begins to acquire subject matter in the process of casting
about for subject matter, and that (while thoroughly enjoyable)
comes off as more conservative than its makers are probably aware.
It begins on the Rocky Horror Show model, with the hapless
couple set up for nightmarish victimization and Xanthus, the maniacal
counter-culture figure, measuring them by crazy otherworldly criteria.
That pattern is then turned upside-down, though, as the couple
is left to flounder in their own boring ordinariness and Xanthus
undergoes a self-examination and epiphany that no one treats as
truly earth-shaking. If Rocky Horror parodied conventionalism
and belief, People Are Wrong! parodies the pretentiously
non-conventional and extols the redemptive power of sensibleness—truly
a rock-and-roll offshoot for the post-rebellious, weekend-house-owning
set. That doesn’t mean it’s not lots of fun, however.
The songs are terrifically catchy, tuneful and 1960s-inflected
with styles ranging from acid to bubble-gum to folk to funk, and
the excellent band and the fabulous cast (starring John Flansburgh,
half of the duo They Might Be Giants) perform with infectious
exuberance. The director David Herskovits deserves much credit
for finding and focusing the center of energy in this show, or
maybe for making a virtue of its scatteredness.
By Vijay Tendulkar
59 E. 59th th St.
Box office: (212) 279-4200
This excruciating yet absorbing work by Vijay Tendulkar, India’s
foremost living playwright, deals with a man who picks up other
men’s discarded women—castoff wives who would otherwise
be homeless, destitute or murdered with impunity—and takes
them in as domestic servants and sex partners. Maria Mileaf’s
rare American production is wonderfully clear and superbly acted.
Anna George and Sarita Choudhury are impressively acute in opposed
ways as Sakharam’s seventh and eighth “birds”
(as his envious friend Dawood calls his women); one is shy, submissive
and pious, the other brash, voluptuous and spoiled. Yet it’s
really Bernard White’s extraordinary portrayal of Sakharam
that gives the almost three-hour production gravity and tragic
dimension. White vividly captures the strange, complex pathology
of this man who seems to want to please his “birds”
even as he bullies them, and who speaks like a freethinking crusader
for women’s rights one minute and like a philistine scornful
of their devotion to him the next.
Sin (A Cardinal Deposed)l
By Michael Murphy
410 W. 42nd St.
Box office: (212) 239-6200
The action of Michael Murphy’s Sin (A Cardinal Deposed)--in
this New Group production directed by Carl Forsman--consists of
nothing more (or less) than the 90-minute lawyers’ deposition
of an actor playing Bernard Law, the Boston Archbishop who resigned
in 2002 at the height of the flap over child-sexual-abuse by priests.
The deposition is occasionally accompanied by actors speaking
aloud the contents of supporting letters from behind scrims. This
is a documentary drama of sorts, rather unnecessarily static at
times, constructed from Church records released to the public
by the judge in two pertinent cases, and its claim to theatricality
rests on its revelation of secrets. The playwright’s premise
is that the facts surrounding the Church’s heinous policy
of protecting and reassigning abusive priests cry out for wide
dissemination and can be properly understood only by enacting
something like the legal coercion that was necessary to secure
them. That premise is a ultimately unconvincing, but Thomas Jay
Ryan and John Leonard Thompson are excellent as the opposing lawyers,
and John Cullum's extraordinarily nuanced performance as Cardinal
Law offers a terrifically fine-featured and duly infuriating portrait
of righteous self-justification and self-protection.