Author

Daniel Okrent

OUR LADY OF 121st STREET is less a play than a series of blackout sketches and character studies. But oh, what sketches, and oh, what characters! Dramatist Stephen Adly Guirgis (Jesus Hopped the ”A” Train) has set his piece in a Harlem funeral home, where the former students of the deceased Sister Rose have come to…well, not pay their respects so much as rip through a succession of rants, riffs, confrontations, and confessions that are either hilarious, shocking, or hilariously shocking.

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Only screenwriter (When Harry Met Sally…), director (Sleepless in Seattle), and notorious wit (at half the dinner parties in Manhattan) Nora Ephron could have written this amusing one-act satire on the vicious relationship between the late writers Lillian Hellman and Mary McCarthy. Problem is, the show has been stretched into two acts with superfluous songs (by Marvin Hamlisch and excellent lyricist Craig Carnelia) and a few sessions’ worth of dubious psychoanalysis.

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To dream the impossible dream To flee this unbearable show To mourn that great Brian Stokes Mitchell A star, could be brought down so low!

This is my fate, just doing my job To listen to hokum Tunes grate, at best throb To wish for a whit Of some wit to applaud Or just maybe a smidgen of staging not hopelessly flawed!

Yes I know that others will love it And will loathe these harsh words that I say Be inclined to tell me to go shove it Cry foul as I trash the whole play!

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News of the Broadway premiere of a play by a Russian master might provoke skepticism—is there a reason no one has staged this little-known Turgenev comic drama? It’s easy to see why: Alan Bates has never been available to star, and no one thought to ask Arthur Penn to direct. Like most Russian plays, this one has birch trees, a country house, and a disputed inheritance. But it also has a fallen nobleman whom Bates portrays with comic zest and throat-catching pathos.

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This peculiar evening heralds both the return to acting of Home Alone’s Macaulay Culkin and the chance for playwright Richard Nelson (James Joyce’s The Dead, Two Shakespearean Actors) to strum one of male fantasy’s greatest hits: the deflowering of a teenage boy by an attractive older woman. What’s more, in this instance she’s French, and played superbly by Joely Richardson. If only the play, and Culkin, were as good: You see every move in the former about 10 minutes before it happens, and unassimilated acting lessons in every mannerism of the latter.

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If you’ve written a musical you’d like to bring to Broadway sometime this century, cross another theater off your list of available houses: The St. James is going to be filled for several generations with dancing storm troopers, a singing Hitler who’s seen too many Judy Garland shows, a chorus line of very horny elderly women tap-tap-tapping out a socko production number with the legs of their walkers, and enough Jewish princess jokes, big-breast jokes, erection jokes, and limp-wrist jokes — tons of limp-wrist jokes — to embarrass a classful of 9-year-old boys.

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In one theater, a group of actors puts on a domestic comedy in a lovely English manor house. A few dozen yards away, another theater hosts a loopy farce about infidelity, bad parenting, and other nice habits, all played out in a slightly forlorn garden. In fact, the second theater contains the garden behind the manor house. And those people gamboling in the greenery are the same actors, playing the same roles they portray in the house. And it’s all happening simultaneously. But in a different play.

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I’d hate to see second best. Forty years ago, when it was first staged, Vidal’s comic drama Gore Vidal’s the Best Man (which is neither particularly comic nor especially dramatic) about presidential politics might have been considered sophisticated, but today one’s interest is disbelievingly anthropological: This is what we were like in 1960? Only some hilarious shtick by Jonathan Hadary redeems this self-basting turkey; Chris Noth, Spalding Gray, and Charles Durning just go through motionless motions. D

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How can a 75-minute play starring two actors as accomplished as Alan Bates and Eileen Atkins be a deadly bore? By not being about anything, other than the soaring pretensions of French playwright Yasmina Reza (Art). And what a shame, because after excessive opening bluster, Bates settles into a fine performance as a famous author alone in a train compartment with a woman he doesn’t know; Atkins, who recognizes her favorite writer yet doesn’t know how to make this known to him, excels from the outset.

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