Theater Review - Far From Heaven (NY)

 “Far from Heaven,” the movie set in Hartford, CT in the 1950's, was produced in 2002.  Starring Julianne Moore, it received critical praise and Oscar nominations.  Far from Heaven,” the musical, is playing now through July 7 at Playwrights Horizons.  Its run has been extended because the team and the cast are greatly-talented and high hopes were pinned on this new work. 

 

However, despite Kelli O'Hara's gorgeous self and voice, Catherine Zuber's beautiful candy-colored costumes that magically disguise O'Hara's widely developing pregnancy, Nancy Anderson's artistry, and  Isaiah Johnson's sincerity, Richard Greenberg's stolid Book, Scott Frankel's melodic but meandering Music and Michael Korie's Lyrics are soporific. I had so looked forward to this, but the two hours and twenty minutes seemed like 4 hours. In short, the story, although touching on dramatic moments, is more a history play, and thank goodness it is so terribly dated.  I lived through this era, punctuated by bigotry of all kinds, and didn't like it.  

 

Directed by Michael Greif, who also worked on “Grey Gardens” with Frankel and Korie, the story centers on Cathy Whitaker, young wife and mother. She seems to be living the lush life with husband, Frank (Steven Pasquale), and a son and daughter. While she is entertaining and running charity events, her husband is climbing the business ladder. When he is arrested for drunkenness and loitering, she is naïve and blames it on the cops; when she catches him in an after-hours embrace with a man, she is forced to face facts. She suggests a doctor to “cure” him and he tries, even going on a vacation to Miami with her.

 

In the end, he informs her by phone (today it would be by email) that he is moving out and moving on with a male lover. Meanwhile, Cathy has found solace with Raymond Deagen, Isaiah Johnson, the college-educated gardener, who is a widower with a child. The only hitch: the fact that he is black makes good gossip for friends and the local newspaper. Her best friend, Eleanor, a fine Nancy Anderson, is upset with her. And this does not end well, either. Raymond realizes the problems inherent in the relationship and is moving with his daughter to Baltimore. 

 

There are errors in this production that begin with the set, a series of cages and projections that are unattractive and confining.  Quincy Tyler Bernstine, a terrific actress, playing the maid Sybil, here, is barely used.  It takes the whole show to the final song. “Heaven Knows,” sung by Cathy to plumb the feelings of this very ladylike woman. O'Hara's portrayal reminds me of Pat Nixon, who always kept a stiff upper lip under terrible circumstances. It is accurate, but not theatrical.  

 

“Far From Heaven” will play through July 7 at Playwrights Horizons.        

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