Theater Review - Winter Roundup

Now is the winter of our discontent, made glorious summer by this sun of York... William Shakespeare, “Richard the Third,” Act 1, Scene 1.

 

As I write this in February, snow is piled high on the streets and the weather is miserably icy and grey. I am assessing the past theater season and trying to be hopeful about the new one approaching, when it is announced that King Richard III's bones have been found under a parking lot in England! 

 

There is something really ignominious about digging up this monstrous villain's skeleton - sans feet - in such a prosaic place.  If this weren't shameful enough, it is now being scientifically determined that this last Plantagenet king was not exactly as Shakespeare presented him in his marvelous play written in 1592. Instead of a hunchback, he had scoliosis and he may have killed a few people, but was not really a murderer.  He was instead “unfinished” and “half made up” much like many of the new plays I am seeing these days.

 

A more distinguished spot for his burial is still to be determined. Would the famed bard be bemused or amused to know that Richard's remains are being fought over by people from Leicester, where he was discovered, and the fine citizens of York, where he was born? I suggest that Shakespeare was not an historian as much as he was a playwright, who invented stories around historic events to entertain and inform audiences, who were devoid of newspapers, radios, movies, television, computers and iPads!  Richard III was his dramatic interpretation.        

 

Shakespeare is never out of style. Exciting news: On March 15, film star Paul Giamatti will begin a run at the Yale Rep playing Hamlet, that misunderstood Prince of Denmark, and Hartford Stage will present “Twelfth Night” in the spring. 

 

Speaking of Connecticut, except for Long Wharf's awful “Sister George,” the 2012 fall Connecticut theater season was actually better than Broadway, where new works fell flat and “Who's Afraid of Virginia Wolf ?,”Enemy of the People” and “Picnic” were the only respectable revivals.  Hartford Stage gave us two outstanding productions: “Hedda Gabler” and a new musical, “A Gentleman's Guide to Love and Murder,”starring Jefferson Mays, who also brought his conspicuous talents to bear in the lovely “Dear Elizabeth”at Yale.  

 

Opening February 21 at the Hartford Stage, running only through March 4, the great dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov is featured in the Big Dance Theater's production of AntonChekhov's story “Man in a Case.” Did you know that Chekhov became popular while at medical school writing hundreds of short stories which were successfully published? On my brief vacation I enjoyed reading “Chekhov's Doctors:  A Collection of Chekhov's Medical Tales” edited by Jack Coulihan and Carol Rocamora's deliciously romantic play, “I Take Your Hand in Mine”, which explores the love affair between Chekhov and actress Olga Knipper.  The playwright married Knipper in 1898, six years before his death at age 44.

 

Long Wharf's “My Name is Asher Lev”directed by Gordon Edelstein is now receiving kudos Off Broadwayat the Westside Theatre.  Sam Shepard's “Curse of the Starving Class,” William Mastrosimone's new play “Ride the Tiger”about JFK, Sinatra and Sam Giancana, and Bruce Norris' Pulitzer Prize-winning “Clybourne Park”complete the Long Wharf season.  Also in Connecticut, Goodspeed's three gorgeous musicals:   Good News,” “Hello Dolly!” and “The Most Happy Fella” are a gift.   

 

In other theater news, Adam Kaplan of Westport has joined the cast of the New York production of “Newsies.” Michael Moran delighted me in “All the Rage.”  Tom Hanks (star of “Lucky Guy”), Cindy Lauper (score: “Kinky Boots”) and Bette Midler in a one-woman show called “I’ll Eat You Last” are all coming to the Great White Way, which can be pretty cruel.  Time will tell!

 

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