PLAYBILL THEATRE WEEK IN REVIEW, April 14-20: Critics Love Starcatcher, One Man and Clybourne Park

By Robert Simonson
20 Apr 2012

Sam Underwood and Robert Beitzel in In Masks Outrageous and Austere
Photo by Carol Rosegg

Off-Broadway, producers Victor Syrmis and Carl Rumbaugh, along with Culture Project, presented In Masks Outrageous and Austere, a play which was dug out of the dustiest cedar chest in Tennessee Williams' sub-sub-basement to receive its very belated world premiere.

Critics largely thought that the play should have been left in the chest.

Relishing the big, juicy target before them, reviewers has a field day with the loopy script, which features an aging heiress named Babe, played by old Tennessee hand Shirley Knight. "That wilting, exquisite gentleman poet with the molasses accent?" wrote Ben Brantley in the Times. "That sweet, overgrown, sexually insatiable creature with the mind of a child? Those predatory monsters of institutional indifference? Don't any of them ring a bell? Well, then, look in the mirror, Babe, and tell me you haven't seen yourself before, embodied by famous actresses like Geraldine Page, Tallulah Bankhead or Elizabeth Taylor. Oh, Babe, honey. You’re just trapped in a Tennessee Williams play, or the agitated remnants of one."



Time Out New York's David Cote, arguably the most consistently funny of New York's drama critics, said, "Was there ever a playwright as posthumously prolific as Tennessee Williams?…Now comes his final full-length work, a hot mess left unfinished upon his death in 1983. In Masks Outrageous and Austere is late Williams at his most naked and desperate: strung out, bitchy, exhausted and paranoid…. Knight has a history with Williams, but here she's far too tentative (and even forgot a few lines). If your performance makes the spectator wonder if the role would be better served by a drag queen, you know there's trouble."

Well, back to reviving Streetcar, Cat and Menagerie, I guess. (By the way, did your read this week's Playbill Picks feature in which we chose the Five Most Memorable Divas of Tennessee Williams? Stars from Knight to Elizabeth Ashley to Judith Ivey gave us comments.)

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What's exactly classic about the less-than-20-year-old Stephen Sondheim-James Lapine musical Passion, I do not know. But the first-ever New York revival of the show is going to be hosted by the Classic Stage Company, which usually spends its seasons mucking about with Chekhov and Shakespeare.

Judy Kuhn and Melissa Errico — two talented musical theatre stars we haven't heard much from recently — will star as Fosca and Clara, in a new production by Let-Them-Play-Instruments director John Doyle. Performances are scheduled to begin in February 2013.

The production is not expected to employ Doyle's signature directorial approach of actors playing their own instruments. Too bad. Bassoon for Fosca, I'm thinking.

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Headlong, the U.K. touring company of which Rupert Goold is artistic director, has netted the world premiere of Duncan Shiek's new feel-good musical, American Psycho, a show based on the stomach-churning novel by Bret Easton Ellis that will feature a book by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa.

Goold will himself direct American Psycho, co-produced with Act 4 Entertainment and The Collective. A Sweeney Tood for the 21st century? We shall see.

 

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Actor Mark Rylance is not one to shy away from his various peculiar manias, be it a devotion to wearing hats, an aversion to miking stage shows, or the belief that Shakespeare didn't write his plays. And so the performer, who has commemorated both his Tony Award wins by reciting poems by Louis Jenkins, will not shrink from championing the work of that obscure Minnesota poet. Instead, he's collaborating with him!

Rylance and Jenkins have written a play. Called Nice Fish, it is based on the book of poetry by Jenkins, and will play Minneapolis' Guthrie Theater April 6-May 18, 2013.

Directed by Rylance with Claire van Kampen, Nice Fish, according to press notes, "begins with two men ice fishing on a frozen lake and proceeds into the realm of the mythic, with a taciturn giant on a snowmobile and the last blizzard of the season about to begin."

Sounds like a Jeff Daniels play. And if you get that reference, you attend too much theatre.