ONE 9 • Why The Best is Off

Early 2010 is packing a theatre scene punch in, unlike the fall of 2009, which promised a bang and delivered a whimper. The best of the best right now is off-Broadway, and will leave you thinking and turning questions over in your mind long after the actors have taken their second bows (which they deserve, by the way).
The play about race to see is not the big headline on Broadway, “RACE” by David Mamet, but the one he should have written, “Clybourne Park,” by Bruce Norris at Playwrights Horizons. The first act is set in 1959, where the family in Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” planned to move to. “Clybourne Park” smartly reveals, through language, how the polite white folks really feel about a black family living in their neighborhood. After excruciating tiptoeing around the topic of race, the answer is, they don’t like it at all. So while we, the audience members, pat ourselves on the back at intermission, thinking how far we have come since then, the next act, set in 2009, disabuses us of this notion. As the two older ladies in the fat, white furs at the bus stop said afterwards, “We’ve learned nothing.”
Two Sam Shepards set in the American West are on at the moment: one old and one new. “Ages of the Moon,” at the Atlantic, which transferred from The Abbey Theatre in Ireland, showcases two men in their 60’s with the problems Shepard usually trucks in: trouble with women, drink, violence, and miscommunication. While Stephen Rea and Sean McGinley are wonderful, the play itself doesn’t convey Beckett’s sense of time, mortality and futility that Shepard was going for. In contrast, the 1985 revival of “A Lie of the Mind” by The New Group boasting one of the best ensembles off-Broadway and directed by Ethan Hawke, captures all of the sadness, need and disconnection between men and women and the violence that ensues.
Also, there is some interesting Shakespeare on now; “Measure for Measure,” by Theater for a New Audience, is a flawed production due to the miscasting of Isabella, but should be seen for the sublime performance of Jefferson Mays (of the Tony-award winning tour-de-force, “I Am My Own Wife”) as Duke Vincentio. One wishes he could play all the parts, and if that could somehow be arranged. At Brooklyn Academy of Music (BAM,) Sam Mendes’ Bridge Project, comprising British and American actors, present “As You Like It” and “The Tempest” in rep, and offer a wonderful company of ensemble actors.
And that contributes to the current off-Broadway success. In addition to thought-provoking, “risky” material, there are no Hollywood stars in the plays I’ve described above, which seems to be the current, calculated choice for the Broadway cash register. It may well succeed financially, but watching the poor (and in film, not untalented) 25 year-old Scarlett Johansson, badly miscast as a 17 year-old in the revival of “A View From the Bridge,” I can only think that Arthur Miller would not have approved. He would have been sitting at a performance of “Clybourne Park” in envy, unhappy that his play was held hostage to greed and not art.
– Lisa Del Rosso