Monday, January 14, 2008
Recent Backstage Reviews
January 14, 2008
By Christopher Murray
In its United States premiere, Italy's Teatro Del Carretto brings a revelatory theatricality to the tale of an innocent beset by scoundrels who survives by dint of his capacity for whimsy and wonder.
Never mind that the production is entirely in Italian. Carlo Collodi's fable of a puppet turned into a boy and then turned out into a terrifying world is the stuff of mythology, and director Maria Grazia Cipriani creates a unique and somehow familiar dream world of great intensity and beauty with the help of inspired scene and costume designer Graziano Gregori. On a half-circle stage, a small troupe of commedia dell'arte performers in black, white, and red costumes and masks use simple, repetitive, almost palsied movements to convey not only specifics of character but also the impact of surviving through traumatic experiences.
Giandomenico Cupaiuolo, who almost never leaves the stage during the 75-minute piece, presents Pinocchio as a classic clown in a tour de force physical performance. He mewls and cowers before his tormentors at one moment and then the very next is playing with abandon and glee, his skinny legs splayed out at crazy angles. He brays when turned into a donkey under the whip; tumbles out torrents of excited words to his protector, the Blue Fairy (or Fata, as she is known in Italian, played by Elsa Bossi); and puffs with exasperation in a wonderful Chaplinesque scene in which he is caught between two tasks: polishing shoes and delivering glasses of milk to his offstage father.
What makes this production so amazing is the expert use of ancient theatrical tools such as color, gesture, lighting, and sound. For many audiences, the performances of Cirque du Soleil are perhaps their only exposure to a heightened theatricality of undeniably great emotional power. Pinocchio brilliantly presents such techniques in the service of an exploration of what it means to be fully human and of the mystifying impact of swinging from one adventure and mood state to another with dizzying if often exhilarating speed.
Presented by Watson Arts and La MaMa E.T.C.
at La MaMa E.T.C., 74A E. Fourth St., NYC.
Jan. 13-27. Thu.-Sun., 7:30 p.m.
(212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111 or www.theatermania.com or www.lamama.org.
Journey to the End of the Night
January 14, 2008
By Christopher Murray
Director Joshua Carlebach and adaptor Jason Lindner have ably transformed the best-known novel and life story of controversial mid-20th-century existential writer Louis-Ferdinand Céline into a compelling one-person show featuring the talented actor Richard Crawford. This idiosyncratic and often lyrical monologue, spoken from behind a book-cluttered desk, alternates between the deceptively chatty reminisces and recriminations of Céline and the tall tales of the writer's anti-hero, Ferdinand Bardamu.
At once a timely warning of the constrictions of knee-jerk political correctness and an exploration of the dangers of distorting personal or cultural histories, Journey to the End of the Night makes good use of first-rate work from set designer Anna Kiraly and lighting designer Anjeanette Stokes. Laurels, though, go to Zach Williamson for a brilliant soundscape that begins with scratchy emanations from speakers around the audience and includes evocations of atmosphere such as a bicycle bell or the sound of bedsprings straining under the weight of bodies pressed together in sex.
Crawford, all tweedy joviality and bushy eyebrows, is wonderful as Céline as he chortles and leers in a plummy British accent, cracking dirty jokes and working up to rehearsals of his pet prejudices and standard apologies for his presumed anti-Semitism during World War II. The detail and intelligence of the swirling worlds created around the seated actor allow Crawford to fully and confidently embody the convoluted contradictions of a man who likely was both a self-deluded cad who blamed others for his limitations and a writer who understood the essential self-interest of humankind that often leads us to behave as if we were vermin.
Presented by the Flying Machine Theater
at the Gene Frankel Theater, 24 Bond St., NYC.
Jan. 13-26. Tue.-Thu., 7:30 p.m.; Fri. and Sat., 7:30 and 10 p.m.; Sun., 2 p.m. (No performance Tue., Jan. 15.)
(212) 352-3101 or 866 811-4111 or www.theatermania.com.