The Komisar Scoop Reports & Analysis by Investigative Journalist Lucy Komisar

Friday, September 25, 2015

“Desire” has strong moments channeling Tennessee Williams’ riffs on sex

Filed under: Theater — Lucy Komisar @ 4:04 pm

By Lucy Komisar

“Desire” is a collection of plays by modern writers who base the works on Tennessee Williams short stories dealing with various aspects of sexual desire, beginning with young first love, moving through various aspects of homosexuality, touching on repressed desire, and finishing with a full blown graphic orgasm.

Most are at least interesting, a few are stand-outs, and a couple should have been left between book covers. The performances by members of The Acting Company are excellent. Michael Wilson’s direction is sensitive and subtle.

I look at the plays in the chronology of Williams writing the stories, because they indicate what was concerning him at the time, though they are not this order in the play. Most occur in the South.

John Skelley as Dylan and Megan Bartle as Layley, photo Carol Rosegg.

John Skelley as Dylan and Megan Bartle as Layley, photo Carol Rosegg.

Rebecca Gilman’s “The field of blue children,” from the 1939 story, is an often funny take-down of college kids at a school in Tuscaloosa, Mississippi. Gilman transfers the time to the present, with obvious alterations, including a black student.

Layley (the funny Megan Bartle) has joined a poetry class, because she thinks it will help her with words. She becomes interested in Dylan (John Skelley), who is a real (aspiring) poet, and he falls for her.

The sex scene is feminist: instead of him pouncing on her, she invites him to kiss her and he then provides some extended and apparently very good oral sex – under her long dress. She admits, “I have a boyfriend, should we stop. But I don’t like him.” During the sex, perhaps to deny what is happening, she talks about a football game and a pig roast. So, does she ditch her sorority life and conventional beau? The dénouement is quite funny.

I liked best “You lied to me about Centralia,” John Guare’s liberal retelling of “Portrait of a Girl in Glass” (1948), which expands on characters and events from “The Glass Menagerie,” produced in 1944.

Mickey Theis as Jim and Megan Bartle as Betty, photo Carol Rosegg.

Mickey Theis as Jim and Megan Bartle as Betty, photo Carol Rosegg.

It deals subtly with homosexuality, which Williams probably felt he could not write about so openly for the theater of the time. (His more obviously homosexual “Vieux Carré” was produced in 1977.)

It’s still St. Louis, 1937. Betty (excellently portrayed by Megan Bartle) has gone to the next town to ask her rich uncle for $600 for down payment for the house she wants to buy with her fiancé, Jim (Mickey Theis). She is surprised when a black man she took for a servant is treated as the uncle’s equal. And that the lady to whom the uncle has reportedly been engaged to for years is conveniently out of town.

Met by Jim on her return, she tells him, “Something criminal is going on in my uncle’s house.”

Jim tells her that he has had dinner at the home of Shakespeare, a shoe warehouse colleague who interests him because he writes poetry. Dancing with his sister at the house, they knocked down some glass pieces on a shelf and she handed to him the head of a glass unicorn. Not prequel or sequel but out-takes of the play that Williams might have included if he could.

I didn’t like “Desire quenched by touch” by Marcus Gardley. It’s from “Desire and the Black Masseur” (1948), here advanced to New Orleans, 1952. I don’t appreciate on-stage depictions of masochism, homosexual or otherwise. That’s one that should have stayed a short story.

Mickey Theis as Tom and Juliet Brett as Roe.

Mickey Theis as Tom and Juliet Brett as Roe, photo Carol Rosegg.

However, I did like “The resemblance between a violin case and a coffin” by Beth Henley, from the 1950 short story, a charming very Southern tale of what happens when young Roe (the excellent Juliet Brett), a talented teen pianist, is chosen to play a duet with Richard, (Brian Cross), a young violinist.

In a small Mississippi town in the 1920s, Roe and her brother Tom (a fine Mickey Theis) are each others’ best friends, their only friends. They play acting games. (He is Christ.) He is gay. Their relationship changes when she falls in love with Richard, which bewilders her and destroys her confidence. Henley gives this a good feminist touch.

Yes, I’ll choose feminism over masochism every time.

“Oriflamme,” by David Grimm is adapted from a 1974 short story that takes place in St. Louis 1939.

Derek Smith as Rodney and Liv Rooth as Anna, photo Heidi Bohnenkamp.

Derek Smith as Rodney and Liv Rooth as Anna, photo Heidi Bohnenkamp.

Anna (the very good Liv Rooth), a sexually starved department store clerk, buys a red silk décolleté gown, sashays into a public park and talks up Rodney (Derek Smith), a fellow she encounters perched on a bench examining his racing sheet.

She learns that such flirtations can be dangerous. It’s a powerful, disturbing production, a look back at a time through the prism of the 70s that showed the suffocation of the small town 30s.

I didn’t much like “Tent Worms,” by Elizabeth Egloff, from a 1980 story about a writer (Derek Smith) and his editor wife (Liv Rooth) spending the summer at a house in Cape Cod. He passes his days trying to burn out an infestation of tent worms. She points out that the two have come to the house for years and that the worms come only in August. I didn’t see the point. The protagonist has writer’s block. Did Williams as a writer feel eaten by worms? It’s a metaphor that should go up in flames with the house.

Did you notice that none of the love or sex turns out very happy?

“Desire,” Six plays inspired by Tennessee Williams stories, directed by Michael Wilson and presented by members of The Acting Company. Directed by Michael Wilson. 59E59 Street Theatre, 59 East 59th Street, New York. 212-279-4200. Opened Sept 10, 2015, closes Oct 11, 2015.

 

Monday, September 21, 2015

At a Berlin refugee center

Filed under: Blog — Lucy Komisar @ 5:13 pm
Refugees waiting, photo Lucy Komisar.

Refugees waiting, photo Lucy Komisar.

By Lucy Komisar
Sept. 21, 2015

Before the refugee crisis exploded in September, there were already people seeking help in Germany. On August 19th, I visited a reception center in Berlin, taken there by Karsten Voigt, who as a Social Democratic member of parliament had for decades led SPD foreign policy there.

Longtime friends since I first reported about Germany in 1979, I had had lunch with him. And after that he said, “I want to take you someplace.”

So we walked along Turmstrasse in Moabit, the neighborhood where he lives. We arrived at “Lageso,” acronym for Landesamt für Gesundheit und Soziales. Office for Social and Health Services. It was originally a place where people got health services.

Refugees outside reception center, photo Lucy Komisar.

Refugees outside reception center, photo Lucy Komisar.

Now it is the central place of the state of Berlin to receive refugees. It is not a place for general migration.

Voigt said, “Most of the asylum seekers come from Syria. But there are also asylum seekers from Afghanistan, Iraq, Somalia and Eritrea.”

He explained, “Asylum seekers from the Balkans, which are also there in relative high numbers, normally do not get asylum. But they ask there for asylum because the decision takes normally several months. And in this period they get social benefits, which are higher than their income such as Roma (Gypsies) get in Albania or Kosovo.”

Children playing at reception center, photo Lucy Komisar.

Children playing at reception center, photo Lucy Komisar.

We saw a large brick building surrounded by a park with benches and shrubs. Children played, people talked on cell phones or lounged on benches. A large white van offered lung x-rays. Young German volunteers walked around with trays of watermelon.

Karsten Voigt said, “The street is Turmstraße 21 in a neighborhood which is called Moabit. And there is an irony of that. Because this neighborhood was in the 18th century a place for the French Huguenots who emigrated to Prussia at a time when Prussia was more tolerant than France.”

Volunteer with watermelon, and Karsten Voigt, photo Lucy Komisar.

Volunteer with watermelon, and Karsten Voigt, photo Lucy Komisar.

Here are photos of what we saw. Volunteers giving out watermelon. An x-ray van to examine for lung disease. People waiting, hanging out.

There are probably a lot more people there now!

Still, it provides an answer to why refugees thought Germany would welcome them. No barbed wire, for example.

Refugee talking on his cell phone, photo Lucy Komisar.

Refugee checking his cell phone, photo Lucy Komisar.

People outside the reception center, photo Lucy Komisar.

People outside the reception center, photo Lucy Komisar.

People sitting around small water pond, photo Lucy Komisar.

People sitting around small water pond, photo Lucy Komisar.

People waiting in garden, photo Lucy Komisar.

People waiting in garden, photo Lucy Komisar.

Van to test for lung disease, photo Lucy Komisar.

Van with x-ray machine to test for lung disease, photo Lucy Komisar.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Julie Reyburn mixes kids songs and sophistication at Metropolitan Room

Filed under: Cabaret & Jazz — Lucy Komisar @ 7:57 pm

By Lucy Komisar

Julie Reyburn at the Metropolitan Room, photo Lucy Komisar.

Julie Reyburn at the Metropolitan Room, photo Lucy Komisar.

When Julie Reyburn sings, you think you are at a theater stage. Her rich soprano last night entranced an audience at her “Fate is Kind,” a show of mostly kids’ songs for adults. I liked her charming take on Frank Loesser’s “The Ugly Duckling.”

I was glad, as it turned out, that not all “kids’ songs” are for kids, especially when they are “On the Steps of the Palace” from Into the Woods by Stephen Sondheim. Reyburn is a tuneful theatrical Sondheim interpreter.

Her performance was happily accompanied by the jazzy piano of music director Mark Janus.

My favorites were sophisticated pieces like Sondheim’s and the clever “Stars and The Moon” by Jason Robert Brown. A guy promises her, “I’ll give you the stars and the moon.” She muses, “I thought I’d rather have champagne.” And later, “I’d rather have a yacht.”

She is strong and passionate in Brown’s “I’m Not Afraid of Anything”:  “He doesn’t love me, he’s afraid to trust me, he’s afraid to hold me.”

I liked her ethereal take on Maury Yeston’s “I Had a Dream About You”:  “We were together again.”

Reyburn’s voice is fine and elegant no matter what she sings, but I was glad when she got to the adult stuff! With a cocktail in her hand!

The show is part of the New York Cabaret’s Greatest Hits series produced by Stephen Hanks. Sixteen shows reprise critically praised performances of years past.

“Fate is Kind.” Performed by Julie Reyburn. Music director Mark Janus. Metropolitan Room, 34 East 22 Street, New York City. 212-206-0440. Sept. 14, 2015.

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