a theatre, film & pop culture review
Note: My personal rankings are listed in order from best to worst, with #1 being my favorite, while predictions for the actual winner will be in orange.
This is not even a competition.
But let’s pretend, for a moment, that it is. George C. Wolfe and Joel Grey‘s tight, minimalist production of The Normal Heart does exactly what it should do by focusing on content over context with a spare, direct design that draws out the the finest and most staggering ensemble work on Broadway.
Director Anna D. Shapiro (August: Osage County) keeps the pace quick and the intensity high in The Motherf**ker with the Hat, emphasizing an edgy humor and tense relationships that keep the play on a constant, irresistible burn. On the other hand, she favors overwrought designs — do those sets really need to revolve around so damned much? — and she’s unable to pull forth an engaging performance from a stiff Chris Rock who delivers his lines as though jokes from his stand-up routine.
One of the Bard’s most difficult works, Daniel Sullivan (Good People, Top Girls) takesThe Merchant of Venice, the so-called comedy, and smartly draws out its most tragic undertones, starting with the dimly-hued lighting and skeletal metal set to the devastating performances. Sullivan gracefully and sensitively reveals Shylock’s degredation and inner-strength in an added scene in which the Jew submits to a forced baptism, but refuses to be stripped of his dignity. It is startling in its devastation and shocking in its violation — but a microcosm of the complex production as whole.
But it’s War Horse — the rare instance on Broadway of daring artistry and collaboration — that is like nothing we’ve seen since Julie Taymor mind-erupting re-imagining of Disney’s The Lion King. Under the direction of Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, the story of a boy and his horse is told in the most beautifully complex way, played out with extraordinary, life-sized puppets; wistful projections; folksy anthems; and a dedicated, united ensemble of actors. Elliott and Morris weave all aspects together seamlessly, transforming what could have simply been a sentimental story about a boy and his horse into the most theatrically moving, visionary work of the season.