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Friday
Apr192019

Stage Door: Burn This, Hadestown, and King Lear

by Eric Blume

It’s pre-Tony Awards time here in New York, which means new shows are opening left and right.  Here’s a quick look at three of them…

BURN THIS
Adam Driver and Keri Russell headline the first Broadway revival of Lanford Wilson’s 1987 play, the original of which featured John Malkovich and Joan Allen (who won the Best Actress Tony that year).  The play, about a group of people brought together after the death of a beloved roommate and brother, has aged quite well. Wilson always wrote beautiful stage dialogue, able to lift occasionally into the near-poetic, with strong and nteresting characters.  Multiple love stories are intertwined here with elegance, and all four characters have their grace moments: it’s a play that’s uncompromising and harsh, but also thorough and fair to everyone.

Director Michael Mayer gets this tough-but-tender throb just right, and guides his actors with a sure hand.  David Furr brings a nice complexity to Russell’s other suitor, and Brandon Uranowitz brings the comedy to the forefront in a winning performance that could net him a Featured Actor Tony this year.  Russell takes a while nestling into her role. tentative at the start and a little stagey. Fortunately she blossoms throughout the evening and delivers when it counts, giving Driver what he needs to do his dance.

And this is Adam Driver’s show.  The role is written for volcanic acting, and Driver doubles down.  He’s kinetic and surprising, a bit of a live wire; you’re never sure what he’s going to do next, because the thing he just did wasn’t what you were expecting.  Driver has always had force and power in his acting, and this role lets him soar. He’s gloriously funny, slightly terrifying, divinely sexy, and sweetly magnetic. It’s a major performance from a major talent.

Glenda Jackson and Ruth Wilson photographed by Annie Liebovitz for Vogue

KING LEAR
One of the season’s other major revivals, Glenda Jackson as Shakespeare’s
King Lear, delivers less pleasures.  There’s a lot happening in this production, but very little stands out.  Miriam Buether’s blisteringly gold set provides a proper playground, but director Sam Gold doesn’t give us enough memorable tableaux within it to sustain the three and a half hours.

While the cast features a few famous folks (Elizabeth Marvel, Pedro Pascal), only Ruth Wilson manages to cut into us emotionally in her double roles of Cordelia and The Fool -- she's very compelling to watch and is the only person who can touch Jackson, who is the reason this Lear exists.  Jackson is, unsurprisingly, mind-blowing: in her eighties, she has such ferocity and focus that it’s almost incomprehensible. She’s a marvel, and a thrill to witness. Unfortunately, most everything surrounding her comes up short.

 

HADESTOWN
The best of the trio, the new musical Hadestown, wears its heart on its sleeve in the best way possible.  This ravishing production takes a very delicate piece about love and goes full-throttle with it:  the entire creative team commits fully to the material, and it’s transporting art.

Hadestown brings together the Greek myths of Orpheus and Eurydice and Hades and Persephone, sets it in a timeless milieu, and puts it to music that crosses 1920s jazz, Pointers Sisters harmonies, folk rock, and traditional show music.  It should all be very messy, but director Rachel Chavkin’s genius vision unifies everything. Her work is thrillingly theatrical, yet simple and centered. She guides her cast to go-for-broke performances that stop just short of toppling over the edge.

The show itself has flaws, and in lesser hands than the ones on this creative team across-the-board, it could be laughable.  But these artists have dug their talons into this material, and this beautifully-sung, strange and electrifying production grabs you by the throat.  It’s absolutely stunning theater that shouldn’t be missed.

 

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Reader Comments (7)

Driver's career (and his talent) is amazing. Great supporting part in a hit TV show, iconic role in the ginormous franchise, a lot of ambitious indie movies, Oscar nom and now fantastic reviews for his Broadway performance. He will be a future triple crown winner, if he can keep it up.

As for Glenda Jackson, she is just a titan, and her talent and personality are bit intimidating, to be honest. Would not mind seeing her on a big screen once again.

April 19, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterpawel

I just re-read Burn This and it is practically written for Adam Driver. It is already so much in his voice and energy. Would love to his performance. I saw the Ed Norton/Catherine Keener edition, which was electrifying. I can only imagine the power Adam Driver brings.

April 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCorey

I didn't like this production of Burn This. Enjoyed Adam Driver going BIG, though I don’t think Kerri Russell matches him which unbalanced the production.

April 19, 2019 | Unregistered Commentermurtada

It would be a crime to miss Glenda Jackson on stage. Go see her if you can.

Big Adam Driver fan here. Does he unrobe?

April 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Enjoyed the post even if I can't go see any of these shows. I'd like a post about All My Sons and Frankie & Johnie etc in the future.

April 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJames T

Driver does not unrobe. He is excellent in the production. I thought the show itself was fine but not fantastic, but it's worth seeing for his performance.

April 19, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJJM

Adam Driver would make me buy a ticket- but if I recall from the last time I saw the play - the gay best friend gets all the best lines- and wouldn't the story be bolder if the Kerrie Russell character was a guy?

April 21, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJaragon

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