The Aficionado Goes to Town, Part 1

Waiting for Godot – I actually saw this a few weeks ago, before the show opened. I’ve been fascinated with the play since I was in college. There was a blackbox production being presented by the students and a friend of mine was in the cast. (She was the only female Gogo I’ve ever seen). I became instantly obsessed with the play and ended up seeing its entire run of three or four performances. The characters and the language, combined with its blatant lack of plot has made it one of the most important tragicomedies in existence. It was with high hopes that I went to Studio 54 with my friend Russ Dembin, who is on the road to becoming a Godot scholar. Contrary to the popular reception with the critics, I felt completely disconnected with the production onstage. Bill Irwin is always fascinating to watch, John Glover as the ironically named Lucky has a mammoth monologue that would do well by James Joyce (it’s practically a jerry-rigged showstopper). Nathan Lane is Nathan Lane, and he does that exceptionally well. Here he managed to bring great pathos to Gogo, without going overboard. He and Irwin worked well with one another, displaying the The highlight of the production was John Goodman with mammoth physicality and the most beautiful passages of Beckett’s text as Pozzo, the dandy who finds himself blinded in the second act. It was a joy to watch him command the stage, and am frankly surprised he was not nominated for the Tony. But for its staging and its character work, I couldn’t help but feel bored by the production at Studio 54. The play has never been a commercial success, its original production with E.G. Marshall and Bert Lahr lasted 60 performances. An all-black revival a year later proved a fast flop with 6 performances. In that regard I have to confess I am glad that there are people who are connecting with Beckett and his material (this is one of his more audience friendly pieces…), but as far as I’m concerned, I’m still waiting.

33 Variations – One of my theatregoing mottoes of late has been “Never miss the opportunity to see a star. This season offers a plethora of star-studded plays and revivals, with several Oscar winning legends traipsing the boards in various shows. Jane Fonda is making her first appearance on Broadway in 45 years in the Moises Kauffman play 33 Variations, about a dedicated musicologist (Fonda) dying of ALS while researching Beethoven’s work on his 33 Variations of Anton Diabelli’s waltz. There are actually two parallel stories being told. Juxtaposed between the melodrama surrounding Fonda is a fictionalized “variation” (so glad I read the author’s note in the playbill about his creative liberties with history) of what might have been the inspiration for Beethoven to spend years obsessing over the Diabelli Waltz. The play itself is rather mundane, overlong with an exceedingly static first act. However, the second act is where Fonda shines, as her character falls into great decline. I’ve never been too big a fan of her work in films, her performance in California Suite is excruciatingly forced, and I felt she wasn’t as impressive in Coming Home as the Motion Picture Academy thought she was. However, here onstage she’s giving a vibrant, dimensionalized performance. Fonda is incredibly strong, looking far much younger than her 71 years (must be that work-out regimen) delivers the goods. (Seeing her with her cropped hair and in pajamas had me thinking what she could do with Violet Weston). Colin Hanks is making an auspicious Broadway debut as both her nurse and her daughter’s love interest. However, the highlight of the production is Zack Grenier’s supporting turn as Beethoven. The most captivating moment of the play comes in the second act (accompanied by concert pianist Diane Walsh) as Grenier composes the final variation onstage, in a stunning flourish. While hardly a terrible play, 33 Variations feels as if it finds itself more important than it deserves to be. However, it’s got some of the most effective lighting I’ve seen in a play.

Note to the Eugene O’Neill house staff: I appreciate that there are tourists who will come in to catch a show when they can. However, can you prevent them from bringing their luggage to their seat as the house lights come down? I felt more cramped than I would on an airplane. Thanks kindly. Oh, and please turn off the A/C when it’s not sweltering outside!