I saw the following shows just in the nick of time. It seemed that my schedule might force me to skip them, but my gut instinct told me I had to see them, come hell or highwater. As a result, I saw all three shows on their closing weekends, two of which I attended the final performance. Jerusalem and Master Class both had extended limited engagements on Broadway, while Sammy Gets Mugged was scheduled for a five performance run as part of the New York International Fringe Festival.
Jerusalem – I love big British plays, so Jerusalem had been on my radar for some time when it hit Broadway this spring. Mark Rylance was offering his second tour de force of the season as Johnny “Rooster” Byron, a performance which swept London by storm, and was also incredibly well received here in NY. The play had a surprising effect on me; it was visceral and surprisingly funny in spite of its vulgarity and the generally disagreeable nature of practically everyone on stage. Rylance is just staggering. I marveled at the sheer physicality of his performance. (He thanks his chiropracter and trainer in his bio). I am amazed that a single human being can deliver a performance like this just once, let alone that 8 times a week (and will do another four months in London starting this fall). On top of his physicality, it is a performance of extraordinary range and depth. I was startled by the play’s effect on me; the third act left me quite rattled and I left the theatre literally trembling. Strangely enough, Jerusalem reminded me of E.M. Forster’s Howards End in its exploration of the impact of social and economic change on England. Kudos to director Ian Rickson for staging the play with bravado. Able support was provided by the ensemble, most notably Mackenzie Crook and Geraldine Hughes.
Sammy Gets Mugged – I only saw one Fringe show this year, in my first real visit to the Lower East Side and the Living Theatre. There was supposed to be one more performance of Sammy, but Hurricane Irene made the performance I attended the closing. Playwright Dan Heching’s play is loosely based on his own experience being mugged in Paris a few years ago. Using that traumatic as a stepping stone, Heching explores subjective memory and perception – and a la Rashomon we see different perspectives on the same incident. The cast of three was nimbly directed by Noah Himmelstein, who staged the play with imagination and clarity. Patrick Byas was simply superb as the Mugger, the most fully realized character in the piece. Stephanie Pope Caffey added grand support and a deft comic touch as the sole witness. Heching himself played Sammy, and while he was charming and likable, I feel that Heching needs to step aside and let another actor play the role in its next incarnation. I look at Sammy Gets Mugged as a work in progress, therefore stepping out of the play will allow Heching, the playwright, to fully realize the scope and potential of the play he has written.
Master Class – I will see Tyne Daly in anything. Mama Tyne, as I like to call her, is one of the most fascinating – and I think underrated – actresses working today. She is not typical casting for La Divina Maria Callas, but then again neither was Zoe Caldwell, who originated the role in 1995. Having seen her play various characters off-Broadway in Love, Loss and What I Wore and her delicious cabaret outing at Feinstein’s, I became convinced that Tyne can do anything. One of the things to remember is that the play is a fantasia on the life of the great opera diva and so those looking for a bioplay should just read a book about her instead. Tyne was in total command of the stage from her entrance to her exit. She was funny, she was scathing and ultimately she was captivating – especially during those two aria like monologues where we step out of the reality of the classroom and into Maria’s memories. She found the humor, pathos and heartbreak (you should have heard the audience sobbing toward the end of act 2) in the myth of a woman who may be the most legendary opera singer. It was fascinating to see her take the students, break them down and build them back up (especially Garrett Sorenson, whose acting may not be the strongest but whose aria brought down the house). Jeremy Cohen had quiet charm as the accompanist, while Clinton Brandhagen scored big laughs as the unimpressed stagehand. It was the final performance, and during the curtain call each actor presented Tyne with an orange, a reference to a gesture at the top of the second act. It was charming and lovely, and a beautiful way for Tyne’s towering performance to top off its acclaimed Broadway run.