Theatre Review: 59E59 Theater
Presented by Primary Stages, Casey Childs - Executive Director; Sets: James Kronzer, Lights: Justin Townsend; Sound:
Jorge Cousineau; Costumes: Anne Kennedy; Production Stage Manager: Fred Hemingway.
A new work that is original, well acted, and true-to-life can be experienced with "OPUS", penned
by Michael Hollinger and directed by Terence Nolen, now showing on/at 59East 59th Street.
Shakespeare's Twelfth Night offers us a romantic urging: "If music be the food of love, play on". Music
plays a meaningful part in that play and generally carries its plot throughout. With "OPUS", music, too, is
a central character; it is also accompanied by four (a fifth musician later replaces one of the four) classically trained
musicians' whose very challenged lives - at times - seem to simultaneously overlap and conflict with one another.
"OPUS" manages strong points of personal opposition and individual "what ifs", mined from a varying pile of the slings and
arrows of life's unknowns. These are the things affecting a quartet of dedicated violinists as their working commitments
builds, culminating in a White House engagement. In the time before and after their DC gig, musicians Elliot
(David Beach the quartet's leader - waspy, bitchily contained, and a little too wise), newcomer violinist Grace (Mahira Kakkar),
emotionally rumpled Dorian (Michael Laurence), terminally ill Carl (Douglas Rees), and smilish, lotharian Alan (Richard
Topol) all encounter emotional traffic jams done in the confines of their music reheasasls. Grace, ever ambitious, is
the latest addition to the quartet following a very abrupt departure by Dorian - who is now Elliot's sudden
ex-lover. Carl emerges as an unselfish force plagued by a fatal malady, but carries on with an honest
courage. Alan takes on the role of an impromptu peacemaker when he's not feeling overcharmed (or overcharged) by the
added feminine presence of Grace. Elliot is the one who gets tagged as the real trouble maker in the mix, but all
"WALMARTOPIA" is a hot, musically delectable and snappily
song ridden two-hour satire on corporate-consumer mores and practices in our U.S. culture. In case you didn't
know by now, the whole corporate greed system of the owner-executice-board member class and management boys of latter
day Sam Walton world has gone hog hungry for mega profits, more so during nearly the past 20 years and
counting - while, simultaneously, all the non-union Walmart workers' standard of living plummeted in the same period.
There seems to have been no respite to the substandard wage and worker dilemma of corporate planning and Nafta-like agendas of
the truly greedy. All this avarice of Walmart board room personnel is skillfully brought to life as we watch -
musically speaking - fairly accurate depictions of the plight of who are, in effect, workers working in a low wage
20th - 21st century multiracial version of slavery. It is what is: workers in America have been neutered
into economically desperate straits, while the employers and corporate gangs in charge of these great store chains have
nurtured financial rewards that are nothing short of obscene (and it's all legal of course). Ironically, one imagines
that a production as elaborate and well funded as this nicely produced "WALMARTOPIA" must have been made possible
by corporate sponsors. In this case perhaps some larger societal learning benefit may be had as a result (but don't
hold your breath). Though far from perfect, the acting by the entire cast is genearlly quite good and lively
- something that doesn't always happen in most shows. Standout performers include Cheryl Freeman and Nikki M. James as
the mother/daughter employees of Walmart, and John Jellison as "Smiley". You will also enjoy some of the fresh
songs in this busy show: they really hit the mark. "WALMARTOPIA" is neatly directed by Daniel Goldstein.
The sets, lights, costumes, and muscal arrangerment are well coordinated and impressive. This is a strong, fresh production
that works well and deserves a good, long run. Who knows? Maybe it will change the way workers have been (so unfairly)
treated for so long in Walmart world and beyond. Only time will tell. - km
p.s. "WALMARTOPIA" is at the Minetta Lane Theatre,
18 Minetta Lane in the West Village
in "OPUS" are bothered by the insecurity of their group set-up, stuck in unspecifed tensions as well
as old and pointedly unsolved issues that tend to fester. This is all done with energetic skill by a smart cast of five
But does the music suffer? Happily not. There are glorious bits and pieces of Beethoven,
Bartok, Brahms and Bartok deftly "played" by the foursome violinists. This, especially, had a joyful effect on the music
lovers in the audience. The music helped lift the story of these smart, imperfect lives along their troubled, desired
road to success. In light of the musicians' individual ambitions, however, their big White House gig is presented while
the personal trauma and discord between and among them percolate. Within this dynamic, "OPUS" gives insight into the
way any committed musician might argue about theory and practice over the work of a composer, and those moments are particulary
useful. "OPUS" is an absorbing exercise in playwrighting originiality and never is any scene over stated or overplayed.
To even out the evening enjoyment, "OPUS" is well served by a healthy collaboration of Jorge Cousineau's sound, Justin
Townsend's lighting, James Krozner's sets, and Anne Kennedy's costumes. "OPUS" is an artistic piece.
DIVIDING THE ESTATE, by Horton Foote;
at 59E59 Theatre. Opened Sept. 27.
Horton Foote, playwright from Texas, is not a mysterious man, just a smart investigator. But this quality - this
honest smartness is a kind of gift - one side a reflecting glass with velvet edging - the other side a tablet (think Moses)
with a clear message. The message is that we are all boxed up in this mortal travail together. In our western culture context
that travail entails the exhausting - and frequently misguided - pursuit of happiness. Foote is a Texan with roots deep in
the soil, and his culture has spread wide and far in the American experience. Since Foote's much earlier "Mockingbird" days
of prominence as a writer, this country has had its impressive share of "Texana", most notably on the national level: Ike,
LBJ, George Walker Bush (transplanted from New England), and "Junior". Besides that there were - or still are - Joan Crawford,
Kris Kristofferson, Trini Lopez, Roy Orbison, Roger Miller, Willie Nelson, Arthello Beck, Katharine Anne Porter, Michael DeBakey,
Herman Joseph Muller, Robert Rauschenberg, et al. These great achievers are evidence of the bigness of art, science, and
politics emanating from the South or Southwest in the past several decades. But Foote - almost effortlessly - seems to reign
supreme, though there is no doubt that the hard pleasure of writing about both the predictable and sometimes unpredictable
lives of people that encase Foote's long and very human imagination takes up real time and energy. (Oh, so that's how it works)!
But - alas! - thank heaven that Foote is so alive and productive in 2007. And there is no better way to enjoy
that sense of "thank heaven" than to see the current staging of Foote's new arrival, "DIVIDING THE ESTATE", safely delivered
to happy and pleased audiences at the 59E59 Theatre in Manhattan. "DIVIDING THE ESTATE" is really a serious look at the materialistic
disappointments that overshadow modern living. In this well-paced 2 hour play, Foote writes with a fresh simplicity, bringing
into bright light the frustrated (and frustrating) lives of tired Texas folk who have all too easily - and selfishly - hitched
their emotional,financial wagons to a fading star of hoped-for dividends. The Foote family of "DIVIDING THE ESTATE" are the
Gordons of Harrison, Texas. They are an unhappy lot - waiting for a larger share of inheritance in a way that should allow
the mutually enabling dysfunction they all skillfully acquired over the years to fester and advance even further. Well known
news accounts of family sniping and litigating over M-O-N-E-Y and P-R-O-P-E-R-T-Y are the great reminders: the families of
Brook Astor, Seward Johnson, J. Howard Marshall are the out sized examples over what money can - and can NOT do: promise happiness.
"DIVIDING THE ESTATE" is an insider's look at a lesser amount of money - but along with money that no longer exists.
That is because some of the Gordon people have lived a lie of (unearned) status - isn't there a freeloader in almost every
other family? - while others in the clan have sought to maintain honesty and commitment. This is a contradiction well set
up by Foote and very ably staged - with that ever-comfy furnished home of high middle class satisfaction - by Michael Wilson.
What takes place are a series of efforts by relatives in this family of "getting mine" by relentlessly squabbling siblings
and in-laws nearly all of whom want his or her own slice. The proverbial pie (expectations of cold cash and real estate)
itself has clearly shrunk; this is a great and bitter pill for these new age white righteous types to swallow. "DIVIDING THE
ESTATE" is both sad and funny, and serves as a fitting expression for the times that so many folks out there are today experiencing:
no reward for some who have worked hard and unreasonable entitlements for the clever shirkers. This family has both -
and is morally at risk while they do their dysfunction - and all the material scheming to go with it - under the natural gaze
of a responsible African - American household staff, - soon to be let go of course. This is a highly detailed work but the
acting makes the time fly: the cast is all first rate, with extra mention of appreciation going to Arthur French, Elizabeth
Ashley (though too youthful-looking as a grand matriarch), Hallie Foote, Penny Fuller, and Devon Abner.
"DIVIDING THE ESTATE" stays with you after you leave the theatre. It taps one on the shoulder - and gives reminder to the
adage, "Count Your Blessings". Very True. Thank Heaven.