Wednesday, March 31, 2010

people i run into

I ran into Mark Green, past public advocate and just looked up and said " hi mark". I also ran into one of my past students from Adelphi on the train.

Week of March 31

Capricorn Horoscope for week of April 1, 2010

Verticle Oracle cardCapricorn (December 22-January 19)
Supermodel Selita Ebanks is your role model. In accordance with the astrological omens, I recommend that you arrange for the kind of special treatment she enjoys as she's preparing for a runway show. That means getting five stylists to work for hours every day perfecting every aspect of your physical appearance. Please make sure they apply no less than 20 layers of makeup to your butt. APRIL FOOL! I lied. The omens say this is not a good time to obsess on your outer beauty. They do suggest, however, that attending to your inner beauty would be smart. So please do the equivalent of getting 20 layers of makeup applied to your soul's butt.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

circus review

Published: March 30, 2010

It’s brash. It’s bold. It’s untamed. It’s the chaos of merchandising that swallows visitors entering Madison Square Garden to see “FUNundrum!,” the new offering from Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. While the show turns out to be the best the troupe has presented in years, to get to it you’ll have to fight through hawkers in the lobby, along the hallways and up and down the aisles, each insistent on selling you (or rather, your children) a reminder of an experience you haven’t yet had, with all the subtlety of an air horn blown into a megaphone.

Chad Batka for The New York Times

Is the fight worth it? Yes. But it’s a shame it has to be fought.

With “FUNundrum!,” the troupe celebrates the 200th birthday of P. T. Barnum by emphasizing the old standards — a stocky strongman, joyful clowns and a spirited ringmaster — alongside modern flourishes like daredevil motorcyclists, a two-tiered trampoline and indoor fireworks. It’s a stellar mix, directed and choreographed with remarkable timing. With some 130 performers and plenty of animals, not a moment of the 2 hours and 10 minutes goes by without a chance to laugh or shriek or cheer.

While each act shines, most breathtaking is a pirate routine, featuring two teams whose members one by one spring each other into the air using oversize seesaws. Some land on another pirate’s shoulders, while others are launched wearing stilts, leading to thousands of simultaneous gasps from the audience. It’s set to an infectious live beat, and that program, as well as a team of wire walkers and a daring trapeze act, are all reminders of the unmatched power of live entertainment.

It takes nothing away from the cast, however, to wonder which executive approved such relentless selling of hand-held spinning lights ($22), snow cones in a collectible cup ($12); stuffed animals ($30) and countless other products at the beginning, middle and end of the circus, and even from the ring, when at intermission the audience is pitched a video game and directed to a Web site for still more attempts at a sale.

That barrage of marketing is especially disconcerting, since the performers themselves are so friendly. “FUNundrum!” opens an hour before start time, allowing ticket holders to meet the cheerful troupe on the floor and snap photos or watch additional skits close-up. Ultimately, that’s where the real memories are made.


2-Man Cast Shares Stage With a Vivid Character

Published: March 29, 2010

“I wonder,” Mark Rothko muses, staring at one of his canvases. “Do you think they’ll ever forgive me?”

“They’re only paintings,” Ken, his assistant, answers dispassionately.

But the artworks are so much more than that in “Red,” John Logan’s two-man Broadway show that includes that exchange.

“They are the other character,” said Alfred Molina, who portrays the Abstract Expressionist painter. “They’re referred to constantly. The subject matter of the play is their very existence.”

“Those paintings are so inscrutable and have such a powerful emotional content,” he added.

The drama, which opens at the Golden Theater on Thursday, revolves around an episode in Rothko’s life in the late 1950s, when the architects Ludwig Mies van der Roheand Philip Johnson commissioned him to paint murals for the Four Seasons, the fashionable new restaurant in the Seagram Building.

A large abstract canvas is center stage from the start. The rectangular shape outlined in deep red that dominates the painting, a copy of “Red on Maroon,” will probably seem unfamiliar to those who have seen Rothkos in American museums. The painting was one of a group that the artist originally conceived for the Four Seasons but refused to deliver, finding himself appalled by the restaurant’s clientele. He ended up giving nine of them to the Tate Gallery in London in 1969, a year before he committed suicide.

“Very often plays about artists are cursed,” Mr. Molina said one afternoon last week, sipping coffee at the Upper West Side hotel he is calling home during the run. “But what makes ‘Red’ so unique is that here you actually experience the making of the art. You see the paint being mixed, the frame being built, the canvas being stretched, everything being prepped. It creates more of an intensity.”

The set designer, Christopher Oram, said that getting the look of the paintings correct required a great deal of research, but that he knew the Seagram Rothkos in the Tate’s permanent collection from years of museum visits.

“They were in a special room,” he said in a telephone interview from London. “It was an extraordinary space with very low lighting,” which is how Rothko wanted them seen. (The paintings were recently on view at the Tate’s outpost in Liverpool, where Mr. Oram and the actors went to see them.)

By perusing the Tate’s archives and reading several biographies, he also pieced together how the artist worked, and he created onstage the scrappy, insular world of Rothko’s Manhattan studio, a former gymnasium in the Bowery. Mr. Oram reproduced every detail down to the pulley system Rothko used to hoist canvases, the music he played while he worked (Mozart and Haydn, among others) and the 1950s Chock full o’ Nuts cans used to mix the paint. The smell of paint even greets theatergoers as they take their seats.

Mr. Oram sought close but not exact matches for the shades of the Tate canvases. Instead he came up with different recipes of pigments and glazes that deliberately change, along with the lighting, so that the black and red become more or less pronounced as the power balance shifts between Rothko and his assistant, played by Eddie Redmayne.

“There are a different cocktail of dyes and paints for different scenes,” Mr. Oram said.

“Red” first opened in December at the Donmar Warehouse, and for the Broadway transfer, the pigments were imported from London.

“Each batch of paint is made fresh every day,” Mr. Oram said. “It’s like a chemistry set; it’s made early in the day so it can cool down and have the right consistency.”

That mattered in a crucial scene in which the two characters competitively prime a canvas onstage. As in a carefully choreographed dance, they heat up the red paint and pour it into two buckets. (To be sure that the paint never gets dangerously hot, cold water is placed in the buckets before the scene.) The actors then quickly paint the canvas red — Mr. Molina the top, and Mr. Redmayne the bottom — and in the process, themselves. It’s a powerful few minutes.

“We had to make sure we got the theatrical quality of it,” Mr. Molina said. “That dance, that sense of mood.”

They practiced a lot, using 10 or 11 canvases before getting it right. One problem for Mr. Molina that Rothko probably never had was “when the canvas dried onstage, it look streaky, and we couldn’t work out why,” he said. It turned out there was too much distance between the bucket and the top of the canvas; to compensate, he dips his brush in the paint more often than Mr. Redmayne.

Mr. Molina came to the part with no formal art history education. He grew up in a working-class neighborhood in the Notting Hill section of London — “before Julia Robertsgot there,” he said — and attended the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in London rather than a conventional university.

But Mr. Redmayne, who recently won an Olivier, one of Britain’s highest acting awards, for his performance in “Red” in London, went to Eton and studied art history at Cambridge.

For Mr. Molina, the challenge of playing a complicated character like Rothko has meant immersing himself in the artist’s world. He read everything about Rothko he could get his hands on, toured the Four Seasons to see where the paintings were to have hung and viewed every artwork mentioned in the play, including Matisse’s “Red Studio” at the Museum of Modern Art (a poster of it hangs in his dressing room), Michelangelo’s Medici Library in Florence and Caravaggio’s “Conversion of Saul” in Rome. He even made a day trip to Washington last week to see the Rothko Room at the Phillips Collection and the Rothkos on view at the National Gallery of Art.

“After seeing the canvases in Washington yesterday, already there are lines in the play jumping into my head,” Mr. Molina said. “I’m now informed with something different.”

But he cautioned: “The last thing the audience wants to see is your homework. Hopefully, on some level, you’re just soaking it up, so it becomes part of you. I’m trying to embody him.”

He added of Rothko: “He was so complex. When he rages against the world, against Ken, the rage isn’t just anger, that rage is passion.”

Rothko’s personality was far more intense than that of Diego Rivera, the muralist Mr. Molina played in the 2002 movie “Frida,” about the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo.

“Rivera’s art was so much more narrative,” Mr. Molina said. “There were no mysteries. Although I loved it, I never got emotional over it.”

“But with Rothko,” he added, “I feel incredibly proprietary and defensive. And I don’t know why.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

march 4th Capricorn

Capricorn (December 22-January 19)
In some of the newspapers that publish my horoscope column, my carefully wrought text is buried in the back pages amidst a jabbering hubbub of obscene advertisements for quasi-legal sexual services. For readers with refined sensibilities, that's a problem. They do their best to avert their eyes, narrowing their focus down to a tight window. I think you'll be wise to adopt a similar approach in the coming week, Capricorn. Only a small percentage of information coming your way will be truly useful to you, and it may often be embedded in a sparkly mess of distracting noise. Concentrate hard on getting just the essentials that you want so you won't be misinformed and worn out by the rest.

Carpricorn March 11

Capricorn (December 22-January 19)
There'll be an abundance of unambiguous choices for you to make in the coming days. I'm not implying they'll be easy, just that the different alternatives will be clearly delineated. To get you warmed up for your hopefully crisp decisions, I've compiled a a few exercises. Pick one of each of these pairs: 1. exacting homework or free-form research; 2. pitiless logic or generous fantasies; 3. precise and disciplined communication or heedless self-expression; 4. grazing like a contented sheep or rambling like a restless mountain goat.

Capricorn March 18th

I just found out the American shipping company UPS has legally trademarked the color brown. The grass-roots activist in me is incredulous and appalled. But the poet in me doesn't really care; it's fine if UPS owns drab, prosaic brown. I've still got mahogany at my command, as well as tawny, sepia, taupe, burnt umber, tan, cinnamon, walnut, and henna. That's especially important for this horoscope, Capricorn, because I'm advising you to be very down to earth, be willing to get your hands dirty, and even play in the muck if necessary in order to take good care of the basics. But don't do any of that in a boring, humdrum "brown" way. Do it exotically and imaginatively, like mahogany, tawny, sepia, taupe, burnt umber, tan, cinnamon, walnut, and henna.

Capricorn Horoscope for week of March 25, 2010

Capricorn Horoscope for week of March 25, 2010

Verticle Oracle card Capricorn (December 22-January 19)
In a library in Warsaw, there is a 1,000+-page memoir written by my great-great-great-great grandfather, Leon Dembowski, a close advisor to the last king of Poland. Someday I'll make a pilgrimage over there, photocopy that family heirloom, bring it back to America, and have it translated into English. The task I envision for you in the coming weeks, Capricorn, has a certain resemblance to mine. I think you will have the chance to uncover a wealth of material about where you came from, but it'll take a lot of footwork and reinterpretation.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

Alice in Wonderland

What’s a Nice Girl Doing in This Hole?

Published: March 5, 2010

Into the dark you tumble in “Alice in Wonderland,” Tim Burton’s busy, garish and periodically amusing repo of the Lewis Carrollhallucination “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland.” It’s a long fall turned long haul, despite the Burtonian flourishes — the pinch of cruelty, the mordant wit — that animate the Red Queen (Helena Bonham Carter) and the porker that slides under her feet with a squeal. “I love a warm pig belly for my aching feet,” the queen tells Alice. Played by Mia Wasikowska, Alice looks a touch dazed: she seems to have left her pulse above ground when she fell down the rabbit hole of Mr. Burton’s imagination.

Mr. Burton has done his best work with contemporary stories, so it’s curious if not curiouser that he’s turned his sights on another 19th-century tale. Perhaps after slitting all those throats in his adaptation of “Sweeney Todd,” he thought he would chop off a few heads. Whatever his inspiration, he has tackled this new story with his customary mix of torpor and frenzy. After a short glance back at Alice’s childhood and an equally brief look at her present, he sends the 19-year-old on her way, first down the hole and then into a dreamscape — unfortunately tricked out with 3-D that distracts more than it delights — where she meets a grinning cat and a lugubrious caterpillar, among other fantastical creatures.

Dark and sometimes grim, this isn’t your great-grandmother’s Alice or that of Uncle Walt, who was disappointed with the 1951 Disney version of “Alice in Wonderland.” “Alice has no character,” said a writer who worked on that project. “She merely plays straight man to a cast of screwball comics.” Of course the character of Carroll’s original Alice is evident in each outrageous creation she dreams up in “Wonderland” and in the sequel, “Through the Looking-Glass,” which means that she’s a straight man to her own imagination. (She isWonderland.) Here she mostly serves as a foil for the top biller Johnny Depp, who (yes, yes) plays the Mad Hatter, and Mr. Burton’s bright and leaden whimsies.

First thought up by Carroll in a rowboat in which one of the passengers was the 10-year-old Alice Liddell, the object of his much-debated love, “Wonderland” (1865) is, among many other things, a testament to glorious nonsense as well as an inspiration for dark thoughts (about Carroll’s feelings for Liddell) and for lysergic works from the likes of David Lynch. It’s a total (head) trip, one that starts and stops and doesn’t fit easily into the mainstream narrative mold, which could explain why the screenwriter Linda Woolverton, borrowing both from “Wonderland” and “Through the Looking Glass,”has given Alice a back story, a dash of psychology and a battle royal if, alas, not a pool of her own tears in which to swim.

Since narrative momentum isn’t Mr. Burton’s strength, “Alice in Wonderland” probably seemed a good fit for him, and there are moments when his transparent delight in the material lifts the movie and even carries it forward. His Wonderland (here, Underland) isn’t inviting or attractive. The colors are often bilious, though the palette also turns gunmetal gray, bringing to mind “Sweeney Todd.” There’s a suggestively nightmarish aspect to Alice’s journey, as when she steps on some severed heads in the Red Queen’s moat as if they were stones. The queen herself is a horror: Bette Davis as Elizabeth I and reconfigured as a bobble-head doll. Ms. Bonham Carter makes you hear the petulant child in her barbarism and the wounded woman too. She rocks the house and the movie.

And she does, even though the character is a harridan cliché who, smitten with her knave (Crispin Glover) and clutching her power, rules with a boom. (“Off with his head!”) She eventually dukes it out with her rival and sister, the White Queen (Anne Hathaway, gliding like an ice dancer), who enlists Alice’s help. There’s more, including computer-generated flowers, assorted 3-D projectiles and the usual British actors earning their pay, like the “Harry Potter” alumni Timothy Spall, Alan Rickman and Imelda Staunton. Mr. Burton lavishes his attention on the little things in “Wonderland” — the perfectly drawn red heart painted on the center of the Red Queen’s mouth, for instance — perhaps because nothing else claims his attention. He’s very bad with the awkward action scenes, maybe because he’s embarrassed that they even exist.

Mr. Depp’s strenuously flamboyant turn embodies the best and worst of Mr. Burton’s filmmaking tendencies even as the actor brings his own brand of cinematic crazy to the tea party. With his Kabuki-white face, the character seems to have been calculated to invoke Heath Ledger’s Joker, though at his amusing best the Hatter brings to mind a strung-out Carrot Top. But Mr. Depp doesn’t have much to do, which he proves as he wildly flirts with the camera. The only time the character hooks you is in the shivery moment when his gaze turns predatory as he looks at Alice, who, every inch a Tim Burton Goth Girl, from her corpselike pallor to her enervated presence, presents a more convincing vision of death than of sex.

That queasy, potentially rich and frightening moment expectedly fades as fast as the Cheshire Cat (Stephen Fry), which doesn’t leave you with much else to hold onto, Alice included. Mr. Burton’s heroine is a wan figure to hang an entire world on, and Ms. Wasikowska, who’s a livelier, truer presence in the forthcoming “The Kids Are All Right,” barely registers among Mr. Burton’s clanging and the computer-generated galumphing. This isn’t an impossible story to translate to the screen, as the Czech filmmaker Jan Svankmajer showed with “Alice” (1988), where the divide between reality and fantasy blurs as it does in dreams. It’s just hard to know why Mr. Burton, who doesn’t seem much interested in Alice, bothered.

“Alice in Wonderland” is rated PG (Parental guidance suggested). It is a surprise (or not) that this movie, with its severed heads and Jabberwocky battle, is not rated PG-13, which serves as a warning for parents.


Opens on Friday nationwide.

Directed by Tim Burton; written by Linda Woolverton, based on “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and “Through the Looking-Glass” by Lewis Carroll; director of photography, Dariusz Wolski; edited by Chris Lebenzon; music by Danny Elfman; costumes by Colleen Atwood; senior visual effects supervisor, Ken Ralston; makeup design by Valli O’Reilly; produced by Richard D. Zanuck, Joe Roth, Suzanne Todd and Jennifer Todd; released by Walt Disney Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 48 minutes.

WITH: Johnny Depp (Mad Hatter), Mia Wasikowska (Alice Kingsleigh), Anne Hathaway(White Queen), Helena Bonham Carter (Red Queen), Crispin Glover (Stayne-Knave of Hearts), Matt Lucas (Tweedledee and Tweedledum), Alan Rickman (Absolem the Caterpillar), Timothy Spall (Bayard the Bloodhound) and Imelda Staunton (Tall Flower Faces).

WITH THE VOICES OF: Michael Sheen (White Rabbit), Stephen Fry (Cheshire Cat), Barbara Windsor (Dormouse), Christopher Lee (Jabberwocky), Michael Gough (Dodo) and Paul Whitehouse (March Hare).

The Miracle Worker

Taming a Child by Setting Her Free

Published: March 4, 2010

Language is exalted as the miracle maker of “The Miracle Worker,” the potential means of salvation for a knowledge-starved deaf and blind girl named Helen Keller. “One word, and I can put the world in your hand,” Helen’s teacher tells her with fervor. Odd, then, that the sadly pedestrian new production of William Gibson’s 1959 biographical drama is by far most effective when it is wordless.

Helen is played by the 13-year-old movie star Abigail Breslin in Kate Whoriskey’s revival, which opened Wednesday night at the Circle in the Square Theater. And she has a distinct advantage over her more than competent co-star, Alison Pill, who plays Helen’s intrepid teacher, Annie Sullivan: Ms. Breslin has no lines to speak.

When this Helen groans, her flailing arms reaching for something she knows she wants but can’t quite identify, you feel the pure, painful thwartedness of a trapped intelligence searching for release. A matching, agonized frustration contorts the features of Ms. Pill’s Annie as she literally wrestles her pupil into submission. But Ms. Pill must also participate in Mr. Gibson’s dialogue, which 60 years on, sounds less than golden.

In truth, “The Miracle Worker” was always best when it got physical. Writing of the 1959 production in The New York Times, Brooks Atkinson lamented its “loose narrative technique,” adding that the play, which had begun as a television version on “Playhouse 90,” was “afflicted with embarrassing offstage voices and gratuitous bits of local color.”

But he had only praise for the fierce performances of the original Annie and Helen, Anne Bancroft and Patty Duke, who won Oscars for repeating their roles in the 1962 film. The visceral charge that infuses the scenes in which Annie and Helen go to the mat is still terrific in that movie. Like the Broadway production, it was directed by Arthur Penn, who transcended staginess by seeming to turn his camera into an adrenaline-infected participant.

There are, of course, no close-ups in theater. Yet surely this production, the first revival of “The Miracle Worker” to come to Broadway, could have highlighted the play’s strengths more effectively. In following the stormy tutelage of Helen that began with Sullivan’s arrival at the Kellers’ Alabama household in 1887, Ms. Whoriskey’s production never finds its focus. Rather than pulling us into a you-are-there intimacy with its two central characters, it keeps pushing us away, opting for a panoramic view that flatters no one.

The Circle in the Square is an in-the-round theater, a geometric fact that seems to have defeated the designers here. Derek McLane’s set has period furniture suspended above the stage, ready to descend for the various scenes, and Kenneth Posner’s lighting design keeps the full stage illuminated for most of the time. It is often hard not to feel as afloat as the furniture. Nor is it always evident where you are meant to be looking, a problem compounded by Ms. Whoriskey’s often keeping the supporting cast of characters on the stage’s periphery.

Those characters are not, to put it kindly, delicately drawn. They include Captain Keller (Matthew Modine), Helen’s Southern-gentleman father; Kate Keller (Jennifer Morrison), her mother; and James (Tobias Segal), Captain Keller’s grown son by a previous marriage. A by-the-numbers subplot has James struggling to stand up to his neglectful dad, while the Captain’s blustery but soft-centered persona becomes the stuff of jokes that might have been lifted from a 1950s sitcom.

It doesn’t help that Mr. Modine, an appealingly quirky actor on screen, plays his role with Pa Kettle irascibility, at the top of his voice. Attired in Paul Tazewell’s handsome period costumes, everyone appears to have been directed to speak loudly and in italics, as if the audience itself might be hearing-impaired. (The estimable Elizabeth Franz, as Helen’s exasperated aunt, is an exception.)

While good diction is usually a blessing, it is perhaps best not to flag the dialogue here by over-enunciation. It is said of Helen, for example: “She is like a little safe, locked, that no one can open. Perhaps there is a treasure inside.” Or here’s James on what he wants from his father: “My God, don’t you know? Everything you forgot when you forgot my mother.”

Ms. Pill has the bulk of the most inspirational speeches and invocations. And their preachier aspects are underscored by this gifted actress’s electing to portray the combative, outspoken 20-year-old Annie with a touch of the New England spinster. (I occasionally thought of Katharine Hepburn being wry and withering.)

I understand the choice; it suggests the hard-won self-restraint and self-denial of a girl who grew up amid privation and tragedy. And it is certainly nothing like Bancroft’s more openly intense interpretation. But an over-the-top ferocity may be necessary to camouflage the clichés of what Annie has to say. Contained passion makes psychological sense for Annie, but it does the play as a whole no favors.

Ms. Breslin, best known for her Oscar-nominated performance in the 2006 film “Little Miss Sunshine,” is now probably a tad mature for the role of Helen, who was only 6 when Annie came into her life. You feel that this tantrum-prone girl is big enough to do serious damage when she goes on a tear. But the largeness of this vital, angry Helen is not symbolically inappropriate to a child whose presence overwhelms a household.

The mano-a-mano battles between Annie and Helen remain the play’s most compelling sequences, even if they are undercut by the overall diffuseness of the mise-en-scène. And for the big, wondrous climax, when Helen first comes to grasp what language is while working a pump in the yard, water flows in more ways than one.

How can you not cry, knowing that this breakthrough moment will lead to one of the most astonishing and admirable careers in American history? You are likely to feel, though, that the tears haven’t been truly earned by a production that delivers full emotional frissons only in its final, fail-safe scene.


By William Gibson; directed by Kate Whoriskey; sets by Derek McLane; costumes by Paul Tazewell; lighting by Kenneth Posner; music and sound by Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen; hair design by Charles LaPointe; physical coaching and movement by Lee Sher; executive producer, Red Awning; associate producers, Rosalind Productions Inc., Patty Baker/Anna Czekaj and Goode Productions. Presented by David Richenthal, Eric Falkenstein, Randall L. Wreghitt, Barbara and Buddy Freitag/Dan Frishwasser, Joe and Kathy Grano, Mallory Factor, Cheryl Lachowicz, Martha Falkenberg, Bruce J. Carusi and Susan Altamore Carusi, David and Sheila Lehrer and Lynn Shaw, in association with Connie Bartlow Kristan and Jamie deRoy/Remmel T. Dickinson. At the Circle in the Square Theater, 235 West 50th Street, Manhattan; (212) 239-6200. Running time: 2 hours.

WITH: Abigail Breslin (Helen Keller), Alison Pill (Annie Sullivan), Jennifer Morrison (Kate Keller), Elizabeth Franz (Aunt Ev), Matthew Modine (Captain Keller), Tobias Segal (James), Daniel Oreskes (Doctor/Anagnos), Michael Cummings (Percy), Simone Joy Jones (Martha), Yvette Ganier (Viney) and Lance Chantiles-Wertz (Jimmie)

when the rain stops falling

Fish Soup and Bad Weather, Across the Decades

Published: March 9, 2010

The forecast is continually gloomy in “When the Rain Stops Falling,” a sorrow-sodden family drama by Andrew Bovell that opened on Monday night at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. Nobody in Mr. Bovell’s time-skipping saga, sensitively directed by David Cromer (“Our Town”), is ever far from an umbrella, making this Lincoln Center Theater production entirely apposite for the city’s long, strange and soggy winter.

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

“When the Rain Stops Falling,” a drama with Michael Siberry, at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater.

Sara Krulwich/The New York Times

Richard Topol, Mary Beth Hurt, center, and Kate Blumberg in “When the Rain Stops Falling,” which opened on Monday.

The heavy weather doesn’t stop at the precipitation of the title. Fractured marriages, accidental deaths, disappearing children, suicide and a chart-topping horror that it’s best not to give away all make appearances in this fitfully moving but diagrammatic play about the long legacy of unnatural acts.

The play opens in the future, the year 2039, as a big fish falls from the sky in Alice Springs, Australia, where the desperate Gabriel York (a fierce Michael Siberry) has just been wondering what to serve his son, Andrew, for lunch. Gabriel has not seen his son in many years because he abandoned the family when Andrew was just a boy.

“I know why he is coming,” Gabriel confesses, his searching eyes bright with remembered shame. “He wants what all young men want from their fathers. He wants to know who he is. Where he comes from. Where he belongs. And for the life of me I don’t know what I will tell him.”

Certainly it is a complicated story. The play jigsaws across the better part of a century, moving between London and various locations in Australia as Mr. Bovell charts the bound fates of two families and several generations. As illuminated by an ensemble cast that infuses these disturbed and sometimes disturbing characters with soulful, affecting depths, the relationships eventually emerge with an emotional clarity that the play’s elliptical structure works against.

Although it moves back and forth among the decades, with characters from disparate eras sometimes sharing the stage, the tale essentially begins in London in 1959, where the middle-class marriage of the bookish Henry and Elizabeth Law (Richard Topol and Kate Blumberg) shows strains when odd incidents begin to befall Henry after the couple’s son is born.

Henry’s confession that he inadvertently began “pleasuring” himself on the commuter train strikes me as rather blithe for the era — or any era — as does Elizabeth’s shrugging reception of this news. “No wonder you forgot your umbrella,” she sympathetically observes. Worse is to come, but piecing together the puzzle takes time, as the play also shows us glimpses of the alcoholic Elizabeth some years on, now played by Mary Beth Hurt, entertaining her frosty 28-year-old son, Gabriel (Will Rogers), over the same fish soup that she was preparing for his father many years before.

Gabriel’s truculence stems from a stewing dissatisfaction over his father’s mysterious disappearance when Gabriel was 7, a subject about which his mother has remained stubbornly reticent. This unease will ultimately send him on a journey to Australia, where he will meet a lonely young woman with her own legacy of familial woe: Gabrielle York (Susan Pourfar), as she is coincidentally called, lost both her parents in the aftermath of a tragedy involving her brother’s disappearance.

Mr. Bovell is big on coincidences and on recurring motifs, even recurring bits of dialogue. Across the generations, fish soup is prepared and served. Across the generations, characters make wry jokes about the weather, noting that people are “drowning in Bangladesh.” Across the generations, the channels of communication between children and their parents are stymied by the secrets of the past.

But Mr. Bovell’s elaborate structure tends to keep us at a cool distance from the characters. Noting the patterns, absorbing the repeated imagery, diagramming the genealogy in your head — not to mention wondering at the obsession with fish soup — you may find it hard to fully immerse yourself in the destinies of the people onstage. This is despite terrific work from Mr. Cromer’s astutely assembled cast, which infuses the schematic storytelling with regular jolts of powerful emotion.

The actresses playing the younger and older Elizabeth and Gabrielle offer nicely matched portraits. Ms. Pourfar’s young Gabrielle is tense with yearning but also wary of committing herself to an affair with the affable young Gabriel, haunted as she is by the shadows of the past. These have darkened considerably in Victoria Clark’s moving portrait of the older Gabrielle. Further losses and afflictions have turned her into a ghostly, tormented figure at war with both the memories of her younger self and her long-suffering husband, Joe (Rod McLachlan).

Ms. Blumberg, as the young Elizabeth, blends a 1950s wifely warmth with a crisp intelligence. (She counters Henry’s rather weird bits of trivia about weather history with learned notes about cultural events taking place at the same time.) The shocks of life have drained the warmth from the Elizabeth played with a hard asperity by Ms. Hurt, leaving behind just the tough-minded mother closed off from an open relationship with her son by the secrets she refuses to divulge.

The men are likewise fine, with Mr. Rogers touchingly awkward as Gabriel; Mr. McLachlan endearing as the devoted but neglected Joe; and Mr. Topol imbuing his portrait of the disturbed Henry with an unsettling mixture of bourgeois academic rectitude and nervous, possibly sinister idiosyncrasy. Henry Vick rounds out the cast in the small role of the son expected for lunch in the opening scene.

The production’s crepuscular design befits the overriding tone of mysterious images emerging behind a rain-covered windowpane. The lighting by Tyler Micoleau discerns innumerable shades in drizzly grays. Fitz Patton’s smart sound design and Josh Schmidt’s moody music work together to heighten the sense of portent. And David Korins’s minimalist set, a circular moving platform set within another, on which a few key pieces of furniture are placed, effectively echoes the play’s swirling structure.

Mr. Cromer’s staging finds the sad poetry in the patterns as characters from past and present circle one another unknowingly or sometimes stand vigil before their younger selves, frozen in sorrow or regret. The gloom can become oppressive at times, but the shadowy mise-en-scène echoes the darkness through which the characters struggle to discern a way forward, or at least find a way to escape the past.


By Andrew Bovell; directed by David Cromer; sets by David Korins; costumes by Clint Ramos; lighting by Tyler Micoleau; sound by Fitz Patton; music by Josh Schmidt; stage manager, Richard A. Hodge; general manager, Adam Siegel; production manager, Jeff Hamlin. Presented by the Lincoln Center Theater, under the direction of André Bishop and Bernard Gersten; by arrangement with Jean Doumanian and Freddy DeMann. At the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, Lincoln Center; (212) 239-6200. Through April 18. Running time: 1 hour 45 minutes.

WITH: Kate Blumberg (Younger Elizabeth Law), Victoria Clark (Older Gabrielle York), Mary Beth Hurt (Older Elizabeth Law), Rod McLachlan (Joe Ryan), Susan Pourfar (Younger Gabrielle York), Will Rogers (Gabriel Law), Michael Siberry (Gabriel York), Richard Topol (Henry Law) and Henry Vick (Andrew Price).

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

february 25th horoscope

Capricorn (December 22-January 19)
Everyone alive has some kind of learning disability. I know brilliant physicists who are dumb about poetry. There are fact-loving journalists whose brains freeze when they're invited to consider the ambiguous truths of astrology. My friend John suffers from dyslexia, while I myself am incapable of mastering the mysteries of economics. What's your blind spot, Capricorn? What's your own personal learning disability? Whatever it is, this would be an excellent time, astrologically speaking, to work with it. For the next few months, you will be able to call on what you need in order to diminish its power to limit you.

Capricorn Horoscope for week of March 4, 2010

Capricorn Horoscope for week of March 4, 2010

Verticle Oracle cardCapricorn (December 22-January 19)
In some of the newspapers that publish my horoscope column, my carefully wrought text is buried in the back pages amidst a jabbering hubbub of obscene advertisements for quasi-legal sexual services. For readers with refined sensibilities, that's a problem. They do their best to avert their eyes, narrowing their focus down to a tight window. I think you'll be wise to adopt a similar approach in the coming week, Capricorn. Only a small percentage of information coming your way will be truly useful to you, and it may often be embedded in a sparkly mess of distracting noise. Concentrate hard on getting just the essentials that you want so you won't be misinformed and worn out by the rest.