Friday, November 12, 2010

Theater Review: Women on the Verge

Even Stars like Patti LuPone, Sherie Rene Scott, Laura Benanti and Brian Stokes Mitchell Can't Keep This Show from a Complete Breakdown
By Lauren Yarger
It had such great potential: four of the most popular and talented stars of the Broadway stage, music and lyrics by the composer who gave us fun shows like The Full Monty and Dirty Rotten Scoundrels and a fabulous creative team led by award winning director Bartlett Sher (who helmed the wonderful revival of South Pacific) all under the auspices of Lincoln Center Theater.

But just like last year’s disappointing The Addams Family proved that having star names on the marquee doesn’t guarantee a good show, Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown is more evidence that nothing is a sure thing.

This musical, playing the beautiful Belasco Theatre, fails on so many levels it almost defies explanation. Very little works well in this stage rendition of Pedro Salmodovar’s film about the relationships of women in 1987 Madrid. The production has the feel of an early concept rehearsal instead of a polished Broadway musical. The opening number fizzles and things don’t get better. Before it’s all over, the only thing really on the verge of a nervous breakdown is the audience.

Sherie Rene Scott plays Pepa, an actress and singer who gets dumped by her lover, Ivan (Brian Stokes Mitchell). She follows him, with the help of an ever-present taxi driver (Danny Burstein) to the apartment of a strange woman, who turns out to be Ivan's ex, Lucia (Patti LuPone), who is suing him for abandonment with the help of attorney Paulina (de' Adre Aziza). Lucia might just be abandoned again too if her timid son, Carlos (Justin Guarini), gets up the nerve to tell her he’s moving out to marry Marisa (Nikka Graff Lanzarone).

Meanwhile, Pepa’s best friend, Candela (Laura Benanti), a ditzy, free-spirited model, who's free with lots of things, discovers that her latest lover, Malik (Louis Salgado), is a terrorist.

Thrown into the mix are 17 unmemorable songs with silly lyrics by David Yazbek, a few robotic steps of choreography by Christopher Gattelli and a book full of holes (characters appear on stage for exchanges of dialogue -- we have no idea who they are or why they are there) from Jeffrey Lane.

While you’re scratching your head, the action takes place an a set (Michael Yeargan, design) so full of fast moving parts and video projections (Sven Ortel) that you start to think a swig of the valium-laced gazpachos Pepa mixes wouldn’t be a bad idea, especially in the midst of motion sickness from the turning taxi which gives new meaning to the words “let’s go for a spin.”

The nausea intensifies with clashing colors used in the odd costumes designed by Catherine Zuber and soon the audience is on the verge of its own nervous breakdown. (I actually checked the program twice to be sure the unflattering and scanty clothes, heavy on the bras, were indeed the work of Zuber who usually has me wishing some of her creations were hanging in my closet.)

Why the gazpacho is drunk cold from cups that look like they are filled with a red substance, but which pour clear water, is just one of many puzzling questions, like
• Wouldn’t it have been a good idea to cast someone who actually is Hispanic or who can at least maintain a credible accent in one or more of these roles? Sometimes accents just disappear…
• Who was that scantily clad woman who just floated by in a window frame?
• Is the ventilation not working properly or was that pyro effect (Gregory Meeh, design) just a little too intense?
• Is she singing about being married for 20 years or has this song just been going on for 20 years?

But don’t take my word alone. Let the two-and-a-half-hour show speak for itself. In a song titled, ironically, “Tangled,” come the lyrics “You’ve been trying to follow the plot like there’s some twist you forgot … it’s like you’re losing your mind.” Another exchange of dialogue has one character saying, “What are you talking about?” to which another replies, “I have no idea, I’m just talking.”

Yup, those characters say it all, unfortunately.

I hate to be all negative, however, so here are some positive notes, because sometimes things just don’t work out the way you’d hoped and I love all of the people involved in this show and Lincoln Center:

• Benanti’s energetic and comedic performance gives the show most of its few laughs. She’s a champ and commands the stage.
• It’s a pleasure to hear the lovely voices of Benanti, LuPone and Thomas as well as Mitchell’s dreamy baritone, even if they aren’t singing great songs. Guarino, making his Broadway debut, does a nice turn as the wimpy Carlos who becomes attracted to the feisty Candela and lends his lovely tenor to nice harmonies with Scott and Benanti.
• Patti LuPone hops a motorcycle and her windblown wig (Charles LaPointe, design) is one of the highlights of the evening.
• The newly refurbished Belasco Theatre really is a Broadway treasure with its beautiful murals, paneling and stained glass enhanced ceiling. When you’re bored, just look up.

The Belasco is at 111 West 44th St., NYC. Tickets are available at 212-239-6200 or 800-432-7250.

Christians might also like to know:
• Language
• God’s name taken in vain
• Cross dressing
• Sexual moves
• Scanty costumes
• Show posts a MATURE advisory

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Our reviews are professional reviews written without a religious bias. At the end of them, you can find a listing of language, content or theological issues that Christians might want to know about when deciding which shows to see.

** Mature indicates that the show has posted an advisory because of content. Usually this means I would recommend no one under the age of 16 attend.

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

Theater Critic Lauren Yarger

My Bio

Lauren Yarger has written, directed and produced numerous shows and special events for both secular and Christian audiences. She co-wrote a Christian musical version of “A Christmas Carol” which played to sold-out audiences of over 3,000 in Vermont and was awarded the Vermont Bessie (theater and film awards) for “People’s Choice for Theatre.” She also has written two other dinner theaters, sketches for church services and devotions for Christian artists. Her play concept, "From Reel to Real: The Jennifer O'Neill Story" was presented as part of the League of professional Theatre Women's Julia's reading Room Series in New York in February 2018.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day Intensive and other training and produced a one-woman musical about Mary Magdalene that toured nationally and closed with an off-Broadway run.

She was a Fellow at the National Critics Institute at the O'Neill Theater Center in Waterford, CT. She writes reviews of Broadway and off-Broadway theater (the only ones you can find in the US with an added Christian perspective) at http://reflectionsinthelight.blogspot.com/.

She is editor of The Connecticut Arts Connection (http://ctarts.blogspot.com), an award-winning website featuring theater and arts news for the state. She is a contributing editor for BroadwayWorld.com. She previously served as theater reviewer for the Manchester Journal-Inquirer, Connecticut theater editor for CurtainUp.com and as Connecticut and New York reviewer for American Theater Web.

She is a Co-Founder of the Connecticut Chapter of the League of Professional Theatre Women. She is a former vice preseint and voting member of The Drama Desk.

She is a freelance writer and playwright (member Dramatists Guild of America). She is a member if the The Outer Critics Circle (event manager for the annual awards ceremony), The American Theater Critics Association, The League of Professional Theatre Women and the Drama League. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists.

Yarger is a book reviewer for Publishers Weekly and freelances for other sites. She is a member of the National Book Critics Circle.

She also is a member of the Episcopal Actors' Guild, the NY Public Library for the Performing Arts and The O'Neill Theatre Center..

A former newspaper editor and graduate of the University of Missouri’s School of Journalism, Yarger also worked in arts management for the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra and served for nine years as the Executive Director of Masterwork Productions, Inc. She lives with her husband in West Granby, CT. They have two adult children.

Copyright

All material is copyright 2008- 2018 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact reflectionsinthelight@gmail.com

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Key to Content Notes:

God's name taken in vain -- means God or Jesus is used in dialogue without speaking directly to or about them.

Language -- means some curse words are used. "Minor" usually means the words are not too strong or that it only occurs once or twice throughout the show.

Strong Language -- means some of the more heavy duty curse words are used.

Nudity -- means a man or woman's backside, a man's lower front or a woman's front are revealed.

Scantily clad -- means actors' private areas are technically covered, but I can see a lot of them.

Sexual Language -- means the dialogue contains sexually explicit language but there's no action.

Sexual Activity -- means a man and woman are performing sexual acts.

Adultery -- Means a married man or woman is involved sexually with someone besides their spouse. If this is depicted with sexual acts on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Sex Outside of Marriage -- means a man and woman are involved sexually without being married. If this is depicted sexually on stage, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Homosexuality -- means this is in the show, but not physically depicted.

Homosexual activity -- means two persons of the same sex are embracing/kissing. If they do more than that, the list would include "sexual activity" as well.

Cross Dresser -- Means someone is dressing as the opposite sex. If they do more than that on stage the listing would include the corresponding "sexual activity" and/or "homosexual activity" as well.

Cross Gender -- A man is playing a female part or a woman is playing a man's part.

Suggestive Dancing -- means dancing contains sexually suggestive moves.

Derogatory (category added Fall 2012) Language or circumstances where women are referred to or treated in a negative and demeaning manner.

Other content matters such as torture, suicide or rape will be noted, with details revealed only as necessary in the review itself.

The term "throughout" added to any of the above means it happens many times throughout the show.

Reviewing Policy

I receive free seats to Broadway and Off-Broadway shows made available to all voting members of the Outer Critics Circle and The Drama Desk, the two professional critics organizations with journalists covering NY theater. Journalistically, I provide an unbiased review and am under no obligation to make positive statements. Sometimes shows do not make tickets available to reviewers. If these are shows my readers want to know about (I review all Broadway shows and pertinent Off-Broadway shows), I will purchase a ticket. If a personal friend is involved in a production, I'll let you know, but it won't influence a review. If I feel there is a conflict, I won't review their portion of the production.

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