Saturday, December 8, 2012

Theater Review: Giant

Brian d'Arcy James, John Dossett, and Kate Baldwin. Photo: Joan Marcus.
A Sweeping Tale with Music as Big as the Heart of Texas
By Lauren Yarger
A tip of the Stetson is due to the Public Theater and the new Michael John LaChiusa musical starring Brian D'Arcy James and Kate Baldwin. It has been a while since we have enjoyed such a sweeping tale so neatly executed. It brings to mind the fabulous Orphan's Home Cycle by Horton Foote and War Horse up at Lincoln Center.

The staging, directed by Michael Grief, doesn't shy away from the fact that the epic 1956 film of cattle and oil in Texas (with Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson and James Dean to boot) is looming. Instead, the production team embraces it and gives an almost big-screen look to the set and lighting (Allen Moyer and Kenneth Posner, designers). The result is to create a larger-than-life feel to the production that doesn't compete with memory of the movie. It also effectively brings the vast landscape of Texas and the span of decades onto the small stage at Off-Broadway's Public Theater. Well done!

LaChiusa's score also is epic, echoing in the memory days after it is heard. The composer does an amazing job of capturing character and emotion with each tune playing an equal part in conveying Edna Ferber's sweeping tale of life in Southwestern Texas between 1925 and 1952 (Costume designer Jeff Mahshie helps take us on the journey with everything from cowhand garb to beautiful dresses worn by the women trying to find high couture in a dusty land). Choreography is by Alex Sanchez.

Some of Broadway's best are singing that score, too (Chris Fenwick is Music Director). The beautifully voiced Kate Baldwin is Leslie Lynnton Benedict, who gives up a life in high society to marry rough cow rancher Jordan "Bick" Benedict (Brian d'Arcy James in one of his best roles yet) when he goes east to buy a horse from her family's upscale Virginia farm. Besides a sexual attraction (which actually is lukewarm between these performers), the two have little in common and find sudden marriage a bit of a struggle. First Leslie has to adapt to a different way of life on Reata Ranch. She is appalled at the prejudice against Mexicans and at the conditions in which ranch workers live. She also has to stand up to Bick's formidable sister, Luz (Michele Pawk), who runs things at the ranch with an iron hand and believes she knows what is best for the man she has raised from the time he was a small child.

She finds allies in other wives and surprisingly in Luz's original choice for Bick, Vashti Hake Snythe (Katie Thompson). A song later, where the women reflect on their lives and marriages is truly one of the most moving numbers ever to grace a stage,

Incapability between Bick and Leslie continues through the years, especially when it comes to their children,  Jordy Jr (Bobby Steggert) and Little Luz (Mackenzie Mauzy). The meek and stuttering Jordy is a disappointment to his father. Like his mother, he loves reading books. He has no desire to take over the ranch and wants, instead, to be a doctor. He commits the unforgivable  crime when he falls in love with Mexican Juana Guerra (Natalie Cortez). Tomboy Little Luz, on the other hand, loves the ranch, but doesn't have much chance of ever taking the reins because she is a girl.

When Bick looks at the horizon, he sees "genuine freedom." When Leslie looks, she sees emptiness. Their determination to hold things together despite the odds fuels the story (with a really good book here by Sybille Pearson).

Also turning in memorable  performances are John Dossett as Bick's Uncle Bawley, PJ Griffith as the family's nemesis, Jett Rink, and Raua Aranas as the guitar-playing cowhand Polo Guerra, who taught all the boys how to rope and is like a member of the family (at least as far as racial bias will allow).

Giant has been extended through Dec. 16 at the Public Theater, 225 Lafayette St., NYC. The show runs three hours, with evening performances Tuesday through Sunday at 7. Matinees are Sunday at 1 pm. Tickets:

Christians might also like to know:
-- Language

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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 2000 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.

Yarger trained for three years in the Broadway League’s Producer Development Program, completed the Commercial Theater Institute's Producing Three-Day 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

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

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

She is a freelance writer and playwright and member of The Drama Desk, The Outer Critics Circle, The American Theater Critics Association and The League of Professional Theatre Women. She served as a judge for the SDX Awards presented by the Society of Professional Journalists. She also is a member of the Connecticut Critics Circle and the CT Press Club.

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.


All material is copyright 2008- 2017 by Lauren Yarger. Reviews and articles may not be reprinted without permission. Contact


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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