Iffy Situations

Less lethal ironies are at play in Athol Fugard's The Captain's Tiger, a small, rather bland piece of reminiscence in which the now sixtyish Fugard (who's announced his retirement from acting after this production) plays himself as a 20-year-old, setting off around the world as factotum ("tiger") to the captain of an ancient tramp steamer. He means not only to garner seafaring experience, but to complete a novel enshrining his image (from family photographs) of his mother as a young girl, in which he'll grant her a happier life than her real one. The other two characters are the illiterate engine operator ("donkeyman") to whom he pours out his daily progress and the heroine of his novel. At first, both listen in flattered silence; ultimately, both rebel against his overweening quest for control, till both friendship and novel are irrevocably wrecked.

Though too wordy, like the samples of novel that make it so, the notion has charm, and Fugard's presence gives it authenticity. An actor who looked a vulnerable 20, though, would give it conviction. Two further objections are the familiarity of the ideas involved, and the confusion over just who, in the woman's case, is rebelling, the hero's mother or the character he's derived from her. Pirandello, a specialist in these issues, wrote plays that cover both cases. However muddled the role, Felicity Jones's beauty and freshness turn it into good sensual sense, while Tony Todd makes the donkeyman's silences as articulate as his blunt pidgin lines.

Nothing is articulated greatly in A Majority of One, an old (1959) Broadway comedy that mixes mild antibigotry preaching with large helpings of what Jewish theatergoers call schmaltz (literally, "chicken fat"). A Brooklyn widow whose son died in World War II goes reluctantly to Japan and bonds with a Tokyo widower. It's okay— both of his kids were killed by our side.

Ann Dudek (in white) and Chorus in Iphigenia in Aulis: bravery in the face of brutal irony
Gerry Goodstein
Ann Dudek (in white) and Chorus in Iphigenia in Aulis: bravery in the face of brutal irony

Details

The Iphigenia Cycle
By Euripides
American Place Theater
111 West 46th Street
239-6200

The Captain's Tiger
By Athol Fugard
Manhattan Theater Club
131 West 55th Street
581-1212

A Majority of One
By Leonard Spigelgass
Playhouse 91
316 East 91st Street
831-2000

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It's all a thin, but amiable, excuse for two beloved actors to jerk laughs and tears. Richard Sabellico's revival dampens the first act's comedy, but thankfully cuts loose after intermission. Phyllis Newman seems to be trying to avoid evoking memories of Gertrude Berg, who created the role, but her understated rendition has its own sweetness. More riveting is the presence opposite her of Randall Duk Kim, last seen locally as Belarius in the Central Park Cymbeline. Kim's the best transformative actor in America, equally wonderful as Puck, Hamlet, or Walt Whitman. A lonely Japanese tycoon is almost too easy an assignment; he immerses himself in it so thoroughly that I expect to see him on TV next week, announcing the collapse of another Tokyo bank.

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