Paul Scott Goodman's adaptation of Bright Lights, Big City, like Williams's script, is naive early work that would deserve compassion rather than anger if it weren't so dressed up in moneymaking intentions. Wiser heads might have told Goodman that the narcissistic yuppie cokeheads who populated '80s discos were nothing to wax romantic about. That someone smelled a second Rent in Jay McInerney's novel must, under the circumstances, be attributed to New York Theatre Workshop's surrealist sense of humor. What Goodman, who appears as the show's narrator, doesn't get is the basic New York nightlife attitude we're dead so let's have fun which is too cynical for his less than great attempts at rock emotionality. The optimal score for this story would probably be standard show tunes perverted, starting with "Mr. Snow" and "Blow, Gabriel, Blow," maybe with a dream ballet set in the hero's nasal passages.
Within the limits of the more earnest approach he's chosen, Michael Greif keeps the show functioning. Blake Burba's bright lights, which do most of the set decorating, are an immense help, but Greif's strongest asset is once again a highly talented castful of relative unknowns. Patrick Wilson handles the grueling lead with persistence and skill; I also particularly liked Jacqueline Arnold, Carla Bianco, Jerry Dixon, and Napiera Daniele Groves.
Hard time on Broadway: Corin Redgrave in Not About Nightingales
Not About Nightingales By Tennessee Williams Circle in the Square Broadway and 50th Street 239-6200
Bright Lights, Big City By Paul Scott Goodman New York Theatre Workshop 79 East 4th Street 460-5475
Snakebit By David Marshall Grant Century Theatre 111 East 15th Street 239-6200
Snakebit, in contrast, is a perfectly traditional these days, you might almost say "classic" piece of New York theater. It does just what it sets out to do, and does it reassuringly well, with smart writing, astute direction (by Jace Alexander), and acting that goes somewhat above those excellent reliabilities in quality. The jilted half of an L.A. gay couple, moving out because he can't afford the rent by himself, has to cope with house guests his hetero best friends from back East as well as with his griefs, which turn out to be complexly ensnarled with theirs. If you feel like picking at issues, David Marshall Grant's funny, aptly vivid dialogue gives you a few dozen to pick at, from homophobia to welfare systems. If you just want to enjoy the intrigue, his cunning way with the traditional materials keeps you guessing. And if you want to bask in human experience, you can simply watch the deflected pain bounce out of Jodi Markell's bright eyes or slide down from Geoffrey Nauffts's flatlined smile. Snakebit may not be the earth-shattering experience of all time, but in this year full of near misses and fumbles, the simple collaboration of a dozen people who actually know their business looks like a working soda fountain at the bottom of Death Valley.