Ways and Meanings

But cuteness, regrettably, is the guideline for the whole event. Sheffer's easy-on-the-ears score proceeds in swatches of music that sound like this composer and like that one, but the pastiche isn't held together by any darker underlying sense of the action. Similarly, Dobrish's staging trades, slickly and inventively, on poses and attitudes of the period; one feels that it's less a work by Gertrude Stein than her popular reputation that's being put onstage. The work's as attractive to look at as it is to hear, with Markas Henry's subtly detailed costumes and Michael Gottlieb's stylish lights particular assets. But it doesn't sit easily on Stein's sensibility, the bright surface of which always has deep, somber underpinnings, just as Sheffer's prosody doesn't always sit well on her phrases, which call for settings that highlight their ambiguity and their hidden pain—not always so hidden, in the texts at the core of this work. The singers, too, seemed only uneasily focused on their business. Carolann Page made a strong, forthright Gertrude; Wendy Hill's Alice, though diffuse of diction, was nicely fluid in coloratura. (Inevitably, Sheffer added kitchen slaughters from Toklas's cookbook to the opera's carnage.) Like many such evenings before it, it envisioned Stein as an old camp dear. Anyone who's seen the Carmines-Kornfeld Stein works, or a great production of Mother of Us All, knows better.


Driving force: Paul Butler and Carl Lumbly in Jitney
photo: Craig Schwartz
Driving force: Paul Butler and Carl Lumbly in Jitney

Details

Jitney
By August Wilson
Second Stage Theatre
307 West 43rd Street 212-246-4422

The Green Bird
By Carlo Gozzi
Adapted by Albert Bermel and Ted Emery
Cort Theatre
Seventh Avenue and 48th Street 212-239-6200

Taller than a Dwarf
By Elaine May
Longacre Theatre
Broadway and 48th Street 212-239-6200

Blood on the Dining Room Floor
By Jonathan Sheffer
Based on texts by Gertrude Stein
Peter Norton Space
555 West 42nd Street 212-244-7529

Jesus Christ Superstar
By Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber
Ford Center for the Performing Arts
Broadway and 42nd Street 212-307-4100

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And whatever you think of Jesus Christ Superstar—not much, in my case—anyone knows how to stage it better than Gale Edwards, whose embarrassing, puny production has been shoved into the cavernous Ford Center, apparently on the grounds that anything, even a production most dinner theaters would sneer at, is good enough to sucker the know-nothing tourists. The original album had hints of interesting possibilities that Rice and Webber, in their dismal careers since then, have miserably failed to follow up. When the work was first put onstage, a director who was a true visionary, Tom O'Horgan, welded the hints into a memorable phantasmagoria. Even Jesus himself, noted for his ability to heal the crippled, would be stumped by the lameness of Edwards's production, reinforced by a cast that mingles the insufficient with the misguided; only Tony Vincent's Judas conveys signs of professional life. Yet if the idiots buy tickets, there's no way to stop the thing, inexcusable as it is. Clearly, before we invent any more new ways to write a play, somebody had better think up a way to embarrass Broadway producers into giving value for money.

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