Blessings and Curses

Childs is very clear—maybe a little too clear—about the stakes in these matters. Full of imagination and wit, as well as its endearing bubbliness, her piece has a slightly teacherish tone; packed up with its innocence is a desire to instruct, in the manner of an after-school special. It's all too fitting that we last see Viveca teaching a children's dance class in Harlem: She has become, if not exactly Harriet Tubman, one of those distinguished figures whose devotion to their community whets the interest of the History Channel. The dance she shows the children is "The Skate," a bob-and-weave, 3/4 against 4/4 number to which, in the earlier high school sequence, Viveca's vision of a multiracial society has been danced out. (Childs has cunningly composed the number, with its jivey cross-rhythms and quick-witted lyrics, as a quodlibet, with quotes from Hebrew, Japanese, and Mexican folk tunes gliding through it.)

The loneliness and hard work the last scene implies are the regimen of any committed artist; they imply a future for Childs beyond the simple recounting of her personal experience, and the simple morals to be drawn from it. The mixture of skill and zest visible in this piece show a deeper theatrical sense hatching as we watch. She's already well ahead of her director, Wilfredo Medina, and her choreographer, A.C. Ciulla, whose work is pleasantly free-flowing but always generalized, never pointed, even when David Gallo's pop-up set pieces offer their strongest cues. The production's main gift to Childs is a lead actress who can fulfill all of the evening's demands with glorious ease, and a smile slightly wider than the Great Plains. LaChanze—that's her name—has been admired before, in this column as in other papers. The French phrase avoir de la chance means to have very good luck; "to have LaChanze in your show," from now on, will be its most accurate English translation.


LaChanze and company in The Bubbly Black Girl: a Childs-eye view of life
photo: Joan Marcus
LaChanze and company in The Bubbly Black Girl: a Childs-eye view of life

Details

The Bubbly Black Girl Sheds Her Chameleon Skin
By Kirsten Childs
Playwrights Horizons
416 West 42nd Street
212-279-4200

Macbeth
By William Shakespeare
Music Box Theatre (Closed)

The magical charm LaChanze conveys could probably even ward off the evil spells that notoriously surround Shakespeare's "Scottish play." I've never seen a Macbeth that wasn't a failure, so the abrupt folding of Kelsey Grammer's version was no surprise. The disappointment lay in its being such an uninteresting failure. Terry Hands, best known for that more laughable disaster called Carrie, supplied Grammer and his band of California recruits with a drab, obvious, unexplored picture of the thane's complex world that looked like the last four Macbeths I'd seen, dried down into a bouillon cube. Grammer, chopping rigidly at the pentameter as though he expected it to come crashing down on him, found his way into a tolerable vein of bitter irony around the time of Banquo's murder, but that was his only sign of life. Diane Venora, who is apparently now the only American actress allowed to play Shakespeare, postured and hooted like a poisoner (mezzo) in a 19th-century Italian opera. The one mildly comic moment was the banquet after Macbeth's coronation—the only guests were two gentlemen and Venora. Michael Gross's Ross and Kate Forbes's Lady Macduff weren't painful; Hands's hands-off approach reduced everyone else to flatness. What Grammer's failure proved, very simply, is that you can't hoodwink couch potatoes into theatergoing by shoving TV stars into Shakespeare. Obvious solution: Create stage stars. But for this you need an alert, active, ongoing, nonimported theater. Maybe when television finally dissolves.

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