The Sorrow and the City

Stephen McKinley Henderson and Viola Davis in King Hedley II: omens of looming sorrow
photo: Joan Marcus
Stephen McKinley Henderson and Viola Davis in King Hedley II: omens of looming sorrow


King Hedley II
By August Wilson
Virginia Theatre
Broadway and 52nd Street
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By Greg Kotis and Mark Hollmann
American Theatre of Actors
314 West 54th Street
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Madame Melville
By Richard Nelson
Promenade Theatre
Broadway and 76th Street
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Richard Nelson's Madame Melville breathes the rarefied air of rich Americans in Paris just before the late-'60s upheavals, with its story of an inhibited teenage boy's seduction by a sympathetic schoolmistress over one traumatic weekend. Solider and more sympathetic than many recent Nelson plays, it seems at first like an amiable, somewhat trite, romance. As it morphs from sentiment to screwball comedy to melodrama, though, it gets increasingly more irritating. By the end, the scent of the Seine has vanished on the breeze, and you realize, to your dismay, that you're left with yet another of those Nelsonian plays in which life is a Pirandello quiz game in motivational research, with each player hiding yet another concealed desire behind the one the last scene unmasked, to the point where you simply give up, not wanting to spend your life exploring characters who had so little intrinsic interest in the first place. Macaulay Culkin is either an awkward and inadequately trained actor, or a first-rate one giving an excellent performance as an awkward, tentative 10th-grader; I can't tell which. Joely Richardson, as his erotic mentor, is smoothly convincing but on the arid side emotionally. Comic relief, in the person of Robin Weigert as the giddy American cellist next door, has rarely been so necessary, and Weigert's excellent performance—funny, poignant, and pointed—will probably be insanely overrated as a result.

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