Mothers and Other Animals

Gypsy is younger than ever, but LuPone's Madam Rose is the maddest yet

Blooming daughter: Laura Benanti in 
photo: Joan Marcus
Blooming daughter: Laura Benanti in Gypsy


By Arthur Laurents, Stephen Sondheim, and Jule Styne
City Center
131 West 55th Street

Fables de La Fontaine
By Jean de La Fontaine
Lincoln Center Festival

The even less happy alternative to displays like LuPone's ego-frenzy is for the artist to impose a personal straitjacket on the material in lieu of interpreting it, as Robert Wilson has done in his staging of La Fontaine's Fables for the Comédie- Française, seen earlier this month at the Lincoln Center Festival. Though the show offered, as expected, many attractive Wilson visual moments, and the actors displayed both high ability and a game spirit, the end result (a giant success in Paris for the past several years) was ultimately disheartening, sterilizing both life and moral sense out of La Fontaine's works. All French children (and nearly everyone else who studies French) know the most familiar of these fables, so you couldn't precisely call Wilson's work destructive, but he failed to find either an overall shape for the evening, which simply dragged on from fable to fable, or a way of animating in the theater what La Fontaine had meant for the printed page and parlor recitation. Instead of letting the animals speak their own stories (I kept wishing Paul Sills had staged the piece story-theater style, but the French have probably never heard of Paul Sills), Wilson distanced the text by employing narrators outside the scene, most often an actress (the excellent Christine Fersen) dressed as La Fontaine. While being described, the animals made—oh, big surprise—animal noises. Every obvious point was hammered home, any possible subtlety tossed out the window. Some of Michael Galasso's mock-Baroque music had charm, as did Elisabeth Doucet's stylized makeup. (Kuno Schlegelmilch's masks, in a random assortment of styles, looked like a first-year design-class project.) One piece was narrated, inexplicably, by a donkey; I couldn't help thinking it was Wilson's way of telling us the whole event was being transmitted through the sensibility of a jackass.

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