Heads You Lose
Darko Tresnjak’s Princess Turandot owes more to the Marx Brothers’ A Night at the Opera than it does to Puccini. Tresnjak, who wrote and directs, dresses his production in comic fake mustaches and equips it with curved ornamental swords of the stoutest gray plastic. When the show’s tongue is not in its cheek, it’s stuck out with mock-rude effrontery.
The Blue Light Theater production, mounted at the McGinn/Cazale space, gives us a feminist spin on the bloody tale of the beauteous princess who evaded marriage by demanding the heads of all wooers who could not solve her three riddles. Here, the lady never lusted after those detached noggins at all. All she wanted was the freedom to choose her own fate—and mate.
But forget the message. The piece delivers a brilliantly colored, gaily wrapped package of treats for the senses. David P. Gordon’s set—a platform topped by a running band of blue sky—is bathed in a rainbow of hues from Christopher J. Landy’s lighting palette. Linda Cho’s costumes—Arabian Nights by way of Barnum and Bailey—are witty and sumptuous, and Pete Simpson, who manages percussion and movement, puts on a nifty display of bare-chested acrobats (in pantaloons) who spin luminous balls and prance with skull-topped sticks.
The story’s shenanigans hopscotch from the clever to the silly to the lame, and the acting is broad enough to cover a multitude of sins. As the princess, Roxanna Hope balances elegant frostiness with an underside of steaminess, and James Stanley makes a creditably muscular, foolhardy prince. But it’s the minor characters who steal the show, particularly Josh Radnor as the dandy courtier Brighella—his beyond-Clouseau accent bears no relation to any language living or dead. —Francine Russo
Girls Not Gone Wild
Imagine Imelda Marcos. Now imagine her with sterner carriage and no shoe horde for sublimation. That’s a fair approximation of actress Ching Valdes-Aran as the eponymous matriarch in The House of Bernarda Alba (Intar Theatre). Surveying her five daughters—whom she’s just condemned to eight years of mourning after the death of their father—Valdes-Aran stands ramrod straight, with lips pursed and cudgel in hand. Her lovely face and black lace neither soften nor feminize her—she’s an iron fist that’s told the velvet glove to go to hell. When she bangs her stick on the ground, the audience flinches along with her girls.
Valdes-Aran’s fierce performance—as a bitch-goddess Mommy Dearest intent on preserving her upstanding reputation—serves as the centerpiece of director-adapter Chay Yew’s production of Lorca’s tragedy. A National Asian American Theatre Company offering, it features—in keeping with NAATCO’s mission statement—an entirely Asian American cast. That’s a potentially risible state of events, to watch a play associated with one ethnic-religious group (Spanish Catholic) subsumed by another—like some questionable Brechtian distancing exercise.
But the production is no laughing matter. Yew makes only a few changes in Lorca’s script—substituting “rice” for “chickpeas,” de-emphasizing the Catholic symbolism—but it’s enough to decenter the text, making it more open to other readings and interpretations. And once the tragic action kicks in, questions of race and appropriation disappear in the delight of watching this excellent cast at work—especially Kati Kuroda as the earthy housekeeper Poncia and Julyana Soelistyo as the discomfiting Martirio. Yew may have a penchant for grandiose gestural work and melodramatic stage convention, but his cast makes Lorca’s House seem quite at home. —Alexis Soloski
The Beauty Myth
Greek mythology has taught us the dangers of flying too close to the sun. VH1’s Behind the Music has exposed the hazards of basking in fame’s glow. Both lessons seem to have skipped Primitivo, a wheelchair-bound young man whose ambition is to swim as far as the sun and return as a paparazzi-swarmed hero. Altagracia, a headstrong woman with a purple birthmark smeared across her face, abets her brother’s illusions with talk of Hollywood interviews and White House dinners. Hope, in Edwin Sánchez’s Icarus (Bank Street Theater), is life’s fossil fuel—and though Altagracia may be in low supply herself, she can still provide an ample source for others. One such needy person is Beau, who shows up at the beach house the siblings have illegally taken over. Wearing a ski mask to hide a face mangled in a car accident, he agrees to share the accommodations and quickly falls in love with the bossy, storytelling sister. Trying to convince her that he can see beyond her disfigurement, however, is an uphill challenge—particularly once it’s revealed that he’s a hunk with nary a blemish on his kisser. Clearly, fairy tales are easier to spin than swallow.
The best thing about this modern fable is Sánchez’s commitment to his oddball menagerie, which includes a homeless man with a suitcase full of dreams that keeps snapping shut in everyone’s face and an aging bombshell still waiting for her big close-up. Though less sparely original than Maria Irene Fornes’s Mud, Sánchez’s play jockeys similarly between pure theatricality and poetic realism—a style that unfortunately comes off as cartoonish under Dennis Smith’s direction. But while the production may not make much of a splash, the actors occasionally soar on their characters’ dripping, wax-winged dreams. —Charles McNulty