Hard Acts to Follow
Chekhov didn’t write cliff-hangers. Audience members don’t typically leave his plays wringing their hands and urgently asking, “But do the sisters really get to Moscow?” or “Do Vanya and Sonya actually carry on working?” So it’s not a little surprising that Rae C. Wright has composed her latest play as a fifth act to The Seagull.
The Moon in Vain (Dixon Place) finds Arkadina (played by Wright) a year after her son’s suicide. She has returned to the theater to play a program of old favorites (Ophelia’s song) and more recent hits (Marie in Danton’s Death), then hold a Q&A with the audience about new forms vs. old ones. A talkback seems an unlikely way for a late-19th-century Russian diva to spend an evening, but this frame is soon abandoned. As Arkadina prattles on about her lovers and luck and fame, a ghostly latecomer emerges—her dead son Kostya (Ethan Cohn), head happily intact. As Kostya offers his ghostly interpolations, the play swirls into an inharmonious collage of flashback, reverie, sentiment, and psychobabble (cf. Kostya’s “We haunted are just as haunted as those we haunt”).
Wright has chosen neither to imitate Chekhov’s prose nor succumb to the modern vernacular, so she writes a rather empty text, devoid of place, time, or incident. But her statuesque beauty and considerable warmth lend her lines a weight they don’t deserve. Neither she nor Cohn is particularly assisted by director Lee Gundersheimer, whose touch is only felt in the frequent and unnecessary light cues. Despite inadequacies of text and direction, the play does offer one terrifying and dramatic moment, in which Kostya spookily intones, “There will be no more intermissions!” Now that would be a real fright. —Alexis Soloski
Yalie Got His Gun
“All’s fair in love and war.” But what happens when love and war are linked in an almost cause-and-effect relationship? With Gentlemen Volunteers, playwright Solveig Holum aims high to write a love story set in the brutal First World War, a tale acted in the physical tradition of Jacques Lecoq. The interactive “promenade style” and physical life of her earnest play are two of its most successful elements. Pig Iron Theatre Company’s ensemble of four actors (three of whom are Lecoq grads, including supertalent Emmanuelle Delpech) are adept at energetically establishing complete environments, whisking the audience about the Ohio Theatre space like a tail on an elaborate costume. A train station, a local French bar, a Model T ambulance, and a photography studio are among standout atmospheric creations (the active battlefields are less impressive). From his off-center location, one-man band James Sugg provides aural pleasure, flavoring select mime work with old-school sound effects.
In Holum’s story, two naive Yale boys—Rich and Vincent—volunteer to drive ambulances in Paris. They yearn for the front and the heroic action befitting young men, while forming intimate relationships with two Red Cross nurses (Françoise, an embittered war widow, and Mary, an optimistic English émigré). Fledgling loves develop in the somewhat trite back-and-forth montage of two couples growing closer (though a barroom seduction is truly inspired). This superficial dating behavior does not quite merit the subsequent war-torn love-letter sequence involving each divided couple. But there are suggestions—as when Mary carries lover Rich offstage like a baby after he enlists to fight—that the passion they all feel is amplified by the war, by their fear and loneliness. Unfortunately, while we see the gestures of wartime grief and isolation, rarely do we feel the self-same pangs. With more ferocious Lecoq clowning, the production might have earned a real sense of tragedy. —Chelsea Peretti
If you roared approval at the resurrection of Joplin in Love, Janis, you’re likely to be swept up by La Lupe: My Life, My Destiny. But only if you worship the ’60s queen of salsa, like the foot-stomping hordes regularly packing the Puerto Rican Traveling Theatre.
They come for the music, one guesses, not the play. Carmen Rivera’s script suffers from obvious exposition and overdone comedy. She adopts the lame device of a post-stardom La Lupe trying to convince her college professor that her biographical essay is truth, not fiction. She blandly narrates her rags-to-riches fable from Cuba to New York, interspersing her tale with concert numbers. But as the hugely popular diva hits hard times, including serious injury—her “fall” is prophesied repeatedly and heavy-handedly by a mysterious seer—the drama delivers some affecting moments, despite a weak surrounding cast of four, who play all the people in the singer’s life. Luis Caballero directs broadly, but with spirit.
Acting or singing, Sully Díaz, who “is” La Lupe, makes a forceful dynamo, with lips and hips in overdrive. To judge by the crowd’s cheers, she’s got the star’s moves down—the sexualized frenzy of song, the tearing off of shoes and jewelry to hurl into the audience. She’s also a stitch as a crossover artist on The Dick Cavett Show, growling out “Fever” in green satin hot pants while salaciously fondling the mic.
Díaz belts both ballads and up-tempo numbers with a powerful, gravel-roughened alto. She tears the torch songs out of her soul with an anguish reminiscent of Piaf. Her four-piece band froths up an infectious beat, especially conga player Johnny Rivero, whose fingers and palms dance exquisitely across those skins.
Will La Lupe give you fever-r-r? Probably not—unless you caught the salsa heat the first time round. —Francine Russo
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on August 7, 2001