Sometimes theater thrives on the simplest pleasures. A couple actors on a bare stage. This was the case at the last event for Carnegie Hall's young donor group, the Notables. Of course, it helps when those two actors are Alec Baldwin and Renee Fleming who both exude an effortless charm (even when they're on book) that buoys A.R. Gurney's charming play of a lifelong friendship told through a series of letters. It's refreshingly old-fashioned, and perfectly suited to a reading.
In full performance but equally sparse is the Gate Theater's production of Beckett's Krapp's Last Tape at BAM. It's an intentionally frustrating play with most of the action consisting of a man sitting at a table listening to recordings he made decades ago and wondering what happened to those years. John Hurt delivers a compelling performance as the title and only character on stage while avoiding the pitfall of making Krapp a caricature. It's not an easy night of theater, but Michael Colgan's production shows the enduring poignancy of this offbeat classic.
Another evening of old-fashioned fun was had last week celebrating 30 years of John Schaefer broadcasting on WNYC with an appropriately eclectic concert at the station's beautiful Greene Space. Lagunitas beer was served as singer Angelique Kidjo emceed an evening of remembrances and performances. My personal favorite was singer/songwriter Tift Merritt and classical pianist Simone Dinnerstein's transformation of Schubert's "Nacht und Traume" into a country blues song.
Another unlikely yet delightful paring came from uptown, where the Soho Rep (in collaboration with Piece by Piece Productions and Rising Phoenix Rep) is staging Elective Affinities, a brief evening tea with the fictitious New York socialite Alice Hauptmann played with acute grace by Zoe Caldwell. Each night thirty "guests" are invited for tea and accompanying sandwiches followed by a story in her living room. Caldwell greets each person in character and then launches into a bit of a rant about her problems with her husband, friend, and a massive sculpture she recently commissioned. It's all delightful to hear, though, as written by playwright David Adjmi, but at just around 30 minutes is over too soon. We get a taste of Haptmann's life but want more.
The well-to-do are also on display at the Music Box Theatre in Richard Eyre's revival of Noel Coward's frothy face, Private Lives. Old lovers meet on the respective new honeymoons and chaos insues. Eyre's production lets the words take center stage, and while it doesn't provide new revelations about the work, it's a lot of fun, and Rob Howell's second-act set is a work of whimsical art.
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