Bespectacled Donald Marguiles looks like a writer out of central casting. And as a playwright, he is indeed pleased. When you write for theater, he said the morning after the Tony Award nominations were announced, as opposed to film or television, where the hope is the writer will recede into the woodwork, everyone works to portray your vision. His play Time Stands Still garnered important Tony nominations for the fine Laura Linney and the play itself. Of course it is bewildering what gets picked, what doesn't. Brian D'Arcy James, for example, said the playwright, is Broadway's Best Kept Secret.
A revival of his Collected Stories has Linda Lavin a contender with Linney for the Best Actress in a Play award. The two-woman drama about a prominent writer and her student begins with the younger woman's sycophantic attentions to the older one set in her Greenwich Village apartment. By the end of Act I, they are locked in an embrace and I wondered, where's the drama? Where's the conflict? But by the end, the interplay of younger and older gives way to a subtle, edgy, competitive discomfort; the drama becomes a devastating meditation on the predatory nature of artists. Where does one's material come from? And quite amazingly, by the end, you are taking sides. For me, Linda Lavin's character, Ruth Steiner, is most vulnerable. This seasoned actress gives a nuanced performance: a gesture of the hand, raised brow conveys the complex range of her feelings as she has her life story ripped off. Don't be surprised however if you side with the younger, Lisa Morrison (Sarah Paulson): Isn't this what you taught me? she asks innocently. She didn't fool me one bit.
I loved Promises, Promises, and risk my critical detachment to express the delight this production delivers. The "modern" decor, the dancing, high kicking men in suits, women-secretaries with their round Marilyn Monroe rumps-so 60's, with office politics revolving around the use of one worker's available apartment for extra marital shenanigans. But when Katie Finneran as Marge MacDougall, a floozy Sean Hayes as Chuck Baxter picks up in a bar enters in Act II, I nearly fell out of my seat laughing. Ensconced in owl, her pas de deux with Hayes is a hilarious take on a one-night stand. This time of course he gets to use his apartment for himself but finds it unexpectedly occupied. With the wise additions of some Burt Bacharach classics to the score, this show is stunning. And forget about that controversy about gay actors playing straight roles! What could be more chaste than Baxter and his paramour Fran Kubelik (Kristen Chenoweth) at the end playing board games in the apartment? Friendship wins.
It always seems odd that plays can disappear after only a handful of performances and can still glean Tony nods. Case in point Enron, the British import that recently shut down, but not before Stephen Kunken who is excellent in the role of Andy Fastow, the music (Best Original Score), Lighting Design and Sound Design also received well deserved Tony recognition. But what about Norbert Leo Butz as Jeffrey Skilling, Gregory Itzin as Kenneth Lay, and the ensemble that also includes The Classical Theater of Harlem's Ty Jones who also give striking performances in this physically demanding show. Expertly conceived as it was, the play's mechanics-techno sound, sleek chrome look-- gave me a chill, as did the subject it was based upon. It may be too soon to translate the American titan Enron's collapse to the American people, no matter how finely tuned the production.
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