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Monday, April 2, 2012

Best Man on Broadway

Gore Vidal's The Best Man is a model of the well-written play in three acts. And it is presented faithfully at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theater on Broadway, having opened last night.
When you enter the theater, you will be swept up in the retro Presidential-primaries theme-park quality of it all. The New York Times references this in its generally positive review. What they don't mention is how gimpy this production is but, of course, Buddy B has no issues in discussing this matter. Yes, the ensemble is mostly marvelous, and a big motivator for my going to the production. Surely, the star-studded cast glitters and glimmers in a stodgy dark comedy about politics not without relevance today. While it is fabulous to have the opportunity to see James Earl Jones and Angela Lansbury while they are still alive, something must be mentioned about the stage presence of actors of a certain age. And that also includes Candice Bergen, in this instance.
"Ms. Lansbury, a welcome presence in many a recent Broadway season, makes every moment of her stage time count as Sue-Ellen Gamadge, a chatty and genial but steely party operative given to dictating to candidates and their wives what the female voter does and does not appreciate. The role is small, but Ms. Lansbury embodies her character with such style that she is as vivid a presence as any when she’s onstage, and manages to nail a sure laugh merely by lowering a newspaper," says the Times. Politely, they don't mention Ms Lansbury's use of a cane to perambulate about the stage. It is not a device relevant to her character. Although she'd be a joy to behold if she were acting with a walker or from a motorized wheelchair (a'la Gaga & Bette Midler), it should be noted that there's a mobility issue. Thankfully, Ms Lansbury gets to sit quite a bit in her role; possibly a criterion in accepting the part.
In the preview I saw, James Earl Jones blew many of his lines, though always recovered handsomely. "It is obviously a trifle absurd to suggest that an African-American would have achieved the presidency before the civil rights movement had even gained steam," astutely notes Charles Isherwood in his Times review. He credits Jones, nonetheless, with a strong performance in an improbable role. Mr Jones obviously had a difficult time traversing the stage as well, it must be noted. And Candice Bergen appeared to have succumbed to neuropathy as she attempted to maneuver about. The Times said: "Ms. Bergen, making a rare stage appearance, looks a trifle stiff as the long-suffering wife, but she hits her comic marks with crisp efficiency, delivering Alice’s sardonic asides with the same brittle edge she brought to her performance on TV’s 'Murphy Brown.' The slight air of discomfort Ms. Bergen radiates certainly suits the character, who shares her husband’s innate distaste for the indecorous business of glad-handing." I thought Ms Bergen looked more than stiff; she looked as if she might have considered borrowing Lansbury's cane while the grand dame was offstage. It was like theater of the disabled had at last arrived to entertain the AARP baby-boomers. Positioning and blocking scenes with Jones, Lansbury and Bergen must have been a joy for director Michael Wilson, and I congratulate him on his patience. Both the "Grey Lady" and I agreed that Eric McCormack (one of my blog's Most Fabulous Men) and John Larroquette impressed in their roles, as did Michael McKean. Kerry Butler, meanwhile, is too over-the-top in her bimbo political-wife role. I am happy to report these actors moved about the stage freely, however, without any obvious difficulty, prostheses, orthotics or tools for the impaired. All in all, I recommend this revival, though imperfect and... er... creaky. It's a great opportunity to see classic Broadway talent swan-songing, leg muscles be damned! But be prepared for stiff legs... and I don't mean just in your cramped theater seats at the Schoenfeld.

4 comments:

  1. Oh Buddy you do write a good review.

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  2. Yes, this is a very good review. Were there line changes made to acknowledge that Jones' role was now a black character, or was it a case of a black actor playing a white character?

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  3. Bill, no reference to race or rewriting.

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  4. Then he was essentially playing a white character -- that wouldn't work for a movie, but for a play, well, it's all theater anyway and Jones is an excellent actor.

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