By Barry Bassis
1944 was a good year for alcoholics. Not in real life, but in the arts. Charles Jackson’s novel, “The Lost Weekend” was published to acclaim and made into an Academy-Award winning film the following year. At the same time, Mary Chase’s play, “Harvey” was a big hit that won the Pulitzer Prize. The two works could not be more different. While Jackson’s work and the Wilder film treat the subject as painfully honest with the protagonist enduring humiliation and experiencing the DTs, Chase’s play is a gentle comedy about a small-town drinker whose best friend is an invisible six-foot rabbit named Harvey. Chase has been lucky with casting. The original had vaudevillian Frank Fay as Elwood P. Dowd and the movie starred James Stewart (who later reprised the part on Broadway). One fact that distinguishes Dowd from Don Birnam in the Jackson novel is that he doesn’t have to scramble for money. He inherited the family fortune, further arousing the resentment of his sister, Veta Louise, who wants him committed to an asylum so she can gain control of the finances and avoid the embarrassment of having him showing up at inopportune times. She also wants to find a suitable suitor for her daughter Myrtle Mae. The Roundabout Theatre’s new production, directed by Scott Ellis, doesn’t quite overcome my reservations about the play but the revival does provide a winning cast. Jim Parsons is charming as the courtly tippler, Jessica Hecht is hilarious (if occasionally a bit over the top) as Veta and Charles Kimbrough is a delight as the initially confident and later frazzled head of the sanitarium. The play dabbles at fantasy (suggesting that Harvey really exists) and also that the insane may be better off with their delusions. In any event, if you can accept the whimsical premise of the play, the work provides a steady stream of laughs.
Love Goes to Press
“Love Goes to Press” is a comedy by Martha Gellhorn and Virginia Cowles, presented by the Mint Theater, which specializes in finding worthy forgotten plays. The work, set in Italy during World War II, was performed in London in 1946 but somehow sank into obscurity after flopping on Broadway. It resembles one of those Howard Hawk movies from the 1930’s like “Only Angels Have Wings” or “His Gal Friday,” except this is more female oriented. The reason may be that the play is based on Gellhorn’s and Cowles’ own experiences as war correspondents. Gellhorn was also married to Ernest Hemingway and some of the rotten conduct by a male reporter/love interest is based on the novelist. With three acts and two intermissions, “Love Goes to Press,” directed by Jerry Ruiz, could use some trimming. The male romantic leads (Rob Breckenridge and Bradford Cover) may not be on the Cary Grant level but the women-- Heidi Armbruster and Angela Pierce as the two fearless reporters and Margo White as a narcissistic starlet—are smashing. The play has some delicious dialogue and reminds us of the important and brave work of female journalists.
Cirque Du Soleil
Cirque Du Soleil’s “Zarkana” at Radio City Music Hall, written and directed by François Girard, is a sort of eerie circus. I read a review of the show last year that said there was a plot and that the songs were performed in English. If so, those elements completely eluded me. The only reason to see the show, and it happens to be a substantial one, is for the unbelievable acrobats, trapeze artists, hand balancer, and other defiers of gravity. My advice to the Cirque organization is: get rid of the singers, clowns and monotonous music and bring back the Rockettes.