Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Coming home 40 years later

There are many times during the year when I think there's nowhere I'd rather live than Los Angeles. Christmas Eve was one of those days, when it was 72 degrees, blue sky and bright sunshine. As I sat on the roof deck, overlooking the City of Angels, reading a wonderful novel [more about that in another post] in the seductive sun, I felt as if I was on vacation in Mexico or something. But, every once in a while there is an event in New York that makes me green with envy for those who live there. One such event is the new revival of Harold Pinter's The Homecoming that landed on Broadway earlier this month, 40 years after the still shocking play made its American debut. If you had to chose, it is probably Pinter's greatest work, or at least his most quintessential. (Are there degrees of quintessence? I'm not sure ...) The Homecoming has it all -- fantastically vicious language, a barely contained underbelly of violence, dizzying sexual combat and some of the funniest insults ever spoken out loud. There is a divine piece of writing by John Lahr in the current New Yorker magazine about Pinter and the play. If you have a little time, I highly recommend it. Lahr has known Pinter personally for decades, and it is most illuminating.

Reading that wonderful piece of writing about theater made me consider what some of my favorite moments in the theater were this past year. I had the good fortune of seeing many wonderful productions, some to review and some simply for pleasure. As I look back [rather informally], here are some memorable shows and performances that come to mind.

Bill Irwin and Kathleen Turner in Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? -- This was a touring version of a recent Broadway production. While Turner was tailor-made for the boozy, bawdy Martha, my review said, "It is Irwin who provides the revelation in this riveting revival. His George is full of surprises, taking lines familiar from the celebrated Elizabeth Taylor/Richard Burton film and delivering them with fresh nuance and more than a little savory sarcasm. In the end it is the seemingly submissive George who rules this rotting roost with a carefully calibrated cruelty that earns Martha's admiration. Perhaps these two really love each other after all."

Another favorite of mine was another visitor from Broadway -- Avenue Q came to L.A. three years after surprising the pundits and snagging the best musical Tony from the greedy clutches of the multi-million dollar Wicked. The musical's joyously iconoclastic use of puppets and subversive humor combined with a heart as big as Central Park to produce a work as silly as it was profound. Here's part of what I had to say: "Along with countless belly laughs, some outrageous puppet sex and a score of hummably silly tunes, Avenue Q is surprisingly moving. Without ever taking itself too seriously, the show manages to tackle issues of racism, homophobia, loneliness and community with heartfelt power. And the characters' examinations of life's delights and disappointments have a stealthy power that sneaks up on you behind a deceptive sheen of silliness." After noting that the score had that rare quality of clever originality in an era of increasingly derivative and corporately vetted musicals, I ended, perhaps a bit grandly, with: "Avenue Q provides hope for the genre even as it leaves us laughing long and hard."

Some other shows I really enjoyed:
Michael John LaChiusa's quirky Little Fish at the Blank Theatre
A Delicate Balance at Ventura's Rubicon Theatre
Hamish Linklater's Hamlet at South Coast Rep
The Lost Studio's production of Pinter's delicate Moonlight
The L.A. premiere of The History Boys, mostly for Dakin Matthews' wonderful Hector
The breathtaking choreography (Lee Martino) in Reprise's On Your Toes

And, perhaps my favorite performance of the year, Ian McKellen as King Lear, giving us a king of such humanity and humor that we were able to follow [and understand] every step of his hideous journey and, hopefully, learn from his heinous mistakes.

Here's hoping for many more surprising, moving, uplifting and challenging evenings in the dark in 2008.