Monday, April 29, 2019

Guest review 11: ELECTRONIC CITY

 “#firstworldproblems” **

By Elyse Orecchio (guest reviewer)

From time to time Theatre's Leiter Side will be posting reviews of Off-Off Broadway shows my schedule prevents me from seeing. I hope you find the expanded coverage useful. Sam Leiter

Since its premiere in 2003, Electronic City by Falk Richter has been translated into 40 languages, and I wonder if it makes sense in any of them. One can argue that I should know what I’m getting myself into when I sign up for experimental, avant-garde theatre touted as “absurdist humor.” To that I say touché—take my review with a grain of salt from someone who is perhaps not the target demographic (though I do very much like the New Stage Theatre Company’s performance space, nestled in a nifty basement beneath a Upper West Side hostel).

The story revolves around Tom (Brandon Lee Olson), a man who travels so much for work that all the airport business lounges and hotel rooms look the same to the point where he forgets where he is. Poor baby!
Chris Tanner, Beth Dodye Bass, Rikin Shah, Bjorn Bolinder. Photo: Lee Wexler.
Drawing more empathy is the character of Joy (Jeanne Lauren Smith), a cashier whose register breaks down, causing hysterics as a bunch of businessmen queue up impatiently. Somewhere in there is a sort-of love story between Tom and Joy, who enjoy a quick airport romp and attempt to continue their courtship long-distance. Too bad Tom can’t even remember what country he’s in, let alone his girlfriend’s name.

Director Ildiko Nemeth has updated the piece to reflect modern advances in technology, but it feels like the changes have been slapped on in the form of Facebook and Instagram projections on the walls (projection design by Eric Marciano and Hao Bai). This show is determined to show how disconnected and alienated we all are in the digital world. However, without exploring social media’s role in making connections, it’s even harder to extract meaning from an already abstract production. Why should Tom forget where he is in an era where connection is more readily available than ever?
Bjorn Bolinder, Beth Dodye Bass, Rikin Shah, Tatania Kot, Chris Tanner, Jeanne Lauren White. Photo: Lee Wexler.
I know, I know. I’m taking this plot point too literally. It’s not about being physically lost, silly; it’s a metaphor. One that’s played over and over again but in different ways, sometimes with random words running across the walls, sometimes with video projections of emojis, and almost always with the cast roaming frenetically about the stage like they’re participating in an acting class improv.

The cast wanders around in matching black clothing and wigs to suggest, I guess, the sameness of all us robots in the fictitious-but-not Electronic City. For me, the actors are this production’s greatest asset, as they’re fully invested and energetic.
Jeanne Lauren Smith, Chris Tanner, Beth Dodye Bass, Tatania Kot, Rikin Shah, Bjorn Bolinder. Photo: Lee Wexler.
The staying power of Electronic City and its many productions around the world prove there’s clearly a connection and appeal for audiences that appreciate multimedia theatre and dark/absurd humor. If you’re in that demographic, you may enjoy your experience. And if not, there’s an affordable hostel upstairs if you and your date wish to redeem your evening.

New Stage Performance Space
36 W. 106th St., NYC
Through May 10

Elyse Orecchio studied musical theatre at Emerson College, acting at CUNY Brooklyn College, and English Linguistics & Rhetoric at CUNY Hunter College. She has worked in nonprofit communications for more than a decade. She lives in Sunnyside, Queens, with her husband Joe, kids Theo and Melody, and three cats. @elyseorecchio

224 (2018-2019): Review: HILLARY AND CLINTON (seen April 27, 2019)

"The Best Woman"

If I’m any example, thousands of theatregoers—especially progressive-leaning political junkies—must have begun salivating at the news that a play called Hillary and Clinton was coming to Broadway. (It had premiered in Chicago in 2016.)

Laurie Metcalf. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
What a great idea! Two of the most colorful public figures of our time, still part of our daily discourse, and with enough personal and political mishegoss to drive a TV series for years, were going to be packed into the framework of a single play, as if that were even possible.

When it was announced that they’d be played by two of our foremost Broadway stars, Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow, the box-office polling must have leaped exponentially.
John Lithgow, Laurie Metcalf. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
Of course, all would be contingent on what aspect of the Clintons’ lives rising playwright Lucas Hnath (A Doll’s House, Part 2, Red Speedo, The Christians). would examine, and how well he’d carry it off. With so much to choose from, he’s zeroed in on the early stages of Hillary’s 2008 primary campaign opposite Barack Obama, just after she’s come in third in Iowa, and imagined what might have been going on between the Clintons at this delicate moment. (The play was written in 2008, soon after the events depicted.) Despite the presumed instability of their marriage, the Clintons' mutual interests couldn’t have been more tightly conjoined.
Zak Orth, Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
It’s certainly a prime time in the ongoing Clinton saga but events since then have so surpassed these on the historical and emotional scale that a look back at 2008 seems rather quaint. Still, it definitely contains volatile dramatic ingredients, such as Hillary’s strategy arguments with Mark (Zak Orth), her campaign manager (inspired by Mark Penn?); her fluctuating interest and disinterest in Bill’s advice, of which Mark wants no part; and her bargaining with Barack (Peter Francis James), as he’s called, regarding who might be the other’s running mate.

Nonetheless, Hillary and Clinton sometimes seems more like a domestic comedy in the Adam’s Rib or State of the Union vein than a surgical examination of historical machinations. You won’t learn anything new but you’ll appreciate viewing it as it happens.

Not that Hillary and Clinton isn’t both fun and interesting, even if Hnath takes pains to insure we don’t accept what we’re seeing as authentic fly-on-the-wall testimony to what transpired. He has Hillary enter very casually, mic in hand, and explain directly to us, after flipping a coin several times, that an infinity of earths exist, some with people just like us, and including events similar, if not exactly the same, as those experienced on our earth. 

On such an earth, for example, Hillary might have won in 2008. Hnath’s play, then, is about a Hillary and Clinton in a parallel universe, regardless of nearly everything talked about sounding awfully close to what we know, both fact and rumor.
Laurie Metcalf, Zak Orth. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
Metcalf’s brunette Hillary, decidedly unglamorous, makes no attempt to physically resemble the one we know, nor does Lithgow, tall and white-haired as he may be, use any familiar Bill mannerisms; no lip biting or Arkansas drawl, I’m afraid. As costumed by Rita Ryack, she flops around in comfy clothes, switching from slippers and sweatpants to a red, cable-knit turtleneck, not quite long enough to hide her white panties, before finally donning tan slacks. He’s similarly casual, wearing an old windbreaker over a faded polo shirt, along with running shorts, white socks, and deck shoes.
Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
Which isn’t to say that we don’t automatically impose the real Hillary and Bill over those of the actors, a quite easy process. On the other hand, James’s Barack is a close-enough ringer for 44, albeit a bit older and more full-bodied. Mark, for his part, is an ordinary, bearded, bespectacled schlub, his belly too big to keep his shirt in his pants.

As if to underline the situation’s universality, Chloe Lamford’s New Hampshire hotel room set, outlined in thin, neon stripes that occasionally come on (lighting by Hugh Vanstock), is a sleek, empty box, its side walls and ceiling white, the upstage wall black, and the sole furnishings a white, leather, rolling desk chair and a small refrigerator. There are two doors, one to the hallway, the other to the inner rooms. Sitting or lying on the floor isn’t out of the question, even for a presidential  campaigner.

Hnath’s snappy, frequently profane, dialogue reveals both the affection and tension between the Clintons (including the strong possibility of divorce). We witness Bill’s loneliness and need to stick his two cents in despite Mark’s wish to get him and his advice the hell away; the campaign’s need for money; Bill’s ability to get it (and the consequent problems it causes); the campaign’s current status; Bill’s toxic past yet persistent popularity; and discussions about how to improve Hillary’s personal appeal.

Much will strike a nostalgic bell for those who recall some of the details, like how well it was received when a tear seemed to form in her eye while delivering a speech to a women’s luncheon. Nonetheless, she has a hard time believing that her policies rather than her personality will turn the tide. She even questions whether that tear ever did well up. 

Some stuff stings, as when the question of what people will remember of the Clintons when they’re dead reminds Bill of how his achievements have been overshadowed by his peccadilloes. And the scene when the Clintons unite to confront Barack is riveting.
Peter Francis James, Laurie Metcalf. Photo: Julieta Cervantes.
Hillary is both vulnerable and defiant, and makes a big point of asking Bill—who wants to be her attack dog—to stay out of the picture so she’s not considered a woman who needed her husband’s help to win her job. The byplay inspired by their rivalry and their confrontations with Mark, whom Bill wants fired, is always agile, and raises the question of what a woman must do to gain ascendancy in the political arena. A big laugh comes when Bill confronts Mark by stepping over the body of Hillary, sprawled out on the floor.
Zak Orth, Laurie Metcalf, John Lithgow.
Metcalf and Lithgow give Hillary and Bill just the right amount of vivacity and bite you’d hope for, James is a solid stand-in for Barack, and Orth is perfectly harried as the campaign manager.

Joe Mantello’s lively direction keeps things hopping throughout the intermissionless 90 minutes of what is principally amusing because the two characters at the heart of its domestic tit for tats are who they are and also because we’re being given the chance to believe that something like what we’re hearing may actually have happened in our own alternate universe. Moreover, there’s enough topicality to remind us of what the current crop of female candidates may be experiencing. Similarly pertinent is the issue of electability, including whether it's better for a candidate to be well known or little known. 

If Hillary and Clinton’s mix of domestic squabbling and political intrigue during a long-past primary can glue your eyeballs to the stage, I can only imagine what’s in store when someone—Hnath or otherwise—gives us, what, Hillary and Trump? But only in this universe, please God, after Trump has been dumped.

John Golden Theatre
262 W. 45th St., NYC
Open run


Sunday, April 28, 2019

Guest review 10 (2018-2019): Review: MACBETH

 “Macho Man Macbeth”

By Aron Canter (guest reviewer)

From time to time Theatre's Leiter Side will be posting reviews of Off-Off Broadway shows my schedule prevents me from seeing. I hope you find the expanded coverage useful. Sam Leiter

Shakespeare’s Macbeth is a story of ambition, power, and fate. The Art House Theatre & Film Collective, a young and ambitious Off-Off Broadway company, has created a production focusing on the titular character’s madness and the military context surrounding many of the play's events. The result is an expressive, macho rendition that, at times—because it’s so involved in the passion it's trying to generate—fails to clearly tell the story. 
Tanner Maroney, Lilja Owsley. Photo: Julia De la Torre.
Macbeth, of course, tells the story of a great warrior teased by fate’s temptation. Catalyzed by his wife’s encouragement, he is tragically defeated by his overbearing ambition. The work, constantly being reinterpreted, is open to a range of readings, from feminist to political to supernatural.
Tanner Maroney. Photo: Julia De la Torre.
The macho-military lens unveils a critical element frequently overlooked: Macbeth is a legendary warrior. He once chopped a man from his nave to his chaps. The production over-emphasizes this, however. Directed by Tanner Maroney, who also plays Macbeth, the work is fixated on Macbeth’s fall into madness and the resulting savagery he creates. Clad in military fatigues and sporting a machine gun, he stomps around stage fuming and screaming. This affects the timbre of everything else.
Tanner Maroney. Photo: Julia De la Torre.
Such histrionics get in the way of the storytelling because they pulverize the language. The actors shift about awkwardly, abandoning clear recitation. The performance space, designed by Maroney and lit by Montgomery Mauro, is never activated nor made cogent. At times, the actors speak facing upstage, with their backs toward the house, a definite distraction.
Morgan Price, Lilja Owsley. Photo: Julia De la Torre.
Lady Macbeth is played by Lilja Owsley with a Stepford-wife quality, her costume elements suggesting Melania Trump. She and Macbeth are given additional motivation for their actions by a video montage that opens the play, showing the couple playing with their late toddler. This is intriguing: while the text says Macbeth has no children, it never says that about his wife. Introducing a parental element could possibly add interesting colors to these characters.  Unfortunately, once introduced, this notion is never explored. In general, Macbeth’s machismo overshadows Lady Macbeth’s contribution to the drama’s power.
Tanner Maroney, Morgan Price, Heinley Gaspard, Carter Scott Horton. Photo: Julia De la Torre. 
Shakespeare is very difficult. The best Shakespeare advice comes from Hamlet: speak the speech, as I pronounced it to you. Once that’s accomplished, any and every choice is possible. Directors of Macbeth, however, must be careful not to fall into the same trap as Macbeth and let overweening ambition make them stray too far from the Bard. 
Tanner Maroney, Lilja Owsley, Robert Leng. Photo: Julia De la Torre.
Bank Street Theater
124 Bank St., NYC
Through May 5

Aron Canter studied theatre theory and alternative performance at The New School and is working toward an Art History masters at Hunter College. He has been a theatre and art critic, a supernumerary at The Metropolitan Opera, and currently works as a medical professional.

Guest review 9 (2018-2019): Review: LINK LINK CIRCUS

 “Rossellini’s Best Friends” *****

By Aron Canter (guest reviewer)

From time to time Theatre's Leiter Side will be posting reviews of Off-Off Broadway shows my schedule prevents me from seeing. I hope you find the expanded coverage useful. Sam Leiter

Renowned actress Isabella Rossellini, who notably starred in David Lynch’s Blue Velvet as the mysterious lounge singer. Dorothy Vallens, is a lifelong animal lover, now completing a Master’s at Hunter College in Animal Behavior and Conservation. She has transformed her studies into a 75-minute solo performance at Hunter College running through early May. Link Link Circus, directed by Rossellini and Guido Torlonia, is an absolutely charming “theatrical conference” on Rossellini’s academic research and conclusions which she performs as the ringleader of a children’s circus. Coltish and didactic, charming and effective, the work is a must see for any animal lover. 
Isabella Rossellini, Andy Byers. Photo: Tristram Kenton.
The title harkens to Darwin’s linking of primates to humans and his theory of evolution. This, though, is Rossellini’s classroom, and her lecture covers the breadth of her personal and academic interests: addressing animal behavior, the relationship between animal and human anatomy, animal imagination, and animal consciousness. The work, though, is rarely desultory, and while silly, never capricious. An erudite, natural performer who communicates with great confidence and focus, Rossellini is refreshingly playful and informative. 
Isabella Rossellini. Photo: Brigitte Lacombe.
Clad in a red ringleader coat, Rossellini waltzes around the stage. Red surrounds her, covering the performance space at Hunter’s Frederick Loewe Theatre. A crimson toy train demarcates the lip of the stage and a red toy piano lives center-right, no more than a foot high. Five red, cardboard mannequins of academics who contributed to the field of animal behavior studies constitute the upstage line. Upright is Aristotle, followed by two medieval monks, Beatus and Angelicus. Up left is René Descartes, while right of him is B.F. Skinner. The set, designed by Rick Gilbert and Andy Byers, with lighting by Jason Miller, evokes a circus-like atmosphere.

Aided by her performance partners, Rossellini teaches us about trophallaxis (the mating ritual of defecating on a partner) and “cryptic female choosing” (a complicated anatomical method that allows female animals to choose their partners) and many other subjects. I particularly enjoyed the section on culturally constructed vs instinctively generated gestures in apes. Byers, also a skilled puppeteer, helps create small constructions or diagrams that Rossellini uses in her lessons. An incredibly adorable dog named Peter Pan (Pan for short), is dressed up in different costumes to help Rossellini teach her subjects.

The performance works because Rossellini is genuinely fascinated in the subject matter and shares it with an open heart. Her interest is infectious, and we get excited as she does. Her passion for the subject has led researchers to name a new species of beetle in her honor, Ptomaphaginus Isabellarossellinae, which seems extremely appropriate.

The last bit of research Rossellini shares feels particularly personal. She reverses the common trope of “humans have domesticated the dog” to “dogs have domesticated humans,” as reflected in how we talk and cuddle canines as if they were babies. This conclusion rests at the heart of our love of animals as well as at the forefront of the scientific community’s developing understanding of animals. This is exactly where Isabella Rossellini belongs, and every animal lover belongs at this show.

Frederick Loewe Theatre at Hunter College
119 E 68th St., NYC
Through May 3

 Aron Canter studied theatre theory and alternative performance at The New School and is working toward an Art History masters at Hunter College. He has been a theatre and art critic, a supernumerary at The Metropolitan Opera, and currently works as a medical professional.

223 (2018-2019): Review: BEETLEJUICE (seen April 26, 2019)

“Mourning Becomes Frenetic”

Recently, some theatre-crazy kid from an Alabama city I never heard of, who follows me on Instagram, couldn’t resist reporting how psyched he was that a musical based on Beetlejuice, Tim Burton’s hugely popular, horror-comedy film of 1988, was coming to Broadway. Given his address, his chances of seeing it in the immediate future are slim. My own cavils aside, I'm sure he'd enjoy it if he could.
His excitement was multiplied many times over by the happy fans—some in cosplay getups—filling the Winter Garden when I attended. Their squeals, laughter, applause, and other signs of appreciation revealed how much affection the humorously creepy film, and its TV and video game spinoffs, have conjured up for this campy material, which brings to mind such cultish icons of fright farce as The Rocky Horror Show and The Adams Family. 
This latest Broadway adaptation of a popular movie (with music and lyrics by Eddie Perfect, and a book by Scott Brown and Anthony King) makes many alterations to the movie version’s plot but it incorporates enough familiar elements to keep most enthusiasts happy. Like the movie, Beetlejuice, the Musical is an outlandishly ghoulish goulash of ghostly gallivanting led by the roguishly mischievous, titular spirit-in-chief (a.k.a. Betelgeuse to the cognoscenti). 
He, of course, was played with inimitably deadpanned snark by Michael Keaton in the movie; here, he’s given a mega-pumped-up, gravely-voiced rendition by the fright-wigged Alex Brightman (School of Rock), Broadway’s newest heir-apparent to the musical farceur's throne of Nathan Lane.

Beetlejuice, briskly directed like a runaway train by Alex Timbers, speeds by on whatever death jokes it can squeeze from its relentlessly over-the-top barrage of double entendres, rude language, slapstick, scare-slanted humor, Halloween-like special effects, puppets small and huge (from a ravenous roast pig to a humongous sandworm), and assorted examples of the kookily uncanny. 
It opens at a Charles Addams-like funeral during which we’re gleefully welcomed “to a show about death.” As Beetlejuice sings “The Whole Being Dead Thing” he tells us not to be freaked because “I do this bullshit eight times a week.” The plot that follows concerns a young couple, Barbara (Kerry Butler, Mean Girls) and Adam Maitland (Rob McClure, Chaplin), who die when the floor of the big, suburban house they’ve bought collapses under them. For the rest of the show, they’re charming ghosts, like clueless versions of George and Marion Kerby in Topper. 
The new owners are the Deetzes, Charles (Adam Dannheiser) and Delia (Leslie Kritzer), his whacky second wife. He’s a real estate developer planning to redesign the house as the model for a new, gated community; she calls herself a “life coach.” With them is their darkly depressed, goth, teenage daughter, Lydia (Sophia Anne Caruso), grieving for her late mother (whose funeral opens the show and about whom she even sings a song called “Dead Mom”). She’s also got that The Sixth Sense knack of seeing dead people. 
The plot's complexities, lots of them happening in the “netherworld,” and some of them extraneous and time-bloating, concern two main things: 1) Lydia’s scheming with the goofy Maitlands to scare the Deetzes away and abandon the house; 2) Beetlejuice’s efforts to get someone to say his name three times in a row, allowing him to return to life.

These springboards give free rein to a succession of inventive visual, comic, and musical delights, including some remarkable effects on David Korins’s wildly imaginative set via the magic of Kenneth Posner’s lights and Peter Nigrini’s projections.

The lyrics are often risibly clever but the music is best at creating upbeat rhythmic backgrounds for Connor Gallagher’s zanily manic, thrillingly acrobatic choreography. (In one number, a dancer flipped off the stage to make a perfect landing two inches from my aisle seat.) Too many of the tunes, though, sound like the generic, big-note numbers that seem to populate every other 21st-century musical. 
When it comes to those notes, though, few sock ‘em into the balcony like the terrific, sprite-like, 17-year-old Caruso. Still, when a new musical has to compete with two classic calypso numbers, also in the movie, “The Banana Boat Song” and “Shake Your Body Line,” the contrast between the kind of music you remember and the kind you don’t couldn’t be clearer. 
Beetlejuice is juiced with hydrogen-powered, cartoon-style performances that maintain enough humanity to let us accept the characters as minimally believable. Kritzer is a flashy treasure with Carol Burnett-like clown chops, while Kerry Butler and Rob McClure (she, especially) make you forget Geena Davis and Alec Baldwin as the movie originals.

Alex Brightman—whose School of Rock performance was eerily reminiscent of Jack Black’s in that show’s movie source—appears to have Black in his bones. Thrillingly energetic and comically crude as he is, it’s hard not to feel Black would play this part in much the same way. Doesn’t matter, as it’s impossible to take your eyes off him, or his ability to find the right look, tone, or rhythm for every line and reaction.
For all the show’s relentlessly hellsapoppin’ antics, you’ll need a youthful spirit to fully appreciate them. Some older theatregoers may wonder when the two-and-a-half-hour show’s hyper-sophomorism will finally wear out. As long as I was able to push such thoughts from my head, I had a pretty good time. I can’t deny occasionally feeling I was six feet under but that doesn't mean that Beetlejuice, which insists it's about death, isn't very much alive.

Winter Garden Theatre
1634 Broadway, NYC
Open run


Saturday, April 27, 2019

222 (2018-2019): Review: INK (seen April 25, 2019)

The Sun Also Rises”

The close of every theatre season in the final week of April sees a mad race by shows to open before the deadline arrives for award considerations (Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics, etc., etc.). One of the last to squeak in on time this season is English playwright James Graham’s frequently exciting, if overlong, import, Ink, about the revolution in British journalism created by Australian media entrepreneur Rupert Murdoch. It, too, embodies a mad race against time.
Jonny Lee Miller, Bertie Carvel. Photo: Joan Marcus.
That happened when, in 1969, Murdoch purchased the failing tabloid, The Sun, for 1.75 million pounds from a company headed by Hugh Cudlipp (Michael Siberry). Its holdings included the reportedly best-selling paper in the world, The Mirror, which was selling 5 million copies a day.
Jonny Lee Miller, Rana Ray (above). Photo: Joan Marcus.

But the sale allowed no cessation in the paper’s operations, meaning that the entire operation, involving hiring new editors, introducing a new publishing philosophy, and completely altering the rag’s visual appearance, wouldn’t have the necessary months of preparation. Instead, it would have only 24 hours.
Robert Stanton, David Wilson Barnes, Bill Buell, Tara Summers, Eden Marryshow, Andrew Durand, Jonny Lee Miller. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Remarkably, it worked, and Murdoch’s populist strategy—catering to what his rivals claimed were the public’s basest instincts—so successfully reversed the paper’s fortunes that, within a year, its readership overtook that of The Mirror. To get a hint of the direction in which The Sun was taken you need merely glance at the turn-off-your-cellphone reminder inserted in your program, which resembles a front page from the sensationalistic tabloid.
Program insert for Ink.
Director Rupert Goold’s strikingly distinctive production was first staged at London’s Almeida Theatre in 2017 before transferring to the West End’s Duke of York’s Theatre. Its Broadway version features one of its original stars, Bertie Carvel (Matilda), who plays Murdoch. British actor Jonny Lee Miller takes the role first acted by Richard Coyle, Larry Lamb, the Yorkshire-born, non-college-educated, working-class journalist he convinces to become The Sun’s new editor. Neither of these gentlemen is hesitant about the use of swear words.
Bertie Carvel, Kevin Pariseau. Photo: Joan Marcus,.
Thirteen actors, some playing only one role, others handling two, and one (Erin Neufer) playing four, cover 22 characters, with a five-actor ensemble filling in the gaps. The two acts of this multiscened, nearly two-hour-and-40-minute play are staged on the expertly crafted set of designer Bunny Christie (who also did the 1969-based costumes) in which a curving cyclorama is used for multiple video projections (by Jon Driscoll), many related to printing and publishing.
 Bertie Carvel, Bill Buell, Jonny Lee Miller, Robert Stanton, Eden Marryshow. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Occupying the upstage space is a perfectly concocted skyline of dusky desks and file cabinets, into which are placed platforms on which scenes occur in conjunction with those downstage. There, an elevator trap constantly delivers and removes actors and set pieces from the main acting area.
Bertie Carvel. Photo: Joan Marcus.
Tying it all together is the magnificent, multifarious lighting of Neil Austin. An original score of thrumming, thumping music by sound designer Adam Cork adds immeasurably to the production’s rapid pulse, especially when Goold’s direction links a string of rapidly evolving scenes together with the actors moving in precisely choreographed, dance-like business.
Jonny Lee Miller, Bertie Carvel. Photo: Joan Marcus.
In Act One, we see Murdoch—played by Carvel with reptilian smarm, his drawl oily and nasal, his shoulders slightly hunched, and his head protruding forward—talking the at-first reluctant Lamb into being his editor. They discuss what Murdoch calls “a good, fuckin’ story,” which Lamb says must have the five W’s, Who, What, Where, When, and Why. Afterward, the W’s are incorporated into the skyline image.
Murdoch, part of whose mission is to take revenge on those upper-class, establishment newspaper men who consider him that “Aussie sheepherder,” is certain there’s a “new market” waiting for a paper that will appeal to the people by representing, not so much serious reportage, but material that gives them what they want, ranging from gossip to sex. Hoping to disrupt Fleet Street, the heart of British journalism, he insists, “I just want something . . . ‘loud.’”

Lamb, initially hesitant at suggestions that require overturning journalism’s conventional standards, including stealing publishable material, buys in to Murdoch’s ideas. His Faustian bargain sees him become even more ruthless than the occasionally uncomfortable Murdoch in his competitive quest to sell more and more papers.

Acted by Miller with driven, chain-smoking, gruff-voiced intensity, Lamb dashes about town, hiring a motley crew, and sharing ideas with them on content (sex being a principal subject), layouts, and typefaces, while also dealing with the unions and their plethora of acronymic units.

Act One ends with the paper’s successful launch, a promise about its place in building the future, and Murdoch’s imprecation, “Let’s burn it all down, and start again.”

Act Two takes us into The Sun’s first year, beginning with a TV interview (presumably based on one with David Frost) in which he defends his paper from attacks by the Establishment on its sleaziness, pointing out the positive values of its being “fun,” noting the success of its bottom line, insisting that the marketplace represents democracy at work, and making certain negative comments about “outsiders” in England.

This is followed by scenes regarding the paper’s policies and practices, like weekly themes (such, I’m afraid, as “Pussy Week”); its growing circulation; the internecine journalistic war it’s incited; Lamb’s disagreements with Murdoch; the paper’s venture into TV commercials; and the heated competition with The Mirror.

Then comes the most humanly compelling development, the paper’s response to the kidnapping of Muriel McKay (Tara Summers), wife of Sir Alick McKay (Colin McPhillamy), Murdoch’s deputy. The situation, in which Muriel was mistaken for Murdoch’s wife, Anna (Erin Neufer), allegedly was inspired by Murdoch’s TV comments about outsiders.

It turns The Sun itself into the story and causes Murdoch to begin questioning its culpability, only for his impulses to conflict with Larry’s journalistic obsessiveness. An entire play could have been based on this incident but here it becomes only one more episode questioning journalism’s ethical responsibilities.

Even with the circulation boost provided by this story, Larry needs something else to overcome The Mirror before the year is out. He turns again to sex, eschewing the glamour cheesecake he’s already purveyed for more revealing nudity, thus inspiring the scandalous publication of a picture showing the naked Stephanie Rahn (Rana Roy), née Kahn, whose famous Page 3 photo from November 17, 1970, is projected on the background.

Do you think Larry’s idea worked? That it made The Sun outsell The Mirror? And what came afterward? For one thing, there’s a scene near the very end when Larry and Murdoch are dining, in a famous restaurant (London’s oldest), with the ironic name Rules. In its course, Murdoch, referencing New York, says: “I’m thinking about buying a TV network over there.”

Ink overextends itself, and could use some editorial trimming. That, however, is not to deny that it remains “a good fuckin’ story.”

Samuel J. Friedman Theatre
261 W. 47th St., NYC
Through June 23