Wednesday, March 30, 2011


9 CIRCLES is having its East Coast premiere at PUBLICK THEATRE. It's not "shocking" or "bitingly funny." What it is, is timely and smart-- about what can happen to raw recruits when you train them to follow orders, kill, and pitch them into battle. The play by Bill Cain refers to nine circles of hell in Dante's INFERNO. The inferno here, is many- layered and based on real events-the first circle, the factual one: a soldier stands accused of committing atrocities in Iraq. To what extent is he accountable-- and to whom? The soldier is sympathetically played by Jimi Stanton, who balances this young man's lack of self-awareness with his knack for asking uncomfortable questions that shake up the chain of command. Gradually, the shifting tectonic plates of conflicting ethical parameters erupt in a less than earth shattering quake of revelation. Given the crime and the issues at stake, Eric Engel's direction is perhaps too spare-- or maybe the play is too cerebral. Will McGarrahan in a number of roles fails to succinctly distinguish one character from another.
9 CIRCLES runs through APRIL 9!

PROMETHEUS BOUND director Diane Paulus's latest extravaganza is a rock n' roll take on Aeschylus defiant hero. System of a Down lead singer Serj Tankian has written a vibrant and melodic score-- a soaring, anthemic cry against tyranny raucously staged, up and down and around the "theater in a nightclub" that is OBERON, the A.R.T.'s second stage. The weak link at the heart of the production is a generic performance by Gavin Creel who writhes and sings and does all the appropriate things a god in bondage would do, but lacks the voice to compel, and the charisma to make me care about Prometheus' plight. But Uzo Aduba as "Io" is a powerhouse of emotion, with a voice muscular enough to shake the lust out of Zeus on Mount Olympus.
PROMETHEUS BOUND now playing at A.R.T. in Cambridge.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011


I can't believe how bad I feel. The beautiful Elizabeth Taylor has died. My heart is aching and I feel such a loss. She was always for me a sign post on the horizon, the most perfectly beautiful woman I ever saw. My friends and I--Catholic high school girls in our blue serge uniforms--would argue about who was THE MOST beautiful-- Grace Kelly or Elizabeth Taylor; for me it was indisputable: I proudly proclaimed Elizabeth's huge violet eyes and double row of dark eyelashes, that heart-shaped face and porcelain roses and cream complexion. I still remember passing a note to my friend Brigid in religion class that I had just found out what Liz was wearing to the Oscars that year-- a periwinkle blue gown to match her eyes.

I remember Richard Burton's reaction upon first seeing her as a young star lounging by a pool at a Hollywood party-- she was SO beautiful, he burst out laughing. I pored over her image in movies from NATIONAL VELVET, and LITTLE WOMEN, her already rapturous beauty now voluptuous at 17 in CONSPIRATOR opposite Robert Taylor. There was of course FATHER OF THE BRIDE and IVANHOE where her molten darkness made Robert Taylor's choice of the pale Joan Fontaine seem absurd. That iconic kiss over Montgomery Clift's shoulder in exquisite closeup in A PLACE IN THE SUN is burned in my memory.

Then Elizabeth Taylor blossomed into an extraordinarily tender and subtle actress, the perfect Tennessee Williams heroine: tormented, high-strung, deeply vulnerable, with a roiling inner life, barely contained by her smoldering surface: Maggie the Cat in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF, SUDDENLY LAST SUMMER. BUTTERFIELD 8 won her an Oscar. Later she won her second Oscar and did Edward Albee proud as a blowzy, aging, overweight professor's wife opposite Richard Burton in WHO'S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF. She was still beautiful, her performance liberating and reckless.

I met her once...outside the stage door of Boston's Shubert Theater in 1983 when she and then ex-husband Richard Burton recreated their relationship onstage in Noel Coward's PRIVATE LIVES. I couldn't wait to see her and those eyes. There I was with a gaggle of reporters and autograph seekers, waiting, when suddenly she emerged from the building wearing a giant pair of dark glasses which covered half her face. I pushed to the front of the throng with my microphone and asked a question. "Ms. Taylor, do you ever get tired of all the crowds and people -- do you ever wish you could just be a normal person?" She turned to me and languidly said- with just a hint of a smile, "Anyone could do that," and swept by me like wave over a grain of sand.

Elizabeth Taylor was a star of incomparable glamor, and she embraced it.
Later we would discover, when she embraced her friend Rock Hudson then visibly consumed by AIDS, that she was a woman of uncommon humanity. She shed her considerable light on the disease before it was fashionable and the hundreds of millions of dollars she raised, saved millions of lives.

She will always represent perfection in my imperfect world; that's what the stars are for. Elizabeth Taylor was the brightest one of all.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011


I remember the 1983 film vividly, with its Oscar-nominated performance by Julie Walters opposite the charismatic Michael Caine. Willy Russell's play now onstage at the Huntington is more concentrated and even more enjoyable: witness two terrific actors squaring off in neatly calibrated performances and dramatically escalating scenes, pitting a lower class hairdresser's insouciance and eagerness to learn, against her upper class tutor's cynicism and insistence that he knows nothing. Jane Pfiitsch is the feisty and refreshing student Rita, Andrew Long her disillusioned and often-inebriated Professor Frank. It's a tale more complicated than its structure suggests; it's Pygmalion wrapped around Frankenstein animated by a Socratic debate: What is the value of an education anyway? Is it an uplifting way up and out? Or a monstrous overlay of self deadening spare parts? The play suggests it's actually a means to questioning the very nature of learning itself. You'll be glued to your seat as the these actors go at it with all the weapons in their arsenals: perfect comic timing, big hearts, and heavy accents, so listen carefully.
The set by Allen Moyer with giant Gothic windows center stage framing moody English weather, is to die for.
Don't miss EDUCATING RITA at the Huntington through April 10!!

Thursday, March 17, 2011


Back from Beijing and caught a breezy three and a half hour production over at Emerson's Paramount Theater about drinking, brawling, random sex....THE CHARLIE SHEEN STORY??? No. Hemingway's "The Sun Also Rises." It was brought to us by ELEVATOR REPAIR SERVICE the same wonderful company that gave us last season's splendid GATZ, a verbatim performance of THE GREAT GATSBY read onstage over the course of six hours. But Hemingway is not Fitzgerald, and neither of them is Tolstoy. I never realized what an overblown, indulgently macho piece of work of work this is. But there's no disguising it onstage.

I must pause here to tell you that the cast is quite competent-- especially the delicious Lucy Taylor as the randy Lady Brett Ashley. The woman is divinely charming, impishly sexy, and almost made me forget how boring it all was. Just how much aimlessness can one book contain and how does one mobilize that inertia onstage?? They tried with various clever sound effects,music and dancing, tables standing in for fish and several unfortunate bulls... but really, the whole thing seemed so pointless...a pack of overripe adolescent, self-pitying fools, lead by an impotent narrator whose "privates" were lost in the war; his "emasculinity" sets the tone and the pace. By the time Lady Brett runs off with the little toreador, here played by a slightly-built actress in a pigtail, the suspenders snapped on my disbelief.

See THE SELECT (THE SUN ALSO RISES)if you must at The Paramount through March 20.

Friday, March 11, 2011


"The marvelous Marji says our little caper went off without a hitch; she was able to post my first blog from Chairman Mao's homeland quite easily. Speaking of the Chairman, we tried to view Mao's refrigerated body today in Tian'an Men Square, but we missed the appropriate viewing time. Will try again.
Tian'an Men Square itself is enormous- I believe the largest public square in the world. There are gigantic video screens showing breathtaking scenes of the country and its treasures - the varied landscapes, people, arts and culture, produce and products--all gloriously photographed and choreographed to music while thousands of people and soldiers milled about, and NOT A SPECK OF TRASH ANYWHERE. I mean no newspapers, plastic bottles, half eaten containers of KFC (yes the "colonel" -like the chairman is everywhere). I saw one woman walk several hundred feet to throw away a piece of paper the size of a gumwrapper. There are workers whose job it is to sweep up constantly all day long. Despite the regimentation, the people don't seem at all tightly wrapped; folks are open, smiling, willing to be photographed, happy whenever I make a feeble attempt at my three words of Mandarin: "Thank you": shee-eh' shee-eh', "Hello": knee-howww', and "This one":ne'-gah.

This helped me enormously when we arrived at THE GREAT WALL, so long it can be seen from outerspace and which I hope to verify one day. (By the way, the second longest contiguous wall on the planet is apparently located in a cemetery in MA.-Lynn??? Check Ripley's Believe It Or Not.) I went up by chair lift, and came down by toboggan--two modes of transportation unavailable to the Mongol Hordes which the wall was designed to keep out. It did. Built along the ridge of the mountains, the wall forced the Mongolians--expert horsemen and marksmen-- to dismount!

Once we were on the wall, My husband Andrew and I scampered up and down along the wavy brick-staired, double sided structure, avoiding kids on cell phones, guards selling beer, and lovers eating cake. Yes. I was offered a piece but for once resisted, and looking out across the mountains in the clear, warm air, clung fast to the idea that I WAS ACTUALLY ON THE GREAT WALL OF CHINA!!!"

Thursday, March 10, 2011


"So here I am in Beijing! Facebook, Twitter, Yahoo, Blogger and other things are all blocked here. Thus, the marvelous Marji Borkow is helping me circumvent the Red Chinese by posting this blog for me! I've been here a week, and so far no one has heard of Charlie Sheen. Perhaps there's something to be said for censorship. One woman told me she only knew Lady Gaga and Mariah Carey; I am taking an informal video poll and hope to post on YouTube upon my return.

In the meantime I am feasting on an endless Chinese buffet. This morning there were puffy little white dumplings filled with pork or vegetables, fried lotus root with ham, steaming bowls of noodles with tomato and broccoli and a tiny little mushroom dumpling; there were platters of translucent rice noodles and bok choi, and pearlescent little leechees; cool sliced egg salad and cole slaw with carraway, platters of fresh fruit which included something that looked like kiwi only white, with a crisp, light flavor. On the western front there was bacon and poached egg, omelets and pancakes, french toast and waffles with maple syrup...lyonnaise potato, and apricot pastries, tiny little cinamon rolls sprinkled with coconut, and ... OK. I love food. I didn't eat all of this; but I tried.

My husband and I then stumbled out into this very modern city of 19million and headed straight for the decidedly unmodern Forbidden City--home of the last emperors of the Ming and Qing dynasties. The first factoid our guide Thomas trotted out was that Bernardo Bertolucci had filmed THE LAST EMPEROR here! Amazingly, though I'd never been here before, it felt familiar. How extraordinary that Bertolucci had such "never before" access and had rendered this place so vividly onscreen. It unfolds like a rectangular flower, courtyards within courtyards, each with its own palaces for the emperor, his wife, and all 3000 concubines.The palaces have names like "Hall of Intensive Happiness" or "Hall of Gathered Elegance" and "Hall of Mental Cultivation," every noble impulse marked by an edifice; we couldn't help balancing out the feng shui by making up a few of our own: "Hall of Left Over Vegetables," "Hall of Strenuous Evacuation."

Later our guide told us his Chinese name was "Hoo," that it meant "Tiger" and that he had Tiger's blood; I tried but couldn't resist asking Hoo if he had heard of Charlie Sheen, even venturing that Mr. Sheen might be related by blood. No. Hoo has not heard of the now deposed TV star, and Beijing continues to be a Sheen free zone. Hoo then offered to take us to the GREAT WALL . I can't believe this is in my immediate future. More on that tomorrow. Tonight it's Peking Duck!"

Thursday, March 3, 2011


Many people have taken a crack at Henrik Ibsen's A DOLL'S HOUSE over the centuries, but this time instead of an outraged public, or half-cocked critics, it's a playwright herself--Theresa Rebeck (of MAURITIUS and BAD DATES fame)who has set her contemporary sights on Nora and Torvald.
In the New Rep Theatre production of DOLLHOUSE they become Nora and Evan, an ornamental suburban housewife and her upwardly mobile blowhard of a husband. I heard a man leaving the theater say that in the original he felt sorry for the wife; here he felt sorry for the husband. And how.
This Nora is pretty juiced up in the hands of Sarah Newhouse, in her New Rep debut, as a sexy trophy for her smug hubby played with blind condescension by the great Will Lyman. They move through their beautiful house, as people and secrets from the past literally creep back into their lives through the front, rear, and side doors. The only weak link in this update is the long-suffering Damien (Diego Arciniegas) who's not quite unrequited love for Nora causes him to mope off; I just didn't believe this relationship.

But the second act ratchets up the drama until the tension nearly blows the roof off their lovely Connecticut McManse, and Nora firmly makes her way out into the night, reclaiming her dignity and herself, leaving her deflated husband to play with the toys she's left behind. No matter how we dress these characters up, there's still plenty to think, talk, and argue about. So make it a date night-- and prepare to spar.
Don't miss DOLLHOUSE- at the New Rep Theatre through 3/20!


OK. I changed my mind about James Franco. That and other observations as I discussed the botched Oscar telecast with Jared Bowen this week on Emily Rooney's radio show on WGBH!