Monday, February 20, 2012

My Week at The Pershing Square Signature Center

I spent a wonderful week taking in the rustic modern design of the new Frank Gehry designed Signature Theater center in midtown. I discussed the architecture and intimacy of the performance spaces, perused the bookstore, peeked at the cafe, played with the interactive screens, noticed playwright Kenneth Lonergan and NY Post drama critic Elisabeth Vincentelli, and lauded the $25 ticket initiative for the next 20 years. Oh yeah... I also checked out the performances in the inaugural season in the new space: Athol Fugard's Blood Knot, Katori Hall's Hurt Village, and Edward Albee's The Lady From Dubuque.

On February 16th, Blood Knot, directed by Fugard, opened in the 199 seat Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre to largely good reviews. Luckily, Fugard's The Road to Mecca now at the Roundabout prepared me for Blood Knot - slow first act and then a final act with a punch. However, while Colman Domingo and Scott Shepherd are wonderful in this story about the mark of apartheid on two brothers - one white looking and the other black looking - living in a shantytown in South Africa, the play failed to bite me the way it should have.

On February 27th, Hurt Village opens in the 199 seat Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre. Katori Hall recently made a splash on Broadway with The Mountaintop. However, from previews of this story about a black family about to relocate from a broken down housing project in Memphis TN due to a government grant, I am not sure this one will resonate with some theatergoers due to its length, overwhelming use of abrasive language, and lack of originality - we've seen the dead beat dad, gun-toting, drug dealing black man before. Furthermore, Corey Hawkins seems a little too clean cut to play Buggy - the shell shocked drug dealer. And I pray pray pray that theater audiences will no longer be forced to watch "sweet" Tonya Pinkins relegated to only playing the cynical bruised black mother. 

On March 5th, The Lady From Dubuque opens in the 299 seat The End Stage Theatre. Surprisingly, this play which was a complete and utter flop when it first opened on Broadway in January 1980, is the most entertaining of the three performances at the new Signature Theatre center. Perhaps it is my secret fascination with actor Peter James, who is absolutely delicious in the role as Oscar, the companion of the mysterious lady from Dubuque (Jane Alexander) to the home of a married couple on the eve of the wife's death from a terminal illness. Perhaps it is the enjoyable breakdown of the fourth wall. Or perhaps I simply experienced it after Blood Knot and Hurt Village. Whatever the reason, quite entertaining, but I must admit, the true spotlight needs to shine on the new center. Oh, how I look forward to the rest of the Signature season. 

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