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July 31, 2015

July’s Leftovers and August’s Brainteaser

The sign outside the theater says “Every word in THREE DAYS TO SEE (except for the show’s first moments) was written by Helen Keller.” Yeah, there’s no question that she didn’t contribute to the initial three minutes, because it’s a barrage of Helen Keller jokes delivered rapid-fire by the multiracial cast of seven.

A few theatergoers laughed, but most were silent and seemed horrified – probably because these brought back a time in their lives when they DID immaturely laugh at a woman who couldn’t see or hear.

The 100-minute show that Jack Cummings III has assembled starts with material familiar through THE MIRACLE WORKER. Barbara Walsh puts on sunglasses that immediately tell us she’s Annie Sullivan (for the moment, anyway; everyone will play Helen at some point as well as many other roles). Walsh is so moving in these scenes that we ache to see her do the entire William Gibson play.

Helen tells us how she learned what love is, how her sense of smell helped compensate for her blindness and deafness and how people were uncomfortable around her. She tries to convince people that she and others in her condition can be “useful, self-respecting human beings” and convinces us more than we might have anticipated.

The final minutes are reserved for Helen’s fantasy on what she’d see if she were given the luxury of 72 hours of sight. She tells us she’d spend two nights at the theater.

I wish she could see Karen Pittman’s current riveting, no-holes-remotely-barred performance as Liz Rico, a superstar sports agent who’s made $900 million for her clients in her 22-year-career. On an average day Liz lies like a toupee to get what she wants.

Now this star employee has the chance to be KING LIZ, the head of the agency. First, however, she must do something more than what she’s done in the past, which is eat adversaries for breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, supper and a midnight snack. She’s got to find and sign a superstar in a hurry to prove her acumen.

Freddie, although merely a high school basketball phenom, could be the one. Multi-million-dollar deals for sneakers with sneaky Liz doing the dirty work are a distinct possibility.

Jeremie Harris excels as Freddie, but someone who’s supposed to be the next coming of Michael Jordan should be taller. So should Fernanda Coppel’s play, which starts out barreling the way the Washington Wizards’ John Wall does down the court. Ultimately it has nothing more to say than those who live in the fast lane wind up in the breakdown lane. But see it for Pittman.

Helen Keller also says she’d spend time looking at paintings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. That’s what the three characters do in THE INTERNATIONAL. Do you like plays where people talk to us in the audience but never to each other? Then hie thee to Tim Ruddy’s play before it closes on Sunday. Considering the less-than-compelling things they were saying, I wanted to yell “Shh! You’re in a museum! Stop talking! Look at the paintings and leave us alone!”

Perhaps Helen would be a bit discombobulated to see Asians in most of the parts in Clifford Odets’ Jewish-family drama AWAKE AND SING.
Hearing the American-Asian performers use such expressions as “boychik” and “halvah” could be viewed as disconcerting. Besides, there’s plenty happening at the dinner table so there are references to knish, hot pastrami, chopped liver and “glass tea” without the “of” in between. To exacerbate matters, there could be an inadvertent laugh when Sanjit De Silva refers to a young lady by saying “I got a yen for her and I don’t mean a Chinese coin.”

But then there was the moment when Myron, the family’s father (the fine Henry Yuk), was just standing still in the dining room before he finally said “Why did I come in here?” We all laughed because we’ve all had it happen to us, regardless of race, creed or color. That’s universality!

Let’s take it as a lovely compliment to Odets – that the National Asian American Theatre Company liked the play so much that they just had to do it. And considering that AWAKE AND SING may well have been produced in Asia – many American classics have -- I’ll think of this version as a foreign production in our own backyard in our own language. I fantasized that after I grabbed lunch at the supermarket in new Beijing, I’d headed over to the National Grand Theatre’s second space and saw AWAKE AND SING there – only I had the luxury of hearing it in English.

If Helen had three days to hear, she would have been well advised to hear Jeremy Fassler’s knockout rendition of “Now I Have Everything” (in Plymouth, Massachusetts in the recent the Priscilla Beach Theatre’s FIDDLER ON THE ROOF). The young man told me an unbelievable story. On a recent trip to Russia, he saw a production of THE CHERRY ORCHARD. “And after Lopakhin told Madame Ranevskaya that he’d bought the property,” said Fassler, “he walked off, came back and sang in English ‘And now, the end is near, as we approach the final curtain’ and all the other lyrics of ‘My Way.’”

Never mind “Now I HAVE Everything” – now I’ve HEARD everything.

Helen might have enjoyed Colin Quinn in his show THE NEW YORK STORY, but that might be because she never saw and heard Jackie Mason. Quinn is a minor league version of the 1986-87 Tony-winner; he speaks half as long as Mason did, and while he may well talk about just as many minorities as Mason catalogued, Quinn emerges as half as funny. The only time I laughed occurred when he mentioned Peter Stuyvesant and, to underline who the man was, took a few limping steps across the stage. Yeah, I’ve seen KNICKEBOCKER HOLIDAY twice, so I know about that peg leg. But from the absence of “laughter of recognition” from the crowd, I guess we need a revival of the Weill-Anderson musical as soon as possible.

And finally, here’s a story that Helen might not believe if she could hear. I got one of those LinkedIn requests from a woman who identified herself as “Director of Marketing” of a “Global Literacy Program” at a California company. Wow, I thought, since my play ADAM’S GIFTS deals with an illiterate who is taught to read by a young boy, I wrote her, described the play, and said “Perhaps your organization would like to do it as a staged reading as a benefit fundraiser.”

She wrote back to say “We’re not a publishing company.”

It took everything I had not to write back to her and say “Can YOU read?!?!”

The answer to last month’s Brainteaser, which asked you to find something of numerical interest in four Tony-winning musicals that had been put in order for a specific reason: DAMN YANKEES, REDHEAD, MY FAIR LADY and THE MUSIC MAN.

Donald Tesione was the first to get it, with Fred Abramowitz and Ingrid Gammerman following: DAMN YANKEES was the first musical to beat out ONE other contender for the Best Musical Tony (PIPE DREAM, while REDHEAD was the first to beat two (FLOWER DRUM SONG and LA PLUME DE MA TANTE), MY FAIR LADY the first to beat three (BELLS ARE RINGING, CANDIDE and THE MOST HAPPY FELLA) and THE MUSIC MAN the first to beat four (JAMAICA, NEW GIRL IN TOWN, WEST SIDE STORY and OH, CAPTAIN!).

This month’s brainteaser: What do these songs have in common?
“Ah, but Underneath” (FOLLIES); “Hurry! It’s Lovely Up Here!” (ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER); “It’s an Art” (WORKING); “Magic to Do” (PIPPIN); “Necessity” (FINIAN’S RAINBOW); “Together” (GYPSY) and “What Do the Simple Folk Do?” (CAMELOT).

You know where to find me.

         — Peter Filichia



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