Stage

Weales, Gerald

STAGE ^ SEND IN THE CLOWNS 'FRANKIE,' 'BURN,' & 'DAISY' ¦ used to do too much of the work in my plays," Terrence McNally told the New York Times (October 11); "I was trying to write the...

...At the same time, Anna's less vital boyfriend, a screenwriter who thinks that all movies are bad, writes the serious script he has always wanted to do, a contemporary love story (presumably Burn This) 18 December 1987: 749 which the pain of his loss of Anna makes possible...
...Although McNally presumably intends the audience to take the amusing final moment of his play as a tentative happy ending, I find it darkly happy at best...
...Walter Kerr in a recent column (New York Times, November 15) suggested that Malkovich is wrecking Wilson's play, and a playwright who shall remain nameless asked me the other day if I thought Malkovich would ever make his performance mesh with the rest of the cast...
...Johnny is oddly charmless as Kenneth Welsh plays him, all nerve ends and need, which may be what McNally intended and which adds to the disturbing undertone of the play...
...The play begins with the sex act (groans in the dark) and works its way to a final curtain in which the two characters brush their teeth in unison (to Claire de Lune...
...Set in Atlanta, between 1948 and 1973, Driving Miss Daisy is not so much a play as a series of dramatic sketches, each making its own comic or touching point, which chronicles the growing dependence of the two characters on one another...
...here is another darkly happy ending in Lanford Wilson's Burn This, and another closed, selfprotective heroine who must be pried open by a relentless and relentlessly vocal male...
...Beneath this meeting of contraries, there is a subtheme about love, loss, and art...
...Driving Miss Daisy seems little more than an occasion to see Morgan Freeman and Dana Ivey display their considerable technical skills...
...There is not much depth in the...
...An oblique seduction comedy in which the persistent male persuades the reluctant woman of the possibility of a relationship more extended than a one-night stand, Frankie and Johnny deals lightly with the dangers of commitment and the desperation of being alone...
...I miss only the note of vulnerability in the character, for the chinks in Pale's armor, as Malkovich shows them, seem as calculated as most of the rest of the performance...
...Her grief and her apartment are invaded by Pale, the dead man's brother, eloquently foul-mouthed in his denunciation of New York City and the world at large, as outraged on the surface, at least by the absence of parking space as by the death of his hfother...
...For me, the odd thing about Malkovich's performance, which has received so much praise and blame, is that my attention regularly moved from him to Joan Allen...
...To share space with that steamroller is to risk being crushed, but I suppose that the play would insist that it is better to be overwhelmed than not whelmed at all...
...That calculation, however, belongs as much to the character as the actor, for Pale is a self-created figure, always conscious of his costume, his gestures, his rhetoric...
...Malkovich is outrageous and totally fascinating...
...Pale, who is about as artificial as grand grotesques tend to be, is some kind of natural force, simply riding over the other characters in the play Anna's more conventional boyfriend, her other homosexual roommate and carrying the protesting Anna off to bed every time he (or the drink) bring him to her door...
...Not all that odd perhaps, because I watched her instead of Kathleen Turner whenever they were on screen together in Peggy Sue Got Married and I was startled at what a substantial character she made of Ann in the recent television production of All My Sons...
...Less is more in Burn This, as it is in Frankie and Johnny, and Joan Allen, like Kathy Bates, makes her play particularly worth seeing...
...But now I see that the actors find the feelings...
...Anna is a modern dancer, who was taking her first steps toward oecoming a choreographer when the death of her friend, her mentor, her roommate brought her to a mourning standstill...
...The appeal for performers comes in the fact that these characters age in the course of the evening and, as the still popular I'm Not Rappaport indicates, audiences are fascinated by actors playing old or, in this case, 750: Commonweal old, older, oldest...
...The dance that Anna creates out of the loss of her partner and the sexual energy of her nights with Pale is said to be forceful, commanding, a work of genius alongside the tepid exercises of the other choreographers on the same program, poor would-be professionals who presumably are unlost and underlaid...
...Yet the play, even more obviously a theater piece than Burn This and Frankie and Johnny, is more consistently aware of the world outside the theater than are the hermetic works of McNally and Wilson...
...McNally's new play, Frankie and Johnny in the Clair de Lune, is one of a group of recent productions in which two characters circle one another before coming to an accommodation and in which the performers not only find the feelings but prove more interesting than their vehicles...
...The triumph of the piece is Kathy Bates's Frankie...
...Her Anna in Burn This often sits silently, her sentences broken off by Pale's verbal avalanche...
...Although Miss Daisy becomes aware of and responds to the changes in the South over the years, she remains the same crotchety, outspoken woman, unwilling to admit to any weakness, and Hoke is consistently patient with and amused by his employer...
...He roars, rages, and flutes his way through his part, modulating only to demonstrate how to make a proper pot of tea or to suggest that his hurricane temperament can calm into tenderness...
...Johnny, cook in the restaurant where Frankie is a waitress, is given to grand speeches, laced with bits of Shakespeare, which contrast with the simpler, sharp lines of Frankie...
...Miss Daisy is an aging Jewish woman, no longer able to drive her own car safely, and Hoke Coleburn is the not-so-young black man that Daisy's son hires as the chauffeur she does not want...
...At the end, having agreed to separate, they are brought back together through the good offices of the roommate, a gay Mary Worth, and they accept what both suspect will be a union as disastrous and painful as it is necessary...
...Frankie and Johnny is a kind of Hite Report in reverse in which the woman tries to avoid talking about her emotions and distrusts the much more open man...
...This recycled romantic myth of creativity need not be taken too seriously, for the heart of the play beats in Pale and Anna, less as characters than as roles for John Malkovich and Joan Allen...
...characters...
...GERALD WEALES...
...The play of reactions across her face is a joy to behold...
...It is her amusement, her impatience, her disbelief that gives force to Pale's fury of words...
...he couple in Alfred Uhry's Driving Miss Daisy are hardly the lovers in extremis of the McNally and Wilson plays, but they achieve a distant intimacy of their own...
...I think that Malkovich is the Pale that Wilson wanted, that his unmeshed excess is realizing not trashing the playwright's intention...
...Kathy Bates inhabits Frankie as the character inhabits the room, the life that McNally has given her, and the production is stronger for that symbiosis...
...There is something frightening about Johnny's intensity, and I came away from the theater suspecting that Frankie's first response was the correct one...
...Although they are recognizable types, Miss Daisy and Hoke are primarily juicy roles for actors...
...I was trying to write the feelings in...
...There is a family resemblance among Bates roles the flamboyant Dallas woman in Come Back to the 5 and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, the wryly rational suicide in 'night, Mother, the dissociated wife and mother in Curse of the Starving Class but the actress's way with a serious funny line should not obscure that every character she plays has a shape of her own...
...Bates, one of the most talented actresses on the American stage, makes her reaction lines more eloquent than Welsh's speeches, as she edges from surprise to exasperation to comic acceptance of the inevitable...

Vol. 114 • December 1987 • No. 22


 
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