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Posts Tagged ‘Derek McLane’

I only know Jesse Eisenberg for his role as Mark Zuckerberg in the film The Social Network, but a quick look at his Wikipedia profile reveals he has acted in 34 films, 7 TV shows / series and 11 roles on stage. He’s voiced 8 audio books and written 34 short stories & 4 plays, of which this is the third. He’s 32!

He’s written himself a thoroughly unpleasant character in Ben, a highly-strung self-obsessed rich Jewish kid. Ben lives in a New York City flat bought by his dad. He bums around pretending to make arty films. His flatmate Kalyan, the only truly sympathetic character in the play, is an MBA student from Nepal. Kaylan’s girlfriend Reshma hates Ben with a vengeance. Ben’s primary school friends Ted and Sarah come back into his life shortly before their marriage to one another, and Ben realises he’s still in love with Sarah. His misguided and misjudged move on Sarah is spurned, and he unwisely takes it out on his best friend Kalyan.

It’s a well written play, though the first half is a touch long and the ending a bit lame, and it’s exceptionally well performed, but I’m afraid I didn’t like it. I couldn’t relate to or identify with the situation or any of the characters, and it revolves around a thoroughly unpleasant one. Maybe its my nationality or my age, because I was clearly in a minority. It’s sort of Woody Allen on speed.

Eisenberg is outstanding as Ben, as is Kunal Nayyar as Kalyan. Katie Brayben continues to show her range, hugely impressive as Sarah, and there’s an excellent stage debut from Alfie Allen as Ted. Annapurna Sriram completes the cast as an excellent Reshma. Sight Lines were disappointing from my expensive restricted view seat, but otherwise it seemed well staged by Scott Elliott and well designed by Derek McLane.

Impressive writing and performances, but not for me, I’m afraid.

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When I walked into the Menier and took my seat, my reaction was the same as it was for the Bacharach Reimagined show last year. Designer Derek McLane has turned it into a magical, even more intimate space. There’s a proscenium made of piano keyboards, side ‘walls’ of grand piano innards, a back wall of ropes, three or four deep, representing the woods, and eight chandeliers above the stage and the front of the auditorium. Lovely. The show was lovely too, a very original and inventive small-scale take on Sondheim’s deceptively moral show.

It weaves the well known tales of Cinderella, Jack and the Beanstalk and Little Red Riding Hood with the less well-known (well, here at least) Rapunzel and The Baker’s Wife. The Baker has to find a white cow, red cloak, golden slipper and yellow hair to break the witches curse on his barren wife. By the interval, the baker’s wife is no longer barren, Cinderella and Rapunzel each marry a prince and Jack has solved his family’s money problems, but Cinderella’s sisters are blind, the wolf is dead, the witch has lost her powers and turned into a beautiful woman and the giantess is really pissed off! In the much darker second half Cinderella loses her prince, the baker his wife, Little Red Riding Hood her grandma and Jack has to decide what to do about the giantess.

The production has a storytelling quality totally in keeping with the material, more of a play with music, without the staginess of much musical theatre. This brings even more charm to the lighter moments, plunging into a deeper darkness in the second half. The moral of the tale comes over much more strongly. With five of the hugely talented cast doubling roles, and all playing an array proper and improvised instruments, it is all told, sung and played by just ten actors, including co-directors Noah Brody and Ben Steinfeld, and pianist Evan Rees. They’ve all brought the show over from the US and we appear to be benefiting from an ensemble who have worked on it for some time in more than one incarnation.

This is an original and imaginative interpretation, an excellent addition to my collection of nine productions. Definitely one for other Sondheim fans to see and a great introduction to those who don’t know the work or who have only seen the film.

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