‘Saint Joan’ Broadway Review: Condola Rashad Burns Up the Stage

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Sightings of the world’s most popular transgender saint have become an annual event in New York’s theater world. The latest appearance is one of the most vivid we faithful have received of late. Condola Rashad is strong, tough and more than a little nuts in George Bernard Shaw’s “Saint Joan,” which opened Wednesday at MTC’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.

Rashad does not turn Joan into John, but her maid of Orleans looks as though she could wallop any of the 17 men in the cast. With some help from heels and buoyant hair, she matches, if not exceeds, the height of the guys around her. Only John Glover’s Archbishop towers over her. Then again, under his robes, like so many men in their priestly drag, he too may be wearing high heels.

On the New York stage, Rashad has been more successful in contemporary dramas (“A Doll’s House, Part 2” and “Stick Fly”) than Shakespeare (“Romeo and Juliet” and “Taming of the Shrew”). Shaw is somewhere between the two, and she pulls “Saint Joan” into this century with a performance that is both ironic and wide-eyed. That wonderful contradiction, between being informed and foolish, galvanizes the production, and makes her irresistible to watch.

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Director Daniel Sullivan has achieved similar comedic alchemy with Adam Chanler-Berat’s dunce of a Dauphin, who rules with his eyes wide shut, and achieves our sympathy by being so thoroughly self-centered.

It’s the 15th century, and yet Jack Davenport, in his magnificent Broadway debut, manages to seem utterly contemporary in his machinations to have the cross-dressing Joan burned at the stake. In another of those wonderful contradictions, he makes evil attractively commonplace.

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Nothing is ever commonplace when Patrick Page is on stage. With his inimitable bass voice and striking presence, he is one actor who never should be double cast. He first appears as Robert de Baudricourt, the maid’s first stepping stone to fame. He introduces her to the Dauphin, and is agreeable to Joan’s demands, mainly because Robert’s tired of the girl’s harping and needling him.

When Page reappears much later as the Inquisitor himself, it’s impossible to get his Robert out of your head. How did this good guy turn bad so fast? Regardless, the actor delivers the play’s standout moment. Page, taking his lowest-of-low bass to its very sonorous depths, persuades with his speech on the mercy of persecuting heretics. It’s a perfectly perverse moment.

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The only actor who appears not to have received Sullivan’s memo on irony is Daniel Sunjata. His straight-forward Dunois is right out of Robert E. Sherwood, not anything written by George Bernard Shaw.

Scott Pask’s set turns the stage into a huge pipe organ. Jane Greenwood’s costumes look like something from a touring production of “Spamalot.” There’s visual humor at work here, but unlike most of the performers, both designers miss the mark.

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‘Frozen’ Star Patti Murin Speaks Out On Anxiety, That Missed Performance & The Responsibilities Of A Disney Princess

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Frozen‘s Patti Murin missed a show last week. Not unheard of, certainly, but rare enough at the peak of this high-focus (and high-stress) Tony Awards season. And Murin stands a better-than-good chance of getting nominated – as does her co-s…

‘Travesties’ Broadway Review: Tom Hollander Pulls Out All the Stoppard

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Tom Stoppard’s 1974 play “Travesties,” which opened Tuesday at Roundabout’s American Airlines Theatre in a spirited, quick-paced revival, is a showcase for modern theater’s ultimate teacher’s pet.

Stoppard built his reputation for erudite riffs on classic material with early shows like “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead,” which thrust two minor characters from “Hamlet” to center stage. In “Travesties,” he takes the structure and characters of Oscar Wilde’s “The Importance of Being Earnest” and adds often loopy layers of learned complication.

He centers his play on a real man named Henry Carr (Tom Hollander) who is a bit of a historical footnote: a British consular officer in 1917 Zurich who once sued James Joyce over a pair of trousers he had to buy for an amateur production of “Earnest.”

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Yes, that James Joyce. The Irish author (here played by Peter McDonald) was holed up in Zurich at the time writing “Ulysses,” which was originally titled — as Stoppard does not fail to note — “Elasticated Bloomers.”

Stoppard also introduces two other historical figures who happened to be in Zurich during the waning days of World War I: the Dadaist poet Tristan Tzara (Seth Numrich) and a pre-Russian Revolution Vladimir Lenin (Dan Butler). Not to mention a librarian who becomes Carr’s wife (and doubles as Cecily from “Earnest”) and Joyce’s scrivener who morphs into Cecily’s Wildean counterpart, Gwendolen.

The literary gymnastics do not stop there. There is quick-witted wordplay (“My art belongs to Dada,” Tzara says at one point); an entire scene written in limerick form; a delightful music-hall-style duet of one-up-manship between Cecily and Gwendolen that is the highlight of the second act.

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As Carr says at one point, “It may be nonsense, but at least it is clever nonsense.”

And under Patrick Marber’s masterful direction, “Travesties” never lets the mayhem swirl completely out of control. At the center of the madness is a bravura performance by Hollander, perhaps best known for screen roles as sidekicks who are either goofy (“Pirates of the Caribbean”) or vaguely sinister (“The Night Manager”).

Here, he portrays both an older, dementia-addled Carr, looking back on his Zurich experiences through hazy memories and malaprops, as well as the younger middle manager who rightly saw himself as the hero of his own story, the lead in that amateur Wilde production (“not Ernest, the other one”).

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Marber’s staging really shines when it slows down the verbal pyrotechnics to explore the efficacy of art in challenging times, allowing Tzara to stump that “anti-art is the art of our time” and Lenin to make a case that art must only exist to serve the revolutionary cause — but ultimately backing Joyce’s more nuanced appeal for art for its own sake: “What now of the Trojan War if it had been passed over by the artist’s touch? Dust.”

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Broadway’s ‘King Kong’ Casts 1st Humans: Christiani Pitts, Eric William Morris

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Christiani Pitts, currently starring in A Bronx Tale on Broadway, will star as Ann Darrow, and Eric William Morris, who played Sky in Mamma Mia!, will play Carl Denham in next season’s Broadway musical King Kong.
The first principal casting for t…