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Fly Away, Mary Poppins

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At the Cort, Douglas Carter Beane’s play, like its neighbor, has shaped up noticeably since its Off Broadway debut a few months back. The cynical tale of a Hollywood agent named Diane (White) trying to keep her prize client (Tom Everett Scott) in the closet long enough to become a star is tighter and even more hilarious than before. Beane is admirably merciless in skewering these corroded people, who use and are used by one another—“Let’s be togetherish” passes for heartfelt sentiment here—but his play still seems thin as satire. A few days after seeing it, I didn’t find myself thinking about the corrupted world he depicts; the moral weight that ought to support the comic attack isn’t there. White’s performance, however, hits hard enough to leave marks.

Wheedling, vicious, desperate, pleased—no, delighted—with her schemes, Diane is a J. J. Hunsecker for the BlackBerry age. Better still, White extracts a hint of—not exactly sympathy, call it pathos—by giving Diane the wide, fixed smile of the damned. Over at Grey Gardens, Ebersole uses Little Edie’s soliloquies to confide in the audience, to win us by charm. For White, who also spends much of the evening talking to the crowd, the theatricality is just as immediate but much more sinister. She conspires, she disarms us, she brilliantly reels us in, as when she trashes a table full of colleagues for our amusement, even though she’s just as craven as they are. By the time she’s through, you’ll feel the brimstone in your pores.

From then on, oh, we still lived in a world of light and shadow, but the shadow was almost as luminous as the light,” runs one of the more lyrical lines of Tennessee Williams’s little gothic nightmare, Suddenly Last Summer. It’s spoken by Mrs. Venable, an elderly stroke victim with a “withered bosom” and claws for hands. All you need to know about the miscarriage of the Roundabout’s new revival of this play is that they’ve cast as their superannuated hag the cosmopolitan beauty Blythe Danner.

In fact, that’s all you need to know about a whole spate of Williams stagings lately. In the past four years, his three masterpieces—Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, and A Streetcar Named Desire—have received major Broadway revivals. Each time, starry-eyed producers stuck ill-fitting celebrities into one plum role after another.

Beyond the radiant Danner, who lacks the monstrous quality needed to play Mrs. Venable, Mark Brokaw’s production also misuses Carla Gugino. She plays Catherine Holly, the niece whom Mrs. Venable would like to lobotomize in order to silence dark stories about the death of Venable’s son. Her account of that story, which takes up the last quarter of the play, features some lovely, hallucinatory writing. Gugino has real talent, but she can’t come up with the incantatory effect of Williams’s language. Without its lyricism, the play stands naked as a kind of Freudian soufflé. And the production, like so many Williams revivals before it, becomes just a lot of actors talking.

Mary Poppins
Lyrics and music by Robert and Richard Sherman. Additional lyrics by Anthony Drewe and additional music by Drewe and George Stiles. Book by Julian Fellowes. New Amsterdam Theatre.

Les Misérables
Lyrics by Herbert Kretzmer. Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg. Book by Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg. Broadhurst Theatre. Through April 22.

The Little Dog Laughed
By Douglas Carter Beane. Cort Theatre.

Suddenly Last Summer
By Tennessee Williams. Laura Pels Theatre. Through January 14.


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