To be sure, William Gibson, in his second go at Golda—last time round, it was Anne Bancroft in Golda—gets her resoundingly right. I simply could not tell where Gibson begins and Golda ends, if indeed she ends at all. Nothing is done or said that doesn’t feel coruscantly correct, dexterously blending private and public events, and making a one-person play convey so many lives, so much history, such an onrush of humanity. There is enough humor and drama here for a much longer play, but the 89 intermissionless minutes never feel either short or long, only perfect.
Scott Schwartz has directed with assurance on Anna Louizos’s simple yet evocative setting, to which Howell Binkley’s lighting, Batwin & Robin’s projections, and Mark Bennett’s sound add powerful finishing touches. And touched, deeply touched, is what you will be.
Likable poor plays exist just like unlikable good ones. Into the former category falls Richard Alfieri’s Six Dance Lessons in Six Weeks, which manages to be sometimes funny and sometimes feelingful without ever being first-rate. It is the story of an elderly widow in St. Petersburg Beach, Florida, who takes dance lessons she doesn’t need (she’s already an accomplished dancer) from a youngish instructor who desperately needs them (his livelihood depends on them). The two could actually be a romantic couple if only she weren’t old and he weren’t gay.
This could make for an engrossing play written by someone else. Alfieri, to be sure, is a genius, albeit in marketing, not playwriting. He writes plays that he then adapts into movies, making double profit. He also knows that a one-set, two-character play with a meaty role for a “mature” actress is highly commercial, ergo Six Dance Lessons was already seen in Los Angeles, Miami, and Berlin, and might just as easily pop up in Novosibirsk. In show business, marketing genius is at least as good as art.
As the woman, Polly Bergen charms: She can act, she has a winning personality, and she still looks damn good. Mark Hamill can also act, but he’s even better at overacting; if he could transfer his mugging from the stage to the streets, he’d have it made. At the performance I attended, just after one of the characters confesses to mortal illness, someone in the front row started to choke. At first I thought it was something orchestrated by Alfieri. Unfortunately not; even genius has limits.
A.R. Gurney’s Strictly Academic is really two short plays, one more contrived than the other. Gurney began as a real talent, then milked his specialty, Wasp lives of quiet desperation, into several viable plays climaxing in Love Letters, requiring only two sedentary actors reading from a script. Performed worldwide, it proved a goldmine. Seduced by this, Gurney, though artistically dead, refuses to lie down. For a long time now, his plays have been not just turning to but actually made of dust. If you have poor taste, or, better yet, none, Strictly Academic is strictly for you.
At Nine, the new guido, John Stamos (replacing Antonio Banderas), is pallid in Act One, livelier in Act Two, though still charmless. The new Carla, lissome Sara Gettelfinger (replacing Jane Krakowski), is a better sexpot than comedienne. As the dream woman, Claudia, Rebecca Luker (replacing Laura Benanti) sings beautifully and acts sweetly, but does not quite convey the desiderated star quality. Daniel Manche is a terrific Little Guido, with Marni Nixon as his dignified, well-sung mother. Jacqueline Hendy is a fetching Our Lady of the Spa, and Mary Stuart Masterson continues as a fine Luisa. That Eartha Kitt, as Liliane La Fleur, can, at her age, still sing, dance, and fascinate is astounding, though no less so than Chita Rivera, whom she replaces. The show goes on being delightful even as David Leveaux’s staging remains ridiculous.