Richard Nelson’s Madame Melville is a memory play about what must have been the author’s sexual initiation at the age of 15 during his family’s lengthy Paris sojourn in 1966. The initiator was his unmarried literature teacher, “Madame” Claudie Melville. The older-woman-and-boy theme is as old as the hills – or at least as the third-century novel Daphnis and Chloe. By now, it requires the kind of originality and finesse that are not usually Nelson’s strong suit.
Perhaps great acting and better direction than the author’s could have helped; in London, Claudie was the superb Irène Jacob. But Macaulay Culkin is absurd as the lovestruck boy, Carl, at 50, looking back at the incident, and poor as the 15-year-old Carl living it. He moves with a real, not acted, awkwardness; gazes insipidly out of weirdly hooded eyes; and speaks in choppy phrases suggesting a Bush parody. As Claudie, Joely Richardson demonstrates that over three generations the Redgrave acting talent has considerably thinned. She does a dubious French accent, making us grateful for her frequent lapses from it.
Claudie’s neighbor, Ruth, a violinist from New Jersey, keeps dropping in for comic relief. As played by the yentaish Robin Weigert, her relief proves scant. Even the dependable Thomas Lynch has designed a set whose upper layer seems bent on floating away. The audience, though, laps it all up; but what can you expect from folks who burst into laughter at a line like “She’s a real bitch”?
In Urinetown, the Musical, a drought-plagued city coerces its population to pee into public restrooms, whose pee-fee a greedy corporation keeps jacking up. This is not just bathroom humor; it’s bathroom humor that makes no sense. The book and score by Mark Hollmann and Greg Kotis are too close to Brecht-Weill and others to pass for parody, and hold no independent interest. A proficient cast led by John Cullum, Jeff McCarthy, and Nancy Opel does well enough, and the lean but droll production values – especially Brian MacDevitt’s lighting – are effective. John Rando has directed with savvy, and John Carrafa has choreographed with sass, but not even the jokes about musical-comedy conventions rise above the conventional.