Barry, Brecht, and Bores

Vincent D’Onofrio and Ethan Hawke in “Clive,” Jonathan Marc Sherman’s adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s “Baal.” | MONIQUE CARBONI

Vincent D’Onofrio and Ethan Hawke in “Clive,” Jonathan Marc Sherman’s adaptation of Bertolt Brecht’s “Baal.” | MONIQUE CARBONI

Bertolt Brecht’s first play, “Baal,” can be tough sledding for the unprepared. The story, of a man who throws away his talent and lives for pleasure, is sprawling, told in nearly two-dozen scenes. Deconstructing theatrical conventions, it is episodic and non-linear and, in a full production, it can run more than three hours. For those with a taste for intellectually complex theater, it is fascinating, but a lighthearted romp it ain’t.

The New Group’s production of “Clive,” an adaptation of the Brecht play by Jonathan Marc Sherman, successfully surmounts the major hurdles posed by the source material. Sherman has trimmed the play down to an hour and 40 minutes, consolidated the nearly 30 parts in the original for a company of nine, and maintained the soul of the play while giving it a contemporary electricity that’s consistently impressive and entertaining.

German drama, a classic bit of showbiz dazzle, and a comedy revival whose time has passed

Transplanted to the 1990s, Baal/ Clive is now a talented musician who throws away a potential career to follow his desires. He is id run rampant as he descends through addiction to murder and ultimately his own death. As in the original, Sherman’s adaptation avoids any kind of moral perspective. Judgment, if there is to be any, is left to the audience. Sherman is able to maintain the rhythms and tones of the original while making it accessible and relevant.

Ethan Hawke gives a controlled and nuanced performance in the title role. As we watch Clive’s physical dissipation, we also watch him abandon his spirit and sink into a narcissistic nihilism. It’s a fascinating and subtle portrait of what happens to a person who lets go of everything tying him to a culture or community. Near the end as he looks at the body of a comrade dead of an overdose, Clive sees no difference between life and death; it’s all okay. For Clive, as they say, it’s all downhill from there.

Though this may sound gloomy — and certainly the subject matter is dark — the production is comparatively light and always engaging. Hawke is charismatic even in dissolution, and he is aided by a fine performance from Vincent D’Onofrio as his closest friend, while Zoe Kazan, Brooks Ashmankis, and the rest of the company take on diverse roles to create the world around Clive.

As director, Hawke misses some moments that could be tighter and clearer, and as truncated as this is from the original, there are scenes that would be more powerful if they were further simplified. That’s a minor complaint because the actors, Kazan especially, know how to do a lot in small moments, which is ironic given Clive’s grandiosity and also compelling in that it so clearly captures the Brechtian tone.

The wonderful, spare set is by Derek McClane. The appropriate and well-conceived costumes are by Catherine Zuber, and the music and sound sculptures integrated into the set by GAINES create a strong atmosphere throughout.

“Clive” is a stirring production that is smart, incisive, and provoking. Its intelligence lies in mining theatricality from what is intended to be anti-theatrical, with that tension making for extraordinary theater.

Not so satisfying is the revival of “All in the Timing” at Primary Stages, which tries desperately to be both smart and funny. This 20-year-old play is a collection of six comedic vignettes about love, life, communication, buying bread, states of mind, monkeys at typewriters, and Trotsky.

Playwright David Ives wants to prove how smart he is with references to Trotsky and Philip Glass, but with the exception of the first piece, “Sure Thing,” about two people in a pick-up situation trying to say the right things, and “The Universal Language” about two shy people learning to communicate in a made-up language, the pieces wear out their jokes in the first couple of minutes and then run on, looking for a conclusion. What laughs there are come from the solid but predictable staging by John Rando rather than the wit of the piece.

The fine and talented company save the evening from being a total rout. Carson Elrod, Liv Rooth, Matthew Saldivar, and Jenn Harris are all charismatic with excellent comic timing, and when the script allows, they land their jokes every time. However, like the monkeys at the typewriters, despite theories to the contrary, the piece ends up thrashing about.

Barry Manilow is a born performer. | BRUCE GLIKAS

Barry Manilow is a born performer. | BRUCE GLIKAS

I am not a person who takes naturally to glow sticks. So as I was handed one as I took my seat at “Manilow on Broadway,” I had an inkling of what I was in for, though I could never have anticipated just how passionate a following Barry Manilow has, not being a “Fanilow” myself. Giving this serious consideration as a piece of theater would be ridiculous — this is a concert. Ultimately, a very good concert. You won’t stay in your seat much if you want to see, as most songs provided the impetus for the majority of the audience to stand, sing along, take photos, and scream their love for Barry.

All that aside, Manilow is a wonderful performer whose gifts include an ability to connect emotionally with a full theater. If his voice has mellowed and lost some of its youthful timbre, he can still put a song over with verve and precision. Returning from a bout with bronchitis, he found his voice after the first number and amped up the wattage, his undiminished star power never letting up for the rest of the evening.

The concert is a revue loosely based around his growing up and his relationship with his grandfather. And, if the song he did from his musical-in-the-works, “Harmony” is any indication of the rest of the score, Broadway fans have a treat in store. Manilow’s most popular songs are sentimental, but never cloying, and numbers like “Copacabana” got people up on their feet, waving those glow sticks.

Thanks to Manilow, his band, and back-up singers, this is a fantastically entertaining show, the songs still finding a way to touch people’s hearts and get them singing and dancing. Nothing wrong with that.

CLIVE | The New Group At Theater Row | 410 W. 42nd St. | Mon.-Wed. at 7 p.m.; Thu.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sat. at 2 p.m. | $60 at telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

ALL IN THE TIMING | Primary Stages | 59 E. 59th St. | Tue.-Thu. at 7 p.m.; Fri.-Sat. at 8 p.m.; Sat. at 2 p.m.; Sun. at 3 p.m. | $70 at ticketcentral.com or 212-279-4200

MANILOW ON BROADWAY | St. James Theater | 264 W. 44th St. | Tue.-Wed. at 7 p.m.; Thu.-Sat. at 8 p.m. | $50-$350 at telecharge.com or 212-239-6200

 

 

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