Broadway Plays and “Stiffelio” at the Met Opera

This review aired on KBAQ February 1, 2010


“STIFFELIO,” The Metropolitan Opera, Lincoln Center, New York

“A VIEW FROM THE BRIDGE,” Cort Theatre, 138 W. 48th Street, New York

“TIME STANDS STILL,” Samuel J. Friedman Theatre, 261 W. 47th Street, New York

“RACE,” Ethel Barrymore Theatre, 243 W. 47th Street, New York

The economic downturn is impacting Broadway. Last October, things on Broadway were still robust. Now, most Broadway shows have good crowds but discount tickets are readily available and restaurants around Broadway that recently required reservations now take walk-ins. And several Broadway shows closed while I was in town.

Before Broadway, I will mention “Stiffelio,” a rare Verdi opera running in repertory at the Metropolitan Opera. The singing was glorious, the orchestra, under conductor Placido Domingo, played the rich score beautifully and this opera about infidelity is a visual treat. “Stiffelio” deserves a place next to the more popular Verdi works.

Of the Broadway plays I saw, Arthur Miller’s 1955 drama “A View From the Bridge” proved a gripping emotional production that marks Scarlett Johansson’s Broadway debut as Catherine opposite Liev Schreiber’s carefully drawn Eddie. Eddie fancies Catherine, his wife’s niece.

Donald Margulies’ “Time Stands Still” looks at long time partnered journalists, Sarah, a photographer, and James, a writer. Both specialize in world crisis situations. They return to New York because of Sarah’s recovery from wounds she got while in Iraq and James breakdown. James wants to marry and settle down but as the newness of marriage wears off, Sarah yearns for adventure and the pair separate. Margulies paints rich, multi-faceted characters and the story provides realistic look at change that veers off in a negative direction. The stellar cast features Laura Linney’s troubled Sarah, Brian D’Arcy James’ cool James with Eric Bogosian and Alicia Silverstone turning the pair’s friends into fascinating counterparts. This play will no doubt find its way into a local theater.

David Mamet’s “Race” deals with black/white issues and stereotypes in a forthright way but the play is superficial and expects the audience to quickly grasp characteristics of the four people we watch as the complexity of hidden bigotry hits with little warning. The setting is a prestigious New York law firm where a client seeks defense against charges he raped his girlfriend. The lawyers, one black and one white, take different stands with the client while an inquisitive black law clerk finds hidden truths that establish the bigotry of both the client and the one of the attorneys. Mamet stages his play so brusquely that exposition seems missing. As the client, Richard Thomas delivers his now standard performance and misses this character’s distinctiveness. Better are James Spader as the biased white attorney and David Alan Grier providing forceful insight into the black attorney. Kerry Washington gives an overly intense slant to the law clerk. Mamet’s plays are growing formulistic. Since “Race” is limping on Broadway, it probably won’t find life in regional theaters.

Next week, I’ll review two new musicals, “Memphis” and “Fela,” as well as Broadway revivals of “A Little Night Music,” “Ragtime,” and “Finian’s Rainbow.”

“Stiffelio” plays at the Metropolitan Opera House as part of this season’s opera repertory. For tickets to the Metropolitan Opera, call the Met Opera box office at 212-362-6000 or order online at “A View From the Bridge” plays through April 4. “Time Stands Still” is playing a “limited engagement.”  “Race” is playing an open-ended engagement. For tickets to these three Broadway shows, call Telecharge at 212-239-6200.