February 26, 2011

Why "The Whipping Man" Was Painful for Me

We’re closing in on the end of Black History Month.  And I suspect that the August Wilson estate has seen another big uptick in royalty receipts as theaters around the country marked the occasion by mounting one of the shows from Wilson's 10-play cycle chronicling the African-American experience.  In recent years, however, some companies have ventured beyond the Wilson canon, doing works by younger African-American playwrights like Lynn Nottage, author of the Pulitzer-Prize winning Ruined, and Tarell Alvin McCraney, the just 30 year-old wunderkind who created The Brother/Sister Plays. 

Non-black playwrights have been getting in on the act too. I suspect that more than a few artistic directors fulfilled this year's obligation to diversity with productions of David Mamet’s Race or Bruce Norris’s Clybourne Park, which is currently running in London and a leading contender to take home an Olivier Award when those winners are announced next month.  And now The Whipping Man, a Civil War-era drama by Latino playwright Matthew Lopez, has taken up residence at the Manhattan Theatre Club’s Stage 1 at City Center. 

My husband K and I had been eager to see The Whipping Man because K has a man crush on its star André Braugher. Because after we took a trip to Gettysburg a couple of years ago we both became Civil War junkies. And because despite the annual programming rites of February, the chance to see blacks onstage is still rare. But the story Lopez tells turns out to be both predictable and unbelievable. 

The Whipping Man is set during the week in April, 1865 when Robert E. Lee surrenders the Confederate forces at Appomattox Court House and Abraham Lincoln is assassinated at Ford’s Theatre. Far away from these two cataclysmic events, two newly-emancipated slaves are guarding what remains of the ravaged plantation house where they once worked and hoping that when their former master returns he will honor the promise he gave to help them in their new life. But the family member who comes back is the master’s son Caleb, a rebel soldier who arrives badly wounded and bearing secrets. 

Over the course of the play, the three men struggle to adjust to the new racial dynamics, reminisce about the past, try to imagine the future and, because the owners are Jews and have brought their slaves into the faith, celebrate a Passover seder, this time truly different from all other nights because the former slaves have just been released from bondage. 

It’s an original and compelling premise.  But Lopez isn’t quite sure what to do with it. So he loads the play up with melodramatic plot twists.  He isn’t exactly sure how to treat the tar baby of race either. He brazenly takes on the n-word and calls one of the characters Nigger John. But, in a compensating nod to political correctness, he goes out of his way to say that the former slaves have always called Caleb by his first name instead of addressing him by the customary honorific master.

Similarly, Lopez describes the slave owners as so compassionate that they buy an orphaned slave child just to give him a home. Then he turns around and has them commit acts of brutality towards slaves we’re told they regard as family—the least of the cruelties turns out to be the floggings they pay the professional henchman of the title to deliver.

There could be a rhyme to the reason behind all of this (the capricious behavior of their masters is certainly a burden slaves had to bear) but director Doug Hughes fails to find it.  So he, too, goes for the melodrama, right down to the curtain that is pulled across the stage at the climactic end of each scene but that got stuck at the performance K and I saw. 

Even Catherine Zuber’s costumes seem uncharacteristically off.  Nigger John, played with gusto but too much contemporary flair by André Holland, regularly scavenges from other abandoned homes in the area. He brings back food, wine, china place settings and clothes that all seem to fit him as though they were bespoke. Only John Lee Beatty’s set, complete with dripping roof, seems authentic.

The disappointment really stings when a play starts of with promise and a young playwright shows flashes of talent.  But not even seeing Braugher, a powerhouse actor and a clutch player on TV shows like “Homicide” and “Men of a Certain Age,” give his all as the older and seemingly wiser ex-slave Simon was able to make K or me feel much better. 

But maybe the problem is the high aspirations I always have when I see a show about race.  Because the rest of the audience seemed quite please. The folks at StageGrade, the website that aggregates and averages the reviews of the top New York critics, have given it a solid B (click here to read what some of those critics have to say).   And the play has been extended through April 10, nine days before Passover.  So you'll just have to judge this one for yourself.

February 23, 2011

"Compulsion" Isn't Nearly Compelling Enough

Here are a few hard facts of modern theatergoing life. Times are tough.  Money is tight.  And so casts are small.  Sometimes too small. As is the case with Compulsion, the new play that opened at The Public Theater last Thursday night.

There are eight characters in Compulsion, which tells the story of Meyer Levin, the man who helped bring Anne Frank’s diary to the world (click here to read the original review he wrote for the New York Times Book Review) and then became obsessed with turning the young Holocaust victim's story into a play. Levin, renamed Sid Silver in this lightly-fictionalized telling of the story, is played by Mandy Patinkin.  Anne Frank is played by a marionette. Everyone else is played by just two other actors.

Patinkin, of course, has a personality big enough to fill a room by himself (his fans will be happy to know that he even manages to sneak a song into the show).  But this play, which deals with complex ideas and emotions, really needs more people on stage.  

Playwright Rinne Groff tries to camouflage the MIA by weaving in jokes about how difficult it is to tell some of the characters apart.  But what’s missing is still obvious.  And I have a sneaking suspicion that Compulsion might be better than these actor-stingy times allow it to be.

The play, directed by the Public’s artistic director Oskar Eustis (click here to read a Q&A with him), is basically a bio-drama that charts Levin’s life from the time that Doubleday decides to publish the diary to his death some 30 years later. That's fine because Levin’s life is filled with some dramatic stuff.  He helped to liberate the death camps after World War II. He wrote dozens of books including a bestselling novel about the infamous teen murderers Leopold and Loeb that was turned into a 1959 movie also called “Compulsion.” 

More to the point, however, Levin was an ardent anti-communist and an equally passionate Zionist. His belief that the Jewishness of Anne’s story had been watered down for the sake of more universal acceptance (an opinion shared and eloquently argued by Cynthia Ozick in a famous 1997 New Yorker article) is what fuels his anger and his obsession.

But little of this gets shown in Compulsion.  Instead, there’s lots and lots of exposition. Even Levin’s literary brawls with the playwright Lillian Hellman and legal battles with producer Cheryl Crawford, who put Anne’s story on Broadway, happen off-stage.  Major players in the Frank saga, like her father Otto, the only family member to survive the war, don’t appear at all. 

Knowing that she can have only a limited number of people onstage at   one time, what Groff gives us instead are lots of rants by the Levin character.  Few actors can rant as ferociously as Patinkin but a little of that can go a long way, particularly when there’s so little else to—pardon the bad punleaven it. 

Hannah Cabell takes on the dual roles of the young editor who shepherded the diary to publication and Silver’s long-suffering French wife. But she doesn’t have time to dig deep into either and distinguishes them primarily by the accent she affects for Mrs. Silver. Meanwhile, I had such a hard time keeping track of the male characters that Matte Osian plays that I misunderstood one scene completely until my husband K straightened it out for me over dinner after the show.

All of the characters, except for Silver, are awkwardly dressed and badly wigged by the usually masterful costume designer Susan Hilferty.  Maybe she was handicapped by having to accommodate for all the quick changes the actors have to make as they jump from one character to another.   

If that’s the case, it’s yet another reason for the Public to have hired a few more actors. Although it doesn't explain why Eugene Lee seems equally flummoxed, creating a set that includes one large section that is never even used. Wouldn't it have made more sense for that wasted money to go towards filling out the cast?

All of this puts a lot of pressure on the puppet.  So I’m happy to be able to report that it delivers.  The most affecting moments in Compulsion are those centered around the Anne marionette.  That could be because it was designed so gracefully by Matt Acheson.  Or that it is manipulated so sensitively by Emily Decola, Daniel Fay and Eric Wright.  Or maybe it’s just because it only had to play one character.

February 19, 2011

"The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore" Turns Out to Be a Very Bumpy Ride

Tennessee Williams would have been 100 if he’d lived until March 26. Although the chances of the hard-drinking, drug-abusing Williams surviving that long were never great.  But he was, of course. And so theater companies around the world are mounting productions of his plays to celebrate his centennial.  It’s not just the classics like The Glass Menagerie and A Streetcar Named Desire that are getting done, but also the “lesser works” that came later in Williams’ career like The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, which is running at the Roundabout Theatre Company’s Laura Pels Theatre through April 3.

Like so many of his works, The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore revolves around an aging southern belle who would rather live in her fantasies than face the harsh truths that the real world offers. In this telling of the tale, the ante is upped because our heroine, the rich, much-widowed and symbolically-named former actress Flora Goforth, is also terminally ill and afraid to die. 

As much I love Williams (and I truly do) I’d never seen The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore, not even in the 1968 movie version "Boom" with Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton.  But my theatergoing buddy Bill had actually seen the show when it first opened in 1963 to dismal notices and so closed after only 69 performances.  And he saw it again when a revised version opened just a year later with Tallulah Bankhead taking over the lead role from Hermione Baddeley and fairing even worse since that production ran for a mere five performances. 

Still, Bill was just as eager to see this new revival as I was.  The good notices that its leading lady Olympia Dukakis had earned when she played Mrs. Goforth at Hartford Stage a few years ago made it even more of a must-see.  But, alas, while Dukakis and the play pull out all the stops, neither is as successful as Bill or I had hoped.

Williams was in a tailspin during the time he worked on The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore.  He was no longer working with the great director Elia Kazan, who had helped shape the earlier plays. And his 15-year relationship with Frank Merlo, the great love of his life and another stabilizing force, was ending. Hopes of reconciliation were shattered when Merlo was diagnosed with lung cancer and died soon after. 

So small wonder that Milk Train is such a bumpy ride. There are moments of the glorious old Tennessee—the lyricism, the romanticism, the unexpected bursts of humor, the underlying existential dread—but the play is hobbled by sketchy characters and silly situations. And the current production, directed by Michael Wilson, doesn’t offer much help. 

Wilson, a lifelong Williams fan (click here to read a Q&A in which he talks about his feelings for the playwright),  directs a few of the set pieces well enough but has trouble maintaining a through line, which is essential in a play that moves back and forth between realism and fantasy.  He also makes some odd choices.  The oddest being casting Edward Hibbert as the character known as the Witch of Capri, who was originally played by a woman, and then allowing the actor to be as campy as he wants to be. Which turns out to be pretty damn campy.

The rest of the cast, including Darren Pettie, who plays the mysterious artist who makes his living as a gigolo and may also be the Angel of Death, seems to suffer from a lack of directorial guidance.  Which may explain why Dukakis seems to have decided to beat her own idiosyncratic path through the play. 

In many ways, she gives a brave, almost bravura, performance but she can’t overcome the fact that she too is miscast—at least a decade too old and unable to radiate the kind of sensuousness that would make you believe the character was once a great seductress and movie star. Dukakis tries hard but there are moments when, dressed in David C. Woolar's unflattering costumes and unkindly lit by Rui Rita, that she reminded me of a drag queen version of Mae West.

Even so, the play—and the coming anniversary—have gotten me thinking about my fondest memories of Williams’ work.  One that popped to mind was seeing Sally Field as Amanda Wingfield in a production of The Glass Menagerie down at the Kennedy Center's Tennessee Williams Explored Festival back in 2004. 

The Glass Menagerie is, famously, Williams' memory play but Field played that former belle as a real flesh-and-grit person—feisty, sometimes funny and determined to find a way to survive. And so when the gentleman caller she believes to be her last chance leaves, the disillusionment on the face of her Amanda was all the more affecting.  

Now, I’d love to hear your favorite Williams memory.

February 16, 2011

The Stars Align for this "Three Sisters"

My hat is off   to Peter Sarsgaard   and Maggie Gyllenhaal.   He could be hauling in big bucks playing brooding superheroes in 3-D action movies and she sassy career girls in chick-flick romantic comedies. Instead, over the past two and a half years, they have taken to the boards to star in three far less-lucrative Chekhov plays, only one of them (the 2008 revival of The Seagull in which Sarsgaard played Trigorin) in the slightly higher-rent district of Broadway. The other two plays have been done down on 13th Street at Classic Stage Company. And each time out, the pair, married in real life, have dug deeper, honing their craft to the point that CSC’s current production of Three Sisters is a sold-out success, not just because it stars two Hollywood names but because the actors bearing those names are doing such good work.

As is the custom in Chekhov, Three Sisters is set in a large home in the Russian provinces. This one is occupied by the Prozorov siblings, who moved there from Moscow 11 years before the play begins when their military father was transferred to a new post. But the sisters and their feckless brother have never stopped yearning to return to the big city where they believe all their dreams of an exciting and fulfilling life will   come true. 

Like its own siblings, Three Sisters is a piquant mix of the comic and the tragic, a notoriously tricky balance to achieve. The current production is directed by Austin Pendleton, who has acted in and directed Chekhov for over 40 years.  I wasn’t taken with the production of Uncle Vanya he did at CSC back in 2009, which seemed to wobble all over the place (click here to read my review) but Pendleton is a lot more surefooted this time out. And that’s despite some even greater challenges. 

For starters, Paul Schmidt has come up with a translation chocked full of contemporary colloquialisms that more than occasionally grate the ear. Poor Marin Ireland as the shrewish sister-in-law Natasha gets stuck with some of the clunkiest anachronisms. 

Meanwhile, the women playing the sisters—Jessica Hecht as the old-maid Olga (click here to read a Q&A she did with Theatermania) Gyllenhaal as the artistic middle sister Masha who is unhappily married to an older dullard, and Juliet Rylance as the youngest and most idealistic, Irina—have very different acting styles.  And, of course, the odd seating at CSC,  which puts the audience on three sides of the stage, places restrictions on the set and how the actors can move through it. 

Yet, somehow it all falls together.  Walt Spangler anchors his simple but effective set around a huge farm table that’s large enough to accommodate a dozen or so of the actors at one seating and strong enough to serve several other functions as well.  Marco Piemontese’s costumes are equally elegant and Keith Parham lights it all beautifully. 

Even Schmidt’s contemporary language seems to free the actors so that they speak less as if they’re trying to figure out new ways to declaim famous lines and more as though they are simply sharing intimate thoughts with another—and with those of us in the audience. 

Similarly, the various acting styles turn what could have been misfortune into a virtue by underscoring the differences in both age and attitude among the sisters.  Sarsgaard is a bit too young to play Vershinin, the new military officer who knew the sisters as girls, and he gives an almost diffident spin to Vershinin’s adulterous love for Masha.  But Sarsgaard’s relative youth and fatalist approach work too, adding virility and poignancy to the scenes between him and Gyllenhaal (click here to read a brief piece on his feelings about working at CSC).

The rest of the company is affective too.  So affective, in fact, that even after nearly three hours, the audience has no desire to go to Moscow or anywhere else than right where it is.

February 12, 2011

A Fourth Anniversary Message

This coming Monday is not only Valentine’s Day, it also marks the fourth anniversary of Broadway & Me.  So I get to celebrate two things I love deeply: my husband K and writing here.  But I also want to celebrate those of you who have read, commented, emailed, befriended, life-friended, followed, retweeted and otherwise kept me company as I’ve indulged my passion for theater over these past four years.  I’m looking forward to continuing the journey and I hope you'll stay along for the ride.

February 9, 2011

"Rain" is a Sunny Tribute to The Beatles

Before I went to see Rain, the concert tribute to the Beatles that reopened at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre last night after a three-week hiatus, I wondered who would pay up to $120 to see a cover band. For there’s no book to this show, just a succession of some 30 Beatles songs, all, an announcer proudly declares at the top of the show, performed completely live by the guys on stage who are made up to look as much as they can like the Fab Four.

I knew that my sister Joanne was eager to see the show because Joanne is an unabashed fan of jukebox musicals.  She loves to sing along, or at least mouth the words, to songs that were popular when we were kids and she gets a real kick out of any audience participation stuff—be it waving hands in the air or standing up to shake your booty.  

It seems that all kinds of people feel the same way Joanne does.  The night we saw Rain, before it moved out of its original home at the Neil Simon Theatre where it played for 12 weeks last fall, there were whites, blacks, Asians and Hispanics in the audience.  Of all ages. 

Three twentysomething girls in the row ahead of us couldn’t stop giggling and poking one another in the arm whenever they recognized a tune. A middle-aged dad had brought his tween daughter, who had brought along her homework to do but put it away as soon as the first chords were struck. A nearby boomer-aged guy couldn’t resist playing his air guitar and bopping side to side.  And the AARP couple sitting next to me hugged and swayed together to their favorites songs.

Eventually even I was won over.  Nearly every song sparked a memory of where I was when I first heard it or with whom I’d listened to it over and over again, as did the video projections of scenes from those years that give the audience something to look at besides the ersatz Beatles. 

I worried when they started playing a couple of the more obscure songs from the Beatles’ songbook and Joanne just sat quietly with her chin resting on her hand during those numbers.  But these folks have been touring the show around the country for a while now and they know their audience. In no time at all, they were back to the familiar stuff. 

It was fun, too, to track the evolution of The Beatles through the outfits they wore—the cute matching suits in the group’s mop-top phase, the candy-colored carnival regalia of “Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Heats Club Band,” the flower-power duds from the “Magical Mystery Tour” period and the everyman-for-himself garb of “Abbey Road.” 

Plus, the guys in Rain, the name of the cover band, and an homage to a B-side Beatles song, are charming in their own right too.  All four—Steve Landes (the kind of John guy), Joey Curatolo (the almost Paul), Joe Bithorn (vaguely George) and Ralph Castelli (sort of Ringo)—are, according to the Playbill, lifelong Beatles fans and they’re so clearly delighted to be on any stage singing those songs that the joy is infectious.

You theater purists can laugh if you like.  But people were having a good time.  And what’s wrong with that?  Who says that there should be only one kind of show on Broadway?

Joanne, for one, couldn’t have been happier.  Her grin was so wide by the time the show ended that I thought it might circumnavigate her entire head. “This,” she said as we walked out of the theater, “is the best jukebox musical I’ve seen since Mamma Mia!”  She meant that entirely as a compliment. And, in this case, I do too.

February 5, 2011

"Lost in the Stars" Finds A Way to Shine

Despite the frigid weather, people milled around excitedly outside City Center on Wednesday evening. It’s always like that on the night before the latest Encores! production opens and family and friends of the cast and crew, along with theater insiders, are invited for an early peek at the new show. But the anticipation seemed cranked up a notch or two this week and I suspect that’s because the show is Lost in the Stars, Kurt Weill and Maxwell Anderson’s adaptation of “Cry, The Beloved Country,” Alan Paton’s celebrated 1948 novel set in pre-apartheid South Africa.

“I can hardly wait to hear that gorgeous score,” Michael John LaChiusa, himself the composer of such equally ambitious musicals as Marie Christine and The Wild Party, told my husband K and me when we chatted with him before making our way inside. Lost in the Stars is the kind of rarely-done show that people are always saying Encores! should do.  Although the original 1949 production starring Todd Duncan, who created the role of Porgy in Porgy and Bess, played for 281 performances, a 1972 revival with Brock Peters lasted for just 39 and the show hasn’t been seen on Broadway since.

As in the novel, the plot centers on two fathers. One is a black country minister who goes to Johannesburg to find his son who moved there to work in the mines but recently has fallen out of touch with his parents and in with the wrong crowd. The other is a white supporter of racial separation who is alienated from his more liberal son. Their stories intersect in an incident that caused the show's authors to label it a musical tragedy. 

It was an audacious idea for a show when Lost in the Stars first debuted in a still-segregated America. The story might seem dated now when both South Africa and the U.S. have black presidents but director Gary Griffin, aided by Chase Brock’s understated choreography, has come up with a simple way to tell the tale that I found affective, especially in the staging of the Greek-style chorus that Anderson and Weill created to narrate and comment on the action.

 I liked the music too. The score was the last one Weill completed for the stage before his premature death at just 50 and is a favorite of his fans. It’s operatic in scope but also manages to include references to native-African sounds (Weill reportedly sent to South Africa for recordings of Zulu music) without being heavy-handed about it. 

Weill orchestrated the score for just 12 musicians and so, hewing to the creator’s original concept as it always does, Encores! has downsized the number of its players accordingly.  I missed seeing the full orchestra (of which K is an alumnus) fill the large City Center stage, but the playing, under the direction of Rob Berman, was as superb as always.

There are some lovely arias for the actors to perform. Chuck Cooper, who plays the minister, was still a bit stiff in the dramatic scenes (the Encores! casts don’t get that much rehearsal time) but he delivers on his big musical numbers. As does Quentin Earl Darrington, last seen as Coalhouse Walker Jr. in the critically-acclaimed but short-lived revival of Ragtime, here playing a character called Leader who heads the chorus. And young Jeremy Gumbs won the biggest applause of the night for an uptempo number he does in the second act.

Although he doesn’t have any solos, it was also good to see John Douglas Thompson in the role of the minister's cynical brother, a far cry from the classical roles like Othello and the Emperor Jones that have become Thompson's specialty. And Daniel Breaker, the star of Passing Strange and the original Donkey in Shrek, continues to show his versatility in a moving portrayal as the wayward son.

The first thing people tend to ask when you say you’ve seen an Encores! show is whether you think it will move to Broadway. I doubt this one will. But Lost in the Stars is an ideal Encores! show and one every true theater lover who can should see.  Although that may be tough to do since, as usual, the run will end on Sunday.

February 2, 2011

"Gruesome Playground Injuries" is Sometimes Touching—But in the End, is Only Skin Deep

What a year Rajiv Joseph is having.  His play Bengal Tiger at the Baghdad Zoo has been hailed as a brilliant meditation on the Iraq War, was a Pulitzer Prize finalist last spring and will debut on Broadway next month with Robin Williams in the title role. A couple of weeks before that, another Joseph play, The North Pool, will gets its world premiere at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto, Calif. Meanwhile, the Alley Theatre in Houston is planning the world premiere of yet another Joseph work, The Monster at the Door, for later in the spring. 

So you can understand why my theatergoing buddy Bill and I jumped at the chance to see Gruesome Playground Injuries, the Joseph play that opened at Second Stage Theatre on Monday night.  And it wasn't hard to see what the fuss is all about.  

Joseph, who is 36, has a distinctive voice that is contemporary without being self-consciously hip, provocative (and sometimes political) without being pedantic. His mixed-race background (his dad is Indian) makes him part of the new generation of playwrights who are bringing much-needed diversity and energy to the American theater (click here to see Joseph and four others in a terrific panel discussion recently hosted by the American Theatre Wing’s executive director Howard Sherman). Plus—not that it should matter—Joseph is as cute as all get out.

But I’m more ambivalent about Gruesome Playground Injuries. It’s a two-hander that uses short scenes to track the 30-year relationship of a couple, Kayleen and Doug, who meet when they’re eight. It’s a smart play and a sometimes affecting one but parts of it seem too contrived. For example, the story isn’t told chronologically but at moments jumps ahead 15 years and then back 10, which seems done just for the sake of keeping the audience (part of which, for another unknown reason, is seated at the back of the stage) guessing about which time period will come next.

Still, in many ways Gruesome Playground Injuries reminds me of one of my favorite plays, A.R. Gurney’s Love Letters, which also starts with the childhood meeting of a boy and girl and then follows their relationship over 50 years. Joseph’s Kayleen and Doug aren’t upper-class WASPs as were the couple in Love Letters and their story unspools over a shorter period of time.  But the biggest difference is that while Love Letters records the pain of the passage of time in the notes, cards and letters that couple exchanged, Gruesome Playground Injuries marks the years in the wounds that Kayleen and Doug endure.

Doug’s are visible—from a cut forehead in grade school to more severe and, well, gruesome damages as the play moves on. Kayleen’s are more internal—from the upset tummy that lands her in the school infirmary at eight to deeper emotional wounds by the show’s end. The mental journey they both travel is a workout for the actors who play these parts.  Luckily, the current cast is up to the challenge. 

Pablo Schreiber, who has appeared in seven plays here in the city over the past seven years, nearly always impresses me and he brings all of his skills to the role of Doug, a sensitive man incapable of expressing what he feels except through heedless flirtations with danger. Jennifer Carpenter is new to me but Bill recognized her as the title character’s sister on the hit cable TV series “Dexter”  and she’s just as compelling as a woman so distressed that she literally inflicts pain on herself (click here to see a video in which the actors and the playwright talk about the piece)

I’m not a big fan of grown-ups playing little kids since it usually comes off as what grown ups think kids are like instead of the real thing.  But under Scott Ellis’ sharp direction, which also has the actors changing costumes and applying fake blood and bruises onstage between scenes, Schreiber and Carpenter make passable 8 and 13 years olds and really come into their own as the characters grow older.

Yet, something felt lacking as Bill and I made our way over to the Broadway canteen Angus McIndoe for dinner after the show, which runs just 80 minutes. I'd had a good time. Despite the subject matter, Joseph can be very funny.  But the more I thought about it, I realized that I simply wasn’t sure what the moral of the tale was. Everyone who has ever been in love knows that the experience can hurt.  What we want from our poets, novelists and playwrights is to tell us why.