November 5, 2014

The Hi's and Lo's of "Billy & Ray," "Lift" and "Lips Together, Teeth Apart"

So many shows, so little time.  There’s no way I can write in full about each of the shows I'm scheduled to see this month—not and have a life too. My solution: at least one post each week, starting with this one, will be a highlights-and-lowlights summary of the shows I’ve seen recently: 

BILLY & RAY. Who doesn’t love the old movie “Double Indemnity” in which a scheming Barbara Stanwyck and a seduced Fred MacMurray plot to kill her husband for the insurance money? So you’d think a play about how the odd-couple team of director Billy Wilder and novelist Raymond Chandler created the film might be a hoot. But, alas, this flat-footed comedy, directed by the sitcom and romcom director Garry Marshall and playing at the Vineyard Theatre through Nov. 23, isn’t much fun at all.
Highlight: It is, however, fun to see how much Sophie von Haselberg, done up in ‘40s hairdos and dresses to play Wilder’s secretary, resembles her mom Bette Midler.
Lowlight: But it’s painful to see Vincent Kartheiser, so right as the peevish Pete Campbell of TV’s "Mad Men," be so wrong so as the mischievous Wilder.

LIFT. Walter Mosley made his name as the author of the mystery series about Easy Rawlins, a black detective solving crimes and trying to salvage his dignity in midcentury L.A. But over the last few years Mosley has been branching out, writing sci-fi novels, children’s books, erotica and plays, including this one, now at the 59E59 Theaters, about a man and a woman who get stuck in an elevator after a terrorist attack and, in what may be their final hours alive, decide to share shameful secrets about the lengths each has gone to make it as a successful black person in a white world.
Highlight: The idea of a play centered around well-educated African-American professionals.
Lowlight: The execution of it.

LIPS TOGETHER, TEETH APART. Some people have been griping that Terrence McNally’s 1991 play about two couples who spend a July 4th weekend at a Fire Island home that one of them has inherited from a brother who was an early victim of AIDS is dated. But that’s kind of like saying there’s no need to read “Moby Dick” because people don’t go whale hunting anymore. McNally’s play certainly isn’t the masterpiece that Herman Melville’s novel is but it still offers a poignant look at a painful time, even in Second Stage’s uneven production, which runs through Nov. 23.  
Highlight: Tracee Chimo is irrepressible as a busybody houseguest.
Lowlight: America Ferrera works hard but can't convey the pervasive sorrow of the grieving sister or of the play as a whole.

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