Tuesday, December 10, 2013

The Jacksonian by Beth Henley and American acting

Well, I feel great. Finally, I saw a production with a wonderful group of American actors, whose work exemplifies what is uniquely American, and is equal to any of the English actors one can see in productions in New York. In this period in New York theater, the English dominate the acting scene, whether I like what they do, or not, the English have a skill that is admirable to see. To see Americans with the same level of skill is a pleasure, and a relief.

On the night I went to The Acorn Theater, one of a series of small theaters on Theater Row at 42nd Street, the audience had a large number of tourists from the Southern United States. Normal, it's a play written by a Southerner, with famous American actors. The theater is one of several that have been redesigned. The architects took the five buildings that were formerly there, which housed small, railroad, black box theaters, and completely transformed the space into wide, comfortable, well done Off-Broadway theaters. This one has 199 seats, all of them good, with legroom! There is a bar on the second floor, and some of the spectators brought their drinks into the theater. I'm not a fan of that, and don't know whether they snuck them in. Or, whether the theater has a policy of allowing drinks in the theater during the performance. At any rate, alcohol in the theater is not the equivalent of drinking tea during intermission in London.

The play was a surprise. I like Ms. Henley's work. And, I liked this one, too. But, it is very dark. I think that the audience was surprised, especially those from the South. Because, we were all waiting for the lovely, sad and funny world of Crimes of the Heart. And, this is not that. It has the wonderful characters that Ms Henley knows. But, the situation, which also has a murder in it, and a family with problems, and heartbreak, also is, well, just darker. I'm not going to tell the story. Go see the play.

All of the actors are good. I've always liked Ed Harris. A nd, he is superb. I saw him and Glenn Headly years ago in Fool for Love. And, have followed their work ever since. They have a scene in this play that is fantastic. And, to my mind, their work in this scene exemplifies a level of work that has an energy in it that exemplifies the best American acting. Amy Madigan is wonderful as Mr. Harris' wife, in a role that could disappear, she doesn't. And, the rest, Bill Pullman as a barman, and Juliet Brett as Mr. Harris and Ms Madigan's daughter, hold their own with this group. Especially the work of Mr Pullman and Ms Headly, who play character roles, exemplifies the difference between what the Engish do, and what Americans do. Because, both of their characters are rendered with the same reality and skill that we see in major roles in most English productions. But, not with the secondary roles, which are played by competent actors, but they are not as real and skillful as the actors who play major roles. Here, all the actors are on the same level of skill. There are moments I might like it to be more real. But, I always think that. I am obsessed about not wanting to be aware that an actor is acting. This is especially true in the first part of the play. Perhaps, some of the playing I didn't like comes from some style that may be imposed by the director, but Robert Fall's is a good production.  But, at the end of the evening, I was more than satisfied Go see it!