Intermission Talk


“Once On This Island”

“The Children” Met

“The Parisian Woman”




Like most bold-face people, in or out of the performing arts / political world, Uma Thurman has long been able to enjoy two of ‘something/someone’ where most others would only be entitled on one.  In work and life, she has earned that courtesy.  It’s unfortunate, then, that just when she could truly have used that ‘two of . . .’ benefit, it wasn’t there.

The ‘something / someone’ in this case is editors.  While still in her teens, Thurman created a searing presence on the big screen.  Demonstrating early on how well she had learned her acting craft,  she established her acting career on the big screen,   due  in part to the craft of editors. {Her role in Stephen Frears’ 1988 “Dangerous Liaisons ” cemented her star status.]  Making a picture only requires the actor to get it ‘right’ once.  On stage, the impact is required eight times a week – every week.   If someone is ‘on’ for only half the running time of an average play [two hours], ‘getting it right’ figures to be eight hours a week – every week.  In sequence.  And delivered regardless of the flu, bad clams at lunch or bouts of faulty memory.  Not so in pictures.   An exceptional take that runs about three minutes only needs to be captured one time – the rest is up to the editor.

Editor # 2 in theatre might be  the playwright, the director, the dramaturge or even an acting coach.  That person can note, early on, certain moments the actor is finding problematic.  One could be the length of a speech [the audience will tire of it].  Another possible source of trouble might be the movement[s] the director has put in place that tell the audience where to look [a film editor can bring you up close to the actor, a middle distance away, or part of a large group – alternating these combinations during the same speech].   Various members of the design and tech crew can mess up lighting cues, sound cues, and entrance or other cues, which impact the actor’s well-honed, finely-tuned performance, down to the millisecond.

In  Beau Willimon’s “The Parisian Woman,” at the Hudson Theatre,  Thurman’s Broadway debut , one wonders what her career trajectory would have been like, had she chosen stage work first.   If that had been the case – a 2nd or even 3rd rate actress  trading on stunning beauty, and . . . that would have been it.

This story follows Chloe [Thurman], a stunningly beautiful young woman, married to Tom, [Joshua Logan], an ambitious tax attorney eyeing a federal judgeship, a goal she supports.  She relishes the role of ‘stunningly beautiful woman,’ acted out for whomever she believes can be useful.   Here it’s her guileless husband, and her ever-willing lover Peter [Marton Csokas, almost managing to overcome cliche dialogue],  and Rebecca, [Phillipa Soo], the brilliant, young, beautiful closeted daughter of Jeanette [Blair Brown] a well-placed government appointee who could help Tom.

That’s the four-sided triangle.  Chloe allows both men, and Rebecca, to believe she is their chosen partner.  She uses clandestine pictures of her affair with Rebecca, in a fairly clumsy blackmail attempt to influence Rebecca’s mother Jeanette,  on Tom’s behalf.  Potentially scorching high intensity issues emerge with very little passion, using achingly static dialogue.  Compare this with Wendy Wasserstein’s gripping “An American Daughter.”

Does Tom get the job?  Does Chloe follow  Rebecca,  half her age and just as attractive, to make a new life in California?  And what about Peter?

Director  Pam MacKinnon’s choices look like grad school exercises,   clearly compounding things.  To be somewhat fair, she is crippled by the playwright’s soap opera-tenets script.  ‘Now’ references were dropped in to create ‘relevance,’ such as ‘Kelly,’ meaning DJT’s chief of staff.  Willimon has someone doing something for a long time as lasting ‘twenty years’ – the time designation seized on by writers too lazy to draft a specific back story for person or event.

Thurman possesses the acting skills and intellectual acuity to score strong on the stage.  She’s got to attract both kinds of ‘editors’ who look beyond the movie star and use their talents to serve her well.

The opposite is on view in “Once on This Island,” a multi-talented feast for the senses at Circle in the Square.  And it’s just what we all need now during this frigid blast era, a trip to the warm place.  It’s the first collaborative endeavor of  librettist-lyricist Lynn Flaherty and composer Stephen Flaherty.  It premiered  in May, 1990 at Playwrights Horizons, and then transferred to Broadway.  This Tony Award-winning creative powerhouse duo [“Ragtime,” “Anastasia,” “My Favorite Year” and others], took a simple French Antilles folktale based on Rosa Guy’s novel “My Love, My Love,” and brought it to vivid, vibrant life.  At the perfectly- suited Circle in the Square, it takes full advantage of that unique venue’s features.

Following a storm, a young orphan girl is discovered in a tree  by a generous older couple, Papa Ge, the death god [Merle Dandridge] and Mother Earth goddess  Mama Euralie [Kenita R. Miller].  They raise her as their own, with specialized assistance from the goddess of Love, and the water god.  Though it’s a small island, it hosts two separate and distinct clans – the beauxhommes, with light skin and French traditions, and the peasants, with native black skin and a lifestyle honoring nature and simple truths.

From the start, this exuberant, enchanting musical envelops you with its spirit, sometimes positive, other times not.  Cleaning up the beach after the storm, they collectively explain how everyone there survives such setbacks.  The secret:  “We Dance.”  And that they do.   We are ever so gently lured into their colorful, joyful little world of peaceful co-existence, of sharing and of the kinds of sincere love that is free from cynicism, sarcasm and selfishness.

Years later, the girl, Ti Moune, has grown into a lovely young woman [Hailey Kilgore] .  One night she comes upon an auto accident, and rescues the handsome, fair-skinned driver Daniel [Isaac Powell].  Recalling her rescue as a little girl, she is convinced that “. . .the gods saved my life so I could save him.”  Her kindness in overlooking his obvious heritage, nursing him back to health despite  admonitions from her family and friends, leads to love.  A love story, obviously.  But it doesn’t go where these tales usually go.

The Filipino Broadway star of “Miss Saigon” Lea Salonga, in a much-anticipated return in a worthy vehicle for her captivating abilities, portrays the goddess of love Erzuile.  The other deities, and the water god Agwe, {Quentin Earl Darrington] provide their own individualized touches to Ti Moune’s life, far greater than fairy tale depictions might require.   Powell, with an endearing sweetness, finds himself trapped between his growing love and passion for his selfless rescuer, and loyalties to family and creed.

Chronicled in “One Small Girl,” Ti Moune’s several encounters with the gods, the goddesses and the people who people her life, each has a musical number with a very particular messages.  Ahrens and Flaherty have wisely, and unobtrusively, added eight Storytellers for this production, and along with their story-telling duties, they give background harmonies to just about every song.  Flaherty’s exceptional score effortlessly blends together elements from diverse pop-Caribbean melodies which are all inherently present, and when married to Ahrens’ lyrics, yield results far greater than the sum of their parts.  The rousing, life-affirming “Mama Will Provide” is stoked with as much gentle defiance and muted power as any of the great Negro spirituals.  Elsewhere, it might be a show-stopper, but not here.   Flaherty’s score has been fluidly-integrated into the story, thanks also to the skillful music supervisor Chris Fenwick, orchestrations from Annmarie Milazzo and Michael Starobin, and music director Alvin Hough, Jr.

The endlessly inventive director, Michael Arden [his was the impactful, re-imagined 2015 Deaf West Theatre’s revival of “Spring Awakening”] has a proven ability to take the best elements in any work he works on.  Here, he nurtures and honors all of them –  book, lyrics, music, spot-on casting, and the fresh, exuberant choreography of Camille A. Brown.  Note, for instance, the “Rain, and “Discovering Daniel” sequence, where Arden constructs  Daniel’s car from beach litter.  He then melds music, movement, choreography and Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer’s evocative lighting to magnify the elements of the crash.  If this sounds like standard fare, pay particular attention to how Arden has layered in the unique sounds of found objects.  Ingenious ‘found’ instrument design is courtesy of Bertles and Bash the Trash, the spice of the score.

This bold [but never brash], gleeful, rapturous celebration of the times of one’s life has so many outstanding aspects – it’s a natural choice for a Best Ensemble Tony Award, if one were granted, the way SAG does for films.  One among them is Miller’s natural story-telling through lyrics, a rare feature best remembered in Barbara Cook’s singing.  Overall, this melodious production, with one beatific moment after another, deserves a long run  – it’s one of this or any other season’s best.

Speaking of two’s [refer to sentence # one, above], we are indeed blessed to have two superior, exceptional works on view at the same time.   Lucy Kirkwood’s “The Children,” at the Friedman Theatre,  embeds real threats to humanity within a seemingly prosaic three-person encounter in a small, unfussy seaside cottage on the coast of England.  Retired engineers Hazel [Deborah Findlay] and her husband Robin [Ron Cook] took up permanent residence there,  just outside the ‘exclusion zone,’  after a horrendous accident at a nearby nuclear power plant where they were both employed.  Its recent core meltdown was the result of a rare earthquake, which triggered a tsunami, sending flooding water into the basement of the plant, where the emergency generator had been foolishly situated.  The couple, along with their [unseen] young son, have taught themselves how to cope with the missing pieces of a well-ordered life, such as electricity, potable water and a supply of basic, nourishing food.  Dinner might be crackers or celery – but not both.

When Rose [Francesca Annis], another of the original plant design team, appears in Hazel’s kitchen uninvited, the two women seem to share the same type of casual chat one might overhear at a sorority reunion.  Tensions emerge slowly, such as when Hazel notices how familiar Rose is with the location of items in the kitchen.  Robin’s return from errands leads to the unobtrusive, un-hysterical peeling away of layers of additional, at first unspoken, back stories, thanks to the subtle hand of director James Macdonald.  Skipping over the thirty-eight year gap takes real finesse.

Rose eventually confesses that she has a more complicated agenda.  As three of the plant’s original design engineers, she believes they all have a responsibility to return now and assist however they can with the ongoing clean-up and restoration of it.  They share their own interconnected  layers of relationship events, stemming from the fact that Rose and Hazel were both Ron’s lovers during those times.  These times, now, infest any conversation with the possibility that the civil threesome might implode.  And while it is the malfunction of their nuclear power plant, in ways similar to the woeful chain of events that caused the 2011 nuclear disaster in Fukushima, Japan, this is not a black-and-white polemic on the elimination of nuclear power.   In fact, all three exhibit blase attitudes to that subject, believing that nuclear power is a necessity.

While Rose implores the couple that it is their responsibility, their duty to do this, Hazel suspects that Rose has taken up her previous role as chief rival for Ron’s affections.  Back in the early times, the two women were the only female members of the team, and Ron’s successful interest in both of them was well-known.  Even now, they can enjoy re-creating a line dance routine to a James Brown number.  That brief respite helps to refocus on the nature of this visit – how do these people unbundle the interconnected tension-filled threads of a trio of agendas, personal and professional, against the backdrop of such a societal cataclysm?   Do loyalty and responsibility override personal long-held feelings?  In this prosaic kitchen, how do well-educated, thoughtful and skillful baby boomer scientists acknowledge the immediate deadly consequences of their specialized work, contrasted with their belief in its long-range benefit to satisfy an ever-growing hunger for energy?  Provocative and suspenseful, “The Children,” originally staged at London’s  Royal Court,  represents the finest in dramatic playwriting.


You are on long-range notice:  Kids’ Night on Broadway, a program of the Broadway League, supported by The New York Times, takes place on Tuesday, February 27.   Any child 18 and under can attend one of the sixteen participating Broadway show for free, when accompanied by a ticket-purchaser adult.  Some shows will also include in-theatre activities including talkbacks and activities books. is the official League on-line headquarters for Broadway.  Kids’ Night on Broadway events will also be held in several cities across the county . . .  a program to provide admissions to veterans is underway, presented by TDF [Theatre Development Fund, to make available free tickets to NYC’s former servicemen and women of all ages who have served in any branch of the armed services.   The line-up includes “Beautiful” on January 21, “Come From Away” on January 25, “School of Rock” on January 29, “Chicago” on February 4, “A Bronx Tale” on May 16 and “Kinky Boots” on May 19.   To learn more, visit

On Book

“Journeys in the Night: Creating a New American Theatre with Circle in the Square” is founder/director Theatre Mann’s  engrossing autobiography from Applause Books, chronicles the exceptional contributions the venue, and Mann, have made to the theatre world . . .  Nathan Lane penned the introduction to another grand autobiography, “Neil Simon’s Memoirs,” now in paperback from Simon & Schuster.  Start the year off with countless smiles . . . and if you want to bolster your knowledge of theatre, start the new year off with Michael Billington’s “The 101 Greatest Plays – From Antiquity to the Present” from Garden Books.  It’s less pretentious and more accessible than the title might suggest.


TONY  VELLELA‘s play “Admissions” was chosen as Best Play at the New York International Fringe Festival, in a production directed by Austin Pendleton, and is published by Playscripts.  He wrote and produced the PBS series “Character Studies,” about theatre.  His play “Maisie and Grover Go to the Theatre” is published by ArtAge Press.  He has written nine other plays and musicals, including “Mister,” with for Anthony Rapp, with composer Misha Piatigorsky.  His feature articles and reviews of the performing arts have appeared in The Christian Science Monitor, Dramatics, Parade, Rolling Stone, Life Magazine and dozens of other outlets.  He has taught theatre-related sessions at HB Studio, the 92nd St. Y, Columbia University’s Teachers’ College and several other institutions across the country.  His documentary “Test of Time” was a CableAce Award winner for Lifetime Television.  His new play “Labor Days” is in development.


CARMEL CAR &  LIMOUSINE SERVICE, in business since 1978, has been selected as the official transportation company for Intermission Talk.  Its wide variety of services, including special theatre packages, and reservations, are available at, the Carmel App, or at 212 – 666 – 6666.


Books recommended or referenced in Intermission Talk are available at, or through Manhattan’s Tony Award-winning Drama Bookshop,250 west 40th street, NYC 10018, at 212 – 944 – 0595, or at





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