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Review 2, 3-25: New House
Curran Lends 'Graces' to Awkward "Albertine"
By Susan Yung
Copyright 2003 Susan Yung
NEW YORK -- "My Life
With Albertine," a new musical about the Albertine passages in Marcel
Proust's "Remembrance of Things Past" now playing at Playwrights
Horizons, moves stiltedly between effete refinement and Fox Channel
vulgarity, like a loud, soused guest at a black tie party. It is
directed by Richard Nelson, who also wrote the book, with music
by Ricky Ian Gordon. The two co-wrote the sometimes awkward lyrics,
which unfortunately linger in the mind to negate many of the positives
the show has to offer.
Another problem is the
casting of Chad Kimball as the young Marcel. He can sing, but even
portraying an asthmathic, pathologically jealous artiste, he is
too unsympathetic to earn our steady interest. He also contrasts
starkly with the Narrator, an older Proust played by Brent Carver,
who evokes a great deal of pathos. Kimball is too physically robust
to be believable as a sickly young man who fears getting a chill,
and rather than coming across as someone with refined and demanding
tastes, he is just unappealingly petulant.
The title role is played
by Kelli O'Hara, whose red mane -- wildly flowing, or pinned neatly
in a bun -- reflects the different aspects of Albertine which supposedly
enchanted Proust. Here O'Hara is given the chance to cut loose more
than in "The Sweet Smell of Success," an undeserved punchbag
of a show. But I got the sense that she was working hard at being
wild; well-behaved poise and a sweet demeanor seem to be default
behaviors for her.
Sean Curran's contribution
as choreographer is small but significant. It is in the brief dances
that Albertine seems most vibrant and dimensional. In "Ferret Song,"
she joins with two women (Caroline McMahon and Brooke Sunny Moriber,
both excellent) to make a version of the three graces, playfully
skipping and passing under bridges formed with linked arms. In another
dance, Albertine dances flirtatiously with the Amazonian Mlle. Lea
(played by the charismatic Emily Skinner), infuriating Marcel.
A major question persists.
Besides Proust's wealth, evident in his spectacular house with a
living room large enough to accommodate a small proscenium theater
(where the show-within is performed), and his obsessive devotion
to her, it's really not clear what Albertine sees in him. He lures
her back from her sapphic encounters, perhaps less jealous than
frustrated at his own inability to live gay life freely.
The process of Proust
maturing is handled skillfully and simply as the elder Proust is
onstage more and more, moving closer to the young Marcel each time,
until both young and old Marcels wear the same style jacket and
inhabit the same spotlight. At one point, inseparable, they gang
up on poor Albertine, who is of course never able to please Marcel.
Just as the show gets on its legs a bit, the dual Marcels are forced
to sing (and reprise) "Sometimes," which contains lyrics so shockingly
artless that I can't dignify them by printing them. My heart went
out to the actors, forced to keep a straight face while reciting
them. Otherwise, Gordon can write silky, swelling songs, stretching
words over unpredictable intervals. In "The Letters," the whole
cast stands in a line downstage and belts the song to memorable
Thomas Lynch designed
the unusual and effective set. When the chorus was 'offstage,' they
sat in the elegant salon setting to the sides of the mini-proscenium
and behaved as if they were not onstage, even when they sang. The
band sat upstage on a mezzanine platform, in full view the entire
show. Charles Prince led the group, to which an accordion added
a dash of period elan. Susan Hilferty designed the natty costumes,
and James Ingalls the lighting. This was the first production in
the recently renovated Playwrights Horizons which, despite some
finishing touches still necessary, is a terrific little theater.
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