Sunday, December 28, 2008

Women beware ballerinas

Now that's my kind of holiday fare: cheating, lying, conniving, and a final orgy of violence in which half the characters annihilate each other. The Red Bull Theater's production of Women Beware Women is an absolute delight, down to the death by crucifix at the end, though I think this is one of director Jesse Berger's liberties; regardless, it feels very much in the spirit of Thomas Middleton's play.

The cast is topnotch, and as the duplicitous Livia, Kathryn Meisle shows she could have been a much better Marquise de Merteuil than the woefully miscast Laura Linney in the Roundabout's revival of Dangerous Liaisons earlier this year.

Happily, it also looks as if Berger blew two thirds of his budget on the costumes, a parade of Technicolor beauties that seem pulled from the pages of a Jacobean edition of Vogue dreamed up by Edith Head. It's the kind of extravagance one does not see enough Off Broadway.

(Another positive claim for the evening: The subway trek from Brooklyn to Hell's Kitchen, where the show is appropriately staged, gave me enough time to read Carlo Lucarelli's The Damned Season in its entirety. Lucarelli's De Luca trilogy takes place in the chaos that was Italy at the end of WWII; it's hard to find a better setting for noir books, when nobody quite knew who was in power and alliances shifted daily.)

Speaking of over-the-top visual pleasures, the Sheila and I caught The Nutcracker last night. We joked beforehand that we could expect a lot of crushed velvet, polished patent leather shoes, tulle and snazzy overcoats, and we were right: The children in the audience looked incredible.

It was a repeat visit for the Sheila but, I admit somewhat reluctantly, my first New York City Ballet Nutcracker. I saw Mark Morris's The Hard Nut a few years ago, which is like seeing Airplane! before Airport 1975. Anyway I was appropriately enchanted, and even teared up a few times—most notably at the entrance of the Snowflakes—overwhelmed by the sheer beauty of it all.

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