Star Turns on B'way and 'The Eclipse'

Rob Weinert-Kendt, one of our theater critics (and who writes the zippy blog The Wicked Stage) looks at three dramas that had limited runs this season--"Time Stands Still," "A View from the Bridge" and "The Miracle Worker"--and wonders whether the presence of so many movie stars (Liev Schreiber, Scarlett Johansson and Laura Linney among them) is a good or bad thing for the theater.  This is a preview of a piece that will run in our next issue.

The days when the American theater minted its own bona fide stars seem to have faded like so many yellowing playbills bearing the names of the Lunts and Sarah Bernhardt, Uta Hagen and George Grizzard. In the Netflix age, can an actor build a commanding body of work, let alone engender a devoted following, with the stage as the main platform? Three recent Broadway plays that had limited runs gave a hearteningly affirmative answer, even as they exemplify what looks like a trend toward celebrity casting that has invited much critical hand-wringing but was mostly vindicated by the fine performances all around.

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In “Time Stands Still,” Donald Margulies’s well-crafted new play about war reporters adjusting poorly to the home front, Laura Linney played an obsessive photojournalist with a magisterial mix of wariness, wit and well-concealed pain, alongside a cast of stage pros and one Broadway newcomer, Alicia Silverstone, who slotted into the ensemble effortlessly. In “A View From the Bridge,” Arthur Miller’s mid-century portrait of working-class resentment and repression, Liev Schreiber and Jessica Hecht gave towering, indelible performances as a strained married couple, while the young Scarlett Johansson, in her first major stage appearance, held her own as the unwitting cause of the marital strain.

And in an uneven new revival of William Gibson’s “The Miracle Worker,” a diminutive firecracker named Alison Pill, as the willful governess and teacher Annie Sullivan, staked her claim as a native stage talent alongside Abigail Breslin, “Little Miss Sunshine” herself, who disappeared convincingly and movingly into the showpiece role of Helen Keller.   Read the rest of his piece here.

And in an online Culture review we've posted today, John P. McCarthy reviews a moody and complicated Irish mystery/love story, "The Eclipse," starring Ciaran Hinds, which McCarthy terms "magnificent."  Go see it.

"The Eclipse," a magnificent Irish film directed and co-written by Conor McPherson, takes place during a literary festival in the seaside town of Cobh, County Cork. McPherson and fellow playwright Billy Roche based their screenplay on Roche’s short story collection Tales from Rainwater Pond and one piece “Table Manners” in particular. At its center is a trinity of writers, two of whom see dead people, which leads to romance.

Half-ghost story, half-love story, “The Eclipse” contains a handful of terrifying moments during which life and death are shown as indivisible. These brief, remarkably suspenseful scenes are the film’s most memorable feature; they are achieved not through the magic of CGI or using any other technical wizardry, but rather via crisp editing, vivid atmospherics and a keen sense of the dramatic. Layered beneath is a subtler connection between everyday domestic rituals and meaningful ceremonies we normally associate with art and religion. Both intersections are rendered with an engaging naturalism.  Read it all here.

James Martin, SJ

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