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Creditors, The Donmar Warehouse, BAM, NYC

Strindberg’s Creditors is a turbulent study of marriage as hell. Relationships turn vile, and contemptuous lovers hurl sarcastic barbs and accusations at one another like poisoned arrows. The fragile foundations of love crack under pressure and allegiances turn and return and turn again. The new production of this ferocious three-hander, directed by Alan Rickman, is a smart, if heavy-handed, barrage of recriminations and abuse. Insight and authentic emotion are buried beneath the avalanche of cynicism, but Creditors invigorates with its hard-boiled sexual politics and crisp articulations of hate.

Uncle Vanya, Maly Theatre, BAM, NYC

Time passes so slowly in the Maly Theater’s production of Uncle Vanya, as souls pace the width of a sparse, unforgiving stage, that tensions and grievances dissipate into the ether, or else sink like dead weight. For characters flush with passion on the hottest day of summer, the air is cool and still with inertia. This production bares its soul when it just lets its characters be, enunciating the language, allowing itself to breathe and become suspended in the byt, the banality of everyday existence.

The Nose, Metropolitan Opera, NYC

In this production, though, a Metropolitan Opera premiere conducted by Valery Gergiev, the main attraction is the design by South African artist William Kentridge. It is a vibrant environment of projected stop-motion animation, graphic odds and ends, charcoal sketches, streaks of red and black, snippets of vintage newspaper and encyclopedia, agitprop slogans in a kitschy font. The dynamic projections, evoking the modernist, avant-garde style of Soviet artists of the 1920s and 30s, take on a mischievous life of their own. At their busiest, eye-candy elements shift and dissemble and transform in mesmerizing ways.

Ragtime, Neil Simon Theatre, Broadway, NYC

This dispassionate revival feels less fraught with meaning about the American melting pot than it evokes a dusty museum diorama where mechanical figures in period costume move their arms around; not stimulating, but off-putting and cold. This scaled-down production features a gorgeous score of rousing anthems and duets with a full 28-piece orchestra. Though the score is padded with some forgettable music, there are a handful of fantastic songs that make the characters’ longing and tenacity come alive. But this staging, with its bleak design and lack of stellar performances, seems reductive and watered down. The material demands an exuberantly beating heart, but here receives a treatment that is mostly anemic and remote.

Lipsynch by Robert Lepage at BAM

The eight-and-a-half hour Lipsynch, a continent- and generation-spanning anthology of interconnected vignettes conceived by Quebecois auteur Robert Lepage, is a production of rare beauty. Lipsynch is most dazzling when a theatrical sleigh of hand illuminates something about the bumpy, fortuitous nature of relationships in a way that’s sweeping and cinematic. A nine-part event with each part focusing on the perspective of a specific character, Lipsynch is expansive and gorgeous, but also unwieldy and uneven.

The Merchant of Venice, BAM, NYC

In times of recession, one industry that ought to flourish is timely interpretations of The Merchant of Venice. Where are the productions that show cocky, extravagant businessmen seeing their worldly paradigms collapse? Where is the gritty, visceral production that exposes the filth and duplicity of the various moneyed relationships, in which loans are procured by backhanded vows of friendship, in which justice equals compensation and love itself is dehumanized and corrupted? How could a director go wrong by staging this play about merchants and moneylenders at a time in which money is on everyone’s minds? The Merchant of Venice is about a lot of things – ethics, racism, justice, loyalty, and a culture of quantification in which these things, commendable and deplorable alike, are seasoned by plain old-fashioned machination and greed. It’s a market society in which anything can be bought and sold – so why not human flesh?

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