'The Count' Pushes Critics' Buttons

May 25, 1985|DAN SULLIVAN | Times Theater Critic

Everyone agreed (even the theater) that the first production of the Kennedy Center's American National Theater, "Henry IV, Part One," was a bore.

But that one wasn't staged by ANT's artistic director Peter Sellars. Last weekend, Sellars opened his first show, "The Count of Monte Cristo," starring Richard Thomas. Wham!

"Brilliant, reckless originality!" said the Washington Post. "Empty-headed indulgence!" said the Washington Times. "Epochal! Possibly seminal!" said the Boston Globe. "Inflated!" said the New York Times.

A radio critic even said: "I may vomit." This was NPR's Frank Getlein, who found Thomas superb in the title role, but thought that Sellars' stripped-to-the-girders production had reduced the actors to puppets and had reduced the grand old melodrama to an excuse for conceptual excess.

That was the gist of Frank Rich's review in the New York Times as well. Hap Ernstein of the Washington Times couched his review as an open letter to Sellars, accusing him of self-indulgence and lack of respect for the play. The evening brought another work to Ernstein's mind: "The Emperor's New Clothes."

The raves were equally violent. David Richards in the Washington Post: "Brilliant, reckless originality. . . . The Eisenhower Theater seems too small by half to contain the foment of ideas and images. . . . Audacity is written all over this production. . . ."

Kevin Kelly of the Boston Globe: "Bursting with brilliance. . . . The kind of theatrical event that, had it been staged in Europe, would have been the talk of seven continents the next morning. . . ."

Linda Winer of USA Today managed to keep her head. "Bold but not outrageously wild. . . . Not swashbuckling fun, but an ambitious attempt to see discredited 19th-Century plays as the bridge between Shakespeare and Beckett. . . . When the brainstorms work, the dark stage is swept with eloquence and eeriness."

Lyle Kessler's "Orphans," which started in Los Angeles at the Matrix Theatre, has arrived in New York, in a production by the Steppenwolf Theater Company of Chicago.

The reviews were approving, less for Kessler's script than for Gary Sinise's staging.

Rich in the New York Times: "Examine 'Orphans' too carefully and one is less likely to learn about the savage and solitary nature of man (which is, I fear, the theme) than to uncover synthetically created gestures from other plays. . . .

"(But) it is riveting to watch this evening's three stunning actors--Kevin Anderson, Terry Kinney and John Mahoney--rip themselves apart with a raw ferocity that is Steppenwolf's theatrical answer to the esthetics of rock 'n' roll."

A Samuel Beckett Festival sounds like a contradiction in terms, but one was recently held in Madrid. Alan Mandell brought along his solo reading of Beckett's "Company," recently presented at the Los Angeles Actors' Theatre, and seems to have pleased "E.H.T.," writing in Madrid's El Pais. "Alan Mandell is an actor with a beautiful timbre to his masculine voice (although some gestures become inverted) with a great wisdom to decipher," he wrote. It probably sounded better in Spanish.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK. Quentin Crisp in "How to Become a Virgin": "Words are the salve with which we heal the wounds inflicted on us by our actions."

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