Monday, July 16, 2007

Shining as Alexandra in Arlington

The Whiteways and the Millers made it up to Signature Theatre yesterday, and had a grand time seeing Emily Skinner’s terrific performance in The Witches of Eastwick. We were dazzled by (and envious of) Signature’s beautiful new home, which opened in Arlington in January.

Within a great cast, Emily stood out as Alexandra Spofford, the earth mother among the three “witches.” Her acclaimed singing, her accomplished dancing—I’d forgotten how good a dancer Emily is, and especially her engaging acting abilities provided a warm heart and open arms at the center of what is, for the most part, a musical burlesque.
In the original 1980s Witches novel, John Updike kept the three women at its center, and had satiric fun imagining what witchcraft would look and feel like in the 20th Century. It's been a long time since I read the book, but if memory serves, the attractive man (Darryl Van Horne) who moves to Eastwick in the book seduces readers with his charms just as he seduces the three women, and it's not until we're well into the story that we knew for sure that he's not just a devilish rake, but the Devil himself.

In the musical, as in the Jack Nicholson movie from the 1990s, it’s Darryl Van Horne who takes center stage. Particularly in this production, we’re completely aware of his satanic identity from his first entrance, with all that such an identity implies. And as directed by Eric Schaeffer and performed by the very talented Marc Kudisch, Van Horne is one hell of a Devil. A full evening of snakelike tongue flicking, Elvis-like pelvic thrusting, genital grabbing and profane proclamations ensues.

There is fun to be had, to be sure, with a large number of crowd-pleasing songs and dances. The Devil is one funny dude. Eric Schaeffer is a great director—I still fondly remember his Passion, one of the highlights of the Kennedy Center’s Sondheim Celebration. In my opinion, it was a much better Passion than the original version that James Lapine directed on Broadway. And Marc Kudisch is a dazzling and magnetic actor. Maybe it was because I saw Kudisch play the Snake in The Apple Tree on Broadway only a few months ago, but I tired of all the satanic shtick before show’s end. And I kept wishing for the three women to be returned to the center of the story.

A show about the three women would be much more interesting to me than a show about how devilishly cute Satan can be. I had read a couple of reviews comparing Witches to The Music Man. To me, the much more apt comparison would be Damn Yankees.

Three cheers and countless more to Signature for their continued commitment to producing new work. What an amazing asset they are to Virginia and the nation. When we spoke with Emily after the show, she said that there was considerable interest from New York regarding a 2008-09 Broadway production. We wish all involved the greatest success.

Most of all, it was GREAT to see Emily. Having watched her grow up in Theatre IV’s productions of To Gillian on her 37th Birthday, Quilters, Biloxi Blues and several more, we’re incredibly proud of her and all that she has achieved. Watching her greet her many fans after the show, people she’d never met before, and seeing how exceptionally gracious she was with everyone, we realized why she’s one of the ones who’s made it so far. She’s not only a world-class talent; she’s a genuinely good person.

--Bruce Miller

Photos: Emily's headshot, Signature's new exterior, Signature's lobby, and the "sculpture" Emily's character creates in Act II of The Witches of Eastwick. The "sculpture" is on display in the lobby as the audience leaves the theatre.

1 comment:

Bruce Miller said...

As a practical example of how great is the divide between Northern Virginia and Richmond (or how great is the divide between my brain and intelligence), I originally posted this blog with the title "Shining as Alexandra in Alexandria." Only one problem. Signature Theatre is in Arlington. Which I knew, but apparently overlooked in my zealous pursuit of a snappy title. This morning our gracious colleagues at Signature wrote me a very gentle and appreciative email, respectfully telling me that my geography needed some work. So I have now amended the blog posting, with apologies to Signature Theatre and all the good people of Arlington. Now, if only Emily's character had been named Arlie.