New York City Theater
"After the Night and the Music"
Biltmore Theatre, Manhattan
Who can forget the wonderful Elaine May-Mike Nichols skits of the late ‘50s, with their caricatures of Jewish mothers and coddled sons? It was a magical partnership for these two graduates of Chicago’s Second City troupe. It was the way they worked in tandem, playing off each other’s wit and inspiration, which provided the magic.
But, alas, all good things must end--or at least progress to another stage. Thus the partnership dissolved. Mike Nichols, as a single operator, would go on to a spectacular directing career. And in fact, he is represented right now on Broadway by the award-winning “Spamalot.”
But May, on her own, has been less successful. Her current Broadway show, “After the Night and the Music,” is a case in point. Here, May has written three playlets about “life in the new millennium,” as it is described in the promotional material. It’s all about looking for love or sex or personal identity in today’s world. This generic material which could have provided solid entertainment in the hands of the right author.
But, unfortunately, this material is not up to the Elaine May wit at its best. Of the three playlets, only the first (“Curtain Raiser”) is truly appealing. It is the tale of two people, both losers, who find themselves on the dance floor—and as their footwork becomes more skillful, the self-esteem of each rises accordingly. This is certainly not a new theme, providing, as it does, fodder for a number of past plays and films. But in the hands of two capable performers (J. Smith-Cameron and Eddie Korbich), the piece really works.
The two subsequent plays each had interesting concepts: “Giving Up Smoking” plays with the idea of lonely people waiting for that phone call, and “Swing Time” explores the idea of group sex involving two married couples. Both plays have potential, and do come through with a few poignant moments, but May essentially never finds the wit, satire, and sharp timing that each piece promises.
Not that this production doesn’t represent a first-class group effort, with Daniel Sullivan’s direction, John Lee Beatty set design, and such proven actors on hand as Smith-Cameron, Korbich, Jere Burns, and Jeannie Berlin (Elaine May’s own daughter) in the cast. Smith-Cameron is outstanding in every role, but Berlin, who has proven in the past to be a gifted comedian, falls flat this time around.
All told, “After the Night and the Music” only makes us long for the past, for those two Jewish kids who were on the cutting edge back in the ’50s-‘60s. But, alas, we can’t turn back the clock.
-- Irene Backalenick
June 7, 2005