Caricature Is All That This Heaven Allows

By Stasio, Marilyn | Variety, June 4-June 1, 2013 | Go to article overview

Caricature Is All That This Heaven Allows


Stasio, Marilyn, Variety


Caricature Is All That This Heaven Allows

LEGIT

Far From Heaven Playwrights Horizons; 198 seats; $85 top

Playwright: Richard Greenberg

Music/lyrics: Scott Frankel/ Michael Korie

Director: Michael Greif

Starring: Kelli O'Hara, Steven Pasquale

it's really hard to pull off a production style that says: "Yoo-hoo, I'm being ironic here!" without patronizing or caricaturing its targets of irony. Todd Haynes executed this risky directorial maneuver in his stylized 2002 movie, Far From Heaven, an ironic homage to to the Douglas Sirk weepies that Hollywood produced during the socially intolerant and repressive 1950s. But while this musical version means to notch up the irony, it mainly patronizes and caricatures its targets of irony.

The tidy book by Richard Greenberg lines up much too neatly with Haynes' original screenplay. Set in a postcard-pretty suburb of Connecticut in 1957, the story tracks an ideal marriage that implodes when Frank Whitaker, the perfect hubby played by Steven Pasquale, is caught canoodling with another man, and Cathy Whitaker, the perfect wife played by Kelli O'Hara, takes up with Raymond Deagan, the uber-sensitive African-American gardener played by Isaiah Johnson.

Addressing the heavy-breathing source material in the same overly respectful manner, helmer Michael Greif, composer Scott Frankel, and lyricist Michael Korie (the creative players on Grey Gardens) have devised a musical idiom that replicates flat-screen speech and a production style that adjusts theatrical techniques to reflect film conventions. Which is exactly the kind of literal treatment you don't want from a freewheeling stage musical.

When lyricists put their heads on their pillows at night, they must dream of O'Hara, whose diamond-sharp voice and precision-cut diction make every narrative word sparkle with intelligence. Her dazzling way with words makes each banal turn of phrase seem oh-so smart and sensitive. …

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