Wednesday, July 1, 2015

New York Review: GIANT

New York Review: GIANT



By Toby Zinman

For the Inquirer

Just in time for the secession!  

Giant is a big, enjoyable, and moving musical based on Edna Ferber’s big novel (on which the 1956 big movie, with big stars Rock Hudson, Elizabeth Taylor and James Dean, was also based).  And although the cast is big and their voices are big, and they wear big hats and there’s a big orchestra onstage, this is not a Big Broadway Musical of the usual variety; it is plot and character driven, it has no big choreographed production numbers, very little comic relief, and no memorable stand-alone song. In other words, it’s a sung play, directed with a steady hand by Michael Greif.

With an interesting score and  moody lyrics by Michael John LaChiusa, the three-hour show offers many pleasures; perhaps the most surprising is that it lets us (for which read East Coast, contemporary, Public Theater-going types) in on the mystique of the land.  The issues sound oddly current: oil, water, stewardship of the natural resources, and racism against Mexicans.  The show gives us the struggles and triumphs of “heartbreak country,” a history lesson with rich resonance captured in the lovely, haunting song “Look Back, Look Ahead.”

The story is about a ranch named Riata – a two and a half million acre cattle ranch. The current Benedict to run the place is Bick (Brian D’Arcy James—it would be nice if he were physically bigger, but what can you do). On a trip to Virginia to buy a race horse, he falls in love with Leslie (Kate Baldwin), a lovely, pampered daughter of Southern aristocracy, and after a whirlwind courtship they marry and she spends the next twenty-nine years of her married life trying to figure out Texas and Riata and Bick.

There is, of course, a sexy snake in the grass, one Jett Rink (PJ Griffith) who will go from disgruntled ranch hand to fabulously rich oil baron, thus establishing the age old dispute between oil men and cattlemen.

There are some terrific minor characters; standouts are John Dossett as Uncle Bawley, Katie Thompson as Vashti and Michelle Pawk as Luz. The younger generation are disappointing—underwritten roles filled by charmless actors. There are a few odd gaps in the narrative, but the best scenes are not the predictable romantic duets (all the romance seems tepid), but the scenes written for women; especially good is “Midnight Blues.”

The drama here is not only about love and family and the sweep of time as people age and life puzzles and disappoints them, but it’s also about Texas and cowboys and bigotry and remembering the Alamo and guns and the frontier. It’s a very American show.


Public Theatre, 425 Lafayette Street, NY.  Tickets $85-95. Through Dec.2.

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About this blog

Toby Zinman's night job since 2006 is theater critic for the Inquirer where she reviews New York and London as well as Philadelphia. Her day job: Prize-winning prof at UArts, author of five books about modern and contemporary drama, and doer of scholarly deeds (winner of five NEH grants, Fulbright lecturer at Tel Aviv University, visiting professor in China). She was recently named by American Theatre magazine "one of the twelve most influential critics in America."

Wendy Rosenfield has written freelance features and theater reviews for The Inquirer since 2006. She was theater critic for the Philadelphia Weekly from 1995 to 2001, after which she enjoyed a five-year baby-raising sabbatical. She serves on the board of the American Theatre Critics Association, was a participant in the Bennington Writer's Workshop, a 2008 NEA/USC Fellow in Theater and Musical Theater, and twice was guest critic for the Kennedy Center American College Theater Festival's Region II National Critics Institute. She received her B.A. from Bennington College and her M.L.A. from the University of Pennsylvania. She also is a fiction writer, was proofreader to a swami, publications editor for the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, and spends all her free time working out and driving people places. Follow her on Twitter @WendyRosenfield.

Jim Rutter has reviewed theater for The Inquirer since September, 2011. Since 2006, he covered dance, theater and opera for the Broad Street Review, and has also written for many suburban newspapers, including The Main Line Times. In 2009, the National Endowment for the Arts awarded him a Fellowship in Arts Journalism. Thames & Hudson released his updated and revised version of Ballet and Modern Dance in June, 2012. From 1998 to 2005, he taught philosophy and logic at Drexel, and then Widener University. He also coaches Olympic Weightlifting for Liberty Barbell, and has competed at the national level in that sport since 2001.

Merilyn Jackson regularly writes on dance for The Inquirer and other publications. She specializes in the arts, literature, food, travel, and Eastern European culture and politics. In 2001, she was dance critic in residence at the Festival of Contemporary Dance in Bytom, Poland; in 2005, she received an NEA Critics’ Fellowship to Duke University’s Institute for Dance Criticism. She likes to say that dance was her first love but that when she discovered writing she began to cheat on dance. Now that she writes about dance, she’s made an honest woman of herself, although she also writes poetry.

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