From THE EDGE
Tuesday Dec 22, 2015
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Just as the year grinds to a halt and the weather reminds us that major flux abounds in the heavens, we are graced with the New York Theater Workshop’s mind-blowing production of “Lazarus.”
In recent years NYTW has given us panoply of theatrical marvels and now fans of two of the most lauded guardians of the wonderfully perverse and bizarre, David Bowie and Ivo van Hove have united to create a production that defies description and yet rivets audiences.
We are told that Bowie contemplated writing a theater piece for ages and once introduced to Irish wordsmith Enda Walsh, he felt emboldened to co-pen “Lazarus.” This musical evening is replete with wraparound videos by Tal Yarden, undulating dances by Annie-B Parsons and special effects was inspired by Bowie’s 1976 film “The Man Who Fell to Earth.”
This work took its inspiration from a 1963 novel by Walter Tevis by the same name, and featured an alien trapped on earth longing to return to his water-starved planet. The alien is referred to as Newton, perhaps as an homage to the first postulator of the theory of gravity, Sir Isaac.
This alien is Thomas Newton, played with a loose-limbed drunkenness and an “abandon all hope ye who enter here” quality by the wildly talented Michael C Hall. Yes, of “Dexter” fame, but also recently Hall wowed audiences as Hedwig on Broadway. He has now reinvented himself as a man clad in boring beige belting, and crooning with Bowie beauty. Hall fills the theater with a longing and a loss that is as palpable as the scratch and blare of the enormous TV, which on occasion leaps into action spewing images or actual actors onto the proscenium.
The plot is minimal. Newton, the alien, is trapped on earth and stuck in an empty yet opulent apartment with a fridge full of gin and Lucky Charms and a quest for Twinkies. He is stymied by his inability to return to his ET home and the loss of his beloved wife Marylou and their children. He is a wastrel described by his assistant — played with verve, legs for days and a voice to match by Cristin Milioti — as “sorta sad, sorta unknowable in the way that you imagine rich, reclusive, eccentric men to be.”
As the play unfolds many new Bowie songs are sung by the full-throated cast and occasional favorites like “Changes,” “Absolute Beginners” and “The Man Who Sold the World” tickle the memories of Bowie fans, faithful for four decades.
Time is not linear, neither in Bowie’s music, nor in “Lazarus.” Over the course of the play’s two hours, we encounter what may be a few days, or a snippet of a dream that lasted seconds. A chorus of Geisha girls sing and dance, clubgoers gyrate and we meet another lost soul, the “young girl” who is a winsome waif played by Sophia Anne Caruso. Caruso brings hapless positive vibes to a group beset by tragedy, ennui and sodden sadness. She sings with angel pipes and she genuinely loves Newton for his longing and his potential goodness.
Into this black and white world is tossed the marvelous Michael Esper, recently in Sting’s “The last Ship.” Esper plays Valentine, clad in all black to Newton’s beige and the young girl’s pure white. He is evil and enjoys ogling lovers, played by the beautiful, sexy duo of Nicholas Christopher and Lynn Craig, in a club. He palpably lurks to steal their passionate energies and eventually kills the man.
Here I have to digress to extoll the environment of this piece as an integral part of the show. There is nothing superfluous about any image projected, any slashed ray of light, or the open set with its many levels. A sonorous band is housed upstage behind a glass wall, which also allows the cast to wander, to be sucked into space or to yearn for life on, literally, another level or Mars.
The director, Ivo van Hove, who has achieved a vaunted fame, all deserved, has a team of designers with whom he works. This includes his life partner, Jan Versweyveld set and lighting design, Tal Yarden video and An D’Huys, costumes; all of these elements were conceived and executed with stellar perfection. I actually consider the set and light to be additional characters with lives that both enhance the work and have a trajectory all their own.
As we search for meaning as the year slouches to its inevitable end, I think that like in all fairy tales, parables or gospels, we are searching for clues pointing us to where we belong. Where is our true north, our home, our safety and our place to marvel? We are all aliens lurching toward that Eden and the team at NYTW allows us to gasp at another vision of that quest.
“Lazarus” runs through Jan. 20, 2016 at the New York Theatre Workshop, 79 E. Fourth St. in the East Village. For tickets or information, call 212-780-9037 or visit nytw.org
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