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Review - Colin Quinn's Unconstitutional & The Trip To Bountiful

The Constitution is the only document you get more knowledge of it, the drunker you get. Why? It was written during a four month drunken binge. The bills from those days show thousands of dollars in wine, port, beer. They were all drinking.

Colin Quinn's politically sharp blue collar deconstruction of our national blueprint, Unconstitutional, is 70 hilarious minutes of plainspoken wit. In these days when the most relevant interpretation of The Bill of Rights seems up for grabs, Quinn fuels the debate with the kind of common sense even Thomas Paine wouldn't have concocted.

Beginning with the preamble ("' order to form a more perfect union.' Not perfect. That's fine for other people. 'More perfect.'") and working his way through the amendments ("Piss Christ? Asshole move, but it's covered.") Quinn's fast and furious rant, directed by Rebecca A. Trent, is enhanced by projections of the historic text, but you won't want to remove your attention from the comic's keen observations.

Though he sometimes tangents into questionably relevant gags involving pop culture celebs ("If Bruce Springsteen was really the working man's musician why does he have a four and a half hour concert on a Tuesday night?") Quinn is at his funniest when delving into subjects like the difference between free speech and accepted speech, the effectiveness of American presidents in proportion to how ugly they were and why Barack Obama feels it necessary to make jokes about himself.

As far as the right to bear arms is concerned... well, despite describing himself as "pro-gun" he isn't exactly pro-NRA. But you're better off hearing that from Quinn himself.

Photo of Colin Quinn by Mike Lavoie.


It wouldn't be fair to say the new Broadway production of Horton Foote's beautiful drama The Trip To Bountiful misses the mark, because director Michael Wilson was obviously aiming at a different target. Less than eight years ago Lois Smith picked up every major award an Off-Broadway actress can get for starring in Signature Theatre Company's emotionally thick production of the play. But for Cicely Tyson's return to Broadway after 30 years, Wilson seems to be going more for cozy warmth and charm. Moving pathos is replaced by cute laughs. If you've never seen a production of the play before there are plenty of reasons to expect to have a fine evening. Wilson, after all, has developed an excellent reputation for interpreting the plays of Mr. Foote, having mounted exceptional New York productions of The Day Emily Married, Dividing The Estate and The Orphans' Home Cycle. But if you're aware of how enthrallingly powerful The Trip To Bountiful can be, his new staging might just not be enough.

Tyson plays elderly Carrie Watts, who has not seen her home town of Bountiful in twenty years and, given her current situation, will most likely never set foot again on The Farm where she grew up. It's 1953 and her days are mostly spent sitting in the living room, which doubles as her bedroom, of her son Ludie's (Cuba Gooding, Jr.) small Houston apartment, looking out the window and watching the traffic race by while singing hymns to comfort herself.

An illness had kept Ludie out of work for two years, depleting his savings, and his new job doesn't pay enough to support himself and his wife, Jessie Mae (Vanessa Williams) without the help of Carrie's monthly pension. Needing her money, but frustrated by her continual presence, Jessie Mae tends to treat Carrie like a child, scolding her for running in the house and ordering her not to sing in her presence. ("You know what those hymns do to my nerves.")

So when her next pension check arrives in the mail, Carrie takes the opportunity to hide it until her chance to run off to the bus depot and buy her ticket home. With Ludie and Jessie Mae on her trail, fearing she might want to make good on her stated desire to live in Bountiful for the rest of her days, taking away the pension money they depend on, Carrie must fight her failing health and fading memory to reach her goal.

Tyson's Carrie is a feisty woman who projects impish charm as she plots her getaway while pretending to adhere to Jessie Mae's rules of the house. And while her humorous performance gets plenty of laughs, what's missing is any hint of the devastating loneliness the woman must be suffering as she spends her time separated from the place where she feels at home without anyone of her own age to connect with. The scene where Carrie begs not to be taken back to Houston when she's just made it to the town next to Bountiful makes little impact because it isn't preceded by much of an emotional foundation. Just before that moment comes a spot where, from what I've read and heard, audiences have been consistently singing along to Tyson's choruses of "Blessed Assurance." Many were in full voice the night I attended and while the star wasn't exactly waving a baton and yelling, "Everybody!," the staging rather slyly doesn't exactly discourage the audience participation. It's a memorable moment for Cicely Tyson but it doesn't serve Carrie Watts very well.

Gooding and Williams play Ludie and Jessie Mae in a Walter Mitty fashion, with the henpecked husband finally standing up to the domineering wife before the final curtain. What we don't get is a strong sense of Ludie's feelings of emasculation for being an adult still having to depend on his mother for income, nor Jessie Mae's frustration in being denied the kind of life she expected to marry into.

The production's most pleasing moments come in a scene featuring the fine stage veteran Arthur French as a helpful bus employee and in the sweet simplicity of the scenes between Tyson and Condola Rashad, who does lovely work as the young wife who Carrie meets in the bus station and becomes her travel buddy. Since the play was not written with the intention of Carrie and her family to be played by black actors, subtle, unscripted reminders of the times are made by signs in the bus depot designating segregated sections and by having the pair riding in the back seat.

But the non-traditional casting sticks out when Tom Wopat enters as the sheriff looking to put a halt to Carrie's journey and bring her back to Ludie. The time, place and racial differences between them make the white man's polite and respectfully cordial manner when addressing the elderly black woman seem unexpected. His attitude is certainly not an impossibility, but something seems missing without at least an acknowledgement that this would not be considered the norm.

Photos by Joan Marcus: Top: Cicely Tyson and Condola Rashad; Bottom: Vanessa Williams and Cuba Gooding, Jr.

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Earlier this week I posted how I voted for this season's Outer Critics Circle Awards, so now here are the picks from my ballot for the Drama Desk Awards, which will be presented Sunday night.

My votes are highlighted in bold, but remember, there are no write-in votes so my choices here may not necessarily reflect what I would pick as the best of the season. And because of the different categories and different nominations, many of my picks are different from my Outer Critics Circle choices.

Outstanding Play
Annie Baker, The Flick
Christopher Durang, Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike
Joe Gilford, Finks
Richard Greenberg, The Assembled Parties
Amy Herzog, Belleville
Deanna Jent, Falling
Richard Nelson, Sorry

Outstanding Musical
A Christmas Story
Hands on a Hardbody
Here Lies Love
Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
The Other Josh Cohen

Outstanding Revival of a Play

Golden Boy

Good Person of Szechwan

The Piano Lesson

Uncle Vanya

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Outstanding Revival of a Musical or Revue
Cinderella (Though I still insist this is a new musical.)

The Golden Land
The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Outstanding Actor in a Play
Reed Birney, Uncle Vanya
Daniel Everidge, Falling
Tom Hanks, Lucky Guy
Shuler Hensley, The Whale
Nathan Lane, The Nance
Tracy Letts, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

Outstanding Actress in a Play
Maria Dizzia, Belleville
Amy Morton, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Julia Murney, Falling
Vanessa Redgrave, The Revisionist
Miriam Silverman, Finks
Cicely Tyson, The Trip to Bountiful

Outstanding Actor in a Musical
Eric Anderson, Soul Doctor
Brian d'Arcy James, Giant
Jim Norton, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Billy Porter, Kinky Boots
Steve Rosen, The Other Josh Cohen
Ryan Silverman, Passion
Anthony Warlow, Annie

Outstanding Actress in a Musical
Kate Baldwin, Giant
Stephanie J. Block, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Carolee Carmello, Scandalous
Lindsay Mendez, Dogfight
Donna Murphy, Into the Woods
Laura Osnes, Cinderella
Jenny Powers, Donnybrook!

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play
Chuck Cooper, The Piano Lesson
Peter Friedman, The Great God Pan
Richard Kind, The Big Knife
Aaron Clifton Moten, The Flick
Brían F. O'Byrne, If There Is I Haven't Found It Yet
Tony Shalhoub, Golden Boy

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Play
Tasha Lawrence, The Whale
Judith Light, The Assembled Parties
Kellie Overbey, Sleeping Rough
Maryann Plunkett, Sorry
Condola Rashad, The Trip to Bountiful
Laila Robins, Sorry

Outstanding Featured Actor in a Musical
Stephen Bogardus, Passion
John Bolton, A Christmas Story
Keith Carradine, Hands on a Hardbody
Bertie Carvel, Matilda
John Dossett, Giant
Andy Karl, The Mystery of Edwin Drood

Outstanding Featured Actress in a Musical
Annaleigh Ashford, Kinky Boots
Melissa Errico, Passion
Andrea Martin, Pippin
Jessie Mueller, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Christiane Noll, Chaplin
Keala Settle, Hands on a Hardbody
Kate Wetherhead, The Other Josh Cohen

Outstanding Director of a Play
Lear deBessonet, Good Person of Szechwan
Sam Gold, Uncle Vanya
Ed Sylvanus Iskandar, Restoration Comedy
Pam MacKinnon, Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Lynne Meadow, The Assembled Parties
Ruben Santiago-Hudson, The Piano Lesson

Outstanding Director of a Musical
Andy Blankenbuehler, Bring It On
Rachel Chavkin, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
John Doyle, Passion
Diane Paulus, Pippin
Emma Rice, The Wild Bride
Alex Timbers, Here Lies Love
Matthew Warchus, Matilda

Outstanding Choreography
Andy Blankenbuehler, Bring It On
Warren Carlyle, A Christmas Story
Peter Darling, Matilda
Josh Rhodes, Cinderella
Sergio Trujillo, Hands on a Hardbody
Chet Walker and Gypsy Snider, Pippin

(Note: I voted for Cinderella for this award on my Outer Critics Circle ballot but I'm voting for Pippin on this ballot because Pippin's OCC nomination was only for Chet Walker's work, but this nomination also includes Gypsy Snider's gymnastics.)

Outstanding Music
Trey Anastasio and Amanda Green, Hands on a Hardbody
David Byrne and Fatboy Slim, Here Lies Love
Michael John LaChiusa, Giant
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, A Christmas Story
David Rossmer and Steve Rosen, The Other Josh Cohen

Outstanding Lyrics
Amanda Green, Hands on a Hardbody
Amanda Green and Lin-Manuel Miranda, Bring It On
Michael John LaChiusa, Giant
Dave Malloy, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812
Tim Minchin, Matilda
David Rossmer and Steve Rosen, The Other Josh Cohen

Outstanding Book of a Musical
Dennis Kelly, Matilda
Sybille Pearson, Giant
Joseph Robinette, A Christmas Story
David Rossmer and Steve Rosen, The Other Josh Cohen
Jeff Whitty, Bring It On
Doug Wright, Hands on a Hardbody

Outstanding Orchestrations
Trey Anastasio and Don Hart, Hands on a Hardbody
Larry Blank, A Christmas Story
Bruce Coughlin, Giant
Larry Hochman, Chaplin
Steve Margoshes, Soul Doctor
Danny Troob, Cinderella

Outstanding Music in a Play
César Alvarez with The Lisps, Good Person of Szechwan
Jiri Kaderabek, Mahir Cetiz, and Ana Milosavljevic, Act Before You Speak: The Tragical History of
Hamlet, Prince of Denmark
Glen Kelly, The Nance
Eugene Ma, The Man Who Laughs
Steve Martin, As You Like It
Jane Wang, Strange Tales of Liaozhai

Outstanding Revue
Forbidden Broadway: Alive & Kicking!
Old Hats
Old Jews Telling Jokes

Outstanding Set Design
Rob Howell, Matilda
Mimi Lien, The Whale
Santo Loquasto, The Assembled Parties
Anna Louizos, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Michael Yeargan, Golden Boy
David Zinn, The Flick

Outstanding Costume Design
Amy Clark and Martin Pakledinaz, Chaplin
Dominique Lemieux, Pippin
William Ivey Long, Cinderella
Chris March, Chris March's The Butt-Cracker Suite! A Trailer Park Ballet
Loren Shaw, Restoration Comedy
Paloma Young, Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812

Outstanding Lighting Design
Ken Billington, Chaplin
Jane Cox, Passion
Kenneth Posner, Pippin
Justin Townsend, Here Lies Love
Daniel Winters, The Man Who Laughs
Scott Zielinski, A Civil War Christmas

Outstanding Projection Design
Jon Driscoll, Chaplin
Wendall K. Harrington, Old Hats
Peter Nigrini, Here Lies Love
Darrel Maloney, Checkers
Pedro Pires, Cirque du Soleil: Totem
Aaron Rhyne, Wild With Happy

Outstanding Sound Design in a Musical
Steve Canyon Kennedy, Hands on a Hardbody
Scott Lehrer and Drew Levy, Chaplin
Tony Meola, The Mystery of Edwin Drood
Brian Ronan, Bring It On
Brian Ronan, Giant
Dan Moses Schreier, Passion


Outstanding Sound Design in a Play
Ien DeNio, The Pilo Family Circus
Steve Fontaine, Last Man Club
Christian Frederickson, Through the Yellow Hour
Lindsay Jones, Wild With Happy
Mel Mercier, The Testament of Mary
Fergus O'Hare, Macbeth

Outstanding Solo Performance
Joel de la Fuente, Hold These Truths
Kathryn Hunter, Kafka's Monkey
Bette Midler, I'll Eat You Last: A Chat with Sue Mengers
Julian Sands, A Celebration of Harold Pinter
Holland Taylor, Ann
Michael Urie, Buyer & Cellar

Unique Theatrical Experience
Bello Mania
Chris March's The Butt-Cracker Suite! A Trailer Park Ballet
Cirque du Soleil: Totem
That Play: A Solo Macbeth
The Fazzino Ride
The Man Who Laughs


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