Speaking over the phone from New Haven, Connecticut, Jonathan Hadary, who plays Roy Cohn in the touring production, says he looks forward to performing at the Gusman Center because the "older theaters were built for human voices." When asked how he handled depicting the immoral center of a moral play, Hadary responds, "Calling Cohn the bad guy doesn't quite encompass who he is. Putting him in [the play] was such a remarkable act." Indeed, in one accomplished stroke, Kushner created a character who embodies the hypocrisy the work attempts to expose. A vicious bigot who baited alleged communists in the 1950s, Cohn revels in 1980s greed. But to maintain his all-important illusion of power, he denies his homosexuality up until the moment of his death from AIDS.
Each team of designers, directors, and actors who tackle the daunting epic transform it. Reportedly, Mayer stages an uncluttered, clearly focused version in which the actors carry scenery on- and off-stage. Hadary confirms that the tour is "not a duplication of Broadway," where, he notes, some of Kushner's stage directions were "smoothed out.... This is the same play but a different production, with some of the scenes cut for Broadway restored. The show is 'actor-driven,' as Kushner's stage directions intend. We move furniture. We play with the conventional notion of what's real on stage. We let the audience enjoy using their imagination."
A conversation set Tony Kushner's imagination on fire eight years ago. The result: a fevered, resplendent, theatrical collage that attempts to make sense out of the past fifteen splintered years. The greatest play of our time? See it and decide for yourself.
Another limited run prevents me from reviewing a play I nonetheless plan to see, Jelly's Last Jam. Written and directed by George C. Wolfe, producer of the New York Shakespeare Festival and director of the Broadway version of Angels in America, it opens at the Broward Center for the Performing Arts in Fort Lauderdale, running from April 4 to April 16. Wolfe uses the biography of Jelly Roll Morton, the self-proclaimed inventor of jazz who denied his black roots by claiming he was pure Creole, to explore larger issues of African-American identity and culture. In a take on Dickens's A Christmas Carol, "Chimney Man" visits Morton on the eve of his death and escorts the jazz great on an unsparing tour of his life, from his professional triumphs through his less-than-exemplary personal life.
Combining New Orleans jazz, tap dancing, and Broadway choreography, Jelly's Last Jam boasts an outstanding cast, including Maurice Hines, Savion Glover (who originated the role of young Jelly on Broadway), and Freda Payne, best known for her 1970 megahit "Band of Gold." Evening performances run Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00, with matinees Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday at 2:00. Call 462-0222 for information.