Theater Black and White and Red All Over
posted by April 2 at 16:25 PMon
Nick Garrison was born to play the emcee in Cabaret (now playing at the 5th Avenue). He is known for his preternatural ability to embody the feminine (the Glenn Close part in Fatal Attraction at Re-bar, the nurse in Loot at Intiman) and the not-quite-masculine (the mannish woman Randee Sparks in his self-written solo work and, most of all, Hedwig in Hedwig and the Angry Inch). He is a master of improvisation, which you’ve got to be to play the emcee, since the emcee interacts with the audience as if they (we) are sitting at tables in a late-Weimar-Republic-era cabaret in Berlin. He has enough in his repertoire, enough presence, to sustain being onstage almost constantly, even walking through scenes he has nothing to do with. And he can sing like a motherfucker.
But you can’t help thinking that, with his bald head and skeleton-y pallor, Garrison would be more at home in the Sam Mendes revival of Cabaret of a decade ago, in which everything was black, bleak, stripped to a chilling bareness, right down to the cabaret girls and boys in their underwear, who squirmed around on the stage in the former Studio 54, their eyes sunken holes, their expressions all heroin-blank and depraved. There is nothing depraved about this production of Cabaret, to its detriment. The tables are red, the chairs are red, the banisters are red, the pants are red, the jackets are red, the ties are red, the suspenders are red, the feathers on women’s hats are red, their dresses are red (with red sequins), the gloves are red, the stripe on someone’s purple fedora is red, and the emcee’s pants, jacket, vest, and top hat are red. We are supposed to be in the dark heart of a distorting time, but the whole thing looks like a commercial for strawberries. Then, during the number “Money,” a bunch of dollar bills rain down on the audience, and it’s literally Monopoly money. This production gives Garrison nothing to work with and, in turn, his performance seems half-hearted. Tari Kelly, as Sally Bowles, is a zero. But Suzy Hunt (as Fräulein Schneider) and Angie Louise (as Fräulein Kost) are captivating.