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A CurtainUp Review
Frank's Home
Frank's Home Moves to Playwrights Horizon

 Harris Yulin and Peter Weller in Frank's Home.
Harris Yulin as Louis Sullivan & Peter Weller as Frank Lloyd Wright in Frank's Home. (Photo: Michael Brosilow)

How do you best approach a play about a larger than life figure like the legendary architect Frank Lloyd Wright? With his life and work already amply documented, Richard Nelson's approach of focusing on a mere three days when he was at a personal and career crossroad, seems reasonable. With a Google search of Wright's name bringing up 217,000 pages of material and his Taliesen East and West and other architectural landmarks popular tourist destinations, it's not unreasonable to expect the reader to figure out the details sparking the play's tensions which are as Larry Bommer in his review of the Chicago production aptly described as episodic and impressionistic.

With director Robert Falls to bring out the best in a cast that's headed by the magnetic Peter Weller, that impressionistic and rambling structure is given every opportunity to ignite into a dramatic close-up of a great man who not atypically has a messy personal life. Since Wright's creative endeavors encompassed private homes as well as public structures, his ability to build beautiful homes in the lifght of his inability to make a happy home for himself.

The presence of Wright's former mentor, Louis Sullivan makes for a heartbreaking contrast between the two men. For Sullivan , who as Wright puts it once "WAS Chicago," there's no coming back from failure and alcoholism. Weller's über-charismatic Wright, on the other hand, may be going through a rough patch, but as most members of the audience will know has years of superstar successes ahead of him. (Sullivan died a year after the play's 1923 time frame, Wright, born in 1867, died famous and revered in 1959). With that consummate pro Harris Yulin to play Sullivan the dynamic between these men — especially one scene in which they are absolutely truthful with each other — make for enough bracing drama to carry over to the domestic dissonance.

While Weller and Yulin clearly dominate the play, I found the supporting cast went a long way towards adding warmth and color. This is especially true for Wright's children (Maggie Siff and Jay Whittacker) who let us see the lingering resentment over their father's desertion mixed with awe for his talent — and in one marvelous scene, where they succumb to their father's charm as he doffs a Gilber & Sullivan Pinafore hat to replay a scene from their early and happier years.

The minor role players also deserve high praise: Mary Beth Fisher as Wright's manic mistress and next wife-to-be; Chris Henry Coffey as daughter Catherine's Babbit-like husband; Jeremy Strong as Wright's acolyte and slavey; and Holley Fain as the young teacher whose progressive school on the grounds will be attended by Catherine's daughter Ann (the little girl who grows up to be actress Ann Baxter). All satisfy enough to minimize any disappointment with the rambling plot arc and quibbles from Wright scholars about glossed over facts. Thomas Lynch's simple outdoor setting that leaves us to imagine the Hollyhock House exteriors and interiors, contributes to the Chekhovian flavor.

If you didn't check out some of the background links posted while Frank's Home was in previews You might want to check them out after seeing the play.

Besides biographical details, the many Wright entries on the internet include photographs of Hollyhock House and not just the outdoor lawn which is all you'll see on stage. photos of Hollyhock House.

Some interesting videos are also available on You Tube. The best of these is a montage of his work accompanied by the song written by Simon and Garfunkle, So Long Frank Lloyd Wright and one of his most famous works called Tour of Falling Water.

New York Production Notes
Playwright: Richard Nelson
Directed by Robert Falls
Cast: Peter Weller (Frank Lloyd Wright), Maggie Siff (Catherine), Holley Fain (Helen Girvin), Jeremy Strong (William), Louis Sullivan (Harris Yulin), Miriam Noel (Mary Beth Fisher), Jay Whittaker (Lloyd), Chris Henry Coffey (Kenneth)
Sets: Thomas Lynch
Costumes: Susal Hilferty
Lighting: Michael Philippi
Sound: Richard Woodbury
Running time: 1 hour and 45 minutes without an intermission
Playwrights Horizons Mainstage Theater, 416 W. 42nd Street
From 1/13/07 to 2/18/07; opening 1/30/07.
Tuesdays through Fridays at 8 PM, Saturdays at 2:30 & 8 PM and Sundays at 2:30 & 7:30 PM.
Tickets are $65. Review by Elyse Sommer based on January 27th matinee performance

Review of the Chicago premiere by Lawrence Bommmer
Nelson has always treated historical figures with great truth - which is different from accuracy.— Robert Falls

Peter Weller as Frank Lloyd Wright in Frank's Home.
Peter Weller as Frank Lloyd Wright in Frank's Home.
(Photo: Michael Brosilow)
Directed by Robert Falls, Goodman Theatre's world premiere by Tony-winner Richard Nelson is a crossroads drama, depicting Frank Lloyd Wright at a turbulent turning point in his life and art. (Fortunately, the latter did not imitate the former.) Over three days we glimpse the dean of the Prairie School and his neglected family in a volatile reunion at Hollyhock House, one of Wright's California creations. As an architect Wright wants to strip things bare but as a playwright Nelson intends a different exposure.

Symbolically the view from this villa looks out on a decaying Hollywood set, symptom of the dry rot Wright finds around him. It suits a mid-life crisis fueled by talk but unredeemed by action. (At the end Wright, now divorced, decides to return to Chicago and marry his jealous mistress Miriam Noel.) It's 1923 and Wright has hit an artistic dead end. Lacking commissions (it doesn't help that his homes either leak or flood), , he's depressed by the derivative and copycat architecture he sees succeeding where he can't and which he fears has shrunk the American spirit. Adding to his anger is the fate of Wright's one new project, Tokyo's Imperial Hotel, wrongly reported to have collapsed in an earthquake. Wright's despair is echoed by his house guest, Louis Sullivan, a pioneer who hasn't done work in six years (and will soon die).

Wright's domestic life seems equally threatened. He insults his son Lloyd as a resentful failure, good at drafting but wasted as a Hollywood set constructor. He's cold to his devoted daughter Catherine, not surprisingly since she loathes the neurasthenic Miriam. He resents the paltry offers that Catherine's banker husband presents. He makes a pathetic pass at a local schoolteacher. Ironically, here's a man who builds homes but has no idea how to be happy in one. He's at the edge of America but found no second chance. Still, despite the non-stop recriminations that turn the grounds of Olive Hill into a snakepit, Wright remains fortified by his credo that beauty subsumes everything else — right and wrong, good and bad. His work remains his redemption.

Episodic and impressionistic, Nelson's meandering drama recalls Chekhov in everything but warmth of characterization. As Wright, screen and stage star Peter Weller detonates enough sudden furies to fit the play's gratuitous conflicts, while, in contrast, Harris Yulin, another savvy player, anchors Louis Sullivan in deep-dyed resignation. For sheer dramatic dementia Mary Beth Fisher's hysterical Miriam deserves a play of her own, Jay Whittaker's take on this resentful but not prodigal son is worthy of O'Neill's wastrels and Maggie Siff's caring Catherine suggests the love Wright sacrificed on the drawing board. But as a whole the rich details and melodramatic mad scenes can't compensate for a lack of urgency in both writing and plot. All our systematic eavesdropping has been to no avail. CurtainUp has reviewed quite a bit of the prolific Nelson's works; to wit these links:
James Joyce's The Dead, a play with music collaboration with Davey, Shaun
Franny's Way, Off-Broadway
Franny's Way, Los Angeles
The General From America
Good Night Children Everywhere
Madame Melville, New York
Madame Melville, London
Misha's Party, a collaboration with Alexander Gelman
Rodney's Wife

Playwright: Richard Nelson
Directed by Robert Falls
Cast: Peter Weller (Frank Lloyd Wright), Maggie Siff (Catherine), Holley Fain (Helen Girvin), Jeremy Strong (William), Louis Sullivan (Harris Yulin), Miriam Noel (Mary Beth Fisher), Jay Whittaker (Lloyd), Chris Henry Coffey (Kenneth)
Sets: Thomas Lynch
Lighting: Michael Philippi
Sound: Richard Woodbury
Running time: 2 hours without an intermission
Goodman Theatre, 170 N. Dearborn St; Chicago; 312-443-3800.
From November 25 to December 23, 2006; opening December 5
Tues to Thurs 7:30pm; Sat at 2pm and 8 pm; Sun at 2pm and 7:30pm
Reviewed by Lawrence Bommer based on December 5th performance
Guide to links to help Chicago visitors and locals alike find what to do, where to stay and eat.

Chicago Subway Finder & Other Information broadway musicals: the 101 greatest shows of all time
Easy-on-the budget super gift for yourself and your musical loving friends. Tons of gorgeous pictures.

Leonard Maltin's Classic Movie Guide
Leonard Maltin's 2007 Movie Guide

At This Theater Cover
At This Theater

Leonard Maltin's 2005 Movie Guide

The Broadway Theatre Archive>


©Copyright 2006, Elyse Sommer.
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