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A CurtainUp DC Review
The Habit of Art
Habit is set in a rehearsal room of the National where many of Bennet's plays, such as History Boys have premiered. The play being rehearsed is Caliban's Day. It is a fictional reunion of poet W. H. Auden and composer Benjamin Britten, two great intellectual giants of the 20th-century. Their conversation ranges from death to sex, creativity, rent boys and homosexuality. And, as always with Bennett's work, the wit is profound and deeply gratifying.
Director David Muse keeps a firm grip on his almost perfect cast. (Some of the walk-ons are a bit wooden.) By not overplaying the jokes, he lets Bennett's wit and those who say his lines dominate. The leads, Ted van Griethuysen as Fitz/ W. H. Auden and Paxton Whitehead as Henry/ Benjamin Britten in Caliban's Day, are well-matched foils for one another, two old pros who are a joy to watch. Their pairing is masterful.
Margaret Daly is Kay, the ever-patient stage manager who seems to be just on the brink of losing her mind as she coaxes childlike actors to follow the script as written rather than ad lib a script they would prefer. Particularly adept at embellishing his part is Cameron Folmar as Donald/ Humphrey Carpenter, a journalist who will ultimately write biographies of both Auden and Britten. Not wanting to be in the background, he opens the second act by vamping in a blue velvet gown, blonde wig and too much lipstick, while tooting a horn. Not a subtle metaphor but hilarious just the same.
A word about the set. Pretty can be easy; so can elegant, stark or architectural. But it takes a really clever scenic designer to create an environment so repulsive only an intellectual, oblivious to the basics of hygiene and order, could bear to live in. Congratulations to James Noone who made such a place, the poet's study, so real.
Is The Habit of Art autobiographical? Probably. In this superb production which has been extended through October 30, the actor (Wynn Harmon) who plays the author of the play-within-the-play, bears a strong resemblance-- white hair cropped short, round eyeglasses -- to Alan Bennett.
For Lizzie Loveridge's review of the London production directed by Nicholas Hytner go here.
Book of Mormon -CD
Our review of the show
Slings & Arrows-the complete set
You don't have to be a Shakespeare aficionado to love all 21 episodes of this hilarious and moving Canadian TV series about a fictional Shakespeare Company