Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Stritch to stretch

I've been thinking of Elaine Stritch lately. Why not?

On a recent drive to and from Manhattan, I listened to the recording of her one-woman show, "At Liberty," so she's surfaced in my consciousness this week. I love her to death, who doesn't? Yet I can't help thinking that only those people who have seen her in person can really explain her appeal. Her career has included just about everything, but she is by far best known for her roles in various musicals. From "Sail Away," which Noel Coward constructed with her in mind, to her most famous role in "Company," to the Hal Prince revival of "Show Boat," to countless others, she is remembered primarily for her musical work. But in listening to her recordings, one can't help but notice that she is more likely to wobble off the note than hit it cleanly, so her appeal must be in the theatre itself.

I have not seen her in a musical, but I consider myself lucky to have seen her searing performance in Edward Albee's "A Delicate Balance" on Broadway. She received one of her numerous Tony nominations for that role, and would have easily won it too, if Zoe Caldwell hadn't attracted so much attention as Maria Callas in "Master Class" that season.

Stritch is currently reviving her "At Liberty" show at the classy Cafe Carlyle, so I was excited and amazed to read that she will next be appearing in a starry revival of Beckett's "Endgame." For anyone who did not study Beckett in college (nobody likes Beckett, we only study Beckett), "Endgame" takes place in a vaguely post-apocalyptic world (Beckett's favorite setting for his plays), in a basement room with one window, a guy in a wheelchair, a silent servant, and two trash cans. Hamm, the guy in the wheelchair, will be played in this production by John Turturro. Elaine Stritch will be playing his mother, Nell. She lives in one of the trash cans. Her husband, Nagg, lives in the other trash can. See why nobody likes Beckett?

But I bet our Elaine will wipe the stage with her costars, even though trapped in the garbage bin.