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Review: A Long Night as Tony Kushner Revisits ‘The Visit’

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LONDON — Nobody does implacable like Lesley Manville. That steely resolve she has so peerlessly embodied onscreen (her Oscar-nominated performance in “Phantom Thread”) and onstage (her Olivier-winning Mrs. Alving in Ibsen’s “Ghosts”) has been polished to a glittering, icy-blue sheen in “The Visit, or the Old Lady Comes to Call.”

That’s the full title of Tony Kushner’s very protracted adaptation of the Swiss dramatist Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s 1956 classic, which opened on Thursday at the National Theater in London. And while Jeremy Herrin’s three-and-a-half-hour production suffers from terminal bloat, it is undeniably blessed in its leading old lady, whom Manville shapes as a couture-crafted entity beyond good and evil. When she declares, “I am a myth,” you aren’t about to argue with her.

Manville’s character, Claire Zachanassian, is afforded this spot at the pinnacle of world-warping amorality because she is the richest woman on the planet. And, really, what good is money if you can’t use it to get even with those who have done you wrong?

And so Claire, after many years and many husbands, journeys back to the squalid little town — called Slurry, in Kushner’s version — that rejected her as a pregnant, unwed 16-year-old. She has come expressly to get a bit of her own back, which means reclaiming, and destroying, one Alfred Ill, the lover who abandoned and denied her all those years ago (played here by a blustery Hugo Weaving). It is a process that lures an entire town into a grisly Faustian bargain.

That’s a fabulous premise for a pitch-black social satire. Yet “The Visit” has usually sounded more fun, and more chilling, than it winds up being onstage. That’s because, if the actress playing Claire is at all compelling, you know from the moment you see her that her victory is a done deal. Nonetheless, the bulk of the play is devoted to watching the righteous folks of Slurry succumb, both instantly and oh-so-slowly, to an epidemic of soul-sapping greed.

Kushner was reported to be working on an adaptation of “The Visit” as long as five years ago, as a possible project for (don’t you love it?) Oprah Winfrey. You can see why it would appeal to the author of the epochal “Angels in America,” a writer famously preoccupied with the moral wages of capitalism, especially in the United States.

Relocating Dürrenmatt’s tragicomic fable from middle Europe to a dying factory town in upstate New York in the mid-1950s has allowed him to take uncharacteristically crude potshots at all-American consumerism. (Oy, those aggressively superficial television reporters in the third act!) In fact, the best argument this production makes against conspicuous consumption is Herrin’s staging, which ostentatiously deploys vast resources to dispiritingly empty effect.

Yet these disparate elements never generate anything like suspenseful momentum, and even when the stage is chock-full of people, it feels curiously untouched by real life. That’s partly, I think, because the mostly British cast is trying way too hard to be American (or “Amurrican”). As the gone-to-seed object of Claire’s obsession, a too-hearty Weaving — a fine Australian actor who memorably appeared opposite Cate Blanchett in “Uncle Vanya” — appears to be auditioning for a vintage cowboy television show.

Even more unfortunate is the cast’s collective failure to find a rhythm that would accommodate the play’s willful combination of joltingly different tones and styles, ranging from vaudeville sketch material to baroquely ornate speechifying à la Kushner. Dialogue is often delivered falteringly, perhaps a consequence of last-minute trims. (The production had been clocking in at more than 4 hours in previews.)

The signal exception to such uncertainty is Manville. Gloriously clad in Moritz Junge’s facsimiles of the latest Paris fashions in the mid-1950s, she bestrides her character’s paradoxes with Olympian style and force. The body of the death-defying Claire, who has been the sole survivor of assorted exotic accidents, may consist largely of prosthetic body parts. (Love those custom-made legs.)

Yet, when she says that time ultimately changes no one, you believe her. Claire’s prevailing social manner may be a kind of cold campiness, with touches of a weary Mae West. But you have no difficulty in recognizing the passionate young woman of decades earlier, who was said to have carried the light of the moon within her.

When Claire first sets eyes on her long-lost Alfred — her prey, her enemy, her forever lover — Manville’s gaze is all-consuming and all-accepting. When she speaks shortly after of how “we’re still what we were,” listen to how she lingers on that simple word “still.” As she pronounces it, with a confidence that is almost cosmic, that single syllable summons one truly scary eternity.

The Visit, or the Old Lady Comes to Call
Through May 13 at the National Theater, London; nationaltheatre.org.uk.

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What’s on TV Sunday: ‘Better Call Saul’ and Dwyane Wade

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The fifth season of “Better Call Saul” lands on AMC, while a new documentary on the basketball star Dwyane Wade debuts on ESPN.

BETTER CALL SAUL 10 p.m. on AMC. When the fourth season of this “Breaking Bad” prequel wrapped up in 2018, The New York Times’s David Segal expressed high hopes for Season 5 in his recap. “All of the major characters are on the verge of becoming even more compelling,” he wrote, “and as ‘Better Call Saul’ merges with the timeline of its chronological successor, it will get only more interesting.” Alas, Season 5 is here, and it opens with the small-time lawyer Jimmy McGill (Bob Odenkirk) settling into his new practice as Saul Goodman — the sleazy lawyer to the guilty we first met in “Breaking Bad.” This episode kicks off with a black-and-white glimpse at the future and then returns to the present, where Saul’s new life proves problematic for his relationship with his girlfriend, Kim (Rhea Seehorn). The series will air in its regular time slot, Mondays at 9 p.m., starting Feb. 24.

DISNEY FAM JAM 8:25 p.m. on Disney. Spending the night in with the kids? Tune into this new dance competition series, hosted by Trevor Tordjman and Ariel Martin of the Disney television movie “Zombies 2.” The choreographer Phil Wright coaches two families who then go head-to-head on the dance floor, whipping out their best moves for the chance to win a $10,000 cash prize.

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Michele Leddy, John Middlebrooks – The New York Times

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Michele Kaitlyn Leddy and John Otley Middlebrooks were married Feb. 22 at the Church of St. Vincent Ferrer in New York. The Rev. Joseph Hagan, a Roman Catholic priest, officiated. On March 14, the groom’s father is to lead the couple in a second ceremony where they are to exchange vows at the St. Regis Punta Mita Resort in Punta Mita, Mexico.

Ms. Leddy, 31, is the business operations and strategic planning manager at the Regeneron Genetics Center, a biotech company that sequences exomes, in Tarrytown, N.Y. She graduated from Bucknell and received an M.B.A. from Duke.

She is the daughter of Dr. Vincent R. Leddy and Dr. Cecilia M. Leddy of North Hills, N.Y. The bride’s father, an internist, is in private practice in Brentwood, N.Y. The bride’s mother is a stay-at-home parent.

Mr. Middlebrooks, 32, who goes by Jack, is a director at Alvarez & Marsal, a restructuring and management consulting firm, in New York. He graduated from Davidson College.

He is the son of Victoria J. Middlebrooks and Donald M. Middlebrooks of Jupiter, Fla. The groom’s mother, who is retired, was a communications manager for the school district of Palm Beach County in West Palm Beach, Fla. The groom’s father is a judge of the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida in West Palm Beach.

The couple met in 2016 at a mutual friend’s birthday brunch in New York.

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Christian Louboutin Explains Himself – The New York Times

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With the room, you have the feeling that you are at some granny’s, maybe in the ’60s, ’70s in the Midlands in England. It’s a lot of chintz. And a lot of shoes. They seem a little bit kinky. If you look closer, everything which is made out of a print you are going to see that these flowers are not flowers; it’s more, let’s say, sexual.

So, what I’m trying to say in that room is that sometimes you think you have a pretty good idea of what you see, and then it could be something else.

Do you feel that people feel that about your work, too?

Sometimes I have the feeling that people have a very specific idea of my work. And some people may be right and some people may be wrong.

I remember Helmut Newton, the photographer, telling me one day — he had looked at some of my shoes — “I’m going to give you the best address for dominatrixes in New York.” And I said, “Helmut, I’m just not interested in that.” He was surprised. This is a suggestion from my work to a projection of his own mind. Me, when I think leather and spikes, I’m thinking Haute Époque, 17th century.

What objects are most significant in the second section?

A bench designed by Oscar Niemeyer, the Brazilian architect, where you see exactly the essence of his work: his love of curves. When I met Oscar Niemeyer the first time, I told him that we were sharing a passion: the love of curves. Also kachina dolls, Hopi masks, a Gandhara bust from my own collection.

For me, it’s very important to understand, to look and to be nourished by different cultures because it gives birth to other things. It’s important to be able to be open to other people, to be open to other points of view. And there is nothing bad in being inspired by things which are not coming from your own culture; very much the opposite.

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