BY MICHAEL SOMMERS
OFF BROADWAY REVIEW
England’s classic Angry Young Man of “Look Back in Anger” fame has been duded up into a 2012 sort of rebel by director Sam Gold in his striking new production of John Osborne’s landmark drama.
Opening on Thursday at the Steinberg Center, Roundabout Theatre Company’s revival presents a sharply stylized account of Osborne’s 1956 play regarding the miserable times and fraying marriage of disaffected Jimmy Porter, who verbally spews his frustration all over his loved ones.
The bitter immediacy to Gold’s version is startling. With the play’s ‘50s details pared back, Osborne’s aimless young people of yesteryear are revealed as being kin to the Occupy Wherever crowds of today. Stark visuals, knockabout action and bold performances also give a contemporary feel to what’s usually staged as a moody period piece.
Purists no doubt will be irked by the edit job on the text that eliminates one character entirely and reworks three acts into a two-act format. Obviously this rendition is not your father’s (or grandfather’s) “Look Back in Anger.”
Rather than furnishing a realistic set with its requisite kitchen sink for Jimmy’s grubby little apartment, Gold and designer Andrew Lieberman situate the action entirely across the lip of the stage. Inspired by their chum Cliff’s description of the warfare of Jimmy and Alison’s marriage as being waged along a “very narrow strip of hell,” this bleak, claustrophobic setting – tightly backed by a bare, black wall – is liberally strewn with trash and dirty dishes.
There, the vituperative Jimmy is portrayed by “Brothers and Sisters” star Matthew Rhys with sufficient bad-boy appeal to remove some of the curse, if not the raw edge, from this famously irascible motor-mouth. The whining nature that makes Jimmy such a potentially tiresome figure is not at all evident in Rhys’ charismatic performance. Tearing into Jimmy’s torrential rants, Rhys hurls his contemptuous words with admirable vocal variety and flavorful Welsh inflections that call to mind Richard Burton.
Sarah Goldberg gives her blond, bruised Alison a mildly posh accent and a weary gentility that responds warmly to whatever few moments of kindness come her way. She and a brawny Adam Driver’s genuinely nice guy of a Cliff demonstrate an easy physical intimacy even as the frequent and extended roughhousing between Jimmy and Cliff suggests a modern-day bromance.