`Pounding Nails' Gives a Big Jolt, `Fiorello!' Offers Musical Delights

POUNDING NAILS IN THE FLOOR WITH MY FOREHEAD At the Minetta Lane Theatre.

ERIC BOGOSIAN may be maturing, but he is not getting any less angry. The title of his latest performance piece, ``Pounding Nails in the Floor With My Forehead,'' is testament to that. This edgy, wiry, black-clad monologist is the Lou Reed of performance art, chronicling urban lives of disaffection and alienation.

``Pounding Nails'' is the fifth solo Bogosian work, and it offers no stylistic surprises. Like his earlier works, it presents a series of characters who express their angst with varying degrees of articulation. Ranging from a homeless person begging on the subway, to a drug dealer going into graphic detail about his sex life, to a suburbanite proudly describing the expensive filter on his pool, Bogosian's characters do not project a pretty world view.

The horrors of modern life are presented all the more chillingly in a monologue in which a doctor casually presents his patient with a long list of side effects for the new drug he is prescribing. The doctor ends up asking for a multithousand-dollar deposit.

Bogosian's success has not dulled his sharpness, but it has instead presented new situations and characters to skewer. One of his most insightful pieces depicts a sycophantic would-be performance artist who suddenly turns hostile when the object of his attentions is less than gracious.

For the first time, Bogosian is one of his own characters, visibly grappling with ambivalence between the desire to be appreciated by his audience and antipathy toward them.

There is always an underlying complexity in his work. The show begins with the performer speaking from the wings, with only a shadow projection of his face appearing on the back wall (he is, by now, famous enough to get away with this), speaking about the disparity between the good times enjoyed by his father's generation and the mess that the world has become. His presentation of the past initially seems idyllic. But as he rambles on about how perfect the 1950s were, with a booming postwar economy and no race riots, we become aware of the basic falsehood of that idealization.

Sometimes Bogosian's own discomfort with almost every aspect of human behavior seems so acute that one can sense how difficult it must be to go through life with such an exhausting and cynical sense of observation. After the litany of brutalities presented in ``Pounding Nails,'' the streets of New York were almost a relief.

FIORELLO! Part of `Encores - Great American Musicals in Concert.'

ONSTAGE at City Center, there was nearly every element necessary for a first-class revival of the classic Bock & Harnick musical, ``Fiorello!''

For the show about legendary New York Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, there was a cast that couldn't be topped, including Jerry Zaks (now more famous as director of ``Guys and Dolls'' and ``Anything Goes,'' but also an accomplished performer), Adam Arkin, Gregg Edelman, Marilyn Cooper, Liz Callway, Faith Prince, Mike Burstyn, Donna McKechnie, and Philip Bosco.

Each of these performers is a past Tony Award winner or nominee. There was also the superb Coffee Club Orchestra, playing the original and gloriously brassy orchestrations by Irwin Kostal. On hand were two New York mayors (one current and one former) to liven things up. What was missing were costumes, settings, and a chunk of the original Jerome Weidman-George Abbott book.

``Fiorello!'' was the first presentation of ``Encores: Great American Musicals in Concert,'' a new series of concert versions of past musicals that are unlikely to be given full productions in today's economic climate.

As with all such ventures, there are trade-offs. What we gain is the chance to at least hear these wonderful scores again, performed by full orchestras and casts of tremendous stature. What we lose is a full staging, so we get only a sketchy idea of the original production. And with performers reading their parts, the evening is robbed of spontaneity.

Nevertheless, this presentation was a rousing success. With the exception of Jerry Zaks, who didn't quite capture the outrageous vitality of Fiorello, the cast was superb, especially Philip Bosco, who brought down the house with his number, ``Little Tin Box.'' Director Walter Bobbie, who kept things moving briskly, did manage to stage one scene, a rousing dance number led by Donna McKechnie (who was an original member of ``A Chorus Line'').

Current Mayor Rudolph Guiliani provided a heartfelt introduction - Fiorello is one of his heroes, and he has restored LaGuardia's desk and official portrait to his Gracie Mansion office.

To the delight of the sold-out crowd, former Mayor Ed Koch made a cameo appearance as a political hack.

Fiorello LaGuardia helped create City Center, which recently celebrated its 50th anniversary, and it was only fitting that he was reincarnated in this opening production of ``Encores.''

* The series will continue with Rodgers and Hammerstein's ``Allegro,'' (March 2 to 5), and the Kurt Weill-Ira Gershwin-Moss Hart musical ``Lady in the Dark'' (May 4 to 7).

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