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Off-Broadway Review: “Rancho Viejo” at Playwrights Horizons (Through Friday December 23, 2016)

Production photo by Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Rancho Viejo” at Playwrights Horizons (Through Friday December 23, 2016)
By Dan LeFranc
Directed by Daniel Aukin
Reviewed by Michele Willens
Theatre Reviews Limited

Would you want to move into a desert community where the homes are interchangeable, and making new friends with the neighbors may feel like high school all over again? In fact, would you even want to spend an evening with someone who does?

If it all sounds fine and dandy, you may enjoy “Rancho Viejo,” the new play by Dan LeFranc, which has just opened at Playwrights Horizons. Gently directed by Daniel Aukin, this three -hour dark comedy is not for those with short attention spans. There are enough awkward silences and long pauses to fill up another play. That said, “Rancho Viejo” has real stuff on its mind, impeccable performances, some good laughs, and more than a few touching moments.

The story, such as it is, follows four couples who gather to drink and snack in the same sandy complex. One set—replete with a long sofa and few chairs-- fits all here, and when lights go off and on, we just should imagine that the characters have moved from one home to the next. (One of the repeated lines is “Do you like this house? Would you want to live here?” In fact, they all do)

The only other characters include one couple’s teenage friend, who hovers creepily for two acts and performs an impressive dance in the third. (After tying someone up. mind you) Oh, and there is a well-trained dog whose threatened future near the end of the play engenders more fear in the audience than it feels for anyone of the human variety.

The main couple is comprised of Pete and Mary, who open the play with him quizzing his wife on her happiness level, and ends with her asking if she is more important than a work of art. Sounds heady, perhaps, but this play is anything but. The characters rarely discuss subjects more pressing or insightful than what to put on their sandwiches and the personal affairs of others. For some reason—perhaps boredom—Pete becomes obsessed with the pending divorce of one couple’s son and his pregnant wife. Hey, it’s a desert out there and no one seems to even play golf or mahjong in all that spare time. One character earns a laugh with, ‘we live in a time of great television,” but more specifics could have added texture.

Some have labeled these 50-somethings “boomers,” and while that may fit their age, it certainly does not fit their past or present interest in the outside world. Mary can’t even get the group interested in going to an art fair, let alone wishing the town had a museum. The chattiest character of the lot is Anita, a Guatemalan who met her husband on the Internet. The play is partly about poor communication, so no one seems to blink an eye when Anita concludes her role with a long monologue—entirely in Spanish.

The cast, particularly Mark Blum, Mare Winningham and Julia Duffy, perform well together, handling all those pauses with exquisite timing. Still, “Rancho Viejo” is a difficult show to recommend. It’s not quite strange enough to recall Pinter nor funny enough to conjure Beckett. When one character in Act 3 mentions something “taking so long,” the audience can’t help but snicker. Is this an in-joke or not? The play seems helplessly in search of a conclusion and the final one is too tidy a stretch.

RANCHO VIEJO

The cast of “Rancho Viejo” includes Ruth Aguilar, Mark Blum, Bill Buell, Ethan Dubin, Julia Duffy, Tyrone Mitchell Henderson, Lusia Strus, Mare Winningham and Mark Zeisler.

Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Rancho Viejo” performs at Playwrights Horizons, 416 West 42nd Street. For tickets, call 212-279-4200 or visit https://www.playwrightshorizons.org/ for more information about the cast and creative team. The running time is 3 hours with 2 intermissions.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, December 8, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “This Day Forward” at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday December 18, 2016)

Photo: (L to R) Joe Tippett, Holley Fain, Andrew Burnap, and Michael Crane. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “This Day Forward” at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday December 18, 2016)
By Nicky Silver
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“In the Name of God, I take you to be my husband/wife, to have and to hold from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until we are parted by death. This is my solemn vow.” – From “The Book of Common Prayer”

In 1958 Martin (played with an appropriate whining weakness by Michael Crane) and Irene (played with a frivolous conflicted spirit by Holley Fain) participated in a wedding – a Jewish wedding presumably. And although there are no vows spoken at a traditional Jewish wedding (those are assumed to be implicit), playwright Nicky Silver chooses to use a phrase from “The Book of Common Prayer” as the title of his new play “This Day Forward” currently running at the Vineyard Theatre. I always encouraged my playwriting students to pay attention to titles, and it is important to pay full attention to this title because it provides a substantial clue to the meaning of this new play.

In both Acts of “This Day Forward,” as in other Nicky Silver plays, the audience experiences a motherlode of misbehaving mothers. In the first act, following Martin and Irene’s wedding, Irene confesses she really does not love Martin. Her real affections are for Emil (played with the countenance of a wounded buck by Joe Tippett) the “grease monkey” at the local filling station but her mother does not approve of Emil – she approves of Martin. Irene has a conflicted understanding of love. She tells Emil, “My mother used to punish me all the time. She locked me in dark rooms and went out for days. She said it was because she loved me.” Also in Act I, mother and son duo Melka (played with perfect comedic timing by June Gable) and Donald (played with an adorable mischievous nature by Andrew Burnap) – hotel maid and bellhop – display further the mishaps of nuclear family bonding. Melka unabashedly proclaims to the distraught bride, “Love is nothing. A word you say to yourself so you feel less frightened at night. In the dark. It is air and sound and nothing at all.”

Act II fast forwards forty-six years to 2004 in Noah’s (Michael Crane) New York City apartment where Noah – son of Martin and Irene – confronts his mother (June Gable in Act II) and sister Shelia (played with wounded commitment by Francesca Faridany) about providing care for Irene who now suffers from dementia. Noah has a rather fragile relationship with his boyfriend Leo (Andrew Burnap) and the arrival of Irene – who seems to fancy Leo – puts the relationship into ruin. One wonders just how “addled” Irene is. Sheila and Noah rehearse Noah’s abused childhood. Their father would hit Noah with a belt. And Noah gets to the underbelly of Mr. Silver’s play with this: “Shared misery doesn’t make people partners. If they showed us anything they showed us that.”

“This Day Forward” is not all about dysfunction resulting from growing up with a monster mother. “This Day Forward” challenges the core of the American value system, the epicenter of the national economy, the center of the political firestorm: the American family. Mom, Dad, and the doting kids nestled all comfortably in their suburban beds. Mr. Silver is not simply making a case for a world without punishing mothers: he is making a case for a world without punishing families

At the end of the play, Mr. Silver makes it clear that the old family system will not work for Noah and his Mom – his new on the road to Alzheimer’s Mom. There will be no “playing with her hair.” The past is finished and gone. Everything is fresh and new. When Noah says (with kindness” “No” to Irene’s request, his refusal brings her peace and the last image the audience has of this uber-mother is a peaceful smile across her up-to-then tormented face.

Under Mark Brokaw’s steady hand, the acting is uniformly excellent and the actors manage their dual roles with authentic performances. Allen Moyer’s scenic design, Kaye Voyce’s costumes, and David Lander’s lighting are all exquisite. “This Day Forward” comes with its difficulties. The second act is not as strong as the first and the magical realism at the end of the play (after Noah Exits to chase after Sheila) is completely unnecessary and weakens the strength of the play. The dysfunction of the family system will grace the stage forever. This play pushes the argument a bit further by questioning the very future of the system itself.

THIS DAY FORWARD

The cast of “This Day Forward” includes Andrew Burnap, Michael Crane, Holley Fain, Francesca Faridany, June Gable, and Joe Tippett.

“This Day Forward” features scenic design by Allen Moyer; costumes by Kaye Voyce; lighting by David Lander; wig, hair and makeup design by Dave Bova and J. Jared Janas; and original music and sound design by David Van Tieghem. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

All performances “This Day Forward” are at the Vineyard Theatre located at 108 E. 15 St. in New York City. For tickets and more information, please call the box office at (212) 353-0303 or visit http://www.vineyardtheatre.org/. Running time is 2 hours with an intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Broadway Review: “A Bronx Tale” at the Longacre Theatre

Pictured: Bobby Conte Thornton (front center), Nick Cordero (front, stage left), and the cast of "A Bronx Tale." Credit: Joan Marcus
Broadway Review: “A Bronx Tale” at the Longacre Theatre
Book by Chazz Palminteri, Music by Alan Menken, Lyrics by Glenn Slater
Directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I went out into the world and I kept my/promise. I became somebody. I owed that to my/parents and to Sonny.” - Cologero

The ingredients: a wonderful story of redemption by Chazz Palminteri; an outstanding cast; two (not one) directors with keen senses of staging (Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks); captivating music by Alan Menken; engaging lyrics by Glenn Slater; a brilliant creative team; the Doo Wop of “Jersey Boys” with the underbelly of “West Side Story;” and energetic choreography by Sergio Trujillo. The result: the stunning new musical currently running at the Imperial Theatre that combines realism with just the right amount of moral ambiguity and rich enduring questions to make a delicious theatrical event worth seeing once if not twice.

Some might find Mr. Palminteri’s challenging story of the young Calogero (played with a wisdom well beyond his years by Hudson Loverro) disturbing. In 1960 he witnesses a murder at the steps of his family’s Belmont Avenue home and unwittingly becomes involved with “family” member Sonny (played with a charming ambivalence by Nick Cordero) and Sonny’s extended family of organized crime. Calogero’s friendship with Sonny lasts until 1968 – the “present” in his compelling Bronx tale of coming of age. However, without this morally ambiguous background there would be no room for the older Calogero’s (played with a vulnerable charm by Bobby Conte Thornton) existential crisis and need to examine carefully his life choices as an adult.

Should he stay in the Bronx or should he “get out?” Should he continue to listen to Sonny or to his estranged father? Calogero’s choices are complicated by his loyalty to his own family – his mother Rosina (played with an understanding and forgiving spirit by Lucia Giannetta) and working class father Lorenzo (played with a sternness diluted by brokenness by Richard H. Blake) – and his unexpected love interest Jane (played with a rich vulnerability and grace by Ariana Debose) who lives on Webster Avenue. Jane is black. Cologero is white and Italian. The residents of the two neighborhoods do not mix and hold deep unrelenting hatred toward one another based on deep-seated racism. This hatred often boils over into violence when the residents of Webster Avenue attempt to visit Belmont Avenue.

The themes inherent in “A Bronx Tale” could not be more relevant in this post-Presidential-Election time. With hate crimes, bullying, and racism on the upswing in urban (and other) regions and the dogged increase in supremist hate speech, our nation needs a time of self-reflection and decision making. The organized crime present in “A Bronx Tale” is a remarkable trope for the systemic rise in privilege in corporate and government institutions.

Mr. De Niro and Mr. Zaks provide rich direction to the ensemble cast and keep the action moving forward at an appropriate pace. The realistic conflicts of each character drive a believable plot full of wonderful dramatic surprises that give the story interesting twists and turns. When Jane’s brother Tyrone (played with integrity that challenges conformity by Bradley Gibson) and his friends challenge the turf of the young men on Belmont Avenue and then lies to Jane about Calogero’s attempt to rescue him, the audience prepares itself for yet another intriguing subplot.

The musical numbers enrich the development of the plot and are uniformly performed with sensitivity and authenticity by the cast. Standing out are: “Look to Your Heart” (Lorenzo and Calogero); Sonny’s “One of the Great Ones;” “In a World Like This (Calogero, Jane, and the Ensemble); and the Company’s closing “The Choices We Make.”

Salvation sometimes comes in surprising ways from equally surprising places. “A Bronx Tale” encourages each audience member to look for redemption and accept it with grace and thanksgiving from whatever its source.

A BRONX TALE

“A Bronx Tale” is produced by Tommy Mottola, the Dodgers, Tribeca Productions, and Evamere Entertainment.

The cast of “A Bronx Tale” stars Nick Cordero, Richard H. Blake, Bobby Conte Thornton, Ariana DeBose, Lucia Giannetta, Bradley Gibson, and Hudson Loverro.

“A Bronx Tale’s” ensemble also features Michelle Aravena, Gilbert L. Bailey II, Joe Barbara, Michael Barra, Jonathan Brody, Ted Brunetti, Gerald Caesar, Brittany Conigatti, Kaleigh Cronin, Trista Dollison, David Michael Garry, Rory Max Kaplan, Charlie Marcus, Dominic Nolfi, Wonu Ogunfowora, Christiani Pitts, Paul Salvatoriello, Joseph J. Simeone, Joey Sorge, Athan Sporek, Cary David Tedder, Kirstin Tucker, and Keith White.

The design team for “A Bronx Tale” includes Beowulf Boritt, Scenic Design; William Ivey Long, Costume Design; Howell Binkley, Lighting Design; Gareth Owen, Sound Design; Paul Huntley, Hair & Wig Design; Anne Ford-Coates, Makeup Design; and Robert Westley, Fight Coordinator. Music Supervision and Arrangements are by Ron Melrose, Orchestrations are by Doug Besterman; and Musical Direction is by Jonathan Smith. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Tickets are on sale at www.Telecharge.com, by phone at 212-239-6200, and at the Longacre Theatre box office. Tickets for groups 10+ are available through Dodger Group Sales at 1-877-536-3437. For more information about “A Bronx Tale,” please visit http://abronxtalethemusical.com/. Running time is 2 hours including one 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, December 1, 2016

Broadway Review: “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” at the Imperial Theatre (Open Run)

Photo: Josh Groban and the cast of "The Great Comet." Credit: Chad Batka
Broadway Review: “Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812” at the Imperial Theatre (Open Run)
Music, Lyrics, Book, and Orchestrations by Dave Malloy
Adapted from “War and Peace” by Leo Tolstoy
Directed by Rachel Chavkin
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

What is “The Great Comet?” The masterful musical, recently transferred to the Imperial Theatre on Broadway, seems to evoke disparate responses and critical interpretations. Some insist this is a complex musical requiring extensive knowledge of the French Invasion of Russia in 1812 and the ability to parse Leo Tolstoy’s 1869 “War and Peace.” Others dismiss Dave Malloy’s efforts as an extravagant and extraordinary musical of escapism and visual pleasure. Neither assessment could be further from an accurate appraisal of this groundbreaking new musical. Its importance lies in the audience’s simply paying attention to what is in the here and now in front of them, behind them, next to them, and above them: a remarkable story of love gone wrong, love redefined, and hope recaptured.

The remarkable cast “tells all” in the first few minutes on the musical. After he cast introduces and re-introduces one another in a “First Day of Christmas” style and provides a clear exposition about the role of each character, the ensemble cast surrounds the audience and reminds its members that what they are about to experience is “an opera.” If further help is needed there is more “in the program” to guide the way.

Simply put, “The Great Comet” is about a young man whose world has fallen apart and knows he needs to “do better.” Pierre’s plaintive cry resounds with authenticity not only for his condition, but resounds with a universal angst: “There’s a ringing in my head/There’s a sickness in the world/And everyone knows/But pretends that/they don’t see/“Oh, I’ll sort it out later”/But later never comes.” When he finally is needed by his dear friend Marya D. to resolve a problem, Pierre is inspired to change. Pierre’s deep ennui is surrounded by the drama all good opera provides.

In the case of “The Great Comet” this drama includes Natasha’s (Denee Benton) and Sonya’s (played with a stunning sensitivity and core of commitment by Brittain Ashford) visit to Natasha’s godmother Marya D. (played with just the right mix of disdain and genuine concern by Grace McLean) in Moscow while Natasha awaits her fiancé Andrey’s (played with a soulful countenance by Nicholas Belton) return from the battlefield. That drama continues with a disastrous visit to Natasha’s in-laws, and a visit to the Opera where she meets the rakish and “hot” Anatole (played with just the right of amorality by Lucas Steele) who steals her affection and derails her engagement.

There’s more to the plot of course but that is better left as a surprise. And there is the Opera scene, a decadent Club scene replete with an anachronism or two, and the elopement scene with the “trusted troika driver” Balaga (played with a broad raucous sprit by Paul Pinto) which defies description. But the core of the plot is Pierre’s conflict and its unfolding resolution and catharsis. And the power of the musical is its ability to connect significantly to the members of the audience and their conflicts and to the world at large. “The Great Comet” is one of the most innovative musicals to appear on Broadway for a very long time. Its uniqueness is surpassed only by its impressive cast.

Under Rachel Chavkin’s refined and imaginative direction, Denee Benton, Josh Groban and the ensemble cast grapple successfully with Dave Malloy’s music, lyrics, and book and create a delicious and innovative approach to a small slice of “War and Peace.” Ms. Benton delivers a convincing and engaging Natasha torn between loyalty and passion. She interprets each of her musical numbers with a stunning sensitivity and a rich interpretive craft. Mr. Groban excels in the role of Pierre gradually transforming his character from passivity to personal transformation. The multitalented Mr. Groban certainly knows how to sell a song. But he also knows how to act, play an instrument, and draw an audience into his sphere of authenticity and honesty. Mr. Groban’s “Duets” with Anatole, Andrey, and Natasha are compelling and exemplary of Mr. Malloy’s craft at writing music and lyrics.

Mimi Lien’s set design transforms the Imperial Theatre into an opera house with the audience seated both traditionally and on the stage, and in some cases, around cabaret tables. Her design allows the cast to interact with the audience throughout the performance. Paloma Young’s costume design blends traditional late nineteenth-century with anachronistic retro club garb. And Bradley King’s lighting design surrounds the action with lush tones of color.

The importance of Pierre’s quest for redemption connects deeply with America’s quest for redemption and the unburdening of its “scarlet letter.” “The Great Comet” could not be more timely and compellingly relevant. Counterpointing Pierre’s pursuit of reclamation is Sonya’s stolid support and defense of her cousin Natasha when she witnesses her near “fall from grace.” In her “Sonya Alone,” she sings, “I will stand in the dark for you/I will hold you back by force/I will stand here right outside your door/I won’t see you disgraced/I will protect your name and your heart/Because I miss my friend.”

With Pierre, the audience wonders, “Oh God, was there something that I missed?/Did I squander my divinity?/Was happiness within me the whole time?” Only time will tell whether we can maneuver our way through the current “wars” and find redemption and release. And with Sonya, the audience wonders whether we will avoid being disgraced and who – standing in the dark – will protect our name and our heart. Only time will tell.

NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812

“The Great Comet” features choreography by Sam Pinkleton, set design by Mimi Lien, costume design by Paloma Young, lighting design by Bradley King, sound design by Nicholas Pope, music supervision by Sonny Paladino, musical direction by Or Matias, casting by Stewart/Whitley, and production stage management by Karyn Meek. Production photos by Chad Batka.

Tickets for “The Great Comet” are on sale now and available via Telecharge.com or by visiting the Imperial Theater box office (249 West 45th Street). For groups of 15+, call 1-800-432-7780. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes including one 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: "The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA The Negro Book of the Dead" at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday December 18, 2016)

Pictured (L-R): William DeMeritt, Amelia Workman, Patrena Murray, Jamar Williams, Miririe Sithole, Julian Rozell, Nike Kadri, and Daniel J. Watts. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: "The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World AKA The Negro Book of the Dead" at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday December 18, 2016)
Written by Suzan-Lori Parks
Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Suzan-Lori Parks’s “The Death of the Last Black Man in the Whole Entire World” rehearses nine powerful archetypes that have ricocheted throughout the annals of Black History. These archetypal dreamscapes have regrettably defined that history (oral and written) and more often than not have impeded the advancement of that history. Ms. Parks’s play subtitled “AKA The Negro Book of the Dead” powerfully reframes the funerary of Black Man With Watermelon (played with a transformative melancholy by Daniel J. Watts) and establishes the importance of both telling and preserving the history of this allegorical black man who refuses to die just once and be forgotten.

Voice on Thuh Tee V (William Demeritt), Yes and Greens Black-Eyed Peas Cornbread (Nike Kadri), Ham (that son of Noah played by Patrena Murray), And Bigger and Bigger and Bigger (Reynaldo Piniella), Old Man River Jordan (Julian Rozzell), Prunes and Prisms (Mirirai Sithole), Before Columbus (David Ryan Smith), Lots of Grease and Lots of Pork (Jamar Williams), and Queen-Then-Pharoah Hatshepsut (Amelia Workman) fill the spaces between the panels (the Seven Stations of the Cross perhaps) with admonitions and warnings relevant to Black Man’s untimely passing. And Bigger and Bigger and Bigger wearing a hoodie sits in an electric chair and begs, “WILL SOMEBODY TAKE THESE STRAPS OFF UH ME PLEASE? I WOULD LIKE TUH MOVE MY HANDS.” And Ham’s Begotten Tree rant quickly morphs into the slave auctioneer’s selling cadence of premature death. Mr. Piniella and Ms. Murray bring the horrific deaths of young men of color to a stark level of authenticity.

Using the rich repetitive genres of jazz, spoken word, dance-theatre, and poetry, Ms. Parks’s 1990 play captures the attention of the audience and holds captive its aching heart and sin-sick soul for a powerfully unforgettable seventy minutes of cathartic ghoulish disquietude. Ms. Parks explores the underbelly of language in unique ways often setting diction and syntax uncomfortably at odds with the conventions of rhetoric to create a delicious tapestry of meaning and rich enduring questions that cry out for authentic answers.

In panel (scene) after panel this “Negro Book of the Dead” explores the “spells” that accompany The Man on his journey to the afterlife. His grieving wife Black Woman With Fried Drumstick (played with a deep wrenching sadness by Roslyn Ruff) asks over and over, “Why dieded he huh? Where he gonna go now that he done dieded?” After each death (by hanging, electrocution, suicide, and sheer neglect), The Black Woman attempts to revive The Black Man with a drumstick that sustains him no more than the feathers plucked from the hens she slaughtered and no more than their eggs they eerily lay post mortem.

Despite her efforts, her husband’s ascent to freedom (his ability to “move his hands”) is prevented by yet another death. “They” will do whatever is possible to erase the Black Man from majority history. Yes and Greens Black-Eyed Peas Cornbread (played with the gentle spirit of aggression by Nike Kadri) utters the mandate repeatedly, “You should write it down because if you dont write it down then they will come along and tell the future that we did not exist. You should write it down and you should hide it under a rock. You should write down the past and you should write down the present and in what in the future you should write it down.”

Obviously, what plays out on Riccardo Hernandez’s looming set dominated by a large imposing tree branch and an electric chair is not just something that happened once before or after 1317 when Black Man fell twenty-three floors to his death. Under Lileana Blain-Cruz’s meticulous direction, the cast of “The Last Black Man” makes it clear it is difficult to awaken from the nightmare of racism and attempts to eradicate the history of African Americans or – equally vile – to redact it beyond recognition. Ms. Parks’s play is revived at the Signature Center at a preternaturally auspicious time when so many histories are threatened by extinction in a new political environment that seems doggedly to defy understanding.

Montana Blanco’s surreal costumes compress history and its archetypes into a collage of color and form that defies the constructs of precision and Yi Zhao’s imaginative lighting brings the death of the last black man in the whole entire world into an alarmingly sharp focus that sears the memory of the audience with rich images that linger long after the curtain call. It is not always easy to witness or fully understand Ms. Parks’s dense and rich text. But then it is equally difficult to fully understand or witness repeated attempts to erase history. Black Man With Watermelon and Black Woman With Fried Drumstick admonish one another with, “Miss me” and Re-member me.” Black Woman tearfully entreats her husband to “Re-member me. Call on me sometime. Call on me sometime. Hear? Hear?” Let the re-membering of history begin here and now.

DEATH OF THE LAST BLACK MAN IN THE WHOLE ENTIRE WORLD AKA THE NEGRO BOOK OF THE DEAD

The cast includes William DeMeritt, Nike Kadri, Patrena Murray, Reynaldo Piniella, Julian Rozzell, Roslyn Ruff, Mirirai Sithole, David Ryan Smith, Daniel J. Watts, Jamar Williams, and Amelia Workman.

The creative team includes Riccardo Hernandez (Scenic Design), Montana Blanco (Costume Design), Yi Zhao (Lighting Design), Palmer Hefferan (Sound Design), Hannah Wasileski (Projection Design), Raja Feather Kelly (Choreographer), Cookie Jordan (Wig Design), Paul Rubin (Aerial Effects). Terri K. Kohler is the Production Stage Manager. Casting by Telsey + Company. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets for all Signature productions, call Ticket Services at 212-244-7529 (Tues. – Sun., 11am – 6pm) or visit www.SignatureTheatre.org. Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, November 24, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: Terms of Endearment" at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday December 11, 2016)

Pictured (L to R): Hannah Dunne and Denver Milford in "Terms of Endearment." Credit Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: Terms of Endearment" at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday December 11, 2016)
Written by Dan Gordon
Directed by Michael Parva
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

It is always a difficult task to adapt for the stage a novel that has turned into a successful screenplay. The current American premier of Dan Gordon’s adaptation of “Terms of Endearment” has even greater obstacles to overcome following after the familiar dramatic tearjerker associated with brilliant performances by iconic film actors. These difficulties have nothing to do with comparing the quality of performances; rather they result from the thinly scattered adaptation by Mr. Gordon.

In order to have “terms of endearment” there must be relationships created by believable characters with purpose and depth. Mr. Gordon has provided actors with a multitude of vignettes that struggle to establish any emotional content or connection between the actors or between the actors and the audience. It also becomes difficult to follow the timeline despite the listing of dates in the program and flashing them above the set at the beginning of each scene.

Too much and yet not enough happens in the play’s five-year time span to effectively establish a sufficient dramatic arc. There is no character growth or building of relationships. At times it feels as though there are several solo performers each telling their own stories. The cast works admirably with the material they are provided but are not afforded the time or circumstance for them to form strong bonds. Except for the final scenes, they appear as personalities rather than people. They reveal reaction to situations but not insight into their responses. A selection of musical vocal interludes are employed in an attempt to reflect moods and feelings during silent scene endings or transitions.

Molly Ringwald invests in a strong willed and straight forward Aurora Greenway who is direct and opinionated but never hard or abusive. There is a lonely, lovable, and caring undercurrent simmering beneath but not enough opportunity to expose it. Hannah Dunne creates a likable Emma Greenway who is determined and vulnerable yet misguided and incomplete. Jeb Brown portrays Garrett Breedlove with the right amount of bravura and quirkiness as to not offend but rather create a completely different “term of endearment.” His character is written with the most depth and Mr. Brown takes advantage of every turn to produce a rich, honest emotional landscape. Jessica DiGiovanni (Patsy Clark/Doris/Nurse), Denver Milord (Flap Horton), and John C. Vennema (Rudyard/Doctor Maise) round out the competent cast.

Perhaps what eludes this stage adaptation is that which is missing and only alluded to. Merely talking about endearing children who are never present, contemptuous situations that are crucial to plot development, and an undefined time and place provide a sparse sense of connection between characters and scenes. All the “terms” are consistently spelled out easily and vividly: what is lacking are those important moments of heartfelt “endearment.”

TERMS OF ENDEARMENT

“Terms of Endearmant” is by Dan Gordon, based on the book by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Larry McMurtry, and the screenplay by James L. Brooks. It is presented by The Directors Company, Julian Schlossberg, Roy Furman, Harold Newman, Florence Kaufman, and Andrew Tobias.

The cast of “Terms of Endearment” features Jeb Brown; Jessica DiGiovanni; Hannah Dunne; Denver Milord; Molly Ringwald; and John C. Vennema.

The design team includes David L. Arsenault (set design); Michael McDonald (costume design); Graham Kindred (lighting design); Quentin Chiappetta (sound design); and Amanda Miller (wig design). The Production Stage Manager is Rose Riccardi.

The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Please note there is no performance on Thursday 11/24 at 7:00 p.m. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25.00 - $70.00 ($25.00 - $49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 120 minutes with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, November 24, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Finian’s Rainbow” at Irish Repertory Company (Through Sunday December 18, 2016)

Photo: The cast of "Finian's Rainbow." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Finian’s Rainbow” at Irish Repertory Company (Through Sunday December 18, 2016)
Music by Burton Lane
Book by E. Y. Harburg and Fred Saidy
Lyrics by E. Y. Harburg
Adapted and Directed by Charlotte Moore
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The 2016 Presidential Election has been perhaps the most contentious in modern history. Erupting from the three debates – as well as prior to the nominations – there has been a disturbing barrage of bigotry, xenophobia, sexism, and racism. Economic disparity has been used to woo voters without providing them any concrete paths to a better future. For these reasons, “Finian’s Rainbow” is a relevant and “groundbreaking” as it was in 1947 when it opened on Broadway on January 10 at the 46th Street Theatre (now the Richard Rogers).

Finian’s (Ken Jennings) trip to America with his daughter Sharon (Melissa Errico) and the pot of gold stolen from Og the leprechaun (Mark Evans) is a fitting trope for the national and global quest for a better life, a job, health benefits, and other aspects of the “dream” of success. Although the pot of gold does not multiply when buried in American soil (“the roads are paved with gold,” remember?), Finian does find a loving companion for his daughter and feels comfortable leaving Sharon in Woody’s (Ryan Silverman) care before he departs leaving them and the eclectic residents of Missitucky with a rainbow of hope for the future.

The Burton Lane’s music is sumptuous and is the star of this Irish Rep production. The book has been shortened considerably allowing the songs to take center stage throughout. Melissa Errico (Sharon) brings a heartfelt interpretation to “How Are Things in Glocca Mora” and, with Woody, Og, and the Ensemble, delivers “Old Devil Moon,” “If This Isn’t Love,” and “When the Idle Poor Become the Idle Rich” with an authentic charm. The ensemble cast is outstanding and supports the principal actors with sheer perfection.

Despite the overall stellar performances, this production of “Finian’s Rainbow” falls flat and it is not easy to determine why; undoubtedly, the lack of energy has multiple mitigating circumstances. The set is uninspiring and pedestrian and seems like something one would find in a low-budget community production. Walls filled with musical notes and an abundance of plastic flowers just do not seem to work. The costumes are also uninspiring and often ill-fitting. And there is nothing original in the lighting or the choreography. Perhaps this matrix of lackluster creative team support affected the entire performance?

Whether it is possible for rich and poor, citizen and immigrant, and all people of all colors to live in harmony as they “Look to the Rainbow” is uncertain. Perhaps sometime after this upcoming election, perhaps further in the future. At least “Finian’s Rainbow” reminds of that dream and gives us the opportunity to wish it to be true. Who knows, there might even be a “Great Come and Get It Day!”

FINIAN’S RAINBOW

The cast of “Finian’s Rainbow” features William Bellamy, Kimberly Doreen Burns, Dewey Caddell, Peyton Crim, Melissa Errico, Mark Evans, Matt Gibson, Angela Grovey, Ken Jennings, Ramone Owens, Kyle Taylor Parker, Ryan Silverman, and Lyrica Woodruff.

“Finian’s Rainbow” is directed by Charlotte Moore and choreographed by Barry McNabb and features scenic design by James Morgan, costume design by David Toser, and lighting design by Mary Jo Dondlinger. John Bell serves as music supervisor, with Stephen Gabis as dialect coach. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

All performances for “Finian’s Rainbow” are at Irish Rep Theatre on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage (132 West 22nd Street) on the following schedule: Wednesdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Exceptions: there will be an additional performance on Tuesday, November 22 at 7:00 p.m. There will be no performance on Thursday, November 24 at 7:00 p.m. Tickets to “Finian’s Rainbow” range from $50.00-$70.00 and are on sale now through Irish Rep’s box office by calling 212-727-2737, or online at www.irishrep.org. Running time is 2 hours, including a 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, November 7, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “The Roads to Home” at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre (Extended through Sunday November 27, 2016)

Photo: Harriet Harris, Rebecca Brooksher, and Hallie Foote in "Roads to Home." Credit: James Leynse.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Roads to Home” at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre (Extended through Sunday November 27, 2016)
By Horton Foote
Directed by Michael Wilson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

If the idiom “home is where the heart is” has any veracity, then the characters in Horton Foote’s 1982 “The Roads to Home” are as far from home as anyone might be. Geographically, the main characters – the three women in the first two short plays of the somewhat interconnected trilogy – are refugees from their original homes and have developed coping strategies in Houston, Texas that meet with a mixed degree of success. Next-door neighbors Mabel Votaugh (Hallie Foote) and Vonnie Hayhurst (Harriet Harris) depend heavily on each other’s company to fend off loneliness and the less than supportive nature of their marriages to Jack (played with a flatlined indifference by Devon Abner) and Eddie (played with a devilish untrustworthiness by Matt Sullivan). Mr. Votaugh falls asleep shortly after dinner each night and Mr. Hayhurst has begun working double shifts at the railroad. And Annie Gayle Long (Rebecca Brooksher) who has re-emerged and “filled in” for Vonnie while she visited her Monroe, Louisiana home finds a “good time” riding on the city’s streetcar system.

The first two short plays “A Nightingale” and “The Dearest of Friends” focus on the lives of these three women and their relationships to their pasts and to their husbands. Mabel and Vonnie ramble on about the residents of Harrison, Texas, religion, their disreputable neighbors and friends past and present – all the time exhibiting a veneer of civility, control, and calm. Annie, though a bit unhinged, attempts to hold the center with a modicum of civility. The underbelly of their lives, however, is encrusted with a variety of threats to their apparent sense and sensibility. And their xenophobia and racism bristle close to the surface of their apparent piety. It is important to remember that Horton Foote wrote this trilogy in 1982 when outwardly all seemed relatively right with the world but fomenting beneath the prosperity was a Pandora’s Box of disintegrative matrixes.

Under Michael Wilson’s discerning direction, Hallie Foote and Harriet Harris are magnificent playing off one another’s enormous talents. Both deliver portrayals of complex women with complicated conflicts and they use their formidable craft to imbue these characters with both authenticity and honesty. Their dialogue in the first play brims with impeccable comedic timing. Their performances in the second play bring depth and richness to Mr. Foote’s rhetorical treasure of pathos and ethos. Rebecca Brooksher captures the breadth of Annie’s emotional spectrum. Devon Abner, Dan Bittner (Annie’s husband Mr. Long), and Matt Sullivan successfully portray husbands unaware of the houses of cards tumbling around them and- in the case of Mr. Long – the sinister disaffection that appears to be at the core of Annie’s dysfunction.

The third short play (Act Two) is disappointing after the high energy and delicious plots driven by the characters and conflicts in the first two short plays. Only Annie appears bereft of children (with her mother) and husband (apparently divorced and remarried) and still institutionalized four years after her initial admission to the asylum in Austin. The male actors portray three delusional patients who interact with Annie during the “Spring Dance.” And although their lack of coping skills are powerful tropes for the delusional nature of the nation at large, that does not bring enough energy and interest to bring this third play up to the level of success of the first two. Hallie Foote and Harriet Harris and their pair of perplexing characters are sorely missed and the actors’ craft completely wasted sitting backstage waiting for the curtain call.

Jeff Cowie’s set, David C. Woolard’s costumes, and David Lander’s lighting are exquisite as is Paul Huntley’s wig design. “The Roads to Home” challenges the conventional wisdom surrounding the concept of home and raises enduring questions about the roads that lead us there.

THE ROADS TO HOME

The cast of “The Roads to Home” includes Devon Abner, Dan Bittner, Hallie Foote, Rebecca Brooksher, Harriet Harris, and Matt Sullivan.

“The Roads to Home” features scenic design by Jeff Cowie, costume design by David C. Woolard, lighting design by David Lander, original music and sound design by John Gromada, and casting by Stephanie Klapper Casting. Production Photos by James Leynse.

“The Roads to Home” runs at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through Sunday November 27th on the following schedule: Wednesday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Single tickets for “The Roads to Home” are priced at $70.00 and available at http://www.PrimaryStages.org or by calling OvationTix at 212-352-3101. Running time is 2 hours, including one 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, November 5, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: Keen Company’s “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row (Extended through Sunday December 18, 2016)

Photo: From left, George Salazar, Nick Blaemire, and Ciara Renée in “Tick, Tick…Boom!” by the Keen Company at the Acorn Theater. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: Keen Company’s “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row (Extended through Sunday December 18, 2016)
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Jonathan Larson
Directed by Jonathan Silverstein
Reviewed by David Roberts

“I want to write music. I want to sit down right now at my piano and write a song that people will listen to and remember, and do the same thing every morning for the rest of my life.” - Jon

Before Jonathan Larson’s iconic “Rent” had its workshop production at the New York Theatre Workshop (NYTW) in 1993 and officially opened there in 1996 (moving to the Nederlander Theatre on Broadway in the same year with the Pulitzer Prize), there was “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” The night before the Off-Broadway opening at the NYTW, Mr. Larson died of an aortic dissection and never had the opportunity to experience the success he hoped for and was so poignantly depicted in the autobiographical “Tick, Tick…BOOM!”

One week before his thirtieth birthday in 1990, Jon (Nick Blaemire) confronts his growing concern that his career in musical theatre is not where it should be and that his chances for success are diminishing. He is struggling to get his musical “Superbia” in front of the right supporters and struggling with writing his next musical. Jon’s angst reverberates through the Acorn Theatre when Mr. Blaemire delivers his character’s “30/90” with an authenticity that defines this actor’s remarkable craft.

Michael (George Salazar) and Susan (Ciara Renée) counterpoint Jon’s concern for the future albeit from differing points of view. Jon’s roommate Michael has chosen to leave acting behind and has successfully joined corporate America. Jon’s girlfriend Susan has decided she wants to leave New York City and move to “live somewhere else. Somewhere beautiful, near a beach…Cape Cod.” “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” is the delightful autobiographical musical that clearly delineates Mr. Larson’s path to success through the character of Jon. In Scene 7 – a monologue scene – Jon reflects, “But I write musicals with rock music. A contradiction in terms.” Looking back, the character’s concerns contradict Larson’s ultimate success.

In overall tone and style, “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” is a distinct forerunner to “Rent.” Keen company has wisely chosen this young musical to celebrate Jonathan Larson’s life and craft on this 20th Anniversary Year of “Rent.” Under Jonathan Silverstein’s visionary and judicious direction, the cast captures the importance of making choices and determining to stand by those choices that are authentic and honest. In Scene 12 – a brief “musical within a musical” – Karessa (Ciara Renée) sings “Come to Your Senses” from “Superbia.” Ms. Renée’s sultry voice successfully interprets the inner dynamics of making choices. Michael joins Jon and Susan in “Jonny Can’t Decide” and Mr. Salazar’s plaintive baritone captures the angst of his character’s roommate. And Jon reflects on Michael’s dying in “Why.” Here Mr. Blaemire captures every nuance of Jon’s journey through grief toward a decision to “spend his time” in a new way.

Steven Kemp’s sparse set design, Jennifer Paar’s appropriate costumes, Josh Bradford’s sumptuous lighting, and Christine O’Grady’s inventive choreography all contribute to the magical quality of the production. Imagine a few chairs in the hands of three actors becoming hundreds of seagulls in Central Park’s Sheep Meadow!

Larson’s “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” is a reminder that everyone – not just Jon, Michael, and Susan – clutches at life knowing it could end at any moment. “But it’s not my fault!” says Jon. “It’s hard for people born after 1960 to be idealistic or original. We know what happens to ideals. They’re assassinated or corrupted or co-opted.” The important musical also reminds everyone that despite that aphorism, hope can still overcome despair. Perhaps the trio’s mantra in the musical’s final number “Louder Than Words” says it best: “Cages or wings? Which do you prefer? Ask the birds. Fear or love, baby? Don’t say the answer. Actions speak louder than words.”

TICK, TICK … BOOM!

“Tick, Tick…BOOM!” has book, music and lyrics by Jonathan Larson. David Auburn serves as Script Consultant and Joey Chancey is Musical Director. Jonathan Silverstein directs, with choreography by Christine O’Grady.

The cast of “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” includes Nick Blaemire, Lilli Cooper (begins 11/22), Ciara Renée (thru 11/20), and George Salazar. The creative team of “Tick, Tick…BOOM!” includes Steven Kemp (set design), Jennifer Paar (costume design), Josh Bradford (lighting design), Julian Evans (sound design), and Ricola Wille (prop design). Joanna Muhlfelder is production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Tick, Tick…BOOM!” Performs at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street) through Sunday December 18th on the following schedule: Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $85.00. To purchase tickets, visit Telecharge.com or call 212-239-6200. For more information, visit www.keencompany.org. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, November 3, 2016

The National Alliance for Musical Theatre 28th Annual Festival of New Musicals at New World Stages

The National Alliance for Musical Theatre 28th Annual Festival of New Musicals at New World Stages
By David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The National Alliance for Musical Theatre (NAMT) has been hard at work since 1989 introducing writers and their new musicals to significant theatre industry leaders. Now in its 28th year, NAMT attracts theatre producers from around the world for this industry-only event to discover eight new musicals presented in 45-minute concert presentations over two days. All production costs are underwritten by NAMT, at no cost to the writing teams. As a non-profit organization, NAMT funds the Festival entirely through donations, sponsorships and contributions. The eight new musicals introduced at this year’s Festival garnered overwhelming support from those leaders who packed Stages 2 and 3 at New World Stages in New York City to develop a working relationship with the new musicals and their writers.

The eight musicals that were seen in 45-minute stage readings were “Benny and Joon” (Book by Kirsten Guenther/Music by Nolan Gasser/Lyrics by Mindi Dickstein); “Joe Schmoe Saves the World” ( Book, Music, and Lyrics by Brett Ryback); “Lempicka” (Book and Lyrics by Carson Kreitzer/Music by Matt Gould); “The Loneliest Girl in the World” (Music by Julia Meinwald/Lyrics and Book by Gordon Leary); “Morality Play” (Book and Lyrics by Alana Jacoby/Music by Scotty Arnold); “Soho Cinders” (Music by George Stiles/Lyrics and Book by Anthony Drewe/Book by Elliot Davis); “The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown” (Book, Music, and Lyrics by Kait Kerrigan and Brian Lowdermilk); and “We Live in Cairo” (Book and Lyrics by Patrick Lazour/Book and Music by Daniel Lazour).

NAMT officials introduced each team of writers who then introduced their new musical and how they chose to present their work: some used the 45-minute segments to run through an entire act while others used the time to showcase songs from the entire musical with a narrator filling in important details of exposition, setting, and story line. Each of the eight presentations featured outstanding casts of Broadway and Off-Broadway actors and musicians.

NAMT’s 2016 Festival selection process had three phases. Beginning in the first quarter of the year, the 193 submissions from around the world were evaluated first through 20-page excerpts and demos and then by the reading and evaluation of the full musicals. By the end of the third quarter of the year, the eight musicals were selected including shows at all stages of development and of all “shapes, sizes, styles, and topics.” This year’s young, diverse, and energetic teams tackled the relevant themes of refugees, the threat of fascism, and LTBTQ motifs using the conventions of retelling, rhetorical argument, and “front-page” realism.

The energy was high at this year’s Festival as industry leaders, NAMT members, and press lined up for each musical either anticipating what they were about to see or commenting on what they had previously seen. There was no doubt that the new musicals would garner support from not only New York producers but from the Regional Theatres in the United States and professional theatres from around the world.

Hosted by Kate Wetherhead, the Festival featured a “Songwriters Showcase” on Stage 2 on the first day with seasoned writers and newcomers sharing their thoughts (talk show style) on their most recent projects in progress: “The Family Resemblance” (by Masi Asare); “How I Paid for College (Book, Music, and Lyrics by Marc Acito); “What I Learned from People” (by Will Aronson and Hue Park); and “The White City” (By Avi Amon and Julia Gytri). Also featured were two “Songwriters Cabaret” sessions in the Green Room Lounge that presented works by the songwriters Michael Cooper, Hyeyoung Kim, Paulo K Tirol, and Kathleen Wrinn.

For further information on the National Alliance of Musical Theatre and its important work, please visit http://www.namt.org/
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, October 29, 2016

Cabaret Review: Anita Gillette and Harold Sanditen in “Harold and Broad” at the Metropolitan Room

Cabaret Review: Anita Gillette and Harold Sanditen in “Harold and Broad” at the Metropolitan Room
Directed by Barry Kleinbort
Musical Direction by Paul Greenwood
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The remarkable Anita Gillette, now an octogenarian, returns to the Metropolitan Room for a two-night gig with her sexagenarian friend Harold Sanditen. The pair – separated by a span of twenty years – transcends, nay transforms, the notion that age differences affect deep friendship and the misconception that age affects the quality of vocal performance. Like Harold and Maude before them, this “unlikely” pair deftly exploits the history of their relationship from its beginning to the present to completely captivate their audience and barnstorm the petite stage at the iconic Metropolitan Room with a polished and engaging program.

Their program consists of a well-crafted mix of songs. There are very few of the American Songbook standards found in many cabaret song lists. Instead Ms. Gillette and Mr. Sanditen choose to offer a refreshing list of songs that – in one way or another – relate to their “Harold and Broad” theme of the vicissitudes of an apparent unlikely friendship in a sometimes less than forgiving world. Some stand alone; others come in pairs or in a grouping of three; and there is even a “LIKE” medley arranged by musical director Paul Greenwood.

The “couple” breeze through “Let’s Eat Home” (Dave Frishberg/Barry Kleinbort); “Life Is Just a Bowl of Cherries” (Ray Henderson/Lew Brown); “The Way You Look Tonight” (Jerome Kern/Dorothy Fields; and the rarely performed “Coffee (In a Cardboard Cup” (John Kander/Fred Ebb). The pairings match perfectly and either complement each other in theme or counterpoint one another in both theme and style. “Let Yourself Go” (Irving Berlin) for example is cleverly paired with “I Could Have Danced All Night” (Frederick Loewe/Alan Jay Lerner). And “Something to Talk About” (Shirley Eikhard) and “Who Cares” (George Gershwin/Ira Gershwin) explores the dynamics of a relationship that give interlopers “a little mystery to figure out.”

On their own, Ms. Gillette and Mr. Sanditen gave their unique interpretations of “At the Codfish Ball” (Lew Pollack/Sidney Mitchell/Barry Kleinbort – sung by Harold); “Rosie the Riveter” (Redd Evans/John Jacob Loeb – sung by Anita); “Johnny’s Song/Imagine” (Kurt Weill/Paul Green and John Lennon – sung by Harold); and Anita’s “revenge” medley “Goody Goody/Gonna Get Along Without Ya Now/Hall Hath No Fury” (Matt Melneck/Johnny Mercer; Milton Kellem; Nicholas Brodszky/Sammy Cahn).

Ms. Gillette’s luscious voice continues to resonate with rich tonal qualities that capture the nuances in every note that she interprets. Her vocal range allows her to tackle the most challenging of songs and provide unique and pleasing stylings for each. Additionally, her extensive Broadway and other stage experience enables her to know precisely how to effectively sell a song. Ms. Gillette’s voice blends superbly – and often seductively – with Mr. Sanditen’s lush baritone voice. Although he started singing professionally rather recently, he interprets his song choices with a blend of uniqueness and successful stylings.

Ms. Gillette and Mr. Sanditen, under Barry Kleinbort’s caring direction, are accompanied by musical director Paul Greenwood on piano, Ritt Hann on bass, and John Redsecker on drums.

“Harold and Broad” will be performed in London on November 1st through the 3rd and return to Manhattan at Don’t Tell Mama on December 3rd and 10th.

HAROLD AND BROAD: ANITA GILLETTE AND HAROLD SANDITEN

Anita Gillette and Harold Sanditen appeared at the Metropolitan Room through Monday October 24, 2016. The Metropolitan Room is located at 34 West 22nd Street (between 5th and 6th Avenues) and is easily accessible by public transportation. There is a $25.00 per person Music Charge and a Two Drink Minimum with a $5.00 discount for MAC/Industry Members. For further information on future performances at the Metropolitan Room, visit http://metropolitanroom.com/.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, October 29, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Vietgone” at MTC at New York City Center – Stage I (Through Sunday November 27, 2016)

Photo: The full cast of "Vietgone." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Vietgone” at MTC at New York City Center – Stage I (Through Sunday November 27, 2016)
By Qui Nguyen
Directed by May Adrales
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“This agony inside of me ain’t providing me any time to think/About anything beyond the sitch we’re now living/Gotta go hard, gotta be tough/gotta move forward towards a new dawn, a new dream, a new hope.” – Tong

On a recent visit to Vietnam, two glaring disparities were evident: there is a noticeable divide between rich and poor Vietnamese citizens; and there is a noticeable disparity between the welcoming offered by the Vietnamese to visiting Americans and the enormous guilt these visitors harbor regarding the War in Vietnam. Most of the passengers on the cruise ship that docked in Haiphong (the Port City for Ho Chi Minh City) chose to visit the War Remnants Museum to assuage years of guilt. I chose to join the small band that wandered into the streets of that City and Danang to experience the lives of the residents. The visit to the Museum served to provide some closure for the participants to the memories of dividedness American and Vietnamese people experienced before, during, and after the Vietnam War.

Playwright Qui Nguyen navigates the rugged territory between the past reservoirs of blame and guilt and the current need for the Vietnamese people to “move on.” His challenging play “Vietgone” also carefully examines the stereotypes of how the Vietnamese “feel” about the American presence in the Vietnam War and debunks traditional thinking about those deep feelings. Mr. Nguyen accomplishes all of this by focusing on a love story between Quang (Raymond Lee) and Tong (Jennifer Ikeda) who meet at the Refugee Camp at Fort Chaffee in El Dorado, Arkansas. Tong piloted the last helicopter leaving from Saigon after America pulled out just prior to the arrival of the Vietcong and leaving his wife Thu (Samantha Quan) and two children Trang and Quyan behind. Tong fled South Vietnam with her mother Huong (Samantha Quan) leaving her boyfriend Giai (Paco Tolson) and brother Khue (Jon Hoche) behind.

Tong is content to stay in America and do what she needs to do to acquire the skills she needs to be successful beyond the Refugee Camp. Quang on the other hand wants to return to Vietnam and reunite with his family. These disparate goals are interrupted by the bond that develops between the pair that transcends the physical attraction that initially brings them together. Playwright Nguyen has developed characters with believable conflicts that drive an intriguing and transformative plot.

Like memory, the mindscape of “Vietgone” warps time with exquisite anachronisms (Tong and Quang rap!) and – as “explained” by the brilliant Paco Tolson portraying the playwright Qui Nguyen – its endearing story “often hops back and forth in time” in 1975 and 2015. Under May Adrales’s careful direction, Jennifer Ikeda, Raymond Lee, and the ensemble cast deliver captivating performances permeated with honesty and authenticity. Their relationships encapsulate the struggles of Vietnamese refugees and introduces audiences to a new perspective on a war that has plagued the conscience of America for decades. Tong’s decision to return to Fort Chaffee and the 2015 “postscript” brim with catharsis and hope.

For the refugees who were forced to flee Vietnam, their arrival in the United States has enriched the diverse fabric of the nation. Similarly, “Vietgone” adds to the richness of the understanding of how love transcends indifference and adds richly to the dramatic fabric of contemporary American theatre.

VIETGONE

The cast of “Vietgone” features Jon Hoche, Jennifer Ikeda, Raymond Lee, Samantha Quan, and Paco Tolson.

The creative team for “Vietgone” features Tim Mackabee (scenic design), Anthony Tran (costume design), Justin Townsend (lighting design), Shane Rettig (original music and sound design), and Jared Mezzocchi (projection design). Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

For the performance schedule visit http://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/. Single tickets are on sale by calling CityTix at 212-581-1212, online by visiting www.nycitycenter.org, or by visiting the New York City Center box office (131 West 55th Street). For more information on subscribing to MTC’s 2016-2017 season, call the Clubline at (212) 399-3050. Running time is 2 hours 20 minutes, including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Broadway Review: “Heisenberg” at Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Extended through Sunday December 11, 2016)

Pictured: Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Heisenberg” at Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Extended through Sunday December 11, 2016)
By Simon Stephens
Directed by Mark Brokaw
Reviews by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“You're not. You can hear it. That’s not listening to it. That's different from listening./You need to follow it. The melody. Try to predict what will happen to it next. It will completely take you by surprise./That's the secret that nobody knows about music./Music doesn't exist in the notes. It exists in the spaces
between the notes.” – Alex Priest

Georgie and Alex meet at London’s St. Pancras train station when Georgie approaches Alex and kisses the back of his neck They have never met and the connection that begins with a kiss is the engaging subject of Simon Stephens’s “Heisenberg” currently running at Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. Why Georgie seeks out Alex and why he responds to her advances the way he does is the delightful plot driven by the conflicts of these two scintillating characters.

Both Alex Priest (Denis Arndt) and Georgie Burns (Mary-Louise Parker) are living “in spaces between the notes” in the scores of their quite different lives. Georgie has determined she needs to return to the United States to try to find her son Jason who went back to Chicago to live with a girlfriend, married her and now lives in New Jersey. Jason has made it known he is “sick of [his mother]” and never wants to see her again. Alex never married and talks to his sister in his dreams. She died when Alex – now seventy-five – was eight years old.

It is in the delicate interstices between the connections that Georgie and Alex exist. Neither chooses to risk focusing clearly on the other not do they chance the other clearly focusing on the fragile space they have chosen to occupy. The fear translucently relates to the title of Simon Stephens’s captivating play and the theory it alludes to; namely, the Heisenberg uncertainty principle that asserts that “the very act of observing alters the position of the particle being observed, and makes it impossible (even in theory) to accurately predict its behavior.”

When discussing her son, Georgie tells Alex “if you watch something closely enough you realize you have no possible way of telling where it’s going or how fast it’s getting there. Did you know that? That's actually the truth. That's actually scientifically been proven as the truth. By scientists. They all got together and they completely agreed on that. If you pay attention to where it’s going or how fast it’s moving you stop watching it properly. I watched him all the time. He took me completely by surprise.” And when sharing his dream connection with his sister, Alex shares, “Whenever it’s a decision that probably I need to make for myself she just disappears. It becomes very hard to focus on her any more.”

Under Mark Brokaw’s astute direction, Ms. Parker and Mr. Arndt tackle the rich complexities in Mr. Stephens’s script and successfully grapple with the mysteries of human connection. Mr. Arndt gives Alex a solid core of strength grounded in disappointment – a strength that seems no longer to have a trust for feelings. He tells Georgie, “The idea of ‘feeling’ shy. People are so obsessed with feelings nowadays. It’s all anybody ever talks about. It’s ludicrous. You can't go anywhere without these fucking wretched conversations about feelings being shoved down your throat. Literally down your throat. With clenched fists. I feel my clothes and the wind on my face. I don’t feel. I think.”

And Ms. Parker creates a distressed Georgie who borders on the brink of dissociation “Tell me something. I feel like all I’ve been doing all evening is talking. I always do. It's because I'm terrified of what people really think of me. In the end I do know that people will reject me so I try to behave in a way that just speeds the whole process up but I really want this to be in some way different. I really do. I do. Largely because of your eyes.”

Georgie and Alex test the limits of human connection and eventually find a common ground where true communication can exist. They strip away all of those things that get in the way of rich and meaningful communication and connection. In the end, Georgie wonders, “I missed the point about everything didn't I?” But then perhaps that is the point: we miss the point about everything because we pay attention to where things seem to be going or how fast they are moving and stop watching things properly. Heisenberg meets the vicissitudes of the human condition and clarity convenes on the stage of life and on the stage of the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre.

HEISENBERG

The creative team for “Heisenberg” includes Mark Wendland (scenic design), Michael Krass (costume design), Austin R. Smith (lighting design), David Van Tieghem (sound design), Stephen Gabis (dialect consultant) and Sam Pinkleton (choreography). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Performances are at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre and vary from week to week throughout the run. For the complete performance schedule visit http://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/. Tickets are available at Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200 or visiting The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office at 261 West 47th Street. Ticket prices are $70-$150. Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.

WITH: Denis Arndt and Mary-Louise Parker.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, October 18, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “All the Ways to Say I Love You” at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Extended through Sunday October 23, 2016)

Photo: Judith Light in "All the Ways to Say I Love You." Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “All the Ways to Say I Love You” at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Extended through Sunday October 23, 2016)
By Neil LaBute
Directed by Leigh Silverman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Mrs. Johnson muses that the role of a teacher– a high school English and Drama teacher at an unnamed public school at a non-specific time – is to provide answers to students’ questions. Whether the answers are right or wrong matters not, she ponders. What matters is grappling with the issue and discovering the truth – whatever that might be. “All the Ways to Say I Love You” begins with this protagonist rehearsing a question one of her students once asked, “How much does a lie weigh?” It is the “answer” to that intriguing question that is the subject of Mr. LaBute’s engaging new play.

The audience learns early on in the play that Mrs. Johnson had an illicit affair with one of her second year senior boys who was struggling with personal problems including multiple divorces. Tommy seems to initiate the tryst in a counseling session in the teacher’s office. Mrs. Johnson does not object and instead rushes headlong in to an extended and passionate sexual affair with the boy. LaBute’s play discloses the teacher’s remembrances of her relationship with her student savoring each memory with the zest of an overzealous food critic and the result is pure genius.

That said, Mr. LaBute’s play begs for a striking performance and it receives one in the brilliant and emotionally exhausting performance of Judith Light as the high school English and Drama teacher Mrs. Johnson. Under Leigh Silverman’s astute direction, Ms. Light gives her character’s infatuation with Tommy a remarkable level of authenticity and honesty. As she peels away the layers of Mrs. Johnson’s complex – and often convoluted – motivation for loving Tommy and being loved by him, Ms. Light spares nothing to disclose the depth of her character’s deep longing for connection as well as the perhaps morally ambiguous need for revenge. There is not a wasted movement in Judith Light’s action nor an unnecessary amplified outburst in the thunderous claps of grief and sadness that erupt from this actor’s soulful bravura performance.

Where Mrs. Johnson is stationed precisely while making her riveting confession is questionable. It would appear she is “in” her office – the meticulously designed high school office that shouts “real:” the cinder block wall, the blinds to cover the frosted windows, the curriculum binders, even the “Apple for the Teacher” distributed by Unions to their teacher members. But she could be anywhere. Rachel Hauck’s set design and Matt Frey’s lighting serve to support Ms. Light’s performance and enhance the convention that this cinderblock confessional is without time and place – there are no hands on the office clock. Time does not define the borders of remorse.

Mr. LaBute does not intend to write a “who done it” play. Many have missed this important point. Of course the audience is one step ahead of the revelations Mrs. Johnson provides in her confessional to the audience. Any “priest” (the audience is confessor and, if it chooses, the grantor or absolution) worthy of his/her salt knows well where a penitent’s confession is going and knows – in the convolutions of the confession – the truth will emerge. That truth can be as simple as a “light lie” like a harmless prevarication or as complex as the “heavy lie” that haunts Mrs. Johnson’s every moment.

Folded into the matrix of revelations and confessions are Mrs. Johnson’s impressive collection of ways to say, “I love you.” This is a collection that contains the canon of typical “ways” as well as ways that challenge the meaning of love itself. Mr. LaBute’s play is made more exemplary by the performance given by Judith Light and should not be missed. The audience will discover just how much a lie weighs.

ALL THE WAYS TO SAY I LOVE YOU

“All the Ways to Say I Love You” features Judith Light as Mrs. Johnson.

The creative team for “All the Ways to Say I Love You” includes Rachel Hauck (set design), Emily Rebholz (costume design), Matt Frey (lighting design), Bart Fasbender (sound design), and Raphael Mishler (prop master). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

For more information about “All the Ways to Say I Love You,” including performance schedule and ticketing, please visit http://www.mcctheater.org//currentseason.html. Running time is one hour without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, October 16, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Orwell in America” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday October 30, 2016)

Photo: Jeanna De Wall and Jamie Horton in "Orwell in America." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Orwell in America” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday October 30, 2016)
By Joe Sutton
Directed by Peter Hackett
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Joe Sutton’s “Orwell in America” imagines what might happen if George Orwell were to embark on a book tour in post-World-War II America with his publicist. How would an American audience receive his “Animal Farm” and his deep commitment to Democratic Socialism?

There is really nothing new in Mr. Sutton’s exposition: other than the fictional visit to America, all of the facts of Orwell’s life, including his given name, are matters of record. His personal life, his body of work, his involvement in the European War Theatre – all history. It must then be the fictional relationship between Carlotta and Orwell that saves the dramatic arc.

Carlotta Morrison (Jeanna De Wall) and George Orwell (Jamie Horton) make a sumptuous pair of verbally sparring opponents – she wanting Orwell to minimize his affirmation of Democratic Socialism in the book tour presentations and focus instead on promoting “Animal Farm;” he preferring philosophy over commerce and insisting on differentiating Democratic Socialism from the dreaded post-war understanding of Communism.

“Orwell in America” though interesting and informative, is more “scholarly” than it needs to be. The visits to the book tour stops take on the tenor of lectures rather than attempts to promote “Animal Farm.” And the piece is overlong. There is no need for a fifteen-minute intermission to put the “Animal Farm” Commandments on the back wall of the set using a large stencil filled in with erasable markers so the tenants can be erased while Jamie Horton in his best Orwellian style delivers a brilliant precis of the novel. A standard chalk board rolled out would have worked quite nicely – other properties are secured from backstage in full view of the audience.

Mr. Horton and Ms. De Wall do justice to Mr. Sutton’s script but there is not enough in that script to offer either actor opportunities to explore their characters with depth. Or perhaps director Peter Hackett has not explored the depths of the actors’ formidable crafts. Caite Hevner’s set and Stuart Duke’s lighting are serviceable but unremarkable. Casey Predovic’s walk-on role as the Young Man who delivers groceries then travels to let Orwell know how he “impressed” him is worthy though unnecessary.

The unrealized value in Joe Sutton’s script is his exploration of the dynamics of motivation. Carlotta wants to know why Orwell does what he does and believes as he does. Orwell wants to know why Carlotta took such professional risks (including altering her name to a male name) in order to be the publicist on the tour. Ostensibly, Orwell wants to make an impression – much like politicians might – that does some good. But Orwell seems to have something different in mind when he tells Carlotta, “Well, I don't know. But I do know that it's true. At least for me. I know … And it isn't that I don't believe what I say. I do. But why I say it, why I believe it … why I believe it so strongly … that I think might be different from what I would have said two weeks ago. I want to make an impression. I want to leave you … with an impression.”

From the start, is Orwell doing what he does just to impress Carlotta? This odd romantic theme is extant from the beginning of the play and seems out of place when examined carefully. Orwell’s “interest” (this is fiction after all) in Carlotta is often discomfiting and alludes to a sexual and/or romantic liaison. One indeed would rather hear about “Animal Farm.”

That said, there is not enough new material or remarkable conflicts to make the narrative move forward in a fresh way. As it stands, “Orwell in America” is an exercise in semantics and a rehearsal of the rhetorical elements of logos, pathos, and ethos. That could have been accomplished in about seventy minutes.

ORWELL IN AMERICA

The cast of “Orwell in America” includes Jeanna De Waal, Jamie Horton, and Casey Predovic. The production team includes Caite Hevner (set design), Amy Sutton (costume design), Stuart Duke (lighting design), and Ben Montmagny (sound design). Whitney M. Keeter is production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM. There will be a post-show discussion following the evening performances on October 15, 20 & 27. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time 1 hour and 45 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, October 13, 2016



Photo: Hershey Felder as Leonard Bernstein. Credit: Hershey Felder Presents.
Off-Broadway Review: “Maestro” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday October 23, 2016)
Book by Hershey Felder
Music by Leonard Bernstein (and Others)
Directed by Joel Zwick
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“A composer who avoids melody is like a person avoiding breathing just to make life a little more interesting. But the things is, the melody must always be memorable.”

Hershey Felder’s stunning tribute to the life and work of Leonard Bernstein is a work brimming with affection and respect for the “Maestro” currently running at 59E59 Theaters. Mr. Felder bristles with energy as he darts from chair to Steinway grand piano on Francois-Pierre Couture’s impressive set sharing Bernstein’s life and legacy with an impassioned commitment to transparency and authenticity.

“Maestro” shines when Mr. Felder – as Bernstein – shares the provenance of the composer’s craft from the deep roots in Jewish mysticism, in his father’s “niggunim” piercing the apartment nightly after dinner, in the Sturm und Drang of German composers, and in the parallel conflicts in Bernstein’s personal life: his need for a caring father figure; his struggle with his sexual status; his failed marriage to his Felicia, and his desire to be “the conducting God of the universe.”

Mr. Felder intersperses each musical selection with its history, its structure, and its impact on Bernstein’s writing and conducting. His stories of the conductors that influenced Bernstein – with varying degrees of encouragement – are at times deeply moving. Mr. Felder’s reflections on Bernstein’s encounters with Dimitri Mitropoulos, Aaron Copland, Fritz Reiner, Serge Koussevitsky, Artur Rodzinski, and Bruno Walter are filled with ethos, pathos, and a good share of logos. Leonard Bernstein learned from these “giants” and never forgot them.

Mr. Felder plays with passion and an enormous craft. There are times when one wonders if his hands are actually touching the keys. His technique is remarkable and the results of his performance at the keyboard leave a lasting impression. The musical selections include works from the canon of important compositions and, of course, from the works of the Maestro himself. Highlights of the musical selections include works by Brahms, Gershwin, Beethoven, Aaron Copland, Rimsky Korsakov, Schumann, and Gustav Mahler. Included also are selections from Bernstein’s compositions in “West Side Story,” “On the Town,” “Wonderful Town,” “Candide,” and “Jeremiah.”

Bernstein was always teaching and was proud of his teaching accomplishments: “I got to do
something no one before me did, I got to teach music to the entire world on television.” Mr. Felder’s tribute to Bernstein models the Maestro’s commitment to bringing the magic of music to the masses.

Bernstein believed, “Finding that one right note and all those that follow is something that I have done my entire life in order to be a part of the continuum - but being a part of the continuum requires knowing everything that’s come before.” “Maestro” demonstrates how Leonard Bernstein used this mantra to inform his life, his loves, and his iconic career. Kudos to Hershey Felder and director Joel Zwick for creating and presenting a memorable and bittersweet “bio-play” of one of America’s greatest talents.

MAESTRO

“Maestro” features Hershey Felder as Leonard Bernstein. The creative team includes Francois-Pierre Couture (Scenic Design), Christopher Ash (Lighting and Projection Design), Erik Cartensen (Sound Design), Trevor Hay (Associate Producer), and Rebecca Peters (Production Stage Manager). Production photos courtesy of Hershey Felder Presents.

“Maestro” is produced by The Town Hall with Samantha F. Voxakis and Karen Racanelli. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; Sunday at 3 PM & 7 PM. (Please note: there are additional performances on Thursday, September 29, October 13 & October 20 at 2 PM. There are no performances on Saturday, September 24 or Tuesday, October 11. There is no 7 PM performance on Sunday, October 2 or Sunday, October 23.) MAESTRO is at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Single tickets are $70.00 ($49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, September 22, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Missed Connections: A Craigslist Musical” at the New Ohio Theatre (Through Sunday September 25, 2016)

Photo: Debbie Tjong (piano), Brandon Ellis, and Shawn Platz. Credit Kevin Thomas Garcia.
Off-Broadway Review: “Missed Connections: A Craigslist Musical” at the New Ohio Theatre (Through Sunday September 25, 2016)
Written by Veda Hille, Bill Richardson, and Amiel Gladstone
Directed by Phillip George
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Missed Connections: A Craigslist Musical” is being presented at the New Ohio Theatre after successful runs throughout Canada. It is a musical cantata with lyrics taken or derived from actual ads placed on Craigslist. That indeed ensures a variety of interesting and bizarre subject matter that is approached throughout the ninety-minute production. It is sung through as a rapid succession of ads placed for a number of reasons, mainly focusing on finding someone who might want you, want what you have, or want what you are searching for. It is by no means a new convention with a similar style being used in the seventies putting personal ads from the Village Voice to music but it will certainly appeal to a new social media, tech savvy generation.

The show begins with great promise with an incredibly talented cast who excel at their craft and also play multiple instruments throughout the evening exhibiting extreme diverse proficiency. It begins to falter when all the ads assume a similar tone with little or no surprise or substance, even though the flavor and style of the music changes. This could be attributed to the energetic audience responding to the humor controlling the tone or heavy handed direction on the side of comedy looking for laughs. There are too many missed opportunities to deliver a poignant statement and add depth to the characters who placed these ads. They are real people, who are sometimes lonely, sad, and even desperate, truly reaching out for help or company or just to connect with another human being. A fine example was the excellent interpretation of “Clown on Stilts” which packed a powerful meaningful punch at the end. The program needed more zingers like this periodically.

The entire cast was a joy to hear and watch keeping the action moving and interesting changing roles and places, switching instruments and handling the rather pedestrian choreography with ease. Morgan Shiobhan Green has a powerful, versatile voice, whether looking for her “Bus Boyfriend,” finding “Roommates,” or selling her “300 Stuffed Penguins.” Debbie Tjong is the driving force at the piano and does just as well when attempting to give away “Free Sponges” going through a myriad of temperaments. Shawn Platzker exercises his fully textured tenor vocal in an emotional “Clown on Stilts” and “Night Time Watcher” bringing some depth to the characters. Brandon Ellis shines with a clear soothing baritone and utilizes his comedic abilities in “Noodles” and “You Dropped Your Bible.” Jamie Pittle keeps the rhythm and beat intact on drums, and delivers a “Free Man’s Toupee” with ease. Jane Bruce shows diversity either giving away “Cat Hats” or doing the “Salsa Want.”

The production is not all that it could be but is certainly an entertaining evening delivered by a top rate cast that seems to be having as much fun as the audience, which is a good thing!

MISSED CONNECTIONS: A CRAIGSLIST MUSICAL

The cast of “Missed Connections” includes: Jane Bruce, Brandon Ellis, Morgan Siobhan Green, Jamie Pittle, Shawn Platzker, and Debbie Tjong. The creative team includes Solomon Weisbard (Lighting Designer), Grier Coleman (Costume Designer), Josh Iacavelli (Set Design), Jeanne Wu (Sound Designer), Aaron Jodoin (Musical Supervisor), Patrick Sulken (Associate Musical Supervisor), Brian Rardin (Production Stage Manager), Miriam Salzman (Assistant Stage Manager), Jason Styres, CSA (Casting), Perry Street Theatricals (General Management). “Missed Connections: A Craigslist Musical” is produced by BeeBar LLC. Production photos by Kevin Thomas Garcia.

Performances run at the New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher Street) through Sunday September 25th on the following schedule: Tuesday - Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. NOTE: on Friday September 23rd performances are at 7:00 p.m. and 10:00 p.m. Tickets are $45.00 and can be purchased by visiting http://www.missedconnectionsmusical.com or by calling (866) 811-4111. The running time is 75 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Debbie Tjong (piano), Brandon Ellis, and Shawn Platz. Credit Kevin Thomas Garcia.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, September 16, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “The Birds” Overreaches at 59E59 Theaters

L-R: Tony Naumovski and Antoinette LaVecchia in Conor McPherson’s THE BIRDS, directed by Stefan Dzeparoski, at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Birds” Overreaches at 59E59 Theaters
By Conor McPherson from the Short Story by Daphne Du Maurier
Directed by Stefan Dzeparoski
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When the director and creative team of a play conspire in every way to make it difficult to see their product, it should meet with immediate suspicion. Instead, trusting audience members allowed themselves to be ushered into 59E59 Theater C and to be plopped into a bizarre configuration of seats – all on the same level – seemingly designed to make sure no one could see the entire performance of “The Birds.” Throughout the ninety minutes, audience members twisted in their seats, stood up and craned their necks all in the vain effort to see just what was happening on the stage. Most made a valiant effort while some just gave in and dropped off to sleep – some just a few feet from the actors.

This reviewer still has no idea what the character Diane scrawls on the floor in chalk at the beginning of the play or what contraption the character Nat constructs (were there tiny human figures involved perhaps?) at the play’s end. And a full two-thirds of the audience cannot see David J. Palmer’s video design as it plays out on one wall of the small space. What director Stefan Dzeparoski and set designer Konstantin Roth were thinking remains a mystery – except they cared not one bit whether anyone could see the actors work their craft. There is no “esoteric phenomenon” here, just very bad design and careless direction.

The actors are trying their best to make sense of Mr. Dzeparoski’s staging of Conor McPherson’s 2009 adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s 1952 novelette “The Birds.” Although audiences might be more familiar with Alfred Hitchcock’s 1963 film adaptation, they will immediately recognize Mr. McPherson’s similar reimagining of Ms. Du Maurier’s story of a family under attack as a story involving new characters (not related by birth) and a more elaborate plot. Ms. Du Maurier’s post-World War II dystopian tale is truly horrifying and quite frightening as is Mr. Hitchcock’s Cold War apocalyptic tale. It is probable that Mr. McPherson’s adaptation might be equally chilling in a post September 11, 2011 world; unfortunately, it is difficult to make that determination based on this Birdland production which does more to obfuscate Du Murier’s original appeal than reimagine it as a contemporary apocalyptic vision.

In all three cases, the unrelenting attack of the birds serves as a trope for all things imagined and real that threaten personal and global wellbeing, security, and longevity. The problem with Mr. Dzeparoski’s staging is that it leaves the audience unmoved, unconcerned about any of the characters under attack in the abandoned house, and even less concerned about how they fare after deciding to leave the relative safety of the house. His staging removes the broadcast chatter at the beginning of McPherson’s script – which does much to increase suspense and fear – and adds a bizarre reappearance of Julia at the end (the interloper and family system threat) as a birdlike creature carrying a large egg. Worry not, after almost ninety minutes of confusion on the stage, there is no need to try to figure out the bird-woman’s importance in the grand scheme of things.

Antoinette LaVecchia (Diane), Tony Naumovski (Nat and Tierney – though he is not given the second credit in the program), and Mia Hutchinson-Shaw (Julia) seem to be completely adrift on the squeezed-tight claustrophobic stage as they ramble from radio to kitchen to bedroom to who knows where trying to be frightened of the birds but most likely wondering why the audience is twisting and turning and popping up and down trying to see where the actors are going or from whence they came. Clearly the lack of success of this production lies squarely at the feet of the director whose vision of Conor McPherson’s script remains a mystery. Hopefully the folks at Birdland Theatre will evaluate this production with a sharp focus on their understanding of the purpose of the playwright’s rich and dense text. If a producer knows that a patron’s cell phone making a bizarre noise for quite a long time cannot easily be distinguished from Ien Denno’s sound design, it is time for a trip back to the drawing board.

THE BIRDS

“The Birds” is presented by Birdland Theatre (Artistic Director: Zorana Kydd). The cast features Antoinette LaVecchia, Tony Naumovski, and Mia Hutchinson-Shaw.

The design team includes Konstantin Roth (set design); Kia Rogers (lighting design); Kate R. Mincer
(costume design); Ien DeNio (sound design); and David J. Palmer (video design). The production stage
manager is Robert Neapolitan. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday at 8:30 p.m. and
Sunday at 3:30 p.m. (Please note, there are no performances on Wednesday, September 21 and 28 and Friday, September 23 and 30.) Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $20.00 ($14.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, September 15, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “The Joint” is Jumping at the Theater for a New City’s Dream Up Festival

Photo: The Ensemble of "The Joint." Credit: Dan Irwin.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Joint” is Jumping at the Theater for a New City’s Dream Up Festival
Book by Curtis D. Jones Based on a Concept by Denise Gray
Music and Lyrics by Timothy Graphenreed
Directed and Choreographed by Kenneth L. Roberson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Queen (played with a powerful exterior that belies a deep yearning for redemption by Sheila K. Davis) has a secret that has been tormenting her for many years. To betray that secret would require a spoiler alert of epic proportions. But then everyone in the splendid cast of “The Joint” is harboring a secret. It is the collision of these mysteries that provides the engaging plot of this new musical currently featured in the Theatre for a New City’s Dream Up Festival.

The multi-layered plot plays out in the upstairs-downstairs juke joint called The Joint in the town of Stuckley, Virginia, circa 1957 to 1967. Upstairs is Minister Brinkley (played with a sorrowful tortured soul by Erick Pinnick) who once – before his conversion – worked downstairs at Queen’s juke joint. Mr. Brinkley’s daughter Corrida (played with a brittleness ready to crumble by Crystal Joy) has returned from New York City where a relationship with Jacob (played with a vengeful core by Devin L. Roberts) and a record deal have both somehow gone very wrong. Corrida’s mother Evelyn (played with a tenderness inspired by suffering by Brenda Braxton) left Corrida and her father in the past on the same quest for a career in music. Corrida’s friend Sunny (played with a spirited joyfulness by Shani M. Worrell) wants Corrida to work at The Joint with Queen.

Complicating matters is Queen’s relationship with Buster (played with an air of suspicion by Albert Christmas) who refuses to marry Queen and wants to broker with The Dude (played with a Wagnerian stolidness by Richard E. Waits) to expand The Joint and its “offerings” to the community – think a casino and a massage parlor and the image of the diabolical Dude comes into focus. Curtis D. Jones’s book is full of surprises and his characters are well developed, each with an interesting conflict that helps to drive the plot. The musical has an interesting dramatic arc. There are parallel stories of redemption: one a spiritual saga, the other a musical path to redemptive release. Both stories have characters who have been tempted and fallen – some seek reconciliation, others choose to continue to separate themselves from healing.

Timothy Graphenreed’s music is inspired by Broadway and spiritual sources and his songs are both interesting and inspiring. Ms. Davis’s (Queen) “Stand by Me Kinda Love” and “Stop” exhibit the composer’s ability to write lyrics that touch the heart and the spirit of survival. And her duet with long-time bartender and protector (and want-to-be-beau) Hank (played with a loving sternness by Lee Summers) brings the audience to a comedic frenzy as the two woo each other’s lonely hearts. Ms. Joy’s (Corrida) “Work on Me” with the delightful and talented Khiry Walker (Pretty Tony) is armored with truthfulness and transparency. The orchestra/band supports the cast with an impressive craft.

The ensemble is not simply a chorus of dancers. The talented performers also serve as a Greek Chorus and a conscience for the characters as they find their various ways through the thickets of confession, forgiveness, and redemption. Each dancer articulates his or her movement with precision and grace, sometimes with a fluidity of jazz movement and sometimes with the expressiveness of improvisation and very personal interpretation of Kenneth L. Roberson’s choreography. It is difficult not to take one’s eyes off these remarkable dancers, especially the moves of Devin L. Roberts and Hollie E. Wright. Mr. Roberson also directs “The Joint” with a keen eye and keeps the piece moving with a steady hand.

“The Joint” is in its initial stages of development and has all the underpinnings of success as it moves forward. It is an intriguing venture into the realms of love imagined, love fulfilled, and love unrequited. It is also a daunting exploration of the vicissitudes of the human experience and the contours of redemption and release.

THE JOINT

The Cast of “The Joint” includes Brenda Braxton, Albert Christmas, Sheila K. Davis, Crystal Joy, Erick Pinnick, Devin L. Roberts, Lee Summers, Richard E. Waits, Shani Worrell, and Khiry Walker.

The Ensemble includes Miquel Edson, LaTrisa A. Harper, Jude M. Perry-Evans, Devin L. Roberts, Shani M. Worrell, and Hollie Wright.

The Musicians include Timothy Graphenreed (Musical direction/Piano), Christopher Barnett (Bass), Mark Dollar (Guitar), and Abdullah Rahman (Drums/conductor).

“The Joint” runs for a limited engagement through September 11, 2016 at the Theater for the New City’s Johnson Theater (155 First Avenue) on the following schedule: Friday September 9 at 6:30 p.m., Saturday September 10 at 5:00 p.m., and Sunday September 11 at 5:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 and can be purchased here: http://tix.smarttix.com/Modules/Sales/SalesMainTabsPage.aspx?ControlState=1&SalesEventId=5941&DC. The running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes with a 10-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, September 9, 2016

Broadway Review: “Cats” at the Neil Simon Theatre (Tickets on Sale for Performances through Sunday January 15, 2017)

The Company of "Cats" on Broadway - Photo by Matthew Murphy.
Broadway Review: “Cats” at the Neil Simon Theatre (Tickets on Sale for Performances through Sunday January 15, 2017)
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics by T. S. Eliot, Trevor Nunn, and Richard Stilgoe based on “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T. S. Eliot
Directed by Trevor Nunn
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

"Cats are much like you and me/ And other people whom we find/ Possessed of various types of mind." – T. S. Eliot, “"How to Address a Cat"

“Cats” – the fourth longest-running show in Broadway history – is back on Broadway with a superior cast of actors-singer-dancers that electrify the Neil Simon Theatre stage as the transient tribe of Jellicle Cats gather in the junkyard on the night they decide which of their number will ascend to the Heaviside Layer (heaven) and come back to a new life. This process is rehearsed in the opening number “Jellicle Songs for Jellicle Cats” and in Munkustrap’s (played with felicitous feline charm by baritone Andy Huntington Jones) narration. This number and “The Naming of Cats” give the audience members what they love most about “Cats” – the extraordinary choreography and the impressive ensemble cast that are the enduring “memory” of this iconic musical.

There is nothing really new in this current revival of “Cats.” And that is surprising. Eliot’s poems are a treasure trove of tropes about the human condition and offer rich and enduring questions about the vicissitudes of life, including the persistent questions about spirituality and life after life. Even the music and the choreography could be refashioned into a more contemporary mix of styles and genres. For example, much more could be made of the naming of the Cats. Each Cat is known by several names. Eliot presumes that Cats, like their human counterparts (or counterpoints), have three distinct identities: the superficial or every day identity; the unique or distinctive identity; and the most deeply personal identity that might rarely be exhibited but is the cornerstone of the individual personality.

Also unchanged is the somewhat discordant presence of what Mr. Webber has imagined as the main character of “Cats” – the Glamor Cat Grizabella who left the tribe when she was young to see what else the world had to offer and returns disappointed, disillusioned, and easily dispensed with by her peers. The character of Grizabella does not appear in Eliot’s “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” and is the subject of an unpublished poem Eliot wrote for his godchildren but did not include it in the book because he thought it too sad “for children.” If it was not important to Mr. Eliot, why has this character become so important to the musical? What might a “Cats” without Grizabella be like? Perhaps if Old Deuteronomy (played with a splendid sensibility by Quentin Earl Darrington) had chosen Gus (played with an unrelenting spirit by Christopher Gurr) the theatre Cat to be reborn to a new life, a rich connection to the state of the theatre could be established.

In this production, the role of Grizabella seems superfluous. Perhaps that is due to the lackluster performance of Leona Lewis. Despite Ms. Lewis’s import in the British pop scene, she seems unable here to connect to the character of Grizabella in any meaningful way. The singer seems lost when on stage and that disconnectedness affects her entire performance including her understanding of and interpretation of the iconic song “Memory.”

That said, the named Cats and the Cats chorus provides sufficient energy to overcome this significant flaw in the current production. Jellylorum (Sara Jean Ford) and Jennyanydots (Eloise Kropp) remind the humans of the importance of caring for community and bringing out the best in the individual. Skimbleshanks (Jeremy Davis) the orange tabby railway cat affirms the importance of the individual to the corporate structure and Mr. Mistoffelees (Ricky Ubeda) connects with the wonder of the magical and the unexpected in glorious ways. Even the mischievous Macavity (Daniel Gaymon) reverberates with the deep-seated villainous in Everyman and Everywoman.

“Cats” will continue to excite the senses of the young and the not so young and – despite this current revival’s continuity with the past – the musical will still embody the brilliance of the poetry of Thomas Stearns Eliot – with or without Grizabella. T. S. Eliot continues to be correct: "Cats are much like you and me/ And other people whom we find/ Possessed of various types of mind."

[Sidenote: Allowing the audience up onto to the stage during intermission is a terrible decision. The stage is a sacred place when occupied by actors and when empty and guarded by the ghost light and it is not a space to be trampled upon by the masses. And actors – in this case the brilliant Mr. Darrington – are not cartoon characters to be gawked at and photographed during the aforementioned stampede onto the stage. What an affront to the mystery of the wonder we call the theatre.]

CATS

The cast of “Cats” includes Giuseppe Bausilio, Quentin Earl Darrington, Jeremy Davis, Kim Faure, Sara Jean Ford, Lili Froehlich, Daniel Gaymon, Shonica Gooden, Christopher Gurr, Tyler Hanes, Andy Jones, Kolton Krouse, Eloise Kropp, Leona Lewis, Jess LeProtto, Georgina Pazcoguin, Emily Pynenburg, Ariana Rosario, Ahmad Simmons, Christine Cornish Smith, Corey Snide, Emily Tate, Ricky Ubeda, and Sharrod Williams as well as Richard Todd Adams, Aaron Albano, Callan Bergmann, Claire Camp, Francesca Granell, Jessica Hendy, Harris Milgrim, Madison Mitchell, Nathan Patrick Morgan, and Megan Ort. At the Wednesday September 7, 2016 matinee performance, the role of Coricopat was played by Aaron J. Albano.

The creative team for “Cats” includes John Napier (Scenic and Costume Design), Natasha Katz (Lighting Design), Mick Potter (Sound Design), choreography by Andy Blankenbuehler, based on the original choreography by Gillian Lynne, and direction by Trevor Nunn.

For more information on “Cats” including performance schedule and ticketing, please visit http://www.catsthemusical.com/broadway/. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, September 8, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Illusory Adventures of a Dreamer” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro SEA at the Clemente (Closed Saturday August 27, 2016)

Pictured: Taylor Turner and the cast of “The Illusory Adventures of a Dreamer.” Photographer: Michael Kushner.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Illusory Adventures of a Dreamer” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro SEA at the Clemente (Closed Saturday August 27, 2016)
Written by Michael Bradley
Directed by Chris Goodrich
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

It is a difficult and a brave undertaking to choose to stage Henrik’s Ibsen’s “Peer Gynt.” The Classic Stage Company recently accepted the challenge with a sparse two-hour (with no intermission) version in June of 2016. It becomes more difficult when one attempts to overlay the complex script with a new narrative – the quest of an LGBTQ Peer Gynt (played with a defiant innocence by Taylor Turner) for his true identity “despite isolation, fear, and confusion.” Playwright Michael Bradley and director Chris Goodrich have chosen to undertake this additional challenge in Mr. Bradley’s retelling of Ibsen’s classic entitled “The Illusory Adventures of a Dreamer” which recently completed its run at FringeNYC 2016.

Michael Bradley’s retelling is a lean and mean fantasy-driven machine that captures the heart of Ibsen’s play-in-verse and – with the help of an outstanding cast – makes room for Peer’s particular search for his true sexual status amidst a plethora of naysayers and inhospitable oppugnants. There is the Troll King (played with a crusty cruelty by Austin Jennings Boykin) and there are the Trolls (Corinne Britti, Nicholas Cocchetto, and Eddie Carroll). And there is Peer’s mother Aase (played with an oppressive overprotectiveness by Molly Kelleher) perhaps his most vocal opponent despite her claims of love. Aslak (played with a macho hetero-mania by Nicholas Cocchetto) appears here not as a blacksmith but a bar room bully bent on beating down Peer’s nascent sexual status.

And there are new opponents, “The Council of Purity,” that suggests to Peer that reparative therapy (conversion therapy) is his path to wholeness and peace of mind. This anachronistic procedure presents a bit of a time warp and reminds the audience this retelling is not confined by neither space nor time conventions. And there is Peer’s most consistent advocate Solveig (played with a faithful vigilance by Geovanny Fischetti) whose unconditional love for Peer also transcends time.

Like the Peer Gynt of Ibsen’s classic, Mr. Bradley’s Peer is an illusory dreamer (his mother scorns him for his vivid imagination) and the audience is never certain whether the young Gynt is on a “real” journey or part of a nonconscious dreamscape inhabited by a variety of absurd characters. Ibsen’s Boyg (played with a salacious and wistful warlock-like demeanor by Scott Lilly) – a voice in the darkness – is a character in Mr. Bradley’s retelling who seems to counterpoint Peer’s persistent search for the answer to the question “Who am I” and the plaintive affirmation “Let me Live.”

Geovanny Fischetti’s choreography at the beginning of Peer’s journey is stunning and utilizes fully the craft of the entire cast. One wishes for more of his work throughout the play. Michael Block and Chris Goodrich’s sparse set is serviceable and clean as is John Cuff’s appropriately minimal lighting. Marc Giguere’s original music is pertinent to the structure of the piece. Devon James’s costumes – though efficacious – could often be more daring and scurrilous. Mr. Goodrich’s efficient direction could be tighter at times (it is at intervals uneven) but overall serves the script with evidentiary warmth and support. As the project moves forward, Mr. Bradley might consider shortening some scenes (the Troll scene, for example) and giving others the added grace of additional choreographed movement.

There are obvious and not so obvious references to musical theatre and popular music which are better left to the audience to discover and enjoy and these neither add not detract from the overall effect of the script. It must be remembered that Peer Gynt is the troubled son of a peasant farmer with grandiose desires to be an emperor. In Mr. Bradley’s brave retelling, Peer is also a troubled youth yearning for love, attempting to understand Solveig’s faith, and reaching for a hope that will transcend the bonds of time. It is not until the end of “The Illusory Adventures of a Dreamer” that the audience discovers the nature of Peer’s illusory dreaming and where his “home” is. Whether this discovery is cathartic or shocking will be a decision only the audience member can make.

Mr. Bradley is to be commended for enlivening an old story with a fresh narrative and one looks forward to the next step in this important recounting of an engaging “illusory dream.”

THE ILLUSORY ADVENTURES OF A DREAMER

“The Illusory Adventures of a Dreamer” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Rhapsody Collective at Teatro SEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street (between Rivington and Delancey).

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.dreamerplay.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time 1 hour and 50 minutes without intermission.

Pictured: Taylor Turner and the cast of “The Illusory Adventures of a Dreamer.” Photographer: Michael Kushner.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 28, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Sinners on a Southbound Bus” at FringeNYC 2016 at the Kraine Theater (Through Sunday August 28, 2016)

Pictured: Nabil Traboulsi, Michael Coppola, and Katie Healy in “Sinners on a Southbound Bus.”
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Sinners on a Southbound Bus” at FringeNYC 2016 at the Kraine Theater (Through Sunday August 28, 2016)
Written by Ben Holbrook
Directed by Phoebe Padget
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Normally long bus rides usually do not cause much discomfort, taking the stress out of driving, providing some time to catch up on your latest read, or having a relaxing conversation with your travel mate to pass the time. Often the traveler can meet a stranger, strike up a conversation, share some snacks, and learn secrets about them and quite a bit about one’s self. The audience grabs a seat on this particular late night bus ride through the misty swamps of Alabama, becoming involved in a tension filled, roller coaster ride that is difficult to escape at the next stop either because of fear or just plain curiosity as to what will happen. Such is the story that unfolds in a new play by Ben Holbrook entitled “Sinners on a Southbound Bus” being presented by Ruddy Productions as part of the N.Y. International Fringe Festival.

At the beginning of the bus trip there is an odd pair of young men seated together. A small framed Silas played by Nabil Traboulsi with a somewhat streetwise, southern intellect and a larger, taller, unsophisticated companion Morgan, portrayed by Michael Coppola with vulnerability, sensitivity and a heart big enough to share his stash of RC Cola and Moon Pies with fellow passengers. The recipient of these tasty offerings is the more refined Trudy (Katie Healy), exhibiting a mischievous quality, fearful and fearless, experiencing moral ambiguity, as simple to understand as the layers of the moon pies she cannot resist as part of her southern childhood upbringing. They are joined by Bible-wielding Delta played with God fearing tenacity by Renette Oracien, two other passengers (Adam Towers and Ashley Versher), the bus driver (David Bell), and officer Triplett (Scott Brieden).

To divulge any part of the play would be a major spoiler alert. What can be said is that it is an intriguing story, told in a way that raises many questions, is relevant in today’s social climate and leaves the audience thinking. The cast is fine, defining characters and playing into the ambiguity of the situation. One problem is the southern accents, although providing a sense of Southern Gothic, they are inconsistent and difficult to understand, taking away from the energy and tension of the production. The script can be revised, shortened to quicken the pace, or lengthened to flesh out the characters. There is plenty of opportunity to increase the dramatic arc. As it stands now it is certainly worthy of a look and a good conversation builder over after theater drinks.

SINNERS OF A SOUTHBOUND BUS

“Sinners on a Southbound Bus” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Ruddy Productions at the Kraine Theater, 84 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue).

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.ruddyproductions.org/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes without intermission.

Pictured: Nabil Traboulsi, Michael Coppola, and Katie Healy in “Sinners on a Southbound Bus.”
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 26, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Miss” at FringeNYC 2016 at 64E4 Mainstage (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)

Pictured: Adam Petherbridge and Rosie Sowa. Photographer: Kaitlyn Samuel.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Miss” at FringeNYC 2016 at 64E4 Mainstage (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)
Written by Michael Ross Albert
Directed by Kaitlyn Samuel
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Miss” is about unspeakable acts: horrific, unforgiveable, heinous acts committed by seemingly “normal” and “respectable” individuals. Because of the structure of Michael Ross Albert’s play, it is difficult to speak of these acts without having to issue a plethora of “spoiler alerts.” The most unspeakable are committed by a Laura (played with a suspicious gritty innocence by Rosie Sowa) a private boarding school English teacher and her troubled fiancé Gil (played with a frenetic and dangerous vulnerability by Daniel J. O’Brien). Gil is a CPA and most likely an alcoholic; however, those are not among his unforgiveable acts. Nor is – at face value – Laura’s teaching career problematic to anyone.

Laura’s and Gil’s heinous acts have little to do with what they do for a living; rather their misdeeds have everything to do with who they are as individuals and the health of their moral courage. “Miss” begins with a heated argument between Laura and Gil about their recent lack of communication, about Laura’s miscarriage, about Laura’s car in a ditch, about a fight between two of Laura’s students, and about Gil’s inability to understand Laura’s state of mind.

As this argument progresses, Mr. Albert reveals layer upon layer of secrets and discloses bits of information in carefully crafted exchanges between the fractured pair. Then into this mix comes one of those students Tyler (played with a fractured but fragile persona by Adam Petherbridge) and the lid of Pandora’s box opens even further as more secrets are disclosed and more heinous acts revealed.

Why is Tyler being expelled from the school and why has he left two other boarding schools before landing in this one? Why is Tyler’s father not able to attend Tyler’s disciplinary hearing? Why was Tyler fighting his “best friend” Derrick? Why does Gil despise Tyler? Why does Gil want Laura to speak to an attorney? Why is Laura such an unlikeable character?

Director Kaitlyn Samuel moves the action of “Miss” at a reasonably even pace and supports her cast as they peel away the layers of dissemblance and desperation. It is the peeling of those layers that gives “Miss” its strength. Too often, however, the characters get involved in implausible situations – in the past and in the present – but the dénouement is worth the wait despite some bumps in the dramatic arc. Mr. Albert’s characters are well-defined and their conflicts clear. The resulting plot is interesting and thought-provoking.

“Miss” is a play with a core of moral ambiguity. The audience needs to gather everything the playwright offers and make decisions about Laura, Gil, and Tyler based on their individual belief systems and personal and cultural value systems.

MISS

“Miss” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Outside Inside at the 64E4 Mainstage, 64 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue).

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://michaelrossalbert.com/Michael_Ross_Albert/Miss.html. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time is 1 hour and 10 minutes without intermission.

Pictured: Adam Petherbridge and Rosie Sowa. Photographer: Kaitlyn Samuel.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 25, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Reconciling” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)

Pictured: JoJo Ginn, Katie Morrill, Jenny King, Cesar Munoz, Dillon Heape, and David Beckett. Photographer: Jenny King.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Reconciling” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)
Written by Jenny King
Directed by Julia Hinson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“If your brother sins against you, go and tell him his fault, between you and him alone. If he listens to you, you have gained your brother. But if he does not listen, take one or two others along with you, that every charge may be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church. And if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” – Matthew 18:15-17

As lapsed Baptists, Molly (Jenny King) and Chris (David Beckett) know that reconciliation is a serious business. True Reconciliation requires: an awareness of having “missed the mark;” an admission of that “transgression” (also known as confession); an act of forgiveness by an “other;” and the acceptance of forgiveness and the decision to “change” on the part of the “miscreant.”

Playwright Jenny King’s “Reconciliation” focuses on three dyads: former lovers Molly and Chris; current lovers Monica (JoJo Ginn) and Tate (Cesar Munoz); and estranged siblings Jane (Katie Morrill) and Charlie (Dillon Heape). Molly and Chris seek reconciliation after feeling abandoned in the past. Monica discovers Tate has posted sexually explicit photos of her online, seeks revenge (revenge sex and pink handcuffs are involved), then becomes open to reconciliation with Tate. And, following their father’s death, Jane and Charlie move through layers of deep-seated jealousy and anger to attain reconciliation (with a surprise about Jane’s family membership).

Each of these stories begins to play out separately, sharing the same set. Eventually, the stories begin to collide – first with characters from the three “plays” using the same word and letting the audience “in” on the convention by freezing or looking at the other characters. Finally, the three stories completely intertwine with characters from separate plays addressing one another, seeking assistance from one another, and even giving direction to one another. “Next,” one character booms to the character in a different play. There is a feel of reader’s theatre or a millennial Greek Chorus gone off key.

Like reconciliation, this type of theatrical convention is extremely difficult to accomplish. Impeccable timing, acute awareness of fellow cast members, and precise direction is required. In “Reconciliation,” things go better when each “play” is running as a separate piece. When the stories impede upon one another, clarity is lost, dialogue is difficult to sort out, and the actors often seem left in awkward positions on the set. It might have been better for playwright Jenny King to cast someone else as actor Molly. It is difficult to write a complex piece like “Reconciliation” and be in the cast. Her decision to perform both roles might have detracted from the overall strength of the production. Additionally, Julia Hinson's inconsistent and extempore direction needs tightening throughout.

Although the convention demonstrates that stories of reconciliation are not unique and the elements of these stories often repeat themselves, it does little here to increase the strength of the individual conflicts or their resolutions. At best, the convention does bear witness to importance of the role of the community in achieving lasting and meaningful reconciliation. There is no need for Tate, after confessing his atheism and being “shunned” by his sweaty pastor and disingenuous congregants, to become to Monica and the community “as a Gentile and a tax collector.”

RECONCILING

“Reconciling” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and The Barrington Collective at The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street).

The cast of “Reconciling” features, David Beckett, Dillon Heape, JoJo Ginn, Jenny King, Katie Morrill, and Cesar Munoz. Production photos by Jenny King.

For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.barringtoncollective.com/reconciling. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. The running time is 50 minutes.

Pictured: JoJo Ginn, Katie Morrill, Jenny King, Cesar Munoz, Dillon Heape, and David Beckett. Photographer: Jenny King.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 25, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Cyrano: a love letter to a friendship” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)

Pictured: Sean Peter Drohan. Photographer: Luke Cheng.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Cyrano: a love letter to a friendship” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)
Written by Sean Peter Drohan
Directed and Choreographed by Eamon Foley
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

One of the many LGBTQ themed offerings in the N.Y. International Fringe Festival is “Cyrano: a love letter to a friendship” penned by Sean Peter Drohan who has attempted to create a play that slightly parallels the infamous Rostand drama but with a modern day gay twist. In this adaption, Cyrano, played with a nerdy self-pity in flawed physical shape, (according to the character’s gay male standards), by Mr. Drohan, is in love with his hunky unemployed dimwit roommate Christian, infused with simplistic charm by Adam Roberts, who is in love with the gym bod Adonis, Rock, portrayed with self- centered intellectual bravura by Judah Frank. This establishes the love triangle, in which Cyrano helps Christian answer texts from Rock about the characters and plot of Candide. This is where the similarities to the classic begin and end.

The characters fall prey to stereotypes and clichés of gay culture which do not provide much depth or interest. Cyrano is not only in love with Christian but has had sex with Rock and a myriad of other partners found on Gay websites, whose messages are viewed in video projections. Rock finds both of them inferior and ends up abandoning any romantic or sexual interest. The outcome reverts back to Cyrano and Christian standing by each other, being friends once again.

Directed and choreographed by Eamon Foley parts of this production have the distinct feel of a music video, with remarkable choreography and stunning graphic scenic projections by Jason Lee Courson, with both contributing to a polished, refined look not often found at a festival. The problem is that it is difficult to determine where this fits into the plot or story and why it is even necessary other than being entertaining. The script is a bit scattered and loses focus with vapid dialogue.

The playwright and director allocate almost two entire pages in the program to explain their intentions and reasoning, which indicates that the production itself does not provide clarity for the audience. Mr. Drohan has a brilliant idea, to write a gay play about friendship. It would be unique to see a story with positive role models, addressing conflicts, struggles, insecurities and the pitfalls of navigating gay lifestyle in a big city, but unfortunately this production falls short and misses the mark.

CYRANO: A LOVE LETTER TO A FRIENDSHIP

“Cyrano: a love letter to a friendship” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Grind Arts Company at The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street).

The cast of “Cyrano: a love letter to a friendship” features Sean Peter Drohan, Judah Frank, and Adam Roberts. Production photos by Luke Cheng.

For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit https://cyranotheplay.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. The running time is 1 hour and 10 minutes.

Pictured: Sean Peter Drohan. Photographer: Luke Cheng.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 25, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Sheila and Angelo” at FringeNYC 2016 at 64E4 Mainstage (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)

Pictured: Simone Lazer and Judy Bennett. Photographer: Michelle Best.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Sheila and Angelo” at FringeNYC 2016 at 64E4 Mainstage (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)
Written by Nick Raio
Directed by Michelle Kristine Best
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

It is difficult to categorize Nick Raio’s “Shelia and Angelo” currently running at FringeNYC 2016. The play defies categorization. It is neither comedy nor drama, nor is it some amalgamation of the two genres. To compare it to anything with a serious dramatic intent would be insulting to the effort. One wonders why Mr. Raoi wrote this play and why he would choose to produce it. One further wonders why it could possibly have been accepted into the FringeNYC 2016 Season. It is offensive from beginning to end and is no more than a wobbly series of hackneyed jokes strung together with the hope that a story about a dying spouse might somehow salvage the mess.

When a play begins with a septuagenarian couple enjoying multiple orgasms because the husband took his “new vitamins” (think ED medication) and has to make a visit to the Emergency Department because the “four-hour” side effect has kicked in, one knows the best choice would have been to exit the theatre. Choosing to remain exposes the audience member to ninety minutes of sexist and ageist “humor” none of which has any purpose or in any way advances a plot – a plot which does not even exist. There can be no plot without believable characters with conflicts that are authentic and engaging.

How does one care for a wife with end-stage lymphoma who commits suicide and murders her husband of over forty years just so he can be with her in heaven? And how does one care for a husband who flirts with the woman in his Florida Retirement Community who is a “serial spouse killer” – boasting of ending her mates’ lives “with a smile on their faces?” And how can a playwright introduce a character who, once she receives her death diagnosis, proceeds to bargain with the God she has had no interest in heretofore?

To these queries, add how one could possibly care for a cadre of stock characters who spout senseless lines from the comedy eras of 1950s and 1960s that were not even funny then? The program “warns” the audience that “Sheila and Angelo” “deals with mature themes.” Unfortunately, there is not one mature moment in Mr. Raio’s play.

Actors need to exercise their craft and kudos to the cast of “Sheila and Angelo” for committing themselves to this project. This critic, however, will not mention any of their names here. As disturbing as the play is, perhaps even more unsettling is the evidence the audience actually found the piece funny – well, except for the obnoxious patron who texted throughout the performance from the front row.

The staging by Michelle Kristine Best is at best amateurish and puerile. There is nothing the remainder of the creative team could do to raise the level of this play to any form of acceptability so they, too, shall remain nameless. If this review possibly motivates the reader to secure a ticket to this play, the reader is out of luck – the show has been fully sold out for its entire run.

SHEILA AND ANGELO

“Sheila and Angelo” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Two Headed Dragon Productions at 64E4 Mainstage, 64 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue).

For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.sheilaandangelo.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Pictured: Simone Lazer and Judy Bennett. Photographer: Michelle Best.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 25, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Is That Danny DeVito” at FringeNYC 2016 at WOW Café (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)

Pictured: Julian Gordon and Natasha Edwards. Photographer: Melissa Weiss.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Is That Danny DeVito” at FringeNYC 2016 at WOW Café (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)
Written by Alexander Janosek Doyle
Directed by Amanda Levie
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

It seems that this year in FringeNYC more than a few offerings are based on, connected to, or somehow resemble “Waiting for Godot” and almost all contain notes in the programs from the directors or authors explaining what makes their particular production different from the absurdist classic that is in constant revival. The new play “Is That Danny DeVito? (and other questions from west of the Hudson)” is one of those many offerings that share this notification tactic. The questions that come to mind is why this explanation is necessary and does the audience need this information to enjoy or understand the performance? In the case of this new work penned by Alexander Janosek Doyle, being presented as part of the N.Y. International Fringe Festival, the answer is no and the young playwright should trust his material.

Mr. Doyle’s script is more than a play about waiting, a trope used too often to shed light on a myriad of other emotional, social, and life experiences. It is more than a play about having nothing more to do than think and question, ultimately learning about one’s self and others. Dusty (an animated, inquisitive Julian Blake Gordon) and Geoff (a solid, natural, unassuming Finn Kilgore) are waiting for a bus to take them back to Jersey City, New Jersey after a short vacation on Cape Cod, Massachusetts. These two millennials have different viewpoints on life but share the same regard for their – what seems to be necessary – friendship. Intangible questions arise. Are they really waiting or is this just part of living? Is where they are going any different then where they are? Will what they do, who they discover and what they say change anything? Does any of it really matter since their actions and dialogue create an illusory correlation?

Mr. Gordon and Mr. Kilgore have great chemistry and make the most of the material they are given. They have created real characters, two millennials who seem to be lost rather than waiting for something to take them in the right direction, which they think is home. They are everyman filled with hope, fear, anxiety, dreams, and knowledge. They are sensitive, abrasive, willing, and combative. They are human. Natasha Edwards as Ghoul and Carlo Fiorletta as Ass-Biter round out the competent cast. Amanda Levie moves the piece along at a comfortable pace but there is absolutely no need for an intermission which interrupts the tension and frustration.

Mr. Doyle has delivered a refreshing twist on the classic, filling it with humor and sensitivity. Don’t wait to see, or go wait and see or just wait till you see for yourself, but don’t wait too long to catch the remaining performances at The WOW Café.

IS THAT DANNY DEVITO

“Is That Danny DeVito” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and The Box Colony Theatre at WOW Café, 59-61 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue).

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.isthatdannydevito.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time is 1 hour and thirty-five minutes with a brief intermission.

Pictured: Julian Gordon and Natasha Edwards. Photographer: Melissa Weiss.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 21, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Gorges Motel” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)

Pictured: Dustin Charles and Jody Flader. Photographer: Britannie Bond.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Gorges Motel” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)
Written by Gretchen Cryer, Lynne Halliday, Isaac Himmelman, James Hindman, Arlene Hutton, and Craig Pospisil
Directed by Chris Goutman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Playwright James Hindman invited a group of playwrights to write short scenes all set in Watkins Glen, New York in a roadside motel that – although it might have “seen better days” – is still frequented by those looking for some semblance of self, by those looking to get married, by those looking for “something new,” and by those who for one reason or another might just be passing by. The result is the new play “The Gorges Motel” currently running at FringeNYC 2016. The individual playwrights shared their work and the resulting piece has the feel of somehow being “woven together” without the scenes necessarily depending upon one another. The parts work as well separately as they do in concert.

Mr. Hindman’s “Missing” – Parts I, II, and III – frames the work and sets the context for the remaining six plays. Because of their brevity, these scenes require actors who are able to quickly develop characters with recognizable conflicts and who have the ability to establish setting with alacrity. Under Chris Goutman’s steady and generous direction, the cast of seven handle these tasks with exceptional craft and flexibility. For example, Dustin Charles’s Robert in “Missing – Part I – is barely recognizable as the Greg in “Here Comes the Drone.” And Amanda Sykes brings individuality and charm to her characters Wendy in “Kissing Cousins” and Kayla in “Here Comes the Drone.”

Brevity sometimes weakens the scenes. There are times the audience is not so much left wanting more than it is wondering, “what else could I have done with those five minutes?” Overall, however, the scenes are interesting, provocative, and worth seeing.

Standing out are Craig Pospisil’s “Kissing Cousins” and Gretchen Cryer’s “Breckenridge.” In “Kissing Cousins,” two sisters discover they both have slept with the groom – Dani (Jody Flader) their mutual friend’s bridesmaid slept with him recently, and sister Wendy (Amanda Sykes) experienced a similar tryst years ago back in school. Ms. Flader and Ms. Sykes have impeccable comedic timing and play the discovery and processing of the unexpected information with great skill. Ryan Wesley Gilreath is their competent and equally funny straight man.

In “Breckenridge,” Terry the handsome motel maintenance man (Brian Sheridan) arrives in Penelope’s (Ilene Kristen) Unit to unclog her plumbing so she can stay a while and get some work done. Penelope has been waiting a long time for her Odysseus and her patience has just about run out! Terry and his collection of tools is just the ticket to end of Penelope’s pining and the two actors make this unlikely tryst completely likable. Ms. Cryer’s script is perhaps the most developed and her writing is rich in tropes and authentic characterization.

Cynthia Mace is the consummate “eccentric motel proprietor” and provides the necessary “glue” to hold the play together from disclosing here painful secrets, to welcoming an estranged brother Robert (Dustin Charles) as the guest in the unnumbered Unit 22, to letting us gather our collective and disparate catharses together as she welcomes us – as she always has over the years – to the Watkins Glen laser show.

A visit to the “The Gorges Motel” will not disappoint. Just be sure to book a spot before it closes for the season on August 27.

THE GORGES MOTEL

“The Gorges Motel” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Schondeikkan Productions and Miracle or Two Productions in association with The Journey Company at The Player’s Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street (between West 3rd and Bleecker).

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://gorgesmoteltheplays.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time is 1 hour and 20 minutes without intermission.

Pictured: Dustin Charles and Jody Flader. Photographer: Britannie Bond.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 21, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Steve Got Raped” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)

Photo: (L to R) James E. Smith and Dan Morrison, Credit: Aaron Kinser.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Steve Got Raped” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)
Written by Sam Gooley
Directed by Melissa Firlit
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Steve (played with a sincere and charmed ambiguity by James E. Smith) has a lot on his mind. His important story is stalled on his editor’s desk at work and has not yet been published. His fiancé Katie (played with a bubbly ferocity by Sarah Moore) is apparently pregnant – Steve comes home from work early to change his soiled shirt and finds the smiley-face on the trashed pregnancy kit – and has not told him. And he is worried about what kind of bachelor party is being planned for him by his less-than-reliable best friend Derrick (played with an unbalanced loyalty by Dan Morrison). The discovery of the pregnancy kit with the positive result puts Steve in an odd meltdown when he confronts Katie and the couple grapples with the unexpected pregnancy coming so closely on the heels of their imminent nuptials.

Despite the turmoil, Katie convinces Steve to go to his bachelor party and have fun: she is not even worried about the possibility of strippers being present. Flash forward to the morning after the bash in Derrick’s trashed apartment: Steve is sitting hunched over, distraught and disheveled, sans the new pants purchased by Katie for the event. When confronted by Derrick, Steve eventually shares he was raped by one of the strippers. From this significant crisis the play’s falling action becomes somewhat disjointed and sometimes lacks believability.

If Steve got raped at his bachelor party by Ariel (played with a dark mean spiritedness by Mara Gannon) one of the female strippers hired by Steve’s friend Derrick, one would expect a series of repercussions similar to those experienced when a woman is raped by a man. Some of these are evident in Sam Gooley’s “new dark comedy” “Steve Got Raped.” Others are strikingly absent leaving the audience wondering how successful Mr. Gooley is when addressing the important issues of male rape survivors and the equally important issues of male status and identity.

Steve is ravaged by shame and embarrassment. He fails to share the event with Katie despite her concern that he seems no longer interested in having sex with her. He stops by a rape clinic and is summarily dismissed by the staff. He does not report the incident to the police. All of this seems realistic and Mr. Gooley compares and contrasts the two types of rape victims – female and male – with detailed scenes between all characters, including Steve’s decision to confront Ariel at the strip club where she works. All of this works well.

One would, however, hope for a more serious treatment of the subject of rape, particularly when the victim is a young man at his bachelor party. Katie’s reaction seems somewhat unbelievable – especially given she lies twice about her pregnancy – when she tells Steve, “a girl cannot rape a guy!” In fact, after the rape, “Steve Got Raped” seems to become more about characters struggling with issues of truth: what is truth and are there times/situations when not telling the truth to others or to self is appropriate? Why does Katie lie about being pregnant early on then decide to go to an abortion clinic? Would it not make more sense for her to support Steve in his journey to healing and wholeness? And why is Steve not concerned about having unprotected sex with a stripper?

Under Melissa Firlit’s well-paced direction, the ensemble cast members play well off one another and bring the issue of male rape to the forefront with a welcomed sensitivity. However, sometimes the script’s insistence on being comedic gets in the way of their ability to explore their characters with necessary depth and intuition.

All of that said, “Steve Got Raped” raises deep and rich enduring questions about rape in general and about male rape specifically. Mr. Gooley is to be commended for his decision to tackle this topic in FringeNYC 2016. Perhaps the comedy here is simply not dark enough to bring the suffering of male rape victims out from the shows of doubt and denial. It is definitely worth visiting this play to begin or to continue the conversation about an issue too often swept under the carpet of shame and denial.

STEVE GOT RAPED

“Steve Got Raped” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and The New Collectives at The Player’s Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street (between West 3rd and Bleecker).

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.thenewcollectives.com/fringenyc.html. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes without intermission.

Photo: (L to R) James E. Smith and Dan Morrison, Credit: Aaron Kinser.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 21, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Dementia Americana” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente (Through Friday August 26, 2016)

Pictured: Kenneth Robert Marlo as Stanford White and Kari Buckley as Evelyn Nesbit. Photographer: Jeremy Benson.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Dementia Americana” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente (Through Friday August 26, 2016)
Written by Louis Aquiler and Chris D'Amato
Directed by Paul Mancini
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Anyone who is inclined to have a penchant for New York City history might be drawn to a new play entitled “Dementia Americana” telling the story of what is billed “the Crime of the Century,” when Harry K. Thaw murdered architect Stanford White, shooting him three times in the back of the head point blank. The crime took place at the theater restaurant atop Madison Square Garden in 1906, a building that White had designed. He is also credited for his most prominent architectural landmark, the Washington Square Arch. The murder was prompted by the jealous rage of Thaw, when he discovers that Stanford had raped his now wife Evelyn, on a date that occurred long before they were wed. When brought to trial he was found not guilty by reason of insanity and incarcerated in a state hospital for the criminally insane, from which he escaped, was retried and found not guilty, no longer insane and set free.

The twist in this production is the narrator or story teller psychoanalyst Rollo May who was not even alive when the event took place being born in 1909. His purpose is to make sense of the psychotic episodes of Thaw, and finally make note of “Dementia Americana” or temporary insanity, a contemporary tool used by defense attorneys to plead their murder client’s innocence and have then set free to roam the streets. It seems it has and always will be a flawed judicial system.

The cast does what it can with the enactment of the story realizing it is more informative rather than action packed and broken up into short vignettes. There is a problem with hearing some actors especially when directing dialogue upstage or into the wings further exacerbated by the noise of the two window air conditioners (granted this complaint comes from being seated in the last row of the theater). Director Paul Mancini moves the story along but could pick up the pace during some stagnant scenes that seem to drag. This production is more interesting than exciting and a look at a strange, bizarre character and a notorious murder that happened just crosstown from the theater over one hundred years ago.

DEMENTIA AMERICANA

“Dementia Americana” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Synapse Theatre Ensemble at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, 2nd Floor (between Rivington and Delancey).

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.synapsete.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Pictured: Kenneth Robert Marlo as Stanford White and Kari Buckley as Evelyn Nesbit. Photographer: Jeremy Benson.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, August 20, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “A Microwaved Burrito Filled with E. coli” at FringeNYC 2016 at the Huron Club at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Wednesday August 24, 2016)

Pictured: Andrea Alton and Allen Warncok. Photographer: Jenny Rubin.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “A Microwaved Burrito Filled with E. coli” at FringeNYC 2016 at the Huron Club at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Wednesday August 24, 2016)
Written by Andrea Alton and Allen Warnock
Directed by Mark Finley
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Self-described foul mouthed talking, pill popping, lady loving Molly “Equality” Dykeman (Andrea Alton) is back – again it turns out according to the ratings on Yelp – at Enchilada Shelly’s for a friend’s wedding. Molly is a butch security guard at P.S. 339 in the Bronx who, unapologetically, sports a mullet and an orange vest – she wears the vest 24/7 although she only works one day a week. Molly is ninety-nine percent dyke and one percent lesbian and a poet.

While at Shelly’s, Molly meets Angie Louise Angelone (Allen Warnock) freshly arrived in New York City from Kentucky and a waitress at Shelly’s. On the LGBTQ spectrum, Angie describes herself as more “Q.” Questioning and gloriously queer, Angie would like to begin gender reassignment surgery but cannot afford the cost and finds in Molly someone she can talk to and trust. That’s the thing about Molly – she loves unconditionally and non-judgmentally. And she is funny as hell.

Molly has never paid rent, is high most of the time, and is always in the present. She speaks her mind and wears her heart on her sleeve. Although her girlfriend Giselle has jilted her (and owes Molly an apology), Molly will stay with her girl – at least until she finds Queen Latifah.

Andrea Alton and Allen Warnock have created an engaging story for Molly and her new friend Angie. Their characters are richly layered and carefully developed. Each has interesting conflicts that drive interesting plots that engage their audience to reflect upon the comedic elements in the vicissitudes of the human experience.

Mark Finley directs Ms. Alton and Mr. Warnock with collaborative genius since these two consummate comics play off one another with improvisational distinction. Their timing is perfect, their humor endearing and freshly contemporary. Molly once told this critic – on the sly of course – that her poetry was not Brechtian. Although there might be a grain of truth in her self-criticism, the work of her creator (and alter ego) Andrea Alton here is somehow reminiscent of the relationship between Mick Kelly and her little brother Bubber who desperately wants a pink costume (“The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter,” Carson McCullers). The lover and the beloved exist in tragedy and comedy; in the best of times and in the worst of times.

Molly gets around the boroughs of New York City (and on YouTube an on her Blog), but why not see her up close and personal in “A Microwaved Burrito Filled with E. coli” at the Huron Club at Soho Rep before she moves on Wednesday August 24.

A MICROWAVED BURRITO FILLED WITH E. COLI

“A Microwaved Burrito Filled with E. coli” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival in association with Emerging Artists Theatre at the Huron Club at the SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street). Photo by Jenny Rubin.

For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.amicrowavedburrito.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time is 55 minutes without intermission.

Pictured: Andrea Alton and Allen Warncok. Photographer: Jenny Rubin.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, August 20, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Off Track” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro SEA at the Clemente (Through Friday August 26, 2016)

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Off Track” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro SEA at the Clemente (Through Friday August 26, 2016)
Written by James Comtois
Directed by Tim Errickson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

At some point on “Off Track,” – it might have been in a phone conversation with his ex-boyfriend just before his phone died – Ian (Matthew Trumbull) says, “It’s too late to fix it.” This phrase could easily describe James Comtois’s “Off Track” several scenes earlier when it was already too late to fix his FringeNYC 2016 play currently running at Teatro SEA at The Clemente.

“Off Track” circumlocutes several important issues without raising one deep, rich, enduring question about any of them. This failure on the part of a playwright is unfortunate and unfair not only to an audience but to the show’s actors that have to struggle to make sense of a play they are called to enliven with sense and sensibility.

Back to those issues: white privilege; systemic racism; unemployment; drug-dealing; economic disparity; and crimes of passion to name but a few of Mr. Comtois’s sub-plots. All of these left on Rosie’s Yeauxlanda Kay) bar to evaporate before last call. The playwright chooses – one assumes it must have been a choice – to write about none of these themes. He also has chosen to introduce characters he abandons on page and on stage as underdeveloped stock characters without convincing or interesting conflicts.

After meeting Gary (Anthony F. Lalor) at his local bar just before the Chicago Transit Union’s strike, Ian spends the night with the young man “from the other side of town” who is found the next morning murdered and left behind a dumpster at a bar far from Ian’s “safe” neighborhood. That story – one which does pique the interest of the audience member – ends as quickly as it began. Eighty-five minutes later, the audience still yearns to know something, anything about the motivations of the only character no longer on the stage.

If only Yeauxlanda Kay (a.k.a spoken word artist Yolanda K. Wilkinson) had stepped out from behind her bar, stood next to Gary’s bar-top memorial, and with some power poetry challenged the audience about any one of the themes that remain buried in “Off Track.” That experience would have gone a long way to putting the play back on track.

OFF TRACK

“Off Track” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Off Track Arts at Teatro SEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, 2nd Floor (between Rivington and Delancey).

For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 19, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Zuccotti Park” at FringeNYC 2016 at Flamboyan Theater at The Clemente (Through Sunday August 28, 2016)

Pictured: Brian Kinnard, Levin Valayil, Jessica Smith, Daniel Karp, Sonya Higgins, and Ashley Brooke. Photographer: Victoria Medina.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Zuccotti Park” at FringeNYC 2016 at Flamboyan Theater at The Clemente (Through Sunday August 28, 2016)
Book and Lyrics by Catherine Hurd
Music and Additional Lyrics by Vatrena King
Directed by Luis Salgado
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Serious political and socio-economic themes have always been an acceptable genre for playwrights in the contemporary theater landscape but more recently this subject matter is becoming a more prevalent subject matter in musical theater. Shining examples of this art form are the mega musical hits such as “Hair,” “Rent,” and “Les Miserable” that manage to find the perfect balance between message and enjoyable entertainment. “Zuccotti Park” a new musical being presented as part of the N.Y. International Fringe Festival, is yet another example of a failed attempt to conquer the daunting task of establishing equilibrium between addressing important social issues and formulating a source for song and dance that will provide enjoyable entertainment without negatively affecting the importance or integrity of the message. Creating lively, foolishly choreographed musical numbers, that diminish the importance of a serious situation is self- indulgent and insensitive behavior that sabotages the structure of good musical theater.

The book and lyrics by Catherine Hurd, although still relevant, are old news that has been heard over and over on news broadcasts since the Occupy Wall Street protest movement started in 2011. There is no debate that it was a monumental effort to bring attention to the economic tragedy that our nation faces but in question is it a provision of substance for a good musical. In this particular instance each problem is addressed in a vignette, monologue or song which interrupts the flow and subplots detract from the main theme. The music by Vatrena King is less than pedestrian, relying on simple repetitive downbeats to keep the vocalist in tempo while delivering non melodic songs spouting trite lyrics that try desperately to rhyme. Luis Salgado fairs well orchestrating a huge cast of twenty-five around the large playing area but fails to incorporate any character development. His choreography is basic and at times intrusive. At this stage, this production does not provide any insightful ideas nor does it provide enough engaging entertainment to warrant spending two hours in the theater.

ZUCCOTTI PARK

“Zuccotti Park” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Salgado Productions at Flamboyan Theater at The Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, 2nd Floor (between Rivington and Delancey).

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.zuccottiparkmusical.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.

Pictured: Brian Kinnard, Levin Valayil, Jessica Smith, Daniel Karp, Sonya Higgins, and Ashley Brooke. Photographer: Victoria Medina.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 19, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Curse of the Babywoman” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro SEA at the Clemente (Through Friday August 26, 2016)

Pictured: Allie Brown, Ali McGhee, Mike Wirsch, Taylor Pedane, Sarah Misch, Kurt Cruz, Ryan DeForeest, Alexa Peyton, and Justin Phillips. Photographer: Hunter Pedane.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Curse of the Babywoman” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro SEA at the Clemente (Through Friday August 26, 2016)
Written by Michael Paul Wirsch
Directed by Olivia Hartle
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Falling somewhere between a cheap Penny Dreadful and a horrific Sci-Fi B-movie, Michael Paul Wirsch’s “The Curse of the Babywoman” (hereafter “The Curse”) has found its way onto the stage of the Lower East Side’s Teatro SEA as part of FringeNYC 2016.

The residents of Shrubtown live in fear of the hoard of shapeless, formless babies who haunt the woods at night waiting to gum their victims with their toothless mouths and bring them under their spell. By day these vampire-like, werewolf-like creatures live alongside their neighbors unnoticed. But after sunset they morph into “babywomen” a fearful curse on the law-abiding citizens who frequent Bob’s Big Boy and savor the fast-food chain’s dog meat (one cannot make this stuff up – well someone did of course).

It is not necessary to share the cast of characters or their insipid conflicts or the thin plot those conflicts drive. The play’s characters have conflicts that drive a plot as absurd and dull as the puppet stage which provides the production’s “special effects.”

If “The Curse” is attempting to provide a trope for the repercussions of fearing the unknown, it does not succeed – the play is simply not that multi-layered nor that complex. If the play is trying to lift up the hearts and minds of people who do not hate what they do not understand, it does not succeed there either – the play is too convoluted to support that important theme.

“The Curse” is not well written, it is not well directed, and it leaves the unfortunate cast adrift in one hour and forty-five minutes of nonsense. There is no reason to see this woebegone play.

THE CURSE OF THE BABYWOMAN

“The Curse of the Babywoman” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and BIG Theatre Company at Teatro SEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, 2nd Floor (between Rivington and Delancey).

The cast of “The Curse of the Babywoman” features Alexandra Brown, Kurt Cruz, Ryan DeForeest, Ali McGhee, Sarah Misch, David Nackman, Taylor Pedane, Alexa Peyton, and Justin Phillips. Production photos by Hunter Pedane.

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.bigtheatre.org/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time 1 hour and 45 minutes with one 10-minute intermission.

Pictured: Allie Brown, Ali McGhee, Mike Wirsch, Taylor Pedane, Sarah Misch, Kurt Cruz, Ryan DeForeest, Alexa Peyton, and Justin Phillips. Photographer: Hunter Pedane.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 19, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Pucker Up and Blow” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Through Tuesday August 23, 2016)

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Pucker Up and Blow” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Through Tuesday August 23, 2016)
Written by Daniel Reitz
Directed by Paul Schnee
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is really nothing fresh in the new play “Pucker Up and Blow” by Daniel Reitz, being presented as part of the N.Y. International Fringe Festival. It is vulgar, exploitive, offensive, contains full frontal nudity and is a play within a play, mirroring the play being performed. So what’s new? It has certainly all been seen and done before, on stage, in film, on television and nowadays on one’s cell phone. To set the record straight, I did not find the language or the content disturbing. However, what was unsettling, was the reaction of the audience and their choice to laugh at vulgar, racist, immoral situations that are currently seditious crimes in are present social climate.

The plot centers around David, a children’s theater actor from the Midwest, who arrives in New York to seek a successful career in the theater. When his aspirations are achieved and he is cast in a new Broadway show, written by a noted inflammatory playwright, he is challenged with the decision of sacrificing his self-worth and dignity in return for fame and fortune. The subplots of deception, infidelity, power, racism and revenge, are valid but are insipid.

Kudos to the nudity scene which is not gratuitous, providing a peak to the dramatic arc, and is pivotal to the script, mostly resulting from the brilliant performance by Will Dagger as David. Mr. Reitz has penned a provocative script, but when considering our country’s present turbulent state of affairs, it comes to mind that this production may fuel the fires of desensitization rather than assist in extinguishing them. Take a look for yourself but be warned it is not for the theater goer who is faint of heart and easily offended by sexual content and vulgarity.

PUCKER UP AND BLOW

“Pucker Up and Blow” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Barden Schnee Casting Inc. at The Player’s Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street (between West 3rd and Bleecker).

The cast of “Pucker Up and Blow” features Shane Allen, Sydni Beaudoin, Jeremy Burnett, Will Dagger, Alex Emanuel, Asa James, and Chandra Thomas.

For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. Running time 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 19, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Anonymous, Anonymous” at FringeNYC 2016 at the Kraine Theater (Through Thursday August 25, 2016)

Pictured: Dustin Charles, Kristin Wetherington. Photographer: Marco Torre.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Anonymous, Anonymous” at FringeNYC 2016 at the Kraine Theater (Through Thursday August 25, 2016)
Written by Jason Sofge
Directed by Jason Sofge and Michael Melkovic
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The play’s the thing wherein I’ll catch the conscience of the King.” – William Shakespeare, “Hamlet,” Act II, Scene 2.

If a play has no playwright, is it a play? If a playwright’s play is entitled “Anonymous, Anonymous,” is he or she really a playwright? When is any play finished? When it has a working title? When the playwright fulfills all the requirements in Aristotle’s “Poetics?” Perhaps only when it has been published and produced? Perhaps a play is a play only when it is being conceived? Playwright Jason Sofge explores these and many other questions about his craft in his new play “Anonymous, Anonymous” currently running at FringeNYC 2016.

Mr. Sofge seduces his audience into his presumed play-within-a-play throughout its hour and ten-minute length hoping its members will stay with him and his talented cast of characters as they explore the convention time after time, trick after trick, twist after turn, ending where it begins and enjoy being pushed and pulled through time and space only to wonder where they have been and why they have been there. It is a risky business for any playwright to undertake.

William Shakespeare’s Hamlet’s ruse to trick his uncle (who is perhaps his real father – but that is yet another critical conundrum) works because his play-within-a-play has a purpose, serves its purpose, comes to an end, and the tragedy itself moves forward. In “Anonymous, Anonymous” the convention continues to collapse in upon itself too many tines to maintain a significant level of interest in the piece. Once the audience is in on the “trick” – which occurs early on in the play – they begin to grow weary and, despite Mr. Sofge’s apparent lack of interest in dramatic arcs, fourth walls, and cathartic resolutions, the audience begins to beg for a bit of a decent dénouement.

To his credit, Mr. Sofge has created interesting characters for his playwright Dan’s (Dustin Charles) magnum opus including his lost love Natalie (Kristin Wetherington) and the cast of his plays that move between years of writing, production, re-writing, and reflection. Under Mr. Sofge’s and Michael Melkovic’s direction, the ensemble cast does its best to pull the whole thing off and are convincing as the actors auditioning for and performing in the play not yet written. Nick Westemeyer, Dereks Thomas, Tony Del Bono, and Nathan Larkins (who is on stage the entire time!) round out the cast.

“Anonymous, Anonymous” continues at the Kraine Theatre in the East Village through August 25, 2016.

ANONYMOUS, ANONYMOUS

“Anonymous, Anonymous” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Pogue Mahone Productions at the Kraine Theater, 84 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue). Photo by Marco Torre.

Remaining performances of “Anonymous, Anonymous” take place at on the following schedule: Tuesday August 16th at 4:45 p.m.; Friday August 19th at 2:00 p.m.; Sunday August 21st at 7:00 p.m.; and Thursday August 25th at 9:15 p.m. Tickets are $18.00. The running time is 1 hour and 10 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team and the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.

Pictured: Dustin Charles, Kristin Wetherington. Photographer: Marco Torre.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 19, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Still Not” at FringeNYC 2016 at WOW Café (Through Monday August 22, 2016)

Pictured: Shelby Hightower and Harrison Bryan. Photographer: Jay Zawacki.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Still Not” at FringeNYC 2016 at WOW Café (Through Monday August 22, 2016)
Written by Harrison Bryan
Directed by Rory Lance
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

A woman is sitting on a bench. A man walks by and notices her sitting there alone. They silently flirt, coyly and innocently, until the man decides to sit on the bench next to her and attempt to have a conversation. When the silence is broken, this dramatic presentation shatters and falls apart. This unfortunately is the dilemma the new one act play “Still Not” is facing. It is billed as a play about waiting for love, but the commonly used literary trope of beginning where it ends and ending where it began, just reinforces the futile situation.

What resonates in this two-hander is the desperate need to once again learn how to physically communicate in this new world of technical dialogue, where it is easy to hurt, disappoint, and make excuses without much consequence. In that respect the dialogue between these two strangers demonstrates how the art of physical communication is lost and how words can sabotage intentions and emotions when a conversation is awkward at best. After the first of five meetings on the park bench the chitchat becomes inane and repetitious, only serving as a vehicle for comedic overtones and situations. It is devoid of character development and dramatic arc leaving one scene indiscernible from another.

The two actors Harrison Bryan (Him), who also penned the piece, and Shelby Hightower (Her) come as close to creating interesting characters as the script allows but lack the chemistry to provide and support emotional content. Mr. Bryan relies too much on his clowning experience to win his audience over and at times undermines the creation of a viable character. That being said, perhaps this piece of theater would fare better as a sensitive, powerful pantomime, sans script, reminiscent of the great Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca.

At this incarnation “Still Not” still does not reach its full potential and leaves the audience still waiting for something more.

STILL NOT

“Still Not” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and at WOW Café, 59-61 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue).

The cast of “Still Not” features Harrison Bryan and Shelby Hightower. Production photos by Jay Zawacki.

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.

Pictured: Shelby Hightower and Harrison Bryan. Photographer: Jay Zawacki.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 19, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Jump It” at FringeNYC 2016 at 64E4 Mainstage (Through Saturday August 20, 2016)

Pictured: Phillip Cruise and Bethany Geraghty. Credit Ze Castle.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Jump It” at FringeNYC 2016 at 64E4 Mainstage (Through Saturday August 20, 2016)
Written by Phoebe Farber
Directed by Gama Valle
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Stu Napolitano (played with a charmed angst by Philip Cruise) owns his own towing business and still lives at home with his abusive father and collusive mother. Stu drops everything and dashes home to administer insulin to his diabetic father whenever his incompetent mother calls. Stu’s dreary – and troubled – life gets interrupted by the return of his brother Ray from LA (played with a suspicious exuberance by Eli Ganias) and Ray’s high school squeeze Wendy (played with a doleful indignity by Bethany Geraghty) who, at the play’s start, needs a jump start for her car battery deadened by her husband’s predisposition to leave the car radio on. Wendy and Ray, by the way, are unhappily married and generally unhappy people and turn to Stu for surcease from their near-dead batteries.

When these characters from the past collide years later in the present, their lives should change as a result of the collision. Also it is an accident that is not expected, a surprise and creates a situation that is unpredictable. That is the premise of “Jump It” written by Pheobe Farber which defies any of the aforementioned conclusions. It is a play where characters do not change but merely adapt. The music does not change. There are no surprises and everything is predictable. It is stuck in time and does not budge even though the present tries to coax it from the shortcomings of the past. It is a flat tire with no dramatic arc.

The cast does an admirable job in trying to overcome the obstacles of the script, creating believable flawed characters but fall short when trying to give them an emotional transfusion, though no fault of their own. The direction by Gama Valle is somewhat stagnant and fractured by very short scenes severed by the same repetitious music. None of this overcomes – or jump starts – Ms. Farber’s disconnected and convoluted story line.

JUMP IT

“Jump It” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Phoebe Farber at 64E4 Mainstage, 64 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue).

The cast of “Jump It” features Philip Cruise, Eli Ganias, and Bethany Geraghty. Production photos by Ze Castle.

Remaining performances of “Jump It” take place at on the following schedule: Tuesday August 16th at 9:00 p.m. and Friday August 19th at 4:30 p.m. Tickets are $18.00. The running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://jumpitnyc.weebly.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.

Pictured: Phillip Cruise and Bethany Geraghty. Credit Ze Castle.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 19, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “In the Master’s House There Are Many Mansions” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente (Through Thursday August 18, 2016)

Pictured: Khalid Hill. Photographer: Daniel Coston.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “In the Master’s House There Are Many Mansions” at FringeNYC 2016 at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente (Through Thursday August 18, 2016)
Written by Cherry Jackson
Directed by James Vesce
Reviewed by
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Their relative ineffectiveness, however, is reflective of larger forces that combined over many decades to make blacks in the city all but invisible. And by now, the truth is that the black community has few genuinely influential advocates in San Francisco’s centers of power, the business community, and at City Hall.” – Amy Alexander, “The Atlantic”

Following fifteen minutes of a smooth jazz jam session by Noel Freidline (piano and keyboards) and Tim Singh (bass) and a transcendent tap routine by Khalid Hill, the real business of Cherry Jackson’s “In the Master’s House There Are Many Mansions” begins. And it is not a business for the weak of spirit or the faint of heart. It is a business that requires action, decision, commitment to change, and “discerns the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (Hebrews 4:12).

Mr. Hill settles onto a stool in front of the two-man jazz band as he assumes a new role yet to be determined. The lights dim and in lighting designer Matt Fergen’s chilling shadows, the mortician (played with a vacuous complacency by Jay Morong) finishes his “good work” on his latest Medicaid client Tyrone (played with a disarming but charming virulence by Kineh N’gaojia) and lays him out ready for viewing. Tyrone is one of many young black men who are victims of police violence who end up at the mortician’s door and the payments from Medicaid are enough to keep his arms open wide.

Tyrone’s childhood friend Larry James Fletcher (played with an exuberant and charmed naiveté by Codara Bracy) has taken off work in the fields and taken the bus up from Gainsboro, Texas to see his slain friend. After completing the Medicaid required grilling (are you married, Mr. Fletcher?) and thumb-printing, Larry approaches Tyrone’s covered body; the mortician uncovers his “work” and leaves the room.

What follows is one of the most challenging pieces of theatre in FringeNYC 2016. Tyrone – like Lazarus – comes back from death and he and Larry rehearse their childhood, their adolescence, and their young adulthood as young men of color in what continues to be a world molded by the “Master’s” hand. Without having to provide a spoiler alert and diminish the cathartic power of Ms. Jackson’s play, it is possible to reveal that “In the Master’s House There Are Many Mansions” raises many rich and enduring questions. Why are young black men still being killed as a result of police violence? Do members of black communities across America have any true advocates? Where are these advocates and why are they not more vocal and more proactive?

Under James Vesce’s electrifying direction, the cast is uniformly brilliant and engaging. They each bring authenticity and a level of honesty to their characters that challenges the status quo and reverberates through the performance space with disquieting truthfulness.

The title of Cherry Jackson’s engaging and disarming 1978 play is a mind-bending distortion of the well-known phrase in John 14:2-3, “In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” “My Father” has become “the Master” and the verses now are unsettling tropes for systemic racism, white privilege and supremacy.

The play ends with his signature “rapid-fire” up on his toes tap routine by Khalid Hill. Mr. Hill moves in and out of the shadows during the play, sometimes just observing, sometimes assisting the mortician, sometimes weaving in and out of the lives of “the quick and the dead.” Death is a funny guy sometimes and – as Tyrone points out – will find his way into your house no matter how hard you try to keep him out. In the case of Tyrone and the three new clients (one riddled by the bullets from a police officer’s gun) called in at the end of the play, Death far too often appears in the guise of armed men in uniform called to protect and serve. Who is better off? Tyrone or Larry? The one dead or the one still quickened and believing in the goodness of his master?

This is a play that needs to be seen. Please see it before it closes on August 18, 2016.

IN THE MASTERS HOUSE THERE ARE MANY MANSIONS

“In the Master’s House There Are Many Mansions” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Twilight Repertory Company at Teatro LATEA at the Clemente, 107 Suffolk Street, 2nd Floor (between Rivington and Delancey).

The cast of “In the Master’s House There Are Many Mansions” features Codara Bracy, Khalid Hill, Jay Morong, and Kineh N’goajia. Production photos by Daniel Coston.

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.jamesvesce.com/twilight-repertory-company.html. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.

Pictured: Khalid Hill. Photographer: Daniel Coston.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 18, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Mother Emanuel” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Thursday August 25, 2016)

Photo: Christian Lee Branch (with tambourine), Nicole Stacie (with tambourine), Lauren Shaye, and Marquis Gibson. Credit: Michela Rynczak.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Mother Emanuel” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Thursday August 25, 2016)
Written by Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj, Adam Mace, and Christian Lee Branch
Directed and Choreographed by Rajendra Maroon Maharaj
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Tywanza Kibwe Diop Sanders was 26 years old when he returned to his Father in Heaven. A poet and entrepreneur, he died while reaching to save his Aunt Susie. Just a few hours before his death, his last Instagram post was a meme with a quote from Jackie Robinson. It read, ‘A life is not important except in the impact it has on other lives.’” – Charlestonian 2, “Mother Emanuel”

In “Mother Emanuel” there is no mention of twenty-one-year-old Dylann Roof who, after spending an hour in a Bible Study with members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, shot nine of those church members and fled the building uttering a racially inflammatory statement over the bodies. In fact, the only reference to this June 17, 2015 massacre is the word ‘shooting.’

Described as “An American Musical Play,” Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj, Adam Mace, and Christian Lee Branch’s “Mother Emanuel” focuses on the lives of the nine victims of this shooting prior to the massacre – the time each of them found “Grace” and “returned to their Heavenly Father.” This new musical focuses on how each of these nine believers led exemplary lives of faith and commitment that continue to influence others beyond their untimely deaths.

“Mother Emanuel” takes place during the Bible study but includes a series of flashbacks that describe in detail the lives of each of the “nine.” These flashbacks are emotional and honest and give authenticity to each individual. The audience easily connects to these stories through the significant craft of the cast who play not only the lives of the massacred but also the lives those individuals touched and the lives of those who were left behind. These “testimonials” are powerful and life-changing.

Under Rajendra Ramoon Maharaj’s meticulous direction, Christian Lee Branch, Marquis Gibson, Lauren Shaye, and Nicole Stacie act, sing, and dance their ways into the hearts of the audience. As they depict how the “nine” were fired up by their deep and abiding faith, this remarkable ensemble cast fires up the audience and prepares them for that cathartic moment when, after hearing “The Old Rugged Cross,” there is a blackout and they hear the shots fired that ended those lives of the faithful.

The musical includes eleven songs of faith delivered by the cast with powerful voices that interpret the songs’ lyrics with purity and grace. And the musical does not shy away from depicting the unique experience of the AME church and its distinctive charismatic style of worship and preaching. For some members of the audience, it might be the first time they experienced the depiction of one “slain in the Spirit.”

The spirit of redemptive love pervades “Mother Emanuel” – both the musical and the historic church it celebrates – and reminds the audience of the strength of one community of faith and its insistence on overcoming hate with love. Part revival, part history, part testimonies, “Mother Emanuel” challenges the choices of vengeance and hatred with the ability to lean on “Everlasting Arms.”

MOTHER EMANUEL

“Mother Emanuel” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Rebel Theater at The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street).

The cast of “Mother Emanuel” features Christian Lee Branch, Marquis Gibson, Lauren Shaye, and Nicole Stacie. Production photos by Michela Rynczak.

For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit www.MotherEmanuelThePlay.com. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org. The running time is 90 minutes.

Photo: Christian Lee Branch (with tambourine), Nicole Stacie (with tambourine), Lauren Shaye, and Marquis Gibson. Credit: Michela Rynczak.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 18, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Scratching” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Through Friday August 26, 2016)

Photograph: FRINGENYC 2016 Logo. Photographer: Filip Rudnicki.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Scratching” at FringeNYC 2016 at The Player’s Theatre (Through Friday August 26, 2016)
Written by Britton Buttrill
Directed by Miles Mandwelle
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In Britton Buttrill’s “Scratching,” four characters who seem to have no interest in “climbing up and scratching” their ways to “start something new” appear stuck in a Sisyphean loop with no hope of purifying their karma.

Estranged brothers Christian (Karsten Otto) and Adrian (Tyler Gardella) spent their early years watching their abusive father beat their collusive mother. Christian left their Southern town for New York City with Tracy (Alexandria Collins) to start a new life as the tattoo artist who is able to see within a person that which lasts beyond death. That venture fails and he returns home to stripper drug dealer Brianna (Andi Morrow) who is not the least bit supportive. Tracy travels to the South to reclaim Christian and instead lands in the arms of Adrian who stayed home and continued to be abused by his father.

It is difficult to care for these four self-destructive characters who have no clue who they are or where they are going or when they are being objectified. Their lives are beyond hope and there is no chance of a redemptive catharsis at the end of this misbegotten play.

The actors do what they can with the script with seemingly little help from director Miles Mandwelle. The whole ordeal is far too long, extended by a meaningless and gratuitous sex scene.

SCRATCHING

“Scratching” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and The Skeleton Rep at The Player’s Theatre, 115 MacDougal Street (between West 3rd and Bleecker).

The cast of “Scratching” features Alexandria Collins, Tyler Gardella, Andi Morrow, and Karsten Otto.

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://scratchingtheplay.weebly.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.

Photograph: FRINGENYC 2016 Logo. Photographer: Filip Rudnicki.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “ChipandGus” at FringeNYC 2016 at WOW Café (Through Thursday August 25, 2016)

Pictured: John Ahlin and Christopher Patrick Mullen. Photographer: Chris Young.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “ChipandGus” at FringeNYC 2016 at WOW Café (Through Thursday August 25, 2016)
Written by and Directed by John Ahlin and Christopher Patrick Mullen
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The rapid fire repartee that bounces back and forth faster than the ping pong balls that fly through the air is the source of energy in “ChipandGus, the remarkable two-hander one act play presented as part of the N.Y. International Fringe Festival. It is a sort of a contemporary Gin Game on steroids with two unlikely characters in an unusual, mesmerizing relationship, getting pumped up in a lengthy one hundred minutes. It is an emotional, intellectual and physically challenging game where the stakes are high and a friendship is at risk. It is written by John Ahlin (Gus) and Christopher Patrick Mullen (Chip), who also credit themselves with the adroit direction. They are a perfect team, amiable opponents that manage to play with rather than against each other. Their chemistry is not an experiment but an explosion that can only be accomplished when combining two incredibly skilled actors together in a clever and precarious script.

Mr. Mullen’s lean frame moves with an almost psychotic bravura that conceals Chip’s damaged and deflated ego. He creates a character that merely simmers with frailty and vulnerability until he allows it to erupt to the surface. Mr. Ahlin’s large and dominant presence concedes to expose a cuddly teddy bear, sensitive, articulate and caring but emotionally wounded retreating within merely to protect himself. Chip, a musician and Gus a philosophy professor manage to create a complex human symphony with mellow, striking and bombastic movements that support the recurring theme of an endearing friendship. They are a pleasure to watch and intriguing to hear.

If there is any constructive criticism it would be in reference to the length of the piece and the constant repetitious pace and style of the dialogue. Perhaps this is intentional to concur with the structure of the ping pong game, but nonetheless it becomes a bit tiring way before game point. Most of the verbal sparring is subsidiary to plot development even though it provides a few good laughs.

Take a break from your summer routine and stop by the back game room of a run- down neighborhood bar to realize it is not about winning as long as you are in the game, and more important, not so much about the story but how you tell it. Chip and Gus are in the game, play it well and both come up winners.

CHIPANDGUS

“ChipandGus” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Fat Knight Theatre at WOW Café, 59-61 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue).

The cast of “ChipandGus” features John Ahlin and Christopher Patrick Mullen. Production photos by Chris Young.

For more information about the show including performance dates, the cast, and creative team, please visit http://www.fatknighttheatre.org/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.

Pictured: John Ahlin and Christopher Patrick Mullen. Photographer: Chris Young.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Naked Brazilian” at FringeNYC 2016 at 64E4 Mainstage (Through Sunday August 21, 2016

Pictured: Gustavo Pace. Photographer: Jim R. Moore.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Naked Brazilian” at FringeNYC 2016 at 64E4 Mainstage (Through Sunday August 21, 2016)
Written by Gustavo Pace
Directed by Stephen Brown-Fried
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

One of the many solo shows being presented as part of the N.Y. International Fringe Festival is “Naked Brazilian,” written and performed by Gustavo Pace. The script follows his life from childhood in Rio de Janeiro to the streets of New York City and beyond elaborating on copious experiences that contribute to his engaging journey to the present day. The monologue is filled with rich and demonstrative characters that Mr. Pace has mastered physically and vocally. He deftly morphs from one to another in the blink of an eye, captivating his audience and keeping the life train chugging along at a comfortable pace. His inexhaustible energy, charming presence and impeccable timing all help to achieve his dream of “just entertaining others.”

Unfortunately, that is what the stories become, merely entertainment with almost no personal emotional investment to compliment the experience. It is easy to like Gustavo, enjoy the comedy and appreciate the drama but it is very difficult to connect with him and care about him. When you leave the theater you remember the stories but do not necessarily remember Mr. Pace. There is also a problem with the first ten minutes or so being spoken in Portuguese even though it does take place in Brazil. Authentic but not too interesting to those who do not understand making it seem longer than it actually is. Just establish the language in the first dramatic scene and continue in English. Explaining what was said becomes repetitive. Establish the premise and move on. There is also room for refinement of the script eliminating some unnecessary scenes that do nothing to move the story forward and abandon the already scarce dramatic arc.

Take a chance and spend a bit more than an hour with a very good story teller who has a few interesting tales to share and does it with the skills afforded a proficient actor.

NAKED BRAZILIAN

“Naked Brazilian” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival at 64E4 Mainstage, 64 East 4th Street (between Bowery and 2nd Avenue). Photo by Jim R. Moore.

Remaining performances of “Naked Brazilian” take place at on the following schedule: Wednesday August 17th at 9:30 p.m.; Friday August 19th at 9:15 p.m.; and Sunday August 21st at 8:30 p.m. Tickets are $18.00. The running time is 1 hour and 10 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.nakedbrazilianshow.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.

Pictured: Gustavo Pace. Photographer: Jim R. Moore.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 14, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Unusual Tale of Mary and Joseph's Baby” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Unusual Tale of Mary and Joseph's Baby” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Saturday August 27, 2016)
Music and Lyrics by Don Chaffer
Book by Chris Cragin-Day
Directed by Amelia Peterson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“When Herod saw that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was filled with rage. Sending orders, he put to death all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, according to the time he had learned from the Magi.” – Matthew 2:16

Don Chaffer’s “The Unusual Tale of Mary and Joseph’s Baby” is an interesting retelling of the Biblical story of the birth of Jesus from Gabriel’s “Annunciation” to the “Flight into Egypt” to escape Herod’s attempt to find and murder the child born a ruler who will be “the shepherd of God’s people Israel.” The new musical – still set in the time of Herod – sports a Joseph who builds for the Romans and has to decide what to do with his fiancé Mary who claims to be pregnant with God’s child. Mary here, as in the Biblical story, is a devout young woman who awaits God’s deliverance from the oppression of the Romans and their puppet king Herod.

Don Chaffer’s and Chris Cragin Day’s musical comes to the stage with great promise. His retelling is fresh and, in most cases, brimming with humor. If only the cast members had stronger voices and were able to develop their characters more deeply giving them a freshness and a new depth of spirit. Michael Castillejos (Joseph), Ava McCoy (Mary), Katherine George (Elizabeth and others), and Andrew Nielson (Benjamin (and others) often seen adrift in clearly articulating the themes of “The Unusual Tale.” Perhaps it would have been better to have a contemporary setting to correspond to the contemporary costumes. And why is Joseph in a contemporary builder’s costume and the Roman soldiers in period costumes? And the lengthy scenes with the large puppet informing Joseph and Mary of God’s will are unnecessary. Again, an announcement over the loudspeaker at work that only Joseph can hear might have worked better.

Director Amelia Peterson should be giving her actors a firmer hand and move the entire show at a much quicker pace. Was the show perhaps under rehearsed? This reviewer does know the company’s tech rehearsal was cancelled and rescheduled for 6:00 a.m. the day of their first performance. Still, stronger direction is needed and the Music Director should let the actors know that they need to deliver their songs with more strength and conviction. Perhaps the director and creators should be thinking more of an SNL skit or even – if they watched a few re-runs – something like a “Honeymooners.” Andrew Nielson’s portrayal of Benjamin and his other characters could not be more in the character of Art Carney.

In its present writing, the musical seems not have found a clear purpose or a clear direction for its future. If the musical is a riff on the story of the birth of Jesus, hoping to reach out to a new generation of theatre audience members or is it intended to reach out to existing faith communities to embolden faith and commitment in an already believing audience? The character of Benjamin (played with an exuberant playfulness by Andrew Nielson) – and the other roles played by the same actor – would indicate the former. But the characters of Joseph and Mary and Elizabeth fall clearly into the latter category of appealing to the faithful. This is an important decision the musical’s creators have to make. If the show’s purpose is to proselytize, then it belongs in a religious context. Music, lyrics, and book all contribute to this current confusion.

All of that said, “The Unusual Tale” is a charming love story of a young couple faced with important decisions in a world of judgement and conditional love and worth a visit.

THE UNUSUAL TALE OF MARY AND JOSEPH’S BABY

“The Unusual Tale of Mary and Joseph's Baby” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and Firebone Theatre at The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street).

Remaining performances of “The Unusual Tale of Mary and Joseph's Baby” take place at on the following schedule: Friday August 19th at 5:00 p.m.; Monday August 22nd at 7:30 p.m.; Friday August 26th at 7:00 p.m.; and Saturday August 27th at 12:15 p.m. Tickets are $18.00. The running time is 1 hours and 30 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.firebonetheatre.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, August 14, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Cleaning Guy” at FringeNYC 2016 at the Huron Club at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Wednesday August 24, 2016)

Photo: Paul Adams. Credit: Hershey Miller.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “The Cleaning Guy” at FringeNYC 2016 at the Huron Club at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Wednesday August 24, 2016)
Music by Paul Adams and Matt Casarino
Book by Paul Adams
Directed by Melissa Attebery
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

It is rare to find a solo show in the NY International Fringe Festival that includes original music and lyrics: that welcoming combination can be found in Paul Adams who happens to be “The Cleaning Guy.” A transplant from Kansas, he has been cleaning NYC apartments for the past twenty-five years and has an incredible roster of clients and their stories to verify it. If Mr. Adams attacks his cleaning missions with the same burst of energy shown when he enters the theater belting out the first musical number, there is no doubt he is good at his job. Most of his stories are interesting, ranging from comedy to heartfelt drama. Though some slightly miss the mark, it is of no concern, since he writes about what he knows and has experienced in this sometimes bizarre occupation. It is the first thirty or so minutes of the show that sometimes feel repetitious: the tales exhibit a sameness in content and dynamic. But then the performance suddenly takes off and starts to fly. It just seems a bit long to climb that first hill on the roller coaster before you feel your heart pound as you speed down the first drop and continue to have your emotions erupt as he leads you around sharp unexpected turns. It is a well-constructed piece of theater that can only improve with time and tightening the script to an hour. His lyrics are an extension of his stories, usually taking on a comedic flair, and the music by Matt Casarino is a perfect complement that is sharp and clean. Melissa Attebery moves the piece along at a steady pace but should push Mr. Adams a bit further in the delineation of his client’s characters. If you have the chance, try to catch one of the remaining performances at the Soho Playhouse for a refreshing evening of entertainment.

THE CLEANING GUY

“The Cleaning Guy” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and at the Huron Club at the SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street). Photo by.

Remaining performances of “The Cleaning Guy” take place at on the following schedule: Monday August 15th at 7:15 p.m.; Thursday August 18th at 9:30 p.m.; Sunday August 21st at 4:30 p.m.; and Wednesday August 24th at 6:15 p.m. Tickets are $18.00. The running time is 1 hour. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.thecleaningguy.nyc/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, August 13, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Black Magic” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Saturday August 20, 2016)

Photo: The Cast of "Black Magic." Courtesy: "Black Magic."
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Black Magic” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Saturday August 20, 2016)
Written by Tony Jenkins
Directed by Tony Jenkins and Chessa Metz
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I was not born for death and yet I have died a thousand times, he thought. And now I am born again for these hard times.” – Kathryn Lasky, “Frost Wolf”

In forty powerfully engaging minutes, the cast of “Black Magic” explores the lives of seven slain black men “in the era of Orlando, Ferguson, and Black Lives Matter.” There are not ordinary “dead” men. These slain men speak to the audience about their lives, their grieving families, their murderers, their lovers, their children, and their remarkable ability to have died and “yet still are still here.” They speak to their gay sons, to their mothers and to their grandmothers who raised them. They even speak directly about the systemic racism that killed them and directly to the guns that killed them and to those who pulled the triggers of those guns time after time after time.

The stories of the slain black men are told in spoken word, stunning movement, and song with just the touch of clowning around. Mr. Jenkins is an accomplished spoken word artist whose work relies heavily on the rhetorical devices of ethos and pathos and employs rich imagery and figurative language to persuade the audience to share not only in the responsibility for the ravages of systemic racism but how to be change agents embracing non-judgmental and unconditional love instead of the weaponry of hatred and mistrust. Under the co-direction of Tony Jenkins and Chessa Metz, the uniformly brilliant cast – together for just one week – bring the stories to redemptive catharsis that lingers long after the final scene. Although they number seven, they manage to speak with one clear voice jettisoning between the joys of their lives and the tragedies of their collective deaths.

In that final scene, the cast engages the audience in deciding how to move forward after death and rebirth, how to rethink choices given humankind in the recurring gifts of new Gardens of Eden where the fruit (or the glove) of the knowledge of good and evil challenges each First Man and First Woman. How humankind moves forward is a choice not to be taken lightly. What is clear is that the resilience of slain black men will not diminish and that somehow, sometime death and crying will be no more.

In a talkback following the first performance of “Black Magic,” writer Tony Jenkins shared that the new play was not something he intended to write, not even something he wanted to write. The play chose him and he had to write it. After the recent string of gun violence and violence against men and women of color, there was nothing else to do “but write.” Mr. Jenkins, Ms. Metz and their cast have collaborated to create a moving piece of theatre that will endure beyond its time at FringeNYC 2016.

“Black Magic” is not always easy on the mind but it is undyingly kind to the spirit of forgiveness and reconciliation. The play’s message transcends race, color, sex, sexual status, and age: its rich and enduring questions connect with all who seek to move East of Eden with a renewed spirit of hopefulness rooted and grounded in love.

BLACK MAGIC

“Black Magic” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival at The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street).

The cast of “Black Magic” features Tony Jenkins, Justin Campbell, Malik Squire, Aaron Marshall-Bobb, Skyler James, Ibn Days and Evan Reiser. Chessa Metz is the choreographer and co-director.

Remaining performances of “Black Magic” take place at on the following schedule: Monday August 15th at 2:00 p.m.; Wednesday August 17th at 2:45 p.m.; Friday August 18th at 7:15 p.m.; and Saturday August 20th at 5:45 p.m. Tickets are $18.00. The running time is 40 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit www.blackmagicplay.wordpress.com. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, August 13, 2016

Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Let the Devil Take the Hindmost” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Tuesday August 23, 2016)

Photo: Analisa Velez and Bobby Crace. Credit: Caz McKinnon.
Off-Off-Broadway Review: “Let the Devil Take the Hindmost” at FringeNYC 2016 at the SoHo Playhouse (Through Tuesday August 23, 2016)
Written by Maya Contreras
Directed by Lorca Peress
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Among the shows opening the FringeNYC 2016 season is “Let The Devil Take the Hindmost,” a new play by Maya Contreras who – in a program note from the playwright – shares that she penned the play in response to the horrific crimes fueled by systemic and institutionalized racism. It deals with a family that, in resolution, blames its dysfunction and destruction on the racially provoked murder of matriarch Vera’s father when she was fifteen when he ventured outside his neighborhood to get her ice cream. Unfortunately, the few minutes allocated to this disclosure does not validate Vera’s alcoholic self- destruction or the need to merely touch upon a vast array of other equally important issues. Set in Washington D.C. in 1969, the script loses focus and sabotages itself when delving into topics such as the Viet Nam War, infidelity, dementia, unwed motherhood, protests, political unrest, civil rights, and alternative lifestyles, all of which have no bearing on the effect of the aforementioned past tragedy.

At times the plot seems implausible given the situation and circumstances. Vera is African American and her husband is Latino. She is a high school mathematics teacher, he is a college professor and their daughter is a college graduate living on the lower east side of Manhattan. They are an affluent, mixed race couple. They are intelligent, aware, employed, married for twenty-four years and have obviously had to overcome many obstacles to achieve their present status. To suddenly have this revelation that she is scarred by racism and to have a deep seeded anger surface to destroy herself and her family seems unlikely. It is difficult to have much compassion for the under-developed characters without having some insight into their personal family history. The meaning of the proverbial title of the show indicates that those who lag behind will receive no aid, and can certainly be significant to this production on many different levels.

LET THE DEVIL TAKE THE HINDMOST

“Let the Devil Take the Hindmost” is presented by The New York International Fringe Festival and at The SoHo Playhouse, 15 Vandam Street (between 6th Avenue and Varick Street).

The cast of “Let the Devil Take the Hindmost” includes Thursday Farrar, Felipe Gorostiza, Analisa Velez, Kaitlin Large, Nicole Thompson-Adams, and Bobby Crace. “Let the Devil Take the Hindmost” features video design by Christopher Marston, lighting design by Kirk Bookman, hair and wig design by John Dallas and fight choreography by Carlotta Summers. Lionel A. Christian is the stage manager. Production photos by Caz McKinnon.

Remaining performances of “Let the Devil Take the Hindmost” take place at on the following schedule: Sunday August 14th at 5:30 p.m.; Wednesday August 17th at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday August 20th at 3:45 p.m.; and Tuesday August 23rd at 7:15 p.m. Tickets are $18.00. The running time is 1 hour and 10 minutes. For more information about the show and the cast and creative team, please visit http://www.letthedeviltakethehindmost.com/. For more information about the 20th Annual New York Fringe Festival visit www.FringeNYC.org.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, August 13, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Implications of Cohabitation” at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row (Through Friday August 26, 2016)

Photo: Connie Saltzman, Andres de Vengoechea, Gladys Perez, and Vanessa Verduga. Credit: Michael Blase.
Off-Broadway Review: “Implications of Cohabitation” at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row (Through Friday August 26, 2016)
Written by Vanessa Verduga
Directed by Leni Mendez
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The Homeless Man (David Pendleton) sums up Nelson’s (Anthony Ruiz) dilemma in a simple phrase, “You should know there are implications to cohabitation.” Nelson is the husband and father of two families and he has not fulfilled either of those roles with any distinction from their beginnings. After the death of his wife Caitlin, Nelson wants to “make nice” with his three adult children and his former lover Carmen (Adriana Sananes). He summons his three children to the Ecuadorian restaurant where Carmen once worked to begin the process of reconciliation and suggests the best way to accomplish regaining their confidence in him is to takes turns living with each of them.

Cohabiting with these three has disastrous implications and provides the storyline for Vanessa Verduga’s play “Implications of Cohabitation” currently running at the Clurman Theatre on Theatre Row in Midtown Manhattan. Nelson finds fault with his two children by the deceased Caitlin: Kevin (Andres de Vengochea) his firstborn son is an unemployed actor who has no interest in joining his father’s business; and Jenny (Connie Saltzman) his third child is a free-spirited punk-rocker. And although his second child Sara (Vanessa Verduga) is a successful attorney, his visit to her apartment results in a mistaken identity fiasco when he walks in on Sara’s ex-boyfriend Jake (James Padric) making a visit after having had a “huge argument” with his gay partner Jean.

Nelson’s attempt to create a harmonious blended family fails and in the process of trying to reconcile with his children after abandoning them, he discovers his need to change. This macho Ecuadorian father simply cannot control his Ecuadorian-American child (Sara) or his Irish-Ecuadorian children (Kevin and Jenny). However, Sara’s upcoming wedding to Ben provides Nelson the opportunity to complete the redemptive process of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Whether he manages to walk Sara down the aisle into a new relationship with his children and Carmen provides the resolution of Ms. Vergara’s play.

Although Ms. Vergara’s characters are well-developed on the page and although the talented cast appears to make every effort to further develop their characters on stage, the overall effect of “Implications of Cohabitation” is akin to a lackluster soap opera. It is difficult to care deeply about anyone except perhaps the Homeless Man played with a gentle caring spirit by David Pendleton, Nelson’s lover Carmen played with a steely resolve by Adriana Saranes, and the deceased Caitlin who had to suffer with Neslon’s infidelity and lack of concern for his children. Gladys Perez rounds out the cast as the waitress and Kevin’s visitor.

It appears the script itself is the problem here as well as Leni Mendez’s erratic and unremarkable direction. Additionally, a couple of the cast members went up on lines consistently throughout this reviewed performance: this requires the remainder of the cast to constantly be prepared to cover and obviously can affect their performances.

With time, hopefully “Implications of Cohabitation” will find its mark.



IMPLICATIONS OF COHABITATION

The cast of “Implications of Cohabitation” features Anthony Ruiz, Vanessa Verduga, Adriana Sananes, David Pendleton, Andres de Vengochea, Connie Saltzman, James Padric and Gladys Perez.

“Implications of Cohabitation” features Set Design by Anna Grigo, Costume Design by Steven Daniel, Lighting Design by Jackson Miller and the Asst. Director is Joseph Barone. Casting is by Orpheus Group Casting. The production’s General Management is by DTE Management. Production photos are by Michael Blase.

Performances of “Implications of Cohabitation” are on Thursdays through Saturdays at 8:00 p.m.,
and on Wednesday August 17th at 2:00 p.m. For a full list of performances visit: http://sudacastheater.com/.

Tickets for “Implications of Cohabitation” are $20.25 and available at Telecharge.com. Direct Link to purchase tickets: http://sudacastheater.com/. Running time is 90 minutes plus a 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, August 11, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Newton’s Cradle” at the New York Musical Festival at the Pearl Theatre (Closed on Sunday August 7, 2016)

Photo: Andrea Jones-Sojola and Heath Saunders. Credit: Michael Kushner.
Off-Broadway Review: “Newton’s Cradle” at the New York Musical Festival at the Pearl Theatre (Closed on Sunday August 7, 2016)
Book and Additional Lyrics by Kim Saunders
Music and Lyrics by Heath Saunders
Directed by Victoria Clark
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Newton’s Cradle” is an earnest attempt to create a serious musical that sheds some light on the subject of Autism by revealing some significant situations experienced by Evan Newton, who is living with this disorder. It joins the ranks alongside the Broadway play “Curious Incident” in trying to bring to the forefront the consequences associated with this condition and how they affect relationships with friends, family, and loved ones. The play takes place over a series of summers at the family cabin just outside Denali National Park in Alaska at three different stages of Evan’s life, as a child, an adolescent and a young man. These stories are interwoven throughout the two hour production and do nothing more than create situations that enable a character to engage in musical numbers that are laden with exposition dialogue and do nothing to move the plot forward. The book by Kim Saunders needs to focus more on character development to achieve an emotional connection with the audience which convinces them to care. The music by Heath Saunders is interesting in that its unmelodic structure mimics the mental and physical synapses that sometime surface in Evan. The lyrics are derivative of Sondheim and too intellectual and informative, rather than emotional.

The cast is first rate and is committed to the material. Heath Saunders creates a sensitive, vulnerable Evan with an equally pure, precise and charming vocal. As brother Michael, Trent Saunders is engaging and steadfast even when sabotaged by some unbelievable situations in the book. Rose Hemingway gives a solid performance as a spunky, thoughtful and intelligent Chelsea in fine vocal form. Rachel Kara Perez is determined and solicitous, staying focused to produce a believable Charlie. David Dewitt establishes the confused, conflicted and fickle father, Nate with conviction. The powerful, impassioned vocals of Andrea Jones-Sojola is a redeeming element of this musical, seizing the opportunity to fill Audrey, the mother of Evan, with a fervent spirit and enduring soul.

Director Victoria Clark puts all the pieces of this puzzle together with a firm hand, but unfortunately it does not create a successful production. Choreographer Sara Brians infuses cognitive movement into scenes that compliments the action. At this stage of development, the creative team needs to step back, regroup and decide what they are attempting to communicate and more so how they can better tell this endearing story.

NEWTON’S CRADLE

Starring in the show are David Dewitt, Rose Hemingway, Andrea Jones-Sojola, Rachel Kara Perez, Heath Saunders, and Trent Saunders.

In addition to director Clark, the production team includes Producer Robb Nannus, Associate Director and Choreographer Sara Brians, Tara Rubin Casting, Scenic Designer Luke Cantarella, Costume Designer Maria Hooper, Lighting Designer Zach Blane, Sound Designer Quentin Chiappetta, Stage Manager Melanie T. Morgan and Musical Director Jesse Kissel. Production photos by Michael Kushner.

“Newton’s Cradle” concluded its New York Musical Festival run on Sunday August 7, 2016. For more information on the musical, please visit http://www.newtonscradlemusical.com/.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “Insomnia” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at WorkShop Theater’s Main Stage Theater (Closed Sunday August 7, 2016)

Photo: Jesse Manocherian and the Cast of “Insomnia.” Credit: Shira Friedman Photography.
Off-Broadway Review: “Insomnia” at the Midtown International Theatre Festival at WorkShop Theater’s Main Stage Theater (Closed Sunday August 7, 2016)
Music and Lyrics by Charles Bloom
Book by Theodore Wolf
Directed by Ovi Vargas
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The new musical “Insomnia” played as part of the Midtown International Theater Festival. It is complicated, enjoyable and derivative, some of which might contribute to a possible successful future. The music and lyrics by Charles Bloom are like a collision between Sondheim and Finn, a beneficial “marriage” contributing to the progress of the production at this developmental stage. Screenwriter Brad cannot sleep and decides to write a screenplay about his dilemma. The musical’s creators have written a wonderful mindscape, shuttling the audience between reality and fantasy, conscious thought and subconscious angst.

The book by Theodore Wolf is less effective and certainly can use an overhaul. Perhaps the most derivative aspect of the show is the direction and choreography by Ovi Vargas which at times resembles a gay version of “Company.” The storyline is less complicated than the sum of its parts. There needs to be a constant for the insomniac in order to delineate his actions between reality and illusion. It is uncertain where the blame lies when it comes to the weak chemistry between actors in certain scenes and situations but it results in flat characters with little or no emotional substance. One needs to care more for these “friends and family” of the protagonist Brad.

The cast is a bit uneven, by no fault of their own, and this concern might possibly be credited to either casting or direction or both. Jesse Manocherian embodies the character of Brad with a strong commitment and great integrity. He provides an infectious charm with pliable emotions in tune with his scattered thoughts and situations, completely supported by his strong, clear, tireless baritenor vocals. He is a joy to watch and hear. Anette Michelle Sanders gives a colorful portrayal of the washed up “B” movie star landlady Sylvia Sylver. Philip Skinner provides an admirable performance as boyfriend Dan but needs to establish more chemistry with his beau. Lauren Lukacek is delightful as Linda juggling her emotions with proficiency while establishing a very authentic, contemporary character. The remainder of the supporting cast includes Chris Brick, Dennis Holland, and Tyler Milliron, who do what they can with the material given.

This new musical, even at this current incarnation provides an enjoyable evening of entertainment. Hopefully the creative team with continue working and this project develops into a vital part of the New York theater scene.

INSOMNIA: A NEW MUSICAL

“Insomnia” closed on Sunday August 7, 2016. For further information about the new musical, please visit http://www.charlesbloomusic.com/insomnia/.

WITH: Chris Brick, Dennis Holland, Lauren Lukacek, Jesse Manocherian, Tyler Milliron, Anette Michelle Sanders, and Philip Skinner.

Photo: Jesse Manocherian and the Cast of “Insomnia.” Credit: Shira Friedman Photography.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, August 9, 2016

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