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Off-Broadway Review: “Be More Chill” at The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday September 30, 2018)

Photo: Will Rowland and George Salazar in “Be More Chill.” Credit: Maria Baranova.
Off-Broadway Review: “Be More Chill” at The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday September 30, 2018)
Music and Lyrics by Joe Iconis
Book by Joe Tracz
Based on the Novel by Ned Vizzini
Directed by Stephen Brackett
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

It is difficult to separate “Be More Chill,” currently running The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center, from the hype surrounding what has become a teenage cult musical since its 2015 run at the Two River Theater in Red Bank, New Jersey. This hype has been heightened by a cast recording and an extensive marketing campaign. What is this musical about and how successful is its current incarnation?

High school junior Jeremy Heere (an awkward and amiable Will Rowland) would like his chill factor to be higher. He does not want to be “special,” but he just wants “to survive.” From his opening number “More Than Survive” it is difficult to diagnose the suburban New Jersey teen’s precise source of anxiety. Is it the slow-loading porn on his laptop, his dad’s (Jason SweetTooth Williams) disrespect for privacy, his fear of arriving at school “reeking?” His generalized anxiety seems no different than that of any teenager navigating their way through high school’s pitfalls. What is it Jeremy is dreading?

There is some bullying by classmates Rich Goranski (a menacing but broken Gerard Canonico) and Jake Dillinger (a high school awesomeness personified Britton Smith) but Jeremy has a solid friend in Michael Mell (a balanced and authentic George Salazar) with whom he shares an interest in video games and music. What Jeremy does not have, besides more chill, is his love interest Christine Canigula (a sweetly dorky Stephanie Hsu). There is also the “noise” created by the most popular girl in school Chloe Valentine (a crass and confident Katlyn Carlson), the second most popular Brooke Lohst (an insecure Lauren Marcus), and sidekick Jenna Rolan (a prying and intrusive Tiffany Mann).

Rather than finding some safe and relatively sane resolution to the angst of adolescence, Jeremy takes the same “gray oblong pill from Japan” that Rich swallowed to up his chill. The pill – the Squip – is a super-computer that tells Rich and Jeremy what to do and say to be cooler. Sci-Fi replaces socializing. The “voice” of the Squip is the aesthetic space-overcoat-clad Jason Tam.

Jeremy’s Squip-fueled journey from sad to glad to “normalcy” is told in scenes accompanied by loud pop-rock, techno-rock beats composed by Joe Iconis (with lyrics also by Iconis) and a serviceable book by Joe Tracz. Few of the songs are memorable. However, “Michael in the Bathroom” Michael’s existential lament after being ditched by the post-Squip more chill Jeremy is perhaps the most carefully written and the most sensitively delivered by George Salazar.

The cast is uniformly outstanding and fully committed to their roles. The playwright does not give us enough exposition about the protagonist Jeremy or his best friend Michael. Nor do the creators disclose what motivates Rich, Jake, or the popular female trio; therefore, their characters often struggle to transcend caricatures. Stephen Brackett’s direction and Chase Brock’s choreography move the action along at an appropriate pace and with welcomed energy. Beowulf Boritt’s expansive set, Bobby Frederick Tilley II’s stunning costumes, and Tyler Micoleau’s mood-driven lighting complement the musical’s settings.

There are no LGBTQ+ characters in “Be More Chill” and the only mentions of the sexual status of this disparate community are negative. When Jeremy decides to sign up to be in the after-school play – a post-apocalyptic zombie infused retelling of Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” – in order to spend time with his crush Christine – he worries that “it’s a sign-up sheet for getting called gay.” Predictably, and sadly, as soon as Jeremy signs, Rich calls out “Gay! Hahaha!” Rich taunts Jeremy about being gay, suggesting that he and Michael are “boyfriends.” The fact that Michael has lesbian parents (“mothers”) does not offset the musical’s lack of strong LGBTQ+ characters.

The hype surrounding “Be More Chill,” including its extensive marketing campaign, and the musical itself cannot and should not be a substitute for the real work required to discover who one is and then grapple with how to achieve selfhood and self-acceptance in the midst of discrimination, bullying, and dehumanization. “Be More Chill” hopefully will not itself become the Squip that numbs the intensity of that process.

BE MORE CHILL

The cast of “Be More Chill” features Gerard Canonico, Katlyn Carlson, Stephanie Hsu, Tiffany Mann, Lauren Marcus, Will Roland, George Salazar, Britton Smith, Jason Tam, and Jason SweetTooth Williams.

“Be More Chill” features scenic design by Beowulf Boritt, costume design by Bobby Frederick Tilley II, lighting design by Tyler Micoleau, sound design by Ryan Rumery, projection design by Alex Basco Koch, musical direction by Emily Marshall, orchestrations by Charlie Rosen, casting by Telsey + Company / Adam Caldwell, CSA and Rebecca Scholl, CSA, and production stage management by Amanda Michaels.

“Be More Chill” runs through Sunday September 23rd, 2018 at The Irene Diamond Stage at The Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street, NYC). Performances are Tuesday - Friday at 7:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $65.00 - $140.00 and are on sale at www.ticketcentral.com or by calling (212) 279-4200. For more information, visit www.BeMoreChillMusical.com. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: Will Rowland and George Salazar in “Be More Chill.” Credit: Maria Baranova.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, August 13, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “The Field” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Closed Friday, August 10, 2018)

Off-Broadway Review: “The Field” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Closed Friday, August 10, 2018)
Written by Emily Emerson
Directed by Brook Davis
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

At the beginning of Emily Emerson’s “The Field,” recently finishing its run at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre, the cornfields of Avon, Virginia are ready to be turned under by the hardworking farmers and the lives of hundreds of other hardworking women and men in the town have been “turned under” by the closure of the furniture plant where they have been employed for decades. All the plant’s production has been moved to Mexico. The folks of Avon need something like a miracle to pull them through this devastation.

The setting of “The Field” is a small diner run by Rita (a calloused but tender Cinny Strickland) and her young cook Enid (a wise beyond her years Emma Russell). Rita honors her deceased father by continuing to keep the diner in operation in good times and in bad. She is generous to a fault and diverts all the customers’ tips to Enid’s college fund. Enid makes the best hush puppies around using a secret ingredient to maintain her standing. The diner is Avon’s “town square” where all important matters are discussed, and relevant decisions made. After Mayor Bob Daniels (an officious and disconnected Douglas Paul Brown) announces the plant closure at Rita’s, local farmer Francis O’Donnell (a beleaguered but hopeful Brian Mullins) enters and announces that overnight a huge crop circle has appeared in his cornfield.

Into this mayhem comes George Sartori (a warm but suspicious Ben Baker) the reporter assigned by a regional newspaper to cover the furniture plant closure. Sartori is well-dressed, well-coiffed, and handsome as hell – the kind of drifter-grifter-diabolic intruder-stranger-alien-angel that often sweeps into small western towns and brings either “trouble” or “salvation.” Rita chooses “trouble” until Sartori pins her to one of the tables after hours and spends the night. So much for the possibility he is a messenger from God. While working, Sartori never loosens his tie, uses a small notebook for his research, and doesn’t seem to own a cell phone. Nor do any of the other residents of modern-day Avon.

Sartori initiates a “philosophical” discussion of the provenance and meaning of the crop circle. Has it been inscribed by aliens? Is it a miracle? Francis’s wife Beryl’s (a gentle and content Sarah Jenkins) overnight “recovery” from cancer would suggest a miracle; however, the reporter argues for a rational explanation and convinces the townspeople to try to “duplicate” the phenomenon in one of Bob’s fields in the same timeframe of the crop circle’s appearance in Francis’s field to rule out his theory. They fail, and Francis decides to test the miracle theory by plowing the crop circle under. To disclose what happens next would require a spoiler alert but it is as confusing as everything that has come before.

The playwright chooses to use a trope, here an extended metaphor, to grapple with the meaning of miracles and raise enduring questions about the phenomenon. There is a disconnect between the questions the playwright chooses to ask and the questions that are embedded in a rich discussion of miracles. Ms. Emerson engages her characters in a conversation about whether the crop circle might be the work of aliens, the work of humans, or a miracle. Not addressed directly are perhaps more difficult questions: Do miracles exist? What is the provenance of miracles? What is the longevity of a miracle? Can grantors of miracles reverse their supernatural occurrences? Does a miracle have to be embraced to be effective?

Ms. Emerson’s characters have rather poorly defined conflicts. Therefore, the plot driven by the conflicts wobbles without ever finding a satisfying dramatic arc. It is difficult to care about the characters or their problems and nothing is resolved at the play’s end. There is certainly no catharsis. Direction by Brook Davis cannot overcome the shortcomings of the script leaving the competent cast to struggle on their own to tell the convoluted story the best they can. Hopefully future incarnations of “The Field” will give Ms. Emerson’s intriguing concept a more satisfying treatment.

Unfortunately, “The Field” leaves the audience with only a recurrence of Beryl’s cancer and a befuddled Francis muttering, “What have I done?” But earlier, Sartori skips town after finishing his glowing account of Avon, heads to a new assignment, and now has Enid’s secret ingredient for her hush puppies – cold bacon grease. Might be worth following the grifter.

THE FIELD

The cast of “The Field” features Tim Austin, Ben Baker, Douglas Paul Brown, Sarah Jenkins, Brian Mullins, Emma Russell, and Cinny Strickland.

The creative team includes Matthew Emerson (scenic design), Claire Abernathy (costume design), and Liz Stewart (lighting design).

All performances of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, August 13, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Bergen” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Monday, August 13, 2018)

Photo: Members of the cast of “Bergen” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. Credit: Emily Hewitt Photography.
Off-Broadway Review: “Bergen” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Monday, August 13, 2018)
Written by Steven Fechter
Directed by Kathy Gail MacGowan
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is a bleak, doleful new play entitled “Bergen” that is being presented as part of The Broadway Bound Festival at the 14th Street Y. More a play with songs than a musical, “Bergen” is set in the near future in Norway where a motley group of mediocre rock musicians try to decide what to name their band. They set midnight as the deadline and the only criterion is that the name chosen reflects the collapse of America. Playwright Steven Fechter falls short of the dark side of comedy when the ongoing joke, a plethora of cynical names, wears thin after several outbursts of suggestions as the night of debauchery evolves. The predictable plot is driven by situation and circumstance. The only possible irony to be found is that this bunch of losers want to name their band after the cause of a dystopian America.

There is a surfeit of depressing information spouted by each of the characters about their past which supports their mood and state of mind but little emotion to elicit the present pain and struggle. A lot is said but nothing happens. Enter a new female lead singer who drops in to audition or possibly save the day. It appears the best she can do is ignite the hormones of each band member that results in triggering sexual fantasies, which are as arbitrarily displayed as the songs which are randomly performed by each character. Neither move the plot forward. She obviously knows something the band doesn’t as she flees to the horrid debacle of America to save herself. Of course, before she left the gang came up with the name “American Disease” so the only thing left to do is hire the waitress in the café to be their new female lead singer.

The major problem with the structure of the play is there is no focus. It is difficult to understand what it is about. It is too broad a statement to say the entire world is in trouble for whatever reason. Questions are not answered, dreams are not fulfilled, and life continues to pass the characters by as they only choose to exist within their fantasies. There are too many inner conflicts that are never resolved but merely pile up on top of each other until they topple and are then swept away. The melancholy pulse of the production deflates the dramatic arc and consumes any hope of change or survival, merely encouraging the self-absorbed characters. This makes it difficult to like or care about any of them. Perhaps there is a message buried somewhere within the work, but it is lost in translation.

BERGEN

The cast of “Bergen” features Halle Charlton, Kent Coleman, Nicholas-Tyler Corbin, Andrea Lynn Green, and Joe Jung.

The creative team includes Janet Mervin (costume design) and Kia Rogers (lighting design). Monet Fleming serves as production stage manager.

All performances of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “Bergen” is 85 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Members of the cast of “Bergen” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. Credit: Emily Hewitt Photography.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, August 13, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Long Lost John: A Lennon Family Story” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Saturday, August 11, 2018)

Photo: Nicholas-Tyler Corbin and Sarah Arikian-Coe in “Long Lost John: A Lennon Family Story” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. Credit: Alida Rose Delaney.
Off-Broadway Review: “Long Lost John: A Lennon Family Story” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Saturday, August 11, 2018)
Written and Co-Directed by Eddie Zareh
Co-Directed by Carlton Cyrus Ward
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Currently running at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y, the new play entitled “Long Lost John: A Lennon Family Story” by Eddie Zareh examines the early childhood of John Lennon. It addresses the complications and grief that arose from first being taken from his mother and put in the care of his Aunt Mimi by order of Social Services and then after a reconciliation, losing his mother when she is tragically hit and killed by a police car. The plot follows a linear structure which takes on a double meaning in this circumstance. First, it follows the events in chronological order starting at one point and ending at another. The problem which emerges during this period is the lack of character development that should result from the events at hand. Second, the tone can be said to flat line, stuck on one emotion which is a consistent stream of anger. There are little pockets when a different response or sentiment attempts to creep in, but it is quickly overshadowed. It is common knowledge that anger is only one stage of grieving and the plot does touch briefly on depression – but what happened to denial, bargaining, and acceptance.

There is too little information about the emotional development of John Lennon and the effect it had on his artistic endeavors and since he is such a prominent figure in musical history much of what is told has already been exposed in literature or documentary film. Those fans who are lucky enough to have visited Liverpool are afforded even more detail about his early years. Paul McCartney who is also still grieving over the loss of his mother, is introduced as a pivotal character when forming a bond with Lennon through their music. Co-Directors Carlton Cyrus Ward and playwright Eddie Zareh fail to explore the depth of any of the principal characters leaving them one dimensional. It merely results in a fact-based plot with little dramatic support to engage the audience and coerce them to have an emotional investment. The production clearly needs a fresh creative critical eye to move forward and suffers from the dilemma of playwrights directing their own work, not allowing it to flourish.

The cast is admirable doing what it can with the material but seems contained and prohibited from exploring. The issue of childhood grieving is an intriguing and deserving subject but perhaps better served with a less complicated celebrated personality. The iconic figure dominates the work always leaving the audience wanting more. In this case what would have deserved attention is the influence of grief on the ability to create. It certainly is informative and sheds light on an important subject but just lacks a certain punch.

LONG LOST JOHN: A LENNON FAMILY STORY

The cast of “Long Lost John: A Lennon Family Story” features Sarah Arikian-Coe, Nicholas-Tyler Corbin, Alida Rose Delaney, Claire-Monique Martin, Patrick McCartney, Jake Haven Parisse, and Douglas Wann.

The creative team includes Kryssy Wright (set and lighting design), Tony Novarro (music director), and Liz Richards Krebs (stage manager).

All performances of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “Long Lost John: A Lennon Family Story” is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Nicholas-Tyler Corbin and Sarah Arikian-Coe in “Long Lost John: A Lennon Family Story” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. Credit: Alida Rose Delaney.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Sunset Village” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Tuesday, August 7, 2018)

Photo: Members of the cast of “Sunset Village” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. Credit: Emily Hewitt Photography.
Off-Broadway Review: “Sunset Village” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y Theatre (Through Tuesday, August 7, 2018)
Written by Michael Presley Bobbitt
Directed by Tom Miller
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Sunset Village,” the new play by Michael Presley Bobbitt, is having its premiere as part of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival at the 14th Street Y. The success of this show will certainly depend on whether it will be carefully marketed to find the correct venue along with the appropriate audience. The best and most noteworthy attribute of the play is the age of most characters, portraying seniors in a retirement community in central Florida. There certainly seems to be an ageism quandary in the present state of theater, with a lack of roles written for older actors.

The script is predictable with an extremely weak dramatic arc and falls victim to the common pitfalls of poor or nearly non- existent structure. Scenes are created to support the broad situation comedy and fall short on character evolution or plot development. The two protagonists Edna (Anna Marie Kirkpatrick), the meek newbie moving into the community, and Mr. Midnight (Shamrock McShane), the renowned sybarite, are exposed as professional retirees who are intelligent, well-traveled, in shape and active. The conjecture that the idle time of discerning seniors is consumed by sex, drugs, alcohol and Walmart pies may be slightly amusing but does not add any depth to a character and cannot support a ninety-minute production. A plausible depiction might also include a gym, volunteer work, museum visits and cultural performances, all of which can provoke irreverent humor. The identity of the structure also struggles with the possibility of becoming an ensemble piece featuring the coping mechanisms for survival, used by each member of the motley “gang” of women, but to accomplish this, there needs to be extensive character development. Too often the material prompts the actors to fall prey to stereotypical behavior.

The subject matter of the play is certainly fair game and ripe for development, but this incarnation only scratches the surface of what can and should be addressed about the quality of life, grief of loss, struggles of self- acceptance and loneliness which can all be addressed with clever and insightful comedy. Although Mr. Bobbitt has been prompted by personal events in his life that generated his concession to age and mortality, he must realize that the subject is not fresh and that previous products have been quite successful having raised the bar. When the same themes have been addressed by a brilliant sitcom “The Golden Girls,” this new play presently only results in a silver-plated version that does not shine. Hopefully the playwright will continue the journey alongside his saucy seniors and discover the wisdom of their years and the capacity of their hearts.

SUNSET VILLAGE

The cast of “Sunset Village” features Jan Cohen, Gay Hale, Ian Hales, Laura Beth Jackson, Anna Marie Kirkpatrick, Cindy Lasley, Shamrock McShane, and Kristin Mercer.

The creative team includes Bob Robbins (lighting design), Tom Miller (sound design), and Norma Berger (stage manager).

All performances of the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival run at the 14th Street Y Theatre (344 East 14th Street). For further information about the Festival, the schedule of performances, and to purchase tickets at $25.00 - $50.00 (VIP), please visit https://www.broadwayboundfestival.com/. Running time for “Sunset Village” is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Members of the cast of “Sunset Village” at the Broadway Bound Theatre Festival. Credit: Emily Hewitt Photography.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: PTP/NYC’s “The Possibilities” and “The After-Dinner Joke” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 5, 2018)

Photo: Tara Giordano and Christopher Marshall in “The After-Dinner Joke.” Credit: Stan Barouh.
Off-Broadway Review: PTP/NYC’s “The Possibilities” and “The After-Dinner Joke” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 5, 2018)
By Howard Barker and Caryl Churchill
Directed by Richard Romagnoli and Cheryl Faraone
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

PTP/NYC’s thirty-second season includes two plays by the company’s “usual suspects.” The double bill, currently running at Atlantic Stage 2, includes four of the ten short plays in Howard Barker’s 1987 “The Possibilities” and Caryl Churchill’s 1977 “The After-Dinner Joke.” Both offerings invite the audience to grapple with provocative content that often seems elusive and controversial and that raises numerous essential, enduring questions.

In November 2011, A. E. Dobson wrote in “Exeunt Magazine” that Howard Barker’ works “are organized around antinomies of reason: circumstances and actions whose meaning can be justifiably explained in a number of opposing (and often mutually exclusive) ways.” Antinomies of reason abound in the four short Barker plays. Under Co-Artistic Director Richard Romagnoli’s ingenious direction, seven actors portray the twelve characters found in “The Unforeseen Consequences of a Patriotic Act,” “Reasons for the Fall of Emperors,” “Only Some Can Take the Strain,” and “She Sees the Argument But.”

In the first, “The Unforeseen Consequences of a Patriotic Act,” a Woman (a determined yet naïve Eliza Renner) visits the exiled Judith (a stalwart and conniving Kathleen Wise) and her servant (a strident and steely Marianne Tatum) to convince Judith to return to Jerusalem and accept the accolades she deserves for saving Israel by offering herself to, and ultimately beheading Holofernes. In the second, “Reasons for the Fall of Emperors,” Alexander of Russia (an entitled and presumably contrite Jonathan Tindle) confides in the peasant who shines his boots (a convincing and powerfully focused Christopher Marshall) about his discomfort about the killing in battle but then orders his officer (a stiff and obedient Adam Milano) to have him brutally flogged. In both short plays, nothing is what it might seem to be on the surface, and no one can be fully trusted to be telling the whole truth. Kudos to an unflappable Madeleine Russell who portrays an unconventional woman in a society that come to mistrust the exposure of women’s ankles in “She Sees the Argument But.”

Co-Artistic Director and Producing Director Cheryl Faraone takes the directorial helm for Caryl Churchill’s “The After-Dinner Joke” and guides her talented cast through a successful sailing on the waves of the playwright’s “stew of twisted narrative chronology” that serves up magical realism and dining room farce in the guise of a narrative about charity and “wanting to do good.” Personal secretary Selby (an optimistic but gullible Tara Giordano) tells her boss Mr. Price (an effusive and double-talking Jonathan Tindle) that she wants to quit her job at Price’s Bedding and take money from the rich to give to the poor. After (unsuccessfully) seeking help from the Mayor (an affable and dystopic Christopher Marshall), Selby “a Candide-like do-gooder” travels the world trying to find the perfect location to fulfill her charitable mission. The large cast takes on multiple roles in this rollicking fantasy and successfully lets the audience in on Churchill’s “joke.”

Hallie Zieselman designs the sparse but functional sets for both plays. Annie Ulrich’s costumes, Joe Cabrera’s lighting, and Cormac Bluestone’s sound effectively support the staging of these two important plays.



THE POSSIBILITIES AND THE AFTER-DINNER JOKE

The casts for “The Possibilities” and “The After-Dinner Joke” include Roxy Adviento, Madeline Ciocci, Tara Giordano, Christo Grabowski, Noah Liebmiller, Christopher Marshall, Adam Milano, Eliza Renner, Madeleine Russell, Marianne Tatum, Jonathan Tindle, and Kathleen Wise.

The production team for “The Possibilities” and “The After-Dinner Joke” includes, Hallie Zieselman (Scenic Design), Joe Cabrera (Lighting Design), Annie Ulrich (Costume Design), Cormac Bluestone (Sound Design), and Devin Wein (Production Stage Manager). Production photos by Stan Barouh.

Performances are Tuesdays - Sundays at 7:00 p.m., Saturdays - Sundays at 2:00 p.m., and select Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2:00 p.m. at Atlantic Stage 2 (330 West 16th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues). The schedule varies - for exact days and times visit www.PTPNYC.org. Tickets are $37.50, $22.50 for students and seniors. Purchase online at www.PTPNYC.org or by calling 1-866-811-4111. For more info visit www.PTPNYC.org. Running time is 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Tara Giordano and Christopher Marshall in “The After-Dinner Joke.” Credit: Stan Barouh.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, August 3, 2018

Broadway Review: “Straight White Men” at The Hayes Theater (Currently On)

Photo: Stephen Payne, Josh Charles, Armie Hammer, and Paul Schneider. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Straight White Men” at The Hayes Theater (Currently On)
By Young Jean Lee
Directed by Anna D. Shapiro
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When entering The Hayes Theater to see “Straight White Men, the audience is bombarded by loud music – so loud, one cannot speak to one’s neighbor. Person in Charge 1 (more later) approaches to ask if the music is too loud. If one answers ‘yes,’ one gets a free set of earplugs. If one answers ‘no,’ one finds out later that they are “privileged.” The audience learns in a pre-curtain sharing that the loud music (now stopped) is meant to make the audience feel uncomfortable. The only discomfort is the ensuing ninety-minute new play by Young Jean Lee.

Matt (a self-effacing but balanced Paul Schneider) lives with his father somewhere in the Midwest. He cooks for Ed (a compassionate and empathic Stephen Payne), cleans, bakes apple pies, sets up the Christmas tree for the annual Christmas Eve/Christmas Day homecoming, and provides emotional support for his widower dad. From all accounts it seems a mutually beneficial and mostly a healthy accommodation to a change in Matt’s life. Into this innocent father-son reunion, burst Matt’s brothers. Matt is out of work, volunteering, accommodating, kind, bright, and attentive. His working brothers, one a divorced corporate success and one a teacher receiving a full-time salary for teaching one class have none of Matt’s characteristics. Their arrival precipitates one of the most annoying sitcom episodes that pretends to have deep cultural meaning.

During one of many sitcom scenes, crowded on the sofa in matching plaid pajamas provided by Ed, the father-sons quartet share Chinese takeout while trash talking, texting, and drudging up childhood memories that are more juvenile in the present that they were in the past. During the conversation, Ed – who likes puffins – announces he is going on a cruise to Nova Scotia. This sparks a new round of puerile trash talk about Ed’s “puffin paraphernalia,” “General Tso’s Puffin,” “Puffin Fried Rice,” “Puffin Pot Sticker,” and “Moo Shu Puffin.” Much of this is directed toward Matt who, in exasperation, begins to cry.

This critical moment drives the remainder of Young Jean Lee’s play. Matt’s brothers Jake (an alarmingly juvenile Josh Charles) and Drew (an equally alarmingly juvenile but empathetic Armie Hammer) are convinced Matt needs psychotherapy, needs to move out of their father’s house, and use the Harvard education and talents he possesses to “better the world” as their mother would want him to. Jake lashes out at Matt calling him a loser. Generally, mayhem, insults, and silliness prevail throughout the rest of the play. Finally, after embarrassing and belittling Matt ad nauseam, Ed is forced to “man up,” grabs the reigns of tough love and evicts Matt. So much for straight, white men?

Are these entitled, judgmental, young, straight, white, successful men and their father supposed to be the epitome of Every-White-Straight-Man? Is their elitist behavior supposed to “shock” the audience? Is Young Jean Lee somehow trying to throw them and all straight white man a life raft in the turbulent sea of white privilege? Or is the playwright trying to use comedy as a way of exposing the deficiencies of being straight, and white, and male? Is the play an expose of the shortcomings and toxicity of the straight cisgender male? It is almost impossible to tell in this ninety-minute visit to the “museum tryptic” entitled “Straight White Men” the playwright has foisted upon the audience.

This critic relearned more about the role of straight white men in the history of humankind from the Persons in Charge (1 and 2) than from Young Jean Lee’s exhausting script. We learn from Person in Charge 2 Ty Defoe that he is “from the Oneida and the Ojibwe nations. My gender identity is Niizhi Manitouwug, which means “transcending gender” in the Ojibwe language.” We also learn from Ty that “This theater we’re all sitting in together is built on the land of my people.” And with just the hint of sarcasm he adds, “So Welcome.” A powerful summary of all that Ed and Drew failed to learn from their Mom’s version of Monopoly called ‘Privilege’ and what the audience fails to learn from sitting through “Straight White Men.”

STRAIGHT WHITE MEN

“Straight White Men” stars Kate Bornstein, Josh Charles, Ty Defoe, Armie Hammer, Stephen Payne and Paul Schneider.

“Straight White Men” features scenic design by Todd Rosenthal, costume design by Suttirat Larlarb, lighting design by Donald Holder, sound design by M.L. Dogg, choreography by Faye Driscoll and casting by Telsey + Company.

“Straight White Men” runs at The Hayes Theater (240 W 44th Street) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets ($69.00 - $149.00) can be purchased by visiting the theater’s box office or visiting https://2st.com/. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
Photo: Stephen Payne, Josh Charles, Armie Hammer, and Paul Schneider. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “The House That Will Not Stand” Celebrates Freedom’s Prodigality at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday August 12, 2018)

Photo: Harriett D. Foy, Lynda Gravátt, and Michelle Wilson in “The House That Will Not Stand.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “The House That Will Not Stand” Celebrates Freedom’s Prodigality at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday August 12, 2018)
By Marcus Gardley
Directed by Lileana Blain-Cruz
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Beartrice Albans (a resolute and Machiavellian Lynda Gravátt) spent her life under the oppressive laws that governed people of color in the colony of Louisiana. Specifically, she was Lazare’s placée a status that allows her as a woman of color to set up common law households with a white man to circumvent legal prohibitions. Beartrice’s mother signed the papers that placed the young woman into this form of indentured servitude. Lazare, of course, was married to a white woman although he and Beartrice had three daughters together. In “The House That Will Not Stand” at New York Theatre Workshop, Marcus Gardley examines what happens to Beartrice and her daughters when Lazare dies (mysteriously) and new American laws – post Louisiana Purchase in 1813 – threaten to leave them homeless and living in poverty. Is there any chance of survival for the house Beartrice “built” during her time with Lazare?

Under the new American laws, Beartrice’s house goes to Lazare’s wife after his death, not to Beartrice. “I spent most of my life trying to break the yoke I got ‘round my neck when my mother sold me to be a placée. I thought I was selling my body for love or at least for wealth but the only thing it afforded me in the end was this house.” Beartrice does not plan to give up her home in Creole Faubourg Tremé, Louisiana easily. Nor will she “see her daughters become placées and thusly the property of white men.” There are a variety of new plays on and off Broadway that parse the kinetics of white privilege and systemic racism in a fictional setting. “The House That Will Not Stand” analyzes the same themes in an historical setting from the point of view of those experiencing the oppression.

Since its original presentation by the New York Stage and Film Company and the Powerhouse Theatre at Vassar in 2012, Marcus Gardley’s important play has been performed across the country and around the world. Its presentation at NYTW could not be timelier or more significant. The struggles of these strong Creole women – forerunners of Civil Rights in America – resonate with the struggles of all marginalized persons who feel they are either far from accessing true freedom and equality or one step away from losing the freedom and equality they and their forebears fought for.

The divisions within Beartrice’s house are powerful tropes for the divisions that existed in the early 1800s in America and continue to exist in the present. Director Blain-Cruz uses these intriguing divisions to move the action of the play forward with the alacrity requisite to the story line. Lynda Gravátt’s gripping performance as Beartrice is the centerpiece of “The House That Will Not Stand.” Ms. Gravátt portrays Beartrice as a conflicted mother who attempts to juggle her own need to stay in power with the needs of her daughters Odette (Joniece Abbott-Pratt), Maude Lynn (Juliana Canfield), and Agnès (Nedra McClyde). Beartrice’s commitment to protect them despite the machinations of her sworn enemy La Veuve (Marie Thomas) and her clairvoyant sister Marie Josephine (Michelle Wilson) is unimaginably fierce. Lynda Gravátt’s multi-layered Beartrice will do anything, including giving herself to Lazare’s wife to keep her house standing.

Under Lileana Blain-Cruz’s deft direction, the seven-member all-female cast grabs the stage right at the beginning of the first act and never relaxes its tight grip on the plot driven by the conflicts of their individual characters. These are performances the audience will not easily forget – they sear deeply into the psyche with logos, ethos, pathos and humor as they explore the dynamics of systemic racism and sexism and freedom. Lileana Blain-Cruz creates stunning “pictures” throughout the performance that transcend traditional boundaries of space and time. These “pictures” include the compelling scene during which Beartrice’s slave Makeda (Harriet D. Foy) casts a spell on the deceased Lazare and allows him to overtake her body to learn the truth of his death. Ms. Foy’s performance is as brilliant as it is unsettling. Beartrice’s daughters and her sister have different ideas of how to escape bondage and these scenes are equally compelling.

Adam Rigg’s scenic design is magnificent and captures the splendor and period of the Creole cottage in Louisiana. Montana Levi Blanco’s costumes and Cookie Jordan’s wigs are award-worthy and period perfect. Yi Zhao’s lighting and Justin Ellington’s sound and original music capture the mystery and pathos of Marcus Gardley’s script.

Beartrice is the mother who knows that her daughters “will be spat on because of the color of their skin, raped because of their flesh, made to slave in kitchens because of their sex;” however, despite their prodigality and upon their return “crawling on [their] necks, begging [her] with [their] baby eyes,” she will “still be here, sitting on my throne. I’ll sit back, suck my teeth and say so sweetly…Well…Welcome Home!” Prodigal daughters and prodigal mother willing to sacrifice all to obtain and preserve freedom. “The House That Will Not Stand” raises the essential and enduring questions needed to continue the discussion of systemic racism in America.

THE HOUSE THAT WILL NOT STAND

The cast for “The House That Will Not Stand” includes Joniece Abbott-Pratt, Juliana Canfield, Harriett D. Foy, Lynda Gravátt, Nedra McClyde, Marie Thomas, and Michelle Wilson.

The creative team includes scenic designer Adam Rigg, costume designer Montana Levi Blanco, lighting designer Yi Zhao, and sound design and original music by Justin Ellington. Movement is by Raja Feather Kelly. The dialect and vocal coach is Dawn-Elin Fraser. Terri Kohler serves as stage manager. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“The House That Will Not Stand” runs at New York Theatre Workshop (79 East 4th Street) through Sunday, August 12, 2018. For the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit https://www.nytw.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Harriett D. Foy, Lynda Gravátt, and Michelle Wilson in “The House That Will Not Stand.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, July 30, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Mary Page Marlowe” at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (Through Sunday August 19, 2018

Photo: Blair Brown and Brian Kerwin in “Mary Page Marlowe.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Mary Page Marlowe” at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (Through Sunday August 19, 2018
By Tracy Letts
Directed by Lila Neugebauer
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Dreams. Daydreams. The dreamers write the scripts casting characters from their lives and casting themselves as the protagonists. The dreamers, write, cast, act in, and direct these phantasmagoric and kaleidoscopic vignettes that are “performed” while they are nestled in REM sleep or daydreaming on public transportation or at work. “Mary Page Marlowe,” currently running at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater, is an engaging non-linear cascade of such kaleidoscopic vignettes from the title character’s life as a child of twelve (Mia Sinclair Jenness) to her life as an adult of sixty-nine (Blair Brown) facing her mortality in a Lexington, Kentucky hospital room. Brokenness seems to have shadowed Mary Page during this passage of time along with the dysfunction from which brokenness often erupts.

Tracy Letts, who often writes about the dysfunction extant in family systems, pulls the curtain back from a dramatic examination a specific tortured American family, to examine the cultural underbelly of the provenance of that systemic dysfunction – how Mary Page might have been traumatized. In 1996 when she is 50 (Kellie Overbey), Mary Page “I told you to get some help! Didn’t I? I told you that your drinking was out of control! You’re killing yourself!”

This is one of the “panels” that Mary Page “sews” during her life. This metaphor of the patchwork quilt – its stains, the “different” women making the quilt, the materials used, the relative condition of each panel – is introduced at the end of the play when in 2005 fifty-nine-year-old Mary Page (Blair Brown) visits the drycleaners in Lexington, Kentucky and she asks the proprietor Ben (Elliot Villar) whether her “quilt” can be repaired and cleaned.

Each scene, each panel, discloses a “bit” of Mary Page’s life, her relationships with her children, the disparate experiences with marriage with three husbands. Indeed, there is dysfunction in each of these vignettes; however, it is what underlies the dysfunction – the trauma involved in the vicissitudes of life – that energizes Tracy Letts’s script and makes Mary Page an “Everywoman.” She is an accountant in Kentucky trying to figure out who she is and where she fits into the larger community. She faces abuse and neglect: she abuses and neglects. She has extramarital affairs. She sees a “shrink” (Marcia Debonis) at thirty-six (Tatiana Maslany).

Under Lila Neugebauer’s exquisite direction, the actors playing Mary Page each give intriguing performances that focus on the pastiche of one “ordinary” American facing the dangers inherent in leaving “the crib” and separating and individuating from the nuclear family. This collage of a person seems to be a copy of other stories like those “belonging to” Mary Page Marlowe and this familiarity is the source of the plays disquieting construction and execution. The actors who are part of each panel in Mary Page’s life also deliver authentic and believable performances.

Laura Jellinek’s multi-level set, Kay Voyce’s decade specific costumes, and Tyler Micoleau’s lighting work well with the actors’ craft to delineate scenes, places, and moods. Brandon Wolcott’s sound design and Bray Poor’s original music envelope the work of the creative team in sonorous tones of expectation.

MARY PAGE MARLOWE

“Mary Page Marlowe” runs at Second Stage’s Tony Kiser Theater (305 West 43rd Street) through Sunday August 12, 2018. For further information about the production including cast, creative team, performance schedule, and to purchase tickets, visit https://2st.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Blair Brown and Brian Kerwin in “Mary Page Marlowe.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, July 27, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: Roundabout’s “Skintight” at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (Through Sunday August 26, 2018)

Photo: Eli Gelb and Idina Menzel in “Skintight.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: Roundabout’s “Skintight” at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (Through Sunday August 26, 2018)
By Joshua Harmon
Directed by Daniel Aukin
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Thrown under the bus by her ex-husband Greg, a carping, selfish, completely self-centered Jodi Isaac (Idina Menzel) takes the red-eye from Los Angeles to New York City to “celebrate” her a self-assured father Elliot Isaac’s (Jack Wetherall) birthday. However, the real reason for her visit is that she “just, like couldn't physically be in LA knowing” Greg and his new twenty-four-year-old bestie Misty would be celebrating their engagement at a party where all her friends would be present. Jodi brings her twenty-year-old self-absorbed son Benjamin Cullen (Eli Gelb) along hoping a “family” birthday party will please Elliot and bring her some surcease from her angst over losing her fifty-year-old husband to a younger “more beautiful” woman.

It becomes clear in the first few moments that Jodi is a self-centered, self-absorbed, spoiled individual who has no one’s interests at heart except her own. This character deficit becomes solidified when her father’s handsome, confident, unconventional lover Trey (Will Brittain) appears from upstairs and Jodi assumes he works for Elliot. Jodi refuses to understand he is part of Isaac’s family – perhaps the most important member of his family. Trey, of course, is beautiful and young and, just as Misty “stole” her husband, Trey has wrenched her father from her leaving Jodi bereft beyond belief.

Joshua Harmon tackles themes of fidelity, beauty, love, and betrayal in his “Skintight” currently running at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre. It is difficult to know whether Elliot’s and Trey’s marriage will last or what Trey’s motivations are for asking Elliot to marry him. Nor is it easy to understand Elliot’s motivations or his concept of fidelity. After all, Jeff (Stephen Carrasco) was once Elliot’s lover and now his butler and manservant. What is not difficult is to recognize that Elliot and Trey are in love in the present and their love transcends Jodi’s experiences with marriage, love, or fidelity. If only Mr. Harmon had chosen a better metaphor to describe Elliot’s affection for Trey than the unsettling (on many levels) metaphor expressed in in the sentence “I'd like to have sheets made from your skin.”

These themes and the characters that are embedded in them are not new. There are several plays and movies that feature a younger man capturing the heart of an older man and “coming between” the older man and his family. The difference here is on Joshua Harmon’s handling of the plot sequences that are driven by his perhaps familiar characters and their conflicts. There is a freshness to the theme that transcends its familiarity.

Under Daniel Aukin’s carefully executed direction, the characters explore their individual pasts and their histories with family and friends with honesty. Their portraits are authentic. One wishes for a more dynamic and layered Jodi. Because her character traits make her such an unlikable person, it is difficult to explore the deficits she claims to have experienced with her father. The same holds true of her son Benjamin. Although Eli Gelb charges his character’s “time alone” with the jock-strapped Trey with the energy of a pubescent gay young man, the actor is not given much by the playwright to make his Benjamin a likeable character. Unfortunately, the deep angst of these two characters remains unexplored by the playwright. Jack Wetherall, on the other hand, brings unbridled emotion to Elliot’s closing monologue about his affection for Trey and Will Brittain powerfully combines the beauty and softness of a Troy Donahue with the rough edges and grit of a James Dean in his splendid portrayal of Trey.

Lauren Helpern’s set reflect the playwright’s affinity for stairs as a trope for character development and neatly captures the essence of privilege and wealth to which the Isaaks/Cullens have become accustomed in their successful adult lives as do Jess Goldstein’s costumes. Orsolya’s (Cynthia Mace) maid’s costume speaks for itself and supports her pleasing performance as the maid who knows best.

“Skintight” ends on a hopeful note. Somehow the characteristics of an authentic family modeled by Elliot and Trey ignite enough memory to convince Jodi and Benjamin that some new understanding of family is now possible and even desirable.

SKINTIGHT

The cast of “Skintight” includes Will Brittain, Stephen Carrasco, Eli Gelb, Cynthia Mace, Idina Menzel, and Jack Wetherall.

The creative team includes Lauren Helpern (Scenic Design), Jess Goldstein (Costume Design), Pat Collins (Lighting Design) and Eric Shimelonis (Original Music and Sound Design). Jill Cordle serves as Production Stage Manager. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Skintight” plays at the Laura Pels Theatre at the Harold and Miriam Steinberg Center for Theatre (111 West 46th Street) through Tuesday through Sunday August 26, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 7:30 p.m. with Wednesday and Saturday matinees at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday matinees at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for “Skintight” are available by calling 212-719-1300, online at www.roundabouttheatre.org, or in person at any Roundabout box office. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Eli Gelb and Idina Menzel in “Skintight.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Fire in Dreamland” at The Public’s Anspacher Theater (Through Sunday August 5, 2018)

Photo: Enver Gjokaj and Rebecca Naomi Jones in “Fire in Dreamland.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Fire in Dreamland” at The Public’s Anspacher Theater (Through Sunday August 5, 2018)
Written by Rinne Groff
Directed by Marissa Wolf
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

"There have been, and will be again, many destructions of [humankind] arising out of many causes; the greatest have been brought about by the agencies of fire and water, and other lesser ones by innumerable other causes." – Plato (“Timaeus”)

Rinne Groff has created an engaging extended metaphor based on the 1911 fire that destroyed the iconic Dreamland on Coney Island. Counterpointing the event of the suspicious destruction by fire is the destruction by water by superstorm Sandy in 2012 and the “destruction” of Kate (Rebecca Naomi Jones) by the “lesser causes” of betrayal, self-doubt, and prevarication. “Fire in Dreamland,” currently running at The Public’s Anspacher Theater, explores that metaphor and its trove of rhetorical devices that bombard the senses and often places the audience in a surreal wonderland.

Standing on the pier in Coney Island, Kate attempts to deflect the advances of the aggressive Jaap Hooft (Enver Gjokaj) the Dutch filmmaker who approaches her and offers to wipe the mascara from the right side of her face. Kate has been crying. Kate is lonely. Kate ultimately is swept away by the dashing and handsome filmmaker who wants to make a film about the fire that focuses on the animals that were destroyed, including the iconic Black Prince. “Fire in Dreamland” recounts the relationship between Kate and Jaap and how its disastrous outcome counterpoints the disasters on Dreamland, Superstorm Sandy, and those that eventually challenge the survival of Everyman.

Director Marissa Wolf and the three-member cast grapple successfully with Rinne Groff’s demanding script which results in a sometimes mind-spinning tumble into the playwright’s wonderland of fractured realism laced with magical realism and “theatre noire.” Until Lance appears on stage he is far upstage right sitting in a beach chair barely in sight behind post-Sandy reconstruction scaffolding. During this time, Lance (Kyle Beltran) edits (“blinks”) scenes using his clapperboard. When he emerges from the shadows, he is identified as the New York Film Academy staff member who “signs out” equipment for one-time student Jaap. The sound of the clapperboard stops and starts scenes that are not defined by time, space, or any other imaginable dimension.

Rebecca Naomi Jones’s Kate is multilayered and believable. Ms. Jones infuses her character with an honesty that is both convincing and powerful. Enver Gjokaj’s Jaap is self-centered, selfish, and his “charm” is disquieting. And Kyle Beltran’s languorous Lance emerges from the scaffolding emboldened to take on Jaap and somehow “rescue” Kate.

Susan Hilferty’s Coney Island Boardwalk/bedroom scenic design is expansive and provides the “space” needed to explore the crevices of Groff’s script. Creeping out under the first row of patron seats, the boardwalk beckons the audience into the playwright’s bizarre world of flaming lion manes, clicking clapperboards, and fractured hearts. Ms. Hilfery’s costumes tease the imagination and the senses – those mermaid costumes! Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting and Brendan Aanes’s original sound and music blend “reality” and “fantasy” in remarkable shadowy “soundbites.”

In Rabbi Harold S. Kushner’s groundbreaking “When Bad Things Happen to Good People,” the author concludes there is no compelling answer to the title’s question; however, he posits that the real question is what do people do after illness, death of a loved one, or natural disaster occurs? And in his follow-up “Living A Life That Matters,” he suggests that what one needs to do after the calamitous events is to make a commitment to creating and living a life that matters to others and to the world.

Whether the fire in Dreamland was arson or not; whether the 2012 hurricane on the East coast was providential or not; and whether Kate was broken by Jaap’s actions, it is what the residents on Coney Island did after disaster and What Kate does after being “duped” by Jaap (was she?) that is important. Rinne Goff opts for hopefulness in “Fire in Dreamland.” Embracing motherhood and creativity rather than loneliness and despair has the power to extinguish flames, emerge from the Flood, and all the “other” destructions of humankind.

FIRE IN DREAMLAND

The complete cast of “Fire in Dreamland” features Kyle Beltran (Lance), Enver Gjokaj (Jaap Hooft),
and Rebecca Naomi Jones (Kate).

“Fire in Dreamland” features scenic and costume design by Susan Hilferty, lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker, and original music and sound design by Brendan Aanes. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Fire in Dreamland” runs at The Public’s Anspacher Theater (425 Lafayette Street) through Sunday, August 5, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Friday at 7:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Public Theater Partner, Supporter, Member tickets and full price tickets, starting at $60.00, can be accessed by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater. Running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Enver Gjokaj and Rebecca Naomi Jones in “Fire in Dreamland.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, July 23, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (Through Sunday September 2, 2018)

Photo: Stephanie Lynne Mason and Daniel Kahn. Credit: Victor Nechay/ProperPix.
Off-Broadway Review: National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (Through Sunday September 2, 2018)
Book by Joseph Stein
Music by Jerry Bock
Lyrics by Sheldon Harnick
Directed by Joel Grey
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is considerable Jewish culture captured in the musical “Fiddler on the Roof” the iconic musical that has won a respectable reputation in theater history. Since it first opened on Broadway in 1964 to win nine TONY awards, “Fiddler” went on to become the longest running Broadway musical. Since that original production, there have been five Broadway revivals. The collaboration of Joseph Stein (book), Jerry Bock (music) and Sheldon Harnick (lyrics) resulted in one of the best musicals of the American Theater. However, the Yiddish version, translated by Shraga Friedman over fifty years ago, has never been performed in the United States and is now having its premiere, produced by National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene at the Museum of Jewish Heritage. The production is deftly directed by Joel Grey with exciting musical staging and culturally influenced choreography by Stas Kmiec. Oh, what a production it is!

This present revival is as simple as the inhabitants of the fictional Russian shtetl, Anatevka, as powerful as their religious convictions, and shines a bright light on the emotional and poignant struggle of facing a new and sometimes bitter world. Freeing itself from the burden of extravagance, it manifests a certain reality that pulls the audience in, so they become a part of the tightknit community. It is beyond suspension of disbelief, as it creates an actuality that transfers the spectator to another time and place to share in joyous celebration and an onerous plight. Past productions of this work are usually dominated by the musical numbers which have endured a life of their own but in this present incarnation, they are so well integrated that they appear as part of everyday life and the mantra of “tradition.”

Steven Skybell brings a solid, reverent and practical Tevye to this production, brimming with conflict, humor and honesty which rings true to the everyman, regardless of race, color or creed. His charming baritone reflects his characters wisdom and vulnerability. All this plays well off the stern and stoic Golde as portrayed by the layered performance of Mary Illes, who manages to redeem the nearly as impenetrable character with waves of compassion. Jackie Hoffman infuses matchmaker Yente with consistent welcomed humor that purposely disguises a woman who is alone and lonely. Rachel Zatcoff is an assertive Tsaytl devoted to the impoverished tailor Motl, enacted with a timorous innocence by Daniel Kahn. The rebellious Hodl is brought to life with a solid conviction by Stephanie Lynne Mason demonstrating determined energy and a steadfast commitment to an unexpected romance. The curious Khave, is given a thirst for knowledge by the wholesome and fearless Rosie Jo Neddy. She is the most adventuresome daughter, crossing religious and cultural boundaries to elope and marry a Christian, Fyedke, a stalwart and intelligent Cameron Johnson.

The entire twenty-six-member cast is wonderful and works diligently to reach the core of this story in the native Yiddish language which proves to authenticate the time and place. They are supported by a wonderful twelve-piece orchestra conducted by Zalmen Moitek, which fills the space with memorable melodies. This production is not perfect yet and can be tweaked here and there but it is certainly on the way. It is purely a demonstration of the incredible power of theater. Kudos to the entire cast and creative team for collaborating to present a cogent, emotional and entertaining production. Mazel Tov!


FIDDLER ON THE ROOF

The cast of “Fiddler on the Roof” features Jennifer Babiak, Joanne Borts, Josh Dunn, Michael Einav, Kirk Geritano, Samantha Hahn, Jackie Hoffman, Mary Illes, Cameron Johnson, Daniel Kahn, Stephanie Lynne Mason, Evan Mayer, Rosie Jo Neddy, Raquel Nobile, Nick Raynor, Bruce Sabath, Kayleen Seidl, Adam B. Shapiro, Jodi Snyder, James Monroe Števko, Lauren Jeanne Thomas, Bobby Underwood, Michael Yashinsky, and Rachel Zatcoff.

Joining Joel Grey (director), the creative team for “Fiddler on the Roof” includes Staœ Kmieæ (musical staging and choreography), Beowulf Boritt (set design), Ann Hould-Ward (costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), Dan Moses Schreier (sound design), Tom Watson (hair and wig design), NYTF Artistic Director Zalmen Mlotek (conductor and music director), with casting by Jamibeth Margolis, C.S.A, and, Sean Francis Patrick (production manager). Consulting on the production are Sheldon Harnick and Hal Prince. Production photos by Victor Nechay/ProperPix.

National Yiddish Theatre Folksbiene’s “Fiddler on the Roof” runs at the Museum of Jewish Heritage (36 Battery Place) through Sunday September 2, 2018. For tickets and performance schedule, visit http://nytf.org/ or call 866-811-4111. For group sales and memberships, call 212-213-2120 Ext. 204. Running time is 3 hours with a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Stephanie Lynne Mason and Daniel Kahn. Credit: Victor Nechay/ProperPix.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 21, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: PTP/NYC’s “Brecht on Brecht” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 5, 2018)

Photo: Christine Hamel (foreground) in “Brecht on Brecht.” Credit: Stan Barouh.
Off-Broadway Review: PTP/NYC’s “Brecht on Brecht” at Atlantic Stage 2 (Through Sunday August 5, 2018)
By Bertolt Brecht, adapted by George Tabori
Directed by Jim Petosa
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Brecht on Brecht” the theatrical collage of works by Bertolt Brecht first compiled by George Tabori in the early 1960s is appearing at Atlantic Stage 2 in repertory with “The Possibilities” and “The After-Dinner Joke” as part of PTP/NYC’s Season 2018. This is the Potomac Theatre Project’s thirty-second season in New York City. “Brecht on Brecht” features songs and scenes from Kurt Weill, Hanns Eisler, and Bertolt Brecht’s most famous collaborations, as well as first-hand accounts from Brecht himself and explores the socio-political and issues the playwright faced as an artist fleeing Nazism for exile in America.

The themes of anti-Semitism and xenophobia so relevant during the rise of the Third Reich are just as relevant in our current “dark times” splintered by xenophobia, anti-Semitism, nativism, racism, sexism, and homophobia. In both Brecht’s time and in the present socio-political climate, W. B. Yeats’ words ring with uncompromising truth: Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;/Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,/The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere/The ceremony of innocence is drowned;/The best lack all conviction, while the worst/Are full of passionate intensity.”

In thirty-nine vignettes or scenes, the cast under the direction of Jim Petosa, perform eleven songs with lyrics by Bertolt Brecht and music by Kurt Weill and Hanns Eisler. “Alabama Song” (sung by the company) is from “Little Mahagonny.” “Army Song” (sung by the company), “Death Message” (sung by Jake Murphy), “Barbara Song” (sung by the company), “Ballad of Mack the Knife” (sung by Harrison Bryan), and “Pirate Jenny” (sung by Christine Hamel) are all from “The Threepenny Opera.” “Tango Ballet” (sung by Jake Murphy and Carla Martinez), “Surabaya Johnny” (sung by Carla Martinez), and “Bilboa Song” (sung by the company) are all from “Happy End.”

Without referencing a specific actor, the members of the cast do not trust their material. Brecht’s songs are mini-operas with a complete story (libretto). The vocalists’ tasks are to understand those stories and relate their depth in song using the range of their craft. There is little need for histrionics but an overwhelming need for vocal range, rich modulation, and pristine interpretive style – all oddly missing in the performances. The same dynamics are relevant in the non-musical pieces like “The Jewish Wife” (performed by Christine Hamel) and “The Infanticide of Marie Farrar.” These narrative pieces also require the modulation of voice and rich interpretation. They are performed here without these rhetorical graces.

Hallie Zieselman’s set design, Joe Cabrera’s lighting design, and Annie Ulrich’s costume design serve the production well as does Ronnie Romano’s music direction and piano.

Although Bertolt Brecht understood the importance and power of the comedic, his writings are overwhelmingly dark and, like a sharp scalpel, cut deeply beneath the facia into the “guts” of the human condition. That darkness is absent in this “Brecht on Brecht.” Overall, the young cast seems unable to identify with the depth of despair that defines the fiber of Brecht’s weltanschauung. This and the director’s sometimes odd choices make the tone of this “Brecht on Brecht” more like that of a Brechtian “Godspell.” The performances skim the surface of the angst of Brecht, Kurt Weill, and Hanns Eisler leaving the grit and grime and ghastly shadows trapped beneath the weight of a cacophony of red clown noses. This is unfortunate given the consistent quality of PTP/NYC’s thirty-two seasons of engaging productions that have challenged audiences in “dynamic and provocative” ways. These are dark times. The center is not holding. Perhaps this is not the time for clowning around.

BRECHT ON BRECHT

The cast for “Brecht on Brecht” includes Harrison Bryan, Christine Hamel, Carla Martinez, Jake Murphy, Miguel Castillo, Olivia Christie, Sebastian LaPointe and Ashley Michelle.

The production team for “Brecht on Brecht” includes Ronnie Romano (Music Director and Pianist), Hallie Zieselman (Set Design), Joe Cabrera (Lighting Design), Annie Ulrich (Costume Design) and Alex Williamson (Production Stage Manager). Production photos by Stan Barouh.

Performances are Tuesdays - Sundays at 7:00 p.m., Saturdays - Sundays at 2:00 p.m., and select Wednesdays and Thursdays at 2:00 p.m. at Atlantic Stage 2 (330 West 16th Street between 8th and 9th Avenues). The schedule varies - for exact days and times visit www.PTPNYC.org. Tickets are $37.50, $22.50 for students and seniors and $20.00 for previews. Purchase online at www.PTPNYC.org or by calling 1-866-811-4111. For more info visit www.PTPNYC.org. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Christine Hamel (foreground) in “Brecht on Brecht.” Credit: Stan Barouh.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 21, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Cyprus Avenue” at The Public’s LuEsther Hall (Through Sunday July 29, 2018)

Photo: Amy Molloy and Stephen Rea in the Abbey Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre’s co-production of “Cyprus Avenue.” Credit: Ros Kavanagh.
Off-Broadway Review: “Cyprus Avenue” at The Public’s LuEsther Hall (Through Sunday July 29, 2018)
By David Ireland
Directed by Vicky Featherstone
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

David Ireland’s “Cyprus Avenue” currently running at The Public’s LuEsther Hall sneaks up on the audience like a cat burglar armed with an AK-15 assault rifle. What one assumes will be lost is far less than the devastation left behind by the action in Ireland’s disquieting play. The detritus remaining after Eric Miller’s (Stephen Rea) violation of his wife Bernie (Andrea Irvine), their daughter Julie (Amy Molloy) and their granddaughter Mary-May is almost unbearable and not predictable. This all begins with Eric stepping onto the stage (after a considerable pause) and sitting on a chair in his living room in Cyprus Avenue, East Belfast. Bernie enters and asks, “What are you doing sitting there doing nothing?” Eric stares back dumbfounded. The next scene begins with Eric in the office of his psychotherapist Bridget (Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo).

Why Eric is in therapy does not become clear until after the play’s shocking climax. It is clear at the start that Eric has been remanded to attend the weekly sessions as “part of [his] ongoing treatment” in some yet unnamed facility. In this introductory session Eric hurls a racial slur at his African-American therapist and reveals himself to be a deeply disturbed individual outwith any moral compass. Their sessions segue into a series of flashbacks that reveal Eric’s current state of mind and the reason for his being remanded to psychotherapy.

In those flashbacks, Eric defends his anti-Catholic, anti-Fenian, pro-Protestant, pro-Unionist stance in graphic outbursts that need to be seen to fully appreciate David Ireland’s writing and Stephen Rea’s powerful presence on the stage. It is difficult to parse the depth of Eric’s sectarian hatred without issuing a spoiler alert. This hatred no knows no bounds and respects no limits. Playwright David Ireland has pushed the plot driven by this character’s maniacal temperament to the limit of moral turpitude and beyond.

The moral assault comes in waves of increasingly increased salvos from Eric’s failing ego strength and seems to be given new momentum when he determines (beyond the shadow of a doubt) that his new granddaughter Mary-May not only looks like but is Gerry Adams the President of Sinn Fein. Eric does not believe that his wife’s claims that the baby is “the most gorgeous cutest baby in the whole wide world!” He finds that assertion unscientific. Yet he easily believes his granddaughter is the Fenian Gerry Adams, particularly after drawing a black beard on the baby and putting on glasses! Because Gerry Adams cannot live in his house, Eric begins to find ways to resolve the dilemma, even recruiting Slim (in a bizarre quid pro quo deal) to assist him.

Under Vicky Featherstone’s impressive direction, Stephen Rea commandeers the stage as soon as he steps upon it and never surrenders the exquisite control he has over his maniacal character Eric Miller. With equal craft, Andrea Irvine and Amy Molloy portray two strong women determined to survive their husband and father’s racism, sexism, abuse, and psychosocial brokenness. Assuming an appropriate clinical demeanor, Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo’s Bridget brings Eric as close to self-discovery as any therapist might succeed in doing. And Chris Corrigan assembles a Slim that simply contradicts all that is reasonable and respectable. The cast of “Cyprus Avenue” stalks the shadows of the human conscience and discovers an inner world not unlike the world we currently seek shelter from.

What could have caused Eric’s apparent paranoid schizophrenia? Eric shares with his therapist Bridget that the past has been “lying awake at night and contemplating the past.” When asked to further define the past, Eric replies: “Resentments. Disappointments. Failed expectations. Ruined dreams. Entanglements. Despair. That which could have been. And that which is.” Eric’s heinous acts bring him peace without remorse. Sectarian hatred, moral turpitude, and xenophobia abound. Which of these is the greatest? Is there any way to find shelter from the wrath of those who claim them as their moral center? David Ireland's "Cyprus Avenue" could not be more relevant and more chilling.

CYPRUS AVENUE

The cast of “Cyprus Avenue” features Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo, Chris Corrigan, Andrea Irvine, Amy Molloy, and Stephen Rea.

“Cyprus Avenue” features scenic and costume design by Lizzie Clachan, lighting design by Paul Keogan, sound design by David McSeveny, and fight direction by Bret Yount. Production photos by Ros Kavanagh.

“Cyprus Avenue” runs through Sunday July 29, 2018 at The Public’s LuEsther Hall (425 Lafayette Street) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Single tickets, starting at $80.00, can be accessed by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Amy Molloy and Stephen Rea in the Abbey Theatre and the Royal Court Theatre’s co-production of “Cyprus Avenue.” Credit: Ros Kavanagh.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Pedro Pan” at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row (Closed on Saturday August 14, 2018)

Photo: Jenny Lis Padilla and Wilson Jermaine Heredia with the Company of “Pedro Pan.” Credit: Joe TickNow.
Off-Broadway Review: “Pedro Pan” at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row (Closed on Saturday August 14, 2018)
Book by Rebecca Aparicio
Music and Lyrics by Stephen Elkins
Directed by Melissa Crespo
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

During the Fidel Castro regime, “Operation Pedro Pan” transported children fleeing the growing fears of Communist indoctrination in Cuba to the safety of the United States where some of the children were reunited with family or relatives while others were cared for by the Catholic Welfare Bureau. Based on this historic event, the new musical aptly titled “Pedro Pan” is now playing at the Acorn Theater as part of the NYMF 2018 Season. The subject matter is so relevant to the current socio-political landscape regarding immigration and assimilation that it is ripe for development into a germane piece of theater. Conceived as a musical it has the opportunity to capture the lively essence of the Cuban culture through song and dance that represents a significant portion of their heritage.

The book by Rebecca Aparicio clearly defines the activities but only faintly presents the severity of the brutal situation in the homeland and the constant struggle for acceptance in a foreign land. The story needs to be more fluid and less linear to invoke urgency and sentiment. Music by Stephen Anthony Elkins is strongest when highlighting Latin beats, but also provides some pleasant ballads in a pop Broadway style with lyrics that support the action. Direction by Melissa Crespo is lackluster and inconsistent and misses numerous opportunities to explore the nature of the activity or the depth of the characters. Choreographer Sidney Erik Wright creates somewhat pedestrian production routines, given the ability demonstrated by the talented performers.

The soul of this production truly lies in the exemplary cast that is flawless. Wilson Jermaine Heredia (a sincere Papi) will melt your heart with his vocal prowess. Genny Lis Padilla (a loving and torn Mami) is the perfect complement to Mr. Heredia with a pure and clear tone. Their duets are wonderful. Natalie Toro embodies Tia Lily with care and concern, soft and stern, always on point with a strong vocal. Then there is Gregory Diaz IV (a subtle and vulnerable Pedro) and his motley crew, Julian Silva (a confident Roger), and Taylor Caldwell (a spunky and fearless Wendy). Individually they are impressive, together they are a powerhouse of energy and exhibit wisdom beyond their years, understanding the security of friendship but never denying the need for acceptance.

It is understood that although presented as a full production, the work is still in development. Hopefully the show will expand to at least ninety minutes or more, fleshing out the characters, adding a few songs that will extract more of the drama in Cuba and relate to the fear and isolation of moving to a foreign land. The creative team should embrace the efforts of this cast who reveal the potential of the material with their spirited performances.

PEDRO PAN

The cast of “Pedro Pan” includes Wilson Jermaine Heredia, Genny Lis Padilla, Natalie Toro, Gregory Diaz IV, Julian Silva, Taylor Caldwell, Cherry Torres, Rodrigo Ignacio Cruz, Diego Lucano, and Sisley Carretas.

For more information on “Pedro Pan,” please visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2018-events/pedro-pan18. “Pedro Pan” concluded its five-performance run at the Acorn Theatre on Theatre Row on Saturday July 14, 2018.

Photo: Jenny Lis Padilla and Wilson Jermaine Heredia with the Company of “Pedro Pan.” Credit: Joe TickNow.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 15, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Teenage Dick” at the Public’s Shiva Theater (Through Sunday July 29, 2018)

Photo: Tiffany Villarin and Gregg Mozgala in “Teenage Dick.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Teenage Dick” at the Public’s Shiva Theater (Through Sunday July 29, 2018)
By Mike Lew
Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Playwright Mike Lew characterizes his play “Teenage Dick” as “vaguely from Richard III.” The protagonist of this engaging and quite dark play is high school junior Richard Gloucester (Gregg Mozgala). Richard has CP and likes to speak with a Shakespearean flair and verbiage. His disability and diction have made him the object of verbal and physical harassment. This Roseland High School teenage Dick, like his “Buncback’d Toad” namesake Richard of Gloucester, has problems that transcend his disability: both possess an indomitable vengeful spirit that brings them to deciding “whether it’s better to be loved or feared?” The objectives of Richard’s wrathful behavior at Roseland High are to wrest the role of senior class president from Eddie (an uber-confident and self-possessed Alex Breaux) and date Eddie’s former girlfriend Anne (an effervescent and determined Tiffany Villarin). Aficionados of Shakespeare are on alert.

Mike Lew’s engaging script is a brilliant retelling of Shakespeare’s “Richard III” that captures the pathos and ethos of the 1591-1592 culmination of the Bard’s dramatic four-play saga. Shakespeare’s characters are clearly in evidence. In “Teenage Dick,” Richard’s last name is Gloucester. Barbara “Buck” Buckingham (a resilient and devoted Shannon DeVido) is Richard’s rebellious bestie. Junior class president Eddie, like Edward the Prince of Wales, is Richard’s arch nemesis. Anne, Richard’s “love interest” is the widow Anne. Clarissa’s (a Jesus-loving, overachieving, and self-centered Sasha Diamond) and Elizabeth (a naïve, Marinda Anderson) have perhaps less obvious parallels but play important roles in “Teenage Dick.”

Whether Shakespeare was influenced by Niccolò di Bernardo dei Machiavelli is debatable. However, his Richard III shows Machiavellian characteristics if not the conviction of the principles promulgated by the “father of modern political science.” Mike Lew, on the other hand, that his Richard (the teenage Dick) is directly influenced by Machiavelli’s “four pathways to power.” Richard’s goal? “The senior elections are upon us and from here I will vault past my inglorious station. Not by a pity vote. Not by campaigning. But by systematically destroying the competition. I’ll take down Clarissa AND Eddie AND hold dominion over all of this school.”

And that is exactly what Richard does. “Teenage Dick” chronicles his machinations and his ascent to “victory.” What this power grab means to his relationships and to his opponents, even to his friends is often unsettling and morally ambiguous. Mike Lew has assembled characters whose conflicts are engaging and believable and the plot these “problems” drive is complex, layered, and relevant to the conversations about the dynamics of bullying. Moritz von Stuelpnagel’s direction is dynamic and he successfully keeps things moving at an appropriate pace. He gives his cast the space to explore their characters in depth.

Gregg Mozgala’s Richard is vengeful, diabolic, damaged beyond repair and incapable of making a meaningful connection to others. He easily seduces Anne, betrays her trust by revealing her deepest secret, and tosses her aside. How Anne reacts to this betrayal is one on the most emotionally laden scenes in the play. Richard’s vengeance does not end with his betrayal of Anne. He needs to make sure that Eddie can in no way regain his power. How he decides to accomplish this concludes the action of the play and provides a significant catharsis. “Teenage Dick” raises enduring questions about power and betrayal, and unbridled vengeance. The answers, important as they are, lay heavily on the mind and on the heart.


TEENAGE DICK

The cast of “Teenage Dick” includes Marinda Anderson, Alex Breaux, Shannon DeVido, Sasha Diamond, Gregg Mozgala, and Tiffany Villarin.

“Teenage Dick” features set design by Wilson Chin, costume design by Junghyun Georgia Lee, lighting design by Miriam Crowe, sound design by Fabian Obispo, and movement coordination by Robert Westley. Alyssa K. Howard is Production Stage Manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Teenage Dick runs at the Public’s Shiva Theater (425 Lafayette Street) through Sunday July 29, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays through Sundays at 7:30 p.m., including Saturday and Sunday matinees at 1:30 p.m. For tickets and information: visit publictheater.org, or call 212-967-7555. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Tiffany Villarin and Gregg Mozgala in “Teenage Dick.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 14, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “The Saintliness of Margery Kempe” at the Duke on 42nd Street (Through Sunday August 26, 2018)

Photo: Timothy Doyle, Vance Barton, Ginger Grace, LaTonya Borsay and Pippa Pearthree in "The Saintliness of Margery Kempe." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Saintliness of Margery Kempe” at the Duke on 42nd Street (Through Sunday August 26, 2018)
By John Wulp
Directed by Austin Pendleton
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Margery Kempe was an English Christian Mystic during the 14th and 15th centuries who was tried for heresy multiple times but never convicted. During the late Middle Ages, the task of interpreting the Bible and God was restricted to ordained priests but interpretation through the senses and body became the dominion of woman mystics. Kempe’s autobiography is the first written in the English language and she is honored in the Anglican Communion, but sainthood was never recognized by the Roman Catholic Church. It is believed she gave birth to fourteen children, left her husband and family to follow her calling to achieve a “greater intimacy with Christ,” and made a pilgrimage to Venice, Jerusalem, and Rome to visit various Holy sites. During her travels, she was tempted by the devil, had conversations with and had visions of God, and repeatedly tried to attain saintliness through performing miracles. This all alludes to an interesting recollection of an historical figure, filled with twists and turns that are complicated and compelling.

Written by John Wulp, “The Saintliness of Margery Kempe” was presented for the first time by the Cambridge Massachusetts Poet’s Theatre in 1958 and is presently being revived at The Duke on 42nd Street. According to an Author’s note in the program, director Austin Pendleton rediscovered the text and being struck by its contemporaneity decided to remount the show. This present incarnation would fare much better if it had remained undiscovered, left lying dead with no attempt at revival. It is historically inaccurate, filled with tedious twists and turns that are insignificant and is complicated because it is difficult to decide if it is meant to be a comedy, drama, farce, spoof or a play of historical fiction. Following the cryptic life and journey of Marjorie Kempe as depicted through endless scenes and vignettes brought to life by actors playing multiple roles (including a horse), registers close to non- coherent, with no apparent continuity, timeline, or purpose. Weighing in at two hours and fifteen minutes the most notable and well received line comes when an actor appears center stage to exclaim “It’s a miracle, it’s intermission.”

The production may have a few comic moments; but, they are far and few between the laborious and dull script that the actors must flounder through to get an exuberant response from the audience. The cast is overly competent and diligently attempts to transcend the material with minor success. Andrus Nichols (Margery Kempe) leads the medieval troupe with steadfast determination and a wacky mentality which befits the character, but the antics wear thin as the plot progresses despite her admirable efforts. Jason O’Connell is solid as the husband (John Kempe) but hits his stride as the tour guide to the Holy Land (Friar Bonadventure), trying to pacify his motley group from the hysterical outbursts of the self- proclaimed mystic. Timothy Doyle is delightful in various roles, with expressions that communicate more than the pretentious poetic dialogue.

There is an interesting historical narrative in the life of Margery Kempe and her ambition to be recognized as a strong, viable female and not oppressed by the male domination of the Middle Ages. Unfortunately, in this revival, that profound persona is construed as lunacy all for the sake of humor.

THE SAINTLINESS OF MARGERY KEMP

The cast of “The Saintliness of Margery Kempe” includes Vance Quincy Barton, LaTanya Borsay, Timothy Doyle, Michael Genet, Ginger Grace, Andrus Nichols, Jason O’Connell, Pippa Pearthree, and Thomas Sommo.

The Saintliness of Margery Kempe features scenic design by John Wulp, lighting design by Multiple Tony-winner Jennifer Tipton and Matthew Richards, costume design by Barbara Bell, and sound design and original music by Ryan Rumery. Casting by Stephanie Klapper. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“The Saintliness of Margery Kempe” runs at The Duke on 42nd Street (229 West 42nd Street) through Sunday August 26, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Thursday at 8:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Tickets for “The Saintliness of Margery Kempe,” ranging in price from $55.00 to $85.00, are available for purchase online at www.margerykempe.com. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an intermission.

Photo: Timothy Doyle, Vance Barton, Ginger Grace, LaTonya Borsay and Pippa Pearthree in "The Saintliness of Margery Kempe." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 14, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Carmen Jones” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday August 19, 2018)

Photo: Justin Keyes, Soara-Joye Ross, Anika Noni Rose, Erica Dorfler, and Lawrence E. Street in “Carmen Jones.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Carmen Jones” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday August 19, 2018)
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Music by Georges Bizet
Directed by John Doyle
Choreographed by Bill T. Jones
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Because opera enthusiasts would be seduced by the music of Bizet and musical theater aficionados would savor a work that contained the lyrics of Oscar Hammerstein ll, it seems only logical to combine the talents of both to create a Broadway show. It was done in 1943 when Mr. Hammerstein adapted Bizet’s opera “Carmen,” moving it from a tobacco plant in Spain to an ammunition factory during World War ll in Charleston, South Carolina with an all African American cast. Although “Carmen Jones” was a moderate success with over five hundred performances, there has not been a full-scale revival on the New York stage until the present undertaking by director John Doyle at The Classic Stage Company. A film version surfaced in 1954 which was not well received by the press and social critics such as James Baldwin, especially since the civil rights movement was on the forefront and the content did not accurately identify the plight of African Americans at the time. The plot is a morality time bomb with a short fuse of seduction and betrayal, which triggers an explosive tragedy.

Mr. Doyle has assembled an incredible cast that can do nothing wrong as they forge through the streamlined nine-five-minute, minimalist adaption, performed on the nearly bare wood planked playing area, which seems to have become a signature of the company this season. They are accompanied by six amazing musicians who fill the cavernous space with the beautiful orchestrations of music supervisor Joseph Joubert. This fast-paced version, albeit vocally superior, finds its fault in the lack of emotional connection between the characters, who are not afforded the necessary time or content to develop substantial relationships, which is paramount to the dramatic plot. Each actor competently defines their individual character with depth and passion. The sparse set design by Scott Pask comprised of ammunition boxes and parachute fabric sometimes makes it difficult to decipher exactly where the action is taking place if it were not for the dialogue and lyrics.

The moment that Anika Noni Rose steps onto the stage as the sexually charged Carmen, you are spellbound by her sultry mezzo soprano and alluring presence. Ms. Rose never loses command of the stage in a beguiling performance that is the pulse of the production. Clifton Duncan portrays Joe with a boyish charm, failing to subdue his manly ardor and falling prey to the seductive temptress. His sweet tenor is enchanting and robust supporting his vulnerability and rage. Hometown sweetheart Cindy Lou is impeccably captured by the delightful Lindsay Roberts who melts your heart with her vibrant authenticity to be supported by her pure and controlled vocals in “You Talk Just Like My Maw.” Soara-Joye Ross infuses Frankie with vivacious energy in a rousing rendition of “Beat Out Dat Rhythm on A Drum” always appearing solid and real. Prizefighter Husky Miller comes alive with the powerful bass of David Aron Damane as he leads the cast in the exhilarating “Stan’ Up An’ Fight.” The remainder of the cast is equally engaging playing multiple roles and supporting the production.

This ninety-five-minute adaption of the rarely revived “Carmen Jones” is tightly constructed by Mr. Doyle, with a remarkable cast of ten extremely talented and tenacious actors who embody their characters but also develop their souls. Purists may miss the values of a big Broadway production for which this was written but will certainly experience the intimate essence of a small chamber musical. The production is not perfect but do not miss this opportunity to see this obscure musical brought to life by this impressive cast.

CARMEN JONES

The cast of “Carmen Jones” includes David Aron Damane, Erica Dorfler, Clifton Duncan, Andrea Jones-Sojola, Justin Keyes, Lindsay Roberts, Anika Noni Rose, Soara-Joye Ross, Lawrence E. Street, and Tramell Tillman.

Scenic design for “Carmen Jones” is by Scott Pask, costumes by Ann Hould-Ward, lighting by Adam Honoré, sound by Dan Moses Schreier and casting by Telsey + Company. Music supervision and orchestrations are by Joseph Joubert. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Carmen Jones” runs at Classic Stage Company (136 East 13th Street) through Sunday August 19, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Thursday 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. Tickets are $65.00 weekdays/$70.00 weekends. Prime seats are $125.00. For tickets, visit www.classicstage.org, call (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111, or in person at the box office. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Justin Keyes, Soara-Joye Ross, Anika Noni Rose, Erica Dorfler, and Lawrence E. Street in “Carmen Jones.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” at Irish Repertory Theatre on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage (Through Sunday August 12, 2018)

Photo: Craig Waletzko, Melissa Errico, and William Bellamy in “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” at Irish Repertory Theatre on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage (Through Sunday August 12, 2018)
Music by Burton Lane
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Adapted and Directed by Charlotte Moore
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Both upper-east-side resident Daisy Gamble (Melissa Errico) and psychiatrist Dr. Mark Bruckner (Stephen Bogardus) need clarity in their lives. Daisy lives in the Barbizon Hotel for Women and is applying for a job at Latimer and Latimer and has “until the afternoon” to quit smoking to meet the company’s policies. She is down to her “last month’s rent. Daisy does have a special knack with plants and seems to know when the phone is going to ring. Daisy’s friends Janie Preston (Caitlin Gallogly) and Muriel Bunson (Daisy Hobbs) would not object to some clarity in their lives either. Janie is not so good at plants and not only dates gay men but imagines she can “change” them. Muriel needs to trim three inches off her hips in two days. Muriel has had some success with Dr. Bruckner and invites Janie and Daisy to join her group to address their issues.

Mark Bruckner does not fully realize he needs clarity in his life and practice until he meets Daisy when she visits his group with her friends. After Daisy is hypnotized “by mistake,” Mark discovers she “is a natural. One in a billion.” Daisy is a plant whisperer and has ESP – and a secret past. During further regressive hypnotic sessions, Mark discovers Daisy had a former life in 18th century England as Melinda Welles. Obsessed with Melinda and her “affair” with Edward Moncrief (John Cudia), Mark insists on meeting with Daisy even after his colleague Dr. Conrad Fuller (Craig Waletzko) threatens to have Mark removed from the clinic if he publishes his “research” on Daisy and Melinda.

The regressive hypnotic sessions are the “grit” of the musical comedy. Initially unaware of Mark’s intrusive techniques (wouldn’t these be abusive?), Daisy cooperates with Mark and enjoys the attention and time he gives her. But whom does Mark admire? Daisy or Melinda? Realism or romanticism? The relationships in the 19th century parallel those in the 1960s in many ways and Daisy exhibits the resilience and strength of the “modern woman.” Melissa Errico gives her “split personalities” depth and authenticity and Stephen Bogardus serves as a formidable chauvinistic foil to both women.

Much of “On a Clear Day’s” book music is uninspired; however, buoyed up by its lyrics, the musical comedy is enjoyable and provides a glimpse into layers of relationships often left unexplored. Many of the “thousands and thousands of little pieces” in the lives of women and men Lerner explores are captured and captivate the audience. Most heartening of course are the performances. Melissa Errico’s Daisy brings pathos and ethos to her solo “He Wasn’t You” and later to her duet “She Wasn’t You”
with John Cuida’s Edward Moncrief. Stephen Bogardus gives the good Dr. Bruckner that character’s own style of dual personalities: he longs for the “imagined” Melinda in “Melinda” and yearns to reconnect with Daisy in the plaintive “Come Back to Me.”

Director Charlotte Moore, who also adapted the musical comedy, deftly moves the action to and from the 1960s and the 1900s and successfully uses every square inch of Irish Rep’s compact stage and one of the staircase landings for the opening and closing musical numbers (with superb scenic design and projection art by James Morgan and projection design by Ryan Belock). Under her direction, the uniformly competent cast members deliver energized performances and pleasing renditions of the music and lyrics.

There are several important questions raised in “On a Clear Day,” some specific to the musical comedy and some more enduring and rich. Charlotte Moore’s staging gives from the perspectives of history and contemporary discussions of sexual status and free will.

ON A CLEAR DAY YOU CAN SEE FOREVER

The cast of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” includes Florrie Bagel, William Bellamy, Stephen Bogardus, Rachel Coloff, Peyton Crim, John Cudia, Melissa Errico, Caitlin Gallogly, Matt Gibson, Daisy Hobbs, and Craig Waletzko.

The cast of “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” includes Florrie Bagel, William Bellamy, Stephen Bogardus, Rachel Coloff, Peyton Crim, John Cudia, Melissa Errico, Caitlin Gallogly, Matt Gibson, Daisy Hobbs, and Craig Waletzko.

“On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” features music direction by John Bell, choreography by Barry McNabb, orchestrations by Josh Clayton, and will be conducted by Gary Adler. The production team includes scenic designer James Morgan, lighting designer Mary Jo Dondlinger, projection designer Ryan Belock, and sound designer M. Florian Staab. Casting is by Deborah Brown. Arthur Atkinson serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“On a Clear Day You Can See Forever” runs at Irish Rep Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage through Sunday August 12, 2018 on the following schedule: Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. To purchase tickets, please visit https://irishrep.org/. Running time is 2 hours including one 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Craig Waletzko, Melissa Errico, and William Bellamy in “On a Clear Day You Can See Forever.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Log Cabin” at Playwright’s Horizons (Through Sunday July 15, 2018)

Photo: Cindy Cheung, Dolly Wells, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Phillip James Brannon. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Log Cabin” at Playwright’s Horizons (Through Sunday July 15, 2018)
Written by Jordan Harrison
Directed by Pam MacKinnon
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Ezra’s (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) stories about his father’s reaction to the news that Ezra was marrying Chris (Phillip James Brannon) and then, later, that they were going to have a baby serve as bookends for Jordan Harrison’s LGBTQ themed new play about “our origins” and how “denying our origins is not healthy nor is denying our children the right to discover who they are and how the will relate to the world.” Friends Jules (Dolly Wells) and Pam (Cindy Cheung) quickly “judge” Ezra’s father; yet, as the ninety-minute play moves forward, the audience – LGBTQ and non-LGBTQ – understands these two married couples are far from having grappled with the complexities of where they are, where they have come from, and where they are going as members of the LGBTQ community that barely understand their small niches let alone understanding “the other.”

Whatever their prior “struggles,” these two couples are now successful, comfortable, and mostly enjoying their assimilated lives. Jules and Pam want to have a baby and hope Ezra can be the sperm donor. “A short year later,” Ezra and Chris visit their friends and their baby Hartley and are ready to parent! They convince their pre-op trans (female-to-male) Henry (Ian Harvie) to carry their baby to term. Henry admits, “Technically. I mean I have a uterus. But it’s not really [an option]. I’d have to go off the T.” Eventually Henry agrees to carry the baby and to co-parent.

During this drama, Jules cheats on Pam, Chris cheats on Ezra and Myna (Talene Monahon) leaves Henry. Postmodern LGBTQ success tumbles in upon itself and the underbelly of the commonality of humanity is unmasked. Infidelity, falling out of love, divorce, inequality, sexism, racism, homophobia, and the history of the struggle for equality are parsed ad infinitum without resolution. The attempt at metacognition and grappling with how these five “outsiders” arrived at their “present” is mostly lost on griping. Nonetheless, the arguments themselves are relevant and timely. The problem is that these five do not want to deal with their pasts – the “log cabin” in all our histories – in any significant way. Adlai Stevenson once bragged: "I wasn't born in a log cabin. I didn't work my way through school nor did I rise from rags to riches, and there's no use trying to pretend I did." That “confession lost the presidential election to Dwight D. Eisenhower. Pretense does not lead to victory.

Under Pam MacKinnon’s direction, the superb cast enlivens Jordan Harrison’s script as he meanders through perhaps too many issues for one play. The strength of his play lies not in the bickering of the adults, but in the musings of the Babies. When the Babies chatter with their parents, with one another, or think to themselves, the script sparkles and the action on the stage brightens. The convention of having adults play the parts of infants and being able to “hear” their thoughts works well in “Log Cabin” and it is out of the mouths of these babes that the significant conversations erupt.

Jules’s Baby and Henry’s Baby “understand” the future of the LGBTQ community might look much different than it does currently. Jules’s Baby says, “Hardly. Because then another sort of pair came along. New sorts of pairs. And they weren’t boy and girl exactly. Or they weren’t but also they were.” The infant’s wisdom deepens: “But then something happened, and they remembered. Something awful happened and the floor fell away. And the boy and the boy, and the girl and the girl, were reminded how far there was to go.”

Humankind believe sincerely that it currently understands and accepts “the another” and the global community marches with that intent. “Log Cabin” raises the rich and enduring questions that dig deeply with surgical precision and exactitude: “What are the stories we have created, are creating? What are our children’s stories going to be like as they watch us struggle for meaning, acceptance, and civility?” It seems that unless these questions are addressed, the future itself might “fall away.”

LOG CABIN

The cast of “Log Cabin” features Phillip James Brannon, Cindy Cheung, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, Ian Harvie, Talene Monahon, and Dolly Wells.

The production features scenic design by Allen Moyer, costume design by Jessica Pabst, lighting design by Russell H. Champa, and sound design by Leah Gelpe. Production Stage Manager is Amanda Spooner. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Log Cabin” plays at Playwrights Horizons (416 West 42nd Street between Ninth and Tenth Avenues) on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Single tickets, $44.00-$99.00, may be purchased online via www.phnyc.org, by phone at 212-279-4200 (Noon-8:00 p.m. daily) and in person at the Box Office. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Cindy Cheung, Dolly Wells, Jesse Tyler Ferguson, and Phillip James Brannon. Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, June 30, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: Mint Theater Company’s “Conflict” at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Saturday July 21, 2018)

Photo: Jessie Shelton and Jeremy Beck in “Conflict.” Credit: Todd.
Off-Broadway Review: Mint Theater Company’s “Conflict” at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Saturday July 21, 2018)
By Miles Malleson
Directed by Jenn Thompson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The themes of Miles Malleson’s “Conflict,” currently running at the Beckett Theatre at Theatre Row, could not be more relevant and the playwright’s treatment of these themes could not be more modern or progressive. The main characters, except for Tom Smith (Jeremy Beck), are early 1920s London elite – the one percent who have the most money, property, and power in society – and are staunch members of the Conservative Party. Tom is in the ninety-nine percent and lacks money, property, power, and self-esteem. The conflicts of these characters drive an engaging plot that eerily reminds one of America’s current socio-political environment.

The Lady Dare Bellingdon (Jessie Shelton) lives with her father Lord Bellingdon in his posh London mansion. Dare has been having an affair with Major Sir Ronald Clive (Henry Clarke) a protégé of her father and a staunch Conservative. As “Conflict” opens in the Bellingdon London residence’s morning-room, Dare and Clive are returning after 4:00 a.m. from one of their dinner-dance dates and just before Clive departs, he notices a man skulking around the outside of the house and Lady Dare hears someone moving around inside the house. Lord Bellingdon bursts through the doors with a pistol and soon the trio are confronted by a burglar who turns out to be Tom who discloses he was Clive’s University mate who has now fallen on hard times. Tom reaches out to Clive for help.

Tom also discloses that although he did not come to rob Lord Bellingdon and only wanted to ask help from his former university friend, he once did “buy” coffee using a pound note someone had left on the counter of a coffee stand and used the change for “breakfast and a bath and a bed.” Both Lord Bellingdon and Clive give Tom money “to get rid of him.” Eighteen months later, Tom revisits Clive and the Bellingdons to announce he plans to run against Clive as the Labor candidate for Parliament in the new government. In an attempt at civility, Clive and Lord Bellingdon promise not to use their knowledge of Tom’s past in the upcoming race for office.

If this sounds like the making of a brilliantly constructed farce, it is indeed. Writing in the 1920s, Mr. Malleson deftly utilizes the genre to explore the themes that interest him and that he feels are relevant to his generation. His point of view is refreshingly modern and decidedly progressive. Several weeks pass between Acts III and V, and the audience is treated to a delightful narrative that includes “discussions” of classism, sexism, gender equality, marriage, pre-marital sex, class inequality, and the status of women in English society. His writing is fresh, invigorating, and formidable.

Jessie Shelton and Jasmin Walker successfully portray what a couple of decades earlier than “Conflict” Bram Stoker called the “New Woman.” Ms. Shelton’s pristinely portrayed “Dare” is self-willed, does not need marriage to define her status, and challenges patriarchy at every turn. Though Dare is a member of the privileged class, she is intrigued by Tom Smith’s Labor policies, falls in love with him, and champions his Parliament victory. Jasmin Walker’s “Mrs. Tremayne,” although a privileged friend of Dare’s, challenges her to question Clive’s standing and politics and fits the bill as one of the early twentieth century “New Women.”

Jeremy Beck delivers a solidly engaging performance as the rogue Tom Smith turned political activist. Mr. Beck is delightful as he “seduces” Dare with knowledge and the realm of meta-politics. Henry Clarke’s Clive and Graeme Malcolm’s Lord Bellingdon epitomize all that Tom Smith abhors and that Dare comes to call into question. The pair’s characters are the true “base” of conservatism and their thinking reverberates through the decades to the present. Both actors explore the levels of Miles Malleson’s characters with pristine honesty. And James Pendergast, and Amelia White portray butler Daniells and landlord Mrs. Robinson with the challenging blend of servitude and disapproval.

“Conflict’s” creative team serves up excellence in every category. John McDermott’s period set beautifully contrasts the Bellingdon’s posh digs with Tom Smith’s utilitarian and modest bed-sitting-room. Martha Hally’s costumes bristle with realism and Mary Louise Geiger’s lights ensconce the audience in two disparate settings that could not sparkle with more naturalness. Jenn Thompson’s direction is astute and moves the action forward at a desirable pace.

Miles Malleson uses his characters’ alluring conflicts to construct a dramatic narrative that utilizes the rich smorgasbord of rhetorical devices. As “Conflict” catapults to the final scene, heightened farce serves to bring the audience members to question all of what they held to be true and have been seduced into believing was false/fake.

CONFLICT

The cast of “Conflict” includes Jeremy Beck, Henry Clarke, Graeme Malcolm, James Prendergast, Jessie Shelton, Jasmin Walker, and Amelia White.

The creative team includes John McDermott (sets), Martha Hally (costumes), Mary Louise Geiger (lights), and Toby Algya (sound). Kelly Burns serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Mint Theatre Company (Todd).

“Conflict” runs at the Beckett Theatre on Theatre Row (410 West 42nd Street) through Saturday July 21, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Saturday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., and Wednesday July 18th at 2:00 p.m. Tickets at $65.00 are available by visiting www.telecharge.com or http://minttheater.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: Jessie Shelton and Jeremy Beck in “Conflict.” Credit: Todd.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, June 26, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “A Blanket of Dust” at the Flea Theater Mainstage (Through Saturday June 30, 2018)

Photo: L to R - Angela Pierce and James Patrick Nelson. Credit: Sharon Kinsella.
Off-Broadway Review: “A Blanket of Dust” at the Flea Theater Mainstage (Through Saturday June 30, 2018)
By Richard Squires
Directed by Christopher Murrah
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“All they need now is to find an enemy.” – Senator Walter Crane in “A Blanket of Dust”

After her husband Sam was killed (murdered?) when the North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed on September 11, 2001, Diane Crane (Angela Pierce) becomes appropriately obsessed with finding out who was responsible for the destruction of the Towers. Unconvinced that it was a foreign adversary or a clear act of terrorism, Diane becomes more convinced the horror was somehow the responsibility of the government of the United States to advance its own interests or to justify Islamophobic politics. This is the "stuff" of Richard Squires' “A Blanket of Dust” currently running at the Flea Theater Mainstage.

Like her 5th Century BCE sister-in-arms Antigone, Diane’s stubborn loyalty to her brother and her unwillingness to defy the government leads her into a dangerous conflict with FBI Agents Sturgis and Staulk (Kelsey Rainwater and Peter J. Romano), DC neocon policy operative Jim Mason (Joseph Dellger), Former Director of the CIA Adam Black (Brad Bellamy) and his wife Esther (Peggy J. Scott) all who accuse her of conspiracy against the government and attempt to silence her. “Burying” her husband’s memory and honoring his life prove to be difficult and life-threatening.

Supported by her parents Senator Walter Crane (Anthony Newfield) and Vanessa Crane (Alison Fraser), her brother Charlie (James Patrick Nelson), longtime friends Andrew Black (Tommy Schrider) and Justice Department Attorney Melanie Hobson (Jessica Frances Dukes), and DC Attorney Gideon Levy (Brennan Caldwell), Diane – over decades – pushes back against the accusations and threats and is determined to find out who murdered her husband whatever the cost.

Under Christopher Murrah’s deft direction, Angela Pierce leads a brilliant ensemble cast whose intricate conflicts drive a mysterious and often challenging plot with enough twists and turns to keep the audience members in suspense and keenly aware of their own political commitments and doubts. Each member of the cast stands out in delivering multi-layered, authentic, and believable performances.

“A Blanket of Dust” raises difficult and enduring questions. Is there a deep state within the government conspiring to weaken the Constitution of the United States? What is truth and Is it possible to ever discover what the truth is in any given situation? What is trust and who can be trusted and why? Are there causes worth giving one’s life for?

Mr. Squires’ play is worth seeing and is especially relevant in the current political environment. Be prepared to have firmly held opinions questioned and loyalties deeply challenged. The blanket of dust created on September 11, 2001 has never lifted and perhaps never will. This play keeps the conversation alive and engaging.

A BLANKET OF DUST

The cast of “A Blanket of Dust” includes Brad Bellamy, Brennan Caldwell, Joseph Dellger, Jessica Frances Dukes, Alison Fraser, James Patrick Nelson, Anthony Newfield, Angela Pierce, Kelsey Rainwater, Peter J. Romano, Tommy Schrider and Peggy J. Scott.

The creative team includes Brendan Boston (scenic design), Christopher Metzger (costume design), Daisy Long (lighting design), and Jim Petty (sound design). Elizabeth Ann Goodman serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Sharon Kinsella.

“A Blanket of Dust” runs at the Flea Theater Mainstage (20 Thomas Street, NYC 10007) through Saturday June 30, 2018 on the following schedule: Mondays through Saturdays at 7:00 p.m., matinees Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. No shows Sundays. Tickets at $20.00-$40.00 are available at www.ablanketofdust.com or by calling Ovation Tickets at 866-811-4111. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.

Photo: L to R - Angela Pierce and James Patrick Nelson. Credit: Sharon Kinsella.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, June 22, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “All I Want Is One Night” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 1, 2018)

Photo (L-R): Rachel Austin, and Jessica Walker in “All I Want Is One Night.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “All I Want Is One Night” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 1, 2018)
By Jessica Walker
Music Direction by Joseph Atkins
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Once again, a stage at 59E59 welcomes the wonderful Jessica Walker to Brits Off Broadway with her new show “All I Want Is One Night,” a somewhat bio-musical about the openly lesbian French chanteuse Suzy Solidor who opened her own nightclub La Vie Parisienne in the 1930s. Solidor’s claim to fame erupted from a publicity stunt to be recognized as the “most painted women in the world.” She posed for some of the most celebrated artists of her time and the only stipulation for sitting was that she be given the painting to hang in her nightclub. She survived the Nazi occupation but was convicted as a collaborator and had to leave France after the war. She traveled to the states to continue her career and ultimately returned home in 1960 to settle in Haut de Cagnes in the south of France, running a bar in her basement and eventually opening an Antique shop. This is where the peevish, elderly Solidor is found in 1980, dressed in an Admiral’s uniform to conceal her now unflattering figure at the start of the performance.

It is somewhat of a memory play as she tells the story of her youth and transforms into the sexy, bawdy cabaret singer, clad in an elegant gown, flirting with the audience, as she engenders them with provocative lyrics. Ms. Walker certainly captures the intriguing beauty of the chanteuse and deftly delivers each of the eight musical numbers intoxicating the audience with her pure, seductive soprano vocals. This is all well and good but what is missing is the guttural passion, husky timbre and vulnerable vibrato that were trademarks of Solidor and very similar to Piaf of the same era. The portrayal does not seem dark or tough enough and quails a sweet buoyancy that contrasts with the bold, crusty Solidor who tells the story. The bits of bio are not enough to reveal the complex character or paint a clear picture of her daring and incendiary escapades.

The supporting cast (Rachel Austin and Alexandra Mathie), play multiple roles adequately but are not given enough presence to develop real or interesting characters, which leads to some confusion as to their emotional relationship to Solidor. Kate Ashton’s lighting design creates a Bohemian mood for the quasi cabaret setting of tables with red tablecloths that is overcrowded, unnecessary and produces terrible sight lines for the audience. The musical numbers are the core of the production and there should be more, perhaps with a verse or two sung in the original French language to enhance the ambience and support the character’s personality. The sixty-five-minute production is an interesting evening of entertainment that shines a glimmer of light on the fascinating chanteuse but does not qualify or succeed at being a bona fide piece of theater.

ALL I WANT IS ONE NIGHT

“All I Want Is One Night” is written by Jessica Walker, with music director Joseph Atkins. It is produced by Jess Walker Music Theatre, in association with Royal Exchange Theatre Manchester. Joining Jessica Walker are cast members Rachel Austin and Alexandra Mathie. Lighting design is by Kate Ashton and the production stage manager is Sofia Montgomery. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“All I Want Is One Night” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, July 1st at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:15 p.m.; Saturday at 2:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; and Sunday at 2:15 p.m. The single ticket price is $25.00 - $35.00 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). Tickets are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at www.59e59.org. Running time is 65 minutes without intermission.

Photo (L-R): Rachel Austin, and Jessica Walker in “All I Want Is One Night.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 21, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: Founder’s Project’s “First Love” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday July 8, 2018)

Photo: Angelina Fiordellisi, Michael O’Keefe, and Taylor Harvey in “First Love.” Credit: Monique Carboni.
Off-Broadway Review: Founder’s Project’s “First Love” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday July 8, 2018)
By Charles Mee
Directed by Kim Weild
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

With a nod to magical realism, Edward Albee’s “Zoo Story,” and a splash of the surreal – specifically the world of René François Ghislain Magrritte – Charles Mee provides a mostly realistic narrative about the experiences of an older couple who fall in love for the first time. Currently running at Cherry Lane Theatre, Mr. Mee’s “First Love” is a kaleidoscopic montage of the emotional fallout when Harold (Michael O’Keefe) meets Edith (Angelina Fiordellisi) on a park bench. This is not the most pleasant of meetings. Harold, having given up on love or any approximation to love, is asleep on that bench. Edith arrives and immediately instructs Harold to “shove up” so she and her radio can occupy the same bench.

Harold relents and, after Edith joins him, he accepts her offer of a sip of sherry and the pair engage in conversation about the opera, the symphony, having lost a lot when they lost communism and the opposition, dying from neglect and indifference, their personal histories, former spouses, and beat poets – things one typically might discuss on any “first date?” Harold and Edith go back to Edith’s home and the bench becomes a couch, a table, a bed and the conversations deepen. Courting continues, there is talk of settling down and marriage, Harold and Edith have a falling out and fall out of love, and eventually decide to “start over” where they began – back on the bench.

Angelina Fiordellisi and Michael O’Keefe are wonderful together and give their respective characters a depth and authenticity that often rises above what they are given in Mr. Mee’s script. When the playwright excels, Ms. Fiordellisi and Mr. O’Keefe are magical in their performances. When the script weakens, as it does in some scenes, the seasoned actors still make legerdemain seem a felicitous exercise. Taylor Harvey provides convincing performances as a variety of “real” and “magical” characters and the trio gives the audience a glimpse into the vicissitudes of humanity’s attempts to find meaning and love in all its manifestations.

Kim Weild directs with the necessary allegro tempo and gives the actors plenty of room to find levels of performance and nuance of character. Edward Peirce’s set works well and allows the play’s realism to gently counterpoint with it’s surreal undertones. Theresa Squire’s delightful costumes make it clear why the couple misses Ginsberg and Ferlinghetti. And Paul Miller’s lighting and Christian Frederickson’s sound make “First Love” easy on the eye and ear.

There is only one unfortunate misstep. When one’s writing, sufficient as it is, does not approximate the rhetorical skills of an Albee, a Toni Morrison, or a Gabriel García Márquez, it might be better for Mr. Mee not to discredit one of America’s iconic theatre critics in an exchange meant somehow to celebrate the “good old days” when members of the theatre community “knew each other.” A cheap shot at a theatre critic does not make a kinder, gentler generation.

See “First Love” for what it is: a satisfying look into the eyes and minds of a couple trying to figure out what it means to be in love and what it means to have one’s life “completely changed” by another human being.

FIRST LOVE

“First Love” stars Angelina Fiordellisi and Michael O’Keefe.

The show will feature set design by Edward Pierce, costume design by Theresa Squire, lighting design by Paul Miller, and sound design by Christian Frederickson. Nicole Kuker serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Monique Carboni.

“First Love” runs through Sunday July 8, 2018 at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) on the following performance schedule: Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 7:00 p.m., and Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. with additional performances on Monday, July 2 at 7:00 p.m., Tuesday June 12 and June 19 at 7:00 p.m. and Sunday, July 1 and July 8 at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $65-$95 and are available at www.cherrylanetheatre.org or by calling Ovation Tix at 866-811-4111. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Angelina Fiordellisi, Michael O’Keefe, and Taylor Harvey in “First Love.” Credit: Monique Carboni.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, June 17, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Secret Life of Humans” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 1, 2018)

Photo L-R: Andrew Strafford-Baker, Andy McLeod, Olivia Hirst, Stella Taylor, and Richard Delaney in “Secret Life of Humans” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Richard Davenport.
Off-Broadway Review: “Secret Life of Humans” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 1, 2018)
Written by David Byrne
Directed by David Byrne and Kate Stanley
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

It is difficult to parse David Byrne’s “Secret Life of Humans,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters, without issuing spoiler alerts. As the eighty-five-minute play unfolds, three “stories” – one lasting a single night, one across a lifetime, and one that spans humanity’s sixty-million-year history, collide in a cathartic resolution that jangles the senses. Inspired by Yuval Harari's “Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind,” David Burns tackles the essential questions about science, philosophy, and what it means to be human. Produced previously at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Mr. Burns’ play arrives at 59E59 at part of its annual Brits Off Broadway series.

The characters are interesting enough and their conflicts drive a complex, multi-layered plot that begins strong in the first thirty minutes, but then becomes less focused and less engaging as the play winds down to its resolution. Lonely hearts Ava (Stella Taylor), an anthropology academic, and Jamie (Andrew Strafford-Baker), in town to clear out his recently deceased grandmother’s house, meet in a local restaurant after turning to Tinder to swipe away their solitude. Their one night together reveals the power of greed and the longing for meaningful relationships.

David Byrne’s script is non-linear and traverses past and present in what seems seamless transitions in space and time. The playwright and Kate Stanley co-direct the piece with a keen eye for detail and connection. Ava serves as the “narrator” between scenes and breaks the fourth wall bringing the audience into her lecture hall at the university where she is about to lose her position. So, meeting Jamie is fortuitous since his grandfather Jacob Bronowski (Richard Delaney) narrated the popular BBC television series “The Ascent of Man” and left all records of his “secret” research with mathematician George (Andy McLeod) locked up in an alarmed room in the house Jamie is about to clear out.

Mr. Byrnes’ script does address the promised issues of the ascent of man, including snippets of BBC’s Michael Parkinson’s 1970s interviews with Jamie’s grandfather who affirmed the constant upward progression of human development. Without disclosing the secret in his locked room, Bronowski also was concerned about a specific event in modern history that just might disrupt man’s ascent. Jamie proffers his own theory about humankind’s “ascent” that includes farming wheat as “where it all started to go wrong, becoming “history’s biggest fraud.”

Most significant, however, are the themes that surround digging through Bronowski’s secret treasure trove. Jamie allows Ava into the room and their discoveries are intriguing, horrific, and provide a path for research and writing that would reinstate Ava in her teaching position. In this latter part of the play, time again moves from past to present and the audience “listens in” to the past and the intrigue in the library of University of Hull where Bronowski assures George they “will not be disturbed by any students.” What were Bronowski and George working on? What did Jacob’s wife Rita (Olivia Hirst) know about the secret research and the collaboration with others involved in World War II projects? And what about the newspaper clipping Jamie and Ava find showing a “photograph of a young man, crying over his suitcase?”

Deception, dissemblance, disingenuous behavior, greed, self-serving and political motivation are examined in this important play. The drama raises rich questions that endure and demand answers – questions that are keenly relevant to the political machinations in Washington currently. Why do political leaders deceive, prevaricate, dissemble and engage the people they serve in disingenuous dialogue? What secrets lie at the heart of the political machine in American and globally? What “projects” are governments involved in to “solve” what they perceive to be the world’s “important problems? How will this part of the twenty-first century influence the “ascent of humankind?” The cast of “Secret Life of Humans” successfully grapples with these questions with the assistance of a splendid creative team. Jen McGinley’s set design, Catherine Webb’s lighting, and Zakk Hein’s projections draw the audience into the action with effects that are at once astounding and puzzling. “Secret Life of Humans” is worth the time. See it before its limited run ends.

SECRET LIFE OF HUMANS

The cast features Richard Delaney, Olivia Hirst, Andy McLeod, Andrew Strafford-Baker, and Stella Blue Taylor.

The design team includes Jen McGinley (set designer); Geoff Hense (lighting designer); Ronnie Dorsey (costume designer); Zakk Hein (projection designer); Yaiza Varona (composer and sound designer); and John Maddox (aerial designer). The Production Stage Manager is Raynelle Wright. Production photos by David Monteith Hodge and Richard Davenport.

“Secret Life of Humans” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, July 1st, 2018. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Friday at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street between Park and Madison Avenues). The single ticket price is $25.00 - $70.00 ($25.00 - $49.00 for 59E59 Members). Tickets are available by calling Ticket Central at 212-279-4200 or online at www.59e59.org. Running time is 85 minutes without intermission.

Photo L-R: Andrew Strafford-Baker, Andy McLeod, Olivia Hirst, Stella Taylor, and Richard Delaney in “Secret Life of Humans” at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Richard Davenport.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, June 16, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Desperate Measures” at New World Stages (Tickets on Sale through Sunday September 9, 2018)

Photo: Conor Ryan as Johnny Blood in “Desperate Measures.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Desperate Measures” at New World Stages (Tickets on Sale through Sunday September 9, 2018)
Book and Lyrics by Peter Kellogg
Music by David Friedman
Directed and Choreographed by Bill Castellino
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

After its previous three-time extended sold out run at the York Theatre Company, “Desperate Measures” is back Off-Broadway and the antics of rabble-rousing Johnny Blood are as bodacious and bawdy as ever. Although billed as being “loosely based” on the classic Shakespearian comedy, “Desperate Measures,” currently playing at New World Stages, has the “guts” of “Measure for Measure” with the charm and appeal of a traditional Broadway musical. Peter Kellogg and David Friedman are to be commended for achieving this feat and bringing this clever retelling back to the stage.

Somewhere out West in the late 1800s, Johnny Blood (Conor Ryan) has been jailed for shooting and killing a man in a fight over Bella Rose (Lauren Molina) the chanteuse at the local saloon. Johnny is scheduled to hang and reaches out to his cell mate Father Morse (Gary Marachek) who has been jailed for intoxication and gives more credence to Friedrich Nietzsche than to the Deity. Johnny’s only hope is his sister Susanna (Sarah Parnicky) who is just days away from becoming a nun – Sister Mary Jo. Hopefully the good Sister can convince Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber (Nick Wyman) to pardon her brother and allow Sheriff Martin Green (Pater Saide) to set Johnny free.

The parallels to Shakespeare’s “Measure for Measure” genuinely please the audience in this rollicking romantic retelling. Susanna and the Sheriff have a crush on one another. The Governor has a crush on Susanna (or is it Bella?). Johnny and Bella want to marry and start a family. And Father Morse just wants to get drunk and correspond with the now dead Nietzsche.

The discerning Shakespeare aficionado will recognize (in addition to the bare bones of the plot): Vincentio the Duke (Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber); a morally unambiguous Angelo the Deputy (Sheriff Green); a Claudio (Johnny Blood); his sister Isabella – with a bit of the Nun (Susanna); Claudio’s Beloved Juliet – with a bit of Mistress Overdone (Bella Rose); and the Duke’s alter ego Friar Peter (Father Morse).

Also present are the engaging themes of “Measure for Measure.” This retelling manages to address law and order, justice, hypocrisy, and moral ambiguity in comedic ways without dismissing their importance in the Wild West and in the current socio-political environment. There’s even a not-so-veiled jab at the current occupant of the White House as well as mistaken identity and Peter Kellogg’s rhyming iambic pentameter. There is enough here for many of the audience members to have seen the musical more than once.

This is a pleasant musical that celebrates the enduring themes of love, commitment, and “being alive.” The cast is uniformly engaging – all triple threats with vocal, acting, and movement skills. They stay true to their characters and deliver authentic and believable performances. The eighteen musical numbers range from the comedic to the sublime. Mr. Friedman’s music is varied in style and inspiration and complements Mr. Kellogg’s lively book and lyrics perfectly. Favorites are Susanna’s “Look in Your Heart,” Johnny’s “Good to Be Alive,” and “The Way You Feel Inside” the trio by Susanna, Bella, and the Sheriff. Peter Saide, Sarah Parnicky, Lauren Molina, and Conor Ryan have exceptionally fine voices with extensive ranges and can interpret and deliver lyrics with sensitivity and nuance.

Will Sheriff Green and Susanna unite and marry? Will Bella and Johnny get hitched? Will Father Morse discover the truth about the letter he received from Friedrich Nietzsche? Will the Governor show any remorse for his despicable behavior? Perhaps Bella and Susanna’s duet “It’s a Beautiful Day for a Lifelong Commitment” provides a hint. See “Desperate Measures” before it pulls up stakes and leaves town – again.

DESPERATE MEASURES

Directed and choreographed by Bill Castellino and with music direction by David Hancock Turner, the six-member cast of “Desperate Measures” features Sarah Parnicky as Susanna/Sister Mary Jo, Gary Marachek as Father Morse, Lauren Molina as Bella Rose, Conor Ryan as Johnny Blood, Peter Saide as Sheriff Green, and Nick Wyman as Governor von Richterhenkenpflichtgetruber with Celia Hottenstein and Tom Souhrada.

The creative team includes James Morgan (scenic design), Nicole Wee (costume design), Paul Miller (lighting design), Julian Evans (sound design), Tommy Kurzman (wigs, hair, and make-up design. David Hancock Turner serves as musical director. Casting is by Carol Hanzel and the production stage manager is CJ LaRoche. Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.

“Desperate Measures” plays New World Stages (340 West 50th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues). Performances are Monday at 7:00 p.m., Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Thursday at 2:00 p.m. and 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 $59.00 - $89.00 (including a $2 facility fee). Premium seats are available. Call https://www.telecharge.com/ at 212-239-6200. For more information, please visit http://desperatemeasuresmusical.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes with an intermission.

Photo: Conor Ryan as Johnny Blood in “Desperate Measures.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 14, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: Elevator Repair Service’s “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf” at Abrons Arts Center (Through Saturday June 30, 2018)

Photo: Vin Knight and Annie McNamara in “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: Elevator Repair Service’s “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf” at Abrons Arts Center (Through Saturday June 30, 2018)
By Kate Scelsa
Directed by John Collins
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In Act III of Edward Albee’s classic play “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf” (The Exorcism), George and Martha are alone following Nick and Honey’s departure. The deception that has haunted their marriage has been “exorcised” and the couple wonders what their future holds: Will things get better? Can they survive without the deception? Will they be all right? Albee’s dense text is to be parsed on several deep levels and through a variety of critical lenses, including the historical and psychological. Albee is deeply concerned about the future of America and his rich tropes and deep questions surround that primary theme. One would have to stay on the surface of the text to find misogyny and patriarchy as significant themes or relevant traits of the playwright or his male characters.

Apparently, playwright Kate Scelsa has chosen to identify those exact themes in her deconstruction of Albee’s play. Billed as “a loving homage and a wildly hilarious feminist take-down of an American classic,” Elevator Repair Service’s “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf,” currently playing at Abrons Arts Center, rarely rises above an attempt to reinvent that classic. Ms. Scelsa’s retelling is, at times, funny – particularly in the “First Act.” There are well-written allusions to Albee’s play and quite funny recitations of George’s (the implacable Vin Knight) favorite Tennessee Williams soliloquies. Martha (the irrepressible Annie McNamara) has invited Nick (the obsequious Mike Iveson) and Honey (the unabashed April Matthis) – from an earlier party – for drinks, debauchery, and “diriculous” sexual escapades. And the familiar party begins.

It is all here really for anyone looking to find the bones of the 1962 novel in this 2018 riff. There is heavy drinking, though George drinks more than Martha who tosses her alcohol on the unsuspecting (and now quite dead) plants. There are arguments that cut deeply into Martha and George’s sense of well-being, though George comes across a tad more caustic and unforgiving. There are references to their “baby boy not coming home for his birthday,” though the importance of the “imaginary” child is never addressed by Ms. Scelsa. And there are multiple references to Honey’s “hysterical pregnancies” without any attempt to explore the importance of these events. Of course, Nick deals with his own attempts at giving birth in his “slash fiction, which is fan fiction where you make everyone gay even if they're not.” Now who is being exploited?

The playwright’s attempt to find Martha at the end of Albee’s play “destroyed by this idea of motherhood, of not living up to this very traditional idea of what it means to be a woman” and the promise of delivering the ferocity of Martha’s revenge on an unsuspecting patriarchy are not sustained in Ms. Scelsa’s script. Further, the rich homoerotic themes in Albee’s work are trivialized beyond meaning in “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf.” And the “vampiric” Third Act with Carmilla the PhD candidate (the irrepressible Lindsay Hockaday) completely derails.

Kate Scelsa wrote “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf” for the Elevator Repair Service as “a very passionate love letter to the company that has been [her] theatrical home for the past fifteen years.” Had “the letter” been written in collaboration with that company, the deep and enduring question Albee raises through Martha’s weltanschauung might have found answers – or at least approximations to those resolutions. See “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf” if you enjoy riffs of classic American plays and arcane references to those plays in snippets of dialogue. Refrain from engaging the play if you are seeking a thoughtful deconstruction of Edward Albee’s “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf.” Truth be told, we all should be fearful. Go ask Albee’s Martha who profoundly understood the fine line between reality and illusion.

EVERYONE’S FINE WITH VIRGINIA WOOLF

The cast for “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf” features Elevator Repair Service veterans and includes Annie McNamara as Martha, April Matthis as Honey, Mike Iveson as Nick, Vin Knight as George, and Lindsay Hockaday as Carmilla. The creative team includes Louisa Thompson (sets), Kaye Voyce (costumes), Ryan Seelig (lights), Ben Williams (sound), Amanda Villalobos (props), Maurina Lioce (production stage manager) and Ariana Smart Truman (producer). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Performances of “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf” run through June 30th at Abrons Arts Center (466 Grant Street) on the following schedule: through June 24th, Wednesday–Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Extension, June 27 – 30 at 8:00 p.m.; June 30 at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are $65.00-$75.00, June 12–24 general admission; $65.00-$85.00, June 27-30 general admission; $40.00 for artists, $25.00 for students; and $20.00 general rush. Tickets can be purchased by visiting everyonesfine.com or by calling 866-811-4111. Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Vin Knight and Annie McNamara in “Everyone’s Fine with Virginia Woolf.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: Abingdon Theatre Company’s Production of “Fruit Trilogy” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Through Saturday June 23, 2018)

Photo: Kiersey Clemons in “Avocado.” Credit: Maria Baranova.
Off-Broadway Review: Abingdon Theatre Company’s Production of “Fruit Trilogy” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Through Saturday June 23, 2018)
By Eve Ensler
Directed by Mark Rosenblatt
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Eve Ensler’s commitment to ending violence against cisgender, transgender, and gender non-conforming women and girls globally (V-Day: A Global Movement to End Violence Against Women) has been unwavering since “The Vagina Monologues” premiered at HERE in 1996. Ms. Ensler attempts to continue that commitment in “Fruit Trilogy,” Abingdon Theatre Company’s final mainstage production of its twenty-fifth anniversary season. Currently in its “New York premiere” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, “Fruit Trilogy” was produced outside of New York City as early as 2016 in Leeds, England.

The trilogy includes three short plays “Pomegranate,” “Avocado,” and “Coconut” that deal respectively with issues of degradation, oppression, and emancipation. In the first twenty-minute play, Pomegranate,” two talking heads chatter to one another on a shelf in a warehouse. Ms. Ensler chooses to write here in an odd post-absurdist style which tends to obfuscate the piece’s important conversation about sex workers and the dishonor of their profession (chosen or otherwise). At the beginning of the piece, the pair – Item 1 and Item 2 – (Kiersey Clemons and Liz Mike) observe the arrival of more pomegranates, foreshadowing what is to come in the second short play “Avocado.”

“Avocado” features Kiersey Clemons in a twenty-minutes non-linear monologue that addresses a multitude of issues of oppression and violence against women and girls, including human trafficking, child prostitution, and slavery. Her character is being transported in a container of avocados (perhaps to the warehouse in “Pomegranate?”) where she has been placed against her will and, apparently, at the direction of her father and with the complicity of her mother. Is she on her way to some Asylum proffered by the traffikers (the “whackers”) or, more likely, to sexual slavery, forced labor, or commercial sexual exploitation? Her pleas for release ring with fear that overshadows any chance of redemption and release. Ms. Clemons, assumedly following Mark Rosenblatt’s direction, delivers her monologue in a monochromatic frenzy that, overall, detracts from the strength of the rhetorical argument.

The final play of the trilogy, “Coconut,” begins with Liz Mike’s character setting up an “altar” in her bathroom. She warns, “Some people go to church. Some people go to mosque or a temple. I come here. Yes, I realize it’s a bathroom. But don’t underestimate the mystical implications of the bathroom.” She proceeds to massage her right foot for the first time in front of observers (the audience). The “rubbing” triggers a hallucinogenic “trip” into layers of the speaker’s past, including the day her dance teacher asked, “How can you dance when you’re so fat?” These memories result in a “cathartic” disrobing and dance (unfortunately, not balletic) of “emancipation.” As she strips off her top and gets undressed and begins to oil her arms and breasts, neck and stomach, the speaker cautions, “Oh no, please don’t do that. Don’t get in your head now.” The audience does not need that censure and, further, the nudity is gratuitous and unnecessary.

The trilogy suffers from performances that seem – given the strength of the cast – oddly disconnected from the material. And some of the arguments addressed in the material itself seem dated. Issues of self-image, for example, overshadow the contemporary pandemic of bullying and cyber-bullying that effect the cisgender, transgender, and gender non-conforming community of vulnerable women and girls. This disconnect might be the result of Mr. Rosenblatt’s erratic direction or the script itself.

“Fruit Trilogy,” though timely, does not thoroughly address – or fully counterpoint with – the MeToo Movement founded in 2006 by activist Tarana Burke that went viral in 2017 after the allegations of sexual harassment against Harvey Weinstein. The powerful issues of entitlement and sexual misconduct in the workplace are not addressed and for that reason, despite its important, relevant, and compelling themes, it falls short of making the strongest case for emancipation.

FRUIT TRILOGY

The cast of “Fruit Trilogy” features Kiersey Clemons and Liz Mike.

Fruit Trilogy features a scenic design by Mark Wendland, costume design by Andrea Lauer, lighting design by Jeanette Oi-Suk Yew, and sound design by Matt Hubbs. Production photos by Maria Baranova.

“Fruit Trilogy” runs for a limited engagement through Saturday June 23rd, 2018 at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street, NYC) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday - Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday and Saturday at 8 :00 p.m., with matinees on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. There is no matinee on Sunday June 10th.) Tickets are $65.00 and available at http://abingdontheatre.org/ or by calling Ovationtix at 212-352-3101. Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Kiersey Clemons in “Avocado.” Credit: Maria Baranova.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, June 8, 2018

Broadway Review: “Saint Joan” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Through Sunday June 10, 2018)

Photo: Condola Rashad in “Saint Joan.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Saint Joan” at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Through Sunday June 10, 2018)
Written by Bernard Shaw
Directed by Daniel Sullivan
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“No sir: we are afraid of you; but she puts courage into us. She really doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything. Perhaps you could frighten her, sir.” - Robert de Baudricourt’s Steward, Scene 1, “Saint Joan”

George Bernard Shaw has had a successful run on Broadway in the 2017-2018 season. Shaw’s “Pygmalion” lies at the heart of Lerner and Lowe’s “My Fair Lady” currently on at Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont Theater and Shaw’s engaging “Saint Joan” is currently on at Manhattan Theatre Club’s Samuel J. Friedman Theatre. In addition to his “appearance” on Broadway, three of the iconic Irish playwright’s plays are included in this summer’s Shaw Festival in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ontario.

Before “Saint Joan” closes on its scheduled June 10, 2018 date, it is important to remember the significance of Shaw’s 1923 play in the current Broadway season. “Saint Joan” received a single Tony Award nomination for Condola Rashad’s brilliant performance in the title role: Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role in a Play. Additionally, the production featured a stunning set by Scott Pask and highly effective lighting by Justin Townsend and sound design by Obadiah Eaves. Most important, however, are the rich enduring questions Shaw raises in his drama.

In his parsing of the history of Joan of Arc from the castle of Vaucouleurs to the fictional epilogue in 1456 in the bedchamber of King Charles the Seventh of France (Adam Chanler-Berat), Bernard Shaw grapples with questions as relevant in the 15th century as in the 21st century. Is war even an option to solve international differences or threats? If so, what circumstances warrant a declaration of war? Is fear a way to govern? What role should one’s religion or faith play in making political decisions? What is a hero? How was Joan of Arc a hero? What role does sexual status play in the ability to make military decisions, including serving in the armed services? Has the “church” become an unreliable moral barometer?

Under Daniel Sullivan’s guiding hand, the cast addresses Shaw’s concerns and themes with welcomed rigor. Some might find the length of the monologues to be challenging; however, each of these is filled with interesting historical detail that adds to the understanding of the importance of Joan of Arc and her contemporaries and the complicated matrix of establishing national identity. These “arguments” are of the utmost importance in current conversations around America’s national identity and place in the global political community. Shaw’s blending of present, past, and future in the final scene of “Saint Joan” reminds us of Shaw’s willingness to “experiment” in tackling historical themes.

Condola Rashad explores the layers of Saint Joan’s character with a finesse that leaves little of “The Maid’s) personality undefined. The journey from soldier to prisoner to saint is beatified by Ms. Rashad’s authentic performance. The entire cast supports that remarkable transformation with consummate skill and grace.

SAINT JOAN

The cast of “Saint Joan” features Walter Bobbie, Adam Chanler-Berat, Jack Davenport, John Glover, Maurice Jones, Russell G. Jones, Max Gordon Moore, Patrick Page, Condola Rashad, Matthew Saldivar, Robert Stanton, Lou Sumrall, and Daniel Sunjata. The company also includes Tony Carlin, Ben Horner, Mandi Masden, Howard W. Overshown, Michael Rudko, and RJ Vaillancourt.

The design team includes Scott Pask (scenic design), Jane Greenwood (costume design), Justin Townsend (lighting design), Obadiah Eaves (sound design), Christopher Ash (projection design), Tom Watson (hair and wig design), Tommy Kurzman (make-up design), Bill Frisell (original music), and Deborah Hecht (dialect coach). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Tickets are available at www.Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or by visiting The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office at 261 West 47th Street. Ticket prices are $65.00-$145.00. For more information about “Saint Joan,” including the performance schedule, please visit https://www.manhattantheatreclub.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes including one intermission.

Photo: Condola Rashad in “Saint Joan.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, June 1, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Devil of Choice” Falters at LAByrinth Theater Company at Cherry Lane’s Studio Theatre (Through Saturday June 9, 2018)

Photo: David Zayas and Elizabeth Canavan in LAByrinth Theater Company's "Devil of Choice" by Maggie Bofill. Credit: David Zayas Jr.
Off-Broadway Review: “Devil of Choice” Falters at LAByrinth Theater Company at Cherry Lane’s Studio Theatre (Through Saturday June 9, 2018)
By Maggie Diaz Bofill
Directed by Shira-Lee Shalit
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Faustian bargain: (idiomatic) A deal in which one focuses on present gain without considering the long-term consequences.”

Although one of the characters in the new play “Devil of Choice,” produced by Labyrinth Theater Company at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre, is a popular professor whose highly sought-after class focuses on “Faust,” he certainly disregards the implications associated with violating morality. Playwright Maggie Diaz Bofill chooses to create several devils her characters may broker with, but the resulting short-term gain always seems to be carnal. This conception is the driving force behind the tumultuous love triangle which monopolizes the plot but offers no resolution or consequences for the proceedings in this world premiere.

The first scene exposes the strained relationship between Sal, a narcissistic male chauvinist and his indignant, verbally abused, codependent wife Pepper as they are on their way to the University where Sal will begin his new professorship. In the second scene Sal meets Delia a single, lonely college administrator who will soon disclose she is looking for love and an everlasting relationship. The foreshadowing is quite heavy handed and before long the love triangle is initiated, and the sexual encounters begin. Why either woman would vie for the attention of such a despicable human being remains a mystery.

The structure of the work relies on very short scenes or monologues punctuated by music composed and played by violinist Melissa McGregor, which attempts to reflect the present or upcoming emotional state of being. The only connection this has to the plot is that Pepper once played the violin, gave up on that career, and is now a paltry music librarian. This formulation lends nothing to the dramatic flow and only sabotages the ability of the actors to establish a deep emotional commitment to their characters. The brief episodes vary from vulgar to, contrived, to comedic outbursts but the writing rarely provides enough substance to sustain the storyline.

David Zayas, as the alpha male, provides enough confidence and bravura to produce a believable Sal, but stands alone without much emotional investment in his on-stage relationships, as deceiving and contradictory as that may be. Elizabeth Canavan zeros in on the downtrodden Pepper and finds opportunities in the script to use her talent to shine. Florencia Lozano extracts strength and bears the weakness of Delia. It is difficult to find vulnerability in the material that is supplied or to create any likable characters the audience may care about.

There are no new insights into the common themes addressed, and the production feels more like an exercise for the actors, given the many fits and starts. Director Shira-Lee Shalit does little to prompt the emotional depth of the characters and relies mostly on comedy to move the action along. The problem that arises, is that in the current socio-political landscape, the topics addressed are neither a comedy nor an exercise, but rather life altering events that will proliferate a change in the structure of society.

DEVIL OF CHOICE

The cast of “Devil of Choice” features Elizabeth Canavan, Florencia Lozano, and David Zayas.

“Devil of Choice” features scenic design by Raul Abrego, costume design by Lara De Bruijn, lighting design by Kia Rogers, sound design by Daniel Melnick, and original music by Melisa McGregor. Megan Tomei serves as production stage manager. Production photos by David Zayas Jr.

“Devil of Choice” runs through Saturday, June 9, 2018, at The Cherry Lane’s Studio Theatre (38 Commerce Street, New York, NY 10014). LAByrinth reports that the run is entirely sold out and that wait-lists for tickets will start up to one-hour prior to the performance time (NO EARLIER), in person only, at the Box Office. Running time is 85 minutes without intermission.

Photo: David Zayas and Elizabeth Canavan in LAByrinth Theater Company's "Devil of Choice" by Maggie Bofill. Credit: David Zayas Jr.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Light Shining in Buckinghamshire” Muses Successfully on Revolutions at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday June 3, 2018)

Photo: Matthew Jeffers, Evelyn Spahr, Mikéah Ernest Jennings, Vinie Burrows, and Rob Campbell in “Light Shining in Buckinghamshire.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Light Shining in Buckinghamshire” Muses Successfully on Revolutions at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday June 3, 2018)
By Caryl Churchill
Directed by Rachel Chavkin
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In an October 17, 2015 “New York Post” article, Michael Goodwin raises the rich, albeit uncomfortable, proposition of James Piereson in his July 2015 book “Shattered Consensus: The Rise and Decline of America’s Postwar Political Order;” namely, “America is due for a revolution.” In the “Post” article, Mr. Goodwin summarizes Mr. Pierson’s argument thusly: “there is an inevitable “revolution” coming because our politics, culture, education, economics and even philanthropy are so polarized that the country can no longer resolve its differences.”

This polarization was certainly the dilemma in mid-seventeenth century England and the polarization there resulted in the English Revolution of 1642-1651 and the Putney Debates of 1647 that focused on the “outcomes” of that revolution. Based on these debates, Caryl Churchill’s “Light Shining in Buckinghamshire,” currently running at New York Theatre Workshop, is an important and engaging dramatic “rehearsal” of the upheaval caused by revolution and the “value” of the consequences of what might seem to be an act of anarchy.

Vinie Burrows, Rob Campbell, Matthew Jeffers, Mikéah Ernest Jennings, Gregg Mozgala, and Evelyn Spahr play various roles without regard to the age or gender or political persuasion of their assigned characters. Under Rachel Chavkin’s commending and assiduous direction that maintains an appropriate pace throughout, the actors grapple successfully with their characters and deliver exceptionally authentic and believable performances. Caryl Churchill gives the cast a stunning script that captures the aftermath of, in Ms. Chavkin’s words, “a revolution that did not quite happen.” An outcome where there was “such profound hope” that individuals believed passionately that the injustice and disenfranchisement they were experiencing could be transformed.

Portraying the hopeful and idealist Diggers, Levellers, and Ranters and the more pragmatic of the period – including Cromwell (the enchanting Vinie Burrows), Henry Ireton (the alluring Matthew Jeffers), and Colonel Nathaniel Rich (the passionate Rob Campbell) – the members of the diverse cast capture the idealism, the anarchism, even the amoralism burgeoning without the King and the Royalists. Farming on common land, economic equality, equality before the law, Protestant radicalism, and claiming one’s own divine spirit (“I am God!”) are the revolutionary themes echoed in Ms. Churchill’s dramatic brew distilled to perfection by the spirited cast. In their solo performances, each actor commands the stage with consummate professionalism and honors each word of the script with perfection.

Riccardo Hernández’s expansive set is saturated with pools of introspective light created by Isabella Byrd. Toni-Leslie James’ period costumes are appropriate and with Mikaal Sulaiman’s sound design and Orion Stephanie Johnstone’s original music, richly complement the themes and conflicts of the play.

The New York Theatre Workshop has revived this critically important 1976 drama at an opportune time. Like Tony Kushner’s “Angels in America,” Caryl Churchill’s “Light Shining in Buckinghamshire” muses on a time in America when God seems to have “gone away” and the center is not holding, where stasis seems to proliferate, and the importance of truth seems to erode. Ms. Churchill and Ms. Chavkin include subtle reminders that their work relates intimately to the present American “inevitable” revolution: actors sport cell phones and drink Coke, and the pragmatists read from the play’s script. The possibility of forward movement informs a welcomed catharsis. This early play by Caryl Churchill is a must-see experience in this time when evolution vies with revolution for the surcease of stagnation.

LIGHT SHINING IN BUCKINGHAMSHIRE

The cast for “Light Shining in Buckinghamshire” includes Vinie Burrows, Rob Campbell, Matthew Jeffers, Mikéah Ernest Jennings, Gregg Mozgala, and Evelyn Spahr.

The creative team includes scenic design by Riccardo Hernández, costume design by Toni-Leslie James, lighting design by Isabella Byrd, sound design by Mikaal Sulaiman, properties by Noah Mease, original music and music direction by Orion Stephanie Johnstone, and stage management by Jhanaë K-C Bonnick.

“Light Shining in Buckinghamshire” runs at New York Theatre Workshop (79 East 4th Street New York, NY 10003) for a limited run through Sunday, June 3, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 1:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Single tickets are $65.00. To purchase tickets and to learn about NYTW’s CHEAPTIX, please visit http://www.nytw.org. Running times is 2 hours and 40 minutes including an intermission.

Photo: Matthew Jeffers, Evelyn Spahr, Mikéah Ernest Jennings, Vinie Burrows, and Rob Campbell in “Light Shining in Buckinghamshire.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, May 29, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Woman and Scarecrow” Challenges the Living at Irish Repertory Theatre’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Stage (Through Sunday June 24, 2018)

Photo: Pamela J. Gray and Stephanie Roth Haberle in “Woman and Scarecrow.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Woman and Scarecrow” Challenges the Living at Irish Repertory Theatre’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Stage (Through Sunday June 24, 2018)
By Marina Carr
Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“[One] not busy being born is busy dying.” – Bob Dylan, “It’s Alright, Ma (I’m Only Bleeding)”

It is one thing to have an imaginary friend, created to be summoned at will for conversation, company, and surcease from sorrow. It is quite another thing to have an alter ego, perhaps once created, but able to appear at its will and on its terms. In “Woman and Scarecrow” at Irish Repertory Theatre’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Stage, Woman’s (Stephanie Roth Haberle) alter ego Scarecrow (Pamela J. Gray) – who has appeared sporadically throughout Woman’s life – “takes up residence” in Woman’s bedroom as she reflects on life and as she faces the fast-approaching death that seems to loom in the wardrobe at the foot of her bed.

Marina Carr’s new play explores the tenuous boundaries between life and death: the extraordinary work redefines those boundaries and exposes their weaknesses. These weaknesses have been apparent to playwrights, philosophers, and theologians as well. For example, there is the biblical admonition, “In the midst of life, we are in death.” Ms. Carr even calls into question the nature of the death for the apostles in her exposition of Caravaggio’s 17th century “Death of the Virgin.”

Stephanie Roth Haberle skillfully portrays Woman who is caught somewhere in a zone between the twilight of living and dying and not convinced which has been or will be the more desirable of the two. Ms. Haberle’s performance captures the angst of someone who has lived with an abusive husband for far too many years but is not sure why she never left him and chose the more passive-aggressive path of having affairs. Pamela J. Gray embodies alter ego Scarecrow’s sometimes pandering, often judgmental memories that sometimes contradict Woman’s recollections of similar life events – Ms. Gray’s performance is believable and resonates with authenticity.

Aidan Redmond plays Him, Woman’s unfaithful and abusive husband. Mr. Redmond portrays a man completely unaware of his abusive and dismissive behavior and accustomed to being able to seduce Woman to honor her responsibilities and his wife and the mother of his children. Woman’s Aunty Ah is portrayed by Dale Soules as the cornerstone of Irish Catholic propriety and spirituality. With these characters, the playwright raises rich and enduring questions left for the audience to grapple with.

Are humans ever fully living or perpetually on the brink of dying? What makes life worth living? What is the essential difference between life and death and what is the importance of what comes between the two perhaps uncontrollable eventualities? Is that which comes between ultimately nothing more than disappointment and regret? Is the Woman’s dilemma specific to women only: How might this play read if the roles of woman and Him were reversed?

Charlie Corcoran’s compact set heightens the intimacy between Woman and Scarecrow. Michael Gottlieb’s rich, dark lighting, Whitney Locher’s costumes, and Ryan Rumery’s sonorous sound and original music all deepen the audience’s ability to settle into Woman’s depressive – yet redemptive – journey from light into the shadows of existence and eternity.

Ciarán O’Reilly directs with his keen eye for subtlety and with his steady hand of encouragement. He teases from the exceptional cast the nuances of each character, especially important in establishing the differences and striking similarities of Woman and her Scarecrow and their unique motivations. How much does Scarecrow want to support Woman in her desire to achieve some surcease from suffering (physical and emotional) or is Scarecrow content in encouraging Woman to rehearse the most difficult times in her life?

Marina Carr’s “Woman and Scarecrow” is not merely a narrative piece; rather, it is a cautionary tale reminding us of Dylan’s proposition that unless one is about being born (and reborn?), one is surely “busy dying.”

WOMAN AND SCARECROW

The cast of “Woman and Scarecrow” will feature Stephanie Roth Haberle, Pamela Gray, Aidan Redmond, and Jill Tanner.

“Woman and Scarecrow” will feature set design by Charlie Corcoran, costume design by Whitney Locher, lighting design by Michael Gottlieb, and sound design and original music by Ryan Rumery. April Ann Kline serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Woman and Scarecrow” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday June 24, 2018 at Irish Rep Theatre (132 West 22nd Street on the following performance 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. Tickets are available for $50.00 and are on sale through Irish Rep’s box office by calling 212-727-2737, or online at www.irishrep.org. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes including a 15-minute intermission.

Photo: Pamela J. Gray and Stephanie Roth Haberle in “Woman and Scarecrow.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, May 26, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Peace for Mary Frances” the New Group at Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Sunday June 17, 2018)

Photo: Lois Smith, J. Smith-Cameron, Paul Lazar in Lily Thorne’s “Peace for Mary Frances.” Credit: Monique Carboni.
Off-Broadway Review: “Peace for Mary Frances” the New Group at Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Sunday June 17, 2018)
By Lily Thorne
Directed by Lila Neugebauer
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There are many victims in the new family drama penned by Lily Thorne, but perhaps the audience is the most unfortunate casualty, having to suffer through this slow, protracted, insipid production for over two-and-a-half hours and wishing that “Peace for Mary Frances” would have come much sooner. The structure of the play is problematic: the series of short scenes ranging from about ten minutes to a mere two minutes, affects a coherent timeline and, most importantly, does not allow the audience to become emotionally involved with the action or the characters. Each scene is followed by instrumental music by Daniel Kluger designed to enable the actors to move around the stage, move props, and position themselves for the next scene. Although the movement is very well choreographed by director Lila Neugebauer, it slows the pace to a crawl and is void of any temperamental content or evidence to move the plot forward.

The story revolves around ninety-year-old Mary Frances, a crusty maternal figure, who is ready to die peacefully, but for some bizarre reason surrounds herself with her angry, dimwitted, selfish children to oversee the proceedings. It is far from tranquil and more like a frenzied, histrionic reunion of neurotic losers. This family is beyond dysfunctional and borders on unhinged and psychotic, which in most dramatic circumstances would be compelling, but in this case exudes boredom and apathy. The script is too contrived and contains many contradictions that undermine characters credibility and creates unconvincing situations. Drug abuse, racism, religion, immigration, sibling rivalry, divorce, co-dependence and control are just a few of the issues that are touched upon but never fully developed.

The competent cast including such distinguished veteran actors as Johanna Day, J. Smith-Cameron, and Lois Smith attempt to dig deep into their characters, but it seems impossible to bring any depth to the shallow script. The two-level set by designer Dane Laffrey appears claustrophobic given the small stage and contributes to the lengthy pause in action between scenes and does not afford the greatest sight lines for audience viewing. There is no dramatic arc, just continuous conflict, with no climax and no resolution, leaving the audience waiting, and waiting far too long, for death to come a knocking at Mary Frances’ door.

PEACE FOR MARY FRANCES

“Peace for Mary Frances” features Heather Burns (Helen), Johanna Day (Franny), Natalie Gold (Rosie), Mia Katigbak (Bonnie), Paul Lazar (Eddie), Brian Miskell (Michael), Melle Powers (Clara), Lois Smith (Mary Frances) and J. Smith-Cameron (Alice). This production includes Scenic Design by Dane Laffrey, Costume Design by Jessica Pabst, Lighting Design by Tyler Micoleau and Music and Sound Design by Daniel Kluger. Casting by Judy Henderson, CSA. Production Stage Manager is Valerie A. Peterson. Production photos by

“Peace for Mary Frances” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday June 17, 2018 at The Pershing Square Signature Center (The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street). For further information, including cast and creative, performance schedule, and to purchase tickets, please visit https://www.thenewgroup.org/peaceformaryfrances.html. Running Time is 2 hours and 5 minutes including one intermission.

Photo: Lois Smith, J. Smith-Cameron, Paul Lazar in Lily Thorne’s “Peace for Mary Frances.” Credit: Monique Carboni.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, May 25, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “The Beast in the Jungle” at the Vineyard Theatre Through Sunday June 17, 2018)

Photo: Irina Dvorovenko and Tony Yazbeck in “The Beast in the Jungle.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Beast in the Jungle” at the Vineyard Theatre Through Sunday June 17, 2018)
Music by John Kander
Book by David Thompson
Inspired by the Novella by Henry James
Directed and Choreographed by Susan Stroman
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

A novella by Henry James is the inspiration for the new Dance Play “The Beast in the Jungle” which marks the final mainstage production of the Vineyard Theater’s 35th Anniversary Season. The book by David Thompson follows the escapades of John Marcher (a credible Peter Friedman) over several decades, as he battles demons and searches for the single entity that seems to elude him. The structure is that of a memory play, with the main character acting as narrator as he reveals the story of his past to his young nephew, (an outstanding Tony Yazbeck), hoping that he will heed the advice and not be intimidated by the jeopardy of love. It is a profound tale of love and passion that seems to necessitate more than spoken words to communicate the emotional content and embellish the beauty of desire, intimacy and endearment.

So, director and choreographer Susan Stroman uses the language of dance as a liaison between discourse and sentiment to reach the complex core of the characters. Joy, pain, fear, excitement, tension and angst explode in the movement, fulfilling the moment that conveys a stimulating impulse of each persona. It is so personal yet so revealing, so fluid yet so powerful and manages to provide pages of beautiful illustrations to accompany the narrative.

Mr. Yazbeck is engaging as the inquisitive and melancholy nephew but hits his stride as the evocative young John Marcher, ever so determined to escape the beast of his tortured soul. As he dances, his body intrudes the common space to sculpt images that perfectly delineate a psyche which is always compatible with his mien. Sometimes floating and at others burdened, but always on point, punctuating musical notes as if they were suspended in the air. The object of his affection is May Bertram, portrayed with distinct elegance and intrigue by the beautiful Irina Dvorovenko. Her lyrical dancing captures the essence of her character and evolves somewhere between a dream and reality. She is innocent, intelligent and insightful as she captures the heart of her paramour. Their chemistry is magical. Mr. Friedman is given a difficult task of revealing his story solely with words of David Thompson’s book, in juxtaposition to the interpretation through dance which contributes to a more linear and sequential performance. At times his anger diminishes his empathy.

Rounding out the cast are Teagle F. Bougere who turns in a solid performance as the Husband/Stranger and the Women, an ensemble of dancers who support the principals and add substance and clarity to each scene. Rather than assuming the role of a Greek Chorus, they appear as Muses and create a force on inspiration. Maira Barriga, Elizabeth Dugas, Leah Hofmann, Naomi Kakuk, Brittany Marcin Maschmeyer, and Erin N. Moore execute Ms. Stroman’s choreography to perfection.

This is a production that pushes boundaries of traditional musical theater relying on the melodic score by John Kander, sometimes reminiscent of his earlier work and always pleasing to the ear but void of lyrics. It serves as an underscore tempering the mood of each scene. It is not a perfect endeavor into a new genre and comes with a few misgivings that could be revised but certainly delivers a creative, entertaining evening of theater.

THE BEAST IN THE JUNGLE

The cast of “The Beast in the Jungle” includes Maira Barriga, Teagle F. Bougere, Elizabeth Dugas, Irina Dvorovenko, Sara Esty, Peter Friedman, Leah Hofmann, Naomi Kakuk, Brittany Marcin Maschmeyer, Erin N. Moore, Clifton Samuels, and Tony Yazbeck.

The creative team includes scenic and costume design by Michael Curry, lighting design by Ben Stanton, sound design by Peter Hylenski, wig, hair and make-up design by Dave Bova, music arrangements by Sam Davis, orchestrations by Greg Anthony Rassen and Sam Davis, and music supervision by David Loud. Johnny Milani serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

For further information about “The Beast in the Jungle” including the performance schedule and how to purchase tickets, please visit https://www.vineyardtheatre.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Irina Dvorovenko and Tony Yazbeck in “The Beast in the Jungle.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, May 25, 2018

Broadway Review: “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (Open Run)

Photo: Ariana DeBose as “Disco Donna” and Company in “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical” at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre (Open Run)
Book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary and Des McAnuff
With Songs by Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Jabara and Others
Directed by Des McAnuff
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Call the DJ, call the station/Dancing all across the nation/Here for every generation/Now you know your queen is back.” – “The Queen Is Back” by Donna Summer

The fact is that she never really left, and the proof is that her music is alive on Broadway at the Lunt-Fontaine Theatre in the new jukebox bio-musical “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.” To describe it as an exceptional theatrical accomplishment would be a bit of a stretch; however, it can be defined as a relatively respectable attempt to pay tribute to the music of the late queen of disco. This is achieved by the consummate performances of Storm Lever (Duckling Donna), Ariana DeBose (Disco Donna), and LaChanze (Diva Donna) who play the super star at three different stages of her life and career. Singularly or together, they fuse their vocal virtuosity, conjure up the spirit and presence of the legendary songstress, and lionize her music that defined an era – which did and will continue to inspire people to get up and boogie all night, until that eminent “Last Dance.” That is the reason, and probably the only reason, to spend one hundred intermission-less minutes enjoying the reincarnation of twenty-three of this idol’s recordings and leaving the theater having relived the past or generating memories for the future.

Although Des McAnuff has put together a slick production, the streamlined biography that is provided by the inept book compiled by him, Coleman Domingo and Robert Cary, reduces the proceedings to the level of an extravagant Las Vegas lounge act. There is a feeble attempt to create a gender bending cast that only diminishes the integrity of the work and adds to the confusion of the already garbled script. The choreography by Sergio Trujillo is entertaining but pedestrian and often repetitious.

The song list is wonderful with some less familiar delights, but it is the rapture of those disco warhorses that are unmistakably crowd pleasing. The revelation of the breakout “Love to Love You Baby” is beguiling, along with the lamenting “MacArthur Park” and the rousing “She Works Hard for the Money.” The musical numbers do not invest in furthering the nonexistent plotline or augmenting character development, but merely stand alone, which seems to be quite enough. Then comes the finale, complete with pulsating strobes, gigantic disco balls reflecting a genre throughout the theater and the electrifying beats of “Hot Stuff” and the everlasting “Last Dance.” Surely, if you remember nothing else from this mediocre musical, you will go out dancing!

SUMMER: THE DONNA SUMMER MUSICAL

The cast of “Summer” features Ariana DeBose, Aaron Krohn, LaChanze, Storm Lever, Ken Robinson, and Jared Zirilli. The ensemble is comprised of Angelica Beliard, Mackenzie Bell, Kaleigh Cronin, Kimberly Dodson, Anissa Felix, Drew Wildman Foster, Kendal Hartse, Afra Hines, Jenny Laroche, Wonu Ogunfowora, Rebecca Riker, Christina Acosta Robinson, Jessica Rush, and Harris M. Turner. Swings include Aurelia Michael, Jody Reynard, and Kim Steele.

“Summer” features a book by Colman Domingo, Robert Cary and Des McAnuff, with songs by Donna Summer, Giorgio Moroder, Paul Jabara and others and is directed by Des McAnuff and choreographed by Sergio Trujillo, with music supervised by Ron Melrose and scenic design by Robert Brill, costumes by Paul Tazewell, lighting by Howell Binkley, sound by Gareth Owen and projections by Sean Nieuwenhuis. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Tickets are available through www.Ticketmaster.com, online or by phone at 877-250-2929, or in person at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre box office (205 West 46th Street). Box office hours are Monday through Saturday from 10:00am to 8:00pm. For further information about “Summer,” including performance schedule and cast biographies, visit http://thedonnasummermusical.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Ariana DeBose as “Disco Donna” and Company in “Summer: The Donna Summer Musical.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, May 17, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “The Gentleman Caller” at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday May 26, 2018

Photo: Daniel K. Isaac and Juan Francisco Villa in “The Gentleman Caller.” Credit: Maria Baranova.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Gentleman Caller” at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday May 26, 2018)
By Philip Dawkins
Directed by Tony Speciale
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The Gentleman Caller” was the predecessor of Tennessee Williams first successful play “The Glass Menagerie” which opened in 1944 in Chicago and happens to be the title of a new play by Philip Dawkins which is having its New York premiere at Cherry Lane Theatre, being produced by Abingdon Theatre Company. Perhaps Mr. Dawkins should have taken the hint from the playwrights he pays homage to and realize this present manifestation should be considered a precursor to a script that reveals the underlying pain and struggle of his characters to counterpoise the gay sexual farce that is currently being presented. Humor without substance or emotion can be nothing more than a manner to foist laughter, and there is enough risible physicality, references and one liners woven into this dialogue to undermine the essence at the core of his two characters.

In Act One, William Inge, working as a newspaper drama critic, invites Tennessee Williams to his apartment in St. Louis for an interview, several weeks before the opening of “The Glass Menagerie” in Chicago. There is a lot of talk but not much is said. There is quite a bit of foreplay but no actual winner in the sexual cat and mouse game farcically played out. The second act opens with Tennessee coyly saying “Welcome back. Nothing is different, and everything’s changed.” No truer words have ever been spoken. It is a repeat of the first act, nothing new happens to add depth to the characters who play the same sexual charade, at a different time, in a different place, like Déjà vu, producing no plot development or dramatic arc. It is New Year’s Eve in Williams Chicago hotel room, after curtain on opening night, and Inge is the gentleman caller to offer his congratulations. Finally, the closeted playwright is given a futile, loquacious monologue about his childhood that reveals too little too late.

The non-traditional casting is interesting but really adds nothing to the body or intentions of the script. Juan Francisco Villa exudes an animated Tennessee that lands most of the one liners with perfection but has difficulty layering his character with any subtlety and excavating what lies beneath the surface. He manages to savor any glimpse of obscure emotion but, due to the scripts shortcomings, this complex literary giant is reduced to a flamboyant, oversexed, gay alcoholic. His performance is admirable, as he seduces the audience with his charming southern drawl. Daniel K. Isaac has more difficulty maneuvering the trepidation of the depressed, suicidal Inge. Rather than turning inward he seems disconnected from the character which produces a void in the chemistry between the two wounded souls. It seems ironic that two paragons of drama, who flooded pages with storms of emotion, leaves the audience with little more than a few laughs.

Director Tony Speciale erred on the side of comedy as he moves the production along at a steady but uniform pace. The conceptual scenic design consisting of towers of manuscript pages crowned with different lamps created by Sara C. Walsh is interesting and is enhanced by the moody lighting of Zach Blane. This may be an entertaining evening, but not what one would expect when delving into the distressed personal lives of two extraordinary talents of the twentieth century.

THE GENTLEMAN CALLER

The cast of “The Gentleman Caller” includes Daniel K. Isaac and Juan Francisco Villa.

“The Gentleman Caller” features a scenic design by Sara C. Walsh, costume design by Hunter Kaczorowski, lighting design by Zach Blane, and sound design and original music by Christian Frederickson. Production photos by Maria Baranova.

“The Gentleman Caller” plays through Saturday May 26 at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street, NYC). For more information about “The Gentleman Caller,” tickets, season subscriptions and group bookings visit abingdontheatre.org or call 212-868-2055. Running time is 2 hours and 5 minutes including a 10-minute intermission.

Photo: Daniel K. Isaac and Juan Francisco Villa in “The Gentleman Caller.” Credit: Maria Baranova.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, May 14, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: Clare Barron’s “Dance Nation” Explores the Angst of Adolescence with Cathartic Wit at Playwrights Horizons’ Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Extended through Sunday June 17, 2018)

Photo: Camila Canó-Flaviá, Ellen Maddow, Ikechukwu Ufomadu, Lucy Taylor, Dina Shihabi, Eboni Booth, and Purva Bedi in “Dance Nation.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: Clare Barron’s “Dance Nation” Explores the Angst of Adolescence with Cathartic Wit at Playwrights Horizons’ Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Extended through Sunday June 17, 2018)
Written by Clare Barron
Directed and Choreographed by Lee Sunday Evans
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Clare Barron’s “Dance Nation” Explores the Angst of Adolescence with Cathartic Wit.

Separation-individuation is one of life’s most difficult passages: it is completed successfully by most; however, more than might be suspected remain in the mire of adolescence all their lives. Prepubescence is supposed to erupt in adulthood – adults emerging where clingy parent-dependent pre-teens once held sway. It is a passage equally traumatic to boys as it is to girls, but in “Dance Nation” currently running at Playwrights Horizons’ Peter Jay Sharp Theater, playwright Clare Barron chooses to focus on this process from the point of view of “pre-pubescent” girls. The trope chosen to immerse the audience in this time of trauma is the extended metaphor of the dance studio.

“The dance,” although appearing a cooperative endeavor in performance on stage, is as competitive a sport as one might imagine. Thirteen-year-old girls have enough difficulty maneuvering the path to self-understanding in a male-dominated environment without pitting themselves against one another as they learn the various ballet positions and attempt to absorb the “positions” of adulthood. The girls explore their fantasies, their fears, their longings, their sexual development, their private thoughts as they work at the barre, or on the floor, or in private conversations with one another or their Moms (Christina Rouner). They tolerate Dance Teacher Pat’s (Thomas Jay Ryan) self-absorbed “instruction” (a trope for the male-centered society?) and counterpoint the adolescent woes of Luke (Ikechukwu Ufomadu) – the only boy in the class – with their own.

Under Lee Sunday Evans’ crisp direction, with her alluring choreography, and with the care of the all-female production team, Purva Bedi (Connie), Eboni Booth (Zuzu), Camila Canó-Flaviá (Sofia), Ellen Maddow (Maeve), Christina Rouner Vanessa), Dina Shihabi (Amina), Lucy Taylor (Ashlee), and Ikechukwu Ufomadu (Luke) deliver authentic performances and give their disparate characters a genuine grounding in the conflicts they are experiencing as adolescents and might experience as adults in engaging scenes of foreshadowing and foretelling. Their journeys are a microcosm of dance epitomize the macrocosm of gender parity and self-acceptance.

In an explosive unison Greek-Chorus, the girls share their wish that society would urge the importance of their personal individuality as much as their sexually stereotyped identities. It is best for the intensity and the diction of this chorus to be experienced firsthand by the audience. Some might find the tone exhilarating while some might find the rant a tad impolite. Either way, the performance is powerful and authentic and represents the beginning of the evolution into adulthood. These thirteen-year-olds yearn for more than perfect genitalia: they yearn for “greatness” and “perfection” in “face,” “body,” and “soul.”

Dance Teacher Pat and Luke join the chorus exemplifying that perhaps the process is not complete until boys and men can join the chorus of equality. The recent announcement by Benedict Cumberbatch that he will not accept a role unless his female co-stars are paid the same salary is one example of gender awareness. Keenly aware of their psychosexual development into adulthood, the teenagers are also hoping to be more than their sexuality: they yearn for gender equality in education, employment, and community.

After the opening dance number – one that none too subtly discloses the variety of levels of “development” in the young dancers – Vanessa turns the “wrong way” and suffers what appears to be a compound fracture. The stage manager asks her to get off the stage, ignoring her dilemma and her pain. Her opportunity for winning ends in debilitating injury. At the end of “Dance Nation,” Amina rehearses the dynamics of her winning this way: “I rode the wave/Like I always knew how to ride the wave/And others kept falling along the way/But I kept riding/Til I was alone.” There can be no more existential angst than this remembrance of things to come.

DANCE NATION

The cast of “Dance Nation” features Purva Bedi, Eboni Booth, Camila Canó-Flaviá, Ellen Maddow, Christina Rouner, Thomas Jay Ryan, Dina Shihabi, Lucy Taylor, and Ikechukwu Ufomadu.

The production features scenic design by Arnulfo Maldonado, costume design by Ásta Bennie Hostetter, lighting design by Barbara Samuels, and sound design by Brandon Wolcott. Production Stage Manager is Erin Gioia Albrecht. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

The performance schedule for “Dance Nation” is Tuesday through Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Single tickets, $39.00-89.00, may be purchased online via www.phnyc.org, by phone at (212) 279-4200 (Noon-8:00 p.m. daily) and in person at the Ticket Central Box Office, 416 West 42nd Street (between Ninth and Tenth Avenues). For further information, visit https://www.playwrightshorizons.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.

Photo: Camila Canó-Flaviá, Ellen Maddow, Ikechukwu Ufomadu, Lucy Taylor, Dina Shihabi, Eboni Booth, and Purva Bedi in “Dance Nation.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, May 14, 2018

Broadway Review: “Carousel” at the Imperial Theatre (Open Run)

Photo: Amar Ramasar and the Company of “Carousel.” Credit: Julieta Cervantes.
Broadway Review: “Carousel” at the Imperial Theatre (Open Run)
Music by Richard Rogers
Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II
Directed by Jack O’Brien
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The beloved Rogers and Hammerstein “Carousel” has not often been revived on the Broadway stage since it first opened to critical acclaim in 1945, so this third incarnation, after a long hiatus since the highly successful production at Lincoln Center in 1994, will be welcomed by audiences who savor the familiar lavish score. Theater aficionados will be delighted by the superb vocals that illuminate such favorites as “If I Loved You,” “June Is Bustin’ Out All Over,” and “You’ll Never Walk Alone” along with the new sumptuous orchestrations by Jonathan Tunick. Although the score is still heralded as one of the best among the classic musicals of its era, the book is quite complex and does not withstand the test of time.

The musical revolves around the complicated love story between Billy Bigelow, a disreputable carousel barker, and Julie Jordan, a young innocent but venturesome local mill worker. It takes place in the state of Maine at the turn of the twentieth century. The egregious relationship is hardly the fairy-tale romance: it is laden with anger, deception and abuse, themes that do not translate well to the present socio-political atmosphere. The second act is heavy-handed, dealing with the themes of afterlife and redemption, crossing the borderline to the sanctimonious, putting the brakes on any momentum established in the plot previously. It also contains the laborious “Ballet, “appearing near the close of the show, originally choreographed by Agnes de Mille, fashioned after her similar ground breaking, successful scene in “Oklahoma.”

Joshua Henry portrays a formidable Billy delivering his wrenching “Soliloquy” with accurate poise and conviction, accompanied by vocal prowess. Jessie Mueller creates a less convincing, reserved Julie and although vocally accomplished, lacks character stability. What becomes most problematic is the absence of chemistry between the couple. The incomparable Renee Fleming establishes a solid and sagacious Nettie Fowler, deftly conquering the prominent “You’ll Never Walk Alone” with her clear tonal quality and sincere delivery. Lindsay Mendez provides essential comic relief as best friend Carrie Pipperidge and her betrothed Enoch Snow, enthusiastically inhabited by Alexander Gemignani with a big, bold and beautiful vocal, stealing his every scene.

Choreographer Justin Peck executes excellent dance sequences that only elevate the dark and stilted storyline. Director Jack O’Brien manages to move the plot along at an ever-slow pace and does not ennoble character development in order to embrace current moral judgement. The result is a mixed bag, but certainly worth a visit if enthralled by classic musicals that have become a part of theater history.

CAROUSEL

The cast for “Carousel” features Joshua Henry, Jessie Mueller, and Renée Fleming. They are joined by Lindsay Mendez, Alexander Gemignani, Margaret Colin, John Douglas Thompson, Amar Ramasar, and Brittany Pollack.

The ensemble of “Carousel” features Colin Anderson, Yesenia Ayala, Nicholas Belton, Colin Bradbury, Andrei Chagas, Leigh-Ann Esty, Laura Feig, David Michael Garry, Garett Hawe, Rosena M. Hill Jackson, Amy Justman, Jess LeProtto, Skye Mattox, Kelly McCormick, Anna Noble, Adriana Pierce, Rebecca Pitcher, David Prottas, Amy Ruggiero, Craig Salstein, Ahmad Simmons, Antoine L. Smith, Corey John Snide, Erica Spyres, Ryan Steele, Sam Strasfeld, Halli Toland, Ricky Ubeda, Scarlett Walker, Jacob Keith Watson, and William Youmans.

The creative team of this new production of Carousel includes Santo Loquasto (Scenic Design), Ann Roth (Costume Design), Brian MacDevitt (Lighting Design), Scott Lehrer (Sound Design), Jonathan Tunick (Orchestrations), and Andy Einhorn (Musical Supervision, Direction, andVocal Arrangements). Production photos by

“Carousel” runs at the Imperial Theatre (249 West 45th Street). For further information, including the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, visit http://www.carouselbroadway.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes including one intermission.

Photo: Amar Ramasar and the Company of “Carousel.” Credit: Julieta Cervantes.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, May 11, 2018

Broadway Review: Valor Rules Supreme in “Three Tall Women” at the John Golden Theatre (Currently On)

Photo: Alison Pill, Glenda Jackson, and Laurie Metcalf in “Three Tall Women.” Credit: Brigitte Lacombe.
Broadway Review: Valor Rules Supreme in “Three Tall Women” at the John Golden Theatre (Currently On)
By Edward Albee
Directed by Joe Mantello
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Three Tall Women” by Edward Albee Grapples with the Dignity and Valiancy of Death.

What if the seven “characters” in Jacques the melancholy’s monologue in Shakespeare’s “As You Like It” could “meet” and share with one another the experiences they had in their particular “stage of life?” What if “the lean and slipper'd pantaloon” could let the “soldier” know how his life would change, or if both could warn the “infant” of the pitfalls of adolescence and adulthood? And then what if “second childishness and mere oblivion; sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything” could communicate to all his “stages” the importance of humor and perspective? The protagonist in “Three Tall Women,” currently running at the John Golden Theatre, manages that achievement with grace and charming caprice.

In the second act of Edward Albee’s play, after she suffers a stroke at ninety-Character A (Glenda Jackson) joins Character B (Laurie Metcalf who looks rather as A would have at 52) and Character C (Alison Pill who looks rather as B would have at 26) for a conversation about “their” life. The playwright’s conceit is an engaging and complicated metaphor allowing the audience to explore this valiant (tall) character’s mind as she slips into the recesses of dementia. She/they reflect upon many the surprises life brings, the status of her/their son, the death of her/their husband, and what defines a “happy time.” Character A answers the question. “I was talking about . . . what: coming to the end of it; yes. So. There it is. You asked, after all. That’s the happiest moment. When it’s all done. When we stop. When we can stop.”

This conversation occurs downstage with Character A lying in bed upstage behind a transparent wall in a room that mirrors the downstage room. The upstage room (the real “present” in the second act) is vacated by Characters B and C at the beginning of the second act as they move downstage and are met by Character A. Miriam Buether’s inventive set and Paul Gallo’s surreal lighting allow the audience to be reflected in the set’s transparent wall. The audience not only “listens in” to the conversation: the audience members are “in” the room, hovering over character A’s body and mind, sharing the boy’s “visit” to his mother.

Act One (the real universe) sets the stage for Act Two (the surreal, alternate universe) and provides the exposition for the remainder of the play. A’s caregiver B (Laurie Metcalf) and A’s legal advisor C (Alison Pill) spar with the cantankerous nonagenarian about age, incontinence, the loss of control, the loss of dignity, the loss of memory, mortality, retribution, parenting, horseback riding, marriage, infidelity, amputation, racism, friendship, regret, and osteoporosis. Think T. S. Eliot’s “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock” on steroids. Condescension and sarcasm careen around the room – from chair to bed and back – and establish the tone for the following act.

Under Joe Mantello’s exquisite direction, the complex action moves forward with clarity and precision. Glenda Jackson delivers a stunning performance as the quarrelsome A whose descent into senility provides the backdrop for “Three Tall Women.” Laurie Metcalf and Alison Pill provide equally brilliant portrayals of B and C – as “real” characters and as residents of A’s “alternate universe.” The three actors clearly care for one another and support one another in bringing to life three valiant women in the stages of one life that prepares for what might be life’s most valued and happiest moment.

THREE TALL WOMEN

The cast of “Three Tall Women” features Glenda Jackson, Laurie Metcalf, and Alison Pill.

The creative team includes Miriam Buether (scenic design), Ann Roth (costume design), Paul Gallo (lighting design), Fitz Patton (sound design), and Campbell Young Associates (hair and makeup design). William Joseph Barnes serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Brigitte Lacombe.

“Three Tall Women” runs at the John Golden Theatre (252 West 45th Street between Broadway and 8th Avenue) on the following performance schedule: Tuesday (7:00 p.m.), Wednesday (2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.), Thursday (7:00 p.m.), Friday (8:00 p.m.), Saturday (2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.), and Sunday (3:00 p.m.). Tickets ($47.00 - $169.00) are available at https://www.telecharge.com/ or at the theatre box office. Further information about“Three Tall Women” is available at http://threetallwomenbroadway.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Alison Pill, Glenda Jackson, and Laurie Metcalf in “Three Tall Women.” Credit: Brigitte Lacombe.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, May 7, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: Sensibility Reigns in “Summer and Smoke” at Classic Stage Company (Through Friday May 25, 2018)

Off-Broadway Review: Sensibility Reigns in “Summer and Smoke” at Classic Stage Company (Through Friday May 25, 2018)
By Tennessee Williams
Directed by Jack Cummings III
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Begun in 1945, and first produced in 1947, Tennessee Williams called “Summer and Smoke” a “drama of sensibility.” Rich in allegory, yet grounded in realism, the play explores the deep conflicts between body and soul and between the sacred and the profane and examines the themes of the marginalized and the results of having a poorly integrated sexuality. Currently running at Classic Stage Company, this revival of “Summer and Smoke” is presented by both Classic Stage Company and the Transport Group and is directed by Transport’s Jack Cummings III.

Throughout the play, lifelong acquaintances John Buchanan (Nathan Darrow) and Alma Winemiller (Marin Ireland) wrestle with their seemingly irreconcilable understandings of the spiritual and corporeal and their struggles with successfully responding to complex emotional influences. These characters, and others, in “Summer and Smoke” collide with those of other Williams’ plays, notably “The Glass Menagerie” and “Streetcar Named Desire.” And the rhetorical devices in one rumble throughout all three, connecting the characters’ intertwined quests for self-discovery, self-awakening, and unconditional love.

Alma and John live next door to one another and explore the play’s themes from their early visits to the fountain in the town’s square to their separation at the play’s end. “Summer and Smoke” follows the antithetical development of Alma and John. Initially, Alma’s deep Protestant spirituality does not allow her to express her affection for John in ways he understands and needs, and John’s corporeal needs do not allow him to love Alma in ways she understands and needs. As the play develops, Alma becomes more “carnal” and John becomes more “spiritual” and at the end of the play – as at the beginning – the two are unable to connect. Their developmental paths never intersect at points of opportunity for a meaningful relationship. In a sense, Alma jumps on the “streetcar named desire” too late and John realizes he has been on that car far too long – the couple never on the same car at the same time.

Under Jack Cummings III’s careful direction, the cast captures the essence of Tennessee Williams’ seminal work in the Classic Stage/Transport production. Each member of the ensemble cast develops her or his character with sensitivity and each delivers an authentic and believable performance. Marin Ireland’s Alma is as frail as she is frightened of her own sexual status. Ms. Ireland allows Alma to develop subtly and surreptitiously in counterpoint to John’s more erratic movement forward. Nathan Darrow’s John is infectious, sensual, and gritty. Mr. Darrow, in a tour de force performance, reveals a John in a lifelong quest for someone to fill his emptiness and his longing.

Dane Laffrey’s set design honors Williams’ hope that “walls are omitted or just barely suggested.” Mr. Laffrey chooses to use a stage that remains bare except for a few chairs, the “fountain,” and the medical chart in John’s “office.” This expanse allows for a emotionally powerful scene that leaves Alma looking very much like Wyeth’s Christina understanding her limitations but attempting to move beyond them. Kathryn Rohe’s costumes and R. Lee Kennedy’s lighting further support the emotional strength of the play.

Both Alma and Blanche lack sensitivity and suffer from psychological frailty. Alma, Blanche, and Laura are both outsiders as well as artists. Like John and his father and Reverend Winemiller (the appropriately laconic T. Ryder Smith), their artistry is not defined by what they create or practice, but by their temperament and taste. In “Summer and Smoke,” Alma’s art is her vocal ability which she sabotages with her attacks of “anxiety.” John’s art, his practice of medicine, is sabotaged by his self-doubt and lack of integration. Reverend Winemiller’s art is his ministry at which he fails miserably through his faithlessness and hypocrisy. For Tennessee Williams, one cannot practice one’s craft without full psychological and spiritual integration. This developmental truth is given a captivating interpretation in this well thought out production.

SUMMER AND SMOKE

The cast of “Summer and Smoke” will feature Glenna Brucken, Phillip Clark, Nathan Darrow, Hannah Elless, Elena Hurst (Rosa Gonzales), Marin Ireland (Alma Winemiller), Tina Johnson, Gerardo Rodriguez, T. Ryder Smith, Ryan Spahn, Jonathan Spivey, and Barbara Walsh.

Set design is by Dane Laffrey, costume design by Kathryn Rohe, lighting design by R. Lee Kennedy, fight direction is by Dan O’Driscoll, and sound design by Walter Trarbach. Original music by Michael John LaChiusa. Casting by Nora Brennan Casting. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Summer and Smoke” performs Tuesday through Thursday evenings at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 and 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets are $60 ($50 during previews). Prime seats are $125 ($75 during previews). For tickets, visit classicstage.org, call (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111, or in person at the box office (136 East 13th Street). For further information, visit http://www.classicstage.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes including one intermission.

Photo: Marin Ireland and Nathan Darrow in “Summer and Smoke.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, May 4, 2018

Broadway Review: “My Fair Lady” at Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont Theater (Open Run

Broadway Review: “My Fair Lady” at Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont Theater (Open Run)
Book and Lyrics by Alan Jay Lerner
Music by Frederick Loewe
Directed by Bartlett Sher
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There is something magnificent happening at Lincoln Center Theater, and it has to do with a powerful and intriguing woman, who has currently walked onto the stage of the Vivian Beaumont Theater, revealing that Eliza Doolittle has arrived in the twenty-first century, branding “My Fair Lady” as an old musical destined for a new era. The phenomenal revival directed by Bartlett Sher puts a new and welcomed spin on the classic Lerner and Loewe musical, and is delivered in a big, lavish production, with magnificent sets by Michael Yeargan, atmospherically illuminated with the lighting of Donald Holder, and clad in the impeccable period costumes of early twentieth century London, by Catherine Zuber. It is spellbinding from the first moment you hear the familiar overture of the lush score, with the delightful musical arrangements of Robert Russell Bennett and Phil Lang resonating from a full orchestra. Whether emanating the proper and sophisticated milieu of the “Embassy Waltz” or generating a rousing rendition of “Get Me to the Church on Time,” the choreography of Christopher Gattelli will please the eye. The entire creative team has forged a seamless new production from start to finish that is smart, intelligent and polished, representing what should be expected on a Broadway stage.

There are few words that could aptly describe this cast but oh what a perfect cast it is. Harry Haddon-Paton turns in a complicated, chauvinistic Henry Higgins, who radiates a beguiling narcissism in conflict with his yearning for love. Allan Corduner portrays an endearing Colonel Pickering with a solicitous wisdom. Norbert Leo Butz uses every opportunity to dig deep into the abusive father Alfred P. Doolittle, giving some depth to the egregious character while at the same time, managing to deliver a lighthearted, comical performance you hate to love. Once you hear the clear tonal quality Jordan Donica lends to his lovelorn, yet persistent Freddy, it becomes clear why “On the Street Where You Live” has become a classic. Then there is the superlative Lauren Ambrose who redefines the character of Eliza Doolittle, infusing her with strength, determination and a will to survive. You can see the grit in her demeanor, hear the resilience in her voice and be moved by the beauty of her soul as she takes you on her journey. Do not be deceived by her honest and solid rendition of “I Could Have Danced All Night” for she may be love-struck, or more appropriately, life struck, but she is a force to be reckoned with.

The story based on the play “Pygmalion” by Bernard Shaw has always struggled with a controversial ambiguous ending where the audience was given the choice to decide what happens to Eliza, what she will do and who she will marry, if anyone at all. When it was to be transformed into a stage musical it was conceived as a romantic comedy with a somewhat happy ending which supported female submission. Mr. Sher envisions a new fair lady, empowered to become all she is capable of being, unshackled from a male dominated society and free from shame and abuse. It is an important and brave interpretation that serves our present social atmosphere, shedding a new perspective on an old story. There is nothing more to say, except “Bravo!”

MY FAIR LADY

“My Fair Lady” features a cast of thirty-seven, led by Lauren Ambrose and Harry Hadden-Paton, with Norbert Leo Butz, Diana Rigg, Allan Corduner, Jordan Donica, Linda Mugleston, and Manu Narayan.

Lincoln Center Theater’s production of Lerner and Loewe’s “My Fair Lady” features choreography by Christopher Gattelli, and has sets by Michael Yeargan, costumes by Catherine Zuber, lighting by Donald Holder, sound by Marc Salzberg, and casting by Telsey + Co. Music Director Ted Sperling conducts a 29-piece orchestra performing “My Fair Lady’s” original musical arrangements by Robert Russell Bennett and Phil Lang, and dance arrangements by Trude Rittmann. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

For further information about “My Fair Lady” at Lincoln Center Theater’s Vivian Beaumont Theater (10 Lincoln Center Plaza), including the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.myfairladybway.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 55 minutes including one intermission.

Photo: Harry Hadden-Paton, Lauren Ambrose, and Allan Corduner in “My Fair Lady.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, April 23, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “The Seafarer” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday May 13, 2018)

Photo: Matthew Broderick, Michael Mellamphy, Andy Murray, Tim Ruddy, and Colin McPhillamy in “The Seafarer.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Seafarer” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday May 13, 2018)
By Conor McPherson
Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The latest offering of the Irish Repertory Theatre is the revival of “The Seafearer” by Conor McPherson, which opened on Broadway in 2007 and was nominated for a TONY award for best play that season. It follows the renowned style of the playwright, producing incredible natural dialogue, executed in somewhat ordinary life situations, with a collection of disreputable characters, and always providing a mysterious twist to maintain an interesting plot. In this case it is the story that revolves around the Faustian character “Sharky” who won a card game with the devil while in jail for murder, where the stakes were high: his soul or his freedom with the condition that if he won there could be a rematch at any time.

The festivities begin on Christmas Eve morning in the basement hangout of the Harkin brothers, Richard (a perfectly cantankerous Colin McPhillamy) and his younger brother James aka “Sharky” (a completely cogent Andy Murray), who has returned home to help his brother who is now blind as a result of a drunken brawl. Emerging from the decrepit, cluttered surroundings (impeccably designed by Charlie Corcoran) is good friend, neighbor and drinking buddy Ivan Curry (a hysterical and charming Michael Mellamphy), who cannot find his eyeglasses or his right mind amidst the dreck and the hangover from the drinking the night before. After spending the day trying to recover and get prepared for Christmas the next day, it is revealed that Richard has invited Tim Ruddy, (played with a comic Machiavellian flair by Nicky Giblin), an arch rival of his brother to stop by for a visit and a drink for the holiday. When he arrives, he brings with him an unexpected visitor, Mr. Lockhart (a sober and somber Matthew Broderick). This mysterious character that appears is soon disclosed as the devil who is here for the card game rematch that Sharky promised, to claim his soul. So, the plot continues with a card game ensuing surprising twists and turns that would only serve as a spoiler alert if mentioned.

Director Ciaran O’Reilly unravels the plot ever so slowly with precision enabling the actors to fully develop a character and allowing the audience to revel in the rich and often poetic dialogue for which playwright is well known. It is not until Mr. Lockhart arrives, that the pace should begin to accelerate given the evil and sinister reason he appears. It is always a pleasure to see Mr. Broderick take the stage, and it is admirable that he lends his star power to a successful off-Broadway company, but he has not taken full advantage of the menacing and malicious traits that usually accompany this persona. This diminishes the tension and the ability to realize the full potential of the suspenseful script.

Considering all creative factors, including the realistic, yet moody lighting design provided by Brian Nason, the talented cast can forge an enjoyable evening of theater that compliments the young, Irish playwright and gifted storyteller.

THE SEAFARER

The cast of “The Seafarer” includes Matthew Broderick as “Lockhart,” Colin McPhillamy as “Richard,” Michael Mellamphy as “Ivan,” Andy Murray “Sharky,” and Tim Ruddy as “Nicky.”

The production will feature set design by Charlie Corcoran, lighting design by Brian Nason, costume design by Martha Halley, sound design by Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab, and original music by Ryan Rumery. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“The Seafarer” runs at Irish Repertory Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) on the following performance 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. Tickets to “The Seafarer” range from $50-$70 and are available through Irish Rep’s box office at 212-727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Matthew Broderick, Michael Mellamphy, Andy Murray, Tim Ruddy, and Colin McPhillamy in “The Seafarer.” Credit: Carol Rosegg.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, April 20, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Mlima’s Tale” at the Public’s Martinson Hall (Extended through Sunday June 3, 2018)

Photo: Sahr Ngaujah (foreground) in “Mlima’s Tale.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Mlima’s Tale” at the Public’s Martinson Hall (Extended through Sunday June 3, 2018)
By Lynn Nottage
Directed by Jo Bonney
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I'm Mlima of the Great Plains. Eldest of my clan. I was tracked for many days, taken by a poison arrow. Why are there so many of you?! Mumbi? Koko? Do you hear me?”

Mighty Mlima, “Kenya’s most famous elephant,” – the old, large elephant “with extraordinary tusks” – is murdered for those tusks by the Somali poachers Raman and Geedi. The story of that slaughter and how the magnificent tusks become part of the global illegal ivory trade is the subject of Lynn Nottage’s “Mlima’s Tale,” currently running in the Public’s Martinson Hall. This monstrous tale is relayed with exquisite detail and stirring magical realism from the killing of Mlima to the display of his intricately carved tusks in the new flat of nouveau riche Alice Ying in Bejing.

After Milima’s transformation to Tusks and Spiritul Presence, streaking his face and body with ivory paint and dust in a ritualized manner, he appears in every scene. Sahr Ngaujah’s personification of the elder pachyderm is a powerful presence as he emerges from the shadows, sits, looms over, and follows the characters that gather to determine the “fate of Mlima’s Tusks. They pass through the hands of poachers, a regional warden, a White Kenyan Director of Wildlife, a reporter, a Tanzanian businessman from Zanzibar, a ship’s captain, a customs officer, a carver, a Vietnamese trader, and a nouveau riche customer. Each of these characters – except perhaps Warden Wamwara Machau – exudes greed, deceit, dishonesty, and equivocation. Their entitlement and privilege are branded with the white marks of complicity (the marks of Cain?) Mlima places on them before he leaves the stage after each scene.

Sahr Ngaujah’s performance as Mlima and Mlima’s Tusks is spellbinding, spiritualistic, and primordially otherworldly. Mr. Ngaujah’s “elephant dances,” his contorted posturing of pain, anger, and judgement leaping from the stage directly into the hearts of the members of the audience is accompanied by the music (keyboard, percussion, and instrumental) and the haunting vocals of Justin Hicks. Throughout the play, Mr. Ngaujah and Mr. Hicks seems to breath in unison with hearts that appear to beat as one as Mlima. Mr. Ngaujah dominates the stage with an incomparable strength and persona. His Mlima is larger than life and transcends pain and death.

Adapting the form of Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play “La Ronde,” Lynn Nottage retains one character from each of her scenes into the next. For example, from Scene II, the character of Geedi appears in Scene III with Githinji. Githinji then appears in Scene IV with Wamwara. This literary device repeats through Scene XV with Mlima (tusks) appearing alone in the first and last scenes. Ms. Nottage employs this device with great care infusing each scene with her unique perspective and carefully developed characters that reverberate with believable authenticity. These characters are easily distinguishable and have unique traits and personalities. A brilliant cast of Three Players – Kevin Mambo. Jojo Gonzalez, and Ito Aghayere – play all the characters. Each scene is “titled” with an appropriate African proverb like “The teeth are smiling, but is the heart?”

Under Jo Bonney’s fluid direction, the scenes move seamlessly from one to the other. A sliding panel (sometimes more than one) signals the scene changes allowing the action to proceed without full blackouts. Riccardo Hernandez’s set design is stark and sparse, lighted with perfection by Lap Chi Chu in overlapping pools of encroaching animus. The themes of Lynn Nottage’s transformative script transcend the confines of the illegal ivory trade: “Milma’s Tale” counterpoints every “tale” of greed, deceit, dishonesty, and equivocation extant in every transaction – economic or political – that threatens the spiritual core of the global community.

MLIMA’S TALE

The complete cast of “Mlima’s Tale” features Ito Aghayere (Player 3), Jojo Gonzalez (Player 2), Kevin Mambo (Player 1), and Sahr Ngaujah (Mlima).

“Mlima’s Tale” features scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez, costume design by Jennifer Moeller, lighting design by Lap Chi Chu, sound design by Darron L West, hair and makeup design by Cookie Jordan, music composition and direction by Justin Hicks, movement direction by Chris Walker and fight direction by Thomas Schall. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Mlima’s Tale” runs in The Public’s Martinson Hall through Sunday, June 3, 2018 on the following performance schedule: Tuesday through Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. (There is no 8:00 p.m. performance on Sunday, April 29.) Public Theater Partner, Supporter, Member and full price tickets, starting at $75.00, can be accessed by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. Running time is 80 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Sahr Ngaujah (foreground) in “Mlima’s Tale.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, April 20, 2018

Broadway Review: “Children of A Lesser God” at Studio 54 (Open Run)

Photo: Lauren Ridloff and Joshua Jackson in “Children of a Lesser God.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Broadway Review: “Children of A Lesser God” at Studio 54 (Open Run)
By Mark Medoff
Directed by Kenny Leon
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“For why is all around us here/As if some lesser god had made the world/But had not force to shape it as he would?” – Alfred Tennyson

The current Broadway revival of the groundbreaking play “Children of a Lesser God,” the first since it opened thirty-eight years ago to win the TONY award for best play, does not seem to have the emotional impact as the original. Playwright Mark Medoff has penned the love story of James Leeds, a speech therapist at a school for the deaf, and Sarah Norman, deaf since birth, who is not a student but works as a custodian at the school. The technique used to present the play is intriguing, since the actor portraying James speaks his dialogue and repeats Sarah’s words as she signs her responses, speaking for both characters. This is certainly an enormous task, and although an ingenious concept, it does lend itself to complications in relating emotional content and depth of character. Time has not been kind to Mr. Medoff’s script, which now seems histrionic, lending no insight into understanding the incapacitating relationship but rather just hoping for a dramatic solution to the problem. The result seems sanctimonious which sabotages the reality and tries to influence the emotional response of the audience without educating them. The play contains several means of communication which include verbal, physical expression, sign language and now the addition of super titles so hearing-impaired audience members can read vocal dialogue which is not signed.

Joshua Jackson gives a valid and notable performance as James, which masters the extensive dialogue, and is fine when executing his own words, but lacks the impassioned tone that should complement Sarah’s expressions when delivering her lines. If you watch her face as she signs and listen to his voice as he recapitulates, there is a disconnect, which tends to eradicate emotion and merely tell the story. Lauren Ridloff is a joy to watch as Sarah and gives an impressive Broadway debut, sculpting words with fluid movements that float in the air, accompanied by miens of anger, joy, passion and concern. Her entire being is a tool for communication. Both actors deftly execute their roles with integrity but lack a certain chemistry needed to elevate the relationship. The supporting roles are just that, although performed by a talented cast, seem to exist merely to fill the gaps that exist in the script. Kecia Lewis gives an honest and endearing nature to Mrs. Norman (Sarah’s mother) filled with empathy, strength and solicitude.

The stark, clean contemporary scenic design by Derek McLane seems less real and more atmospheric and is supported by the almost futuristic lighting by Mike Baldassari, perhaps purposely to escalate the premise that this all takes place in the mind of James. Neither aspect aids in humanizing the relationship and renders a sterile environment void of any imperfection. Director Kenny Leon has approached this production from too many angles that never seem to align to form a complete shape.

Mr. Medoff’s play will forever hold its place in theater history, but now in the twenty-first century there seems to be a surge in social equality and Tennyson’s words may now refer to all those who exercise their ability to hurt, hate, kill and murder as the product of a lesser god.


CHILDREN OF A LESSER GOD

The cast of “Children of A Lesser God” features Julee Cerda, Treshelle Edmond, Anthony Edwards, Joshua Jackson, Kecia Lewis, John McGinty, and Lauren Ridloff.

The creative team for “Children of A Lesser God” features Derek McLane (set design), Dede Ayite (costume design), Mike Baldassari (lighting design), Jill BC Du Boff (sound design), Branford Marsalis (original music), and Alexandria Wailes (director of artistic sign language). Casting for the production is by Telsey + Company. Production photos by Matthew Murphy.

Tickets for “Children of A Lesser God” can be purchased at www.telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or at the Studio 54 box office (254 West 54th Street). For more information about “Children of A Lesser God,” including performance times and cast biographies, visit childrenofalessergodbroadway.com/. Running time is 2 hours and 35 minutes including one intermission.

Photo: Lauren Ridloff and Joshua Jackson in “Children of a Lesser God.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, April 20, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Miss You Like Hell” Redefines Redemption at the Public’s Newman Theater (Through Sunday May 13, 2018)

Photo: Gizel Jiménez, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Michael Mulheren, David Patrick Kelly in “Miss You Like Hell.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Miss You Like Hell” Redefines Redemption at the Public’s Newman Theater (Through Sunday May 13, 2018)
Book and Lyrics by Quiara Alegría Hudes
Music and Lyrics by Erin McKeown
Directed by Lear deBessonet
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

After seeing her estranged daughter’s “veiled suicide threat” on her “anonymous” blog, Beatriz (the irrepressible Daphne Rubin-Vega) drives her truck “like a bat out of hell” from California to Philadelphia to take her daughter Olivia (the deeply reflective Gizel Jiménez) on a seven-day road trip. After some mild mid-adolescent protestations, Olivia – sixteen – agrees to the trip hoping, perhaps, for reconciliation with her mother and an end to her deep and debilitating angst and depression.

The road trip seems to go well until Beatriz’s motivation for the trip east is disclosed and the fragile trust between mother and daughter begins to crumble: Beatriz needs Olivia to testify for her in her upcoming immigration hearing for permanent residency. The problem: Beatriz has a has a criminal record – a misdemeanor from sixteen years ago, for marijuana, and she needs to convince the judge not to consider it in the determination of status.

Quiara Alegría Hudes’s characters are authentic and their multi-layered conflicts are believable and connect easily to the important issues of separation-individuation, parenting, conflict resolution, and the difficulty of attaining legal immigration status, including the risks of even exposing oneself to that daunting process. The plot and sub-plots driven by these conflicts are developed with care and extraordinary sensitivity by the authors of “Miss You Like Hell.” And the music and lyrics that support the touching story of Beatriz and Olivia are fresh, innovative and completely engaging.

There are eighteen original songs (two of them reprised) with powerful and emotionally engaging lyrics and music that cross several genres and provide deep insights into the characters and their individual and corporate struggles with self, other, and the world. Of interest are “Prayer (Lioness),” “Over My Shoulder,” “Bibliography,” “Now I’m Here,” “Dance with Me,” and the title song “Miss You Like Hell.” Both Ms. Rubin-Vega and Ms. Jiménez approach their numbers with impressive interpretive skills and the rare ability to tease from the music and lyrics nuance, subtlety, and ethos.

Lear Debessonet directs with a fluidity that allows her cast to discover the nuances of their characters and their relationships to one another. The members of the ensemble cast embrace their several characters with attention to believability and with measurable depth. Marinda Anderson (Lawyer), Andrew Christi (Motel Desk Guy), Shawna M. Hamic (Legal Clerk) and Marcus Paul James (Police Officer) also add their rich voices to the ensemble numbers. Riccardo Hernandez’s set design and Tyler Micoleau’s lighting design not only support the book, music, and lyrics; they also draw the members of the audience into the action to experience and take responsibility for what they see and hear.

“Miss You Like Hell” is more than a redemptive mother-daughter reunion drama. The new musical is a daring exploration of the meaning of family, the depth of commitment in relationships, and the importance of love during the anti-immigration, anti-immigrant sentiment extant in the current American political climate where isolationist foreign policy threatens the core of the nation’s values. This is an important work that exposes the dangers facing all who are outcasts and living on the margins of society – “castaways” like Olivia, Beatriz, Manuel (the salvific Danny Bolero), Pearl (the energetic Latoya Edwards), Mo (the devoted Michael Mulheren) and Higgins (the endearingly loyal David Patrick Kelly).

This story of a mother and daughter – both who have lost their ways and their centers – find their ways to break down all the walls that have separated them in the past and start over as “lioness” and “warrior.” The redemptive quality of Quiara Alegría Hudes’s and Erin McKeown’s musical is not grounded in sentimentality but in the strength derived from connection to culture and sexual status. This is a road trip not to be missed.

MISS YOU LIKE HELL

The complete cast for “Miss You Like Hell” includes Marinda Anderson (Ensemble), Danny Bolero (Manuel), Andrew Cristi (Ensemble), Latoya Edwards (Pearl), Shawna M. Hamic (Ensemble), Marcus Paul James (Ensemble), Gizel Jiménez (Olivia), David Patrick Kelly (Higgins), Michael Mulheren (Mo),
Daphne Rubin-Vega (Beatriz), and Martín Solá (Manuel Understudy).

“Miss You Like Hell” features scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez; costume design by Emilio Sosa; lighting design by Tyler Micoleau; sound design by Jessica Paz; and hair and makeup design by J. Jared Janas and Dave Bova. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Miss You Like Hell” runs through Sunday, May 13. Public Theater Partner, Supporter, and Member tickets, as well as single tickets starting at $90.00, can be accessed now by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. The performance schedule is Tuesday through Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. (There is no 8:00 p.m. performance on Sunday, April 22 and Sunday, April 29). Running time is 100 minutes without an intermission.

Photo: Gizel Jiménez, Daphne Rubin-Vega, Michael Mulheren, David Patrick Kelly in “Miss You Like Hell.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, April 19, 2018

Broadway Review: “Mean Girls” Pleases at The August Wilson Theatre (Open Run)

Broadway Review: “Mean Girls” Pleases at The August Wilson Theatre (Open Run)
Book by Tina Fey
Music by Jeff Richmond
Lyrics by Nell Benjamin
Directed and Choreographed by Casey Nicholaw
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The new Broadway musical “Mean Girls,” based on the 2004 hit movie, is sure to secure a home on the Great White Way for some time to come, as it tickles the fancy of a new generation of young woman who might be liberated by the recent movements of empowerment and anti-bullying. It is certainly a crowd pleaser and whether you are a fan of the movie, you will enjoy the flashy, energetic production which aims to please form start to finish. The book by Tina Fey remains close to the screenplay, repeating some of the same popular quips and smart wit while also adding new material to update and take full advantage of current social and political events.

Cady (a convincing Erika Henningsen) is the newcomer at North Shore High moving to Chicago after being isolated and home schooled by her parents in Kenya. Attempting to fit in she is quickly taken under the wings of artsy outsiders Damian (a flamboyantly confident Grey Henson) who is “too gay to exist,” and Goth inspired Janis (a brooding, angst ridden, Barrett Wilbert Weed). Soon enough Cady infiltrates the Mean Girls clique led by the unscrupulous Regina (played with a dominating flair by Taylor Louderman), and unwavering followers Gretchen (a devout, lonely and conflicted Ashley Park) and Karen (an endearingly dumb Kate Rockwell). What conflicts ensue are entertaining, yet predictable, but perpetuate the hostility and discord that has plagued high school society and beyond. The illustrious Kerry Butler is remarkable, bringing her versatility to three roles, but stealing every scene as the sumptuous, “wannabe teenager” Mrs. George.

Lyrics by Nell Benjamin support the situations and help develop characters. Jeff Richmond supplies a variety of musical styles that gives director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw enough punch, to keep the overzealous cast on their toes in creative, albeit sometimes frantic, dance numbers, (sometimes repetitive) or poignant ballads. Costume design by Gregg Barnes is vibrant, fashionable and appropriate, polishing another facet of each character’s personality and mood. Finn Ross and Adam Young have managed to take video design to a new level, complimenting Scott Pask’s scenery with sharp, vivid and ultra-dimensional realistic images that unfold to create seamless scene change.

This show certainly has lasting power and tourist appeal, but also suffers from some familiar musical comedy pitfalls. Although the cast is brilliant and vocally astounding the depth of their characters sometimes suffer from stereotype and incessant jokes that jeopardize authenticity. It is too long and loses its potency with musical numbers that sometimes provide little or no payoff and do not move the plot forward. What it is lacking in profundity is offset by the sheer entertainment factor the creative team has brought to the stage.

MEAN GIRLS

The cast of “Mean Girls” is led by Erika Henningsen, Taylor Louderman, Ashley Parks, Kate Rockwell, Barrett Wilbert Weed, Grey Henson, Kerry Butler, Kyle Selig, Cheech Manohar, and Rick Younger. The cast also includes Stephanie Lynn Bissonnette, Tee Boyich, Collins Conley, Ben Cook, DeMarius R. Copes, Kevin Csolak, Devon Hadsell, Curtis Holland, Myles McHale, Chris Medlin, Brittany Nicholas, Becca Petersen, Nikhil Saboo, Jonalyn Saxer, Brendon Stimson, Riza Takahashi, Kamille Upshaw, Zurin Villanueva, Gianna Yanelli, and Iain Young.

The creative team includes Scott Pask (Set Design), Gregg Barnes (Costume Design), Kenneth Posner (Lighting Design), Brian Ronan (Sound Design), Finn Ross & Adam Young (Video Design), Josh Marquette (Hair Design), Milagros Medina-Cerdeira (Make-Up Design), Mary-Mitchell Campbell (Music Director), John Clancy (Orchestrations), Glen Kelly (Dance and Incidental Music Arrangements), Mary-Mitchell Campbell, Jeff Richmond, and Natalie Tenenbaum (Vocal Arrangements), Howard Joines (Music Coordinator), and Telsey + Co / Bethany Knox, CSA (Casting). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Tickets are available through Ticketmaster.com, by calling (877) 250-2929, and in-person at the August Wilson Theatre Box Office (245 West 52nd Street; Monday – Saturday: 10am - 8pm). Information on performance schedule, lottery, and rush ticket policies can be found at www.MeanGirlsOnBroadway.com/. Running time is 2 hours 30 minutes, with one intermission.

Photo: (L-R): Kyle Selig (Aaron Samuels) and Erika Henningsen (Cady Heron). Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “Admissions” Dissects Belief Systems at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater (Through Sunday May 6, 2018)

Photo: Jessica Hecht, Andrew Garman, and Ben Edelman in “Admissions.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
Off-Broadway Review: “Admissions” Dissects Belief Systems at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater (Through Sunday April 29, 2018)
By Joshua Harmon
Directed by Daniel Aukin
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When a speaker raises alternate views of a significant problem and seems at one point to take “one side” and then “the other side,” and then advocates for the purity of moral ambiguity – presenting profound rhetorical arguments for each of those points of view – the audience is left bombarded by what seems like conflicting ethos, pathos, and logos and also is left with their heads spinning, alternately laughing and then feeling guilty for laughing and not laughing and puzzled why they didn’t laugh. And in the end, confused about what kind of catharsis has just released their repressed emotions unawares.

The “speaker” here is the cumulative voice of Joshua Harmon’s deeply evocative “Admissions” currently running at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater. The assumed topic is the percentage of students of color at Hillcrest the “second tier, on-the-cusp-of-being-a-first-tier prep/boarding school in rural New Hampshire” and the goal of the Admissions Director Sherri Rosen-Mason (the captivating Jessica Hecht) to raise that percentage to twenty percent. The underestimated topic is far less admirable than inclusiveness and “shakes the windows and rattles the walls” (Bob Dylan) of not only the hallowed halls of Hillcrest but the foundation of the Hecht household.

“Admissions” is a convincing and cogent exposé of white privilege and entitlement generated by members of the white community itself. It is a gripping new play that challenges the beliefs and actions of the “very liberal” Head of Admissions” and her equally “very liberal” Head of the School husband Bill Mason (the solidly grounded Andrew Garman) and brings their son Charlie Luther Mason (Ben Edelman) to a late adolescent crisis of identity and belief. When Charlie is not accepted into Yale his first-choice college and Perry his “less qualified” friend of color is granted acceptance, the issue of “quotas” at Hillcrest and at American institutions of higher learning moves front and center as does the correlative issue of “preferential treatment” afforded other minorities.

Ben Edelman’s (Charlie) tour-de-force performance, sparked by unexamined privilege, erupts from a place of intense teenage angst. And although it might seem his outbursts are mere reflections of a shaky Make America Great Agenda, his immature weltanschauung is consistent with what he has heard and seen in his own home and in his own environment. It makes no sense for his father Bill to berate him (to the point of accusable verbal abuse) because Bill is the source, the epicenter of white privilege waiting to be unpacked. Mr. Edelman’s believable and authentic performance moves his character Charlie to make decisions – after extensive self-examination and episodes of public confession – that bring his parents to levels of disbelief and pushback that disclose deep pockets of hypocrisy and dishonesty in the liberal matrix of their value system.

Under Daniel Aukin’s captivating direction, the engaging cast reveals the depth of meaning and the layers of rhetorical argument in Joshua Harmon’s explosively honest and intriguing script. ‘Admissions’ ricochet rapidly across the expanse of the Mitzi Newhouse Theater. Admissions to colleges accepted, rejected, and withdrawn. Admissions of guilt. Admissions of racism. Admissions of duplicity. Admissions of disappointment and misunderstanding. Admissions of vulnerability and fallibility. It is impossible to leave a performance of “Admissions” without being deeply moved and deeply unsettled.

Credit is due Ann McDonough whose “Roberta” brilliantly encapsulates the difficulties of marketing Sherri’s vision and credit is due Sally Murphy whose “Ginnie Peters” (Perry’s mother) confronts her friend Sherrie’s underbelly of racism and pseudo-liberalism. Riccardo Hernandez’s detailed set allows the audience the space it needs to imagine what happens when Charlie bounds up the stairs and to calculate the mood of those entering the playing space before being seen. Toni-Leslie James’ costumes and Mark Barton’s lighting further rivet the action to expansive levels of reality.

Wear your values and firmly-held beliefs loosely around your core when you see “Admissions” and expect to have both challenged and revealed in redemptive ways.

ADMISSIONS

The cast of “Admissions” features Ben Edelman, Andrew Garman, Jessica Hecht, Ann McDonough, and Sally Murphy.

“Admissions” has sets by Riccardo Hernandez, costumes by Toni-Leslie James, lighting by Mark Barton, and sound by Ryan Rumery. Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

“Admissions” runs at Lincoln Center’s Mitzi E. Newhouse Theatre (150 West 65th Street) through Sunday May 6, 2018 on the following schedule: Tuesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesday at 2:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. For further information, including to purchase tickets at $90.00, please visit http://www.lct.org/shows/admissions/. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.

Photo: Jessica Hecht, Andrew Garman, and Ben Edelman in “Admissions.” Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Broadway Review: “Escape to Margaritaville” at the Marquis Theatre (Open Run)

Photo: Lisa Howard, Alison Luff, Paul Alexander Nolan and Eric Petersen in “Escape to Margaritaville.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
Broadway Review: “Escape to Margaritaville” at the Marquis Theatre (Open Run)
Music and Lyrics by Jimmy Buffett
Book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley
Directed by Christopher Ashley
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Russia, Mueller, Syria, War, The Wall, Elections, Stormy, Stock Market, Tax Cuts, Scandal, Tariffs, DACA, Immigration and Tweets, are a few current headlines monopolizing the news, infecting and affecting our everyday lives. How can we avoid the negative socio-political environment and get away from it all? The answer may be easier and closer than you think. “Escape to Margaritaville” may just be the ticket to remedy the effects of the constant cynical behavioral bombs that seem to be dropped on us every day by those lofty politicians. Arrive early to take your seat, sip on a frozen Margarita from the bar to begin your attitude adjustment, then just slip away for two and a half hours to the carefree island of laid back music composed by Jimmy Buffett and brought to you by a cast of vocal powerhouses. If you are looking for intellectual stimulation you are in the wrong place for this is a journey filled with senseless situations, silly dialogue and storybook romance, all connected by the lyrics that serve this perpetual beach party. To put it simply, it writes a new amendment, the “Freedom of Fun.”

“Escape to Margaritaville” is a uke-box musical featuring the music and lyrics of Jimmy Buffett, but the twist comes when the book by Greg Garcia and Mike O’Malley is written solely to serve as a connector between the lyrics and the contemporaneous situations, weaving together an old fashioned, frivolous, romantic musical comedy. The energetic ensemble is put to task by choreographer Kelly Devine, who supports director Christopher Ashley in maintaining a fast pace to keep the party going. No need to dissect the simple plot that makes sense, appropriately, with a beginning, middle and happily ever after end that is a winning formula for musical comedy.

The cast is over qualified for the material, but an absolute pleasure to hear and watch as they fill the theater with a passionate vitality that reaches the core of the audience who is obviously there to have a good time. Paul Alexander Nolan (an infectious Tully) with a smooth, pure tone has perfect chemistry with Alison Luff (a strong and determined Rachel) who exhibits fine vocal prowess. Lisa Howard (an endearing and hysterical Tammy) practically steals the show with her Broadway belt and impeccable comic timing, as executed with love interest Eric Petersen (a wonderfully vacuous Brick). Paul Sparks (a resilient J.D.) clearly embodies the resident beachcomber who wins the heart of resort owner Marley (a soft but stern Rema Webb).

Of course, if you want to dig into the story, there are life lessons to be discovered, but the real treasure that everyone will find without any effort is fun. Do yourself a favor, forget your troubles and chill on this colorful, exuberant island where a volcano erupts but what covers the island is pure rapture. A young Buffett was highly influenced by his exposure to Mardi Gras and the ritual parade where Folly chases Death out of town. He is quoted as saying “Forty-five years later, I still vividly recall that first encounter with Death, and learning that Folly was the only way to deal with it. You know that Death will get you in the end, but if you are smart and have a sense of humor, you can thumb your nose at it for a while.”

ESCAPE TO MARGARITAVILLE

The cast of “Escape to Margaritaville” features Matt Allen, Tessa Alves, Sara Andreas, Tiffany Adeline Cole, Marjorie Failoni, Samantha Farrow, Steven Good, Angela Grovey, Albert Guerzon, Lisa Howard, Keely Hutton, Justin Keats, Alison Luff, Mike Millan, Justin Mortelliti, Paul Alexander Nolan, Eric Petersen, Ryann Redmond, Jennifer Rias, Julius Anthony Rubio, Nick Sanchez, Don Sparks, Ian Michael Stuart, Brett Thiele, Andre Ward, and Rema Webb.

The creative team includes Walt Spangler (Scenic Designer), Paul Tazewell (Costume Designer), Howell Binkley (Lighting Designer), Brian Ronan (Sound Designer), Leah J. Loukas (Wigs, Hair, and Makeup Design), Flying By Foy (Flying Effects), Michael Utley (Orchestrations), Christopher Jahnke (Music Supervisor), Foresight Theatrical (General Management), and Telsey + Company / Rachel Hoffman, CSA (Casting). Production photos by Matthew Murphy.

Tickets for “Escape to Margaritaville” are available at the Marquis Theatre box office, via Ticketmaster.com, or by calling 877-250-2929. For further information, including performance schedule, please visit http://escapetomargaritavillemusical.com/. Running time is 2 hours 20 minutes, including one intermission.

Photo: Lisa Howard, Alison Luff, Paul Alexander Nolan and Eric Petersen in “Escape to Margaritaville.” Credit: Matthew Murphy.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, April 13, 2018

Broadway Review: “Lobby Hero” at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater (Through Sunday May 13, 2018)

Photo: Brian Tyree Henry, Bel Powley, Michael Cera, and Chris Evans in “Lobby Hero.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Lobby Hero” at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater (Through Sunday May 13, 2018)
By Kenneth Lonergan
Directed by Trip Cullman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I just don't want to be one of those pathetic guys in lobbies who are always telling you about their big plans you know they're never gonna do. I'd rather just be in the lobby and just be in the lobby. To tell you the truth, sometimes I feel like I was worn out the minute I was born.” – Jeff to Dawn

Some might describe security guard Jeff (played with a disarming ambivalence by Michael Cera) as a loser. That would be somewhat inaccurate, however. Jeff is more the embodiment of the anti-hero than the typical loser unawares. To get what he wants, in this case rookie New York City cop Dawn (played with a cunning charm by Bel Powley), Jim is willing to eschew following his moral compass and disregard the qualities of the classic hero: loyalty; bravery; humility; wisdom; and virtue. How Jeff navigates the terrain of principles and values under pressure is the engaging “stuff” of Kenneth Lonergan’s “Lobby Hero” currently in revival at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater.

Jeff has not had much luck in his short life: his overbearing Navy father stops talking to him when Jim is discharged from the Navy for drug use; his father dies; he is stalked by the loan sharks he borrowed money from to play poker; he owes his brother Marty five-thousand dollars; his girlfriend is a prostitute “on the side;” and he cannot afford his own apartment and lives with his brother. As we meet Jeff in the first scene of “Lobby Hero,” he has scored a job as a security guard at an apartment building and under the strict tutelage of his supervisor William (played with a well-earned bravado by Brian Tyree Henry), who hired him, Jeff is trying to get his life together and get back on track to adulthood. This quest quickly goes off track when Jeff’s love interest shows up in the lobby with her partner uber-cop Bill (here a diabolically charming Chris Evans) whose visit to Room 22J unhinges the lid to Pandora’s Box.

William is hard on Jeff, but it is something William shares with Jeff that threatens to impede his progress and throw the denizens of the lobby into chaos. William’s bother has been arrested for “going into a hospital to steal pharmaceutical drugs” and participating in the murder of a nurse. To avoid prosecution, his brother claims he was with William at the time of the murder. In a series of events that unfold with clockwork precision – all revolving around Jeff’s obsession with Dawn – William’s brother’s alibi becomes suspect and loyalties are challenged and what is true and what is false becomes blurred as moral ambiguity rattles the rigors of heroism.

“Lobby Hero” raises rich and enduring questions. What is loyalty and how does one earn another’s loyalty? How much of one’s present can be determined by past events? Can one go through life blaming one’s past for the mistakes made in the present? What is a lie and is it ever acceptable to tell a lie? Dawn tells Bill, “don't expect me to sit down here and cover for you when the dispatcher wants to know where you went. I signed up to be a cop, not lookout patrol at the whorehouse.” Is it “right” for police officers to cover for one another to avoid reprimand or removal?

Under Trip Cullman’s discerning and originative direction, the action moves carefully from scene to scene with the tension created by the unfolding conflicts of the characters driving an engaging and carefully developed plot. David Rockwell’s slowly revolving set allows not only for the passing of time but also discloses the variety of points of view that make Kenneth Lonergan’s script so gripping and transparent. “Lobby Hero” remains exceedingly relevant in this time of American politics where cries of “fake news” and an abundance duplicity threaten the foundations of constitutional law and the very halls and chambers of justice.

LOBBY HERO

The cast of “Lobby Hero” features Michael Cera, Chris Evans, Brian Tyree Henry, and Bel Powley.

“Lobby Hero” features scenic design by David Rockwell, costume design by Paloma Young, lighting design by Japhy Weideman, sound design by Darron L West and casting by Telsey + Company. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Lobby Hero” runs at Second Stage’s Helen Hayes Theater through Sunday May 13, 2018. For more information, including the performance schedule and ticket purchase options, please visit https://2st.com/shows/current-production/lobby-hero. Running time is 2 hours and 25 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: Brian Tyree Henry, Bel Powley, Michael Cera, and Chris Evans in “Lobby Hero.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Off-Broadway Review: “The Low Road” at the Public’s Anspacher Theater (Through Sunday April 8, 2018)

Photo: Chukwudi Iwuji and Chris Perfetti in “The Low Road” at the Public’s Anspacher Theater. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Low Road” at the Public’s Anspacher Theater (Through Sunday April 8, 2018)
Written by Bruce Norris
Directed by Michael Greif
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The best laid schemes o' mice an' men/Gang aft a-gley.” – Robert Burns

Ever wonder how Adam Smith might spin his own free market economic theory in the throes of the current global economic turmoil? Ponder no more. “The Low Road,” currently running at the Public’s Anspacher Theater, ends the need for further speculation. In the engaging and entertaining play by Bruce Norris, the iconic eighteenth-century Scottish economist and philosopher (played with unscrupulous charm by Daniel Davis) narrates a tale of two centuries and how his economic theory “worked out” in the gap between theory and praxis.

The earlier tale takes place in eighteenth century America and finds Adam Smith devotee Jim Trewitt (the captivating and engaging Chris Perfetti) attempting to apply the economist’s “Wealth of Nations” theories to his sex workers’ business at his benefactor Mrs. Trewitt’s (the comedic and endearing Harriet Harris) establishment. It is no holds barred for the young entrepreneur who manages to utilize theory for his personal gain at any expense: his greed and disregard for any moral center is without limit. Jim’s penchant for monetary gain counterpoints his entrenched white privilege as well as his moral depravity. His disregard for his “property,” his servant John Blanke (the intense and gracious Chukwudi Iwuji) is as despicable as his xenophobia and the depth of his corruptibility.

Is Jim Trewitt’s preference for taking the low road something specific to this eighteenth-century spin on a free market economy? Apparently not if the beginning of the second act of “The Low Road” is any indication of the forward movement of humankind. The action moves to the twenty-first century where the audience “looks in” on a roundtable discussion led by Margaret Low (Harriet Harris) during which the participants (from a variety of backgrounds) boast about the “blessings” of wealth and its unbridled accumulation. The connection between past and present is clear and taking the low road remains the economic path of choice.

Under Michael Greif’s exacting and precise direction, the action moves forward smoothly with clarity and determination. The cast of eighteen, many of whom play multiple roles, are uniformly remarkable in their delivery of authentic and believable performances. In addition to those cast members already highlighted, Gopal Divan remains throughout fully committed to his various roles and engages with his colleagues with a welcomed intensity. Daniel Davis (Adam Smith) is remarkable in his ability to so successfully hold the sprawling piece together.

David Korins’ set is compact and serviceable. The multiple exits/entrances at the Anspacher keeps this compactness from seeming claustrophobic. The costumes by Emily Rebholz ring with credibility in both decades and the lighting by Ben Stanton seems to anticipate the moods of the action with uncanny accuracy. “The Low Road” is often unsettling; however, its importance to current discussions on greed and corruption is undebatable.

THE LOW ROAD

The complete cast of “The Low Road” features Tessa Albertson; Max Baker; Kevin Chamberlin; Daniel Davis; Crystal A. Dickinson; Gopal Divan; Harriet Harris; Jack Hatcher; Josh Henderson; Chukwudi Iwuji; Johnny Newcomb; Chris Perfetti; Susannah Perkins; Richard Poe; Dave Quay; Aaron Michael Ray; Joseph Soeder; and Danny Wolohan.

“The Low Road” features scenic design by David Korins; costume design by Emily Rebholz; lighting design by Ben Stanton; sound design by Matt Tierney; wig, hair, and make-up design by design J. Jared Janas and Dave Bova; and music composition by Mark Bennett. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“The Low Road” runs at The Public’s Anspacher Theater through Sunday, April 8 on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays through Fridays at 7:30 p.m. and Saturdays and Sundays at 1:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Public Theater Partner, Supporter, Member, and single tickets, starting at $75.00, are available by calling (212) 967-7555, visiting www.publictheater.org, or in person at the Taub Box Office at The Public Theater at 425 Lafayette Street. Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes with one intermission.

Photo: Chukwudi Iwuji and Chris Perfetti in “The Low Road” at the Public’s Anspacher Theater. Credit: Joan Marcus.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, April 3, 2018

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