“Side Show” at the St. James Theatre (Closes on Sunday January 4, 2015)
“Side Show” at the St. James Theatre (Closes on Sunday January 4, 2015) Book and Lyrics by Bill Russell Music by Henry Krieger Additional Book Material by Bill Condon Directed by Bill Condon Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“Side Show’s” messages of self-acceptance, unconditional and non-judgmental love, and commitment bring audiences to their feet at the close of the re-imagined musical currently playing at the St. James Theatre and surprisingly scheduled to close on Sunday January 4, 2015. The musical opened to exceptionally positive reviews in November and nightly has elicited (rarely experienced from Broadway audiences) acclamations from the audience during the performance. So with these accolades, new music by Henry Krieger and an outstanding cast, the question remains, why is this musical closing early? Is there something inherent in this story that has challenged two attempts at a successful Broadway run?
The true story of Violet Hilton (played splendidly by Megan McGinnis at this performance) and Daisy Hilton (Emily Padgett) is remarkable: they were legends in their time and the highest paid performers on the vaudeville circuit. “Side Show” is the story of their heartwarming search for first love and acceptance amidst the spectacle of fame and scrutiny under the spotlight. The first act of “Side Show” recounts the details of their story and their internal conflicts with charm and grace. Their external conflicts with Sir (Robert Joy) and their conflicts with society’s dogged disapprobation result in a powerful connection with audience members, each with her or his own story of longing for love and acceptance.
The second act of “Side Show” is not as strong as the first and depends heavily on the endearing “I Will Never Leave You” to anchor its development. The first act ends with “Who Will Love Me As I Am” and when, in the second, Jake (played with remarkable power and innocence by David St. Louis) offers that authentic love to Violet, he is rebuffed for the same reasons Violet and Daisy are denied full acceptance by society.
The facts of the story cannot be changed understandably, but it is difficult to understand how two women victimized by prejudice are not more capable of overcoming issues of race and culture. And in a time when lesbian and gay citizens can finally marry, it is also (again despite its truth) difficult to accept a gay character’s unwillingness to accept himself and deny his right to a loving relationship with another man choosing instead to marry for convenience and profit. Perhaps these conflicts in the musical fail to counterpoint with the power of the protagonists’ victories and in some non-conscious way detract from the catharsis needed by the audience.
None of this speculation detracts from the power of the musical or from its potential for continued success. A London run is in the discussion stage and a live recording was made for the Lincoln Center Library on December 17th. Certainly there is ample interest in “Side Show.” And that interest is generated not only by the story of the conjoined twins but also by the way, under Bill Condon’s imaginative direction, the cast and creative team have chosen to tell that remarkable story. Matthew Hydzik (Buddy Foster), Robert Joy (Sir), Megan McGinnis (Violet on Saturday December 6), Emily Padgett (Daisy), David St. Louis (Jake), and Ryan Silverman (Terry Connor) could not be better in their roles and the supporting cast of freaks and stock characters excel in their respective important roles.
New York audiences have just a few days to witness a stunning musical before it closes prematurely. There is every reason to see “Side Show” and support the actors, the creative team, and the production team in their effort to tell the story of self-discovery and love.
Book and Lyrics by Bill Russell; music by Henry Krieger; additional book material by Bill Condon; directed by Bill Condon; set design by David Rockwell; lighting design by Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer; costume design by Paul Tazewell; sound design by Peter Hylenski ; hair and wig design by Charles LaPointe; make-up design by, illusions by Paul Kieve ; special make-up effects by Dave Elsy and Lou; musical direction and arrangements by Sam Davis; and orchestrations by Harold Wheeler. Since its inception, Jack Tantleff has served as Creative Supervisor. Production photos by Joan Marcus.
Erin Davie and Emily Padgett returned to Broadway in their respective leading roles as Violet and Daisy Hilton. The cast also includes Matthew Hydzik as Buddy Foster, Robert Joy as Sir, Ryan Silverman as Terry Connor, and David St. Louis as Jake. The ensemble of side show characters include Brandon Bieber as the 3 Legged Man, Matthew Patrick Davis as the Geek, Charity Angel Dawson as the Fortune Teller, Lauren Elder as the Venus di Milo, Javier Ignacio as the Dog Boy, Jordanna James as the World’s Tiniest Cossack (female), Kelvin Moon Loh as the Half-Man Half-Woman, Barrett Martin as the Human Pin Cushion, Don Richard as the Reptile Man, Blair Ross as the Bearded Lady, Hannah Shankman as the Tattoo Girl, Josh Walker as the World’s Tiniest Cossack (male), with Con O’Shea-Creal, Derek Hanson, and DeLaney Westfall.
“The Last Ship” at the Neil Simon Theatre (Tickets Available through March 31, 2015)
“The Last Ship” at the Neil Simon Theatre (Tickets Available through March 31, 2015) Music and Lyrics by Sting Book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey Directed by Joe Mantello Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
[Sting has assumed the role of Jackie White played by Jimmy Nail for the December 7 performance attended by Theatre Reviews Limited. Mr. Nail will continue in the role at the conclusion of Sting’s run on January 24, 2015.]
Everything is just right about “The Last Ship” currently running at the Neil Simon Theatre. With music and lyrics by Sting and a cohesive and engaging book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey, this new musical does not disappoint. Indeed, it is a powerful exploration of the dynamics of love and loss and hope and destiny. The new musical is rich with tropes, specifically the extended metaphor of the ship/boat and the river which figure prominently in American literature (“Moby Dick,” “Song of Myself,” “Tom Sawyer” to name a few) and it is appropriate to use that metaphor here and urge readers not to miss the boat and be sure to see “The Last Ship” for a journey that is heartfelt and restorative of hope and spirit.
Threatened by the closure of their shipyard and becoming salvage men working in a scrap yard, the ship builders in Wallsend, Englsnd – inspired by Father O’Brien (played with irascible piety by Fred Applegate) – choose to build and launch their final ship christened with the priest’s name as a testimony to their commitment to their craft, their honor, and their heritage. This story fits neatly and understandably into the framework of Gideon Fletcher’s fifteen year odyssey of self-discovery which leads him from his father Joe and girlfriend Meg out onto the sea of self-discovery and back to his home and his opportunity to mend broken hearts and restore dreams fractured by distance and doubt.
Directed with exquisite facility by Joe Mantello, the principal cast and the supporting cast deliver powerfully authentic performances of the rich and well-rounded characters developed by John Logan and Brian Yorkey. It is impossible not to connect deeply with each character and her or his believable conflicts. Young Gideon (played to late adolescent perfection by Collin Kelly Sordelet) needs to extract himself from the expectations of his father (played with acerbic charm by Jamie Jackson) and the passionate hopes of his girlfriend Meg (played by Dawn Cantwell). Returning after fifteen years, the adult Gideon (played with an exacting conflicted spirit by Michael Esper) longs to reconnect with Meg Dawson (played with just the right indecisiveness by Rachel Tucker) and his son Tom Dawson (brilliantly played by Collin Kelly Sordelet with a character skillfully differentiated from his role as the young Gideon).
Like his biblical namesake, Gideon’s march around the shipyard and the neighborhood bar bring the walls of disappointment, denial, and denigration tumbling down. Meg chooses to stay with Arthur Millburn (played with delicious jealousy by Aaron Lazar) who has helped raise Tom and wants to marry Meg. The men of Wallsend succeed in building their last ship and Gideon manages to reconcile with his father and son and have the chance to bond with his son on the ship’s maiden voyage.
Sting’s songs are charged with emotion, longing, love, and redemption and are among the best on Broadway in the last decade. The title song “The Last Ship,” “Island of Souls,” “Hymn,” “It’s Not the Same Moon,” and “Ghost Story” are among the show’s stand out musical numbers. The choreography is energetic and allows each actor the opportunity to add personality to the well-crafted steps designed by Steven Hoggett. David Zinn’s set design is awe inspiring and filled with intricacy and surprise. There is every reason to see “The Last Ship” on Broadway – the sooner the better.
THE LAST SHIP
Music and lyrics by Sting; book by John Logan and Brian Yorkey; music supervision, orchestrations, and arrangements by Rob Mathes; choreography by Steven Hoggett; directed by Joe Mantello; scenic and costume design by David Zinn; lighting design by Christopher Akerlind; sound design by Brian Ronan; music coordinator, Dean Sharenow; associate music director, Dan Lipton, press representative, Sam Rudy Media Relations; production supervisor, Brian Lynch; Presented by Jeffrey Seller, Kathryn Schenker, Kevin McCollum, Sander Jacobs, James L. Nederlander, Roy Furman, Herb Alpert and Jerry Moss. Production photos by Joan Marcus and Matthew Murphy. At the Neil Simon Theatre, 250 West 52nd Street, New York, NY 10019, 212-757-8646.
Tickets to “The Last Ship” on Broadway are currently available for purchase through Ticketmaster at www.ticketmaster.com or by calling 800-745-3000. Ticket prices range from $55 to $147. To book groups of 15 or more, visit broadway.com/groups or call 1-800-Broadway x2. Through March 31, 2015. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
WITH: Michael Esper, Rachel Tucker, Jimmy Nail, Fred Applegate, Aaron Lazar, Sally Ann Triplett and Collin Kelly-Sordelet.
“White Christmas” at the New Theatre in Cardiff, United Kingdom (Closed Saturday December 6, 2014)
“White Christmas” at the New Theatre in Cardiff, United Kingdom (Closed Saturday December 6, 2014) Music and Lyrics by Irving Berlin Book by David Ives and Paul Blake Reviewed by George Caulton Theatre Reviews Limited (USA)
Cardiff’s amateur dramatic group, the Orbit Theatre Company, successfully performed their own rendition of Irving Berlin’s spectacular “White Christmas” this December. The stage show, based on the beloved and timeless film, features several memorable songs including “Sisters,” “Blue Skies,” “How Deep Is the Ocean,” and the perennial favourite, “White Christmas.” All of the songs were a hit with the audience with feet-tapping and beaming smiles. The finale really anticipated the Christmas feel as the cast invited the audience to join in with old time classic “White Christmas.” With life, exuberance, energy and colour, it cannot be denied that the Orbit Theatre’s production emphasised that heart-warming, Christmas glow.
Nicky Taliesin was outstanding in his characterisation of lead Bob Wallace. One would not consider his performance to be of an amateur level. His advanced vocal ability and outstanding acting allowed Nicky to carry the show alongside his partner, brilliantly played by Phil Davies. Terrific contributions too from Giaccolina Crothers and Hannah Rix as Betty and Judy who provided a fantastic degree of comic timing as well as adopting a great relationship with both Nicky and Phil.
Special mention too goes to young Ffion Elin Griffith who confidently played Susan Waverly. Her rendition of “I’m Happy” and "The Sweetest Thing" were real show stoppers! Undeniably, young Ffion has a bright future ahead in acting if this show is anything to go by.
The dancers and chorus were terrific also, with masses of energy that pervaded the stage to the build-up of the renowned “White Christmas.” Overall, the show was full of energy and life which inevitably lead to the success of the Orbit Theatre’s production of Irving Berlin’s iconic “White Christmas.”
“The Invisible Hand” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through January 4, 2015)
“The Invisible Hand” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through January 4, 2015) By Ayad Akhtar Directed by Ken Rus Schmoll Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Ayad Akhtar’s “The Invisible Hand” currently playing at the New York Theatre Workshop is an intelligent, emotionally charged, and captivating exploration of the complex dynamics of self-interest in a globally codependent environment. Under Ken Rus Schmoll’s electric direction, the ensemble cast leads – sometimes propels – the audience through a series of “ah-ha” moments which culminate in the kind of rare catharsis that allows the audience to not only settle back in their seats but also equips them with a renewed awareness of the fragility of global politics and economics.
The first “ah-ha” moment occurs as American Citibank investment banker Nick Bright (played with a beguiling innocence by Justin Kirk) is being interrogated by Bashir (played with the innocence of a viper by Usman Ally) after being taken hostage “somewhere in Pakistan” and held hostage for a ten million dollar ransom. Despite Nick’s protestations that he is not worth that much to Citibank, Bashir and the Imam Saleem (played with a diabolical intensity by Dariush Kashani) persist in making the demand for ransom without reducing the amount: they see Nick as their most recent “cash cow.” The ceiling of Riccardo Hernandez’s almost claustrophobic Quonset hut First Act set intentionally envelopes the audience drawing them right into the interrogation and the “ah-ha” here is, “Wait, this play is ripped right out of today’s news!”
The second “ah-hah” moment is somewhat more challenging especially to an American audience. In the midst of the interrogation, both sides attempt to gain the upper hand in negotiations and Nick attempts to up his game by getting close to his guard Dar (played with a jagged compassion by Jameal Ali). He convinces Dar to convert his rupees to dollars and start an interest-bearing savings account. Not the best of ideas. When he discovers the ploy, Bashir confronts Nick with, “You and your [expletive] interest eating up the world like cancer. You been teaching [Dar] about cancer then?” The action in this scene of the play is particularly gripping and all four actors deliver remarkably authentic and honest performances. There is not one moment the audience is not convinced they are in the midst of a life-or-death struggle and the “ah-hah” here is the devastating possibility that, “This is why they (Al-Qaeda, ISIS, etc.) absolutely hate the United States.”
The third “ah-hah” moment is the most challenging and even disturbing and will resound in the minds, bodies, and spirits of the audience long after it emerges from the relative safety of theatre into a world it will never quite see the same again. This is transformative theatre of the very best kind and is not for hard of hard or closed of mind. Nick convinces Bashir and the Imam he can raise the needed ransom by practicing his craft as a securities expert, dealing in puts and futures trading. Unable to handle a computer himself, Nick has to teach Bashir all he knows about trading. In this learning process, the balance of power shifts and Bashir needs Nick less and less to amass a fortune. What Bashir initially sees as American-brokered cancer he eventually sees as the “balm in Gilead” for the brokenness of his “corrupt country.” Part of Nick’s information shared with Bashir concerns the concept of “the invisible hand.”
As Nick begins to make millions of dollars, he explains to Bashir during a trade: “Fine. But see how short that window was? It was just a few minutes before the market started correcting by itself. At the end of the day, everybody's self-interest works as a check against everyone else's. That's what they call the invisible hand. The free market is guided by the confluence and conflict of everyone's self-interest, like an invisible hand moving the market.” Bashir’s self-interest becomes paramount and he assumes the power Nick once had. Nick tells Bashir early in his confinement, “Power is what it is. Some have it. Some don't. Those who don't, want it. The best the rest of us can hope for? That those who have it, will use it well. For all its faults, America tries to use it well.” Bashir does not believe that is true of America and learns how to acquire the power America has had but, in his opinion, misused.
The play ends with the shocking release of Nick into the turmoil around him, into a very dangerous environment where he might lose his life. The freedom Nick seeks is finally granted with terms he did not expect. He is not longer needed and has inadvertently given his captor the upper hand. The “ah-hah” is, “This invisible hand” is operative in the everyday lives of the members of the audience: our self interest works against everyone else’s and it is anyone’s guess how the confluence and conflict of everyone’s self interest will play out. Who will be captive and who will be captor is always in the balance.
In addition to Riccardo Hernandez’s remarkable set (which breaks down and expands during the intermission, creating a scene of its own), Tyler Micoleau’s stark and minimal lighting and Leah Gelpe’s eerie and bombastic sound design support the innovative dramatic arc of Mr. Akhtar’s engaging play. In a delightful moment of foreshadowing, Bashir tells Nick, “I know you don’t get it, but sometimes the revolution is violent. And sometimes the peace can only come after the violence.” Bashir exacts violence on both his spiritual leader and his American tutor and one wonders what kind of peace he has ushered in. If there is one play the reader must see before year’s end, “The Invisible Hand” is that play. It will transform life, challenge established points of view, and shatter the most resistant weltanschauung.
THE INVISIBLE HAND
By Ayad Akhtar; directed by Ken Rus Schmoll; scenic design by Riccardo Hernandez; costume design by ESOSA; lighting design by Tyler Micoleau; sound design by Leah Gelpe; dialect coach, Stephen Gabis; fight director, Thomas Schall; stage manager, Megan Schwartz Dickert. Production photos by Joan Macus. Presented by the New York Theatre Workshop with special arrangement with Dasha Theatricals. At the New York Theatre Workshop, 79 East 4th Street, 212-279-4200, http://www.nytw.org/default.asp. Running time, 2 hours with one intermission.
“On a Stool at the End of the Bar” at 59E59 Theater B (Through Sunday December 14, 2014)
Zachary Brod, Antoinette Thornes, and Sara Kapner - Photo by Carol Rosegg
“On a Stool at the End of the Bar” at 59E59 Theater B (Through Sunday December 14, 2014) By Robert Callely Directed by Michael Parva Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Transgender themed movies far outnumber transgender themed plays: “In a Year of 13 Moons” (1978); “Paris Is Burning” (1990); “Ma vie en rose” (1997); “Boys Don’t Cry” (1999); and “Transamerica” (2005) all have raised the consciousness about transgender women and men who not only struggle with the important issue of sexual status and gender reassignment surgery but also battle fear, rage, and harassment from family, friends, and society at large. So it was with much anticipation this reviewer attended a performance of Robert Callely’s “On a Stool at the End of the Bar” currently playing at 59E59 Theater B. Mr. Callely’s play deals with the inadvertent “outing” of Chris McCullough (Antoinette Thornes) by her brother Michael (John Stanisci).
Michael stops by his sister’s Camden, New Jersey home to drop off a check from their father’s estate, meets Chris’s significant other Tony DeMarco (Timothy John Smith) with whom she lives with his three children Mario (Zachary Brod), Angie (Sara Kapner), and Joey (Luke Slattery). Tony knows nothing about Chris’s family and in his conversation with Michael – who assumes Tony knows everything - learns Chris was Christopher before her gender reassignment surgery. Tony later confronts Chris with Michael’s revelation and, as one would expect, all hell breaks loose and the play itself reels off its already fragile hinges. Playwright Callely simply does not handle the subject well and has his characters misbehave in the worst ways. Although it is understandable that the news a family has been living a deception would be shocking, it is not understandable that family members would only exhibit rage and loathing toward someone who had done nothing but shower them with unconditional love.
Worse, Mr. Callelly leaves unresolved the family’s confusion between transgender, transvestite, and lesbian-gay sexual identities. The cast seems to struggle with Mr. Callely’s disjointed script and does its best to work through awkward and meaningless scenes like those between Tony and Father Conners (admirably played by Robert Hogan) and Chris and Dr. Johns played without an ounce of therapeutic unconditional love by Liza Vann. It is not possible for an urban priest to be as naïve as Mr. Callely’s Father Conners and rare for a therapist to be as erratic in advice as the playwright’s Dr. Johns.
It is difficult to know precisely what Robert Callely’s play is supposed to be about: is it about Chris’s disingenuous behavior or her shame; is it about her family’s reaction to her truth; or is it perhaps about priests behaving badly. Director Michael Parva must assume some of the responsibility here. He allows Ms. Thornes to speak more slowly than any actor on stage ever has giving her important monologues the tempo of somnambulance. And the director moves his actors around like cardboard cut-outs. Overall, this attempt at dealing with a significant and emotionally charged subject falls flat and leaves the audience hoping for more.
ON A STOOL AT THE END OF THE BAR
Written by Robert Callely and directed by Michael Parva. The design team includes Jessica L. Parks (set design), Jill Nagle (lighting design), Amy C. Bradshaw (costume design), and Quentin Chiappetta (sound design). The Production Stage Manager is Rose Riccardi. Production photos by Carol Rosegg. Presented by the Director’s Company.
“On a Stool at the End of the Bar” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, December 14. The performance schedule is Tuesday - Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM. Please note, there is no performance on Thursday, November 27 (Thanksgiving). Single tickets are $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours including a 10 minute intermission.
WITH: Zachary Brod, Robert Hogan, Sara Kapner, Luke Slattery, Timothy John Smith, John Stanisci, Antoinette Thornes, and Liza Vann.
“Asymmetric” at 59E59 Theater C (Through Saturday December 6, 2014)
Sean Williams as Josh - Photo by Travis McHale
“Asymmetric” at 59E59 Theater C (Through Saturday December 6, 2014) By Mac Rogers Directed by Jordana Williams Reviewed by David Roberts, Theatre Reviews Limited
There has been “Acoustic Kitty” and “Project Pigeon” in the CIA’s arsenal of operations. Marc Rogers’s “Asymmetric” currently running at 59E59 Theater C adds another: the rather oddly named “Icarus Drone” operation. Mr. Rogers’s tasty espionage drama centers on retired agent Josh (Sean Williams) using his interrogation skills to discover to whom the fifth floor mole has been leaking information about the Icarus Drone project. Unfortunately for Josh, this necessitates the interrogation of his former wife and partner Sunny (Kate Middleton) who has the information the CIA needs to stop information from getting into the wrong hands.
Josh left the Agency and retired to a life of drinking. His relationship with Sunny ended. Now he is called back into action because his former boss Zack (Seth Shelden) knows Josh is the only one able to break Sunny down – despite the efforts of Ford (Rob Maitner) who prefers scissors and pliers and dismemberment to standard interrogation.
The espionage genre has gained popularity in the recent past and television seems hard put to keep up with the demand. “NCIS” keeps parenting spin-offs which garner raved reviews and “Bones” seems to be on an award-winning marathon. With all that espionage exposure, one wonders how a ninety minute drama on a tiny stage could succeed. The answer: it does! Under Jordana Williams’s meticulous and generous direction, the ensemble cast delivers powerful and authentic performances. Their distaste for one another and the government they serve is palpable. Reference to the Presidents of the United States as “Daddies” is powerful.
Sean Williams’s Josh is outwardly broken and compliant but is capable of getting what he wants when he wants and needs it. Kate Middleton’s Sunny is hard as nails and knows her love for Josh has not ended and tried to deflect his interrogation so he can survive. Playwright Rogers writes with his characters in mind and gives them wonderful clues to disclose to the audience that result in a plethora of “Ah-Ha” moments. Seth Shelden’s Zack is mousey when he needs to be and strident when necessary and he cannot keep up with Josh or Sunny. Only Rob Maitner’s performance as Ford falters: Mr. Maitner lacks the grit and grime one would expect in a Ford.
There are delicious twists and turns in “Asymmetric” and it would not be fair to reveal them here. It is enough to know that the drama keeps the audience guessing and attentive throughout. Audience members are so engaged with the play they are afraid to miss a clue – either spoken or written on the face of one of the characters. Listen for the intriguing clue when John warns Sunny not to reveal the location of her gardening lover. Enough said: see this gem before it closes on December 6th.
Written bt Mac Rogers; directed by Jordana Williams. The design team includes Travis McHale (set and lighting), Amanda Jenks (costumes), and Jeanne Travis (sound). The production stage manager is Devan Hibbard. Production photos by Travis McHale.
The cast features Rob Maitner (Frankenstein Upstairs, Urinetown), Kate Middleton (The Late Christopher Bean for TACT), Seth Shelden (Blast Radius), and Sean Williams (Advance Man).
“Asymmetric” runs for a limited engagement through Saturday, December 6. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30PM; Saturday at 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30 PM. Please note: there is an added performance on Saturday, November 29 at 2:30 PM and there is no performance on Thursday, November 27 (Thanksgiving). Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org.
“Wiesenthal” at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday February 22, 2015)
Photo by Carol Rosegg
“Wiesenthal” at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday February 22, 2015) Written by and Starring Tom Dugan Directed by Jenny Sullivan Reviewed by Sander Gusinow, Theatre Reviews Limited
"I have survived them all. If there were any left, they'd be too old and weak to stand trial today. My work is done," said the real Simon Wiesenthal before he retired from his work as a Nazi Hunter in 2003. But the Wiesenthal given to us by writer/performer Tom Dugan is anything but satiated on the day of his retirement. Simon reminisces with the audience (who play the role of a visiting group of American tourists) about the horrors he endured during the holocaust, his life as an agent of justice, and his anxiety of leaving his work unfinished. As he recalls his momentous life, he’s beleaguered by phone calls about his final target, a retired nazi living in Syria who has eluded him up to this point.
Dugan’s “Wiesenthal” opens with a joke, the kind of joke you’d expect a saucy Jewish grandfather to make. Wiesenthal's charm and humor, as well constant reminders from his wife to pick up groceries on his way home, act as beacons of refuge from the grisly tales of a nazi hunter. The atrocities of his targets, and the suffering of their victims gives Wiesenthal his drive, all the stories leading to one final, quintessential question Simon promises will be asked and answered by the end of the show.
Director Jenny Sullivan stages the piece in the long and storied tradition of the one person show. Sound and lights shift dramatically when Simon flashes back to his tumultuous past. Sullivan draws a loveable performance from Dugan as he scuttles about the stage, a hurried old man melancholy to let go of his life’s work. Although the direction of the play is amiable, the script, and the character of Wiesenthal in particular, needs clearer navigation.
What “Wiesenthal” can’t overcome is the fact that this tale has been spun and re-spun a thousand times, and by more skilled hands. This Holocaust remembrance piece is stuck playing the familiar notes. Simon Wiesenthal never comes to any new or revelatory conclusions about his journey, and what’s saddest is the fact that he comes so close.
The play flirts with the idea that perhaps Simon is more akin to his nazi enemies than he cares to realize. “I want to give them the same knock on the door they gave my mother” he quips. Wiesenthal's insistence that the kind of barbaric evil that caused the holocaust is not uniquely German. “The evil is inside of all of us.” The play toys with these darker prospects but never quite embraces them. We’re left with a Simon Wiesenthal intelligent enough to draw such comparisons, but too timid to deal with them. To him, Bin Laden was the new Hitler. In an age where Bill Maher can go on national television and claim Muslims responsible for the world’s ills, the evil may be closer to home than we think.
As a work of remembrance, as a ritual of reverence, “Wiesenthal” succeeds. As a play though, it doesn’t work hard enough. Perhaps freshness is not the play’s intent, but it would have been nice if Simon’s ‘final question’ weren’t such an innocuous letdown. We must always remember the victims of these catastrophic evils. We must always remember the capacity for evil within ourselves. We do not necessarily need to remember “Wiesenthal,” a play that chooses conspicuousness over complexity and nostalgia over nuance.
Written and performed by Tom Dugan. Directed by Jenny Sullivan. Producer: Daryl Roth and Karyl Lynn Burns; Press Agent: Keith Sherman & Associates; Scenic Design: Beowulf Boritt; Costume Design: Alex Jaeger; Lighting Design: Joel E. Silver; Sound Design: Shane Rettig. Production photos by Carol Rosegg. “Wiesenthal” runs at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (410 W. 42nd Street) on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays and Thursdays at 7pm, Wednesdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 8pm, with matinees Saturdays at 2pm and Sundays at 3pm. Tickets are $69 and are available at Telecharge.com, 212-239-6200. For $49 Group Tickets (10+), or $36 Student Groups (10+: 25 and under), contact Carol Ostrow at (212) 265-8500. Visit www.WiesenthalThePlay.com for additional information.
“Sticks and Bones” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Center (Through Sunday December 14, 2014)
Holly Hunter and Bill Pullman - Photo by Monique Carboni
“Sticks and Bones” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Center (Through Sunday December 14, 2014) By David Rabe Directed by Scott Elliott Reviewed by David Roberts, Theatre Reviews Limited
“You would not see. I can’t get beyond these hands. I jam in the fingers. I break on the bone. I am lonely. I mean, oh, no, not exactly lonely, not really. That’s a little strong, actually.” (Ozzie to David)
As soon as Rick (Raviv Ullman) enters his family’s house in David Rabe’s “Sticks and Bones,” the audience knows it is in for a bumpy ride. After a somewhat serious chat with Father Donald (Richard Chamberlain) during which the good priest attempts to recruit Ozzie (Bill Pullman) to coach the church basketball team, the play’s tone shifts and the sitcom on steroids atmosphere signals the audience to prepare for occasional brain-freeze. This is not a drama for the weak of heart or the closed of mind. David’s return and soldier story paves the way for Ozzie’s story to unlock Pandora ’s Box with little chance for finding hope at its bottom.
Blinded in action in the Vietnam War, David (Ben Schnetzer) returns home (escorted by the heartless Sergeant Major played to perfection by Morocco Omari) to be further blindsided by the disturbing events that occur in his seemingly innocent household. His post-war presence sets off a firestorm of truth-telling that chills to the bone and engages David’s white stick in family (and priestly) battles. Their older son’s experiences in Vietnam, including his relationship with Zung (Nadia Gan) whose presence continues to haunt him in the present, are simply too much for Ozzie and Harriet and David’s younger brother Rick. David’s presence exposes heretofore carefully guarded layers of greed, selfishness, anger, disappointment, regret, and unfulfilled dreams.
Rick is completely self-centered and unable to connect to his family on any emotional level. Harriet (Holly Hunter) has lived an unfulfilling life as wife and mother extraordinaire. Ms. Hunter gives a remarkable performance as a woman who is nothing more than a puppet whose voice is not her own and whose movements have always been controlled by others. Ozzie lives in the past and realizes his present is nothing more than a lie which allows him to survive. Bill Pullman delivers a powerful and often disturbing performance as a man who is less than a shell of a man whose veneer of sanity could crack at any moment. David’s return, his neediness, his honesty, rattle the chains of “the fraud that has kept [his family] sane.” They snap and can only survive if David is gone again – for good.
Under Scott Elliott’s inventive and generous direction, fantasy and reality vie for the audience’s understanding of the action in “Sticks and Bones” and often upstage each other. Despite generous (and glorious) hints given by lighting designer Peter KIaczorowski, it is often quite difficult to sort out what is a present reality, what is a dream sequence, or what just might be a tantalizing dose of magical realism. That action culminates in David’s total rejection of his family’s world view and moral structure. With his “new sight,” David describes the family house: “It’s a coffin. You made it big so you wouldn’t know, but that’s what it is, a coffin, and not all the curtains and pictures and lamps in the world can change it. They threw you off that fast free train, Ozzie.”
“Sticks and Bones” follows the “rules” of the psychopathology of the dysfunctional family: the dysfunctional family (Ozzie, Harriet, Rick and pre-war David) has managed to remain intact (despite underlying pathology) until one member makes a change and refuses to go along with the old rules. David experiences a new vision while in the thick of war, He experiences unconditional love (even under the worst of circumstances) and he will never be the same. His family cannot incorporate this “new” David into their pathology and has to dispose of him or facilitate his disposal of himself. This is shocking. This is real. This is “Sticks and Bones.”
STICKS AND BONES
By David Rabe. Directed by Scott Elliott. This production includes Set Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by Susan Hilferty, Lighting Design by Peter Kaczorowski, Sound Design and Original Music by Rob Milburn & Michael Bodeen and Projection and Video Design by Olivia Sebesky. Production photos by Monique Carboni. Presented by The New Group (Scott Elliott, Artictic Director and Adam Bernstein, Executive Director). At the Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street.
Subscriptions for The New Group 2014-2015 season available now. For subscriptions and ticket information, please visit www.thenewgroup.org. Subscriptions also available by calling Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, or in person at 416 West 42nd Street (12:00 Noon-8pm daily).
WITH: Richard Chamberlain as Father Donald, Nadia Gan as Zung, Holly Hunter as Harriet, Morocco Omari as Sergeant Major, Bill Pullman as Ozzie, Ben Schnetzer as David and Raviv Ullman as Rick.
“Allegro” at the Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday December 14, 2014)
Cast of "Allegro" - Photo by Joan Marcus
“Allegro” at the Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday December 14, 2014) Music by Richard Rogers Book and Lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II Directed and Designed by John Doyle Reviewed by David Roberts, Theatre Reviews Limited
Most of us (at least the Everyman in most of us) get through life by continuing to put one foot in front of the other day in and day out despite life’s often unseemly vicissitudes. This works until we encounter some “road block” and often that road block can be the fast-paced life, one of those “roads not taken” that leads us to the dizzying heights of success. Rogers and Hammerstein’s 1947 “Allegro,” currently running at the Classic Stage Company, is a fitting metaphor for this “brisk tempo” trip from birth to death and all that transpires in between.
“Allegro” is the endearing and sometimes challenging rehearsal of the life of Everyman Joseph Taylor, Jr. (Claybourne Elder), son of small town physician Joseph, Sr. (Malcolm Gets) and his dutiful wife Marjorie (Jessica Tyler Wright). Mr. Elder is convincing in the role of the younger Taylor whose desire to follow in his father’s footsteps (“One foot, other foot”) is challenged by the demands of his relationship with Jenny Brinker (Elizabeth A. Davis) and the demands of success as a “big city” physician and eventually mollified by his ability to escape the samsara of his existence and spin off toward his own nirvana.
Joseph, Jr. and his friends and family “Greek chorus” spin his tale as they move around John Doyle’s sparse set guided firmly but generously by Mr. Doyle’s inspired and inventive direction. John Doyle’s reimagining of the Rogers and Hammerstein 1947 Broadway production of “Allegro” (Agnes de Mille’s “overstuffed” design) is not only sparse by comparison but successfully manages to expose the heart and soul of the musical and proves its intrinsic merit and sustainability. John Doyle’s “signature” convention of having the cast double as orchestra works well in this reimagining of “Allegro.” Here, this convention counterpoints well with the action of the chorus as it surrounds the protagonist with a “friends and family” commentary on his journey.
Joseph Junior’s attempts to “puzzle out for himself” his life’s purpose and direction serves as a scintillating metaphor not only for Oscar Hammerstein’s life and his dealing with the temptations inherent in success but a metaphor for Everyman’s struggle with a world that insists on telling him or her “what to think, what to do, and where to go” rather than equipping them to discover their “home in the heart.”
Notable performances among the universally fine ensemble cast are: Malcolm Gets’s impassioned portrayal of Joseph Taylor, Sr. who wants nothing more than to have his son “come home;” Jessica Tyler Wright’s nurturing yet cautious Marjorie Taylor who cradles her son in unconditional love; Elizabeth A. Davis’s crafted interpretation of Jenny Brikner’s fine line walk between supportiveness and selfishness; George Abud’s cello-toting performance as Charlie Townsend; and Alma Cuervo’s performance as the grandmother who always believes her grandson Joseph, Jr. will, despite her initial misgivings, grow up “to be a man.” Each ensemble member plays a variety of instruments; some like Ms. Wright have remarkable voices. Her “My Fellow Needs A Girl” and “Come Home” display her remarkable vocal range and her gift of interpretation.
Humanity’s soulful heartbeat is sustained throughout the ninety minute performance. Enlightenment comes to Joseph, Jr. in his recurrent visits to the upstage wall (a great metaphor!) and his Everyman’s victory in getting back to “where there’s work to do” and “where there’s love for [him]” becomes the victory of those in the audience whose brains are sometimes “cleared by the sudden light on one word.” This is a fresh and poignant reimagining of Rogers and Hammerstein’s “Allegro” At their curtain call, the ensemble makes it quite clear:
NOW YOU CAN DO/WHATEVER YOU WANT/WHATEVER YOU WANT TO DO!/ONE FOOT OUT/AND THE OTHER FOOT OUT,/ONE FOOT OUT/AND THE OTHER FOOT OUT/ONE FOOT OUT/AND THE OTHER FOOT OUT/AND THE WORLD BELONGS TO YOU!
Music by Richard Rogers; book and lyrics by Oscar Hammerstein II; directed and designed by John Doyle; musical direction and orchestrations by Mary-Mitchell Campbell; costumes by Ann Hould-Ward; lighting by Jane Cox; sound by Dan Moses Schreier; hair, wig, and make-up design by Rob Greene and J. Jared Janas; casting by Calleri Casting; press representative, The Publicity Office; production supervisor, Production Core; general manager, John C. Hume. Presented by Classic Stage Company. Production photos by Joan Marcus.
“Allegro” performs Tuesdays through 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 start at $70.00 and are available at www.classicstage.org or by calling 212-352-3101 / 866-811-4111 or at the box-office at 136 East 13th Street (between Third and Fourth Avenues). Through Sunday December 14, 2014. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
WITH: George Abud, Alma Cuervo, Elizabeth A. Davis, Claybourne Elder, David Finch, Malcolm Gets, Maggie Lakis, Paul Lincoln, Megan Loomis, Kara Mikula, Jane Pfitsch, Randy Redd, Ed Romanoff, and Jessica Tyler Wright.
“A Delicate Balance” at the John Golden Theatre (Through February 22, 2014)
Jogn Lithgow and Glenn Close - Ptoto by Brigitte Lacombe/Press Art
“A Delicate Balance” at the John Golden Theatre (Through February 22, 2014) Written by Edward Albee Directed by Pam Mackinnon Reviewed by Sander Gusinow, Theatre Reviews Limited
(A second review of "A Delicate Balance" by David Roberts will be posted next week.)
There might come a day when Edward Albee is treated like Shakespeare. A familiar foreign language with rhythmic underpinnings, Albee’s angst over the unattainability of human connection could be tantamount to The Bard’s dread of the Great Chain of Being. Artists and academics of the age will try to make a name for themselves with his canon: ‘Albee our Contemporary’ could very well be penned. Yes, that day might come. But if Pam Mackinnon’s stale production of “A Delicate Balance” is any indication, it won’t be arriving anytime soon.
Even with Glenn Close and John Lithgow in the driver’s seats, Albee’s (arguably) greatest work is antique China, plucked from the shelf and dusted off for company. For those unfamiliar, the play concerns aging couple Tobias (Lithgow) and Agnes (Close) lodging Claire (Lindsay Duncan), Agnes’ indiscreet alcoholic sister. Their home is unsurreptitiously invaded by their newly-separated daughter (Martha Plimpton) and a neighborly couple (Clare Higgins and Bob Balaban) who are so frightened of their empty house they’ve decided to board with Agnes and Tobias indefinitely. Lithgow and Duncan do best with injecting vigor into Albee’s slow-moving verse. The cast capitalizes on Albee’s aphoristic wit at every opportunity, but the play is drab, bordering on lifeless, as Albee’s script has passed its shelf-life. Even with the daughter waving a gun around in the second act, it’s simply the precursor to yet another sluggish, turgid monologue.
Lithgow’s explosion in the final scene, as he begs the boarding couple to stay for fear of total alienation, is the only vivid moment of the show. Despite Mackinnon’s best efforts, the play stays a museum piece, unable to pick up steam. Swallowed by an overly-engulfing set, Glenn Close is immovable and statuesque as Agnes, unable to sink her teeth into the long-winded role. The rest of the cast lose their fight with stodginess almost as frequently.
A show so studded with star power rarely stands on its own two feet, and this antiquated remounting is no exception. Watching the aged rich drink themselves into aimless revelation after aimless revelation tries the patience, and with a lengthy three-act running time, the play is sure to exceed even the most seraph theatergoer’s tolerance. A gorgeous set, an A-list cast, a mini-bar and not much else, “A Delicate Balance” never finds the joy of ruggedness or the pleasure of extremes.
A DELICATE BALANCE
Written by Edward Albee; directed by Pam Mackinnon; scenic design by Santo Loquasto; costume design by Ann Roth; lighting design by Brian Macdevitt; sound design by Scott Lehrer. Production photos by Mary Lloyd Estrin. At the John Golden Theatre. http://www.adelicatebalancebroadway.com/tickets.
Featuring John Lithgow, Glenn Close, Lindsay Duncan, Martha Plimpton, Clare Higgins, and Bob Balaban.
“How to Save a World” at Under St. Marks Theatre (Through Wednesday November 26, 2014)
“How to Save a World” at Under St. Marks Theatre (Through Wednesday November 26, 2014) Written and directed Yael Grinberg Review By Sander Gusinow, Theatre Reviews Limited
Under St. Mark’s Theatre looks like a Eurotrash sex dungeon. Not that that’s a particularly bad thing, but I didn’t expect it to house one of the sweetest shows I’ve seen since “Peter and The Starcatcher.” In the first scene, a gruff, drunk (and preposterously attractive) homeless man gives a frantic dancer his jar of coins so she can make it to a competition on time. From this small act of kindness, a ripple effect touches a whole host of characters, from a Cabbie, to a Guverian Bank Robber (Marlies B. Bell), to a pair of anxious actors auditioning for a Lars Von Trier movie.
Written, directed, and (somewhat) starring Yael Grinberg, she’s crafted a play that speaks to her natural talent for comedy and the angels of our better natures. With a cast as diverse as the city itself, Grinberg’s work is fresh and vivifying; not to mention a funky snapshot of millennial hope, delusion, and neuroticism.
It’s far from a perfect show. There’s an unrehearsed quality to the production, actors fumbling with lines and little nuance to speak of. Also, the script has several detours from logic (why the hell did a Bank Robber capture and drag a guy outside the bank?) But “How To Save a World” succeeds in what it sets out to do. Be kind. Be thoughtful. Be fun.
Follow your dreams. Be good to each other. A lovely sentiment and one I wouldn’t expect in a theatre scene that only serves hope with an equal dose of nihilism. Such a simple message, it’s a shame we haven’t learned it yet. Grinberg has, and I look forward to seeing what she accomplishes in the future.
HOW TO SAVE A WORLD
Written and directed by Yael Grinberg; produced by Yael Grinberg; associate director, John Gabriel; stage manager, Yarden Shoval; lighting and sound design by Carol Loan. Production photos by Luran Amar. All shows are at 7:00 p.m. Tickets are $15.00. For tickets go to http://www.brownpapertickets.com/event/91006 3 or call 1-800-838-3006.
Featuring: Yael Grinberg, Meurice Singletary, James Venable, Hemang Mistry, and Yarden Shoval.
“Awake and Sing” at John DeSotelle Studio (Through Saturday November 22, 2014)
“Awake and Sing” at John DeSotelle Studio (Through Saturday November 22, 2014) Presented by Nu*ance Theatre Written by Clifford Odets Directed by John DeSotelle Reviewed By Sander Gusinow, Theatre Reviews Limited
It is a shock to the senses, entering the turn-of-the-century transformation underway at John DeSotelle Studio. A wooden jungle of beams and antique furniture consumes the black box space, a testament to the low-budget ingenuity of set designer Brian McManimon. The 1920’s tenement replica is immersive to say the least, a clever imagining of Clifford Odets’ masterpiece about a poor Jewish family dealing with their lovesick children and fiery Marxist grandfather in the wake of World War II. Imagine my surprise when, like the sounding of funeral bells, a ‘please forgive us’ curtain speech is delivered by director John DeSotelle himself.
It is painful irony: a ten-minute curtain speech that assures you the play won’t take as long as it seems. DeSotelle presents his intentions of the play, slamming Lincoln Center’s production in 2006, and sermonizing about the authenticity of his set, and the proper way to enjoy his production (for example - surprise, surprise) peering through the skeletal walls the characters alone in their rooms) Then it began, and the curtain speech proved a honest harbinger.
The show stumbles into every pit trap associated with period revival. The actors are rigid and austere. The witty charm of Odets’ classic is entirely smothered; every scene, the performers teeter on the brink of tears, unable to excavate Odets’ nuanced brilliance. Sullen looks, yelling, and incessant table-pounding but no comedy or joy in sight. It is more akin to watching a Thanksgiving gone south than one of the best family dramas in American history.
What is most lamentable is the cast tries so very hard. There’s no shortage of energy, it’s a wonder they kept the claws out for two and a half hours, rarely going offstage due to the invisible walls aesthetic. (and by the way, watching the characters mope in their bedrooms after fights wears out its welcome rather quickly) Annie R. Such, who plays the enceinte daughter Hennie, is the brightest element of the production. Ms. Such has a masterful command of the unspoken. Her Hennie is the picture of bridled passion and crippling restraint. Even when she does boil over it’s a long time in the coming, visibly building up in her like a nuclear reactor. A Hebrew Blanche DuBois, if you will.
But she can’t salvage the production. It’s a kerfuffle; playing fast and loose with the script in a way that hamstrings its most endearing qualities. An interesting side note; the Jewish food they served after the show was mouth watering. I feel like a monster for devouring their kenish.
AWAKE AND SING
Written by Clifford Odets; directed by John DeSotelle; assistant director, Judith Feingold; 2nd AD Emily DeSotelle; set design by Brian McManimon; costume design by Jude Hinojosa; stage manager, John Schanck; dialect, Page Clements; sound, Annie R. Such. Production photos by Shashwat Gupta. At Nuance Theatre, 300 West 43rd Street; http://desotellestudio.ticketleap.com/awakeandsing/.
Featuring: Margo Singaliese, Eric Kuenehmann, Charles Dinstuhl, Michael Citriniti, Brian Poteat, Bobby Kruger, Spencer Carter, and Annie R. Such.
“Bohemian Lights” at HERE Arts Center (Through November 23rd, 2014)
“Bohemian Lights” at HERE Arts Center (Through November 23rd, 2014) After Ramón Valle-Inclán’s ‘Luces de Bohemia’ Adapted by Live Source with Fernando Gonzalez Directed by Tyler Mercer Presented by Live Source Reviewed by Sander Gusinow, Theatre Reviews Limited
The first red flag of Live Source’s “Bohemian Lights” (currently at HERE Arts Center) came during the curtain speech. The audience was informed of the cultural significance of the show they were about to see, as if to preemptively warn us we’re imbeciles unable to fathom the genius about to ensue. The play, adapted from the Ramón del Valle-Inclán script of the same name, concerns the blind, degenerate poet Max Estrella who starves to death during the collapse of Franco’s Spain. The poet suffers under the jackboot of oppression, feels the heartbeat of the downtrodden, and dies as a final ‘up yours’ to a society that wouldn't acknowledge his relevance. Although Max Estrella may have been an unrecognized diamond in the rough, the same cannot be said about this ostentatious production.
Director Tyler Mercer embraces the concept of ‘theatre as a meal;’ unfortunately, his is overcooked. Racy choreography, misplaced musical numbers, and overreliance on multimedia smother the sixty-minute montage. Behind the actors, a cluster of flat screen TVs depict the scenes onstage reimagined in modern Manhattan, perhaps to inform us Bohemian culture is still alive today (not exactly news to anyone seeing a play in SoHo). Although on-screen projection can often serve a theatrical purpose, here it’s a poor marriage. Television seems alien in this bright-light, bare-bone Bohemian aesthetic.
The action of the piece is brash and one-note. The actors deliver their decadent prose either howling like timber wolves, smiling with Cheshire-Cat grins, or staring ominously into space like they’re watching a car accident. There is real talent nestled in the cast, however. Ramón Olmos Torres (“SMASH”) gives a gripping, heartfelt portrayal of a political prisoner who knows the guards plan to kill him. His characterization of Estrella’s foppish young rival is equally as captivating, but rather because of his bombasity and comedic charm. Gerianne Pérez is a triple-threat virtuoso; her luminous song and dance proves welcome and refreshing. When she and Torres have work to do, the play finally finds a rhythm.
But “Bohemian Lights” falters not because of a lack of talent, but lack of gravity: a mismatch of form and content. The show strives for fun instead of thoughtfulness; the rare scenes of poignancy are out of place in the blinding, Bohemian onslaught. The play is so convinced of its importance it often misses the chance to convey this importance. Do not get me wrong; the plight of the working class is important. The social responsibility of art is important. But this garish assault on the senses isn’t up to the challenge. Although I applaud their ambition, the lights got in their eyes.
Directed by Tyler Mercer; adapted by Fernando Gonzalez; choreography by José Rivera Jr.; cinematography by David Baloche; original Music, Neil Quillen; scenic design by Jonathan Cottle; costumes by Michelle Persoff; lighting by Joanna Emmott; sound by Nathan Leigh; video by Mark Costello; stage manager, Katie Falter; dramaturgy and supertitles, Fernando Gonzalez; production manager, Josh Shain. Public Relations, Bill Coyle/ Coyle Entertainment. Additional video by Quinlan Orear. Production associates: Fiona Murray, Meghan Owen. Photography, Hunter Canning. Produced by Live Source.
Featuring: Daniel Capote, Jesse Friedman, Timothy Mele, Jorge Morales-Picó, Ramón Olmos Torres, Gerianne Pérez, and Scheherazade Quiroga.
“Love Letters” at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre (Closes February 15th, 2015)
“Love Letters” at the Brooks Atkinson Theatre (Closes February 15th, 2015) Written by A.R. Gurney Directed by Gregory Mosher With Alan Alda and Candice Bergen through December 3rd 2014 Reviewed by Sander Gusinow, Theatre Reviews Limited
By now you’ve discovered the horrible truth, that A.R. Gurney’s ‘Love Letters’ is essentially a staged reading with a $127 price tag, but veteran director Gregory Mosher couldn’t have made a more fitting decision. The play follows the written correspondence of Andrew Ladd and Melissa Gardner, two upper-crust kids growing up, starting careers, creating families, and eventually fading into old age in a melancholic hour and a half. Although a table, two chairs and scripts may seem unfulfilling at first, Andrew and Melissa have as much relationship to the words they’ve written as they have to each other. The reading of the letters, the actual reading of them, gives the play its sacred quality.
Having just finished a run with Brian Dennehy and Carol Burnett, Alan Alda and Candice Bergen step into Andrew and Melissa’s shoes with sad and subtle elegance. Alda nears perfection as Andrew, a stuffy, stalwart, emotionally confused man who allows his responsibilities to throttle his attempts at happiness. Bergen is less fitted as the manic Melissa. She can’t always summon Melissa’s passion, a shame too, since it’s the key to her character’s ultimate demise. Then again, Melissa isn’t written as strongly as Andrew, (not surprising, since her character is more reluctant when it comes to letter writing) but the dynamic between the two often stumbles off balance.
But the seamless direction of Gregory Mosher ensures the play strikes emotional pay dirt. For all the volumes read by Andrew and Melissa it’s the chilling silences when the pair aren’t writing (or are writing one-sidedly, as is usually the case) that hit like a steamroller. As the pair age, it’s what isn’t said between them that packs the most punch.
‘Letter Writing’ is a dying art, says Gurney in 1989. How right he was. The play bathes in nostalgia, right down to Andrew and Melissa’s mode of correspondence. Argot about the greatest generation encrusts the wistful ‘Love Letters’ but this is the opposite of a history lesson. It’s a sad and saccharine waltz through time, about the limitations of love and the mental torment of missed opportunities.
Written by A.R. Gurney; Directed by Gregory Mosher; scenic design by John Lee Beatty; costume design by Jane Greenwood; lighting design Peter Kaczorowski; sound design by Scott Lehrer; production stage manager Matthew Farrell; general manager Peter Bogyo; company manager Elizabeth M. Talmadge; casting by Telsey + Company; produced by Nelle Nugent, Barbara Broccoli, Frederick Zollo, Olympus Theatricals, Michael G. Wilson, Lou Spisto, Colleen Camp, Postmark Entertainment Group, Judith Ann Abrams/Pat Flicker Addiss and Kenneth Teaton in association with Jon Bierman, Tim Degraye, Daniel Frishwasser, Elliott Masie, Mai Nguyen and Scott Lane/Joseph Sirola.
“The Oldest Boy” at Lincoln Center Theatre (Through Sunday December 28th 2014)
“The Oldest Boy” at Lincoln Center Theatre (Through Sunday December 28th 2014) Written by Sarah Ruhl Directed by Rebecca Taichman Reviewed by Sander Gusinow, Theatre Reviews Limited
I count myself among the lucid minority not ensorcelled by Sarah Ruhl. Her innocuous ‘tea-and-cookies’ approach to drama lazily encourages an audience to leave their brains at the door. To top it off, her popularity is circumstantial evidence that women writers can only be taken seriously when writing superfluous subject matter. And yet, against all my misgivings, Ruhl finds her element in ”The Oldest Boy” currently playing at Lincoln Center.
Like the rest of her plays, the premise is elegantly simplistic; a mother’s world convulses when a pair of Buddhist Monks claim the child as the reincarnation of their old teacher. Ruhl is up to her old tricks, wittily poking fun at upper-middle class convention, while crafting sequences of light poetry and airy, pseudomagical humdrum. But this humdrum couldn’t have been put to better use. The principles of Buddhism are at home in Ruhl’s hands. It’s easy to scoff at the alleged spiritual significance of a cell phone, but the cycle of Samsara? Yes, Ms. Ruhl, this time you’ve got it right. She actually mentions the concept God not once, not twice, but often, and to her play’s credit. It’s nice to see Sarah in her thinking cap.
Even so, Ruhl’s trademark timidity bridals the plays’ potential. It’s so blatantly obvious the child is the reincarnation of the old sage, the protagonist mother (Celia Keenan-Bolger) is almost unlikable in her reluctance. The misogynistic nature of Buddhist tradition is comic fodder, rather than pertinent issues in their own right. But despite the occasional misgiving, the play is alive with color, energy and thought. The core story of a woman’s journey of greater understanding, and finding the strength to obey that understanding never leaves Ruhl’s crosshairs (excluding a forgettable side-plot involving the mother’s magniloquent return to academia).
Glitteringly directed by Rebecca Taichman, Rich Tibetan traditions as well as simplistic scene work are brought vividly to life. The show employs a Lion King-esque puppet as the young boy, skillfully circumventing the trappings of a child actor (if only Terrence McNally had been so forward-thinking) and cleverly referencing the Buddhist body/spirit dichotomy. At first the doll is downright creepy, but much like its predecessor “Warhorse,” the doll succeeds in becoming a character through the skill of its operators and the virtues of his scene partners.
Ruhl’s detractors keep getting louder and louder, but trust me when I say this is the first of her plays to seriously invite the audience to dinner. The question of whether or not we incorporate spirituality in our decisions, and a mother’s unyielding love for her child gives the show its emotional core. If you’re not at all interested in Buddhist philosophy, this play may not be your cup of butter-and-salt tea, but for a playwright so successful, Ruhl’s continued evolution is nothing if not admirable. As an occasional detractor myself, I was pleasantly surprised by “The Oldest Boy,” and caught myself thinking, for the very first time, ‘What will she do next?’
By Sarah Ruhl; directed by Rebecca Taichman; sets Mimi Lien; costumes Anita Yavich; LIghting Japhy Weideman; sound Darron L.West; puppet design/direction Matt Acheson; choreography Barney O'Hanlon; stage manager Charles M. Turner III; at Lincoln Center Theatre, 150 W. 65th Street, (212) 239-6200. Through Sunday December 28th 2014. Running time: 2 hours, with a ten-minute intermission.
With Ernest Abuba, Tsering Dorje, Celia Keenan-Bolger, Takemi Kitamura, James Saito, Jon Norman Schneider, James Yaegashi, and Nami Yamamoto.
T. Oliver Reid: “Drop Me Off in Harlem” at the Metropolitan Room (Through Sunday November 9, 2014)
Photo by Maryann Lopinto
T. Oliver Reid: “Drop Me Off in Harlem” at the Metropolitan Room (Through Sunday November 9, 2014) Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
The current renaissance in New York City’s Harlem is not to be mistaken for the Harlem Renaissance of the 1930s (and before). The current revival has much to do with real estate, privilege, and power. The iconic Harlem Renaissance had everything to do with artistic collaboration, white bootleggers, and crazy rhythms. This is the Harlem T. Oliver Reid knows well.
The classy, sassy, tuxedo-clad, soulful songster Oliver Reid takes his audience on a circa 1934 rollicking musical tour stopping at jazz venues(Connie’s) and swanky nightclubs (Cotton Club, Radium Club) that featured the likes of Duke Ellington, Fats Waller and the music of the prolific Harold Arlen. He relives that historic era, not only with the jubilant iconic sounds that were created by the renowned artists, but with the courage to address the surge of political, social, and racial issues that scarred the landscape including the activities of the Ku Klux Klan out in the Hamptons.
Mr. Reid has a small, sturdy frame and a big voice with an incredible range that seduces his listeners to become part of the rhythms and like a pied piper draws them into the lyric. Whether his mood is silly, somber or seductive, it is honest and never falters, and stays true to the music and the message. His tone is pure and his musical interpretation is further enhanced by a strong belt, a soulful edge, a mellow mid-range and a classic 1930’s panache.
In his “Drop Me Off in Harlem, T. Oliver Reid shines with a rendition of “Sophisticated Lady” and has a grand time with “Minnie the Moocher” (both by Duke Ellington). The Blue Mini Suite featuring” Mood Indigo“ (Duke Ellington), “Am I Blue”(Harry Akst/Grant Clarke), “Black And Blue” (Fats Waller/Andy Razaf) and “I Got A Right To Sing The Blues” (Harold Arlen) is haunting, truthful and enlightening. His phrasing and interpretation of “It’s Only A Paper Moon” and” I’ve Got The World On A String” (both by Harold Arlen) is remarkable and a testament to a trained musician.
T. OLIVER REID: “DROP ME OFF IN HARLEM”
“Drop Me Off in Harlem” performs on Sunday November 2 at 7:00 p.m. and on Sunday November 9 at 9:30 p.m. at the Metropolitan Room, 34 West 22nd Street. The music charge is $25.00 (plus a two-drink minimum). For reservations call 212-206-0440 or visit www.metroploitanroom.com
The music director Lawrence Yurman on piano leads a quartet that includes Damien Bassman on percussion, Ray Kilday on bass, and Trevor Neumann on trumpet.
“Barb Jungr – Hard Rain: The Songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen at 59E59 Theater B (Through Sunday November 9, 2014)
“Barb Jungr – Hard Rain: The Songs of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen at 59E59 Theater B (Through Sunday November 9, 2014) With Tracy Stark at the Piano and Mike Lunoe on Percussion Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades.” Revelation 1:17b-18
In her challenging and remarkable performance piece “Hard Rain,” currently running at 59E59 Theater B, Barb Jungr alludes to the often cryptic nature of Bob Dylan’s lyrics. There is yet another bit of cryptic poetry from a source often mined by both Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen; namely, the Bible. It is best not to argue that point. The imagery of both writers is informed by the rich imagery of the sacred books of the Judean-Christian communities. This does not mean that either poet has a faith construct consistent with either faith; it simply means they – like other modern and contemporary authors – allude to this material for its rich imagery and metaphorical treasure trove.
Dylan and Cohen – the troubadours of truth – like the “first and the last" before them – figuratively (and often literally) have entered all those spaces (metaphorically “Death and Hades”) that have always threatened to undo humankind and the planet upon which it treads boards and often finds itself treading water. And they in truly redemptive fashion have shared not only what they saw about the “hard rains that are going to fall” but also the urgency of a meaningful response from humankind. Barb Jungr – like the messenger on Patmos who shared the news that the early Christians could survive the torment and torture of the Roman Empire – assures her audience that though all is not right in “The Land of Plenty,” “The Chimes of Freedom” counterpoint catastrophe. We are able to affirm that we are alive; yet, we need to be aware that the often surreal revelations of Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen continue to threaten our existence.
Barb Jungr is more than a performer-singer. She is the consummate performance artist, spoken word artist, poet, prophet, Sherpa, interpreter, and spirit-guide. She completely trusts the material she performs – as she completely trusts Bob Dylan and Leonard Cohen. All thirteen songs are remarkable arrangements of both songwriters and Ms. Jungr reimagines each of them with unique styling and phrasing and with a voice laden with raspy gentleness that counterpoints the “three angels above the street” (those who have eyes will see).
Particularly challenging are Bob Dylan’s “It’s Alright Ma (I’m Only Bleeding);” “Hard Rain;” “Blind Willie McTell;” “Chimes of Freedom;” and Ms. Jungr’s encore “Blowin’ in the Wind.” Equally challenging are Leonard Cohen’s “First We Take Manhattan;” Everybody Knows;” and “The Land of Plenty” which perhaps epitomizes the hope of the performance: “And I don’t really know who sent me, /To raise my voice and say:/May the lights in The Land of Plenty/Shine on the truth some day.”
There is no sugar-coating of the mess humanity has repeatedly and successfully made throughout history and the rehearsal of those mistakes and their consequences (most often affecting the 99 percent rather than the privileged one percent) makes for a somewhat “bumpy ride.” But sharing a night with Barb Jungr is a redemptive blessing. Redemption is often “not pretty or fun.” It is, however, all we have to hope for and all we can strive for. In the words of Bob Dylan, “And what'll you do now, my blue-eyed son?/And what'll you do now my darling young one?/I'm a-goin' back out 'fore the rain starts a-fallin.'
BARB JUNGR – HARD RAIN: THE SONGS OF BOB DYLAN AND LEONARD COHEN
“Barb Jungr: Hard Rain” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, November 9. The performance schedule is Tuesday - Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 5:15 PM & 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM & 7:15 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Single tickets are $35 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Production photos by Carol Rosegg. Through Sunday November 9. Running time is 90 minutes without an intermission.
“Lift” at 59E59 Theater A (Through Sunday November 30, 2014)
Biko Eisen-Martin and MaameYaa Boafo - Photo by Carol Rosegg
“Lift” at 59E59 Theater A (Through Sunday November 30, 2014) Written by Walter Mosley Directed by Marshall Jones, III Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
What Harper Lee’s “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Lorraine Hansberry’s “A Raisin in the Sun” did for the complacency of the 1960s, Walter Mosley’s “Lift” attempts to do for the beginning of the twenty-first century. These important plays collectively challenge the racial, cultural and class consciousness of the American landscape. “Lift” uses the trope, here an extended metaphor, of the elevator – the lift – and its unexpected passengers in a New York City skyscraper under attack by terrorists to deliver its message. Of course, the attack itself it also an important metaphor for all that threatens necessary shifts in racial, cultural, and class consciousness.
As they wait for the elevator bank at Peabody, Resterly, and Lowe, Theodore “Big Time” Southmore (Biko Eisen-Martin) overhears a conversation between Tina Pardon (MaameYaa Boafo) and her friend Noni Tariq (Shavonna Banks) about Tina’s upcoming date. After a brief ride together in the elevator, Noni exits leaving Theodore and Tina alone in the elevator. And after another brief encounter with Mr. Resterly which results in Tina trying to hide her identity, Theodore and Tina are again alone. Shortly thereafter, the building is attacked by terrorists and the elevator car drops and is pushed forward in the shaft. The two are trapped and all hell breaks loose between them.
In their attempts to get out of the soundproofed elevator car (no cell signal), they confront each other’s weaknesses, fears, prejudices, and shortcomings. Theodore is a thirty-something black man who has worked up the ladder from maintenance to strategic planning. Tina is a Somailan-born woman in her late 20s. Both have skeletons in their closets best left to the audience to discover. These two successful professionals wrestle not only with the racism of white John Thomas Westerly (played with appropriate unbearable arrogance by Martin Kushner), they wrestle with their own stereotypes about themselves as persons of color, including the relationship between black women and black men, black women dating white men, and their well-defined class consciousness. For example, Theodore questions Tina’s choice of friends in Noni who is a twenty something African-American woman: “I don’t know. I mean, how does a smack talkin’ girl definitely out of the hood fit together with a French speaking college graduate who spends weekends in Cape Cod?” And Theodore asks Tina, “I thought you were tired of black men wantin’ you to help them?”
“Lift” is a complicated play and although Mr. Mosley’s representational play is entertaining and informative, it does not allow the audience to get to know the characters: all the audience does is listen. As mere interlopers, the audience does not get a chance to feel for the characters. Still, the playwright raises a bevy of rich and enduring questions – intentionally or otherwise – that need to be answered if the racial divides (both those between races and those within racial constructs) in the United States (or elsewhere) are ever to be breached. Can a “privileged” white majority ever understand the cultures of persons of color? Can persons of color ever understand what is perceived to be a white “privileged” majority? Why is it considered racism when the white majority uses certain words and phrases to reference persons of color but not considered racism when persons of color use the exact same phrases in reference to one another? Or is this still racism? Is it something else? These are just a few of the enduring questions raised by “Lift.”
Theodore and Tina want nothing more than to finally be understood by another human being. Theodore dictates before the elevator falls – so Tina will know what happened between them should he perish – “But you know we got over all that mess up here in the dark. It’s like we raised up above it and looked down and looked up and saw that there was nothin’ but us. You and me, we broke through this in here with nobody listenin.”
“Lift” insists the audience understand this to be the task for all of humanity including black and white citizens who need to know precisely what has happened between them. Can persons of different racial, cultural and class differences “break through” those barriers? What can raise us up above it all, enable us to look up and look down and see that there is nothing but “us” trying to make sense of living together on the fragile planet Earth?
Marshall Jones, III’s direction is straight forward and, along with Mr. Mosley’s script, leaves the audience somewhat disconnected from these well-rounded characters. Rocco Disanti’s lighting and projection design, Toussaint Hunt’s sound design, and Andrei Onegin’s set design do more to heighten awareness of the danger Theodore and Tina face than does the script they heroically mine for its emotional content. These two splendid actors deliver remarkable performances defined by authenticity and believability. “Lift” asks whether humanity has what it takes to lift one another up.
By Walter Mosley; directed by Marshall Jones, III; sets by Andrei Onegin; costumes by Anne E. Grosz; lighting and projections by Rocco Disanti; sound by Toussaint Hunt; production stage manager, Karen Parlato. Production photos by Carol Rosegg. Presented by Crossroads Theatre Company. At 59E59 Theater A, 59 East 59th Street, (212) 279-4200, http://www.ticketcentral.com/. Through Sunday November 30, 2014. Running time: 1 hour and 40 minutes with no intermission.
WITH: , Shavonna Banks as Noni Tariq, MaameYaa Boafo as Tina Pardon, Biko Eisen-Martin as Theodore “Big Time” Southmore, and Martin Kushner as John Thomas Resterly.
“Spacebar: A Broadway Play by Kyle Sugarman” at the Wild Project (Through Sunday November 9, 2014)
“Spacebar: A Broadway Play by Kyle Sugarman” at the Wild Project (Through Sunday November 9, 2014) Written by Michael Mitnick Directed by Maggie Burrows Reviewed by Sander Gusinow, Theatre Reviews Limited
You remember that kid from high school? The one who was totally obsessed with Broadway, who had written their own play, with a near encyclopedic knowledge of playwrights, musicals, and Tony Award nominees? Well, Michael Mitnick has written a show about him; and his name is Kyle Sugarman.
The play opens in heart rending fashion as a young Kyle’s father informs him his sister died in a swimming accident. Fast-forward to the present day as the sixteen-year-old Kyle emerges with a play, and an impassioned plea to Broadway. He wants them to produce his lurid monstrosity of a play about a futuristic bartender (aptly named “Spacebar”). Snippets of the amateurishly-written space opera are interspersed amid Kyle’s continuing letters Broadway, as well has his budding romance with Jessica, captain of the girls’ swim team. Eventually Kyle makes it to Broadway, and his real intention emerges. Not to make it big as a playwright, but to finally make an impact on his delinquent father.
Despite a delightful premise, “Spacebar” lamentably runs out of charm. The play is quagmired with shortcomings, most crippling of which is the tedious relationship between Kyle and Jessica. It’s undecipherable why the lazily-written Jessica wants so badly to deflower the young Mr. Sugarman. Potential romance is vampirized by unnecessary reflection and the author’s refusal to write Jessica as anything other than a sounding board. Despite Actress Willa Fitzgerald’s valiant effort as the swim captain, the pair never has the spark they need to captivate.
Lead actor Will Connolly is endearingly magnetic as the cuddly Kyle. His head is so adorably in the clouds it’s hard to notice his character’s wild inconsistence. At some points Kyle knows all there is to know about Broadway (mostly when he needs to make a joke at its expense) and at other times he’s so oblivious he refers to playwrights as ‘play writers.’ (Also, conveniently, when he needs to make a joke.)
And what dreary jokes they are. For all his jabs at “Fraiser,” Mitnick could stand to watch a few episodes. Although most of the upending humor directed at Broadway hits the mark, when your best joke of the second half involves the vaguely Eastern-European actress owning a goat, you know you’re in hot borscht.
Finally, there are just too many cooks in the kitchen. Spacebar struggles to do too much with too little. Director Maggie Burrows can’t seem to find a rhythm as the style, storyline, and mood of the piece turn hurriedly on a dime. The fate of Kyle’s play, his relationship with Jessica, his grief over his sister, and his struggle for his father’s attention can’t all come to fruition in ninety minutes, especially with so many potshots and stylized satire to get through.
Not that Broadway doesn't have plenty to Lampoon, but these decidedly amateur, over-referential, despondently quirky comedies of the Off Broadway could use a send up all their own. It’s easy to poke fun at such an imperfect institution, but plays like “Spacebar” are case-in-point why theatergoers are loathe to try something different.
SPACEBAR: A BROADWAY PLAY BY KYLE SUGARMAN
by Michael Mitnick; directed by Maggie Burrows; sets and costumes by Dane Laffrey; lighting by Jen Schriever; sound by Brandon Wolcott; artwork by Studio RFA. Production stage manager, Whitney Dearden; rehearsal stage manager, Alexandra Hall; technical director, Brandon Wheat; lead producer, Adriel Saporta. Presented by ARS Productions. Production photos by Hunter Canning. At the Wild Project, 195 E. 3rd Street, between Avenues A& B, (866) 811-4111. Through Sunday November 9, 2014. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
WITH: Will Connolly, John Doherty, Willa Fitzgerald, Ana Kayne, Christopher Michael McFarland and Morgan Ritchie.
“The Brightness of Heaven” at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre (Through Sunday December 14, 2014)
Photo by John Quilty
“The Brightness of Heaven” at the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre (Through Sunday December 14, 2014) Written by Laura Pedersen Directed by Ludovica Viilar-Hauser Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
When Ed Kilgannon (played with powerful panache by Peter Cormican) stretches out on his favorite chair in his Buffalo, New York home, he is not simply snoozing; the head of the Kilgannon clan is doing his best to hide from the matrix of disturbing truths that threaten the fabric of his nuclear and extended Kilgannon-Jablonski families. And he is hiding from his own truth which has held him hostage in a judgmental family system all of his married life.
Laura Pedersen’s “The Brightness of Heaven” focuses on a middle-class upstate New York extended family that has depended on its Roman Catholic faith to keep its members in check at the expense of their attempts to discover themselves and their places in the changing world of the 1970s. There is nothing new in the laundry list of human “offenses” that – according to Ed’s wife Joyce (Kate Kearney-Patch) and sister Mary (Paula Ewin) - would send the miscreants straight to hell.
Jimmy Jablonski (James Michael Lambert) is openly gay and his mother Mary knows he is headed for eternal punishment. Mary’s daughter Grace works at a “skilled nursing facility” and is so depressed she bites her nails and pulls out her hair and – perhaps most disturbing to her mother – is seeing a therapist. Ed and Joyce’s youngest child Kathleen (Kendall Rileigh) has had an abortion and plans to marry outside the faith. Their middle child Dennis (Mark Banik) has given up his life for his parents and has neglected his own wife and family. And their oldest child Brendan (played with just the perfect hint of disdain by Bill Coyne) is an out-of-work alcoholic actor. Mr. Coyne’s Brendan is the quintessential prodigal son and Mr. Banik’s Dennis is the perfect template for the brooding and jealous stay-at-home brother who never gets the fatted lamb feast.
Ed’s truth is revealed by his nephew Jimmy during the round-the-dinner-table recriminations. Slightly emboldened by the wine, he blurts out “Please ─ what do you think was going on when Uncle Ed moved Brendan to Manhattan and the bright lights of Broadway and spent the summer there with him?” Peter Cormican’s Ed has clearly constructed a wall of denial and defeat around his sexual status and the regret and fear this character lives with lines the actor’s face throughout the feigned merriment. If only the playwright had spent more time developing her characters, the audience could care even more for them.
This laundry list of human conditions never transcends being just a rehearsal of issues that families encounter and deal with. Playwright Laura Pedersen does nothing to help the audience feel anything for any of her characters. And director Ludovica Villar-Hauser seems content with moving them in and out of the house and all around the living space with no apparent reason. This leaves the talented cast to fend for themselves as they attempt to bring believability and authenticity to their characters. Ms. Pedersen takes on too much and resolves too little in her seventy minute drama.
This is not a Tracy Letts drama where a myriad of dysfunction ultimately reveals the dark crevice where the reasons for the dysfunction lie. This is a skimming of the surface – a mere rehearsal of the many challenges to faith a religious family might have in the 1970s. There is no catharsis. After all the carping and shouting and verbal abuse, Joyce’s appearance at the play’s end in a halo of light showing some remorse does little to redeem her or the play she is in. Promising to “start planning [Kathleen’s] shower tomorrow” and to “make her pineapple upside down-cake” is hardly a sign of true “redemption and release.” It is difficult to see any brightness of heaven in this mostly cloudy comedy.
THE BRIGHTNESS OF HEAVEN
By Laura Pedersen; directed by Ludovica Villar-Hauser; sets and costumes by Meganne George; lighting by Natalie Robin; sound by Janie Bullard; production stage manager, Alison Hassman; general manager, Brierpatch Productions. Production photos by John Quilty. Presented by the VH Theatrical Development Foundation. At the Cherry Lane Studio Theatre, 38 Commerce Street, (212) 352-3101, http://www.thebrightnessofheaven.com/. Through Sunday December 14, 2014. Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission.
WITH: Mark Banik, Emily Batsford, Peter Cormican, Bill Coyne, Paula Ewin, James Michael Lambert, Kate Kearney-Patch and Kendall Rileigh.
“Billy and Ray” at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday November 23, 2014)
Larry Pine, left and Vincent Kartheiser - Photo by Carol Rosegg
“Billy and Ray” at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday November 23, 2014) Written by Mike Bencivenga Directed by Garry Marshall Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Plays about the making of plays or the making of movies ought to adhere to the conventions of the genre being dramatized. Playwright Mike Bencivenga fails to accomplish this important writer’s task in his new “Billy and Ray” currently running at the Vineyard Theatre. This play about the collaboration between Billy Wilder (Vincent Kartheiser) and Raymond Chandler (Larry Pine) on the adaptation of James M. Cain’s 1943 novella ”Double Indemnity” for the screen portrays Wilder and Chandler as flat and static characters on the set of a television sit-com with walls that shake when windows and doors are closed. Director Garry Marshall oddly does little to animate his cast and the lot of them seems ready for the final curtain not long after it rises. This is an unfortunate circumstance for a talented cast more than capable of animating a script and for an audience more than ready to appreciate its collective craft.
What should be an interesting play about the making of the 1944 film noir classic “Double Indemnity” fails to hit the mark and lies flat for most of its two hour and ten minute duration. In Act II, Ray admonishes Billy to “treat the audience like adults.” That was good advice for Billy and it ought to have been equally good advice for Mr. Marshall who chooses to treat the audience here as pubescent star-struck interlopers.
Mr. Bencivenga includes rants about the lack of artistic freedom in the United States – freedom that Wilder hoped to find after settling in America and alludes to Wilder’s concerns about his parents in Hitler’s Austria and to Chandler’s alcoholism. Both “secrets” are used to goad one another into an artistic treasure trove. Unfortunately, none of this works. In short, “Billy and Ray” flounders in its attempt to honor the collaboration upon which it ostensibly based.
Sophie Von Haselberg is efficient as Billy Wilder’s omnipresent secretary Helen and Drew Gehling is ideal as the producer Joe Sistrom who needs to get Billy and Ray to produce a script that will pass the censorial test of “decency.” Along with Mr. Kartheiser and Mr. Pine, they do their best to enliven a troubled script under less than supportive direction. Mr. Marshall’s decision to play Billy and Ray’s collaborative scenes in the style of film noir is unnecessary and adds nothing to the development of the plot. And the ending of the play – whether the work of the playwright or the choice of the director – is puzzling and sophomoric.
BILLY AND RAY
By Mike Bencivenga; directed by Garry Marshall; sets by Charlie Corcoran; costumes by Michael Krass; lighting by Russell H. Champa; original music and sound by David Van Tieghem; production stage manager, Eric Insko; general manager, DR Theatrical Management. Production photos by Carol Rosegg. Presented by the Vineyard Theatre (Artistic Director Douglas Aibel, Artistic Director Sarah Stern, Executive Producer Jennifer Garvey-Blackwell). At the Vineyard Theatre, 108 East 15th Street, (212) 353-0303, https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/34342. Through Sunday November 23, 2014. Running time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with one 10 minute intermission.
WITH: Drew Gehling, Vincent Kartheiser, Larry Pine, and Sophie Von Haselberg.
“Deliverance” at the 59E59 Theater C (Through Sunday November 9, 2014)
Photo by Jason Woodruf
“Deliverance” at the 59E59 Theater C (Through Sunday November 9, 2014) Written by James Dickey, Adapted by Sean Tyler Directed by Joe Tantalo Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’” Obadiah 1:3
Obadiah tried to warn Edom to repent of its pride, its inexorable hubris – but to no avail. The nation had its literal and figurative “home on the heights” and presumed no one or nothing could bring it “down to the ground. Lewis (Gregory Konow) has similar concerns in Sean Tyler’s adaptation of James Dickey’s “Deliverance” currently being presented by the Godlight Theatre company at 59E59 Theater C in Manhattan. “Y’know,” warns Lewis, “one day the machines are gonna fail, and the political systems are gonna fail.” Ed (Nick Paglino) asks him, “And what are we gonna do then?” Lewis responds, “I had an air-raid shelter built.”
Lewis convinces Ed, Bobby (Jarrod Zayas), and Drew (Sean Tant) that a canoe trip down the Cahulawassee River might take their minds off the impending demise of civilization and give them the opportunity to experience the river and its environs before the valley is totally submerged to create a dam. Lewis boasts, “It’s breath-taking up there. Once you’ve experienced it you’ll never see the world the same way again.” A few mountain men, the Griner brothers, a sheriff, and his deputy (Jason Bragg Stanley, Bryce Hodgson, and Eddie Dunn) manage to ensure that prediction will materialize.
In 1970, after Nixon’s failed “Vietnamization” plan, the United States invaded Cambodia and the student protests at Kent State and Jackson State result in the deaths of six students. In 1970 James Dickey wrote “Deliverance.” America’s longest war sparked not only widespread protest; the war seemed also to spark self-examination and self-possession. Although ‘deliverance’ refers to the salvation of the isolated penitent through humble acceptance of divine grace, Dickey also explicitly relates the concept of deliverance to its implied recognition of the importance of the other, of the limits of self-possession.
“Deliverance” serves as a trope for this recognition of the limits of self-possession. Lewis’s trip results in humiliation, sexual assault, and murder. His pride and condescending attitude toward “the locals” results in a significant fall from grace. Three of the four men return home. And, in their reintegration into the human community, it is a deliverance precisely from self-control, from the bleak tyranny of the autonomous self. All this comes with considerable cost and heightens the irony of the novel’s seemingly redemptive title.
Although Ed admonishes Bobby, “Remember your movies,” it is better not to remember John Boorman’s 1972 film adaptation of “Deliverance” when watching Joe Tantalo’s staging of Sean Tyler’s adaptation of the novel. It is far better to remember James Dickey’s novel itself and what it is that good readers need to do when exploring text: good readers should try to read aloud and should visualize as they read. The Godlight Theatre Company is committed to creating original adaptations of modern classical literature not adaptations of movies based on those classics.
Under Joe Tantalo’s direction, the ensemble cast in essence does precisely what good readers do and provides the audience with an authentic “read” of Mr. Dickey’s challenging novel. And this is not an easy read. The novel - banned in the past from high school libraries – contains graphic and sometimes disturbing imagery of what happens when four “city boys” attempt to control their environment (personal and global) and take charge of their lives as autonomous entities. Before the trip, Lewis describes the valley people in this way: “They’re good people up here, y’know. Sure they live in their clans and they’re set in their ways.” That might describe most of humankind as it attempts to make sense of the world from the heights. And there is no certainty that building air-raid shelters will help in that journey.
By James Dickey and adapted by Sean Tyler; directed by Joe Tantalo; sets and lighting by Maruti Evans; costumes by Orli Nativ; sound by Ien DeNio; original music by Bryce Hodgson and Danny Blackburn; fight choreographer, Rick Sordelet; production stage manager, Chris Knutson; associate producers,Corey Pearlstein, Tiffani Gavin, and Michael Shimkin. Production photos by Jason Woodruf. Presented by Godlight Theatre Company (Joe Tantalo, Artistic Director). At 59E59 Theater C, 59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues. (212) 279-4200, http://www.59e59.org/. Through Sunday November 9, 2014. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
WITH: Eddie Dunn, Bryce Hodgson, Gregory Konow, Nick Paglino, Jason Bragg Stanley, Sean Tant, and Jarrod Zayas.
CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY PRESENTS CLASSIC CONVERSATIONS: CHITA RIVERA
CLASSIC STAGE COMPANY PRESENTS CLASSIC CONVERSATIONS: CHITA RIVERA
By David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Classic Stage Company, under the leadership of Artistic Director Brian Kulick, Managing Director Jeff Griffin and Executive Director Greg Reiner, will present CLASSIC CONVERSATIONS: CHITA RIVERA on Sunday evening, November 16 at 7:30 pm. The Tony Award-winning legend will sit down for a chat about her life and career with director John Doyle, who recently directed Rivera in Kander & Ebb’s The Visit this summer at Williamstown Theatre Festival. Doyle, CSC Associate Director, is currently directing the company’s upcoming production of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s ALLEGRO, which begins previews Saturday, November 1.
Tickets will go on sale to the public Thursday, October 16 at Noon at www.classicstage.org, by calling 212-352-3101 or 866-811-4111, or at the CSC Box Office at 136 East 13th Street between Third and Fourth Avenues. Tickets are $45 for side sections; $80 for center section: and $125 VIP center, which includes a special after-party with Chita Rivera and John Doyle.
An accomplished and versatile actress/singer/dancer, Chita Rivera has won two Tony Awards as Best Leading Actress in a Musical and received seven additional Tony nominations. This summer (2014) she recreated her starring role in “The Visit” (the final John Kander/Fred Ebb/Terrence McNally musical) at the Williamstown Theatre Festival. She recently starred in the Broadway revival of “The Mystery of Edwin Drood” and the Broadway and touring productions of “The Dancer’s Life,” a dazzling new musical celebrating her spectacular career, written by Terrence McNally and directed by Graciela Daniele. She also starred in the revival of the Broadway musical “Nine” with Antonio Banderas. She trained as a ballerina (from age 11) before receiving a scholarship to the School of American Ballet from legendary George Balanchine. Chita’s first appearance (age 17) was as a principal dancer in “Call Me Madam.” Her electric performance as Anita in the Broadway premiere of “West Side Story” (1957) brought her stardom, which she repeated in London. Her career is highlighted by starring roles in “Bye Bye Birdie,” “The Rink” (Tony Award), Chicago, “Jerry’s Girls,” “Kiss of the Spider Woman” (Tony Award), and the original Broadway casts of “Guys and Dolls,” “Can-Can,” “Seventh Heaven” and “Mr. Wonderful.” On tour: “Born Yesterday,” “The Rose Tattoo,” “Call Me Madam,” “Threepenny Opera,” “Sweet Charity,” “Kiss Me Kate,” “Zorba,” “Can-Can” with The Rockettes. Chita was awarded The Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama in August, 2009. She received the coveted Kennedy Center Honor in Washington, DC in December, 2002 and is the first Hispanic woman ever chosen to receive this award. In May, 2013, she was appointed to a special Kennedy Center Honors Advisory Committee. Chita’s current solo CD is entitled “And Now I Swing.” Her most treasured production is her daughter, singer/dancer/choreographer Lisa Mordente.
“Lennon Through A Glass Onion” at the Union Square Theatre (Through Sunday February 22, 2015)
Photo by Joan Marcus
“Lennon Through A Glass Onion” at the Union Square Theatre (Through Sunday February 22, 2015) Conceived and Performed by John R. Waters With Stewart D’Arrietta With the Music of John Lennon/Lennon & McCartney Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
There have been a plethora of Beatles tributes on and off Broadway in the recent past but none honors the Beatles songbook better than “Lennon Through A Glass Onion” currently running at the Union Square Theatre. Conceived and Performed by John R. Waters, this complex and engaging musical focuses on the music of John Lennon through a “peeling back of the onion” of Lennon’s life and work and revealing how the two are inextricably reticulated.
Mr. Waters and Mr. D’Arrietta have performed “Lennon” around the world for the last two decades and now make their auspicious New York debut for a twenty week run in the East Village. Alluding to a John Lennon quote, these two remarkable musicians take Lennon’s life and music apart and reassemble it with the glue of their performances. While (as Lennon) telling stories about the early days of the Beatles, the fame and the cost of fame, the breakup of the group, and the relationship with Yoko Ono and their son, John Waters reimagines “Strawberry Fields Forever,” Norwegian Wood,” Nowhere Man,” “Julia,” “Hide Your Love Away,” “Working Class Hero,” “Imagine,” and twenty-four other iconic Lennon and Lennon/McCartney songs.
This reimagining happens through the almost uncanny combination of Mr. Waters’ voice and guitar and Mr. D’Arrietta’s voice and incandescent piano skills. There are times when the audience begins to search for the rest of the band and the backup singers. This duo is brilliant, one of a kind, and not to be missed. These musicians do far more than embody Lennon and his work. It is more as though John Lennon was looking over John Waters’ shoulder, whispering in his ear, “It’s OK, John, I’m here and you are doing just fine. And, by the way, who’s that amazing guy at the piano? And look at all those lonely people out there – let’s cheer them up!”
The scenic and lighting designs by Anthony “Bazz” Barrett provide an ethereal and resplendent setting for the magic that occurs on the Union Square Theatre stage between John Waters and Stewart D’Arrietta and the appreciative and often awe-struck audience. No director is credited for assembling this important show and one assumes the artists self-directed.
Once Mr. Waters and Mr. D’Arrietta hook the audience with their enormous musical talent, the audience is transported to a magical mystery tour of Lennon and Lennon-McCartney songs and stories Mr. Waters constructs from Lennon’s lyrics. There are times one is certain John Lennon is in the house, tapping on the shoulders of the audience saying, “I hope all of this helps you get through the night.”
LENNON THROUGH A GLASS ONION
Conceived and performed by John R. Waters; with Stewart D’Arrietta; sets and lighting by Anthony “Bazz” Barrett; sound by Adam Burbury; with the music and lyrics of John Lennon/Lennon & McCartney; production stage manager, William H. Lang; associate producers, Philip C. Walker and Philip Mortlock; general managers, Frankel Green Theatrical Management and Joe Watson . Production photos by Joan Marcus. Presented by Harley Medcalf, Michael A. Jenkins/DSM, Origin Theatrical, Jon B. Platt, Richard Frankel, and Joe Watson. At the Union Square Theatre, 100 East 17th Street, (800) 982-2787, TicketMaster.com. Through Sunday February 22, 2015. Running time: 90 minutes with no intermission.
“Big: The Musical” at the York Theatre Company (Through Sunday October 19, 2014)
Rhyn McLemore, Liam Forde, Kerry Butler, John Tartaglia, Whitney Brandt, Elainey Bass, and Julianna Rigoglioso - Photo by Jenny Anderson
“Big: The Musical” at the York Theatre Company (Through Sunday October 19, 2014) Book by John Weidman Music by David Shire Lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr. Directed by Michael Unger Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“Kleider machen Leute” (Clothes people make.) - Gottfried Keller
In mufti, with all the typical theatrical trappings stripped away, “Big: The Musical” becomes just small enough to really understand the characters in this iconic musical, clearly relate to their conflicts, and share in and relate to the stories these child and adult-sized conflicts spin. In its current run at the York Theatre Company, there is nothing to distract the audience from the raw emotion of a boy having his wish to be grown up granted only to discover adulthood has its own complexities especially when seen through the eyes of a twelve year old going on thirteen.
“Big: The Musical” follows Josh through his stint with adulthood and his employment at the MacMillan Toy Company and his head-over-heels love affair with MacMillan Vice President Susan Lawrence played to perfection by Kerry Butler. Ms. Butler and John Tartaglia who plays the adult Josh Baskin make theatre magic together and portray the tension between the “adult” Josh (he is still just thirteen!) and Susan with palpable believability and authenticity. Their yearning for love and Josh’s decision to “return” to childhood serve as important tropes for the vicissitudes of life, the importance of values in making decisions, the often elusive nature of love, and the importance of “going home.”
The ensemble cast works well together to successfully dramatize the complexities of life and love and the yearning for acceptance. Hayden Wall is wonderful as the young Josh Baskin who visits Zoltar (Tom Lucca) and makes his wish to be “big.” Equally wonderful is the vivacious and uber-talented Jeremy Shinder who portrays Josh’s best-friend-forever Billy Kopecki and does all he can to arrange for a second visit to the nearest Zoltar so Josh can wish himself back into boyhood. Under Michael Unger’s utilitarian direction, this extraordinary cast makes this musical in mufti excel. Eric Svejcar’s musical direction is appropriate for the scaled down “Big” and his keyboard skills (with the unnamed bass player) provide energy and support for the cast.
York Theatre’s “Big” is the New York premiere of the script and score created by the authors for the show’s national tour and is a significantly revised version of the show with eight new Maltby and Shire songs yet to be recorded. Although all of the show’s songs are memorable, perhaps most notable are “Big Boys” (Josh and Billy); “Let’s Not Move Too Fast” (Susan); “Stars” (Josh and Susan); “Little Susan Lawrence” (Susan); “Stop, Time” (Janet Metz as Mrs. Baskin); “The Real Thing” (Tom/Tom Lucca, Abigail/Whitney Brandt), Diane/Trista Dollison, and Nick/Liam Forde); and “We’re Gonna Be Fine” (Josh and Susan).
After Walter Charles served notice he could not continue his commitment to the production, “Big’s” lyricist Richard Maltby, Jr. assumes the role of George MacMillan. What a treat for the audience to see this iconic lyricist perform this role. No casting director could have found a better replacement for Mr. Charles.
This stripped down version surpasses the original Broadway production but – despite all the revisions – it still lacks the big ending it needs. Kids want toys that are fun. Sometimes audiences want endings that are not only happy but fun and big. And everyone – including Billy, young Josh, his mother, and Susan – wants to know about home: what is it; where is it; and how does one get there? Sounds like a Broadway revival with a big ending in the making.
BIG: THE MUSICAL
Book by John Weidman; lyrics by Richard Maltby, Jr.; music by David Shire; directed by Michael Unger; music direction by Eric Svejcar; lighting by KJ Hardy; production stage manager, Meg Friedman. Presented by The York Theatre Company (Producing Artistic Director James Morgan, Executive Director Andrew Levine, and Chair of the Board W. David McCoy). Production photos by Jenny Anderson. At the York Theatre Company at Saint Peter’s (entrance of East 54th Street just east of Lexington Avenue), (212) 935-5820, www.yorktheatre.org . Through Sunday October 19, 2014. Running time: 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.
WITH: Elainey Bass, Whitney Brandt, Kerry Butler, Walter Charles, Trista Dollison, Liam Forde, Tom Lucca, James Ludwig, Rhyn McLemore, Janet Metz, Julianna Rigoglioso, Jeremy Shinder, John Tartaglia, and Hayden Wall.
“While I Yet Live” at Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd Street (Through Friday October 31, 2014)
Elain Graham, Lillias White and Larry Powell - Photo by James Leynse
“While I Yet Live” at Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd Street (Through Friday October 31, 2014) Written by Billy Porter Directed by Sheryl Kaller Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“Give me my flowers/While I yet live/So that I, I, can see the beauty/That they bring.” - James Cleveland
In 1994, just before the Thanksgiving turkey is carved and served, Calvin (Larry Powell) packs his things, says good-bye to Eva (Sharon Washington) and his sister Tonya (Sheria Irving) and leaves his Pittsburgh house and home. Sexually abused by his stepfather Vernon (Kevyn Morrow) and emotionally abused by a Pentecostal faith that brands his sexual status as “not normal,” Calvin “needs space to grow, to learn how to love myself, in spite of myself.”
Seven years and three Broadway shows later, Calvin returns home to a house inhabited by jealousy, remorse, and a ghostly cacophony urging Calvin to reunite with his family, practice his childhood faith, and open himself to the healing power of forgiveness. Unfortunately, it appears Calvin has returned to arrange for his mother to enter an assisted living facility. Where Calvin has been and what he did to learn how to love himself remains a mystery to his prodigal family – and to the audience. And that mystery is the problem with Billy Porter’s autobiographical new play “While I Yet Live” currently running at Primary Stages at The Duke on 42nd Street.
What is known in Mr. Porter’s play is that the cultural divide between generations is not only palpable but often destructive. That divide includes vastly differing ways to understand faith, to understand commitment to family, and to embrace the matrix of acceptance that promotes redemptive healing. Calvin’s mother Maxine (played with scintillating brilliance by S. Epatha Merkerson), who suffers from a cerebral palsy like disease, draws upon a deep faith to cope with her illness; unfortunately, that same faith labels most of the human condition “a shame before God.” Calvin’s grandmother Gertrude (played with just the right playfulness by Lillias White) attempts to close the generational gap but is unable to successfully break through the barricades of resentment and sorrow erected by Gertrude and her sister Delores (Elaine Graham).
Mr. Porter has shared that he wrote “While I Yet Live” as “a love letter to his mother, his sister, and the woman who raised him.” And although there is much in his first script that celebrates these women in his characters, there is too much left unsaid and unresolved. The playwright’s decision to break the fourth wall is unfortunate. Every time Tonya breaks that fragile wall and addresses the audience, her monologues do more than provide exposition: these appeals to the audience’s memories build walls between those memories and the stories seeking resolution on the stage. Further weakening the script is the decision to depend on ghosts to resolve conflicts and a player piano to provide setting. Magical realism is a difficult theatrical convention and it does nothing to advance the plot in Mr. Porter’s play.
Under Sheryl Kaller’s somewhat tentative direction, the ensemble cast often rises above the script to deliver performances filled with authenticity and believability; however, it is difficult to connect to these strong women. Although Calvin’s mother Maxine embraces psychotherapy to better understand herself and her son, the effort seems far too little and far too late. And Tonya’s resentment and bitterness and her sudden willingness to pray with Maxine and Calvin seem out of character and lacking believability.
Mr. Powell is an engaging Calvin but he is not given the opportunity to “come of age” on stage. The audience aches for more of Mr. Powell’s craft in sharing Calvin’s important and redemptive journey to self-acceptance. As it stands, “While I Yet Live” is an interesting glimpse into the heart and guts of a dysfunctional family. There is nothing new in Mr. Porter’s first play. What is important is that there will be a second, and a third. And for that we give thanks.
WHILE I YET LIVE
By Billy Porter; directed by Sheryl Kaller; sets by James Noone; costumes by ESOSA; lighting by Kevin Adams; sound by Leon Rothenberg; hair and wig design by Rob Greene and J. Jared Janas; original music by Jerome Kirkland, Jr.; production stage manager, Amanda Spooner; general manager, Toni Marie Davis. Production Photos by James Leynse. Presented by Primary Stages (Executive Producer Casey Childs, Artistic Director Andrew Leynse, and Managing Director Elliot Fox) in association with Susan Dietz. At The Duke on 42nd Street, 229 West 42nd Street, (646) 223-3010, PrimaryStages.org or Dukeon42.org. Through Friday October 31, 2014. Running time: 2 hours and 5 minutes with one intermission.
“When January Feels Like Summer” at the Ensemble Studio Theatre and Women’s Project Theater (Through Sunday October 26, 2014)
Mahira Kakkar, left and Debargo Sanyal - Photo by Gerry Goodstein
“When January Feels Like Summer” at the Ensemble Studio Theatre and Women’s Project Theater (Through Sunday October 26, 2014) Written by Cori Thomas Directed by Daniella Topol Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens.” - Ecclesiastes 3:1
It seems everything in Cori Thomas’s “When January Feels Like Summer” is out of synch, out of time, somehow oddly akilter and often akimbo. The weather is not seasonal. Relationships are not functioning within desired limits. Gender shakes itself out of traditional norms. Privilege separates individuals and poorly tolerates all challenges to status. Things need to be rearranged, reordered, reclaimed, and redeemed – the perfect context for propitiating Ganesha the Hindu god of wisdom and learning who removes all obstacles to success.
Indeed this lovable and mischievous deity’s image is the only constant on Jason Simms’ functional set and serves as a metaphor for the systemic change needed in the lives of the characters that meet Ganesh’s gaze. Nirmala (played with palpable vulnerability by Mahira Kakkar) has struggled for three years to manage her husband’s deli while he lingers on life support after being shot. She has also struggled to remove that life support from the man who brought her from India after marrying her then never “touched her” again choosing pornography over intimacy with his wife. Nirmala needs a Ganesha intervention.
Nirmala lives with her brother Ishan who has quit his job to continue the process of male to female gender reassignment and who desperately needs the money Nirmala would receive from her husband’s life insurance settlement to complete his reassignment surgery if only she would remove him from life support. Debargo Sanyal brings authenticity, sensitivity, and impetuous honesty to his dual roles of Ishan (male) and Indira (female). Ms. Kakkar and Mr. Sanyal bring tender believability to a brother and sister deeply searching for unconditional and non-judgmental love in the midst of the barrenness of their personal and urban landscape. Nirmala and Indira need a Ganesha intervention.
Joe (Dion Graham) is a New York Sanitation worker who also needs an intervention: like Nirmala, he has lived a loveless life and needs a change. Dion Graham’s Joe is a solid triumphant character who serves as confessor to Nirmala and Ishan and a catalyst for redemption. Mr. Graham has the ability to convey more with expression and movement than many actors struggle to convey with dialogue. He is a joy to watch command a stage. Joe also serves as a mentor to Devaun and Jeron – also in need of a Ganesha makeover.
Devaun and Jeron operate within what they understand to be acceptable norms for urban young men: they have jobs, they are heterosexual; they are tolerant of others unless what might be aberrant in others fails to respect their boundaries and emerging sensibilities. What Devaun (Maurice Williams) lacks in smart phone and verbal skills he makes up for in his ability to “get with” women (young, old, and in-between) and his seemingly flawless ability to intuit when danger lurks and when unconditional love beckons. Jeron (Carter Redwood) is Devaun’s devoted side-kick who encourages his friend and does his very best to tweak Devaun’s reach for success. Mr. Williams and Mr. Redwood are profoundly skilled young actors who bring a level of maturity to their craft well beyond their years.
Ms. Thomas takes too long to establish the importance of Devaun and Jeron to the progression of the play’s action and some characterizations in the play fall prey to stereotypes. Despite these concerns, “When January Feels Like Summer” is an endearing and powerful examination of the power of unconditional love.
The deep longings of all of these characters to find fulfillment and acceptance and love collide in subway and deli and living rooms and bedrooms and all obstacles are overcome. And like Ganesha, each character has life breathed into him or her again. As Indira shares with her new love interest Devaun, “Ganesha was originally a real boy. But then by mistake his head was cut off and the only replacement head was an elephant's. It was attached, life was breathed into him again and after overcoming this huge obstacle, everyone lived happily ever after.” January can indeed feel like summer.
Under Daniella Topol’s careful direction, the ensemble cast of “When January Feels Like Summer” confirm that living happily ever after is not just fable: they confirm that such an idyllic state can be the reality upon which all fairy tales are based.
WHEN JANUARY FEES LIKE SUMMER
By Cori Thomas; directed by Daniella Topol; sets by Jason Simms; costumes by Sydney Maresca; lighting by Austin R. Smith; sound by Shane Rettig; production stage manager, Kate Croasdale; technical supervision by Steven Brenman; general manager, Nicholas Ward. Production photos by Gerry Goodstein. Presented by The Ensemble Studio Theaqtre and the Women’s Project Theater. At the Ensemble Studio Theatre, 549 West 52nd Street, (866) 811-4111, https://web.ovationtix.com/trs/cal/134. Through Sunday October 26, 2014. Running time: 2 hours and 10 minutes with a 15 minute intermission.
WITH: Dion Graham (Joe), Mahira Kakkar (Nirmala), Carter Redwood (Jeron), Debargo Sanyal (Ishan/Indira), and Maurice Williams (Devaun).
“Riding the Midnight Express with Billy Hayes” at the Barrow Street Theatre (Through Sunday November 30, 2014)
“Riding the Midnight Express with Billy Hayes” at the Barrow Street Theatre (Through Sunday November 30, 2014) Written and Performed by Billy Hayes Directed by Jeffrey Altshuler Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
In October 1970, on his fourth attempt to smuggle hashish from Turkey to the United States, “the blond hippie” Billy Hayes was apprehended and remanded to Sağmalcılar prison for a four year and two month sentence. Because of then President Nixon’s war on the smuggling of drugs into the United States and his pressure on countries like Turkey to stem the flow of drugs to the United States, Billy’s sentence was increased to life in prison with the reduced sentence of thirty years. Using his powers of persuasion and monetary encouragement, Billy convinced the prison psychiatrist to arrange his transferred to Imrali Island Prison – the prison with the highest escape rate in the system. From the moment he stepped into the Turkish prison, Billy was determined to escape from that prison, to “ride the midnight express.”
Mr. Hayes’ account of that escape in October of 1975 and all that preceded it is the substance of his solo performance “Riding the Midnight Express with Billy Hayes” currently running at the Bowery Street Theatre in Manhattan’s West Village. Halfway through Mr. Hayes solo performance, it becomes clear that his story needs a wider audience and its important content might have a broader appeal as a motivational address, making rich connections between his stories to audience stories. His mantra “always lonely, never alone” is one such connection as is his rehearsal of William James’ prescription to “alter life by altering attitude.”
Every audience member can connect to “imprisonment:” imprisonment in dysfunctional relationships; in abusive relationships; in dead-end jobs; in mild to severe depression; in loss of best friends and subsequent bereavement; and in the debilitating matrix of non-productivity. And every audience member can be reminded of the significant benefits of practicing Yoga and determining to live “in the moment.” This is not to say the performance is not effective as it stands; it is suggesting that it might be more effective if re-imagined as a motivational speech (or series of speeches) perhaps in conjunction with Mr. Hayes’ book tours.
When Mr. Hayes relates the story of writing to his friend Barbara and reliving the sense-memory of “touching the paper she touched” and when he shares the deep sadness at the loss of his friend Robert “Bone” McBee, everyone in the audience experiences the times they grasped the importance of love and relationship and the extraordinary power of memory to heal and restore the spirit. Billy Hayes is a master storyteller who utilizes all the rhetorical devices of persuasion (logos, ethos, and pathos) and effectively uses imagery and figurative language to engage his audience. His remarkable story of survival is authentic and honest and needs to be heard.
RIDING THE MIDNIGHT EXPRESS WITH BILLY HAYES
By Billy Hayes; directed by Jeffrey Altshuler; lighting by Sarnoldesign (Stephen Arnold); graphic design by Muse Design, Ltd. (Alan Buttar); production stage manager, Josh Kohler; company manager, Victoria Gagliano; general manager, Barrow Street Theatre(Scott Morfee and Amy Dalba). Press photographs by Carol Rosegg. Presented by Barbara Ligeti and Jeffrey Altshuler. At the Barrow Street Theatre, 27 Barrow Street, (212) 868-4444, http://ridingthemidnightexpress.com. Through Sunday November 30, 2014. Running time: 70 minutes with no intermission.
THE LEGENDARY JAMES EARL JONES NAMED 2015 HONOREE FOR THE DRAMA LEAGUE’S 31ST ANNUAL "MUSICAL CELEBRATION OF BROADWAY"
THE LEGENDARY JAMES EARL JONES NAMED 2015 HONOREE FOR THE DRAMA LEAGUE’S 31ST ANNUAL "MUSICAL CELEBRATION OF BROADWAY"
By David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
The Drama League (Executive Director Gabriel Shanks; Artistic Director Roger T. Danforth) announced today they will honor the legendary Emmy®, Grammy®, Oscar® and Tony® Award (EGOT) winner James Earl Jones at the 31st Annual “Musical Celebration of Broadway,” to be held on Monday evening, February 2, 2015 at the famed Pierre Hotel (2 East 61st Street). The black-tie gala, which features dozens of stars from Hollywood and Broadway in a one-night-only musical tribute inspired by Mr. Jones' career in theater, film and television, supports The Drama League’s educational initiatives for promising young artists. Tickets are available by calling (212) 244-9494.
“As he is proving eight times a week at the Longacre Theatre in “You Can’t Take It With You,” James Earl Jones is a national treasure,” said Executive Director Gabriel Shanks. “The Drama League is honored to celebrate his extraordinary life and career with him on February 2nd, and to bring together his many co-stars, friends, admirers and collaborators from the last six decades, all in one very spectacular night.”
The “Musical Celebration of Broadway” Honoring James Earl Jones will welcome 500 of New York City’s most influential arts supporters, celebrities, and luminaries for a black-tie evening of cocktails, dinner, and the acclaimed, unforgettable musical revue that is the signature of this event. Featuring dozens of stars from film, television and theatre, the “Musical Celebration of Broadway” will highlight shows from Mr. Jones' illustrious theater triumphs, including “You Can’t Take it With You,” “Fences,” “Master Harold...and the Boys”, “The Great White Hope,” “Othello,” “Driving Miss Daisy,” “Field Of Dreams,” “Gabriel’s Fire,” “The Lion King,” and the “Star Wars” trilogy, among others. The “Musical Celebration of Broadway”Honoring James Earl Jones will be produced by Roger T. Danforth and Trevor Tamashiro.
Mr. Jones joins a noted roster of past Drama League Honorees, including Neal Patrick Harris, Liza Minnelli, Audra McDonald, Kristin Chenoweth, Angela Lansbury, Patti LuPone, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Chita Rivera, Rosie O’Donnell and Terrence McNally, all exceptional artists whose talent and passion have served as a benchmark for others.
The Musical Celebration of Broadway Honoring James Earl Jones will raise funds to support the educational training programs of The Drama League Directors Project. The award-winning initiative, which began in 1982 and whose alumni now number over 300, has been instrumental in launching the careers of Tony® Award winners Diane Paulus (“Finding Neverland”), Pam MacKinnon (“A Delicate Balance”), Michael Mayer (“Hedwig and the Angry Inch”), John Rando (“On The Town”), and award-winning directors Christopher Ashley, Mark Brokaw, Rachel Chavkin, and Alex Timbers, to name a few.
‘Drama League Directors’ are directing on Broadway, Off-Broadway, at regional theaters across the country, and in film and television. They are the artistic directors and associates at 58 regional theaters, including James Bundy (Dean, Yale School of Drama), Hal Brooks (Pearl Theatre), Laura Kepley (Cleveland Play House), Jonathan Silverstein (Keen Company), Michael John Garces (Cornerstone Theatre Company), Ed Iskandar (Exit Pursued By A Bear), Ms. Paulus (American Repertory Theatre), Mr. Ashley (La Jolla Playhouse), Ms. Chavkin (The TEAM), and more. Others hold prominent positions throughout the industry as producers, writers, agents and administrators, and many are educating the next generation of directors at some of our finest professional training programs.
Their directing work has been honored Tony, Emmy, Grammy, Obie, Peabody, Drama Desk, GLAAD, Drama League, New York Drama Critics Circle, Outer Critics, Evening Standard, Lucille Lortel, Bessie, Princess Grace, Garland, Drama-Logue, Barrymore, Helen Hayes, Elliot Norton, and Joseph Jefferson Awards, as well as the Pulitzer Prize for Drama. They have in many ways shaped the future of the American theater, with the praise of critics and audiences alike.
For questions, more information, or to reserve tickets, please call (212) 244-9494 ext. 101 or e-mail email@example.com.
BROADWAY TO DIM ITS LIGHTS TOMORROW NIGHT WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 8TH AT 7:45 PM
BROADWAY TO DIM ITS LIGHTS TOMORROW NIGHT WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 8TH AT 7:45 PM
By David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
The Broadway community mourns the loss of Marian Seldes, a Tony Awardâ-winning actress, five-time nominee, and the recipient of a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Theatre. She died on Monday at the age of 86. The marquees of Broadway theatres in New York will be dimmed in her memory tomorrow evening, Wednesday, October 8th, at exactly 7:45pm for one minute.
"Marian Seldes's name is synonymous with theatre. Her persona on the Broadway stage was as real as her genuine grace and kindness off stage,” said Charlotte St. Martin, Executive Director of The Broadway League. “Her lovely elegance and iconic talent will be deeply missed by her family, friends and fans."
With a career that spanned 60 years, Marian Seldes made her Broadway debut in 1947 in the Robinson Jeffers adaptation of “Medea” directed by John Gielgud and starring Judith Anderson in the title role. In 1967, she won a Tony Awardâ as Best Featured Actress in a Play for her role in “A Delicate Balance” by Edward Albee. Ms. Seldes has a long association with the playwright, appearing in “The Play About the Baby,” “Tiny Alice,” “Counting the Ways” (as part of Beckett/Albee plays) and “Three Tall Women,” a tour de force for the actress. She entered the Guinness Book of World Records for her appearance in Ira Levin’s “Deathtrap” when she didn't miss a single performance of the play’s four-year run.
Other stage credits include “Equus,” “Painting Churches,” “The Milk Train Doesn’t Stop Here Anymore,” and “The Chalk Garden.” She received Tony Award nominations for her performances in “Father’s Day,” “Deathtrap,” “Ring Round the Moon,” and “Dinner at Eight.” Her last appearance on Broadway was in 2007 in Terrence McNally’s “Deuce.”
In 2010, Ms. Seldes received a Special Tony Award for Lifetime Achievement honoring her contribution to the theatre and her extraordinary talent.
Ms. Seldes also had an extensive career in movies, television and radio. She authored two books: “The Bright Lights,” a memoir; and a novel, “Time Together.”
She taught for many years at The Juilliard School and later as an adjunct professor at Fordham University.
Ms. Seldes is survived by her daughter Katharine Claman Andres (Clay); grandsons Timo, Guthrie and Wells Andres; her bother Timothy Seldes (Susan); nephew Gilbert Seldes; niece Elizabeth Seldes Annacone (Paul); and grandnephew Emmett Carnahan. She was preceded in death by her beloved husband, Garson Kanin whom she married in 1990. Her first marriage, to Julian Claman, ended in divorce.
THE JOYCE THEATER FOUNDATION PROUDLY SELECTS TWYLA THARP RECIPIENT OF 2014-2016 ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE INITIATIVE
Pacific Northwest Ballet - Photo by Angela Sterling
THE JOYCE THEATER FOUNDATION PROUDLY SELECTS TWYLA THARP RECIPIENT OF 2014-2016 ARTIST-IN-RESIDENCE INITIATIVE Preview by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Linda Shelton, Executive Director of The Joyce Theater Foundation, today announced that The Joyce has selected world-renowned, award-winning choreographer Twyla Tharp as its Artist-in-Residence. This initiative is part of a generous grant to The Joyce, received in June 2012, from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation. The appointment will provide a free rehearsal studio, administrative space, office services, and an annual salary with benefits for a two-year period. This residency was designed to allow choreographers to focus on artistic efforts and to establish a daily choreographic practice while also infusing the Joyce’s operations with their ongoing insights. In recognition of this opportunity, open company classes will be offered each weekday from 10:30am – 12pm beginning October 1 at DANY Studios, which The Joyce Theater operates. The classes will be taught by Tharp Ballet Masters and Dancers Rika Okamoto, Alexander Brady, Mathew Dibble and John Selya. Each class is $17. Visit www.TwylaTharp.org for more information.
Upon this announcement, Executive Director of The Joyce Theater Linda Shelton said today, “I am extremely grateful to The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation for making it possible for The Joyce to support Twyla Tharp as she celebrates her 50th anniversary of creating work, and I look forward to experiencing more from this wonderfully exciting and accomplished artist."
Ms. Tharp says, “I am very grateful to The Joyce Theater for the secure home in New York City. I look forward to offering daily classes to the public and conducting rehearsals on a consistent basis.”
Since graduating from Barnard College in 1963, Twyla Tharp has choreographed more than one hundred sixty works: one hundred twenty-nine dances, twelve television specials, six Hollywood movies, four full-length ballets, four Broadway shows and two figure skating routines. She received one Tony Award, two Emmy Awards, nineteen honorary doctorates, the Vietnam Veterans of America President's Award, the 2004 National Medal of the Arts, the 2008 Jerome Robbins Prize, and a 2008 Kennedy Center Honor. Her many grants include the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Fellowship. She is a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences and an Honorary Member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
In 1965, Ms. Tharp founded her dance company, Twyla Tharp Dance. Her dances are known for creativity, wit and technical precision coupled with a streetwise nonchalance. By combining different forms of movement – such as jazz, ballet, boxing and inventions of her own making – Ms. Tharp’s work expands the boundaries of ballet and modern dance.
In addition to choreographing for her own company, she has created dances for The Joffrey Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, The Paris Opera Ballet, The Royal Ballet, New York City Ballet, The Boston Ballet, The Australian Ballet, Hubbard Street Dance Chicago, The Martha Graham Dance Company, Miami City Ballet, Pacific Northwest Ballet, Atlanta Ballet and Royal Winnipeg Ballet. Today, ballet and dance companies around the world continue to perform Ms. Tharp’s works.
Ms. Tharp's work first appeared on Broadway in 1980 with WHEN WE WERE VERY YOUNG, followed by her collaboration with musician David Byrne on THE CATHERINE WHEEL and later by SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN. In 2002, Ms. Tharp’s dance musical MOVIN' OUT, set to the music and lyrics of Billy Joel. Ms. Tharp later worked with Bob Dylan’s music and lyrics in THE TIMES THEY ARE A-CHANGIN’ and COME FLY AWAY, set to songs sung by Frank Sinatra.
In film, Ms. Tharp has collaborated with director Milos Forman on HAIR, RAGTIME and AMADEUS. She has also worked with Taylor Hackford on WHITE NIGHTS and James Brooks on I'LL DO ANYTHING.
Her television credits include choreographing SUE'S LEG for the inaugural episode of PBS' DANCE IN AMERICA IN 1976, co-producing and directing MAKING TELEVISION DANCE, and directing THE CATHERINE WHEEL for BBC Television. Ms. Tharp co-directed the television special BARYSHNIKOV BY THARP.
In 1992, Ms. Tharp published her autobiography PUSH COMES TO SHOVE. She went on to write THE CREATIVE HABIT: Learn it and Use it for Life, followed by THE COLLABORATIVE HABIT: Life Lessons for Working Together.
Today, Ms. Tharp continues to create.
THE JOYCE THEATER FOUNDATION, INC., a non-profit organization, has proudly served the dance community and its audiences for three decades. The founders, Cora Cahan and Eliot Feld, acquired and renovated the Elgin Theater in Chelsea, which opened as The Joyce Theater in 1982. The Joyce Theater is named in honor of Joyce Mertz, beloved daughter of LuEsther T. Mertz. It was LuEsther’s clear, undaunted vision and abundant generosity that made it imaginable and ultimately possible to build the theater. One of the only theaters built by dancers for dance, The Joyce Theater has provided an intimate and elegant home for more than 320 domestic and international companies. The Joyce has also commissioned more than 130 new dances since 1992. In 2009, The Joyce opened Dance Art New York (DANY) Studios to provide affordable studios for rehearsals, auditions, classes, and workshops for independent choreographers, non-profit dance companies, and the dance/theater communities. New York City public school students and teachers annually benefit from The Joyce’s Dance Education Program, and adult audiences get closer to dance through informative Dance Talks, and post-performance Dance Chat discussions. The Joyce Theater now features an annual season of approximately 48 weeks with over 340 performances for audiences in excess of 135,000.
“Scenes from a Marriage” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday October 26, 2014)
Photo by Jan Versweyveld
“Scenes from a Marriage” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday October 26, 2014) By Ingmar Bergman English Version by Emily Mann Conceived and Directed by Ivo Van Hove Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Ingmar Bergman’s “Scenes from a Marriage” is the epic examination of not only why marriages disintegrate but whether marriages are sustainable as a cultural institution. Director Ivo Van Hove’s reimagining of Bergman’s original screenplay – as did the television miniseries, the feature length movie, and prior stage versions – raises what are the essential questions about marriage, truly enduring questions that examine the institution of marriage and its sustainability beyond the twenty-first century. For this reason, the “Scenes from a Marriage” currently running at the New York Theatre Workshop is a remarkable and important piece of theatre: it uses a unique convention to explore the phenomenon of marriage and its relevance to significant human interaction.
The audience listens in on the married couple – Marianne and Johan – in three scenes from their troubled marriage, each from a different time period all played out simultaneously on three different stages with one third of the audience in each and moving from one scene to another every forty minutes. After a thirty minute intermission, the audience returns to the theatre and together (the walls separating the previous playing spaces have been raised) experiences the cathartic resolution of the play. The three playing areas are connected by a hub which allows each audience to see offstage action and even the audience in another playing area. Audiences can hear dialogue from other scenes and the melt through resembles the surreal quality of memory. In the midst of the hub is a large green plant symbolizing perhaps pre-Fall humankind with all the scenes from the marriage playing just “east of Eden.”
To fully appreciate “Scenes from a Marriage,” think ‘turntable.’ Think not digital media (CDs or MP3 files) or ear buds stuffed in commuting ears. Think the turntable: that wonderfully soothing device one has to interact with to listen to music. The vinyl discs slide out of the cover in their paper sleeves and are gently placed on the turntable. The tone arm is lifted and the stylus placed precisely in the proper groove. And the magic begins. The reconfigured space at the NYTW is the turntable and the audience settles into each groove ad seriatim. Some begin at the beginning, others in “track” two or three. But it does not matter: what plays out is not present or past – just as memories when played out are not in chronological time.
What happens when there is no love in a marriage? The fallout from a loveless marriage affects more than the couple: the fallout is immeasurable. When, after a heated exchange, Marianne 1 (Susannah Flood) tosses her wine into Johan 1’s (Alex Hurt) face, the wine splashes all over several patrons in the theatre. Johan 1 offers napkins and apologizes directly to the audience members who are not simply observers but participants in this meltdown of a seemingly successful marriage. What might be “none of our business” plays out completely in stark real time. Someone, somewhere is watching, listening, waiting for the protagonists (Marianne, Johann, or one of the audience members) to miss a step, miss a beat, miss an opportunity to do something differently.
In a conversation with Marianne 2 (Roslyn Ruff), Johan 2 (Dallas Roberts) raises another enduring question: “Do you think things can be arranged so carefully that your life can get out of control without your knowing it? Without your even noticing?” And those significant questions continue to challenge the actors and the audience alike. Johan 3 (Arliss Howard) asks, “Do you think two people who live together can ever be honest with each other?” Peter (Erin Gann) asks Marianne 1 and Johan 1, “Is there anything worse than a husband and wife who hate each other?” And Marianne 1 asks Johan 1, “Do you think it’s possible two people can spend their entire lives together?” And at the beginning of the second act, when all three Mariannes and all three Johans convene to end their marriage, Marinaae 1,2,3 ask, “Do you think I went through all this pain, and finally started to be able to live my own life, just so I could turn around now and take care of you?”
The first part of the second act is much like a prelude and fugue with counterpoint: all six actors portraying Marianne and Johan in the scenes in the first act, talk at the same time, repeating the same conversations in counterpoint. Only after the divorce do Marianne 3 (Tina Benko) and Johan 3 – both now remarried – reappear, have an affair in their old house, and are finally able to speak the truth to one other. After twenty years they can finally be honest with one another. The second act lacks the power of the first and some of the first part of the second act is difficult to hear, but the final disintegration of a marriage is often more cacophonous than harmonious. The acting throughout is superb and the direction impeccable.
In the closing scene from this marriage, Johan and Marianne fall asleep together in a rare moment when both their new spouses are away. Johann admits to Marianne, “I am only speaking for myself. I think in my own selfish, imperfect way that I love you. And that you love me in your own emotional, imperfect way. We love each other… in an earthly, imperfect way.” Perhaps that imperfection is all fallen humankind can hope for.
SCENES FROM A MARRIAGE
By Ingmar Bergman; English version by Emily Mann; conceived and directed by Ivo Van Hove; production design and photos by Jan Versweyveld; dramaturgy by Bart Van Den Eynde; production stage manager, Terri K. Kohler. Presented by the New York Theatre Workshop (Artistic Director James C. Nicola and Managing Director Jeremy Blocker). At the New York Theatre Workshop, 220 West 48th Street, 212-279-4200, www.nytw.org. Through Sunday October 26, 2014. Running time: 3 hours 30 minutes.
WITH: Tina Benko (Marianne 3), Susannah Flood (Marianne 1), Erin Gann (Peter), Arliss Howard (Johan 3), Alex Hurt (Johan 1), Mia Katigbak (Mrs. Jacobi/Mother), Emma Ramos (Eva), Dallas Roberts (Johan 2), Roslyn Ruff (Marianne 2) and Carmen Zilles (Katrina).
“Port Authority” at the Irish Repertory Theatre at the DR2 Theatre (Through Sunday, November 16th, 2014)
“Port Authority” at the Irish Repertory Theatre at the DR2 Theatre (Through Sunday, November 16th, 2014) By Conor McPherson Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Shipping ports worldwide are governed by rules of access: regulating who can dock and who cannot; who can ship to and from and who cannot; who has authority to enter and exit and who does not. Unlike those ports of call, the three men in Conor McPherson’s 2001 “Port Authority” have no control of their “ports.” These are men to whom things happen, not men who initiate action. They sometimes believe they are in control of their lives and it is just at those moments the grim specter of reality visits with the announcement that they are really only “pretending to make a decision”.
Kevin (James Russell), Dermot (Billy Carter), and Joe (Peter Maloney) sit on benches somewhere in Dublin, Ireland and tell stories – they are not in the same space at the same time – about themselves and their inability to effectively manage their lives. Mr. McPherson indicates the play is set “in the theatre” so each speaker is addressing the audience directly in his monologue.
Kevin tries to move out of his parents’ house to find his own way. His is the story of a twenty-something Irish lad who wants nothing more than make a deep connection with Clare who shares the flat with him and mates Davy and Speedy. But that does not work. Clare is a fighter and Kevin is not and their souls simply do not mix. Kevin: “And I was thinking that maybe there isn’t a soul for every person in the world. Maybe there’s just two. One for people who go with the flow, and one for all the people who fight.” Kevin has no fight in him – never has and never will.
Thirty-something Dermot (Billy Carter), unfulfilled in his marriage to Mary, thinks he has landed a new job with a prestigious firm and shares his story of victory with a bravado that often grabs the audience at some primal core. Dermot has weaknesses that might temper his success: alcohol and women. But these seem not to bother boss O’Hagan who flies Dermot form Ireland to LA to attend a Banger’s concert forgiving his indiscretions until he discovers he’s hired the wrong Dermot. Tail between legs, Dermot flies back home to Mary and kids and is made to bear a fusillade of truth that is beyond humbling. His wife says it best. Mary (Dermot’s Wife): “But I chose you Dermot. I took you because I knew you’d always need someone to look after you. And I always will.”
As do the other two, Joe’s (Peter Maloney) story begins in the present and revisits events from the past which bring him to his present emotional and spiritual state. This seventy-something man shares the story of his unrequited love and the guilt he has lived with since knowing how he felt about his neighbor Marion when they first met many years ago. His memories intensify when he receives a package containing the photo of Marion he almost stole from her home after they first met. Joe’s story perhaps resonates most with the audience: he often directs his comments to those in the first row. Joe: “Thinking about regret and worry. And when you get to my age, you give up on them because they don’t help anything. And you generally get tired of regret. And you’re usually just whacked out from worry.”
Under Ciarán O’Reilly’s careful direction, Billy Carter, Peter Maloney, and James Russell portray three men of different generations caught in webs of longing and loneliness unable to “move on” though they claim “the past is over “and unable to escape the censure of the superego. Perhaps Dermot expresses it most poignantly: “But the controllers in your head who are telling you that you have to live with your future self are filing this moment away under Moronic Moments To Relive Again And Again.”
It is tempting to allow the stories of these three men take on epic or metaphorical status, somehow paralleling the rise and fall of Ireland or America. But these stories are about the struggles of the ‘everyman’ working for the good. Dermot manages best to evaluate the efficacy of such struggles: “Don’t try to work anything out. Because you don’t know – and you never will. And even if you do, it’ll be too late to do anything about it anyway.” Dermot’s complaint is the complaint of humankind caught between an existential void and a nagging nihilism. “Port Authority” captures the essence of that void with authenticity and stark believability.
By Conor McPherson; directed by Ciarán O’Reilly; sets by Charlie Corcoran; costumes by Linda Fisher; lighting by Michael Gottlieb; sound by M. Florian Staab; music by Ryan Rumery; dialect coach, Stephen Gabis, ; production stage manager, Pamela Brusoski. Production photos by Carol Rosegg. Presented by the Irish Repertory Theatre (Charlotte Moore, Artistic Director and Ciarán O’Reilly, Producing Director). At The DR2 Theatre (103 East 15th Street in Union Square), 212-727-2737, www.irishrep.org . Through Sunday, November 16th, 2014. Running time is 95 minutes with no intermission.
WITH: Billy Carter (Dermot), Peter Maloney (Joe), and James Russell (Kevin).
“Tail! Spin!” at the Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project (Through November 30, 2014)
Photo by Carol Rosegg
“Tail! Spin!” at the Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project (Through December 30, 2014) By Mario Correa Directed by Dan Knechtges Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Mario Correa’s “Tail! Spin!” was the breakout hit of the 2012 NY International Fringe Festival (Fastest-Selling Show in FringeNYC history) and the charmingly irreverent show has found its way into the Culture Project’s 2014 Season at the Lynn Redgrave Theatre. What TMZ is to celebrity gossip “Tail! Spin!” is to political gossip and it showcases a delightful romp through the actual emails, text messages, and tweets of four political heavy-hitters. The buzz here is about how these four men get “tail” (an abhorrent metaphor) in real time or cyber time and about how they and their staffs attempt to “spin” the way out of their tight and embarrassing scandalous spaces.
It is remarkable enough that politicians would engage in shameless extramarital sexual liaisons; it is even more remarkable that they would deny, cover up, re-frame or otherwise refuse to accept responsibility for their actions. Less remarkable – it would seem – is how easily the constituents of these four hooligans are willing to forgive, forget, and (often) re-elect them to office. Not only did they break marriage and partnership vows, they also engaged in behavior they publicly decried. Some denied their true sexual status; others were so addicted to their prurient behavior, they lost touch with the reality of their actions and the consequences of those actions. Those who were gay had the audacity to oppose equal rights for the LGBT communities they represented.
Sean Dugan captures the duplicitous spirit of Senator Larry Craig who allegedly solicited sex in the men’s public bathroom at the Boise, Idaho airport. Nate Smith’s rapscallion Representative Anthony Weiner outshines Anthony Weiner himself giving the recalcitrant Rep an infectious persona that almost transcends his cheeky and outlandish sexting tribulations. Arnie Burton’s Representative Mark Foley fumbles his way through allegations of inappropriate messaging with an underage White House page with appropriate aplomb arm in arm with his beard Petra Levin. And Tom Galantich infuses Governor Mark Sanford’s affair in Argentina with believable brashness.
Rachel Dratch manages to morph into what seems like a countless string of supporting characters with remarkable believability and authenticity. Ms. Dratch does this not by mimicking those characters but by clearly delineating their unique personality traits with remarkable craft.
Caite Hevner Kamp’s simple set serves as an appropriate backdrop for the more complex matrix of memories played out on the stage. Ryan O’Gara’s stark lighting counterpoints the equally stark revelations playing out on stage. And John Emmett O’Brien’s sound design clearly delineates instant message “dings” from Twitter “tweets.”
Under Dan Knechtges’s precise and inventive direction, the ensemble cast of “Tail! Spin!” portrays a difficult problem in a way easily accessible to audiences that are politically savvy and audiences that might not be familiar with the show’s content. Humanity laughs at what it is intrinsically uncomfortable with. That humor is often transformative and even healing. That certainly is the case with the humor in “Tail! Spin!” as four resilient political offenders “pray for redemption, a happy ending, and a second chance.”
By Mario Correa; directed by Dan Knechtges; sets and projection design by Caite Hevner Kamp; costumes by Jennifer Caprio; lighting by Ryan O’Gara; sound by John Emmett O’Brien; casting by Henry Russell Bergstein, CSA (Telsey and Company); production stage manager, Trisha Henson; production supervisor, Production Core. Production photos by Carol Rosegg. Presented by the Culture Project (Allan Buchman, Founder and Artistic Director), Billy Zavelson, Marianne Mills, Ben Feldman, Kristen Stein, Flying Bulldog Productions, Paula Kaminsky Davis, Jeffrey Sosnick/Neil Rubenstein, and Jamie deRoy, in association with Clifford Lee Johnson III. At the Lynn Redgrave Theater, 45 Bleecker Street at Lafayette, 866-811-4111, www.TailSpinShow.com. Through November 30, 2014. Running time: 75 minutes with no intermission.
WITH: Arnie Burton (Representative Mark Foley), Rachel Dratch (Tails, Wives, Beards and Barbara Walters), Sean Dugan (Senator Larry Craig), Tom Galantich (Governor Mark Sanford), and Nate Smith (Representative Anthony Weiner).
"The Prince and the Showboy" at the Rrazz Room in New Hope, PA with Faith Prince and Jason Graae
"The Prince and the Showboy" at the Rrazz Room in New Hope, PA With Faith Prince and Jason Graae Saturday October 4, 2014 Preview by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“The Prince and the Showboy” unites Tony® Award Winner Faith Prince and L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award Winner Jason Graae in a delightful evening of song. Veterans of 13 Broadway shows between them, this pair takes to the concert stage singing their most requested and memorable Broadway numbers for one night only, this Saturday, October 4 at the RRazz Room in New Hope, PA. Showtime is 8:00 p.m.
The show features a heartfelt tribute to Broadway legend Jerry Herman, who has been a significant influence on each of them, both personally and professionally. Join Prince and Graae, two of Broadway's finest (and funniest) performers, for an evening you won't soon forget.
The San Francisco Chronicle recently called them "the Steve and Edie of the 21st Century"!
Tony® Award winner Faith Prince dazzles audiences as she moves effortlessly between theatre, concerts, television and movies. Her latest concert, Have A Little Faith, is a “smorgasbord” of Faith Prince: past, present and future. From her memorable Broadway triumphs to tales and songs from her early Off-Broadway gems to her latest Broadway roles, the evening sparkles with doses of Faith’s quirky trademark humor as well as touching moments filled with pathos. As hostess of this musical evening, Faith Prince guarantees that the best is yet to come!
Faith Prince has been dazzling Broadway audiences since winning the Tony®, Drama Desk and Outer Critics Circle Awards for her performance as “Ms. Adelaide” in Guys and Dolls. As one of Broadway’s best loved leading ladies, Faith can currently be seen as the scheming, irascible “Miss Hannigan” in the revival of Annie.
Jason Graae has starred on Broadway in "A Grand Night For Singing," "Falsettos," "Stardust," "Snoopy," and "Do Black Patent Leather Shoes Really Reflect Up?" Off-Broadway shows include "Hello Muddah, Hello Fadduh" (Drama Desk Nomination-Best Actor in a Musical), "Forever Plaid," "Olympus On My Mind," and "All in the Timing." He made his Metropolitan Opera House debut as vocal soloist in Twyla Tharp's Everlast with ABT, and has toured the U.S. with his one man show, winning the N.Y. Nightlife Award and 4 Bistro Awards. He recently made his debut at 54 Below in NYC with Faith Prince in "The Prince and the Showboy," winning another Nightlife Award for best duo. He won the L.A. Drama Critics Circle Award for Outstanding Achievement in Musical Theatre. He hung upside down for a year as Houdini in "Ragtime," was featured in "Forbidden Hollywood/Broadway" (Ovation Award), and has been in many shows at the Hollywood Bowl, Reprise, The Colony and more. TV/Film - Six Feet Under, Rude Awakening, Friends, Frasier and many more. For 5 and 1/2 years Jason was the voice of Lucky the Leprechaun for Lucky Charms cereal. Over 45 CDs recorded, including his 3rd solo CD- "Perfect Hermany, Jason Graae sings Jerry Herman." Mr. Graae emerges as an irresistible cut-up whose splendid voice is matched by Mischievous charisma." - New York Times
Tickets are $40.00 with limited VIP seating available for $50.00. The Rrazz Room is located at 6426 Lower York Road in New Hope, PA 18938. Free parking is available. For tickets to this performance and more information about the RRazz Room, please visit http://www.therrazzroom.com.
"Lennon: Through A Glass Onion" Starring John R. Waters At The Union Square Theatre
Opening at the Union Square Theatre in New York City, "Lennon: Through a Glass Onion" is the internationally acclaimed theatrical event celebrating the genius, music and phenomenon of John Lennon. Created and performed by renowned Australian actor/musician John R. Waters and esteemed singer/pianist Stewart D'Arrietta, "Lennon: Through a Glass Onion" fuses monologues with Lennon's music from both his Beatles and solo recordings to create a portrait of a man that many only thought they knew.
Lennon: Through a Glass Onion features 31 songs including "Imagine," "Strawberry Fields Forever," "Revolution," "Lucy In the Sky with Diamonds," "All You Need is Love," "Come Together," "Help," "Working Class Hero," "Mother," "Jealous Guy," and more.
Show times will be Tuesday-Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 7:00 p.m. with matinees Saturday and Sunday at 3:00 p.m.
The Union Square Theater is located at 100 East 17th Street. Tickets are available at TicketMaster.com, (800) 982-2787. Visit www.LennonOnStage.com for additional information. Running time is 90 minutes without an intermission.
“Juarez: A Documentary Mythology” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater
Photo provided by and copyrighted by Theater Mitu
“Juarez: A Documentary Mythology” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater Conceived and Created by Theater Mitu Directed by Ruben Polendo Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
The purpose of Theater Mitu’s documentary mythology piece is clear and certainly commendable. Addressing how Juarez, Mexico could have become “The Murder Capital of the World” and to rediscover director Ruben Polendo’s hometown, the company members “began traveling to Ciudad Juarez/El Paso, meeting with anyone who would sit down and talk to [them] to create a piece with and about its citizens; in exploration of and collaboration with these experiences, memories, and hopes.”
The resulting documentary also serves as a mythology of just how Juarez deteriorated and how its landscape is now a living landscape, “a city that is growing, changing, and surviving. “Juarez” is a complicated piece and is constructed with a variety of real and virtual interviews along with home movies made by Mr. Polendo’s father over an extended period of time. Company members wear ear buds ostensibly “listening to the actual interviews” and delivering the content of the interview as the particular Juarez/El Paso resident “speaks.” The identity of the resident is flashed on a relatively small monitor located audience right: Activist, Writer, Political Scientist, Professor of Rhetoric, Hip-Hop Artist, etc. as each relates her or his socio-mythic story of survival and hope.
This methodology is complex and not always audience friendly: some of the digitalization tends to distance the audience from the horrors visited on Juarez by the violent cartel factions. Often it seems it would have been better to play the actual interviews (in the style of Studs Terkel) than listen to actors “perform” the interviews. Even if fewer interviews were included and those in Spanish translated by the actors. There is an extended interview (narrated by Justin Nestor) that takes place with an actor behind a small back-lighted screen that seems pointless – yes the person experienced a horrific event but walked away in the end. What is the point?
The fall and rise of Juarez is an important story. Unfortunately, nothing new is presented in this documentary mythology – everything has been covered by the news and activist organizations and humanitarian organizations over the years. And the methodology does not allow the audience to make any connection – emotional or otherwise – to the people in Juarez/El Paso sharing their important stories.
JUAREZ: A DOCUMENTARY MYTHOLOGY
Rattlestick Playwrights Theater’s Artistic Director David Van Asselt and Managing Director Brian Long have announced the opening of JUÁREZ: A Documentary Mythology, conceived and created by Theater Mitu and directed by Rubén Polendo; the closing night is Sunday, October 5, 2014. JUÁREZ: A Documentary Mythology is a co-production with Theater Mitu.
The cast is Kayla Asbel, Denis Butkus, Inés García, Michael Littig, Justin Nestor, and Alejandro Rodriguez.
The associate director is Scott Spahr; lead projection design is by Adam Cochran and Justin Nestor; sound design is by Alex Hawthorn; composer is Adam Cochran; stage management is Gina Ferraro; and the Associate Producer of Theater Mitu is Tyler Penfield. All production photos are provided by and copyrighted by Theater Mitu.
“Juarez: A Documentary Mythology” plays Mondays and Wednesdays at 7:00 p.m., Thursdays and Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 7:00 p.m. Individual tickets for “Juarez: A Documentary Mythology” can be purchased at www.rattlestick.org or by calling OvationTix at (866)-811-4111. Individual tickets are $25.00, Premium tickets are $30.00, Student tickets are $5.00, and Theater Artist and Under-30 tickets are $10.00. (Prices are subject to change. Please refer to the Rattlestick website for up-to-date information.) Rattlestick Playwrights Theater is located at 224 Waverly Place, west of Seventh Avenue South.
“Bauer” at 59E59 Theater A (Closes on Sunday October 12, 2014)
Sherman Howard and Stacy Ross - Photo by Carol Rosegg
“Bauer” at 59E59 Theater A (Closes on Sunday October 12, 2014) Written by Lauren Gunderson Directed by Bill English Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Lauren Gunderson’s “Bauer,” currently playing at 59E59 as part of the 5A Series, transforms the rhythm, the form, the line, and the order of Rudolph Bauer’s life and work into sheer unbridled magic. The events of Bauer’s life - from his arrival in the United States in 1939 to his death in 1953 - are well known and accurately rehearsed in Ms. Gunderson’s succinct and brilliant ninety minute play which was commissioned by the San Francisco Playhouse in January 2014. What cannot be well known is the meeting of Bauer, his wife Louise and Hilla von Rebay shortly before his death in the Bauer’s Deal, NJ home: it cannot be well known because it never took place.
Addressing the oft asked question, “Why did the prolific non-objective artist Rudolf Bauer stop painting,” “Bauer’ tackles the important and often elusive components of the creative process through the meeting between the Bauers and Hilla Rebay. The play also tackles the essence and meaning of true love: Louise Bauer (Susi Damilano) hatches a plan to get Hilla (Stacy Ross) to visit Ruddi (Sherman Howard) because she knows her husband and Hilla are still very much in love and if anyone has a chance to reignite Ruddi’s artistic fire it would be Hilla – or perhaps (without revealing too much) it would be the combination of Hilla and Louise.
After a scene-chewing beginning – during which Bauer and Hilla are able to provide the exposition needed to understand the heart of the play – the play comfortably transitions into a delicious cat-and-mouse game which results in freedom overpowering the fear of the past and rekindling Rudolph Bauer’s indomitable creative spirit. Hilla and Bauer had been fellow artists and lovers and it was a contract Hilla convinced Bauer to sign when he was “straight off the boat from a war zone” that lost Bauer his control of his corpus of work which was intended to be displayed at the new Guggenheim Museum but – due to a falling out between Guggenheim heirs and Hilla – ended up not on the walls of the museum but in a vault in the museum’s basement. Here is Hilla’s gauntlet delivered without mercy to the intractable Rudolf Bauer:
“No. We have a fight. So let’s fight. That’s why I came here today. I thought that’s what we were going to talk about – your future – without [the Guggenheim foundation]. You can survive this … if you paint. What are they going to do, come up here and take your new work and out it in their basement? No. They’d get run out of town for doing that to any artist much less you. So paint. Dare them to come here and take it from you.”
Under Bill English’s precise and invigorating direction, the ensemble cast delivers a transformative triptych of performances. Sherman Howard is flawless as the brooding, angry, and depressed Rudolf Bauer who “stopped himself, gave up, and gave in.” Mr. Howard makes no meaningless movements and spares no inflection, no pause to authentically convey the depth of despair his character has experienced. Susi Damilano makes it clear that her character knows she is the default lover, the former maid turned spouse. Her Lousie Bauer is as indomitable of spirit as her husband and is determined to not allow him to “go gently into that good night.” And Stacy Ross is unstoppable as Hilla Rebay whose steely exterior magically transforms into a palate of redemptive love. These three performances are among the best of the best and they use Lauren Gunderson’s script to create their dynamic, authentic, and believable characters.
Bill English’s stark white set design provides the perfect backdrop for the projections – real and imagined – that gloriously catalog the play’s progression from beginning to end. Micah J. Stieglitz’s projection design is nothing short of brilliant and the final projection is something the audience will never forget. In partnership with Theodore J. H. Hulsker’s sound design and Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting design, Mr. Stieglitz’s projection design provides a triumvirate of remarkable creativity that teases the human imagination and the human id with provocative prowess. Abra Berman’s costume design not only captures the period but subtly assists in the definition of character and mood.
What Louise and Hilla manage to provide for Ruddi, they equally transmit to the audience with a catharsis rarely experienced in contemporary theatre. Hilla’s promise to Rudolf Bauer is a promise proffered to each audience member yearning for freedom: “The cosmic order, the crack into nature that we find in art, you will trust it again.” See “Bauer” and risk trusting the crack into nature the play’s cast and creative team provide with sheer unfathomable grace and beauty.
“Bauer,” produced by San Francisco Playhouse, is part of the inaugural 5A Season at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues).
The cast features Sherman Howard as Rudolf Bauer; Susi Damilano as Louise Bauer; and Stacy Ross as Hilla Rebay.
The design team includes Bill English (set design); ML Geiger (lighting design); Abra Berman (costume design); Theodore J.H. Hulsker (sound design); and Micah J. Stieglitz (projection design). The original score is by Savannah Jo Lack. The Production Stage Manager is Tatjana Genser. Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.
“Bauer” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, October 12. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. Single tickets are $70.00 ($49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. The running time is 90 minutes without an intermission.
“Boys and Girls” at 59E59 Theater B (Closes Sunday September 28, 2014)
“Boys and Girls” at 59E59 Theater B (Closes Sunday September 28, 2014) Written and Directed By Dylan Coburn Gray Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
The boys and girls in Dylan Coburn Gray’s extended prose-poem performance piece are Irish and their particular rant is about life and times in Dublin, which is a specific matrix of cultural fundamentals. Although “Boys and Girls” features four narratives (chapters), the speakers are identified only as A, B, C, and D and therefore these are universal stories that connect not only to all Irish youth, but to all boys and girls finding their way through the often difficult corridors of individuation and separation.
The boys’ and girls’ narratives ramble in rhyme about dating, language, intimacy, porn, love, lust, anger, and loyalty. They each chat themselves up and recount trysts gone well or gone not so well. They share their expectations about themselves and about others, their hopes often dashed, and what is expected of them culturally, socially, and personally. Boy A (Ronan Carey) shares, “No illusions, me, about being a virile Rambo.” Boy B (Sean Doyle) is “Uncomfortable with wild sex, speech acts that betray internalized misogyny.” Girl C (Maeve O’Mahoney) talks about her transgender friend Jen whose “make-up is awful.” And Girl D (Claire O’Reilly) admits that love just might be “someone who’ll aloe vera your sunburn when it’s peeling.”
Their sonorous beats belie the same despair of metaphysical nihilism that often plagued young W. B. Yeats in his attempts to hold together the center of his life. Other girls and boys named Laura, Ali, Jamie, and Marky” tear at the fabric of hopefulness in bedrooms and in the bars frequented by the Boys and Girls. There are only so many drinks (and counting) one can endure till dawn when Boy B for example realizes, “Maybe this contact’s an unspoiled affirmation.” Or “maybe it’s more of an ending. A full stop.” Girl D reflects, “Jamie’s idea of happiness ends where mine begins.”
In the end, like Voltaire, Boy A transcends the ennui and boasts, “I make the most of it, chill in my garden in the brittle chill as dew forms and sun rises, and soon enough two forms pass, surprised to see me. Jogger and his dog catch my eye, nod a greeting. ‘howye.” That is not bad. That gets as close to hope as perhaps we humans can expect in a world where humans videotape the beheading of other humans and share their horrific deeds on social media.
The piece ends as it begins with tight unaccompanied harmonies: at the beginning, these doo-wop harmonies are up-tempo and upbeat four-part harmonies that seem to celebrate youthfulness and hopefulness; at the end – reflecting the change in mood - the harmonies are monochromatic and severe and introduce each character’s final “confession.” Throughout, the prose-poetry is compelling and accessible. “Boys and Girls” is not for the weak of heart or of spirit and certainly not for those uncomfortable with “language.” This piece is gripping and gritty with a cathartic close that challenges even the stoniest of heart.
BOYS AND GIRLS
“Boys and Girls” is part of Origin's 1st Irish at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues) and is written and directed by Dylan Coburn Gray.
The cast of “Boys and Girls” includes Ronan Carey, Sean Doyle, Maeve O’Mahony, and Claire O’Reilly. Ilo Tarrant is the Designer and Jess Johnston the AEA Stage Manager. Production photos are by Carol Rosegg.
The performance schedule for “Boys and Girls” is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 PM; Friday at 8:15 PM; Saturday at 2:15 PM and 8:15 PM; and Sunday at 3:15 PM and 7:15 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org.
“3Christs” at the Judson Memorial Church (Closes on Sunday September 28, 2014)
“3Christs” at the Judson Memorial Church (Closes on Sunday September 28, 2014) Written by S. M. Dale and Barry Rowell Directed by Kelly O’Donnell Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Something goes terribly wrong after the opening scene of “3Christs” the site-specific play about three delusional patients at a state psychiatric hospital each who believes he is the “one and only Christ.” As each of the three patients enters the stage constructed in the sanctuary of the Judson Memorial Church in Manhattan, each actor quickly defines his character with precision and creates a persona that is believable and identifiable.
Donald Warfield’s Clyde Benson is wiry, wily, and reeks of insecurity and cynicism: his Christ, however, is confident and crafty. Arthur Aulisi’s Joseph Cassel is fraught with tics that tighten his face and body: his Christ, however, is confident and witty. Daryl Lathon’s Leon Gabor is a delusional delight who paces about and marks his territory carefully: his Christ, however, is cautious and often confused. As each enters, he interacts with Nurse Parker (Catherine Porter) whose activities skillfully elucidate further the peculiar attributes of each Christ.
The ride becomes bumpy when visiting psychologist Dr. Milton (Christopher Hurt) enters to begin his study of the three Christs to “see what happens when a person’s belief in his identity is challenged by someone claiming the same identity.” In a series of 25 scenes covering 775 days of interaction with the three delusional patients, Dr. Milton and his cohorts Dr. Yoder (Mick Hilgers) and Dr. Anderson (Jennifer Tsay) perform a battery of “magic tricks” for/on the patients in the attempt to coerce them to divest themselves of their delusional behavior. They interview, medicate (over and under and with placebo), manipulate and trick their clients without mercy. Dr. Milton tells Nurse Parker:
“I can’t do it to [Clyde]…. and perhaps… well, maybe a control will be useful for us. I’ve considered the ethics of our approach and I believe the men’s defenses are powerful enough to counter any potential threat. Plus, our impersonations of their delusional referents will be emotionally gratifying and supportive.” And the good doctor confesses, “Human beings? One thinks he’s a penniless millionaire, one calls himself [explicative deleted], and the third works in the cause of an empire that no longer exists. They’re unhappy caricatures of human beings.”
Christopher Hurt seems uncomfortable in his role as Dr. Milton – a role pivotal to the success of S. M. Dale’s and Barry Rowell’s script. Is does not seem Mr. Hurt has been able to find his character and apparently director Kelly O’Donnell has not assisted him in that process. Ms. O’Donnell also allows her three Christs to fall into and out of their characters: their identities falter throughout and only Mr. Warfield seems able to maintain a reasonable semblance of his character.
Kia Rogers’s lighting design is adequate given the constraints on the performance space. Rebecca Phillips set design is problematic: the main entrance/exit to/from the stage is a working door that is too narrow to accommodate the wheeled cart that moves in and out carrying a variety of props and players. When actors attempt to move the cart through the door the entire stage left wall of the meeting room shakes; and at one point it appears the wall will come tumbling down. This visual and auditory intrusion makes the suspension of disbelief difficult. Angela Harner’s costumes are appropriate and she does her best to create the unnecessary magician and magician’s assistant costumes.
So what is learned here? What should have been clear from the beginning, that “Unlike the atomic physicist, we cannot control the reactions of others. I think we learned that psychotics, having good reason to flee human companionship, actually crave it.” Also, according to Bertrand Russell (via Dr. Milton the 4th Christ), “Every man would like to be God, if it were possible; some few find it difficult to admit the impossibility.” It took the playwrights, the director, and the actors far too long to get to those realizations.
Peculiar Works Project presents the world premiere of the site-specific theatrical event “3Christs,” written by S. M. Dale and Barry Rowell and directed by Kelly O'Donnell. The event is based on “The Three Christs of Ypsilanti,” the psychological study by Milton Rokeach.
The cast features Christopher Hurt, Catherine Porter, Donald Warfield, Arthur Aulisi, Daryl Lathon, and Mick Hilgers.
The design team includes Angela Harner (costumes), Kia Rogers (lighting), Rebecca Phillips (sets), and Harrison Adams (sound). Heather Olmstead is the production stage manager. Production photos by Jim R. Moore / Vaudevisuals.
“3Christs” will be performed in the sanctuary of Judson Memorial Church (55 Washington Square South, at Thompson St.) The performance schedule is Thursday - Sunday at 7:00 p.m. Tickets, which are $18.00, are available by calling 866-811-4111 or online www.peculiarworks.org.
“Journey’s End” at Sutton Arts Theatre in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, United Kingdom (Closes on September 6, 2014)
“Journey’s End” at Sutton Arts Theatre in Sutton Coldfield, West Midlands, United Kingdom (Closes on September 6, 2014) Written by R. C. Sheriff Directed by Emily Armstrong Reviewed by George Caulton Theratre Reviews Limited
From the flicker of the candle on entrance to the final bows to conclude, Emily Armstrong skillfully directs R. C. Sheriff’s Tony Award winning play “Journey’s End.” With a combination of light comedy to passionate duologues, the auditorium was left without a dry eye. Notably, 2014 marks 96 years since 38,000 British soldiers were killed in the largest artillery barrage the Great War had seen, which only adds to the sentimentality of Emily Armstrong’s terrific execution of the play. A solid cast, authentic scenery and outstanding acting all allows R.C. Sheriff's ground-breaking play to take the audience on an emotional and intellectual roller-coaster.
Alan Lowe firmly captures the innate decency of the reliable Lieutenant Osbourne or ‘Uncle’ with moving sequences of dialogue and extremely poignant scenes with new arrival Raleigh, fantastically played by Jon Flood. The scenes with both Uncle and Raleigh were specifically heartfelt as both actors exceed in portraying two different generations of soldier. The innocence and naivety reflected in Jon Flood’s “topping” performance merely leaves the dénouement with further legitimacy, allowing the audience to grasp the situations thousands were stranded in during the course of WW1 fully.
Robbie Newton exceeds with his portrayal of world-weary bitter, Stanhope with simply outstanding acting and faultless authenticity. The final scene with Stanhope and Raleigh captured the audience to the extent that you could hear a penny drop- an obvious sign of the tense atmosphere created by cast and director. Fantastic contributions too from Tom Frater (Hibbert) who clearly understood his characters positions due to heartfelt emotion of “neuralgia” in his eye which again reflects the outstanding acting and realistic attributes throughout the play.
“Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter” at Minetta Lane Theatre
Cady Huffman (Manuela) and Marrick Smith (Peter) - Photo by Carol Rosegg
“Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter” at Minetta Lane Theatre Book, Music and Lyrics by Ivar Pall Jonsson Story by Ivar Pall Jonsson and Gunnlaugur Jonsson Directed by Bergur Ingólfsson Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
“If you act like you know what you are doing, people will believe you know what you are doing.”
What do you call a nation-state that seeks prosperity for its citizens, encourages personal responsibility, prefers not to be dependent on other nation-states for its needs, and supports a deep and abiding faith in an all-powerful deity? The United States? England? Saudi Arabia? Try “Elbowville,” located somewhere in Ragnar Arnarsson’s elbow where the residents depend upon Lobster trapping for income. Ivar Pall Jonsson’s “Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter” (hereafter “Revolution”) is the story of the rise and fall and rebirth of this small but determined elbow-based town.
“Revolution” is not just about a 2008 subprime mortgage crisis or yet another recession: it is about all those “bubbles” that burst, all those “prosperities“ that fail to provide redemption and release from life’s often traumatic vicissitudes. This new musical is a trope – here an extended metaphor - for the underbelly of prosperity, the flip-side of success, and the hypocrisy of systems-based autocracies. Elbowville’s economy is on the downside and Peter (Marrick Smith) continues to pitch new ideas to Mayor Manuela (Cady Huffman) and sidekick Kolbein (Patrick Boll): finally his promissory note generator wins their approval and a shaky prosperity rises over Elbowville’s horizon.
Prosperity quickly turns to financial ruin for the residents who cannot repay the useless promissory notes downgraded by Mandrake (Rick Faugno) and Peter has a difficult time restoring faith in himself. He has lost his girlfriend Brynja (Jesse Wildman) to his brother Alex (Graydon Long) who gets exiled from town through a coin-toss bet. Alone and depressed and without hope, Peter takes his own life. We see this suicide within the opening moments of the musical which itself is an extended flashback explaining the cause of the suicide. Elbowville’s residents revolt; however, the revolution ultimately re-seats the same corrupt leaders in office and the cycle repeats.
“Revolution” is replete with rich imagery and thoughtful tropes – many of them biblical and mythological. Mr. Smith (Peter) and Mr. Long (Alex) are the consummate Cain and Abel and it is Peter’s inability to survive wearing the mark of his curse that leads to his self-destruction. Their songs together - “Let’s Make An Oath” and “Heads or Lobster” require exquisite vocal control and range and both young men display the necessary craft. Their performances are honest and profoundly authentic. Further, Mr. Smith’s Peter serves as a trope for redemption: he does not want to drag his peers “to the cross” with him. He is willing to take the fall.
Mr. Long’s scene with Ms. Wildman (Brynja) at the musical’s end is also a touching scene. As a new Adam and Eve, they escape from the not-quite-idyllic Eden-ville to attempt a new start. Their “Our Revolution” with the ensemble is riveting and provides the necessary cathartic release for the audience. Cady Huffman’s Manuela is just perfect: this well-rounded character blames all problems on people not taking responsibility (recurring theme) and is as much Maleficent as she is manipulative. Ms. Huffman’s styling of her plaintive prayer to Elbowville’s Hollywood deity – “Oh Bob” – is spot on and provides one of the musical’s moments of sheer perfection.
Bergur Ingolfsson directs “Revolution’s” energetic and talented cast with precision and depth. The cast creates authentic characters – not caricatures – and Mr. Ingolfsson provides convincing staging throughout. Although there is some delicious tapping, the choreography needs some attention: this talented cast needs to be pirouetting and sliding across the stage much more often and not just standing still. This is an easy fix: Lee Proud is clearly up to this challenge.
Petr Hlousek‘s expansive set encompasses the entire space of the Minetta Lane Theatre: the side walls are lined with lymphatic system tubing that connect Elbowville to the rest of Ragnar’s body parts and his projection design is brilliant. During Brynja and Peter’s powerful duet, “Love Weighs 200 Tons,” their push-pull movements appear as silhouettes on the back wall. At first, the audience assumes these are the actual shadows of the actors; however, they are independent projections which the actors imitate precisely until the silhouettes take on a life of their own and reflect the inner feelings of the characters. Jeff Croiter’s lighting design makes all that the cast and creative team attempt become a dazzling reality. His nuanced and subtle lighting makes “Elbowville” a “pretty how town with up so floating many bells down” (E. E. Cummings).
This new musical deserves a broad-based audience. There are enough musical styles and allusions to satisfy the musical novice and the sophisticated musical aficionado (“Evita,” “Spring Awakening,” The Rocky Horror Show,” “Urinetown,” “Tommy” and more). Bravo, “Revolution!”
REVOLUTION IN THE ELBOW OF RAGNAR AGNARSSON
Under the direction of Bergur Ingólfsson, the cast features Cady Huffman, Kate Shindle, Michael Biren, Patrick Boll, Zach Cossman, Karli DiNardo, Danielle, Graydon, Brad Nacht, Josh Sassanella, Marrick Smith, and Jesse Wildman. Choreography for “Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter” is by Lee Proud, with music direction by Stefán Örn Gunnlaugsson.
Set and projection design for “Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter” are by Petr Hloušek, with lighting design by Jeff Croiter and Cory Pattak, and sound design by Carl Casella. Costume design is by Hrafnhildur Arnardottir and Edda Gudmundsdottir.
“Revolution in the Elbow of Ragnar Agnarsson Furniture Painter” is being produced Off-Broadway by Karl Pétur Jónsson/Revolution Productions and Theater Mogul. The playing schedule is Tuesday through Friday evenings at 8:00 p.m., and Saturdays at 2:00 and 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $49.50 - $69.50 and are available by calling Ticketmaster 800-745-3000 or through www.RevolutionElbow.com. The running time is 2 hours.
FringeNYC – Past, Present, and Future of New York City's Annual Fringe Festival
FringeNYC – Past, Present, and Future of New York City's Annual Fringe Festival Written by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Theatre Reviews Limited was there at the beginning eighteen years ago when “the scrappy few” founded FringeNYC: Aaron Beall, John Clancy, Jonathan Harris, and (current Artistic Director) Elena K. Holy recognized the need for a Fringe Festival in New York City. John Clancy and Elena K. Holy were the founders of FringeNYC’s producing organization The Present Company. This is part of that 1997 manifesto:
“We need a place where the artists who do all the hard work, the early work, can incite and excite each other. We need a time set aside to look at all the exploration, a time for the front-line soldiers in our endless Cultural War to report back from their patrols.”
And so it began. Joseph and I crammed ourselves into little theatres dotting the landscape of the Lower East Side and opened our notebooks and our hearts to the efforts of artists committed to “the power of live human interaction – PERFORMANCE!” There was the Collective Unconscious, The Piano Room (now simply “Pianos”), and the Pink Pony among others. Most of these gems have closed in the recent past as rents have escalated and the splendor and grittiness of the Lower East Side have given way to gentrification, trendy boutiques, and a barrage of seemingly endless construction.
We saw the first production of “Urinetown” in 1999 staged with painted cardboard boxes. We sat on folding chairs that might have collapsed before the curtain went up on the performance we wanted to see; wires hung from the ceiling connecting overloaded sockets to a variety of lighting instruments from work lights to tin-cans filled with bulbs. Second-hand air conditioners buzzed and scraped belching cool air making the seating more bearable – until they were turned off just seconds before curtain. The early performances were edgy, provocative, mind-stretching, and memorable. When we pass those old venues in the present, we can name the performers who shared their vision inside.
FringeNYC 2014 – which closed on Sunday September 24 - continues to fulfill the original vision of the 1996 founders. Only one of those founders remains Elena K. Holy and she is now the Producing Artistic Director of the Present Company the not-for-profit theatre producing organization dedicated to inciting art, cultivating community and creating new American theatre.
Of the two-hundred shows in this year’s lineup, we saw forty shows and reviewed all forty of them – a remarkable feat for just two reviewers. We visited fifteen of the eighteen venues. We found a broad range of quality in this year’s shows from the excellent to the truly awful – par for the course for most Fringe Festivals. However, there were far more “bad” shows than “good” and this might signal the need for a more aggressive adjudicating process. It is difficult to adjudicate shows with a volunteer staff; however, it might be beneficial to explore other ways to assemble teams that can screen potential shows more thoroughly. Although AEA (Actors Equity Association) does not permit artists to videotape their work, there might be additional screening platforms that can be put in place.
FringeNYC 2014 introduced a new reservation and ticketing system utilizing the Eventbrite platform (http://www.eventbrite.com/). This “green” system allows patrons to purchase tickets to shows right up to thirty minutes before curtain. All confirmations and tickets are displayed on the patron’s smart phone or Eventbrite account online where tickets can be printed out if the patron does not have a smart phone. This is a wonderful addition to FringeNYC and will also expedite the administrative staff’s ability to determine what shows and what venues were visited most often immediately. The days of counting ticket stubs is over.
And what of the future of FringeNYC? This priceless contribution to the culture of New York City continues to need monetary support beyond the reasonable ticket price of $18.00. Sponsorships and donations of all sizes are required to ensure the future of this important Festival. The founding four said it best in 1997: “There is no map. The compass slowly spins, pointing to all directions. But if we walk together, eyes open, a step at a time, we’ll find our way.” Here’s to another eighteen years, FringeNYC, and more thereafter. Thank you, Elena K. Holy, for your gift of “doing the job that must be done” and continuing this place where “new artists have a chance of staying in the theater and a new energy and spirit can infuse our theater.”
“FORTUNA FANTASIA” at FringeNYC 2014 at the Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios (Closed on Sunday August 24, 2014)
“FORTUNA FANTASIA” at FringeNYC 2014 at the Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios (Closed on Sunday August 24, 2014) Written by Jesse Schreck Directed by Nailah Harper-Malveaux Reviewed by David Robets and Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
“Men at some time are masters of their fates: /The fault, dear Brutus, is not in our stars, / But in ourselves, that we are underlings.” Cassius, “Julius Caesar” (1.2.9)
“Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer /The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune / Or to take arms against a sea of troubles.” “Hamlet” (3.1.1750)
Cassius weighs in on the side of free will in his conversation with Brutus and Hamlet claims humankind can oppose the fates or succumb to their capriciousness. Are we maters of our fates (free will) or subjects (puppets) of Fortuna goddess of both fortune and fate?
Jesse Schreck tackles this debate in his “FORTUNA FANTASIA” which ran as part of FringeNYC 2014. The Ringmaster (Jeremy Weiss) serves as narrator in Mr. Schreck’s new play and the puppeteer par excellence. Mr. Weiss springs onto the stage, twirls and whirls and twists the fate of the unsuspecting couple in the midst of a nasty breakup. Claire (Chandler Rosenthal) and Jeffrey (Paul Hinkes), like Hamlet, have to decide what to do about their future when ringmaster/goddess of fortune decides to intervene in their troubled lives. What happens is not logical or reasonable and not possible to predict.
Somewhere caught between absurdity and actuality is this fantasia - somewhat similar to the work of Craig Lucas - where characters are caught in a mystical realm, where the improbable reigns, but also where life lessons are served up when once again the characters regain control. The cast wins the audience over by being completely committed to the script, inventing and interacting with characters that walk a fine line between ludicrous and rational. Ms. Rosenthal gives Claire a clear perspective, weak enough to bend under pressure, persistent enough to hold her beliefs and vulnerable enough to fall prey to circumstance. Mr. Hinkes portrays Jeffrey with nerdy intelligence, a warm heart, honest intentions and great physical comedy. Kathleen, played by Juliana Canfield, is pleasantly psychotic, dangerously deliberate, and cautiously calculative and yet still is able to show a quirky lovable side. Jacob Osborne creates a hysterically comical Thomas, complete with Russian accent, uninspiring poetry, facial expressions that seem to be molded from silly putty and some deadpan reactions that garner great laughter.
Director Nailah Harper-Malveaux has made fine choices and moves the plot along at a quick pace, never pondering comical moments but relentlessly moving on to the next bit of business. It is a show that should be seen, if for no other reason, for the entertainment value that is created, especially if in the hands of a talented creative team such as this one. I am sure theatre audiences will be hearing more from the talented Jesse Schreck.
“FORTUNA FANTASIA” is presented by Common Room in Association with The Present Company (Elena K. Holy, Producing Artistic Director). Directed by Nailah Harper-Malveaux.
The cast of “FORTUNA FANTASIA” includes Juliana Canfield, Paul Hinkes, Jacob Osborne, Chandler Rosenthal, and Jeremy Weiss.
For performance schedule, ticketing information and more information about the presenting company, please visit www.FringeNYC.org. For mobile ticketing, please visit www.FringeonTheFly.com. The running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes with one intermission.
“Quiet Peninsula” at FringeNYC 2014 at 64E4 Mainstage (Closed on Friday August 22, 2014)
“Quiet Peninsula” at FringeNYC 2014 at 64E4 Mainstage (Closed on Friday August 22, 2014) Written by Brandon Ferraro Directed by Samantha Tella Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
“Quiet Peninsula,” a new play by Brandon Ferraro presented as part of the NY International Fringe Festival, is interesting, becomes increasingly compelling, and is full of little surprises that bind the three Acts together tightly – surprises that actually might not be fully realized until after the audience leaves the theatre. The play has a solid structure, a clever concealed dramatic arc and a story that provides many “ah-hah” moments because of the intricate construction. The phenomenal concept causes the audience to become part of the play, with an emotional investment in the characters because you know more than they do and react to situations the actors are unaware of, cultivating the response. It is indeed an enlightening plot. Director Samantha Tella pays careful attention and moves the parallel acts along with ease.
The cast all do fine work in defining their characters and do not fall prey to insensitive acting techniques but accept the depth of subtleness. In an incredibly current exploration, Jess (Lani Harms) and Lorraine (Lauren Hayes) police partners, sit in a bar after one has shot a teenager. Their ability to contain hysteria, find an inner strength, and examine consequences, then acting accordingly, provides the needed sense of reality.
Walter (Hank Offinger) a stroke victim confined to a wheelchair gives an incredible performance communicating clearly with the nuanced shift of his head, piercing focus of his sometimes angry, sometimes understanding eyes and tears of disappointment which gently roll down a worn, strong, dignified face. In contrast his son David (Brandon Ferraro) expels his stressful anger in an exuberant voice perhaps too desperate, but in essence exacerbates the power of his father’s silence. A bit more self awareness to place and situation might add to the suspension of disbelief in this act.
Kathy (Briana Pozner) breathes strength, anger, rage and power into her depiction of a college administrator prohibiting a basketball star (Ja-Ron Young) from playing because he is accused of an alleged rape. She is adamant in her decision and exhibits her feminist traits with conviction and concealed trepidation. Mr. Young presents a victimized African American with pride and dignity never being trapped in stereotype and allowing his emotion and intelligence to rule his performance. As the over confident coach, Derek (Sean McIntyre) is the right mix of anger and arrogance, as product of academia sports, supporting the player and battling the administrator.
The characters in the three Acts are all connected; however, their precise connection will not be revealed in this Review. Well, perhaps just one: the police officer in the first Act who shot the teenager is the significant other of the college administrator in the third Act.
Mr. Ferraro is a fresh new voice that should be noticed and recognized.
“Quiet Peninsula” is presented by Producer in Association with The Present Company (Elena K Holy, Producing Artistic Director). Directed by Samantha Tella.
The cast of “Quiet Peninsula” includes Brandon Ferraro, Lani Harms, Lauren Hayes, Sean McIntyre, Hank Offinger, Briana Pozner, and Ja-Ron Young.
For performance schedule, ticketing information and more information about the presenting company, please visit www.FringeNYC.org. For mobile ticketing, please visit www.FringeonTheFly.com. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission.
“Chemistry” at FringeNYC 2014 at 64E4 Underground (Closed on Friday August 22, 2014)
Jonathan Hopkins and Lauren LaRocca in "Chemistry." Photo by Michelle Laird.
“Chemistry” at FringeNYC 2014 at 64E4 Underground (Closed on Friday August 22, 2014) Written by Jacob Marx Rice Directed by Anna Strasser Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Chemistry is the key to understanding the complexities inherent in Jacob Marx Rice’s “Chemistry,” which completed a sold out FringeNYC 2014 run on Friday August 22 and will reopen for an extended run in mid-September (details below). On the surface, it is the gripping story of a relationship born of pharmacology: Steph (Lauren LaRocca) and Jamie (Jonathan Hopins) meet at the office of the psychiatrist they share for brief talk-therapy and prescribed psychotropic medication to treat her chronic depression and his unipolar mania. But there is more than the chemistry of their brains and the chemistry of the relationship that develops between them that make “Chemistry” a remarkable play.
It is the chemistry between Mr. Hopins and Ms. LaRocca that truly electrifies the stage and enlivens Mr. Rice’s script. In its current state, the writing – though compelling and thought provoking – is sometimes uneven. It would be good, for example, to have a clearer resolution of Jamie’s attempts to process Steph’s suicide. And Ms. Strasser’s direction – though concise and credible – often places the actors on opposite sides of the stage as they provide exposition directly to the audience. This creates a dizzying ping-pong effect, which although it mimics a “bipolar” effect – does not serve the play well.
However, despite these minor issues, the actors make it all work. They create remarkable chemistry between actors and audience and between story and audience. And that chemistry creates layer after layer of connections in the audience member and this is where perhaps the real power of the piece lies: each audience member knows someone who is suffering from mental illness; indeed, that someone might be the audience member herself or himself.
The inexhaustible craft of Ms. LaRocca and Mr. Hopins creates believable and authentic characters: their Jamie and Steph cajole one another to connect to their illnesses and to one another; they connive to convince themselves and one another that hope need not be abandoned; and they collude ultimately in succumbing to the same matrix of woe that compelled them to trust in another human once again.
Make it a point to see “Chemistry” when it reopens mid September at SoHo Playhouse.
“Chemistry” is presented by Audra Arnaudon in Association with The Present Company (Elena K. Holy, Producing Artistic Director). Directed by Anna Strasser.
The cast of “Chemistry” includes Jonathan Hopins and Lauren Larocca.
“Kiss Your Brutal Hands” at FringeNYC 2014 at 64E4 Underground (Closed on Friday August 22, 2014)
“Kiss Your Brutal Hands” at FringeNYC 2014 at 64E4 Underground (Closed on Friday August 22, 2014) Written and Performed by Jim Shankman Directed by Craig J. George Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
One’s religious heritage can be a heavy weight when one is a lonely addicted (to sex and to drugs) trader teetering on the brink of a short sale meltdown or a delusional homeless person in Tompkins Square Park bedecked with layers of pants and a pretty dress – particularly so if these are one and the same person.
Eschewing one’s faith, as Izzy and Danny attempt to do in Jim Shankman’s “Kiss Your Brutal Hands,” does not guarantee that one’s faith construct will not remain a haunting presence throughout one’s life. Rite and ritual - like those same constructs in stock trading, street theatre, and prison – fail to offer surcease. The need to believe, commit, and care continue to impinge on the conscious and unconscious self.
Jim Shankman’s “Kiss Your Brutal Hands” portrays Izzy and Danny facing the crisis of identity and sustainability. They rant, rave, and rage against all they perceive to distract them (God, Jews, agents, attorneys, former sex-mates, little and no-so-little girls who want to get them into trouble). Some of the ranting is tasteless and gratuitous but it serves to expose the angst and despair of Mr. Shankman’s characters.
It is not clear what the purpose of this solo performance might be. The character of Danny is shallow and nothing similar to a Tomkins Square Park homeless person. And Izzy’s frenetic series of phone calls does little to develop a character one easily cares for or identifies with. Mr. George’s direction is often distracting and contributes little to the advancement of the action.
KISS YOUR BRUTAL HANDS
“Kiss Your Brutal Hands” is presented by Michael Howard Studios in Association with The Present Company (Elena K Holy, Producing Artistic Director). Directed by Craig G. George.
For performance schedule, ticketing information and more information about the presenting company, please visit www.FringeNYC.org. For mobile ticketing, please visit www.FringeonTheFly.com. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission.
“Love At Home” at FringeNYC 2014 at the Connelly Theater (Closed on Friday August 22, 2014)
“Love At Home” at FringeNYC 2014 at the Connelly Theater (Closed on Friday August 22, 2014) Written and Directed by Mary Matoula Webb Reviewed by David Roberts Theatre Reviews Limited
Mary Matoula Webb’s play “Love At Home,” which is part of FringeNYC 2014, deals with the relationship between an LGBT Mormon teenager and her straight sister and parents. The action of the play moves between the present and several flashbacks. As they play begins, Becca (Cat Cabral) is with her father John (Richard Harrison Webb) preparing for the baby shower for her lesbian half-sister Diana (Tygar Hicks). Becca hopes her stepmother Claudia (Denise Hungerford) won’t embarrass her with Mormon homophobic platitudes. Becca’s father is more accepting and liberal – he even likes Leonard Cohen.
The scenes from the past center mostly on Becca’s discovery that Diana is a lesbian and focus on Becca’s struggles to understand her sister’s sexual status. Diana has refused to be baptized and dismisses Mormon teaching as “wisdom and not scripture.” Much of the dialog is stilted and reminiscent of all dramatic literature attempting to deal with the acceptance of the LGBT members of a straight (usually religious) family. There is nothing new here.
Ms. Webb’s direction is cumbersome and some of her staging choices are questionable. As the family prepares for the shower, for example, Becca and her mother keep filling mesh bags with candy and tying them with small cards. When the small basket is full they empty it into a larger basket. Are hundreds of Mormon guests coming to greet a lesbian and her pregnant lover? And why does the father have to sneak cupcakes from the box for the shower? And why is he always eating the candy from the filled bags?
Despite the cast’s attempts, the script falls flat and the core conflicts do not drive interesting plots. “Love At Home” seems like a lecture attempting to be a dramatic work. Of the performances, Tygar Hicks delivers a compelling performance as Diana and creates her character with an endearing honesty and a compelling authenticity. The rest of the performances are uneven and often not believable.
LOVE AT HOME
“Love At Home” is presented by Matoula Productions in Association with The Present Company (Elena K Holy, Producing Artistic Director). Directed by Mary Matoula Webb.
The cast of “Love At Home” includes Cat Cabral, Tygar Hicks, Denise Hungerford, and Richard Harrison Webb.
For performance schedule, ticketing information and more information about the presenting company, please visit www.FringeNYC.org. For mobile ticketing, please visit www.FringeonTheFly.com. The running time is 1 hour and 30 minutes with no intermission.
“The Mormon Bird Play” at FringeNYC 2014 at the Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios (Closed on Thursday August 21, 2014)
“The Mormon Bird Play” at FringeNYC 2014 at the Robert Moss Theater at 440 Studios (Closed on Thursday August 21, 2014) Written and Directed by Roger Benington Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
In 1938, on the precipice of events that led to World War II, Witold Gombrowicz wrote the tradicomedy “Iwona, księżniczka Burgunda” (“Ivona, Princess of Burgundia”). The play graphically describes what the enslavement of form, custom, and ceremony brings to a nation-state, a community, even an individual.
In Roger Benington’s allegorical retelling of Gombrowicz’s play, Princess Ivona arrives in Salt Lake City and is befriended by a group of Mormon children readying themselves for baptism into their faith community. Dubbed Princess of the Birds, Ivona proves to be an interesting distraction for the children but becomes an annoying presence: Ivona has a way of seeing into their souls and exposing much of the hypocrisy of the community. Playwright Roger Benington cleverly uses Ivona as a riveting extended metaphor (here an allegory) to expose not only the hypocrisies of religious constructs but also the commitment of such constructs to preserve their tenants and their control over their penitents.
The parallels between Ivona Princess of Burgundia and Ivona Princess of Birds (and all things ornithological) are intriguing. This “enotes” comment on Gombrowicz’a Ivona describes the matrix of religiosity that eventually compels playmates Brenda, Clifford, Pipa, and Evan to destroy Ivona. The fantasy sequence relating the burial of a stillborn baby on the Prairie at the beginnings of Mormonism is a chilling and startling precursor to Ivona’s death.
“At first, the prince finds her exhilarating for precisely this reason: Loving her releases him from a role. In the end, however, trying to live as one’s true self and not in some socially defined capacity is so alienating that it cannot be sustained. Therefore, a social event must be staged that removes Ivona from the scene. Society must find a way of protecting itself.”
As the prerecorded announcement at the beginning of the show asks the audience not to “tweet” during the performance - and” tweet” is used several times in the script to replace words that should not be spoken - it leads the audience to believe that certain things should go unsaid and be covered up, not to upset the accepted social or religious climate. In contrast to this concept, the actors involved in this production successfully expose themselves intellectually and emotionally, crossing lines, gender bending and possibly revealing the consequences of growing up as a gay Mormon. Whether with a nuanced expression from a deaf girl, a broad display of religious ceremony, a reenactment of Mormon pioneer women or the frivolity of contentious young girls, these actors are committed to telling a story in an unconventional manner, that mesmerizes and sweeps you into a dream.
It is difficult to assess the amount of information contained in this theatrical piece, but it is certainly food for thought long after you leave the theater. It contains some powerful moments. In the last scene a young closeted gay boy stretches out his arm and asks his friends to pinch him, something the bird princess repeatedly did to others when threatened by those who did not understand. Needing so much to be loved, connected, feel something, anything but they could not oblige, and reject him for the fear of being ostracized. The burden society, religion and politics places on young impressionable minds just may be the root of an evil evolution.
THE MORMON BIRD PLAY
“The Mormon Bird Play” is presented by The Present Company (Elena K Holy, Producing Artistic Director). Directed by Roger Benington.
The cast of “The Mormon Bird Play” includes Jose Dao, Billy Hutto, James Leach, Jordan Parente, Brennan Pickman-Thoon, and Thomas Sullivan.
For performance schedule, ticketing information and more information about the presenting company, please visit www.FringeNYC.org. For mobile ticketing, please visit www.FringeonTheFly.com. The running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes with no intermission.
“Mother’s Day” at FringeNYC 2014 at the Players Theatre (Closes on Sunday August 24, 2014)
“Mother’s Day” at FringeNYC 2014 at the Players Theatre (Closes on Sunday August 24, 2014) Written by Colin Drucker Directed by Reginald L. Douglas Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza Theatre Reviews Limited
Mark Twain once said, “Clothes make the man. Naked people have little or no influence on society.” Perhaps the talented and perceptive young playwright Colin Drucker is elaborating on this observation, among others, in his new modern day family play “Mother’s Day” being presented as part of the NY International Fringe Festival. Son Joey Pollack (Karl Gregory) wears strikingly fashionable women’s clothing as drag queen Helen Back when visiting his parents in New Jersey. Mom Liz Pollack (Renee Claire Bergeron) dons a colorful print top to visit her mother who explains it makes her look too round. Dad Talbott Pollack (Neal Lerner) sports an apron which neighbor Suzanne DeMarco (Rhonda Ayers) remarks on while on her visit to borrow a dress so she can look good when she goes out to dinner with her family. Slacker son Nicky Pollack (Brough Hansen) slouches around in tee shirts and sweat pants; while his father is hopeful he will come to dinner dressed decently. All these clothes may help build the characters and the way society accepts or rejects them, but it is when Mr. Drucker strips his characters naked that we see the reality and with a little coaxing from the bottle, that we feel the pain.
The plot is simple, the characters complex, the script is demanding, the dramatic arc climbs sky high, gets covered by a dark cloud, the storm begins and believe me - when it is over - there is no rainbow or pot of gold. The quick dialogue is witty, wise and engaging, as barbs are tossed and arrows flung, always piercing the hearts of the target, always drawing blood but never killing the victim, just leaving them to suffer.
The cast is led by the remarkable Mr. Gregory, strutting, striking, clawing through a persona that is fractured, trying to heal, hoping for help, looking for love and always separated and alone. He reaches deep into his pool of emotional response to produce a real, honest character never succumbing to the drowning effect of stereotype. He is riveting. Mr. Lerner gives a valid performance of the stoner dad, always mellow, with the delusion of being “Father Knows Best.” The remainder of the cast gives admirable performances but really never reach the level needed to support the script. Under the astute direction of Reginald L. Douglas, the pace is quick and the characters are clearly motivated.
Hopefully in this fully realized production Mr. Drucker can take a good look, clear away the clutter and make some adjustments. The play needs to be two acts or reduced to ninety minutes, which would be criminal if not done with care. The end needs to be revised. Something is left unsaid or is not transparent. The puzzle seems to be completed, but there are missing pieces. This is good if not a great living room drama and just needs some attention and fine tuning.
“Mother’s Day” is presented by The Present Company (Elena K. Holy, Producing Artistic Director). Directed by Reginald L. Douglas.
The cast of “Mother’s Day” includes Rhonda Ayers, Renee Claire Bergeron, Karl Gregory, Brough Hansen, and Neal Lerner.
For performance schedule, ticketing information and more information about the presenting company, please visit www.FringeNYC.org. For mobile ticketing, please visit www.FringeonTheFly.com. The running time is 2 hours with no intermission or re-entry into the theatre.