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Off-Broadway Review: “Miss Blanche Tells It All” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Closed Sunday July 16, 2017)

Photo: Brian Charles Rooney as Miss Blanche. Credit: Bjorn Bolinder.
Off-Broadway Review: “Miss Blanche Tells It All” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Closed Sunday July 16, 2017)
Book and Lyrics by Jason Jacobs
Music and Lyrics by Matthew C. Pritchard
Directed by Gisela Cardenas
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“These parting words, she left behind/These parting words she left behind/And I put them in your hands now/These parting words she left behind.” – The Nun

Lee (Brian Charles Rooney) is the twenty-something female impersonator who graces the small stage at the Golden Lantern, an old bar – a joint – in the French Quarter of New Orleans. The small crowd comes out, as it often has in the past, to enjoy Lee’s “Miss Blanche Tells All” – a drag show that has never disappointed until perhaps on this unusual night. The bar’s piano player Pete (Robert Frost) announces the drag star as the “The Queen of the French Quarter, the belle of every ball, the sweetest magnolia that ever blossomed on the Mississippi.” The drag star does not enter from behind the curtain.

Instead, Lee stumbles onto the stage wearing a light kimono wrap, headcover, with some makeup having been applied. He is still wearing pants, tee-shirt, and shoes and Blanche – he, Lee, and the audience discover – has “been detained” and “regrets she’s unable to lunch today.” After a verbal scuffle with Pete, and a few (more) drinks, Lee vamps into an alternate show about his life as a gay young man growing up in the “dreary suburbs of Kenner,” about thirteen miles from his birthplace in New Orleans.

Lee asks that his trunk, a tall wardrobe steamer, be moved onto the stage. On top of the trunk sits an unopened telegram envelope which Lee places atop the piano. The presence of this trunk is the first powerful bit of foreshadowing in “Miss Blanche Tells It All” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater. Is this Lee’s trunk? His mother’s trunk? The trunk left behind by someone who occupied Lee’s home prior to his family? Enigmatic questions that will be answered in due time.

Lee’s story is not an unusual one on the surface. He grew up in the 1960s with an abusive alcoholic father who shamed Lee at every opportunity and abused Lee’s doting mother who gave all her attention to Lee and encouraged her son’s interest in the contents of the trunk – the trunk now onstage and, perhaps, belonging to someone close to his family. There is a surprise under every item removed from Miss Blanche’s trunk and behind every corner of Lee’s cavernous and rich memory of his childhood and adolescence. Lee seeks surcease from the abuse in drugs and anonymous sexual encounters and in the attention of a special male teacher – and the women he sees in the “Million Dollar Movie.”

“Miss Blanche Tells It All” continues Lee’s story through a series of flashbacks that reveal – bit by bit – what Lee experienced with his father and his mother. The scenes are often heartbreaking and deeply engaging. Brian Charles Rooney knows his characters well. He has explored every characteristic of the drag star he portrays, Lee’s family, and the environment in which Lee grew up. This is a story richly steeped in the imagination of Tennessee Williams. Lee’s stories are counterpointed by musical numbers that not only support the narrative but extend the conversation beyond the present.

The story is so well crafted by Jason Jacobs and the storytelling by Brian Charles Rooney is so pristine that to give much detail would require a spoiler alert. Mr. Rooney unpeels the layers of Mr. Jacobs’s book with the precision of a skilled surgeon – each incision is either a bit of foreshadowing or the slightest stich of a deep secret just waiting to emerge upon the stage. There is, for example, Lee’s “Saturday adventures” with his mother, visits to a place “like a hotel” where she visits “a friend.” Lee is instructed to stay outside and play and to keep the visits a secret from his father. These visits are not what the audience might presume. And the identity of the “friend” near the end brings everything in the musical to a startling critical juncture. And there is that telegram and Lee’s visit to “the hotel” after his mother’s death and the book left for him after Lee’s mother’s “friend” passed away.

Under Gisela Cardenas’s stunning direction, Brian Charles Rooney delivers a bravura performance that not only engages the audience, but holds each member spellbound for seventy-five minutes. Jason Jacobs and Matthew C. Pritchard have developed a masterful story that – though depending on several well-known theatrical conventions – surpasses other attempts of exploring the physical, emotional, and spiritual journey of a gay child finding his way to the challenges of adulthood and the possibility of taking “roads not taken.”

The audience is ready for the resolution to Lee’s (and Blanche’s) story after the tour de force performance of “Dress to Kill.” But Miss Blanche (yes, the drag star does appear) with the extension of one index finger indicated to the audience there is more to come. And there is. The surprise ending, though thoughtful and engaging, might be the part of the musical that needs some tweaking; however, “Miss Blanche Tells It All” is a finetuned, superbly crafted piece of theatre that will re-emerge soon – soon and very soon – on the New York (and beyond) stage.

MISS BLANCHE TELLS IT ALL

“Miss Blanche Tells It All” stars Brian Charles Rooney as Miss Blanche.

The creative team features lighting design by Christopher Weston and costume design by Philip Heckman. Heather Olmstead serves as production stage manager. The music director is Robert Frost and the choreographer is Nicole Curio. Production photos by Chris Bridges.

The production will run through Sunday, August 16, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/miss-blanche-tells-it-all/ or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 15 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, July 17, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Time Machine” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 16, 2017)

Photo: The Cast of "The Time Machine." Credit: Russ Rowland.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Time Machine” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 16, 2017)
Book by David Mauk and Brenda Mandabach
Music and Lyrics by David Mauk
Directed Justin Baldridge
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The new musical “The Time Machine,” presented as part of New York Musical Festival, is an overwrought musical adaptation of the H.G. Wells classic, plagued with too many genres, resulting in a enfeebled main plot. Basically, to become more cohesive, the creative team needs to decide what the product wants to be. Is it a love story, a Sci-fi thriller, or a comic book musical? Is it to be taken seriously or should it be simply an evening of fun entertainment? The message is lost as flippant styles emerge from one scene to the next. The music and lyrics by David Mauk are quite impressive, but seem to embrace a dark, heavy somber tone with little diversity. Teaming up with Brenda Mandabach, their book seems to be the weakest element of the production, with changing intent and shallow characters in search of dimension.

The cast is superb and once again as has often been seen in this year’s festival, outshines the material. Michael Hunsiker creates Thomas, a staunch hero with a sturdy, romantic baritone to match. Randal Keith provides all the necessary elements of a comic book villain supported by bold, powerful vocals that accentuate his character. Soprano, Bligh Voth delivers a pure tonal quality to her vocals, befitting the strong yet vulnerable love interest, Wenissa. The large supporting cast provides a more than adequate execution throughout the performance, producing solid vocals, versatile movement and multiple characters.

Director Justin Baldridge generates a steady pace to the action but also falls prey to the problem of genre identity and character definition. Choreography by Jim Cooney is competent, deftly moving the large cast comfortably around the small stage strewn with inventive and resourceful set pieces designed by Lauren Mills. Costumes range from turn of the 19th century realistic, period to comic book futuristic fantasy designed with faultless fashion by Vanessa Leuck.

THE TIME MACHINE

“The Time Machine” stars Michael Hunsaker, Bligh Voth, Marc Moritz, Barbara McCulloh, Michael Thatcher, Doug Chitel, Lori Tishfield, Martavius Parrish, Randal Keith, and ensemble members Shiloh Goodin, Aisling Halpin, Darrel T. Joe, Lamont Walker II, and Tony II Lorrich.

The creative team includes Lauren Mills (Scenic Design), Vanessa Leuck (Costume Design), Jamie Roderick (Lighting Designer), Patrick LaChance (Sound Design), Don Cieslik (Projections Designer), and Adele Rylands (Fight Director). Alice Pollitt is the Production Stage Manager. Production photos by Russ Rowland.

The production will run through Sunday, August 16, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. at The Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row, located at 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/time-machine/ or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 16, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Errol and Fidel” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday July 16, 2017)

Photo: George Psomas (Center) and Cast of "Errol and Fidel." Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
Off-Broadway Review: “Errol and Fidel” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday July 16, 2017)
Book by Boyd Anderson and Guy Anderson
Music by Peter Kaldor, John Kaldor and Doug Oberhamer
Lyrics by Boyd Anderson
Directed by Michael Bello
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Errol and Fidel,” part of the New York Musical Festival 2017, retells the story of Errol Flynn’s (played with just the right Hollywood bravado by Jonathan Stewart) visit to Havana in 1958 during the shooting of his self-produced B film “Cuban Rebel Girls” where he met Fidel Castro (played with rich revolutionary ruggedness and charm by George Psomas). Flynn is at first enamored by Castro, then becomes disappointed and eventually leaves Cuba. The musical “imagines” what the visit might have been like since Flynn writes very little about Cuba or Castro in his autobiography published a year following his death in 1959.

The account, under Michael Bello’s inventive direction, chronicles Castro’s rise to power, the concerns of the Cuban people about the revolution and adds intriguing bits of espionage, bravado, machismo (Flynn’s and Castro’s), love interests, and cultural divides. The book by Boyd Anderson and Guy Anderson is interesting as are the former’s lyrics; however, neither are remarkable. The lack of Latino performers is somewhat appalling. Could Latino Rebels not also portray American CIA agents?

All things USA are treated as comedic. The CIA under Rimmer’s (played with a smarmy core by Alam M-L Wager) leadership is inept. When he and his agents appear together on stage, they are often found standing at a row of urinals (one cannot make this up) then zipping up as they tap dance. Rimmer (I know, right?) is a buffoon and his right-hand Agent Goode (played with steely resolve by Ryan Bauer-Walsh) does not fare much better. There are allusions to Number 45 and to gun control. Fidel queries Errol, “Americanos they like the guns, no?” Errol replies, “Yes, but not on other people.”

Rimmer is a sexist so the script is laced with sexist remarks. And the disparaging term “queers” shows up in “Daiquiris Mijitos” – always a red flag for this queer reviewer. But lyricist Boyd Anderson needed a word to rhyme with “appears.” Or was it perhaps the other way around? And the beat goes on.

There are three songs that stand out (of the twenty-some in the musical): the lovely “Hialeah” sung by Lola (played with a powerful and resolute core by Claire Saunders) and Mima (played with heartfelt sincerity and wit by the brilliant Sydia Cedeno) with delicious harmonies and tones, “El Gigante” sung by the Rebels, and “What Am I Doing” the duet sung by Lola and Fidel. The remainder are of a variety of musical genres and pleasing enough. The choreography by Justin Boccitto is adequate but derivative: The Fosse-esque routine lacks the requisite precision and execution to be effective. There are many obtuse (and obvious) references to the canon of Hollywood films which movie buffs will enjoy (“I’m ready for my close-up”).

“Errol and Fidel” is indeed a work in progress. The audience at the performance I attended responded with enthusiasm and a standing ovation. The musical simply did not engage me in any significant way.

ERROL AND FIDEL

“Errol and Fidel” stars Jonathan Stewart as Errol and George Psomas as Fidel with Alan M-L Wager, Sydia Cedeno, Ryan Walsh, Claire Saunders, Cole Grissom, Jon Cooper, Alex Drost, Kaitlyn Frank, Rashaan James II, Maiza Miller, and Alexandria van Paris.

The creative team includes Starlet Jacobs (Scenic Designer), Heather Carey (Costume Designer), Isabella Byrd (Lighting Designer), and Shannon Slaton (Sound Designer). Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

The production will run through Sunday, August 16, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/errol-and-fidel/ or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 2 hours.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 16, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Dorian Gray” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Closed Friday July 14, 2017)

Photo: Brad DeLeone and Lee Cortopassi. Credit: Greg Boulden.
Off-Broadway Review: “Dorian Gray” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Closed Friday July 14, 2017)
Book, Music and Lyrics by Christopher Dayett
Music by Kevin Mucchetti
Directed by Christen Mandracchia
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Oscar Wilde might be turning in his grave, or at least twitching – that is if he has seen a certain NYMF production appropriately titled “Dorian Gray” a musical loosely based on his notorious provocative novel. There is a slight chance he might be flattered that young thespian artists would be interested and intent on creating this version but certainly would not condone the execution nor the altered adaptation.

Director Christen Mandracchia states in the program that she wanted the audience to see “suffering artists” being engaged and empowered by Wilde’s story. She admonishes, “It is noted that before the lights go down, you may notice people onstage reading the novel. Listen to what they are saying. Listen to those who are rejected. The story belongs to them.” I did listen, carefully, since I thought it was an odd choice and ill fitted beginning to such a dark story. What I heard was actors bursting out in song informing us that these “snippets” would be from the show. There were also actors practicing soft shoe routines, conversing with the audience about who they knew in the cast and even planning on where to party after the show. Yes, some carried the novel that no one seemed to have an interest in. All this activity of breaking the fourth wall before the show began, for no apparent reason, seemed disrespectful to the theatrical stage and cast an atmosphere of pretentious, amateur theater. Her direction is pedestrian and misguided.

Christopher Dayett started this endeavor as a subject for his graduate thesis. Thirteen months later with musical collaborator Kevin Mucchetti this latest incarnation has arrived. The story is elementary because of the notoriety of the novel, but Mr. Dayett manages to complicate matters and loses focus, which results in a laborious book. The music is dark but ineffective, unable to create an impact but Mr. Mucchetti, who also serves as musical director, is able to sustain interest with his fetching orchestrations. Lyrics do not serve the story or move the plot forward and at times detract from the music.

The cast is uneven with Brad DeLeone (Dorian Gray) and Topher Layton (Basil Hallward) standing out both vocally and demonstrating the craft of carving out characters with interest and edge. The vocals of the remaining cast are less than adequate with performances being over the top caricatures. This product might be well suited for a thesis but is not yet ready as a professional production for the New York stage. It is still meritorious that such a young group of thespians invested their time and talents in such a risky venture which, hopefully, evoked a stimulating learning experience.

DORIAN GRAY

“Dorian Gray” features Brad DeLeone as Dorian Gray, Lee Cortopassi as Lord Henry Wotton, Topher Layton as Basil Hallward, and Maura McColgan as Sibyl Vane/Beth Wotton. Rounding out the cast are Courtney Boches, Kevin Durkin, Carter Horton, Tyreese Kadle, Brie Knight, and Samantha Solar.

The production features scenic and lighting design by Christen Mandracchia, costume design by Courtney Boches, sound design by Greg Boulden, and props design and production stage management by Lauren Davenport. Production photos by Greg Boulden.

The production ran through Friday, August 14, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. at The Acorn Theater at Theatre Row, located at 410 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/dorian-gray or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 2 hours.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 16, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “My Dear Watson” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday July 16, 2017)

Photo (L to R): John DiDonna and Kyle Stone. Credit: Chris Bridges.
Off-Broadway Review: “My Dear Watson” at the New York Musical Festival at the Peter Jay Sharp Theater (Through Sunday July 16, 2017)
Book, Music and Lyrics by Jami-Leigh Bartschi
Directed by John DiDonna
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“My Dear Watson,” part of the New York Musical Festival 2017, is a musical testament to the genius of “consulting detective” Sherlock Holmes (John Didonna) and the deep friendship between the iconic fictional detective and his devoted sidekick Dr. John H. Watson (Kyle Stone). Jami-Leigh Bartschi’s musical has been in development for nine years, yet “My Dear Watson” seems to still be in the early stages of its formation.

The book, music, and lyrics are at best unremarkable and the performances range from barely adequate to completely inadequate. John DiDonna’s direction is haphazard and the staging is sophomoric. It is difficult to discern what precisely contributes to the lack of success of this musical. The characters – drawn from fiction – are not believable and their conflicts, though based on Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s work, are not interesting. Equally uninteresting is the plot these conflicts struggle to drive. In the battle between Holmes and Moriority (Jason Blackwater), one really does not care who survives.

Then there are the odd “empty spaces” filled with music at the beginning of each act (attempts at an overture and an entr’acte?) with either an empty stage or actors wandering aimlessly around the stage. Mr. Stone’s Watson, wounded by a bullet in the leg during the Afghan War, rarely uses his cane, sometimes remembers to limp, but more often scampers or runs across the stage with grace and ease.

“My Dear Watson” has the distinct flavor of community theater and needs considerable work to move forward. If nothing else, the musical reminds the audience that Holmes and Watson had a fictional bromance to beat the band.

MY DEAR WATSON

The cast of “My Dear Watson” includes Jason Blackwater, Liz Curtis, John DiDonna, Jackson McLaskey, Justin Mousseau, Kyle Stone, and Jaz Zapatos. Musicians: Pati Sayers (pianist) and Deri Park (violinist). Production photos by Chris Bridges.

The production will run through Sunday, August 16, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/my-dear-watson/ or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes with one 10-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 15, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 16, 2017)

Photo: Jennifer Blood and Wayne Wilcox. Credit: Michael Kushner.
Off-Broadway Review: “Matthew McConaughey vs. The Devil” at the New York Musical Festival at the Acorn Theatre at Theatre Row (Through Sunday July 16, 2017)
Book by Emilie Landmann and Carrie Morgan
Music by Jonathan Quesenberry
Lyrics by Carrie Morgan and Jonathan Quesenberry
Directed Tom Caruso
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Matthew McConaughey vs The Devil: An American Myth” is yet another version of the story based on the fictional character “Faust” here set in Hollywood and dealing with an unsuccessful actor who makes a deal with Satan’s agent to sell his soul in return for winning an Oscar. It is assumed that this musical was created as a parody, lampooning and mocking the actor’s habits, talent and career. This is probably where the project goes wrong. Mr. McConaughey was a very successful actor long before he won the Academy Award for best actor, with an impressive list of credits, therefore there is nothing to mock. The jokes become senseless even with a long stretch of the imagination.

It is truly amazing that the producers could assemble such a stellar cast that is far superior to the material. The book by Carrie Morgan is finagled, shallow and implausible which tends to sabotage most of the attempted comedy. Jon Quesenberry’s music fairs much better, offering a variety of styles, both interesting and entertaining always assisting the remarkable vocals. Their combined effort at producing lyrics is mostly successful, often helping to move the plot along with an engaging and amusing approach. Director Tom Caruso moves the action along at a steady pace but starts to lag in the last thirty minutes, especially during the extensive dream sequence that comes much too late in the production to captivate interest. Costumes by Daryl A. Stone are appropriate, clever, and imaginative and serve the actors and production well.

Now for the incredible cast that is the sole and soul reason to see this current incarnation. It is a pleasure to just sit and savor their fine craft while relishing their impressive vocal ability. Wayne Wilcox excels in the manifestation of Mr. McConaughey with puppy dog vulnerability, comedic flexibility and a clear strong vocal. As the Devil’s agent, Lesli Margherita is as powerful as the bright red dress she wears perfectly and is a seductive, facetious villain with a broad Broadway belt. Max Crumm gives a sincere and honest portrayal of best friend Woody and Jennifer Blood chisels out a determined, faithful yet vulnerable Penny with a pure soprano. The qualified ensemble does all it can to insure support despite the pedestrian choreography of Billy Griffen.

The major problem with this production is that the content fails to engage the audience or energize the hard-working cast. It may pass as being slightly entertaining but lacks any substance that may make it memorable.

MATTHEW MCCONAUGHEY VS. THE DEVIL

The production stars Jennifer Blood, Max Crumm, Lesli Margherita, Wayne Wilcox as Matthew, and the ensemble includes Cameisha Cotton, Koh Mochizuki, David Park, Frankie Shin, Riza Takahashi, and Nicole Vande Zande.

The production features scenic design by James Fenton, costume design by Daryl Stone, and lighting design by Zach Blane. Andrew Keister is the sound designer and Victoria Navarro is the production stage manager. Kampfire PR is the publicist. Production photos by Michael Kushner.

The production will run through Sunday, August 16, 2017 at 1:00 p.m. at The Peter Jay Sharp Theater, located at 416 West 42nd Street (between 9th and 10th Avenues on the south side of 42nd Street). General Admission tickets are $29.75. For reservations and information (including cast and creative team) visit http://www.nymf.org/festival/2017-events/matthew-mcconaughey-vs-devil/ or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 15, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: Ice Factory Festival’s “True Right” at New Ohio Theatre (Through Saturday July 15, 2017)

Photo: Brittany K. Allen (George W. Bush) on floor, Gemma Kaneko (Jeb Bush) on Brittany. Credit: Lauryn McCarter.
Off-Broadway Review: Ice Factory Festival’s “True Right” at New Ohio Theatre (Through Saturday July 15, 2017)
Written by Gemma Kaneko, Brittany K. Allen, and Adin Lenahan
Directed by Gemma Kaneko
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Originally devised by Bess and George, “True Right” is a scrappy and loose retelling of Sam Shepard’s tale of sibling rivalry “True West” without the grit and depth and requisite existential core of the original play. Written by and featuring Gemma Kaneko, Brittany K. Allen, and Adin Lenahan, “True Right” is the third installment in the New Ohio Theatre’s Ice Factory 2017 Festival and – according to the program – claims to be part of Bess and George’s “work for and about the overlooked.” However, the only overlooked entities here are good writing, good direction, and good acting. Unfortunately, none of these ingredients for the success of a play is present and the piece never rises above the level of sophomoric silliness and patronizing pretense.

As in “True West” – and it is sorrowful to compare the two plays – there are estranged brothers, a vacationing mother, and a proposed road trip. The play takes place at the Bush Ranch and consists of scenes of bickering between George W. Bush (Ms. Allen) and the younger (and less successful) Jeb Bush (Ms. Kaneko). Jeb pleas for George to help him in the 2016 Presidential Campaign by traveling with him to South Carolina. George W. baits Jeb as he always has and pummels Jeb with layers of disregard while working on his painting (no screenplays in this one).

The audience learns nothing about anything in “True Right,” certainly nothing of substance about George W, Jeb, Barbara, or the family patriarch George H. W. Bush. The writing rarely rises above lines like the one uttered by Jeb early on while discussing “Bushcare” with his potential campaign manager Sleve Earp (Mr. Lenahan): “Bush is good for oral health!” Maybe there is some obtuse reference to the current Health Care Bill? Perhaps a pretentious pandering to “the overlooked?” Doubtful.

Regrettably, the writers and the director strike out in “True Right” and the audience suffers through eighty-five minutes of deadly discourse.

TRUE RIGHT

The cast of “True Right” includes Brittany K. Allen, Adin Lenahan and Gemma Kaneko.

The creative team for “True Right” includes Bailey Bretz (Choreographer), Yoshi Nomura (Set Design),
Lauryn McCarter (Lighting Design), Ben Gullard (Creative Technology), and Angie Nortz (Stage Manager). Production photos by

Performances are Wednesdays - Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. at the New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher Street). Tickets are $20.00, and $16.00 for students and seniors, and can be purchased online at http://NewOhioTheatre.org or by calling 212-352-3101. For information, please visit http://NewOhioTheatre.org, Like on Facebook at https://www.Facebook.com/NewOhioTheatre and https://www.Facebook.com/IceFactoryFestival. For up-to-the-minute Festival updates follow on Twitter (https://Twitter.com/NewOhioTheatre) at @NewOhioTheatre. Running time 85 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 15, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Spoon River” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Through Saturday July 29, 2017)

Photo: Ensemble of "Spoon River." Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.
Off-Broadway Review: “Spoon River” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Through Saturday July 29, 2017)
Adapted from Edgar Lee Masters’ “Spoon River Anthology” by Mike Ross and Albert Schultz
Composed by Mike Ross
Directed by Albert Schultz
Reviewed by David Roberts and Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Upon entering Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre to view a new musical adaptation of Edgar Lee Masters’ 1915 “Spoon River Anthology,” we became a bit leery about the execution of this undertaking (no pun intended) as we walked down a dark hallway past Bertie Hume lying at rest in a casket. Continuing in the dark, we turned to walk through a cemetery of old tombstones, turned again and finally entered the seating area of the theater. It was rather peculiar and unnecessary since it is not immersive theater. It seemed to cast an inept and amateurish tone, rather than prepare us for what was to come. Never let a gloomy cemetery fool you!

A few moments after Mr. Pollard (played with sensitive substance by Diego Matamoras) begins to spout his beliefs and his perspective on death, informing us he “seems to be the only one here old enough to pretend to be wise, and young enough to make it up to the top of this hill, we know we are in for a great evening of storytelling. Then “The Hill” comes alive, first with men, followed by women, and then joined together in song, rising from the dead to introduce themselves and greet the passersby (audience). As though they were “lined up” at the Pearly Gates ready to make their case for entrance, they share their engaging life-stories hoping, perhaps, to find forgiveness, redemption, understanding, or just to celebrate who they were while traversing the human plane.

Some of the stories are delivered as prose-poems with one character, or a couple, or a group of characters sharing their lives and their deaths. Other stories are sung through and a few combine word and song. Passersby hear of the troubled marriage of Mr. McGee (Brendan Wall) and Mrs. McGee (Raquel Duffy) and the lonely and abused Nancy Knapp (Michelle Monteith) who “Set fire to the beds and the old witch-house went up in a roar of flame.” Stories of “drunks” – Didymus (Daniel Williston), Deacon (Diego Matamoros), and Oscar (Stuart Hughes – and “women of the night” – Minnie Lee (Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster), Lucille Lusk (Sarah Wilson), Mary Howe (Miranda Mulholland), and Laura Santini (Raquel Duffy) – challenge conventional views and mores and other societal norms and strictures.

The songs that are perhaps most memorable are the Widow McFarlane’s (Jackie Richardson) admonition for the residents of Spoon River that they have “woven a snow-white strip of cloth” wasting it all “at the loom of live.” “Widow McFarlane [is the] weaver of carpets for all of the village.” Ms. Richardson’s brooding contralto tones shake the recesses of the soul and her character’s “dire warnings” connect deeply with the vicissitudes of the human experience. The song of Two Mothers” is equally soulful and transcendent. Emily Spark (Michelle Monteith) and Elsa Wertman (Raquel Duffy), one the birth-mother of Hamilton Green (Jeff Lillico), the other the adoptive mother sing (with Jeff) the plaintive song “Where Is My Son” that examines privilege and injustice with harmonically-rich tones of unbridled grief.

The other songs that stand out come at “Spoon River’s” conclusion. Bertie Hume (Hailey Gillis) comes up from the grave at the end and delivers a plaintive tribute to life and living and all things left behind at death. Ms. Gillis’s voice is rapturous as she reminisces over the “kisses of vanished lips, the eyes of rapture, the whispers of sacred midnights, and the blue of October water.” Bertie Hume’s lament segues into Edmund Pollard’s (Diego Matamoras) and “the chorus of the dead’s” appeal to “all who pass by” the graveyard to reexamine and celebrate the “light of life, the sunlight of delight.” This mixture of textured voices is beautifully chilling and its repetition a somber yet celebrative reminder of the preciousness of life’s adventure: “Leave no balconie where you can climb, nor golden heads with pillows to share, nor no cups while the wine is sweet.”

This adaptation by Soulpepper Theatre Company’s Mike Ross and Albert Schultz is top-notch, honoring the original poems of Edgar Lee Masters yet giving them a freshness and vitality that reverberates with authenticity and reflects the mid-World War I fears of mortality and survival. Albert Schultz’s staging is strong and exceptional and Mike Ross’s music is emotionally rich, passionate, and often mesmerizing. The ensemble cast seems to welcome the music into the depth of their sinews and delivers the songs with riveting and polished performances. Ken MacKenzie’s sparse and adaptable set and his mood-specific pools of light, Erika Conner’s costumes and Andres Castillo-Smith’s sound are the perfect accompaniments to Mr. Schultz’s effective staging. See Soulpepper’s “Spoon River” before it leaves New York City.

SPOON RIVER

For the members of the cast and the creative team of “Spoon River,” please visit https://soulpepper.ca/performances/spoon-river/3336. Production photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Performances of the Soulpepper Theatre Comapany’s “Spoon River” run through Saturday July 29 at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (480 West 42nd Street) as part of the Soulpepper on 42nd Festival. For the schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, please visit https://soulpepper.ca/performances/spoon-river/3336. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Review: “Dylan Brody’s Driving Hollywood” at the PIT Underground (Through Saturday July 22, 2017)

Dylan Brody in: "Dylan Brody's Driving Hollywood"
Review: “Dylan Brody’s Driving Hollywood” at the PIT Underground (Through Saturday July 22, 2017)
Written and Performed by Dylan Brody
Directed by Nancy Carlin
Reviewed by Anthony J. Piccione for Theatre Reviews Limited

Until the time of reviewing this show, I had never been to the People’s Improv Theater during the past year that I’ve spent thus far living in New York. I’d heard many good things, and I’d even considered the possibility of one day taking another improv class (my first since my high school days) at a theater such as the PIT. With this show, I was excited to finally have the chance to pay a visit. After arriving early to get my ticket and a bit of waiting, the house was eventually open, and I had a seat in the very relaxed, intimate venue that was the PIT Underground, where there was a stage that had a vintage-style microphone and a typewriter on a small table in place, and eventually, out came the leading man of our show who started out by sitting behind it and typing.

The man I am referring to is Dylan Brody, the star of the one-man show I’d come to see called “Dylan Brody’s Driving Hollywood.” For those who are unfamiliar, Brody is an award-winning writer and comedian who has written several acclaimed books such as “Laughs Last and A Tale of a Hero” and “The Song of Her Sword,” had previously written for TV programs such as The Tonight Show with Jay Leno, received the 2005 Stanley Drama award for his play “Mother May I” and whose work has previously been praised by legends such as Carl Reiner, George Carlin and Robin Williams. I was eager to find out what exactly I was in store for this evening, given the high praise I have heard of him.

As one could imagine, given that the show was written and is performed by a comedian, there are quite a few moments of humor in here. However, at the core of this show – directed by Nancy Carlin and produced by Blue Panther Productions – is the story of Mr. Brody’s life, which on occasion, proved to be quite full of poignant moments. When listening to the life stories of various artists – but especially, this can be the case for comedians – we often see how many aspects of their lives might not always feel so pleasant, even as they have succeeded in entertaining so many people in their careers, and that’s exactly what we see here in this show, where he talks about various moments from his childhood days in 2nd grade to some of his earliest successes and disappointments as a comedian and writer.

Still, there were many parts in there that I found to be funny, as did the rest of the audience in attendance. I don’t want to give away too many of the jokes, but among the ones I personally enjoyed most were when he got sent to the principal’s office for submitting a review for his school newspaper of his school’s production of “Oklahoma” which was critical of how off-key the singing was, as well as a bit where he talked about performing in a chapel – during his early stand-up years – and making drug-related and sexually explicit jokes. Although then again, I will say, he briefly said during the show that he rewrites the show a bit for each night, so it’s quite possible that if you go, you might be treated to a slightly different show from the one I enjoyed!

Generally, I found it to be an enjoyable work, and a good look into the life of a comedian and writer that I’m sure many in the arts could relate to, in some way or another. As I was seated in the audience, it seemed that many of the others in that room tonight had also enjoyed themselves and stayed to talk with Mr. Brody afterwards, so if what I’ve described to you sounds like something you might be interested in, I would recommend it and encourage you to consider coming down to the People’s Improv Theater and seeing the show for yourself.

“Dylan Brody’s Driving Hollywood” runs at the PIT Underground from July 6-22. For more information, please visit www.bluepantherproductions.com/dylan-brodys-driving-home/. Running time is 70 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, July 8, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Of Human Bondage” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (Through Wednesday July 26, 2017)

Photo: Sarah Wilson and Gregory Prest. Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.
Off-Broadway Review: “Of Human Bondage” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (Through Wednesday July 26, 2017)
Written by Vern Thiessen (Based on the Novel by W. Somerset Maugham)
Directed by Albert Schultz
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Soulpepper Theatre Company brings its Toronto production of “Of Human Bondage” to the Soulpepper on 42nd Festival. Vern Thiessen adapted W. Somerset Maugham’s novel for the stage – the first stage adaptation of the iconic novel. Soulpepper is to be commended for taking on this formidable challenge. The results are both blazoned with success and tempered by the temptation of pretense and over-production.

First, the areas of success. Vern Thiessen has created a splendid retelling of Maugham’s novel. Even the audience member who never read the novel or viewed the film adaptations can easily comprehend the tragic story of Philip Carey – and Everyman – caught in the dragnets of self-doubt, unbridled passion, and debilitating fear. Philip’s struggle with balancing medical school with his friends from his “art days” and with the women who find him or whom he finds attractive is clear. Maugham’s words matter and Mr. Thiessen has made sure they continue to matter in this retelling of the novel for the stage.

What falls short is the staging itself. Director Albert Schultz has assembled a talented cast and creative team; however, some of his choices seem to detract from the action of the play and its dramatic arc, focusing more on “conventions” than concrete storytelling. Also falling short are some of the performances. The cast delivers unevenly and does not fully form the important connections between characters needed for the delivery of believable and authentic performances. There is no chemistry between the play’s main characters Philip (Gregory Prest) and his romantic nemesis Mildred Rogers (Michelle Monteith). What should be a sizzling cat-and-mouse game between the two is nothing more than a simpering series of bickering banters.

In Albert Schultz’s “Artist Note,” he describes the two aesthetic challenges Soulpepper’s designers created for themselves when bringing “this massive work to life.” The sixteen-foot, blood-red square at the center of the stage is Philip Carey’s “cage” – the actor can never leave it. In addition, any sounds must be made by the other actors on stage. Neither of these mandates seem necessary and, indeed, might place constraints on the production that are counterproductive. Philip Carey’s “bondage” is spiritual and psychological – there is no need for a staging convention to confirm that. Most of the sounds created by the onstage actors are unnecessary and add nothing to the performances. Some, like the multi-bowed bass (doubling for a cadaver) at the opening of the play, seem pretentious.

Mr. Prest’s confinement to the “red square” and the director’s choice to over-emphasize his physical challenge detracts from the actor’s ability to engage himself in his important role as protagonist. A subtler convention to indicate Philip’s clubfoot would have sufficed. Also, there is no need to make the actor remain lying on the stage during the entire twenty-minute interval to emphasize his entrapment.

Holding empty picture frames or sitting in them to “create” Philip’s works of art creates interest the first time the convention is introduced – as does the clinking of teacups to simulate a “full” teahouse. However, after the third or fourth occurrence of the conventions, the audience begins to yearn for silence in order to focus on the craft of the actors on stage despite all the busy-work swirling around them. W. Somerset Maugham’s words – words matter – and Vern Thiessen’s solid adaptation are both able to stand on their own and provide all the essential tools necessary for actors to grab onto and bring the script to vibrant life.

In short, choices made by the creative team inadvertently collude to lessen the potential power of this staging of “Of Human Bondage.” What is needed moving forward is a reevaluation of the staging and judicious re-casting of roles that burden the strength of the ensemble.

OF HUMAN BONDAGE

The cast of “Of Human Bondage” includes Oliver Dennis, Raquel Duffy, Stuart Hughes, John Jarvis, Richard Lam, Courtney Ch’ng Lancaster, Jeff Lillico, Michelle Monteith, Gregory Prest, Paolo Santalucia, Brendan Wall, and Sarah Wilson.

The creative team includes Lorenzo Savoini (set and lighting design), Erika Connor (costume design), and Mike Ross (sound design and composer). Robert Harding serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Performances of the Soulpepper Theatre Comapany’s “Of Human Bondage” run through Wednesday July 26 at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Irene Diamond Stage (480 West 42nd Street) as part of the Soulpepper on 42nd Festival. For the schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, please visit https://www.soulpepper.ca/performances/of-human-bondage/3278. Running time is 2 hours and 45 minutes including one 20-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, July 6, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Kim’s Convenience” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Saturday July 15, 2017)

Photo: Ins Choi. Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.
Off-Broadway Review: “Kim’s Convenience” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Saturday July 15, 2017)
Written by Ins Choi
Directed by Weyni Mengesha
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

In a transformative eighty-five minutes, Appa (Paul Sun-Hyung Lee) identifies “his story” in two very different ways. These diverse – and seemingly mutually exclusive stories – are the grit of Ins Choi’s “Kim’s Convenience,” currently running at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre as part of the Soulpepper on 42nd Street Festival.

Appa has built a successful business in Canada after leaving North Korea and has given his life to maintain the business. Even the threat of a Walmart opening in his now gentrified neighborhood does not deter his resolve not to sell his business to Mr. Lee (Ronnie Rowe Jr.) his “black friend with Korean last name.” In a conversation with his daughter Janet (Rosie Simon), Appa sums up the first version of his story: “What is my story? Hm? What is story of me, Mr. Kim? My whole life is this store. Everybody know this store, they know me. This store is my story. And if I just sell store then my story is over. Who is Mr. Kim? Nobody know that. You take over store, my story keep going.” So, if Janet – who aspires to be a photographer – agrees to take over running the store, Appa’s “story” will continue.

This is a rather selfish concept and serves to distinguish first and second-generation arrivals to America from other countries – each having vastly different cultural values and expectations. Unrelated to cultural differences might be Appa’s demeaning attitude toward his daughter and his wife Umma (Jean Yoon). Playwright Ins Choi burdens Appa with a mean-spirited disposition that makes the character rather unlikable and casts doubt on Appa’s turn-around at the play’s end when, after greeting his “lost son,” the father redefines what “his story” is.

Appa’s son Jung (Ins Choi) left home at 16 after a horrible fight with his father that landed the teenage in the hospital “for a few days” and prompted him to empty the business’s safe and run away. When Jung returns (first revealing himself to his mother in church), he is contrite of spirit and heart and, like the prodigal son, is welcomed by the father (who gave him everything, after all) with open arms and the gift of the business. Appa’s new story is: “What is my story? What is story of me, Mr. Kim? My whole life I doing this store. Is this store my story? No. My story is not ‘Kim’s Convenience’. My story…is you. And Janet. And Umma. And Sonam. You understand?” This “conversion,” though sudden but predictable, defines the everyone lives happily ever after ending of the play.

Much happens between the recounting of Mr. Kim’s stories, including Appa’s acceptance of Janet’s aspirations – after another brutal physical exchange between father and daughter, an exchange oddly seen as funny by the audience. Or perhaps the reaction is not too odd. The play is a well-written episode of a sit-com replete with ethnic, sexist, and racist encumbrances, the kind often found on television sit-coms. The kind audiences continue to find funny. Freud was right, we laugh at things we find uncomfortable and unfamiliar. In fact, “Kim’s Convenience” has found its way onto Canadian television as a new series co-produced by Soulpepper and Thunderbird Films.

Under Weyni Mengesha’s astute direction, the ensemble cast tackles their characters with a high level of believability. Ken MacKenzie’s set is a splendid reproduction of a convenience store which the audience was warned ad infinitum “not to photograph.” A warning in the pre-curtain announcement would have sufficed.

If sit-com is something an audience member likes, then “Kim’s Convenience” works as likable product. If one is looking for something a bit more serious related to generation gaps and cultural conflicts (works by Amy Tan, James McBride, or Jamaica Kincaid for example) one might find oneself wondering what all the hooting and hollering is all about.

KIM’S CONVENIENCE

The cast of “Kim’s Convenience” includes Ins Choi, Paul Sun-Hyung Lee, Ronnie Row Jr., Rosie Simon, and Jean Yoon.

The creative team includes Ken MacKenzie (set and costume design), Lorenzo Savoini (lighting design), and Thomas Ryder Payne (sound design). Robert Harding serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Cylla von Tiedemann.

Performances of the Soulpepper Theatre Company’s “Kim’s Convenience” run through Saturday July 15 at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (480 West 42nd Street) as part of the Soulpepper on 42nd Festival. For the schedule of performances and to purchase tickets, please visit http://tickets.youngcentre.ca/auxiliary/PSDetail.aspx?psn=9944. Running time is 85 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, July 6, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “True North: A Concert of Canada” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Closes Sunday July 2, 2017)

Photo: Mike Ross and Jackie Richardson. Credit: Cylla von Tiedemann.
Off-Broadway Review: “True North: A Concert of Canada” at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Closes Sunday July 2, 2017)
Co-Written by Mike Ross, Marni Jackson, and Albert Schultz
Directed by Frank Cox-O’Connell
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Soulpepper on 42nd Street, the ambitious month-long presentation by Canada’s highly acclaimed Soulpepper Theatre Company, features original productions of “Spoon River,” “Kim’s Convenience,” “Of Human Bondage,” plus concerts and cabaret performances (and more). “True North: A Concert of Canada” opened the Festival with a diverse cast of performers and musicians that celebrated a distinguished collection of Canadian singers, songwriters, and poets. After a lengthy introduction by Soulpepper’s Artistic Director Albert Schultz, the concert began with a tap-dancing, fiddle-playing prelude segment that energized the audience and set the stage for the concert.

Sixteen songs, introduced by readings by narrators Diego Matamoros and Nancy Palk, lifted up the history and culture of Canada, the rich history and culture so closely tied to the United States. Often the readings and songs stood alone as testaments to the joys and the heartbreaks of the Canadian people. Sometimes, reading and song counterpointed one another in powerful expositions about mining (“Working Man” by Rita MacNeil, performed by Jackie Richardson), urban renewal (Spadina,” Mike Ross/Dennis Lee, performed by Mike Ross), and northern expansion (“Northwest Passage” by Stan Rogers, performed by Andrew Penner). Readings and performances were complemented by the overhead video projections designed by David Costello and Laura Warren.

The forward movement of energetic concert was hampered somewhat by an unexpected unevenness in both performances and narrations. The movement of the narrators on and off the stage was distracting and some of the songs just did not work on this opening night. What should have been a stunning pairing of Neil Young’s “After the Goldrush” and the “Ave Maria” (J.S. Bach/Charles Gounod) lost its footing after just a few measures: Mike Ross was not able to maintain the admittedly difficult pairing with “Ave Maria” which was performed flawlessly by Neema Bickersteth (unfortunately, not mentioned in the program). There were also off-putting difficulties with the sound mixing which sometimes left the singers struggling to be heard by the audience.

Overall, however, the Concert was a powerful tribute to all things Canada with the following outstanding performances. Jackie Richardson’s stunning vocal virtuosity and depth of interpretation was displayed in her renditions of Joe Sealy’s “Deep Down Inside” and Rita MacNeil’s “Working Man.” Hailey Gillis brought a brilliant rendition of Joni Mitchell’s “River” and one of Leonard Cohen’s “Songs of Love and Hate” – “Famous Blue Raincoat.” Miranda Mulholland’s pure vocals explored the range of emotions in Gordon Lightfoot’s “Early Morning Rain.” And Alana Bridgewater found the psychological nuances in Buffy Sainte-Marie’s “She Used to Wanna Be a Ballerina.”

It was Hunter Cardinal’s interpretation of Joni Mitchell’s “Both Sides Now” that was the concert’s highpoint. After his reminder of the history of the Lenape Nation, the original native New Yorkers, Mr. Cardinal brought a depth of understanding and interpretation to “Both Sides Now” that tore at the heart, mind, and spirit of the audience. Unfortunately, the creative team decided to follow the performance with an encore “The Weight.”

TRUE NORTH: A CONCERT OF CANADA

“True North: A Concert of Canada” is part of “Soulpepper on 42nd Street.” For information on Soulpepper Theatre Company’s United States Debut and its original productions from July 1 through July 29, please visit https://www.soulpepper.ca/new-york/on-stage. Information on the performers, the creative teams, and the production teams can be found there as well as information on scheduling and ticketing. Running time of “True North” is 80 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, July 2, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Aran Islands” at Irish Repertory Theatre’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)

Photo: Brendan Conroy in "The Aran Islands." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Aran Islands” at Irish Repertory Theatre’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)
By John Millington Synge
Adapted and Directed by Joe O’Byrne
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

At the suggestion of W. B. Yeats, John Millington Synge visited the The Aran Islands (Inishmore, Inisheer, and Inishmaan) during a part of each year from 1898 until 1902. Yeats urged Synge to live there as if he was one of the people themselves and “express a life that has never found expression.” His journals from these visits – “The Aran Islands” – were published in 1907. Director Joe O’Byrne has adapted this body of work for the stage. Currently running at Irish Repertory Theatre’s W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre, this adaptation stars the master storyteller Brendan Conroy and provides one-hundred minutes of scintillating – often brilliantly bizarre – tales Synge shared during the time he enmeshed himself into the people and culture of these unique Irish islands off the coast of Galway.

Under Mr. O’Byrne’s thoughtful direction, Brendan Conroy emerges from the shadows of Margaret Nolan’s spare but serviceable set and “disembarks” on the Aran Islands and instantly embodies the spirit of John Millington Synge. With irrepressible energy and indomitable enthusiasm, Mr. Conroy takes the audience on Synge’s island adventures delivering each story, canvassing every rock and every resident with exacting care. Synge’s imagery tumbles off Conroy’s tongue as he describes his hosts, his blind guide, the storyteller he meets (Pat Dirane), and the countryside he reveres.

Pat’s stories and the anecdotes of the old man in Inishmaan take center stage here and Brendan Conroy delivers them with such precision and energy one might think he is speaking Gaelic. He can transport the audience into the matrix of the stories with authenticity and believability. Words glide into the audience with a gracefulness and passion that is engaging and easily connects to the real world of each audience member. One identifies with the characters in the story of the two farmers in County Clare. The old man from Inishmaan shares anecdotes of “things that happened in his lifetime” including the story of the Connaught man who killed his father and was protected from the police by the residents of the island. The logic for protecting the criminal: “If a man has killed his father, and is already sick and broken with remorse, they can see no reason why he should be dragged away and killed by the law.”

The solo show ends with the story of meeting Pat before leaving the island. “’I'll not see you again,' he said, with tears trickling on his face, 'and you're a kindly man. When you come back next year I won't be in it. I won't live beyond the winter.’ And so it would be, when I came back the following year he had indeed passed away. ‘But listen now to what I'm telling you; let you put insurance on me in the city of
Dublin, and it's five hundred pounds you'll get on my burial.’”

Pat’s wit and wisdom thread through “The Aran Islands” and Mr. Conroy’s retelling of Synge’s account of his time on the Islands gives palpable truth to every word of wisdom and wit teeming from the “lonely rocks” Synge ultimately visited for the last time.

THE ARAN ISLANDS

“The Aran Islands” stars Brendan Conroy. The creative team includes Margaret Nolan (set design), Marie Tierney (costume design), Joe O’Byrne (lighting design), and Kieran Duddy (original music). Michael Palmer serves as production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

Performances of “The Aran Islands” run through Sunday July 23 at Irish Rep Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) in the W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre on the following schedule: Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. General admission tickets are $50.00 and can be purchased by visiting https://irishrep.org/ or by calling 212-727-2737. Running time is 100 minutes with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, June 30, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: Ice Factory Festival’s “Fernando” at New Ohio Theatre (Through Saturday July 1, 2017)

Photo: Christian Durso and Vivia Font in “Fernando.” Credit: Jonathan Freeland.
Off-Broadway Review: Ice Factory Festival’s “Fernando” at New Ohio Theatre (Through Saturday July 1, 2017)
Written by Steven Haworth
Directed by Jamie Richards
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Jamie Richards deftly directs Steven Haworth’s intriguing psychosexual farce “Fernando” at the Ice Factory Festival at New Ohio Theatre. Mr. Haworth has written an engaging story about Zachariah Smythe (Christian Durso) an art scholar who has come to a museum in Madrid to continue his research on the Spanish painter Fernando Rafael Vasquez de la Cruz. The museum’s curator Terese Flores (Vivia Font) reminds Zach that Fernando stopped painting at sixty years old, disappeared, and has been missing for three years. Undeterred, Zach is determined to prove Fernando’s greatness claiming the missing artist “belongs in the company of Miró, Tàpies, and Dalí.

Teresa discovers assistant professor Zach needs to publish an article to remain in his teaching position and uses this information to begin to mercilessly impugn his motivations and his reputation. However, all of this is a ruse to seduce Zach into Teresa’s web of deceit and desire for revenge against Fernando who, Zach discovers, was Teresa’s “secret lover.” In a complicated and ingenious cat-and-mouse game of intrigue – and in a story wherein Teresa’s love affair with Fernando parallels her love affair with Zach – the playwright teases the audience to wonder what might come next as a mysterious blind man appears claiming to be a friend of Fernando’s and Fernando himself crawls out of the woodwork threatening (as the bind man) to murder Zach if Zach does not return to America for finish his project.

Vivia Font and Christian Durso deliver authentic performances as Teresa and Zach. Both actors reveal the underbellies of their characters with skill and rapid-fire dialogue. Chris Ceraso gives both the blind man and the “returned-from-the-dead” Fernando charming comedic qualities and lighten the play’s overall dramatic mood. Someone’s throat gets slit, several shots are fired from Fernando’s gun – one or two apparently deadly. Yet, in the end, no one is among the dead and Teresa gets to be “in love with yet another madman.”

Maiko Chii’s set design, Anna Grigo’s costume design, Greg MacPherson’s lighting design, and Benjamin Furiga’s sound design all serve successfully to heighten the play’s mysterious mood. Although Mr. Haworth’s ending seems truncated and a bit less than satisfying, the overall play is brilliantly conceived, directed, and acted and makes a successful beginning to one of the Summer’s important theatre festivals.

FERNANDO
The cast of “Fernando” includes Chris Ceraso, Christian Durso, and Vivia Font.

The creative team for “Fernando” includes Maiko Chii (scenic design), Anna Grigo (costume design), Greg MacPherson (lighting design), Benjamin Furiga (sound design), and Emilie Grossman (prop design). Andrew Watkins serves as production stage manager. Production photos by

Performances are Wednesdays - Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. at the New Ohio Theatre (154 Christopher Street). Tickets are $20.00, and $16.00 for students and seniors, and can be purchased online at http://NewOhioTheatre.org or by calling 212-352-3101. For information, please visit http://NewOhioTheatre.org, Like on Facebook at https://www.Facebook.com/NewOhioTheatre and https://www.Facebook.com/IceFactoryFestival. For up-to-the-minute Festival updates follow on Twitter (https://Twitter.com/NewOhioTheatre) at @NewOhioTheatre. Running time 95 minutes with no intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 29, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Bastard Jones” at the cell (Through Friday July 14, 2017)

Photo: The Cast of "Bastard Jones (Evan Ruggiero, Center). Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Bastard Jones” at the cell (Through Friday July 14, 2017)
Book and Lyrics by Marc Acito
Music and Lyrics by Amy Engelhardt
Directed by Marc Acito
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

There are numerous reasons to see “Bastard Jones,” the new musical now playing at the cell, but topping the list is to purely enjoy an evening of raucous fun. Vying for that acclaimed position would be the prodigious cast that provides the farcical, sometimes titillating escapades of Tom Jones based on the irreverent novel by Henry Fielding. Next the book by Marc Acito, music by Amy Engelhardt with their combined effort to produce the lyrics, are as exhilarating as the performances, adding to the exuberant atmosphere that reverberates throughout the evening. Mr. Acito has deftly directed his motley cast with a distinct madcap style, never losing sight of the underlying affirmative message of human rights. Throughout the evening the audience may be reminded of the timelessness of the story when comparing situations and actions to current issues and tensions.

The inclusivity of this production is remarkable and certainly needs to be recognized and applauded. It is admirable but unpretentious, human not preposterous and a reflection of an authentic society. Race, color, gender and physical disabilities are set aside escalating the importance of a nonjudgmental creative arts forum.

Evan Ruggiero gives a remarkable indefatigable portrayal of Tom Jones, searching, wanting, needing and living life to the fullest while conquering every obstacle that may come before him. His voice is infectious, pure and smooth and his performance is honest and natural. Elena Wang is a demure Sophia Shepherd but determined and calculating with a powerful soprano to compliment her character. Their duet “I Am There” is a highlight of the show and exhibits fine vocal craftsmanship. Crystal Lucas Perry
flaunts a bawdy Lady Bellaston with a ribald rendition of “Have Another Oyster, Dear” to open the indecorous second act. The entire cast each stands on their own and embraces the word ensemble with undeniable support and understanding of the material and the prominence of comradery.

Do not miss this limited engagement which certainly deserves a continued life in the vibrant New York theater scene. Spend a pleasant summer evening smiling, laughing, enjoying a drink and supporting an outstanding group of artists opening their minds to change and their hearts to assimilation. Profits from this production are being donated to Cyndi Lauper’s True Colors Fund.

BASTARD JONES

The nine-member cast of “Bastard Jones” stars Evan Ruggiero in the title role. The production also features, Alie B. Gorie, Crystal Lucas-Perry, Matthew McGloin, Tony Perry, Rene Ruiz, Adam B. Shapiro, Cheryl Stern, and Elena Wang.

The production team features Joe Barros (choreography), Matthew Liu (musical director), Gertjan Houben(lighting), M. Florian Staab (sound), Siena Zoe Allen (costumes), Bethany Mullins (costume associate), Louisa Pough (production stage manager), Kayla Santos (assistant stage manager), and Chris Steckel (production manager). Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

BASTARD JONES runs June 14 (Flag Day) to July 14 (Bastille Day) on the following schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday at 4:00 p.m. and 9:00 p.m. the cell is located at 338 W 23rd Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues -- accessible from the C and E trains at 23rd Street. Tickets are $40.00 for general admission, $60.00 for reserved seating, available at 800-838-3006 or www.thecelltheatre.org. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 29, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” at the Jerry Orbach Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Saturday September 30, 2017)

Photo: Ben Curtis, Kathleen Huber, Julie Campbell, and Jacques Mitchell. Credit: Russ Rowland.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” at the Jerry Orbach Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Saturday September 30, 2017)
Written and Directed by Dewey Moss
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

After a successful run at the 2016 Midtown International Theater Festival, “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” moves to the Off-Broadway stage at the Jerry Orbach Theater. There have been changes in this revival – not all of them necessary – but the heart of the play remains intact.

Big Jim’s (James Kiberd) Baptist Mega-Church is expanding. More space is need for its growing congregation. That conservative congregation also seems to need a television studio and a gym with a basketball court for outreach and youth ministries. One of the church’s young recruits is Connor Stephens the teenager the church took in “and helped him and his mama get off the streets.” Connor ends up shooting and killing Tess Williams the six-year-old daughter of Big Jim’s son Jim Jr. (played with a brooding sadness that masks a deep-seated rage by Ben Curtis) and Jim Jr.’s husband Kris (played with a sweetness and deep sadness by Alec Shaw) who is also wounded by Stephens. After the shooting Connor takes his own life.

Dewey Moss’s “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” deals with the events on the day of Tess’s funeral service as the extended family gathers at Jim Jr. and Kris’s small-town Texas home. Jim Jr.’s mother Marianne (played with a submissive explosiveness by Katherine Leask), his Grandma Vivi’n (Kathleen Huber), Kris’s sister Kimmy (played with a charming strength and willfulness by Julie Campbell) and her husband Bobby (played with a charming and powerful devotion by Jacques Mitchell) gather to mourn and to support Jim Jr. and Kris. The surprise guests are Big Jim and Connor’s coach Dean (played with a clever disingenuous loyalty by Clifton Samuels). When Big Jim shows up, all hell breaks loose and the grit of Mr. Moss’s script unfolds.

Big Jim is a preacher who commands not only his pulpit but his wife, his mother, and his congregation. The only family member he fails to command is his gay son Jim Jr. Big Jim despises not only what he considers “the sin of his son being gay;” he also despises his son for not succumbing to his authoritarian demands to “return to the fold.” Playwright Moss has created one of the most despicable characters in recent memory. Big Jim’s deep-seated homophobia, his hypocrisy, and his abusive behavior toward his wife and mother are only superseded by his enormous ego. Although James Kiberd successfully captures Big Jim’s character and brings a level of honesty and rich authenticity to his powerful performance, one wishes for a more layered emotional arsenal. Mr. Kiberd depends too much on volume and histrionics (odd hand and arm motions) to establish Big Jim’s persona.

It is difficult to say much about the secrets that are revealed when Big Jim visits his son on the day of Tess’s funeral without a spoiler alert. What Big Jim and Dean know about Tess’s death is revealed through a series of flashbacks (one of Big Jim’s sermons), confessions by Grandma, and hard evidence provided by a letter from Connor written to Dean just after that Big Jim sermon and just prior to the shooting. It is enough to know that these secrets – once revealed – explain not only the events surrounding the shooting of the six-year-old, but disclose decades of “skeletons” in Big Jim’s closet (the death of his brother Joey). Kathleen Huber delivers a solid performance as the aging matriarch Grandma Vivi’n who has “held her tongue” far too long and chooses honesty and grace as her way forward.

As those skeletons are unearthed, “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” unfolds across the stage with an emotional core that brings the day’s considerably bumpy ride to an explosive cathartic resolution.

Dewey Moss directs his engaging play with the care of a playwright and – after creating some distance between himself and his work – he will surely quicken the pace of the action to more exactly match the emotional strength of this important play. The intermission seems unnecessary and serves to break the action and affect the energy of the performances in the second act.

“The Crusade of Connor Stephens” could not be more relevant in the current climate of the strengthening of the religious right and in the face of the anti-LGBTQ platform seemingly supported by the current Administration.

THE CRUSADE OF CONNOR STEPHENS

The cast of “The Crusade of Connor Stephens” includes Julie Campbell, Ben Curtis, Kathleen Huber, James Kiberd, Katherine Leask, Jacques Mitchell, Clifton Samuels, and Alec Shaw.

James Noone is the scenic designer. Teresa Snider-Stein is the costume designer. Zach Blane is the lighting designer. David Lawson is the sound designer. Production photos by

Performances will be held at The Jerry Orbach Theater at The Theater Center (210 West 50th Street in New York City) on the following schedule: Mondays at 7:30 p.m., Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m., Thursdays at 8:00 p.m., Fridays at 8:00 p.m., Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m.

Tickets, priced $59.00, are available by visiting http://www.Ticketmaster.com or by calling (212) 921-7862. Premium tickets are available for $79.00. For more information about the show, please visit http://www.thecrusadeofconnorstephens.com/. Running time is 2 hours with a 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The End of Longing” at MCC Theater (Through Saturday July 1, 2017)

Photo: Sue Jean Kim, Jennifer Morrison, Matthew Perry, and Quincy Dunn-Baker in MCC Theater's "The End of Longing." Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “The End of Longing” at MCC Theater (Through Saturday July 1, 2017)
By Matthew Perry
Directed by Lindsay Posner
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The End of Longing,” now playing and extended by popular demand at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, is yet another example of the evermore trending evidence that the use of star power will attract an audience regardless of the merit of the vehicle. In this case it is Matthew Perry starring in his less than interesting playwriting debut, which only succeeds at being a poorly written rom com that is implausible, with one dimensional characters spouting one-liners that for the most part are not funny. The old adage “write what you know” rings true here. Mr. Perry has written about three seasons of sitcom episodes condensed into one-hundred minutes that expose ridiculous situations completely void of emotional content.

Perry’s characters simply do not feel anything and neither does the audience, so they laugh. Jack (Matthew Perry) is a slovenly, appalling alcoholic that picks up Stephanie (Jennifer Morrison) a gorgeous, well put together, educated, high end escort, while her pill popping, neurotic best friend Stevie (Sue Jean Kim) who works for a pharmaceutical company, happens to have already slept with Jack’s dumber than dumb construction worker best friend Jeffrey (Quincy Dunn-Baker) and they all live happily ever after. It is all predictable and when trying to take a couple of dramatic turns it fails miserably. Director Lindsay Posner who also directed the West End production keeps a smart brisk pace so as not to leave the audience pondering the glib one-liners too long, moving on to the next quickly. Scenic design by Derek McLane is clever, with creative inventive walls of empty bottles that revolve to reveal the next scene. It could represent the alcoholic addiction addressed, the vacuous dialogue of the script, or possibly the utter indulgence in low brow humor.

Despite the play’s overwhelming deficits, at the end of the performance attended, the audience rose to their feet for a standing ovation possibly in keeping with the vacuous tone of the evening. If an actor was as successful as Mr. Perry in the 90’s, and is a recognized, rejuvenated star of syndicated television for a new generation, he must be good. When leaving the theatre there was a line of fans who had not even seen the production, waiting at the stage door for a glimpse and autograph of the star. Perhaps the new theatre community and audiences are more concerned with persona rather than performance.

THE END OF LONGING

The cast of “The End of Longing” includes Quincy Dunn-Baker, Sue Jean Kim, Jennifer Morrison, and Matthew Perry.

The design team for MCC’s “The End of Longing” includes scenic design by Derek McLane, costume design by Sarah Laux, lighting design by Ben Stanton, and sound design by Ryan Rumery. Casting is by Telsey + Co/William Cantler, C.S.A. Prodiction photos by Joan Marcus.

“The End of Longing” plays through July 1st at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street). For tickets and info, visit www.mcctheater.org. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, June 26, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “In a Word” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday July 8, 2017)

Photo: Laura Ramadei, Justin Mark & Jose Joaquin Perez. Credit: Hunter Canning.
Off-Broadway Review: “In a Word” at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Saturday July 8, 2017)
By Lauren Yee
Directed by Tyne Rafaeli
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

If America – and the global community – has learned anything since January 20, 2017 it is the message that “words matter.” Words – spoken and left unspoken – play the central role in Lauren Yee’s “In a Word” currently playing at the Cherry Lane Theatre’s Studio Theatre. Words – comforting and unacceptable – are stored on a shelf in Fiona’s (Laura Ramadei) and Guy’s (Jose Joaquin Perez) emotionally sterile home. The other words – those spoken between the couple two years after their seven-year-old son Tristan’s (Justin Mark) disappearance – are laced with anger, resentment, despair, and mistrust.

Tristan is kidnapped from Fiona’s car when she stops for gas after being placed on a leave of absence from her teaching job. The details surrounding Tristan’s disappearance are revealed over time in this non-linear somewhat surreal play and it would require a spoiler alert to disclose those chilling details. It is enough to say that Tristan’s adoption has been less than trouble free. Guy’s friend Andy (Justin Mark) knows a girl who has a kid and, at Guy’s urging, he and Fiona agree to adopt the twenty-four-month-old boy who, they discover, has ADHD. As he ages, this diagnosis places a strain upon the couple and exacerbates the couple’s pre-existing dysfunction and deep ennui.

Over Tristan’s seven years with Fiona and Guy, his mother claims he has always been “fine.” His father admits their son has been “difficult.” In a series of scenes that alternate between the past and the present, “In a Word” explores the dynamics of loss: loss of love; loss of self-worth; loss of caring; and loss of future. With a hefty sprinkling of magical elements into the realism of the narrative, this engaging play connects deeply with the emotions and raises rich and enduring questions.

Whether Fiona and Guy can reconnect two years after Tristan’s disappearance is addressed in one of Fiona’s final monologues: “And in the space between my heart and my lungs Between a beat and a breath, it hits you, meaning it occurs to you like a ton of bricks: Worse case [sic] scenario is, this is it. Just me, myself, and Guy: Nobody here but us chickens, We cowards. Worse case [sic] scenario is: he was right under my nose and I lost him.”

Under Tyne Rafaeli’s steady hand, the action moves forward with clarity and precision. The audience always knows whether the action is in the present or the past or, perhaps, somewhere in-between. The cast is uniformly believable, delivering authentic performances, exhibiting real conflicts that drive the intriguing plot. Although the issues raised here, the themes addressed, are not new, Ms. Yee’s handling of these important concepts gives them a freshness and a mystery that is agreeable and worthwhile.

Oona Curley’s scenic and lighting design and Stowe Nelson’s sound design heighten the magical realism and the movement between present and past. Objects from the past remain on stage in the present and take on significant meaning. In the last scene, Fiona reiterates her doubt about the future: “I need to find who did it. ‘Cause if I can’t get justice, it’s just us—(corrects) Just me.” Whether the couple can survive this tragedy is the question Ms. Yee struggles with and invites the audience to grapple with her.

IN A WORD

“In a Word” stars Justin Mark, Jose Joaquin Perez, and Laura Ramadei. The creative team includes scenic and lighting design by Oona Curley, costumes by Andrea Hood, and sound by Stowe Nelson. Production photos by Hunter Canning.

“In a Word” runs through Saturday July 8 on the following schedule: Wednesday – Friday at 8:00 p.m. and Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. with an additional performance on July 2 at 8:00 p.m. Cherry Lane Theatre is located at 38 Commerce Street (three blocks south of Christopher Street, just west of Seventh Avenue – accessible from 1 train to Christopher Street). Tickets are $25, available at 212-352-3101 or www.lesseramerica.com/box-office. Running time is 80 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, June 25, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Underground” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 2, 2017)

Photo: Michael Jinks and Bebe Sanders. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Underground” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday July 2, 2017)
Written by Isla van Tricht
Directed by Kate Tiernan
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“And now here I am. Am I alone here? This is who we are. Isn’t this the fate of Generation Y (The Millennial Generation)?” – Claire

When stepping onto or off from the underground (subway), riders are reminded to “mind the gap” – to pay attention to the dangerous space between the train and the platform that awaits a sudden misstep or a trip unawares. There are other gaps in life that are potentially equally hazardous, including those spaces between individuals during conversation or those spaces between the individual and her or his own self-awareness. There are other gaps, of course, that need minding and, perhaps, these are particularly susceptible to certain groups of individuals. The intimacy gap or the “connection” gap might be more problematic for Generation Y – the Millennials. At least that seems to be the thesis inherent in Isla van Tricht’s “Underground” currently playing at 59E59 Theaters as part of the annual Brits Off Broadway Festival.

James (played with a charming elusiveness by Michael Jinks) – is recently out of a long-term relationship and Claire (played with a wonderful spirited persona by Bebe Sanders) – has become disillusioned by the promises made by parents and teachers about success. “They said work hard and dream big, and you could be anything you want to be.” That has not worked for Claire nor apparently for James who, on one lonely night, connect on Tinder and set up a meeting, a debatable date. After spending time at a bar, the newly-pair board the brand new Northern Line Night Tube which, predictably, suffers mechanical problems and challenges the pair’s ability to communicate authentically and without the aid of apps or other mobile assists.

The train gets repaired; however, James and Claire’s budding relationship is not as fortunate. James, rattled by the underground episode, feels the need to give the relationship with his ex-girlfriend Amanda another try and, after three months, meets up with Claire to try to make amends. There’s more to this tale including an odd conversation with Steve (played with a coyness of heart by Andrew McDonald) the bartender and a sleeping man on the underground (also played by Mr. McDonald) who, though looks like the bartender and has the same name, claims not to be the Steve they met earlier. Both Steves try to offer advice of questionable value. Then there is the mysterious voice on the underground (the voiceover) that is heard only by one or the other of the pair which also offers philosophical theories about relationships.

Comedy careens off drama in this play and realism ricochets off magical realism to spin an interesting and engaging tale about loneliness and its discontents. Ms. Van Tricht’s characters are believable and well-developed with characteristics and conflicts that contribute to the play’s non-linear plot. Time and space recede in importance in Ms. Tricht’s understanding of setting here and mood becomes of primary importance. Whether James and Claire will emerge from their loneliness remains unresolved in “Underground.”

At the end of the play, after a tenuous reconciliation is reached in the same bar they first visited, they board the same night underground and the train stops mid-station. The ominous voiceover is heard: “These scribbles reach close with their graphite fingers but never meet, never overlap, never reach each other. Perhaps they aren’t trying hard enough. Mind the gap.” The playwright challenges her characters and her audiences to pay attention to the importance of connection as an antidote to the ennui of loneliness.

Although credit is not given to a set, lighting, or costume designer, all three creative components contribute to the success of “Underground.” Jude Obermuller's original music and sound design appropriately heightens the magical realism of the script. Kate Tiernan’s direction moves the action forward perfectly and her attention to detail is remarkable. Despite the theatrical conceits and themes being somewhat commonplace, the actors bring a freshness to the discussion worth experiencing.

UNDERGROUND

Produced by Shrapnel Theatre & Hartshorn - Hook Foundation for Brits Off Broadway, UNDERGROUND is part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues).

The cast features Michael Jinks, Andrew McDonald, and Bebe Sanders. Original music and sound design by Jude Obermuller. Whitney M. Keeter serves as AEA Stage Manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Underground” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, July 2. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 PM; Friday at 8:30 PM; Saturday at 2:30 PM & 8:30 PM; and Sunday at 3:30. Tickets are $25 ($20 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 70 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, June 24, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie” at the Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)

Photo: Megan Loomis, Helen Jean Russell, David M. Lutken, and Andy Teirstein. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Woody Sez: The Life and Music of Woody Guthrie” at the Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday July 23, 2017)
Devised by David M. Lutken, with Nick Corley, and Darcie Deaville, Helen J. Russell, and Andy Teirstein
Directed by Nick Corley
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

Currently playing at the Irish Repertory Theatre is a musical revue that has been making the International rounds for the last ten years appropriately titled “Woody Sez: the life and music of Woody Guthrie.” The cast of four perform about forty musical numbers from Guthrie’s songbook that conquer the feelings, sights, hardships and situations he experienced: from the Great Depression, the dust bowl, the westward movement and World War Two. Interspersed between musical numbers are stories about his personal life, travels, family and tragedies that inspired his writing and music. The evening is kept at a good steady pace by the competent direction of Nick Corley. When these songs were written they needed no introduction or clarification. The lyrics spoke out against what was wrong and what needed to be changed. They were not only songs of protest but stories about the hardships of the people across America to let them know they could not and should not be forgotten. Perhaps, at certain times during this production, the power of the song is diminished by the informative introduction but for the most part it serves this production.

The overly skilled cast travels through the evening exercising their wide range of vocal ability while playing an incredible array of different instruments including fiddles, guitars, base, zithers and even spoons, to name just a few. Megan Loomis, David M. Lutken, Helen Jean Russell and Andy Teirstein appear as the rural Everyman from the thirties and forties, clad in country garb spouting accents covering a good cross section of Middle America. Alone they are determined, when paired they are one and when together they are a fierce celebration of the time, place and movement. They enjoy the music, themselves, each other and the audience but always keep a good focus on the essence of the lyric and the purpose of the song. The only concern is that at times the cast feels too comfortable with the material and each other void of spontaneity which aborts the integrity of the composition.

Hearing the ever so familiar “This Train is Bound for Glory,” “Mule Skinner Blues,” “Deportees,” and of course “This Land is Your Land” sparks memories from the decades when this country’s artists and musicians were poets that represented the rights of people and were not afraid to stand up for their beliefs and protest harmful politics. They were the tearful eyes and honest voice of the common man that was heard and will never be forgotten. Go spend a couple of enjoyable hours listening to the music of a protesting pioneer from the past and it may just be a reminder that we should continue his journey.

WOODY SEZ: THE LIFE AND MUSIC OF WOODY GUTHRIE

The cast of “Woody Sez” features Megan Loomis, David M. Lutken, Helen J. Russell, and Andy Teirstein.

The production features lighting design by Michael Gottlieb, set design by Luke Hegel-Cantarella, costume design by Jeffrey Meek, and music direction by David M. Lutken.

“Woody Sez” plays at Irish Rep Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage through Sunday July 23, 2017 on the following schedule: Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Thursday at 7:00 p.m., Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m.
Tickets are $70.00 ($50.00 Rear Seating) and can be obtained by visiting https://irishrep.org/ or by calling Irish Rep at 212-727-2737. Running time is 2 hours with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, June 23, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Whirligig” at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Sunday June 18, 2017)

Photo (L-R): Grace Van Patten and Zosia Mamet in Hamish Linklater’s “The Whirligig.” Credit: Monique Carboni.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Whirligig” at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (Through Sunday June 18, 2017)
By Hamish Linklater
Directed by Scott Elliott
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“And the wheel goes round and round./And the flame in our souls will never burn out./And the wheel, and the wheel goes round.” – Rosanne Cash, “Wheel”

Under the brooding branches that overarch Derek McLane’s visually stunning set that “goes round,” Julie’s (played with sumptuous death-dodging life by Grace Van Patten) life coalesces into a gripping surreal reality in Hamish Linklater’s “The Whirligig” which is currently running at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre. As she lies dying in her hospital bed (and later in her bed at home), Julie unwittingly is the center of a maelstrom of guilt and grief – a “whirligig of time” as Shakespeare might describe it, bringing in “his revenges” (Feste in “Twelfth Night,” Act 5, Scene 1).

Julie’s untimely death reunites her estranged parents Michael (played with a powerful emotional depth by Norbert Leo Butz) and Kristina (played with a deep-seated disconsolate resentment by Dolly Wells) and her best friend Trish (played with a depressive conniving spirit by Zosia Mamet). Her dying also generates fascinating glimpses into the lives of Trish’s husband Greg (played with the steadiness rooted in recovery by Alex Hurt) and a local high school teacher Mr. Cormeny (played with an inebriated joviality by Jon DeVries) who meet with Michael at the local bar when he returns to the Berkshires to be with Julie. These encounters provoke a scintillating series of flashbacks that contribute to the provenance of Julie’s demise.

While summoning the courage to visit Julie, Trish meets Derrick (played with the innocence of suspicion by Jonny Orsini) and their conversations on one of the tree limbs outside Julie’s bedroom window provide extensive exposition. The audience learns who Derrick is, what his relationship was to Julie, and how he is related to Patrick (played with a winning but conflicted persona by Noah Bean) Julie’s doctor. In the first scene, there is a playful exchange between Julie and Michael about Patrick’s role: doctor or chef. What is disclosed later is that Patrick’s role in Julie’s life has been far more complicated than his present role as her “healer.” All the play’s flashbacks are similar in their disclosure of important exposition and investment in Julie’s illness and imminent death. For all of Julie’s friends and family, this visit is perhaps the first time any of them said “anything real.”

Mr. Linklater’s characters are all well-rounded, authentic characters with believable traits and rich and complex conflicts that successfully drive the engaging plot of “The Whirligig.” As an actor, Mr. Linklater knows what works in characterization and has developed his characters with sensitivity and care. Under Scott Elliott’s thoughtful and embracing direction, the characters “unfold” in layers of surprising details. It is not easy to compress years of history into two hours and twenty minutes: revealing not only the surface details of each character but the bountiful underbelly of the individuals who gather to struggle to say good-bye to Julie and deal with their often-insurmountable guilt surrounding the end of her young life.

Derek McLane’s set spins slowly as characters enter and exit scenes – the hospital, the bar, the backyard, Patrick’s apartment, Julie’s room at home – and windows in the background “mysteriously” line up with the window in Julie’s room. The audience and the characters cleverly switch roles as voyeurs and bona fide visitors. Jeff Croiter’s lighting adds to the deep moodiness, oppressive emotional weight, and ennui framed by Mr. McLane’s low-hanging tree branches. Jeremy Chernick's stunning special effects support the rich setting.

“The Whirligig” is a gripping psychodrama that explores the intricate dynamics of grief, forgiveness, and reconciliation. Rarely has a play – ostensibly about the death of an addicted character – had the ability to engage the audience on so many significant and life-changing levels. Despite Julie’s often unhealthy choices, she manages to assemble at her bedside a host of “souls [who] never burn out.” Mr. Linklater’s impressive play is a must see and a Theatre Reviews Limited “Best Bet.”

THE WHIRLIGIG

The Whirligig features Noah Bean, Norbert Leo Butz, Jon DeVries, Alex Hurt, Zosia Mamet, Jonny
Orsini, Grace Van Patten and Dolly Wells.

This production features Scenic Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by Clint Ramos, Lighting
Design by Jeff Croiter, Sound Design by M.L. Dogg, Original Music by Duncan Sheik, Special Effects
Design by Jeremy Chernick and Fight Direction by UnkleDave's Fight-House. Production Stage
Manager is Valerie A. Peterson. Casting is by Judy Henderson, CSA. Production photos by Monique Carboni.

Tickets for “The Whirligig” start at $75.00. General schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m., with Wednesday matinee performances at 2:00 p.m. on June 7 and June 14. For tickets and information, please visit www.thenewgroup.org. Tickets can also be purchased by calling Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, or in person at 416 West 42nd Street (12:00 p.m. -8 p.m. daily). Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes with one intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 1, 2017

Broadway Review: “Six Degrees of Separation” at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (On Sale through July 16, 2017)

Photo: Allison Janney and John Benjamin Hickey in "Six Degrees of Separation." Credit: Joan Marcus/©2016 Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Six Degrees of Separation” at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (On Sale through July 16, 2017)
Written by John Guare
Directed by Trip Cullman
Reviewed by Michele Willens
Theatre Reviews Limited

With dramatic revivals, the question always becomes: is it too soon or is it too dated? Now, John Guare’s 1990 award- winning dark comedy, “Six Degrees of Separation,” has made its first return to Broadway. Fortunately, this proves a perfect time to savor a play about a momentous evening – and its immediate aftermath – when a seemingly desperate but charming young black man appeared at the doorstep of a radically chic Upper East Side couple.

The con-man claimed to be a friend of the couple’s children and, more important, the son of Sidney Poitier. Guare’s tale – based on an actual event – feels more relevant at a time when our culture is hopelessly addicted to money and all things celebrity. The unexpected visitor seduces everyone in his orbit, becomes a good luck charm, and forces others to consider their own values, beliefs, and self-worth.

The wild tale includes a male prostitute who shows up overnight – be warned, this brief turn is performed stark raving naked – the realization that another couple has had a similar experience with the same intruder, and a bunch of very angry college-aged children. “Six Degrees of Separation” – yes, long before Kevin Bacon, this is where the phrase originated – is a rollicking ninety minutes and not for the tame of heart. The show has had some trouble selling tickets and is in a limited run, but it is recommended for Guare’s sharp, insightful taking down of the gullibility of the P.C. left.

And for some truly excellent performances. Allison Janney (snubbed by the Tony committee) is spot-on perfect with every expression and droll delivery. John Benjamin Hickey is equally fine as her rather flustered art-dealer husband. The strongest performance comes from Corey Hawkins as the would-be son of filmdom’s breakout actor of color. Hawkins was nominated, deservedly, for best actor and it is a magnetic turn.

“Six Degrees” now seems to be more forgiving of this character, who claims “imagination is the passport we create to take us into the real world.” The physical symbol most prominent in this production is a large double-sided painting by Kandinsky. That pretty much describes not only the great pretender, who fooled a lot of smart and privileged folks, but how many in the audience likely feel at different times.

SIX DEGREES OF SEPARATION

The cast of “Six Degrees of Separation” includes Allison Janney, John Benjamin Hickey, and Corey Hawkins. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Six Degrees of Separation” runs at the Ethel Barrymore Theatre (243 W. 47th Street) through July 16, 2017. For more information, including the creative team, performance schedule, and to purchase tickets, please visit http://sixdegreesbroadway.com/. Tickets can also be purchased by calling 212-239-6200. The running time 1 hour and 30 minutes without intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, June 1, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Can You Forgive Her?” at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday June 11, 2017)

Photo: Ella Dershowitz and Darren Pettie in "Can You Forgive Her?" at the Vineyard Theatre. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Can You Forgive Her?” at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday June 11, 2017)
By Gina Gionfriddo
Directed by Peter DuBois
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

After presenting a season that included the engaging “This Day Forward” by Nicky Silver and the soaring “Kid Victory” by Greg Pierce and John Kander, the iconic Vineyard Theatre has chosen to present Gina Gionfriddo’s mostly disappointing “Can You Forgive Her.” Billed as a “ferociously funny story of lost souls grappling with emotional and financial dependence, and the costs of the American Dream,” the play fails to successfully grapple with either of these important themes or deal with any of the rich and enduring questions surrounding those themes.

Tanya (Ella Dershowitz) tends bar in a New Jersey beach town and is doing her best to get her perhaps fiancée Graham (Darren Pettie) – who is twice divorced and who has not worked in six months – to transition from not being serious about his future to “having a livelihood.” Graham’s mother has just died leaving him the beach house and all her papers (memoirs, novels, etc.) and he has asked Tanya to marry him. Tanya – not the best decision maker – is reluctant to marry without seeing progress in Graham’s stability and commitment to change.

So, what does she do on this Halloween night? She sends Graham home from the bar with an unknown woman who claims her “date” has threatened to stab her. Well, he never told her that. She “learns” of his motivation from a conversation the date Sateesh (Eshan Bay) has with the “redneck couple” she and Sateesh are sitting with at the bar. Miranda (Amber Tamblyn) has a Master’s Degree, is in serious debt, and depends on David (Frank Wood) to “keep” her and provide income. And she “lets [Sateesh] buy [her] things. Why not? It’s not like he isn’t using me, too, you know? He gets to look cool in front of all the other Indians by showing up with me.”

The bulk of Ms. Gionfriddo’s improbable play centers on conversations between Graham and Miranda – most of them convoluted and improbable and not terribly engaging. Then, of course, Tanya comes home from work early, David eventually shows up (Miranda comes to the shore to “stalk him”) and adds to the improbability index. For example, why would Tanya expect that leaving Graham alone with Miranda would be a good choice? And why would an educated person like Miranda be such a racist loser? Her problems are not about bad accounting and bad choices but overall about exhibiting bad behavior and embracing questionable values.

Perhaps Allen Moyer’s set design and Russell H. Champa’s lighting design are the most interesting parts of “Can You Forgive Her.” The playing area – the interior of the beach house – is intentionally “minimized.” The audience can see the lighting grid above the set and there is a “useless” lighted space below the set. Additionally, the set is framed with illuminated light towers. It is as though what is happening on stage is meant to be far removed from the audience. It is like a mockup of a set for a mockup of a play.

“Can You Forgive Her” seems unfinished, unresolved. There is a bit of a redemptive ending but that is not enough payoff for the relentless banter that precedes it. Tanya’s self-help guru does little to persuade Graham or Miranda to conform to her understanding of having a livelihood. The characters are less than believable and less than interesting. No one really cares whether Sateesh shows up to stab Miranda or not. He does show up. At the end. For about a minute.

There’s a lot to forgive here and it might start with the playwright. There is not much director Peter DuBois and the talented cast can do to fix what ails “Can You Forgive Her.”

CAN YOU FORGIVE HER?

The cast of “Can You Forgive Her” includes Eshan Bay, Ella Dershowitz, Darren Pettie, Amber Tamblyn, and Frank Wood.

The “Can You Forgive Her?” design team includes set design by Allen Moyer, costume design by Jessica Pabst, lighting design by Russell Champa, and sound design by Daniel Kluger. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Can You Forgive Her?” runs at the Vineyard Theatre (108 East 15th Street) through Sunday June 11, 2017 on the following schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:00 p.m., Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets at $79.00 are on sale at www.vineyardtheatre.org or by calling 212-353-0303. Running time is 1 hour and 35 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, May 28, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Sojourners” and “Her Portmanteau” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday June 11, 2017)

Photo: Hubert Point-Du Jour and Chinasa Ogbuagu in "Sojourners." Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Sojourners” and “Her Portmanteau” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday June 11, 2017)
By Mfoniso Udofia
Directed by Ed Sylvanus Iskandar
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Playwright Mfoniso Udofia’s “Sojourners” and “Her Portmanteau,” currently running in repertory at New York Theatre Workshop, are exquisitely crafted and skillfully performed explorations into the life of determined matriarch Abasiama Ekpeyoung-Ufot (the younger played by Chinasa Ogbuagu and the older by Jenny Jules), her two husbands Ukpong Ekpeyoung (played with a willful distraction by Hubert Point-Du-Jour) and Disciple Ufot (played with a mysterious puzzlement by Chinaza Uche), her two daughters Iniabasi Ekpeyoung (Adepero Oduye) and Adiagha Ufot (also played by the remarkable Chinasa Ogbuagu), and her friend Moxie Wills (played with layer upon layer of sadness by Lakisha Michelle May).

In “Sojourners,” Abasiama and her husband Upkong emigrate to the United States from Nigeria on student visas. The plan: finish their college educations and return to Nigeria to use their new skills to benefit their country. The reality: Upkong neglects his studies, neglects his wife and new child, and leaves them. The play concludes with Abasiama sending their new child Iniabasi and her husband Upkong back to Nigeria. In “Her Portmanteau,” Iniabasi comes to visit her mother at her sister’s apartment in New York City. The fireworks begin when Adiagha (instead of Abasiama) picks up Iniabasi late at JFK.

Under Ed Sylvanus Iskandar’s judicious and redemptive direction, the resplendent cast grapples with the complex dynamics of confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation with authenticity and deeply palpable believability. Adepero Oduye’s steely yet vulnerable Iniabasi (“in God’s time”) unleashes years of loneliness and disappointment on her mother and struggles with reuniting with her American born sister Adiagha amidst unbearable resentment and jealousy. Jenny Jules’s dispassionate yet protective Abasiama unpacks (literally) her feelings for her daughter when she removes layer after layer of “history” from Iniabasi’s battered red suitcase – the same torn suitcase Abasiama used when she and Ukpong first came to America from Nigeria and Upkong used when he returned to Nigeria.

The final scene in “Her Portmanteau” is a compelling testament to the power of unconditional and non-judgmental love, to the importance of “belonging” to a family and to a nation, and to the strength of a value system that transcends time and space. This ultimate trio of performances is innervated by the brilliant ensemble performances that precede them – performances illuminated by the shimmering pools of light provided by Jiyoun Chang that cascade across the protective manger-like set designed by Jason Sherwood.

These plays (the first two in a planned nine-play cycle) are not only poignant tales of the deep relationship between a mother and her estranged daughter but also compelling examinations of the complex and intricate reasons individuals leave their homelands for other lands and other opportunities. This exploration is particularly relevant in the current geopolitical climate of mass exoduses from oppressive regimes and war-ravaged towns and villages worldwide. Does one leave one’s home expecting to return or does one escape believing a return home will be impossible?

It is best to see the plays “in order” – “Sojourners” first then “Her Portmanteau.” If possible, it is a bonus to see both plays on the same weekend day. That said, the plays can stand alone and – in whatever order – need to be seen.

SOUJOURNERS AND HER PORTMANTEAU

“Sojourners” and “Her Portmanteau”are produced in association with The Playwrights Realm (Katherine Kovner, Artistic Director Roberta Pereira, Producing Director).

The cast for “Sojourners” will feature Lakisha Michelle May as Moxie Wilis, Chinasa Ogbuagu as Abasiama Ekpeyoung, Hubert Point-Du Jour as Ukpong Ekpeyoung, and Chinaza Uche as Disciple Ufot.

The cast for “Her Portmanteau” will feature Jenny Jules as Abasiama Ufot, Adepero Oduye as Iniabasi Ekpeyoung, and Chinasa Ogbuaga as Adiagha Ufot.

“Sojourners” and “Her Portmanteau” will feature scenic design by Jason Sherwood, costume design by Loren Shaw, lighting and video design by Jiyoun Chang, and sound design by Jeremy S. Bloom. Dawn-Elin Fraser will serve as the dialect coach and Janice Paran will serve as dramaturg. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

SOJOURNERS and HER PORTMANTEAU are presented in repertory and will run through June 4, 2017 at New York Theatre Workshop (79 E. 4th Street New York, NY 10003). For the full schedule of performances and to purchase tickets ($69.00), please visit https://www.nytw.org/show/sojourners-her-portmanteau/. The running time for “Sojourners” is 2 hours and 30 minutes including one 15-minute intermission. The running time for “Her Portmanteau” is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, May 26, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Seven Spots on the Sun” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday June 4, 2017)

Photo: Flora Diaz and Rey Lucas. Credit: Russ Rowland
Off-Broadway Review: “Seven Spots on the Sun” at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday June 4, 2017)
By Martín Zimmerman
Directed by Weyni Mengesha
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

The brutality of war – any war – leaves its mark on the communities war leaves behind: on the land and on the people who inhabit the land. The soldiers in the fictional South American country featured in Martin Zimmerman’s “Seven Spots on the Sun,” currently playing at Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre, leave a palm-print on a wooden plank before they leave a town and after committing heinous crimes against its citizenry. These prints serve as a warning and a challenge to the residents to see how they will respond to the savagery – will they attempt to rescue the dying neighbors or leave them to die for fear of reprisal? What happens to a community after war passes through and moves on?

The answers to these rich and enduring questions are the subject of Mr. Zimmerman’s allegorical tale involving the stories of two couples affected by the fictional – but all too real – civil war. Physician Moises (Rey Lucas) and his nurse wife Monica (Flor De Liz Perez) care for the wounded in their under-resourced clinic in San Isidro. Luis (Sean Carvajal) and Belen (Flora Diaz) are a couple facing the horrors of war through Luis’s enlistment in the army. These couples collide in a surprising and transformative way as the complex play progresses.

In addition to these four characters, there is the local priest Eugenio (Peter Jay Fernandez) and The Town (Claudia Acosta, Cesar J. Rosado, and Socorro Santiagi) whose “inhabitants” play several roles in the play and serves as a “Greek-chorus” commenting on the action of the play and providing needed exposition.

In development since 2009, “Seven Spots on the Sun” raises questions about making choices and having convictions and uses the framework of civil war to address these queries. There are no heroes in this play and there is no redemption for anyone involved: neither for the citizens nor for the “soldados.” And there is no healing: both the institutions of church and medicine fail to provide release from suffering and death. Even Moises’s sudden ability to heal by the “laying on of hands” is tinged with his vengeful demands upon Belen and Luis.

Mr. Zimmerman’s characters seem underdeveloped and it is difficult to care deeply for any of them. Each has an important choice (or two) to make and each seems to make the wrong choice: choices that destroy, dehumanize, degrade, and drive death. Despite their singular and collective efforts, these characters are not able to change the climate of post-war life.

Weyni Mengesha’s uneven direction detracts from Mr. Zimmerman’s extended metaphor and often undermines the play’s magical realism and extensive use of tropes. “Seven Spots on the Sun” does not have a traditional dramatic structure and requires non-traditional direction (and staging). Sunspots, pineapples, a washing machine, and hand prints (one with a missing finger) vie for meaning in “Seven Spots on the Sun” and, under Ms. Mengesha’s direction, these tropes often conspire to confuse rather than to elucidate meaning.

Mr. Zimmerman’s play is successful in its efforts to focus on the effects of war and is worth the look. What happens to a community after war passes through and moves on? “Seven Spots on the Sun” grapples with that question without providing clear answers.

SEVEN SPOTS ON THE SUN

The all Latinx cast of “Seven Spots on the Sun” includes Claudia Acosta, Sean Carvajal, Flora Diaz, Peter Jay Fernandez, Rey Lucas, Flor De Liz Perez, Cesar J. Rosado, and Socorro Santiago.

The production team includes Arnulfo Maldonado (Scenic Design), Amith Chandrashaker (Lighting Design), Tei Blow (Sound Design), Fabian Aguilar (Costume Design), Rebecca Key (Production Manager), Nicole Marconi (Production Stage Manager), Genevieve Ortiz (Assistant Stage Manager) and Jack Doulin + Sharky (Casting). Production photos by Russ Rowland.

“Seven Spots on The Sun” performs Wednesday to Saturday evenings and Monday evenings at 8:00 p.m. with matinees on Saturdays and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. through June 4, at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place). Tickets are $50.00 (General), $25.00 (Artist), $15.00 (Student). Tickets can be bought at http://www.Rattlestick.org or via phone at 212-627-2556. Running time is approximately 85 minutes.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: "The Roundabout" at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday May 28, 2017)

Photo: (L-R) Carol Starks, Derek Hutchinson, Annie Jackson, Brian Protheroe, and Richenda Carey in J.B. Priestley’s "The ROUNDABOUT, part of Brits Off Broadway at 59E59 Theaters. Photo by Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: "The Roundabout" at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday May 28, 2017)
Written by J.B. Priestley
Directed by Hugh Ross
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Traffic flows continuously around the “island” which is the roundabout better known as the Drawing Room of Lord Kettlewell’s (Brian Protheroe) British country estate. Things are not going well for the financier who has summoned his Etonian secretary Farrington Gurney (Charlie Field) to a rare Saturday business meeting to attempt to stop his Lordship’s substantial business losses. Nor are things going well for the rest of the Commonwealth with financial stability waning and international tensions waxing substantially.

Added to Lord Kettlewell’s ennui is the steady flow of unexpected visitors to his estate announced ad seriatim by Parsons (Derek Hutchinson) – from his enraged suitor Hilda Lancicourt (Carol Starks) and estranged wife Rose (Lisa Bowerman) to his equally estranged daughter Pamela (Emily Laing) who arrives from Russia completely unexpectedly with her Comrade Staggles (Steven Blakeley) in tow. Pamela, now a Communist, challenges her father’s abilities at parenting and marriage and Staggles presumes the women of the household yearn to be his lover – including the maid Alice (Annie Jackson) whom he attempts to rescue from her being a “slave hugging her fetters.”

The various guests rotating into and out of the Drawing Room and their encounters with Lord Kettlewell and with one another is the comedic stuff of J. B. Priestly’s “The Roundabout” currently running at 59E59 Theaters as part of the annual Brits Off Broadway Festival. They collide with one another in deliciously hilarious flights of fantasy all the time challenging the decorum of polite society. Churton Saunders – Chuffy – played with a jocular stolidly by Hugh Sachs, is the perfect foil to all the charming madness swirling around him.

Under Hugh Ross’s well paced direction, the cast is uniformly engaging, each with a clear understanding of his or her character and the diverse conflicts that drive the plot with all its twists and turns. It is the unpredictability of these parallel story lines that makes “The Roundabout” consummately entertaining. Why has Pamela decided to be a Communist? Why has she arranged to have her mother visit? Who is Lady Knightsbridge (Richenda Carey) and why is she so involved in everyone’s business?

Priestly chooses not to explore the issues he introduces with any depth. His Lord Kettlewell does challenge Comrade Staggles about the benefits of communism affirming, “If we’d communism, there’d still be room at the top.” Still, Mr. Priestly’s 1931 “very light comedy” is a delightful romp around the roundabout well worth the trip.

The cast of “The Roundabout” features Steven Blakeley, Lisa Bowerman, Richenda Carey, Charlie Field, Derek Hutchinson, Annie Jackson, Emily Laing, Ed Pinker, Brian Protheroe, Hugh Sachs, and Carol Starks.

The design team includes Polly Sullivan (production design) and David Howe (lighting design). The music
Is composed by Matthew Strachan. The production stage manager is Cate Agis. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

Produced by Cahoots Theatre Company, The Other Cheek & Park Theatre for Brits Off Broadway, “The Roundabout” runs through Sunday May 28, 2017 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues) on the following schedule: Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets range from $25.00 - $70.00 ($25 - $49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes including an intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, May 13, 2017

Broadway Review: “Indecent” at the Cort Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday September 10, 2017)

Broadway Review: “Indecent” at the Cort Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday September 10, 2017)
Written by Paula Vogel
Created by Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman
Directed by Rebecca Taichman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Created by Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman, “Indecent” could not have opened on Broadway at the Cort Theatre at a more auspicious time. During an increasingly frenzied discussion about what is and what is not decent in contemporary American society and culture, this remarkable and stunning play - based on true events surrounding the 1923 Broadway debut of Sholem Asch’s “The God of Vengeance” - brings into sharp focus the importance of vigilance amidst intolerance and indomitability in the face of insidious censorship.

Portraying the Yiddish playwright Sholem Asch, Max Gordon Moore delivers a riveting performance of a playwright who initially inspires his cast and crew as they begin to present “The God of Vengeance” but ultimately abandons them when they are arrested for obscenity after a performance on Broadway. Paula Vogel and Rebecca Taichman have created a compelling story about the power of innovation and the equally powerful effect of detachment and disinheriting oneself from the innovative process. The cast portrays the characters in three stages of their lives from the excitement of actors beginning a journey together in 1906 to their disappointments and fears that present themselves as they age and face the danger of the threat of the Nazi regime and beyond.

Mr. Moore and the other members of the stellar ensemble cast are listed as “Actors” in the program, he and all individuals – on or off stage – who take significant risks to maintain personal and professional integrity. Solem Asch’s failure to testify in court in Manhattan is a trope for the epic failure of all who shy from controversy and compromise rectitude for the assumed comfort of safety. Adina Verson and Katrina Lenk are riveting as Rifkele and Manke dance their way through life, death, and beyond death.

Rebecca Taichman directs “Indecent” with a sensitive precision. David Dorfman’s choreography is fluid with stunning lines and fresh contemporary movement. Emily Rebholz’s “dust to dust” costumes are intriguing and perfectly matched to the period. Both Christoper Akerlind’s lighting and Matt Hubbs’ sound are exquisite and create emotion-laden “pictures” that are as stunning as they are life-changing. With the assistance of “Stage Manager” Lemml (played with a self-effacing charm by Richard Topol), Tal Yarden’s projections guide the audience through language shifts, and shifts in time with ease. The “blinks in time” serve as a successful device to not only advance the dramatic action but also to heighten dramatic tension.

Music by Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva and performances by the composers and Matt Darriau provide an essential emotional thread to “Indecent’s” important story. David Dorfman’s choreography is exquisite and challenges the cast with a variety of movement genres and styles. The actors often weave through spaces seemingly occupied by others at the same time.

It is difficult to rehearse here the entirety of the plot of “Indecent” driven by characters that share unimaginable conflicts that play out in a variety of settings without posting “spoiler alerts” in every paragraph. “Indecent” is a compelling piece of theatre that raises deep, enduring questions about the future of a society that refuses to accept differences and embrace those deemed to be “different.”

INDECENT

The cast of “Indecent” includes Matt Darriau, Lisa Gutkin, Aaron Halva, Katrina Lenk, Mimi Lieber, Max Gordon Moore, Tom Nelis, Steven Rattazzi, Richard Topol, and Adina Verson.

“Indecent” features music composed and performed by Lisa Gutkin and Aaron Halva and choreography by David Dorfman. “Indecent” features set design by Riccardo Hernandez, costume design by Emily Rebholz, lighting design by Christopher Akerlind, sound design by Matt Hubbs, projection design Tal Yarden, fight choreography by Rick Sordelet and dialect coaching by Stephen Gabis. Casting is by Tara Rubin Casting. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

Performances of “Indecent” scheduled through Sunday September 10, 2017 at the Cort Theatre, 138 West 48th Street. For more information, please call the box office at 212-239-6200 or visit http://indecentbroadway.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, April 21, 2017

Preview: “The Hairdresser” at The Rossi Salon (Through Monday October 16, 2017)

Photo (L to R): Michael Citriniti, Louise Lasser, and Stephen Schnetzer in "The Hairdresser."
Preview: “The Hairdresser” at The Rossi Salon (Through Monday October 16, 2017)
By Susan Charlotte
Directed by Antony Marsellis
Preview by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Tony-nominated Patricia (Louise Lasser) is not buried up to her waist in sand like Winnie in Samuel Beckett’s 1961 “Happy Days. But the character does prattle on – as Winnie did to her husband Willie – about happier days with her dearest friend and hairdresser (Stephen Schnetzer) on the Sunday before her most recent visit to the Tony Awards ceremony. This Beckett-esque conversation is the subject of Susan Charlotte’s “Hairdresser” a seventy-five-minute play she describes as a “location theatre project.” This site-specific play – once produced Off-Broadway in a more traditional manner – is now located in The Rossi Salon on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.

Like Weller Martin and Fonsia Dorsey in Daniel L. Coburn’s 1976 “The Gin Game,” Patricia and the Hairdresser squabble about seemingly unimportant things. Weller tries to teach Fonsia the rules of gin rummy. The Hairdresser bickers about Patricia’s hair length and wave and Patricia nags the Hairdresser about his prior profession as a stage magician. Beneath this banter lies – as on the porch in the “Gin Game” – the more significant issues of loneliness, mortality, aging, and loss. Additionally, deeper secrets are revealed as the emotionally charged interchange progresses.

Ms. Charlotte draws heavily on imagery from “Happy Days” (including a large black bag and its contents), Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 “Breathless,” and film-making devices (“jump cut”) to develop the characters in her play and disclose their conflicts to the small audience. A stage manager (Michael Citriniti) often provides stage directions (“He turns off a light”) and the producer (Tim Sherogan) interacts with the actors. The actors also stretch beyond the fourth wall to engage the audience in the conversation – an audience Patricia sees clearly but the Hairdresser acknowledges much more cautiously. Anthony Marsellis directs the piece with his keen eye on the actors and on the audience guiding all carefully through the "hall of mirrors."

Who are the actors in this immersive play? Ms. Lasser, Mr. Schnetzer, Mr. Citriniti, and Mr. Sherogan are all “on script” (a device the playwright deems appropriate to the setting). The audience members, oddly enough, are “off script” and can “act” as they please without intervention from a director or stage manager. Indeed, the professional actors “need” the reactions of the audience members they consistently engage beyond the protection of their fourth wall. Such engagement with the audience is the stuff of immersive, site specific theatre: laughter, sighs, traffic noise (through the window that prefers not to be closed), the ability to stare into the faces of the actors all make for a unique experience that extends the borders of the thing we call theatre.

THE HAIRDRESSER

“The Hairdresser” is presented by Cause Célèbre in association with Nancy Jackman and Rosemarie Salvatore. The cast of “The Hairdresser” features Louise Lasser and Stephen Schnetzer with Michael Citriniti and Tim Sherogan.

Performances of “The Hairdresser” are at The Rossi Salon (30 West 57th Street) on the following Mondays at 7:00 p.m.: May 15th 2017, June 12th 2017, September 18th 2017, and October 16th 2017. For tickets at $45.00, please call (646) 366-9340. For further information, please visit https://www.causecelebre.info/events. Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Angel and Echoes” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday, May 7, 2016)

Photo: Avital Lvova stars in "Angel & Echoes" at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Angel and Echoes” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday, May 7, 2016)
By Henry Naylor
Directed by Michael Cabot (“Angel”) and Emma Butler (“Echoes”)
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“For this is my connection, the community of humanity.” – Shamira in “Echoes”

Afghanistan. Syria. Syrian refugees. Jihadism. Expansionism. Colonialism. Afghanistan. Ipswich, Suffolk, England. Which of these has not been in the national news during the past two weeks? Ipswich. The remaining locations, events, and ideologies have all commanded the attention of the global community in recent weeks: they also inhabit the scenes of Henry Naylor’s dramatic pair “Angel and Echoes” currently running at 59E59 Theaters as part of their annual Brits Off Broadway Festival.

This “well decorated” pair is part of Mr. Naylor’s “Arabian Nightmares Trilogy” that has erupted from The Edinburgh Fringe and traversed the UK and NYC. Set in Ipswich, Syria, and Afghanistan, “Angel & Echoes” rehearses the tragic repercussions of jihadism, radicalization, and colonialism in the Middle East – and beyond. The plays also focus on the relationship between women and men, sexism, and sex trafficking. These are deeply disturbing plays that raise a significant number of enduring questions. For example, when is one doing one’s god’s will and when is one an apostate? How does one know what any god’s will is? Who makes that decision? What does it mean to triumph under one’s own terms? The importance of Mr. Naylor’s work is not in his complicated details but in the underbelly of the connection to “the community of humanity.”

In “Echoes” two women leave their home in Ipswich, England to fulfill what they see as their “mission” in life. Both are 17 years old. Samira (Serena Manteghi) is Muslim and leaves her Ipswich home with her friend Beegum to marry Akeem and, in Akeems’s words, “fulfill God’s purpose.” Tillie (Rachel Smyth) is a Christian living in Victorian times and leaves her Ipswich home to marry in India. On her way, she meets The Lieutenant and ends up in Afghanistan to do God’s work, in the Lieutenant’s words “to spread our peace, wealth and civilization through Commerce.” Tillie has been “Thrashing around, trying to find a man. For my Christian desire is to produce children for the Empire.” One would assume both young women will find satisfying ways to fulfill their lofty aspirations. One comes to discover neither does.

In “Angel” Rehana (Avital Lvova) defends her Syrian home of Kobane from the incursion of Isis and learns from one called The Commander that “If you don’t fight them, that’s the system of Justice which will prevail. If you don’t fight, you facilitate; if you facilitate, you collaborate.” Rehana never realizes her wish to become an attorney, nor does she fulfill her father’s dream to run the family farm. She does, however, get to use the skills in weaponry her father insisted she learn. Her commitment to the women soldiers fighting the rapists, religious bigots, and the radicalized is daunting and captivating.

Under the direction of Emma Butler (“Echoes”) and Michael Cabot (“Angel”), the three actors tell these stories with passion and considerable energy. They play the parts of all the characters involved in their stories and do their best to differentiate between that cast of characters. Because of the complexity of the stories, it is sometimes difficult to keep track of who is speaking. Additionally, the actors speak so rapidly, some of the important narrative is lost. Their stories, however, remain important and connect on deep levels to the current political struggles in the Middle East – and elsewhere.

ANGEL AND ECHOES

“Angel & Echoes” is produced by Redbeard Theatre Ltd. with Gilded Balloon Production. The cast of “Angel” features Avital Lvova. The cast of ‘Echoes” features Serena Manteghi, and Rachel Smyth. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Angel & Echoes” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, May 7, 2017. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Friday at 7:15 p.m.; Saturday at 2:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:15 p.m. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $35.00 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes including an intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, April 16, 2017

Broadway Review: “The Play That Goes Wrong” at the Lyceum Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday September 3, 2017

Photo: Jonathan Sayer, Greg Tannahill, Henry Lewis, Dave Hearn, and Charlie Russell. Credit: Jeremy Daniel.
Broadway Review: “The Play That Goes Wrong” at the Lyceum Theatre (Tickets on Sale through Sunday September 3, 2017)
Co-Written by Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields
Directed by Mark Bell
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

During the April 2, 2000 matinee performance of Julie Taymor’s “Green Bird” at the Cort Theatre, a flying wall accidently struck actor Reg. E. Cathey during a set change in the dark. This unexpected interruption resulted in the cancellation of the performance and sent Cathey to the hospital for x-rays. Fortunately, the actor was not seriously hurt and was reported to be joking about the incident afterward. The audience, however, did not respond with laughter but deep concern for the actor. In 2006, during a performance of “Lestat” the sliding walls of Derek McLain’s stunning set failed to move on cue and the scene restarted several times. The audience did not laugh. And there is no need to rehearse the numerous set malfunctions in the early days of “Spiderman: Turn Off the Dark” that resulted in groans from the audience.

On April 10, 2017, “Playbill” featured an article “60 Actors Reveal Their Worst Flubbed Lines and Onstage Mishaps.” The article reviews missed cues, costume malfunctions, going up on lines, shouts from audience members, miss-firing stage guns, and delayed lighting cues. These “mishaps” occur onstage frequently but many of them go unnoticed by the audience: not so in “The Play That Goes Wrong,” currently running on Broadway at the Lyceum Theatre, where things that can go wrong on stage are meant to be seen (and heard) and the audience is encouraged to laugh lustily at things one cannot normally laugh at in the theatre.

Although plenty goes wrong in the Cornley University Drama Society’s “The Murder at Haversham Manor” (the play within the play) nothing goes wrong in the play entitled “The Play That Goes Wrong.” Under Mark Bell’s direction, the ensemble cast delivers a high-energy, brilliantly acted farce that celebrates the magic of the theatre by highlighting its foibles – a resplendent conception concocted by writers Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields.

After greeting the audience, Cornley’s director and head of the Drama Society (Chris Bean/Henry Shields) shares, “We are particularly excited to present this play because, for the first time in the society’s history, we’ve managed to find a play that fits the number of society members perfectly. If we’re honest a lack of members has sometimes hampered past productions, such as last year’s Chekov play ... ‘Two Sisters’. Last Christmas’ ‘The Lion and the Wardrobe’ or indeed our summer musical ‘Cat.’”

What follows is the Society’s production of the “who-done-it” murder mystery “The Murder at Haversham Manor” which is boldly reminiscent of the impeccably executed physical comedy of Sid Caesar, Imogene Coca, and Jonathan Winters. Pratfalls, broad humor, and exaggerated situations abound, often taking parts of the set with them. Slapstick here is elevated to new levels as those gathered at the Manor try to discern who murdered Charles Haversham (Jonathan Harris/Greg Tannahill) and who – if anyone is having an affair with his fiancé Florence Colleymoore (Sandra Wilkinson/Charlie Russell).

“The Play That Goes Wrong” is a gift to the audience members: two hours to let their guard down and allow themselves to laugh again – just a short time, but time enough to escape all that is going wrong in the political landscape across the country and the globe.

Nigel Hook’s set design is key to the play’s success. Unfortunately, there are problems with sight lines. A sizeable number of audience members sitting audience left saw nothing of the humor surrounding the mantle – or lack thereof. It is not immediately clear how this can be addressed at this point but it is a serious flaw oddly overlooked by the creative team. That said, “The Play That Goes Wrong” is not to be missed. Your brain will thank you for the resplendent release of endorphins and the boost in happiness and wellbeing.

THE PLAY THAT GOES WRONG

“The Play That Goes Wrong” is produced on Broadway by Kevin McCollum, J.J. Abrams, Kenny Wax, Stage Presence Ltd. and Catherine Schreiber.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” stars the original West End cast featuring Matthew Cavendish, Bryony Corrigan, Rob Falconer, Dave Hearn, Henry Lewis, Charlie Russell, Jonathan Sayer, Henry Shields, Greg Tannahill and Nancy Zamit (the role of Annie was played by Bryony Corrigan at the Thursday. April 6th 7:00 p.m. performance).

“The Play That Goes Wrong” is directed by Mark Bell, featuring set design by Nigel Hook, lighting design by Ric Mountjoy, sound design by Andy Johnson and costume design by Roberto Surace. Production photos by Jeremy Daniel.

“The Play That Goes Wrong” runs at the Lyceum Theatre (146 West 45th Street, between Broadway and 6th Avenue). For further information including performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit the play’s official website at http://www.broadwaygoeswrong.com/. Running time is 2 hours, including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, April 10, 2017

Off-Broadway Review:

Photo: Gary McNair in "A Gamblers Guide to Dying." Credit: Benjamin Cowie.
Off-Broadway Review: "A Gambler's Guide to Dying" at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday April 23, 2017)
Written and Performed by Gary McNair
Directed by Gareth Nicholls
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“And yet we have been here. And yet we remain. We remain in the genes of our children, everything we build and destroy, the people we touch, songs we sing, the stories we tell and leave behind. We echo into the ages and that has to be enough because it's all we have.” – Narrator

In the Boy’s “first ever class in high school,” his Moral and Philosophical Studies teacher Mr. McTavish says, ““There are two guarantees in life – you are born, and you die.” In an electrifying and emotionally charged seventy minutes, Gary McNair explores the vicissitudes of the human experience through the engaging story of a young man (the Boy) and his grandad (Archie) who was “a cheat, a liar, an addict, a Hero, a storyteller.” He was also a gambler – one who might have been a candidate for a twelve-step program – whose journey is a trope for the wonder of winning through the rigors of risk-taking.

“A Gambler’s Guide to Dying,” the first installment in the 2017 Brits Off Broadway Festival at 59E59 Theaters, is the remarkable solo show by Gary McNair a young master storyteller who not only has a keen grasp on rhetorical devices but also knows how to employ those devices in a solo performance. Utilizing the rhetorical triangle of ethos, logos, and pathos, Mr. McNair’s tale crosses generational lines to celebrate the enduring quest to live and make a difference between the time we are born and the time we die.

Mr. McNair’s storytelling is subtle in its approach skillfully using repetition and parallel structure to raise rich enduring questions about whether humans can do anything about the way things will happen in their lives. Under the judicious direction of Gareth Nicholls, Gary McNair commands every inch of the set with an authentic and believable performance. The audience members care deeply about the Boy and Archie and see in these characters their own struggles to “control” life’s randomness and chaos.

In addition to narrating the story, Mr. McNair enacts the role of the protagonists – Boy and Archie – and Wee Mad Terry, Punters (solitary and numbers 1, 2, and 3), Roddy ‘Knuckles’ McGin, Rusty, Mr. McNair, and others. These well-developed characters have conflicts that drive an engaging plot that captures life’s comedic and tragic experiences and that connect to the audience in a deep and meaningful way. Everyone has placed bets on the present and the future. Archie’s style of betting gives the audience the opportunity to grapple with a complex character and appreciate “the complicated sum of his parts.”

Gary McNair provides a fascinating guide to living and dying through the eyes of a gambler who – though at the close of his life had “no win, no money, no fortune, no glamour, no glory” – managed to teach the Boy the value of coming to terms with the realization that despite all we try to do to deny our mortality “we all must go.”

“And yet we have been here. And yet we remain. We remain in the genes of our children, everything we build and destroy, the people we touch, songs we sing, the stories we tell and leave behind. We echo into the ages and that has to be enough because it's all we have.” And perhaps it is all we need to have in a world that seems unable to hold on to its center.

A GAMBLER’S GUIDE TO DYING

The design team for “A Gambler’s Guide to Dying” includes Simon Hayes (lighting design) and Michael John McCarthy (sound design, composer). The production stage manager is Fiona Johnston. Production photos by Benjamin Cowie.

Produced by Show And Tell, with support from Creative Scotland, Made In Scotland, and the Traverse Theatre, “A Gambler’s Guide to Dying” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday April 23, 2017. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:30 p.m.; Friday at 8:30 p.m.; Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:30 p.m. Please note there is an added performance on Sunday, April 23 at 7:30 p.m. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25.00 - $35.00 ($20.00 - $24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 70 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, April 9, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Daniel’s Husband” at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Friday April 28, 2017)

Photo: Ryan Spahn, Matthew Montelongo, Leland Wheeler and Lou Liberatore. Credit: James Leynse.
Off-Broadway Review: “Daniel’s Husband” at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Friday April 28, 2017)
By Michael McKeever
Directed by Joe Brancato
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The thing was, I was really good at it. And I loved it. I just loved being able to . . . I don’t know . . . make someone more comfortable. Make some of their pain go away. And it wasn’t just because it was someone I loved. It was . . . the fact that I was in control. That I could make that kind of impact on someone’s life. It was empowering.” – Trip

It is the playwright’s responsibility to have a theme in mind when writing a play: the play needs to be about something. If titles are important – and they are indeed – then “Daniel’s Husband,” currently running at Primary Stages at Cherry Lane Theatre, is about forty-something writer Mitchell Howard (Matthew Montelongo) the “partner” of architect Daniel Bixby (Ryan Spahn). Assuming Mr. McKeever’s play is in fact about Daniel’s “husband,” what is it about Mitchell that makes a good play?

Mitchell and Daniel have been a couple for seven years. Early in the play, at a dinner party at their home, Mitchell makes it clear he does not “believe in Gay Marriage.” His clarity includes an extended argument that embarrasses Daniel and angers him. What does Daniel believe in? Just prior to the play’s climax – the turning point of “Daniel’s Husband” the creative team prefers critics not reveal – Mitchell asks Daniel, “I love you! Why can’t that be enough? Why do we have to get married?” Daniel’s impassioned plea initiates the falling action, “Because it’s not enough anymore to call you my partner. I can’t keep calling you my lover or my companion. Damn it Mitchell, I want to call you my husband!”

Mitchell’s justification is not substantiated. In response to Trip’s query about Mitchell’s resistance to marriage, Mitchell boasts, “But I like being singled out. I like being different. I love being unique in a world that’s full of ‘normal.’” However, Mr. McKeever’s character is anything but different. This inconsistency in character development is typical of the inconsistencies in the entire script.

The play begins with the above-mentioned dinner party and is the source of the kind of well-placed foreshadowing that will result in a chorus of “Why didn’t I see that” queries. Daniel and Mitchell are hosting Mitchell’s best friend (and agent) Barry Dylon (Lou Liberatore) and his new young boyfriend Trip (Leland Wheeler) who is an in-home healthcare specialist (“I go to people’s homes to take care of them. Stroke victims, that sort of thing”) and a fan of Mitchell’s gay novels. In fact, Barry picked Trip up at the local “Whole Foods Coffee Bar reading [Mitchell’s] ‘Rainbow Joe.’” This opening scene is meant to be funny – and many found it so – but it is brimming with what a completely straight audience might imagine a room full of gay men to look and sound like. It could not be more television sit-com in conception and dramatic realization.

Daniel’s mother Lydia (Anna Holbrook) visits Daniel and Mitchell often and proves to be overbearing and controlling. There is not much more that can be said about this annoying and selfish character except that she is yet another stereotype in playwright Michael McKeever’s canon of characters. Of all the cast members, Leland Wheeler fares best as the young Trip. Mr. Wheeler gives his oft maligned character (Mitchell carps, “He can cut his own food?) a depth and authenticity that is refreshing and welcomed. One can care for Trip – something difficult to do for the remaining characters whose exposition makes it difficult for the actors to portray with believability.

Brian Prather’s set design is adequate although it does not necessarily reflect the best effort of “an award-winning architect” to restore and decorate his “perfectly appointed home.” Jennifer Caprio’s costume design and Christina Watanabe’s lighting design successfully support director Joe Brancato’s staging.

If “Daniel’s Husband” is about anything, it should be to highlight the fragility of life, the tenderness of relationships, and Mitchell’s unwillingness to honor either theme. Mitchell is not a likeable character and that makes connecting to Mr. McKeever’s play more difficult. For some reason, the audience seems to overlook this significant problem and satisfies with the tangential themes of gay marriage, nasty mothers and mothers-in-law, vapid conversation, and gay stereotypes ad nauseam. One more glass of wine and/or scotch and the stage hands would have to replenish the stock.

“Daniel’s Husband” is also about making choices and the importance of accepting the consequences of those choices. Mitchell’s decision to deny Daniel the simple courtesy of marrying him has life-changing consequences. What happens to Daniel after Mitchell returns from dropping off Lydia at the airport changes the future of this couple forever. Unfortunately, because of the shallow characterizations, it is difficult to care for any of these characters despite their potentially important conflicts.

DANIEL’S HUSBAND

The cast of “Daniel’s Husband” features Anna Holbrook, Lou Liberatore, Matthew Montelongo, Ryan Spahn, and Leland Wheeler.

“Daniel’s Husband” features set design by Brian Prather, costume design by Jennifer Caprio, lighting design by Christina Watanabe, sound design by William Neal, and casting by Stephanie Klapper Casting. Production photos by.

“Daniel’s Husband” runs at Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through Friday April 28, 2017 on the following schedule: Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Exceptions: There will be additional performances on Saturday, April 8 at 2:00 p.m., Saturday, April 15 at 2:00 p.m., Tuesday, April 25 at 8:00 p.m. and Wednesday, April 26 at 2:00 p.m. There will be no 8:00 p.m. performance on Wednesday, April 5 or Wednesday, April 26. Single tickets for “Daniel’s Husband” are priced at $70.00 and available at www.PrimaryStages.org or by calling OvationTix at 212-352-3101. Running time is 95 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Church & State” at New World Stages (Open-Ended Engagement)

Pictured L to R: Nadia Bowers, Christa Scott-Reed. Credit Russ Rowland.
Off-Broadway Review: “Church & State” at New World Stages (Open-Ended Engagement)
By Jason Odell Williams
Directed by Markus Potter
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Following the inauguration of the forty-fifth President of the United States, not a day goes by without listening to Members of Congress – from both sides of the aisle – airing their points of view on all things Trump on national television. Among the chorus of regional dialects is the unmistakable Southern drawl with a twang that seems able to convince listeners to adhere to almost any political agenda. Many of these politicians from the South are members of a privileged class and some of those seem to have lost their way in the maze of unfulfilled promises. At first glance, the fictional Senator Charles Whitmore (Rob Nagle) from North Carolina appears to be one of those “good old boys” who have populated politics for generations.

“Church & State,” currently running at New World Stages, highlights the reelection campaign of Senator Whitmore including his ultimate speech before the election and his post-election acceptance speech. Neither of those speeches pleases his campaign manager Alex Klein (played with charismatic confidence by Christa Scott-Reed) or his wife Sara (played with a disarming honesty by Nadia Bowers) both of whom have abandoned truth for success. The Senator’s first term as a Republican Senator curries favor from the middle-to-far-right constituency that “believes in” the Second Amendment and firmly believes the First Amendment has less to do with the establishment of a national religion and more to do with placing an unsuspecting citizenry in the clutches of the Christian right. Whitmore serves a God-and-Country electorate.

The run for his second term would have been the same had it not been for the shooting at the local elementary school attended by his own children and his attendance at the funeral of the children of his friends who died in that senseless shooting. That event transforms Whitmore and leads him to question not only his faith but his political beliefs and his marriage as well. It is a mid-life crisis on steroids and Rob Nagle portrays the Senator’s dilemma with extraordinary authenticity and strength. Mr. Nagle’s bravura performance is the fulcrum of Jason Odell Williams’s engaging play. Although the themes of Mr. Williams’s play are not unfamiliar, recognizing the sanctity of truth over conventional wisdom is given renewed importance by this actor’s craft.

Truth wins as does the Senator in his reelection bid and when it comes time for his acceptance speech, his campaign manager and wife assume a return to all things conventional would be in order. Why can’t Charles Whitmore simply roll-back his “liberal” promises and not risk any more rocking of the boat? Revealing what happens during the acceptance speech would require a spoiler alert: it is enough to say it is a surprise and deeply disturbing and truly transformative.

David Goldstein’s set is functional but overreaches when it extends the green room of North Carolina State and the university’s auditorium into the audience space. The strength of “Church & State” resides in Mr. Williams’s script not in placing the audience in the auditorium. Burke Brown’s lighting design and Dianne K. Graebner’s costume design are both appropriate and support the action of the play. Jonathan Louis Dent plays his multiple roles with just the right differences in character attributes.

Under Markus Potter’s even direction, “Church & State” is a worthy examination of the values needed to be in the service of the public in America at this pivotal point in its history and the play raises several significant enduring questions deserving answers.

CHURCH & STATE

Directed by Markus Potter, the cast features Nadia Bowers, Jonathan Louis Dent, Rob Nagle, and Christa Scott-Reed.

The creative team includes David Goldstein (scenic design), Burke Brown (lighting design), Dianne K. Graebner (costume design), and Erik T. Lawson (sound design). Sofia Montgomery is Production Stage Manager. Production photos by Russ Rowland.

“Church & State” will play the following performance schedule: Monday at 8:00 p.m., Wednesday - Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., Sunday at 3:00 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $59.00 - $105.00 and are available for purchase through Telecharge.com/212-239-6200. They may also be purchased in person at the New World Stages Box Office (340 West 50th Street. Visit www.newworldstages.com for box office hours. Running time is 75 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, April 1, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Emperor Jones” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday April 23, 2017)

Photo: Andy Murray and Obi Abili. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Emperor Jones” at Irish Repertory Theatre (Through Sunday April 23, 2017)
By Eugene O’Neill
Directed by Ciarán O’Reilly
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Ain't a man's talkin' big what makes him big-long as he makes folks believe it? [Sure], I talks large when I ain't got nothin' to back it up, but I ain't talkin' wild just [the] same. I knows I kin fool 'em—I knows it—and [that's] backin' enough [for] my game.” – Brutus Jones

It is not easy to watch Eugene O’Neill’s “The Emperor Jones,” the groundbreaking 1920 play currently running at the Irish Repertory Theatre. The connections to the current political climate in the United States are remarkable and somewhat frightening. The machinations in Washington and those in a West Indian palace in 1915 reverberate with familiar chords of civic discord.

Former Pullman porter Brutus Jones (Obi Abili) emigrates to an island in the West Indies, overthrows the island’s chief Lem (played with the perfect vengeful core by Carl Hendrick Louis) and, with the assistance of Cockney trader Henry Smithers (played with privileged arrogance by Andy Murray), establishes himself as the undisputed Emperor of the island. Emperor Jones arrives with a rather checkered past: he murdered his friend Jeff – with a “razor cut” – after a fight over a game of dice. “I knows I done wrong,” Jones confesses, “I knows it! When I [caught] Jeff cheatin' [with] loaded dice my anger overcomes me and I kills him dead!” Unwilling to spend his full twenty-year sentence in prison, Jones hits the chain-gang guard with his shovel and escapes. Crooked Jones – undeterred by his own probable enslavement – subjects the islanders to oppression and demagoguery.

Despite Emperor Jones’s skullduggery, his “subjects” tire of his abuse and conspire to “catch” him and kill him. “The Emperor Jones” follows the dictator’s path after he discovers his time is almost up and he flees his palace leaving Smithers behind. Under Ciarán O’Reilly’s inventive direction, Obi Abili delivers an engaging adrenaline-driven performance as the Emperor on the run for his life. The actor successfully embodies the psychological and physical unraveling of a despot determined to cheat defamation and death. Mr. O’Reilly has chosen to “cast” the scenes from Brutus Jones’s past with puppets and masks (designed by Bob Flanagan) and trees moved about the stage by the remarkable ensemble cast(choreographed by Barry McNabb). Charlie Corcoran’s set is a stunning representation of the mindscape of madness with its crevices eerily illuminated by Brian Nason.

As the rhythm of the drum beat changes from the normal heart rate of seventy-two beats per minute to an earsplitting cadency, Brutus Jones’s chances of escaping the restless residents of the island diminish. The former Emperor is forced to come to terms with his past and – after a high-spirited dance by the Witch Doctor (played with a mesmerizing spirit by Sinclair Mitchell) – he refuses to offer himself to the crocodile (Reggie Talley) as the sacrifice needed to atone for his “sins” and completely empties his revolver and flees. Eventually he is captured, killed, and at dawn returned to the edge of the Great Forest.

“The Emperor Jones,” despite its rich themes and enduring questions, is not without problems. In his efforts to address the evils of racism, Eugene O’Neill resorts to language that is racist (this is not the colloquial diction of Zora Neale Hurston) and a purely psychological reading of the play is problematic. Seen through the political critical lens, however, the play provides a treasure trove of redemptive conversation concerning the dangers of autocracy and despotism. Emperor Jones exhibits narcissism, disagreeableness, grandiosity, the authoritarian mandate, and likely could be diagnosed with Narcissistic Personality Disorder (DSM IV 301.81). Images of tyrants from the past (and present) with that same disorder ricochet off the Forest’s “creatures of the night” and warn those “with eyes to see and ears to hear” to remain ever vigilant.

THE EMPEROR JONES

The cast of “The Emperor Jones” features Obi Abili, William Bellamy, Carl Hendrick Louis, Sinclair Mitchell, Angel Moore, Andy Murray, and Reggie Talley.

The production features choreography by Barry McNabb, lighting design by Brian Nason, set design by Charlie Corcoran, costume design by Antonia Ford Roberts and Whitney Locher, sound design and music by Ryan Rumery and M. Florian Staab, additional music by Christian Frederickson, and puppet and mask design by Bob Flanagan. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“The Emperor Jones” runs at Irish Rep Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) on the Francis J. Greenburger Mainstage through Sunday April 23, 2017 on the following schedule: Wednesday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets range from $50.00-$70.00 and are available through Irish Rep’s box office at 212-727-2737 or online at www.irishrep.org. Running time is 1 hour and 10 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, April 1, 2017

Broadway Review: “Miss Saigon” at the Broadway Theatre (Through January 13, 2018)

Photo: Alistair Brammer as Chris and Eva Noblezada as Kim. Credit: Matthew Murray.
Broadway Review: “Miss Saigon” at the Broadway Theatre (Through January 13, 2018)
Music by Claude-Michel Schönberg
Lyrics by Richard Maltby Jr. and Alain Boublil with Additional Lyrics by Michael Mahler
Directed by Laurence Connor
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

The 2017 Broadway revival of “Miss Saigon” raises rich and deep enduring questions. Based on Giacomo Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly,” the mammoth musical has enjoyed decades of success – as has Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s “Les Miserables.” Success aside, the questions remain: What is the “ultimate sacrifice” one human being can make for another? What are the moral parameters involved in making that sacrifice? Who is a Broadway show for? Is a production “for” the audience or “for” the actors and creative team? Why are some Broadway shows more controversial than others? What makes a Broadway show controversial? Should such controversy – legitimate as it might be – overshadow a show’s important themes?

Ongoing controversies surrounding “Miss Saigon” involve orientalism, misogyny, racism, casting controversies, and patronization. Despite these concerns, the theme of ultimate sacrifice remains significant and gives the musical relevance. And, of course, there is the helicopter.

Yes, the helicopter has once again landed on the stage of the Broadway Theater in the new production of the mega musical – the first revival in twenty-six years since the musical’s first controversial arrival in 1991. The discord that plagued the opening almost three decades ago involved the less than diverse cast. Anglo actors were hired to portray Asian characters instead of enlisting actors from the significant pool of qualified Asian performers available to producers. In general, it appears diversity has begun to propagate the stage as has more non-traditional casting; therefore, it is important to acknowledge the more appropriate casting of this “Miss Saigon.” Although not in the category of the controversial, this 1991 operatic pop version of Puccini’s “Madame Butterfly” did launch Lea Salonga into theatrical stardom. Enough of history: on to the revival.

This latest incarnation, also produced by Cameron Mackintosh, is a bit grittier, but is still charged with enough theatrical panache to satisfy the tourist trade and live up to the hype of its predecessor. Although it offers no new initiative or perspective on the East meets West theme, what it does manage to provide is a mnemonic of the atrocities of war, the irresponsible behavior of the powerful, and the insensitivity toward different races and cultures. Director Laurence Connor stays on course, but occasionally lapses into derivative scenarios, like the lover’s balcony scene, the plight of fleeing immigrants, or the night in Bangkok. The result is a mediocre production, waffling between dirty and gritty, and polished and sensational, never committing to either.

What is a good reason for this revival is the discovery of Eva Noblezada who brings her endless vocal range to Kim. Ms. Noblezada’s performance is charged with emotion, whether kindling a pure, young innocent romantic or a mature, angry protective mother emitting the guttural tones of survival. Ms. Noblezada is the story and the dramatic arc, always growing, developing, and pushing forward to a decisive conclusion. In the pivotal role of The Engineer, Jon Jon Briones is entertaining, relying on vulgar physical movement and gyrations to define his character rather than trusting his intellect and emotional core. Perhaps this is intentional given the superficial content of “The American Dream.” Alistair Brammer brings an all-American look to the role of Chris but seems a bit too kinetic and neurotic, which makes the character confusing, sometimes incredible and escalating situations to melodrama. This possibly could be a directorial decision, since it occurs repeatedly under different circumstances.

It was a gift to see a large cast in this epic musical (more actors need to be employed), and they perform their roles with energy and commitment, always focused and supportive with their dance and vocals. The sound of the eighteen-piece orchestra conducted by James Moore was a pleasure. The important sound design by Mick Potter is clear and realistic and compliments the eclectic mood inducing lighting design of Bruno Poet. Choreography and musical staging by Bob Avian is sufficient but could be more inventive, depending too much on vulgarity rather than raw seduction and sexuality.

MISS SAIGON

The cast of “Miss Saigon” includes Jon Jon Briones, Eva Noblezada, Alistair Brammer, Katie Rose Clarke, Nicholas Christopher, Devin Ilaw, Rachelle Ann Go, Jace Chen, Anne-Lee Wright, Kimberly-Ann Truong, Tiffany Toh, Catherine Ricafort, Minami Yusui, Emily Bautista, Paige Faure, Ericka Hunter, Lina Lee, Colby Dezelick, Taurean Everett, Graham Scott Fleming, Casey Garvin, Nkrumah Gatling, Dan Horn, Casey Lee Ross, Antoine L. Smith, Sam Strasfeld, Travis Ward-Osborne, Warren Yang, Julian DeGuzman, Paul Heesang Miller, Robert Pendilla, Christopher Vo, Jason Sermonia, Billy Bustamante, Adam Kaokept, and Kei Tsuruharatani.

“Miss Saigon” is directed by Laurence Connor with musical staging by Bob Avian and additional choreography by Geoffrey Garratt. Production design is by Totie Driver and Matt Kinley based on an original concept by Adrian Vaux; costume design by Andreane Neofitou; lighting design by Bruno Poet; sound design by Mick Potter; and projections by Luke Halls. Orchestrations are by William David Brohn; musical supervision by Stephen Brooker and musical direction by James Moore. Casting is by Tara Rubin Casting / Merri Sugarman CSA. Production photos by Matthew Murray.

Tickets are available at www.saigonbroadway.com and at www.telecharge.com or by phone at (212) 239-6200 or (800) 447-7400 and at the Broadway Theatre box office (1681 Broadway between 52nd and 53rd Streets). Tickets range from $39 to $165. “Miss Saigon” will perform Monday through Saturday evenings, with matinees Wednesday and Saturdays. Visit www.saigonbroadway.com for exact show times and dates. Running time is 2 hours and 40 minutes.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, March 30, 2017

Broadway Review: “Sweat” Evaporates Quickly at Studio 54 (Through Sunday September 17, 2017)

Photo: (L to R) Carlo Albán, John Earl Jelks, James Colby, Johanna Day, Michelle Wilson, and Alison Wright. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Sweat” Evaporates Quickly at Studio 54 (Through Sunday September 17, 2017)
By Lynn Nottage
Directed by Kate Whoriskey
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Sweat,” currently running on Broadway at Studio 54, seems to be a play about not what it is assumed to be about. It is not about post-election politics. It is not about the history of factory closings in America’s rust belt or the pandemic of brokenness in American cities. “Sweat” is about human brokenness, the kind of brokenness that results from making poor choices and from not caring about one’s neighbor. It is about the kind of brokenness when unconditional love and non-judgmental love are eclipsed by selfishness and mistrust.

Playwright Lynn Nottage’s play begins with parallel meetings on September 29, 2008 between parole officer Evan (Lance Coadie Williams) and two of his parolees: Jason (Will Pullen) and Chris (Khris Davis). What is clear is that these two young men – who know each other – have done something terribly wrong together and have been released from prison. That experience has left one of them penitent and remorseful (Chris) and the other unrepentant and without remorse (Jason). What is not clear is what the friends did to land in prison for eight years and why Jason is so reluctant to reconnect with Chris.

Clarity is supposed to come from the flashbacks to the year 2000, flashbacks that occur primarily in the neighborhood bar where Jason and his mother Tracey (Johanna Day), Chris and his mother Cynthia (Michelle Wilson) and his estranged addicted father Brucie (John Earl Jelks), and their mother’s co-worker Jessie (Alison Wright) gather after work at Olstead’s the steel-tubing factory where they are all employed. In these scenes – from January through November 2000 – Ms. Nottage provides the exposition that leads up to the critical moment when the audience discovers the unspeakable crime Jason and Chris commit.

The remaining characters in “Sweat” are the bartender Stan (James Colby) who was badly injured when working at the factory and his assistant Oscar (Carlo Albán). Stan has had a long-term crush on Tracey and is a gentle giant of a soul who listens with compassion to the concerns of his patrons who worry about the future of their factory jobs in an uncertain economy and worry about the motivation of their profit-driven management. Ms. Nottage has included an abundance of detail about the plight of hardworking Americans who have assumed they would retire with sizeable pensions from the factories where they worked (and some of their parents worked) all their lives. The difficulty with “Sweat” is that these characters seem to be stock composites of all those the playwright interviewed and they are not all likeable. In fact, it is an arduous tack to care for them or their conflicts.

Ms. Nottage’s characters are not universally “good” people. They have long histories of making poor choices and not learning from their mistakes. They have seen opportunities pass them by. They are mean-spirited and vengeful. Some of them are racists and their racism does not stem from economic disparities. They are often deplorable and treat one another in deplorable ways. They are caricatures of working class Americans and the actors that portray them are caricatures. They are not believable and therefore, their conflicts – as important as those are – seem less than engaging and authentic.

There are exceptions. Stan is a believable character. As is Oscar. Even Jason, despite his collusion with Chris’s crime, is “real.” Oscar is the brunt of an onslaught of racism from the other characters. Tracey assumes he is Puerto Rican and, therefore, might know someone who could burn her house down for her. Oscar is Colombian and born in America. And when he tries to warn the others that management is hiring non-union workers, they ignore him. Tracey tells Oscar, “Listen, that piece of paper that you’re holding is an insult, it don’t mean anything, Olstead’s isn’t for you.” Later, when they are shut out of the factory and Oscar goes to work full-time, they label him a “scab” and shun him. In fact, it is Oscar’s employment that initiates the horrific act committed by Jason and Chris.

Under Kate Whoriskey’s uneven direction, the cast of “Sweat” – except Mr. Albán and Mr. Colby – deliver flat performances. They are not fully to blame, however: the story line is predictable and there is really nothing new in Ms. Nottage’s examination of the matrix of inequities in the lives of working class Americans.

John Lee Beatty’s set design is perfect as is Peter Kaczorowski’s lighting design. The plight of the working poor and the unemployed deserves to be exposed and narrated with pathos, logos, and ethos. Unfortunately, “Sweat” is too predictable and contrived to accomplish that task.

SWEAT

“Sweat” is produced on Broadway by Stuart Thompson and Louise Gund.

The cast of “Sweat” includes Carlo Alban, James Colby, Khris Davis, Johanna Day, John Earl Jelks, Will Pullen, Lance Coadie Williams, Michelle Wilson, and Alison Wright.

The creative team for “Sweat” features John Lee Beatty (scenic design), Jennifer Moeller (costume design), Peter Kaczorowski (lighting design), Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (sound design), and Jeff Sugg (projection design). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Tickets are available via Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or the Studio 54 Box Office (254 West 54th Street). Box office hours are Monday-Saturday 10 a.m.-6 p.m. Ticket prices range from $59 - $149. The performance schedule is Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Friday, and Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. The run time is 2 hours and 20 minutes, including one 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba: William Inge in Repertory” at Transport Group Theatre Company at the Gym at Judson (Through Sunday April 16, 2017)

Photo: Ginna Le Vine and David T. Patterson in "Picnic." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba: William Inge in Repertory” at Transport Group Theatre Company at the Gym at Judson (Through Sunday April 16, 2017)
By William Inge
Directed by Jack Cummings III
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba: William Inge in Repertory” at Transport Group Theatre Company at the Gym at Judson leaves one longing for more William Inge and more Transport Group – perhaps a trifecta that includes the 1955 “Bus Stop.” Inge’s themes of deep angst, “small ambition,” the search for identity and purpose, lost (or abandoned) youth, choices and consequences, human sexuality and sexual repression, addiction and enabling, loneliness, and change and transformation pervade these two engaging and relevant plays.

Despite the post-war mid-western settings, the desperate starkness of Inge’s plays is particularly relevant and challenging in this post-election era in the United States – at a time when the nation is searching for its identity and purpose and experiencing the consequences of political choices on the national and global stages. Personal and corporate angst could not be more acute.

In the 1953 “Picnic,” both Madge (Ginna Le Vine) and her tomboy sister Millie (Hannah Elless) respond to the distant train whistle with the hope for change. Madge confesses, “Whenever I hear that train coming to town, I always get a little feeling of excitement—in [my stomach].” Millie responds, “Whenever I hear it, I tell myself I’m going to get on it some day and go to New York.” But their mother Flo (Michele Pawk) reminds them “That train just goes as far as Tulsa.” Despite their longing for change, neither has yet made the kinds of choices that move fantasy into reality. It is the visit of the drifter Hal (David T. Patterson) that is the catalyst for change in “Picnic.” His unbridled sexuality and moral ambiguity become the transformative agents for each of the characters in the play and challenge their sexual oppression and unrealized ambitions. Madge’s boyfriend Alan (Rowan Vickers) and Rosemary’s (Emily Skinner) hapless suitor Howard (John Cariani) counterpoint Hal’s free-spirited grifter-soul and encounter Inge’s strong and progressive women in endearing battles for exploring the deep meanings of love and its loss.

Unbridled sexuality and sexual oppression are also important themes in the 1950 “Come Back, Little Sheba.” And again, it is the interjection of a young uninhibited male Turk (David T. Patterson) that challenges the dysfunctional family system in the home of Doc (Jospeh Kolinski) and Lola (Heather Mac Rae) and their boarder Marie (Hannah Elless) and her wealthy boyfriend Bruce (Rowan Vickers). Living with an alcoholic – or any other substance abuser or addict – cannot be an easy task. The danger for the spouse or relative is to enable the addict. Doc is an addict, an alcoholic. He is not a recovering alcoholic, he is an alcoholic who is in a twelve-step program. His wife Lola is his enabler. Their “shared addiction” is only the tip of complex family system generated by their “need” to marry after unwanted pregnancy many years ago. Doc is mired in sexual repression: he is so repressed and wound tight that he admonishes Lola for saying, “I’m not a bit tired tonight. You’d think after working so hard all day I’d be pooped.” Doc replies, “Baby, don’t use that word. It sounds vulgar.” And when Lola invites Doc to watch Marie and Turk “spooning,” Doc admonishes Lola, “Stop it, Baby. I won’t do it. It’s not decent to snoop around spying on people like that. It’s cheap and mischievous and mean.”

Meanwhile, Doc’s fetish with Marie’s scarf goes unbridled and eventually his repressed desire for her leads him to go off the wagon and block yet once again any opportunity for transformative change in their relationship. Throughout the play, Lola longs for the return of her “white and fluffy” little dog Sheba – her only source of true companionship and hopefulness. Like the train whistle in “Picnic,” Lola’s lost dog somehow articulates – but not completely heals – the emptiness, the gnawing in the soul of the characters in these important plays. In “Picnic,” Madge has to decide whether to follow Hal; in “Come Back, Little Sheba,” Lola has to decide when to stop waiting for Sheba’s return.

Stephen Mir, Krystal Rowley, Jay Russell, and David Greenspan round out the ensemble cast. R. Lee Kennedy’s lighting design, Asta Bennie Hostetter’s costume design, Miles Polaski’s sound design, and Michael John LaChiusa’s original music all complement the playwright’s exploration of the vicissitudes of the human condition inherent in the two plays.

Under Jack Cummings III’s direction, the members of the ensemble cast uniformly deliver authentic and believable performances in both plays. The director approaches each play differently. His direction in “Picnic” results in a fast-paced and smooth performance whereas he chooses to direct “Come Back, Little Sheba” broadly. There is no subtlety there and that detracts from the power of Inge’s script. For example, Emily Skinner’s Rosemary reveals her loneliness layer after layer allowing the audience to connect with her angst gradually whereas Heather Mac Rae’s Lola wears her depression and repressed anger “on her sleeve” leaving little to the imagination. These seem to be choices of the director, not the actor. In both plays, Dane Laffrey’s set designs allow the audience to “snoop” on the actors without guilt or shame and share in Mrs. Coffman’s realization, “I guess it just shows, we never really know what people are like.”

“Picnic and Come Back, Little Sheba: William Inge in Repertory” at Transport Group Theatre Company at the Gym at Judson both raise rich and enduring questions about the human quest for purpose and identity in a time when individuality and freedom seem to be placed in harm’s way.

For further information, including cast, creative team, and to purchase tickets, please visit http://www.transportgroup.org/ or phone 212 564 0333.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, March 26, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The View UpStairs” at the Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project (Through Sunday May 21, 2017)

Photo: Michael Longoria, Ben Mayne, Frenchie Davis, Benjamin Howes, and Nathan Lee Graham. Credit: Kurt Sneddon.
Off-Broadway Review: “The View UpStairs” at the Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project (Through Sunday May 21, 2017)
Book, Music, and Lyrics by Max Vernon
Directed by Scott Ebersold
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Forty years ago this place was a fabulously tacky gay bar with a life-sized cardboard cutout of nude Burt Reynolds hanging from the ceiling. It was a church. There was live music and dancing, hustlers, drag queens, even a mother who came with her son. It was a community of people who were funny, and brave, and full of life.” – Wes

The present (2017) and the past (1973) collide and although they never quite harmonize, the past enriches the present and gives it hope and purpose in Max Vernon’s new musical “The View UpStairs” currently running at the Lynn Redgrave Theater at Culture Project. The musical begins in 1973 in the New Orleans gay bar “UpStairs Lounge” (chuck full of cultural accoutrement by set designer Jason Sherwood). Lounge regular Buddy (played with a short-fused likeability by Randy Redd) a fifty-something closeted married guy is behind the piano joined by the bartender Henri (played with a toughness underscored by deep compassion by Frenchie Davis) and the bar’s regulars. They celebrate the importance of this sacred space and affirm, “I think I found some kind of paradise.” Suddenly, the scene shifts to the present without the past really exiting.

In 2017, Wes (played with a disarming charm and vulnerability by Jeremy Pope) leaves Brooklyn and comes (returns) to New Orleans to make a fresh start. His time in New York City has not been satisfying and he feels like a failure. At twenty-seven, he seems to have lost his self-worth and has allowed his talent as a fashion designer go somewhat fallow. Wes purchases a building in New Orleans sight unseen to be the flagship of his new store “Haos” and at the beginning of the musical visits the property – the former UpStairs Lounge – for the first time. After sealing the deal with the realtor – and sharing a bit of history in his song “#householdname” – Wes examines his purchase more closely and the past “returns” and past and present co-exist until the musical’s closing scene.

The UpStairs Lounge is home to an eclectic group of individuals who form an intentional family that gathers for support and survival in a culture that is aggressively homophobic and a formidable threat to the LGBTQ community. It is difficult for Wes to understand the problems facing the gay community in the Nixon era and, at the same time, it saddens him to reflect on what he knows that community will face in its future – his past. Max Vernon’s musical is an engaging amalgam of magical realism and surrealism that allows the audience to see two histories counterpoint one another and inform each other “from a distance.” It is important to know that the events that inspired this musical are real, including the tragic events chronicled in the musical’s ending.

Each of Mr. Vernon’s characters is well developed and represents both a unique character and a “stock” character from the 1970s gay scene – a remarkable accomplishment for the musical’s creator and director Scott Ebersold. Wes meets runaway hustler Patrick (played with a steely sweetness by Taylor Frey) and begins to discover his ability to fall in love. Willie (played with his trademark charm and believability by Nathan Lee Graham) is the iconic wizened gay character able to connect across generations with his experience and perspective – he is here also in dementia’s grasp. Richard (played with a religiosity tempered with realism by Benjamin Howes) is the Metropolitan Community Church priest who tries to extend God’s love to the community’s loveless. Freddy (played with soulful charm and sadness by Michael Longoria) is a construction worker by day, doubling as the drag queen Aurora Whorealis by night. His mother Inez (played with a strident loving core by Nancy Ticotin) loves him unconditionally. And Dale (played with a tortured bleakness by Ben Mayne) is the “family’s” misfit: his homelessness and poverty and radical politics constantly challenge the patrons of the Lounge. He is ultimately thrown out after picking a fight with Buddy. And what he does afterwards is written in New Orleans history.

The power of Mr. Vernon’s musical is its unbridled and unabashed comparisons between the Nixon era and the Trump era and how each posed/poses threats to important personal freedoms. Reflecting on the future, Wes “warns” Patrick that “our president is going to be orange, and all of our personal data will float around above us in a giant invisible cloud.” And the piece’s strength also resides in its ability to use the reflection on the past to express the dangers of the present. At the end of “The View UpStairs,” Wes tells the cop (played with just the right amount of punch by Richard E. Waits) “They're killing us. Fifty people just died in Orlando, and we've already moved on like it never happened. Look at who's running this country! The people who spent their whole lives hating us and making us hate ourselves. Now they want us to all come together and hate Muslims, Mexicans, Jews, Blacks, Women, anyone who's different. The KKK is marching in the street again; our vice president believes in conversion therapy. That's the world we live in! We are not better!”

This is a musical with a matrix of authentic and engaging themes. It’s music, reminiscent of the 1970s, is haunting and the lyrics resonate with the joys and sorrows of past and present and establish a platform for evaluating the future. The Lounge’s “Theme Song” perhaps sums it up best: “If the heavens above you/Should come crashing down/Like a house of cards that the wind knocks/So easily to the ground/I’ll be right there beside you ‘til to the very end.” Let the people say “Amen.”

THE VIEW UPSTAIRS

For further information, including cast, creative team, performance schedule and ticketing, please visit http://www.theviewupstairs.com/. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, March 23, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: Bated Breath Theatre Company’s “Beneath the Gavel” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday April 9, 2017

Photo: Sean Hinckle in "Beneath the Gavel" at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Will Gangi.
Off-Broadway Review: Bated Breath Theatre Company’s “Beneath the Gavel” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday April 9, 2017)
Written and Directed by Mara Lieberman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When one visits an art museum and stands in front of a painting – let us say Jeff Koons’s “Woman in Tub” – one reacts in one of perhaps three ways: the visitor “likes, just likes it” and snaps a digital image and moves on to another contemporary artist; the visitor pauses for some time and examines the work, deciding what to feel or to think about Mr. Koons; or the visitor dislikes the piece and makes a hasty retreat from woman, tub, and all things Koons. A visit to “Beneath the Gavel” currently running at 59E59 Theaters elicits a similar reaction.

Upon entering the theater, Stewart (Sean Hinkle) instructs the patron to “check in” at the registration desk before being seated. After being asked whether one is “pre-registered,” the patron is asked to select a pair of “auction glasses” and a bidding paddle. Obviously, the audience is going to be bidding on art during “Beneath the Gavel.” If registered, the patron is given a red envelope stuffed with “play money;” if not registered, the patron will be able to “catch” or pick up off the floor play money shot (literally) from gun-like devices with such force the edges of the bills could slice a patron’s face. This is the point it would be good to make a hasty retreat from the theater.

If one decides to stay and “examine” Mara Lieberman’s work, one is subjected to a convoluted “lesson” on the art of making a deal in the “art world” including inside secrets about art auctions from auctioneer Tracey (Missy Burmeister) and her cohorts and comments (in the second act) from contemporary artists and art aficionados. And all of this is embedded in the less than engaging storyline about Haddie Weisenberg (Debra Walsh) and her collection of works by young artist Daniel Zeigler (Corey Finzel).

Although the fictional account of artist and his subject has some moments of fun and “mocking” the art world can be the subject of a play, the effort does not coalesce here in “Beneath the Gavel.” The piece is perplexing and overwrought and the dizzying dance of actors climbing ladders and bouncing on trampolines simply does not add anything to the weak dramatic arc.

Early in “Beneath the Gavel,” Tracey presides over Auction #1, the sale of Daniel Zeigler’s “Woman of Troy” with the help of Charlotte (Moira O’Sullivan) taking phone bids, Geoff (Gabriel Aprea) spotting bids, and Stewart who sets up the easel. After the auction (one of three mock auctions in the play), Tracey asks the audience, “Did you feel the rush? You felt it. Didn’t you?” There was no rush and Ms. Burmeister’s Tracey quickly ad libs, “Well there certainly was a rush when you were grabbing the money off the floor.” The actor could not have been more astute in her observation: there was more interest in scooping up play money from the floor than there was interest in what was happening on stage.

The “bidders” leave the “auction house” having not seen a play, having not been at an art auction, and having learned little about the ins and outs of the world of contemporary art. The riff leaves one a bit miffed.

BENEATH THE GAVEL

The cast features Gabriel Aprea, Missy Burmeister, Corey Finzel, Sean Hinckle, Moira O'Sullivan, and Debra Walsh.

The design team includes Tim Golebiewski (set design); Jen Rock (lighting design); Gail Fresia (costume design); and Krista DeVellis (props design). The production stage manager is Elizabeth Ramsay. Production photos by Will Gangi.

“Beneath the Gavel” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, April 9. 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. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $35.00 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours and 10 minutes including an intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Sundown, Yellow Moon” at Ars Nova and WP Theater (Through Saturday April 1, 2017)

Photo: Peter Friedman and Lilli Cooper. Credit: Ben Arons.
Off-Broadway Review: “Sundown, Yellow Moon” at Ars Nova and WP Theater (Through Saturday April 1, 2017)
By Rachel Bonds
Music and Lyrics by The Bengsons with Additional Lyrics by Rachel Bonds
Directed by Anne Kauffman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

At sundown, when objects lose their precise “black-and-white” identity, the yellow moon begins to assume the role of providing “light.” Moonlight is far more forgiving than sunlight – it is the light of all things Eastern, leaving the bright Western light to its own devices of conditional judgement. It is the salvific murkiness of the yellow moon that draws fraternal twins Ray (Eboni Booth) and Joey (Lilli Cooper) home to visit their father Tom (Peter Friedman). This journey is chronicled – with songs by the Bergsons) in Rachel Bonds’s “Sundown, Yellow Moon” currently running at Ars Nova and WP Theater.

“Sundown, Yellow Moon” is a gentle play that explores the intricacies and the intimacies of a particular homecoming, yet allows those exigencies to counterpoint the homecomings experienced by each member of the audience. Joey wants to visit her father before she’s off to Berlin to begin her Fulbright. Ray is concerned about her father who has been recently suspended from his private school teaching position. Tom got “in a fight with the headmaster and was yelling and I guess waving his arms around and accidentally backhanded the headmaster’s wife right in the face.”

During their visit, Ray reconnects with Carver (JD Taylor), Tom’s therapist, and Joey gets entangled in a tryst with Ted Driscoll (Greg Keller) who taught at the university when she was a student. Ted is married. This small college town in Tennessee seems full of sadness and despair and the homecoming becomes an opportunity for the beginnings of healing for all involved. Music is part of that healing process as is conversation. Ray comes to terms with her relationship with her boss (who is also a woman) and Joey begins to confront her own self-destructive history. Carver faces the abuse he suffered at the hands of his priest as young boy and begins a journey of healing that will enable him to be a better healer. Ted decides not “go deeper into the woods” and is, perhaps, the only static character in the play.

The difficulty with “Sundown, Yellow Moon” comes with the playwright’s decision not to develop her characters fully. Each appears as a snapshot of himself or herself without any deep exposition. For example, when Ted asks Joey how she differs from Ray, Joey quips, “We’re quite different actually. She’s a lesbian. And I like to run.” Nice to know, I guess, but not adequate character development.

The cast members deliver authentic performances and, although their conflicts are engaging and believable, there is not enough to drive a satisfying plot. The play is a tender look at a matrix of humans struggling with the vicissitudes of being human and – in that respect – successfully captures a broad swath of pathos that lays the foundation for a catharsis. However, without that catharsis, the dramatic arc falters.

Anne Kauffman’s direction is sensitive and embraces the sensitive core of the play. Lauren Helpern’s multi-level set design and Isabella Byrd’s lighting design support the variety of settings and time periods included in the play giving the shadows and the unseen leading roles.

“Sundown, Yellow Moon” pleases the senses but leaves the audience wanting to know its characters more fully that a passing glimpse from afar.

SUNDOWN, YELLOW MOON

The cast of “Sundown, Yellow Moon” includes Eboni Booth, Lilli Cooper, Peter Friedman, Greg Keller, Anne L. Nathan, Michael Pemberton, and JD Taylor.

The creative team includes Lauren Helpern (scenic design), Jessica Pabst (costume design), Isabella Byrd and Matt Frey (lighting design), Leah Gelpe (sound design) and Erin Gioia Albrecht (production stage manager). Casting by Caparelliotis Casting/ Lauren Port, CSA and Kelly Gillespie, CSA. Production photos by Ben Arons.

Performances of “Sundown, Yellow Moon” runs through Saturday April 1, 2017 at the McGinn/Cazale (WP Theater), located at 2162 Broadway at 76th Street in Manhattan, on the following schedule: Monday–Wednesday at 7:00 p.m.; Thursday–Saturday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 3:00 p.m. Regular priced tickets are $35.00 and can be purchased by visiting arsnovanyc.com, wptheater.org, or by calling 212-352-3101. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, March 20, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Chess Match No. 5” at Abingdon Theatre Company’s June Havoc Theatre (Through Sunday April 2, 2017)

Photo: Ellen Lauren (She) and Will Bond (He). Credit: Maria Baranova.
Off-Broadway Review: “Chess Match No. 5” at Abingdon Theatre Company’s June Havoc Theatre (Through Sunday April 2, 2017)
Text Arranged by Jocelyn Clarke from the Words of John Cage
Conceived and Directed by Anne Bogart
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Now, we don’t want to say, “Where do we come in?” or, “Where do we go out?” Because we would like, I think not to leave, but to stay here, now that we’re here. – He

There is nothing like watching theatre directed by SITI Company’s Anne Bogart. Her attention to detail is unparalleled and her signature staging that includes crisp and precise movement (choreography by the Company’s Barney O’Hanlon) is transformative. Ms. Bogart’s collaboration with Jocelyn Clarke results in a remarkable production “Chess Match No. 5” (the name of the composition by Darron L. West) currently playing at the Abingdon Theatre Company. This metaphoric world premiere gives Will Bond (He) and Ellen Lauren (She) the opportunity to hunker down (for a time) and – using the powerful trope of the chess game – “talk” the audience through a cathartic “rebirth of wonder” (Lawrence Ferlinghetti).

In the midst of the current political discussion about the possibility of espionage and “foreign” hacking of elections, it is chilling to hear a Cold war numbers station counting in Spanish at the beginning of “Chess Match No. 5” (repeated later in Russian) and be reminded how fragile freedom and safety are in the present and future of the nation and the world.

What might save us is conversation, the “turning with or turning together” two or more individuals, the back and forth of thoughts and words, precisely the kind of words gathered and arranged by Jocelyn Clarke from a variety of conversations John Cage had with the many who “came to speak with him.” “Chess Match No. 5” offers a kaleidoscope of the iconic composer and theorist’s words that equip the listener to appreciate and navigate the “great variety of musics” extant in the inner and outer environments.

One could spend pages dignifying the delicious set designed by James Schuette (who also designed the efficient and splendid costumes) and delineate the care given by Mr. Schuette to dignify the text and its visceral impact as the audience uses eyes and ears to consume John Cage’s sounds of silence. Or one could revel in Brian H. Scott’s lighting design that shines with impeccable discrimination on objects and actors. Many of those objects (a radio, a wall telephone, a toaster, an electric coffee percolator, spoons, coffee mugs) emit wondrous sounds at precise moments (and are amplified to perfection) through the sound direction of Darron L. West. However, it is the cumulative sensual assault of these skillful attributes that ultimately matters.

That “assault” is a bristling invitation to reimagine the importance of sound and silence and how those concepts differ – and how they are equivalent; to reimagine the importance of human interaction; to reimagine the possibility that “a time will come when [things] could get better;” to reimagine “the opportunity” “to find new surprises” as we “listen to the sound of the environment, whether it comes from the conveniences in the house or from the traffic outside;” and to reimagine a time when again the center will hold and a future is possible.

With smiles and precise gestures here, a few dances there, and with scintillating words everywhere, the remarkable talents of Will Bond and Ellen Lauren open the door to the possibility for members of the audience to rehearse their own conversations and create their own entrances and exits and the possibility of discovering places they choose not to leave. The number of chess matches is endless. No. 5 is just the beginning. “Chess Match No. 5” encapsulates a life-time relationship into one night and gives the audience member the opportunity to reflect on his or her own journey through significant encounters and the power words have had on those important passages.

CHESS MATCH NO. 5

Abingdon Theatre Company, under the artistic direction of Tony Speciale, presents the world premiere of “Chess Match No. 5,” conceived and directed by Anne Bogart, with text arranged by Jocelyn Clarke from the words of John Cage. The cast features Will Bond and Ellen Lauren.

The production includes choreography by Barney O'Hanlon, scenic and costume design by James Schuette, lighting design by Brian H Scott, and sound design by Tony Award-winner Darron L West. “Chess Match No. 5” was developed with support and insight from The John Cage Trust. Production photos by Maria Baranova.

“Chess Match No. 5” runs March 9-April 2: Tuesdays-Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays and Saturdays at 8:00 p.m., plus matinees Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. at Abingdon Theatre Company's June Havoc Theatre (312 West 36th Street, between 8th and 9th Avenues). Tickets are $55.00. For tickets, visit abingdontheatre.org or call 212-352-3101. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, March 19, 2017

Broadway Review: Roundabout’s “The Price” at the American Airlines Theater (Through Sunday May 7, 2017)

Photo: Mark Ruffalo and Tony Shalhoub. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: Roundabout’s “The Price” at the American Airlines Theater (Through Sunday May 7, 2017)
Written by Arthur Miller
Directed by Terry Kinney
Reviewed by Michele Willens
Theatre Reviews Limited

The cast of four in Arthur Miller’s “The Price” is filled with glitter: Mark Ruffalo, who has shone primarily on film; Tony Shaloub, who has won and been nominated for awards in multiple mediums; Jessica Hecht, a vibrant presence in countless productions; and Danny DeVito, for whom, surprisingly, this is a Broadway debut. Even more surprisingly, it is DeVito who scores most memorably here.

“The Price,” a Roundabout production at the American Airlines Theater, is not one of Miller’s best plays, which is why it is performed less often than “All My Sons,” “The Crucible,” and “Death of a Salesman.” Like the latter, it is about fathers and sons, as well as the kind of sibling rivalry that never gets old. The father here is long in the grave, though his favored seat is preserved and even addressed at times. (Best performance by an armchair?) His Depression-era demise is vividly recalled by the grown sons, who have reunited after many years. The time has come to sell off everything inside the home where they were raised.

Ruffalo is the focus in this two-and-a-half-hour drama, portraying the son who sacrificed a budding educational opportunity to become a New York City cop. Shaloub is the one who did get that opportunity, and became a successful physician. Hecht is Ruffalo’s wife, and DeVito is the elderly appraiser who comes to see the furniture and memorabilia--including s harp and Ruffalo’s old fencing sword--and well, offer a price.

Fortunately, Miller threw a modicum of humor into this dark and rather repetitious work. (“It’s the kind of depression I enjoy.” “I’m registered, I’m licensed, I’m even vaccinated.” “The main thing today is shopping. It’s the new salvation.”) As with all the playwright’s work, there are powerful passages. (“If they only built old hotels, I could see this selling. But they only build new ones.” ‘I’ve got 28 years to get off my back.” “We were brought up to succeed, not to take care of each other.”) But this is slow and often ponderous going: the first ten minutes consist of Ruffalo silently inspecting his old home. There are too many conversations that seem meant to upend the previous one, (No, here’s what really happened!) and every conceivable twist on the title is uttered. (“There is such a thing as a moral debt.” “You wanted a real life, and that cost.”) We get it.

As exciting as the quartet of names looks on the marquee, the performers often seem to be playing at different speeds, on different levels. Ruffalo, so dynamic on screen, is rather listless--at times it is difficult to decipher his words. Hecht is burdened with the least defined role, and Shaloub, while always magnetic, has a tough time bringing his character’s shifting sentiments to life. It is DeVito who gives us the most complete, and ultimately sympathetic, character: a man dreaming of one more sale.

While always challenging, there are ways of reimagining the works of our iconic playwrights. (One only has to walk a few blocks south to see what they’ve done with Tennessee Williams’ “The Glass Menagerie.) Arthur Miller’s plays are less malleable, and it takes a lot to either make them resonate today, or help us understand how they felt at the time of conception. This production, unfortunately, doesn’t do either well enough.

THE PRICE

The cast of “The Price” features Danny DeVito, Jessica Hecht, Mark Ruffalo, and Tony Shalhoub.

The creative team includes Derek McLane (Set Designer), Sarah J. Holden (Costume Designer), David Weiner (Lighting Designer), Rob Milburn and Michael Bodeen (Sound Designers), Tom Watson (Hair Design), Jessie Tabish (Original Music), Stephen Gabis (Dialect Coach), Thomas Schall (Fight Consultant), Kate Lundell (Props Supervisor), Bess Marie Glorioso (Production Stage Manager), Katherine Shea (Assistant Stage Manager). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“The Price” runs at American Airlines Theatre (227 W. 42nd Street, Midtown West) through Sunday May 7, 2017 on the following performance schedule: Tuesdays at 8:00 p.m.; Wednesdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m..; Thursdays at 8:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m..; and Sundays at 2:00 p.m. Tickets are available by calling 212-719-1300 or visiting http://www.roundabouttheatre.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 30 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, March 17, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Dolphins and Sharks” at the Labyrinth Theater Company at Bank Street Theater (Through Sunday March 19, 2017)

Photo: Pernell Walker, Chinaza Uche, and Flor De Liz Perez. Credit: Monique Carboni.
Off-Broadway Review: “Dolphins and Sharks” at the Labyrinth Theater Company at Bank Street Theater (Through Sunday March 19, 2017)
Written by James Anthony Tyler
Directed by Charlotte Brathwaite
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

When recently entering the Bank Street Theater for the production of “Dolphins and Sharks,” the new play by James Anthony Tyler produced by Labyrinth Theater Company, I felt as though I was at a theatrical site-specific location. This is all due to the remarkable use of the small space, impressive attention to detail and encompassing the up close audience with paraphernalia familiar to an office supply chain that also provides printing and copying services. This is credited to the exceptional craft of scenic designer Marsha Ginsberg and her creation of Harlem Office, located on 125th St., between Adam Clayton Powell Blvd. and Fredrick Douglas Blvd., in Harlem, New York City, where the narrative unfolds. Mr. Tyler’s real and colloquial dialogue is on par with the surroundings but unfortunately the themes resonate as cliché and the characters appear as stereotypical. The proceedings and plot do not offer any new information or constructive solutions to several systemic problems addressed, such as gentrification, unfair low wages, power struggle, racism, work ethic, office politics honesty and betrayal.

An opening scene with projections and the sounds of chains, shows the cast in dim light in a line, lifting and picking, provoking the thought of slavery, forced to work in inequitable circumstances. It is a powerful image but is soon diminished as this technique is used thought the play in between scenes sometimes elevating to an annoying level, bombarding the audience with loud music, sounds, strobe and rotating video projections trying to heighten the existing conflicts but the result in befuddles the senses. This is definitely a high tech playing field which obviously brings it into the noted year of 2014 where all this social and economic discord still exists and although a passionate effort, in essence, it does not offer any new revelations.

Under the fluid direction of Charlotte Brathwaite, the extremely competent cast earnestly tries to overcome flat scenes with undeniable energy, swift dialogue and excellent timing. Pernell Walker serves up Isabell Peters with a big heart and quick wit providing a sense of reality to every scene. Flor De Liz Perez portrays a sensible yet cunning Xiomara Yepez. Cesar J. Rosado portrays a sincere Danilo Martinez with an equal combination of honesty, sincerity and vulnerability. Chinaza Uche provides a passionate Yusuf Nwachukwu, desperate and determined. Pernell Walker releases the undying spirit of a past generation in Isabel Peters with intelligence and clarity.

Despite these admirable performances “Dolphins and Sharks” is like the cash drawer at the Harlem Office at the end of the day. It comes up short!

DOLPHINS AND SHARKS

The cast of “Dolphins and Sharks” features Tina Fabrique, Cesar J. Rosado, Flor De Liz Perez, Chinaza Uche, and Pernell Walker.

The Creative Team includes Marsha Ginsberg (scenic designer), Zulema Griffin (costume designer), Kent Barrett (lighting designer), Justin Hicks (sound designer), Andrew Schneider (video designer) and Samantha Cotton (production stage manager). Production photos by Monique Carboni.

Performances of “Dolphins and Sharks” will take place February 9 – March 19 on the following schedule at Bank Street Theater, located at 155 Bank Street in Manhattan on the following schedule: Tuesday and Sunday at 7:00 p.m. and Wednesday – Saturday at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $30–$40 and can be purchased by visiting labtheater.org or by calling 212-513-1080. Running time is 2 hours with one 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, March 16, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “White Guy on the Bus” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday April 16, 2017)

Photo: Robert Cuccioli and Danielle Leneé in “White Guy on the Bus.” Credit: Matt Urban/Mobius New Media Inc.
Off-Broadway Review: “White Guy on the Bus” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday April 16, 2017)
By Bruce Graham
Directed by Bud Martin
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

What is clear about Bruce Graham’s “White Guy on the Bus” is that white privilege drives the engine of racism in America. In a compelling performance as successful financier Ray, Robert Cuccioli gives that protagonist rich layers of contempt for all things that might threaten his privileged status. Additionally, this contemptable character seems to have difficulty controlling an undercurrent of anger that flows freely unmanaged. This combination of rage and privilege – handily portrayed by Mr. Cuccioli – makes for an interesting story line, despite the play’s frequent forays into unrelated thematic territories.

The action of the play focuses on Ray’s motivation for riding a bus on Saturdays – the bus that terminates at a prison – and on his motivation for sitting next to and striking up a conversation with Shatique (Danielle Lenee) riding the bus to visit her imprisoned brother who is “in for life” on a murder conviction. That motivation is provided in a series of flashback scenes with Ray and his wife Roz (played with just the right core of annoying self-serving by Susan McKey), their “adopted” son Christopher (played with just the right millennial matrix by Jonathan Silver) and his new wife Molly (played with a naïve yet complex core by Jessica Bedford) who provide the exposition needed to understand Ray’s motivation to be on the bus with Shatique.

“White Guy on the Bus” is one stereotype piled atop another. Ray dreads having an intern when she is a person of color because it is more difficult to fire her. So, he always “covers his ass.” Feigning concern, Roz spews liberal rhetoric about her underserved urban high school students – especially for her current “project” Nazir who “can’t read – but then easily quips that they “cut each other” and on a Friday night are “out robbing a 7-11.” Molly, who teaches in an all-white suburban school, tries to challenge Roz about her comments while championing an even “higher” level of liberal-speak; however, when she is expecting her first child, she wants nothing to do with living in “the city.”

Although it might be realistic that five people cannot stand one another for a variety of reasons involving race, sex, and money, that dynamic does not necessarily make for good theatre. Interesting characters with complex and believable conflicts that drive a compelling plot make for good theatre. Unfortunately, Mr. Graham’s characters seem more stock than well rounded and experience no growth. Their conflicts are so stereotypical that that the dramatic arc of the play leaves the audience without any catharsis. And some of the action of the play is simply not believable. That action cannot be disclosed without a spoiler alert. It is enough to say that something horrific happens to Roz which lands Ray on the bus as the only white guy.

Mr. Graham takes on too much in his play and in doing so lessens its overall impact. Had the playwright focused on the relationship between Ray and Shatique, “White Guy on the Bus” would have been able to raise more enduring and rich questions about the significant issues of race in America. Instead, the playwright meanders into tangential, albeit important, themes about Ray’s mysterious unresolved anger issues, corporate human relations departments, prison administration, and coupon-clipping. It would be good to know why Ray is so angry and why Shatique decides to trust Ray. Ms. Lenee delivers a strong and forcible performance as the young woman of color trying to “make it” in a world determined to keep her from achieving her goals. The actor knows when to simmer and when to “boil over.”

Some critics of the current administration see it benefitting from the fears of the privileged at the cost of the vulnerable. If there is an important message in Mr. Graham’s play, that might be it. Tyrants – and there is a bit of the tyrant in all of us after all – thrive on fearmongering and pitting race, gender, sexual status, and faith against one another. The turbulence weakens those under the tyrant’s rule and ensures the tyrant’s position and power. Ray is a tyrant who benefits from the fears of his family and peers at the cost of Shatique and her imprisoned brother. Under Bud Martin’s astute direction, Mr. Cuccioli and Ms. Lenee successfully bring that dynamic to the stage at 59E59 and it is that dynamic that deserves – and receives – the full attention of the audience.

WHITE GUY ON THE BUS

“White Guy on the Bus” is presented by the Delaware Theatre Company.

The Cast of “White Guy on the Bus” includes Jessica Bedford, Robert Cuccioli, Danielle Leneé, Susan McKey, and Jonathan Silver.

The design team includes Paul Tate DePoo III (scenic design); Wade Laboissonniere (costume design); Rob Denton (lighting design); Michael Hahn (sound design and original music); and Nicholas Hussong (projection design). Production photos by Matt Urban/Mobius New Media Inc.

“White Guy on the Bus” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, April 16. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:00 p.m.; Friday at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25.00 - $70.00 ($25.00 - $49.00 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 1 hour and 50 minutes with a 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “All the Fine Boys” at The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Ford Foundation Studio Theatre (Through Sunday March 26, 2017)

Photo: Alex Wolff and Isabelle Fuhrman. Credit: Monique Carboni.
Off-Broadway Review: “All the Fine Boys” at The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Ford Foundation Studio Theatre (Through Sunday March 26, 2017)
Written and Directed by Erica Schmidt
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Under the ruse of “receiving consent” from a minor, pedophile Joe (played with a remorseless arrogance by Joe Tippett) plays out an erotic asphyxiation fantasy with fourteen-year-old Jenny (played with a delusional naiveté by Abigale Breslin) in the basement of his suburban South Carolina home after “abducting” her from her home earlier. It does not matter whether Jenny got into Joe’s car or not. Joe “reminds” Jenny, “You walked out of your parents’ front door and got in my car.” Nor does it matter that losing her virginity with Joe (or another of the fine boys she fantasizes about with her best friend Emily (played with a spirited hopefulness interwoven with sadness by Isabelle Fuhrman) has been a frequent topic of “girl talk.” Joe is the adult and he is solely responsible for his inappropriate and illegal activity with a minor.

Jenny’s abduction by a twenty-eight-year-old pedophile and the unexplained extended absence from her home, her friends, and her school is the central theme of Erica Schmidt’s “All the Fine Boys” currently running at The New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Ford Foundation Studio Theatre. Other equally significant themes are: teenage angst (in suburban South Carolina in the late 1980s); coming of age and coming to terms with post-pubescent adolescence; and the concomitant issues of self-esteem exacerbated by age and environment.

Counterpointing Jenny’s story is the narrative involving Jenny’s fourteen-year-old friend Emily and her “fantasy” fine boy Adam (played with a fine irresistible streak by Alex Wolff). Adam is seventeen and wisely rejects Emily’s offer to lose her virginity to him as a birthday present and, instead, offers some of his “wisdom” about life in general including what is “really glorious.” Despite his own angst, Adam treats Emily with respect.

Why Ms. Schmidt chooses to address this theme in 2017 from the point of view of the 1980s is somewhat puzzling. What does the audience learn about pedophilia, indeed about teenage angst, in the present from her play set in the late 1980s?” Of course, the questions about making choices remain rich and enduring no matter the setting; however, “All the Fine Boys” adds nothing new or controversial about the conversation surrounding pedophilia. There is some welcomed moral ambiguity in the script: Jenny is not actually held captive (physically) and Joe seems conflicted about his pedophilia and neither the abductor or the abducted seems to think carefully about the consequences of their actions. Does Joe really think he could hold a teenager who attends his church captive for several days without consequence? Does Jenny think she can blackmail Joe without consequence?

There are several issues that detract from the overall success of “All the Fine Boys.” It does not work to use the same space as the setting for every scene. It is not that the properties from one scene are not cleared away during scene changes although having Jenny’s uneaten pizza remain through Emily and Adam’s scenes is a bit disconcerting. It is the overall design of the set and the lighting that seem not to work to the script’s full advantage. Additionally, when the playwright chooses to direct her play, it is easy for the director role not to have sufficient “distance” from the writing to make important decisions about staging. Obviously, it is done: it is just difficult. In this case, the action here is flat and not as engaging as it needs to be.

The four actors do their best with this piece. Mr. Wolff, having far fewer stage credits than his cast members, fares best here giving a truly authentic performance, digging deeply into his character’s conflicts. Mr. Tippett seems uncomfortable which is not surprising given the expectations placed upon him in the “rape” scene with Jenny. The partial nudity and the scene itself are both gratuitous and ill-conceived by the playwright.

What happens to Jenny is really not a surprise. The audience discovers her fate a year after the initial scenes. One hopes for more suspense and a deeper understanding of the important subject matter throughout.

ALL THE FINE BOYS

The cast of “All the Fine Boys” includes Abigail Breslin, Isabelle Fuhrman, Joe Tippett, and Alex Wolff.

This production features Scenic Design by Amy Rubin, Costume Design by Tom Broecker, Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter and Sound Design by Bart Fasbender. Production Stage Manager is Jillian M. Oliver. Casting is by Judy Henderson, CSA. Production photos by Monique Carboni.

“All the Fine Boys” runs at through Sunday March 26 on the following schedule: Tuesday - Friday at 7:00 p.m.; Saturday at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m. Tickets start at $65.00. Subscriptions and memberships for The New Group’s 2016-2017 season are available now. For subscription purchases and season info, please visit www.thenewgroup.org. Subscriptions can also be purchased by calling Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200, or in person at 416 West 42nd Street (12-8pm daily). Running time is 100 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Nibbler” at the Amoralists and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Saturday March 18, 2017

Photo: James Kautz as Adam, Rachel Franco as Tara. Credit: Russ Rowland.
Off-Broadway Review: “Nibbler” at the Amoralists and Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Saturday March 18, 2017)
By Ken Urban
Directed by Benjamin Kamine
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I’m trying, Tara, but some days… it’s not easy being the one left behind. And the last few years, it feels like everything’s going to shit in this country.” – Adam

At the beginning of Ken Urban’s “Nibbler,” the world premiere joint production of the Amoralists and Rattlestick Playwrights Theatre currently running at Rattlestick, Adam (James Kautz) and Tara (Rachel Franco) meet in Adam’s bedroom on Christmas Eve in 2004 as he is packing things up before his mother “tosses” them prior to moving to Delaware with her new husband Charlie. The “stuff” of “Nibbler” is Adam’s “dream fantasy” about what happens between the present and the summer of 1992 when he and Tara and their four friends hang out at the Medford Diner in Medford, New Jersey.

Adam alludes to the “last few years” having been difficult for him. Even the Clinton years in the White House could not have predicted September 11, 2001. Adam’s “dream” exposes a group of friends coping with the upheaval between adolescence and adulthood while exploring all the options inherent in that “bumpy ride.” Hayley (Elizabeth Lail) and Matt (Spencer Davis Milford), Pete (Sean Patrick Monahan), and Officer Dan (Matthew Lawler) collide in episodes of angst, sexual experimentation, homophobia, self-denial, and adolescent dysphoria. The theme of “what you get when you are a person” is evident and its importance unquestionable to playwright Ken Urban.

Growing up – grappling with that time “when you are a person” – is an experience bristling with both satisfaction and disappointment. A “proper” adolescence culminates in healthy separation and individuation with a core set of values and understanding of self in tow. “Nibbler” focuses on the quest for personhood without being judgmental about the ingredients of the journey.

Adam and Tara’s journeys – and those of their four friends reverberate – with varying degrees of authenticity in “Nibbler.” The six characters differ in the measure of believability and their conflicts are not equally engaging. This results in plot lines that are sometimes muddled and an overall play that seems to lose its footing all too often. The Sci-Fi component adds little to the dramatic arc and feels unnecessary as a trope for growing up in the Jersey Pines – or anywhere. Obviously, there are exigencies that “nibble away” at one’s process of “becoming.” Whether, even in Adam’s “dream fantasy, the ever- growing alien puppet (designed by Stefano Brancato) serves and supports the reality is questionable.

The cast works hard to bring Mr. Urban’s coming of age/coming to terms play to the stage. Anshuman Bhatia’s set is workable (even with the moveable upstage wall) as is Christina Watanabe’s moody lighting. Benjamin Kamine keeps the action moving at a quick pace. The result just seems to belie all the efforts of the cast and creative team.

Perhaps the delayed curtain of twenty minutes (waiting for someone who never showed up) and the “buzz” of opening night – replete with photos and “important guests” refusing to take their seats until the very last moment (including extended hugs and kisses) was unsettling to the cast waiting backstage. But the problems with “Nibbler” seem to extend beyond the ephemera of opening night jitters.

NIBBLER

The cast includes Rachel Franco, James Kautz, Elizabeth Lail, Matthew Lawler, Spencer Davis Milford, and Sean Patrick Monahan.

The design team includes Anshuman Bhatia (Scenic Design), Christian Frederickson (Sound Design), Christina Watanabe (Lighting Design), Lux Haac (Costume Design), Stefano Brancato (Puppet Design), Ken Urban (Original Music), Alex J. Gould (Fight Choreography), Zach Serafin (Prop Design) and Alfred Schatz (Artistic Charge).

Performances run through Saturday March 18, 2017 at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (224 Waverly Place) on the following schedule: Thursdays – Saturdays at 8:00 p.m. with added shows on Sunday March 12 at 2:00 p.m. and Wednesday March 15 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $31.00 and $16.00 for students and can be purchased at http://www.Amoralists.com or by calling 1-866-811-4111. The show contains nudity. For more information visit http://www.Amoralists.com. Running time is 95 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Evening at the Talk House” Reveals a Dystopian Present at the New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Through Sunday March 12, 2017)

Photo: Jill Eikenberry, Larry Pine, Claudia Shear, Michael Tucker in Wallace Shawn’s “Evening at the Talk House.” Credit: Monique Carboni.
Off-Broadway Review: “Evening at the Talk House” Reveals a Dystopian Present at the New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre (Through Sunday March 12, 2017)
By Wallace Shawn
Directed by Scott Elliott
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Well -- in any case, the play hadn’t been terribly well-liked by the public, and it wasn’t a success, but quite a few people had enjoyed it quite a bit, including, interestingly, a certain Mr. Ackerley, who not long afterwards began to take a more and more prominent place in our national life, which, I’d have to admit, was not un-helpful to me when certain lovely prizes were awarded several years later.” – Robert

Imbedded in this lengthy monologue is important foreshadowing that could easily be missed as the audience attempts to keep track of the myriad of topics covered by playwright Robert (Matthew Broderick) as he revels in the success of his last play “Midnight in a Clearing with Moon and Stars” as he waits for members of his former cast and crew in the central meeting room of The Talk House, an old-fashioned, understated small club frequented by theatre professionals in the time when the theatre was a relevant institution. Robert shows up at Nellie’s (Jill Eikenberry) Talk House at the behest of Ted (John Epperson) who “composed some incidental music for [the] play [he’d] written a dozen years ago, or so.”

The seemingly innocent gathering of former friends is the “stuff” of Wallace Shawn’s intriguing and dense “Evening at the Talk House” currently running at the New Group at The Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre. As the evening progresses, it becomes clear that there have been “sides” taken since the group worked together on Robert’s play. The playwright carefully exposes what each character has been involved in and these revelations are often startling and disturbing. Under Scott Elliott’s smart and conscientious direction, the cast uniformly explores the depth of each character, delineates the character’s conflicts, and successfully helps to move the plot forward.

It is difficult to share that plot without a spoiler alert. However, it is important to disclose some of what happens at the Talk House during this reunion. Why does Daphne Albright drop dead while having dinner over at Le Grand Plaisir? Dick (Wallace Shawn) tells the group that “at a certain point she started making these weird noises, these weird sounds like “Erk erk erk” -- and then -- she died!” Bill (Michael Tucker) and Ted are reminded the same thing happened to Nestor Crawley. Why did Dick’s friends beat him up and why is he staying upstirs at the Talk House? What are Annette (Claudia Shear) and Jane up to that results in the death of “suspicious” people worldwide? What are those “lists” they compile? What is everyone so afraid and threatened by “all those people?” Why is Robert so judgmental and does he have a list like Annette’s? The answers to these questions prove to make for engaging theatre, although “Evening at the Talk House” is not without complications.

For example, the “pre-show” Talk House is problematic. Jill Eikenberry and Annapurna Sriram (Nellie and Jane) are on set as the audience enters: Ms. Eikenberry serves “drinks” in plastic tumblers and marshmallows while Ms. Sriram replenishes the supply of these goodies. The rest of the cast ambles in and interacts with each other uncomfortably. Some, like Larry Pine (Tom) head into the audience with a tray of marshmallows and some friendly chatter. This attempt to include the audience before the show is unnecessary since the structure of Mr. Shawn’s play includes the audience throughout: the fourth wall is repeatedly broken drawing the audience not only into the action of the play but into the sphere of complicity of the play’s dystopian themes.

It is this matrix of themes that are the strength of Mr. Shawn’s work and the rich enduring questions the play raises relevant to these themes. “Talk House” exposes a time when no one knows anyone well and loyalty seems to be an outdated concept. There is vague reference to a tyrannical leader (Mr. Ackerley) and to a time when personal freedoms have eroded. In his opening monologue, Robert reports that “Walls have ears -- as do floors, ceilings, windows, doors, plates, cups spoons, forks, and come to think of it, other human beings, if we’re compiling a list.” The reference to today’s political climate is obvious and deeply disturbing. This consonance with the present makes “Talk House” an important conversation as freedoms seems to disappear daily.

EVENING AT THE TALK HOUSE

“Evening at the Talk House” features Matthew Broderick as Robert, Jill Eikenberry as Nellie, John
Epperson as Ted, Larry Pine as Tom, Wallace Shawn as Dick, Claudia Shear as Annette, Annapurna
Sriram as Jane and Michael Tucker as Bill.

Directed by Scott Elliott, this production features Scenic Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by
Jeff Mahshie and Lighting Design by Jennifer Tipton. Production Supervisor is Production Core.
Production Stage Manager is Valerie A. Peterson. Casting is by Judy Henderson, CSA. Production photos by Monique Carboni.

Tickets for “Evening at the Talk House” start at $75.00. Performance schedule: Tuesday – Friday at 7:30 p.m., Wednesday at 2:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. For tickets and information, visit www.thenewgroup.org. Tickets can also be purchased by calling Ticket Central at (212) 279 – 4200, or in person at 416 West 42nd Street (12 Noon – 8:00 p.m. daily). Running time is 100 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, February 24, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Kunstler” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday March 12, 2017)

Photo (L-R): Jeff McCarthy and Nambi E. Kelley in "Kunstler" at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2017.
Off-Broadway Review: “Kunstler” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday March 12, 2017)
Written by Jeffrey Sweet
Directed by Meagen Fay
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

"Dying is no big deal; the least of us can manage that. The trick is how you live, and Mr. Bill Kunstler lived. He lived with a searing pace, a furious energy, and overwhelming love of right and dislike of wrong.” – Jimmy Breslin in “The New York Times”

Attorney William Kunstler was an important figure in American jurisprudence. “Kunstler,” currently running at 59E59 Theaters, highlights Mr. Kunstler’s career as the controversial attorney who never shied away from taking on difficult cases or difficult judges. Kunstler believed his client deserved “the best possible defense whatever he was!” Jeff McCarthy plays William Kunstler with an obvious adoration for the character but the play does not live up to any expectation of discovering what really motivated the iconic lawyer throughout his distinguished career.

The primary difficulty with “Kunstler” is playwright Jeffrey Sweet’s script itself. The audience leans forward when Mr. McCarthy highlights Kunstler’s early cases involving “civil rights, Vietnam, the Indian movement, the Berrigans, and free speech.” Even when his cases “declined in nobility” and Kunstler “only chose from what [was] offered [him],” the narrative describing those later controversial cases (John Gotti, Yusef Salaam) rings with authenticity. The argument Mr. McCarthy’s Kunstler proffers is “that when I see the forces of the government cloaking itself in the garb of legality and going after someone who is at a particular disadvantage – whether it’s because of race or some existing prejudice or stereotype – it’s my impulse to try to level the playing field.” This also rings with honesty. The audience leans back, however, when the playwright wanders into other less interesting territory.

Mr. McCarthy’s performance energy seems to rise and fall with the irregularities in the script and Meagen Fay’s direction is apparently not strong enough nor consistent enough to keep the action moving forward on an even keel. The section about attending Woodstock and living alone in the West Village are particularly leaden and Mr. McCarthy seems to lose his footing here. What is the point of learning about Kunstler’s musical tastes? The actor does the best he can with the material given to him and the moments he seizes on Kunstler’s character and digs into Kunstler’s motivation are the most satisfying.

Nambi E. Kelley’s Kerry, Kunstler’s host at the event, is relegated to sitting stage left and exhibiting a variety of expressions – some of disbelief, some of disapproval. One wonders why this talented actor has been consigned to such a passive role. Or, again, could the director have provided more opportunities for the role?

The scenic design by James J. Fenton easily identifies the setting as a university lecture hall. In the stage directions for the play, it is clear that the playwright intended the detritus on the floor and the strewn chairs to be a simple extension of the setting. Someone on the creative team decided to add a Kunstler in effigy hanging upstage which completely confuses the audience: was this the site of an earlier protest? This is only one of several odd choices that weaken the strength of the script rather than strengthening it, including the strange lighting cues throughout, especially in the opening scenes.

“Kunstler” does provide moments of interesting narrative: one just needs to lower one’s overall expectations to appreciate those moments.

KUNSTLER

“Kunstler” is produced by The Creative Place International in Association with AND Theatre Company.

The cast of “Kunstler features Nambi E. Kelley and Jeff McCarthy.

The creative team includes James J. Fenton (scenic design); Betsy Adams (lighting design); Will Severin (sound design); and Elivia Bovenzi (costume design). The production stage manager is Mary Jane Hansen. Production photos by Heidi Bohnenkamp, 2017.

“Kunstler” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, March 12 at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7:15 p.m.; Friday at 8:15 p.m.; Saturday at 2:15 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:15 p.m. and 7:15 p.m. Please note: there are no Sunday evening performances on February 26 or March 12. Tickets are $35.00 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, February 23, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Kid Victory” Soars at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday March 19, 2017)

Photo: Brandon Flynn and Laura Darrell in "Kid Victory." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Kid Victory” Soars at the Vineyard Theatre (Through Sunday March 19, 2017)
Book and Lyrics by Greg Pierce, Music by John Kander
Story by John Kander and Greg Pierce
Directed by Liesl Tommy
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I think so. I think he’s a good God, who can make bad plans. Thing’s going OK over at the shop?” – Joseph (Dad) to Luke

Unable to score a substantial victory with his parents, his girlfriend Suze (played with a doleful and deep sadness by Laura Darrell), or his conservative Baptist faith community, seventeen-year-old Luke (Brandon Flynn) – as many teenage boys do – turns to the world of gaming to find a “safe” place to succeed without the judgment of peers or parents. He competes with fellow gamers worldwide in Regatta 500. “You can build your own boat and then you race. You can race with people from all over the world, and you can chat with them while you’re racing,” he explains to his employer Emily (Dee Roscioli). Luke’s racing name is Kid Victory, the name of the musical currently running at the Vineyard Theatre that exposes the complex relationship Luke has with his family and the online pedophile that shatters his teenage life.

Luke is taken from his home – rather he leaves willingly – and is unwittingly kept captive by his Regatta 500 competitor Michael’s (played with a sadistic yet deeply damaged psyche by Jeffry Denman) island for five months. During his captivity, Luke undergoes unspeakable degradation and abuse from his captor. He also receives affirmation and his captivity is full of ambiguity and a source of the rich and challenging moral ambiguity that clings to the underbelly of “Kid Victory.” Mr. Kander’s and Mr. Pierce’s story here is as dark – if not darker – than the Kander and Ebb “Cabaret” collaboration in the mid-1960s. That murky substratum is exacerbated when Luke returns home and attempts to readjust to life there where the moral ambiguity agglomerates exponentially.

After Luke’s return from captivity, his mother Eileen (Karen Ziemba) launches a full-bore campaign to re-assimilate her son into the semblance of civility she has struggled to maintain all her conservative Christian life. Eileen wants to enlist the help of members of the congregation to assist Luke in the process of “repatriation.” The scene with the church’s amateur therapist Gail (played with a sadistic “helpfulness” by Ann Arvia) trying to “repair” Luke with her marble game (“You Are the Marble”) is as horrific as seeing Luke in chains in Michael’s basement. Luke’s family fails to realize he is “a different person” because of his time with Michael and their efforts to provide a “transition” back to “normal” life are not helpful. Despite Luke’s father’s (Daniel Jenkins) attempts to neutralize his wife’s lack of understanding, she continues to push him away and misunderstand his needs.

Luke finds solace in his relationship with Emily but even that surcease is jettisoned after Luke helps Emily reunite with her estranged daughter Mara (Laura Darrell). And Luke almost finds unconditional love with Andrew (played with an authentic interest by Blake Zolfo) the gay young man Luke connects with online after returning home. In the tender ballad “What’s the Point,” Andrew asks, “What’s the point of living/If your hand is always steady?/If you always think you’re ready?/What’s the point?” But the flashbacks to his imprisonment are relentless as is his mother’s attempts to isolate him from healthy individuation. It seems every time Luke can wear his vine crown of victory with pride, someone or something lurks in the shadows waiting to sabotage his personal redemption.

At first glance, it might not be clear why “Kid Victory” needs to be a musical. After all, Luke’s story could be staged as a play: in fact, Luke is the only character who does not sing. On further reflection, it becomes clear that the musical numbers allow the story to unfold in its most surreal and nonconscious manner. Part “Greek chorus,” part “comedic relief,” and part “cartoon,” the well-crafted choreography by Christopher Windom and the intriguing book, lyrics, and music by John Kander and Greg Pierce counterpoint the heinous histories of Luke’s experiences in his home and his “home away from home” on his captor’s island. The cast is uneven vocally but succeed overall in delivering their musical numbers with That said, the cast needs to maintain a tighter “control” over the audience. Allowing spaces for applause after musical numbers does not help the musical’s continuity.

Brandon Flynn delivers an emotionally charged performance as the psychologically embattled Luke. The young actor has grappled with this role and found its core of unrelenting sadness and pain. Karen Ziemba’s Eileen appropriately lacks any remorse for her complicity in Luke’s adolescent angst and depression. Daniel Jenkins captures the torment of being caught between a controlling wife and a son needing affirmation and unconditional love. Dee Roscioli’s freethinking Emily provides just enough hope in Luke’s quest for find a firm footing in his return “home.” And Joel Blum delivers a realistic Franklin and Detective Marks.

Not much more can be said about “Kid Victory” without compromising the audience’s need to see this important musical and experience its layered depth and intricate plot structure. What can be said is that the final scene between Luke and his father Joseph (Daniel Jenkins) provides a powerful catharsis with the musical number “Where We Are.” The chemistry between Mr. Flynn and Mr. Jenkins is exceptional and deeply authentic.

Clint Ramos’ set provides the three locations of the action of “Kid Victory:” the dining room of the Browst household, the cell where Luke was imprisoned on Michael’s island, and Emily’s lawn store “Wicker Witch of the West.” Mr. Ramos creates a space where gloom trumps hope and sadness eclipses jubilance. Jacob A. Climer’s costumes and David Weiner’s delicate and moody lighting further delineate the limits of Luke’s inner world. Liesl Tommy’s intricate and compassionate direction put Mr. Flynn’s Luke at the center of this story and assure that his cast works as hard as he does to make “Kid Victory” the important piece of theatre it is.

KID VICTORY

Visit http://www.vineyardtheatre.org/this-day-forward/ for further information and to purchase tickets.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, February 22, 2017

New from TCG Books: "Here We Go" / "Escaped Alone"

New from TCG Books: "Here We Go" / "Escaped Alone"
By Caryl Churchill
Preview by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Theatre Communications Group (TCG) has announced the publication of “Here We Go / Escaped Alone” by Caryl Churchill. Both critically acclaimed works in this new volume premiered in London – Here We Go in the fall of 2015 at the Lyttelton Theatre, and Escaped Alone in January of 2016 at the Royal Court Theatre. Escaped Alone will premiere in the U.S. at Brooklyn Academy of Music on February 15, 2017.

“What Churchill has written is a striking memento mori for an age without faith; and although her play is brief, that in itself evokes the idea that we are here for a short time and then are suddenly gone." - Michael Billington, “The Guardian” on “Here We Go”

The prolific repertoire of Caryl Churchill gains two thrilling new entries with “Here We Go” and “Escaped Alone,” both exemplary of her notoriously dark, witty work. Creeping and ruminative, “Here We Go” "acts as a chilling reminder of our own mortality" (“The Guardian”), with a three-part examination of death and its aftermath. “Escaped Alone” considers a notably broader demise: the apocalypse. Through the musings of four older women – Sally, Vi, Lena, and Mrs. Jarrett – idly chatting in an English back garden, the fate of the world is outlined in an unsettling revelation of mankind's own self-destruction.

"Line by line it's hard to imagine you'll come across a more brilliant play this year . . . and what makes Escaped Alone a great play is that it is strangely euphoric: spiked with terrible, apocalyptic foreboding, yes, but Churchill's funniest since Serious Money, and with an incredible gift for spinning light out of the dark." - Andrzej Lukowski, “Time Out London” on “Escaped Alone”

Caryl Churchill has written for the stage, television, and radio. A renowned and prolific playwright, her plays include “Cloud 9,” “Top Girls,” ‘Far Away,” “Drunk Enough to Say I Love You?, “Bliss,” “Love and Information,” “Mad Forest,” and “A Number.” In 2002, she received the Obie Lifetime Achievement Award and in 2010, she was inducted into the American Theater Hall of Fame.

For over 50 years, Theatre Communications Group (TCG), the national organization for the American theatre, has existed to strengthen, nurture and promote the professional not-for-profit American theatre. TCG’s constituency has grown from a handful of groundbreaking theatres to nearly 700 Member Theatres and Affiliate organizations and more than 12,000 individuals nationwide. TCG offers
its members networking and knowledge-building opportunities through conferences, events, research and communications; awards grants, approximately $2 million per year, to theatre companies and individual artists; advocates on the federal level; and serves as the U.S. Center of the International Theatre Institute, connecting its constituents to the global theatre community. TCG is North America’s largest independent trade publisher of dramatic literature, with 14 Pulitzer Prizes for Best Play on the TCG booklist. It also publishes the award-winning American Theatre magazine and ARTSEARCH®, the essential source for a career in the arts. In all of its endeavors, TCG seeks to increase the organizational efficiency of its member theatres, cultivate and celebrate the artistic talent and achievements of the field and promote a larger public understanding of, and appreciation for, the theatre. www.tcg.org.

A review of Caryl Churchill’s “Here We Go” and “Escaped Alone” will follow.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, February 17, 2017

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