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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

Off-Broadway Review: “The Dressmaker’s Secret” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday March 5, 2017)

Photo: Tracy Sallows in "The Dressmaker's Secret." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Dressmaker’s Secret” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday March 5, 2017)
Written by Sarah Levine Simon and Mihai Grunfeld
Directed by Roger Hendricks Simon
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The Dressmaker’s Secret” by Sarah Levine Simon and Mihal Grunfeld is enjoying its world premiere at 59E59 Theaters. The new play is based on Mr. Grunfeld’s novel “The Dressmaker’s Son” and the change from ‘son’ to ‘secret’ is more significant than might be obvious at first glance. Why did the playwrights shift the focus from the son to the mother’s secret? After all, the core of the new play centers on Robi (played with a palpable adolescent melancholy by Bryan Burton) and his desire to know who his father is and his overwhelming need to escape his humdrum existence with his mother Maria (payed with a deep-seated and enduring mourning by Tracy Sallows) in Kolozsvár a large city in Transylvania, Romania. The action of the play takes place in 1963, just after the assassination of John F. Kennedy in the United States during the communist oppression in Eastern Europe.

Maria is a dressmaker, barely making enough to support herself and Robi even with his meager wages as an electrician added to their joint income. Robi’s angst grows exponentially and his need to know who his father is and his desire to leave Communist Romania and “head west” frustrates Maria and results in frequent outbursts. Robi finds a photo of his mother with a soldier in uniform. Robi was told his father had died in the war but, after further conversations with Maria, he discovers that might not be true. In fact, his father could be Irma’s (Caralyn Kozlowski) brother Robert (the man in the photo) or it might be Zoltan (Zoli), the Jewish teacher friend Maria was seeing at the same him she was engaged to Robert (Robert S. Gregory). Apparently, this is dressmaker Maria’s secret – or perhaps there is yet another secret?

“The Dressmaker’s Secret” suffers from the lack of a clear and convincing dramatic arc. There are too many things going on. The characters are believable and have compelling conflicts. Unfortunately, these conflicts drive too many plots as opposed to contributing to the resolution of one main story line. Irma has her own secrets and needs to reconcile with her dear friend Maria. Irma’s brother Robert has more than one secret including an unnamed illness that results in frequent coughing bouts accompanied by an examination of his handkerchief. Had the play dealt with Maria’s willingness to give Robi a chance for a new life in the West, it would have had a deeper impact.

Mr. Simon’s direction leaves the talented cast wandering around the stage instead of staying in place and having a realistic conversation. And there is far too much busyness around plates, cups, food, and set changes. This all distracts from the important thread of the story. Unfortunately, the entire creative team seems to distract from the cast’s ability to do its important work. Why do Maria and Robi wear the same clothes in every scene despite the passage of time while Irma dons a different dress in almost every scene? Why does Robert have to show the audience he is ill more than once? It is clear he has some terminal disease.

In short, an endearing story with potentially multilayered connections, is lost in an overly long production encumbered by inconsistent staging. The script calls for a typical fade down and fade in between scenes. Mr. Simon’s staging adds what seems to be a “photograph” of each scene – a click and a bright flash appear with no apparent reason. Communist spying? Family photo album? There is also the sound of the dressmaker’s sewing machine at the beginning of most scenes. Is this play about dressmaking? An effort to examine the road to Robi’s freedom in a shortened play would seem in order.

THE DRESSMAKER’S SECRET

“The Dressmaker’s Secret is presented by The Simon Studio (Roger Hendricks Simon, Artistic Director) in association with Amanagion LLC.

The cast of the “The Dressmaker’s Secret” features Bryan Burton, Robert S. Gregory, Caralyn Kozlowski, and Tracy Sallows.

The design team includes Stephen T. Jones (set and lights) and Molly R. Seidel (costumes). The Production Stage Manager is Bethany Clark. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“The Dressmaker’s Secret” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, March 5. 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. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25.00 ($17.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or go to www.59e59.org. Running time is 2 hours and 20 minutes including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, February 16, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Ring Twice for Miranda” at New York City Center Stage II (Through Sunday April 16, 2017)

Photo: Katie Kleiger and George Merrick. Credit: Russ Rowland.
Off-Broadway Review: “Ring Twice for Miranda” at New York City Center Stage II (Through Sunday April 16, 2017)
Written by Alan Hruska
Directed by Rick Lombardo
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Sometimes I think you’re delusional about having all this power. Other times I think you’ve far too much of it.” – Miranda to Sir

Alan Hruska’s new play “Ring Twice for Miranda,” currently playing at New York City Center Stage II, is starkly reminiscent of Jean-Paul Sartre’s “No Exit” and revisits the important existential themes of choices and their consequences, appearances versus reality, self-definition and interpersonal relationships, and death and permanence. “Hell” for Mr. Hruska seems to exist in the downstairs and upstairs of Sir’s (played with a conniving grimness by Graeme Malcolm) house and the district he controls. Sir’s maid Miranda (played with a strong resilience by Katie Kleiger) and butler Elliott (played with an aggressive bashfulness by George Merrick) await his call in the servants’ quarters downstairs. The call bell rings once for Elliott and twice for Miranda.

It becomes clear quickly that Miranda serves some important function upstairs in the ailing Sir’s bedroom and that Elliott’s role in the house is not as significant. Elliott and Miranda seem to be coming off a significant relationship and the butler is quite jealous of the maid’s visits to the master’s bedchamber. Sir’s minion Gulliver (played with an arrogant indifference by Daniel Pearce) summons Elliott with one ring and sacks him. Miranda attempts to intercede for Elliott, fails, then agrees to leave the house and accompany Elliott outside. Elliott warns, “People are hungry out there, cold at night. Many are leaving” (sound familiar?) Despite that, he and Miranda leave and find ripped signs on abandoned buildings that hint at rationing and curfews and they quickly discover that indeed “the center is not holding” (Yeats) and there are few choices for them apart from surrendering to Sir’s rule.

Felix (played with the shapeshifting skills of the doppelganger by Ian Lassiter), a plumber who eventually turns out not to be a plumber, arrives to bring the pair back to the house where Miranda must “audition” for her old job. The audience discovers what it is Miranda “does” for Sir. After being rehired, Miranda returns to the servants’ quarters with Elliott with only the hope of repeating for eternity the cycle of leaving and returning, leaving and returning with no chance of finding an exit from the samsara of their existence, “just waiting for the dark, for us to go to sleep” (Miranda).

Rick Lombardo directs with a charming gracefulness and his sound design is appropriate and often unsettling. Jason Sherwood’s clever set morphs from servant’s quarters to bedchamber to the abandoned streets with ease. Matthew Richards’s lighting counterpoint’s the play’s setting with interesting plays on light and shadow.

“Ring Twice for Miranda’s” chilling dystopian themes and its delusional narcissistic Sir become even more relevant in the current political climate in America. The play raises important and enduring questions but does not have the dramatic strength to carry the weight of these rich questions. Much of the plot is predictable and at least one part of the story is dispensable. The scenes with Chester (William Connell) and Anouk (Talia Thiesfield) are superfluous with neither actor delivering especially convincing performances. The audience knows before Anouk and Chester “replace” Miranda and Elliott that Sir is not looking for sexual favors and that Sir will invite Miranda and Elliott back to the house.

That said, Mr. Hruska’s new play explores the dimensions of tyranny and the loss of personal freedom in a convincing way. Those who, like Sir, purport to place a premium on “creativity and originality” often end up doing what they must do to maintain control and supremacy over others – who are ultimately dispensable – and over circumstances in general.


RING TWICE FOR MIRANDA

The cast of “Ring Twice for Miranda” includes: William Connell, Katie Kleiger, Ian Lassiter, Graeme Malcolm, George Merrick, Daniel Pearce, and Talia Thiesfield.

“Ring Twice for Miranda” features scenic design by Jason Sherwood, costume design by Ann Hould-Ward, lighting design by Matthew Richards, sound design by Rick Lombardo, and original music by Haddon Kime. Casting is by Michael Cassara, CSA. Production photos are by Russ Rowland.

Performances from January 24th - February 19th are: Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays at 7:30 p.m., Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Performances from February 21st - April 16th are: Tuesdays at 7:30 p.m., Wednesdays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., Thursdays at 7:30 p.m., Fridays at 7:30 p.m., Saturdays at 2:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. and Sundays at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets are $79.00 with premium reserved seating available. All tickets are subject to a $1 facility fee plus $6.50 handling charge if tickets are purchased online or by phone. Tickets are available online at http://ringtwiceformiranda.com/, by calling CityTix at (212) 581-1212, or in person at the New York City Center Box Office. Running time is 2 hours with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, February 12, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Yen” at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Extended through Saturday March 4, 2017)

Photo: Justice Smith, Ari Graynor, and Lucas Hedges in "Yen" at MCC Theater. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Yen” at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Extended through Saturday March 4, 2017)
Written by Anna Jordan
Directed by Trip Cullman
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

More “Of Mice and Men” than “Orphans,” “Yen,” currently playing at MCC Theater at the Lucille Lortel Theatre, dives headlong into the miasma of dysfunctional families without abandon and lands in a matrix of enduring questions that British playwright Anna Jordan decides not to answer in this play that makes its way from a successful run at the Royal Exchange Theater in Manchester, England to the MCC stage in the West Village.

Hench (played with a soulful and dispirited sadness by Lucas Hedges) and his half-brother Bobbie (played with a sad longing by Justice Smith) share the pull-out sofa bed in their addict mother’s Council Flat in the Housing Project in the London Borough of Feltham. Although it is Maggie’s (played with a malicious and shattered persona by Ari Graynor) government funding that allows her to have the flat, she lives with her current boyfriend Alan, leaving her sons from her marriages to two addict husbands (one died with a needle in his arm) to fend for themselves. Poverty and dysfunction have left indelible scars on these two children. Hench is sixteen, Bobbie fourteen and neither is attending school. They survive by stealing what they need for themselves – things often taken by Maggie when she drops by or gets dragged up the stairs in a coma from the street below the flat.

Hench is introspective and sullen and was probably sexually abused as a child. Bobbie is suffering from a severe case of psoriasis and bounces around the flat unable to control his emotions, his attention span, or his hygiene. Both watch porn and play violent video games. Then there is their violent dog Taliban who occupies the bedroom, never gets walked, and seems to live in the same squalor as his owners. Into this mess comes Jennifer, a transplant from Wales living across the way in adolescent ennui. Jennifer (played with doleful yet savvy core by Stefania LaVie Owen) wants to care for Taliban but ends up wanting to care for the boys and to help Hench “open up.”

This exposition takes the first act of one-hour and fifteen minutes to be revealed. After Maggie drags Bobbie off to Alan’s, leaving Jennifer and Hench to bond in the ways lonely adolescents often bond. The second act, more violent and shocking, still leaves the audience wondering why Ms. Jordan wrote “Yen.” Trip Cullman’s staging depends heavily on loud and violent projections (designed by Lucy Mackinnon) to add to the mood of the play (as does Ben Stanton’s sparse lighting). It would seem giving more attention to Ms. Jordan’s script and trusting its strength would have given the piece more purpose.

Love and tenderness, even when applied with the intent of gentleness, often and unexpectedly open deep wounds. After Jennifer applies cream to Bobbie’s flared-up psoriasis, Maggie bristles with the rage of the challenged addict. After Jennifer applied a heavy dose of affection – also with the best of intentions – Hench recoils with the buried hurt of the sexually abused child and, as he did as a child, wets the bed shared by Jennifer (as he often does when he shares his bed with Bobbie).

Jennifer imposes herself uninvited into a disturbed and dysfunctional family system. Any attempt at disrupting family systems layered with years of collusion and calumny results in change or in retrenchment. And retrenchment – as is the case with these feral half-brothers – is often accompanied by the kind of implosive and explosive violence for which Taliban often exhibits and which rarely results in healing and surcease.

Without successful intervention, the cycles of poverty and sexual abuse never are broken. Children like Bobbie and Hench become the broken ones perpetually “rescued” by the well-meaning Jennifers of the world, but more often than not, the Maggies of the world who revel in madness and dysfunction relentlessly continue to poison all opportunities for redemption and release.

YEN

The cast of “Yen” includes Jack DiFalco, Ari Graynor, Lucas Hedges, Stefania LaVie Owen, and Justice Smith. The creative team features scenic design by Mark Wendland; costume design by Paloma Young; lighting design by Ben Stanton; original music and Sound design by Fitz Patton; projection design by Lucy Mackinnon; fight Direction by J. David Brimmer; and special Effects by Jeremy Chernick. Stephen Gabis is dialect coach. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

Performances of “Yen” run at MCC Theater at The Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher St) through Saturday March 4, 2017 on the following extension schedule: Sunday, Feb 19 at 7:30 p.m.; Monday, Feb 20 at 7:00 p.m.; Tuesday, Feb 21 at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday, Feb 22 at 7:00 p.m.; Thursday, Feb 23 at 8:00 p.m.; Tuesday, Feb 28 at 7:00 p.m.; Wednesday, March 1 at 7:00 p.m.; Thursday, March 2 at 8:00 p.m.; Friday, March 3 at 8:00 p.m.; Saturday, March 4 at 2:00 p.m.; and Saturday, March 4 at 8:00 p.m. Tickets are $49.00 - $99.00 and are available by phone at OvationTix: (212) 352-3101, or toll free 866-811-4111, or visit http://www.mcctheater.org/. Running time is 2 hours and 15 minutes with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, February 12, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Crackskull Row” at Irish Rep Theatre in the W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre (Through Sunday March 19, 2017)

Photo: Terry Donnelly and Colin Lane in the cell's production of "Crackskull Row." Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “Crackskull Row” at Irish Rep Theatre in the W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre (Through Sunday March 19, 2017)
By Honor Molloy
Directed by Kira Simring
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Legend has it that on May Eve all sorts of sorcery abounds in the country sides of Ireland. That is certainly the case on Crackskull Road somewhere in Dublin 2 on the April 30 in question in Honor Molloy’s delightful psychological thriller “Crackskull Road” currently playing at Irish Rep Theatre. For eighty riveting minutes, the complex Morrigan family system splays out on the compact stage of the W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre. Playwright Honor Molloy spins a tale of intrigue and madness as she exposes the underbelly of a complex dysfunctional family. This tale defies any standard definitions or understandings of the veil between “then and now” or between “the living and the dead.”

All the audience sees and hears is in fact only “in the skulls” of Masher (played with conniving desperation by Terry Donnelly) and her son Rasher (played with repressed disfigurement by Colin Lane) who appear together as adults in “real time” at the end of the play. And as those skulls are cracked open (in the now and the then) and the contents revealed, the audience “sees” Masher when she was the young Dolly (played with the despair of unwitting decadence by Gina Costigan), Rasher when he was the Young Rash (played with a naiveté born of the burden of secrecy by John Charles McLaughlin), and those fickle sprites that appear on May Eve 1999: Wee Dolly (also played by Ms. Costigan) and the shoeless ESB Boy (also played by Mr. McLaughlin) who also demands Masher fess up about what really happened throughout “the years of misfortunality.”

“Crackskull Row” begins with Rasher addressing the audience from prison (how he got there would require a spoiler alert) and Masher “hagged out on a broken-down couch” in her house strewn with bits of detritus. Down the chimney and out of time comes the New Age Sprite Wee Dolly whose purpose seems to challenge Masher to clean up the present by dealing with her past. That past is played out brilliantly by the engaging cast who give their multiple characters (Mr. Lane also plays Rasher’s father Basher) and their multifarious conflicts authenticity and believability. Time and space are warped again and again as the audience learns of the relationship between Masher and her son Rasher – a relationship driven by the loveless and sometimes abusive relationship between Masher and Rasher’s father Basher.

And since, as Masher tells the ESB Boy, her mind is “cabbage,” one is not ever certain what is reality and what might be illusion, delusion, or perhaps transmigration. If this sounds complicated, it is somewhat but only because to say more would be to spoil the intricacies of revelation extant in Ms. Molloy’s impressive and important script. It can be revealed that at one point in the play all the characters appear on stage at the same time transcending the confines of mortality and time. Under Kira Simring’s direction, “Crackskull Row” is as good as it gets and it does not get better than this.

Daniel Geggatt’s psychologically cramped set assures the audience it has followed Alice down the rabbit hole. Siena Zoe Allen’s costumes reverberate with timelessness and depravity. Gertjan Houben’s moody lighting adds to the deep levels of mystery as does M. Florian Staab’s extraordinary original music and sound. “Crackskull Row” is not to be missed. Just leave propriety and apprehension behind and worry not about feeling ten feet tall.

CRACKSKULL ROW

“Crackskull Row” stars Gina Costigan, Terry Donnelly, Colin Lane, and John Charles McLaughlin.

The production features lighting design by Gertjan Houben, set design by Daniel Geggatt and Caitlyn Murphy, costume design by Sienna Zoë Allen, and original music and sound design by M. Florian Staab. Chris Steckel serves as Production Stage Manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

“Crackskull Row” runs at Irish Rep Theatre (132 West 22nd Street) in the W. Scott McLucas Studio Theatre through March 19, 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 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m.; and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. General admission tickets are $50.00 and be purchased by calling 212-727-2737 or by visiting https://irishrep.org/. Running time is 80 minutes without an intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, February 10, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Object Lesson” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday March 5, 2017)

Photo: Geoff Sobelle in "The Object Lesson." Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Object Lesson” at New York Theatre Workshop (Through Sunday March 5, 2017)
Created and Performed by Geoff Sobelle
Directed by David Neumann
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Do you have what you need? Do you need what you have?” – Geoff Sobelle

The audience enters the New York Theatre Workshop into a vast display of “stuff” up for viewing, exploring, opening, sharing, moving around, and engaging with. And there is plenty to explore: lamps of all sizes and shapes; small boats filled with boxes suspended from the ceiling; animals stuffed by a taxidermist; plush animals stuffed by toymakers; radios of all vintages; books; guitars; a box indicating the contents was stolen from a hotel; and a wall of small drawers just waiting to be opened.

What does Geoff Sobelle do with all this “stuff?” The creator of “The Object Lesson,” currently playing at New York Theatre Workshop, seems to want to engage the audience in a conversation about “property,” about “what is ours and what we will do with it all.” Throughout the ninety minutes Mr. Sobelle has the attention of the audience, he provides several object lessons: sharing a variety of times and places he has encountered stuff, has reexamined it, has remembered where he was when he obtained it, has decided whether to keep it or discard it. He challenges the audience to do the same.

The audience becomes part of the clutter, part of life’s detritus, and Mr. Sobelle is not shy about literally shoving viewers around, even using his hands to touch heads and push people aside. One wonders if the audience is worth sorting through or just more stuff? What does he want to do with us? Sorting through stuff is not always easy, especially when constantly bombarded with stuff at home and on the media – commercial and social. There are times when the clutter in the theatre seems miniscule given the enormity of the political stuff cluttering lives currently. What are we able to do with that? Can it even be sorted out successfully? And if one has already decluttered one’s stuff, is one ready to be absorbed in an object lesson about what has already been accomplished? Still “The Object Lesson” is an important exercise and worth the visit. Mr. Sobelle even invites an audience member on a dinner date with ice skating.

The impact of Geoff Sobelle’s immersive experience is sometimes diminished by the nature of the piece itself – something both Mr. Sobelle and director David Neumann should continue to take into consideration. No matter where audience members sit, there are vignettes of “The Object Lesson” that simply cannot be observed. I missed the entire first part of the piece and there was nothing I could do to change my viewing point without standing up and blocking someone else’s view. When the performer is elevated, everyone can see. When he moves around on the level playing area, displacing audience members and setting up new “scenes,” there are inevitably audience members will miss the action completely. And, despite the offering in the sheet distributed by the NYTW staff urging the audience to “feel free to move around whenever you’d like,” that is not possible without be disruptive or blocking others’ ability to see what Mr. Sobelle is doing.

“The Object Lesson” concludes with the NYTW staff “ushering” the audience to the front of the space (the audience assumes a more traditional position and attitude) for Mr. Sobelle’s final object lesson. Without revealing too much, this ultimate disquisition involves legerdemain that counterpoints the wisdom of Shakespeare (“As You Like It”) and – of all things – the magical English nanny Mary Poppins.

THE OBJECT LESSON

The scenic installation design for “The Object Lesson” is by Steven Dufala. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“The Object Lesson” runs at New York Theatre Workshop (79 E. 4th Street New York, NY 10003) through Sunday, March 5, 2017 on the following schedule: Tuesday and Wednesday at 7:00 p.m., Thursday and Friday at 8:00 p.m., Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m., and Sunday at 2:00 p.m. Single tickets for are $65.00 and can be purchased at NYTW.org and by phone at 212-460-5475. Standard ticketing fees apply to all orders. Running time is 100 minutes without any intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, February 10, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Fade” at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday March 5, 2017)

Photo: Annie Dow and Eddie Martinez. Credit: James Leynse.
Off-Broadway Review: “Fade” at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre (Through Sunday March 5, 2017)
Written by Tanya Saracho
Directed by Jerry Ruiz
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

For a brief time in Tanya Saracho’s “Fade,” currently playing at Primary Stages at the Cherry Lane Theatre, the lines between class and status fade as Mexican-born script writer Lucia (Annie Dow) and American-born Chicano custodian Abel (Eddie Martinez) seem to drop their guards and allow their “similarities” to overshadow their “differences.” Abel “forgives” Lucia for her assumptions when he first walks into her office that he does not speak English and begins to trust Lucia. That trust is ultimately misplaced and the dramatic arc of Ms. Saracho’s play deals with the rise (including the hint at a romantic interest) and decline of the relationship between two persons who, although they seem to have much in common, are worlds apart.

When Lucia confesses to Abel she really knows little about writing for television (her writing experience is one published novel), she shares the storyline and asks Abel for some suggestions on how to develop the lead male character. Abel shares his life story with Lucia, including details about his ex-wife, their daughter Melita, and the “roughest six months of my life were when I was locked up. When I was
Incarcerated” protecting my daughter. There is no mystery what will happen after Abel shares his story – and this is the problem with Ms. Saracho’s script. Lucia uses the story practically verbatim in her script and the audience knows that she will. All suspense literally “fades” (dies in street language).

Lucia’s creds skyrocket after she submits the script to her boss John. John no longer considers Lucia the in-house translator to communicate with his Latina maid. His new hire is now respected and even given the responsibility to take over her colleague Gary’s work – a situation that results in her colleague being fired. As Lucia ascends, she becomes more distant. Abel eventually discovers that Lucia has used his story and knows he has been betrayed. The play’s ending again is no surprise and does not warrant the unusual blackout and completely different part of the set. One of several odd choices in Jerry Ruiz’s staging and Ms. Saracho’s script. Why, for example, the multitude of very short scenes? Was this an attempt to simulate writing for television?

Annie Dow and Eddie Martinez work diligently to embolden Ms. Saracho’s characters. Mr. Martinez brings far more depth to his character Abel than Ms. Dow brings to her character Lucia. The actor gives Lucia one tonal range throughout and seems to whine no matter what the circumstance. But it is not the actors’ obvious craft that in in question here. Although “Fade” raises some enduring and rich questions about classism, sexism, racism, and prejudice, the play does not offer any new perspectives on these issues nor does it address them with any depth of understanding or suspense. The audience knows what will happen within five minutes of the beginning of the action.

The set design by Mariana Sanchez is functional and allows the audience to observe the activity of both actors even when they are not interacting. Carisa Kelly’s costumes are, as they should be, functional and Amith Chandrashaker’s lighting is unobtrusive and serves the action of the play quite successfully.

Tanya Saracho uses Spanish throughout the play – Spanish not understood by most the audience. This seems to support the classism the playwright ostensibly abhors and makes it uncomfortable when one cannot appreciate the humor in the writing. Another odd choice.

FADE

The cast of “Fade” features Annie Dow and Eddie Martinez.

“Fade” features set design by Mariana Sanchez, costume design by Carisa Kelly, lighting design by Amith Chandrashaker, sound design by M.L. Dogg, and casting by Stephanie Klapper Casting. Production photos by James Leynse.

Primary Stage’s “Fade” runs at the Cherry Lane Theatre (38 Commerce Street) through Sunday March 5, 2017 on the following schedule: Wednesday through Saturday at 8:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Added performances: February 11 at 2:00 p.m., March 1 at 2:00 p.m. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit http://primarystages.org/. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Thursday, February 9, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Orange Julius” Rattles Reality at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday February 12, 2017)

Off-Broadway Review: “Orange Julius” Rattles Reality at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater (Through Sunday February 12, 2017)
By Basil Kreimendahl
Directed by Dustin Wills
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“An Orange Julius. That’s what I want.” – Julius

Basil Kreimendahl’s “Orange Julius” is a memory play. Narrated by Nut (Jess Barbagallo), the play defies space and time to tell the complex story of the narrator’s relationship with their estranged father Julius (Stephen Payne) a Vietnam War Veteran dying from cancer caused by exposure on the battlefield to the herbicide Agent Orange. This relationship transcends the typical exploration into “the children of Vietnam vets and how the war affects the children of those soldiers and their relationship to them” (Basil Kreimendahl in “American Theater”). Because Nut is identified as a transmasculine character, the play further explores “masculinity and this complication of this father/son relationship, and a trans person’s desire to have their father see them as a man and as a son” (Basil Kreimendahl in “American Theater”).

Nut’s memories of life with the family, Julius, mother France (Mary Testa), sister Crimp (Irene Sofia Lucio), and an unnamed offstage brother are vivid with each memory segment acted out on stage. The memories span the years from Nut’s childhood to the present and are shared in episodic rather than chronological order. Additionally, there are fantasy scenes depicting Nut on the battlefield with Julius and Ol’ Boy (Ruy Iskandar) the hyper-masculine figure of Nut’s creation. These scenes dig deeply into Nut’s subconscious as he attempts to sort out who Julius was when he was young and not riddled with cancer and are steeped in rich masculine imagery.

Jess Barbagallo delivers a deeply moving performance as Nut the transmasculine character grappling with issues of acceptance, trust (would Julius kidnap Nut after he splits with France, was Julius touching Nut’s knee while in the car inappropriate touching?), and Nut’s place in the family system. Mr. Barbagallo moves between ages, spaces, and the realms of fantasy with the skills of a shapeshifting doppelgänger. Stephen Payne is equally adept at shifting from the young soldier to the aging and decaying father who has been unable to share his experiences in Vietnam other than watching the iconic movies relevant to the conflict. Mr. Payne’s Julius yearns for the sweetness of an Orange Julius but settles for the bitterness of defeat and alienation.

Mary Testa tackles her role as Nut’s mother and Julius’s wife with extraordinary sensitivity. Not quite sure what to do with Nut and dealing with the downward spiral in her family, Ms. Testa’s France moves across the stage in puzzlement and terror not knowing what to do or what to say to effectively create meaningful change in the family system. Irene Sofia Lucio successfully digs deeply into Crimp’s complex matrix of regret and fury after the character returns home to care for her dying father and finds herself in a maelstrom of sadness and longing. And Nut’s surrogate “father/brother/lover” Ol’ Boy is portrayed with homoerotic machismo and exquisite physical sensitivity by Ruy Iskander.

Kate Noll’s set is remarkable and uses every inch of Rattlestick’s stage area to its advantage. Downstage of the imposing garage door is the main playing area. The massive garage door opens to expose the upstage area where fantasy bleeds into the present and the present explores the regions of the subconscious. A ceiling fan serves both to quietly move the air and represent the loud rotors of a helicopter leaving Vietnam. Barbara Samuels’s lighting is luscious and full of mood changes and subtle shifts in setting. Dustin Wills directs “Orange Julius” with the appropriate attention to the crevices of memory and the jagged corners of war in those banks of remembrance.

The importance of “Orange Julius” transcends the homestead of Julius, France, Crimp and Nut. A psychological, historical, or deconstructionist “reading” of this important and transformative play exposes an underbelly of an America as a transmasculine entity often identified as a “female” but historically struggling hard to flex its alpha muscle and – particularly in the present political climate – identifying more as a “male” in a male environment of power and influence. However, as it stands, “Orange Julius” is a rich cathartic look at the journey of one searching not only for identity, but authentic acceptance and love.

ORANGE JULIUS

“Orange Julius” is a co-production with Page 73. The Cast includes Jess Barbagallo, Ruy Iskandar, Sofia Lucio, Stephen Payne, and Mary Testa.

The designers are Kate Noll, sets; Montana Blanco, costumes; Barbara Samuels, lighting; and
Palmer Hefferan, sound. Nicole Marconi is production stage manager. Production photos by Sandra Coudert Graham.

“Orange Julius” performs Tuesday to Sunday evenings at 8:00 p.m. with matinees Saturdays at
2:00 p.m. at Rattlestick Playwrights Theater, 224 Waverly Place, through Sunday February 12, 2017.
Tickets are $50.00 (General), $25.00 (Artist), and $15.00 (Student). Tickets can be bought at: http://www.rattlestick.org or via phone at 212-627-2556. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Saturday, February 4, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Made in China” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday February 19, 2017)

Photo: Peter Russo as Mary and Ariel Estrada as Eddie in Made In China at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Heidi Bohnenkamp.
Off-Broadway Review: “Made in China” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday February 19, 2017)
Written by Gwendolyn Warnock and Kirjan Waage (with help from the “Made in China” ensemble)
Music and Lyrics by Yan Li
Directed by Gwendolyn Warnock
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

When sparring, couples often find themselves deadlocked and unable to move forward in therapy. When children have difficulty sharing the uncomfortable scenarios being played out in their lives, they often turn to silence as a coping mechanism. Sometimes, therapists use puppets to allow their patients to express significant uncomfortable feelings. The theatre has also used puppets to say things it might be difficult for humans to say or to parody human behavior: Broadway’s “Hand to God” and Off Broadway’s “Avenue Q” and “That Golden Girls Show” and the eleven-day puppet-related stage productions in Chicago are current examples. In both settings – therapy and theatre – the antics of the puppets often push the limits of propriety to express deep feelings and to raise rich and enduring questions.

Such are the antics of Wakka Wakka’s puppets in their “Made in China” currently running at 59E59 Theaters. In co-production with Nordland visual Theatre, MiNEnsemblet, and the Hopkins Center of Dartmouth College, Wakka Wakka fulfills its mission “to push the boundaries of the imagination” with this daring exploration of the relationship of the United States to China and of the underbelly of America’s current political climate.

Sino-American relations, human rights violations, work camps, refugees, consumerism, recycling, “Made-in-America,” and the relentless decay of life are all themes addressed in the one hour and twenty-five-minute fusillade of fantasy provided by Kirjan Waage’s puppets, Yan Li’s music and lyrics, Gwendolyn Warnock’s and Kirjan Waage’s writing, and the MiNEnsemblet orchestra. The engaged audience leaves the theatre with one enduring question resounding in its members’ minds, bodies, and psyches: is there anything left in this world worth dying for?

Eddie Wang (Ariel Estrada) has emigrated to the United States from China and with his dog Yo-Yo (Andy Manjuck) lives next door to American-born Mary (Peter Russo) and her dog Lily (Dorothy James). Despite their cultural divide, these two interact with some cordiality and often challenge one another’s stereotypes and assumptions about the other’s life experiences. This is an odd couple: Eddie, longing for a visit from his offspring, teaches Yo-Yo “new words;” Mary spends much time at home in the nude watching television and eating macaroni and cheese on the couch. Yes, there’s frontal nudity, obscene language, bathroom breaks, and even penetration between these two scamps. “Made in China” makes “Hand to God” and “Avenue Q” look like a Sunday School skit.

But the importance of “Made in America” transcends prurient parameters. Without giving too much away, Mary and Eddie both take a dive down the proverbial rabbit hole (in this case, Mary’s toilet) and find themselves in China where Eddie meets the brother he left behind and Eddie and Mary embark on a magical realism tour that includes monologues from Mao (Charles Pang), Uncle Sam (Stephen J. Mark) and the Voice of the Letter (Charles Pang) Mary found tucked away in the Made in China Christmas decorations she purchased back home, the voice of a Chinese sweat shop worker looking for intervention.

While in this “dream sequence,” the pair confront their own culpability in trade imbalances, consumerism, and their lives of decay. They return to the USA changed individuals and their journey challenges the audience to examine all prior misconceptions about China – it is not all panda bears and bamboo. “Made in China” deals with the challenges America faces in its relationship to China and in its own internal struggles for relevance in the global economy and political matrix. Even the voice of the POTUS can be heard in the opening sequence. “Made in China’s” puppets often push the limits of propriety to express deep feelings and to raise rich and enduring questions. It does not get any more relevant than that. Is there anything left in this world worth dying for?


MADE IN CHINA

The “Made in China” puppeteers are Lei Lei Bavoil, Ariel Estrada, Dorothy James, Andrew Manjuck, Stephen J. Mark, Charles Pang, Peter Russo, Hansel Tan Shenwei, and Hansel Tan. Music performed by The MiNensemblet with Yan Li and Max Mamon. (Please note that the MiNensemblet will be performing live January 10 – February 4 only.) The company is led by Gabrielle Brechner, Kirjan Waage and Gwendolyn Warnock and supported by company members Andrew Manjuck and Peter Russo.

The design team includes Yu Ting Lin (set design); Alex Goldberg (lighting design); and Tiger Cai (video animation). The Production Stage Manager is Mackenzie Blade. Production photos by Heidi Bohnenkamp.

“Made in China” runs through Sunday, February 19. The performance schedule is Tuesday – Thursday at 7 PM; Friday at 8 PM; Saturday at 2 PM & 8 PM; and Sunday at 3 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25 - $60 ($25 - $49 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 1 hour 25 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “LaBute New Theater Festival 2017” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday February 5, 2017)

Photo: Michael Hogan in Homebody, part of the "LaBute New Theater Festival at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Carol Rosegg.
Off-Broadway Review: “LaBute New Theater Festival 2017” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday February 5, 2017)
By Neil LaBute, Gabe McKinley, Cary Pepper, and Adam Seidel
Directed by Kel Haney, Michael Hogan, and John Pierson
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

If a single observation applies to the four plays in the 2017 “LaBute New Theater Festival” it is, there is nothing new here, nothing thought-provoking, nothing that raises rich enduring questions. And that is unfortunate given the status of the playwrights and the actors involved in this important Festival.

Kel Haney directs Neil LaBute’s “What Happens in Vegas” with efficiency. Patrick Huber’s hotel room set seems cramped in the small Theater C at 59E59 Theaters with the end of the large bed thrust just inches away from the first row of patrons who watch the nameless hooker “Her” (Clea Alsip) cavort with her young married client “Him” (Michael Hogan) and review the menu of services available for his further pleasure. These range from “General Horseplay” for twenty dollars to a “Dirty Sanchez” for one- hundred-fifty dollars. The language is unabashedly graphic throughout and it is difficult to know what the point of the play is. One wonders if the themes of infidelity, prevarication, and the employment of sex workers warrant the writing of a new play? If “What Happens in Vegas” is meant to be a trope for some larger purpose, the playwright has not made that “leap” apparent.

One would have to search hard to find any enduring questions raised in Adam Seidel’s ponderous and overlong “American Outlaws.” Mitch (Eric Dean White) is an accountant who launders money for “family” member Dominic Callabro and (believe it or not) asks Dominic to set up a meeting with his “specialist” Martin (Justin Ivan Brown) to arrange to murder Mitch’s wife Susan. Although the plot is predictable, it would not be fair to disclose the rising action, climax, falling action, and the resolution except to disclose that the reason Mitch wants to kill his wife is that she is having an affair with Martin. That “twist” is about as good as it gets. Director John Pierson directs this piece in a lugubrious fashion leaving the actors on their own depending on a large dose of mugging to substitute for character development and depth. “American Outlaws” is flat from beginning to end.

After an intermission, Michael Hogan returns to the stage to portray Jay McGibbons a John Kennedy Toole-like struggling writer who lives with his “frail” homebound mother (Donna Weinsting) and collects rejection notices from a multitude of prospective publishers. The son and mother are inextricably caught in a poisonous verbally abusive system. Why Jay doesn’t just leave is anybody’s guess. Apparently dramatic irony is the literary device operating here since only the audience must be aware of Mother’s manipulative nature. Believable? Self-destructive son? John Pierson fares better here: his direction is energetic and he keeps the action moving briskly. Mr. Hogan and Ms. Weinsting grapple with the script and do their best to make sense of its thin thematic core.

The final play Cary Pepper’s “Mark My Worms” (yes, it is all about misspelling) is perhaps the weakest of the four offerings in this year’s Festival. Mason (Eric Dean White) turns up in a rehearsal space for a cold reading of a little-known LaSalle Montclare play directed by John (Eric Dean White) and co-starring Gloria (Clea Alsip). When a playwright and/or director chooses to portray a theatre professional – in this case the director – with exaggerated gay stereotypes, it is difficult for this critic to even engage with the play. However, both Mr. Pepper and the play’s director Michael Hogan provide enough distraction to overshadow the stereotyping. The play itself, an exaggerated piece about theatre turning in upon itself and making fun of itself, seems pointless and the direction is plodding and lifeless. Mark my words.

LABUTE NEW THEATER FESTIVAL

The cast features Clea Alsip, Justin Ivan Brown, Michael Hogan, Donna Weinsting, and Eric Dean White.

The creative team includes Patrick Huber (set design), Jonathan Zelezniak (lighting design), Carla Evans (costume design), and sound design by the St. Louis Actors’ Studio. Seth Ward Pyatt is the production stage manager. Production photos by Carol Rosegg.

The “LaBute New Theater Festival” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, February 5. 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. and 7:30 p.m. Please note: there is no 7:30 p.m. performance on Sunday February 5. 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 2 hours with a 10-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Broadway Review: “Jitney” Is Better Now Than Ever at the Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Through Sunday March 12, 2017)

Photo: Harvey Blanks, Michael Potts, Brandon Dirden, and André Holland. Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “Jitney” Is Better Now Than Ever at the Manhattan Theatre Club at the Samuel J. Friedman Theatre (Through Sunday March 12, 2017)
By August Wilson
Directed by Ruben Santiago-Hudson
Reviewed by Michele Willens

August Wilson is having a banner year—especially for someone who has been dead since 2005. The good news is that the playwright had great success while he was living. (A Pulitzer among numerous other awards.) He is best known for what is called the American Century cycle, one drama a decade that chronicles African American lives in the Hill district of Pittsburgh.

One of those plays, “Fences,” has been a hit twice on Broadway and now, of course, has been adapted to the screen. Its star and director, Denzel Washington, has committed to bringing all the Wilson plays from stage to screen, an admirable if daunting goal. Meanwhile, the one play in the cycle that had not hit Broadway, has arrived there.

“Jitney” was written, and takes place in, the late ‘70s and I am quite sure its author would be pleased with the new Manhattan Theatre Club production. (Incidentally, it is not playing at the August Wilson Theater but at the Samuel Friedman.) David Gallo has created a beautiful set, replete with a few cars (which could clearly use a paint job or two) seen in the distance. Like almost all Wilson plays, the action takes place in one setting: here it is the ramshackle office of a gypsy car service, located in a neighborhood that is in imminent danger of being torn down. That’s a plot point of sorts, but “Jitney” is about the people.

In this case, there are nine of them who come in and out, and pick up the constantly ringing phone, awaiting their next job. (“Car service, okay, that will be four dollars, look for a blue car and I ain’t waiting.”) These people may seem like types at first--the spiffy numbers guy, the loquacious gossip, the young and confused Vietnam Vet--but as the time goes on, they become complex and always surprising individuals.

The direction, by Ruben Santiago-Hudson, as well as his cast, are pitch perfect. I am particularly thrilled to see John Douglas Thompson in a leading role on Broadway. He’s one of the theatre world’s great classical actors, but his work has almost always been off the Great White Way. Most recently, I watched him soar in two Ibsen plays in Brooklyn. Here he portrays the manager of the taxi service, but his most heartbreaking and maddening pair of scenes include his grown son, who has just been released after two decades in prison. (“What I ain’t got is a son I can be proud of! “is one of the least hurtful things he says.)

One can’t help but think of “Fences,” which also dealt with an overbearing father and a son trying to earn back his love. I thoroughly enjoyed spending two and a half hours with this working-class gang, so touchingly and honestly just trying to make a living. (A fight over thirty cents is no joke here) Not to mention just listening to August Wilson’s unique and flavorful dialogue. (“Ain’t nothing like owning property, they might even call you for jury duty.”)

What a joy to watch these characters bicker over whether Sarah Vaughn or Lena Horne was sexier, to hear one tell of his harrowing job in the Korean War, (stacking six bodies at a time) and yet another of how the bottle ruined a job as tailor to the stars of jazz. This is Pittsburgh poetry, August Wilson style, and it is very fine indeed.

JITNEY

The cast features Harvy Blanks, Anthony Chisholm, Brandon Dirden, André Holland, Carra Patterson, Michael Potts, Keith Randolph Smith, Ray Anthony Thomas, and John Douglas Thompson.

The creative team for August Wilson’s “Jitney” includes David Gallo (scenic design); Toni-Leslie James (costume design); Jane Cox (lighting design), Darron L West (sound design); Bill Sims, Jr. (original music); and Thomas Schall (fight director). Production photos by Joan Marcus.

The performance schedule for “Jitney” varies. For the performance schedule, visit the website at http://www.ManhattanTheatreClub.com. Tickets are available at Telecharge.com, by calling 212-239-6200, or by visiting The Samuel J. Friedman Theatre Box Office at 261 West 47th Street. Ticket prices are $60.00-$140.00. Running time is 2 hours and 25 minutes including one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, January 30, 2017

Off Off-Broadway Review: AdA: Author Directing Author at La Mama Ellen Stewart Theatre (Through Sunday February 5, 2017)

Photo: Margaret Colin and Gabby Beans in "After the Dark." Credit: Theo Cote.
Off Off-Broadway Review: AdA: Author Directing Author at La Mama Ellen Stewart Theatre (Through Sunday February 5, 2017)
Written and Directed by Neil LaBute, Marco Calvani, and Marta Buchaca
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Neil LaBute has teamed up with Marco Calvani and Marta Buchaca to present three plays that are “surprising takes on the idea of ‘power dynamics.’” He believes the plays “make for a fun and thought-provoking evening of theater.” Certainly power – its use and misuse – is a relevant topic for this third installment of Author Directing Author given the current political climate in America and across the globe. How relevant and thought-provoking these plays are in that climate is somewhat problematic. In all three short plays – two in translation – the conflicts and motivations of the characters are clear. What is not clear is why these believable conflicts drive such muddled plots and often less-than-fun plots.

Marco Calvani’s “After the Dark” deftly deals with the delicious shifting of power between what appears to be an alpha female and her subordinate assistant. Veteran actor Margaret Colin plays Susie a designer whose work seems to be less than enthusiastically received at the trade show she attends with her assistant Jessie played by Gabby Beans. Susie started designing lamps because of her childhood fear of the dark – hence the title. And the power play between Susie and Jessie occurs after dark in the budget hotel Susie books for the trade show. Mr. Calvani sets up a plausible conflict between the two women that involves dynamics of race, age, and money – the three dynamos of power. However, the plot is thin and predictable and fails to wring the pathos out of this conflict. Under Marta Buchaca’s listless direction, Ms. Colin and Ms. Beans struggle mightily to make Mr. Calvani’s script work for the stage. Unfortunately, even their combined formidable craft cannot convince the audience of the importance of this lackluster play.

Marta Buchaca and Neil LaBute do not fare much better in (respectively) “Summit” and “I Don’t Know What I Can Save You From.” Ms. Buchaca’s play suffers from being less impressive than the current headlines its attempts to address. The new Mayor of a major city (Dalia Davi) scraps with the ex-Mayor (Victor Slezak) about qualifications and effectiveness and the seemingly innocent imbroglio explodes into the new Mayor’s involvement in a racist Tweet that threatens to unravel her election. Under Neil LaBute’s prosaic direction, the actors seem ill at ease with their roles. Shades of the presidential campaign are apparent in the script including allusions to the improper use of technology and egomaniacal conceits.

Mr. LaBute’s play, the darkest of the three, explores the broken relationship between Simon (Richard Kind) an overbearing father who cheated on his former wife and his daughter Janie (Gia Crovatin) who arranges a meeting at an upscale restaurant to attempt to reconcile with her father so he can see his grandchild. From the start, the meeting unravels when Janie presents to her father a document that will assure he begins a new relationship without foul language or tardiness. However, in this play full of unbelievable action, not showing up for family events is the least of Simon’s problems. The multi-layered script slowly reveals the depth of dysfunction and abuse in this fractured family system. Unfortunately, under Marco Calvani’s erratic direction, both Mr. Kind and Ms. Crovatin are visibly uncomfortable with the script and appear somewhat wooden and spiritless. Perhaps Mr. LaBute should decide whether realism or absurdism serve his theme better.

Neil Patel’s set design and Alex Jainchill’s light design are functional throughout all three plays. Jeff Mahshie’s costume design struggles too hard to do what rich characterization ought to accomplish.

ADA: AUTHOR DIRECTING AUTHOR

The cast of “AdA” includes Gabby Beans, Margaret Colin, Gia Crovatin, Dalia Davi, Richard Kind, and Victor Slezak.

The creative team for “Ada” includes set design by Neil Patel; lighting design by Alex Jainchill; costume design by Jeff Mahsie; stage management by Miriam Hyfler. US Management and promotion by Unamism LLC NY. Production photos by Theo Cote.

“AdA: Author Directing Author” performs January 19 through February 5. Performance schedule is Thursdays through Saturdays at 7:00 p.m. and Sundays at 4:00 p.m. Tickets are $18.00 and $13.00 and can be purchased online at www.lamama.org or by phone at 212 352 3101. Running time is 1 hour and thirty-five minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Monday, January 30, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “The Liar” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday February 26, 2017)

Photo: Tony Roach, Christian Conn, and Carson Elrod in "The Liar." Credit: Richard Termine.
Off-Broadway Review: “The Liar” at Classic Stage Company (Through Sunday February 26, 2017)
By David Ives
Directed by Michael Kahn
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Adapted from the play “Le Menteur” by Pierre Corneille, David Ives’s “The Liar” currently running at Classic Stage Company is a superb farce replete with delightful stereotyped characters caught up in hilarious exaggerated situations. “The Liar” lands on stage at the perfect time and reminds theatre goers of the enduring importance of vaudeville in times of political upheaval.

After a first act brimming with exposition, the second act of “The Liar” assembles the puzzle pieces of the situations introduced earlier. There are mistaken identities, two sets of twins, onstage duels, garden trysts with a Cyrnao tableaux, love matches gained and lost, liars morphing into truthtellers, one committed to the truth learning to lie. And there is an ending far superior to Corneille’s original dissolution.

Episodic in nature (rather than character driven), “The Liar” focuses on the ne’re-do-well Dorante (Christian Conn) who excels at prevarication and exaggeration and upon his arrival in Paris, engages the “Servant for Hire” Cliton (Carson Elrod) to explore the city and its eligible young women. In the traditional style of the farce, several improbable but extremely funny scenarios are added to the delicious matrix of mayhem and madness. Donate’s father Geronte (played with a charismatic gravitas by Adam Lefevre) arrives to arrange a marriage for his son. Durante (having already been smitten by Lucrece (Amelia Pedlow) – or perhaps it was Clarice (Ismenia Mendes) – claims he cannot allow his father to arrange the marriage since he is already married to one Orphise.

Matters get more complicated with the arrival of Dorante’s friend Alcippe (played with the perfect balance of panache and languor by Tony Roach) who thinks Dorante has had a tryst with Clarice (mistaken identity and prevarication abound!). This is only one thread in “The Liar.” Cliton falls for Isabelle who has a twin Sabine (both played with priceless comedic timing by Kelly Hutchinson) who feels nothing for Cliton. And there’s Alcippe’s friend Philiste (played with foppish charm by Aubrey Deeker) who’s also on the prowl. It just gets better and better every minute of the two-hour extravaganza. Watch for delightful anachronisms and clever literary allusions.

David Ives earns his wordsmith accolades in this ‘translaptation’ (a translation with a heavy dose of adaptation per Mr. Ives) of the 1644 “Le Mentuer.” His decision to “translate” in rhythm (pentameter) and rhyme drives the piece forward with joyous energy. The rhymes, sometimes quite interesting, add to the linguistic feast.

The cast is uniformly impressive. Carson Elrod’s jester-esque Cliton is the perfect foil to Christian Conn’s fulsome Dorante. Mr. Elrod delivers his pentameter with unquavering crispness giving his lines the most natural rhythm of speech. Ismenia Mendes and Amelia Pedlow as Clarice and Lucrece respectively make mistaken identity look like a parlor game. Their vacillation between keen interest in their suitors and utter disdain for all things male is engaging and priceless.

Director Michael Kahn keeps the energetic cast moving at break-neck speed appropriate to the farce. Alexander Dodge’s set design is simple and functional with ample opportunities for quick entrances and exits. Murell Horton’s period costumes are exquisite and Mary Louise Geiger’s lighting is appropriate.

Dorante’s closing monologue sums up the exercise succinctly, “But think, before you hit the subway booth,/How this was all a lie – and yet the truth./Impossible? Don’t hurt your spinning head./Just hie thee happily home and lie – in bed!”

THE LIAR

The cast of “The Liar” includes Christian Conn, Aubrey Deeker, Carson Elrod, Kelly Hutchinson, Adam Lefevre, Ismenia Mendes, Amelia Pedlow and Tony Roach. Set design is by Alexander Dodge, costume design by Murell Horton, lighting design by Mary Louise Geiger, original music by Adam Wernick and sound design by Matt Stine. Production photos by Richard Termine.

“The Liar” will perform Tuesday through Thursdays at 7:00 p.m.; Fridays at 8:00 p.m.; Saturdays at 3:00 p.m. and 8:00 p.m. and Sundays at 3:00 p.m. Tickets from $60.00. For tickets, visit www.classicstage.org, call (212) 352-3101 or (866) 811-4111, or in person at the box office (136 East 13th Street). Running time is 2 hours with one intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, January 29, 2017

Broadway Review: “In Transit” at Circle in the Square Theatre (Open Run)

Photo: The cast of "In Transit." Credit: Joan Marcus.
Broadway Review: “In Transit” at Circle in the Square Theatre (Open Run)
Book, Music and Lyrics by Kristen Anderson-Lopez, James-Allen Ford, Russ Kaplan and Sara Wordsworth
Directed and Choreographed by Kathleen Marshall
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

"How do you get to where you are going if you don’t know where you are?" – Boxman

“In Transit,” currently running at Circle in the Square Theatre, is a charming and uncomplicated new musical with a simple message delivered convincingly by a splendid cast. Set primarily in a New York City subway station, the musical is narrated by Boxman (Steven “Heaven”Cantor) and centers on the stories of Jane (Margot Seibert) the aspiring actor working at a temp agency awaiting her Broadway break, Steven (Colin Hanlon) and Trent (Arbender Robinson on January 12, 2017) the gay couple struggling with issues of honesty and a religious right “in-law,” Nate (James Snyder) the out-of-work broker, and Ali (Erin Mackey) who left her Seattle home to chase after love interest (and cad) Dave (David Abeles).

Moya Angela (Ms. Wiliams, Momma, Althea), Gerianne Perez (Kathy), Mariand Torres (Nina), and Nicholas Ward (Chris) round out the talented cast that does its best to bring life and energy to “In Transit.” Despite the heroic effort of the creators to spin a musical tale that connects deeply with urban dwellers and their current challenging exigencies, the musical remains formulaic and less than distinguished. Undercutting the clever and refreshing acapella performances is the unnecessary amplification in a space with above average acoustics.

Stand out musical numbers are “Deep Beneath the City/ “Not There Yet,” “Broke” (Nate), “Keep It Goin’” (Althea), Ms. Williams’s (Moya Angela) “A Little Friendly Advice,” “Choosing Not to Know” (Trent), “We are Home” (Steven and Trent), and Jane’s summative “Getting There.” These numbers successfully support the musical’s theme of focusing on “the here and now” as opposed to yearning to know more about life’s journey.

The creative team has been re-working “In Transit” for several years but has not yet found a way to add the level of sophistication and depth needed to move the project forward in convincing ways. And although the cast is diverse ethnically, it is woefully not diverse in age. The performance we attended seemed to be comprised of many tourists who – to be fair – seemed to connect to this musical in a positive way and embraced the suspension of disbelief with ardor.

IN TRANSIT

“In Transit” is produced by Janet B. Rosen for Six Train Productions. Scott Landis serves as Executive Producer.

The cast of “In Transit” includes David Abeles, Moya Angela, Adam Bashian, Steven “HeaveN” Cantor, Justin Guarini, Laurel Harris, Telly Leung, Erin Mackey, Gerianne Pérez, Margo Seibert, Chesney Snow, James Snyder, Mariand Torres, Nicholas Ward, and Aurelia Williams.

“In Transit” features scenic design by Donyale Werle, costume design by Clint Ramos, lighting design by Donald Holder, sound design by Ken Travis, vocal arrangements by Deke Sharon, music supervision by Rick Hip-Flores, and casting by Binder Casting, Inc. Production photos by

The playing schedule for “In Transit” at Circle in the Square Theatre (235 West 50th St., New York, NY) is as follows: Tuesday and Thursday at 7:00 p.m. and Wednesday and Friday at 8:00 p.m., with matinees on Wednesday and Saturday at 2:00 p.m. and Sunday at 3:00 p.m. Tickets for “In Transit” range from $89 - $159 and are available at www.InTransitBroadway.com. Running time is 1 hour and 40 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, January 27, 2017

Off Broadway Preview: Matthew Broderick Joins the New Group’s “Evening at the Talk House” by Wallace Shawn at the Pershing Square Signature Center’s Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre

Photo: Wallace Shawn in "Evening at the Talk House." Credit: Catherine Ashmore.
The New Group has announced that two-time Tony Award winner Matthew Broderick joins Wallace Shawn’s Evening at the Talk House, with, as previously announced, Jill Eikenberry, John Epperson, Larry Pine, Wallace Shawn, Claudia Shear, Annapurna Sriram and Michael Tucker, representing full casting for this U.S. premiere directed by Scott Elliott. Previews for Evening at the Talk House begin January 31 in advance of an Official Opening Night on February 16 at The Pershing Square Signature Center (The Romulus Linney Courtyard Theatre, 480 West 42nd Street). A limited Off-Broadway engagement is slated through March 12.

Remember when we felt we could do anything, when there was still nothing to fear? Yes, things have changed a bit, haven’t they? And people keep saying there’s nothing to be afraid of! In Wallace Shawn’s Evening at the Talk House, everyone’s invited to join the company of Robert (Matthew Broderick)’s under-appreciated masterpiece, Midnight in a Clearing with Moon and Stars, at a get-together to raise a toast on the 10th anniversary of its opening night. To recall that wonderful creative atmosphere, which we all miss so much, Nellie (Jill Eikenberry) will host this celebration at the old haunt, the Talk House (which, despite everything, remains open). Please come. We need each other.

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.

This new production of Evening at the Talk House, a U.S. premiere, reunites Wallace Shawn and director Scott Elliott, whose previous collaborations for The New Group include Aunt Dan and Lemon, The Fever and Marie and Bruce. Evening at the Talk House premiered in November 2015 at the National Theatre.

The New Group’s 2016-2017 season launched with the current production Sweet Charity choreographed by Joshua Bergasse, directed by Leigh Silverman and starring Sutton Foster (now through January 8); and continues with Wallace Shawn’s Evening at the Talk House, directed by Scott Elliott; the world premiere of All the Fine Boys, from writer and director Erica Schmidt, with Abigail Breslin, Isabelle Fuhrman, Joe Tippett and Alex Wolff (begins February 14, 2017); and the world premiere of The Whirligig, by Hamish Linklater, directed by Scott Elliott, with Norbert Leo Butz, Zosia Mamet and Maura Tierney (begins May 2, 2017; additional casting to be announced).

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).

Tickets for Evening at the Talk House, on sale now, start at $75. Performance schedule as follows: Tuesday - Friday at 7:30pm, Saturday at 2:00pm & 8:00pm and Sunday at 2:00pm.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Tuesday, January 3, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Othello” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through Wednesday January 18, 2017)

Photo: Rachel Brosnahan, David Oyelowo and Daniel Craig star in the New York Theatre Workshop production of “Othello.” Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: “Othello” at the New York Theatre Workshop (Through Wednesday January 18, 2017)
By William Shakespeare
Directed by Sam Gold
Reviewed by Joseph Verlezza
Theatre Reviews Limited

“Oh, beware, my lord, of jealousy! It is the green-eyed monster which doth mock the meat it feeds on” – Iago in Shakespeare’s “Othello,” Act III, Scene 3

Whatever reasons that might be attributed to reimagining Shakespeare’s “Othello” – whether to create interest, heighten symbolism, or foster accessibility – what will always remain, front and center, is the tragic hero who is devoured by the green-eyed monster. In the most recent interpretation at New York Theatre Workshop, director Sam Gold updates the activities to a soldier’s barracks, somewhere very hot, presumably the mid-east. This explains the plywood clad walls, floor, and ceiling by set designer Andrew Lieberman that surround the audience, encompass the actors, and holds the action prisoner so it might linger in your mind. Also, costume design by David Zinn relies on Nike athletic wear, shorts, tee shirts and sportswear leggings to imagine the climate which exists outside of the raw wooden encampment. Eschewing common Fresnel, PAR, and ellipsoidal theater lights, designer Jane Cox concocts unconventional ways of illuminating the action, which rely on total darkness, LED work lights, miners’ headlamps, cell phones and more to spotlight intimacy or flood the precinct with a harsh white glare to enhance powerful conflicts. This creative team is spot on in their collaborative efforts to bring to life Mr. Gold’s progressive rendering, but once this magnificent cast affords the words of this masterpiece, these efforts all but disappear, as the emotional execution of the language erupts to consume all the senses.

Daniel Craig depicts Iago as a coy chameleon like terrorist, changing moods and allegiance and constantly plotting to achieve power and success. He understands and exhibits the ability to convince vulnerable opponents to join his forces without them ever realizing their efforts will only contribute to their own demise. He is a master of deceit, even capable of seducing an audience to fall into his web of treachery. Then there is David Oyelowo who inhabits the role of Othello with every fiber of his being with powerful outbursts of anger, clever intellectual explanations and soothing emotional moments that act as a sedative to the turmoil that swirls around him. He is honest to a fault, understands the capacity to love, never insecure even when swindled and responsible for his actions at every turn. His impassioned performance is haunting and heart rending. Rachel Brosnahan portrays a simple, engaging Desdemona, forthright, faithful and resilient, filled with fortitude. Fleshing out the remaining principal characters are Mathew Maher (a delightful, frivolous, lisping Rodrigo), Finn Whittrock (a determined, disarming Cassio), Marsha Stephanie Blake (a dedicated, focused, fearless Emilia) and Nikki Massoud (a rational but embittered Blanca).

This production stands on its own merit, telling the timeless, tragic, tale of psychological warfare with an unparalleled balance of clarity and emotion. It manages to involve the audience in the action, immerse them in the emotional content, and deliver the poetic language, while never conceding to phenomenalism.

OTHELLO

The cast of William Shakespeare’s “Othello” features David Wilson Barnes, Marsha Stephanie Blake, Rachel Brosnahan, Daniel Craig, Blake DeLong, Glenn Fitzgerald, Slate Holmgren, Anthony Michael Lopez, Matthew Maher, Nikki Massoud, David Oyelowo, Kyle Vincent Terry, and Finn Wittrock.

“Othello” features scenic design by Andrew Lieberman, costume design by David Zinn, lighting design by Jane Cox, sound design by Bray Poor, and fight direction by Thomas Schall. Andrew Wade serves as voice coach and Michael Sexton serves as dramaturg and text consultant. “Othello” is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts. Production photos by

Single tickets for “Othello” at the New York Theatre Workshop (79 East 4th Street between Bowery and 2nd Avenue) are sold out. A limited number of tickets are available to members of our patron program, the Society of Repeat Defenders, and to the Benefit Performance on Thursday, January 12 at 6:30 PM. For further information, please visit http://www.nytw.org/. Running time is 3 hours and 10 minutes with one 15-minute intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Sunday, January 1, 2017

Off-Broadway Review: “Sweet Charity” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday January 8, 2017)

Photo: Emily Padgett, Donald Jones Jr., Sutton Foster, Joel Perez, and Cody Williams star in Sweet Charity, directed by Leigh Silverman, for the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center. Credit: Monique Carboni.
Off-Broadway Review: “Sweet Charity” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center (Through Sunday January 8, 2017)
Book by Neil Simon, Music by Cy Coleman, and Lyrics by Dorothy Fields
Directed by Leigh Silverman and Choreographed by Joshua Bergasse
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

Although it is difficult to experience a musical like “Sweet Charity” without comparing the current production at the New Group with previous productions, that is the only fair way to be critical of the current incarnation of that iconic work done by Neil Simon, Cy Coleman, and Dorothy Fields. “Sweet Charity” at the New Group at the Pershing Square Signature Center should be judged on its own merit and not how it does or does not stand up to the 1966 Broadway production choreographed by Bob Fosse. The New Group’s “Sweet Charity” is unique, brilliantly cast, impeccably staged, and discovers the deep, rich underbelly of this musical that seems to have escaped notice until now.

It seems the most appropriate critical strategy for “reading” this new production of “Sweet Charity” is the new historicist criticism and the cultural criticism. Like Nathaniel Hawthorne’s “The Scarlet Letter,” the New Group’s “Sweet Charity” is a compelling and rich trope for none other than ‘America,” the same scarlet ‘A’ of Hawthorne’s novel. Like America, Charity Hope Valentine (played with a powerful introspective spirit by Sutton Foster has often been too trusting, too willing to compromise beliefs, too dependent on others for wellbeing, and often far too confident about the future. America, like Charity, has also been self-effacing to the point of self-destruction.

“Sweet Charity’s” predominant theme of identity counterpoints profoundly with the Nation’s search for identity. The musical peels away the layers of Charity’s past revealing her vulnerability and her less explored – but equally evident – inner strength. “There’s Gotta Be Something Better Than This” with Nickie (Asmeret Ghebremichael) and Helene (Emily Padgett) becomes the musical’s mantra and Charity’s anthem. They deliver with an earnest longing, “And when I find me some life I can live/I’m gonna get up I’m gonna get out/I’m gonna get up get out and live it.”

Under Leigh Silverman’s sharp direction, the members of the impressive cast deliver authentic performances animated with deep honesty and endearing charisma. Derek McLane’s multipurpose set design serves as the dance hall, Vittorio Vidal’s (Joel Perez) apartment, the elevator where Charity meets Oscar (Shuler Hensley), the park, and other New York City locations sometime in the 1960s. Costumes by Clint Ramos and lighting by Jeff Croiter’s add rich levels of realism to the musical’s strength. The six-member all-female Sweet Charity Band does justice to Cy Coleman’s score and Joshua Bergasse’s choreography is stunning.

Nothing is the same. Not “Sweet Charity.” Not America. The New Group gives us a new “Sweet Charity” unencumbered by the past. The new historicist “reading” looks forward to a new America unencumbered by its past. Just as Charity wonders where she is going at the musical’s conclusion, so America can ask, “What am I all about and where am I going?” And America can confess, “Looking inside me. What do I see? Anger and hope and doubt, what am I all about?” No more moral cowardice for Charity. And no more moral cowardice for America. America, now more than ever, needs “dream its dream.”

SWEET CHARITY

Based on an original screenplay by Federico Fellini, Tullio Pinelli, and Ennio Plaiano, “Sweet Charity” is presented by The New Group in association with Kevin McCollum.

“Sweet Charity” features Yesenia Ayala, Darius Barnes, James Brown III, Sutton Foster, Asmeret Ghebremichael, Shuler Hensley, Sasha Hutchings, Donald Jones, Jr., Nikka Graff Lanzarone, Emily Padgett, Joel Perez, and Cody Williams.

This production features Scenic Design by Derek McLane, Costume Design by Clint Ramos, Lighting Design by Jeff Croiter, Sound Design by Leon Rothenberg, Wig and Hair Design by Charles G. LaPointe, Make-Up Design by Joe Dulude II, Orchestrations by Mary-Mitchell Campbell and Music Direction by Georgia Stitt. Production Supervisor is Production Core. Production Stage Manager is Valerie A. Peterson. Casting is by Judy Henderson, CSA. Production photos by Monique Carboni.

The performance schedule at the Pershing Square Signature Center (480 West 42nd Street) is 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 matinee performances on Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. For additional performances and further information on the performance schedule and to purchase tickets, please visit The New Group’s website at http://www.thenewgroup.org/sweetcharity.html.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, December 30, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: MCC Theater’s “Ride the Cyclone” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Through Thursday December 29, 2016)

Photo: Gus Halper and the cast of "Ride The Cyclone" Credit: Joan Marcus.
Off-Broadway Review: MCC Theater’s “Ride the Cyclone” at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (Through Thursday December 29, 2016)
Book, Music and Lyrics by Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond
Directed and Choreographed by Rachel Rockwell
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“I KNOW THIS DREAM OF LIFE IS NEVER ENDING,/IT GOES AROUND AND 'ROUND AND 'ROUND AGAIN,
YOU KNOW THE SUN IS RISING WHILE DESCENDING,/IT GOES ON AND ON AND NEVER ENDS.” – Jane Doe AKA Penny Lamb

Like most of humankind residing earth side, the six young victims of a rollercoaster malfunction in “Ride the Cyclone” are trapped in a netherworld-like existence either waiting for the ferryman Charon to escort them across the rivers Styx and Acherin or some other conveyance to a life beyond death. The “bank of the river” here is a warehouse chock full of the debris from the amusement park where the young members of the Saint Cassian Choir met their death on the doomed Cyclone ride.

At some time “far in the future,” the sextet finds themselves being addressed by The Amazing Karnak (played with a robotic sensuality by Karl Hamilton) a mechanical fortune-telling machine intent on having the ghostly youth advocate for the opportunity for only one of their number to return to life. That individual must receive a unanimous vote which precludes anyone from voting for himself or herself. Ocean O’Connell Rosenberg (played with an acerbic vulnerability by Tiffany Tatreau), daughter of “far left of center humanists,” finds Karnak’s challenge nothing more than a game.

She protests, “First, I don’t know how it is in your culture, but in ours, playing games where peoples’ lives are on the table? Super illegal.” Adding, “Um…and if I just vote for myself, what is the moral? If I chose myself… if I choose myself, the moral of the story is that humans suck.” Karnak’s response is less than comforting to Ocean, “That would be a valid interpretation, yes.” His comeback begins to chisel away at the underbelly of the theme of “Ride the Cyclone.”

Despite Karnak’s protestation that “Not every story has a lesson,” Ocean bravely affirms, “No. Every story has a lesson… every story…” Brooke Maxwell and Jacob Richmond seem to be offering Ocean’s “cautionary tale of hubris” as their musical’s lesson. The competition gives the victims the opportunity to advocate for the opportunity to return to living out their lives and each performance is remarkable and provides its own counterpoint teaching to the musical’s main “lesson” of how to manage one’s movement through the ride called “life.”

Mischa Bachinski (played with a steely but romantic persona by Gus Halper), Noel Gruber (played with delicious sensuous ambiguity by Kholby Wardell), Ricky Potts (played with a vulnerable and contentious core by Alex Wyse), and Jane Doe (played with an endearing creepiness by Emily Rohm) raise rich and enduring questions in their “entries” and – in the process – exhibit just how challenging it is to navigate one’s way through the vicissitudes of life.

Mischa bemoans his lack of money and opportunity. Noel raises awareness for the LGBTQ community and the sexually non-conforming. His lament, “Being the only gay man in a small rural high school is kind of like having a laptop in the Stone Age. I mean sure you can have one, but there’s nowhere to plug it in.” Ricky’s physical challenges give him a new understanding of what is really important: “I guess all I have to say is this: if sacred places are spared the ravages of war... then make all places sacred. And if the holy people are to be kept harmless from war... then make all people holy.” Constance yearns to be more than the "nicest girl in homeroom" and celebrate her history and hometown values. And Jane Doe challenges her peers to transcend stereotypes and preconceived "speculations."

Whether all people will be considered holy for the next four years remains to be seen. “Ride the Cyclone” gives the audience an opportunity to address that important question. Under Rachel Rockwell’s astute direction, the cast of the musical excel in every way and tackle Ms. Rockwell’s choreography with impressive skill. Scott Davis’s set design handily imagines the caverns of the human mind and is equally matched in effectiveness by Theresa Ham’s costumes and Greg Hofmann’s doleful lighting.

“The world will keep on spinning/With no ending or beginning/So just take a look around.” The world will keep on spinning to be sure. “Ride the Cyclone” helps us sort out the quality of that particular ride.

RIDE THE CYCLONE

The cast of “Ride the Cyclone” features Lillian Castillo, Gus Halper, Karl Hamilton, Taylor Louderman, Johnny Newcomb, Emily Rohm, Emily Walton, Kholby Wardell, and Alex Wyse.

“Ride the Cyclone” features scenic design by Scott Davis, costume design by Theresa Ham, lighting by Greg Hofmann, sound by Garth Helm, and projections by Mike Tutaj. Musical supervision by Doug Peck and musical direction by Remy Kurs. Production photos by Joan Marcus.

“Ride the Cyclone” will be performed at the Lucille Lortel Theatre (121 Christopher Street). It is currently scheduled through Thursday December 29. Tickets are now on sale. For more info, visit www.mcctheater.org. Running time is 90 minutes without intermission.
0 Comments | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Friday, December 23, 2016

Off-Broadway Review: “His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday January 1, 2017)

Photo: Jake Broder is Lord Buckley in "His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley" at 59E59 Theaters. Credit: Vincent Scarano.
Off-Broadway Review: “His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley” at 59E59 Theaters (Through Sunday January 1, 2017)
Written and Performed by Jake Broder
Directed by David Ellenstein
Reviewed by David Roberts
Theatre Reviews Limited

“The Theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!” – The Real Donald Trump at 5:56 a.m. on November 19 2016

Just when you think the theatre is a safe place again after the president-elect’s recent challenge to the producers and creative team of “Hamilton,” Jake Broder barrels into Manhattan and onto the stage at 59E59 (the “little cavern in 59 squared”) with “His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley” inviting the audience “to commune with your subconscious mind and ask yourself just who in the hell do you think you are.” Obviously, the underbelly of the conscious mind is not the safest place to play although Mr. Broder’s delicious ninety-minute two-set foray to those depths are special indeed and a must-see event.

Jake Broder’s character is based on the ineffable Lord Richard Buckley (1906 – 1960). Assisted by The Hip News Man Michael Lanahan and backed by hippest jazz trio in town, Mr. Broder delivers an unbridled full bore fusillade against racism, sexism, (oddly not against homophobia), xenophobia and all things president-electoral and offers the possibility of a world where non-judgmental and unconditional love would reign over God’s “stash, God’s “Great Lake of Love.”

After an opening set of “up” bop tunes (Duke Ellington’s version of “Money Jungle” and Dizzy Gillespie’s “Night in Tunisia”) Mr. Lanahan introduces Lord Buckley who, after explaining “hip semantics,” launches into three stunning examples of that artful genre giving new “hip” meaning to Charles Dickens’ Scrooge, Robert Browning’s “Pied Piper of Hamelin,” and a humorous but challenging reading of Walt Whitman’s “Song of Myself” that reeks of Trump’s disturbing uber-ego. Equally challenging is counterpointing the about to be president’s parsimony with that of Scrooge and his history of not keeping promises: “So, Willy, let you and me be wipers/Of scores out with all men--especially pipers!/And, whether they pipe us free, from rats or from mice,/If we’ve promised them ought, let us keep our promise” (Robert Browning).

Truth has a way of thinning a crowd and after Mr. Broder’s dark “retelling” of “Georgia on My Mind” (Ray Charles) including images of a lynching, the audience returned after the intermission with fewer patrons around the cabaret-style tables that replaced Theater B’s traditional theatre seating.

In his second set (Act II), focuses more on the possibilities for humankind post recent political fallout. Mr. Broder shares a hip version of Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address (with Mr. Lanahan as “Lanky Link”), a splendidly compressed life of Mahatma Gandhi (the “Hip Ghan”), and a skillful re-telling of “The Nazz’s” Sermon on the Mount. Under David Ellenstein’s careful and generous direction, Josh Broder’s writing and performance challenge not only the substratum of the human psyche but also the physical landscape the psyche must traverse. Mr. Lanahan, who counterpoints Mr. Broder with brilliant rapport, provides engaging performances throughout.

Mr. Broder’s honesty and authentic performances are true insights into the human condition and the state of the nation in the present. He is engaging, informed, and understands the role of comedy in effecting significant change. In his book “Chronicles,” Bob Dylan said "Buckley was the hipster bebop preacher who defied all labels." Jake Broder reimagines that stage performer and delivers a performance that establishes him – like the Nazz – to be among the “coolest, grooviest, swingin'est, wailin'est, swingin'est cat that ever stomped on this jumpin' green sphere.”

As he introduces the stellar band, Jake Broder’s Lord Buckley challenges the audience with “I have a dream that one day, this country will rehearse love so hard that every cat and kittie, red white and blue will be swingin it together, level, in font! Don't get mad, love harder! If you dig that, can I get a hallelujah?” Hallelujah indeed.

HIS ROYAL HIPNESS LORD BUCKLEY

Jake Broder is joined by actor Michael Lanahan and a jazz trio featuring Brad Russell (bass), Mark Hartman (piano), and Daniel Glass (drums).

The lighting and sound design is by Aaron Rumley. The Production Stage Manager is Norah Scheinman. Production photos by Vincent Scarano.

“His Royal Hipness Lord Buckley” runs for a limited engagement through Sunday, January 1. 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 & 7:15 PM. Please note the Holiday performance schedule: Sat. Dec 24 & 31 at 2:15 & 5:15 only; no performances on Sun. Dec 25; Sun. Jan 1 at 3:15 only; added performances on Wednesday, Dec 21 at 2:15, and Friday Dec 23 & Dec 30 at 5:15 PM. Performances are at 59E59 Theaters (59 East 59th Street, between Park and Madison Avenues). Tickets are $25 - $40 ($24.50 for 59E59 Members). To purchase tickets, call Ticket Central at (212) 279-4200 or visit www.59e59.org. Running time is 1 hour and 45 minutes including an intermission.
1 Comment - Read Comment | Add Comment | Permalink | Posted by David Roberts on Wednesday, December 14, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RANCHO VIEJO

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

Production photos by Joan Marcus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THIS DAY FORWARD

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A BRONX TALE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NATASHA, PIERRE & THE GREAT COMET OF 1812

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TERMS OF ENDEARMENT

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FINIAN’S RAINBOW

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE ROADS TO HOME

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TICK, TICK … BOOM!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HAROLD AND BROAD: ANITA GILLETTE AND HAROLD SANDITEN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

VIETGONE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

HEISENBERG

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ALL THE WAYS TO SAY I LOVE YOU

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ORWELL IN AMERICA

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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MAESTRO

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MISSED CONNECTIONS: A CRAIGSLIST MUSICAL

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

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

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

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